Archive for the 'Fifth Estate magazine' Category



Introduction to ‘Fifth Estate’ #306 (1981)

INTRODUCTION

”When I pronounce the word civilization, I spit.” —Gauguin

We are all trapped within the technological labyrinth, and at its center awaits our annihilation. We have already lost more than we can imagine to civilization’s insatiable hunger for power and uniformity. We live in the shadow of an enormous edifice, a monstrosity which teeters and threatens to collapse upon us in a moment. We sing, make love, struggle and despair amid its decomposing limbs. But the smell of decomposition is general. We are in eclipse; the human spirit is moribund.

Urban civilization is a vast junkyard. Everything from the cells of our bodies to the planets is contaminated by its poisons and excreta. To resist it seems incoherent and hopeless. But the flaming trajectory of progress is what is truly mad, because its false optimism conceals a vicious cynicism and despair at the possibility of life. Realizing that all is lost, this consciousness surrenders to the momentum: after all, this is the Machine Age, and there is no room for human beings in a world of automata.

When we began this issue, frustrated with the lack of clarity which characterized the previous discussions, we had in mind to say something definitive about technology. We spent most of May and June in the library under fluorescent lights going through the endless literature on the subject. Besides being made vengefully aware of the contradictions involved in our activities, we learned that we were at least correct to trust our instincts and our visceral loathing for this technological desert and its obliteration of the human and natural universe. Everywhere we turned we found more horrors, more corruption, more decay and a greater urgency to somehow resist its conquest. Everything started to come under question, every commonplace of this civilization and its instruments, its way of life. If we learned that we could not necessarily foresee all of the implications of a geometrically expanding technological system, we could be certain about what it excluded from the realm of possibility: community, diversity, love and freedom, for starters. Just in the last few days, someone found a note in the newspapers that computer experts have coined the word “servoprotein” to refer to human beings such as programmers and technicians who work on the computers. This little bit of news demonstrates with frightening transparency that we will either recreate a natural and human world or perpetuate a world of machines which renders us superfluous by transforming us finally in “servoprotein.”

This is our challenge: to renew our humanity or lose it entirely to this behemoth which we have created and which has become the measure of all things. As E.M. Cioran has written, “. . . everything is virtue that leads us to live against the strain of our civilization, that invites us to compromise and sabotage its progress.” We will either find a way out of the technological wilderness or we will lose ourselves in it.

= = =

from Fifth Estate #306 (vol. 15, no. 5), July 1981, p 3.

This is the introduction to Fifth Estate #306, which includes the first version of “Against the Megamachine” by T. Fulano, “Marxism, Anarchism and the Roots of the New Totalitarianism” by George Bradford, “Indigenism & Its Enemies” by P. Solis, “‘The Snowmobile Revolution’ – Technological Invasion” (unsigned), and “Community, Primitive Society and the State” by Bob Brubaker. All except Bob Brubaker are actually pen names for David Watson.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: This article is unsigned but David Watson has confirmed that he wrote it. In our opinion, Fifth Estate #306 represents the emergence of a fully-formed primitivist perspective. This came after years of discussions regarding the role of organization, technology and radical change – but also a couple years before John Zerzan starts publishing his “Origins” essays.

“On Having Nothing to Say” (1979)

ON HAVING NOTHING TO SAY

The long delay between this issue and the last one published at the end of January resulted from our being confronted by a bout of cerebral paralysis which left us feeling empty of words and ideas. We mostly articulated this feeling to one another by stating rather aimlessly that perhaps “we no longer had anything to say,” which carried with it the vague suggestion that maybe we should even close up shop.

It’s not that we were bereft of the concepts or desires that had motivated us in the past, but rather that we wanted to continue to meet the criteria we have somewhat rigorously always demanded of ourselves. We’ve always felt that if we aren’t involved in continually turning over new ground and challenging our old assumptions, maybe we should pack it in and leave the propaganda work and political glad-handing to others.

In fairness to ourselves, however, we should state that the last two issues seemed quite decent to us and met at least part of the criteria just mentioned. Hence it would be easy to see these current doldrums as just episodic, since we have published some real stinkers in the past without ever having come to the conclusion that we had run entirely out of steam. What is different at this juncture, is that we have reached a critical period; one which we are just beginning to realize has been developing for a long time.

