Submission from H.C. received on 07.08.21
For those sick of biting their tongues….
On a casual stroll among the rows of houses and storefronts during my all-too-short shift break, I noticed for a moment how the weatherbeaten jumble of townhouses jammed together from block to block would occasionally – and troublingly, increasingly – give way to the drab monoliths of modern condo apartments. Although so common now it has become unremarkable, upon meditation one cannot help but recognize that these bland structures serve as the symbolic and the material manifestation the violent force of capital attempting to fully dominate and shape our lives. They have become a much-hated symbol of our forced coexistence within and around these structures, perhaps to a nearly cliched degree. The sterility of their architecture marks yet another terminus-point in the march onward toward something greater in the rationalist machinery of urban planning; each distinct style of architecture marking away eras of alienation, forming a kind of rock-strata by which one could see the tandem progression and decomposition of time manifested upon a neighborhood; of ownership and the embedded speculative finance of real estate becoming more and more abstracted and alienated as time marched on. Reassuringly, even under this ever-looming spectacle and its near-total enclosure of daily life, there are still the gestures of refusal – hurriedly sprayed upon the rationalist megaliths or etched into the dark mirrors of storefront windows – articulating a desire to be free of the miasma of the political program of urbanity, and its march toward utopian ends.
In stark contrast to these actions, one sees the attempt to recuperate the grey march of modernity into expressions of art. A four-story mural on the side of a building, painted at the height of a pandemic which pushed the contradictions of the existing order into stark contrast for so many, declares that “Essential Workers Make The World Work”. Skinned with softened aesthetics of Soviet Socialist Realism, red and gold banners surround the manifold identities and uniforms that make up the abstraction of The People or The Worker. They are posed, heroic, arms akimbo as if in some vitalist physique pictoral, to be lauded for the essential nature of their work to the function of the spectacle, of commodity and capital. Nothing is mentioned of the impoverishment of their daily lives, or the nature of their exploitation that makes their work “essential” to the profit of the industries they toil within, those hours of unwaged time dominated by recovery from each valor-laden shift; many represent the wage slavery of massively-profitable local industries such as UPMC, Whole Foods, Amazon, even the contractors who bid upon the forward progress that displaces neighborhoods and terraforms our streets in the service of capital and speculative real estate.
In extolling their service to the functioning of the economy, we are meant to find hope in the struggle of the factory, the jobsite, the grocery, etc, – which we anarchists recognize as the struggle for self-management of our own immiseration. A change in factory management barely haunts the mildest contours of our imagination. We refuse to bask in commendation for being coerced to work in the name of the functioning of state and empire – either under the capitalist order we have now or some speculative order in the Worker’s utopia. To see the employment of The Proletariat in some heroic moralist form that greases the wheels of the endless progress of our enclosure by capital is hardly surprising – it is not the destitution of empire and the refusal of the existent – just the recuperation of our coercion and alienation, the veneration of grey dead time that segments our lives into hours of labor and hours spent recovering from it – all in the service of profit, accumulation, speculative finance – no matter who holds the economic reigns.
The same artist has struck again, blocks away, with a new mural proclaiming “Read More Books” in much the similar style – now with a different abstraction playing at the heartstrings of passers-by. The People – a body politic hungry for the salvation and evangelism that revolutionary education can bring about – are accompanied now by The Child – who in their abstraction represent the promise of futurity, the root of the great motivator for the accumulation of profit that brought us the proliferation of empire, of the mythology of human and societal progress, the enclosure of our lives under labor and the segmentation of time itself. Little future exists for the actual child besides the impoverishment of their eventual conversion into capital and slotting into the rational machine of economy – perhaps moreso now with civilization facing the inevitability of a slow, protracted and unequal collapse that no amount of technology, labor, or self-management – Red, “green” or otherwise – can avoid. Even the dream of The Child (or The People, being made to understand just how oppressed and dominated they really are by the salvation of the rational science of a prefigurative utopia) becoming literate in the dialectical materialism that transforms them into the Revolutionary Subject of the future obscures our immediate desire to unmake what impoverishes us right now, in the hope that some future generation will get it right someday.
Revolutionary programs such as Leninism attempt nothing more than the elevation of incremental reformism to the positionality of revolution. They are an attempt to modify the conditions of life as opposed to destroying them; of building utopias grounded in repression and historical determinism. We can see this in these murals, which attempt to replace actual gestures of revolt with better working conditions and more books that will bring about revolutionary change. No wonder groups like the PSL can simultaneously support the monopoly of violence and sovereign power in other authoritarian states in opposition to American hegemony, yet encourage participation in electoral politics for the reformation of the regime under which we exist – and can talk a big game about some mythological frontal confrontation with the state while adhering rigidly to the the form of protest and activism which is perhaps its most mediated choreography. I tip a hat to our Comrade artist who is perhaps learning that even the Gramscian war of position that creates a metaphysical space of communal proletarian aesthetic can be so swiftly recuperated into the underlying utopian futurism of Americana with just a few “censoring” brush-strokes. Perhaps there is hope that one might find this a demonstration of the dead ends of ideology – or at very least the dead ends of attempting to bring principled Socialist Realism to small business.
The anarchist – unpopular as we are in the era of clearcut dialecticism, formulaic revolutionary programs and the secular catechism of activism that affirms how morally “good” one is for throwing oneself into the struggle to bring about heaven on earth – must identify the architect of immiseration as the massification of society as manifested by civilization, economics, work and the political itself. We must find ways to resist and subvert the enclosure of our autonomy with daily acts of refusal and unmaking that embrace the immediate, with ourselves alone as the actor – not some abstraction what may carry us into a future utopia. We must be willing to name the attempts to recuperate the social relationships of the existent – the coercion we face in our work lives, the transactional economic relationships in which we feel pressured to partake, the social segmentation into atomized units with roles to play in the forward-motion of rational machinery – for what they are, and as such reject and refuse our place in the narratives envisioned for us by would-be revolutionaries. We must open ourselves for conversations that tease out and name the structures of our domination and the way these are reified in our own thought – to build space where we can construct a practice of anarchic daily living beyond the goals and mythologies of the political.
– H.C., July 2021
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