Nach einer kleinen Sommerpause folgt nun das 7. set – diesmal wird Euch „Voodoo Rhythm“ geboten und zwar von niemand geringerem als dem wunderbaren Berliner DJ Grizzly…
Enjoy the streets of candy!
Archiv für Oktober 2012
Nach einer kleinen Sommerpause folgt nun das 7. set – diesmal wird Euch „Voodoo Rhythm“ geboten und zwar von niemand geringerem als dem wunderbaren Berliner DJ Grizzly…
David Graeber is an anthropologist, anarchist, and one of the main organizers of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) in the United States. He has written about direct action, revolutions, capitalism, anarchist anthropology, and other issues; his latest book is „Debt: The First 5000 Years“. His writings have been translated into several languages. We interviewed David in Berlin.
Routes sucrées: While in Europe, you got invited by non-leftist members of the German parliament, mainstream TV talk shows, and conservatives applauded your new book. What do you make of the fact that both state institutions as well as those who want to abolish the state seek your advice or at least the discussion?
David Graeber: It’s really strange. And I don‘t know what to make of it. My first reaction was that these guys must be in really big trouble, much more than they say. Which I think is in fact the case. Members of the elite have spent a lot more time on ideological warfare than they have on the practicalities of maintaining a viable system. They seem to think it’s much more important to convince people that capitalism is the only viable system than creating an actually viable economic system. With the result that when things do start falling apart, nobody can imagine that that could be really happening and that nothing else could replace it. Obviously, as so far they want me to save capitalism for them, I couldn‘t help anyway [laughs]. So I‘m not really worried.
You are both a public intellectual and an activist who is openly anarchist. This has caused problems for you in the past. What would you generally say about being in a career where you inevitably have to hide some political views?
I think we can‘t separate theory from practice. Which is of course what academia is all about: trying to do that. They don‘t care what you think in academia as long as you are willing to be a hypocrite about it. But we have a problem when we try any form of actual practice that is consistent with your ideals. My solution is that I never published anything about politics in journals. And when I wrote something about politics, I did it with anarchist groups. So I have kind of two lives. I would agree, it is a profound problem.
You were very active with „Occupy Wall Street“ in the US. One thing that stuck out with OWS was that there were no demands towards the state, those in power etc. This also means not acknowledging them as a legitimate entity.
Yes! In fact it was a delegitimating strategy.
OWS, and you as well, speak of the 99% and of the 1% that profits. But doesn‘t that ignore structural factors and open the way for a personified critique of capitalism?
It is a slogan. It could lead to almost anything. It is not in itself an analysis. But the reason why we thought that it would be a good starting point is because it points to something deeply structural about contemporary capitalism. The 1% of the population is the one who managed to turn their wealth into political power.
When we think of a liberated society, for lack of a better term we often speak of „communism“. In the United States, this term is not so much used by anti-authoritarian, radical left groups. Do you think it is of any use?
I think it is difficult to use because of the historical baggage. However, I think it is absolutely critical to make an intervention there! Because the way the term is deployed is quite insidious. One reason I tried to set up a different definition of communism was that I think we need just to transform totally the way we talk about these things. I think we are all communists most of the time. Whenever we cooperate and we are together in a common project, that is how we act. Obviously capitalists are ultimately exploiting communist relations so that they will be turned into their opposite. Capitalism is just a bad way of organizing communism. State socialism was not a great way to organize communism, either. We need to come up with a good way of organizing communism, but communism is always here.
David, thank you for the interview!
Due to lack of space, only part of the interview is printed here. Moreover, we needed to save a little bit of space for some remarks on our part: During the course of the interview, we had several disagreements with Graeber. While we want to use the interview above to give room for his arguments, we also want to sum up our criticism here: We believe that David Graeber’s success in both the conservative and the economically liberal media, i.e. the mainstream, can be explained by the fact that his ideas are more or less harmless (sorry, David). Yes, we believe that Graeber truly wants to abolish capitalism. But according to him, a rupture with the current society – something that radical critics usually propagate – is not necessary. Graeber uses radical language which won‘t lead to radical acts. By labeling every form of non-monetary co-operation
„communist“, even Mother Theresa could be called a communist. While we believe that building autonomous institutions can be important for various reasons (see the article „“Start with Yourself? in this issue), we also think that for a truly liberated, „communist“ society, it won‘t be enough to extend already existing principles of solidarity. In the long run, some form of rupture – a „revolution“ – will be necessary to get us out of this misery called capitalism.
[see the article Expanding the Floor of the Cage ]
“But it doesn‘t work, look at the last time”
Whoever criticizes capitalism has sooner or later been confronted with this phrase.
A lot of responses to a fundamental criticism of existing social relations point to the failure of so-called “actual existing socialism” in the Soviet Union and the GDR as “proof” that there are no alternatives to capitalism. “Look, maybe capitalism isn’t brilliant,” so the argument goes, “but any other way of organizing human society inevitably ends up in a dictatorship.”
