The Degeneration of the Modern American Worker

A spectre is haunting the American Left. The spectre represents an honest conversation about the degeneration of the American Worker. Why might the American Worker be so disillusioned? What is the kind of significant exploitation the modern American Worker experiences in the First-World, when there is so much exploitation from the American ruling-class on distant shores? Can the American proletariat even be organized into a revolutionary mass? What kind of stake in such a mass do they not see?

This is indicative of an American revolutionary left in crisis. Some answer these questions with no optimism whatsoever, and I applaud such honesty. The best answers account for 200 years of industrial Capitalism, its progression into an advanced global capitalism and related phenomenons such as globalization and imperialism, decades of McCarthyism and COINTELPRO, and countless other variables that have degenerated the identity of the “worker” in today’s society.


The Exploitation of the Modern American Worker

What kind of exploitation does the modern American worker face? Some would say not enough to identify as a part of the international working class struggle, but I would encourage them to take a closer examination at poverty and other marginalizations in America.

Light industry, Retail, Restaurant, and Service workers and State workers make up what people view as the American working class. We’ve become increasingly successful at importing our exploitation from the Third World. This pacifies and keeps the working American ignorant of exploitation. This is all the manifestation of the Imperialist conquest.

Between us and the Boss (C.E.O.s and Bureaucrats) lies an even more difficult mass to navigate, the management sub-class. Here you have worker’s increasingly indoctrinated by the culture of wealth. They serve their living salary and wage. They are taught and trained to not sympathize with the people they give the unlivable wage to. Above all, they are taught to alienate the worker from their class.

The mainstream unions that used to serve the worker, that used to agitate for our political gains, now unquestionably serve the status quo. They’ve been built into the Political Industrial Complex, being a part of the matrix of capital relations that exists to make a futile attempt to reconcile the antagonisms of a class society. The worst of these have frequently been on the wrong side of history in the previous periods in labour history. Today, big organized-labour (our beloved crony-unions) consistently fail the working class, and rarely are thought of as something to further revolutionary cause.


So how do we organize a mass that is so bought off, pacified, and generally counter-revolutionary? My answer is we need to start at the bottom, the very bottom. In the lower-class of America, one can paint a picture of the unemployed, the undocumented, the diseased, the homeless and the lowest wage-workers. The exploitation does not begin and end with the factory worker, we find a different kind of disempowerment with those ostracized from production. To not extend the same solidarity to those unable to harness production in the first place is an obviously grave error.

The mainstream unions, quite intentionally, neglects this lumpen-proletarian mass. Giving them no voice, the AFL-CIO recently responded to the wave of corporations cutting their full-time employee base, as an opportunity to attack socialized healthcare. While a critique and an honest conversation about health-care amongst worker organizations is warranted, there is no long-term strategy in this, because there’s largely no long-term strategy for the mainstream union in general. They are largely bought off as well, and they accept the answer we are given by the Capitalists: the future for the American Worker is not worth insuring.

The statistics on poverty and income disparity don’t really show evidence that the American worker is without hardship. We cannot act as if we’ve been bought off by the allure of a living wage either, because minimum wage in this country is hardly livable anymore. what is standing in-between the worker and their class?

The Spectacle of the Middle-Class

This might seem like an odd place to talk about Debord, but I can find no more suitable theorist to talk about this phenomenon of the “middle-class” in America. Debord speaks of “the Spectacle” as being a spontaneous “capital accumulated to the point at which it becomes an image”, not an image as we might think at first, but rather “a relationship mediating communication and life through the mediation of images”. The “Spectacle” is a unique collection of commodified and alienated subjects, that probably can’t be described to justice here, I recommend this.

It goes without saying that few Americans want to be associated with either the rich or poor. The middle-class serves as a manifestation of the “spectacle” in this sense. The cost for gaining membership in this middle-class is total alienation, and a lifestyle of complete subservience to capital (different from the involuntary submission working class people experience, I make no appeal to a “drop out” from capitalism). People will sell their souls for comfort and convenience under Capitalism.


The article from the Atlantic above touches on some interesting points one might not expect of them:

“Not finding popular depictions of wealth and poverty similar to our own lived experiences, we determine we must be whatever’s left over. Picking “middle class” is easy enough to do because, again, the language doesn’t present much to go on in terms of what this label describes.”

Asking for a definition of middle-class is like asking for someone to explain quantum physics. If you even get an answer, it will most likely be come arbitrary number-game, somehow denoting an unstable grey area where we have managed to alienate ourselves from both the haves and have-nots.

Obviously, anyone fundamentally socialist has come to the logical conclusion that there can only be one of two relationships to capital, and therefore two irreconcilably antagonistic classes. The state and monopolized finance capitalism (banks) serve as tools for the ruling class to attempt reconcile these antagonisms. The middle-class is the collection of images and ideals that serve as a reconciled and alienated mass.

National Identity: The Cancer of Class -Consciousness

In place of a strong class consciousness, we find a nearly ubiquitous national identity. This is quite possibly the most difficult thing to organize in the face of. I can think of no greater purpose for this national identity to serve that imperialism. We have to have a strong national identity to invoke the masses to build a military hegemony over the Third-World to force them to submit to our wealth.

So we can see class-consciousness as a threat to the American Nationalism, which goes unspoken and unquestioned, in contrast to what is “nationalist” elsewhere. We frequently hear the word “Patriotic” is place of “Nationalistic”. If you think having a conversation with someone in America about class, try having a conversation with them about internationalism. Political international solidarity in America is frequently seen as the responsibility of diplomats and foreign affairs committees.

To be class-conscious is to see yourself as part of a global system beyond our borders, and at great threat to the national identity, as a part of a global struggle. Much like the middle class, the national identity, regardless of the demographics of it’s occupants, is a white, male and straight identity. Any one of any other identity must sell and sacrifice their culture to assimilate. We might use images of assimilation to show the progressiveness of middle-class America, but this is about preservation of the American hegemony. There’s a hierarchy of identities in America, and placing anything above “American” is seen as one of the worst forms of betrayal.

