It is time to try to describe, at first abstractly and later concretely, a strategy for destroying capitalism. At its most basic, this strategy calls for pulling time, energy, and resources out of capitalist civilization and putting them into building a new civilization. The image, then, is one of emptying out capitalist structures, hollowing them out, by draining wealth, power, and meaning from them until there is nothing left but shells.
This is definitely an aggressive strategy. It requires great militancy and constitutes an attack on the existing order. The strategy clearly recognizes that capitalism is the enemy and must be destroyed, but it is not a frontal attack aimed at overthrowing the system; it is an inside attack aimed at gutting it, while simultaneously replacing it with something better, something we want.
Thus, capitalist structures (corporations, governments, banks, schools, etc.) are not seized so much as simply abandoned. Capitalist relations are not fought so much as they are simply rejected. We stop participating in activities that support (finance, condone) the capitalist world and start participating in activities that build a new world while simultaneously undermining the old. We create a new pattern of social relations alongside capitalist ones, and then continually build and strengthen our new pattern while doing everything we can to weaken capitalist relations. In this way our new democratic, nonhierarchical, noncommodified relations can eventually overwhelm the capitalist relations and force them out of existence.
This is how it has to be done. This is a plausible, realistic strategy. To think that we could create a whole new world of decent social arrangements overnight, in the midst of a crisis, during a so-called revolution or the collapse of capitalism, is foolhardy. Our new social world must grow within the old, and in opposition to it, until it is strong enough to dismantle and abolish capitalist relations. Such a revolution will never happen automatically, blindly, determinably, because of the inexorable materialist laws of history. It will happen, and only happen, because we want it to, and because we know what we’re doing and how we want to live, what obstacles have to be overcome before we can live that way, and how to distinguish between our social patterns and theirs.
But we must not think that the capitalist world can simply be ignored, in a live-and-let-live attitude, while we try to build new lives elsewhere. (As mentioned earlier, there is no elsewhere.) There is at least one thing, wage slavery, that we can’t simply stop participating in (but even here there are ways we can chip away at it). Capitalism must be explicitly refused and replaced by something else. This constitutes war, but it is not a war in the traditional sense of armies and tanks; it is a war fought on a daily basis, on the level of everyday life, by millions of people. It is a war nevertheless because the accumulators of capital will use coercion, brutality, and murder, as they have always done in the past, to try to block any rejection of the system. They have always had to force compliance; they will not hesitate to continue to do so. Still, there are many concrete ways that individuals, groups, and neighborhoods can gut capitalism, which I will enumerate shortly.
We must always keep in mind how we became slaves; then we can see more clearly how we can cease being slaves. We were forced into wage slavery because the ruling class slowly, systematically, and brutally destroyed our ability to live autonomously. By driving us off the land, changing the property laws, dismantling community rights, destroying our tools, imposing taxes, gutting our local markets, and so forth, we were forced onto the labor market in order to survive, our only remaining option being to sell our ability to work for a wage.
It’s quite clear, then, how we can overthrow slavery: we must reverse this process. We must begin to reacquire the ability to live without working for a wage or buying the products made by wage slaves (that is, we must free ourselves from the labor market and the way of living based on it), and embed ourselves instead in cooperative labor and cooperatively produced goods.
Another clarification is needed. This strategy does not call for reforming capitalism, for changing capitalism into something else. It calls for totally replacing capitalism with a new civilization. This is an important distinction because capitalism has proved impervious to reforms as a system. We can sometimes, in some places, win certain concessions from it (usually only temporary ones) and some (usually short-lived) improvements in our lives as its victims, but we cannot reform it piecemeal.
Hence, our strategy of gutting and eventually destroying capitalism requires at a minimum a totalizing image, an awareness that we are attacking an entire way of life and replacing it with another, and not merely reforming one way of life into something else. Many people may not be accustomed to thinking about entire systems and social orders, but everyone knows what a lifestyle is, or a way of life, and that is the way we should approach it.
The thing is this: in order for capitalism to be destroyed, millions and millions of people must be dissatisfied with their way of life. They must want something else and see certain existing things as obstacles to getting what they want. It is not useful to think of this as a new ideology. It is not merely a belief system that is needed, like a religion, or like marxism or anarchism. Rather it is a new prevailing vision, a dominant desire, an overriding need. What must exist is a pressing desire to live a certain way and not to live another way. If this pressing desire were a desire to live free, to be autonomous, to live in democratically controlled communities, to participate in the self-regulating activities of a mature people, then capitalism could be destroyed. Otherwise, we are doomed to perpetual slavery and possibly even to extinction.
The content of this vision is actually not new at all. The long-term goal of communists, anarchists, and socialists has always been to restore community. Even the great peasant revolts of early capitalism sought to free people from external authorities and restore autonomy to villages. Marx defined communism once as a free association of producers, and at another time as a situation in which the free development of each is a condition for the free development of all. Anarchists have always called for worker and peasant self-managed cooperatives. The long-term goals have always been clear: to abolish wage slavery, eradicate a social order organized solely around the accumulation of capital for its own sake, and establish in its place a society of free people who democratically and cooperatively self-determine the shape of their social world.
These principles, however, must be embodied in concrete social arrangements. In this sketch, they are embodied in the following configuration of social forms, as noted earlier: autonomous, self-governing, democratic neighborhoods (through the practice of the neighborhood assembly); self-managed projects; cooperatively operated households; and an association, by means of treaties, of neighborhoods one with another.
But how can this be achieved? We must turn now to the task of fleshing out this strategy, but this time in concrete rather than abstract terms.
Form a Neighborhood Association
Get together with some neighbors and form a neighborhood association. Hold regular meetings. These meetings will form the basis later on for neighborhood assemblies. This, together with employee associations and household associations (see below) are the three most important things anyone can do. It may seem pointless at first, since these associations will have neither power nor money. But they will begin to attract energy, and will become focal points for siphoning off power and wealth from capitalism as well as putting them back into the communities from which they were originally stolen.
Get together with some co-workers at your place of employment and form an employees’ association. Bypass unions. You will have to meet on your own time. Hold regular meetings. These meetings will later form the basis for the peer circles of self-managed projects (and part of the basis for escaping wage slavery). There may be several such groups in one shop. It is only through face-to-face associations like these that an autonomous opposition culture can once again be generated. Even if you start with only half-a-dozen people, word will get around that there is a meeting where the problems of the workplace are being discussed. This will become the focal point of a consciousness that is opposed to corporate culture. Without this counterconsciousness, there is no possibility of effective opposition.
This can be done right now. Several families can pool their resources and buy a building to form an extended household. Groups of people, single and married, already rent houses together and live cooperatively. Where buying is clearly out of the question, form a tenants’ association in your building. Try to begin sharing resources and living cooperatively. These cooperative housing associations will form the basis later on for households, as in my initial sketch.
Pool resources with your neighbors and build a place to meet. This is an important step to take toward launching a new civilization. Most neighborhoods, no matter how poor, somehow find money to build churches. If they wanted to, they could also build meeting halls. Obviously, they must first perceive a need for them. They must want to associate, want to begin to exercise control over their lives in cooperation with their neighbors. They must see the meetings as the linchpin of a new way of life.
Worker-owned businesses, in and of themselves, cannot destroy capitalism. As long as they are operating in a capitalist market, they will face bankruptcy unless they pay attention to the bottom line. Actually, they merely replace the traditional capitalist owner with a shop full of capitalist owners. Thus, worker-owners are merely joining the petty bourgeoisie – which is what the new left did in the early 1970s. We created a multitude of what we called “alternative institutions” (we were actually just going into business for ourselves). There were food co-ops, bookstores, day care centers, clinics, publishing houses, auto repair shops, community newspapers, psychedelic shops (with clothing, leather goods, and music), and so forth. But the capitalists were not hurt by this at all. On the contrary, they benefited greatly. They simply took over all our new creations and mass marketed them, making billions in the process.
Nevertheless, there are at least two important differences between regular businesses and worker-owned ones. The latter can abolish internal hierarchies and self-manage the shop in a democratic way, and they have greater flexibility about using any extra wealth created. Instead of paying dividends to stockholders, they can use their income to support opposition movements, or they can simply raise their own salaries, shorten their work hours, or lower their prices. Actually, in real life most worker-owners end up working longer hours for less pay than they would in a traditional enterprise. They also tend to start out democratic but end up managerial, due largely I think to the pressures and temptations of the surrounding capitalist market, and not I hope to inherent flaws in human nature.
If there were dozens of worker-owned businesses in a community, providing needed services and making useful products, in addition to supporting anticapitalist struggles, they could accumulate a wealth of experience and become the initial core for the self-managed projects of democratic autonomous neighborhoods. They could become the basis for socially conscious cooperative labor, democratically agreed on labor, as opposed to labor that is bought and sold.
Worker-owned businesses are a growing movement in the United States (at present, there are around fifteen hundred majority-owned businesses nationwide). Some of them in the same trade are forming networks for mutual support and to share information. They can become revolutionary, however, only by becoming part of a movement to destroy capitalism and build something else – as sketched in this book, for example.
That is, try to convince them to give up private ownership and switch to worker-managed projects controlled by the neighborhood assembly. This may not be as hard as one might imagine. The petty bourgeoisie (i.e., small-business families) is one of the most desperate and miserable classes under capitalism. These people work unbelievably long hours, and few of them are getting rich. They go bankrupt by the thousands, losing everything they have – all their money and all their long years of labor. Those who do survive may still be on the verge of going under. They are constantly being gobbled up by chain stores, and I doubt that the buyouts are all that wonderful. These people are on the fringe of the corporate world. They have been part of a shrinking class for over a hundred years. Maybe some of them are ready to throw in the towel. They have sought not only to get rich but “to be their own boss.” That is, they have strived to escape wage slavery by going into business for themselves. But there is another way to escape wage slavery and be your own boss: participate in a worker-managed project. If we could convince even 10 percent of them to convert their properties to cooperatively owned and operated projects, this would provide a starting financial base for neighborhood autonomy. If we could convince 20, 30, or 40 percent, we would have a substantial material base for transforming our neighborhoods.
