Listen to the Episode — 56 min
Alanis: The Ex-worker;
Clara: An audio strike against a monotone world;
Alanis: A twice-monthly podcast of anarchist ideas and action;
Clara: For everyone who dreams of a life off the clock…
Alanis: Welcome back to another episode of the Ex-worker. This week, we’re celebrating the one year anniversary of the podcast, and we’re also celebrating an important holiday for anarchists – May Day. Last year, on our very first episode, we looked at the history of the Haymarket affair and how its legacy lives on today. This time, we travel back to another notorious May – France in 1968 – to look at the strikes and revolts that nearly toppled the French state, and to explore some of the ideas that helped these revolts spread from the universities to the factories, and through the everyday lives of the participants.
Clara: We’ll hear a review of the classic Situationist book The Revolution of Everyday Life, share thoughtful feedback from listeners about our Ukraine coverage and revolutionary strategy, and, as always, lots of news and updates from struggles around the world. I’m Clara…
Alanis: …and I’m Alanis, and we’ll be your hosts. To find more information and links about everything we’ll discuss today on the podcast, visit our website at crimethinc.com/podcast.
Clara: And if you have any feedback, drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Alanis: Let’s get started.
THE HOT WIRE:
Clara: First up, we’ve got the Hotwire, our look at resistance and revolt happening around the world. Let’s get started with a run-down of recent actions and demonstrations. Alanis, what have we got?
Alanis: We’ll start with some prisoner and prison struggle updates. Supporters packed the courtroom for the sentencing of the NATO 3, protesters who were charged with - though not convicted of - terrorism for discussing potential targets for actions at the NATO summit in Chicago in 2012. Brian Church was sentenced to 5 years, Brent Betterly to 6 years, and Jared Chase to 8 years. They will all serve 50% of the sentenced time and will receive credit for the two years they have served pending trial.
Clara: Debbie Vincent of the Blackmail 3 was sentenced to 6 years in prison for her involvement in the campaign to close down the notorious animal testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences. And in Sweden, 5 animal rights activists were sentenced for their alleged involvement in over 20 actions, including Ebba Olausson, who is serving 2.5 years.
Alanis: Cody Sutherlin of the Tinley Park 5, who pled to three counts of armed violence for his role in storming a restaurant during an organizing meeting of white supremacists, will be released from prison next month! A link to his release fund can be found on our website.
Clara: Grand Jury Resister Steven Jablowski returned to the Pacific Northwest after being exiled to Canada for over a year and a half in order to dodge a grand jury which was convened in order to investigate the 2012 May Day Demo in Seattle.
Alanis: Kansas City Anarchist Black Cross has announced that anarchist Casey Brezik was sentenced, almost a year ago, to 12 years in prison for an attempted attack against the governor of Missouri. A link to more information can be found on our website.
Clara: We’ve got a few follow ups from prisoner struggles we covered in our last episode: first, the hunger strikers in Menard, Illinois are facing serious retaliation for their collective actions. Prison guards have assaulted three prisoners since January; taken and destroyed prisoners’ possessions, specifically targeting pens and paper; and bolted sheet metal over cell windows. There has still been no response to inmates’ demands from the prison administration.
Alanis: 150 detainees began a hunger strike and protest in the UK migrant prison of Harmondsworth.
Clara: And prisoners from at least three facilities in Alabama went on work strike, demanding an end to slave labor, massive overcrowding and horrifying health and human rights violations in Alabama Prisons. An excerpt from the statement of one prisoner reads, “Free labor serves no purpose towards rehabilitation and is only a slave-styled system disguised as a system of truth, justice, and punishment for crime. The reality is that free labor of Alabama’s prison system is a continuation of the enslavement and exploitation of black, brown, and poor white people. The name changed, but cheap or free slave labor is still the game.”
Alanis: The strike was largely disrupted after being announced publicly; many of the leaders were put in isolation or otherwise moved around to prevent a successful shut down of the prisons.
Clara: There have also been plenty of solidarity actions: in Seattle, three banners were dropped in solidarity with hunger striking immigrant detainees in Tacoma, Washington and Texas, while three ATMS were sabotaged and claimed for the ICE detainees and also for Amelie, Carlos, and Fallon, who are imprisoned in Mexico; and two meat processing facilities had their locks glued shut in solidarity with animal liberation prisoner Kevin Olliff.
Alanis: In Montreal, eight rail lines were blocked by way of disrupted signals in response to ongoing efforts of colonization and repression by the state against indigenous communities across Turtle Island, and in support of those fighting back against the murder of indigenous women.
Clara: By the way, in case you hadn’t heard it before, Turtle Island is a term for the continent of North America that comes from the Haudenosaunee (HO deh noh SHO knee) people, which has been adopted by indigenous and environmental activists.
Alanis: In Chile, a Catholic church was attacked by the Mauricio Morales Vengeance Group.
Clara: In Greece the Nihilist Gangs of Vengeance attacked the car of a well-known prison guard with a grenade in response to the murder of prisoner Ilir Kareli, who died while being tortured by guards in prison.
Alanis: In other news, a new study out of London has named the three deadliest countries for environmental and land defenders: Brazil comes in first, with 448 people killed since 2002 for defending the earth and their land; Honduras is 2nd with 110; and the Philippines is 3rd, with 67.
Clara: Earlier this year, video was released of a gunman in Brazil shooting at indigenous people who had moved back to claim their ancestral land and, just recently in Guatemala a 16 year old anti mining activist and her father were fired on by unknown suspects, killing the girl and leaving her father in intensive care.
Alanis: A relevant text was recently released by Warrior Publications titled Defend the Territory! Tactics and Techniques for Countering Police Assaults on Indigenous Communities. A link to the pdf can be found on our website.
