Social Struggle||Sociale strijd


The right to Rebel

Filed under: English texts,General — Social struggle @ 20:54

This text is a call for a revolution always brewing, a declaration of war for one that is already happening, a call to arms towards an ever expanding and transforming struggle against society. A struggle that may not have an end, but none the less must be fought.

I do not seek a utopia, no perfect eternal state of things, nor do I want to discover some inner peace or enlightenment about the nature of being. What I desire is to live as I see fit, to be whatever I desire to be and to do whatever I desire to do. But against all this stands the greater whole of society. Because to want full autonomy is a sin and the attempt to achieve it is the greatest crime one can commit. In all things, we are compelled to act out a predetermined social role. From cradle to grave we exist within a web of different social positions and roles; and with those the norms on how to live, how to act and how to behave so that we reproduce the social hierarchy imposed upon us for the future generations to come. To defy those expectations is to incur violence in every imaginable form, in all places and spaces we are targeted.

We live in perpetual state of fear that manifests in different forms: ‘what if I don’t do as I’m told’, ‘what if I refuse to do as they wish’, ‘what if I fail this test’, ‘what if I don’t do this task’, ‘what if I lose my job, how can I feed myself’, ‘I can I keep a roof over my head’, ‘what if I act differently from the rest?’ ‘They might beat me or they might kill me.’ Conditioned, we run away from our fears. All around people are murdered, pushed towards suicide, the threat of homelessness looms perpetually over everyone’s heads, social rejection and even starvation are day to day realities for many. Even if we manage to navigate this, we rarely leave unscathed; our health suffers under these conditions, whether we face malnutrition, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, cancer and a whole range of mental illnesses; none of which exist in a vacuum where they are detached from the conditions of our existence. In fact, they are direct products of the society we live in and in that sense form part of the totality of our daily struggle.

Behind all this one constant exists, power. Power, not even in the sense of one person over another, because every level of the social hierarchy is a conditioned state, but power as manifested in the structures that define our existence. All power is at its base derived from violence because control and compulsion can only manifest in society by force.

It is (just) a social construct

A social construct is not fictitious. Social constructs are the very structures that define our existence. It is the language we use, the concepts and associations we are taught, the behavior we learn, the social roles inevitably we perform in and the values espoused. With those come the multitude of ways we fail in them or defy them.

The nature and nurture debate is completely missing the point. Our biology and our social context are inseparable parts of the same process. There is no point in giving this a greater essence or to regard it as an unchangeable fact. Genes are just strands of DNA that can be translated into proteins, how that expresses itself and what it does depends on far too many factors to justify determinism attached to genetics. In biological terms we are as alike as we are apart, there as many things we share between our bodies as there exists diversity among them; moreover this simultaneous diverge and uniqueness transcends even species. To essentialize this is to attach more significance to it that it deserves.

We are who we are, whatever the cause maybe is not important. We contextualize, or rather, society contextualizes the existence that we have to navigate. Class, gender, race, these are the forms we inhabit, the values we are given and the roles we are to perform. Within these structures we have subjectivity, created by giving voice to our experience of existing within that context and as such allows us to establish ourselves within and in relation to these structures. It is not just a matter of choosing labels, many refuse to do so yet fail in escaping the social reality they describe, others deny them as abstractions yet only succeed in refusing to name something. We may all be unique, but our shared contexts expressed in our social relations and grants significance to our shared faculties.

We do not have the power to simply deny the existence of these structures, others knowingly or unwittingly impose their existence upon us and that alone makes them inescapable facts of our existence. However, we do have the power to subvert them.

Dialectics of social constructivism

Who are we? Merely an amalgamation of social constructs? Victims of our surroundings, or as much active participants in the very same reproduction of those social constructions? Do who have the power to change them? Philosophers, psychologists, psychiatrists, and sociologists may have diverged that the self is shaped by our reflection on others and that our ability to understand is tight to the language given to us by society; but that doesn’t mean we stand helpless in the face of such forces. If we truly were entirely shaped by outside forces there would be no other, we’d be perfectly molded in accordance with the needs and demands of the greater whole of human social relations. Instead, parts of us that are not, either lie beyond control or exist in spite of everything else.

There simply is such a thing as an intrinsic influence on the part of us as much as there is an extrinsic influence from society. The dialectic of individual and collective exists within this paradigm. It is not a matter of abolishing social construction to ‘free’ ourselves, but the reshaping them. These relations were changed with time, had everything been a perfect external force of social conditioning our society would have been static. Instead, we see cultural shifts continuously take place, it is simply alienation of our own agency to externalize that theoretically as just a change in our circumstances. Our desires and actions do play a part in this process and the ways in which our nonconformity, whatever its motivation might be, are fundamental to reshaping those relations.