A lot of leftists in return think that this is a stupid argument and that one doesn‘t need to deal with this brand of so-called socialism and its crimes. But if we’re looking for an alternative to capitalism it’s clear that we can’t avoid dealing with the problem of what was once called ‘communism’ or ‘actually existing socialism’ by people on both sides: its opponents in the West and its representatives in the East. Our aim here is not to discredit the search for a fundamentally different model of society – , one which is based on the needs of human beings – and we certainly won’t be equating the states of the Eastern Bloc with the Nazi regime. Instead, we want to make it clear that our idea of a communist society actually has very little in common with either of the former dictatorships.
But what exactly was this ‘actually existing socialism’? According to those in power in those days, the people had embarked on a path towards the construction of a classless, egalitarian society. But since this classless society had obviously not been achieved yet, they called it ‘actually existing socialism’ instead.
‘Actually existing socialism’ I: Dictatorship over rather than of the proletariat
When Karl Marx deals with the transition from capitalist to communist systems, he speaks of a period of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. During this stage, the proletarians who have come to power are compelled to defend the revolution from the former ruling class. Once this danger has been dispelled, the institutions necessary for doing so, such as the state and military apparatus, wither away because they are simply no longer needed.
The rulers of the Eastern Bloc states appealed to this ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ as the ideological justification for their instruments of rule and structures of power. In the course of events, the demand for broad-based self-determination on the part of working people actually turned into its exact opposite: the dictatorship of party bureaucracy over the vast majority of the population.
Under Lenin’s leadership in 1917, the October Revolution led to the Bolshevist faction of the Social Democratic Workers’ Party taking over government. Immediately afterwards, the people managed to establish real popular self-determination for the first time. This was clear, for example, in the fact that workers were able to plan industrial production themselves, collaboratively, whereas previously they had always had to implement orders handed down from above.
But this phase didn’t last long. It was soon brought to an end by the dictatorship of a small party clique, a system introduced by Lenin and taken to its extremes by Stalin. After Stalin’s death, the personality cult that had developed around him and the Soviet leadership was abandoned, and a period of ‘destalinization’ began. Crimes that had been committed by the state were also addressed to a certain extent, though the authoritarian rule of the party bureaucracy over the population and extensive control of almost every area of life nevertheless continued in all the Eastern Bloc countries.
‘Actually existing socialism’ II: Liberation through instead of from labor
The Eastern Bloc countries promised their inhabitants an economic system that would function without mass unemployment, without the principle of competition, and without exploitation. But in fact, the Eastern Bloc countries failed to develop a proper communist economic system. There was actually no fundamental break with the principles that determine capitalist economies.
It would be more accurate to say that those in power in these countries imitated the mechanisms of capitalism. They essentially just changed the company name from ‘private company’ to ‘nationally owned company’. The basic criteria of capitalist production – exchange, money, wages, and profit – were not really called into question. This is clear enough from the fact that even the ‘actually existing socialist’ states were in competition with one another and the capitalist states and even used military means to obtain spheres of influence at a global level. Those in power in these so-called socialist states were in fact eager to compete with capitalism in its most central categories: the pressure to work, the need to be efficient nevermind the effect on people. Pretty idiotic – so no big surprise that capitalism won this game in the end.
In everyday life under ‘actually existing socialism’ these developments manifested themselves, amongst other things, in the predominance of a fully-fledged labor fetishism. People were set to work simply to expand the wealth of the state, rather than that of the population. Others had to do largely pointless or superfluous work in order to create the impression of ‘full employment’. Thus labor became more than a necessary evil that you only do when it has to be done. People had to work just as much as they had under capitalism.
‚Actually existing Socialism’ III: Hard-working bodies, hardened souls
This fetishization of work was only one part of this so-called socialist ideal. Hard work was also supposed to toughen the body, and the demand for a moralistic and ascetic way of life was reminiscent of the dreary and oppressive atmosphere of protestant churches. But when every sign of weakness is condemned and every demonstration of emotions labeled as ‘petty bourgeois’, the necessary foundations of a society that is based on needs cannot be laid: the capacity for empathy, non-authoritarian behavior and an attempt at non-violent and needs-based communication. Now, why do we come up with this point? Because we see that whoever wants to be successful in capitalism has to toughen up and strengthen those bits of him- or herself that are authoritarian and violent. That doesn‘t mean calling for everyone to be ‚good‘ and altruistic. There’s already enough altruism in our society, leading people to willingly die for ‘their’ nation. No, what is needed is an interest in realizing one’s own needs and bringing these desires across in a non-violent manner. In our experience, the realization of one’s own authoritarian ways can be quite scary. But it is the first step toward changing them. So, back to ‘actually existing socialism’ and its cult of toughness: An authoritarian personality developed that was comparable to capitalist society. Therefore, we are not surprised what cruelties people who called themselves ‘communist’ were capable of doing. A society that is not interested in supporting people’s capability for empathy and instead advocates and is built on authoritarianism and toughness is the very opposite of what we would call an emancipatory society.
‘Actually existing Socialism’ IV: Was failure inevitable?
When people criticize the former Eastern dictatorships, others object that they emerged out of seriously difficult circumstances. Their starting conditions are supposed to have been far more difficult than those of their competitors in the West.
And indeed: the October Revolution in Russia happened despite severe pressure from the capitalist powers in Europe. The West supported internal enemies of the revolution – the ‘white’ counter-revolutionary groups – as much as it possibly could. In particular, Germany – which would become Nazi Germany a few years later – exerted an enormous amount of pressure on the Soviet leadership. They had to press on with industrialization, and with no small human sacrifice, in order to arm the country against an expected attack.
There is a kernel of truth to all these explanations. But they overlook the fact that revolutions always happen under very difficult conditions. A politics created under such circumstances must be prepared to deal with these problems rationally. Even within the communist parties at the time there were calls to create a liberated society of individuals coming together of their own free will. On sober reflection then, and to judge by these standards, ‘actually existing socialism’ clearly failed.
But pointing out these adverse circumstances should not give the false impression that the power structures of ‘actually existing socialism’ were based entirely on Lenin’s Bolshevik ideology. ‘Democratic centralism’ does not inevitably lead to Stalinism. In practice, Lenin’s ‘vanguard party’ was indeed the authoritarian rule of professional revolutionaries over their party base. This was for example evident from the fact that opposition was not permitted even within the party, and that the party base was strictly bound to the decisions of the party leadership.
In our view, purges come as no surprise within a party whose central doctrine of Historical Materialism sees itself as the vanguard of inevitable historical change. „Necessary processes“ which stagnate or fail can be explained in two different ways. The first option is that such changes were ultimately not necessary after all. But unfortunately very few took this view, whether Lukács, left communists like Gorter or Pannekoek or Critical Theory. The other explanation starts with a search for the „culprits“ for the failure. This explains the terribly long list of supposed counterrevolutionaries within the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and other countries. In this view of history, it is no surprise that Stalin and company became the biggest murderers of communists in all of history.
Even if our reasons for addressing the issue of ‘actually existing socialism’ are entirely different from those of the political mainstream, in our view this project was indeed a catastrophe. But it would be stupid to conclude from this that the search for alternatives isn’t worth the effort. The capitalist system we live under means constant terror. This terror takes the form of war, poverty, and oppression in the so-called ‘developing countries’, but also increasingly in the capitalist metropoles. One doesn‘t even have to mention the 30 000 people that die because of capitalism every day in order to point out that the search for alternatives to this economic system cannot wait one day longer.
For further reading:
- Hermann Gorter/Anton Pannekoek/Sylvia Pankhurst: Non-Leninist Marxism: Writings on the Worker’s Councils
- Arno Lustiger: Stalin and the Jews. 450 p., Enigma Books.
There are some perennial discussions in leftist groups, at the dinner table of housing co-ops, and amongst activist friends, among them the question of how far your individual behaviour is able to change social relations. Was Michael Jackson right when he sang: „I am starting with the man in the mirror“? Debaters on both sides seem to have a point. A lot of people who have found their way to the political left actually started their political awareness by questioning their own behaviour, more precisely their own consumption behaviour. Whether it is boycotting McDonald’s restaurants, H&M clothes or Coke, the refusal of animal products, avoiding specific travel destination and certain means of transportation or buying TransFair products, they all have one thing in common: They all attempt to change bad conditions through the means of one’s personal behaviour.
Against that stands a form of criticism which could be paraphrased as: „It’s the system, stupid!“ Whoever wants to change his or her behaviour individually is under an illusion because this can only be a drop in the ocean, and therefore is senseless. Eventually the sentence (which the communist thinker Theodor W. Adorno actually meant somewhat differently) is brought up: „There is no right life in the wrong one“. Attempts to alleviate suffering in the here and now are defamed as being mere charity. But as much as we share the opinion that suffering is mostly produced by social means, and therefore can only be replaced via a radical program of abolition, we also share the opinion that such a critique is often too simple.
Changing what we can, where we can
The area in which a reflected and potentially altered behaviour may reduce suffering already takes an enormous place in our own lives. We are talking about gender relations. On the one hand, it can be seen that some changes in gender relations perfectly adapt to current demands of capital and the state. For example the current ideal in western countries that women are supposed to be able to combine child care and a job is based on the fact that modern states cannot afford to exclude half its citizens from being used by capital. On the other hand there are no objective bounds which deter anyone from breaking out of the silly conceptions of how one has to be and how to present oneself. In other words: If a lot of people refuse the idea that girls and women are soooo sweet and need to be protected or have the world explained to them even by progressive men, and that boys and men are soooo strong and smart that even emancipated women can only be trophies to them, a change within your circle of friends or your political group is likely to occur in the end. This dynamic is quite similar for racist stereotypes. Besides a critique of the content of such stereotypical images, which stand against every form of human emancipation, this demands reflection about the images in one’s own head, as well as a change of personal thoughts, feelings and actions. Whereas oftentimes individual action is attached to a certain form of abstinence, in this case it is different: To free oneself from these kinds of images creates a win-win situation for everyone.
