"...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, 2012


When we - and by "we," I really just mean "anyone" - speak of social structures, what's being discussed are patterns of memory in the brain coupled with effort and labor. That this applies to structural racism, patriarchal relations, capitalist institutions and the like may or may not seem obvious, depending upon your temperament and ideology. These patterns of memory are acted out in material circumstances, and shaped again by those same interactions, so that society (what a loaded term, eh?) is a set of disproportionate feedback loops between belief and labor. It might not appear immediately clear that the abolition of the end-user material expression of these patterns - the kinds of labor which tend to reinforce beliefs - does not necessarily result in the abolition of the patterns of memory and thought. Work and effort reinforce, but they do not automatically and fatally determine the existence of beliefs. (I submit, for your consideration, the persistence of evangelically Christian beauty pageant parents, who make choices which routinely violate the tenets of their beliefs, without in any real way abolishing those beliefs as the lens through which stimuli are interpreted)

Social structures also persist in memory, despite the fact that the multitude of those who believe in their efficacy and concrete reality are not gainfully employed, devoted to, or in any way bodily attached to the actual, physical and material maintenance - to the labor - of their repetition. And it is repetition which gives the illusion of permanence or durability to these so-called structures. Observationally, there are no social structures to speak of - since these "structures" don't exist in the same way as even a rudimentary temporary cardboard shack exists, stands out and has tangible form.

A social structure - Congress, the nuclear family circa 2012, a corporation, the Marines, et cetera ad nauseam ad infinitum - is not a thing, despite the beliefs* usually associated with the assumption of its concreteness. A social structure is repeated behavior, and that repetition follows from the labor of performing in concert with others rituals, obeisances and shared work. And, no less effectively, accepting as true that the repetitions and rituals actually make a thing; passivity is not bar, here.

To attack, corrode, degrade or otherwise challenge the effectiveness of these repetitions of conduct and ritual, it is not enough to assume that a plenary future equality or revolution will do the trick. The presumed revolution is not an act of abolition. Revolution does not abolish. Revolution can only disrupt, and judging from the success rates of revolution the world and history over, not generally with significant lasting effect; even revolutions which re-assign the ownership of resource bases.

Personal and social memory continues and endures because it is repeated. Memory replicates. Since social structures are fundamentally the acting out of beliefs about the world, and since we are mammals who must learn how to become human**, social structures act as replicators. They capture the matter in a developing brain and convert it towards a use value, towards labor. It is not happenstance that those hierarchies which place a high premium upon education, religious instruction, familial edification and the development of children as future labor resources also replicate themselves over and over again with greater continuity and success. Furthermore, subcultures and demographic groups serve as reservoirs of beliefs which can, in short time, emerge out of relative isolation in order shore up, salvage or reinforce degraded social beliefs and rituals. Should you doubt this assertion, I would ask you to consider the rapid promulgation of anti-contraceptive beliefs (and organizations) in the face of alleged social progress for women, expanding outward like a moral pandemic from, until recently, isolated pockets of maximalist Catholic communities.

Against liberal, conservative and Marxist strains of thought - it might be wiser to premise any lasting change in human relations not upon the production and cloning of hierarchies, but upon the sustained disruption of the rituals, relations and repetitions which, when taken together, socially structure human behavior.

In other words, it is not the seizing of control which will break these chains. It is the breaking of the chains themselves.

* - or epistemes, if we want to get unneedfully fancy

** - "human" is not a value-neutral descriptor; it is perhaps the most loaded term in use


Will Shetterly said...

I don't mean this rudely, so my bad if it comes off that way, but "It is the breaking of the chains themselves" is the right-libertarian argument, so I have to give my usual response: Do you really want to move to the broken-chain paradise of Somalia?

You have to create the path to anarchism. That's all that Marx promoted. Most anarchists seem to think we can leap from capitalism to anarchism with nothing in-between. That always makes me think of Underwear Gnome economics:


d.mantis said...

I don't read the "breaking of chains" as a destination. It is not some anarchist rapture in which all social structures are demolished in a euphoric orgy of like-minded revolutionaries.

I read it more as a process, not a singular act.

Also, i need a road map cause how the hell did we get to Somalia from here?

Will Shetterly said...

d., it's true Marx also used chain-breaking as a metaphor, so I should be cautious about kneejerking when I hear the term. What provoked my comment was this:

"Against liberal, conservative and Marxist strains of thought - it might be wiser to premise any lasting change in human relations not upon the production and cloning of hierarchies, but upon the sustained disruption of the rituals, relations and repetitions which, when taken together, socially structure human behavior."

There are no hierarchies in Marx's thinking, other than the democratic dominance of the workers, the majority. Orwell, a socialist, knew that well. In Animal Farm, he's not attacking Marxism; he's attacking its perversion by hierarchs.

anti-robot word for the comment: foombeep!

Jack Crow said...

Will, I don't equate "Marx" with all or even dominant "Marxist thinking." All the same, I don't think Marx was anti-hierarchical. He's less certain and far more nebulous than his latter day saints, but force and imposition by means of a strongly centralized state is not something Marx's apostles invented all on their own.

Israel attack on Iran said...

Marx used chain breaking in a different context though, didn't he?

Anonymous said...

somalia, lol
i think the people of somalia still kill less people per day than the american empire.

Will Shetterly said...

Jack, there's a decent article about Marx and the state here:


Anonymous, you can find a little about the death rate in Somalia here:




Really, the choice isn't between Somalia and the US Empire. But if you simply smash the state and have no transitional program, you're left with Somalia.

Anonymous said...

Somalia exists as it exists at this moment because of...what again? where did their radioactive ocean waters come from? fukushuma?

bad pirates! go home & starve!

Will Shetterly said...

Anonymous, Somalia's been fucked by capitalism in specific and greed in general, but it's still a reasonable example of what happens when you leap to anarchism: the strong are unrestrained, and they do what they please. We need the people organized to prevent strong man rule.

Anonymous said...

"Really, the choice isn't between Somalia and the US Empire. But if you simply smash the state and have no transitional program, you're left with Somalia."
wait, so yr saying it's not empire or somalia, but without empire, we'd all be somalia?

Will Shetterly said...

Anon, I dunno if you're trolling or if in your view of the world, there can only be A or B. I think there are more possibilities than empire or chaos. Like Marx, I want a world without states, and like Marx, I think the way to get there is by doing something that's never been done before: having the people take over the state in order to dismantle it wisely.

Anonymous said...

hi will,

my point was only that smashing the state, by any means necessary, doesn't necessarily lead to somalia.

another point i would make is that states, the way we've envisioned and represented them for say 200 years, are pretty much dead. what is a state when the imf or world bank comes in with their structural adjustments?

Will Shetterly said...

Anon, we pretty much agree there.

High Arka said...

Somalia, like much of the rest of Africa, is a chaos carefully orchestrated by centuries of colonialism, culminating most recently in U.S. military funding of various strongmen (that's how they get "strong"), of both Somalian and Ethiopian origin, to encourage mass murder and prevent the nationalizing of resources.

Using "the Africans" as the "bad" counterexample to "our" western governments is hideously racist and unfair. The state they're in is not only a result of our rape of hundreds of years ago, but the ones we continue to perpetuate today.

Jack Crow said...


I see no evidence to support any conviction that capturing the states we have will result in their transmutation into better angels.

This stems, in part, from my own observation that "the state" is a fiction, and in fact, quite often a lie.

There is no state which can be captured. There is only power-over-others, which comes from having armed staffers and control of resources.

What is captured, then, is the loyalty of armed staffers, and the resource bases by which to keep them loyal.

I don't see how there is any alchemy anywhere which will change that lead into gold.

Will Shetterly said...

High Akra, "racist and unfair"? Do you know anything about the history of Somalia? Wikipedia's the easiest way:


Are you really an anarchist arguing for the return of sultans and slavery?

Please keep in mind that I hate all forms of hierarchy. I'm only arguing that you cannot leap from capitalism to anarchism.

Jack, are you really saying there's no transportation system, no health care system, no internet, nothing that's managed by the state that's worth preserving for the people? Can you imagine how many people would die within days if Medicare and Medicaid, flawed systems that they are, were shut down overnight?

The state is only a system of allocating resources. That's why the people should control it.

High Arka said...

Will, yes, racist and unfair. The past several hundred years of Somalia's history, at least, has been affected by resource theft administered by the British/French/Americans/etc. If you're fond of rude citations to Wikipedia, you might look up "colonialism" or "slavery" or "white man's burden" and see what pops up.

Being regularly and literally invaded and proxy-invaded, and subject to hundreds of years of extreme economic pressure to sell people and other natural resources under the threat of further invasion, Somalia (and the rest of Africa) is not a place to which you can fairly point and say, "Ah ha! This is what those darkies will do when they're left alone!"

Because they never were left alone. Somalia is now, and has been for hundreds of years, dying proof of the results of your choice of any or all of the following: (1) capitalism, (2) imperialism, (3) marketing 101.

Jumpjet said...

James T. Kirk. The Kobayashi Maru test.

If civilization is a framework of rules, and you can't win the game by playing inside them?

You cheat. Change the game.

Will Shetterly said...

High Arka, you might look up "orientalize" and "noble savage" and similar terms to cover the racist romanticization of human beings in other cultures. Seriously, slavery is a bad thing whether it's done by Somalis or pre-1865 Americans.

My point is not to denigrate or romanticize Somalia. It's simply to point out that it is the closest we have to a stateless nation. If you have a better example, please offer it.

High Arka said...

Whether or not it's "stateless"--which depends on whether or not you grant legitimacy to those Somalians claiming legitimatacy--is irrelevant, because it's constantly being preyed upon by states which surround it.

For example, a "woman" is a good, valuable thing. A woman can offer the world lots of wisdom. However, posit that the woman is surrounded by a horde of men who regularly beat her senseless. If she is unable, then, to do anything useful, should she be pointed at as an example for the best a woman can offer?

No; of course not. By the same token, we should not point at Somalia, and say, "that's what a stateless place is like." Somalia is, rather, the proof of what current and previous states have been doing.

If you look ever to shrines of the past to justify your future actions--be they constitutions, histories or holy texts--you will be forever limited in the places your imagination will take you.

Will Shetterly said...

High Arka "look to shrines to the past"? You're the one trying to explain that Somalia's history makes its present invalid as an example of the chaos that comes when you quickly dismantle a state. I, on the other hand, like to look at the present as well as the past. It's why I'll happily talk about the Scandinavian countries as models of socialism, even though they're very flawed models with problematic histories. They're real. When discussing socialism, they should not be ignored, just as Somalia should not be ignored when discussing right-libertarianism or anarchism.

High Arka said...

Somalia is not an example of what happens when you quickly dismantle a state; it's an example of what happens when externally imposed states are created, then crushed, then created, then crushed, in order to keep darkies weak, disorganized, and unable to defend their natural resources from colonial influence. It's possible that somewhere, there is (was or will be) an example of a suddenly-stateless place, but such a lofty example does not exist in Somalia.

In America, the state is a branch of American elite control with the enthusiastic or blase support of most of the population, whereas in Somalia, various states have been branches of American elite control with the arguable support of very little to no of the population, and the understanding by most that "the state" was not a creature of Somalia, but of America.

Here, we know that we're owned by, say, Lockheed Martin and Goldman Sachs, but we also know that those institutions are at least vaguely as "American" as "we" are. There, they look at their "state" with the understanding that it's not even a creature of Somalia, but of somewhere far away, with no real connection to Somalia other than theft. To be a prole or Outer Party member in America at least brings with it a formal relationship to the Inner Party. In Somalia, you're an Other even within your "own" "state."

Any model of ideal government that you could produce could be ruined by posing the question, "And what if aliens invaded and did ______?" When you answered, "Well, that wouldn't work out well, because the aliens would destroy everything," it would not invalidate the merits of your argument.

Similarly, to discuss "anarchism" or "right-libertarianism" and use Somalia as a model for why they wouldn't work, is flawed: aliens have already invaded and destroyed the whole thing. Their influence is so strong that you can only speculate what might've happened without it. And Somalia, being a corrupted petri dish, is not suitable in any way for an objective example of what happens in a stateless situation. It's an example of colonialism.

Will Shetterly said...

High Arka, you continue to miss the fact that Somalia expelled the empire. Is Somalia the only model for suddenly eliminating the state? Of course not. But it continues to be a real one, and should not be ignored with hand-waving about how it's not the land of your dreams. Norway is not the socialist land of my dreams, but I still won't ignore it.

Or perhaps Cuba is a better example: it's a flawed nation where life has been made as hard as it can possibly be by the US empire. Still, any socialist who refuses to acknowledge the Cuban model is lazy or dishonest.

I don't think we're going to get anywhere useful with this discussion--socialists and anarchists are like protestants and catholics--so I'll drop this now.

High Arka said...

Here is one of Chris Floyd's wonderful articles, including numerous citations to big-time, big-money, corporate media, discussing how the empire(s) was never "expelled" from Somalia:

Beneath the Essence of Modern America.

Many pardons for assuming that you were up on the non-mainstream history.

Also, this one isn't a "socialist" or an "anarchist."

Be well.

Will Shetterly said...

High Arka, just to be clear, I have never disputed that in chaotic places, empires work with local leaders--that's been true since at least Cyrus's time. In chaotic places, it's easier for empires to work through local strongmen--that's another reason I'm a socialist. Strong resistance requires organized resistance.

I trust you noticed that Floyd speaks of "failed ... policies". If you think the empire considers Somalia a success, you're very wrong. But we can agree that the empire is still trying to make Somalia something more to its liking.

Yeah, I do have trouble leaving new points unanswered.

Go in peace.

lucid said...

Will, if you hadn't noticed, the world is Somalia. That you think there is actually something besides the aristocracy exploiting everyone else for their own benefit, you're suffering from serious delusions.

The point is to stop reiterating the institutional means by which the aristocracy maintains its control.

Will Shetterly said...

lucid, I completely agree with your last sentence. We disagree about the means, not the goal.

As for your first paragraph, really, I hate empire and hierarchy as much as any human can.

Jack Crow said...


Briefly: No, there are no transportation (et al) systems which can be captured by putative revolutionists. There are people, and materials. And, if history is any guide, they are not subject to capture without re-establishing the systems of control and enforcement left-oriented revolution purports to abolish.

Will Shetterly said...

Jack, what the empire did in Iraq may be useful to consider: by destroying the infrastructure when they purged the Bathists, they created a fertile ground for murder, theft, and rape. They should've kept the cops in place under new rules.

Yes, there are people and materials. But there are also useful ways to use the materials that can serve the people. The big one, imho: the medical system.

Jack Crow said...

But those "systems" aren't things, Will. Their behaviors-within-beliefs. You can't capture them, because there's nothing to capture. You can only force people to continue repeating patterns.

Will Shetterly said...

Hmm. I'll have to think about whether I believe systems are behaviors-within-beliefs.

But you can take over a system and change its nature without changing its function. It happens whenever capitalists privatize an agency or governments nationalize an industry.

David W. Kasper said...

In Somalia, various leaders got together to settle their differences and organize themselves.

You know what happened when they tried to do this? The US dropped a bomb on the building in which they all sat. All 'sectarian' hell breaks loose, just like the US intended. See also Iraq.

Will - you don't understand imperialism, racism, ideology, the uses of 'law' for maintaining property and privilege, or the relationship between the global north vs. global south. Which means you don't really understand capitalism either. You're neo-Confederate hobby-horses mean you likely never will.

You're not even arguing for Marxism really - you're arguing for a more generous version of social democracy. Ain't never gonna happen.

Will Shetterly said...

David, here's a tumblr I stumbled on recently that you're sure to enjoy:


David W. Kasper said...

Yep - too ignorant to argue. So more with the gormless "misunderstood white guy" routine (you must watch a lot of sitcoms). I hear there's a lot of that in Arizona nowadays. Must the feminists' fault, right?

However, none of Somalia's nightmares can have anything to do with those US troops you were so vigorously defending a few months back. It's just those wild and anarchic "sultans" huh?

Your own "single issue" is... yourself. No point arguing with a guy who can only hear his own voice.

Will Shetterly said...

David, ponder your last sentence. There's much truth in it.

juan said...

''A little-known text by Marx, his 1874 “Notes on Bakunin’s Book Statehood and Anarchy,” explains the concept of proletarian dictatorship more clearly than any other.
Bakunin ridicules Marx’s concept of the transitional state power of the proletarian dictatorship, and Marx critically responds in his “Notes.” Bakunin writes, “If there is a state, then there is domination and consequent slavery. A state without slavery, open or camouflaged, is inconceivable-that is why we are enemies of the state.

What does it mean, ‘the proletariat raised to a governing class?’”26 Marx responds, “It means that the proletariat, instead of fighting in individual instances against the economically privileged classes, has gained sufficient strength and organisation to use general means of coercion in its struggle against them; but it can only make use of such economic means as abolish its own character as wage labourer and hence as a class; when its victory is complete, its rule too is therefore at an end, since its class character will have disappeared.”27 It is the entire proletariat that is to exercise this power.

Bakunin asks, “Will all 40 million [German workers] be members of the government?”28 Marx responds, “Certainly! For the system starts with the self-government of the communities.”29 This statement is certainly striking, but there are other places in the text where Marx more subtly conveys his radical conception of proletarian democracy.

When writing about proletarian power and the peasantry, Marx writes that “the proletariat . . . must, as the government, take the measures needed . . . “30, identifying the transitional government with the proletariat as a class. Another example: when quoting Bakunin’s critique, Marx inserts a revealing parenthetical comment: “The dilemma in the theory of the Marxists is easily resolved. By people’s government they (i.e. Bakunin) understand the government of the people by a small number of representatives chosen (elected) by the people.”31 Here Marx is very clearly implying that he does not understand “people’s government” or workers’ government, as the government of the people by a small number of representatives elected by the people. This is a rather clear indication that Marx is still faithful to his 1843 critique of bourgeois democracy.

Clearly, this conception of “proletarian” government is distinct from the bourgeois state, or from any previous form of state power.

As Marx makes clear in the above statements, he is referring to a proletarian “government” only in the sense that the working class uses general means of coercion to enforce its aims.

Proletarian government is not used by Marx to mean that some elite group (assumedly the intellectuals, as Bakunin argued) would use general means of coercion over the whole proletariat, for that would rule out working class “self-government.” Rather, the proletariat as a whole would assert its class interests over an alien class (by abolishing private property, expropriating the capitalists and socializing the means of production, disbanding the standing army, etc.).


No solid reason to avoid Anarchist/Marxist partnering, though I must admit that too great a proportion of Marxists have absorbed too great an amount of mainstream commonplace and are far from revolutionary.