from: Contra Info
Some clues for reflection on the interview with Alfredo Cospito
“But what International?” published in three parts in the magazine “Vetriolo” (Nos. 2, 3, 4).
This text arose from the desire for a debate that, initially, I thought of limiting to an epistolary exchange. But, after having written it, I considered that it could become a good instrument to facilitate the extension of the dialogue to other individuals, with respect to the doubts and criticisms that I expose.
These reflections do not exhaust everything I think about what is sustained throughout the interview. As it seemed superfluous to report on the considerations I shared, I chose to write the text as a critique, dwelling on some aspects less close to my thinking. Rather than pats on the back, however gratifying they may be, I opt for the questioning and sharp words of criticism, which stimulates me to never be completely satisfied with my ideas and allows me to continue perfecting them. Certainly, these few pages are insufficient to address the issues of considerable interest raised in the interview, so I trust that someone will endeavor to fill the gaps that my text surely contains.
The technocratic illusion
I consider that there is a qualitative change within the evolutionary process of domination. From being a means in the hands of the State and capitalism, technology has acquired its own autonomy. Like any autonomous factor, it has become a determining factor in itself. The proper functioning of the world system today is based, more than ever, on the adaptation of all spheres of social organization to the needs provided by technical progress. Today, the economy and the State are increasingly characterized by their technical functions; it could even be said that today’s State is essentially a technical State. Why this perhaps superfluous introduction? Because I believe that there are some basic considerations in Alfredo’s answers that I do not share and that lead me to conclusions that, although not radically different from his own, assume different nuances.
For example, in the interview he often refers to technocracy, attributing to these “aristocrats of human knowledge” a role of preeminence, when in fact, they are nothing more than technicians who play more or less a role within the system without their own initiative and are, moreover, easily replaceable. Decisions are not really made by technicians, they only fulfill the obligations foreseen by the technical system. The technical development is autonomous, not in the sense that it is a cause in itself, but in the sense that the material needs that imply its development are imposed on the actions of the human being who has nothing to say about it. They can only support the development of the system or oppose it, but they certainly cannot determine its course arbitrarily. By this, I do not mean to diminish the responsibilities of those who consciously choose to contribute to the development of this system, but I do want to underline the extent to which their role is becoming more and more like that of any other interchangeable part. Attributing to technicians an importance that they do not really have, I believe, can divert attention from a conscious choice of our own objectives. For example, in the field of research today, scientists deal with such a specialized sector that the operations they perform are mostly minutiae when considered individually; only the collaboration of a large team allows the development of a research project. At the same time, a laboratory, or even a single server in a laboratory, can host years of research. I understand that this reasoning can be extended to the system as a whole: the more people lose their capabilities, the more importance some techniques or, better yet, some subsystems of the technical system acquire, such as the energy system, telecommunications, Internet, bio- and nanotechnologies… Obviously, I am not talking about a finished process, but an ongoing one, where people continue to play an important role in technical, economic and state processes, but an increasingly limited one. So I do not think I am inside a mega-machine. If the technical system tends to impose itself more and more on other social spheres, it cannot be considered as decisively superimposed on society itself. There is a difference between the technical system and the technical society; the former creates disorder, irrationality and conflict in the latter. If the technical system has its own autonomous and rational development, the society influenced by it does not, but is conditioned by elements, even conflicting ones, which make its development unpredictable. Technical progress is always on the march and is infinitely and indefinitely improving. It can never constitute the totality of human existence, but, as can easily be seen, it is becoming more and more the determining factor of the system.
Social war or war on society?
I am not convinced by that answer which affirms that “the “class struggle” continues to be the motor of everything”, although I understand that with the expression “class struggle” we do not only refer in a reductionist way to the working class, as some anarcho-Marxists do. I think that the rejection of the existing can go through the rejection of a particular form of economic and social organization, but if our criticism is limited to the denial of the privileges of a few, without questioning the very essence of civilization and its reproduction, we only shuffle the cards to continue playing the same game. On the other hand, the self-management of catastrophe is no better than the aspirations of the current system to survive its own harmfulness. Through the awareness of our exploitation and the recognition of the class enemy, it is certainly possible to reach the nihilistic rejection of society, but I consider that it is not the only way, nor the most privileged one. I think that every individuality, trapped in the nets of survival reproduced in series, finds in itself the motivations to desire another world and to lash out against everything that stands in the way of its instinct for freedom. I do not believe that the difference is made by the exploited condition, but by the determination with which we propose to overcome it. It is not the specific oppression to which one is subjected that places the individual in a state of conflict against this world. There are those who question this world from the conditions imposed by labor exploitation, there are also those who question racial supremacism, those who question the imposition of gender roles, or sexual normativity, those who do not accept the oppression of other animals and the devastation of the Earth, or those who simply wish to live a wild life irreconcilable with the existent. On the other hand, class often becomes a phantom that alienates one’s individual autonomy, which is why I believe that until we abandon the residues of Marxist teleology, we run the risk of prophesying the advent of social revolution, instead of becoming aware of ourselves as individuals and attacking domination out of a purely selfish desire for freedom.
