Against Civilisation - Readings and Reflections
Uncivilized Books, USA, 1999 / ISBN 0-9667758-0-5
I had intended to start this review with a quote that attempts to summarise the alienation felt by most people living in the world today. However, after spending the last few hours walking through a lush green valley and swimming naked in a cool clear stream, all the while with the smell of wild garlic in my nostrils and the sound of birdsong in my ears, it is now a slight shock to be sat in front of a humming computer in a centrally heated and sterile house. Everything around me feels distant - cold, unimportant and somehow not quite real. Raising my eyes and looking around me I see representatives and symbols of the alienated and dysfunctional world we inhabit. I can hear the clock on the wall above me ticking. The television sits in the corner of the room with a malevolent prescence, and somebody is mowing the chemically soaked grass in a never ending attempt to restrain it from breaking free of its four straight borders. My eyes are starting to hurt from the glare of the screen, my mind feels slightly numb and I can feel a barely controlled desire to switch the computer off and cuddle up with my best friend on the sofa.
These aren't isolated problems, but indicators to the totality of the horrendous situation we find ourselves in. While here in the UK some radical ecologists are trying to understand the concept of capitalism, others are seeing this as only a relatively recent and superficial phenomenon. This growing resistance does not view capitalism, the State, the work-consume-die trinity, school, the media, technology or patriarchy as the cause of our problems. It sees all these and more as acting together to form a complex web of hierarchical power relations - civilisation.
For this strain of thought to have any useful meaning it must be placed within a framework. As one attempt to do this Against Civilisation contains 51 excerpts or complete texts from this broad current. It is divided into five logically ordered sections grouped under the chapter headings of: Before Civilisation, The Coming of Civilisation, The Nature of Civilisation, The Pathology of Civilisation and The Resistance to Civilisation.
In the first chapter, illustrated by writings from, amongst others, Fredy Perlman and Marshall Sahlins, we are given evidence that pre-civilized societies were the original Stateless societies - 'anarchies'. Whether by conjecture or study, numerous evidence of this is provided, and the uniform message is agreed on; that before the advent of civilisation humans were better off - healthier, well fed and with a much more relaxed, ecological and balanced lifestyle.
Unfortunately this was not to last, and the second section explores some theories of the origins and reasons for the imposition of civilisation - with the conclusion drawn by Zerzan himself that the transformation from a gatherer-hunter based culture into one dominated by agriculture is to blame for this 'fall' from the idyll of our pre-civilised lives. The next two sections, The Nature of Civilisation and The Pathology of Civilisation, are closely linked. Amongst other pieces T. Fulano likens civilisation to a jetliner, plummeting noisily onwards towards inevitable catastrophe, whilst Freud explores the horror of humans tangled in the matrix of power and control.
All the previous reading leaves us with little hope - but the fires of resistance are re-kindled in the final section; The Resistance to Civilisation. This is the inspiring piece of the book - Kirkpatrick Sale explores some of the history of Luddism in 19th Century Britain, and has some excellent reasons for its failure - most still of particular relevance to us now. Feral Faun calls for a Feral Revolution and the Anti-Authoritarians Anonymous conclude with a heart wrenching and powerful inditement of the full horrors of the world as we know it.
The era we live in now is the most unstable that humanity has ever existed in. Alienation is a 'normal' condition and the levels of pschyopathy, suicide, fear, delusion and depression are increasing day by day. Couple this with the war against life that the ecology of the earth is currently in the frontlines of, and you have a spiralling death trip. If we are to survive then, let alone begin to truly live, all this - and more - must be undone, and this book is an important contribution to that struggle. It seeks to fan the sparks of life and resistance that are glowing in this dark time, and should be read by all who realise we have lost much, have more to lose, and yet have a world to gain...
Copse - A Cartoon Book of Tree Protesting
Orange Dog Productions, UK, 1998 / ISBN 0-9532674-0-7
The last seven years have seen a flowering of direct action sites primarily fighting the construction of roads, but also airports, opencast mining, quarrying, clearcutting, supermarkets and housing schemes. All part of industrial development's attack on communities and the wild. Site based direct action has involved ten of thousands of people, successfully defeated the biggest roadbuilding programme in Europe, saved countless ecologies and created some of the most amazing and strangest communities of resistance ever.