Each of us is in the process of navigating the language, the social identities and values they have to use and it is in that process that we articulate ourselves. The dynamics between needs of individual and collective identity underlies the duality of both the desire to be unique and express ourselves as we want and the desire to be part of a social unit and have ourselves collectively reflected in that social space. Collectivism, especially those predicated on hierarchal relations of power, require some measure of conformity. There is simply no unity in diversity unless such diversity is de-essentialize from the social rolls the membership of the collective must perform in order for it to be perpetuated. In the active engagement with trying to exist and express as we desire, we all exist to varying degrees within a state of tension with the need to conform. To not do so while perhaps the dream of many is to go on the path of self-destructive isolation. Only a few hermits among the many succeed in turning such a radical rejection of society in a survivable mode of existence.

In that sense, freedom is an ultimately futile concept. To be free is to be without context and faculties to articulate ourselves. We’d have to invent our own barriers to being in order even contextualize our existence as having a discernible form. The abstract form of freedom is unimaginable and equally undesirable. We do not seek to free the individual, or more precisely ourselves from the group context. What we seek is self-determinism within a social context that accepts such self-determination, rather than vilifying it for not reproducing the particular relations and values upon which a social context is based.

As long as we form a community, social constructs will exist, as will our subversion of their norms. Subversion is implied within their very existence and subversion does not threaten normativity, it defines it in its own antithetical ways and the two are as inseparable as there are unmarriable. Denial does not destroy social constructs and neither does subversion destroy social constructs. Instead, subversion establishes the potential for negation through the conscious redefining of social space that forms our community. In that redefining of space lies the potential to redefine relations between people and therefore alter social construction. But it is only the language and the culture that we change, not ourselves, we change only by virtue that we articulate ourselves within a new space.

This dialectic exists not, in a sense, in the form of the individual against the community, but the intrinsic self against the extrinsic self. ‘What we are’ for all its enigmatic origins and our inability to accurately describe it by language, precisely because the language is what is lacking, against ‘who we are’ reflected back to us within space. Desires, hatreds, forms of conformity & nonconformity, identity and conscious subversion are constructed from this dualism. We cannot and have not the ability to affect the intrinsic and we lack both by the fact we did not choose our birth and by virtue of our individuality the inability to possess complete control affect the extrinsic factors define our existence.

In simpler and shorter terms, we do not choose what we are and we cannot to the fullest extent choose who we are. However, even in this state we still possess just enough of a margin of freedom to at the very least have some choice in the matter of forming our subjectivity. As Sartre explained, in all circumstances we still have the freedom to act within the space we exist in and we do at some level have the ability to affect space even it seems impossible. We are ultimately active not passive subjects in the formation of space. It is that tiny margin of radical freedom that we utilize that inhibits external power emanating from social space from being that totalizing that we are entirely at the behest of it. The path to revolution is in realizing collective shaping of space is what creates power and as long as people reproduce forms of power they can also negate it. Political consciousness lies in understanding that, repression of subversion lies is us participating in that repression and subversion of repression lies vice versa in our participation of that subversion.

Against all mystification

Owness of the unique

In the margin of radical freedom, we possess the ability to formulate our own subjectivity. But subjectivity by itself is neither radical nor necessarily rebellious, nor would it really constitute a move towards negation by merely being radically rebellious. We create subjectivity, subjectivity is created but we are not just a subjectivity and not reducible to a singular all-encompassing feature irrespective of person. The fact that identity can in many ways been infinitely expanded to all points and that within each there is a multitude of subjective experiences speaks volumes to the inability for a social construct to encompass the totality of our lives.

We are thus unique, no matter our position, no matter what identity we claim, no matter what class we belong to. The space we hold may shape us, it may be used to define us and can definitely be used against us, but none of that takes away that the shape we take is uniquely our own. Inter-subjective positions and identities have a strong social character in the fact that they are created from a common language of experiences. While this in and of itself is good in so far it acknowledges the shared, it runs the risk of being enclosed by outside forces more eager on incorporating it into the neo-collaborationist forms that often require stifling language and patronizing lobby activism. Many so-called radicals make the mistake of rejecting it therefore on the grounds and in combination end up erasing many different points of struggle together with lobby politics; imposing a fixed narrative of digestible and impersonal content that ends up alienating many. This pushes many to the margins and makes the internal politics of cross-struggle one of perpetual conflict more perhaps that it has to be. What should be acknowledged is both the structural reality that many of these things have, while simultaneously understanding that they constitute an attempt at creating a common language for something that is part of us and not outside of us.

