May 1, 2011

May Day

Filed under: American Revolution, Relocalization — Tags: — Russell Bangs @ 3:15 am


The other day, in response to a question about the morality which must fuel a transformational movement, I answered

Anarchism and direct democracy have always been founded on a moral basis. One basic principle, going back thousands of years in moral philosophy, is that human beings are ends and that anything which treats them as means (as all of today’s politics and economic policy does) is morally despicable.

The other is that the people have the right and responsibility to rule themselves, and that only those who work have any right to the management and distribution of the produce. Again, everything we have today directly contradicts this, as both conservatism and liberalism agree that parasitic “elites” should steal this produce and then trickle some of it back down.

The fact that corporatism is nothing more or less than robbery is first and foremost a moral fact.

Affirmatively, the morality of economic democracy is that the purpose of society is life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that the economy must be organized to maximize these. That means the purgation of evils like property and other hoarding beyond one’s fair share based on one’s actual productive work, wage-based employment, the commodification of any commons, any policy which generates artificial scarcity. Beyond that, the moral goal is to purge all forms of exploitation and coercion, replacing them with the cooperation and freedom which are proven to prevail and to work once such exploitation and coercion is removed.

All of this is nothing new. It’s the same economic morality as that of “Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.” More recently Kant updated this as, “Act as if your action would enshrine a universal law.” Again, these are anathema to capitalism and representative pseudo-democracy, which explicitly want to divide humanity into parasitic elites who do no work and monopolize the production, vs. the productive people who do all the work and control nothing, and receive an ever diminishing share of what only they produced.

Our morality will restore a unified humanity by causing these criminals and their vicious ideology to cease to exist, and replacing their cesspool with a human society based on cooperation, fairness, justice, citizenship, and community.

There, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness will finally be the real goals of humanity, after so much wasted time and effort and blood. 

Where it comes to the categorical imperative, I’m not as pedantic as Kant himself was in demanding its rigorous application in detail. On the contrary, this would be impossible and undesirable. That was one of Nietzsche’s main criticisms of it. (And I don’t share Kant’s naivete about the alleged impossibility of there ever being a conflict of duties.)
But it can and must be applied it at the broadest level of humanism and justice. And anyone must live up to it where it comes to the basic principles one proclaims; otherwise one is a criminal.
To give history’s most evil example, capitalism is a moral abomination: Because it is robbery, because all its promises are lies, and because it flouts the categorical imperative. In spite of its lies, it does not in fact want egoism as a universal principle. It wants egoism to be a monopoly of the elites. On the contrary, it wants the great mass of productive people, those who do 100% of the productive and valuable work, to be pure altruists.
How else can we characterize an ideology which tells the producer: “You should toil and then surrender what you produce to a parasitic system (to which you should also surrender your political sovereignty) which will monopolize and distribute all you produce primarily for the benefit of its own power and luxury. It will then let you have back what little is left over, and this little bit will get smaller and smaller. We used to lie and claim that this would actually lead to greater prosperity for you than if you kept the fruits of your labor (and your political sovereignty) for yourself in the first place. By now we all know that was a lie and is a complete failure, and we seldom even bother to tell that lie any more. (Our corrupt media still does, and those cretin corporate liberals seem to actually still believe it.) But we still implore you to continue with the elitist system. You should do it out of pure altruism toward us parasites who claim to be your betters. We deserve to accumulate such vast wealth and power at your expense, simply because we’re entitled.”
I can’t imagine what else corporate capitalism, a proven failure and world-historical crime, has left to say by now. It’s making the most utopian appeal to pure altruism and suicidal selflessness which has ever been issued. A general ordering troops over the top of the trench into a machine gun barrage could hardly be making a more stark call to self-destruction in the name of sacrificing everything for the sake of those who do and give nothing.
We can see how, if we step outside the system and its brainwashing, how truly radical it is. We can see how bizarrely utopian economic and political elitism are in their call for such endless self-sacrifice on the part of the vast mass of humanity, for nothing in return. This is history’s most spectacular example of the Status Quo Lie, whereby the status quo, no matter how unnatural and radical and driven by extremist ideology, is represented as the normal, natural, moderate, apolitical, non-ideological baseline; while any alternative, any proposal for change, no matter how intrinsically rational, moderating, practical, common-sensical, is slandered as radical, extreme, and an illegitimate “politicizing” of things on behalf of “ideology”.
By contrast, any way of looking at things which incorporated common sense and self-interest in a healthy way with altruism would condemn this kleptocratic and destructive system and demand that economic and political power be redeemed by those who are solely responsible for the existence of an economy and a polity in the first place, the productive people. Reason and morality, philosophy and practicality, egoism and altruism, common sense all lead to one conclusion: Positive democracy, economic and political.
Anarchism is in fact the only rational combination of self-interest and altruism, since it recognizes that cooperation and respect for the freedom of others is also the only road to the greatest prosperity for all. This altruism is therefore also in our best self-interest. Anarchism, AKA true democracy, is therefore the only coherent political philosophy. All others are incoherent because they must pretend to seek universal prosperity while they really seek the aggrandizement of criminal elites. This is the fundamental lie of all elitism by now. (Though as I mentioned above, often today’s kleptocrats aren’t even bothering with a political ideology anymore, but are recrudescing to naked assertions of might makes right. This is another signpost on the road back to feudalism.)
The right response to this is the Work to Rule philosophy as a way of mind and life. Work to Rule, in the strict tactical sense, is a form of slow-down strike where workers pedantically adhere to their job descriptions and to the letter of any rule, policy, etc. The employer then learns how much the smooth operation of the business depended upon the creative improvisation of the workers and their performing duties above and beyond their nominal responsibilities. Production and the operation of the workplace declines in quantity and quality. We see how much the functioning of egoistic capitalism depends upon the generous lubrication of anarchistic altruism. If all workers went on a general work-to-rule strike, the system would quickly collapse. The same applies to the functioning of the government. (Although there the ideology does call for a modicum of “good civics” behavior on the part of the citizen even while the system completely disenfranchises and dispossesses him.)
We should strive to rebuild our sense of community, the healthy mix of altruism and self-interest, among ourselves. This is the moral project of relocalization. But in all our upward dealings, all our dealings with economic and political elites, big capitalism and big government, we should strive for Work to Rule. We should teach and train to deploy it as a discrete tactic in all kinds of disputes with predators and parasites. But even more importantly, we should enshrine it as a way of life and thought in all our dealings across this class war abyss the criminals unilaterally tore open. It should become a permanent general quasi-strike, for as long as the kleptocracy continues to exist. Even a partial institution of this general quasi-strike will be another severe drag on the already overloaded system, helping to accelerate its collapse. In the meantime, affirmatively, it’ll be an exercise in building moral discipline and political self-respect, which are the two most necessary things we most lack. Build those, and it’ll almost be enough in itself for our self-liberation.