Clara: For more than five months, over 2,000 families in Fortul, Columbia have occupied a piece of land owned by the Ministry of Defense and intended as the site of a new military base.
Alanis: And folks from the indigenous Khanty community in central Russia blockaded an oil company from attempting to build a road through a sacred lichen grove.
Clara: May 9th to 11th saw the first Cleveland Anarchist Bookfair, including presentations from the Beehive Collective, the ALF Press Office, and the CrimethInc Ex-Workers Collective, and the following weekend was the New York City Anarchist Book Fair, which included an anarchist film festival in memory of murdered anarchist journalist Brad Will, an anarchist art festival, and a keynote talk by Anarchist Panther Ashanti Alston.
Alanis: In Niagara Falls, Ontario, hundreds joined a “March on Marineland” on May 17th, in order to shut the aquatic theme park down on its opening day of the season. Similar to SeaWorld in the U.S., Marineland is one of the last facilities to keep captive orcas, and last year over 400 people stormed it to shut down a dolphin show, prompted by the discovery of an illegal mass animal grave nearby. More demonstrations are coming up; you can find more information at marchonmarineland.com
Clara: Open Books in Pensacola, Florida, which houses a books to prisoners collective, was hit pretty hard in recent flooding and suffered a lot of damage. They’ve asked for support, so if you want to help them out, check out the link on our website.
Clara: In other international news, protests have spread around Turkey after a mining disaster killed nearly three hundred people.
Alanis: A Mexican paramilitary group attacked the Zapatista community of La Realidad, murdering a teacher named Galeano and destroying an autonomous school and health clinic. An international week of solidarity is ongoing now; learn more at an attack on us all dot org.
Clara: Anti-government protests in Venezuela have continued over recent months. The US congress, apparently with no sense of irony, is preparing a resolution to impose sanctions on those responsible for “human rights abuses” against protestors.
Alanis: Incidentally, it’s an interesting challenge trying to get anarchist perspectives on the Venezuelan demonstrations; some have indicated that principled opposition to the Maduro government is the only coherent position for anarchists to take, especially in the face of police brutality and repression; others argue that anarchist groups are playing into the hands of bourgeois and right-wing forces by supporting the protests. If you’ve got some context on the upheavals there, write us at podcast at crimethinc dot com.
Clara: Meanwhile, Filipinos burned President Obama in effigy at a protest against war and environmental destruction in Manila at the end of April.
Alanis: And Chinese police killed at least three demonstrators in a protest against a proposed waste incinerator in Hangzhou; in response, thousands rioted and destroyed numerous police vehicles into the night.
Clara: Whew! That’s a lot!
Alanis: True… but did you notice that we forgot something?
Clara: We did? What?
Alanis: May Day!
Clara: Good grief, duh! Yes, Mayday, the international worker’s holiday traditionally celebrated by anarchists with strikes, sabotage, and demonstrations. If you’ve been with us since the very beginning of the podcast one year ago, you’ll remember that our first episode featured an account of the Haymarket affair and the origins of May Day. And now we’ll share a special report about what happened this year with our May Day correspondent, Bill Tayne. Bill, what happened out there?
MAY DAY REPORT
Bill: Thanks, Clara! This year folks around the world once again hit the streets on the first of May in commemoration of worker’s struggles, immigrant solidarity, and a whole lot of other issues. Many of the rallies were fairly mellow, some even state-sponsored; a few resulted in clashes with police, most dramatically in Turkey. Let’s take a quick tour around some of the demonstrations that took place this May Day.
In many cities across the US, workers rights activists used May Day to promote a campaign for a higher minimum wage, as well as an opportunity for solidarity with immigrants. Marches took place in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and dozens of other cities. Events in Oakland and Santa Rosa, California also focused on police brutality. In Atlanta, a small but aggressive anti-capitalist march took the streets, while in Seattle, a liberal march and a rowdier autonomous demo took place, including clashes between anarchists and cop-loving counter-protestors dressed as superheroes.
In Montreal, anti-capitalist marchers debuted new tactics of decentralized convergence to avoid kettling by riot police.
On to Latin America! In Cuba, the traditional pro-government May Day rally brought many thousands to the streets of Havana; large demonstrations of workers took place in Sao Paolo, San Salvador, Bogota, Buenos Aires, La Paz, and beyond, while in Caracas, anti-Maduro protesters continued their struggle against the Chavista government in Venezuela. In Santiago, anarchists fought police and pro-government communists in the streets; conflicts also erupted in Medellin, Columbia.
Over in Europe, A 300-strong demo with hard banners and torches marched in the Hague, Netherlands, while in Germany, black blocs clashed with riot police in Hamburg , Berlin, and Duisberg. Anti-austerity rallies took place in Greece, Spain, and Italy, with notable clashes in Barcelona and Turin.
Radicals weren’t the only ones out on May 1st; unfortunately, Nazi marches took place in Jonkoping, Sweden and Plauen, Germany, with anti-fascist counter-demonstrations confronting them. The Front National, an extreme right French party, also staged a large rally in Paris.
Turkey has seen increasingly militant May Day protests in recent years; President Erdogan instituted a ban on demonstrations in Taksim Square, the traditional site for May Day rebellion, saying, “Give up on your hopes of Taksim. Do not engage in a fight with the state. Do not disturb the peace of our people.” Buuuut the Turkish people didn’t listen… thousands defied the ban and clashed with riot police, who used so much tear gas that local residents had to evacuate their homes; nearly 150 arrests were reported. Protests also took place in Ankara and 30 some other cities.
Demonstrations also took place in Hong Kong, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea, and the Phillipines; in Cambodia, police attacked marchers in Phnom Penh, injuring at least five. Thousands of garment workers in Bangladesh took to the streets and demanded the death of the owner of a factory that collapsed last year, resulting in over 1,000 deaths. And over 50,000 rallied in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia against a goods and services tax; late in the day, a black bloc of 20 some young people took the streets, clashed with media who attempted to surveil them and, according to news reports, “refused to apologize.”
