Insurrection and Utopia, Part 1: “We are Eating From a Trashcan; This Trashcan is Ideology.”
It all started innocently enough. A friend asked me a question on facebook:
“How can you advocate anarchic revolution when your political vision is so far in the minority?”
The underlying premise was a good one: In a country of 300+ million, how can you call for the upheaval of society, the breaking of societal and political bonds, when so few would readily identify as Anarchists/Socialists/Communists/Leftists/Anti-Capitalists/What-have-you? It’s a question often thrown at the Left and unfortunately many haven’t fully wrapped their heads around it.
In a way it’s a watermark. For an ideology or political vision to go from outright dismissal and laughter to being asked to provide real world examples of what would be done if it came to pass is a sign of growth; it is a signal, an omen, that the winds are beginning to blow in our favor and many want to know what might lie ahead. It’s one thing to talk about “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need” but it’s quite another to discuss how restaurants would be run democratically and without profit or what exactly people might “do” on a day to day level in a classless, stateless society.
Still, the question is not an easy one. We could argue that it is the one question that has always plagued and nagged the Left: “Well that’s all good and well, but how do you plan to achieve this? How does such a world become born?” Staunch Marxists rely on a religious belief in the inevitable procession of history, Syndicalists will rail about the need for increased unionization, firebrand Neo-Bolsheviks plot to simply take power and liquidate class enemies, while the newly minted faux-left “Democratic Socialists” will hem-and-haw about passing enough laws to magically change the balance of power.
All of these options present difficult problems. History has been shown to be anything but inevitable (every year since 1914 has been “Late Capitalism”), a worker-owned McDonalds is still a site of exploitation, nobody ever bothers to explain just where all these people ready to kill for the Revolution are to come from, and the ludicrous doctrine of the Sandernistas that the wealthy and powerful will simply submit to higher taxes and the rule of law is so preposterous it’s only response should be derisive laughter.
So, where are we? Where do we go from here? How are we to change the world?
I start first with a question: Whose world?
You Can’t Teach an Old Carrion-Eater New Tricks
Society, technology, language, and culture all bear the birth marks and forms of the ideological underpinnings of the system they emerged from. Marx notes:
The ideas of the ruling class are in every epoch the ruling ideas, i.e. the class which is the ruling material force of society, is at the same time its ruling intellectual force. The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, has control at the same time over the means of mental production, so that thereby, generally speaking, the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are subject to it. The ruling ideas are nothing more than the ideal expression of the dominant material relationships, the dominant material relationships grasped as ideas; hence of the relationships which make the one class the ruling one, therefore, the ideas of its dominance.
The Ruling Class, whether Capitalist or State Socialist, informs and projects its will and vision onto the rest of society by the sheer nature of being the dominant force in that society. Of course we can see this politically, but Marx notes this extends also into ideas, culture, anything that could be identified as a byproduct of human interaction and thinking.
The iron steel resolve and blatant disregard of human life so typical of the fearsome Bolshevik Commissar was not so much traits born as traits cultivated; ideals taken within the individual and digested. These cultivated traits came directly from the ideological call for early revolutionary Bolsheviks to identify themselves as “hards,” to be tough, to be ruthless and uncompromising in their goals; when they took state power it become propagated on a cultural level. This meme, this political trait, spiraled out and became a creature, a position, a symbolic figure to be adored/feared all onto its own. It transcended its existence as a mere “idea” or feeling about how party members should behave.
Uber, the trendy internet-based taxi service, could have just as easily manifested into the world as a collectively owned, worker-managed co-op. The internet platform itself is not that revolutionary, the people and tools to create the business were there all along and yet….it did not. Instead Uber emerged and was formed through an ideological lens that made sense to the Ruling Class and by a CEO who’s practically a poster boy for modern capitalism:
“Let’s consider how Kalanick treated his Uber taxi drivers in New York. When he was trying to convince them to break the law to boost Uber’s footprint in the city, Kalanick offered yellow cab drivers free iPhones and promised to “take care of” any legal problems they encountered with the TLC. A few short months later, when the service was forced to close, those same drivers received a message to come to Uber HQ. Reports the Verge ‘Multiple drivers said Uber called them into headquarters, claiming they needed to come by in order to get paid and would get a cash bonus for showing up. When the cabbies came in, Uber surprised them by asking for the device back, informing them that taxi service was no longer available in New York.'”
This is how Uber is evolving, this is how the entire concept other companies will build off is evolving: through actions committed under the dictate and logic of a particular ideology. Taken as gospel or rejected as too harsh new companies will only differ themselves in shades from this first “business plan” and mold their own social and economic arrangements within this ideological parameter. Even the technologies, once thought to be “pure” of politics develop along political lines.
