Back when I first began selling my labor for a wage in the wasteland of suburbia’s strip malls, I can recall the tedium of stocking shelves, summoning up insincere courtesy in the face of entitled customers and obnoxious bosses, comparing the stacks of money counted at the end of the day with the totals on our paychecks, and feigning adherence to whatever motivational façade management cooked up to mask the reality of our exploitation.
Yet I also remember, much more vividly and fondly, the latent and occasionally eruptive defiance among my co-workers. This included the constant collective complaining about the job, taking more and longer-than-approved breaks, working as little as possible, fudging time sheets, stealing, and the intermittent screaming matches with the boss in the middle of the store. Underpinning all these actions was an unspoken but broadly understood code of silence when it came to such transgressions and, when appropriate, expressions of support for them.
At the time, I didn’t think much about this, it was just how things happened and I’ve encountered similar experiences to varying degrees in every workplace since. Our actions weren’t guided by a political framework nor was there any attempt to organize them in a directed manner. It was more a spontaneous, innate reaction to experiencing the coercion of capitalism. I had cause to reflect upon this anew while reading Kevin Van Meter’s new book, Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible, published by AK Press and the Institute for Anarchist Studies.
Powell’s on Hawthorne
August 10th at 7:30pm
3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., Portland, Or
The Institute for Anarchist Studies, in conjunction with our comrades at AK Press, have proudly published Guerrillas of Desire: Notes on Everyday Resistance and Organizing to Make a Revolution Possible, by Kevin Van Meter. Join Kevin and friends and comrades as he launches his book at Powell’s Books, on Hawthorne, in Portland, Oregon.
Hot off the press: Kevin Van Meter’s GUERRILLAS OF DESIRE: NOTES ON EVERYDAY RESISTANCE AND ORGANIZING TO MAKE A REVOLUTION POSSIBLE, published by the Institute for Anarchist Studies, in conjunction with AK Press, has just arrived from the printer! Get your copy now for 25% off list price here!
“Freely Disassociating” appeared in June 2015. Although it was written a year prior, the half dozen Left and radical publications to which it was initially submitted would not print it. Since its publication by Perspectives on Anarchist Theory inquiries and positive responses (such as Scott Campbell’s, on which I have commented upon elsewhere ) have found their way to me either directly or through intermediaries. Of course there was a series of irrational and nonsensical comments online that only served to confirm my claim that there isn’t an “audience that can access arguments and positions outside those with which it already agrees.” And for that matter, the positive responses confirm this as well. What is interesting about those who are generally supportive of my arguments is that they often agree with the analysis of the problems that currently exist in radical movements, but are neither able to completely disassociate from the “tyrannical bitterness” of contemporary radical politics nor to engage with the proposal that anarchism with principles will arise from a political project rather than being proposed a priori.
What I had not fully articulated in the original article is that until there is a counter-pole to current radical movements there cannot be a shift toward creating anarchism with principles. It would violate common sense to suggest that you can decrease X (involvement in radical movements as they are currently composed) and as a result Y (a counter-pole, anarchism with principles) would emerge. Our increasingly ideological anarchism is defined by theoretical practices: the setting of ones own limitations rather than common horizons; obsession with imaginary relations instead of relations between anarchism’s collective imagination and the ability to collectivize them in the world; and there is not a Yes to many, many No’s reversing the call for “One No, Many Yeses.” It is these practices that anarchism with principles seeks to counter. Moreover, and possibly more important, two interrelated problems suggest the need for another passage out of the current malaise. The approach of creating forms of organization, from clandestine cells to non-profits, a priori to the desires and activity that will propel them forward, postulate purpose, set priorities, and provide the content and context in which they will operate is fatal. This is exacerbated by the inability to make a clean break from current radical movements and instead align oneself with the rich, substantive history of revolutionary ideas and practices. Until these three separate issues are properly addressed the preconditions required for anarchism with principles to develop cannot be established. I will take each issue in turn.