We should shift our employment from the giant corporate world to worker-managed, neighborhood-controlled projects. The wealth that we produce in the former is siphoned off into the coffers of global capitalism; the wealth we produce in the latter can be retained in the neighborhood. There is a big danger here, though – namely, that we will end up doing poverty-level work. So we must never let up on our overall attack on capitalism, as described herein. We must not be content to live in the backwaters, barely subsisting in our impoverished neighborhoods, however autonomous they may be, while capitalism goes rolling on.
Most people don’t even know that we don’t have to use ruling-class money (government or bank money) or that we can issue our own. Local currencies, of which there are many types, help to free us from the world market, strengthen local markets, and thus build self-sufficiency and autonomy. They enable us to stop circulating the money of our oppressors and therefore partially escape the system of control based on that money. Local currencies also provide a way to stop wealth from being drained out of the community. Although local currencies are possible now (and many experiments are currently underway), they will probably be outlawed if the practice spreads.
These are not-for-profit corporations that acquire and hold land in the public interest. They are an existing legal form in the United States, and autonomists should be using them more than we are. They are a way of fighting the real estate industry and resisting the continuing concentration of land ownership. Like community development corporations, they can easily become regressive, but if used properly they could become the basis for neighborhood control of all the lands on which the neighborhood lives and works. Getting control of the land is always the first step capitalists take when beginning an attack on the autonomy of any people. In the core capitalist countries, the land is long gone. But in many parts of the world, the enclosure (expropriation of the land by the masters) is just now happening, and on a massive scale. Peasants and native peoples everywhere are being forced to register their holdings, which have traditionally been communally defined, thus turning the land into a commodity that can be bought and sold under state and market rules. Another way of emptying the land is to make peasant farming unviable by flooding the country with cheap subsidized farm products from the rich countries. Sometimes peasants are simply driven off the land by force. Contemporary Colombia is a prime example, where the combination of death squads and toxic spraying have made millions landless, to become dwellers in the vast urban slums.
Community land trusts do not overcome the problem of land being treated like a commodity, of course, since the land still has a title registered with the state. They are thus only a stopgap measure, but one that might be used now to start the process of reappropriating the land.
If you own a house consider giving it to a community-controlled trust fund when you die, or perhaps even sooner. Do the same for any other financial assets you may possess. These trust funds can be bound legally to pursue certain objectives which you can specify. Thus your property can be taken off the market and used to help build a grassroots infrastructure to support liberation struggles. Imagine what a stronger position we would be in today if anticapitalist people had been doing this for the past century or so.
This will be easiest for people living in small towns and villages. There are already solar and wind units that can supply all the electrical needs of a small community. It will be hardest for people living in dense urban or suburban neighborhoods. Solar and wind power has gotten cheaper and cheaper. It is about ready to take off, so to speak, but under corporate control – with vast solar and wind installations feeding electricity into the corporate-controlled grids. What communities and even private households must do is use the new technology to get free from the grid, thereby achieving a measure of self-sufficiency and autonomy. There may come a time when this will make the difference between survival or death. For now, though, it is an essential step toward taking power, in both senses, back from capitalists and returning it to democratic communities, where it belongs.
This will make sense only in the context of struggles to reempower local communities and destroy capitalism. The objective is to regain a degree of self-sufficiency and autonomy in order to be able to abandon, and hence gut and destroy, the profit system. Otherwise we play right into their hands. Capitalists no longer need vast millions of people. They couldn’t care less if we scurry around in our little vegetable gardens, garage workshops, and utility rooms trying to scrape together the bare necessities of life. As long as they control the major technologies, the governments, and markets sufficient for the continued accumulation of capital, they can control the world. They would be happy to see millions of us simply die off. In fact, they are talking about this already, all the time, and looking forward to it.
So the tactic of “starting to grow some of our own food” stems not from any romantic illusion about nature or working with our hands but from our dire need to establish independence in order to survive. Today’s urban populations are unimaginably vulnerable to the disruption of food supplies. And don’t think for one minute that governments and corporations won’t block food shipments, if they have to, to protect themselves and the system they are devoted to. In fact, structurally induced famines have already reached epidemic levels in the contemporary world. So growing some of our own food applies not just to first world neighborhoods but also and especially to the poorer countries that have been forced into importing basic food stuffs while their own lands are given over to cash crops for export (e.g., coffee, sugar, bananas, or beef).
We don’t need farms to start growing food. We can do it in our backyards or on rooftop gardens. We can build solar-powered greenhouses, and try aquaculture and hydroponics. There are many ways to start breaking free from agribusiness.
At first, this will simply be a depository where persons can put in things they don’t need and take out things they do need. This could include food, for example, as people in the neighborhood start growing more and more of their own food. A person or family who has grown more food than they need will put it in the storehouse, where it can be taken out by persons and families who need food. This will be a way of facilitating mutual aid and sharing. It could also include clothing, especially children’s clothing. As children outgrow clothes, their clothes could be put in (or returned to) the storehouse to then be made available to other children who need them. The same with toys and many other items, like books, dishes, furniture, appliances, extra plants, scrap lumber, and tools. As the neighborhood gets more and more free from the market, more and more of the necessities of life (and even nonnecessities) will be channeled through the storehouse. Eventually, all production – industrial, agricultural, and so on – will be funneled into the storehouse. After the needs of the neighborhood have been met, excess production will be exchanged with other neighborhoods. There might be interneighborhood or even regional storehouses for some items. It will be by means of arrangements like this that we will eventually be able to abolish money. Setting up such a storehouse is something that could be done right now, in every neighborhood. In some communities, there already exists a similar organization in the form of thrift stores of various kinds (such as the Salvation Army or Goodwill). In these stores, although their goods have usually been donated, the items are nevertheless sold for money. But in a voluntarily organized and run storehouse, the money could be eliminated.
Medicine as currently practiced is a ruling institution that seeks to control us just like schools, corporations, and the government itself does. This institution also wants to sell us drugs, cut us up (for a high fee), and keep us coming back again and again. We must start breaking free from it by reducing its influence over our lives, by gutting it of power. The best way to do this is not to get sick. We must take charge of our own health and learn how to take care of ourselves. A step in this direction is to become advocates for and adherents of orthomolecular medicine – a new philosophy of health and sickness founded in the 1970s by Linus Pauling and his colleagues, but that was actually mostly a crystallization of long-standing alternative health practices, although with a new twist and a firmer scientific foundation.
We should go to doctors and hospitals only as a last resort, and when we do go we must question everything they do. Never let them treat us like pieces of meat. Never let them do a single thing to us without forcing them to explain it and then wait until we decide whether we want the treatment.
Some of us should also try to begin establishing neighborhood health clinics. This will be difficult because medicine is tightly controlled by the state, together with the drug companies, insurance companies, and doctors themselves in their professional organizations. Nevertheless, some progress can surely be made toward neighborhood-controlled clinics even if it is only education at first to spread the preventive health care movement. These clinics will later become the means whereby we take back control of health care in our democratic autonomous neighborhoods.
Naturally, people who presently work in hospitals should be forming employee associations with an eye to eventually taking over the hospitals. But the seizure of hospitals will probably take place at about the time that it becomes feasible to seize factories, farms, offices, and stores. In the meantime, we should be getting free from mainstream medicine by practicing preventive health care and establishing independent neighborhood clinics.
Generally speaking, this cannot be anything as obvious as an explicit slowdown (deliberate slowdowns of course have their place). Rather, when we start a new job we should work at a level far below our true ability. Never let them know we can do more. Do just the bare minimum not to get fired. This may still be quite a high level of output in a competitive labor market where there are millions of gung ho employees trying to impress the bosses and get ahead (i.e., get promoted) or perhaps just keep their jobs. But as more and more workers adopt this attitude, it will be harder and harder for the bosses to tell what the real capacities are. The centuries-old struggle between capitalists and workers turns precisely on the capitalists’ need to extract more value from the direct producers than the capitalists pay out in wages and benefits. This battle has been – and is being – fought over the length of the working day, wages, speedups, breaks, vacation time, intensity of work, sick leave, lunch periods, overtime, age of retirement, health and pension benefits, and so on. Anything that requires capitalists to pay more while getting less weakens their world and strengthens ours.
But “not working hard at our jobs” goes somewhat beyond these other kinds of struggles. No business could last a year if it weren’t for the enthusiasm, energy, and dedication that workers bring to their jobs. This happens everywhere, at every construction site, in every factory, and in every office. There are always those few who keep the business going or even keep it operating smoothly. Capitalism would collapse without this creative energy, without this problem solving, without this free intelligence applied to new situations. Just look at what happens when a few workers do attempt to “work to rule” – things start to unravel fast. Capitalists still continue to preach that workers should just do what they’re told and not think about it (“Just Do It”). At the same time, they usually blame workers when things go wrong for not having seen the problem and then taken the initiative to fix it.
The principle of not working hard at our jobs means that we will assume no responsibility for the success of the business, bring no enthusiasm to our work, fix nothing when things go wrong, solve no production problems for them, volunteer no information, make no inventions, improve no procedures – in short we’ll do as little as possible. This is a way of stopping capitalists from extracting wealth from our labors. It also throws a monkey wrench into the capital accumulation process, without which the system collapses.
There have always been people who sloughed off at work. This often creates tensions because other workers usually have to do the work that the slackers are not doing. But what if all of us, or most of us, sloughed off? The strategy of not working hard at our jobs suggests precisely this: that we all become malingerers. This does go against the grain, however, at least for a lot of us. It is natural to want to do well, to develop skills, to be proud of our work. Yet we have to realize that our exploiters rely on these good motivations of ours and use them against us. Our natural instincts to excel at our tasks are being used to destroy us, our communities, and in fact the earth itself.