Yet too often our stories have been told by outsiders. Our actions have been assimilated back into their system by their words. Copse, as its introduction says, is; "subjective history, spoken history, a history of resistance and history in resistance...This is our two fingers to all the sucka m.c's who've spoken for us, who've mediated and twisted our words over the years."
Consisting of dozens of interviews, peppered with amazing photos and cool cartoons, Copse gives a real idea of what being involved in direct action site counter-culture is really like. It's vibrant, it's alive, it's hungover, it's radical - it's a bit weird. It's life on the edge; it's life under the table. It's intense conflict with the State followed the next week by sun shimmered skinny-dipping with your friends. Copse doesn't gloss over our problems or romanticise our actions. It's about a massive gang of mates, who met in struggle, doing extraordinary things - sometimes badly, sometimes brilliantly.
Kate's one of the crew so people trust her. By basing it on interviews she's got the stories and motivations of dozens of people, the backbones of campaigns, who'd never do interviews with the media or write an article for a radical magazine. Read this book and you'll be privy to some really honest conversations with some incisive, interesting and fuckin' funny people.
The photos are some of the most breathtaking images of our lives that I've seen and the beautifully drawn cartoons encapsulate site life brilliantly - resistance, porridge, passion and mud.
Though its smooth joy-to-stroke colour cover gives it the outside impression of a coffee table book Copse is not for the smug middle classes, but for those who want to take action. For this reason it ends with a 20 page Beginners Guide to Tree Protesting. This tells you how to build lock-ons, benders, treehouses and includes lots of diagrams showing you those all important knots, tunnelling and tree climbing techniques; not to mention how to counter common camp diseases and firepit cooking recipes.
Copse is essentially a family album - or maybe an almanac of the class '94-'98. A few years we can definitely be proud of. You'll be inspired by Copse. You'll be amazed by Copse. You'll laugh reading Copse. You'll learn a lot from Copse. Read Copse. To get a copy send a cheque or Postal Order for £12.50 (payable to Orange Dog Productions) to:
Orange Dog Productions
7 The Green
Dole Autonomy versus the Re-Imposition of Work: analysis of the current tendency to workfare in the UK
Self Published, UK, 1998 / No ISBN
IMAGE: Gorblimey missus, it's all kickin' off... dole riots in the 1930s
This excellent pamphlet is an analysis of the continuing struggle against Labour's New Deal and before that the Tories' Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) and Project Work schemes. Both these recent government initiatives are forms of 'workfare' - getting the unemployed to work for their dole money.
The Aufheben crew set out the historical background to the present fashion for workfare, and then go on to analyse the opposition to the JSA/New Deal and its successes and failures. One central part of the pamphlet is a criticism of unemployed political radicals (that's you and me folks!) for their failure to get involved in the struggle to defend the dole. They point out that it isn't that there is a lack of dole activism - just that it isn't directed against the attacks on the dole. During the period of the implementation of the JSA and the New Deal there have been a significant number of large militant protests predominantly involving the unemployed - these however have been largely directed against roadbuilding or have been channelled into activities like Reclaim the Streets street parties.
So why haven't the eco-protesters got involved in the struggle against workfare? Why is it that a strong political culture that relies on the dole for its very existence chooses not to defend its own immediate interests but rather concentrates on altruistic 'causes' like saving trees or stopping roads? The Aufheben pamphlet represents the choice facing activists as one between the often 'mundane' but necessary struggle against the dole cutbacks versus the 'exciting and glamorous' distraction of eco-activism. It is asserted that doley eco-activists are directly affected by the JSA/New Deal - here their real interests are at stake, whereas in their eco-campaigning this is not the case - it is pure altruism - fighting for a separate and alienated cause.