    • Thanks, Tao. Hedges is usually good.

      Comment by Russ — May 1, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

  1. Russ,

    Following up on the May Day rally:

    On the one hand, there was a disappointing turnout, only about 50 people showed up. However it was overcast, damp and windy, so the low turnout may have been partly due to the weather.

    On the other hand, the people that I spoke to seemed well informed and well aware of the problems that this country is facing. And so we’ve exchanged email and are planning to hold regular meetings to discuss such things as union organizing, how public workers can fight back, how to organize the unemployed and students, getting more people involved in local agriculture and food co-ops, etc

    The problem I see at the moment is that nearly everyone at the rally, including myself, were transplants from the northeast (I’m from New York) and everyone said they had handed out lots of flyers and spoken to a lot of people, but that it’s difficult to get people to show up for these kind of events, especially in this area.

    Anyway, at least some of us are going to try and get something started locally and try to reach out to the community and get more people involved, and so that’s a start, and we have to start somewhere.

    Happy May Day!

    Comment by Frank Lavarre — May 1, 2011 @ 5:32 pm

    • Thanks for the report, Frank. Don’t be discouraged by the turnout. These things are bound to start small. It’ll build, if we keep fighting. So it’s great that people are making contact and are going to continue with the work.

      Happy May Day!

      Comment by Russ — May 1, 2011 @ 5:34 pm

  2. Monumental compadre! As much as I hate the idea of being slaughtered other than by my own hand, I am glimpsing the vision of no violence is the only true hope. Marching to our demise in the millions seems so sad; but it is the only chance of the retarded conscience of the oligarchs to be pricked; how many over the precipice must the lemmings be? Do their children look up from their ponies? Interestingly the yearning for a nation of Mohamed may intervene in our bohemian dreams.

    Comment by tawal — May 4, 2011 @ 1:48 am

    • I have no goal of trying to discover any conscience in the oligarchs. We need to seek the conscience of the people, if that still exists.

      Comment by Russ — May 4, 2011 @ 2:16 am

      • To all humans!

        Comment by tawal — May 4, 2011 @ 2:46 am

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