"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

Apr 5, 2010

Liberation or Power (Part One)

"The armed faction lies.
They recreate the state through their action."

~ Utah Phillips, "I Will Not Obey," Fellow Workers (with Ani DiFranco)

Possessed of a strong social skepsis, but rejecting my own complacency as an organ purges toxins, I often find myself caught in a tension between desire and observation. Specifically, desire for free community, for insurrectionary liberation; and the observation that the spectacle to which I belong has a greater continuity than my own desires, that the accumulation of power constantly threatens my desire with subsumation, sublimating liberation within the need to survive the totality of that control.

I need to feed myself, my children. I need to keep the flat clean, and the car maintained. Or I have to make the bus on time.  Everyone within my class, it seems, shares these same needs, these second order obligations. We have shelter, if only tenuously. This week, we owe the gas monopoly. Next, the lights. Then the rent, and all the various fees which in fact act as rent. We have our needs met, barely, bleeding always a sizable portion of our labor outward into the accumulation and power of those who rule. Our effort, their resource. And the fulfillment of those needs comes coupled always with the anxiety that breeds alienation.

Never enough, the satisfaction of those needs, balanced always against retreating desires. Desire repressed, abandoned. And the firm knowledge that next week might tip us off the edge. Casting us out, spinning us away from the forced participation which also provides the ground in which we learn to market our desire, competing against our need, a community of chains. Selling labor, alienating desire - we arrive at a parasitical bondage, leeching off our own repression and angst (and doubly so for those separated further by gender and race) to drive us towards an ever retreating satisfaction.


I have armed my desire, in the past, in small ways and several near to courting danger. So equipped, I overcame an instance or some agent of the machinery of control. The risk tremendous in the face of a pervasive, learned, spectacular culture of obedience. The obedience of invisible chains, bonds fashioned of our continuing defeat, our blind complicity in the alienation of our own desire. We sell our labor, and the exchange binds us to those who live fuller lives at our expense, turning us also against one another, subjects to a distant game of thrones, vying and competing for access to the keys by which we loosen those chains.

Caught up by our own desires, desires now shaped as traps, each fulfillment coupled with some degradation, some extra obedience, some additional hour, or week, or lost night with friends and lovers given over to the production of someone else's fuller life, concentrated in rent, and property, in the bullets and bombs which can any day break us. Spent on the cops, and the cameras, the pundits and the panderers, their labor also accumulated and alienated, to serve our continued and common oppression.

Rebellion liberates, but it provides no guide, of itself. The act of insurrection, petty or great, solitary or in union, breaks obedience, casting the colonial outpost out of the mind, or at the least depriving it of effect (if only for a moment in the history of a life). It does not grant a necessary clue as to what comes next.

Rebellion can free a life. Makhnovists and Catalonian anarchists, the Commune before the fall, Red Emma with a whip, or Thoreau behind bars. A child brimming with joy at the first uttered, "No!" A young lover, her first kiss offered as a forbidden consent.

It can also lead us to forget the origin of our desire, and its aim, to give instead all weight to the taking of it, to the force of arms, to the settling of accounts, to the claiming of the instruments of oppression.


Thinking thus, I've shunned a specific revolutionary impulse, the desire to seize control, to seize "the state." I acknowledge this desire, and the momentary purity of retribution, of justice armed. I will not repress it.

And then I think, I consider. At least, I try.

What must a person become, to operate that machinery of control, to have armed staffers, the power of coercion, and the hierarchy which turns other human lives into buffer zones, armor and expendable flesh?

Not for me. Not for me. Nor ever will I gift my labor to those who want it, even if the avenue to power winds through so-called free elections, through the auctioning of fealty for ballots and favorable legislation.

Seizing power, gaining an office, building a movement to take control of the machinery of state - these do not appear to fundamentally alter how how people apply that power, use that control. Power requires obedience, requires people willing to do as told. Someone must give orders, and others must obey.

Seizing the state, or gaining office, does not alter the contract of obedience. The power, preserved itself by the retention of biddable servants, vests in the doing of it. To achieve an end from a position of power, a person must give orders that others follow.

Call it what you will, just don't call that liberation.

The occupant of an office may represent a snaphot of revolutionary or voter desire, but that desire does not itself erase or eliminate the power that one wields, with the office.

Again, to have power, a person must possess others who obey. Obedience does not liberate. It validates oppression, regardless of the aim. The inducements of power follow on the use of it. Benefits accrue, as do allies and factions. Power opens up the possibilities for the fulfillment of desire, for the discovery of new pleasures and the expansion of old one.

Power rewards he who wields it, and he who seized it to liberate himself must control others to maintain it. His liberation becomes, with the exercise of power, the oppression and destruction of others, their lives consumed that his remains full.

Power requires hierarchy. Someone has to obey. In a private firm, a managerial feudalism, a military chain of command, an ecclesiastical order, a bureaucracy - power adheres to the occupant of an office because he can claim resources and obedience. The exchange of one set of officeholders - even by revolutionary overthrow - does not overturn or transform the culture of obedience. It does not abolish, of its own, the chain of command. The staff remains, and soon enough someone will use them, so long as they obey.

Seizing power does not translate into the elimination of those armed or obedient staffers because the taking of power preserves it.

To take power, you have to preserve it...

No comments: