Archive for the 'Marxism' Category



Henri Lefebvre: I am “a Marxist, of course… so that we can all be anarchists some time in the future.”

“In my first meeting with Lefebvre in 1978 I clumsily asked him, ‘Are you an anarchist?’ He responded politely, ‘No. Not now.’ ‘Well then,’ I said, ‘what are you now?’ He smiled, ‘A Marxist, of course…so that we can all be anarchists some time in the future.’”

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from Edward W. Soja, Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-And-Imagined Places (Oxford, UK & Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), page 33 footnote 8.

‘The Origins of Primitivism’ set (1977-1988)

RADICAL ARCHIVES is happy to finally present our ‘Origins of Primitivism’ set. It consists of 16 documents related to the development of contemporary primitivist thought, which were first printed in Fifth Estate between 1977 and 1988. All of these documents (listed at bottom) are available online for the first time.

Additionally, David Watson has contributed a short introduction and reflection on these texts for the occasion of putting them online; it is available here.

(If you are new to Radical Archives, we recommend you look at the index of texts posted, and the about statement, which describes the site’s topic interests.)

The most important of the these texts is David Watson’s “Against the Megamachine” (originally published in 1981), which outlines his distinct version of primitivism. Watson renounced ideological primitivism with 1997’s “Swamp Fever, Primitivism and the ‘Ideological Vortex’: Farewell to All That”, two years before the demonstrations in Seattle against the WTO. Partly because of Watson’s exit from the discourse, Zerzan’s version (which actually had been developed later) became synonymous with the concept “anarcho-primitivism”.

Watson’s essay is the only document of this set which was previously in print; it is available as the title essay of the Autonomedia book Against the Megamachine: Essays on Empire and Its Discontents. Prior to this, the other texts were only accessible in specialized archival holdings.

Also of importance is “Confronting the Enemy: A Response on Time”, which is a long critique of Zerzan’s article “Beginning of Time, End of Time” (which was the first of his five “origins” essays). Written under Watson’s pen name “George Bradford”, this much-overlooked critique summarizes what are the basic objections to Zerzan’s view from a sympathetic perspective: that the notion of purely unalienated being (and along with it, the abolition of agriculture) is a misguided – and impossible – approach to these issues. Paralleling many discussions within the Western Marxist and Existentialist milieu (especially regarding Georg Lukács’s early work on reification), Watson argues that separation is something intrinsic to human nature, and cannot  be seen as ‘outside’ of our own human existence. To abolish separation is to return to the womb or ascend into heaven.

The third essay of special importance is Bob Brubaker’s “Community, Society and the State”. Brubaker was a Fifth Estate writer who was involved in the magazine’s dialogue as primitivism was developed. Brubaker’s work has been largely forgotten.

The fourth essay of special importance is Fifth Estate‘s 1977 review of Gary Snyder’s The Old Ways, Six Essays. Steve Millett has identified this as the first complete statement of a primitivist perspective to appear in Fifth Estate.

Last, a letter from Marcus Graham, who had edited the anarchist magazine MAN! in the 1930s, shows the issues Fifth Estate was grappling with around technology, organization, etc. had been long-standing discussions in the anarchist milieu, well back into the classical era.

By making these documents available online, hopefully a richer understanding of the different strains of primitivism will result, as well as a constructive and critical dialogue regarding this intellectual and political current. Important questions were asked by the founders of primitivism, including: critiques of political organization, spontaneity and resistance; the role of technology and the question of its autonomy; and basic ontological questions about civilization, alienation and environmental domination. With the partial exception of insurrectionism, these questions have largely been shelved by the post-Seattle anglophone anti-authoritarian milieu.

While Radical Archives is neither “primitivist” nor “anti-civ”, our position is that these questions have not been answered by Murray Bookchin’s brand of social ecology, John Zerzan’s version of primitivism, or any version of ‘green syndicalism’.

It is partly for this reason, and partly out of interest in anarchist intellectual history, that we are returning to the time in which these questions were being actively grappled with in the anti-authoritarian milieu.

Radical Archives would like to thank Steve Millet for pointing out many of these works in his dissertation, as well as to David Watson and Peter Werbe for their help in identifying who wrote many of these articles. We would also like to give special thanks to Dylan Smith for the many hours he spent transcribing all of these works; without his labor, none of this would be possible.

We hope in the near future to make available a number of related works, including works by primitivist John Moore, Sam Dolgoff’s essay on technology, as well as other works of Bob Brubaker.

