And yet this is it, this life — the only party we got invited to. Marx told us as much about not getting to make our history under conditions of our choosing. If I’d chosen, it would be whenever a person could sit in a grove doing dialectics as an acolyte of the religion of Don Quixote, a religion which has only two commandments:
1. be a shepherd
2. live mad, die sane
That time would probably be communism.
– Anne Boyer
[Note: the following text presumes that the reader knows in their heart that this world is wrong––that any world with a prison is a prison and that any world built upon plantations is a plantation––and that therefore this world is wrong and must actually and entirely be abolished.]
[Note: the following text presumes that the reader knows in their heart that this world is wrong––that any world with a prison is a prison and that any world built upon plantations is a plantation––and that therefore this world is wrong and must actually and entirely be abolisheEach of us has heard, if not said themselves, someone in the streets proclaim that “marching isn’t enough!” And then we march –– or scatter. “Be autonomous,” we say. And when the moment comes for us to enact this with decisiveness, we look either to a leader or look away. The crowd that apprehensively waits either to act together as one or to fragment into molecular dispersion away into the night neither can find the spirit to be one nor the other. We’re struggling to be at all. Yet, these unstable transitions are also moments when we can shape our birth, emerge with clarity and self-determination. In truth these aren’t moments, because they are in between times, in-between time.
How are we to be? To be one or to be multiple, how shall we be? How are we to freely be ourselves if we have no self to be?
In truth, our apprehensiveness is justified: we have much to fear. Long-term we fear that this moment of unrest and revolt will simmer, temper, and, as many “return” to their “normal lives”, we fear, too, that such dedicated revolutionaries as have inspired our rage will flee to the shadows awaiting the right moment to return, while martyrs will have been forgotten and political prisoners should remain the only keepers of this revolt’s memory, tending to its hope behind bars. Short-term we fear that without numbers or popular support, fascists (with badges or without) will become more and more emboldened. We fear our actions will alienate those who are only beginning to taste the hope of a better world. We fear there won’t remain enough of us as arrests, bails, bonds, and sentences increase. We fear we’ll exhaust ourselves and our networks, that we won’t be ready when things get worse, which, surely, they will.
We have neither the numbers nor the tactical experience or materials to nightly engage in direct action. Nor do we have the same to confront the fascist caravans that assault our communities. Much of the work we’ve been engaged in is the unglamorous, mostly hidden creation of networks of mutual aid and support for the more vulnerable members of our community––houseless people and prisoners for the most part. (In truth, we cannot call them members of our community, since their existence is testament to our very lack of community; these networks of support are not for our community but are attempts to create relations of community where there are none.) Yet, as far as action goes, we have been divided––between liberals and radicals. And as radicals, we have been divided between those with ideas and practices of autonomy, spontaneity, and horizontal flexibility and those with ideas and practices of mass organization, solidity, or structure.
The liberals, they march to nowhere every now and again, they collaborate with the pigs, dine finely, sometimes they check the news and gasp or blithely utter some pre-framed barb, other times they’ll utter a radical slogan they’ve vastly misinterpreted and return to a job they’ve forgotten to hate. They don’t need to do otherwise, they don’t need to be otherwise. They are materially comfortable because of the very police and the prison world against which we’re engaged in struggle, and were they to do anything, be anything else, they would lose the very foundation of their identity, their place in this world, their stability, their comfort. Worse, they defend their inaction, they justify their collaboration. A lot of them haven’t been consciously politically engaged before. A lot of them believe in this world. But they have numbers and resources. And they will side with the enemy if it comes to it.
Yet, the division between them and us is not one that we have to solve or absolve. Rather, this division is the same division between those who fight against this world and the world against which we struggle. We do not want to overcome this division. Rather, we want to confront it, retain it, and consolidate power on one side of it: the side that is against this world. Otherwise, we will be defeated. As the liberal-censored version of the revolutionary Spanish civil war era slogan goes, “The people united will never be divided.” In truth, as the original slogan, “The people united will never be defeated,” intended to demonstrate, there are concrete divisions in this world––the only way to overcome them is to overcome this world.
