The relationship between capital and labor, between boss and worker, is and always will be that of master and slave. Just as slavery had to be rejected because it could not be reformed, the goal of anarchist praxis, as our friend Bob Black has asserted, should be the abolition of work and not its reformation.
At the core of anti-civilization thought are critiques of the social inequality and ecological destruction we see manifest in modern industrial society. It is disingenuous for the anti-civilization movement to support a class struggle ideological agenda if all it contends is that workers should get a bigger slice of the pie; In the final analysis, perpetuating the functioning of the techno-industrial system we seek to dismantle. That said, those who have (misguidedly) located the source of their very real misery in the unequal relationship between capital and labor specifically and who call their fight 'class struggle' could learn from a few points made in the anti-civilization critique. Here are my ideas regarding how the poor1 might fight against the rich.
On the Prehistory and History of 'Work'2 Anarcho-Primitivist (AP) thought is concerned with investigating the origins and describing the consequences of changes in material culture, subsistence strategies, technology, and social organization. To understand the evolution of what we call 'work' is to demystify its social history, clarify its current function, and offer a foundation for a cogent critique as we come to recognize its pathology.
Marx had it partially right: his historical materialism looked at the exploitation of labor in a historical context, tracing the roots of the social arrangements of his day. His analysis didn't go deep enough. Marx noted the alienation experienced by the worker in the early Machine Age and correctly predicted such alienation would lead workers into an intellectually and emotionally barren existence where making money became the only imperative in life. His solution, a communist state where everyone would feel a sense of personal investment in their daily work as a result of receiving a fair share of the fruits of their labor, was a dismal failure, as history has shown.
To understand and ultimately end the struggle between the rich and the poor that began with the first accumulation of surplus in prehistory, we need to understand the trajectory of the very concept of 'work'. The antiquity of class struggle is revealed by locating its origins in the first specialization and in the division of labor that consequently gave rise to social stratification.
The anti-civilization critique lucidly demonstrates that class struggle is an inevitable feature of all societies that accumulate surplus and maintain the complex social and technological arrangements required by the practice of domestication. The reality is that class struggle will continue until we reject civilization in total.
On Social Dynamics — All of us recognize race, gender, and socio-economic status (class) as major factors determining one's relative position in society today. For those engaged in specific critiques of racism, patriarchy, and social inequality the anti-civilization perspective offers valuable insights into how these social dynamics have evolved through time and how they function in contemporary society.
Social mobility is a concept used by sociologists to analyze social systems. Our affluent society is perceived as having a relatively high level of social mobility and this is an important construct for those who see the fight in terms of class struggle. The underlying idea is that everyone can be rich if they just organize, agitate, and demand what is rightfully theirs. This is a problem for several reasons.
For one, how much is enough? Is one ever being paid 'enough'? Where is the standard derived? Humans seem afflicted by a pathological desire to have more more property, more power, and more prestige. This type of attitude has no place in an egalitarian in an anarchist society.
Inequality between races, men and women, and classes based on these characteristics or roles is obviously a problem, but the solution does not lie in having a woman president, more African American fighter pilots, and well-paid loggers and prison guards. Being a better competitor in the race towards the end offers no real prize. The class struggle perspective lacks imagination. We need to envision a world that is totally different. We don't want or need to join the rat race with the rest of the rats, propping up an industrial society that will ultimately lead to disaster for the human race and every other living thing on the planet. Even if all the pirates mutiny and take over the ship, it is still a ship that goes around looting and pillaging the earth for personal profit. Which brings me to my next point.
Class Struggle Only Helps the Bipedal Classes
Any political agenda that does not include an analysis and critique of the ecological consequences inherent in the ways that we make our livings in modern industrial society fails to address the most serious problem we face. Class struggle arguments calling for radical social transformation with regards to rectifying the very real and detrimental patterns of social inequality fail to locate the true source of the problem civilization and fail to identify all of its victims, which include non-human species. Again, what is needed is rejection, not reformation.
All previous anarchist societies lived in harmony with their natural environments. The anti-civilization perspective has much to offer the class struggle analysis by demonstrating that what we call work in the technological society, that is, people spending their lives making things to sell to other people so that they can get money to buy things that other people spend their lives making, is a really bad way to organize your society; bad for humans and bad for every other living thing on the planet. This is an undeniable reality and an unsustainable adaptation to living in the world. As long as we are committed to preserving the current set of social and technological arrangements that allow us to 'make a living' in industrial society we will remain trapped in a destructive spiral leading to ecological collapse and social chaos.
Just as the deep ecologists and Earth First! movement received just criticism for not taking into consideration the needs of their fellow humans in their analysis, the class struggle agenda deserves criticism for ignoring the needs of fellow non-humans and the natural world. At the intersection of these two movements is the anti-civilization perspective. This is one of the main reasons why it is so relevant today.
,i>Green Anarchy's theme for this issue is: what relevance does the anti-civilization critique have to class struggle in the here and now? It is in the here and now that the working classes are recognizing their oppression and resisting, which is a good thing. However, the anti-civilization critique offers proof that the solutions for sale in the class struggle analysis are not real solutions.
The idea that the working classes are dupes, not willingly involved in an active partnership with the elite in promoting and maintaining industrial society is, while perhaps politically expedient, also condescending and patronizing. It reminds me of the people these days who say "Ooh, I am against the war, but I support the troops." What?
Anarchist societies are based on everyone's acceptance of personal responsibility and acting in the best interest of the group as well as oneself. The class struggle perspective suggests that absolving an entire class of people (the relatively poor) of responsibility for the ills of industrial society in order to encourage the development of a mass ideology (class consciousness) may have some revolutionary potential. This just does not seem like the way forward to me. Workers gaining control of the means of production does not solve the problem since production is the problem, socially and ecologically speaking.
We don't want to make the prison that is civilization equally lucrative for all (an impossible task anyway) - we want to destroy it!
The solution lies in re-learning how to live simply, walking gently on the earth, destroying the belief that civilization is inevitable or desirable and creating a society where all living things can flourish. The resolution depends on the rejection, not the reformation, of civilization and the belief in the possibility, desirability, and ultimate realization of a future primitive.
Notes: 1. I use the word 'poor' here with some degree of cynicism. Rich and poor are extremely relative concepts. When there are 85 million people living on less than $72 per year in China, can the union workers who are paid that amount per day call themselves poor?
2. The word 'work' here means the activity you, I, and the rest of the people in the world do for money.
[Editor's Note: re Note 1: Is 'poor' merely an economic term? Can't those with little or no capital not be 'poor'?]