Finally, the extent to which any individual can slough off will vary depending on that person’s situation and personality. People who live in extensive networks of family, friends, and co-workers can risk getting fired more easily; extremely isolated people can’t. Also, some people are more afraid than others, more subject to peer pressure and pressure from the bosses. Only fearless and secure people can snub their noses at bosses and peers alike. If we could get our neighborhood, workplace, and household associations going, then more of us could be brave enough to become first-rate slackers at work. It would help immensely – in fact, it is vitally important to the strategy – if we could use the energy thus saved for other skills and tasks not exploitable by capitalists for activities that would build our world while undermining theirs.
The tactical principle of not working hard at our jobs strikes capitalism at its core. It could become a central component of an opposition culture, and is something that could be started today by every employed person. Just don’t do it. Don’t care. Don’t try.
Naturally, there are safety precautions that must be observed. Crane operators, pilots, bus drivers, and surgeons (as well as dozens more workers in critical jobs) must be skillful enough to ensure that nobody gets hurt. Within these limits, though, there is still plenty of room for sloughing off. Most jobs are not critical at all.
Also, sloughing off at work must be accompanied by the determined effort to build something of excellence elsewhere. Otherwise, sloughing off becomes a way of life and amounts to nothing more than sinking into slothfulness and apathy.
There are numerous examples of this already. Towns have mobilized to stop Wal-Mart from moving in and destroying all the local small businesses. Communities have mobilized to force the clean up of toxic waste dumps. Neighborhoods have organized to stop expressways from being built right through the middle of their homes. Some suburban sprawl (damn little though) has been blocked; proposed dams have been stopped; forests, wetlands, and seashores have been saved, and so forth. This is where capitalists have to be stopped – locally, in our communities. Why? Because this is where our strength is.
Even if a hundred thousand militants converged periodically on cities and capitals around the world to protest at the summit meetings of the world’s ruling classes, this is nothing compared to the tens or hundreds of millions worldwide who could become engaged in struggles at the local level. Most people cannot go to regional, national, or continental demonstrations. They have to work and cannot leave their jobs, or they have family responsibilities. Plus travel is expensive and beyond the means of many people. Hence, protests at summit meetings are limited mostly to more affluent students and other movement celebrities who can afford to operate on a national or global level. Quite a few less-well-off persons do manage nevertheless to go to these events by taking vacation time, using up savings, and the like, but they are not the majority. Moreover, in order to be able to really defeat capitalists on the global level, we would have to get control of national governments, and that is simply not in the picture. So however useful national and global protests are for highlighting issues, articulating demands, and putting pressure on our rulers, it is at the local level that the real battles must be fought.
This has started to happen. It’s quite surprising that it hasn’t happened long before now. Not long ago, a couple of corporate executives were convicted of murder because they knowingly allowed an employee to be poisoned to death at the workplace. This was the first case of its kind in the United States. Pinochet has been arrested and may be placed on trial in Chile. Henry Kissinger may well be brought to trial as a war criminal. These are all excellent developments. If we could only bring the criminal laws to bear on capitalists themselves and their functionaries in government, this by itself would almost be enough to destroy capitalism because capitalism cannot exist (that is, capitalists, as a world class, cannot make profits) without violence, brutality, oppression, theft, lies, and murder. It requires all that to keep the system going, speaking in global terms. If we could hold them to the same laws that all the rest of us must obey, their scam would be exposed and the system would collapse.
By democratize, I mean direct democracy, whereby an association is operated cooperatively through face-to-face assemblies. Unfortunately, the practice of direct democracy has almost disappeared from our culture. The first thing we do instead when we get together to establish an association is to elect officers and hand over authority to them, thus disbanding our meetings and forfeiting our power of self-government. That is, we establish a hierarchy, even though this is seen as democratic (whereby we choose leaders periodically through elections). But this practice could be abandoned, and we could return to the practice of direct democracy. No one is stopping us from doing this right now, in all the many and various associations we establish, whether they be chess clubs, parent-teacher associations, professional organizations, orchestras, food co-ops, or what have you. This could be done in all organizations that we establish that are not registered with the state. So-called not-for-profit corporations, which are registered with the state (that is, incorporated by the state), are usually required by law to have a board of directors and officers. Nevertheless, in many cases it is possible to do the paperwork to meet the official requirements (which demand the establishment of hierarchy – that is, an authoritarian structure for the enterprise), but to run the project internally, unofficially, with direct democracy. At present, it is an unfortunate fact that not-for-profit corporations and NGOs are almost invariably authoritarian. But this is something that we might be able to change, long before it becomes feasible to seize and thus democratize corporations per se. The experience we could gain now with direct democracy in our voluntary associations, nonprofits, and NGOs would help us later in our workplace, neighborhood, and household assemblies.
About a hundred years ago, largely in response to a powerful labor movement and a vigorous anticapitalist culture, conservatives in Europe began parceling out social knowledge into fields or disciplines, which rapidly became institutionalized as departments in universities and then as occupations in the labor market. The main ones were economics, political science, and sociology, but history was also partitioned off more completely as a specialized and more limited discipline, as was philosophy. Psychology had already been separated out earlier, and anthropology was added in. There is not the slightest justification for any of this. There is no such thing as an economy, for example. But such a claim sounds idiotic to contemporary minds. What conservatives have succeeded in doing is thoroughly trouncing another way of looking at human life that uses a different set of categories entirely – namely, the radical critique of capitalist civilization. These false divisions are now one of the greatest barriers to understanding the world we live in.
I’m referring to corporate media, of course. For most people, it’s probably best not to even own televisions or radios. Every hour given up to corporate programming is one hour less available for face-to-face association with friends and neighbors, one hour less available for building independent lives, creating an autonomous culture, and assembling the social arrangements that will replace capitalism. Mainstream television and radio are unspeakable evils, with their endless hours of advertising, biased newscasts, destruction of conversation, silence about everything important, trivialization of knowledge, distortion of history, and endorsement of greed, vulgarity, and brutality. Television creates a false, mediated world, a cultural world that has been filtered through the prism of capitalist values. We come to act and talk as if the only things we have in common are what we have all seen in the movies or on television or heard on the radio. This comes to be the mediated linkage that binds us together. We no longer have direct cultural connections emerging out of our own face-to-face interaction, but only these roundabout, secondhand, artificial, distorted ones.
I have known only a few persons who could watch television without being damaged. These are individuals who are already deeply steeped in an alternative culture. They don’t so much watch television as they study it, like they would a species of insect never encountered before. They examine television with a critical eye, bringing to the task already-developed autonomous knowledge and values with which to judge it. They see it as data to be analyzed in order to discover what the ruling class is doing and what spin it is putting on current events. They read between the lines to decipher what’s happening in the world. While this is an important thing to do, it is not for everyone.
This presents a problem. We all need to be aware of what’s happening in the world. We can read the newspapers, but mainstream papers must be approached with the same “reading between the lines” critical eye needed for television and radio. At present the best resource is the independent media, which can be consulted regularly to keep better informed, with less corporate-biased news and analysis. Hopefully, a growing opposition culture will continue to invent ways to bypass corporate/government media.
A report was made about what happened in a remote village in northern India when the first transistor radio arrived. Within a short time, villagers no longer danced around their fires singing songs. Instead, they sat and listened to the canned music from New Delhi.
What began in the 1960s as underground newspapers, and continued to flourish in the 1970s and the 1980s as the alternative press, has come into its own in the 1990s as independent media. This is a much better name. Why should our publications be considered alternative rather than mainstream, instead of the reverse? It is corporate media after all that is not authentic, being nothing but a propaganda machine, and is therefore out of line, dishonest, marginal, based on special interests (profit), inimical to human life, subterranean, and immoral. So why should this be considered mainstream? Well of course it is mainstream for capitalism, and that is why the term mainstream is a dirty word for us. Still.
Our independent media now consists of hundreds of newspapers, magazines, newsletters, journals, and zines as well as independent radio and television. The most spectacular development in this area in just the past few years since the Battle of Seattle in November 1999 has been the rapid creation, on a world scale, of Indymedia Centers using the Internet. These centers collect written, audio, and visual reports about current events and make them available to anyone with access to the Internet. This is a critically important strategic initiative. The new generation of activists seems to be quite media savvy, far surpassing the media skills of earlier generations of militants. They seem to be focusing more on how central the media is, and therefore on how crucial it is to fight in this arena.
In the heavily commodified cultures of the core capitalist nations we can hardly move without making a commodity transaction. We certainly cannot live. We can’t even die. There are options, nevertheless, in the hours when we are not forced into wage slavery (the key commodity transaction).
I believe that in our nonworking hours, we must consciously avoid commodified activities. A commodified activity is one that is organized as a business to yield a profit to the entrepreneurs. Quite obviously this cannot be an absolute rule, otherwise we couldn’t do anything – we couldn’t go out to dinner, we couldn’t go dancing or travel, we couldn’t listen to music or read a book. But what we can do is start shifting the emphasis, begin shifting the ratio of commodified to noncommodified activities, and be more selective about which commodified activities we do (some are worse than others).
Most of us are heavily dependent on commercial entertainment, whether it be movies, television, CDs, rock and roll clubs, home videos, or spectator sports. Every hour of our nonwage-laboring time we spend on commodified entertainment strengthens capitalism and reduces the time we have available for creating an autonomous culture. The very worst commodified entertainment is that which reduces us to spectators, to passivity; movies, television, and commercial sports are the bad ones. (There is a highbrow version of spectator entertainment – plays, concerts, and ballets.)
Even active entertainment requires equipment – boats, bikes, golf clubs, tennis rackets, binoculars, fishing gear – and as such ties us to the leisure industry. These uses of leisure are far better than spectator entertainment. But has someone who spends every available free hour playing golf been captured by the culture industry? I think so. Has someone who spends every available dollar maintaining a motorboat been captured by the culture industry? I think so. Add into this all the people who spend themselves broke every week playing the horses, buying the latest CDs, reading the latest romance novels, eating out, taking tours, visiting amusement parks, going to ball games, bars, bowling alleys, skating rinks, pool halls, nightclubs, rock concerts, movies, and stock car races, and you see a population enslaved to the leisure industry, to commodified entertainment and activities. All these activities destroy community and isolate us from each other.
