By A. Lacran
We are approaching a critical period of history. The environmental crises of extreme climate change (Anthropogenic Climate Disruption – ACD) brought on by capitalism, industrialism and a philosophy of anthropocentrism has created monumental threats to the existence of life on earth as we know it with the onrush of the sixth mass extinction. In fact, the very nature of the earth itself has become molded by what is now known as the Anthropocene. The human footprint is now everywhere upon the biosphere – for better or worse.
Moreover, capitalism, itself, is on the verge of another historic and fundamental change of its technological structure based on the digital revolution and its byproducts of robotics, genomics and artificial intelligence. The social reconstruction that capitalism will employ may well threaten the very existence of masses of people above and beyond the longer reach of climate change. The demand for cheap abundant human labor that created the modern working class may no longer be the primary focus of capitalism.
Unfortunately, the leftist movement and, in particular, anarchists are not addressing these developments. Ignoring them and relying on the old tactics of bygone eras will no longer suffice. While movements such as neo-primitivism may be a prescient warning of a dystopian future, the decision to become hunter-gatherers foregoing husbandry and agriculture may alter the course of human kind in that possible future, but it doesn’t appeal to the present in any way that will win over people to the anarchist perspective, aside from survivalists and romantics.
The reality is, “regular people”, if not the left, are beginning to sense the bleak future that the technological changes are bringing cannot be undone. The fear that is inherent in electing false capitalist saviors such as Trump is an indication of the growth of a reactionary movement that will grow if not countered. Jobs and money for the lower and middle classes are not coming back within the present globalist or national capitalist economic system. Now the question remains, what happens when they realize they’ve been lied to and fed false promises?
The Trap of Reformist Politics
At this early juncture of the Trump Presidency in the US, the overriding tendency for the more progressive movements is to call for resistance to the emergent fascist movement within the extant political system. The weakness of this call for resistance is that it is not a call to end or combat capitalism and empire, instead it is a call to strengthen the capitalistic republic and its empire by demanding an inclusive “representative democracy” to strengthen the American capitalist system and its empire and hence, re-enforcing its hold on the American people and the peoples of the world.
What we are faced with is the era of “take away.” It is the end of the reform period that began in earnest following the Great Depression. Programs like the New Deal and The Great Society, the Women’s suffrage and rights movement and the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s are quickly becoming passé. What the Reagan years portended for a Corporate State dominated by the one percent is now in full swing.
Since the 1980’s there has been a concerted effort to build up the corporate/ military/surveillance/police/incarceration state; the rulers feel they do not need to buy people off to keep them from rebellion – no more crumbs! The ruling elite are no longer amenable to economic or social justice as an act of acquiescence to “scofflaws” of any sort.
The reason is that workers in capitalist societies are rapidly becoming, not what Marx termed “surplus labor” waiting for the next great boom in capitalist production, but rather “superfluous and expendable.” This is due to a massive reshaping of the capitalist reality that is taking place through technological innovation of robotics and AI. They know they do not need our numbers any longer. Capitalist society has gone through several transformations that have deeply affected society in ways that many of us have not fully understood.
The digital revolution with its proliferation of the technology of robotics and, ultimately, of artificial intelligence signifies the end of the working class as we know it and the growth and proliferation of what has been called the precariat. “In sociology and economics, the precariat is a social class formed by people suffering from precarity, which is a condition of existence without predictability or security, affecting material or psychological welfare as well as being a member of a proletariat class of industrial workers who lack their own means of production and hence sell their labor to live.” This new formation merges disintegrating elements of the middle and working class with the lumpen proletariat.
The development of the precariat is also arising out of the final destruction of the peasant societies of the Third World. The confiscation of land by the transnational corporations and elites coupled with climate change and, now, continuous war has escalated the destruction of peasant society to the point that the growth of the precariat in the cities has grown exponentially. Worldwide, we can see that the merging of the lumpen with the elements of the former peasant population and the squeezed working and middle classes present very dangerous possibilities for the ruling elites and their imperialist allies whichever direction the new class embraces.
The direction of this new class formation is not yet decided. It is possible it can be turned to a totally reactionary movement embracing fascism. It is also possible the state will attempt to exterminate a potential dangerous and revolutionary class that is unpredictable and volatile for a hierarchical shrinking society. But, without a doubt, the revolutionary potential of this class is high. The political development of this new class depends on the ability of the precariat to develop a class consciousness of itself and for itself. It must be able to thrust itself into an active revolutionary role in order to defend itself from the onslaught of the ruling class.
Many in the precariat have already politically disengaged from the system either by choice or circumstance, but their disengagement is not necessarily active, rather, many times it is primarily demoralized, passive, cynical and/or pessimistic. The reasons are numerous and diverse, ranging from progressive to reactionary. The intrinsic feelings are obvious: it is understood that no one cares about them, that politics is a lie and the rich get richer while the rest of us are thrown onto the garbage heap. The truth is obvious – the state serves the rich and powerful! We are at a stage that has the potential for great disaster or great change. The time is ripe for tyrants and dictators or an alternative revolutionary way of thinking that allows us to build and defend a new paradigm. Unless the autonomous left can offer something different for the majority of us, the options are dire indeed.
However, it is not the state alone that is the problem. The state is the apparatus of control over the people by those who control the economic system of capitalism – the ultra-rich and their minions. The system of capitalism has obtained much more control over mass consciousness than the state. It is true that the idea of “representative democracy” has a great hold on many people, but it pales in comparison to the value system of capitalism that has been perpetuated upon the masses. While it is difficult to disengage from the state, it is twice as difficult to disengage from the capitalist ideology. The values of private property, profit and loss, greed and accumulation, hierarchy and domination with class distinctions based on one’s bank account or lack thereof, sexism, racism, homophobia and a view of the world that reduces everything to a commodity and a “resource” all serve to demean, degrade and alienate us from nature and each other from the cradle to the grave.