Is this to say we should work with the liberals, compromise with their reformist, reactionary policies and proposals? Are we to sacrifice our beliefs, strategies, tactics, and theories just in order to engage with them? Just as we say, “NO!” to this world, so also must we deny them their legitimacy, the world’s legitimacy. We propose two ways of confronting this division and overcoming it in struggle. The first is agitation and the second is organization. As we shall see, this confrontation and possible overcoming will also address the division in which we have found ourselves––between spontaneity and organization.
First, we must actualize the concrete contradictions of capitalism in which we live in order to make this world as intolerable as it actually––though not in appearance––is to us. Secondly, we must organize all who in appearance––though not actually––stand against this world to do so actually. These are dialectically related to each other. The more the world demands one to confront it as it actually is, the more one stands apart from and against this world—or else, one demonstrates one’s reactionary tendencies and then one has to be confronted, just like the world. This isn’t to say we should make the world more intolerable, just that we provoke it to reveal itself and to be as intolerable as it actually is.
How can the world not be as intolerable as it actually is? The world as it appears in its immediacy, as we grasp it concretely and determinately, is not the world but is the conception of a certain appearance of the world––a world that justifies its existence in the progress of the past. It is the world that either ought to exist (for all pasts lead progressively towards this world as an end, even if this end hasn’t yet been achieved––our capitalist democracy, incidentally, shares this ideology with fascism) or the world that might not ought to exist but must exist since any other world would be impossible (for all pasts are past, “what happened, happened,” “we’re here now,”––most people, when pressed, don’t fully believe that this world ought to exist, they only believe in their own powerlessness to change it).
But how the world appears is not the world. What is the world isn’t this one-sided, immediate, determinate appearance, but the processes behind it that support it, reproduce it, and expand it –– primarily such processes as capital, slavery, settler-colonialism, and imperialism. These processes (and the dead that they have left in their wake) continue, have never ceased to operate because they are what structure this appearance of the world. They are what structure this appearance’s concrete reality. They are this world. And this world is intolerable because of what structures it. For in this world is not only the pain, suffering, and exploitation brought by these processes but also is the pain and suffering and exploitation that have been essential to this world since its inception.
In recognizing this world and its pasts we recognize further both the struggles against it that have also been waged since its inception as well as their failures as well as their hope, their possibility of being waged again, their possibility of being waged now.
How will this world be as it is? How will it be intolerable? Asking this question is an aporetic juncture that is easily surpassed. It already is intolerable, and because it already is, in fighting against it, we make it so. This, perhaps, is the truth of Che’s dictum (as repeated by George Jackson), “One doesn’t wait for all conditions to be right to start the revolution, the forces of the revolution itself will make the conditions right.” We can add: one doesn’t wait for the conditions to be right to start the revolution, because both the conditions have never ceased to be right and the revolution has never ceased to start. We are fighting right now because the conditions are right, because the oppressed and the exploited of the world have never ceased to fight, because the conditions have always been intolerable.
As Moten and Harney have said, it’s not slavery we want to abolish, it’s the world in which such a thing as slavery was ever even possible that we must be abolish.
Less abstractly, this means that we must simultaneously (and dialectically, each will support and transform the other) do the work both of fighting with those for whom the world is intolerable and of organizing those for whom the world isn’t yet intolerable (but is so concretely even beneath their liberal or conservative affects and ideologies). Our object of fighting is in the short-term to make the world as intolerable as it appears to be. And our object of organizing is in the short-term those for whom the world is intolerable but doesn’t yet appear to be. Long-term our object of fighting is this world itself and our goal is its complete abolition. Long-term our objects of organizing are working class struggles, Black and Indigenous struggles, anti-racist, anti-fascist, social reproductive struggles, LGBTQ struggles, and prison struggles.