Even while we were describing history we failed to recognize our role in the contemporary process of creating it in a period when it would have been crucial for us to have done so. The beginnings of what we are now faced with trace back to the origins of our project long before the involvement of the current staff.

New Left Origins

For most of its existence (beginning in 1965) the Fifth Estate was a quintessentially New Left publication, but the period which gave rise to it was in a severe eclipse by 1974-75 as was the newspaper itself when we first began to function with it, first as the Eat the Rich Gang and then as the staff. It was evident to us at that time that we were in a period of declining political activity and disintegrating forms of rebellion which had typified the aforegoing period. Yet we were bright with enthusiasm about our new project, and the host of recently discovered ideas we had just come across—such as situationsim, anarchism, and council communism—animated us all the more.

We felt we were the inheritors of the ‘sixties but now armed with a much more potent formula for revolution than the statist and authoritarian muck which had been previously carried. Ultimately, we thought we were at the beginning of things, not at their end.

We were soon dispossessed of that optimism as the disintegration continued and now, almost at the ‘eighties, any continuity with that previous period has been broken. All that was “The Movement” seems now only fit subject matter for TV specials, leaving us back at ground zero suddenly truncated from our past or any tradition of rebellion.

Continue reading ‘“On Having Nothing to Say” (1979)’

John & Paula Zerzan vs The Fifth Estate Staff: “FE Criticized and Our Response” (1978)

FE CRITICIZED AND OUR RESPONSE

To the Fifth Estate:

The letter from “Kirk Johnson” (March 2, 1978 FE), which equated Fifth Estate’s practice of running a profit-making book service (to support itself) with Search & Destroy’s record company ads (for the same end), makes public a discussion that has been private for too long.

That the opening of this critique—which really began with FE’s important remarks on Black Rose Books’ capitalist procedures—finally arrives via a spokesman for Search and Destroy is a sad irony. S&D is a completely uncritical promo rag which hopes to be accepted by what it sees as the latest fad, punk rock. Done anonymously, it (characteristically) helped organize a recent two-day benefit for the UMW strike, this piece of liberal/leftist reformism easily coexisting next to censored interviews and ads for rip-off night clubs.

But what of FE, to us the only critical publication in North America? Ammunition Books fulfills exactly the same function as do S&D’s ads. In neither case do the publishers wish to give their own money to their projects. Likewise, as with S&D’s complete public anonymity, FE’s articles are presented almost entirely unsigned or accompanied by clever pseudonyms. Is anyone’s life really involved, or are both enterprises just separate hobbies, just words on a page?

With Search & Destroy, despite a tiny sprinkling of “radical” verbiage—a highly insulting pretension—one would not really expect any quality, any radical break, in the first place. With Fifth Estate one expects a great deal more; why, then, the chilling similarities?

It seems that one factor is FE’s enthusiasm for the ideas of Camatte. C., of course, sees the world as completely domesticated, where virtually no activity can do other than reinforce the totality of capital, where the only thing revolutionary is the revolution itself. Behind this outlook, one’s answer to criticism is that since no project can be revolutionary, why be too concerned with its details?

It is precisely this kind of cynicism (whether or not C. is its sole inspiration) which leads to such deathly separations between FE’s radical language and the daily lives of its creators. Camatte writes of the totality of the revolution required to break the hold of capital—and is a tidy little professor, living as any other bourgeois. It’s arguable that some of the FE “staff” hold jobs which provide the most active forms of service to the commodity and the state.

Continue reading ‘John & Paula Zerzan vs The Fifth Estate Staff: “FE Criticized and Our Response” (1978)’

“Technology & the State: An Introduction” (1978)

TECHNOLOGY & THE STATE
AN INTRODUCTION

Perhaps the most insidious aspect of modern, centralized technology, even more than its pervasiveness, is its complete acceptance in almost all quarters as an integral part of the human experience (and among so-called “revolutionaries” as a prerequisite for a change to a humane society).

Humanoids and humans have spent the vast portion of our time on the planet with little or no technology and only in the last 10,000 years or so (an infinitesimal portion of our existence) has the rise of mechanical and technological improvements begun to affect us and the other species with which we share the planet. The capacity for innovation and invention seemed almost innate in humans once the first rudimentary developments of prehistoric times became wide-spread. The first inventions were employed as a means to improve what was often a harsh and dangerous existence, but they immediately put us on the road on which we currently find ourselves.