The crazy thing is that this is all voluntary. No one is forcing us to do any of this. Capitalists have captured our laboring hours by force and turned us into slaves. But they have captured our so-called leisure hours by seduction, turning us into spectators and consumers. It’s going to be hard to break free from the culture industry. The trouble is that most of this stuff is fun. We have to realize, though, that it is destroying us. We can and we must break free from it.
This is certainly one way we can all begin today to gut capitalism. We can learn to play instruments again and make our own music. We can learn to sing together again, an ability that we have lost (yet people who have forgotten how to sing can never make a revolution; so here’s a thought: we can destroy capitalism by starting to sing again). We can get together with neighbors and play sports. We can hike together and cycle, go on picnics, attend free lectures, form discussion groups and argue, play games in our own homes, go camping (but without a van load of equipment), read (good books instead of trash), organize community dances with live local musical talent, stage plays, sit and talk, visit friends and relatives, sleep, sit around and do nothing. The capitalist culture industry would collapse tomorrow without our endless purchases.
We no longer speak our own freely created language. We speak the language of our rulers and their hacks. It’s no wonder, considering the bombardment from schools and mass media that we have been under. Also, we don’t really talk much with each other anymore, which of course is the only way a language can be created. Instead we listen, to them. We walk around with earphones on our heads. We listen to teachers, sometimes for twenty years. We listen to the news, talk shows, weather forecasters, and the stock market report, even though few of us own stocks (and those who do, don’t own many). We listen to bosses, ministers, doctors, psychiatrists, and the president. Some people can’t even sleep unless the radio or television is on. There are radios on the beach and in every car, workplace, and kitchen. Millions of people wake up every morning to clock radios. In every subway and train station, we listen to loudspeakers telling us not to step over the yellow line, not to smoke or litter, to report vandals, and to have a nice day, with nary a grimace of protest from a single passenger. We are constantly listening to language not of our own making.
We even allow them to start piping their language right into our children’s brains before they can even talk. It is a language filled with euphemisms, doublespeak, psychobabble, and befuddlement. It is an ugly language. Compared with only a hundred years ago, our language now is impoverished, polluted, and degraded, with greatly weakened expressive powers. We cannot think straight using this language. Although it sounds strange to say so, words are concrete things, and we can pay attention to them. We don’t have to say “industrial society” instead of “capitalism,” to cite only one example. Whole books are now being written on doublespeak by oppositionists. We should study these works. We should also study the words, whenever we can find them, of the first victims of capitalism in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries. They had a clearer perception of what they were being hit with. Even in the nineteenth century, opposition language was still rich and powerful. Study the speeches of William Morris or Voltairine de Cleyre, for example, if you want to see how pitiful our language has become compared to theirs.
Never before in history has a people been rendered so utterly defenseless before its oppressors as have the working classes of the capitalist world – classes that now include the overwhelming majority of people. We own no land and cannot grow the food we need. We own no tools and cannot make the necessities of life, not even clothing and shelter. We own no weapons and cannot defend ourselves against attack. Our communities and families have been broken up. We cannot control what our children are taught. We can no longer make our own music. Our language is no longer our own. Each week we hand over our money to the ruling class for safekeeping. We are completely at the mercy of our rulers (and yet we think we are free!).
Even our character has been changed and weakened. Long gone from us is the fierce independence and resistance shown by peasants and native peoples the world over (including those in Europe) when they were first assaulted by capitalists. We are now a tamed class of people, so tamed that we are no longer even aware that we have been tamed. We are a subdued, cowed, pacified, controlled, contained, managed, and manipulated class.
We are not completely tamed, however, and this is our strength and only hope (or despair, if all they need is to mostly tame us). The fact that they have so far failed, even with all their governments, schools, firepower, and mass media, to completely tame us, tells us that they can never completely tame us (short of genetically altering us, which I’m sure they’re already working on around the clock). It tells us that we can win, that we are stronger.
Quite obviously, recovering the capacity for self-defense is not a simple matter of stockpiling Uzis. In fact, it’s not a simple matter at all. It’s practically the same as recovering the capacity to live autonomously. Nevertheless, there are many things we can do in the meantime. For example, we can establish cop watches. Whenever an incident happens involving the police, we should gather round and observe. This in itself will act as a brake on police brutality and provide eyewitness accounts to anything that happens. Unfortunately, things at present are going in exactly the opposite direction. Many neighborhoods are setting up crime watches under the direct supervision of their local police departments. In effect, they are turning themselves into cops, to spy on their neighbors, in the name of fighting crime. If this trend continues, before long it will be like it was in Russia, with family members ratting on other family members to the state’s secret police. People will not see the crimes perpetrated by the government, the corporations, and the police themselves but only the street thugs that are threatening their neighborhoods.
Feminists were on the right track when they started taking karate classes in the late 1960s. They said they were tired of feeling vulnerable and helpless. So they started learning methods of self-defense. We should revive this interest in self-defense but broaden it. It must be raised to the community level and not remain just an individual practice. And since we can never acquire tanks, helicopters, patrol cars, tear gas, and all that other weaponry (nor should we even want to), we have to invent social weapons with which to resist them and defend ourselves. I admit that this is a formidable and daunting task. Anyone who has survived in a ghetto for long realizes what it’s like to live in an occupied territory. Half-a-dozen patrol cars can be at any incident within minutes, with more on the way, while helicopters hover overhead. How can we possibly overcome such firepower?
To be quite honest about it, I don’t quite see how breakaway, autonomous neighborhoods could be defended against the military might of the bourgeoisie. But then, neither is it possible to see how a breakaway nation could be defended. We have just seen, in the recent attack on Yugoslavia, what they can do to a whole nation that they want to break up. They bombed it back to a preindustrial level, wiping out in seventy-eight days of bombing raids the productive toils and accomplishments of a whole people for half a century. So the difficulty we have in imagining a defense of our neighborhoods cannot be solved by reverting to a statist strategy or building armed forces to engage the ruling class militarily on its own terms – Yugoslavia after all was well armed – because we’re just as bad off on that level.
The answer to the dilemma lies, I suspect, precisely in our smallness, in our ubiquitousness, in direct action, and in the tactics of determined noncooperation and resistance to violent oppression. After all, we’re not starting from scratch. There is much to be learned from the long tradition of nonviolent resistance to physical force. We must also study tactics and strategies of war, however, because that’s what we’re involved in.
I do believe that we can win. But we must never forget that they are willing to murder entire populations to protect their ability to accumulate capital, and have done so again and again.
As recently as the 1960s, it was possible to think that the battle against religion had been won. The tremendous advances of Enlightenment values from the eighteenth century on seemed solidly in place. So how does it happen that forty years later we find ourselves living in a world of resurgent religious fundamentalism – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu?
A big part of the explanation, I submit, is that the U.S. government and its various puppet regimes, sometimes together with its imperialist allies, has been busy murdering progressive people the world over for a long time now. To be more exact, the U.S. government has been murdering people who reject capitalism and imperialism, the majority of whom are secular people. That’s at the bottom of it. Most recently, it destroyed a progressive and secular state in Yugoslavia and replaced it with right-wing ministates based on religion and ethnicity. Before that, the U.S. government destroyed a progressive and secular state in Afghanistan because it was allied with the Soviet Union and replaced it with a state based on Muslim fundamentalism (in the biggest CIA covert operation in U.S. history). It wiped out the progressive community in Iraq, using its ally Saddam Hussein, by murdering thousands of communists, syndicalists, socialists, anarchists, liberals, and secular humanists. It destroyed the democratic regime of Mossadegh in Iran and replaced it with a royal dictator, the Shah, who proceeded to exterminate Iran’s progressive, liberal, secular community (many of whom were communists and socialists). So the only social force left that was powerful enough to overthrow the Shah twenty-five years later was Islamic fundamentalism. Socialists and progressives in Israel have been oppressed and marginalized for decades by right-wing governments backed by the United States. Is it any wonder, then, that Jewish fundamentalism has gained the upper hand? In India, the United States has consistently allied itself with right-wing, procapitalist governments that vigorously suppress any movement aiming to deepen and extend democracy, whether by liberals, socialists, or communists, until only Hindu fascists are left controlling the government. The list goes on.
The same thing has been happening inside the United States. Can there be any doubt that the government’s destruction of the new left in the late 1960s and early 1970s paved the way for the resurgence of Christian fundamentalism? If the 1960s’ revolution had been successful, or even partially so, this phenomenon most likely would never have happened. Even leaving aside the new left, would the country now be in the grip of Christian fundamentalists if the fascist thugs in the ruling class hadn’t murdered so many progressive leaders like Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and John and Robert Kennedy? This is no new thing. They killed the leadership of the anarchist movement in Chicago in the 1880s; and more generally, they destroyed an autonomous working-class culture, which was imbued with communism, socialism, anarchism, secularism, and atheism. They destroyed the country’s huge socialist, syndicalist, and anarchist movement in the 1920s by killing, jailing, or deporting its leaders, and otherwise sabotaging its operations. They terminated the Black Panthers, murdering twenty-seven of them, jailing many more, and burning down their offices across the country.
But do you ever see them murdering right-wing Christians? Of course not, at least not very often. Capitalists generally love religious fanatics. They encourage, foster, and fund them, along with all the other mystics, sectarians, and dopes they can get their arms around. We no longer need to look back in history to see that organized religion has always been the mistress of the state. The current mating between Christian fundamentalists and right-wing extremists in the Republican Party is all the proof we need. But it’s a strange affair because money and the power to make it is the only god that republican extremists ever worship.
So for the past thirty years, the Christian right has been waging a ferocious cultural war against liberals and secular humanists (communists, socialists, anarchists, and atheists are now so marginalized they’re hardly even on the scope). Far right Christians grew dissatisfied with simply enjoying their religious freedom. They decided to go political and capture the state in order to impose their beliefs on the nation. We have to embrace this fight once again.