In Ukraine, protestors in the eastern city of Donetsk attacked and entirely defeated a group of riot police, disarming them and taking their riot gear and weapons before hauling them off one by one. But as far as we know these were not anti-capitalists, but pro-Russian demonstrators. Meanwhile, in Moscow’s Red Square, some hundred thousand ralliers gathered in support of President Putin and the government’s expansionist policies in the Crimea.
We’ve only just scratched the surface on the hundreds of events that took place around the world on the first of May. If you’ve got reports to share from May Day in your area, or if we missed something important, let us know by email to podcast at crimethinc dot com and pass along the news. You can also find links on our website to news reports and photos from the day. Clara, back to you!
Clara: Thanks for that report, Bill! Now it’s time to get into some listener feedback. It’s been a while and we’ve got a ton of stuff in our inbox, so get ready!
Alanis: Thanks to everyone who’s been writing in with suggestions and comments. Just so all of you know - if you haven’t gotten a response from us yet, it’s not that we don’t appreciate your thoughts. We may be saving your comments for a future episode when they’ll be more topically related, or we may just be running a little behind. But we do read everything and appreciate it all.
Clara: So: first, we’ve had a few requests for episode themes on various topics. Some of you want to hear about individualist anarchism - that’s definitely on the radar - and we had a request for some more discussion of anarcho-primitivism, beyond our treatment of green anarchism in episode 3. We’ve got a few more topics slated for the immediate future - we won’t tip our hand too much, but discussions of borders and migration and anarcha-feminism are definitely coming up soon, along with much else - but we will do our best to slowly catch up to your requests. As always, let us know what you’re most interested to hear about - podcast at crimethinc dot com.
Clara: We’ve also got a message from Statler and Waldorf , a pair of cantankerous old Muppets who also moonlighted as columnists for the late great Green Anarchy magazine. They’re mad with us for neglecting to mention their most cherished political prisoner. They write:
Alanis: “Hey, you self-centered unappreciative podcast-aways! You left your Uncle Ted off your birthday list last year! What were you ungrateful whippersnappers thinking! Did you forget your roots, Crimethinc.? Where would you even be without your dear old Uncle Ted? You cut your god damn teeth on the Uncle Ted for President campaign!!!! One of your all time best pieces of writing was ripped from that campaign. And now you don’t even want to send your dear old Uncle Ted a simple birthday card!!!!! Disgraceful. Signed, Statler and Waldorf”
Clara: Sigh… In case you hadn’t put it together, “Uncle Ted” refers to Theodore Kaczynski, the so-called Unabomber, who engaged in a bombing campaign across nearly two decades against people who worked at institutions related to genetic engineering, environmental destruction, and advanced technology. There are plenty of reasons to dislike or disagree with Uncle Ted, including the tactics he used and some more reactionary elements of his analysis of industrial civilization and movements against it. Also, his essay “Industrial Society and its Future,” the so-called Unabomber Manifesto, and his numerous other writings are unquestionably some of the most incisive critiques of technology and industrial civilization in circulation today. On our website we’ve posted a link to the manifesto, which was printed in full in the Washington Post after the Unabomber threatened further attacks if they didn’t print it.
Also, Statler and Waldorf allude to the “Unabomber for President” campaign of 1996, which was endorsed by, among others, the CrimethInc. Ex-Workers Collective - which was the last electoral campaign that we endorsed, I believe - and is discussed in the long out of print “Inside Front” magazine and briefly in the book Days of War, Nights of Love. In fact, our Ex-Worker archivist informs us that CrimethInc. was responsible for distributing the first printed copies of the Unabomber Manifesto to primitivist John Zerzan when he began to speak publicly in defense of Kaczynski. Just sayin’.
Alanis: Well, Statler and Waldorf, we feel about Uncle Ted like we feel about other uncles: whether we like him or not - and some of us really do, and some of us really don’t - he’s part of our family. Some of us aren’t on speaking terms with him, while others write him regularly. We can’t come to any kind of agreement about whether or how to support him in prison, though all of us have read his writings and on some level been influenced by his ideas. So we leave it up to you, listeners. His birthday is May 22nd, and his address is online.
Waldorf: That’s one of the reasons I always thought Muppets were weird.
Statler: Why’s that?
Waldorf: They think explosions are funny. Explosions aren’t funny.
Uncle Ted: [boom]
Waldorf: Although some of them really are quite droll…
Clara: And finally: we’ve got a fascinating exchange to share about Ukraine and anarchist strategy. It gets a little long, but stick with it - we’re excited to be able to offer some more in-depth discussion and analysis along with our more broadly accessible material, so we hope you’ll find this interesting.
Alanis: One listener writes in and says:
Clara: I have two questions about the piece y’all narrated on the Ukrainian Revolution and the Future of Social Movements.
First, you write on the one hand that “different formats for confrontation encode different power relations and forms of social change within them.” This sounds like an argument that tactics have an inherent content to them - that certain ways of fighting entail certain ideologies or possibilities.
On the other hand, if I’m understanding you right, you discuss Ukraine as a distressing development of the tactic-as-movement model exemplified by Occupy, which can, as you point out, be appropriated wholesale by fascists. On the surface, it looks like any tactic can be deployed towards repressive or expansive ends. Breaking windows can be Seattle ’99 or Kristalnacht; fascists, moderate reformers, anarchists and 9/11 Truthers alike occupy plazas.
It seems like there’s a contradiction somewhere in here. Are you arguing that these specific tactics of recent movements - occupying squares, fighting police, etc - have no inherent content, but that other “formats for confrontation” do? Do some inherently encode hierarchical power relations, while others at least leave open the possibility of non-hierarchical outcomes, though not necessarily?