The simple but monumental development of stone weapons increased the available food supply for humans, but at the same time gave to one species the ability to obliterate others, which, in fact was accomplished in several cases.

The most important technological leap in history was the innovation of agriculture, which led to a complete redefinition of the human experience and altered people from a condition of wildness to one of domestication. As the system of agriculture began to predominate, humans became rooted to a fixed geographic region—and for the first time—could produce a surplus of goods. It was within this social setting that the most significant social institution in history emerged—the vertical bureaucratic hierarchy—and its expression in class society and the political state.

Since that epoch 10,000 years ago, both technology and the political rule of the State have snowballed to the extent that they now stand in the position of dominating all of human existence. Their development has continued unaltered since that period irrespective of the particular type of political rule or mode of production in a given era, to the point where human existence on the planet is threatened by both.

All of us want electric lights and indoor plumbing, but not the simultaneous developments of the hydrogen bomb and the pollution of the air which has been developed along with the conveniences of life. But the fact remains that we have both and it may be quite possible that one could not have been created without the other, so in tandem are the military machines of the State and the major inventions of the modern epoch. The two articles below detail the Frankenstein syndrome inherent in technology at the service of the State. Rudy Perkins describes how the development of nuclear power is tied directly into nuclear weaponry; and in the following piece, Duke Skywatcher demonstrates that Star Wars’ technology is not fantasy, but that contemporary Darth Vaders are planning bigger and better wars for us all the time—this time in space.

Though neither presents alternatives, neither could be expected to since a thorough analysis of the development and function of technology has yet to be made. However, if the term “revolution” is not simply to be a codeword for the next batch of political rulers, we have to begin an investigation of all of the elements of our lives and be prepared, if need be, to make fundamental alterations in any of them rather than accept the givens of that which oppresses us.

= = =

from Fifth Estate #290 (Vol. 13. #2), March 2, 1978, p 7.

This is the introduction to “The State and Nuclear Power” by Rudy Perkins and “The Arms Race of the Future Is Now: Star Wars?” by Duke Skywatcher.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: The article is unsigned but Peter Werbe has confirmed that he is the author.

The First Primitivist Essay: “Gary Snyder Asks: Poetry or Machines? Back to the Stone Age” (1977)

GARY SNYDER ASKS: POETRY OR MACHINES?
Back to the Stone Age?

“The Politics of Ethnopoetics” in The Old Ways, Six Essays, Gary Snyder, City Lights Books, San Francisco, 40077 “(Reckoning roughly from the earliest cave paintings)”, 96 pp.

Ever since the dawn of industrial capitalism 200 years ago, a succession of philosophers, poets, social scientists, and mystics have written on the decline of the species since leaving the “state of nature” and entering the modern epoch. Hence, it could be charged, that there is little that is new in this book and much that has been heard from sources whose nostalgia for the days of yore is of a short lasting duration broken by a return to the middle-class life that spawns such ideas.

Almost all radical thought from Marxism through to anarchist thinkers like Murray Bookchin in his Post-Scarcity Anarchism take as a pre-condition for revolutionary change the continuing development of our productive capacity and view any reversal of the process as reactionary. However, just as we would never allow the conservatism of the ruling ideas to govern the direction of our thinking, neither should we allow what formerly passed as radical ideas to have a similar restraining effect.

Civilization is The Culprit

The value then of the book under consideration is that Snyder calls into question basic assumptions of modern society and very directly indicts the whole edifice of civilization as the culprit in the predicament humans have gotten themselves into.

What is being directly confronted is the concept of progress itself. The history of the species has always been taught to us as the history of progress—out of the oceans, out of the caves, onto the fields, into the factories, etc.—without ever really stopping to ask what was the yardstick being used that identified cave dwellers as unfortunate, while seeing the wage workers of Europe and North America as blessed. Nobody ever turned, looked at each group and said, “Gee, are they happy?”