The Management Class and Bullshit Jobs

What do we do about the goons of capitalism? Is it the relationship of the manager to capital? We have frequently designated “the boss” as our enemy in the workplace, but what about the hordes of bosses in between the American Worker and his exploiter, the owner?

The IWW explicitly excludes the Employer/Manager class from the working class (and therefore their membership). The same lines in the sand are drawn by most Anarchists.

“…But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.”

– David Graeber in “The Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

I theorize much of this sector, the “bullshit jobs”, which I also would say is loosely synonymous with “bullshit management”, are unable to be organized in the current climate of America. We find a difficult sea of ambiguity when trying to analyze their relationship to capital, but it can be easily noted that these folks have a stake in perpetuating exploitation. They also have no stake in ending imperialism, they have been given a more livable wage from the Third-World super-profits and stand to profit from it. This is not the mass to advance Anarchism in America, or any other form of revolutionary socialism.

Schisms in the American Left: Post-workerism and Third-Worldism

Smacks to the face of American wage-slaves don’t just come from the mouth of Rick Santorum, a rising and noticeable trend is showing that the American Left has some internalized issues to deal with as well. Mostly, they are honest and fair-critiques, but they fail to see that it is the lack of class consciousness and degeneration at cause for this. Some even say unorganized American worker as still being proletarian, which some rather puzzling deviation from any classical revolutionary socialist theory that I know of.

The party tenets of the late mostly American Maoist Internationalist Movement (I don’t recommend this site, it’s grossly outdated, looks horrible, and the party is defunct as it is) explicitly define American and other First World wage-workers as a petit-bourgeois “labour aristocracy”, bought off by capital and luxuries. While I appreciate the honest critique, it strikes me as mystical and unscientific. You cannot come to a dialectical class analysis about the American proletariat without accounting that capital still accumulates within the imperialist First-World nations themselves. While I think the identity of the “worker” in America has degenerated to a considerable degree, I think this is a great error to revise the science of class analysis, and the significance of class distinctions being made by one’s relationship to production. That is the science on which revolutionary communist movements are based on.

Do I feel that super-profits from Imperialism have an effect on the degeneration of the American proletariat’s class consciousness? Absolutely. I uphold the anti-imperialist theories espoused by most Maoists as sound. However, I don’t enjoy people espousing class-analysis in which they make assumptive claims as to what someone’s actual relationship to production and capital, and revising this as the entire basis for class-analysis.

Regardless, enough poking fun at the darker and confused corners of Leninist micro-parties (MIM’s “Third-Worldism” is actually a guilty pleasure of mine). A painfully vocal current within Anarchism makes atrocious claims of “post-workerism”, whose analysis is little more than a polemical diatribe, washed up with mystical post-modernism and life-stylist hogwash. Not to make blanket statements, but this new “post-leftist” trend within Anarchism is a mess. People believing we’re ready to “move past” things like identity and privilege politics is a dangerous first-world delusion in and of itself. The best of these claim an ideological line from Insurrectionist Anarchist Communist Luigi Galleani. The worse elements of these believe we are capable of revolution through lifestyle, and the absolute worst are those who want to devolve to a time in which we were without language and toilet paper.

One of the biggest undertones (largely unspoken) within Post-Left Anarchism is an mystical (more so than MIM/TW) undertone of austerity and eugenicism. Why are Post-Leftists austericrats and eugenicists? They are still anti-capitalist, and often inherently (and admittedly) leftist because Anarchism inherently is as well. The problem is they lack a revolutionary mechanism that includes those who depend on social safety nets to survive. They fail to secure a future for societies most marginalized. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and the full analysis won’t be found here. Many people will accuse me of not understanding post-leftism. I have quite the understanding of it as an infantile disorder. Prepare for me to elaborate on this in the future, because I want to do it justice.

So in conclusion, I actually praise and appreciate these natural responses (Post-left Anarchism and MIM/TW) to imperialism and the degeneration of the American (and subsequently all First-World) working-class. The critiques have merit, but I feel they cross the line into narcissism and accidental revisionism of orthodox class-analysis (the post-lefties are a bit more honest about this). There can be no revolution while we are minimizing our own stake in it.

The Cult of Incorporation and Bullshit Jobs

Part of this phenomenon is the incorporation of the American economy. As capital accumulates, we find a new relationship between the corporation and the worker. The imperialist super-profits from Third-World exploitation have brought a new staple to the American economy, “shit jobs.” (Not to be confused with the “bullshit management” referenced to earlier)

We find all kinds of alienation at work in the modern retail and food corporation. I can barely describe the horrors of the horribly shot union-busting videos for some that I’ve worked for. You’re told that there is no need for a union because all the laws historically won by unions are enforced diligently and faithfully, by the corporation. I found this (and many other things) to be grossly untrue. You’re also told a union is not necessary, as you are already a part of a “united workplace”. This is where we find a relevancy of the cult of incorporation.

Ever been to one of these ridiculous corporate pep-sessions, where all the wage-workers are told how privileged they are to be a part of the company and how we’re all in it together?

In the modern cultural capitalism, we find more and more corporations trying to humanize their exploitation. I can say a great deal of this can be seen through places like Starbucks and Whole-foods. For example, Starbucks is the worlds largest supplier of “Fair Trade” Coffee, but even when you realize this, only 10% of the coffee sold there is actually fair-trade certified. This number has actually declined in recent years. The idea is to merge charity and consumerism, buying your product and selling your soul in the same transaction.