THE ORIGINS OF PRIMITIVISM SET

Introduction to ‘The Origins of Primitivism’ Set by David Watson (2010)

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

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

“FE Criticized and Our Response” (1978)

“On Having Nothing to Say” (1979)

“Searching for the Culprit” (1979)

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

Introduction to ‘Fifth Estate’ #306 (1981)

“Against the Megamachine” by David Watson (1981-1985/1997)

“Marxism, Anarchism and the Roots of the New Totalitarianism” by George Bradford (1981)

“Community, Primitive Society and the State” by Bob Brubaker (1981)

“Defeated Spirit?”, letter from John Zerzan to ‘Fifth Estate’ (1981)

Marcus Graham on ‘Fifth Estate’, Anarchism, Technology & Bookchin (1981)

“More Debate on Technology: Does FE View Mean ‘War or Big Brother?’”, letter from Chris Dugan and reply from John Zerzan  (1982)

“Confronting the Enemy: A Response on Time” by George Bradford (1983)

Language: John Zerzan on George Bradford on John Zerzan (1984)

Introduction to John Zerzan’s “Agriculture” essay, by E.B. Maple (1988)

Marcus Graham on ‘Fifth Estate’, Anarchism, Technology & Bookchin (1981)

FE View Not New. . .

To the Fifth Estate:

The “Against the Megamachine” article in the July 1980 Fifth Estate ought to influence pro-machine marxists, anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists in realizing the Frankenstein that the scientists have created.

George Bradford’s essay, “On Marxism, Anarchism and the Roots of the New Totalitarianism,” in particular deals with this phrase most effectively. Bradford correctly points out that although anarchists are opposed to “authoritarian Marxism,” they have failed to realize what the technological megamachine implies.

Nevertheless, not all anarchists have followed Peter Kropotkin’s pro-machine position. In the weekly anarchist “Road to Freedom” (1924-1939), in an article entitled “Man’s Liberation,” appearing July 1925, this writer stated in part: “Man created machines. Machines that were to lessen man’s toil. But alas! The machine has increased the wealth of the idlers and brought misery to the many… .What is even worse, the machine has destroyed man’s joy of artisan creation. Man merely became a spook of the very machine that he himself created.”

I think the future will prove that Kropotkin, from an anarchist point of view, has, in accepting thus the machine, made one of the greatest errors. Such an attitude was perfectly logical for the Marxian school of thought, but certainly not for the anarchist. In reality, man will never be able to master the machine without the sacrifice of endangering human life.

Kropotkin’s pro-machine position received a new impetus when Murray Bookchin came out in favor of the machine under the alluring title Toward a Liberatory Technology in “Anarchos” issues 2 & 3, 1968-69. In a reply, “Questioning the Premises” of Bookchin which appeared in the October 1971 issue of the Match! of Tucson, Arizona, I wrote: “Technology rests on the basic principle of centralized authority, as its technique shows in every move that it makes. Anarchism, on the other hand, rests on the very opposite basic principle of decentralization. Whether by intent or not, Bookchin is correct when using the words ‘socialist ideal,’ since Marxism fits into technology as into a perfect glove. But when he implies that technology is related or conducive to the building of an Anarchist society, he is totally wrong.”

It is indeed good to find Bookchin changing his position by now as quoted by Bradford in his article.

Last but not least, the Fifth Estate, although not calling itself an anarchist publication, is nevertheless considered as such by “The Anarchist Review” of England, anarchist groups and individuals who materially support it ­– for the reason of its most consistent anti-authoritarian reaction towards every political and social question.

Marcus Graham
Los Gatos CA

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from Fifth Estate #307 (vol. 15. no. 6), Nov. 19, 1981,  p 2.

George Bradford: “Marxism, Anarchism and the Roots of the New Totalitarianism” (1981)

Marxism, Anarchism and the Roots of the New Totalitarianism

Subjection of nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground – what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor?

Marx and Engels, The Communist Manifesto

Here as everywhere else, we must distinguish between the increased productiveness due to the development of the social process of production, and that due to the capitalist exploitation of that process.

Marx, Capital

For us communists, builders of the most advanced society in the history of mankind, scientific-technological progress is one of the main ways of speeding up the plans of the party regarding the transformation of nature.

Leonid Brezhnev, 1968

As Jacques Camatte wrote in The Wandering of Humanity, Marx’s work “seems largely to be the authentic consciousness of the capitalistic mode of production.” Indeed, Marx’s thought matured during the apogee of the vogue of nineteenth century scientific positivism, and reflected that religion of industrial progress both in its exaltation of scientific rationalism and its notion of material progress based on mechanization and industry. Like other positivist schemata of its time, “scientific socialism” operated by way of a deterministic materialism which saw human nature as productivist and which reduced all cultural creation to a mere reflection of “material practice,” seeing humanity’s relation to the world in almost crude, naturalistic images as a struggle to conquer nature. The complex mythical structures of ancient communities were seen as infantile attempts to realize and intervene in natural processes, which could ultimately be superseded by scientific instrumental rationality.