People seem to have the capacity to simultaneously hold a positive notion of civilization and progress while compartmentalizing the knowledge that contact with the modern world by thriving and happy pre-industrial people has always led to their immiseration and extermination. Why is there not the realization that the same process occurred to our forebears as well and we are just their domesticated descendants who can be satisfied with camping in the wilderness for two weeks a year as a substitute for the life our species once led?

To Snyder (after Levi-Strauss and Sahlins), the species began its decline at the end of the Paleolithic Age when hunting and gathering ceased to be the dominant form of sustenance and was replaced by the agriculturally-based Neolithic Age. With the ability to produce large surpluses through stored crops, the centralized state, the patriarchal family and class structure emerged, first only on a small section of the planet involving a limited number of people, but that process now nears completion after eight thousand years of “civilization” with the final destruction at hand of the remaining Stone Age cultures still lingering in the hinterlands of Brazil, Australia and the Philippines.

The decline comes about as the form of human association changes. In an unpublished manuscript, Gerry Winstanley makes the point, “Once a group of people came to rely on agriculture completely, and forgot how to live by hunting and gathering, they could no longer run away en masse into the wilderness to escape slavery.” Hence, the State becomes permanent. Or as Snyder writes,

“Society providing buffers and protection of an increasingly complicated order so that as it became larger in scope and populations larger in size, it protected individuals from those demands for speed, skill, knowledge, and intelligence that were common in the Upper Paleolithic. The personal direct contact with the natural world required of hunters and gatherers—men and women both—a tremendous continual awareness.”

The quick answer, “Well, who doesn’t want to be safe from tigers,” misses entirely what also that “safety” brings—a domesticated species that has all of its affairs that were once handled directly now mediated by the State and commodity relationships so that it seems perfectly natural and reasonable that all aspects of what we do with both our labor and leisure time, where we live and how we live are chosen for us with humans figuring in the equation only as an afterthought.

Rapacious Dangers of the State

Safety from the elements was “won” (a dubious victory) only at the expense of being now exposed to the rapacious dangers of the State and, most importantly, the loss of community with its concept of “place” and definition for the species. Missing those elements, articulated through song, dance, myth and poetry and accepting instead, a society of mediation, is what Camatte calls the “wandering of humanity.”

Snyder knows his anthropology and his ecology, but seems to be influenced by Marxists in those fields even though he realizes their limitations. He states, “Marxists, granted the precision of their critique on most points, often have a hard time thinking clearly about primitive cultures, and the usual tendency is to assume that they should become civilized.” Snyder sees this as a flaw rather than realizing what he has stated puts him into direct opposition with the Marxist project.

As a part of the intellectual development of the bourgeois era, Marxism contains all of its assumptions including the one mentioned by Snyder. To Marx and Engels people were not even human until they entered class society and to them (including their modern epigones like Evelyn Reed in Women’s Evolution) the destruction of primitive communism is a positive and progressive thing, just as the development of capitalism is positive, all enveloped in the mystical view of progress that along this continuum will be created a wonderful world out of the stuff that heretofore has created mostly misery.

Drive Toward Monoculture

Again there is never the central evaluation of the effect all of this progress of the last 8,000 years has had on the planet and its inhabitants. Snyder contends that it has been a disaster, and one that is increasing in its intensity with civilization’s drive toward world-wide monoculture. The tendency away from species-diversity makes our lives extremely precarious since we have become totally dependent upon the continuous smooth functioning of a highly centralized political and technical apparatus. Yet, all of this is built into both the capitalist and Marxist view of the world. Although none of us are willing to relinquish the comforts of modern life, if we take as our starting point the technology created in the modern epoch, we will be sure to continue its social forms as well. At some point there has to be a sorting out of what we want in terms of human relationships and only then think about what is possible technologically.

People in the Upper Paleolithic era worked only about 15 hours a week according to Marshall Sahlins in his Stone Age Economics and never tried to maximize production or produce a surplus apparently preferring to spend more of their time in play, dance, song and magic. That choice of preferences is gone from our epoch where the work-a-day world has been steadily increasing in time spent since that “primitive” era. Are those the choices then?—machines or song and poetry? It’s not entirely clear, except that for certain, the former has obliterated the latter where ever it has touched the folk and people always mirror what is at the center of their society—in ours it’s the machine.