Another field where people can start with themselves is communication. Even in left circles communication is often riddled with authority. A result of this, apart from the direct suffering this can cause, is the emergence of status hierarchies. But if the next revolution should really be about liberation it needs people who don‘t just want to follow anymore and who believe that everyone has something important to say. An analysis and change of one’s own communication style is necessary so that this doesn‘t result in individual fights between people who want to become authority figures.
The privilege of being poor in rich countries
As the examples above have emphasised the importance of individual action in order to make change, the following examples will show its limitations. Most notably, in the following examples the call for different behaviour is actually proof of a misleading criticique of capitalist production. To start off: When some of the editors of this fine magazine made a plan to escape the cold winter and fly to Morocco, they tried to convince a friend who had little money: „Bungalows there are just two Euros“. The friend, however, was shocked. He complained about our joy, because supposedly cheap prices are based on people’s poverty there. „But“, we replied, „We can‘t afford expensive trips. Is staying at home the answer?“
Generally speaking, changing personal behaviour is extremely limited when it comes to economic relations. This is because of the way in which stuff is produced for people to live, and the reasons why. It is not done based on people’s needs and how to fulfil them. Instead, companies speculate that a product increases consumer demand. Therefore they buy the labour of people who need to earn a living. This relation is therefore founded on the exploitation of people living in misery who have nothing to offer but their ability to work. Those people – more or less all of us – are confronted with a „silent constraint.“ It is not forbidden not to work, but if you don‘t sooner or later you won‘t be able to pay your rent. Former German chancellor Schröder made that clear by saying that laziness was okay, as long as lazy people did not claim state benefits. Very funny. This makes it sound as though having no money is your own fault. But it’s exactly the other way around! If companies assume they can make money with a certain product, you are allowed to produce it for them. How much money you can earn mainly depends on one thing: how many competitors there are. If there are a lot of people who can do what you can, you have to give away labour and time without earning a lot. Mostly people have to handle their money carefully because it is hard enough to buy the necessary things and to fulfil some of those small dreams that have not vanished already.
When the winter is unbearable, an expensive vacation is not affordable for most people – and besides, the reason why luxurious hotels are expensive is certainly not because wages are any higher there. But what is the result of not going on vacation at all? A lot of people in Morocco live from tourism. This is not meant to make tourism seem purely beneficial for the people living there. But it is no help to them if you spend your holiday in Germany instead. In this example, individual behaviour is tangled up in the capitalist economy and its implicit laws. In a similar vein, no one would label it an act of emancipation to forgo a job after an interview in order to leave it to another applicant. This would be a form of charity which certainly not everyone can afford, and therefore is not a form of behaviour that can be universalized. So do we instead demand that at least rich people buy organic food and TransFair products? No, they should rather imitate a capitalist named Friedrich Engels, who financed the studies of his buddy Karl Marx. This would help to find a solution which is able to help everyone.
Change your burger and your pants?
No one can proclaim that not buying H&M clothes or renouncing Burger King and McDonald’s is something one has to be able to afford. Different forms of boycott have been organised against all those products. They have focused on collective action to make companies change their behaviour. Boycott movements actually have succeeded with certain initiatives. The fear of bad press has pushed some companies change their form of production. Moreover, an awareness of important topics – like worker’s rights, the environment, or repressive regimes – can be achieved as well. However, the practise of boycotting is not able to achieve anything beyond that and remains symbolism limited to a small number of companies or products. The production practises of the competitor companies often work in similar ways, which is ignored by boycotters. Moreover, a success in boycotting a company usually brings across the idea that the terrible effects of the markets are only caused by single companies. The possibility is evoked that misery might disappear if bad intentions are just exchanged with good ones. Such an assumption might explain the popularity of this kind of criticism: Hunting for the guilty protagonists earns more „likes“ than questioning markets and states which are assumed to beneficial. But should one therefore abstain from boycotting?
