commune against civilization #3
Dispatches from an uninvited guest on COAST SALISH TERRITORY,
SQUAXIN AND NISQUALLY LAND–
“In the winter of 1846, Levi Smith and Edmund Sylvester arrived at the Bus-chut-hwud village (centered at today’s 4th Avenue and Columbia Street) and staked a joint claim of 320 acres, taking over the Indian village and the entire peninsula comprising Olympia and the State Capitol of today. Smith built a cabin among the Indians [sic], trading with them on a daily basis, and enclosed two acres for a garden and livestock near the current intersection of Capitol Way and Olympia Avenue.
When Smith drowned in 1848, Sylvester alone held the claim. January 12, 1850, Sylvester platted the town, named it Olympia after the Olympic Mountains, and donated blocks for a public square, a school, a customs house and 12 acres for the Capitol grounds. The area around Chinook Street (Columbia Street today), which once housed a thriving Coastal Salish community, was now dotted with cabins and a few store fronts.
By 1855, the Indian [sic] village had disappeared, the past residents of Bus-shut-hwud no longer called the peninsula their home. A massive stockade had been built along 4th Avenue where their village was located and most tribal people were living in internment camps on Squaxin and Fox islands where many became sick and died. In early fall of 1855, Michael T. Simmons had interned 460 Indians [sic] on Squaxin Island and 1,200 on Fox Island.
After the stockade, Indians [sic] never returned to settle in any considerable numbers in the immediate neighborhood of the town.”
– “What Happened to the Steh-chass People,” by Pat Rasmussen
Another End of the World is Possible
–graffiti near the site of the Olympia railroad blockade
TODAY, the railroad blockade preventing the shipment of fracking materials in downtown Olympia, WA is entering its 11th day. The front wall of the barricade is reinforced, and adorned by more and more splashes of decoration. Gradually, more and more of the surrounding area is brought into use and enjoyment by the aspiring commune. In our spacious “backyard,” a femmes auxiliary tent and a quiet zone have been set up. More beds and medical materials arrive. The back staircase now has a sturdy looking meet-and-greet platform to bolster the spirits and effectiveness of our sentinels. Surrounding buildings look like a teenage graffiti artist’s dream, and a ton of hay bales from who-knows-where have appeared out front, strung with rope lights to create a charming enclosure for our second kitchen, for use as a sports rink and show space, and for our pups and little ones to play within.
It was already a few days ago that we surpassed the duration of last year’s blockade, which lasted barely a week on the very same spot. One of the communards calculated the exact moment of the breaking of our old record to be 4:17am, and it was celebrated in grand style with a New Year’s Eve-style countdown and raging late night dance party, complete with driving rains, a steady trickle of free beer and pizza, a very respectable sound system, and one large group of people who give zero fucks. Around that time, someone was heard saying that this is “the 2nd longest railroad blockade in US history,” and yesterday, someone drops the “2nd” when repeating the phrase. A quick and dirty search for the stats on this count doesn’t turn up anything conclusive, but what we do know is that the idea itself has only increased our resolve to make this last as long as possible and, whether at this corner of 7th and Jefferson or elsewhere, to make this commune outlive the colossal fraud of the United States, to help set off the chain of events that will hasten its inevitable downfall.
As a result of last year’s blockade, Halliburton ceased doing business with the Port of Olympia, and we wonder who’s getting cold feet now that we’re poised to last twice as long, now that it’s clear that nothing here will remain stable for them.
Events at camp are proliferating and diversifying. Multiple visits from Nisqually folks– their prayers, songs, encouragements, and company– continue to bolster the spirits of blockaders. Last night, a handful of punk bands played blistering sets in the pouring rain to a motley little rabble who raucously cheered when an announcement was made over the mic about alleged rail sabotage happening that day in the area of Oakland, CA in solidarity with the Olympia blockade. Later on, after the general assembly (or “GA”), “Black Snake Killaz,” the new documentary about resistance to the DAPL, is shown to great satisfaction in camp, prefaced with a group reading of the Invisible Committee’s text “Power is Logistic. Block Everything!”. Pictures are surfacing of black bloc anarchists with flares and a banner which reads, “OLYMPIA–UNIST’OT’EN–GASPESIE–SECWEPEMCUL’ECW, DECOLONIZE TURTLE ISLAND.