Disengagement from capitalism and its state is a herculean task that requires a break with the dominant mental paradigm and the creation of something that captures our imagination and allows us to imagine a world without either capitalism or the state. Autonomous disengagement is a strategic move to prepare the groundwork for a new phase of the struggle against capitalism and for a communal system.
Developing a new World View
We need to visualize a new reality separated from capitalism on a daily basis. We need to recognize it in ourselves and others; the need to communicate with each other to break down the alienation that dominates life under capitalism and work together through mutual aid and cooperation. The very things that hierarchy tries to convince us are not a natural state of affairs. They attempt to convince us that competition, ambition, greed and meritocracy are the natural states for humans. Only by creating a new world view within and without ourselves can we begin to break through the isolation that serves to perpetuate this nightmare that hierarchy, statism and capitalism have brainwashed us into believing.
Further, the belief in anthropocentrism that humans are the center of the universe, viewing the Earth as a “resource” to be used indiscriminately for profit and greed; seeing all living things as inferior and there for human needs; the intrinsic belief in hierarchical structures led by superior being where all others are expendable; the view that material possession is the only criteria for worthiness – all are methods of alienating us from each other and all living things and the earth. Unless this world view, that dominant society has implanted within our minds, is supplanted by a new world view, we will not be able to construct a future that doesn’t lead us back into the same traps of life and environmental destruction.
Developing a biocentric nature based philosophy that rejects speciesism and addresses panpsychism (the notion that a life force is in all things) is vital to a world view that disengages us from the world of capitalism and hierarchy. Embracing ideas such the Gaia Hypothesis, put forth by James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis and Kropotkin’s “Mutual Aid,“ then beginning to imagine and conceptualize a different world view; a vision that does not place humans at the center, but rather integrates our species into a more egalitarian and communal system of existence that does not elevate concepts of “survival of the fittest” and “top predator” as an end in itself.
Imagining the Commune
The Commune has an historical context throughout human existence. It is founded in the communal relations that humans needed in order to survive as we struggle to find our place in the world. It has never disappeared during the 15,000 years of civilization’s hierarchical domination. It always reappears when the people rebel against the powers that be. The Commune is characterized by a belief that the people can decide for themselves what is in their best self-interests apart from the influence and guidance of leaders, gods and masters. The Commune surfaces wherever and whenever rebellion against oppression by the lowest levels of society, be it slaves, peasants, workers, students or citizens who take matters into their own hands and decide for themselves the time has come to resist the power of the rulers. The Commune surfaces as Spartacus during the Roman Empire, peasant revolts, the Luddites, the Paris Commune, Nat Turner’s Rebellion, Makhnovshchina in the Ukraine, the sailors of Kronsdadt, the anarchists of the Spanish Civil War, the Hungarian workers committees of 1956, the student and worker uprising in Paris in 1968, the reformation of the Zapatistas into a more horizontal organization, the Oakland Commune during Occupy and the Kurdish communalism of Rojava in Syria. The Commune always resurfaces, be it in small groups or mass movements that decide to work together without leaders, using direct democracy to make decisions and direct action to resist the dominant paradigm – The Commune never dies.
The next step in the struggle for Autonomous Disengagement is developing the inner consciousness of the Commune. It is the act of overcoming alienation from each other and the world around us. The recognition that we need each other to not only survive, but we need each other for meaning in our lives. Communal consciousness is the realization that we only know we exist when others recognize us as themselves and we recognize them as ourselves. Capitalist society has made a fetish out of competition turning us against each other in order to succeed and commodified all social relations by defining them by “use value” and “exchange value.” The Communal consciousness knows these things are at best false and at worst dehumanizing.
Actively Building the Commune
There are two vital aspects of constructing the Commune. The first part is the mental/subjective aspect of the Commune. The second aspect is the material objective reality of the Commune – bringing it into actuality.
Once the consciousness of the Commune exists, every action therein becomes a struggle to realize the Commune in objective fact. This begins by creating the Commune with anyone one comes into contact with; wherever one is, whatever one does, whomever one speaks to about the Commune while acting with Communal consciousness without leaders through direct democracy creates the foundation for the Commune.
Objectively, the Commune is an intentional social organization that is based on communal use of property, horizontal decision making through direct democracy and egalitarian social relationships. It is defined only by the philosophical and practical agreement of those that form it. Whether the commune defines property as communally owned or in a more earth centered philosophy that the members are merely caretakers of the land and no one owns the commons is dependent on its participants.
When we have begun the active construction of the Commune, be it cooperatives, collective living situations, small group activities, movements like Occupy, or land occupations, we have begun the process of physical disengagement from the system. We are building our own future within the reality of the system but outside of our sense of trying to either reform or take over the state.
Defending the Commune
The Commune must be defended at all costs. Self-defense is not violence. It is the basic life force instinct for survival. We have come to a point where the endgame for survival has begun. If we do not recognize that ACD, the sixth mass extinction, corporate statism and economic strangulation is an assault against us all by the powers that be with their methods of repression and their aberrant philosophies, then we are lost.
Those that preach compromise and long-term reform are not only fooling us, they are fooling themselves. The long term has ended. Time is of the essence. We must begin the process, now. Fighting back and resistance are not euphemisms for “donate money to our tax deductible organization” or “vote for me” or fawning over another pontificating leftist icon protecting her or his tenure. We must claim our territory and defend it against attack, because we will be attacked, make no mistake. We must take back the night and build a new day. Remember, you are the Commune, pass it on.