Chapter 5 – Anonymity

anony

Insinuation, The Underground Current of Incoherence
Radicalism’s tame but dignified existence in the early parts of nineteenth century America was a triumph for well-reasoned order. Immigrant intellectuals spread the heady ideals of socialism across the newly-opened frontier, founding mutualist or collectivist factory towns across Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Indiana and establishing revolutionary societies and educational clubs in New York City, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Allergic to lawbreaking and violence, the communalists set out to foster the best-ordered and most-moral dimensions of utopian society. But as corruption and industry grew inseparable, a new radical energy gathered in the darker corners of society. While the socialists kept outrunning the company mines and industrial looms, a growing underclass either unwilling or unable to escape the greed of indecent men toiled away.

Only a short decade after the Great War, the polite pretensions of American radicalism fell away. This shift was due to two things: first, the Panic of 1873, which threw hundreds of thousands of workers into destitution and unleashed their fury; and second, the arrival of anarchists. It takes the entrance of a protagonist, Johann Most, a fiery German anarchist, to give shape to the turbulence. Inspired by Most, a persuasive orator with scorching rhetoric, anarchists and other radicals brought ‘propaganda by the deed’ to America. ‘Propaganda by the deed,’ an idea on the lips of the European radicals of the time, is derived from the earlier Italian socialist Carlo Pisacane, who argues that “Ideas spring from deeds and not the other way around,” so that “conspiracies, plots, and attempted uprisings” are more effective propaganda “than a thousand volumes penned by doctrinarians who are the real blight upon our country and the entire world” (Graham, Anarchism, 68).

A determined Most found propaganda by the deed straightforward and published fiery celebrations of the growing practice of anarchist regicide – and these writings often landed in him jail. After a year and a half stay in an English jail for praising the assassination of Alexander II of Russia, Most immigrated to the United States and soon published a pamphlet entitled Science of Revolutionary Warfare–A Manual of Instruction in the Use and Preparation of Nitroglycerine, Dynamite, Gun-Cotton, Fulminating Mercury, Bombs, Fuses, Poisons, etc, etc. Among these tools of destruction, he had a clear weapon of choice: dynamite. Writing in the Parsons’s Alarm, Most declared his love: “Dynamite! Of all the good stuff, that is the stuff! Stuff several pounds of this sublime stuff into an inch pipe (gas or water pipe), plug up both ends, insert a cap with a fuse attached, place this in the immediate vicinity of a lot of rich loafers who live by the sweat of other people’s brows, and light the fuse. A most cheerful and gratifying result will follow. … It is a genuine boon for the disinherited, while it brings terror and fear to the robbers. A pound of this good stuff beats a bushel of ballots all hollow – and don’t you forget it!” So with the arrival of Most, his dynamite, and propaganda by the deed, the anarchist siege against robber barons and the forces of the State commenced.

Striking fear in hearts of the three enemies of classical anarchism – The Church, The State, and Capital – radicals committed a remarkable number of regicides and other assassinations from the late 1870s through the early twentieth century. Yet the practice was not universally accepted in radical circles: pacifists, social democrats, and pragmatists hotly debated the principles and effectiveness of attacks on power.  Paul Rousse, French socialist and the first to coin the phrase propaganda by the deed, plays down violence when describing the concept’s realization. “Propaganda by the deed is a mighty means of rousing the popular consciousness,” he writes, because it serves as the pragmatism of the possible: as the masses are naturally skeptical of any idea as long it remains abstract, one must actually start a commune or a factory and “let the instruments of production be placed in the hands of the workers, let the workers and their families move into salubrious accommodation and the idlers be tossed into the streets,” after which the idea will “spring to life” and “march, in flesh and blood, at the head of the people” (Graham, Anarchism, 151). Echoing Rousse’s possibilism, Gustav Landauer argues that “no language can be loud and decisive enough for the uplifting of our compatriots, so that they may be incited out of their engrained daily drudgery,” and thus the seeds of a new society must be prefigured in actual reality to entice others the join (139). Propaganda by the deed thus has two intentionally distinct valences as either creative violence or persuasive prefiguration; one masks its anonymous force to avoid capture while the other loudly boasts about itself.

Our contemporary times are replete with radicals who have found their own boastful propaganda. Anarchists such as David Graeber speak about a new generation of activists that came of age during the anti-globalization movement who practice propaganda by prefiguration that ‘builds a new society in the shell of the old’ (as the popular IWW phrase goes). These ‘New Anarchists,’ as they are called, practice social justice and deep democracy although they cannot hum even a bar of The Internationale. Yet missing from this description are many radical tendencies that draw on the first valence of propaganda by the deed – to name a few, there are civilization-hating anarcho-primitivists, destruction-loving anarcho-queers, democracy-averse nihilists, and anti-organizational insurrectionists. There are many reasons why those elements are often disavowed or even denied by their radical relatives but one is obvious: these dissident tendencies draw their power from a dangerous source that resists legibility. Rather than constructing their propagandistic appeals on images of a well-ordered society constituted by a moral majority, these hidden elements draw on deeper and darker desires of nonexistence and disappearance. However, this opposition – the reasonable proposals of social anarchists and the excesses of their darker offspring – is stale, so perhaps there is a way to break through.