Critics of a decentered world claim that many of our problems are worldwide in scope and therefore require world institutions to deal with them. It’s true that we face many global crises that can only be solved on the global level, but it is not true that we need a world government to solve them. Local communities could start negotiating global agreements on their own initiative, bypassing governments. If existing treaties, negotiated by governments, are worth supporting, local communities could simply endorse these (and there are many such treaties, dealing with the oceans, land mines, torture, and so forth). Or they could revise these where necessary to improve them and make them compatible with anarchy. Or they could start writing their own treaties. Naturally, this assumes that we have local communities that are trying to take back control of their lives. The recent phenomenon in the United States wherein over two hundred city councils have passed resolutions against the USA Patriot Act and in defense of the Bill of Rights indicates the direction we should be moving in. The experiences gained in the sister cities movement or the international networks of NGOs might be relevant here.
The idea that we need national governments (or even worse, a world government) to reach global agreements to deal with our problems is ridiculous. National governments, more often than not, are the causes of these crises.
Abolish war? I’ve got to be kidding, right? This is a fantasy if there ever was one. The thing is, modern war has become horrible almost beyond human comprehension. Two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed 210,000 people. One hydrogen bomb dropped on any major world city would kill millions of people instantly. So far this has never happened, but hundreds of nuclear missiles are still on hair-trigger alert in both the United States and Russia. It is a miracle they’ve never been fired (and there have been some close calls). The government officials who keep these missiles aimed and ready to fire at a moment’s notice, with grossly inadequate safeguards against false alarms, are truly criminally insane. They should be arrested immediately and locked up.
The bombardment of Baghdad in spring 2003 was done from far up (supersonic bombers at fifteen thousand feet) or far away (cruise missiles launched from ships hundreds of miles away). None of the bombardiers or missile launchers were killed from enemy fire when making their attacks. It’s not really war; it’s slaughter. And now the Pentagon has radioactive uranium munitions. Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq are polluted with them, and they will go on killing (cancer) and maiming (deformed babies) until the end of time. There are cluster bombs that continue to kill, mostly children, for decades after a “war” is over. There are millions of land mines scattered over dozens of countries, which kill and kill and kill. There are fifty millimeter bullets, one round of which will tear a body to shreds or blow a child’s head off. There are firebombs, concussion bombs, and smart bombs.
The first modern war, the American Civil War, the first war to mobilize the entire society on both sides for the war effort, produced 562,130 casualties, and this was a war fought with primitive rifles and cannons. The First World War, the war of the machine gun, killed an estimated ten million people. The Second World War, the war of airplanes, tanks, submarines, and artillery, killed roughly forty million. The Korean War killed four million. Two million were killed in Vietnam, and six hundred thousand more in the secret bombing of Cambodia. Two hundred and fifty thousand, one-third of the population, were killed in East Timor. Isn’t it time to put a stop to this madness?
There has always been a vocal minority who opposed war. But for the most part war protesters have misdiagnosed the problem, seeing war merely as a moral issue. It is a moral issue, of course, but it is not only that, for modern war has a structural basis – namely, the state itself, with its national government and its participation in the nation-state system (and in the mechanics of capital accumulation embedded in it). Every government arms itself, as much as it can afford, and claims a monopoly of violence within its territory.
“War is the health of the state,” said Randolph Bourne. “War is a racket,” said Smedley Butler. Both were right. The state (and its war machine) is needed by capitalists. War is a necessary and inevitable feature of profit taking. War is needed not only to maintain empire and control domestic unrest but as a source of profit. All this is always done in the name of the “national interest,” but most people realize now that this phrase is just a euphemism for the interests of the national and international ruling class, not the interests of the general populations of nations.
Capitalism would probably collapse without the military-industrial complex. The U.S. economy is now heavily dependent on the arms industry, as are the economies of several other industrialized nations. These countries spend billions from general tax revenues making weapons that they sell (or more often, give away) to tin-pot dictators the world over. The Pentagon itself is the most enormous war machine in the history of the world and is tightly integrated with the arms industry. The more wars there are, the more money the arms dealers make. Every time a cruise missile is fired, a weapons maker gets to build another one, at a million dollars a shot. Every time some country’s infrastructure is destroyed, transnational corporations get to go in and rebuild it, making billions. Of course, they never put it back like it was.
Abolish war? How? Dismantle the state and the profit system, which is what this book is all about. This is the only way. As far as I know there has never been a mass movement, especially an international mass movement, to abolish war. But we could build one. Perhaps the demonstration against the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq by ten million people in thirty countries on five continents on February 15, 2003, signaled the beginning of such a movement. It will have to be a grassroots initiative. Obviously, governments are not going to dismantle themselves or their war machines. But local communities could start to take a stand, declaring their opposition to war, all war. They could begin negotiating a global treaty to abolish war. They could encourage everyone to refuse to fight. What if millions of people the world over simply refused to go to war and resisted the draft, going to prison instead if they had to? Unlikely? Well, are we just going to sit back and wait for the missiles to start raining down on us, to be obliterated in a flash by a nuclear blast, or to watch our sons and daughters, husbands and wives, murdered and maimed in imperialist wars?
A campaign to abolish war would be a direct threat to the profit mongers, and is therefore a good tactic to use in getting out of capitalism and into a world full of democratic autonomous communities, a world without states or war.
At present, billions of dollars that workers have saved are controlled by corporate bankers who use the money to bust unions, redline poor communities, and finance more corporate enterprises, among other things. If you are in a union or know someone who is, begin to agitate to get these funds removed and redeposited in worker- and community-friendly cooperative banks, or at least removed from corporate control in some other way.
Except perhaps in urban ghettos, the police in the advanced capitalist states work in a friendly social environment. This is a shame. It reflects some bad attitudes on our part and a lack of political awareness. Far too many people still think the police are here to protect us from crime, whereas in fact, by rendering us defenseless, police are a major cause of crime. Police may half-heartedly spend a tiny portion of their time on the problems of ordinary people (but when was the last time the police ever caught someone who robbed you or recovered the stolen goods?). The great bulk of their work, however, goes to defend corporate property, suppress unapproved movements and gatherings, put down protests, constantly watch us (surveillance), ride herd on us (e.g., the ubiquitous patrol car), and disarm us (you even need a permit to carry mace). Police are the frontline mercenary troops of capitalists.
So here’s what we do, at the very least. Never ask a cop for directions. In fact, don’t even talk to cops unless you absolutely have to. Never invite a cop into our homes to advise us about security measures (they have such a program). Do not cooperate with any police programs designed to organize us and our neighbors to help fight crime. If we hear of police going into the public schools to give talks to grade-schoolers about safety, pull our kids out of school that day. Whenever we see cops making an arrest, gather around to observe; our very presence is a deterrent. Organize cop watches. Never answer any questions beyond those legally required; instead, exercise our right to remain silent (so we will have to know our rights). This may get us in trouble. Nothing infuriates cops more than refusals to answer their questions. But it is an essential act of resistance, and if practiced widely, would rapidly lead to a clear awareness that cops are not here for us.
Most lackeys for the ruling class (e.g., managers, judges, politicians, and lawyers) are taken from the richer middle-income strata (and a few from the ruling class itself) or else are working-class people who have been carefully screened (i.e., filtered through the schooling system). In the case of cops and soldiers, however, working-class people are inducted directly into the ranks of storm troopers and used to defend the capitalist order. The trouble is that for destitute persons, the military looks like a pretty good deal, and police jobs are highly paid and hence highly prized. Nevertheless, the opposition movement should try, as far as possible, to throw a ban on these jobs. There is no chance that we could ever prevent capitalists from recruiting enough troopers. But what we could do is put such an onus on these jobs, through ridicule, disparagement, and ostracism, that anyone who signs up will know quite clearly that they are doing something wrong, betraying their communities, and crossing over into enemy ranks.
The deeply entrenched ambition to be promoted up through the ranks of the corporate world is destructive of community, equality, and freedom. It has served capitalism well, but less so in recent years with the decimation of middle-income, middle-management levels of employment. Promotion has never been an out for more than a few people anyway (relatively speaking, but still a large number in absolute terms). The cost is high, however. In exchange for having a somewhat more comfortable life in the material sense (whether it is a better quality of life is doubtful) these people sell their souls to the capitalists, develop vested interests in defending the system, adopt the viewpoints of the rulers, enforce corporate rules, and in truth become police for the accumulators of capital. For workers not to even aspire to be promoted, and to refuse promotion into the ranks of managers when offered, would weaken a strategic link in the system and seriously undermine an enterprise’s ability to operate profitably. As more and more workers adopt this attitude, this would become a set of values opposed to those of the bosses. There would certainly be costs such as a loss of income. But in most cases would these costs be unbearable, especially if the time and energy could be redirected into autonomous associations that further undermine the wage slave system?
Robert’s Rules of Order, written by a retired army general in 1876, have become deeply embedded in popular culture in the United States, to the extent that they are often automatically taken as the bible for how groups should behave in meetings. They are like an external law, imposed on us from above. People forget that they can write any rules they want to for their meetings, or have no rules at all. Robert’s Rules give far too much power to the chair. They encourage parliamentary maneuvering. They are stifling and rigid, and can quite easily be used by skillful manipulators to defeat the collective will. We need to invent more flexible, democratic, and less centralized procedures for organizing our collective assemblies – procedures that allow for much more chaos, spontaneity, interruptions, talking out of turn, quick trial votes, arguments, and different procedural options for discussing issues. It’s definitely time to rule Robert out of order.
Instead, seek out a cooperative bank. If there is not one handy, start one. It is perfectly legal at present. (Nonprofit banking cooperatives will most probably be stopped through legislation if the trend becomes pronounced.) Corporate banks use our deposits to strengthen the corporate world and weaken the autonomous community world. It is dumb for us to voluntarily hand over our weekly earnings for banks to use against us (and then pay them to do it).
Personal debt, though sometimes a life-or-death matter, and thus necessary, is one way capitalists have invented to yoke us to their world. It is extremely effective. Capitalists at present depend heavily on this mountain of debt. It would clearly hurt them if people began to opt out of it. Being in debt keeps our noses to the grindstone, makes us more afraid of losing our jobs, reduces our flexibility, and makes us blue. It is a big mistake to voluntarily give our rulers this leverage over our lives.