Snyder says the “politics of ethnopoetics” is seeing what “industrial technological civilization is doing to the earth,” but none of this should be taken as a call to return to the caves of our ancestors (the only way that will be done is Gen. Curtis LeMay-style). It means to stop accepting the planet as we find it, to reinhabit it as free humans, and to re-define ourselves through our song and poetry.

Snyder ends thusly, “Such poetries will be created by us as we reinhabit this land with people who know they belong to it… The poems will leap put past the automobiles and TV sets of today into the vastness of the Milky Way (visible only when the electricity is turned down)… These poesies to come will help us learn to be people of knowledge in this universe in community with other people—non-humans included—brothers and sisters.

This is a vision of survival and revolution.

= = =

from Fifth Estate #286 (vol. 12, no. 10), September 1977, p 4.

= = =

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: Steve Millet has identified this as the first primitivist article to appear in Fifth Estate. It is unsigned, but Peter Werbe has confirmed that he wrote it.

“Against Civilization: Introduction to Russell Means” (1980)

“Against Civilization: Introduction to Russell Means”

The following text is a talk given by Russell Means at the Black Hills International Survival Gathering held last July at the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The gathering was attended by groups which spanned the spectrum from local Indians and farmers, to Marxist-Leninists politicos, Sierra Club activists, Greenpeace, anti-power-line activists, to “alternative technology” entrepreneurs.

The U.S. government and the energy corporations have designated the Black Hills, or Paha Sapa, the sacred hills of the Lakota people, as a “National Sacrifice Area,” slated for “terminal development.” What this “terminal development” (a term both redundant, all development being terminal for humanity, and also reminiscent of terminal cancer) means concretely is rendering the entire area uninhabitable with coal gasification plants, high voltage power lines and nuclear reactors (having a potential “life” of thirty-five years) in order to supply energy to the Burger Kings, police stations, disco parlors and office buildings of urban civilization, which is equivalent to saying that the sacred hills of the plains Indians are to be converted into capital.

We were struck immediately by the similarities in the conclusions that Russell Means has reached and our own, in particular, in relation to the question of technology and a critique of Marxism. Means is starting from a set of experiences quite different from our own. We are all urban, European in background, and came out of the experience of the “counter-culture” and leftism in one way or another. Means comes from a set of traditions which was whole, organically related to its environment and which resisted capitalist civilization as recently as two or three generations ago.

We have been speaking as orphans and fragments, searching for roots and a tradition of resistance to civilization anywhere we can find them. We have embarked upon an adventure which began first of all with the criticism of all of our former presuppositions, that is, of Marxism and anarchism, technological progress, modern society, the functions of art and culture, workers’ organization and self-organization, the existence and function of classes and other questions. We don’t claim to have resolved these fundamental problems, but we have headed in a general direction of rejection of the presuppositions of this society in all its forms, East and West, of rejection of (modern, industrial, at least) technology and of civilization and the so-called historical progress posited by the Enlightenment thinkers, bourgeois liberalism and Marxism.

We have, in some ways, come to see the revolutionary upheavals of the past few hundred years less as projects by political visionaries carrying out a new social program than as forms of resistance by masses of people to maintain community and solidarity in the face of the onslaught of capital. We came to distrust the “political visionaries” as revolutionary leaders, as well as the humanist codes that they mouthed to construct their Republics and their Five Year Plans, and to trust the instincts and the desperation of the little communities that have fought to preserve a way of life which they saw as being destroyed by industrialism and massification.

Means comes from one of these little communities, and so has seen the tail-end of that process at work in a lifetime, through the experiences of his grandparents, parents and his own generation; only the process which his family must have witnessed compressed into a hundred years or so took thousands of years elsewhere, this leap from the Paleolithic into modern American capitalism. His point of view is important, because it is a voice, like our own, orphaned in the technological wilderness into which humanity has wandered, and it sounds like our own voices, it reveals our bitterness, our rage, our ambivalences, too, perhaps. But it is also a voice that sounds distant, mythic, like the warbling of a fabulous, alluring bird which sang to us in a dream of our childhood and which we had forgotten but which we can never forget. It still has a sense of place, of a history tied to the land, of a spirit residing in all of nature, of the wisdom which comes in dreams.

