[The following is an introduction to a new pamphlet compilation of Commune Against Civilization, a series that documented the recent anti-fracking railroad blockade in Olympia, WA. The PDF can be found here.]
“And the bourgeoisie– there are many kinds of bourgeois individuals and they are in many places– wove ceaselessly with the threads of calumny the evil slanders with which we have been regaled, because they, and they alone, have been injured and are capable of being injured by our activities, by our rebelliousness, and by the wildly irrepressible desires we carry in our hearts to be free like the eagles on the highest mountain peaks, like the lions in the jungle.”
––from A Day Mournful and Overcast, by an “Uncontrollable” of the Iron Column.
These dispatches come from the days of the Olympia, WA railroad blockade of November 2017, a 12-day long illegal occupation of a stretch of railroad tracks in the downtown area servicing the Port of Olympia. The recently-ended blockade was undertaken by an assortment of autonomous radicals, anti-capitalists, wingnuts, and friends in order to block the port’s shipment of materials (called “proppants” or “fracking sand”) which are used in the industrial process known as fracking. The destination of these fracking components is the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota where in 2016 a months-long and thousands-strong social movement near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation (Lakota: Íŋyaŋ Woslál Háŋ) failed to stop the construction of of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The DAPL now runs from western North Dakota to Illinois, crossing beneath the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, and under part of Lake Oahe near the reservation. The pipeline constitutes a brazen attack and ongoing threat to the region’s water and to ancient indigenous burial grounds.
These words were written in haste between shifts at the barricade, shifts doing childcare, and few-hour blocks of sleep and errand-running snatched amid the excitement and irritation, the expectancy and fear, the laughter and joy, the outrage. The four issues of the publication appeared intermittently throughout the nearly two weeks of events, both as a series of print-outs passed from hand to hand in Olympia, and as internet posts on the Puget Sound Anarchists and It’s Going Down websites. Here, the text has been only minimally touched up, appearing without footnotes as in the originals. Curious readers are encouraged to follow up the recommended readings and to fact-check the less familiar references and controversial claims. A separate text on the blockade, “A Letter of Solidarity from the Year 3017,” has been reproduced here as an appendix.
This was the second time a blockade materialized in the same exact spot in Olympia, Washington’s state capitol, with this year’s offensive kicking off on the anniversary of the first and lasting nearly twice as long. While the majority of normal families were eating their “Thanksgiving” dinner across this so-called nation, finding ways to mitigate the latest familial traumas and oppressive chit-chat, dissociating from the flare-ups and remembrances of grave wrongs past, participating in the perpetuation of the Great Lie of this culture… the co-conspirators at the barricades in Olympia were re-stocking hand warmers and herbal medicine, laughing and crying and bristling with their chosen families, enthusiastically scouting the port, the capitol campus, and elsewhere to ascertain the enemy’s position, finding concrete ways to deal with the diffusion of the nightmare within and among us, and calling one another “comrade” across ideological (and many other) lines, wondering if tonight would be the night that the troopers showed their lost, entitled, and pathetic faces.
Last year (2016), the blockade erupted just a few nights after the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States and directly on the heels of a resultant anti-Trump demonstration in Olympia. As the Standing Rock camp half a continent away was gradually losing steam in the face of plummeting temperatures, the mobilization of massive government repression, and the manipulations of self-appointed pacifist leaders of social struggle, the first Olympia blockade was daily wracked with arguments and conflicts over the nature and meaning of “direct action,” “solidarity,” and “violence,” with recently-crestfallen Hillary and Bernie liberals attempting to un-mask, de-fang, and pacify all potential resistance. The efforts of these half-dead shills to push the blockade into befriending the police and port commissioners and even into taking down the barricade were thwarted by anarchists ever more stridently and successfully asserting themselves and their time-tested ideas in the heterogenous space. While the treachery of the capital’s recuperative force was being met head-on in little Olympia, the Red Warrior Camp of Standing Rock and others farther afield were making their own overt displays of disavowal, of recalcitrance from any attempt to impose a strict line of adherence to ideological “non-violence.” The first blockade ended in a vicious pre-dawn street confrontation with the Olympia Police Department (OPD), and several arrests followed by a tense multi-hour standoff.