For a few years there has been a McDonald’s in Kreuzberg, an ‚alternative‘ neighbourhood of Berlin, which for a long time was guarded by ten cops every night. Obviously, opinions on the company differ within left structures. A grassroots initiative in Kreuzberg targeted the company’s working conditions. At first sight, working conditions in a traditional snack bar might be more comfortable, but usually the workers in these small businesses have to work seven days a week. It remains unclear whether it would be better for them to work at McDonald’s, where they are actually covered by social security. Furthermore, at a large company there are formal criteria for hierarchies, as opposed to working conditions influenced by family structures which often are dominant in snack bars. Is this a recommendation on what to eat? No, it’s simply too expensive at McDonald’s, chips are wishy-washy and the McChicken is too small. But criticism of big companies is often superficial and overlooks or idealises equally problematic things occurring within smaller companies. It often ignores why the salaries are kept low. H&M and other clothing companies are also often criticised, typically aimed at child labor. Even people who criticise the general conditions which workers have to deal with in countries with low labour costs cannot deny the special nastiness of child labour. Indeed, several local changes can be achieved via boycott and public campaigns, but making child labor illegal oftentimes is not helpful for the children concerned. Due to several reasons children are cheap workers and have to contribute to their family’s income. Even though international companies ostracise child labor, working children are a part of capitalism. Moreover there are children who organise themselves in order to enforce their rights. There have been, for example, protests of working children against the abolition of child labor. In this case, abolition would actually make how they make a living illegal. They would suffer even more from the dependency on their bosses and constantly fear the cops. In some cases children’s protests (and the protests of those who exploit them) were successful, causing changes in laws and constitutions. Child labor is a tragic example of making things worse by having good intentions.
So how does all this differ from the opinion that there is no possibility to change anything, already criticised above? It differs because we look at the claims of people who believe in changing things via certain behaviour. We don‘t disparage certain behaviour in an abstract way. And we don‘t ridicule or look down upon ameliorative actions, for example helping refugees by protesting against deportation, even though they may only be a drop in the ocean. Such actions are desperate attempts to reduce misery and to stay human under the current conditions.
And it is therefore understandable that some kind of change needs to happen instantly when one cannot bear this horror any longer. But just because of this fact, we should avoid focusing on scandal without considering systematic conditions. Naming and explaining those conditions to others could be an important element of personal behaviour. Future insurrections have to be organised as well. Those who claim to have all those systematic conditions in the back of their head, but sees an ultimate need for very concrete actions doesn‘t share our criticism. This person denies the fact that the very ruling principles of this economic system are responsible for the situations where one sees the need to reduce misery by altering individual behaviour to remain endless and immeasurable. You could go to cinema or give your money to a person who is begging at the station instead. You could go on holiday or support a project like this magazine. The capitalist economy is responsible for an endless occurrence of such situations. And therefore there can be no satisfying answer to the question whether you should change your consumption habits or not. Everyone has to decide that for her- or himself. Learning names of bad companies by heart instead of using that energy for reflecting one’s own racist or sexist behaviour to avoid concrete misery seems to miss the point. And those who believe that changes in consumptive behaviour might cause fundamental changes, if only a lot of people took part, harbour under an illusion. And it is those people who in the end stand in the way of real change.
Watch and listen more:
Seven Left Myths About Capitalism
One solution – revolution! A-, Anti- Anti- capitalista – Overthrow the System, revolution anarchista! The revolution is my girlfriend! And all the rest of it. At demonstrations, on t-shirts, in lyrics: the magic word „revolution“ has a big importance in left images and language. But when we actually start some form of activism – at university, at school, in groups or autonomous centres – our activities can often seem far away from fundamental political change. Much rather we go to anti-Nazi rallies, meet in reading groups, criticize dominant male talking at the student council, or block nuclear waste transports. Sometimes, when we read a text or write a call for a demo this „revolution“ pops up, but it always seems to be an empty phrase, somewhat detached from our daily lives. In the following, the magic word will lose its magic and the empty phrase will be filled with some content. So why do we want something like that – a basic change of society, a break with existing conditions? And in which cases are smaller changes – reforms – enough?
Reforms are not enough
We don‘t want a revolution because it is cool. Of course, we can enjoy all of these things: posters with masked guys (sometimes and more and more: women, too) hurling rocks, pictures of the Zapatista uprising in Mexico or historical accounts of the Kronstadt rebellion in 1921. We are actually quite glad that all we have for supposed „normal“ things like patriotism, racism, sexism, homophobia or capitalism is an outstretched middle finger. And that what we want is something totally, totally different. But in fact, it’s not about aesthetics, being cool, a big „fuck you“ gesture or about being dogmatically grounded in abstract revolutionary principles. We want a revolution because some conditions simply can‘t be changed step by step. Instead, some kind of turning point is needed – hopefully sooner than later – where a large proportion of people says: „Nyet. This capitalist mode of production, what a silly thing! It’s time to fundamentally restructure society.“
An example may illustrate how we come to this conclusion: Every day about 30,000 people die as a consequence of malnutrition. For a long time there have been attempts to ease the situation – emergency aid, genetic engineering to improve crop yields, boosting the local economy by help of microfinancing, and always new UN targets to reduce world hunger. They all fail, it’s devastating. When, at the same time, there is food overproduction in Europe, the suggestion seems reasonable to bring these goods to poorer regions. Oftentimes, this suggestion is struck down as naive because it would destroy local economies. This point illustrates the very insanity of the capitalist mode of production, where it makes more sense to destroy food surplus than to help starving people with it – because by helping them even more people would starve in the long run! Instead, everyone is supposed to be enabled to participate in the competition of the market economy. The only problem is: Where there is a competition there will inevitably be losers. As long as money is needed to buy food, large quantities of losers will starve. We don‘t have any idea how to modify this perfidious logic via reforms (if you know better, please send us an email!). Until then, to make hunger history we don‘t see any other possibility than a revolution in the current mode of production.
