photo by SG

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Worst Laid Plans

I've found myself calling people "adventurists" way more often recently. I sound like a Leninist, I know. But I'm becoming further convinced that about 75% of anarchist practice is totally counter-productive.

Actions that seek to "block" or "disrupt" capital's day-to-day operation without a systematic follow-up are mostly what I'm considering here. I'm sympathetic to the idea that the whole of society now produces value, including people who are not normally considered workers, and that therefore, any break or refusal constitutes a valid attack against capital. Following this logic, it appears that anything we do to fight capital is a good idea.

While of course any attack is legitimate, insofar as capitalism is the most destructive system the world has ever seen, not all attacks are equally valid in building an alternative. This is the place where I start to get aggravated at my comrades. Just because doing something is morally acceptable does not mean its strategically sound.

This does not negate the idea of all refusals being equally legitimate. If, say, a neighborhood organization worked to organize a cop watch (and push out drug dealers), I'd say it would constitute a valid assault on capital. Likewise, if protesters blocked the shipments of military vehicles to Iraq, that would be fantastic. What unites these two scenarios, however, and divides them from what I see a lot of anarchists doing, is that they are sustained campaigns.

Capitalism can withstand the slings and arrows of activists. What I suspect it will have a harder time with is ongoing struggles and crises. Consider the well-known revolutionary situations of the 20th century: '39, '56, '68, '94. None of these scenarios were small, pinprick actions against capital. They may have begun that way (Mexico in '68 is a great example) but only when united with larger constituencies of the oppressed.

I don't think I'm saying anything particularly novel. It basically boils down to the idea that morality is not a justification for all things. Or, rather, pure morality. Morality separated from the day-to-day struggles of humanity reproduces the same kind of mind/body dualism that the bourgeoisie has always used to repress liberation. If liberation is moral and our morality is enacted through our actions, than liberation must be our goal. Strategy is necessary for liberation.


William said...

1. Strategic concerted efforts are good, activist culture is institutionally stupid.

2. '39, '56, '68, '94 were pretty much the textbook definition of small pinprick actions against capital.

3. Your hostility to morality is amusing, and rooted in an entirely unfounded conceptual framework.

Setanta said...

It's not a hostility to morality as much as a hostility to the use of morality as the sole impetus for action.

What unfounded conceptual framework are you referring to?

Nate said...

hey dude,
I've got a mixed response to this post. On the one hand, I totally share your discomfort with the people and practices you criticize. On the other hand, I think your post doesn't make clear the difference between a register of authorization or jusification ("any break or refusal constitutes a valid attack") and a register of advisability or strategy.

Re: the first people certainly are justified in trying to live their lives better and all that and to strike out against what they see as the problem. Not all of these are attacks on capitalism, though, or if they are that doesn't mean they're good things. I'm thinking specifically of hate strikes.

Re: the second, I share the impression that most anarchist and other pro-revolutionary practice is useless as best (judged according to its likelihood of helping abolish capitalism) or counterproductive. I think most of that is about the people doing the activities wanting to do stuff that feels exciting or is otherwise an expression of their gut level emotional responses to their lives or the world around them.

I also just want to note that there can be struggles against specific capitalists which do not end up being a threat to capitalism. For instance, a strike by workers at a small less economically successful firm may well hasten the end of that firm and the consolidation of that industry under fewer and bigger firms. In that case the struggle - while still justified and damaging to an individual capitalist - may actually be productive for total social capital. Adventurist approaches and lack of organization I think make this recuperation more likely, because they make it less likely for an accumulation of struggle to occur.


William said...

//It's not a hostility to morality as much as a hostility to the use of morality as the sole impetus for action.//

No you're attacking a strawman/boogieman of some sort of limited, context-deprived Kantian ethics.

But morality isn't a set of strictures regarding actions (ie no butt sex, only non-violent protest, etc.), that's just arbitrary ethical proclamation.

Morality has to do with how *The Good* you're striving for is conceptualized and how it's justified (ultimately an issue of metaphysics or metaethics).