I do not believe that anarchists should become a point of reference for the “exploited”; if anything, it is anarchist ideas and practices that should be made available to anyone with fire in their eyes. Rather than considering the need to communicate with the “exploited”, I prefer to think that my words and actions can take on a specific value for those who already despise this decadent world and are willing to take a gamble to see it collapse for good.
Thought and action
“Theorists who do not live a rebellious life say nothing worth saying, and activists who refuse to think critically do nothing worth doing”
I agree with the statement that posits thought and action as two intrinsically connected elements, but, unlike what is argued in the interview (“Theory to be effective must emerge from praxis, not the other way around”), I do not think that action is what should guide thought. I consider that ideas guide action in the same way that action puts the ideas themselves under discussion, I do not identify a relationship of subordination between the two, indeed, we could consider them, within the anarchic projection, as a whole.
I do not think that the ideas themselves or the action itself are valid on the basis of who expresses or performs them. A text “replete with demagogy” (I am not referring to any specific text) is still a bad text, regardless of who wrote it and under what circumstances. The dialogue between thought and action is fundamental in the individual trajectory of each person, but, at the same time, it goes beyond direct responsibility. A text in a newspaper that supports and disseminates the continuity of certain practices has the same value in fulfilling its purpose of conveying a message as a text, with the same content, that appears in a claim. What is essential, in my opinion, is that the dialogue between words and action does not cease. Otherwise, they are nothing but empty words or incommunicable actions.
As for the choice of action and the approach to be taken, I believe that there are no priority actions or actions that are more effective than others. I think that effectiveness is a particularly obscure characteristic. No one can know in advance the consequences of an action, sometimes an act that may seem trivial to us, such as jumping the turnstiles in the subway, can trigger a riot and cause flames to reach buildings twelve stories high. This does not mean that the direct destructive effect of certain actions is not greater than that of others, or that the damage caused to a company by hitting one of its cars is no different from the damage caused by hitting those who drive it. The fact is that there is no univocal scale of value to evaluate the effect of a given action; in any case, we may have more than one aspect to consider. Each person chooses on the basis of his or her own considerations what should be taken into account. For this reason, I do not see that there is an underlying cowardice in the decision not to hit people, and even less, that there is a fear of losing the “consensus” (maybe for some there is such a fear), but there is an underlying reflection that concerns very different aspects, Throughout anarchic history, as Alfredo says, attacks against machines and against people have coexisted without being considered separate and distinct practices, enriching the multiform anarchic action.
Nor do I consider spectacular actions to be qualitatively better, indeed, often the most brilliant ideas are not even grasped, except by a few. Most of the time, spectacular actions, being disseminated precisely through the channels of power, end up mutilated and mythologized, and end up being considered as something far from our possibilities. Moreover, it does not seem to me that the quantitative diffusion of a news item is in itself positive, especially if this diffusion is produced through the media of power. I consider that the information disseminated through autonomous media, despite the fact that it reaches few individuals, is much more congruent with the dissemination of anarchist ideas than a note on the front page of any prominent newspaper. Moreover, it seems to me quite naive to think that media diffusion can be achieved through means that are clearly in the hands of the enemy. It is particularly evident how silence is instrumentally applied to certain types of attacks by the media.
As for vindication, I think that each action has its own specificity and it is up to each one to choose the way to act. After all, I am convinced that if anarchist ideas were clearly expressed and practices of attack against power were openly supported, both in newspapers and in texts and debates, any vindication would be superfluous (unless it is to highlight an action), since it would not need words to communicate its potential, but, unfortunately, this is not always the case.
Myth and utopia
“It is not enough to overthrow the idols, to transfer all the weapons and baggage into the hands of man, if he has risen to the level formerly occupied by the idols.”