When I was first getting into things, I understood one of the defining principles of anarchism as the unity of means and ends - the idea that our process was our content, and vice versa. That’s why we used consensus, tried to break down power relationships in collectives and meetings and relationships, and so forth. I still believe this to some extent. But even the most ostensibly anarchist tactics I can think of, from anarcho-democrat things like consensus and general assemblies to the most insurrecto kinds of riotous individualism and informal affinity, all seem fully appropriable by anyone from liberal citizens to so-called national anarchists, for christ’s sake.
This brings up a whole cluster of questions. What is the relationship between tactics and the ends or possibilities towards which they strive? Is there such a thing as an “anarchist tactic”? If so, what makes it anarchist when we use it, but not when fascists or liberals do? Are there any tactics that can subvert this appropriation? If not, is our goal to first exclude tactics that inherently encode hierarchy and then do our best to use the open-ended ones while constantly struggling against their appropriation by social forces fighting to reinscribe hierarchies? I’d be grateful for any clarification or reflections.
And second- I’m not sure that I like this framing of social movements as a three way fight of “us”, whoever that is, against both the state and other authoritarians who’re fighting it. It’s true that this does help us get past the idiocy of “anti-imperialism” that presumes that we should show “solidarity” with some enemies against other enemies. But this militaristic notion of us against the world seems problematic. First, because it doesn’t play to our strengths - if we (again, whoever that is) have to “defeat” both the state and all the other social forces in conflict with it that aren’t “us”, it’s very unlikely that we will win. Second, because it frames a conflict between fixed protagonists, when I see the anarchist project as engaging with anti-state struggles as a way of subverting power relations and opening up new possibilities for how we could conceive of our interests that don’t exist currently. The only hope I can imagine for a future without authority is not that anti-authoritarians “defeat” everyone else, but that the struggles in which we participate, and the ways in which we rebel, undermine the terms of the engagement.
Alanis: Wow. Those are good questions.
Clara: Agreed! We forwarded this question along to the editor of the Ukrainian features from the CrimethInc. blog, who composed a thoughtful response. Again, it’s long, but well worth the attention for its careful engagement with a lot of crucial strategic questions.
Alanis: Thank you for this nuanced and thoughtful engagement with our Ukraine coverage. These are the questions we most want to be engaging with, too.
Let’s begin with the quote you cite from the analysis: “Different formats for confrontation encode different power relations and forms of social change within them.”
In its original context, that sentence contrasts the self-defense forces of the Kiev Maidan, organized as Roman-style “centuries” of one hundred men under the authority of a permanent commander, to the more informal and horizontal structures that characterized the defense of plaza occupations in Oakland, Istanbul, and elsewhere. Considering these two formats, it’s easy to see how they reproduce different power dynamics. What is potentially anarchist in the latter examples is not the occupation of a square, nor the use of projectiles to keep police at bay, nor any other specific activity, but rather the decentralization of agency and decision-making, the creation of spaces without authority or submission. This is a question of relations, not of tactics, though different tactics may reinforce different power structures—compare the armed struggle groups of the 1970s with the strategy of diffuse rioting. The reason we call ourselves anarchists—rather than Occupiers, or “insurrectionists without adjectives”—is that relations are our central concern.
When the goal of a struggle is understood in purely military terms—for example, to hold a central plaza at all costs—authoritarian organizational structures may appear more efficient and effective. Only when we understand our goal in social terms, as the transformation of relationships, does it become clear what a ruinous defeat it is to reproduce the structures of our enemies in the ways we resist them.
To address your second question, then, this informs how we must understand the “three-way fight” we are in with current states and their statist opponents. Quoting our Ukraine analysis once more: “This is not just a contest of arms; it is a clash between different forms of relations. It is not just a struggle for physical territory, but also for tactics and narratives—for the territory of struggle itself.” It is not a question of violently defeating everyone who believes in state power, but of undermining that belief. It is not just a conflict between specific social bodies—we, the anarchists, versus they, the statists; rather, it is a conflict between visions, a conflict that plays out within social bodies as well as between them.
This is why, as the saying goes, “The force of insurrection is social, not military.” It is not a question of how much violence a specific body of fighters can bring to bear against the state, but how contagious their defiance becomes, how infectiously their refusal spreads from one social body to the next. The Paris Commune began when soldiers joined the demonstrators they had been ordered to shoot, and was doomed from the moment it was isolated and forced into conventional warfare—though Lenin famously drew the opposite conclusion, setting the stage for the Russian tragedy. What is at stake in these struggles, above all, is the popular imagination—everyone’s notions of what is possible and desirable.
As you stress, there are no surefire tactics for creating anarchy. The principle of unity of means and ends is about the power dynamics we create, not about which tactics we employ—hence we reject “provisional dictatorships,” not the use of force itself. Anarchism is not a toolbox of tactics such as food not bombs, the black bloc, and consensus process. It is a way of evaluating the effectiveness of these and other tactics in pursuing the lives we desire.
On the other hand, if there is nothing inherently anarchist about barricades and street fighting, it is all the more crucial that anarchists are the ones who initiate them in times of unrest. In these spaces of confrontation, participants’ notions of what is possible and desirable can shift very rapidly. If we are not involved, nationalists and fascists will use such clashes as opportunities to recruit, as they have in Ukraine.
A final word on the apparent pragmatism of militaristic and nationalist approaches to social change. Imagine if the Ukrainian government had been overthrown by an anarchist revolution, rather than a nationalist one: by a countrywide refusal to comply with the institutions of authority, rather than an armed struggle led by new authorities along nationalist and ethnic lines. We can imagine Russia would have been more hesitant to intervene—for rather than taking sides in a polarized ethnic conflict with the guaranteed support of its own citizens and Russian-identified Ukrainians, it would risk triggering the same rupture that had exploded in Ukraine within its own borders.