However, although tree protest sites or Reclaim the Streets events are superficially about the issue or 'cause' at stake; snails or roads or whatever - this isn't the only or even the most important motivation behind those who get involved in such activities. And even less is it the case that the issue or cause that these activities are superficially about is the cause of their success and widespread popularity. Actually tree sites and street parties etc. have been much more about our needs and transforming our everyday relations and fighting for ourselves than the anti-JSA campaign has been. Which is why one has taken off and the other hasn't. When people say that the anti-JSA campaign has been boring, they are expressing a real need - it isn't just an arbitrary criticism. What they are expressing is exactly this - that although more radical in content than the eco-protests, the anti-JSA campaign has been much less radical in form. For the most part, the anti-JSA/New Deal campaign has taken the form of a typical political cause or campaign - the familiar chore and drudgery of endless leafleting, building for the demo etc. which you feel duty bound to engage in, little different to the activities of the Socialist Workers Party or any other political party or campaigning organisation.
By contrast, in tree protests, the form which packages the content actually becomes more significant than what the protest is supposedly about. What you're DOING is often more important than what you're doing it 'about'. Because the main point is that we take back control of our lives - if we do this superficially 'for' trees - so what? Living on site offers the attraction of transforming your life; this is what has drawn so many people to the protest site thing. I would argue that the road or whatever is in fact often secondary to the creation of community and the discovery of ourselves and our collective power involved in site living. In this way people are directly expressing their own interests. As Debord wrote:
"Individuals and communities have to create places and events suitable for the appropriation... of their total history. In this game's changing space, and in the freely chosen variations in the game's rules, the autonomy of place can be rediscovered without the reintroduction of an exclusive attachment to the land, thus bringing back the reality of the voyage and of life understood as a voyage which contains its entire meaning within itself." (Society of the Spectacle, para. 178.)
It is protest sites which have made anti-roads campaigning into the thing it is. Imagine roads campaigning pre-direct action - nothing could be more boring - an endless round of public enquiries, legal challenges etc. It is clearly not the 'issue' that was the decisive factor in getting people excited and involved but the direct action and particularly sites (for all their faults) that caught the imagination and caused the anti-roads movement to take off in a such a big way.
My modest comments here have only touched on one argument in this pamphlet that seemed to be particularly relevant to the readers of Do or Die. The pamphlet as a whole contains much else besides this and is an excellent piece of work that deserves to be widely read. Whether or not you are on the dole - THIS AFFECTS YOU - inform yourself.
The original 40 page A5 pamphlet is now out of print but you can get a photocopy for £1.75 inc. postage (sterling cheques only payable to 'Aufheben') from:
c/o Brighton Unemployed Centre Ltd.
PO Box 2536
Also on the web at: http://jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU/~spoons/aut_html/auf1edit.htm
Simon Jones - Killed by Casualisation
Simon Jones was killed on April 24th 1998, on his first day at work at Shoreham docks near Brighton. Simon had been getting hassle from the dole under Labour's 'New Deal'. The dole office sent him to a recruitment agency - Personnel Selection. This agency then sent him to work as a casual worker in the docks at Shoreham. Within two hours he was dead, his head crushed and partially severed by a two-tonne crane grab. He was being paid about £5 an hour for one of the most dangerous jobs in the country and had been given no proper training. This shows clearly the whole inter-relationship of workfare, dole clampdowns and the casualisation and 'flexibilisation' of labour under Labour's 'Third Way' and where it is leading: more exploitation, more injuries and more deaths.
On the 1st September 1998, on what would have been Simon's 25th birthday, some of his friends and other supporters occupied the Shoreham dock where he was killed. The docks were forced to close down for the day, sending all their casual workers home on full pay. Two days later the protesters paid a visit to the Brighton offices of Personnel Selection. The office was shut down for the day, and again workers were sent home on full pay. A campaign of direct action continues in order to prevent the politicians getting away with sweeping Simon's death under the carpet. People like Simon Jones get killed at work all the time and nothing gets done about it. Not this time.
For further details contact:
Simon Jones Memorial Campaign
Earth First! and the Anti-Roads Movement: Radical environmentalism and comparative social movements
Routledge, London, 1999 / ISBN 0-415-19064-9
Yes, it's another expensive academic book about ecological direct action, but the difference is that this one's actually quite good. For one thing the author, having been involved in some of the events he describes, knows what he's talking about. Also, by largely basing his book on interviews with people with a long term involvement, it's (sometimes depressingly) accurate - although albeit in a dry academic way that fails to get across any of the passion, excitement or anger behind events.