This new tradition of blocking the tracks is far from unprecedented, however, at least in its flagrant contempt for the law and business-as-usual, in its joyous ferocity. Just two-and-a-half years ago, in May and June of 2015, Olympia saw paroxysms of collective street violence in a conflict with white nationalist forces and the police, after OPD officer Ryan Donald shot in the back and nearly killed two black brothers– Andre Thompson and Bryson Chaplin– accused of jacking a little beer from a well-known warehouse of lies and commodified suffering. In the fallout from this event, several huge demonstrations of support for Andre and Bryson were met by police antagonism and by several dramatic run-ins with the local Hammerskins neo-nazi gang. The Hammerskins and their friends in the local car club known as “Black Top Demon” repeatedly amassed a force of over a dozen people to violently and/or threateningly confront the support for Andre and Bryson. In the weeks-long cycle of events, anarchists several times put their own bodies in between the neo-nazis and their intended targets, only to be derided by the vocal middle class progressives of the town as “violent” and “no better than the nazis” (even when the progressives themselves had summoned the anarchists for protection). Eventually, the Hammerskins were summarily smashed and driven from town by an angry mob of upwards of 200 angry anti-fascists of all descriptions, while the police, content to let the crowd drain its rage on these comparably easy targets, didn’t want none either. Later, in the autumn of that year, a minor coda of this struggle against the police and fascists transpired in which Olympia’s city hall was smashed.
Years before, on Valentine’s Day 2008, a rowdy mob of exuberant fans of the revolutionary hip-hop duo (and friends to the anarchists) Dead Prez smashed, graffitied, and flipped upside-down one of the cruisers of the the Evergreen State College police force after the group played a blazing set about the violence and brutality done to Black people by their enemies in blue. At the height of the disturbance, a couple ascended the upturned car and shared a Valentine’s kiss. A year after hearing about this, I moved to Olympia, where it seemed that the Westside police substation was a veritable punching bag for anarchists and other enemies of the current social order.
But perhaps more than these last couple episodes (just a few jewels in the crown of Olympia’s illustrious history of anarchist intervention), it was the advent of Port Militarization Resistance (PMR) that formed a solid lineage with the present blockades, a trajectory of antagonism and war against the port and its world.
PMR was an anti-war movement with chapters in Olympia, Tacoma, and Gray’s Harbor, WA, as well as in the mid-Atlantic region. Between 2006 and 2009, those who grew tired of attempting to convince elected officials to abandon the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan took to planning high-profile and combative demonstrations aimed at ending US military use of port infrastructure. The result was a cycle of events that crescendoed into the erection of barricades and roving street battles with police in downtown Olympia. Tales of this saga and the almost unbelievable heart and honesty of the fight, told around fires and candlelight, helped launch many of the current generation of Pacific Northwest anarchists and anti-authoritarians.
This year, a couple days after the camp was raided, I stood in the freezing rain of early December with a couple friends and family next to McLane creek in the deep Westside of Olympia. We were giving the baby a first glimpse and experience of an event that should have been much more iconic and quintessentially “olympian” than any social upheaval. This upheaval is seasonal, cyclical, yearly. This upheaval is nourishment for which there is no substitute.
What we beheld (and smelled) was the dead and rotting bodies of salmon deposited on the banks of either side of the stream. Too late to see the run in its full glory, the fish had spent the past several weeks swimming from the Pacific Ocean, where they’d passed most of their lives, back inland to spawn just before– or more accurately, while– dying. This cycle of salmon life and death represents perhaps the biggest transfer of biomass and nutrients from one region to another, and in any other culture (human or otherwise) besides the overarching, toxic, abusive excuse for a culture in which we were reared, it is recognized as a world-forming event. The death and life of the salmon– these zombified, pre-historic-looking tubes of muscle running themselves ragged in the shallow streams– feeds everyone. Bears, wolves, coyotes, eagles, hawks, raccoons, humans, plants, soils, waters, mountains, dreams… Nothing is untouched. Nothing is left out.