In a world of globalized power structures, revolutions will be immediately destroyed or co-opted—or else they will be anarchist. We can only hope that others around the world will draw the same conclusion.
Clara: These questions get to the heart of what it means to be an anarchist today and how we can relate to the social upheavals going on around the world. Let’s keep the conversation going! Thanks to both of our contributors for this discussion, and to all of y’all for making it so fascinating to work on this podcast! We want to hear your ideas and critiques and responses and suggestions, light-hearted or serious. So keep ’em coming to podcast at crimethinc dot com.
Clara: And now it’s time to hear a piece of the Crimethinc. Contradictionary. This episode is brought to you by: Mediation and Adventurism.
Clara: For more explorations of the war in every word, visit Crimethinc.com/contradictionary.
FEATURE: THE SITUATIONISTS & MAY ’68
Paris. May 2, 1968. Months of discussions and mounting tensions between students and authorities at the Paris University of Nanterre have come to a head when students militantly occupy a building on campus. Joined by Parisian artists, musicians and leftists, the conversation centered around politics, the university bureaucracy, and class relations in France. The police responded brutally to the protest, arresting several students. The administration closed the campus.
Students from the nearby Sorbonne University quickly organized a solidarity demonstration. Negotiations over the closing of Nanterre continued to break down, and the police’s increasingly brutal responses to these demonstrations mounted popular sympathy for the striking students. Police occupied the Sorbonne.
In the following days, the rage spread to high school students, who organized another march, this time joined by more university students, faculty, and increasing numbers of young workers. Participation swelled as twenty thousand people took to the streets.
In response, mainstream unions called a one-day general strike for the 13th of May. Well over a million people marched on Paris that day, with the police nowhere in sight. Prime minister George Pompidou announced the reopening of the two Universities and the release of the prisoners, but this did nothing to quell the rage of the strikers.
When the Sorbonne reopened, students re-occupied it and declared it an autonomous “people’s university.” In the weeks that followed, over four hundred popular action committees were set up in Paris and elsewhere to take up grievances against the government and French society.
Workers continued to strike and occupy their factories long past the single day of the official general strike. These activities weren’t sanctioned by the unions; on the contrary, the main union, CGT, tried to contain this spontaneous outburst of militancy by channeling it into a struggle for higher wages and other economic demands. Workers put forward a broader, more radical agenda, demanding the ousting of the government and President Charles de Gaulle and attempting, in some cases, to run their own factories. When the trade union leadership negotiated a 35% increase in the minimum wage, the workers refused to return to work and jeered the union leaders.
The wildcat strikes brought French economy to a standstill, nearly collapsing the government. Over 22% of the workforce was out. Fearing for his safety, De Gaulle fled abroad, leaving Prime Minister Pompidou in charge.
The ancient stonework in the streets and alleys of Paris was plastered with graffiti and posters, spouting hundreds of revolutionary slogans:
We will ask nothing, we will take nothing, we will demand, occupy.
No gods, no masters!
In a society that has abolished every kind of adventure the only adventure that remains is to abolish the society.
Alanis: Many of these slogans were the product of a group of avant-garde artists, intellectuals, and political thinkers called the Situationist International, or SI. This group – though small and exclusive – had a huge influence on the insurrection that swept through France that May. How did this relatively tiny band of rebels and artists end up precipitating a wave of revolt that nearly swept away the French state?
Alanis: When the Situationist International was first formed in 1957, its focus was predominantly artistic; they explored psychogeography, or the way in which the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, affects the emotions and behavior of individuals. The Situs made psychogeographical maps of Paris through the practice of the dérive–
Clara: Which was their fancy shorthand for drunkenly wandering around Paris– often for days on end!
Alanis: Over time, the group’s focus shifted to reflect the quickly changing – and politically charged – atmosphere of the 1960’s.
Clara: And people were paying attention. Some rabble-rousing students at the University of Strasbourg had taken a liking to the ideas of the Situationists, and collaborated with tunisian Situationist Mustapha Khayati on an essay called “The Poverty of Student Life,” a critique of the subservience of University students and the conniving strategies of leftist student radicals. The students distributed ten thousand copies of the text on their campus, causing an uproar.
Alanis: The Situationists ideas – based in anti-authoritarian Marxism, with a sprinkling of influence from the avant-garde art movements of the early 20th century, particularly Dada and Surrealism – were beginning to take hold.
Clara: Situationist theory attempted to synthesize a comprehensive critique of advanced capitalism, as it appeared in the middle of the 20th century… they were probably the first revolutionary group to analyze capitalism in its current consumerist form. Then, at least in the West, most workers were not desperately poor, toiling 12 hours a day in factories and mines– workers’ struggles over the previous 150 years had pretty much seen to that, or at least made it so that it was only viable for these kind of miserable conditions to exist overseas. However, the poverty of everyday life had never been greater.
Alanis: Workers were not beaten down with savage repression, so much as with illusions in empty consumer goods, which were imbued by culture and marketing with characteristics they don’t really possess.
Clara: Like how purchasing this or that gadget or brand of shoes will make your sad life more like that of this celebrity or that model! Pee-Wee Herman: AAHH! Salesman…
Alanis: The Situs rejected the idea that advanced capitalism’s apparent successes—such as technological advancement, increased income, and increased leisure time—could ever outweigh the social dysfunction and degradation of daily life that it simultaneously inflicted.
Clara: Satisfying workers with increased material wealth could no longer put a stop to class struggle– since human desires would be always in conflict with capitalist alienation.