Big Trouble in Little Oly
The blockade– the gash in the handsome little face of gentrifying Olympia– is a vortex leading to another world. The forces of social control and brutally-imposed mediocrity are beginning to buzz around camp with greater frequency, and the imminency of an attempt at eviction is felt by many.
Simultaneously, a velvet glove is stretched over this iron fist, and it extends toward us: pathetic little Port Commissioners show up to camp in the morning with free coffees– trojan horses in miniature– with invitations for the “protesters” to come “make their voices heard” at their Port Commission and city meetings. They assure us in plaintive and faux-sympathetic tones that fossil fuels cannot be done away with in a day. And we think: well, not with an attitude like that.
In between these late-November nights that feel like summer (so warm and so dry that to call them “unseasonable” would prove to be a euphemism or a bad joke) and GAs transpiring during downpours and gusts of wind so violent that it feels like we are meeting on the deck of a sinking pirate ship, we understand that our strength and effectiveness lies precisely in our illegibility and opacity in regards to these port pigs. When they even offer these mere pretenses of leaning toward us, it is only because we have so-far refused a seat at their table, filthy with blood. Last year, no less an enemy of freedom than Ronnie Roberts, the chief olympian slave patroller himself, made statements imbued with his crocodile tears about regretting the use of force to evict the first blockade, and his supposed opposition to “unsustainable energy.” What ensued was a full year of business-as-usual, with all the grisly horror that it entails.
The green capitalists and their servants in the City can never understand, but let their unwitting collaborators among the ranks of “radicals” hear it once again: any attempt to make their system run “sustainably” must be destroyed with all the hate and implacability due the most brazen expressions of state and capitalist power.
The apocalypse is nine-tenths over with, and only the most alienated from the real world, the most privileged among civilization’s inmates, can doubt it. We here in “olympia” live in one of the most progressive nodes of the open-air prison which continually exports its unsightly violence, sweeping it under the rug. Bio-political engineers and well-meaning imbeciles– all these functionaries and little Eichmanns newly bent on transparency and dialogue and horizontal relations between colonists– expect us to submit with enthusiasm to every new scheme of managing the disaster… while the stacks of bodies grow skyward.
The truth ignored, misunderstood, or intentionally hidden by the Left and Right wings of capital alike is that repression is not solely, or even predominantly, a political phenomenon. The political manifestations of state repression that we have experienced these past several years, and which we can expect to experiencing, are a kind of superstructure that is built on a bedrock of constant and diffuse repression that marks our whole lives and has metabolized in our bodies and our psyches. In fact, we could not even bring ourselves to submit to the attempted terror of riot cops, grand juries, fascist gangs, or any other of the more extreme tools of repression were it not for the thousand little humiliations that make up daily life in this society. The very sophisticated lesson learned by power in its struggle with generations of rebellious bodies is that the ground of our being must be rendered fertile for this kind of overt domination. This is done by subtle degrees, by normalizing domination in our ordinary acts and institutions of life. Then, when the inevitable excesses of the “police state” (a redundancy in terms) rear their head, we see the liberals and the loyal opposition beg for a return to this normalcy. This is the one-two punch of repression and recuperation. This is how they work in tandem. This is how good intentions pave the road to hell.
“The transition from a relatively free, diverse, gentle subsistence to suppressed peasantry yoked to the metropole is a matter of record. The subsistence people clearly long for genuine contact with the non-human world, independence from the market and the basic satisfaction of a livelihood gained by their own hands. But this distinction among agricultures has its limits and was not apparently in mind when Chief Washakie of the Shoshones said, ‘God damn a potato.’ Sooner or later you get just what the Irish got after they thought they had rediscovered Eden in a spud skin.