Like other aspects of scientistic ideology which grew out of that ever-so-bourgeois of centuries, Marx’s vision delineated human experience into neat, philosophical  “stages of development,” each bounded and characterized by its particular “mode of production,” and all leading irrevocably toward the universalization which capital would create, and finally, to its “dialectical negation” – socialism. As Marx put it himself, De te fabula narratur – that is, the “advanced” societies represented the destiny, with minor divergences, of the “barbarian, pre-capitalist” societies. Progress demanded that the ancient communities be uprooted and the old ways of life destroyed; the imperative of the developing “mode of production” burst the fetters of the old societies, but this time motion would undermine the bourgoisie, “the first to show what man’s activity can bring about,” and usher in the socialist paradise.

This bloody, painful process is “material progress” to the historical materialists, and in the eyes of these bourgeois intellectuals, industrialization was an inevitable “stage” on the road to socialist destiny. The worker had first to lose his tools, the farmer his land, and become mere appendages of the machine in order to ultimately become its masters. Even the earliest class divisions could be justified by virtue of the fact that they destroyed the former “backward conditions of scarcity,” and laid the foundations for progress. Progress would destroy the “infantile” myths and strip the world of its halos and its mystifications. It would urbanize the countryside, centralize production, and rescue people from the “idiocy of rural life.”

Machines the Key to Liberation

It wasn’t the new massified, industrial technology which was oppressive, only the manner in which the bourgeoisie used it for its own benefit at the expense of the great majority. The problem was that the new modern mode of production had not reached full maturity; when it did, the oppressive conditions of capitalism, according to Engels, would be “swept away by the full development of the modern productive forces.”

In fact, it is the contention that bourgeois capitalism fettered the means of production and their free development that became the central criticism of capitalism by Marx and Engels and later by their epigones. After all, if the machines and the industrial system were fundamental to the oppression and dispossession of the human being, they were also destined to be the key to liberation.

Continue reading ‘George Bradford: “Marxism, Anarchism and the Roots of the New Totalitarianism” (1981)’

David Watson: “Against the Megamachine” (1981-1985/1997)

Against the Megamachine
By David Watson

“Industrialism is, I am afraid, going to be a curse for mankind… To change to industrialism is to court disaster. The present distress is undoubtedly insufferable. Pauperism must go. But industrialism is no remedy….” — Gandhi

How do we begin to discuss something as immense and pervasive as technology? It means to describe the totality of modern civilization—not only its massive industrial vistas, its structural apparatus; not only its hierarchy of command and specialization, the imprint of this apparatus on human relations; not only  the “humble objects,” which “in their aggregate … have shaken our mode of living to its very roots,” as Siegfried Giedion has written; but also in that internalized  country of our thoughts, dreams and desires, in the way we consciously and unconsciously see ourselves and our world.

Questioning technology seems incoherent in the modern world because, invisible and ubiquitous, it defines our terrain, our idea of reason. You cannot “get rid of technology,” you cannot “destroy all machines”; we are dependent upon them for our survival. In any case, the story goes, technology has always been with us. When an ape pries termites out of a tree with a twig, that, too, is supposed to be technology. Everything changes, and yet stays the same. Plugging into a computer is no more than an improvement on prying termites out of bark. Therefore, one is expected never to discuss technology as a totality but only specific styles or components of technology, which are to be embraced or discarded according to the criteria of the technological religion: efficiency, velocity, compatibility with the entirety of the aggregate.

No one denies that different modes of life existed; but they have been, or are rapidly being, forgotten. Hence the idea they must have been defective, backward, underdeveloped, and eventually surpassed by progress. You can’t “go back,” “return to the past”—“you can’t stop progress.” When mercantile capitalism emerged, the individualistic, entrepreneurial spirit was thought the essence of human nature. Even non-western and indigenous societies came to be judged mere preparatory stages of modern market society. As mechanization took command, humanity was seen fundamentally as the “tool user,” Homo faber. So ingrained was this notion of human nature that when the paleolithic cave paintings at Altamira were discovered in 1879, archaeologists considered them a hoax; Ice Age hunters would have had neither the leisure (due to the “struggle for existence”) nor the mental capacity (since sophistication is demonstrated first of all by complex technical apparatus) to create such graceful, visually sophisticated art.

Taking the part for the whole—ignoring the complex languages, symbolic exchange, rituals, and dreamwork of diverse peoples, while fetishizing their technics—this ruling idea continues to see all cultural evolution as only a series of advances in technical activities. There is never any suspicion of qualitative difference; the mathematics, techniques, and technical implements of early peoples are seen only as incipient versions of modern cybernetics, rational mastery, and industrial apparatus.