Wall begins by taking a look at what he considers the history of similar struggles in the past; from Victorian conservation societies, through the early 1970s upsurge in green concerns that led to the formation of Friends of the Earth (FoE) and The Ecology (later Green) Party, to the 1980s peace and animal rights movements and the massive increase in 'green' concerns around 1989. Whilst acknowledging that many people in Earth First! (EF!) feel more of an affinity with the broader history of "popular protest, revelry and riot" (p.18), Wall argues that this obscures "the distinctive nature of modern activism" (p.19). In many ways this is true, EF! is - at least in some respects - the bastard offspring of middle class single issue campaigns like the peace and green movements. However much we'd like it to be it's not the latest upsurge of class struggle from the line that includes the Luddites and so on. Thankfully EF! has cast off a lot of the problems inherited from its 'parents' and has tried to consciously place itself in this tradition of struggle, but it's as well to be aware of these issues as they're bound to have an influence for years to come.
The book provides a detailed history of EF! in Britain (and a briefer account of similar movements in other countries) from the early rainforest actions funded from donations by eccentric billionaire Sir James Goldsmith to increasing involvement in anti-road campaigns. Also of interest is the early conflicts between 'militants' and 'moderates' within EF! - largely around the issue of sabotage. "It is only a minor simplification to suggest that those activists drawn from the peace movement saw EF! (UK) as a means of promoting mass NVDA [non-violent direct action] of a largely symbolic form, while those from an animal liberation background regarded EF! as a vehicle for more militant tactics" (p.55). Moving through the various anti-roads campaigns, Wall gives a detailed account of all the major conflicts - Twyford, Solsbury Hill, M11, Pollock, M65 etc., quoting heavily from various interviews to give a good impression of what was going on.
Relations with other groups are also discussed, including largely uncritical alliances with rich country landowners and Militant at different times, but largely focussing on EF!'s bumpy relationship with FoE and Greenpeace. From an initial position of hostility, these mainstream green groups increasingly began to accept direct action tactics (although Greenpeace had long practised a very controlled, media centered corruption of direct action) - perhaps looking for credibility in the youth market. Despite this, public arguments still broke out over various acts of sabotage such as the Newbury Reunion Rampage. In one interesting section Charles Secrett (FoE director) actually comes out in favour of sabotage; "certain types of damage to property...[like] pouring sugar into a bulldozer [which is] going through a SSSI - I [don't] have a problem with that." (p.86) Obviously he still can't stomach militant mass action though, condemning the arson at Newbury, and being especially disturbed by people targeting the media for acting as stand in police evidence gathering teams, "You can't come into an event like that...hitting a BBC cameraman just because he was filming what was going on". (p.86)
One particularly interesting section of the book is on 'activist involvement' and looks at how and why people became involved in EF! and similar groups. Through comparing interviews, peoples' gradual involvement and strengthening ties to the network are seen. Many of the interviewees were previously members of green groups (FoE, Greenpeace, The Green Party) or other political organisations (e.g.: Marxist groups) but became frustrated with them and felt more attracted to EF!s less formal organisation and emphasis on direct action. 'Biographical availability' is also seen as an important factor - people who get involved usually have plenty of spare time and few commitments (mostly with no kids and on the dole or students). This exclusiveness is reinforced with the culture of the movement, a double edged sword that creates "a greater capacity for collective action, greater tenacity...greater satisfaction from movement participation" (p.165), but also "higher degrees of membership coercion, narrowing the number and range of people who will participate". (p.165) Obviously the challenge now is to build and sustain a culture of resistance (as opposed to a subculture of lifestyle) that still manages to be as inclusive as possible.
