Since Seattle, global financial and trade organizations have been honing up their media image. To get us to bargain with them they have tried to look sympathetic and concerned. The meeting in Prague was full of talk about poverty. During the meeting in Prague a World Bank ad said “the purpose of the World Bank has always been fighting poverty.” Another mentions “justice for all”. The World Bank seems to have learned from the media master—Bill Clinton--how to create a compassionate image. In Seattle Clinton said, “I sympathize with the protestors.” Then Tony Blair (a man famous for copying Clinton’s tricks) made a similar statement during the oil price/tax road blockades in September. He expressed sympathy but said in his public-school accent that he disagrees with their methods and that “they’re not going through the proper channels”. As if he would have conceded to their demands if they’d been more polite. A week later in Prague we hear the same Clintonesque bullshit, a World Bank representative said: “We sympathize with the questions the protestors are proposing but we disagree with their methods. We think they’re going about this in the wrong way. We want dialogue not force.” Then, another World Bank representative said: “These are important meetings, about ending AIDS and poverty; what we want is dialogue not diatribes….We want a globalization that will benefit everybody.” And to top it off, James Wolfenson, President of the World Bank said: “Poverty is in our neighborhood wherever we live.” I’d love to be the poor person that lives in his neighborhood.
The fact that the World Bank wants dialogue is a measure of our success in the streets. They are desperate for us to choose dialogue over direct action because they know that dialogue with them would be ineffective, that they could never really concede to our demands. They can listen to us, politely respond, even make minor adjustments, but they all eventually go home to a gated community of oblivion and have a martini. This is why they want to channel the force of our direct action into appeals, petitions and attempts to manipulate the mainstream media. The first step in this process is sorting out who should be represented; to let us fight amongst ourselves for who gets the best media representation. Even the BBC recognized the recent rise of Direct Action as a tactic in an article about Prague and the September road blockades; of course, they think this is a bad thing. Our enemies recognize the power of our direct action and are taking counter measures. The fact that they beg for dialogue exposes their fear and thus our power. The scraps handed down to us in order to appease us and divert us must be refused. Compromise with any transcendent institution (the State, WTO, WB, IMF, the Party etc.) is always the alienation of our power to the very institutions we supposedly wish to destroy; this sort of compromise results in the forfeiture of our power to act decisively, to make decisions and actions in the time we choose. As such, compromise only makes the state and capital stronger.
These image games are smoke signals sent to lure us into the media den, a place where ideas become opinion that is endlessly produced and reproduced and nothing is actually done. The media den is a place where thought becomes inept; thought is divorced from action when it becomes merely choice of position. To defer action in hope that such representation will lead to a change in WB or IMF policy for example is to give up our own capacity to act when and where action is necessary: to leave the decision to others and resign one's own power. If one opposes capitalism as a whole then such a tactic is especially absurd: the WB or IMF would never dismantle itself. The media den is the master of manipulation, it intoxicates us until we are satisfied to leave matters in other hands. Meanwhile, we lose our most effective weapon, our capacity to act. In acting we create social relations; in practice the struggling multitude self-organizes. But organization always poses the danger of limiting our active power.
On the internet and in several publications some people have begun to call on the ‘direct action’ milieu to move away from confrontation. This points to what is perhaps the biggest danger to the continuing struggle against capitalism, the danger posed by those within ‘the movement’ who are waiting for a chance to represent the movement in a dialogue with the institutions of capital and with the state, those willing to compromise, to end the “deadlock”, to petition for a scrap. Such compromisers usually work within various permanent organizations that have grown up within the movement whose prime focus is the media. But the work of these organizations aims at effecting ‘public opinion’ and getting a back seat at the table of power, and involves a complex process of managing the image of the multitude that rises up against the institutions of capital. Within their heads, these organizers chant the mantra “only that which appears in the media exists,” as they frantically go from one interview to the next, for in the end they are more interested in what is on TV than what is going on in the streets, in the woods, in the night. This involves two steps. First, such organizations attempt to organize and discipline the multitude of active individuals involved in the struggle. Second, they attempt to manage the representation of the action in the media.
