photo by SG

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Reproletarianization and Consciousness

I was reading a collection of documents from the Love and Rage Federation the other day and came across a brilliant theory piece discussing the role of white youth in revolutionary struggle. It pointed out that white working class youth are "reproles," insofar as they are they children of a generation of workers that sold out to the capitalist state. Today, the white working class has been thrust back into the working world, the promises of their alliance with the capitalist class turned sour. (This isn't to argue against a white privilege analysis of racism, which is one I stand by. White privilege is still a powerful system, but the welfare state and its attendant ideologies have failed the white working class's attempt to escape from capitalist oppression. This also isn't to diminish the continuing struggles of white working class people who were never allowed into the "middle class." They never escaped and continue to fight capitalist exploitation.)

This concept of reproletarianization really grabbed me. It describes so perfectly what I have seen in my own life and in the lives of my friends and age cohort out of high school. Many of my close friends and classmates have become reproles. Their parents were raised to aspire to middle class ambitions and raised them to do the same, but the changing economy has not allowed them to take the same routes. This isn't to ignore the agency involved in these decisions. Many folks I know have left college, the traditional path to skilled worker positions, because they couldn't stand it any more. (This is something worthy of way more analysis, perhaps by someone with a stronger psychoanalytic knowledge than myself.)

My interest is how these reproles have proven so difficult to organize with. While I help out in the IWW, my role as a student means that I only have so much energy to spend on that project. But I have taken my training as a Wob and applied it. I routinely offer workplace advice to my friends and high school classmates. Nearly everyone I know gets screwed at work, inevitably in the service industry. (My friends in direct production roles, like in factories, actually seem to do better. I have no substantial proof of why, but my gut tells me that this is the remnant memories of class resistance by the old labor movement.) They don't get paid the right amount, no overtime/too much overtime, they have shitty bosses, etc. These complaints are nothing new to any young person working.

But my comments and suggestions go completely ignored by my friends and classmates. It's not that they don't have problems with the work, or that they're Mr. Block either. They hate their bosses, they know what they want changed, and I've helped them understand how easily they can bring about that change. The problem, I think, is consciousness and despair.

The reproles of my generation have no concept of class struggle or class consciousness. Thrust back into the working class, they have no models or history of struggle to look to and get inspired by. The white reproletarianized youth of today is divided by the historical barrier of race from workers of color, from whose history there is a lot to be inspired by. They seem to have no concept of what it means to be "working class," but also have not completely bought into the bootstrap myth. They remain ambivalent towards the welfare system, progressive on social issues, but confused about their historical role as workers. In fact, I think that one of the first bridges that I have to cross with these reproles is getting them to accept the word "worker" as a descriptor for their work.

I think that these reproles will play an important role in class struggle in the United States, particularly as the country's economic future becomes more and more clouded by China and the European Union. I accept Martin Glaberman's suggestion that action proceeds consciousness, so my concern is not in radicalizing these folks via ideology. Rather, I think what the revolutionary movement can do for these reproles is to continue the work started by the Autonomists for the Italian working class in the seventies: we must explore and valorize the kinds of resistances that these workers are already participating in. We must show these workers that their actions are already representative of class struggle, and that the next step must be to organize these individual actions that refuse work into collective refusal and creation of alternatives.

How we go about doing this is a big question, but I see it as one that I need to struggle with. I think my job as an anarchist revolutionary in the next few years is going to be focused on reproles and the process of action and radicalization amongst them. We'll see where that goes.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Things I Am Currently Grooving On

1. Three-Sided Soccer. Seriously, what will those crazy Situationists think of next? I like the idea, I like the transcendence of what is most problematic about sports: the referee-state. Much as I love American Football, I can only love it as I love to watch shitty television. Brett Favre is a great athlete and a hero to many of us Wisconsinites, but his game has no liberatory potential. American Football is a complex web of rules that are irrational and unchangeable, interpretable only by referees. Perhaps that's why the working class in the U.S. loves it so much: it corresponds to the morass of rules and laws that the capitalist system places over us, but we feel as though we have no agency over.

It brings to mind Bakunin's statement in God and the State about Protestantism: "In this respect Protestantism is much more advantageous. It is the bourgeois religion par excellence. It accords just as much liberty as is necessary to the bourgeois, and finds a way of reconciling celestial aspirations with the respect which terrestrial conditions demand." Catholicism is, by the other token, the perfect religion of the working class because it gives no liberty, subsumes all worship under the watchful eye of the official Church. Which is why it has been such a popular faith, traditionally. (Note that this has changed remarkably around the world in the last few decades. There's something important about evangelical Christianity and the working class imagination. I wonder if Marx's words about religion in the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right may be worth considering: "Religious suffering is, at one and the same time, the expression of real suffering and a protest against real suffering.")

Three-sided soccer, and other liberatory sports, aim to transcend these traditional roles. American Football, like traditional Catholicism, is rooted in confusing tradition, not freedom. Soccer, like traditional Protestantism, is based on what appears to be freedom, but is in fact simply a new form of control.