Related to this are Wall's ideas about how the movement as a whole grows (or doesn't). He argues that external factors, like how open or closed to influence the ruling political system is, strongly affects the forms that any resistance takes. Britain is seen as a fairly 'closed' system - parties in power often have large majorities and freedom to act, while minority parties which could gain some power under a proportional representation system are blocked. This makes confrontational action outside of the parliamentary system easier to start. Also 'costs' in terms of the level of state repression are fairly low, although increasing constantly (and of course they're only low as a result of the relative impotence of the resistance here). In contrast many other European countries try harder to keep grievences within the system, but crack down harder on whatever refuses to be contained. He argues that the wave of green concern in around 1989 seemed like an 'opening' that green groups felt they could use - they were better received by the powers that be, which encouraged them to become more 'mainstream' i.e: moderate and professional. However they still failed to get any access to real power, which disillusioned many of their members and left the field open for more militant ideas to grow, "the turmoil within the Green Party is simply one symptom of a wider crisis. Other signs include...the haemorrage from FoE of local members who are frustrated by the restrictions placed on them by the leadership and are attracted by the more confrontational direct approach of anarchist influenced groups." (p.120) He argues that this is a gap EF! formed and grew to fill. Another important element he identifies is finding 'mobilisation targets' where real, but so far vaguely expressed, concerns and desires people have can 'condense' into action - roads was one such issue and resulted in a wave of ecological direct action.
Overall this book has a lot of interesting points to make about EF! and the wider movement, despite taking an odd view of this wider movement. By trying to fit it into a 'green' pigeonhole Wall sidelines the fact that we often have more ideas in common with radical unionists than Greenpeace. If it's often dry and dispassionate, that can also help in taking an 'objective' look at who we are and where we're at. In many ways it makes a good companion to Kate Evan's Copse, which gives the 'subjective' side of events and a real sense of what it all felt like at the time. One major gripe is the price - sixteen quid for a paperback is ridiculous. One to get on the buy none, get one free offer at all major bookshops I reckon!
Pacifism as Pathology: Reflections on the Role of Armed Struggle in North America
Arbeiter Ring Publishing, Canada, 1999 / ISBN 1-894037-07-3
Pacifism as Pathology - Notes on an American Pseudopraxis is the title of Ward Churchill's well-argued and persuasive essay criticising the form and ideology of non-violent political action in North America. The essay was first published in 1986, and is reprinted in this book alongside an essay by Mike Ryan who further develops the arguments in the context of the Canadian peace movement. Though Churchill's essay was written in response to the political scene of well over a decade ago, his arguments are (perhaps worringly) equally thought-provoking and relevant to the contemporary manifestations of non-violent political action that purport to have revolutionary methods and goals.
Churchill's main argument is that philosophical non-violence/pacifism - which promotes the idea that the violence of the State can be transcended through purity of purpose, moral superiority and non-violence - is a delusional and counter-revolutionary political movement. Despite recognising the fact that many adherents to non-violence have sincere revolutionary aspirations (i.e: that they reject the present social order and wish to see its total abolition and replacement) Churchill claims that their non-violent methods serve to constrain them to the realm of 'pseudo-praxis' which, at best, is utterly ineffectual and, at worst, maintains and reinforces the hierarchical and exploitative status quo.
Churchill argues that this pseudo-praxis of pacifism is rooted in an ideology rife with internal contradictions and limitations and for its internal logic depends upon "fostering a view of social conflict as a morality play." (p.38) In this 'play' the State and its violence are "bad" or "negative", their pacifist opponents "good" or "positive" and it is through the triumph of morality alone that revolution will come about. Hence, "Pacifists, with seemingly endless repetition, pronounce that the negativity of the modern corporate-fascist state will atrophy through defection and neglect once there is a sufficiently positive social vision to take its place." (p.30) Such a view is clearly the stuff of pure idealism rather than realism, for the state is not a moral adversary, it cannot be persuaded to 'wither away'. As Churchill rightly points out; "Absurdity clearly abounds when suggesting that the state will refrain from using all necessary physical force to protect against undesired forms of change and threats to its safety." (p.44)
Taking the experience of the Jews in the Holocaust as an in-depth (and highly controversial) example, the author illustrates the ultimate futility of non-violent resistance. He suggests that the pacifist response of the Jews which was intended to promote "social responsibility" and not further exacerbate their persecution, in fact did the opposite and led to the Jews effectively colluding with the genocidal aims of their Nazi oppressors. Whilst not suggesting that the Holocaust could have been prevented by armed struggle on the part of the Jews, Churchill, quoting Bruno Bettleheim (a former concentration camp inmate), says: "Rebellion could only have saved either the life they were going to lose anyway, or the lives of others...Inertia it was that led millions of Jews into the ghettos that the SS had created for them." (p.36)
Churchill recognises that this example is extreme yet he suggests that: "it is precisely this extremity which makes the example useful; the Jewish experience reveals with stark clarity the basic illogic at the very core of pacifist conceptions of morality and political action." (p.38) The illogic to which he is referring is the idea that moral superiority can overcome state oppression; the moral superiority being based upon an unwillingness to take up arms and use violence as a tactic. This notion is so central to the 'pathology' of pacifism that the dichotomies between good (non-violent) and evil (violent) are found throughout. Of course, in order to sustain a belief in the ideology examples of good (non-violence) triumphing over evil (violence) are vital. Here, Churchill argues that pacifists are guilty of considerable revisionism in order to make history compatible with their beliefs.