These “Progressive Corporations” quite often have their own list of hypocrisies, which alienate themselves from their base. From their days as a young cooperative in Austin, Whole Foods as consistently moved in a direction away from that. Whole-foods is not unique to the near draconian union-busting tactics used by these corporations. They also have shown support and lobbied for the racist and classist “Right to Work” laws. You find very little difference between these corporations and Wal-Mart, when they apply the same techniques waging a war of alienation on their workers and lobbying against their interests.

So it can be seen that much of the working class wage jobs is simply mitigating the path of capital from the Third-World exploitation. We are producers of very little but convenience. We can see this as the root of all degeneration in modern America. We’ve become disempowered, many of us lacking skills more specialized than convenient access to the cheap labor of countries we can’t pronounce. This is a phenomenon of cultural capitalism where we have so much alienation that we no longer need skills or education. We demand only convenience.

Socializing Struggle: Invoking Class-Consciousness in the America Masses

Upon conclusion, one cannot help but come to some of the most pessimistic conclusions about the American proletariat (or lack thereof). We find ourselves living side by side with a mass that cannot, despite their own exploitation, find their own stake in class-struggle. We wonder if the advancement of capitalism has reached a point that demands new strategy.

Although we should always have our attention focused on the international struggle, we need to develop American specific strategy. The classical tactics of syndicalism begin to look antiquated, and there’s very little I can offer the frustrated Wal-Mart worker with “well, why don’t you just seize the production?”

At the same time, I can’t help but think the most potentially revolutionary mass in the US is the most visible ones, the lowest wage workers offering service and convenience, and those who can barely hold on to that and are even kept at bay from that level of production. We need the folks who hate their jobs.

Moving forward with strategy, I feel production (which is more commonly distribution of Third World production) in America is unseizable, even with the organization of the masses. We find so much uselessness without our common capital relations. We have brand images (like Wal-Mart) that aren’t just going to go away. When our job is to sell a relationship between the First and Third World, what production can be left to seize? We are not dealing with tangible industrial factory production of yesteryear.

No one calls for the “end” of a corporation, and we can find boycotts in this day and age only agitates the reactionaries to buy more. Perhaps the strategies being of the most use are those which directly attack what is being produced by these workers, the international imperialist relationship. This means halting the distribution and importing of capital rooting in Third World exploitation. We can see this in the very strategic (and radical) shutting down of ports and other pivotal sources of commerce, in recent years when Anarchists and Communists have taken to the streets.

So instead of using this antiquated syndicalist strategy (and I say that as one myself) of focusing on the production that we no longer have, we find a new strategy, if you’re not engaging in a direct struggle (IE resisting wage-theft, evictions, etc.) then the radical elements of the labour and tenant organizations should focus on anti-imperialism. This seems obvious, but you don’t find many Anarchists who understand Worldist notions and what it means to be anti-imperialist, and what that analysis means for American Anarchists.

Let’s quit pretending we’re still in 1920’s Chicago, let’s be a little more honest about the modern condition of American workers, and develop syndicalism into a worker’s movement that is aware it cannot seize production and liberate American workers without overthrowing imperialism first. Towards an Anti-Imperialist Syndicalism!

On Capitalism, Queerness, and Living with HIV/AIDS

Radical Queers and Anarchists do not talk about this enough. I was diagnosed HIV positive in 2009, likely seroconverted in 2008, and was diagnosed with AIDS in 2011. I have recovered rather well since then, and have adjusted to what may seem fortunate and hopeful in comparison to AIDS victims in other times and places. Just as different struggles mean different experiences, navigating through capitalism as a person living with HIV has been painful. HIV and AIDS has everything to do with capitalism as well.

What it means to live with HIV:

Living with HIV means taking toxic pills the size of jolly ranchers on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times a day, in fear of imminent death should you not do so.  It means dealing with opportunistic infections and hospitalizations even while your are recovering from an AIDS diagnosis. It means awkward conversations and tears from friends and families. It means fear and suspense while you wait for blood work. It means worrying about obtaining and paying for your medication (more below) without which you may die. It means side effects from anti-retrovirals from which we know little about the long-term effects. It means walking into AIDS clinics and worrying about being seen, it means judgement and lectures from doctors, it means worrying your virus might mutate into drug resistance, it means a looming fear when you pick up the prescription your medical insurance will go through and you won’t be left without your medicine,  it means worrying about your boss firing you when the insurance company commits a HIPPA violation and tells them to ask you why your healthcare is so expensive, it means dealing with people’s ignorance of how you actually contract HIV and having to tell them you can share the same glass and the same mosquito can bite you, it means complexity in moving to another state and making sure you’re insured there, it means your disease coming between you and your HIV negative partner, it means having to worry about all these things for the rest of your life.

It can be difficult to not feel an overwhelming shame and sense of defeat as someone living with HIV. As with all of life’s challenges, these issues weigh harder on working class people and other marginalized people. I do not know the experience of someone living with HIV/AIDS in the Third World. I don’t know what it’s like to be a person of color living with HIV. I don’t know what it’s like to be a sex-worker living with HIV. I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman living with HIV. I could imagine my experience could be a lot harder.

The Marginalization of HIV/AIDS and Serophobia as a system of oppression:

As does race, gender identity, sexuality and disability can all affect your relationship with capital and serve as barriers in the navigation through capitalism we’re tempted to call “life”, having HIV has much the same effect. The fights for education, access to medication and blood work, housing, workplace protection, are all relevant to the struggle for those living with HIV. Have we had victories? Absolutely. Have we “arrived” at liberation? Absolutely not.

While we have things like the Ryan White Care Act and some folks have a chance at an abnormal life with HAART medication (highly active anti-retroviral therapy), we still have folks getting HIV at alarming rates, even within the very HIV-aware queer community. We also still have a suicide rate five times higher than the general population. People like myself still get AIDS because access to medication is a bureaucratic circus at best, and being uninsured with HIV means you have been sentenced to death.