Alanis: The Situationist International reached the apex of its creative output and influence in 1967 and 1968– the former marking the publication of the two most significant texts of the Situationist movement: The Society of the Spectacle by Guy Debord and The Revolution of Everyday Life by Raoul Vaneigem. The theories of these two texts, along with other situationist publications, were greatly influential in shaping the ideas behind the May 1968 insurrections in France; quotes, phrases, and slogans from Situationist texts and publications were ubiquitous on posters and graffiti throughout France during the uprisings, and constituted the ideological content of the revolts.
Clara: So, if the first phase of humanity’s descent into alienated capitalist hell could be characterized in the transition from emphasis on being into emphasis on having, the transition that Debord articulated in the middle of the 20th century was from having into appearing.
Alanis: So, while television, facebook or other implements of the mass media could be considered a manifestation of the spectacle, the story is a little more complicated than that…
Clara: In spectacular society, everything that capitalism takes from us – time with our loved ones, the satisfaction of providing for our needs and those of the people around us – can supposedly be replaced with the satisfying emotional fulfillment of entertainment or consumption.
Alanis: From city planning to political parties of every tendency, from art to science, from everyday life to human passions and desires, everywhere we find reality replaced by images.
Clara: In the process, images end up becoming real, and reality ends up transformed into images.
Alanis: But of course, these images are distorted– the spectacle doesn’t reflect society overall; it organizes images in the interest of one portion of society only - namely, the ruling class - and this affects those who merely consume these images, reinforcing the dominant, hierarchical structures that are already in place.
Clara: So, the problem isn’t the images themselves, or even necessarily the modes by which these images get to us. The problem is the Society that requires such images– the Society of the Spectacle.
Alanis: Situationist tactics to combat the spectacle included attempting to create “situations,” where humans would interact together as people, not mediated by commodities or images. They saw, in these moments of true community, the possibility of a future joyful and un-alienated society.
Clara: So, in May ’68– or any time, for that matter– when an insurgent pulls up paving stones from the roads to chuck at the police, spraypaints on a wall, or forms a council with their co-workers to make decisions, they are breaking out of the monotony of daily routine– interacting with these elements in a different way. Certainly one day they might be walking across a paving stone, but the next day it could be a weapon.
Clara: Sooo, did it happen?
Clara: Uh, the rev. You know, the workers and students going out on permanent holiday, the French government and economy collapsing, the insurrection spreading to Europe, and then the world…?
Alanis: Erm, well, no actually. What happened was President de Gaulle called for new elections, and the communists agreed to it, and things just sort of… petered out.
Clara: Damn. It also seems like people responded really strongly when the police were beating and arresting tons of people, but when they stopped doing that, people didn’t have as much to immediately respond to.
Alanis: Yeah. And those kinds of soft policing tactics are still being developed today.
Clara: Like all history, the history of the Situationists and the May ’68 revolts are more than just a nice story – the ideas about the Spectacle, alienation, and how to combat these things are important when considering how to understand and fight against the diffuse domination we experience every day.
Alanis: The Situationists were a product of their time– and simultaneously, they affected their times, contributing to struggles with ideas, propaganda, and militancy.
Clara: It’s kind of a chicken-and-egg thing– and an important position to consider ourselves in, as anarchists, especially in this time where we’re seeing lots of different mass struggles popping up– how does it make sense to interact with these things?
Alanis: The Situationists themselves might be adverse to their subject matter appearing on an anarchist podcast– in fact, members of the SI have brutally critiqued anarchists, calling us a-historical and moralistic. But neither were they Marxist– although their ideas are rooted in Marx, they criticized Trotskyism, Marxism-Leninism, Stalinism and Maoism from a strong anti-authoritarian position, talking mad shit on the centralized bureaucracies of China and the Soviet Union in the same breath as capitalism.
Clara: Despite their anti-anarchist sentiments, the ideas and history of the SI are really fundamental to us.
Alanis: Yeah, I was just thinking about this the other day– I mean, how much these ideas totally saturate my understanding of anarchism. I think even the idea that joy and passion can be subversive were really popularized by the Situationists, and you can trace the lineage of these ideas from the May ’68 revolts, to their influence on the proposals of insurrectionary anarchism and to the present. The impact of Situationist ideas is undeniably clear in the ubiquitous Crimethinc. book Days of War, Nights of Love, and in the magazine Adbusters, which, despite espousing a pretty un-nuanced take on situationism, was mega influential in the era of anti-globalization protests and in the Occupy movement.
For me, thinking about struggle doesn’t just mean thinking about how I can continue to do the same job at a coffee shop, school or factory, but just organized more “fairly.” It’s a bigger picture view – the idea that I want to live in a world where the coffee shop, school and factory aren’t required to satisfy my material and emotional needs, and the needs of those around me. Not to mention the idea that it’s ok for me to want to live, not just survive.
Clara: Let’s take a line from Raoul Vaneigem– if we continue to talk about revolution and class struggle without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about love and what is positive in the refusal of constraints– then we’re talking with a corpse in our mouth.
Clara: And now it’s time for the Chopping Block, our section of reviews of the best in anarchist writings from yesterday and today. The quote we read at the end of our Situationism feature comes from the book we’ll be looking into today: Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life.
Alanis: Long ago, a good friend handed me my copy of The Revolution of Everyday Life on my twentieth birthday. Less than two months earlier, I had spontaneously altered the course of my life by dropping out of the prestigious art school I was attending. I didn’t know exactly what I was doing, but I did know that I was having much more fulfilling conversations with the anarchists with whom I was serving free food in the park or tearing it up in the streets than anyone I was meeting in my crit sessions or gallery shows.
The book’s entry into my life during this period dovetails neatly with the original French title, which translates to “Treatise on Living for the Younger Generations.” I, like translator Donald Nicholson-Smith, prefer that to the self-help-y English title Revolution of Everyday Life, which, in this edition, is framed by soothing pastel tones and a picture of a contemplative man staring off into a glacial mountain range.