Striving for an ultimate good is in no way contradictory with strategic action.

//If liberation is moral and our morality is enacted through our actions, than liberation must be our goal. Strategy is necessary for liberation.//

In your own model here Morality is the sole impetus for strategy.

You seem to have an impression that B, although ultimately motivated by A, can somehow conflict with A.

But if you detatch B from A then it's not, strictly speaking, B anymore. Because it's motivation by A is a crucial precondition to its existence.

So now you have C -- a separate entity. Since your thinking on this has been classically communist I will address it in classical communist terms. A is liberation. B is struggle towards liberation. C is THE PLAN.

The problem with C of course is that it's defined at a set moment in time.

Here's where we are now. That's where we want to go. These are the directions. No sense in looking up from the map to keep looking at where we want to go. We can just bury our head in the map and count steps.

Granted, occasionally we may glance up, re-focus on our goal and revise our directions.

But this whole line of thought is predicated on the assumption that we don't have the space in our heads or the capacity to both keep our eyes glued on the goal AND follow the map.

This is plainly ridiculous. We can't abandon our underlying desire (for A) "for a few minutes" and have the period of that abandonment be _in order to better get at A_ (from any vantage point beyond the moment of initial abandonment). That's a logical contradiction.

William said...

//Morality separated from the day-to-day struggles of humanity reproduces the same kind of mind/body dualism that the bourgeoisie has always used to repress liberation.//

Any moral goal -- like say Anarchy/liberation -- is going to inherently reproduce this boogieman the left has made out of mind/body dualism. But so fucking what?

Anything else is rootless (un-radical) and adrift in a sea of context that loops back on itself. Either you have a concrete morality to give you solid direction, or you'll always be responding to the local topology of your conditions and remain entirely a subject and product of them.

The problem with the New Left is that it throws out morality altogether and only focuses on immediate ethical intuitions.

The problem with the Old Left is that is throws out morality altogether in the name of

As Anarchists we're free of all that idiocy because we recognize that ends and means are interconnected but not one-to-one.

That is to say we can make utilitarian judgments motivated by the realization of a concrete moral direction, but with the realization that our actions are embedded in a larger context of effects (including those actions' quasi-virtue ethical influence on ourselves).

We're not New Leftists always looking two inches beyond our nose and ignoring the larger picture, nor are we Old Leftists loosing track of our goal amid our process.

Morality is absolutely central to Anarchism. A solid morality gives us constant direction in the big picture.

Anonymous said...

Whoo, let's hear for metaphilosophical debates about moral principles! Man I love this stuff, I get into it way too rarely.

Respectfully, I think y'all are ahistorical on this morality debate.

Setanta, the mind/body dualism is not acontextually reactionary or anti-proletarian. (Likewise with contextualization.) Sometimes it is and sometimes it's not. It also seems to me that your claim that separation from the day to day struggles for humanity always has negative consequences poses a test which the claim itself fails: either this claim is true in all contexts (which would then stretch any sense of connection to day-to-day struggles that I can think of) or it's not (in which case the claim may have more connection with day to day struggles but at the price of not being as universal as the claim sounds, if read literally.)

William, I don't buy your argument that morality is always about the good or that it always requires metaphysical or meta-ethical commitments. I mean, you're welcome to define the term that way but that's an idiosyncratic definition. Such that a great many uses of the term 'morality' by people who think they have one or believe in one or otherwise have some relationship to whatever the referent is that they have in mind when they use the term are all really talking about something else. That's fine if you want to use the word that way but I don't see why. Clearly some morality involves talk of the good, and some involves metaphysics and meta-ethics (and sometimes those latter things can benefit us morally), but to say that this is always so seems to me to be a stretch. It puts you in a tough spot argument-wise in that you can't really demonstrate this claim until you have a fully worked out and convincing metaphysical and/or meta-ethical position which is not only internally consistent but irrefutably recommendable. (You are of course free to make, as you put it, an ethical proclamation.)