Technology is a way of life

To define technology as any and every technical endeavor or artifact, to think of it as the means by which human beings do everything from picking fruit to firing missiles into space, is to render the word meaningless. This ideology can make no sense of the dramatic changes that have occurred in life; it conceals the fact that technology has become a way of life, a specific kind of society. It assumes that a society in which nearly every sphere of human endeavor is shaped by technology is essentially the same as a society with a limited, balanced technics embedded in the larger constellation of life.

Just as capital has been reductively confused with industrial apparatus and accumulated wealth, when it is more importantly a set of social relations, so has technology been reduced to the image of machines and tools, when it, too, has become a complex of social relations—a “web of instrumentality,” and thus a qualitatively different form of domination. Technology is capital, the triumph of the inorganic—humanity separated from its tools and universally dependent upon the technological apparatus. It is the regimentation and mechanization of life, the universal proletarianization of humanity and the destruction of community. It is not simply machines, not even mechanization or regimentation alone. As Lewis Mumford pointed out in Technics and Civilization, these phenomena are not new in history; “what is new is the fact that these functions have been projected and embodied in organized forms which dominate every aspect of our existence.” (Thus critics of technology are commonly accused of being opposed to tools, when in reality modern industrial technology destroyed human-scale tools, and in this way degraded human labor.)

Continue reading ‘David Watson: “Against the Megamachine” (1981-1985/1997)’

“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)’

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.

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

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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.

‘I Accuse Harvard University’ (1969)

Situationist critique of Harvard’s 1969 Left politics

I Accuse Harvard University (PDF, 28 MB – will probably take a bit to download)

“Whereas this project was undertaken by individuals at different points in their growth to consciousness, i.e to revolutionary coherence (unity, totality) as persons, and

Whereas there was more or less lack of engagement in the practical task of carrying out the project – due partly to unavoidable difficulties of spatio-temporal coordination, and

Whereas the struggle against bourgeois mystification, i.e. domination of consciousness, is a permanent process of dialectical praxis or it is nothing,

Then it is minimally for these reasons that this cartoon critique was partial only, and to that extent incoherent.”

Roger Gregoire
Colette
Jon Supak
Hannah Ziegellaub
King Collins
Sue Crane
= = =

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: Special thanks to the Kate Sharpley Library for providing us with a copy of this publication. Gregoire, Ziegellaub and Supak all later worked with Fredy and Lorraine Perlman. Supak worked on the first translation of Society of the Spectacle. Gregoire co-authored Worker-Student Action Committees with Fredy Perlman, but later went on to denounce Black & Red in 1971.

According to Ken Knabb at the Bureau of Public Secrets,  Gregoire and Linda Lanphear had moved to Paris in 1969, and (with Gerard Lambert) formed a group which issued a few pamphlets and leaflets during the early 1970s. In the following years they were also part of an informal grouping around Jean-Pierre Voyer.

On a more pedestrian note, we are hoping to get our scanner adjusted soon, as it adds a slight rotation to the PDFs.

Bob Avakian on SNCC, Anti-Zionism & Anti-Semitism (2005)

One time through Eldridge [[Cleaver]] I got this issue of the SNCC newspaper and they had this cartoon portraying Nasser, who was the head of the government of Egypt at that time, going up against Israel, and the cartoon drew a parallel with how Black people had to deal with Jews who were exploiting them in the ghetto in America. This really bothered me. I was already learning about imperialism, partly from Eldridge, so I said to him: “Look, this is not right. The common enemy here is imperialism. What’s wrong with Israel is not the Jewish character of it; it’s the fact that it’s an instrument of imperialism. And the common cause of black people in the U.S. and people in Egypt is that they’re going up against imperialism.” Eldridge said, “Well, why don’t you write them a letter?” So I did. I made these arguments and I made the point that in writing the letter that I was a strong supporter of SNCC and of Black liberation, but this bothered me because it wasn’t the right way to look at the problem and to analyze friends and enemies, and so on. So they wrote back and said, “We take you at your word that you’re a supporter of Black liberation and let us make clear that we are not anti-Semitic and we don’t see Jews as the enemy.”

= = =

from Bob Avakian, From Ike to Mao and Beyond: My Journey From Mainstream America to Revolutionary Communist (Chicago: Insight Press, 2005), p 147.

RADICAL ARCHIVES NOTE: Bob was a member of SDS and the Revolutionary Union, and is the founder and chairman of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA (RCP), a Maoist sect. The son of East Bay judge ‘Sparky’ Avakian, Bob has stated that “After the Holocaust, the worst thing that has happened to Jewish people is the state of Israel.” His follower Alan Goodman took this to heart and, after Israel’s 2009 attack on Gaza, Goodman held a banner with this slogan outside the ‘Museum of Jewish Heritage–A Living Memorial To The Holocaust’ in downtown New York City.

Despite its subtitle, the Museum of Jewish History is not a Holocaust museum; current exhibitions include an expose about the love of American Jews for Mah Jongg.