As per Vaneigem’s instruction, I’d never read the book cover-to-cover, rather reading and re-reading selected sections and crafting my own structure, peppering the well-loved pages with copious underlines, annotations, and dog-ears. Reading the book straight through proved more difficult than I bargained for; it’s so rich and dense that I couldn’t read very far without getting kind of overwhelmed. I’d suggest using it as recommended.
The Treatise is neatly divided into two parts and then structured into theses and expansions on those theses. The first part, entitled “Power’s Perspective,” outlines the use and structure of power relations within contemporary society. Of course, “contemporary society” refers to 50 years ago– the book was published in France in 1967, just a year before the infamous revolts of May 1968. As we mentioned in the theme, the Treatise is often seen as a companion text to Guy Debord’s infamous Society of the Spectacle, albeit a more subjective, personal, and emotive take on the ideas.
That’s not to say that it can’t get a little dense at times, especially if you’re not familiar with Situationist rhetoric. Vaneigem’s basic thesis is that the capitalist structure which dictates our work life also now dictates every aspect of our life, down to our free time. After outlining how exactly power has accomplished this feat, he calls on us to refuse the stable roles and identities handed to us and immediately push for insurrectionary breaks with our conditions, utilizing our own desires and experiences as our starting point. Creative, spontaneous, and poetic ruptures of the existent are necessary for the transformation of this world and the reinvention of life.
A weak point in his analysis is his fixation on enlightenment – the attitude that “when people stop being fooled, they stop doing what they’re told.” I think in certain circumstances this can be true – such as when the visibility of actions or attacks exposes cracks in the façade of power –but I don’t think publishing the most perfect, correct analysis is going to change much on its own. At this point I don’t think the Spectacle is fooling that many people, but that doesn’t stop them from participating in their own exploitation.
Still, I think there is a lot of good stuff in here, and I found most of the analysis to not only be largely accurate, but also still relevant to many discussions happening in contemporary anarchist circles. The theses on the organization of power relate to my attempts to understand contemporary conversations around cybernetics, and I think that anyone engaged in anti-oppression politics or identity-based organizing in anarchist circles could benefit from re-reading the section about Roles.
Through the lens of this passionate, perplexing, expansive book, the fabric of alienation tying together our experience of life under capitalism becomes clearer than ever - and resistance to it seems not just possible, but joyous. So what’s stopping us? As Vaneigem famously concludes, “We have a world of pleasure to win, and nothing to lose but boredom.”
The Revolution of Everyday Life is published by Rebel Press, and is also available online for free at the Anarchist Library dot org.
NEXT WEEK’S NEWS
Clara: And now it’s time for next week’s news; here are some events coming up over the next little while.
Alanis: There are lots of environmental defense camps and opportunities coming up soon. If you’re looking for plans over Memorial Day weekend, Utah Tar Sands Resistance will be hosting a gathering from May 23rd to 25th in PR Springs, Utah. For info, check out tar sands resist dot org.
Clara: Chesapeake Earth First! will host an energy exports action camp from June 2nd through 9th in Maryland, with workshops and skill sharing around resistance to destructive coal and natural gas shipments. More info at http://energyexportsactioncamp.wordpress.com/.
Alanis: And the Earth First Climber’s Guild is hosting a gathering from June 16th–22nd in the Upper Midwest (around southern Minnesota and Wisconsin) to share skills about direct action climbing and rigging for forest defense; find out more at http://efclimbers.net/.
Clara: Also: The new Earth First Direct Action Manual has been published! Earth First organizers are planning a tour to circulate the manual and share direct actions skills; if you’re interested in having it come near you, email dam at earthfirstjournal dot org.
Alanis: As we mentioned during the Hot Wire, supporters have called for actions in solidarity with the Zapatista community of La Realidad; get plugged in at http://www.anattackonusall.org/.
Clara: And more info on the ongoing demonstrations against sea animal exploitation in Niagara Falls, Ontario can be found at marchonmarineland.com.
Alanis: Speaking of Canada, we’re in the midst of Montreal’s Festival of Anarchy, which spills out over the whole month of May and into June, with a book fair this weekend and all kinds of events coming up…
Clara: …including the International Anarchist Theater Festival June 2nd and 3rd, which I reeeeally wish I could go to, because that just sounds so cool! Listen, if you’re there, will you send us a reportback to podcast at crimethinc dot com? I wanna live vicariously.
Alanis: And finally we want to share some prisoner birthdays; since it’s been a few weeks since our last episode, we’ll share all the ones we know of taking place this month. Even if you’re a little late, it makes a huge difference to write someone a card or a letter, so don’t hesitate to send some support to folks inside.
On May 11th, William Phillips Africa, one of the MOVE 9;
Clara: And on May 12th, Alvaro Luna Hernandez, an anti-racist organizer serving 50 years for thwarting an attempt on his life by a police officer.
Alanis: On May 21st, Mondo we Langa, a former Black Panther and author targeted by COINTELPRO in Nebraska,
Clara: And on May 31st, Doug Wright of the Cleveland Four, entrapped in an FBI-generated fake bomb plot.
Alanis: As usual, info about their cases and mailing addresses can be found on our website, crimethinc.com/podcast.
Clara: And that’s it for this episode of the Ex-Worker. Thanks to Underground Reverie for the music you’ve heard on today’s show, and thanks to everyone who’s helped us keep this podcast on the air for a whole year. You can access to the episode’s transcript and notes by visiting our website at crimethinc.com/podcast.
Alanis: And what about next time?
