CrimethInc. agents have completed a speaking tour of northern Europe, offering 45 presentations in less than two months. We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to the countless organizers, hosts, and attendees who made this possible and inspired us so much in the course of our trip.
Some of the highlights of the tour included the Zrenjanin Antifascist Festival, attended by anarchists from over a dozen countries; radical history walking tours of Helsinki and several other cities; the candles filling Skogskyrkogården cemetery on the night of All Saints’ Day; and traveling with our comrade from Black Mosquito, whose hard work got the tour off the ground in the first place. We were struck by the large turnouts—peaking at almost 120, but regularly 50 or more. These seem to indicate a growing interest in anarchism throughout northern Europe.
And none too soon. Up to now, the nations of northern Europe have remained islands of relative economic stability and social peace as the continent burns from the south up, but this won’t last forever. Outside of Oslo, a European Dubai still buoyed by oil money, growing fascist power in the parliaments and on the streets attests to the general sense that it’s just a matter of time before capitalism fails its most historically privileged middle classes. As faith in the present system erodes, it’s especially important for anarchists to offer a vision of liberation, rather than simply preserving subcultural ghettos or taking a quixotic stand as the last defenders of social democracy. One of the reasons we chose to tour northern Europe at this time was to offer comrades there a preview of the context they may soon find themselves in, which is already upon us in the United States. What happens in northern Europe in the next few years may well determine the scope of what is possible in the rest of the world.
Message in a Bottle, the collection of CrimethInc. texts in German we presented on this tour, is still available in Europe from Black Mosquito, along with a wide range of other CrimethInc. material. Black Mosquito is also working on a translation of our most recent book, Work, and would welcome assistance. The Serbo-Croat translation of Work is available from Što čitaš in Zagreb, among others. Although we were unable to visit Russia on this tour, both Work and our poster depicting the pyramid of capitalism are now available in Russian, as well as Recipes for Disaster.
Read on for a smattering of tour coverage, a summary of the tour presentation, and an invitation to participate in what happens next.
Selected Coverage of the Tour
An audio recording of our presentation in Laidak, Berlin
“Anarchie in den USA,” a review of Message in a Bottle in a German paper
Join the Resistance - Fall in Love: ZAF 2012, jedno lično viđenje—a review of the Zrenjanin Antifascist Festival, including our presentation, a transcription of which is available in Serbo-Croat
Anarkistit retkellä and CrimethInc. kävi Suomessa – mitä sitten?, two articles in the Finnish paper Voima
A video illustrating an audio recording of our presentation in Tampere, Finland
Summary of the Tour Presentation
What do we mean when we say we’re anarchists? Of course we want freedom and oppose the state, capitalism, and all hierarchy, but we also see anarchism as a more passionate way to live our lives. Overthrowing capitalism isn’t just a matter of reorganizing the economy, but of finding a new way to think about value. We don’t have to be experts to understand the economy; we can fight capitalism from any position inside or outside our roles in it. Capitalism isn’t the only system that makes us miserable, so we recognize the importance of struggling against not only the economy but all forms of hierarchy.
We can conceptualize anti-capitalist resistance as beginning from three places: production (our workplaces and fixed roles in the economy), consumption (the things we buy, our subcultures, what we do when we’re not at work), and precarity (the instability affecting more and more people within capitalism today).
In the classical vision of anti-capitalist revolution beginning from production, workers occupy the means of production and use them to create a proletarian utopia. This never panned out in the US. This is because the participants in these struggles were successfully divided into reformists and revolutionaries; one might date this division from Henry Ford’s compromise of paying workers enough to afford the products they produced, which established the foundation for the US middle class. That gave unions a role inside of capitalism, stabilizing it, rather than asserting the revolutionary demand to use our potential however we wish.
Not everyone was included in this compromise; in particular, women, immigrants, and people of color were left out. Thus, the racism and sexism at the foundation of the economy were tied into this peace treaty between capitalists and the new middle class. As the feminist and civil rights movements emerged to challenge these hierarchies, reformers could demand to be included in the compromise; by granting this demand to some while crushing the revolutionaries in these movements, the state managed to stabilize society without challenging the oppressions at its foundation.
But many in the next generation in the US rebelled against this compromise, rejecting the promise of mass consumer society in favor of individuality and counterculture. Beginning in the 1960s, rebellion against capitalism increasingly began not from production but from consumption: from clothes and music, for example. But this rebellion simply identified something the market could provide, encouraging a new generation of capitalists to shift emphasis from conformity to diversity. Even the reforms demanded by social movements took on this consumer logic, enabling profits to increase without fundamentally challenging oppression.
Punk subcultures articulated seemingly radical anti-capitalist demands within this framework: to do it ourselves, to become the media, rejecting the consumer spectacle in favor of self-organized, horizontal, participatory networks to create and circulate culture and information. But today, in the era of Facebook and Youtube, we have all “become the media” without becoming any more free, as a few corporations have reaped enormous profits from meeting our demand to do it ourselves. Even the revolutionary potential of the communication tools that resulted from this demand—such as Twitter, invented by anarchists as txt.mob in 2004—has simply opened the door to a new era of surveillance and repression. When we make demands that can be met within the logic of capitalism, they cannot ultimately bring us closer to anti-capitalist revolution, but only expand and stabilize the market.