Yet somehow, it’s us that society is afraid of. We’re the diseased and afflicted. We die, and you go on never knowing our struggle. I don’t think many of my HIV-negative friends actually have these notions, but regardless of how you feel about it, this is what has been dictated by the ruling class and oppressive social forces. The ruling class is not only white, male, abled, rich and heterosexual. It most surely is also HIV negative.

The Queerness and Ableism of HIV:

HIV is queerness. Not everyone with HIV is gay or trans* (obviously), and not every queer is HIV positive. If you have an understanding of Queer as an unstable place to inhabit based of normativity vs. deviance, and being born into conflict with normativity, then one might certainly see how society might “queer” someone living with HIV. Sexual and social relations will never be the same with HIV. AIDS jokes induce a traumatic self-loathing and discomfort. My experience, is most people are private about their HIV status and usually wish to control and limit who knows. For me, this experience as I type this is eerily reminiscent of the pain of coming out of the closet with my queerness in the first place.

AIDS, being the deadly and progressive disease that it is, certainly entails a disability. Even as I recovered from my own AIDS diagnosis and my blood work showed improvements, I still could feel the impact of the opportunistic infections I contracted while I was unmedicated. I have ailments I will have for years to come (neuropathy, arthritis, neurocognitive variance, visual issues). No one needs to be told that on a physical basis, AIDS will destroy your body even if you survive it, and it will leave its mark.

I cannot describe the difficulty of publicly going through a disabling illness, while not being able to give people the whole story because it means telling them that you have AIDS. Your friends and family watch you suffer but cannot know why for one reason or another. Even after giving up on trying to lie and keep track of who knew, I found myself pondering the same thing “Am I okay to tell them I have HIV?”, because there’s an overwhelming fear of losing control. On a societal level, we can see the forces of sex-normativity and ableism at work.

Big Pharma, healthcare and anti-retrovirals:

One of the things many people are unaware of is the cost of HIV anti-retroviral medications. The retail cost of these medications is about $2000-2500 a month, or roughly $60 a day. That is entirely too much for any working class person to pay for. For us, to be uninsured means death, it’s not an option. So this means a juggling act of going through ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Programs), Medicaid, Medicare, Cobra, and Work Benefits. Getting the maximum coverage on your prescriptions can make the difference in eating or not that month. Also, it can mean getting fired or moving to another state can create serious health issues from having to discontinue your medicine. There’s absolutely nothing scarier than having to discontinue your life saving medication.

Big Pharma, the major pharmaceutical companies whom anti-capitalists are already highly critical of, demonstrate the most draconian sides of corporations. In an effort to capitalize on the general need for these medications for individuals to live, the game played by Big Pharma is that of commodity, monopolization and scarcity. These are manipulated and the cost of human life means nothing to the institutions of profit. The allure of accumulated capital will always rise victorious even when weighed against mass graves.

With their eyes turned to the Third World, Big Pharma blocks access to low-cost medications and the development of generic medications. Most Big Pharma companies have a stake in AIDS drugs as well. They nearly unanimously proclaimed that the lives of HIV positive people are worth as much as we are willing to pay. Solving their problems means ending the patent system and monopolization system which allows them to keep these medications scarce. It means changing the entire industry. Also, we can alleviate sub-Saharan Africa’s AIDS epidemic with humanitarian aid all we want. They will still live under the same conditions that produced them until we attack those conditions directly.

The drugs themselves come with an even longer list than usual in terms of side effects. Some drugs are psychoactive, some drugs are toxic and make it difficult to eat, some can cause your body to grow disproportionately, some attack your liver in the process, some are so powerful they make a normal life unlivable. Not to mention, these drugs are prescribed long-term. We don’t know what the effects of these drugs are to be long term, we can only speculate as they already relatively toxic. Also, you don’t just take one of these drugs, you take a combination of 3 or more.

One thing is that these drugs work very well in reducing viral load so that your immune system can recover. Sometimes, they work so well, your immune system becomes hyper active in its rebound, which can lead to other health issues. Another factor of them working so well, is that they also reduce your transmissibility significantly. Infection rates will fall as more find access to medication. Medication should be prioritized, medication and prevention need to be viewed as one in the same.

Meth as a Gay Genocide:

Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin, one of my favorite Anarchist Black Panthers, once referred to the crack epidemic in the Black community as “a new Black genocide”. I would say that one could easily view the gay meth/HIV co-epidemic as genocidal. While meth wasn’t the only drug I used, it is a drug I used almost exclusively with other gay men. I associate it with sex. I associate it with HIV. This is a social phenomenon that straight people don’t know about. It’s an epidemic within an epidemic.

This is a lot of despair in the world in the gay meth sex circles, it’s almost a dark underground. In that culture, condoms aren’t an option, and seroconversion is glorified. There are certainly vocal liberal LGBT activists who might be brave enough to address this, but few are viewing this issue as systemic. Any fair social analysis will reveal that we’re talking about marginalizations on top of marginalizations. I’m the product of statistics, I’m gay so I’m more likely to both have a substance abuse issue and have HIV. If you are as fortunate as I have been to get off of drugs, you will find that disassociating drugs and sex is difficult. My sex life has never been the same, and that has as much to do with the drugs as it does sex.

HIV counselors and case workers will tell you that new diagnoses are often linked to crystal meth use. I can not say for sure, but I most likely seroconverted through sexual contact but likely while on drugs. I’m not quite sure what exactly was going through my head at the time. It’s a big mess of risk fetishism, porn brainwashing and drugs that I can’t quite describe. Some have called this phenomena of Gay men contracting HIV as “bug-chasing”. While some folks do this very consciously, I would say my own experience finds that to be a bit harsh. I think subconsciously the risk of HIV was a confusing internal debate, being buried by lots of drugs and sex, which become more important than your health. It’s not as simple as “I got HIV on purpose”. I do accept a good amount of responsibility, but to say I went out looking for it is a stretch. It’s not that simple.