The salmon-people, our scale-clad relatives, are fewer and fewer. They are not long for this world. They are host to new and horrid diseases. Diseases of civilization. The “humans” who live in Olympia now mostly don’t even know when the salmon run happens, or that in a time before the dams– a heartbreakingly recent time, a time inseparable from the present– these fish would work their way fully a third of the distance into the heart of Turtle Island, feeding nearly its whole body.
Some of us get out to the woods to look at this event, as scenery, for a few minutes before returning to our electronic tethers. It’s nice, this little outing. It is not world-forming. The world we know is a patchwork of the cancerous, neon flows and optics of a depression- and anxiety- inducing monster, a machine that runs on blood and oil and, increasingly after the visions of the “environmentalists,” on bird populations decimated by wind turbines and rare earth metals lost forever in plastic encasements that capture the sun’s rays for further industrial and colonial use.
The dispatches that follow took shape in response to their stimuli: the affinities, ideas, bodies, and clashes taking place on the ground, a dynamic and contentious inter-weaving of various forces at play, not only between the blockaders and their societal enemies, but within and between blockaders themselves. For readers outside of the Olympian context this will explain, among other things, the effort at a rebuttal to syndicalism and the somewhat simplistic “just read Bonanno” tenor of certain passages. As surely as insurrection cannot be the end-all be-all of anarchism, so also its utility cannot be overstated in the face of the appearance of anarchists who feel like they came straight out of 2004, for whom the lessons of the Greek December, the Oakland commune, Ferguson, and other upheavals seem almost totally lost.
Because the blockade itself was a microcosm of a more totalizing rupture in the offing, of a coming life without law, the stimuli in question emanated from and touched upon nearly every topic you would care to enumerate, and it is my hope that more conversations, projects, and writings by others should appear to address them. But here, I’ll list just a few of the bones of contention found throughout the present collection which animate this and every other infrastructure- and resource-related struggle here at the End of the World. Here are some items for which the defenders of civilization nearest to the anarchists have offered no adequate response, save to cast their lot, implicitly or explicitly, with the World-Destroyers:
– that civilization– the culture that gives rise to, and is reinforced by, cities, based inherently upon regimes of totalitarian control over other species and the corresponding alienation of a repressed and exploited domestic sphere of life– is inherently dependent upon an extreme and unfathomable alienation from the sources of all life, creativity, social cohesion, and perhaps most evidently dire of all: personal psychological satisfaction and health; that civilization as we know it is irrevocably based upon disenchantment, hierarchy, patriarchy, colonization, exploitation, domination, specialization, slavery, ecocide, and oppression of every kind. Every evil that an anti-capitalist would attribute to capitalism, calling stridently for its abolition and damn the consequences, every alleged muted impulse toward flippant barbarity or genocidal longings attributed to being a “primitivist,” is an evil that actually, currently and historically belongs to and has been enacted by the institutions of civilization. The accusations against the anti-civ critique (however certainly they apply to some of its apparent advocates) are in the main both deflection and projection.
– that all industrial projects (including industrial agriculture) are basically reprehensible or irredeemable to the same extent and magnitude as the DAPL, and for similar reasons. This cannot be otherwise, since the DAPL and these other projects are all outgrowths or excrescences of the same system, the same black magic of the economy, and operate in the same logic. Those who would condemn the DAPL without condemning all industrial pursuits are kidding themselves. If there is hope for life on earth to recover, the lowest common denominator for the realization of that hope is the immediate cessation of all industrial activity. As usual, being almost totally ignorant of the history and consequences of one’s lifeway does not nullify one’s culpability, or that of the system. Denial does not make something go away, as we all shall see.
– that the most progressive and green capitalist city or town you can name– and Olympia is high in the running– is dependent for its daily reproduction and functioning on massive and never-ending brutal violence, social control, and coercion (in addition to the soft methods of Power). Non-violence and social peace are lies and privileges of the colonizer.