The first step involves taking a multitude, an undisciplined conglomeration of individuals and groups with different desires, and shaping them as best as possible into a mass of disciplined bodies. Foremost, this means separating decision from the necessity of its moment and setting rules of behavior that stand above all the participants. This has even meant physically stopping people from acting and turning people into police. The organizers are willing to sacrifice the most active in order to get a seat at the table of power. This attempt to contain the action is usually only partially successful and the media organizations mill us down in their image-factories to produce material for constructing a ‘proper’ representation, cutting off the pieces that don’t conform to their bland tastes. They become the spokespeople, eagerly offering themselves up to the media in easily digestible bite size morsels. The spin-doctors speak for the movement, naming it in their image, always hoping for a bigger slice of the evening, half-hour pie. But those who wish to fight on the terrain of image, base their strategic decisions on an idealized notion of political discourse. In fact, this notion of political discourse is no different from the story that the media and democracy tells about itself. Can the organizers be so naïve?
Of course, contrary to the dominant notion of political discourse to which the organizers subscribe, there is no open terrain of political exchange and participation; what we have is a spectacular apparatus of images that produce and regulate ‘public opinion.’ Public opinion is not something that is first found among the public in general and then afterwards replayed through the media, as a simple reporting of the public mood. An opinion is produced by the media itself; it is a flattened, uniformed idea devoid of all life and connection with desire that is reproduced a million fold through the media. Public opinion is offered up to the passive consumer as one more commodity, as a simple choice: are you for globalization or for national protection? Are you for third-world debt relief or should they pay what they owe? No thinking necessary; we fall right into place, or we are supposed to. Opinions are massified ideas, and offer no hope of communicating our desires for a qualitatively different world. Can the organizers be so naïve? The question that the media organizations constantly pose to us is, should we follow Tony Blair and the World Bank’s advice and leadership and join in a dialogue with power? Should we forgo our active powers and move the struggle from direct action and attack into the struggle over image? Our very strength is the creative use of our active powers of attack; their greatest strength is their control over the technologies of image reproduction, the media. If we want to completely destroy the present order, we can’t win by fighting on TV.
Points of discussion on organization to avoid defeat through compromise:
1. The lowest level of organization that works in a given situation is the best: look at the ELF.
2. Autonomy in action is the only way to maintain the strength of our attack. Decision should always remain with those who are doing an action.
3. Communication, critical and revolutionary solidarity, and mutual aid are the best ways for groups to link up their struggles; large scale and permanent organizations bury and crush the active powers of individual members.
4. Compromise with imposed decision is always defeat: we remain in permanent conflict with the institutions of capital and the state.
We received one detailed letter commenting on Hot Tide issue one. We reprint it here with our response. We encourage responses: email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for sending the Hot Tide discussion bulletin. It is quite impressive despite its brevity, and raises significant questions that need to be wrestled with now by all of us who seek the destruction of capital, the state and all authoritarian structures. Having said that, I have some comments and criticisms to make which I hope you will read in the light of my great appreciation for this project.
In "The scale of capitalism and resistance", several very significant questions are raised. Unfortunately, in the opening paragraph and point 1, it reads like very abstract academic "radical" theory, a barrage of abstract concepts that are difficult to relate to the concrete reality behind them. I bring this up because I think the use of this sort of language sets a tone for how the questions raised in these sections are likely to be discussed. For example, relating the avoidance of the (false) dichotomy of a "universal and homogenous: capitalism and a "particular and heterogeneous" culture to the rethinking of "the contradictions between anarchism (especially individualist and insurrectionary anarchism) and anti-state communism and autonomous Marxism", leaves the impression that you consider this dichotomy to be essentially a theoretical construct relating to these various conceptions of revolution--i.e., that this is essentially an abstract question (though, both individualist and insurrectionary anarchism are more a decision about how one wants to confront the world than a theoretical method). Here also, the proletariat only gets mentioned as a construct of the theory of some Marxists. You bring up the question of space several times and it is a very important question, but the phraseology you use is very abstract and I wasn't always clear what you were getting at. But all this is just details. What made these first two paragraphs seem particularly abstract to me was the lack of any mention of the very concrete social relationships produced be capitalism and the state--I'm talking about exploitation and domination--or about the role of technology (which is, in fact, of great significance to the space question, since cybernetic technology has created a new virtual space--cyberspace--that is apparently infinite, for capital to exploit. Both the proletariat--as mentioned above--and the individual are only mentioned as constructs of particular theories. All this sets a tone for a very abstract discussion in which the concrete social relations imposed on us and the concrete struggles against these seem distant. To use the example of space, what interests me is a discussion of how power and capital have come to dominate all of the space in which we live, either driving us out or stealing away the possibility of really living in the spaces we are permitted to occupy, how this double headed monster has exploited this space to such an extent that a new realm of virtual space has become necessary for further expansion necessitating new forms of technology which change the form and practical methods of exploitation and domination and, thus, the real experience of the exploited, and how we can move in the direction of destroying this monstrosity. What I am saying in this long-winded manner is that your first two paragraphs--which, being first, set the tone of the discussion bulletin--leave the impression that you feel that the questions you raised should be confronted first and foremost on the terrain of abstract theoretical constructs. I feel that, from a revolutionary perspective, the place to start is the concrete social relationships of exploitation and domination that we experience, our desire to destroy them and the struggle this creates against this social order. This needs to be the basis of our theoretical efforts if they are not to fall into the realm of ideological thinking.