But it’s not even necessary to look at faraway regions. Even in everyday life, one runs up against the limits of capitalism: When someone is hungry but doesn‘t have any money and therefore steals cheese in a supermarket, they get into trouble: annoyed cashier, aggressive security personnel, abusive policemen, police station, getting charged. The behavior of „not taking part in their game“ certainly didn‘t abolish any form of authority and nobody is better off afterwards (apart from maybe a sadistic cop). The same goes for the idea of moving to the countryside with some friends to grow carrots to live on. If people enjoy this they certainly should do it. However it’s no skin off capitalism’s nose. In short: Capitalism is a tough nut to crack. It’s no use to just scratch the surface. For production to not be focused on producing profit anymore – with the abovementioned consequences – it needs to be fundamentally altered.
We imagine this revolution as a kind of „collective self-liberation,“ as a joint process that takes our personal needs and desires as a starting point while focusing on fundamental change. Before that, however, we need to become aware of what actually constitutes these needs and desires. Because not every revolution is necessarily emancipatory. Moreover, left symbolism often lets one think that a revolution is a matter of half a day. Some highly symbolic building gets stormed, the red and black flag hoisted and – hey! – we have a new society! When we talk about a „rupture“, however, we actually envision quite a long process. Who knows, maybe there will be such a symbolic day with stormed, burning buildings. But more importantly, there will be discussions before and after about how to create a new society.
More than a revolution
At the same time there are some differences when we talk about other forms of hierarchy than capitalism: if we aim for a society that doesn‘t produce for profit but for our needs that doesn‘t mean that sexism will automatically be obliterated. Chances are high that again it would be men talking in the councils (or however we would organize ourselves). Maybe someone would insult their lesbian neighbor. And we have to assume that many people would continue to be racist. In the long run, different economic conditions could change this: in a world without nations, without an absurd division of labor, the idea of splitting people up into good „natives“ and bad „strangers“ wouldn‘t make sense. And if the economy had no structural need for high and low-paying jobs, people would no longer have to foster the illusion that women have some kind of special talent for domestic work, raising children, being a secretary or taking care of the elderly.
But returning to the original topic: What we want is „the good life“. And it would be cynical to say, as some do: „Sure, it will change after the revolution“. Because even in the here and now there are some strategies for changing ways of thinking and behaving that make life a little more worthwhile and certainly more emancipatory. This change in the „here and now“ makes less sense concerning capitalism than it does concerning some other power relations: Concerning capitalism, the first step is to understand how it actually works, what attempts at abolition there already have been and why they mostly failed, so that we know how to do it better next time. The means to achieve this knowledge are reading and learning, discussing and organizing, in reading groups, workshops, seminars, groups. Ever closer to the day when the majority of people says: „Nyet!“
Much more concrete possible courses of action are available when it comes to racism for example. If in the supermarket I see some „white“ grandpa harassing a „black“ person in the queue in a racist way, it makes sense to intervene. In order to show Nazi grandpa limits, in order to support the person who experiences racism and in order to make clear in public that racism isn‘t accepted. It may not make a difference in grandpa’s head, but some things will become less acceptable. Or when a shop assistant asks a woman looking at drills if she is searching for a nice birthday present for their boyfriend, it may make sense for someone to point out that it’s her passion to drill – while at the same time thinking how silly it is to state such nonsense only to unhinge his old-fashioned perception of women a bit.
Or when an unknown woman dares to ask, hunkered in a coochie-coochie-coo-style over a buggy: „Is it a boy or a girl?“ One might answer: „I don‘t know. That’s its decision, but it’s not able to talk yet“. Thus challenging her odd belief only two genders exist. In theory, it’s well imaginable that categories such as „man“, „woman“, „transgender“, „gay“, „asexual“ and so on may become unimportant to people. In order to make the absurdity of these categorizations clear no „revolution“ is necessarily needed. Changes in meaning can happen step by step. It makes sense to start with yourself, to question the clichés in one’s own roles and head.
Expand the floor of the cage, but remember it’s still a cage
In short: We don‘t think it’s wise to hold everything off until „after the revolution“, just like Christians hold off on their Kingdom of Heaven.
„Reform“ is often used as a swearword. „Reformist“ sounds uncool and seems boring. However, we don‘t really mind, because again, it’s not about being cool or uncool, but rather the best strategies for changing society. And we approve of everything that makes people happier, that focuses on people’s needs and repels authority. If these are strategies that work in the here and now, that’s perfect.