There’s resources that need to be more accessible to Gay men caught in the grips of HIV, meth and meth-crazed sex. As with the drug epidemic in general, if addicts are going to get better, they need treatment not handcuffs. On top of that, therapy like PrEP might help to prevent new infections. It’s not like the struggle of gay men and meth is not winnable, but it means we have face this as we face our other systemic problems. Marriage equality is important to some, but the most marginalized of people in our community face a much scarier issue with meth, and one that is shaping into what may be our downfall. This has been dubbed our “second coming of AIDS”, and just like the first time, it’s time for us to escalate our tactics and win by any means necessary.

Ally politics, what helps and what reinforces Serophobia:

These are all things I have heard before upon disclosure of my status:

So upon this we arrive on issues of serophobia, ally politics, and the inevitably troublesome (albeit very necessary in my opinion) privilege and identity politics. It’s not my job to educate ANYONE on HIV. I know my status at the least, which is something many people cannot say. Everyone has a responsibility to know their status, disclose it to their sexual partners, and act accordingly. That’s it.

One of the things I encounter often from comrades and friends alike, is self-righteousness and a desire to pry into my sex-life when I disclose my HIV status. Don’t do that. I don’t care if you’re concerned. Don’t do that. While I do carry myself with a great deal of accountability and responsibility, I don’t think there is much to be gained by campaigns of which induce condom fatigue. I feel I have a very good sense of where I am accountable, and my obligations as a socially responsible individual.

Remember that safer sex is meant to be individualized. If you’re a safer sex educator, you probably know that people are aware of HIV transmission routes, and often will seroconvert anyways. We can know all about safer sex, if every option is not delivered to us (including serosorting) as safer, then we’re being told what to do. This is why unprotected sex in the gay community is fetishized. Risk becomes erotica.

Also, never “out” someone, or assume that because you’ve been told they have HIV, that others can know. This has happened to me as well. You are not doing anyone any good by making the world more aware of our “affliction”.

What HIV means to Anarchists and Communists:

We need good revolutionary leftist answers to HIV/AIDS. If our revolutionary mechanisms cannot meet the needs of those who die without modern medicine, we need examine that. Prioritizing health care is not just strategic, it should be principled. We will never end this epidemic under capitalism. Adversely, we need a strong and effective revolutionary strategy around this issue.

We need to oppose austerity at any cost. Every moment and every place where health care is not accessible, acts as a ticking time bomb of the AIDS epidemic. The HIV positive impoverished worker knows the meaning of “austerity is violence”. When we fight against austerity, we are literally fighting for our lives.

Those of us with HIV don’t need moral support as much as we need social empowerment. Accounting in your revolutionary theory the idea that some people need modern medicine to survive is something that shouldn’t have to be explained to socialists. We cannot allow anyone to left behind in our revolution, this is the call for intersectionality in our revolution.

In the capitalist world, the diseased represent a unique social caste. We can only begin to remedy the epidemic by dismantling that system. The cure for HIV might never be found, but the cure to the epidemic is revolution.

Towards a Modern Expropriative Strategy

Part of my belief in Anarchist-Communism is that I believe we can achieve communization through direct expropriation. Anyone can destroy private property (and this is not a critique of that tactic) but our attempts at expropriating it prove much more difficult. It is not through the destruction of private property that we will abolish it, but the complete and final expropriation of it. Sometimes we feel so hopeless and defeated that only destruction can serve to boost morale, in the “propaganda of the deed”. I understand and sympathize with that sentiment, so I will not dismiss it. However, I am obliged to say that expropriation is the purist and highest expression of direct action, in the way that it is so much more than expression, unlike many other attempts which struggle to materialize into more.

Expropriation is not Syndicalist nor Insurrectionist. It is neither Platformist or Anti-organizational.  It is not some agenda of Communists that post-leftists don’t concern themselves with. Expropriation is the duty of every revolutionary. In many ways, Expropriation is the revolution in pure essence. Everything we do to attack the system is hope that we may reclaim the capital accumulated and controlled violently by the capitalist, and that we may return such to the commons until it is in surplus.

Kroprotkin in his essay Expropriation:

“The landlord owes his riches to the poverty of the peasants, and the wealth of the capitalists comes from the same source.”

Expropriation and the Syndicalist Strategy

The syndicalist does not have to be told that expropriation is at the core of their strategy. Their devotion and fearless attempts to seize production from the capitalist and claim it for the workers, is the goal. A syndicalist will tell you that in a class-war, whomever controls production gets the goods. Best that be the workers, obviously!

Gregori Maximov, a Russian anarcho-syndicalist during the 1917 Russian Revolution, says of expropriation, in Programme of Anarcho-Syndicalism:

“In manufacturing and in some branches of the primary industries, capitalism has thus already prepared the ground for Communism and the syndicalisation of industry by the expropriation of capitalists and the State — today the imperative and the only feasible solution to the workingman’s problem. Socialised labour facilitates this transition to communist ownership by way of syndicalisation.”

He then goes on to talk about differences in the expropriation of agricultural property vs. industrial production. There is obviously differences there and there will subsequently be a different strategy for that front of expropriation. I am an urbanite however, and any expropriation done around agriculture will be building new permaculture on urban land which had been previously owned (usually owned by the city or real-estate capitalists, and usually serving as the jumping blocks for gentrification). I live in one of the few larger cities that is very lawn-heavy, even in the most densely populated areas.

The syndicalist knows that class war becomes reality whenever the time comes for the defense of that which has been expropriated. Where in which agitation has become attack, and revolutionary self-defense becomes war, syndicalism calls for workers to defend what is theirs until the bloody end.

The mode of organization employed by syndicalists also ensures that expropriation is done in such a way that it involves those who have the highest stake in it. There is no agenda of an intellectual vanguard far away, who has their own plan for that which you have expropriated. Syndicalists are fighting for theirs, and defend it in such ways. When I say “theirs”, I know we are talking about the only legitimate property, that of use and possession by workers and not the capitalist in absentia.

