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Violence and Red-Green

Posted by KM on July 15, 2009

Original version of this article at Shift Magazine

by The Fearless Theorillas

Anarchists are communists too. The question of climate change cannot be adequately dealt with by a philosophy, but to inform how we organise ourselves to stop the causes and deal with the political effects of climate change, we must look to communist philosophies. For us, this is the challenge of Red-Green: not to provide a Marxist or Anarchist reading of climate change, but to eke out the strategies and tactics where we can in order to progress our politics. In many ways, this distinction is well thought through by the term Ecologism (rather than environmentalism): Ecology suggests a total reworking of how we live and interact with each other and with a world beyond ourselves as human individuals or units, or rather, suggests a total unity of the world outside and inside. Is this not, at the heart of it, the same as the Communist hypothesis?

When we say that anarchists are communists, this is based on the premise that the entire concept of party-communism is essentially dead. There can be no serious attempt to resurrect ghosts of one-party states and voting for the revolutionary party. But this does not mean turning our backs on the concept of a labour movement, or the very basis of the communist hypothesis: that of a single humanity, working as a whole – albeit a diverse, fractured and fragmented unity. What follows is essentially a very brief intervention, in which we want to breath some life into what is currently seen as a subsection of our movement, but should be (and possibly is) its very core.

Violence & (power)

Common-sensically, there are two essential ways of getting what you want: violence and power. The general adage is that power comes through violence: the government gets to do what it wants because it has the police and the military, and use their violent means to achieve their ends. Another equally common phrase attests otherwise: ‘violence ensued because of a vacuum of power’. In other words, where there is no power, there is violence. Similarly, where there is no violence, it is because there is power.

Let’s think of it in terms of a cocktail. In the first instance, our two ingredients of violence and power are in the same glass, mixed up together. Violence and power, whatever their individual flavours and colours, are always presented in the same drink. In the second formulation, they are always in two separate glasses: violence in one, power in the other. If you’ve got one drink, you certainly don’t have the other.

However, there is another way. What if there is actually only one cocktail, and the other one is just imagined? Let’s assume that violence really does exist – it certainly seems so when baton meets body. Now, in order to have a drink, we need to also know that the drink may not have existed at all, and may not in future. Its entire existence is based on this idea of its own non-existence. So our one and only drink – Violence – is defined by the possibility of an empty glass. Nothingness makes us uncomfortable: it’s too difficult to understand. So instead we fill in the idea of the absence with something else, fantasising that there is something in the empty glass. This imagined drink would be power.

So what is power? It’s a catch-all term for anything that isn’t violence, for a fictive opposite of violence. That’s why we spend so long trying to work out where power lies: the media? Charisma? The public? The solution is that power is not a thing in itself. This is really important for understanding any potential labour movement. We cannot look to fictive focuses of change in order to actually affect change. So it would seem that the media, party politics, opinion polls- all these are quite literally nothing, compared with the actuality of material effects of violence.

Imaginative Labor

As has been pointed out by socialist feminists in the 1970s and Italian economists more recently, our modes of labour have fundamentally shifted. To what geographical extent this is true is a moot point, but certainly in the UK cognitive, immaterial and affective labour has become a dominant part of capitalist life. It would be quite possible to argue that the unpaid labour which occurs in the upkeep of a material labour force (more often than not women maintaining men) has always been dominant. But we can vaguely separate out two kinds of immaterial labour here, which we’ll label Upkeep and
Office Work.

What has all this to do with violence? Well, the sheer materiality, the physicality of violence helps support the case for organising and agitating the workers within the structure of a material labour system. Old-style communisms often focus on the ability for workers to change what is happening because they have material control over society, because they quite physically control the factories themselves. But if this has shifted, where are we left?

Yes, Office-Workers’ Climate Action sounds a bit strange, but it’s movements like this which might actually be able to salvage the red from the green. Capitalism gives us things, it creates the seeds of its own destruction, to paraphrase a dialectic. And that which capitalism creates in the processes of imaginative labour are often the exact things we need and use for activism in today’s world.

To mention two examples: Firstly, the Internet. During the wave of university teach-ins prompted by the atrocities in Gaza earlier this year, it became apparent quite how powerful a tool the Internet has become. Not simply through its own technology, but our familiarity with it. Every teach-in had a facebook group and a blog, some events actually seeming to start online before they ruptured into the campus itself. A range of Internet forums and email lists may unfortunately confuse the matter, and the whole process is certainly not perfected. But the degree of spontaneity and ease with which the virtual occupied space was created was really quite incredible.

Secondly, the Visteon occupation. Not seemingly spurred by the student movement actions or the G20 actions, except in perhaps providing an opportune moment for Ford to hide a bad story behind the glare of politicians’ smiles, the Visteon occupation was quickly seen by socialist and anarchist groups as a site of political importance. What could have happened, I’ll come back to. But what was important is that the solidarity the workers seemed most interested in was the offer of being taught consensus decision-making. This is not just a symptom of desiring better management, but for some kind of genuine imaginative expression – through the political.

Better tactics, not just theory

What did become clear during the Visteon occupation, was that, as campaigns acting in solidarity, we lacked the tactics necessary to really help the workers in any immediate way. There were, however, some good ideas proposed: to set up a mini Climate Camp outside the factory; to bring a tea stall or kitchen, so that we could provide food for supporters. As a possible eviction grew in potential, locking-on and barricading bubbled up in conversation. This was all a deep contrast to the Red-Green solidarity of Put People First on March 28th, where Workers Climate Action (and the Alliance for Workers Liberty) marched side by side with the Rail, Marine and Transport Workers Union. Making banners and writing flyers is important – but if we are to progress with a workers politics, especially with regards to climate change, our tactics must be more inventive, and more direct.

Of course, the political breaking point is that a workers movement must be organised from within, that we cannot bring direct action to the workers. But once we realise that imaginative labour is the workers movement for us, it becomes clear that the ways in which we use the limited skills of imaginative labour in order to take control is what we’ve been doing all along. What was astonishing at Visteon, was that with the G20 protests having just occurred, it turned out we were less organised, rather than more. During the G20 itself, as the police presence increased, it became apparent that we hadn’t developed in advance the tools we needed to make good decisions quickly: affinity groups, consensus decision making, spokes councils, and the like.

We are a workers movement. We are students in marketised universities and office workers constantly in the process of imaginative labour. Sometimes we are material labourers too. Taking the tools capitalism provides us with is still a question of revolutionary discipline, and the key to this is tooling up for democracy. If we’re serious about climate change and building a mass movement quickly, we need to encourage imaginative insurrection as much as an insurrectionary imagination. Violence in Red-Green is not a question of finding a way for Communism to bypass violence and direct action in the name of power (or of the People), but realising that we as a labour movement can provide the imaginative tools necessary to dream up more effective
ways of organising and affecting change – violent or otherwise.

The Theorillas [Theory-Guerillas] are a theory affinity group set up to throw some questions and thoughts into our movement – think of it like little thoughtful gifts. Kudos to all other gift-givers, both thought and actions).

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One Response to “Violence and Red-Green”

  1. [...] The Fearless Theorillas, Violence and red-green: http://climateactioncafe.wordpress.com/2009/07/15/violence-and-red-green/ [...]

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