One example of this could be non-hierarchical decision-making. The editors of „Routes sucrées“ are a collective for good reason, consisting of different age groups and experiences. Perhaps our work would be more „efficient“ with one boss who makes decisions and arranges duties. But we want to live in a world where the opinions and needs of every single person count, where no one has to feel small and insignificant, gets bossed around or has less to say. And it makes sense to get better at dealing with each other in a non-hierarchical way, with all the difficulties that come with it – because of course even in formally non-hierarchical groups there are hierarchies that must be examined.
Another example could be leftist „free spaces“ such as alternative housing projects or squats. Certainly, they are only partially „free“ – the existence of squatted buildings is dependent on official decisions. And often, much energy is used up talking about the tedious details of living together. It’s hard to say how this would look like in a free society where you wouldn‘t have to worry about utility bills and rent. The converse argument –“It doesn‘t work in my shared flat, how could it ever work in a free society?“– is invalid, because it ignores the lack of money and time as reasons why „it doesn‘t work“. In any case, in a liberated society there will – finally – be a need to decide all things collectively. It makes sense to „practice“, because political struggles are always a communal process. And even in the time of Facebook and cell phones, all the reading groups, events and political meetings need concrete physical places. For this, left „free spaces“ like squats, housing co-ops, and autonomous centers form essential infrastructure.
Lost in the revolutionary supermarket
Reforms, meaning small steps towards a better world, always involve dangers: It’s easy to get caught up in the small changes and forget that the aim actually was something „completely different“. Most people might want this in the long run, but often lose sight of this initial aim in their daily work to ameliorate refugee rights or other injustices via political parties or NGOs.
That’s why in the middle of all these non-hierarchical experiences we don‘t want to forget the fact that the reason for all the harm isn‘t only the bad behavior of individuals, but that this society structurally encourages people to behave like crap. And that the current mode of production systematically produces harm. And that many basic changes won‘t happen without a complete overthrow of existing society. Therefore: To the books and onto the barricades!
For further reading
Audio on „Reform, Revolution and Resistance“ by the „Platypus Affiliated Society“
- Murray Bookchin: „Anarchism, Marxism and the Future of the Left“, Ak Press, 352 p.
Why an internationalist antinational magazine?
“Routes sucrées”, or “Straßen aus Zucker”, is a left magazine of politics published in German – until now. Founded in Berlin in 2009 as a one-off project for young people re-acting to rising nationalist sentiment fueled by soccer World Cup and reunification festivities, the massive positive feedback it received turned it into a regular magazine. Meanwhile, eight issues have been published; our latest reached a print-run of 120.000 copies and is read all over the German-speaking world. The articles deal with topics such as the critique of everyday life, nationalism, love, gender relations, sexuality, the critique of capitalism, religion, and much more. We try to keep our texts comprehensible – there are already enough left texts which are alienating and make you feel small.
When writing in German, however, a very important aspect is missing: international exchange. Again and again, we are surprised at how much discussions within the left are confined to language. It seems that oftentimes we only have a stencil-like image in our heads of the debates going on in other parts of the world. And likewise, when we travel we are confronted with funny ideas about what is apparently going on in the German-speaking left.
But as the world needs heaps of people everywhere in order for it to be changed, we need to get in touch and understand each other. So, finally, our first international issue in English. We want to debate and network. We want topics discussed across the borders of language (let alone national borders). This issue therefore contains texts on topics that are dear to our hearts.
If you‘d like to contribute and discuss, get in touch: [NOSPAMinfo@strassenauszucker.tk]
We will collect and anonymously publish comments and debates on our website, if you‘re ok with it.
Our wish for exchange and debate is grounded in two concerns we would like to briefly outline. A movement which represents our interests and ideas would have to be, among many other aspects, two things: internationalist and antinational.
The most common objection we hear to our statement of being antinational is that, in the end, this is ‚our country‘ as well. Part of this is true: people as residents of a certain country do own the respective country’s passport or other official documents, making them ‚legal‘ residents. So when they don‘t manage to find a job, it is the authority of ‚their country‘ that harasses or even criminalizes them. It is ‚their‘ country which offers a world full of competition, which provides education in schools either in an understanding way, or just by hammering it into you that to make it in this society you have to struggle. All because your ‚own state‘ must compete against other nations, and unfortunately, you are all dependent on its economic success on the world market. And when times are tight, like in the current crisis, you are called upon to sacrifice ‚for the good of the nation‘, which has in fact never done you any good. And once ‚your country‘ decides any other (alliance of) state(s) to be their ‚enemy‘, and its mercenary soldiers are not sufficient, you will be the one to shoot others or be shot. Thank you very much!
For people without a passport of the country they live in, the concept of ‚nation‘ is all the more violent. They have to protect themselves against harassment by the state on the one hand,and against racist violence on the other. You can see our concern is not that nationalism – or patriotism, for that matter – have gotten out of hand somewhere, or that the ‚wrong‘ politicians are in power. We see the problem to lie deeper, which is why we are not only ‚anti-nationalist‘, which is something liberals as well as conservatives may agree to be a good thing these days, but ‚antinational‘: Nations, and the love for them, are deadly.