Expropriation and the Insurrectionist Strategy

Luigi Galleani, in The End of Anarchism?:

“The anarchists, like the socialists, want and urge the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, but they do not hope at all for its generosity nor its philanthropy and justice. Confronted with the violent pressure of the masses trying to overthrow it, the bourgeoisie throws out each day a little of its ballast; it gives up some of its arrogance or it makes some inane concession — paid holidays, laws protecting women and working children, state medicine, etc, but only for the purpose of saving its bankrupt privileges.

That is their business: reforms remain — and should remain — a concern and a function of the ruling class, not of the anarchists, nor of the socialists either, if they are sincerely convinced that the expropriation of the ruling class is an inevitable condition of their economic emancipation.”

Say what you will about the Galleanists, the man himself had some good stuff to say about expropriation. We cannot expect for the ruling class to simply relinquish their power. We mean war when we say class warfare. We cannot afford to concern ourselves the liberal-bourgeois morality (the form of morality that makes one have human sympathy with private property, and to see violence in it’s destruction or expropriation)

Traditionally, Insurrectionists have engaged in forms of expropriation of a slightly more direct nature. Galleani outlines dozens of bank robberies and check frauds, done by insurrectionists to further the causes of the movements. Unfortunately, there are few English resources on the subject, but anyone who has read a biography of Buenaventura Durruti knows that he and several groups (Los Solidarios included) engaged in mass-scale expropriations for decades before the Spanish Civil War. This was not unique to Spain. From Argentina to Western Europe, we found no more appropriate sponsors for our revolution than those whom we call enemy. A personal favorite essay called “Illegal Anarchism” by Illegalist Gustavo Rodriguez, mentions such expropriations at least 2 dozen times.

Durruti (center) and Los Solidarios in the early 1930’s.

It goes without saying that our modern movement is not what it was when we performed such mass-scale armed expropriations. We are not positioned for such things, and given the police state currently deployed in the First-World we have largely assembled today, we need new strategy at the time being for Insurrectionists regarding expropriation.

Many other forms of expropriation do fit into this praxis however. The idea that someone, outside of an organization, can steal something for the ruling classes and return it to the people, is something rather limitless.

The Modern Expropriative Strategy

We find ourselves in a very interesting development with the recent establishment of Solidarity Networks. This unique mode of worker’s organization attacks issues of housing, labour and poverty with a more direct action approach with an emphasis on both mutual-aid but also attack and agitation. Remember that carry out expropriations is not as difficult as defending them against reaction. These Solidarity Networks provide an amazing resource for defense of this. They get to the nitty-gritty of grassroots neighborhood organizing.

The popularity of illegalism (and therefore expropriation) can be seen throughout modern Anarchist culture rather ubiquitously. The good Anarchist always thinks of the resources they can steal for their project first. This is important. We know we cannot win by playing by the rules of the ruling class, or by appealing to their morality (propertarian humanization). The Anarchist strategy around housing (known by many as squatting) and also urban gardening on unused/abandoned property (guerrilla gardening) are a very good examples of resource expropriation.

I don’t need to remind anyone that we have 22 empty houses for every homeless person in America. It goes without saying that even in the first world we have a huge disparity of wealth, as well as a world ripe for expropriation. Every Anarchist organization could potentially have a headquarters, which can also serve as something to help the community. Squatters laws are complicated indeed, but you would be surprised to find they aren’t as difficult to work with. Also, expropriation of this sort is quite the attack even if eviction is served in the end. Making the state waste a ton of resources (dozens of work hours for Lawyers, amongst other things) in order to carry out the eviction, you have the state rushing to keep their end of the deal with the capitalist. Pit them against eachother and you’ll find much of our work being done for us. For every squat that falls, we find victory in such defeat, and also expropriate 2 more.

The strategy of Expropriation is something that ideally should fit into any Anarchist Praxis. It should be a part of every agenda, there should be a campaign in every neighbourhood. Our enemies are vastly skilled at stealing from the working class, and accumulating wealth. We should employ the same vigor.

The Stages of Expropriation

It goes without saying that when we expropriate, we are playing for keeps. This seems to be well understood, but let me explain what I mean by such and why I think it’s important. Nothing can be considered fully expropriated until it has not only been seized from the capitalist, and not only given to the people for free and common use. Something that has reached the final stage of expropriation cannot be taken by force and re-privatized. When something has reached the final stage of expropriation, it no longer needs defense from counter-revolution or reaction.

Kropotkin, once again, in his essay Expropriation:

“We found not have the revolutionary impulse arrested in mid-career, to exhaust itself in half measures, which would content no-one, and which while producing a tremendous upheaval of society, and stopping its customary activities, would have no power of life in themselves, and would merely spread general discontent and inevitably prepare the way for triumph of reaction.”

This is why expropriation demands strategy and science within the Anarchist praxis. We all too often come under attack for our lack of this. Some will say Anarchism can never have such qualities. Some are very intent that it doesn’t. Some would call such people privileged and naïve. One thing is true and quite evident, we will never build a revolution on idealistic dreams and well-wishes. I do think, with new modes of organization and the modern elasticity of Anarchism (some would say that has had consequences, which I am liable to agree with) such science and strategy is within our reach.

So let us embrace the place Anarchism has given us loose ends, the places where other revolutionary ideologies have reach dead ends. These are our gift!