Any organization that essentializes this established identity as an external abstraction rather than a unique context that due to the inter-personal construction of space and social relations constitute a social subjectivity. Subjectivities themselves created in spaces of domination while defining our existence should not be held on to in this particular form. The process of struggle and the elimination of domination, while itself not resulting in the abolition of the particular, but only in the alterations of the social context that define these subjectivities, results inevitably in change. By clinging to them in their current state we risk understanding our legitimacy purely from this fixed identity outside of us and either the maintenance of its oppressive features or the establishment of a counter-norm that itself will reproduce different forms of oppression. Such as the enforced primacy of homosexuality within LGBTQIAP+ politics, that historically and to this day, continue to be spaces of policing people in a form of antithetical disciplinary power directed against the subjects within this space. Excluding bisexuals, transgender people and other people for not being or reproducing a fixed idea of non-straightness or queerness, itself inevitably reinforcing (cis)heterosexual matrix as the accepted norm in society as opposed to negating and dissolving it and liberating people from its social constraints. This itself can be seen in many more movements and groups, too many perhaps to cover in detail.

The freedom of forming subjectivity that is radically opposed to existing norms and domination forms of social power and space lends itself much more to an affinity of particularities in common interest rather than fixing it as an external form that must be followed. If we truly desire negation, owness of the unique persons in a struggle against a common enemy and not the fixing of subjectivity and identity into something that can be monopolized by the few against us for their own power is the path towards genuine struggle and empowerment.

Beyond the ideological dichotomy of individualism and collectivism
Understanding this, the empty notions of individual freedom and collective wellbeing have to be abandoned and left where they belong. The dust bin of philosophical history along with all the ideological mystifications of humanism and liberal values and the many socialist ideologies that even to this day fail to shed these abstractions. To embrace either is to direct ourselves on the paths that keep us within the lines of the status quo narrative that for its own need has to constantly play both for the sake of maintaining and perpetuating its power.

Whenever necessary individual freedom is asserted, it mystifies the degree to which an individual truly has freedom from what they inhabit by intentionally confusing one form of control with another. In other times the status quo asserts collective wellbeing, mystifying the dissonance between what is collective and those who exist within that asserted collective. In both cases, superficial alterations in the composition of power can often involve either open or hidden forms violence of the social order against its own subjects. The individual is always not the actual individuals but the abstract of the individual as the norm people are meant to reproduce rather than subvert, such as the honest hard working citizen against the lazy scroungers, or the rational actor against the constraints of the common. When the collective is asserted, it is always never the actual body of people within the social space of that collective but always the collective identity we must identify with rather than deny, such as the nation, the religion, the people, the culture itself, all are always under threat from within and without. To see the revolution within these terms is to ultimately succeed only in reproducing them, abide in a different from but none the less it is not enough to satisfy ourselves with a mere change in concepts that ultimately denies what we set out to gain in the first place.

When we remove all mystification individual freedom is collective freedom, individual wellbeing is collective well-being and vice versa. Why talk of individualism and collectivism if they are this meaningless? Because this is the language we are taught and the philosophical inheritance of our history. If we are to speak of liberation, to guaranty wellbeing to all and with it also including the ability to define ourselves as we desire, we must be more open about what we are actually talking about rather than speaking in the grand narratives of ideas whose only virtue is that we are taught by our society to have positive connotations to these words. For these simply have no more tangible substance to them than the fact we are taught to believe and our lack of critical inquiry that gets put into more than words.

Desire beyond egoism and altruism

To take it further: going beyond the ideology of individualism and collectivism means going beyond the rationality and ethics of egoism and altruism. The question of whether the individual or the group should be prioritized as both the agent and principal political subject implies similarly the ethical question of prioritizing self-interest (egoism) or prioritizing the interests of others (altruism). The futility of this distinction, though unfortunately never clearly articulated from denial of individual and group dichotomies, was pointed out effectively by Max Stirner. There is a self-interest in taking interest in others, even if only at the most instinctual levels and even if ‘interest’ itself becomes just another abstraction when taken out its context and into the world of absolutes. Philosophers spend perhaps too much time trying to find correct model of ethics to realize the model itself was the problem. Too much concerned with the world of ideas rather than the fact of life. Interest does not and cannot exist beyond the fact of life as we live it. Stirner was at the very least right in asserting that we cannot find it in absolutes and abstractions, but only in ourselves; which counts for everyone, both the most selfish and the most selfless inclined among us. The problem of domination exists in whether we are made to articulate that interest for the dominant power against ourselves, or we actively make the choice to articulate that in our own interest in spite of the power that is exercised over us by institutions and the dominant ideology.