Our regime goes by the name of Deutschland. For people in Argentina, it is Argentina, and in Russia, Россия. An example might illustrate the thought here: In 2012, during the soccer world championship, some wished for Greece to win, as the „battered nation needed hope and joy“. This shows what ties nationalism is supposed to mend. Social antagonisms are danced away, all the newly homeless Greeks shall, even if they have nothing to eat, at least cheer and be proud of ‚their county‘. But this pride is actually a hindrance to changing the current conditions which cause hunger and homelessness. Many people in Greece don‘t give a shit about national success as they know it won‘t better their lives. They start, within their boundaries, to take matters into their hands collectively, as done a few years ago in Argentina.
We don‘t put any hope in raising the GNP neither; because we know we won‘t see anything from it. And even those who do profit from it could be better off in a society that was more rationally organized. We reject the blabber about ‚business location‘ for which we are supposed to endure austerity measures. We also reject the liberal talk that we should take pride in ‚our‘ state’s constitution, or its social legislation. It is not that we could decide which constitution in the world we liked best and then become a citizen of that state. This alone is enough toexpose the idea of the „nation as wellness agency“ as a lie. We reject cheering for ‚our‘ national team, we will only call out „our“ regime’s name in commemoration of its victims. Therefore, instead of the black-red-gold the German flag displays, we might remake it into more hopeful color combinations (red and black for instance), or not give a shit about flags altogether. We don‘t need a nation, we need friends.
We want good living conditions for all people, and we want everybody to be able to take part in deciding what that would mean, and not have some administration or parliament argue that bogus capitalist constraints determine that wages, welfare, and asylum seeker support are sufficient.
We see internationalism as an attempt at overcoming national frontiers. Which is why the concept as it prevails in some left circles gives us a headache: internationalism does not mean automatically supporting any resistance movement in the whole world. We do not uncritically offer solidarity with any insurrectionary movement but first ask for their reasons. We think the logic that ‚our enemy’s enemy is our friend‘ is illogical. We tie our support to the emancipatory aims which we fight for with arguments. We criticize people who are into martial habits and male dominance, request party discipline and don‘t reduce workload but want to elect the ‚employee of the month,‘ as well as people who tolerate racism and antisemitism in their midst, or reject homosexuality and transgendered people. We don‘t have anything in common with people whose critique of capitalism consists of making bankers personally responsible for all evils caused by it, nor with those who want to sustain an imaginary ‚purity of race‘, or those who only dislike dominance when it is exercised by the wrong people (we have no problem with foreign domination, but with domination). Even if we happen to criticize the same dominance, we don‘t want random success, but success with our political goals. Those who forget what they struggle for just to achieve greater numbers can override our political goals.
What then do we understand by internationalism? Presently, people are divided as ‚nations‘ and ‚peoples‘. Our goal is to make all people see that these separations distract them from uniting with each other. There is only one humankind. The love of one’s ‚own‘ nation – for any reason – is the exact opposite of the political solidarity amongst all people we want to achieve. Patriotism and international political solidarity are mutually exclusive. Patriots will, sooner or later, turn out to be our opponents as their goal is, in the end, not the liberation of all.
This explains our reasons for internationalism. Why confine our discussion within the borders we fight against, when we feel a lot closer to a feminist in Benin than to a racist in Berlin? On the other hand, capitalism’sconstitution is a global one. The anti-authoritarian communism we struggle for, which will finally have production follow needs, is unthinkable to establish in a single country. It would take little time for a military intervention to destroy, as we have seen before, any attempt at setting up conditions for a better life for all. And in a world economy based on the division of labor, one would have to support the criteria of competition and the capitalist economy to have access to things one could not produce or harvest in one’s own region, which would have an enormous effect on one’s own need-driven production. That is why we have to organize, even in times when a revolution is not in sight. In these times, when we are only a small minority, we can build up structures which function beyond language barriers. Structures which make it possible to create the forms of organization for revolutionary times, so that once events unfold, we can discuss a liberated society in the most non-hierarchical way possible, which we think is a form of communication that has to be tested and learned. How can hierarchies of knowledge be eroded, how can we make sure it is not just always the male or older ones talking? But also: how can we write texts together, so we can all understand them but without making things more simple than they are? What forms of organization could prove useful? We want to give it a try!
Are you up for it, too? Contact us! If you know a group or collective with the same aims, then let us know! Would you like to help us distribute this magazine, or know a good spot in your neighborhood that should have it for people to pick up? Get in touch, we can send you copies free of charge (though it might take us a while)!
But for now, have fun reading! And if you have criticism for our articles, drop us a line, too!
For further reading
State, World Market, and the Reign of False Freedom. 20 Theses against State, Nation, Capitalism by the “…ums Ganze!” alliance
Why antinational? by Kittens London