Finally, in point 2 you bring in the concrete social struggle--an with it human agency--and the questions move out of the realm of abstraction and start to come to life. This, in itself, is enough to change the type of language you use. The opening paragraph and point 1 read like essay questions on a final exam in an advanced university course. Point 2 reads like the opening of a discussion among people seeking to build a revolutionary practice together. Point 3 brings things to a very practical level, and so I'll wrangle with that a little bit.
The points you make about the usefulness of dates for global action is well taken as far as it goes, but there is also a weakness in centering on dates that are in fact determined by power. The editors of Terra Selvaggia put it well:
"What is certain is that this type of confrontation, whatever problems it may cause, is utterly inadequate if separated from a widespread daily struggle, not only because of the ease with which it is recuperated and used by power and its false opposition, but prevailingly because it is not at the summit conferences of the WTO or the OCSE that our fate or that of the planet is decided. These summit conferences are only a formal and spectacular moment, a moment that the powerful themselves are considering eliminating because of the problems it creates. The real decisions occur in other offices, in meetings without spotlights and in embassies scattered across the globe. To sum up, the future is not put at risk so much by a few dozen dandies who meet on occasion as by hundreds of thousands of scientists and technicians and speculators who put new means and methods of exploitation into effect daily in every part of the world.
"So then, what to do? Continue waiting for the dates the WTO sets for our confrontations, being led astray toward minimum results? Or decide for ourselves when, where and especially how to set out?"
The point here being that if one is involved in an ongoing daily struggle against the social order, one may be able to bring something real and effective into these dates. Otherwise--particularly since they are dates set by power--they can readily become mere spectacular pressure valves for social rage. So I would argue that the date is not so important as the ongoing project of insurrectionary struggle into which one may choose to fit the date.
In "Terrorist Threats"--generally an excellent piece--the last paragraph speaks in ambiguous terms about democracy. Phrases such as "the illusion of democracy" and "the image of a democratic society is fading" can be read in different ways. As I see it, democracy is, in fact, reaching its highest level of perfection as a totalizing and totalitarian political system--a system in which people participate voluntarily in the increasing penetration of the structures of social control into their own lives--that is in the increasing police-ization of their own lives. The illusion that is fading--at least for those willing to see it--is that democracy has anything whatsoever to do with freedom, that it is anything other than a system of control which through the diffusion of power and responsibility undermines individual agency and so creates the most penetrative and totalitarian social system ever. What is the democratic citizen if not a cog in the social machine? I couldn't tell whether what you meant in this paragraph is that democracy is exposing itself for what it really is, but the wording is ambiguous enough that it could also be understood as claiming that the present democracy is a false democracy, thus implying that there may be a "true democracy" that we could support. I doubt this latter is what you mean, but if it is , then it will have to be a point of contention in discussion.
Finally, it is, indeed, important to analyze how capitalism effects people of different regions differently, but it is equally important to examine how capitalism is increasingly imposing a universal condition of precariousness on the exploited classes everywhere and what this means for our struggle.
I hope all this is taken in the comradely spirit in which it was meant--as an attempt to move discussion forward. The criticisms I have made are given precisely because I consider this a worthy project that raises significant questions. There is a great deal to wrestle with as we seek to build our project for destroying this social order.--Wolfi Landstreicher
On the question of the abstractness of the first article in HT1: One of the primary purposes for HT is to critique some of the problems of the growing anti-globalization movement. Many of these grow out of a weak and undertheorized understanding of the present historical moment of the state-capital relation. And these problems have many implications for practice. We hope, in the future, to make the link between theory and practice more clear. Nevertheless, we do think that we need to develop a more nuanced and historical understanding of capitalism and the state. The anarchist milieu often portrays capitalism and the state as never changing, only developing quantitatively, simply ever more domination. We were hoping to both encourage a discussion of the qualitative changes in capitalism and the state and how they relate to the struggle to destroy them. A certain level of abstraction is useful for such a discussion, although we agree that it should remain tied to concrete struggle and we are trying to do this in HT. The issue of space and scale is one way among many to look at capitalism and we only just began to bring up the issue in our short article. The issue of space and technology is, however, not the only important aspect of the scale and space question.