We may ask whether there are not hidden imperatives in the books of [deep ecologist and agrarian romantic] Wendell Berry obscured by the portrayal of the moral quality, stewardship syndrome, and natural satisfactions of farm life. He seems to make the garden and barnyard equivalent to morality and esthetics and to relate it to monotheism and sexual monogamy, as though conjugal loyalty, husbandry; and a metaphysical principle were all one. And he is right. This identity of the woman with the land is the agricultural monument, where the environment is genderized and she becomes the means of productivity, reciprocity, and access to otherness, compressed in the central symbol of the goddess. When the subsistence base erodes this morality changes. Fanaticism about virginity, women as pawns in games of power, and their control by men as the touchstone of honor and vengeance has been clearly shown to be the destiny of sub-equatorial and Mediterranean agriculture. […] there are reasons to wonder whether the metaphors that mirror agriculture are not infantile. (For hunter-gatherers the living metaphor is other species, for farmers it is mother, for pastoralists the father, for urban peoples it has become the machine.)”
–A Posthistoric Primitivism, by Paul Shepard
The phrase commune against civilization is not to be understood as a party program or an attempt to represent a movement or organization, or even as the name of a political organ. It is a proposal for meditation and action. Commune as verb. Civilization as site and target.
In the mid-19th century, as the European revolutions of 1848 raged and then failed, setting the stage for the final chapters of The Worst Story Ever Told, the colonizers of what would come to be called “Olympia” wanted a couple acres for their gardens and livestock. They wanted to found their public squares and schools and customs houses on this beautiful and “empty” land, this virgin wilderness. You can bet they wanted to enjoy the fresh Pacific Northwest air and the occasional outing to the mountains as they went about their tasks. We are sorely mistaken if we think that even the most radical visions of today’s agrarian romanticists and renewable energy advocates are enough to stem the tide of alienation, exploitation, and domination.
If we think that NOW is not the time that white people must take epic risks in the establishment of a new Underground Railroad– risks to life and limb, risks to family, friends, and reputation– then we have another thing coming entirely. If we hope to avoid looking back and realizing that our lives have been a reprise of the good little Germans, just following orders and believing that work makes us free, then we need to run off the rails that would carry us to that place, with its peace of the graveyard.
To the consternation of all of us born during its last hurrah, the bubble of the post-war economic boom has popped and its ill-gotten gains are ebbing away along with all of its illusions. It’s time to make material preparations for a landing, soft or otherwise.
Instead of a Union, by someone too buck to join another one: a few proposals
You know your time is up when the insurrectionaries AND the wobblies are going against the leadership of unions and self-appointed managers of social struggle, going full wildcat for the sake of the earth.
In issue #2 of this publication, we went on a detour through some of the major qualms to be had with the typical syndicalist orientation. What follows is a follow-up, a resultant brief and tentative set of guidelines for action undertaken in another logic, through which we hopefully will find the lines along which our power grows, and the cutting edge of revolutionary solidarity for our own time sharpened:
Formal and Informal Organization
Following the analysis of the passing of the old class antagonism between the working and owning classes with the advent of the included and excluded of post-industrial global capitalism, we elaborate the difference between formal and informal organization.
Formal organizations or, as the Italian insurrectionary anarchists of a couple decades ago might call them, structures of synthesis, are those organizations with official membership lists, who engage in periodic congresses for the purpose of establishing elaborate programmatic agendas, by-laws and/or codes of conduct, and positive demands to be granted or denied by those in power. These organizations attempt to synthesize (or create) and manage the entirety of struggle from within their own ranks, to represent or act in the name of some constituency or monolithic identity block, and to swell their ranks with mass recruiting efforts undertaken in a quantitative logic. For them, organization is primarily for the defense of certain interests.