My Disillusionment with Marxist-Leninism

I will start by clarifying I have never been a Leninist. I am happy to say I am one of those Anarchists who has given the ideas and theories a chance. I would say gratitude is even fair, as I feel I’ve picked up useful tactical and theoretical insights all the way down the ideological line from Lenin. So first, let me flatter my Leninist comrades, by pointing out the concepts troublesome yet useful to Anarchist theory:

From Lenin, primarily State and Revolution:

  • Lenin’s theories of Imperialism, and its effects on the Imperialist yet Bourgeois-State, should be accepted irrefutably by Anarchists. Lenin gives a perfect outline of why American and First World global policy is the way they it is today.
  • The Leninist definition for state, “the mechanism in which one social class oppresses the other” is actually very useful for Anarchists, who lack good and widely-accepted definitions for “state”.
  • His hypothesis that the state is proof of “irreconcilably antagonistic classes” is demonstrative and complimentary of Anarchist theory which told us that the state is the result of the downfall of feudalism, and the property theory which allowed us to see the institutions in constant symbiotic relationships with the state. Anarchists have long known that the only way to overthrow the state is through class struggle.

Much of the Marxist-Leninist critique of Anarchism rests firmly within Lenin’s theories of Imperialism, the nature in which parliamentary capitalist states carry out a policy to exert the totality of capitalism. This leaves young socialist societies open to attack by Imperialist Bourgeois states, both from within and outside. Anarchists need to accept the need for an extended strategic social war if we are to win, and we need to have our own answers to these very legitimate questions posed by Marxist-Leninists. I could elaborate much, but I feel the concepts are actually expressed in a manner more appealing to Anarchists by Mao Zedong than that of Vladimir Lenin.

From Mao, primarily Quotations from Chairman Mao (known in the West commonly as the “Little Red Book”) and also On Contradictions and On the Correct handling of Contradictions Amongst the People:

  • The idea of the “Mass Line” is similar to that espoused by Anarchists of the platformist (organizationalist) praxis and those of the insurrectionists (anti-organizationist) praxis. Ideological unity and class-consciousness should precede any need for consensus. Consensus should be pre-conceived amongst Anarchists, yet all too often we are not. This level of organization will come under greatest demand during our inevitable militarization (if you can even say that’s possibly for Anarchists, historically it certainly is)
  • Mao’s concept that we should organize along this Mass Line into “revolutionary cadres”, once the political line is determined, is crucial to Anarchist organization at a certain stage. However, this concept can still be compatible with the decentralized insurrections espoused by some Anarchists. It’s also is fairly compatible with Anarchist platformist organizations, who seek and desire ideological unity above all else. It is along these lines that I believe we can win.
  • Protracted People’s War also demonstrates a useful exchange of ideas. Some speculate Mao may have been influenced by the techniques developed by Chinese Anarchists. It would be more than prudent to employ this very well developed form of attack complimented to both our insurrectionist and syndicalist/platformist strategies.
  • Mao’s interesting philosophical contributions of the dialectical materialist method is not just universally applicable to revolutionary socialists, but to the entire field of philosophy, especially those that claim any sort of Hegelian influence.

The parallels of Marxist-Leninism as developed by Mao, and that of classical Anarchist Communism are honestly endless, and more cross-studies are out there. Mao-spontex (or “spontaneous Maoism”)  took note of this, and developed a movement combining Anarchist and Maoist traditions, in Western Europe in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, while the Cultural Revolution was still underway in China. Mao’s unique social warfare, regarding attack and agitation are, very similar to the Anarchist praxis. Some of those who reject Mao, believe his ideological deviations begin with his idealism. I would be lying if I didn’t believe that idealism is one of the things that appeals to Anarchists. From Mao’s policy in Revolutionary China, despite his persecution of ultra-leftists (which includes Anarchists) during his time as Chairman of the CPC. It can be almost assumed his idea of the state “withering away” differed from Lenin and Engels, that the state (and all oppression) must be agitated away, that was my understanding behind the Cultural Revolution and Hundred Flowers Campaign, which demonstrated Mao’s commitment to open agitation, criticism and forward development of revolutionary culture.

It is of utmost importance, even given the occasional calls for revolutionary left unity (which I will always answer), to acknowledge and remember that the schism between Marxists and Anarchists runs deep. I would dare to say that it doesn’t simply begin with the Anarchist rejection of democratic centralism (as proposed by Lenin) or even the analysis of the state. The schism lies in the development of dialectical materialism in and of itself. I would say Anarchists (likely unconsciously) have analysis similar to the more mystical sides of Hegel. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this, obviously. I believe Marx spent entirely too much effort to abandon things about Marxism that in practice, were unavoidable. I think these issues were actually realized by no one better than Mao, and his attempts to reconcile them dialectically through the correct handling of contradictions, paint quite an idealist and humanizing image to some Anarchists.

Perhaps Marx was wrong in that Hegel’s Dialectics must be “turned on the their head”, or perhaps the Anarchist position is better suited for a dialectical materialist methodology closer to the that of Hegel’s original (which I would be more prepared to defend). I am not a dialectician and make no attempt to be such at this point, but I’ve developed a deep appreciation for them at this point. Anarchists have never had an affinity for the academy as Marxists have, but I definitely will be behind any promotion that Anarchism should become more scientific in our revolutionary praxis, without sacrificing the ideals and principles at the core of Anarchist theory.

I am not calling for a dialectical “synthesis” of Anarchism and Marxism. I believe that Anarchists should employ our own understanding of  Hegel’s very useful dialectics, and develop that. We shouldn’t make an attempt to discard Marx’s materialism, we should realize our own. Despite our hostility to the academy, Anarchism is not anti-scientific. We have refined our praxis (of which I believe most people follow one of two, or both), our ideals and our “culture” (Marxists will reject this as irrelevant to the proletariat of the third world, and I will agree with that, but it is not irrelevant to Anarchism in general). We must now begin to develop the Anarchist science that will give us a mechanism to apply to various revolutionary contexts.

David Graeber, himself an Anarchist academic, gives a very fair and insightful reasoning behind why the academy and Anarchists don’t tend to get along in The Twilight of Vanguardism:

“It’s not just that anarchism does not lend itself to high theory. It’s that it is primarily an ethics of practice; and it insists, before anything else, that one’s means most be consonant with one’s ends; one cannot create freedom through authoritarian means; that as much as possible, one must embody the society one wishes to create.”