– that the typical unionist, municipalist, reformist, progressive, and strictly “red” versions of anarchism and/or communism are predicated on an almost complete lack of knowledge or conscience in regards to the costs and effects (externalized and otherwise) of various technologies, and in particular the long chapter of social war and capital-accumulation known as “The Industrial Revolution” and, after it, the restructuring of capital euphemistically referred to as post-industrial society, or “late modernity.”; that a staggering ignorance of what things were like before, during, and after these “transformations” underlies a complete disorientation toward the questions of what is at stake, what is a life well-lived, and who loses. This profound idiocy also underlies the mystical idea that the sciences, technologies, and pedagogies dreamt up, bought, and paid for by war criminals, millionaires and billionaires, white supremacist techie bros, and white-coated functionaries (who think that the phenomena of life can be forcibly ripped from their contexts, isolated, “controlled for,” and then “studied” and “learned from” in this state) could ever achieve anything other than the ends for which they were designed.
– that in privileged societies, all substantial resistance to the onslaught of the planetary megamachine will be opposed first and most stridently by the loyal opposition to Capital and the State, those recently- or long-included into some package of benefits; that fear- and shame-mongering, hyper-puritanical, fucking control freaks educated in the institutions of Empire, speaking in the name of monolithic capitalist identity structures and erasing and silencing all who do not fit into their Plan, will do everything in their power to stop the insurrection. Despite all rhetoric, these liberals and “radicals” and “anarchists” plainly give their consent and allegiance to the current state of affairs and the smooth operation of classrooms and meetings and quirky radical college towns more than they do the possibility of transcending or destroying the forcible rule of the State, Capital, Hetero-Patriarchy and the other tentacles and circuitry of the un-living monster. They love the police and their order more than they love the anarchists or anarchy. It shows now, and it will show again. And again.
– in short, that any anti-capitalism which seeks to be more than a pretension would at least have to grapple and reckon fiercely with the proposal that a world without the accumulation of capital as one of its features would be feral. It would a wild world in the ruins of the present.
From our current vantage with its entanglements, you may not like what these things portend. I don’t know anyone who does.
An inquiry for the doubtful: Do you really think anything even remotely resembling the world we’ve inherited could have ever been assembled or could now be maintained without the forced labor and colonization of centuries? Do you really think, in some linear progressive logic, that this all could somehow be the prelude to (much less the product) of an anti-authoritarian and egalitarian culture?
Do you consider yourself to be against borders, nation-states, police and policing, prisons, war, economic exploitation, intimate violence, abuse, hierarchical government, and ecological destruction but still feel compelled to defend the enterprise of civilization against its detractors?
After “the revolution” are you going to initiate industrial projects at an integral and horrific expense to the land and its original inhabitants? Are you going to work in cancerous mines and factories or subjugate the Congo so that we can have cell phones? Are you really going to force others to do the work that nobody at all would do if someone didn’t force them to do it? Ask yourself: what do you really think a world would look like in which no one hoards a surplus, no one accumulates profits, no one colonizes anyone else, patriarchy has been burned to the ground, no hierarchy or domination and nothing even approaching a State would be tolerated?
Increasingly, it is not even questioned that the end of the physical, habitable world is drawing near, and that virtually All Men have long since been reduced to complicit slime, and yet there are those who persist in denying that civilization is the problem.
In a piece of writing called “Fascism & Anti-Fascism,” Don Hamerquist once wrote, “The left had better begin to deal with the fact that issues that are regarded a part of our movement; ‘globalization,’ working class economic demands, ‘green’ questions, resistance to police repression, etc., are now being organized by explicit fascists and others who might as well be. Nor do we have a patent on decentralized direct action. That is exactly what the fascist debate around “leaderless resistance” is about. Finally, the question of who and what, exactly, is anti-capitalist remains very much unsettled. Some of the fascists take positions that at least appear to be much more categorically oppositional than those of most of the left.”
Elsewhere in the same essay Hamerquist writes: “The real danger presented by the emerging fascist movements and organizations is that they might gain a mass following among potentially insurgent workers and declassed strata through an historic default of the left. This default is more than a possibility, it is a probability, and if it happens it will cause massive damage to the potential for a liberatory anti-capitalist insurgency.” I submit for your consideration (in a line of thinking perhaps at odds with Hamerquist’s original intentions) that if “the Left” or its erstwhile and ill-behaved children do not resolve the contradictions involved in the above inquiries about the nature of mass society and industry, the “historic default” which leads to the swelling of folk nationalism and its gallery of horrors will be assured.