The informal anarchist organization is a definite organization, but one that seeks to find the social and ecological struggles already in course, and to expand the terrain and purview of such struggles by autonomous action and revolutionary solidarity. In place of centralization, compromise, and accommodation to the enemy, it posits decentralization, self-activity, uncontrollability, and permanent conflictuality. For these structures, organization is primarily for the attack on certain interests.
The Affinity Group
The basic unit of the informal anarchist organization (after the individual) is the affinity group. Affinity groups are somewhat well-known outside of insurrectionary circles, having gained attention in the anti-globalization era of protest, but few activists know that the affinity group was first proposed as a vehicle for action by insurrectionaries, and there are many misconceptions about it.
Affinity groups are not formal membership organizations. They are also not the same as a gang or a crew, though these may overlap with it. They are not intended to be permanent. Affinity groups are convened for the sake of some practical task. The relationships of affinity may outlast the specific tasks, and the individuals may work together again in an affinity group-style structure, but the informal organization dissolves as soon as the goal is reached or abandoned.
Affinity means more than good feeling about another. It actually refers to a deep reciprocal knowledge of one another. How the other person or people think(s) about social problems, how they think they can or should intervene in social struggles. Differences are just as crucial as similarities when developing affinity with a comrade or a potential comrade.
Means and Ends
Affinity groups are an attempt by anarchists to ensure that the means employed in struggle accord with the ends sought after. We insist upon relatively unalienated means to achieve our ends. No meaningful victory in the quest for freedom can be won if we become what we hate in the process of fighting. Enough of our ends must be contained within the means for us to not to lose track of who we are and succumb to capitalism’s recuperative force. However, ensconced as we are in circumstances beyond our control, it is impossible to attain means that are completely in keeping with our principles. Thus, there is a tension between means and ends which inspires anarchists always to question what are the best means available, and to use any increase in our power to enact means that are more in keeping with our principles and desires.
Quality vs. Quantity
Along with the tension between means and ends, there is a tension between the anarchist (or anti-authoritarian) tendency toward quality of struggle and its self-organization, and the authoritarian tendency toward quantity and centralization. Four or five trusted friends decided upon the lightning of action together are more worthwhile than a hundred paper pushers. Rather than trying to build a mass movement and manipulating it from above into action later, insurrectionaries rely on the quality of their projects to attract others who insist upon the same or similar quality, or to inspire others further afield to initiate their own projects with their own trusted friends.
This can be seen as prefiguring a state of affairs in which leadership is by example and persuasion, rather than force and coercion. The social force of an insurrection grows by a kind of multiplication, a flowering from rhizomatic connections, rather than by addition or agglomeration in a central organization.
The aforementioned term autonomy loosely refers to the condition of acting independently of governments, political parties, labor unions, top-down or centralized federation structures, or any advocacy group which acts as an organ of integration into the schemes of state and capital. Individuals and affinity groups may be seen as the smallest manifestations of autonomous force, but larger informal or semi-formal organizations may be considered autonomous as well: decentralized networks (see the history of Anti-Racist Action, or ARA, and Bash Back! in the US), or larger groups constituted for the express purpose of attacking or negating some project of capitalism. (for example, Olympia Stand, or the “autonomous base nucleii” or “leagues” that arose in Comiso Sicily in the 80’s to expand direct action in opposition to the construction of a missile base there… a struggle out of which emerged Jean Weir’s impeccable journal Insurrection).
The term autonomy is inherited from the European autonomous social movements that sprung up from the end of the 60’s until the late 90’s (and which can be seen as the unsung bridge between the countercultural upheavals that crescendoed in the worldwide uprisings of 1968, and the WTO riots in Seattle ‘99 that kicked off our contemporary era of anti-globalization and anarchist organizing). These movements were the originators of the black bloc tactic and embraced militant feminism, anti-capitalist student struggles, massive factory occupations (look up the Days of Lead in the late 70’s in Italy) squatting movements, anti-fascist street organizing and culture, confrontational demonstrations that turned into battles with police, Reclaim the Streets and land struggles, along with any number of counter-cultural projects like pirate radio stations.