“In an even stronger sense, many technologies can be said to possess inherent political qualities, whereby a given technical system by itself requires or at least strongly encourages specific patterns of human relationships. Winner (1985, 29–37) suggests that a nuclear weapon by its very existence demands the introduction of a centralized, rigidly hierarchical chain of command to regulate who may come anywhere near it, under what conditions, and for what purposes. It would simply be insane to do otherwise. More mundanely, in the daily infrastructures of our large-scale economies — from railroads and oil refineries to cash crops and microchips — centralization and hierarchical management are vastly more efficient for operation, production, and maintenance. Thus the creation and maintenance of certain social conditions can happen in the technological system’s immediate operating environment as well as in society at large.”
What’s interesting is the feedback loop this creates: technology is warped and shaped by the society(and thus dominant ideology), while at the same time the society becomes molded by the technology.
“As technologies are being built and put into use, significant alterations in patterns of human activity and human institutions are already taking place … the construction of a technical system that involves human beings as operating parts brings a reconstruction of social roles and relationships. Often this is a result of the new system’s own operating requirements: it simply will not work unless human behavior changes to suit its form and process. Hence, the very act of using the kinds of machines, techniques and systems available to us generates patterns of activities and expectations that soon become “second nature.”…
Winner gives several examples of technologies employed with intention to dominate, including post-1848 Parisian thoroughfares built to disable urban guerrillas, pneumatic iron molders introduced to break skilled workers’ unions in Chicago, and a segregationist policy of low highway overpasses in 1950s Long Island, which deliberately made rich, white Jones Beach inaccessible by bus, effectively closing it off to the poor. In all these cases, although the design was politically intentional, we can see that the technical arrangements determine social results in a way that logically and temporally precedes their actual deployment. There are predictable social consequences to deploying a given technology or set of technologies.”
In effect we our trapped in a web: We exist in a world not only molded and shaped by a Hierarchical and Capitalist mentality, but the very tools we use including our social selves maintain and reinforce this artifice. The ideology molds the world which molds the people which molds the technology which molds the world which molds the people, etc, etc, etc. As Slajov Zizek points out even those who wish to rebel against the system seem doomed(as if by design?) to remain within it:
“If, today, one follows a direct call to act, this act will not be performed in an empty space — it will be an act WITHIN the hegemonic ideological coordinates: those who ‘really want to do something to help people’ get involved in (undoubtedly honorable) exploits like Medecins sans frontiere, Greenpeace, feminist and anti-racist campaigns, which are all not only tolerated, but even supported by the media, even if they seemingly enter the economic territory (say, denouncing and boycotting companies which do not respect ecological conditions or which use child labor) — they are tolerated and supported as long as they do not get too close to a certain limit. This kind of activity provides the perfect example of interpassivity: of doing things not to achieve something, but to PREVENT from something really happening, really changing.”
Even if State power is seized, if the old masters are cast out, the very throne itself acts like a cursed object and corrupts those that sought to destroy it. People who fought for the worker’s emancipation end up crushing strikes, Greens end up debating just how much depleted uranium to bury underground and how much to fire out of tanks, anti-austerity Leftists end up dispatching riot police to break up protests, the list goes on and on throughout history. The simple truth is you can take the most noble pauper and make him a king, and he may be a great king, but he must still maintain certain conditions(however unjust) by simply being king. The more he becomes attached to this position the more “pragmatism” takes over, excusing acts once thought unthinkable in the name keeping the current conditions going if only to “continue to do good things.” Hugo Chavez and Castro can speak all day of “people’s liberation” but the fact is people aren’t liberated if simply holding a different opinion is so threatening to your revolution they have to be jailed. And thus the throne lives on. While the Kings may change shape or party color the throne of the State and Capital continue to exist, continue to propagate exploitative and domineering cultural memes, social conditions, and technological apparatus.
But there is hope, even on the hinterlands of the oh-so-popular activism of today, in that seemingly bizarre behavior the State displays when people, protests, and organizations are met with overwhelming force. Why can millions march up and down streets freely “as long as they do not get close to a certain limit” of behavior? What is this Hedge, this boundary we must cross? What is this line so jealously guarded?
Push it to the Limit
Remember the Cuban Missile crises? Where the big bad Soviet Union brought us within an inch to war, ready to point nuclear warheads stationed in Cuba right at us? And how it was only through tough diplomacy and American bravado that we got them to turn around? No? Good, because it didn’t happen like that at all. The Soviets, arming an ally after a recent American-backed invasion, made the deal, not us: Remove the missiles stationed in Turkey(a country that shared a border with the USSR) pointed at Moscow and they would do the same. Kennedy liked the deal and took it. This brought horror to the Military-Industrial establishment; they saw it as backing down to the Soviets. Remember that ideology bit? They didn’t see it as two individuals avoiding nuclear war; their ideological lens would not permit them to. They instead saw it in a hierarchical, dominating dialectic: we had been submissive towards another power. But the Soviets didn’t see it that way, and neither did much of the world, and therein lay the true danger: a new way of thinking, a shift in vision had been displayed and put into practice. And this would not stand.