Somewhere in the following writings, the reader is invited to consider the phrase commune against civilization not primarily as a discrete political entity, but as a strategic consideration. For us to reach out and grab the lines along which Power flows that are nearest to us, arresting or re-routing their currents. Relatedly, another comrade has written, “The short life span of an occupation should not be construed as defeat. What we are winning is not a space or part of the infrastructure, but the capacity to take over a space, to destroy or transform the infrastructure, and we take this capacity with us when we leave the occupation, ahead of the political encirclement, and go on to the next battle. We are a moving commune.” [from Here… at the Center of a World in Revolt]
So, perhaps there is something, if not of the discrete entity, than a prefiguration of things to come, a kind of nomadology. The retainment of the prerogative for action in a perspective that doesn’t become bogged down in the political encirclement of one spot, but expands across the whole social terrain, and to the stars.
In a sense we have failed. Nothing in recent years seems to have ignited the political imagination of the non-fascist youth in the USA more than last year’s struggle against the DAPL. On the coattails of its defeat, the seeming fall into the era of Trump and the nascent but increasingly definite contours of a bonafide, recharged, and activist white nationalist movement in this country is really more like the end of a too-merciful sleep. The dreams of years past have evaporated before a stark, waking nightmare. As it turns out, it was there all along. [on this point, see the recent It’s Going Down essay, “The Landing: Fascist without Fascism.”]
We march to the DAPL’s drum now like good little citizen-subjects. Last month, one of its sibling pipelines leaked 200,000 gallons of oil, and things hum along as before. The banality of it all conceals a truth: that our entire lives are built as an edifice on a foundation, slab after slab, of such defeat. The battles of yesteryear are forgotten in a colossal fraud of social amnesia, and we fight merely to tinker with the controls of the resulting apparatuses, or to divvy up its spoils in slightly altered configurations.
The UN is now opening investigations into the reality of extreme poverty in the Unites States, the most affluent country in the world. As is felt by all but admitted by none, we are living through a Depression greater than any on record for this Empire. Our own lives practically match or overshadow the depth of privation and suffering once held out to us as a vision of misery transcended forever by an economic boom. The Dust Bowl was just a preview of coming attractions, as the marginal voices (for now) implore us to brace ourselves for the collapse of food. Simultaneously, one of the largest tax cuts ever for the wealthy is being sought by the GOP, again. Everyone looks at their tiny screens. Everyone keeps scrolling. The glitter, the confetti, and the anaesthetic of memes can’t cover it up or dull the sensation forever: shit is sadder and more fucked than a classic Russian novel in mid-winter.
In the 2nd dispatch collected here, the beginnings of the labor movement in America, before the union domestication of revolt, are discussed as a criminal conspiracy, a series of plots to expropriate, sabotage, and kill those who have nothing to offer but misery, a desperate bid to retain some sort of autonomous control over the time and space of our lives. On the real terrain of such a pursuit, no negotiation is possible or desirable. What we need is a return to this, to what the french anarchist group Os Cangaceiros in their illuminating writings on our prison-society referred to as the initial ferocity. But a ferocity updated for our moment of information technology, drones, social media, and cupcake fascism.
It’s no surprise that the syndicalists, the Bookchinists, the marxist-leninists and tankies fault the insurrectionaries for all the same reasons that mayors, police, port commissioners, bosses, and liberal entrepreneurs fault us. It’s no surprise that they tell some of the very same lies. It’s no surprise that the jailers speak of freedom.