At the very least, do not attach any significance to grades. Just do the minimum work needed to get barely passing grades in order to get through the compulsory years mandated by the state. Grades in the school system are similar to wages in the factory system in that they induce competition among ourselves rather than solidarity, and trick us into striving for the approval of the authorities. It is an attitude that serves capitalists well in the workplace later.
Further, we should leave school as soon as possible. Compulsory education ends in most states at the age of sixteen. That’s when we should leave school. For more than a century and a half, the working class has bought into the idea that education is a way to improve our lives, or if not our own, then the lives of our children. This worked for some in the core countries for a while. But even in its heyday, it was always overrated because upward mobility faces severe structural limitations (i.e., there are only so many jobs at the top). Schooling in the U.S. has little liberatory value. Instead, it is a key institution for pacifying and indoctrinating the working class. It teaches obedience, punctuality, and passivity. It is a disciplinary tool that destroys autonomy, curiosity, spontaneity, initiative, and creativity. It perpetuates ruling-class values and points of view. It puts blinders on the population, and enforces hierarchy and ranking. It is foolish to voluntarily enter this system.
Going to college, therefore, might not be the smartest thing to do. No one is forcing you to, so don’t assume that you have to. The years might be used to better advantage elsewhere. It makes no sense to voluntarily give the masters another two, four, or eight years to work you over. Don’t be seduced by the idea that you are bettering yourself by getting a degree, or that you are achieving something and being successful. Success has nothing to do with getting certified by a school (which in turn has been certified by the state). That may be the establishment’s definition of success, but it is not ours.
I saw a friend once burst into tears of joy when she was finally awarded the doctorate degree. This is how deeply capitalist values have penetrated into our personalities. It’s true that this was also a personal triumph against considerable odds. Nevertheless, it shows that we have bought into the belief that we are better, more accomplished people if we receive the stamp of approval from the educational system. The idea of earning degrees is thoroughly reactionary. To seek credentials, to seek to be certified by the system, is shameful.
This certifying system has been linked to the occupational structure. Schools are training camps and screening (weeding out) centers for the corporate world. If you can tolerate twelve, sixteen, or even twenty years of school, perhaps you won’t do too badly the rest of your life as a professor, an executive, a banker, a lawyer, or a priest. Even for ordinary working-class jobs in offices, schools are screening centers. If you can’t take the discipline of schools, you won’t be able to take the office regimen either. If you can’t stand being graded, reprimanded, organized, punished, or insulted in school, you won’t like these things in the workplace either.
If we absolutely have to get credentials to survive in the labor market, we should nonetheless never take pride in having “earned a degree.” Degrees should be regarded just like taxes, the draft, jury duty, or drug testing: onerous rules enforced by the government, and hence something to be avoided wherever possible or minimized where not.
It is perhaps a little late for this advice. Capitalists themselves are abandoning schools and so-called public education because they no longer need as many educated workers. They will be perfectly happy to leave millions or even billions of people wallowing in ignorance. People are weaker that way. So our rejection of schools must be accompanied by an iron determination to become a knowledgeable, skilled, highly educated people.
But we can’t do this by going to school. We must do it on our own, with friends, neighbors, and comrades. Leaving school does not mean we give up learning; it means we must actively assume responsibility for educating ourselves. We must engage in intensive self-education: seek out knowledgeable people in the opposition movements and get them to prepare readings lists, hold seminars, or give lectures; form study groups; read and study constantly; read the alternative press; watch videos and listen to tapes made by radicals. These things can be done with the time and energy saved from school.
Obviously, this can be carried only so far. If you want to become a marine biologist or a brain surgeon, you probably have to go to school. But even here, many ways can be found to partially disengage from the schooling system. There are often ways to establish competency independent of school certification through tests or actual job experience. For some skills, like carpentry, you can go to a trade school (which requires less time) or become an apprentice.
The point is to stop seeing school as a place where we can learn. The great bulk of materials we are required to study there are detrimental to our health and well-being. Even purely technical subjects are riddled with ruling-class values and prejudices. By rejecting schools we free ourselves from this illusion, free ourselves to begin to acquire the kind of knowledge we need to destroy capitalism, save ourselves, the planet, and truly establish “freedom and justice for all.”
One caveat. Obviously, breaking free from schooling cannot be a hard and fast rule for everyone. We have to be intelligent about this and use good judgment, on a case by case basis. For some people, in some circumstances, in some countries, going to school may be the smart thing to do.
Unschooling is a growing international movement, especially among anarchists and antiauthoritarians. It is an attempt to break free from schools, and begin in the here and now to work toward the long-standing radical objective of reintegrating learning and life. There is an excellent article about it in Wikipedia, with a good list of references and resources. It is also sometimes called “natural learning, child-led learning, discovery learning, delight-led learning, or child-directed learning” (from Wikipedia). The Free School movement is a related tendency, as is “deschooling.” This form of learning uses facilitators not teachers; it is interest-driven; the whole world is taken as the classroom; there is no age segregation; and there are no grades or competition. The unschooling movement is not limited to rich countries; it is emerging in poor countries as well.
Unschooling must be distinguished from homeschooling, which is at present a predominantly Christian fundamentalist movement (although there is a small left wing current). Homeschooling is still schooling, and is often part of a reactionary and authoritarian movement. Unlike unschooling, where the objective is to enhance learning and freedom, homeschooling as practiced by Christian fundamentalists seeks to restrict learning and freedom. It seeks to prevent children from learning about the world and what other people believe, and shield them from the perceived evils of liberalism and secular humanism. It is a system for indoctrinating dogma. What these homeschoolers are really denying their children is access to and participation in the long struggle humans have waged from the dawn of history for knowledge and freedom. The Christian homeschooling movement has its own bookstores now as well as its own textbooks and videos. These Christians have even written weird, fantasized histories of Western civilization. Their offense goes far beyond merely insisting on creationism and a literal interpretation of the bible; they have launched a full-fledged attack on science and the enlightenment.
I feel so sorry for these children, especially in an already locked down society like the United States. They are forced to spend their entire childhoods cooped up with their parents in a house somewhere, or perhaps with their grandparents or a neighbor now and then. To me, it seems too much like being in prison for the first eighteen years of your life. Most children the world over are still free to run around and play outside. But not in the United States, which has got to be the most terrified nation on earth. Homeschoolers never escape the supervision of their parents. They can’t even change one set of adults for another by going to school. They don’t have moments of free time and space while walking to and from school, riding the bus, or hanging out in the school yard with friends away from their teachers. Many have church activities, but these are still within a closed social environment. More rarely, homeschoolers may get to join in nonschool and nonreligious community activities. This is good since it is about their only relief from an otherwise-suffocating existence.
Basically, homeschoolers spend their entire young lives under the never-blinking eyes of parental authority. And this is exactly the way Christian fundamentalists want it. They don’t believe in freedom for children, but discipline instead. Their commitments are to dogma not knowledge, theocracy not democracy, patriarchy not equality, faith not inquiry, obedience not rebellion, and dependency not autonomy. Is it any wonder that so many of these children grow up with horribly repressed, mutilated, and truncated psyches? Little peoples’ liberation is perhaps the most neglected part of the revolutionary struggle for freedom.
Unschooling is legal in many states. It falls into the same category as homeschooling. Parents have to meet certain criteria, so the state still has a hand in it. Nevertheless, unschooling is a way of getting largely free from state-controlled education. Unschooling is obviously hard for a single family to do, and works better for several families joining together, and better yet for a neighborhood or whole community. It is a way of taking charge of our own education. Learning is better done and more fun outside schools.
You may be asking why we should give up all the resources of “public schools” – libraries, gyms, pools, classrooms, computers, art supplies, workshops, playing fields – only to scrounge around with practically nothing in our homes and neighborhoods. Here’s why. Public schools are not public at all and never have been. They are system schools, ruling-class schools. Capitalists have controlled the school system from day one. Even on the local level, school boards are almost invariably conservative and are made up of the wealthier members of a community who support the status quo. Even corporations and the military are now being allowed to invade schools to advertise and recruit. Getting public control of the existing school system is like getting control of factories, offices, hospitals, or the government itself – no strategy yet tried has ever succeeded.
But persons who work in schools and colleges should definitely be creating employee associations with an eye to taking over these institutions. If we could seize them, it would obviously be better to do so than to start from scratch elsewhere. But seizing schools, colleges, and universities will, I believe, prove to be a task of the same order of magnitude as seizing corporations, and will probably happen at about the same time. I doubt if schools can be democratized in isolation from everything else, any more than hospitals can. And even if we seize them, we are still faced with the fact that the institution of school per se is a bad idea.
In the meantime, it is better to give up the resources in order to be free to teach our own values, acquire the knowledge we need, reshape knowledge (even technical knowledge) to our own purposes, and generate an autonomous culture.
Two caveats are in order here. First, a complication has recently emerged. Christian fundamentalists, allied with the extreme right wing of the Republican Party, are trying to destroy public schools. Religious schools are a step backward even from so-called public schools. So this campaign has to be fought – yet another contradiction in the life of an anarchist. Second, unschooling may sound like a wild idea to children in both the impoverished nations of the South and the ghettos of the North; these children are struggling to get into school, not out of it. For example, Palestinian children (and their families) make great sacrifices in order to attend school. They are trying to escape ignorance, and going to school is about the only opportunity they see to do so. So this recommendation about unschooling may not be as applicable in those situations as it is, I believe, in the United States.
The church and the state, both illegitimate authorities, have no right to have any say whatsoever in your marriage. This is a matter for you and your partner(s) alone to decide. In this relation, as in all others, the guiding principle is free association. We must be free to arrange our personal relations however we please. As a formal institution, marriage will most likely, hopefully, wither away and die under anarchy, and be replaced by numerous and diverse social forms. For the present, though, the least we can do is to reject officially sanctioned marriage. Unfortunately, in most nations there are financial and other benefits attached to the formal institution of marriage. A small project was nevertheless launched several years ago in the United States by Marshall Miller and Dorian Solot called the alternatives-to-marriage project, which seeks to assist unmarried couples in securing their rights; their book on the topic is Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple.