We think when Means speaks of “European culture,” that he is not describing the culture of the European peoples in their totality, but the culture of capital, which began as a characterological flaw within the European, but which infects human beings wherever it has spread (including Indians), and which has been resisted everywhere, by the Luddites and framebreakers in England, by peasants and proletarians in Russia, Spain, and elsewhere in Europe, by mestizos in revolutionary Mexico and by so-called primitive people everywhere.

The problem of capital began and spread from Europe: the Europeans were its primary victims, and their cultural traditions and their communities were destroyed by the land enclosures, mines and factories. Perhaps the problem really begins with a separation of spirit and matter, but that doesn’t begin in Europe, but somewhere in the Judeo-Christian desert, or perhaps in Sumer, or Babylon. And a critique of those societies would imply a similar critique of all societies characterized by the “Asiatic mode of production,” under which a bureaucratic, priestly or military caste is maintained through taxes and forced labor, which would include the ancient Amer-indian civilizations in Mexico and Peru.

Ultimately, we are not interested in arguing these points with Means, because we agree with him where it is important: that “development. . .means total, permanent destruction,” that Marxism is the “same old song,” and that there can be “another way.” Where he uses the terminology “European culture” we prefer to say culture of capital, since non-Europeans have acculturated to this despiritualization of the world, to this cleavage of spirit and matter, and Europeans have also resisted it.

The fact is, we have all been changed, and we are all threatened with extinction. We must all sift through the experiences of millennia, find our way out of the technological labyrinth, and create a new culture which reaches into the traditional culture of our remotest past, and into our most utopian possibilities for a human community of the future.

There will be those who see the more human aspects of Russell Means’ talk–its apparent simplicity, its spirituality, its intransigence, its “impracticality”–as flaws, and who will argue against its generalizations from a rationalist, “realistic” point of view. We are not in the least interested in these criticisms, since we agree with Means that “Rationality is a curse since it can cause humans to forget the natural order of things.” Rationalism is part of the problem; we must begin to trust our dreams. Expecting Means to think in terms of cost-efficiency, or “pragmatically,” is to expect him to allow himself to be infected with the categories of capital.

He must speak the question which confronts us all in his own, specific way; it is this very cultural diversity, this symphony of voices which describes the world we desire. The future does not lie in any single homogenous vision any more than it could be the result of a political program. To think it does is to repeat the fatal error which constitutes civilization.

= = =

from Fifth Estate #304, December 31, 1980, p 7. Introduction to “On the Future of the Earth” by Russell Means.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: The article is unsigned but David Waston has confirmed that he is the author.

“Searching for the Culprit” (1979)

Introduction to “The Original Affluent Society”
Searching for the Culprit

“Without government life is nasty, brutish and short.”
–Thomas Hobbes

Every person gazing even casually at the sordid history of government realizes that the Hobbesian dictum is nonsense and, in fact, just the opposite is true: with government, humanity has thusly had its life defined. Viewing the organized political state as the culprit in human affairs for the presence of universal misery is standard fare for the anarchist and libertarian tradition and as a theory is not without merit as far as it goes. Certainly, other attempts historically to locate the culprit in evil spirits, the Devil, human nature or even capitalism, are much more shortsighted as they fail to deliver an explanation of the daily mechanism though which people have been subjugated during the epoch of Civilization.

The appearance on the planet of the political state as well as social classes, private property, the patriarchy and the like are the apparatuses of domination, but the larger framework in which they all appear, the reigning code, that of Civilization itself, is usually taken for granted and only recently has come under critical scrutiny.

The essay by Marshall Sahlins reprinted on the following page undertakes such an examination through the mirror of the societies which immediately preceded establishment of Civilization. The willingness to indict the entire edifice of Civilization as being responsible for the long history of human misery is one that parts company with all existing social theory and opens the way for a larger examination of the entire human experience on the planet, not just that of the last ten thousand years. Although Sahlins’ subject matter is limited by design, it immediately suggests many other questions.

For instance, what brought about in such a relatively short period of time the epochal changes that discarded 50 millennia of small-band living marked by extremely low levels of technology, stable populations, and group members highly integrated into the most intimate details of the ecosphere which they inhabited? What features caused these nomadic bands of gatherers and hunters to become the domesticated “citizens” of emerging nation states, their life’s purpose altered dramatically to the filling of state coffers, becoming cannonfodder for a suddenly universal state of warfare and consumers of ideology which made them less, rather than more, able to understand their lives and the social relationships around them.