Others have covered just how against the grain Kennedy went, and how often those who went against him howled for war. I leave the fact that one of those two combatants is dead under your feet for you to play with and ponder. I could mention that right when Nobel Laureate Martin Luther King started talking about “economic justice” and planned on occupying DC until the Vietnam war was ended he too ended up dead. Interestingly enough his family won a wrongful death suit(full court transcripts available) alleging the government killed him. But I’ll instead stick with “accepted” facts like the long history of COINTELPRO, an FBI program specializing in infiltrating, discrediting, and disrupting domestic political organizations. And this wasn’t a kids games either.
“Infiltration: Agents and informers did not merely spy on political activists. Their main purpose was to discredit and disrupt. Their very presence served to undermine trust and scare off potential supporters. The FBI and police exploited this fear to smear genuine activists as agents.
Psychological warfare: The FBI and police used myriad “dirty tricks” to undermine progressive movements. They planted false media stories and published bogus leaflets and other publications in the name of targeted groups. They forged correspondence, sent anonymous letters, and made anonymous telephone calls. They spread misinformation about meetings and events, set up pseudo movement groups run by government agents, and manipulated or strong-armed parents, employers, landlords, school officials and others to cause trouble for activists. They used bad-jacketing to create suspicion about targeted activists, sometimes with lethal consequences.
Legal harassment: The FBI and police abused the legal system to harass dissidents and make them appear to be criminals. Officers of the law gave perjured testimony and presented fabricated evidence as a pretext for false arrests and wrongful imprisonment. They discriminatorily enforced tax laws and other government regulations and used conspicuous surveillance, “investigative” interviews, and grand jury subpoenas in an effort to intimidate activists and silence their supporters.
Illegal force: The FBI conspired with local police departments to threaten dissidents; to conduct illegal break-ins in order to search dissident homes; and to commit vandalism, assaults, beatings and assassinations. The object was to frighten or eliminate dissidents and disrupt their movements….
The FBI also conspired with the police departments of many U.S. cities (San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, Philadelphia, Chicago) to encourage repeated raids on Black Panther homes—often with little or no evidence of violations of federal, state, or local laws—which resulted directly in the police killing many members of the Black Panther Party…In order to eliminate black militant leaders whom they considered dangerous, the FBI is believed to have worked with local police departments to target specific individuals, accuse them of crimes they did not commit, suppress exculpatory evidence and falsely incarcerate them.”
“Participants were tasked to “identify those who were ‘problem-solvers’ and those who were ‘problem-causers,’ and the rest of the population whom would be the target of the information operations to move their Center of Gravity toward that set of viewpoints and values which was the ‘desired end-state’ of the military’s strategy.”
Let me translate that for you: “We are actively studying political movements, identifying people whom might actually change things and are using propaganda techniques to change the conversations they have as well as they views they hold to better suit the military’s domestic strategy.” Let that one sink in.
Truth be told we may never fully know how deep the rabbit hole goes. But there is a unifying factor here: the State clamps down hard whenever the ongoing narrative, the ideology itself is shown not to be the only one. They’re afraid of ideas, because these things are what sparks action. The greatest threat to the system isn’t just learning things aren’t what they appear to be, but beginning to imagine a world where things are different. If something is outside the “parameters of acceptance” for the dominant ideology it presupposes that there are limitations to the system; if there are limitations to the system it can become old, worn out, made useless, and ultimately replaced.
So the Ruling Class will violently defend it’s doctrines at all costs. Can we beat such an invincible enemy, an enemy whose literally shaped us all our lives? How can we achieve that? Can we ever free ourselves and stop eating out of the trashcan of Capitalist Ideology?
Follow me down a rabbit hole of our own making, lets…
Dr. Bones is an 8 year practitioner of the Southern occult tradition known as Conjure, Rootwork, and Hoodoo. A skilled card reader and Spiritworker, Dr. Bones has undertaken all aspects of the work, both benevolent and malefic. Politically he holds the Anarchist line that “Individuality can only flourish where equality of access to the conditions of existence is the social reality. This equality of access is Communism.” He resides in the insane State of Florida with his loving wife, a herd of cats, and a house full of spirits.
He can be reached through facebook and at firstname.lastname@example.org