Against this distinction stands interest in the form of desire. Desire is truly unique rather than an ethical or necessarily rational approach. Even for the most basic needs, to desire asserts no form that is separable from us and our social context and it needs to be nothing more than that. It may be fleeting at a point of satisfaction and unattainable as a condition to be without, in spite of the best efforts of ascetics that too is a desire, but it is exactly that fleetingness and the unattainability that spurs on the endless motion of existing and the actual fulfillment of human needs.

Morality as simultaneous assertion and subversion

The question if morality has any grounding in metaphysical principles is perhaps a useless distraction from the real issue. Morality takes the form of an abstraction, something that exists outside of us. But only because it obfuscates its origins in social space. Some measure of social conventions is always established if only to make social life seem to follow a fixed principle, simplistic but contradictory. Moral principles are continuously broken for the most basic, to the most grandeur reasons, they necessitate exceptions. Even the Old Testament does not hold its moral commandments in absolution. Moses after receiving the Ten Commandments is at several points within the exodus is commanded to kill many of his fellow Hebrews for displeasing God, due to the violation of other tenets. Morality implies as such that there is always something above moral law which instigates the existence of morality, like the Hobbesian concept of the state: the monopoly on the legitimate use of force.

In that sense, morality manifests itself as an expression of social power. Especially in the way it asserts a form of social dominance on what is and is not acceptable within social space. But therein lays also the issue. Since morality presents an absolute it inevitably gets into conflict with itself, because it cannot hide the inherent contradictions present in our social relations. It may be wrong to steal, but we also state that it is wrong to let someone die; somebody may commit theft to remain alive. Similarly we condemn violence as immoral, yet violence readily applied by authorities often far too arbitrarily to state it has anything to do self-defence. Similarly, people who engage in acts of self-defence often end up getting condemned for it.

As Noam Chomsky states: ‘the most elementary principle of morality is universality.’ It is this universality where we end up in a notch and morality reveals its dual nature in both asserting power against us and subverting it. If we sought a code of conduct that would provide everyone with a life that provides health and security and clearly delineates the what contributes to that and what is a threat to it, we would have to ground that in the actual context of our existence and not in an external universalism. It should not be able to both assert power and subvert it if it were truly universal. Chomsky at least at this points serves a function to point out the contradictions in the golden standard of ‘do to others that what you wish done to yourself’, which itself is a useful principle within a limited context when it comes down to state power. But at the end of the day, we end up juggling principles whilst we should be upfront in that what we desire in terms of ourselves and those around us. The state’s conduct in social relations stands in contradiction with what the institutions of power assert in morality; it is control in the name of a universality that is not universal. We do end up violating morality whilst asserting it against others for no other reason than that it benefits us to do so. Perhaps it would benefit us more to abandon it.

Morality is constructed and perhaps its only common principles exist purely because there is a common ground shared between all communities: that to inflict some form of harm upon those within the community threatens its integrity. This so far speaks for itself. But there is a difference between an intentional community whose union based on shared interest and the force of authoritarian relations who can only assert right and wrong against our interests. What do we have if we have to demand a level of respect towards our existence when we have to ground it in a universalized principle; from an institution which itself is not universal and only uses it for abstractions from our real and grounded needs? Nothing, except for old logic that is designed not to serve us but to control us.

We can poke holes in faulty logic and reveal the hypocrisy and violence inherent within moral values; maybe that at some point will call back power to some reflection or reveal the contradictions within our social systems. But it is just as likely to simply induce cynicism and indifference. Governments engage in the most unspeakable acts by their own standards, for which they go to any length to hide it from the public eye, while at the same time speaking harshly on those committed by others. Their morality is their own obfuscation and their own self-imposed arbitrary and self-contradictory system. We should point this out so that the government, the church, and other institutions of power may stumble over their own contradictions. But we are best to never fall into these traps ourselves. Our own is not a universal unless we desire to fall into our own contradictions, we don’t end up seeking a more moral system but a system that reflects what we desire. Ultimately moral principles are a poor substitute for liberation, at some level, the need for a moral framework implies an absence free association, in so far a system only needs to impose a moral code in order to justify injustice as morally right.

Right as power and power as right

Our own is our right. What is our own? Everything we can hold in our power. Some rights are inalienable, not because of metaphysical abstraction, but because some things are beyond anyone else’s power to take from us and can only be given away by ourselves. Our right to life might be considered itself inalienable simply because we are alive and have the ability to stay alive. But a right to life implies a right to the necessary means of life, which are not by default within our power, thus power from without is exercised over us because we lack the means to live.

The greatest mystification of the ruling ideology is that of ‘rights’ as granted to us and protected by the state. Constitutions speak of the government’s duty towards the citizens and the rights it is to respect. Right to free speech, the right to privacy, to right not be discriminated against on the basis of your political beliefs, gender, race, and religion. These rights have been won through struggle, an exercise of power to annihilate another power. But in the same way, they are merely attempts at incorporating that power into the state’s power, mystifying us with the idea that we derive these rights from a source power outside of our own.

In this form, rights become, in part the fault of their own language, simply another abstraction, hiding that our right is anything other than our power. After all, I can always speak my mind even under the harshest state repression and all they can do is kill me. That might sound like a harsh deal but right in the current context is merely a formality that contradicts the political necessities of state power. Even today the constitution has either to be rendered meaningless, circumvented or violated for state power to operate at any meaningful level. Ultimately reducing the most basic rights to bureaucratic procedures, as a result, we risk losing any sense that they are more than just words and a genuine claim to power over our own lives and actions. The liberal revolutionaries of the past may have made that mistake; we have the luxury to see this and the possibility to not let their shortcomings limit our potential.

Any right that the state affords us is meaningless if not purely an exercise of our own power regardless of repression. It is not enough to simply demand right, although this is definitely part of the process, repression rather than a clear instrument of strength is a sign of weakness, their inability to totalize power of life to that point they need active coercion in order to get us into line and obey. Against repression stands our defiance of authority imposed upon us. Only in realizing that we are the sole source of our own right through our own power and as such, it is up to us to defend and take our right to life.

In realizing this it simultaneously becomes apparent that our rights are not inalienable, at least not in so far that the physical circumstances do not by default match our desired potential. The right to life is taken from us by denying us access to the means of life and through that, the institutions of power in the form of the state think they can control us. Under those circumstances we are only left to the conclude that, if there is anything as an inalienable right that means something regardless of what is taken from us (as inalienable rights should), the only natural right we truly possess regardless of what stands against us at the end of day is the right to rebel. Even under the direst circumstances of disempowerment and therefore loss of our right, we still have the power to and therefore the right to rebel against the odds and fight our circumstances to take what we need and seek the creation of life in accordance with our desires. We can fight against the brutalism of the state and the harshness of nature and although we may die, a shot at a better more desirable life can become a lived reality rather than an empty dream.

In that sense what we seek for our own is owness itself, we seek that not in freedom as an abstract but in power within social space. The power to shape space according to our desire and make it our own.

The Unique and their Union

Justice in equality and order in anarchy

Taking off from the point of power and right as synonyms, the synthesis of egoism and altruism expressed in desire and collective and individual as two perspectives of the same construction, we return to the old principle of Proudhon. That “As man seeks justice in equality, so society seeks order in anarchy” and as such we can state that: ‘As the individual seeks desire in power, so the collective will seek autonomy in rebellion. Proudhon can be forgiven at least in his moralistic and idealistic use of language, he was after all as an anarchist in the early 19th century still strongly tied to the proto-liberalism of the enlightenment and republican principles born therein. The latter sentence says the same as the former.

Justice in equality

When Proudhon speaks of justice in What is Property he means social justice in accordance with his views on liberty and rights. Liberty implies rights and rights imply equality because rights are inherent to us and we cannot be alienated from our rights. Therefore rights are the same for each of us and liberty must also mean equality because if we are unequal we have no equal rights and as such, there is no liberty. Proudhon’s inheritance to the Enlightenment speaks for itself from this, but he was none the less right in pointing out the contradictions of liberals, who when into power quickly ended up abandoning equality as a point of reference when it came to private property. After all, for all their talk of liberty and the rights of Men, they had ultimately sought the power of the aristocracy whether in control of land or control of public administration; irrespective of whether they had consciously used this abstraction or just as much infected by the abstractionism of the Enlightenment as Proudhon was.

Power is the ultimate objective and the primary means, maybe not manifested in the same way for everyone, but none the less without power we are nothing and by extension cannot be anything. Just as inequality is a product of unequal rights according to Proudhon, Injustice is ultimately unequal power; as no one can use, abuse and exploit others to their own benefit without returning equal gain in-kind and base social relations on such terms without holding greater power over them. The pursuit of justice has historically always been a pursuit of power to use against the powerful that tower over us. The desire for equality is the desire to either gain power for ourselves or to tear down the power of our betters in order to put us on an equal footing in life.