To move technology to the centerpiece of this equation, as we do, meets with resistance from almost every quarter. Yet even the simplest technological development has been part of a continuing process of separation from the world which first bore and succored our emerging species to a situation where now we stand at the apex of that separation as strangers on our own planet, divorced completely from the world about us. Rather than possessing the skills, knowledge and craft which allowed for 5,000,000 years of human evolution, today, we depend almost exclusively upon experts and officials to feed, clothe, govern and perform every function once carried out by individuals themselves.

The links between technology, Civilization and domination appear almost immediately upon examination. The most dramatic technological development in human history was the Neolithic Revolution, the shirt from Stone Age gathering and hunting economies (the Paleolith), to a mode of production based upon fixed populations involved in agriculture and capable of producing an expropriable surplus. This innovation of farming as a means of subsistence guaranteed a population which was easily subjected to an ideology of domination containing the mass social and psychological drive needed to obliterate all of the past desire to be wild and free, replacing it with the desire for subservience.

Marxists see this civilizing process as “progressive”–the myth-imbued dynamic which is supposed to eventually result in socialism–so that every horror, every deprivation is vindicated as a necessary step toward a utopian future in which every slave, every serf, every wage worker becomes part of a continuum which will eventually free humanity. The problem with this perspective is that unless you are willing to accompany this mystical view of human affairs with a religious certainty, you are left with a staggering amount of sacrifices for absolutely nothing other than the reproduction of the dominant society.

Civilization has been aptly described as a “bloody sword” and when its mounting victims are measured against its reward for the survivors, it’s difficult to make a case for it. The “high standard” of living argument as Civilization’s justification always attempts to disguise the fact that the benefits of any given epoch are always enjoyed by a few at the expense of the many and usually for only short periods of time. Other than those expectations the daily misery experienced by most people is coupled with calamities of such magnitude that they become difficult to comprehend. The physical carnage alone is so vast–100 million dead in ten thousand years of warfare (please compute the yearly average), tens of millions dead from diseases directly attributable to excessive population densities, millions more dead and injured in “accidents” from machinery (millions dead from car accidents alone), starvation as well as explosions, mine disasters, chemical mishaps, etc.–as to define the epoch of organized society as one steeped in blood. Also, there is an upward curve of both technological development and slaughter, and technological development and oppression: they are inextricably linked.

Let us anticipate the critics who would accuse us of wanting to go “back to the caves” or of mere posturing on our part–i.e., enjoying the comforts of civilization all the whole being its hardiest critics. We are not posing the Stone Age as a model for our Utopia nor are we suggesting a return to gathering and hunting as a means for our livelihood. Rather, an investigation into pre-civilized modes combats the notion that humans have always lived with alarm clocks and factories. It assails the prevalent amnesia which the species exhibits as to its origins and the varieties of social association which existed for tens of thousands of years before the rise of the state. It announces that work has not always been the touchstone of human existence and that cities and factories did not always blight the terrain. It asserts that there was a time when people lived in harmony with each other and with their natural surroundings, both of which they knew intimately.

In the modern epoch it is the marxists who are the leading exponents of taking current technology as a starting point for their vision of the future–a future which, when brought into being, has always produced nightmare police states. Reduced to its most basic elements, discussions about the future sensibly should be predicated on what we desire socially and from that determine what technology is possible. All of us desire central heating, flush toilets, and electric lighting, but not at the expense of our humanity. Maybe they are all possible together, but maybe not.

A discussion generated by Sahlins’ article will hopefully begin to bring some of these questions into focus. We welcome reader remarks on the issue.

= = =

from Fifth Estate #298 (vol. 14, no. 3), June 19, 1979, p 6.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: This article is unsigned but Peter Werbe has confirmed that he is the author.

Spencer Sunshine: “Nietzsche and the Anarchists” (2005)

The proposal to combine Nietzsche and anarchism must sound audacious to many people. Even if one doesn’t hold to the old belief that the “working class” (whoever that might be today) are the only ones who can make revolutionary change, wasn’t Nietzsche an influence on the fascists, and an individualist who championed the right of the strong to rule over the weak? And doesn’t Nietzsche himself repeatedly denounce the anarchist movement of his day, calling them “dogs” and accusing them of ressentiment?