Churchill looks in particular at the popularly quoted 'successes' of the movements headed by MK Gandhi in India, and Dr. Martin Luther King in North America. In both these instances he argues that the 'success' of the movements in gaining their demands depended massively upon the threat of violence from other sources against the British and American governments respectively. In the case of North America, the pressure came from "the context of armed self-defense tactics being employed for the first time by rural black leaders...and the eruption of black urban enclaves...It also coincided with the increasing need of the American state for internal stability due to the unexpectedly intense and effective armed resistance mounted by the Vietnamese against US aggression in Southeast Asia." (p.43)
The importance of the misappropriation of history by pacifists becomes clear when we delve a little deeper into the psychology of it all. Clearly, as Churchill points out, these people do believe in the need for revolution, indeed they pronounce solidarity with those engaged in armed struggles in the Third World.
However, if they concede the historical fact that "there simply has never been a revolution, or even a substantial social reorganisation, brought into being on the basis of the principles of pacifism. In every instance, violence has been an integral requirement of the process of transforming the state" (p.45) then pacifists must begin to realize that there is not just an option to accept violence as a method of social change, but an imperative.
In the author's view the fact that pacifists are so reluctant to get to this point in their reasoning has much to do with the fact that for most, struggle against the state is not a daily reality. Indeed, their whole concern stems from a moral objection to the 'wickedness' of the state, rather any personal threat to their lives and communities. From such a privileged position, pacifists can espouse non-violent revolution and engage in political action without the risks most political dissidents take. Churchill does recognise that some pacifist practitioners have run real risks for their beliefs - such as the followers of Gandhi beaten to death in pursuit of non-violent revolution and those who have immolated themselves or incurred long prison sentences taking action for their cause. However, in the main, Churchill argues that North American pacifists are caught up in a politics of 'the comfort zone' based on the guiding question of "What sort of politics might I engage in which will both allow me to posture as a progressive and allow me to avoid incurring harm to myself?" (p.49) Not surprisingly, the political practice which ensues from this underlying concern is not - and never can be - revolutionary, since if it were the state would respond with force. Pacifist praxis is therefore necessarily ineffectual and unthreatening.
Churchill's description of the kind of praxis pacifists do engage in will seem all too familiar to most of us who have been involved in non-violent activism. The protest march, sit-down blockade, rally etc. is revealed as the charade it really is. I found myself cringing at this point, recognising situations in which I had participated in the spectacle of symbolic action. Crucial aspects of this spectacle include the representatives of the state - the cops - invited to be there by the protest organisers, the elite band of stewards who ensure non-violence and 'responsible' conduct, and the protesters there to take part in a mass arrest for transgressing some minor law. The whole thing is conducted in such a way as to cause minimum disruption to the workings of the state (the police are warned in advance to expect an estimated number of arrests) and to make sure that no-one (cops or protesters) gets hurt. As Churchill comments: "in especially 'militant' actions, arrestees go limp, undoubtedly severely taxing the state's repressive resources by forcing the police to carry them bodily to the vans...(monitored all the while...to ensure that such 'police brutality' as pushing, shoving, or dropping an arrestee does not occur)." (p.54) The farcical ineffectuality of this symbolic protest is further emphasized when we remember that many of these demonstrations - especially in this country - are in protest at the use of state violence in the form of invasions of other countries (resulting in the loss of thousands of lives), production of nuclear weapons and other arms (potentially genocidal), or destruction of the environment (potentially ecocidal).