I am tempted to agree with any Marxists who believe this to be the core of Anarchist “lifestylism” and our inherent idealism. The idea that if you are not directly attacking the system or building communism, what you are doing is not under the banner of Anarchism. We carry a direct-action “do something now” approach to things, and I too believe in that. I do not however believe that we cannot further develop our theory to make those actions more meaningful.

The Anarchist position against democratic centralism is not that we reject the idea of a “revolutionary minority”, insurrectionist Anarchist Communists have understood this for a long time. Along with the responsibility to agitate and attack the ruling classes, the insurrectionist knows they are in the minority. Despite this, the Insurrectionist doesn’t believe that worker’s should be mobilized by organizations during this attack. Platformists believe in the horizontal power built by the vanguard parties, and believe in the ideological unity proposed by vanguardists, yet inevitably find difficulty mobilizing the masses to attack. and make the cross over to the praxis of insurrectionists. This is a serious problem, Anarchists struggle to both build power horizontally and mobilize for attack.

Knowing full well the issues with the common Anarchist mode of organizing, under formal or informal consensus, bears many issues. Most Anarchist organizations lack the ideological unity proposed by Platformists like Mahkno (post-Russian Revolution). To handle contradictions, we are inevitably in need of some sort of empirical method to resolve problems according to Anarchist ideals. Back to the academy we go, I say, but we will not have an academic anarchism developed by a single person. No school of Anarchism has thus far been developed in this manner, and I say that as one of the few people describing themselves today as explicitly Kropotkinist. My revolutionary ideals are unequivocally attributable to Kropotkin’s theories of mutual-aid and evolution, and that is the science unique to Anarchism which makes the difference to me.

So, given both my praises for the analysis and strategy of Marxist-Leninists, and the weakness of the Anarchist movement, it is come due-time to address why I still stand for Anarchism. That means I must obviously defend my assertion that stateless mechanisms are ideal for both overthrowing the capitalist state and building full-communism, as well as my rejection of “democratic centralism”.

Using Lenin’s understanding of the state as “the mechanism in which one class oppresses another”, Anarchists do not desire to use the tools of the bourgeois state in overthrowing capitalism. We feel systems based of exploitation can only further the cause of exploitation. We seem them as unfit and ineffective. The idea that we should mobilize revolutionaries into “one true revolution” is certainly a nice ideal I can get behind, but I believe when intellectuals harness the tools of the ruling class, we replicate their bourgeois notions no matter how hard we try not to.  When we harness the tools of bourgeois exploitation, we fall upon paternalism in practice, which is a trait of the bourgeois state. Even in understanding Lenin’s theoretical “stages of Communism”, I find little hope in using the mechanism built by an “irreconcilably and perpetually antagonistic” class as that of our own.

I think the state is as much a means of production, as it is the mechanism in which one class oppresses another. When your relationship to the state changes (I am not saying we should abandon solidarity those working in certain exceptional segments of the state apparatus) to that of the “oppressor of the working class”, you have committed a petit-bourgeois form of class traitorship. With all the bourgeois characteristics and privilege adopted by the revolutionary leaders of last century, the Anarchist position can be summed up quite simply: the state corrupts, and the state will always be bourgeois.

We also believe the state to not be unique in it’s cultural subversion, the same way capitalism is. Yes, the state is intrinsically tied to capital, this is known from its emergence from the feudalist system. We’ve come under a social hegemony in the bourgeois state, where the state is viewed much like capitalism, life without it seems rather impossible, perhaps more impossible. It’s also seen by many as the only path to social change. Capitalism has created a statist phenomenon where property and capital can also be the sources of violence, resulting in a redefining of violence in and of itself. Those who commit violence in defense of property are seen as heroic. Much like capitalist exploitation is covered up with legislative band-aids, the exploitation of the state (such as imperialist wars, military hegemony in foreign affairs, police brutality and austerity measures) is treated with more legislation (if at all).  This is not simply capitalism we are talking about, we are living under a cultural statism in addition to that of a cultural capitalism.

Even under the historical-materialist analysis of class struggle, I fear using the tools of the bourgeois state to be a barrier to building final Communism. I do believe in socialism as a transitory stage, but Anarchists have our own transitory socialist systems. I am fundamentally Communist, but the systems of Kevin Carson and Proudhonian Mutualism are viable mechanisms to build communism when organized under syndicalism. All in all, we wish for both our attack and building to be organic, something unable to be attributed to a ruler, but that of the people. We are not opposed to organic leadership, we distrust some leaders, but we unequivocally opposed to rulers in our revolution. No one needs to tell us to overthrow capitalism, we know we must, and solidarity means attack, and that revolution means building. The common Marxist derailment of “it’s naïve to call for the immediate abolition of the state!” usually confuses me and I find this to be a huge failure in understanding Anarchism. We believe in stateless mechanisms of the abolition of capitalism, and there lies a distinction from their understanding. Many of us are incrementalists in theory. We feel the state “withers away” while we abolish capitalism using stateless revolutions, not simply after we switch the mode of production to that of a socialist system.

So in my critique I make an appeal to the Anarchist idealism and ethics, which may bore Marxists. Not only because this is the same critique given by most Anarchists, but the core of our differences. I believe the loose-ends of Anarchism are parallel to the dead-ends of Marxist-Leninism. Our commitment to remain decentralized, egalitarian, and direct-action oriented needs to be harnessed as our strength, instead of being used as our weakness.

Further reading:

Vladimir Lenin:

State and Revolution

Mao Zedong:

Quotations from Chairman Mao

On Contradictions

On the Correct handling of Contradictions Amongst the People

David Graeber:

The Twilight of Vanguardism

Rosa Luxemburg

Organizational Questions of a Russian Social Democracy (Leninism or Marxism)