Shut down the system – permanently!

“Shut shit down!” is one of the rallying cries of the new wave of black radicalism sweeping across the USA in the wake of events in Ferguson in 2014.

Whether it’s occupying a police HQ or blocking the highway for a few hours, the emphasis is on putting a spanner in the works of the system – and on how easy it is to do so, even with relatively small numbers.

There is an obvious parallel here with the call by the Invisible Committee for rebels to focus their resistance on the infrastructure of capitalism.

The capitalist industrial system can often seem too big and powerful for us to take on. On a physical level it can literally deploy armies against any uprising and on a psychological level it has a powerful hold on the minds of the public.

Looking for some kind of interface with this vast, multi-faceted entity – some real context in which we can physically oppose it – has often proved difficult.

Choosing a particular field on which to engage in battle can be seen as narrow or merely symbolic. Workplace struggles, for instance, do take place at a real point of contact between the system and the population, but are limited in their perspective and risk becoming reformist, of obscuring the more fundamental nature of our revolt.

Fifteen years or so ago, the anti-capitalist movement discovered international summits as a tangible target for resistance to that intangible thing called neo-liberalism. But this approach was dismissed by some (wrongly, in my view) as focusing attention too much on the symbolic level of the event rather than on the broader reality of what it represents.

There is nothing new about targeting the infrastructure of the system, as the ZAD protesters at Notre-Dame-Des-Landes near Nantes, the No-TAV campaigners of northern Italy and so many others across the world are currently doing. Indeed, in the UK the late-1990s anti-capitalist movement was largely inspired by Reclaim the Streets and the anti-roads battles of Twyford Down, Wanstead and Newbury.

Newbury
Newbury

The strength of that approach, as the Invisible Committee and the Black Lives Matter movement have appreciated, is that it is a real physical attack on a real physical manifestation of capitalism.

On one level, industrial capitalism is indeed a concept rather than a physical thing. But on another level it also has a real physical presence, in the material world in which we operate, and can be challenged on that level.

Ideally, the physical resistance to capitalism would be informed by (more than that, in fact – permeated by, animated by, inspired by!) a profound understanding of what capitalism is and how deep it has sunk its claws into human life.

Ideally, this physical resistance would be the incarnation of a complete refusal of the industrial capitalist system, together with all the layers of lies and assumptions with which it tries to stifle our freedom, our desire to fight for freedom, our realisation that we can fight for freedom, and even our understanding that we are not free.

This refusal would consciously reject the biggest illusion of all – that the world can only be the way it is now. It would step free from the mind-prison of accepting that there have to be jobs, bosses, wars, money, corporations, governments, CCTV cameras, supermarkets, motorways, TV stations, factories, pesticides, drones, airports, chemicals, plastics, tourism, police, courts, land ownership, consumerism, insurance policies, borders, fear, obedience and conformity.

motorway

It would cast aside the absurd and unquestioning faith in the literally impossible myth of never-ending “development”, “growth” and “progress” and see the process for what it is – a cancer destroying our planet.

It would break through the mental barriers of regarding humanity as a collection of individuals, or groups, or peoples and see that it is one entity, whose physical existence is marked by the multiplicity of its forms.

It would shatter the concept of the “environment” as being something outside of ourselves and understand that humanity is a part of the living world, that nature is not something we observe or catalogue but something we incarnate.

And with the strength of this holistic understanding, this spirit of complete refusal would throw itself into attacking capitalism on a physical level, with a greater dream as its inspiration.

Behind the shutting down of motorways, city centres, police stations, airports, fracking sites, capitalist summits or arms fairs would lie the overarching desire – the need, even – to shut down the industrial capitalist system itself. Everywhere. Permanently.

And then we could all start to live.

Civilization is another word for capitalism

“Apart from the desire to produce beautiful things, the leading passion of my life has been and is hatred of modern civilization”.

These were the words of William Morris, written in 1894, two years before he died at the age of 62.

It is worth nothing that they were expressed within an article entitled “How I Became a Socialist”. Where today are the socialists who speak of their “hatred of modern civilization” – a civilization which is now considerably more modern and more deserving of our hatred than that which Morris knew?

Where indeed are the anarchists who would say the same thing?

It is a source of constant puzzlement to me that the idea of being against modern civilization has become separated from the notion of being an anarchist and regarded by many as a kind of cultish fringe point of view, to be sneered at with the same misplaced sense of superiority as that displayed by those who dismiss anarchism itself from the viewpoint of social conventionality.

After all, the civilization we live in is an entirely capitalist civilization. How can one be anti-capitalist and yet somehow draw the line at opposing the civilization that has been shaped in its image?

Obviously there are degrees of badness in a society and I understand how one can prefer one specific form of civilized society over another. For instance, as an opponent of capitalist exploitation, I would probably prefer a factory to be part of a nationalised industry than a corporate one. As an anti-statist, I would rather it was run by a workers’ co-operative. Ultimately, however, I would rather it didn’t exist at all.

Why do factories come into being in the first place? Because they are somehow an improvement on small-scale craft production? Because they are the most efficient means of producing large numbers of goods badly needed by our society?

No, of course not. They are all about maximising profit and about manufacturing products that can be sold to people, rather than those which are needed by people.

Why would an anarchist (or indeed socialist) society feel the need to have factories? Why would anyone want to go and work in one? The only reason people currently do so is to keep themselves and their families alive and maybe, in more fortunate parts of the world, in some sort of basic state of comfort.

In a future socialist or anarchist society, where wealth was held in common and wage-slavery abolished, this need would no longer exist, so who would volunteer to work even one short shift a week in a factory producing items not actually needed by the community and which were only ever churned out in the first place to make someone rich?

I’m not even going to start talking about environmental issues here, even though they’re of the utmost importance, because the argument stands without them. If you are not a capitalist, our civilization is simply not a good thing. Everything it introduced, it introduced to make money.

Railway lines weren’t built to allow people to visit their friends or take nice day trips into the countryside, but to facilitate the exploitation of the land, to bring raw resources and food to the factories and cities, to transport workers to their place of exploitation and so on.

Washing machines weren’t invented to make life easier, but to make money and, at the same time, to help deliver up to the capitalist work/slavery system a section of the population it had previously been unable to directly exploit.

For me, an instinctive hatred of this civilization – of capitalism in a real, tangible and indeed inescapable form – has always fuelled and directed my political rebellion.

I’m sure William Morris would have questioned with me the authenticity of a so-called anti-capitalism which can see nothing fundamentally wrong with capitalism.