To question whether this principle is achievable, while a favorite debate topic of many, is a pointless line of debate for anything other than where the answer is that it a means rather than an end. It matters not whether equality can be achieved, like the utopias and idealism, the point is not to achieve the thing in and of itself but to gain what can be gained against the conservatism and dogmas of the day. We have only ever succeeded in acting upon our circumstances towards our own ends and not let ourselves be victimized because we let ourselves be told that this is all there can be.

Desire in power brings it down to the essence of our pursuit. I desire not from the abstraction of great moral principle to be equal with rich, the straight, the abled, and the mentally healthy. I desire all the wealth I can use, to shape my own sexual relations, my body to do and go as I please in that and be emotional, crazy and out of my mind along the way. Against all that stands capitalist property, cis-heterosexist reproductive roles and (body) norms and ableistic standards. I desire no equality with the capitalists, or straight and abled people, they’re not standards I wish to hold myself up to or otherwise desire for them to be brought down to my level; the relations that produced these people simply stand in my way and should they or other people choose to defend those against my will, I will do use whatever means are within my power to subvert or tear down the barriers they erect.

Individual rebellion: The unique against abstraction

Individual rebellion, even if only at the level of thought, is the basis of any rebellion; and with that any move towards any kind of equality, real off imagined. Any ideology with moves away from this essential conditions moves the point away from altering conditions and relations to our needs towards fulfilling an abstract idea or conception, which will only serve to become the new focal dominating power over ourselves. This counts for anything, irrespective of its principles or content, whether that is the freedom of the nation, religion or the necessary historical process towards communism; even the anarchist principles can become a new dominating idea that suppresses individual power. Egoism of people takes primacy in all respects and under abstraction, it is those who derive their power from it who shall ultimately gain from the power granted to the abstract. If any sort of social progress, not in the ‘Hegelian move towards perfection’ sense but as ‘purposeful action to change conditions’, is to take place it will always come from an individual’s desire to act in order to change one’s circumstances. The move towards equality is nothing but this. Workers did not rise up because intellectuals invented socialism, but because the individual worker understood their circumstances as undesirable and less than it could be.

Dominating systems of power often rely more upon the complicity of those whom it dominates than on their own strength. And the ideological and cultural principles it creates only to keep this complicity going by presenting it as necessary, normal, moral, justified, etc. Whether it is divine right ordained by the Christian god that justified the idea of feudal class society or today’s still lingering nationality that precedes capitalist class society because we all need to work towards the general welfare of the nation-state through proper work and proper behavior. We make it work because we at some level and perhaps even inevitably work towards maintaining and reproducing this. People build and adopt entire social identities upon them. But just as much as we inevitably have to live within this social framework, we also inevitable fail or feel that something is not right. The point at which we use or reject these roles to exercise our own desire against their imposed roles, we end up challenging the beliefs and ideas that formulate their subservience.

The moment we ideologically abandon or reject the dominant idea we make the first and necessary step. Even under the direst circumstances, we can always disagree with the dominant logic and values and an idea will always culminate in action in some form or at some point, even if not one perpetrated by ourselves. Hence the importance of thought crime in the dystopian novel of George Orwell, 1984: where the party seeks to assert control not merely over the conditions of life but the thought and language of people within it in order to secure its power. Systems of dominating power over others preside over the exploitation of its subjects and under such circumstances, there will always be a counter, even if only in the form of an idea or desire and as long as that exists there will always be rebellion.

The move towards equality is not the product of an enlightenment thinking in an of itself or of weak moralism (as some ‘vulgar’ egoists might assert), even if futile a genuine expression aimed towards fulfilling desires against the dominant system. Because suffering, anger, hatred, envy, and longing are all genuine emotions that reflect real circumstances. Nietzsche is right in asserting that suffering is a necessary part of life and that envy is a good emotion in as far as the envy of our betters shows us the possibilities. Just as the slavish morality demands a rejection of these emotions as a means to keep in control the bottom classes of society, existence and acting upon these emotions constitute an authentic expression of self-interest. The will to power is not exclusive to the great men of history and their politics. To rebel and act upon one’s own interest against all mystifying moralities of subservience to law and class, is to be true to one’s own need and desire. As individuals, we cannot be more than ourselves, irrespective of what systems shape us we will always be unique and it is precisely that owness that makes us a threat. Even as we are powerless in the face of dominant systems of power will all its ideology, morality and other instruments of control they still lack the ability to take away our self-interest and our ability to act upon it.

No matter the circumstances, we always have to power to rebel against it even if it will cost us our lives. If there is such a thing as a natural right, the right to rebel, be that against tyranny, society and even the harshness of nature is the only one that truly exists and precedes the right to life itself. Radical freedom, the most marginal level of freedom is a source of power that cannot be taken away.

Social power: The union against society

Society is not just a communion of individual members, but an exercise of power on space. Society’s politics, forms and composition of social relations and the mutualisms antagonisms define shared and contradictory self-interests of its members lay at the heart of what makes a society. Individual rebellion against society’s aspects and forms; be that in the roles performed, values created or the forms of production can only go so far to effectively influence. Dominant power in society is a collective project and through the reproduction of that power, it maintains its form. In that sense, it becomes more obvious that power does not take the form of a chain of command, but a chain of obedience. Dominant power cannot be exercised as one individual over many; it needs to be reproduced in order to be dominant and therein lays both its strength and its weakness.

Dominant power is a form social power. Social power is a combination or socialization of individual power; by combining people have a much greater ability to exercise their power because there simply is strength in numbers. Power itself measures in the ability to create, control and shape material conditions, in the form of surviving the harshness of nature and shaping the form of spending live through forms of production and other activities, this extends primarily to the social relations we create in this process. Power can for the sake of this analysis divided several forms: naked power of “real power” is a violent power exercised through destructive or coercive violence, institutional power that through organization or form exercised by nature of command, consensual power whether power is exercised in with complicity, agreement, and consensus of its members. These forms exist as intertwined and are able to both mutually strengthen or contradict each other. To simplify this in a social context, where it is relevant, naked power is the ability to force someone, institutional power is the ability to command someone and consensual power is the ability to have someone want to.

To illustrate the balance they exist within and how they rely on each other. A king has, through his army, the naked power to coerce his subjects into obeying his rule, but the king only commands his army through the institutional power he is granted through the consensus of his subjects in granting that institutional power, which only exists because people at some level consent to be ruled and commanded or are coerced into it. In this example, it is either the Kings loyal army’s consensus to their king or the people’s ability of rebellious subjects to overcome the Kings army. Loses the army either in terms of their loyalty to him or because the army is overcome by a rebellious population. Dominant power can only be dominant via institutionalized power, but that requires a level of both naked and consensual power. Counterpower is measured in the ability to contest both and therefore threatens the dominant power. Institutional power more than anything relies upon others and it is there where its weakness becomes apparent.

Reliance upon others is a weakness for the strong and a strength for the weak.

Proudhon alludes to this principle in What is property? when he questions why the rich are required pay more in tax if equality under the law is an axiom of the liberal state. While proletariat’s freedom is never a threat to anyone and can even be to the benefit of everyone else, the freedom of the bourgeoisie, that is their freedom to control their property, is always under siege by society and has to be protected by the state. The irony of those empowered by institutional power is that they have to rely on others to stay powerful, while as common folk our individual power devoid of any institutional power is our strength; because we, as the powerless, can only become stronger by relying on each other for our shared benefit, the powerful are continuously threatened by the truth that they are only powerful as long as those they rely upon we allow them to be. Hierarchies are by their structural nature weak especially when they no longer serve a beneficial function towards their base; a weak piece in the structure can break the whole thing down and forces it to reconstitute itself.

Individual rebellion can disrupt the chain but it cannot break it down. Against one it can easily eliminate or compensate. But against combined and organized actions of many, both ability to ignore and its repressive functions are challenged to a much more significant degree. Even though we as individuals may the lack power, once we combine ourselves can exercise social power on levels that can reach those the state institutions themselves. Social power means we affect social space through collective action in ways simple individual actions could not on their own. Through it we can affect our surroundings; the institutions ruling over us and the very society with exist within.

Organized disruption is the primary means of rebellious social power. A society that depends on obedience and reproduction suffers more from mass refusal than assassinations or coup d’états. Every dictator is expendable just like every servant, but the institutions they are part of are not. Where ever we find points of tension between the institutions and those under it an exploitable weakness can present itself. Social power is not a matter of utopian ideas, thinkers and dreamers come and go with the seasons, but shared self-interest is an engine of rebellion more purer than any ideology. A sense of necessity and adventure are two sides of the same coin. A need to rebel and a desire to seek the limits of one’s power against the dominant institutions permeates the revolutionary spirit; and within that point, ideas are born, utopias imagined and old dogma’s surrounding the limits of human society are broken down.

Systems of power are as much ideas and values as they are material relations and naked force. The materialists shouldn’t underestimate the power of the human will to exercise power over our spaces and social contexts. Believing in the necessity and legitimacy of the dominant institutions are as much means of control and the raw power exercised over the necessities of human life. Domination the flow of information, communication, and presentation of ideas on one hand and the social reproduction of power relations through bureaucracy, management of production and violent discipline are the two interrelated sides of ideological and material forms of institutional power. The strength of social power exercised by rebellious subjects lies in its ability to disrupt, halt or even destroy this, and its ability to evade and survive the often violent repression carried out against it. Taking the streets, occupations, strikes, riots and full-scale insurrection, all of these disrupt both the flow of information and the process of social reproduction by both influencing what people are exposed to and maintenance of the dominant institutions of power.