Churchill is also highly critical of the condemnation that non-violent activists make of the 'violent minority' who refuse to play the game of merely symbolic protest. He points out the blatant hypocrisy surrounding the willingness of non-violent activists to 'stand in solidarity' with armed groups in the Third World who are resisting Western imperialist aggression, whilst simultaneously distancing themselves from anyone who dares to suggest a violent response in their own country! Churchill argues that this is more evidence of 'comfort zone' politics which not only leads to ineffective action but is actually racist: "Massive and unremitting violence in the colonies is appalling to right-thinking people but ultimately acceptable when compared with the unthinkable alternative that any degree of real violence might be redirected against 'mother country radicals'." (p.62) By intentionally avoiding any degree of state violence themselves, non-violent activists ensure that the brunt of it is borne by both Third World communities and minority communities in the West.
Churchill's argument that the 'comfort zone' practise of symbolic non-violent action is easily accommodated by the State, is further developed in the follow on essay by Mike Ryan. He suggests that far from challenging State power, non-violent action is a valuable means by which the State can reinforce its legitimacy: "The message of civil disobedience as it is now practiced is this: There is opposition in society. The state deals with this opposition firmly but gently, according to the law. Unlike some countries, Canada is a democratic society which tolerates opposition. Therefore, it is unnecessary for anyone to step outside the forms of protest accepted by this society; it is unnecessary to resist." (p.140) Such recuperation clearly has implications for those whose actions go beyond the accepted boundary by allowing the State to simply divide and rule. As 'the violent minority' are isolated and crushed, the State can claim the tacit (or sometimes explicit) support for its actions from those who remain (unbruised and morally superior) within the permitted boundaries of dissent.
Having thoroughly and convincingly dispensed with any notion that pacifism represents a serious and revolutionary challenge to the state, Churchill takes his analysis a step further. He argues that pacifism is actually pathological with delusional, racist and suicidal tendencies, and bears more hallmarks of a religious, rather than political, ideology. This makes it very difficult to argue people out of this mindset, as Churchill suggests; "hegemonic pacifism in advanced capitalist contexts proves itself supremely resistant - indeed virtually impervious - to mere logic and moral suasion." (p.93) He claims that the only way to overcome this 'illness' is through a therapeutic process designed to take the non-violent advocate "beyond the smug exercise of knee-jerk pacifist "superiority," and into the arena of effective liberatory praxis." (p.93) He proposes a strategy in which individuals are forced to challenge their ideas through a therapeutic discussion of values (to determine whether the subject really understands the bases of need for revolutionary social transformation), followed by 'Reality Therapy' (time spent living with oppressed communities to get the subject out of the comfort zone) and 'Demystification' (where the subject is taught to handle weapons and lose their psychological fear of guns.) All this should "have the effect of radically diminishing much of the delusion, the aroma of racism and the sense of privilege". (p.101)
It is probably right to accuse Churchill of consciously formulating a training programme to create revolutionaries, in fact he concedes that he is trying to aid in the development of "a strategy to win". Indeed I think if the proponents of non-violence were to enter the therapeutic process en masse the state would have more cause for concern than at any time in the preceding decades of pacifist "action". However, it would not be right to accuse the author of attempting to glorify violence and armed struggle, rather he is at pains to emphasise that "the desire for a non-violent and cooperative world is the healthiest of all psychological manifestations." (p.103) Rather the essay is written to provoke discussion and to get to the point where pacifists stop believing that their 'purity of purpose' will achieve the world we want.