Without consulting Nietzsche’s works themselves in an attempt to “prove” or “disprove” whether he is compatible with anarchism or not, I believe that a more fruitful way to approach this proposed conjunction is to look at the historical record of how left-wing anarchists have approached Nietzsche. The surprising answer is that many of them quite liked him, including the “classical anarchists”; in fact, some of them even used his ideas to justify anarchist beliefs about class struggle.

The list is not limited to culturally-oriented anarchists such as Emma Goldman, who gave dozens of lectures about Nietzsche and baptized him as an honorary anarchist. Pro-Nietzschean anarchists also include prominent Spanish CNT–FAI members in the 1930s such as Salvador Seguí and anarcha-feminist Federica Montseny; anarcho-syndicalist militants like Rudolf Rocker; and even the younger Murray Bookchin, who cited Nietzsche’s conception of the “transvaluation of values” in support of the Spanish anarchist project.

There were many things that drew anarchists to Nietzsche: his hatred of the state; his disgust for the mindless social behavior of “herds”; his (almost pathological) anti-Christianity; his distrust of the effect of both the market and the State on cultural production; his desire for an “overman” — that is, for a new human who was to be neither master nor slave; his praise of the ecstatic and creative self, with the artist as his prototype, who could say, “Yes” to the self-creation of a new world on the basis of nothing; and his forwarding of the “transvaluation of values” as source of change, as opposed to a Marxist conception of class struggle and the dialectic of a linear history.

Continue reading ‘Spencer Sunshine: “Nietzsche and the Anarchists” (2005)’

Will Shatter to ‘Fifth Estate’ on punk (1978)

UNDERSTANDING PUNK

F.E.:

Lately there have been a lot of articles and letters about punk rock and the people involved, in all sorts of papers. The vast majority of what’s been written is from people who are outside looking in, trying to figure out what the fuck it all means.

Give up. It’s pointless. Unless you make the commitment to be involved you’ll get nowhere – real fast. We don’t feel we have to justify ourselfs to anyone elses standards. We get called reactionary by commies, socialists, liberals and other idiot lefties. Fascists, conservatives, ministers and various straight people (real sheep) call us anarchists, hoodlums and decadents. All things to all people. Come check us out. But don’t judge us. We’ll just laugh or throw something.

The point is we are trying to do what we want on our own terms as much as possible. I want to fuck things up. That [[3]] doesn’t mean every punk band agrees. Some want to sell records (there are always bad apples).

When we play I like to see chairs and tables broken; I like to see fights and lunacy and objects thrown around. That doesn’t mean that every other band is after that kind of release.

We are not part of a brand new mold. Every time you or any other paper approaches us as a new movement or a coherent unit of sameness, the fight to resist is that much harder.

Fuck this and fuck that: I want some fun – NOW!

The End is Near (I wish)
Will Shatter
Negative Trend
San Francisco

= = =

letter to Fifth Estate #291 (vol 13, #3; April 30, 1978) pp 2-3.

Greg Kaza: “Hitler’s Klanarchist” (1987)

“Hitler’s Klanarchist”

The rhetoric is anti-state. “They pictured me as a threat to the nation,” Robert Miles told Metropolitan Detroit magazine (June 1987), referring to the FBI. “But let me tell you the kind of threat I am: I publish a newsletter. I don’t harm or threaten anyone. Granted, I don’t like the government – I’m an anarchist, in fact. But these Ollie Norths see sedition in the five cows I have out in my pasture.”

On April 24, Miles and nine other white supremacists were indicted by a Fort Smith, Arkansas federal grand jury for sedition, a rarely-used charge not employed since World War II. Miles and the others are charged with conspiring between mid-1983 and early 1985 to overthrow the U.S. government and establish an Aryan Nation.

The prosecutions underscore what has been a resurgence of violence by the racial right in this country. During the last three years, Ku Klux Klansmen and neo-Nazis have committed more violence than they had in the preceding 20 years. The government holds Miles, the nation’s top white supremacist, responsible.

Continue reading ‘Greg Kaza: “Hitler’s Klanarchist” (1987)’