Chapter Thirty-Four of The Authority of the Boot-Maker by Mal Content.
“Obstructing the doors causes delay and can be dangerous”
– London Transport. 1980s
Class struggle throws up some highly reactionary positions. The reason is obvious: our enemy relies on a system of values and beliefs that are self-contradictory and ultimately irreconcilable, so when we fight the system from inside, we often seem to be shooting in two directions at once. For the bourgeoisie this isn’t a problem, it doesn’t matter to them whether the Working Class believe all their nonsense or not, as long as some sections believe some of it, and those beliefs contradict each other.
The day to day business of class struggle lends itself to reaction because it is essentially reactive; at time of writing, the bourgeoisie remains the only successful revolutionary class. As the bourgeoisie tweaks the mode of production to maximise return on its investments and tighten its dominance, the divided and alienated proletariat often sees no way forward but to turn the clock back, even if it’s only as far as last week.
Workers have historically identified themselves with the work they do, to the extent of taking names such as Turner, Mason or Weaver, because their acquired skill was all they had to bargain with, or take pride in. Under bourgeois alienation there is a crushing burden in being defined by the nature of your oppression. I’ve already elaborated on the woeful efforts of skilled trades to preserve their received status by excluding women and immigrants. One of the skills of the bourgeoisie is to make sure its adversaries play it at its own game.
In its neoliberal phase, capitalism has abandoned many of the values that nurtured it through adversity, and its opponents – or those whose stated agenda is to mitigate its worst excesses, since they lack the confidence to call for its overthrow – opportunistically hark back to these values. Stable families, the dignity of labour, social mobility, economic growth, patriotism, political and industrial representation; all these concepts are bourgeois in origin and lead us around in ever-decreasing circles. We cannot recover that which never belonged to us in the first place.
All we can reclaim is our dignity, by setting our own standards. The Luddite and Swing uprisings were magnificent not because they stood a chance of holding back the march of technology, but because they broke the power relationship to the bosses, along with the machines. If we are ever to escape the perverse death machine that denies and extinguishes every feature of humanity, we have no option but to attack those relations directly and purposefully.
The shift from reliance on surplus-labour to reliance on fictitious capital means we don’t have to care too much about economics. Capitalism was never about the allocation of resources or the satisfaction of needs but about the suppression of human activity. The labour theory of value is dead and they killed it. The labouring classes however, are still here and we’re still responsible for everything of importance. All we have to do is accept that responsibility.
– That a continual agitation be carried on in favour of increasing the minimum wage, and shortening the hours of work, until we have extracted the whole of the employers’ profits.
– That our objective be, to build up an organisation, that will ultimately take over the [mining] industry, and carry it on in the interests of the workers.
– Tonypandy Unofficial Reform Committee: ‘The Miners’ Next Step’ 1912.
My italics. This remarkable document was written in the aftermath of the Cambrian Combine dispute. I urge everyone to read ‘The Miners’ Next Step’ and inoculate themselves with the spirit of the Great Unrest, that current of revolutionary syndicalism that spread like wildfire around the globe.
As a point of interest, the Miners fiercely resisted nationalisation, and refused to even negotiate centrally. Because their industry was essential, they knew that as the bosses felt the pain, they would beg the state to take over, which:
“… simply makes a National Trust, with all the force of the Government behind it, whose one concern will be, to see that the industry is run in such a way, as to pay the interest on the bonds, … and to extract as much more profit as possible, in order to relieve the taxation of other landlords and capitalists.”
Which is precisely what happened.
Parliamentary democracy lured our class with the prospect of superseding capitalism, then set about convincing us there was no alternative. Even religion, that old ‘pie in the sky’, was often invoked by the late Tony Benn when politely requesting the bourgeoisie to be a little less beastly. Benn’s dedication of a long and fruitless life to showing that socialism could be obtained by parliamentary means* conclusively proved the opposite. I have to admit this noble demonstration of futility was instrumental in convincing me I was an anarchist.