What does it mean revolutionarily to fight? This is where autonomous and spontaneous organizing plays a crucial role. Often, when we hear the pronouncement “be autonomous” we hear it in the wrong context. We hear it at marches and demonstrations that either have no plan or no object either because they are liberal, reformative, permitted, and nonviolent or because the attempt is to bring in more liberals to an action that might spill over into something larger. The former we don’t have to engage with quite yet. The latter has in some places had some success, often because the pigs are eager to engage violently or because there have already been wider escalations, but in other places where there is more order, more trust in the pigs, more sham, faux progressivism, the liberals don’t come and the radicals put themselves at risk for nothing.
(The riot, being the paroxysmal peak expression of both spontaneity and autonomy, doesn’t quite belong to this study, if only because it belongs not to the temporality of revolution but to the temporality of revolt. If revolution is the transition away from this world to a better world––a transition that is not one of continuity, extending the present to the future, but of overcoming the present––the revolt (and the riot is only one of its many forms, others being prison riots, jailbreaks, plantation escapes, etc.) is the immediate instantiation of the future towards which we struggle now in an eruption against this now. If revolution is tomorrow, revolt is always the day after tomorrow, but now. Yet because of its immediacy––true spontaneity and autonomy––it cannot be planned in advance, being antithetical to planning. Though it is always awaiting its emergence, it can only be embraced upon occurrence.
Its ambivalence, too, means that the state can seize upon its moment of temporal crisis to institute such state of emergence as will yield an ever-greater sphere of control. Yet, the state has never not ceased to do this, riot or not.)
Autonomy and spontaneity must be organized in order to be successful. To be autonomous, means to be separate from this world. For there is no autonomy in this world. False individuals reign in chains. If there is to be autonomy, it will only be in the act of breaking of chains in a world entirely enchained. One’s actions can only be one’s own if they are directed against this world from without it. To be spontaneous (which originally means self-willed, but also somehow means “happening at once without a will”) means also to be separate from this world and to be directed against it in one’s actions, but it also means that one’s actions take a specific form and a specific object––a specific aim.
One can be entirely creative (creatively destructive) and imagine anything! But such revolutionary action, which might sometime occur in larger marches, organized or unorganized, could better be taken from an autonomous, spontaneous separation from this world in order truly to be against it. Secrecy and security are the rule. Ultimately, this is a call to action. Why should we wait when we can act now? What will they do to us if we engage that they have not done to countless others for centuries? Remember, our oppressors have names and addresses. Remember, glass can easily shatter, and tinder can easily spark. Remember, people are always acting, everywhere. All we have to do is join them.
What does it mean revolutionarily to organize? We don’t have time to engage in the projects of presidents, nor do we have time to wait for a new party. In any case, “don’t say join the party, say fuck the police.” So, where should we be directing our efforts in organizing our “communities”? There are two paths to consider. One is related to the social reproductive aspect of providing resources to people in order to sustain larger, longer committed struggles. The other is related to amplifying and escalating these struggles themselves in the large and long-term, articulating compositions of unity around apparently disparate struggles in different domains (time, space, identity, memory, geography, etc.).
The mutual aid projects that we have been engaged in shouldn’t one-sidedly be understood as merely providing resources to those who have few or none, as if all that was required of us is simply to redistribute wealth (which, without seizing the means of production, will still perpetuate the same system, etc.) Rather, it should be seen as the activity that it is––an activity of caring that bolsters community where before there were only isolated individuals. For, community is not a given. A community is not individuals in close proximity to each other; borders are everywhere. A community is an activity of reciprocal struggle against what divides, impoverishes, and exploits. Not merely providing resources, though this is incredibly important, but establishing infrastructure beyond the state among a growing ‘we’ that can fight it.