Clara: Well, we took two episodes to discuss communism and socialism. But we left out an angle that has been increasingly of interest to anarchists in recent years - communization theory. In our next episode, we’ll take a look at Theorie Communiste, the Endnotes journal, and this arc of thought that promotes the communization of production and life immediately, without transition.
Alanis: Until then, thanks for listening. And remember:
All: Live Without Dead Time! Be realistic, demand the impossible. Power to the imagination. Terminate the university. Drive the cop out of your head. How can you think freely in the shadow of a chapel? You can’t buy happiness. Steal it. Freedom is the crime that contains all crimes. Boredom is counterrevolutionary. In a society that has abolished every kind of adventure the only adventure that remains is to abolish the society. Under the paving stones, the beach. Never work.
Clara: Comrades, 5 hours of sleep a day is indispensable: we need you for the revolution.
Alanis: Aargh, I always have trouble with that one…
Links and references from this episode of The Ex-Worker:
In today’s main feature, we scratched the surface of the contribution of the Situationist International to contemporary radical thought. If your interest is piqued and you’re looking for more in-depth exploration of these ideas, there are plenty of resources available in print and on the internet. A great starting place is our topic of this episode’s Chopping Block, Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life; it’s available for free online at the Anarchist Library, as is On The Poverty of Student Life, which we mentioned in our discussion of the Situationists.
Of course, another classic is The Society of the Spectacle. It’s not an easily accessible starting point, but it is a crucial text if you’re trying to understand the Situationist analysis. Basically every piece of paper Guy Debord ever wrote on can be found on Not Bored (if you can tolerate Bill Brown’s Debord-esque attitude), and the Bureau of Public Secrets is another outpost of translations of Situ material (if you can tolerate the web design). The bureau also hosts this killer list of graffiti slogans from May ‘68,, which a crew of our friends read for this episode’s feature.
Cody Sutherlin of the Tinley Park 5, who plead guilty to three counts of armed violence for his role in storming a restaurant during an organizing meeting of white supremacists, will be released from prison next month! Here is a link to his release fund.
Updates from the hunger and work strikes at prisons in Menard, Illinois and Alabama.
As mentioned in the Hot Wire, here’s the link to the new Warrior Publications guide titled Defend the Territory! Tactics and Techniques for Countering Police Assaults on Indigenous Communities
Earth First organizers are planning a tour to circulate the newly published Direct Action Manual and share direct action skills; if you’re interested in having them come near you, email dam at earthfirstjournal dot org.
Open Books in Pensacola, Florida, which houses a books to prisoners collective, was hit pretty hard in recent flooding and suffered a lot of damage. Read their call for support.
Anarchist prisoner Casey Brezik is requesting books and letters to help chip away at his 12 year sentence for attempting to attack the Governor of Missouri.
During our listener feedback, Statler and Waldorf wrote in to challenge us for not listing the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski’s birthday among our listing of political prisoner birthdays. Here’s the text of "Industrial Society and its Future, the so-called Unabomber Manifesto, info about the 1996 Unabomber for President Campaign, and a collection of his writings on the Anarchist Library.
May Day! May Day! Check out these links for info about demonstrations that happened on May the first around the world, including New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Seattle - including the “anarchist vs superhero” scuffle. Check out this thoughtful analysis of new street tactics used to avoid kettling by riot police in Montreal. We’ve also seen reports from The Hague, . Disgusting fascist rallies also took place, from the French National Front in Paris to Nazi marches in Plauen, Germany and Jonkoping, Sweden. Some of the most conflictual demos took place in Istanbul and around Turkey, as well as in Malaysia, where black blockers “refused to apologize” to the media. Definitely don’t miss this fascinating, disturbing video of riot cops being defeated, disarmed and humiliated by pro-Russian protesters in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine.
News discussed on the Hot Wire included the sentencing of the NATO 3, Debbie from the Blackmail 3 in the UK, and Swedish animal rights activists; solidarity actions in Seattle including banner drops, ATMs sabotaged, and locks glued; rail lines blocked in Montreal; a hunger strike and protest at a UK migrant prison; a Catholic church attacked in Chile by the Mauricio Morales Vengeance Group; an Alabama prisoner strike, a Greek nihilist attack against a murderous prison guard, a popular occupation of military-owned land in Columbia, a study of the deadliest countries for environmental and land defenders, attacks on indigenous Brazilians and Guatemala anti-mining activists, protests in Turkey after a mining disaster, the paramilitary attack on Zapatista community La Realidad, the US Congress’s resolution to impose sanctions on those responsible for “human rights abuses” against protestors in Venezuela, a Filipino anti-Obama protest, and police killing demonstrators in a protest against a proposed waste incinerator in Hangzhou, China.
Upcoming events mentioned in Next Week’s News include Utah Tar Sands Resistance gathering in PR Springs, Utah, Chesapeake Earth First’s energy exports action camp from June 2nd through 9th in Maryland, the Earth First Climber’s Guild gathering June 16th–22nd in the Upper Midwest, actions in solidarity with the Zapatista community of La Realidad, demonstrations against sea animal exploitation in Niagara Falls, Ontario, Montreal’s Festival of Anarchy and the International Anarchist Theater Festival (which Clara really wants to hear reports from!)
Upcoming Prisoner Birthdays:
William Phillips Africa #AM–4984 [May 11]
1000 Follies Road
Dallas, PA 18612
Alvaro Luna Hernandez #255735 [May 12]
Hughes Unit Rt. 2
Gatesville, TX 76597
Mondo we Langa (s/n David Rice) # 27768 [May 21]
Nebraska State Penitentiary
Post Office Box 2500
Lincoln, Nebraska 68542–2500
Address envelope to David Rice, address card to Mondo we Langa
Doug Wright #57973–060 [May 31]
Doug is currently in transit; stay tuned to the Cleveland 4 support website for updated mailing address!