* Especially nationalisation with compulsory arbitration boards and other corporatist horrors. Who wants a boss with his own army and police force?
The nuclear family is no more than a machine for reproducing wage labourers and privatising their care, wage labour is the prostitution of dignity. The aspiration to ‘better oneself’ rests on the creation of a labouring class, a mirage offered in place of the security of subsistence by collective effort. You cannot do so without overtaking another of your class, so where’s their social mobility? The rat race is refereed by the boss class.
Patriotism is the projection of clan loyalty onto an entity whose social and geographical boundaries are set by your oppressor. Large segments of the earth’s surface are shortly to become uninhabitable, and the dominant political class is frantically trying to re-establish notions of national and folk identity to soften us up for some serious crimes against humanity. The latter concept may become obsolete. Nearly a million people have lost their lives in natural disasters already this Century*, and a tsunami that cleared the Netherlands sea defences could kill hundreds of millions.
In his 1989 work ‘Remaking Society’ Murray Bookchin wrote that the ‘particularism’ of proletarian revolution was inadequate to fend off the looming environmental catastrophe. At the time we all expected to perish in a nuclear holocaust rather than an ecological one. Then we thought we were going to run out of fossil fuel, but enough has been surveyed already to cook the planet three times over.
Bookchin’s description of ecology and feminism as ‘transclass’ issues grates a bit. If I read him correctly, and I’m pretty new to his work, he postulates that the imperative of human survival would even bring the bourgeoisie on board, but it’s clear by now their even greater particularism can do nothing for us. We see the commodification of morality, with ‘fair trade’, carbon trading and green capitalism, the commodification of social duties like care of the elderly, and a new trade in the lives of the incapacitated and mentally ill. This is because there isn’t anything specifically human about capitalism. It’s a simple formula for extracting value from labour and the planet; it doesn’t have an end point.
21st Century capitalism is little concerned with the production of things, yet it produces more things than ever, giving you bogus status to compete for. The bosses’ status is underpinned by a vast cloud of fictitious capital, which somebody must be made to need or it confers no power. Why would anyone want to play such a stupid game? Capitalism lurches from crisis to crisis, from war to war, ever refining itself as a mechanism for maintaining the dominance of the few over the many. As it lays waste to its habitat and its subjects, it remains entirely successful in this. Many of the workers who produce the things, in the gadget, garment and gimmick factories of Asia, are de-facto slaves. I hope I’ve shown that success and advancement are collective or they are worthless. If we can’t even free the slaves, or create the conditions under which they can free themselves, we will never be free.
I remember a time when you could punch a copper and duck up an alleyway, that evening you would be boasting about it in the pub. Now you’d have to burn your clothes and leave the country; they would expend vast sums of taxpayers’ money to track you down, with their cameras and computers, then lock you away for years. That’s the price you pay for convenience, instant payment, all your silly games and entertainments. The babylon know they can beat you to death or shoot you without endangering their pension, suspended on full pay while the enquiry exonerates them. Those of our Class who just want to turn back the clock will applaud the disciplining of ‘uncontrollables’.
Recently some activists have fetishised peaceful protest, offering themselves as lambs to the police and judiciary. All they have achieved is provoking the state to criminalise peaceful protest, a move is afoot to ban the self-sacrificial forms of obstruction by attaching oneself to immovable objects. The point is that ‘legitimate protest’ isn’t supposed to change anything, it’s meant to convince you, and everyone else, of your powerlessness in the face of the ruling elite. Pretty soon there will be little to choose between demonstration and dynamite.
In practical short-term alliances with reformist unions anarchists often find that they are being used as a threat to strengthen the reformists bargaining position. From time to time even they despair of their political representatives; “call your dogs off” scream the bosses, “and you can have another penny an hour”. If you’re going to play that game remember the statist left will think nothing of grassing us up to the law. They are part of the system, it needs them and they need it.
There’s a war on, you need to know which side you’re on and who’s there with you.
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