Again, merely providing resources is not enough. Think, for instance, about where all of millions of dollars of donated bail funds go––back to the state. While most of these projects are expressions of our defensiveness––helping to move people experiencing houselessness instead of blockading the sweeps to stop them once and for all, organizing to shut down tenants courts and to stop evictions instead of opening all of the empty houses for everyone, phone zaps and rallies to urge the state to release people from prisons instead of freeing them all and setting fire to the American plantation––to grow them and to nurture their long-term survival means also to ground our long-term struggles in an infrastructure beyond the state that can maintain us in our fight.
More importantly, we need to move people away from the farcical façade of electoral politics. Our struggle cannot and must not be waged in the ballot booth, it must not and cannot be waged in the confines of the state’s framework of legitimacy. Rather, our power arises through and is bolstered by identifying people’s pains wherever they arise and in engaging in direct and protracted struggle against the systems that leave such suffering in their wake. Our task is to articulate these pains in such a way as can bring a stop to the “normal” spatial and temporal functioning of everyday life. From the workplace to the neighborhood, one can identify struggles in one’s own life that are deeply interconnected with struggles near and far. One can organize and one can escalate and one can win.
Such functioning of normality, of everydayness operates essentially through a forgetting of this pain. We must throw a wrench into its gears of normality, grind everydayness to a halt. For such pain is anathema to this world; it not only is the critique of this world, the perspective from where we condemn this world, but it also that which is so totally other from the world that, remaining apart from it, it contains the possibility of both this world’s destruction and the better world that from its cracks shall emerge, redemptive. We cannot only merely remember, ceaselessly indicating the existence of this pain, we have to make it such that pain cannot be forgotten, cannot be justified, cannot be waved or waived away. After all, an injury to one is an injury to all. After all, the existence of even one person’s suffering is enough for the world to burn. After all, there is a world to make.
We must, therefore, not only organize to alleviate this pain wherever it arises, but we also must articulate, actualize, and force the abstract crises that produce this pain to be as concrete as they actually are. This means that every sweep must incite outrage, every eviction, every deportation, every pig’s very existence, every poor, struggling single mother, every diseased animal and barren patch of soil, every abhorrent capitalist’s wage theft, every preventable death, every use of solitary confinement, every missing Indigenous woman must incite a response from us that materializes for them the consequences of abusing and exploiting us. This is what it means to materialize a crisis––to make the reproduction of this world as unsustainable right now as it actually is.
We must also, therefore, articulate connections and compositions between apparently disparate pains so as to struggle on every facet and front. This requires flexibility: dropping long-term campaigns for newly emergent injustices and the movements against them, changing tactics on a whim, escalating when it is required, shifting from the defensive to the offensive and back again. This also requires listening, understanding, fighting alongside with, and earning trust. Solidarity is not something that one can state, one has to demonstrate it––and, of course, the time for allies is over (in truth, we never needed them); we need accomplices in struggle. This means that everyone must join the project of revolution even if to them the project is only a small, localized task that might seem rather mundane. Everyone has a place, and we must be welcoming.
To seriously think about recruitment, expansion, and escalation we must ponder and enact what struggles we can engage in and win now––and whose trust we can gain in the process. The reproduction of this world has concrete infrastructure however much it tries to abstract its functioning into some airy conception of “the market,” “politics,” or “governance.” And like all infrastructure, its flows, routes, and ways can be obstructed in a multitudinous of ways. Capital, our enemy, has many faces, many names, and many spaces, times, people, land, etc. to exploit, extinguish, then move to others. This is its cycle of perpetual surplus and crisis. Yet, this hydra can be beheaded. Once we can identify certain struggles to be waged now and won, our enemy will cease to be abstract and all-consuming while our power will cease to be only a potential.
Most of us are resigned to our own powerlessness; this is why we must demonstrate what our power looks like now. From one strike to one blockade, from one sit-in to one occupation, from one rent strike, to … , to … , to … , we must begin and never cease to being the long revolutionary risk of a better world. Overall, we must be militant, but we must never be silent, until the entire prison world is reduced to ashes.
For a world without police
For a world without prisons
Black lives matter