“The myth of the modern world is still the religiosity with which the process of liberation is viewed…. The bandit is seen from that perspective. The rebel has a double validity: as an individual who defies the law and, therefore, becomes aware of this challenge and accepts it, taking responsibility for the consequences, and as a symbol that consolidates his irrational aspirations. If in the first aspect, the bandit is a sign of the rupture of the circle of alienation and integration, in the second, he can become an instrument through which alienation and integration can remain in the presumed transformation.”
“Myth ultimately becomes a place outside the will of the individual, an illusion that exploits the weakness of the individual and projects him towards an ideal situated outside the world. Metaphysics points to certain objectives, religion to others, and even revolution can fall into this ambiguity and propose others. Myths intersect with other myths”.
Alfredo M. Bonanno
In the second part of the interview it is affirmed that the myths related to the liberating perspective, the myth of the social revolution, of the sun of the future of anarchy, which were so widespread at the end of the 19th century, have been abandoned. In the text, the resurgence of the suggestion of the myth is encouraged, in order to “revive the vindicating anarchy”. But, is it true that myths disappeared with scientific rationalism or is this a new myth that replaces many others?
I do not understand why we have to take the myth out of the drawer, at this point it is no longer talked about since the general strike. I consider that the myth not only entails an intrinsic immobilism, but also a religious belief from which we must move away. It is not by chance that Sorel, while professing the myth of violent action against the State, was at the same time a defender of the revolutionary catechism and the traditional family.
In my opinion, myth has nothing to do with utopia. If the former is a defined and static collective construction, often projected into the past and transmitted to the present, to which the individual adheres; the latter is indefinite, since it is projected in a non-place, in an unknown space and time. Utopia is modified over time, it tends to assume an infinity of different forms, while myth crystallizes in a single form. By utopia I am not referring, as is commonly the case, to that collective construction, to that goal to be achieved in order to realize “paradise on earth”, but to that unrealizable ideal that the individual makes his own and molds on the basis of his own desires.
Both, have a character that goes beyond rationality and realism, but, while the myth attracts as any other belief since it confers greater security of the self that happens to integrate it; the utopia is a projection of the self and, of its tensions in the world that surrounds it.
As for Mikhail Zhlobitsky’s action, his act is of incredible strength, but it seems to me neither a sacrifice nor an act of heroism, but the act of an individual who, aware of his situation and his hatred, prefers to throw himself to death by beating the enemy, rather than continue to live in the conditions of seeing his comrades tortured, with the certainty that he could be in the same situation. To mitigate his action is a big mistake. There have been dozens of incendiary and explosive attacks against the offices of the FSB and others responsible for state repression, why don’t we talk about them as well? The spirit of sacrifice cannot be the criterion that elevates one action over others. The support for his action should not go through the praise of death in action and self-sacrifice. Mikhail’s act expresses a remarkable awareness of his own possibilities, an awareness that a given choice may also imply his own death, and it is with this awareness that he chose, in spite of everything, to throw himself against the enemy. Many others have acted in the same way, even if that choice has not implied the loss of their lives. Why, rather than dwell on the consequences of his action, do we not dwell on the strong desire that drove him, like others, to act?
Anarchic projection and informal organization
“Paradoxically, we did not adapt to reality, reality adapted to us.”
I could not agree more with this statement. If from the beginning “informality” was for many an approach that allowed the confluence of different aspects, ethical and practical; nowadays, the very development of the system unequivocally casts doubt on the validity of any synthesis organization. It is true that the world has changed and so have anarchists (fortunately) and if we do not question our intervention in reality, we will fall into the reproduction of a circular mode of action.
This does not mean at all to compromise with the world that oppresses us, but to try to know it better, to be more conscious of the development and the undertaking of our path to revolt. If the method remains substantially the same, the choice of our objectives, as well as the type of practices, can be modified, giving rise to infinite different possibilities, which make our action unpredictable and therefore difficult to counteract by the powers that be.