But in just a few generations in the US, workers that had the privilege to be included in the Fordist compromise have seen their stable places in the economy vanish, as the aforementioned global telecommunications infrastructure integrates the entire world into one factory floor. Workplaces move across borders whenever “obstacles to trade” appear, rendering us all increasingly precarious. Now that most production is carried out by machines or workers in sweatshops, the majority of workers in the US labor in the service sector, at jobs that don’t produce anything useful and obviously couldn’t be the basis for a post-capitalist world. Many get by via temporary labor, which offers no security and compels us to compete against the entire precarious population; others are forced into illegal capitalism. Prisons also have expanded to unprecedented proportions in the precarious economy, as well as unemployment and homelessness. Here we see the final result of a globalized capitalism: humanity is being thrown away like garbage in the wasteland created by an economy that no longer needs us, but that we can’t escape.
So what does resistance look like in this context? How will we overthrow capitalism in the 21st century? Let’s break this question into four parts.
First, who will be fighting? What will be the basis for coming together against capitalism in the years to come? Struggles based both in production and in consumption have reached limits. Although workers will still unionize and even occupy workplaces, and punks will still form bands and politicize people through music, we don’t expect these to grow as sites of resistance in the way they did in the previous century. Instead, we anticipate that people will increasingly come together on the basis of our precarity: our shared vulnerability to the changing economy, on our inability to rely on capitalism to secure a future for us.
We’ve seen this in the social movements that have occurred in the US since the economic crisis hit. The 2008 workplace occupation in Chicago, the 2009-10 university occupation movements in New York and California, and the Wisconsin anti-austerity protests that occupied the capitol building all responded to conditions affecting more and more people, but none of them spread past certain built-in limits. Why not? Because we can’t build our struggles on positions in the economy we can’t hold. The Occupy movement spread like no preceding movement because it began outside of workplaces, schools, or any fixed place in the economy. This shows the direction resistance will likely spring from in the future.
Second, what will people do together in these movements? What tactics and practices will allow movements to continue and grow? The Occupy movement died down quickly after the camps were evicted in many places, as people learned that simply having meetings and holding signs wasn’t enough. But there are two examples of local movements that went from symbolic protest to interrupting the economy; these both thrived and expanded, and this indicates the direction anti-capitalist struggles will have to take today to keep growing.
After the Occupy Oakland camp was evicted, they called a general strike. Today, when so many have constantly changing or inconsequential jobs, or else no employment at all, this can’t simply mean not going to work; instead, people blockaded the ports and the business district, preventing the economy from functioning from outside their roles within it. Likewise, after student strikers in Montreal were prevented from occupying their school buildings, they shifted towards a campaign of economic disruption, interrupting business as usual and fighting the police. This type of action may be the only way for movements to wield power in today’s context, giving people cause to participate.
Third, what is our overall strategy against capitalism? The traditional strategy of the left relies on helping groups organize to win small reforms, linking these groups together to build power through incremental victories until they achieve the biggest reform of all: revolution. Today this seems unlikely to succeed, both because the reforms of previous struggles stabilized rather than threatened capitalism, and because many of these reforms aren’t even possible in today’s precarious economy. Even a kind and generous capitalist wouldn’t be able to offer higher wages and more stability, as the economy would simply withdraw capital from his company at the first sign of a threat to profits. Of all the movements we have discussed, almost none of them won any reforms at all. If we can’t expect to build to revolution through little victories, we need a different strategy.
Today, revolution may be more realistic than reform. In Egypt, workers’ movements weren’t able to win reforms in decades years of struggle, but a mass movement succeeded in toppling the entire government in weeks. It’s nearly impossible to imagine further revolutions today, but it seems even more certain that capitalism cannot be reformed. When we can’t count on winning the smaller battles, what counts is how we fight. If we act in ways that demonstrate the possibility of a world without capitalism, creating new precedents for struggle in the process, then even if we don’t win any reforms we can open the space to imagine revolution and shift the context. The most interesting thing about the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt is not that those countries are now anarchist utopias—far from it—but that the struggles that began there spread around the world. Today, we should evaluate our effectiveness not by the reforms we win but by whether our ways of fighting demonstrate new possibilities, and by whether they spread.
Finally, what can anarchists accomplish in anti-capitalist struggle today? Two things: we can change the sense of what’s possible in these struggles, and we can change the sense of what’s legitimate. We can experiment with new tactics and push them further, opening up a space of possibility where people can participate in actions that may be more radical than the ideas they claim to support. We can explain our actions in an analysis that challenges all authority, preventing social movements from being co-opted by authorities from the left or right. We’re not a vanguard, but we can make an important contribution when we move past trying to win victories for anarchists into innovating and circulating anarchist tactics, ways of fighting that spread power horizontally rather than vertically. When these tactics spread beyond self-proclaimed anarchists through the vast population of precarious people who have less and less stake in maintaining capitalism, we can make a real contribution to revolutionary struggle.
What Happens Next
We want to continue to build on the connections we’ve made with comrades around Europe. Here are some forms this could take:
Everyone is welcome to translate existing CrimethInc. material, adjusting it as needed to make it more relevant in other contexts. If you’re interested, contact us and we will assist however we are able.
We would like to receive anarchist analysis, reports on contemporary struggles, illuminating histories, and other material in languages besides English, and perhaps to circulate these among English-speaking audiences. For this, we need assistance from native speakers who can translate into English.
We will do our best to help collectives from Europe and other parts of the world to set up tours and other events in the US.
Finally, we welcome any news about anarchist organizing outside the US, including upcoming gatherings and demonstrations, information about repression, and calls for solidarity.