As to the abstractness of the terms ‘proletariat’ and ‘individual,’ these terms are often used as abstract constructs by those theorizing revolution. In privileging one over the other in theory the question of scale is ignored and society can be treated as a problem that can be simply solved. We bring up the issue of scale specifically to note that this scalar problem, this problem of the individual and society or of class versus the individual, has no simple solution; instead, there will always be a tension in revolutionary practice between scalar levels; one cannot just choose to privilege one and ignore the other. We want to make the point that it is false to conceive of individualism and communism as a problem with a simple solution or a simple choice, and that this has important consequences for revolutionary practice. Thus we are in fact saying that it is only when the individual and class are treated separately as purely theoretical issues that a theoretical solution to the problem can be found, whereas in practice the tension will remain, it cannot be wiped out by theory. We are critiquing the use of the individual and of class as pure theoretical constructs for the very reason that we want to open the fertile space of tension that exists between them in practice. This space can also be viewed when one brings the writings of anti-state communists into communication with individualist and insurrectionary anarchists.
On the question of global days of action, there is less disagreement that it seems. We suggested that the dates of the global days of action offered those involved in struggles an opportunity to link specific local struggles together. In doing so these struggles come together to express opposition to the totality of our social order, they communicate through linked action our desire to destroy capitalism and the state in their entirety. What we suggest is that going to the big event is less useful than continuing with an ongoing struggle. Of course we are not saying that one should only do actions on those certain days, only that there are consequences if we also do actions on such days. We should certainly “decide for ourselves when, where and especially how to set out.” Yet, while our actions should not be determined by dates set by those in power, we should not simply ignore historical opportunities when they come up: there is a long continuum between being determined by history and ignoring history and our present social circumstances. Thus we most definitely agree that, “the date is not so important as the ongoing project of insurrectionary struggle into which one may choose to fit the date.” What an absurdity it would be to suggest otherwise. Additionally, we need to look more closely at what has been called the “anti-globalization movement”; we cannot simply ignore it. In the social struggle against the state and capitalism anarchists will be a minority. We cannot remain pure by separating ourselves from struggle in general and expect everyone to become an anarchist (the author of the above letter in no way suggests this). We need to think critically about how anarchists can act as a minority within such struggles. This is above all a question of organization, one that we will continue to expand upon in Hot Tide.
In 'Terrorist Threats' I used ambiguous language about democracy such as 'the illusion of democracy'. I see what you mean by saying that the last paragraph of the piece could be read as meaning that the problem is that the present democracy isn't real democracy and that I want real democracy. I don't want democracy, I don’t want any form of rule. I was using the word democracy in an ironic way. I don't think US Democracy comes anything close to what its name purports to be, a rule by the people, or the majority of people. After all, elections are first bought by big corporations and when that doesn't work fraud will do. This is a very efficient system of control that works very well and this form of democracy has made a lot of progress towards its own aims. I just find it amusing that it is called democracy while other not so different systems are called authoritarian. Although this irony was not intended to imply that I found true democracy desirable, I can see how it would be read that way so I changed the wording of the last paragraph to be clearer.
In the last sentence of Terrorist Threats, I referred to an ideological void being left when the idea that the US is ‘America the free’ stopped being convincing. But when I think about it further I realize that this has never been convincing. I was being overly simplistic to call this a void. To be more precise, I should have said that the age-old anti-crime and anti-terrorist rhetoric not only supports the growth of the state's machinery of control but also serves a more general ideological purpose. That is, it not only justifies the building of more prisons and the state's present strategies but also justifies the state's existence in general. While I don't think there's really an ideological void, I do think that there are an increasing number of cynical people who haven't been convinced by all of that ‘it's a free country garbage’ for a long time. It is these cynics that I was referring to. The anti-crime and anti-terrorism rhetoric likely corrals in portions of the cynical middle and upper class who are afraid to walk in certain neighborhoods. These cynical but fearful cloistered types may not believe they live in a free country but probably don’t care, these people are convinced they need more police to be safe. People are becoming more matter of fact about California being a police state, but many don't care precisely because they have bought the anti-crime and anti-terrorism story. And hey they aren't stupid, those that are cloistered in big houses in Bel Air need not only the cops but private cops as well, cause people would ransack their houses at the first available opportunity.Hot Tide Page