Whether it is mass strikes of industrial society or riots of post-industrial society, these are examples of social counterpower and respectively the old industrial unions or the autonomous networks are the unions that exercise that power, the ‘union of egoists’; revolting against their societies and their circumstances, striving to go beyond the institutional limits and ideological dogmas of their time. The biggest fear of the dominant powers is that their subjects realize their potential power when they combine their struggles and discover the cracks in the walls of their social prisons; revealing the realm of possibility beyond the veil of mystifications and dogmas.

Order in anarchy

The realm of possibility is the ability to create and recreate spaces without the limits of institutional power and authority. The fear of poverty and the terror induced by the perceived harshness of nature is what the ruling classes of history have used to drive people into submission to the higher powers. Whether that was God and their priests, divine right and its nobility and now rule of law and its benefactors: property and the managerial classes, capitalists, politicians, bureaucrats. All justify themselves on the abstraction of necessity and all by their nature leech of our lives and seek to manage every aspect of it for their own benefit. But the more we learn, the more we think, the more we understand, the more we see through these falsehoods and the more we strike to gain control. Driven by our desire, our power meets at the point of contradiction with that of the ruling class and we force society operation in our own benefit while they struggle to regain control and expand their power.

In the struggle for power, we will meet each other on many sides. Kropotkin was on the right path when he saw that the struggle for survival isn’t just between members of society but also society against the harshness of nature itself. The more we meet each other, the more are forced to reconcile our unequal relations at some point for a shared need. Society seeks some form of order, one who says ‘society’ implies some form of order. Disorder is the disruption of society and society is disrupted through rebellion, maintaining and recreating as it goes; the more our power meets, combines and cancels each other’s out. The more we tend towards equality from a point of justice, the more society tends to find its order in a predominance of equal and voluntary social relations. This is the message of Proudhon’s statement: “Just as man seeks justice in equal, so society seeks order in anarchy.”

Anarchy is the mystical state of non-domination, etymologically without rulers. When Proudhon says “I am an anarchist” he perhaps seeks to shock his readers, but he none the less stays true to the content of his work. The anarchist challenges and attacks authority and forms of domination. In that, they are no less clinging to an ideal, but an ideal that more than anything else can be made their own. Whether anarchy is a realistic or possible form of society is not important, realism is the refuge of the uncritical and those too afraid to consider possibilities outside of the bounds of what we consider normal. Anarchism is more about the journey than it is about the goal: “I build no system. I ask an end to privilege, the abolition of slavery, equality of rights, and the reign of law. Justice, nothing else; that is the alpha and omega of my argument: to others, I leave the business of governing the world.” E.g. I’m not a designer of a new system; I seek to break down that which stands against our potential to realize them, it is the task of other people to utilize that potential for themselves.

I may not fully realize my dreams, my desires, but I can still work towards it. Realizing what I can and destroying that which stands in my way. The French revolutionaries never got to fully enjoy the achievements of their revolution, their revolution was only a point in history that left greater ripples in the process of history. If there is ever going to be anarchy I probably won’t be there to see it realized. The movement of society does not stop and our visions are only glimpses of what might be possible. Yet it is not a vague idealism, my immediate desires and the necessity of social struggle are two aspects that irrespective of my political principles cannot be separated from my daily life or my experience of living in this world.

Utopianism is an activity for those who can afford the time to dream of a future, daily bread is a daily need and alienation a daily experience for everyone; and anyone who in their struggle has tasted the fruit of human potential, the forbidden fruit of knowledge, cannot but make the struggle their life. It consumes us, but so do we consume it and make it our own; in social struggle, we manifest our power and seek to carve out a living beyond the limits of what is imposed upon us.

Autonomy: self-realization and management of social space as we desire it; combined, together we will take this to a massive scale. Just as we seek desire in power, so society seeks autonomy in rebellion. Even if we will never see the anarchy realized we can still strive to be ourselves and make social space our own. Autonomy is our struggle; it is our praxis, our theory and our revolution of everyday life. That we strive beyond the limits, so that may achieve what is possible and sow the seeds of the next generation of struggle; that they may reap the benefits and struggle in kind for themselves.

By acting in our own interest, together in solidarity, we shall plant the seeds of the future society in the shell of the old; and may the old with all its idols crumble to dust as the ruins become but the memory of times past.

As long as we resist collectively, collectively we will endure.

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