Individualism vs. Communism: A False Problem
It’s been said before us: We embrace what is best in individualism and what is best in communism. At the crux of modern alienation is the artificially-imposed divorce between the individual and the social. If anarchy is possible, it will be the result of the collapse of this artificial divide, the likes of which many of us have experienced during fleeting moments like this here blockade. Anarchism has always been more concerned with the individual than other philosophies because modern alienation– in the form of capitalism and in its supposed opposition– has, on a certain level, taken on more and more collectivist forms despite the ostensible “rugged individualism” attributed to it.
In truth, capitalism has its individualism as well as its soulless collectivism and faceless bureaucracy, just as anarchy includes a special regard for the individual as well as a nuanced approach to social or communal relations. The ongoing pageant of modern alienation has led to this schizoid or split nature in almost every isolatable element of life such as “individualism” and “communism.” Just as with “freedom,” “ecology,” or “feminism,” these terms have seen their share of liberatory manifestations and their share of farcical, domesticated nonsense.
Individuality can only flourish where equality of access to the conditions of existence is the social reality. This equality of access is communism; what individuals do with that access is up to them and those around them. Thus there is no equality or identity of individuals implied in true communism. What forces us into an identity or an equality of being are the social roles laid upon us by our present system. There is no contradiction between individuality and communism.
Insurrection, Not One-Dimensional Militancy, Not a Revolution Waiting to Be Recuperated
The force of an insurrection is social, not military. Its success is to be found in the extent and depth of the interruption of the economy, of normality.
In addition to the other differences between the strategy advocated by insurrectionaries and those of the formal organizations and managed struggles of revolution, we must abandon the idea of a mass movement that is supposed to grow to infinity and come to dominate and control everything. When such ideas come from “anarchists” it is, in fact, the words of Leviathan spilling out of our mouths.
There is much to be learned from the strategic and tactical history of militant movements, elements that may be incorporated in our struggle, but ultimately militancy leads to a cult of specialization, representation, toxic hyper-masculinity, and vanguardism. It leads to overly-moralistic proclivities toward self-sacrifice, and to the joyless, duty-bound martial discipline that belongs to cogs or gears in a machine.
In place of the civilized conceptions of duty and sacrifice, we posit a proactive deployment of egalitarian desire with its own customs and accords, its own etiquette and commitments.
In place of managed and centralized struggles which prefigure the rise of an alternative juggernaut of state power, again, we posit decentralization, self-activity, uncontrollability, and permanent conflictuality until the goal is met or abandoned.
Insurrections are insurrections because they are not militaristic, because they are generalized.
Well, that’s all for now. Hopefully, we see some more dope anarchy out of this. The enemy is gearing up, but the magic hat of anarchy is a bottomless well of bizarre and irrepressible rabbits, products and practitioners of an alchemy that comes up big just when you think the last card is played.
In the words of a french comrade accused of blocking infrastructure a few years ago, speaking of the captors of this world: “Each step that they take towards total control brings them closer to their fear. Each new “victory” with which they flatter themselves spreads a little further the desire to see them defeated in their turn. Each maneuver that they figure comforts their power ends up rendering it detestable. In other words: the situation is excellent. This isn’t the moment to lose courage.”
<3 /// those kids
At Daggers Drawn: with the existent, its defenders, and its false critics
Some Notes on Insurrectionary Anarchism by Sasha K
Insurrectionary Anarchism: Organizing for Attack!
Anarchist Organization and the Insurrectional Project by the Tension Collective
Armed Joy by Alfredo Bonanno
Power is Logistic. Block Everything! by the Invisible Committee