Archive for January, 2009

John Zerzan – Five Theses on Workers’ Councils

Dear DB’ers,

There are so many ways to run the world. This journal, in fact, fairly teems with schemes of governance. And yet don’t we all know, on some level or other, that running the world is not the challenge that will heal us and the planet? A world that doesn’t need running offers the only qualitative difference form today’s hyper-alienated one.

In the spirit of the excellent critique of democracy from Echanges’ (DB 62), I submit the following very brief objections to the direct democracy of workers’ councils.

(a) The Adorno-type objection to ideological imposition on the future, which says that the shape of freedom is not concretely theorizable because that blue-printing closes off other (possibly more radical) departures.

(b) As a definition of anarchy, councilism is rejected: if emancipation consists of no rule, rule by councils is not emancipatory. (Anarchy is not democracy insofar as it disallows any form of government.)

(c) The critique of technological civilization and division of labor seeks to dissolve production; councilism is a means of directing industrial production. A world in which technology is absent has obviously no need of such coordination of specialization and economy.

(d) If the condition of worker is to be abolished, as it is already being refused in partial ways, workers’ councils are backward because they perpetuate it in their fundamental workerism.

(e) If representation is a negative value, councilism fails on a strictly ‘organizational’ level. To be represented is a humiliation. Further, delegates and recall have always been, in practice, direct routes to bureaucratization and the  rule of experts (consult all trade union history).

John Zerzan
Eugene, OR

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Letter to Discussion Bulletin #63 (Jan-Feb 1994), page 20.

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Henri Lefebvre – “The Spontaneous”

The category of the ‘lived’ permits us to rehabilitate the category of spontaneity, which has long been disparaged, thanks to the attitude both of rationalist and of transcendentalist philosophy. Neither culturalism nor structuralism can admit the spontaneous and the unformed.

However, the rehabilitation of the ‘spontaneous’ does not rob critique of its rights. Quite the opposite. Are we about to make an apology for the spontaneous which would fetishize it? [fn11 – This is implied in the work on the ‘non-directive’ by the American psycho-sociologist Rogers and his school in France, for example.] Certainly not. Spontaneity has no privileges in any domain, be it everyday life or politics. When it is lacking, ‘something’ fundamental is missing; there is a gap, like a sterile little vacuum in the tissue of life. However, spontaneity is not always creative every time, with every risk it takes. It makes mistakes, and it fails more frequently than rational prognostication and calculation. Neither the idea of it nor its reality offers a criterion for existence or for value. Authentic per se (but how can we know this?), it eludes control and integration. And yet it imitates and mimics itself. In the spontaneous, it is difficult to make out what are dramas, dramatizations, de-dramatizations or super-dramatizations (which procedures of social control and integration encourage, and then repress). In periods of intense ideological control, the spontaneous and the non-spontaneous become merged, as do the natural and the artificial. This means  the members of a particular group discover ideologically saturated values, norms and symbols ‘spontaneously’.

To put it another way, whether it be in our consciousness or in the outside world, we never attain pure nature or an unconditional ‘being’. The spontaneous is already part of the social, although it is not the social per se. Everyday life gives it a place and a consistency and is the level on which it expresses itself. The spontaneous is nothing more than an element of the social, on a certain level. As such, it exists. It is active, it grows, it withers away, and as such it dies, in everyday life.

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from Henri Lefebvre, Critique of Everyday Life, Vol II: Foundations for a Sociology of the Everyday, trans. John Moore (London & NY: Verso, 2002), pp 218-19.