The nuclear family as it now exists in the suburban United States is more often than not highly damaging to everyone in it – the man, the woman, and the children, especially the children. Other than orphanages and perhaps some foster homes, or having no home at all, it’s hard to imagine a worse social environment for children to grow up in. It fosters dominance and passivity, stunts growth, produces neuroses, and causes much unhappiness. Just about everyone is miserable living this way. The nuclear family, comprised only of parents and their offspring, has existed only for the past two or three centuries. For most of human history, children belonged to extended families, grew up in tribes, villages, small towns, or lively neighborhoods, and had many and varied associations with other adults and children. In suburbanized late capitalism, however, they grow up in a house with two adults and their siblings, pretty much sealed off even from nearby neighbors. When combined with deeply entrenched attitudes of parental proprietorship of children, it is next to impossible for children to grow up free. The nuclear family is an extreme, pathological form, an aberration. We can begin to break away from this right now by establishing extended cooperative households.
Don’t spend your life trying to clean up the mess capitalism is making of the earth. Spend your life destroying capitalism. Recycling was a bum trip from the beginning. We’re supposed to spend hours and hours of our free time sorting the garbage, taking papers one place, cans another, and bottles to another still, all the while that factories are producing millions of tons of new trash every day – more than we can ever possibly clean up. Why not stop them from making trash?
By now, recycling has also become big business. It could never be profitable, of course, if the recycling entrepreneurs had to pay workers to go out and collect the trash. So cleverly, they recruited armies of naive environmentalists to collect the trash for them, free of charge, and bring it voluntarily on their own time to the factory gates. The entrepreneurs then turn this raw material into profit (with a little help from wage slaves).
Recycling will undoubtedly be a normal and integral part of everyday life among free peoples. But not now, not while it’s being used to derail us from our true task of replacing a profit-oriented death economy with the life-sustaining activities of free peoples. So jump off the recycling merry-go-round.
It has been customary for a long time for working-class families to dress up for special occasions in their “Sunday Best.” Dressing up has meant dressing like the ruling class – suits and ties for men, and fancy dresses for women (now there are suits for women too). If you look at pictures of workers from a hundred years ago, for example, the hundreds of men gathered in Union Square in New York City to hear Emma Goldman speak were all wearing suits. There are many such pictures. But over the past century, especially with the decline in church attendance, workers have been abandoning suits. We should finish the job and explicitly reject suits. Suits are the uniforms of businesspeople, politicians, and bureaucrats the world over. There is no point in our aping them.
It’s possible this tactic could become outmoded, though. It seems there is a trend in some corporations to require workers to come to work in suits, while the executives drift in later in casual wear. This is reminiscent of the 1960s, when we grew beards as a sign of protest, only to discover a short while later that executives were growing beards too; beards thus lost their symbolic value.
Yet I’m not too worried about the ruling class changing its dress code anytime soon. Can you imagine a State of the Union address where they aren’t all in suits? So don’t wear a suit (unless you invent a subversive way to do so).
Every dollar we spend on the lottery is like a gift to the ruling class. It’s like saying, “Here, take my money and use it to enslave me.” The lottery is a thoroughly evil institution. The fact that millions of us spend money we can’t afford on lottery tickets proves all too vividly that they have turned our brains to mush. We are just being fleeced. Even worse than the enormous financial rip-off is the enormous psychological one – this illusory slim hope that we will win and be able to escape our misery. The lottery is just another little weapon they have invented to prevent us from taking real, direct, effective action to stop our exploitation, meet our needs, and create satisfying lives and communities for ourselves.
The traditional anarchist admonition “Don’t Vote!” falls a bit short. It is not an explicit attack on representative government per se but only a call not to participate in it. It implicitly leaves the electoral system intact and merely assumes a passive stance with regard to it by withdrawing participation. This won’t do.
The practice of electing leaders to national parliaments is one of the main mechanisms through which the ruling class has maintained its control over the rest of us for the past couple hundred years. In the United States, the rollback and defeat of the radical democratic currents of the revolution of 1776 was formalized with the adoption of the federal constitution in 1789. That constitution was explicitly designed to perpetuate ruling-class control. Similar things happened elsewhere, as the parliamentary system spread throughout the core capitalist countries of the developed world and even to some third world countries. This system has rarely been seriously threatened (never in the United States), and where it has been, as in Germany and Austria in 1919, and Spain in 1936, it survived and reconstituted itself without too much trouble. Parliaments were overthrown in Russia and other communist countries in favor of single-party authoritarian regimes, but this had nothing to do with the establishment of real democracy (or real communism, for that matter).
During the welfare state phase of capitalism, because of massive pressure from below, ruling-class-controlled parliaments were forced to do a few good things for average people. That phase has now ended. The internal dynamics of capitalism will no longer permit it (i.e., the rate of profit is not sufficiently healthy for the ruling class to be able to indulge this expense). Of course, there was never any possibility that national parliaments that were temporarily dominated by liberals, progressives, or even socialists could actually dismantle and destroy capitalism itself, because those institutions are an integral part of capitalism. The parliament belongs to capitalists, not to the people, and they know how to use and defend it.
We have to face up to this. Any time or energy put into winning elections will always fall short of achieving our true objectives. We cannot afford this waste. Time is short. We have to stop fighting for what we can get and start fighting for what we want. We have to reserve our energies for those strategies that will destroy capitalism and create a new world. Revolutionaries who argue that we have to do both, that we should be electing socialists or at least progressive liberals to office even as we are building alternative institutions and attacking the system in other ways, just aren’t being realistic. You can spend decades of your life trying to build a new labor or progressive party, but what have you got even if you succeed? Not what you really wanted!
Too many revolutionaries, for too long, have poured their lives into electoral politics. We might recall that universal suffrage wasn’t given to us; we had to fight for it. It was won largely through working-class, feminist, and civil rights agitation. As it happened, though, elections were turned long ago into a controlling mechanism by the ruling class to be used against us. There were revolutionaries, of course, from the mid-nineteenth century on – namely, anarchists -who warned against trying to use elections, parliaments, and the state to win our freedom. They said it was a bad strategy, a dead end, and that it wouldn’t work. Now, 150 years later, it is all too painfully clear that they were right. We should make a clean break with electoral politics and start taking direct action to destroy the system that is killing us by the millions.
Instead, what we do with almost every election is to trot out the usual objections to voting, such as: it perpetuates the illusion that we are living in a democracy or at least a quasi-democracy, it legitimizes the system, running for office is an option only for the very rich, and so on. You may recall the anarchist quip that if voting could change anything it would be illegal. There is a bumper sticker that reads, “Don’t vote! It only encourages them.” It’s true that to refuse to even cast a vote, mostly for the lesser of two evils (the “evil of two lessers”), is an act of resistance. It is a conscious rejection of capitalism, a refusal to be bought off with crumbs, and as such is a step toward building an opposition movement. But we need much more than this.
What we need is a massive campaign to discredit representative government itself, and this can only be done by promoting direct democracy as an alternative. But we are nowhere near to being able to make the case for direct democracy effectively. We don’t even have solid theoretical works explaining and defending it. We don’t have a clear picture of how it would work across communities, on a regional level. We haven’t yet collected and studied the historical cases where direct democracy has been tried. It will be next to impossible to discredit representative government if we can’t put a plausible, workable, alternative decision-making procedure in its place. So we must close these gaps. Now is especially the time to try.
Let’s consider a few cases of what might have been. Take, for instance, the great Polish revolt of 1980-1981, where hundreds of councils were established throughout the country, in the factories, on the farms, in the mines, in the universities, and even in the bureaucracies. But instead of welding these councils into a network, a national association, to take decision making away from the rulers, the rebels got derailed into electoral politics, into the campaign to elect Lech Walesa. Big surprise! Walesa the politician turned out to be a very different guy than Walesa the union leader.
In the revolutionary movement in Chile in the early 1970s, massive takeovers of factories occurred throughout the country. But instead of building on these factory occupations, the movement got sidetracked into electing a socialist president, Salvador Allende, who was promptly killed in a classic CIA-backed military coup. Once a movement has placed all its chips on an elected leader (or on any leader), it is easily beheaded.
In the spectacular revolt in Argentina beginning in December 2001, neighborhood assemblies were established throughout Buenos Aires and some other parts of the country too. Numerous factories were seized. People were fed up and said that “they all must go” (the politicians). But what happened? Before long they found themselves voting for Nestor Kirchner for president. Their neighborhood assemblies withered; most of the factories were repossessed by capitalists; and they were back to square one. National elections succeed in derailing radical social movements again and again.
In the equally spectacular revolt in Algeria beginning in April 2001, revolutionaries attacked everything connected with the government, including election offices and polling places. They burned the ballot boxes. They boycotted elections and physically prevented others from voting. The government managed to turn this last action against them, saying that they were preventing others from exercising their right to vote. So we see how the ideology of elections works against revolutionaries who are fighting for real democracy. The Algerian rejection of electoral politics has been stronger and lasted longer than most, but as of spring 2004 there was only a handful of holdouts. Elections will soon be back to normal there. The Algerians had established an impressive network of local assemblies and had even federated these into regional assemblies (in Kabylia, where the revolt was centered). If they had generalized this system to the whole country and also extended it to workplaces, the outcome of their revolt might have been different.
Think of all the effort that went into electing Lula da Silva as the president of Brazil; he was a “radical” who promptly turned coat and started playing ball with neoliberal capitalists.
In the insurrection in Bolivia in May-June 2005, the tactics used went way beyond simple demonstrations and included occupations of the gas fields, roadblocks to cut off supplies to La Paz, strikes, the occupation of the airport at Sucre, an independent radio network, and so forth. Most important, Bolivians also used neighborhood assemblies. They had already acquired experience using local assemblies in their water war in Cochabamba in 2000. In this recent 2005 revolt, the citizens of El Alto – a city of 800,000 inhabitants – organized themselves into 600 neighborhood assemblies to discuss strategy and direct the uprising. They said that the bourgeois parliament had to be closed down. They demanded a constituent assembly to write a new constitution which would establish a completely new political system, one which favored the interests of working and indigenous people. Instead, they got new national elections scheduled for December 2005. So far, a constituent assembly is nowhere in sight. Although this revolt is not completely played out yet, it seems likely that it too will get derailed into electoral politics.