Is there a power of truth that is not just the truth of power? asks Gilles Deleuze (Foucault, 94-95). Written alternately in the language of anarchism: what is the propaganda by the deed if it is not just the deed of propaganda? The answer is found in a mode of communication whereby actions ‘speak for themselves’ – actions that need not be owned, named, or explained. Actions as expression without speaking subjects. Expressions that speak reason but do not prefigure. Expressions that speak passions but are not feelings. The expression that lingers when the thing expressed is nowhere to be found. In short: the force of anonymity. That is today’s dark propaganda by the deed. Continue reading “Chapter 5 – Anonymity”

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Coda

coda

In the beginning, there is escape. It arrives ahead of thought and vanishes before it can be caught.

And it is in this movement that escape can be brought to a close.

It Begins With Escape… (intensive escape)
Stories like those of the hill people resonate throughout the Metropolis, as many of its residents are restless souls that dream of other worlds just beyond the horizon of their own. There is something American about this craving and it is epitomized by the frontier mentality, which is an outgrowth out of sovereignty’s dual desire for conquest and divine providence. Yet escape exists far before the sovereign captures it for nationalist projects, for the first escape began before humanity or even life itself. In fact, the origins of escape stretch back to the earliest beginnings of the universe and the first differentiation of matter. In that sense, escape is the primordial movement that contains its own cause (Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, 172). It need not be caused by anything but itself – said otherwise: escape comes first and is superior, ‘escape is,’ and only secondarily does escape exist as a reaction or rebound, as an ‘escape from’ or ‘escape to.’ More concretely, escape is the process of change found in all things, in the indeterminate dance of subatomic particles, the origami folding of proteins, the slow drift of mountains, and the mutant speciation of organic life. In short, escape is becoming, the force of change, but described through its converse: ’unbecoming’ (Grosz, “Bergson, Deleuze, and the Becoming of Unbecoming,” 10-11). Unbecoming can be arrested, restricted, or otherwise limited in many ways; of them, cultural confinements of escape are particularly potent. Capitalism, for instance, clothes itself in cultural representations of freedom, declaring itself as the enemy of slave labor and state control by being the guarantor of ‘the right to work,’ ‘free markets,’ and ‘free trade.’ As anarchists have long shown, these freedoms are not escape routes – the right of the worker to leave an employer does not lead to free existence, for “he is driven to it by the same hunger which forced him to sell himself to the first employer” and thus liberty, “so much exalted by the economists, jurists, and bourgeois republicans” is but a “theoretical freedom” that is “lacking any means for its possible realization, and consequently it is only a fictitious liberty, an utter falsehood” (Bakunin, “The Capitalist System,” 24). Escape suffers an additional cultural confusion that is even more basic: the notion that escape is an odyssey through space. From this perspective, escape is a migration from this place to that – leaving the country, running to the hills, finding refuge. But “some journeys take place in the same place, they’re journeys in intensity” (Deleuze, “Nomadic Thought,” 259-260). These adventures appear motionless because they “seek to stay in the same place” and instead escape by evading the codes (260). And as long as we fail to distinguish between these two uses of escape, extensive change and internal transformation, it remains a confused concept. Continue reading “Coda”

gestures, grimaces, glances

… Newly arrived and quite ignorant of the language of the Levant, Marco Polo could express himself only by drawing objects from his baggage – drums, salt fish, necklaces of war hogs’ teeth – and pointing to them with gestures, leaps, cries of wonder or of horror, imitating the bay of the jackal, the hoot of the owl.

Continue reading “gestures, grimaces, glances”

The Urbanization of Insurgency: The Potential Challenge to U.S. Army Operations

The likelihood of urban insurgency — irregular (i.e., guerilla or terrorist) warfare in cities — is increasing as the dual demographic trends of rapid population growth and urbanization continue to change the face of the developing world. Whereas cities once provided a relatively better standard of living for people migrating from the countryside, they are now overcrowded and overburdened. Generations are growing up in the slums that surround the capital cities of many of the world’s developing countries, and infrastructures are proving incapable of serving the massive urban populations. And the situation is getting worse. Moreover, insurgents are entering this ripe environment.

Unable to maintain operations among the dwindling rural populations, insurgents are following their followers into the cities. In countries as diverse as Peru and Turkey, insurgents are setting up “liberated zones” in urban shantytowns. Such zones, which are nearly impenetrable, afford the insurgents many of the same advantages they enjoyed in the jungles of the rural areas. Perhaps most important, urban insurgencies are frequently linked to broader insurgent movements in the countryside. Using terrorist tactics, urban insurgents tie up the government’s security forces in the cities, giving their brethren in the rural areas room to maneuver.

Continue reading “The Urbanization of Insurgency: The Potential Challenge to U.S. Army Operations”