The short list of our egregious sins is topped by that oldest of anti-capitalist transgressions: being unrealistic. For loving poetry (the poetry of words or of acts), for loving and wanting beautiful things, for whimsy and idleness, for the taste for “senseless violence,” for not playing the hardball of “politics” and presenting coherent demands… For all these and more, when the next restructuring of capital (details refined by the avant-garde of socialist civilization) is thrust upon us, should we be so unlucky to live to see it, they will attempt to simply and structurally define us out of existence. They don’t even pretend to want otherwise. Along with the backwards hordes of the excluded, the disloyal among the included, the barbarians inside the gates, those other “babblers” who only half-speak the language of Empire (and half talk some other shit), this fucking flash mob of the stylish and naive and precious unwanted children of capital will be gone with the wind, replaced by cyborgs mining asteroids for drops of water (still, it’s life). The revolutionary municipalists, the “social ecologists,” and the socialists will remain, however irrelevant, their orderly demonstrations endorsed by dour identity politicians, their Kronstadts and Holocausts and Holodomors flushed down the memory hole.
Ninety-five percent of the world has been chewed up and spit out. But, as the editors of that impeccable shooting star of an anarchist magazine called A Murder of Crows once wrote, we are unwilling to lie down and eat shit while we are around. Land defense is possible. Healing is possible. Vengeance on our captors and abusers, the obstruction of their further designs, is possible. The little bit of life left to us is worth fighting for. What do we have to lose? Why would we let them get away with it? If it is true that everything that crawls upon the earth is subject to government by blows, it is also true that everything that crawls upon the earth will die someday. The question is not how to avoid the unavoidable, but how to do it well.
The construction of dozens of new or expanded fossil fuel terminals has been proposed or is being carried out all through the greater Northwest region of “North America,” and beyond. Choke points for capitalism are everywhere. They are more vulnerable than they would hope to appear. If a certain collective intelligence of demolition combined with the ingenuity and resourcefulness of human animals is not enough to avert the privation and suffering that may result from the battles ahead, then I don’t see why we would feel entitled or even expect to avoid it when our great-grandparents either perpetrated or succumbed (or both) to the original colonization of this land, when our grandparents remember concentration camps, when our contemporaries half a world away or in the very next city are being fucking annihilated with bombs and bullets deployed in our name, when every clearcut is unforgivable, and when every animal in a cage and every white-hot stream of tears down every face of all the millions of abused and gaslighted children each represent an implacable roaring of the reason to tear all of this down.
What was once an unbelievable folk tale– that once upon a time street battles with the police actually touched no less wholesome a place than Olympia, this “all-america city”– is now becoming a commonplace, a simple eventuality assumed for the realization of the bare minimum of our dreams. The brightest among the activists and unionists even accept this as a premise now.
In a sense, of course, the Olympia rail blockade acted as a percolator for all of the stewing and stagnant refuse in the souls of moderns, the crud we are all inevitably carrying with us. In moments it brought the ongoing pathologies, emergencies, and the uneven distribution of prestige and safety in our various lives to a fever pitch which needs processing right now.
But the event of the barricade’s return truly did bring out the best in people. As they said about Greece in the wake of December 2008: obedience stopped. Life is magical.
This was the commune. The private hells of our individual menagerie-worlds, with their neat placards and dull reference points and traumatized repetitions, were momentarily superseded by the shared hell of a jungle-world, of chances taken and laws flouted. When the spell of this Kingdom of Falsehood was broken, our moving chosen family with all of its dysfunction and all its mistakes was given something to believe in and work toward, a reason to get up extra early or stay up all night. We reached out and seized a new and vital reference point for our struggles, both internal and external. We seized another chance. A new star in our constellation blazed into life.
Imagine what we could do with more than just that shabby little plot of downtown. Imagine the circumstance in which it is more than crumbs which we fight over, and what it would take to get there. Imagine the rage and refusal swelling not only in response to fracking, but for the constant traffic in crystallized death and ecocide facilitated by the port and its world. Imagine all the splintered and refracted single-issues of our lives being rejoined, reborn in the total context of the only world we’ve got.
Imagine new points of correspondence for the commune, the party of disorder. Now: listen to what the world is telling you, read the signs, choose your objectives, and get going.
In the words of “A Letter of Solidarity from the Year 3017”: there is no such thing as a lost act of rebellion. A thousand years from now, may whatever is left of life be blessed with visions of the commune on the tracks, the uprooted apes by the Salish Sea.
The ones who said it stops here, hit the brakes.