I do not believe that there are “two faces of contemporary action anarchism”. It is problematic to divide anarchism into currents, not only because it lends itself to siding with the vile schemes of any representative of power, but also because it is erroneous and does not verify itself in reality, being reductionist with respect to all rebellious individualities and their ways of struggle which, most of the time, do not fit into these categories. How can we know if comrades who have undertaken “intermediate” ways of struggle are not the same ones who, at the same time, attack power through direct action? Fortunately, we will not be able to know in any way, because thanks to anonymity anyone (although not many) could have carried out a certain action. I do not understand why violent action cannot be expressed in support of specific struggles; in this sense, I consider that “the insurrectionalist who in order to facilitate a collective and quantitative growth is willing to limit and calibrate his destructive violence”, more than an insurrectionalist is a politician or an opportunist, or both. The fact that we do not put a limit on ourselves, by our assessments and our willingness to gamble everything, but by the fear of losing the consensus of third parties, has nothing to do, in my view, neither with insurrectionalism nor with anarchism tout court.
I think we must overcome the division between anarchists who support the demands and those who do not, and question the validity of a contextualized practice in specific circumstances, as well as the intentions behind it, knowing that most of the time they can only be intuited, so I think it is better to refrain from judgments and, rather, think about one’s own path.
Internationalism is a fundamental component of any action with projection and perspective: even the most radical and destructive revolt, if limited to a restricted territory, will remain circumscribed and will be repressed or will slowly die out over time.
Solidarity is an inevitable and irrepressible feature of internationalism, but, at the same time, it is not the only one. Internationalism must be nurtured not only from the perspective of response, but also from the perspective of attack. If each individuality would choose to attack power in a projective way: making an effort to recognize the connections of the international network of domination, grasping its vulnerabilities and its moments of greatest difficulty… through one’s own action one could establish a dialogue that would serve as a plot to realize our dream of overthrow at the international level. As an example of the above, numerous actions that have taken place around the world between April and May of this year, in the midst of the general quarantine period, against telematic and energy structures come to mind. A large number of actions that were directed at similar targets in a large part of the world in the same period, sending a significant signal, although most of these actions were carried out in total anonymity and were largely unknown.
Propaganda and dissemination of ideas
I have to admit that the term propaganda has never been particularly to my liking, I consider that its use in the past is not sufficient reason for us to continue to use it.
Having clarified this, I prefer to confine myself to speaking of “diffusion of ideas” which, as the editors of Vetriolo contemptuously warn, leaves “a sense of indeterminacy”; something to which I attribute great value, since only the indeterminate leaves room for individual appropriation and transformation of concepts and, (something I would like to stress), does not imply a lack of clarity.
I agree that the diffusion of anarchist ideas should always go hand in hand with action, because in this way they acquire subversive potential.
I do not believe that if times change, our media should be updated; on the contrary, it should be our obsolete media that change the times. On the other hand, I believe that what was said above about informal organization also applies to the dissemination of ideas. Time has shown us the meaninglessness and uselessness of the myriad of information that is spread through the media, maybe, at this very moment, a text on the wall, a loose leaf, a newspaper, a magazine, a book, can break this virtual phantasmagoria and bring back to reality those who still dream; or maybe not, but anyway I think it is worth a try. In the last part of the interview, at a certain point we read: “…if we want to be incisive and effective with our actions we can’t do without getting our hands dirty with technology and, therefore, with something really toxic and dangerous”. What does it mean to be incisive? Our yardstick should not be quantitative in our choice of media, but rather qualitative; and if the problem is the limited capacity of printed material to reach many people, I think we should pay more attention to the commitment of each person to the dissemination of these media and tools that allow us to expand our potential. Surely it is easier to write a text and share it as a PDF on the Internet than to print many copies and distribute them personally. If this is increasingly difficult for us, it is because of the lack of suitable places to distribute them and the lack of means to print them autonomously and at lower cost. Instead of thinking about the potential that the web can offer us, I find it much more interesting to reflect on the dissemination of our newspapers and magazines on paper, on the opening of libraries, bookstores, archives, and on the functionality of typography and autonomous printing. Even more so, now that the State is threatening to close down all commercial activity, on which, unfortunately, we are becoming more and more dependent.
Another doubt I have is in reference to the potential of the web for the international diffusion of actions through claims. The immediacy of the Internet does not detract from the merit of newspapers; news about what happened on the other side of the world has always been there; definitely, the time of diffusion was different, maybe we came to learn about an action a month later, but that does not change the substance of things.
If internationalism was particularly alive in the early 20th century, it was not because news traveled fast everywhere, but because comrades themselves moved from place to place, creating networks of relationships wherever they lived. I believe that in order to revive internationalism, written communication is not enough; it seems to me that the proliferation of those deep relationships through which we aspire to subvert this world is indispensable.
*This text was originally published in the magazine CALIGINE n.1, January 2021, in Italian.