In Haiti, a massive grassroots radical movement flourished throughout the nation, in the cities as well as the countryside. But instead of building local power, through village, farm, neighborhood, and factory assemblies, radicals put their energy into an electoral political movement to make Jean-Bertrand Aristide president of a typical parliamentary system. Nothing could have suited the imperialists more. All they had to do in this case was send in a plane with a handful of soldiers, kidnap Aristide, and fly him out of the country, exiling him to Africa. He was so easily deposed. The imperialists were so sure of themselves that they didn’t even have to kill him. Then they set about slaughtering the members of the Lavalas political movement, pretty much destroying it for now. The movement wouldn’t have been so easily defeated if it had been based on direct democracy at the local level, with no leaders.
These are just a few of the more recent cases where electoral politics has helped undo radical social movements.
Radicals have always scoffed at the claim by the U.S. government that it is devoted to promoting democracy abroad. The United States is perfectly willing to work with the most brutal dictators, provided that they are in the U.S. camp. As for democracies, the United States supports only those that are procapitalist and endorse the corporate neoliberal agenda. Otherwise, the U.S. government seeks to overthrow any parliamentary democracy if it opposes these policies. It tried to overthrow Hugo Chavez in Venezuela (even though he has handily won seven elections), but failed, in a rare defeat (at least so far; efforts are ongoing). It succeeded in overthrowing Aristide, although he was a legitimately elected leader, because he wasn’t playing ball, just as it overthrew Allende thirty years ago, another legitimately elected leader in Latin America’s oldest parliamentary democracy. In 1953, the U.S. government overthrew the democratically elected Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in order to install Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi.
The United States is also quite skilled at subverting elections, rather than simply deposing already-elected leaders it doesn’t like. There are numerous examples, like the U.S. intervention in the Greek elections immediately after World War II to prevent the communists from coming to power – an election the communists otherwise would have won easily. It has also honed the skill of fomenting popular uprisings in order to install leaders it prefers. It does this by pouring millions of dollars into the country to support particular groups, bribe officials, finance publications, pay demonstrators, train insurrectionists, pay for media coverage, weapons, opinion polls, and so forth. Recently, it has used this skill to great advantage in three countries in rapid succession: Yugoslavia, Georgia, and the Ukraine. In each case, the result was that a procapitalist, pro-Western, neoliberal leader came to power.
In Afghanistan recently, we could see the ideology of elections at work in its starkest form. In a certain sense, it is perhaps true that the United States is interested in promoting democracy abroad, if democracy is defined as voting in an election for a leader. Evidently for many Afghanis, this was the first time they had ever voted in a national election. Thus the seed was planted that democracy equals elections. Naturally, the candidate chosen by the United States won. The capitalist ruling class is skilled at manipulating elections and parliamentary democracy in general in order to stay in power and get what it wants. The United States is trying to do the same thing now in Iraq. Elections and parliamentary democracy provide a veneer of legitimacy for capitalists – something they need very badly, more so now than ever before, because they are losing credibility everywhere.
So how is it, in light of all this, that radicals continue to suffer such ambivalence about participating in elections? How is it that so many of us continue to be seduced by the lesser of two evils argument? It is said that voting only takes a few hours, so why not? Why not try to use the election to make things a little better for ourselves? Actually, though, voting takes a lot more than a few hours (hours that could be spent setting up our local assemblies). We end up discussing and debating the candidates and the issues (or lack of issues) for months. And then after the election, we spend weeks analyzing what happened.
If the choice in an election is between an outright fascist and a regular ruling-class executive, the argument for voting is especially seductive. But it is naive to believe that a fascist regime already in power can be removed through an election, as was proved in the United States in 2004 when the fascist Bush regime easily and openly stole the election. Yet many people, including most progressives and even some anarchists, thought that it might be, or at least that it was worth a vote. I believed this myself, although I also simultaneously thought that the Bush cabal would never give up power. Doesn’t this just show how deeply the ideology of elections has sunk in? Isn’t it evidence that a strong identity has been established in our minds between elections and democracy? This is perhaps understandable for conservatives and liberals (and social democrats too), who actually believe in representative government. But for anarchists, who hold no such beliefs, it is more puzzling. It seems that most of us instinctively expect honest elections at least, even though we know that the whole electoral process is rigged from top to bottom, and that the government that comes to power as a result of the election will not be ours.
I have come to believe that we should take an uncompromising stance toward elections at all levels. We must reject elections not only on the city, state, and national levels but also in small groups and our voluntary associations. We should never elect leaders. Instead, we must fight consistently and vigorously for direct democracy. This is the way forward. This is the path to real freedom and democracy, and to a world without governing elites and ruling classes.
Maybe some general comments are now in order about the above-proposed tactics. Please note that all of these tactics are things that can be started right now by all of us as individuals or in small groups. They don’t require us to build vast national organizations (let alone international organizations – something that is once more being frequently called for given the latest surge in the globalization of capital). They don’t require vast resources, guerrilla fighters, or extraordinary bravery. Nor do they require us to give up our lives for a cause or deny ourselves the pleasures of life. These tactics don’t require us to be super intelligent, widely read, or highly educated. They don’t require us to adopt a party line or have a correct consciousness, nor to spend our lives building bureaucratic organizations like unions or parties. They don’t ask us to petition the state or work for changes in legislation. (In fact, a good rule of thumb is that if a tactic requires changes in legislation drop it.) All that these tactics require is that we start creating enjoyable, quality lives.
You may notice also that many of the items listed above are designed to stop the ruling class from controlling what we think. This is in many ways the front line of the war. There are no longer any historical conditions, and haven’t been for a long time, that prevent us from building a new social world. It is the consciousness-controlling weapons the ruling class has deployed against our minds that prevent us. They have managed to erase, for example, practically all knowledge of former anticapitalist struggles. Instead, they fill our brains with sports and media trivia. A top priority for an opposition movement must be to counter and neutralize these weapons so that we can learn to think for ourselves again.
Several of the items listed above are acts of resistance – for example, not voting, not watching television, or not becoming a boss. It is necessary to reject, refuse, and break with a host of small practices that support capitalist relations. It is mainly through such acts of resistance that we can generate an opposition movement and a counterconsciousness.
Many of the items are intended to weaken and subvert the government and corporations. The first and easiest step toward weakening a government is simply to withdraw our support and declare our opposition. After that, we can start finding dozens of concrete ways to subvert it, including all those listed above. For example, we can increase our demands on the government, asking for more and more. The wealth is ours, after all. We can demand far more than the government can ever deliver. This puts the system under stress and opens up avenues for us to take action elsewhere. We can support tax resistance – a strategy that can’t get far as long as a government is strong enough to impose heavy fines and prison sentences, but one that can perhaps lay the groundwork for later tax resistance on a massive scale. We can support draft resistance movements and generally discourage anyone from fighting in ruling-class wars. We can oppose corporations. We should join every anticorporate campaign we hear about. We can try to destroy corporations’ credibility, expose all the tax breaks they get, expose all the government subsidies they receive, show how they never have to pay to clean up the messes they make, and reveal how they buy off the legislators. Once we have gotten over the idea that the government is ours, we can think of a hundred ways to weaken and subvert it.
The heart of the proposed strategy, however, is free association – in our neighborhoods, workplaces, and households. You may think that such associations will not be able to destroy capitalism, but you’re wrong; there is great power in association. The capitalists will be scared out of their wits if the country starts to be covered with associations, in every neighborhood and workplace. Naturally, they will be scared only if these associations start taking direct action to monkey wrench the system and reappropriate power and wealth. If all we do is gab or throw a Christmas party at the office once a year (one big happy family), they’ll have nothing to worry about. The enslaved populations of the capitalist world have been rendered harmless precisely because our traditional associations have been destroyed and we have been reduced to the pitiful condition of living as isolated individuals or in small nuclear families.
It’s time to start associating again, not because of tradition, but because we know that’s what we want. These associations will have to be defended because they are going to be viciously attacked. Our main fighting and militancy should be saved for defending the new social arrangements we are creating, and not in attacking capitalist institutions directly. We must not forget that practically the entire world is embedded in capitalist relations and we are dependent on these for survival. If we destroy capitalist relations and structures before we have created for ourselves alternative means of survival we will die. So the emphasis has to shift to building the new world we want and then defending it from attack, even as we try to abandon, gut, and vacate capitalist premises and practices.
This proposed strategy has been criticized for not being militant, for withdrawing from confrontation with corporations and the state. This is a misperception, probably caused by this strategy’s rejection of so many traditional tactics like demonstrations. But there is no way that we could create the free associations we want without confronting ruling-class power.
Another question raised about the proposed strategy is whether it actually adds up to the defeat of capitalism. Do the numerous tactics described above, most of which focus on what not to do, really do the job? How will capitalism actually be defeated? It’s true that many of these recommendations are about what not to do. They are mostly about building an opposition culture. But the crucial three – about setting up workplace, neighborhood, and household associations -are positive steps, as are other ideas scattered throughout the list in chapter 7 such as setting up cooperative banks, community land trusts, neighborhood health clinics, local currencies, and so forth.
The decisive event in the overthrow of capitalism will be the shift of decision-making power from national legislatures and corporate boardrooms to neighborhood assemblies and worker-controlled projects. It is inconceivable that this could happen all at once everywhere. It will be a gradual process, but one that nevertheless could take place within a definite historical time period. First the assemblies have to be created and defended. Then more and more decision-making power has to be taken away from capitalist institutions (government, corporations, schools, etc.) and returned to local bodies. This will be slow at first, in scattered locales. But the process could gather momentum as it spreads to more and more communities so that later on, as capitalist structures begin to implode, the transfer of power and wealth back to neighborhood assemblies could be rapid and massive.