Churchill's alternative to the pacifist strategy is made clear in a chapter entitled Towards a Liberatory Praxis. Defining praxis as "action consciously and intentionally guided by theory while simultaneously guiding the evolution of theoretical elaboration" (p.84) he argues that in advanced capitalist contexts far more emphasis has been placed on the theory and analysis of revolutionary struggle at the expense of the physical tactics which could be employed. It is partly for this reason that the doctrine of 'revolutionary non-violence' as a theory and practice has taken such a hold. In contrast, in the Third World "...it is considered axiomatic that revolution in non-industrialized areas all but inherently entails resort to armed struggle and violence." (p.85) With the immediacy of State violence to contend with, those engaged in liberatory struggles in the Third World have had to innovate a whole range of tactics - hence the highly developed art of guerrilla warfare. Churchill suggests that we learn from this example, though he is not advocating some 'cult of terror'. Rather we must recognise that "...in order to be effective and ultimately successful, any revolutionary movement within advanced capitalist nations must develop the broadest range of thinking/action by which to confront the state." (p.91) In this 'continuum of activity' non-violent action - crucially divorced from its delusional ideological trappings - has a role to play, but then so too does "armed self-defense, and...the realm of 'offensive' military operations." (p.91) In this situation, rather than non-violence being seen as the antithesis of violence and morally evaluated, both become useful tactics to be used as necessary in the revolutionary strategy.
Whether you agree with all of Churchill's arguments or not (and personally I have a few problems with the therapy stuff) his analysis of the pacifist doctrine is both eloquent and truly eye-opening. I spent some time involved in explicitly non-violent activism in the UK without really thinking through the ideological implications - it was simply the first direct action scene I came across. I only wish that I had read this book 7 years ago and hastened the learning process that has led me to many of the same conclusions as the author. Don't be put off, however, if you are happily involved in non-violent action; this book will shed new light on your activities. In short, I can't recommend this book highly enough - if you, your friend, your flatmate or your mum hasn't read this book then get a copy quick!
Making Punk A Threat Again: Profane Existence - The Best Cuts 1989-1993
PO Box 8722, Minneapolis, MN 55408, USA / ISBN 0-9662035-0-X
Making Punk A Threat Again - what? So those geezers with skanky t-shirts, mohicans and random blue bits on their faces lying pissed in the doorway of the 7-11 are supposed to be a threat to the state? Punk has always been subject to a wide range of misinterpretation, dismissal and abuse, but it's actually spawned the growth of a near-global culture of resistance, DIY-ethics and mutual support - all surprisingly thriving in 'Third World' countries with large youth populations. Punk doesn't seem to be such a big thing here in the UK as it is elsewhere - and I'm convinced that this is due to American 'zines and bands using the slogan 'Get Pissed' which means 'get angry' in the USA, but which could easily be misunderstood over here!
Recently available in the UK the book is a collection of random rants and informative pieces from the long running US punk magazine Profane Existence (PE). I have always been excited by this mag, which went way beyond the usual punk fanzine format of lots of band interviews, reviews and unreadable cut and paste layout. It included 'proper' articles on action and organisation, plus 'scene reports' from all over the world. Only in Profane Existence have I seen articles on Polish squats, Israeli anarchist federations and anarcho-punk gatherings in Uruguay.
Profane Existence always put politics before puking so that's why this book is such a good read for not-just-punks. Rants on sexism and anti-fascism are personal, passionate and bring the issues home. Articles like 'Teach your fucking self' about self-education or 'Zinedom' inspire you to do something to improve your life. Reports from the LA riots or from PE projects such as the Emma Center - a social centre in Minneapolis - are analytical and interesting. Discussions about 'free speech for fascists' or women only spaces are thought provoking and there's lots of different ideas presented on anti-mass organising in collectives and federations, as well as experiences of them all.
And you get cool graphics, pictures, collages and cartoons throughout (I still think books without pictures are boring) plus a healthy injection of straightforward anger. "Anger is orgasmic. It makes you tremble, moan and shudder, and it feels sooo good to release it. Don't deny yourself an orgasm. The poverty of everyday existence is fucking you and loving it; fuck it back and love it more. Actualise your anger, bring it to life, use it to smash. Then, through clenched teeth, grin. Those fuckers will never have you." (p.67)
It's obvious I was extremely inspired by this collection so go see for yourself. It's available for £5.25 including postage (make cheques and Postal Orders payable to Active Distribution) and send them to: Active Distribution, BM Active, London, WC1N 3XX, UK. Unfortunately PE folded with its final issue in November 1998, Number 37 - still available if you look around. Despite this the PE collective are continuing with similiar projects. Check out their website at: http://www.profaneexistence.com/