This is not to denigrate either sport, because I love them dearly. But in our search for the creation of new modes of organizing, an exploration into new modes of play is integral. If we wish to create a better society, we must place play in a key role. As someone (Breton, I think? Or Franklin Rosemont maybe?) said, and my friend Joe is fond of reminding me, "You can't fight alienation with alienated means."

2. Did you know that Rimbaud basically stopped writing poetry by the time he was twenty-one? But in the few years that he did so, he wrote some of the finest poetry that I've ever read. No wonder the Surrealists were so inspired by him. He's the quintessential bohemian poet. Ambiguous sexuality, anti-social behavior, aimless traveler: he's about as cool as they come.

His early poem about the French Revolution, "The Blacksmith" is so laden with righteous violence that you can't help but cackle. The blacksmith torments the captured King with descriptions of the oppressed people, ready to rise up and rend him limb from limb. A few particularly great lines:

To fake laws, and stick bills out of jars
Full of pretty pink decrees and sugar-coated pills,
To amuse themselves by cutting down a few sizes,
Then holding their noses when we walk near them,
-Our kind representatives who find us dirty!-
In order to fear nothing, nothing, save bayonets...
That is fine. Let's get ride of their humbug speeches!
We have had enough of these flat-heads
And these belly-gods. Ah! Those are the dishes
You bourgeois serve us, when we are in a frenzy,
When we are already breaking sceptres and croziers!...

Yeah, it's sweet.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Uprisings in Lhasa

So things are getting pretty hot in Tibet. The situation there merits a moment of analysis, I think.

First: China is the perfect embodiment of authoritarian capitalism. I say this first to dissuade any confused "anti-imperialists" who think that everything that challenges the United States is somehow progressive. Nothing of the sort. China has flipped communism on its head, and is paying the consequences. An impoverished and swelling working class is beginning to put its feet down. The situation is nothing if not reminiscent of the U.S. in the late 19th/early twentieth centuries. An active but entirely unorganized working class which is trying to establish forms to resist capitalist exploitation. China is the most important country in the next decade, and not because it's economy is "booming" but because its class struggle is.

Second: The Dalai Lama should be the first one against the wall. For all his equivocation and pacifist language, he is a rank opportunist and theocrat. Much as I am loathe to give them their due, the Maoists and their lackeys have pointed out what a scumbag he is and how horrible feudal Tibet was for the underclasses. Michael Parenti's oft-cited essay is of use here. A choice quote:

"Keep in mind that it took a Chinese occupation and almost forty years of exile for him to propose democracy for Tibet and to criticize the oppressive feudal autocracy of which he himself was the apotheosis. But his criticism of the old order comes far too late for ordinary Tibetans. Many of them want him back in their country, but it appears that relatively few want a return to the social order he represented."

The Dalai Lama is anti-choice and anti-gay. He's not even pro-independence. His leadership would be a giant step backwards for Tibet. He is enormously popular in the West because his pacifist style makes liberals feel at ease and also as if they're doing something while they're not. If Tibet does somehow break off or achieve a measure of autonomy, the former serfs will not likely welcome back the feudal theocracy that he represents.

Taking this two as premises, we can see that neither the CCP nor the Dalai Lama has the interests of working people in Tibet in mind. And what's more, they know it. We must examine these recent disturbances as moments of class struggle. The struggle in Tibet is not being led by the "Dalai clique" as Beijing would have us believe. In fact, the pacifist-king-in-exile has threatened to resign if violence continues. Hardly the words of someone supporting the conflict on the streets of Lhasa! But the Lama is not supporting the actions: they challenge his role as legitimate leader, because they are autonomous and decentralized.

The ethnic Han in Tibet can be seen as analogous to the Protestants in Northern Ireland. Ethnic Tibetans acting against the Chinese government occasionally (and incredibly regrettably) spills over to ordinary Hans because they are part of that occupation, even if they are not the ones doing the actual crimes.

Of course, the Western media is doing its best to downplay the revolutionary energy of this authentic anti-imperialist struggle. The rioters are portrayed as hooligans that are "over-reacting" and not following the proscribed path toward liberal democracy. We've got to be careful that we don't fall into cheer-leading for either the U.S.-backed Lama or the CCP. Neither are progressive and neither are revolutionary. The working class in Tibet is testing out the waters and we must watch and critically support their actions.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


Hey out there in internet-land.

I've wanted to post more up ye olde blogge here but my involvement in "the struggle" has upped a lot in the last couple of weeks. I've been reading a lot recently, particularly stuff outside of my normal narrowly radical political lens, thanks to my fantastic "Politics of Memory in Latin America" class. I'm seeking to synthesize my knowledge and learning about class struggle with theory and study of memory and forgetting. I fear Walter Benjamin may have beat me by about 70 years, but what can say, I'm only in undergraduate school!

While you're bored, go over and give the folks at Prol-Position a look-see. They've got all you need to know about class recomposition globally. (Well, not everything, but close.)