I just revisited Introduction to the Apocalypse, an anonymous anarchist text I read when it came out in 2009. Back then, being into this stuff meant hanging out on LATOC, a message board that had a dedicated board called “tinfoil” for conspiracy theory. It was the vanguard of understanding what’s going on, a gathering place of right-wing survivalists, anarchists, and people thinking through the implications of peak oil and climate change.
Politics nowadays is confusing, because I see things I’ve known about since 2009 in the news presented like they’re new and you’re allowed to talk about them. I seriously lost relationships with friends and family members for talking about plainly obvious things they weren’t emotionally ready for. Maybe now, in 2017, it’s a good time to revisit Introduction to the Apocalypse.
All of us secretly desire for this world to end. The future lasts forever. Or at least, it used to. The grand illusion of Western civilisation has always been the myth of progress, namely that the flow of history would beneficently extend into an infinite future. To our parents, civilisation offered houses in the suburbs, computers, and automobiles. And civilisation delivered. To the children of these workers, civilisation offered life on the moon, artificial intelligence, endless peace. All of which have failed to emerge. While our parents cling to the belief that someday the mortgage will be repaid and they can retire in happiness, their lost children know this is a lie. This world offers nothing to us: no meaningful work, no rest, no future — only fear. Over and over again, we find ourselves conditioned like rats by the images of not just our own death, but of total destruction. From the collapse of the World Trade Centre to the alien invasion, from the spectre of nuclear war to the hole in the ozone layer — and now the melting glaciers — these images ingrain themselves in our very being. These images are nothing more than modern projections of the deep-set fantasy of all religions: the apocalypse.
Today, catastrophic climate change is the image of the apocalypse. Nothing has escaped the touch of humanity, from the deepest oceans to the atmosphere itself. There is little doubt that carbon emissions caused by human activity may bring about the end of the world as we know it. It’s just a matter of listening to the ticking of the doomsday clock as it counts down to a climactic apocalypse. Never before in recorded history has the question of the earth’s survival been so starkly posed, and never before has such news been greeted with such indifference.
I’ve always felt that the Jehovah’s Witness upbringing introduced Armageddon into the realm of possibility, so I didn’t have a mental block against thinking things through to their terrifying conclusions. The older I get, the more I appreciate the JW stuff as a metaphor. If you think of Satan as the temptation of certain psychological tendencies, Satan the Devil’s insidious influence is pervasive in this world. Few are the righteous. Our wickedness will result in our total destruction, except for the morally upright and steadfast. It’s a revenge fantasy against everybody, at the same time.
This is like being a Jehovah’s Witness, except it’s based on actual science. Isn’t that fucked up?! You know what else predicted increased natural disasters and great wars? The Book of Revelation.
It just occurred to me that I was raised in a cult that focused on the shamanic visionary stuff in the Bible. Despite literal-mindedness.
Anyway, it’s worth it to admit how bleak it is and grieve it. It helps to know about Camus and absurdism. It also helps to have scientific context:
All signs indicate that the apocalypse is underway right at this moment, not an event in some distant future. The sudden reality of the apocalypse is not to be doubted by anyone who has any protracted connection to the planet, from gardeners to nomads. Only in the cocoon-like and concrete metropolis, where any connection to the vast array of nonhuman life has been sundered long ago, can anyone fail to notice that the “natural” world is in a state of advanced destruction. Our society claimed to be possessed of miraculous powers. These miracles have become perverse. The fish have left the seas: soon the North Sea will be devoid of cod, as the warming oceans devastate the plankton which are their main food source. Fertile land becomes desert: the emptying of the vast Ogallala aquifer, the tremendous heat waves in France, the fires in Greece. To dream of milk and honey in this age is absurd; the honey bees have disappeared, leaving their hives empty and threatening the reproduction of even the flowers. Even our breast-milk is full of toxins. Our ancestors would be shocked beyond belief that it took so little time to make the world not only unbearable, but uninhabitable.
For those who can remember that our planet lives not only in political history but in geological time, a wave of massive extinction has commenced, aptly named the “anthropocene” extinction event. Nearly half of all species may be gone within the coming decades. Perhaps therein lies the source of a vague feeling of guilt and an inability to even appreciate other species except as cartoons or in cages? The only comparable extinction event in fossil records is the Permian-Triassic extinction event of nearly two-hundred and fifty million years ago, in which nearly all sea life died and three-quarters of animals on land. The cause of the earlier “Great Dying” of the Permian Triassic extinction event is almost certainly global warming of between 5 and 6 degrees. Great volcanic eruptions in Siberia released huge amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gases into the air, resulting in a warming that led to the release of the even more dangerous methane trapped in ice — a gas twenty times more potent than carbon dioxide. This wiped out almost all life in the oceans and nearly all life on land. There is perpetual fear that we will soon encounter positive feedback cycles, events like the destruction of the Brazilian and African rainforests that will cause an inexorable skyrocketing of carbon emissions, making catastrophic climate change inevitable. Due to climate change, already we are seeing evidence that the permafrost in Siberia is melting in an area the size of France and Germany combined, and billions of tons of methane may soon be released: a “tipping point” straight into extinction.
When you see it, that you’re witnessing such an event, you’re struck with religious awe. How far is this mindset from global warming denial?
Everyone knows the task of our generation is the overthrow of the existing order, yet like the early Christians describing the end of feudalism in religious rather than political language, our generation is unable to express the obvious necessity of revolution in any more than the scientific language of catastrophic climate change. The closest parallel to our era is then the Peasant Wars of the late middle ages, where the peasant insurrectionists phrased what was fundamentally the desire for a social revolution in religious terms. Perhaps then it is not without a sense of irony that a “climate camp” to reduce carbon emissions seized Blackheath, where centuries earlier Wat Tyler and an insurrectionary army of peasants nearly overthrew the English monarchy: the first of modern failed revolutions. As Engels noted, it would take centuries for a revolutionary language to be created that could phrase the struggle of beggar-kings and heretic priests like Thomas Muntzer for “omnia est communia”, for everything to be held in common, to be phrased in a way that could be understood without God. The first step in overthrowing the present order is no different: to formulate a new political language of insurrection from the scientific language of catastrophic climate change.
Anarchists are not quitters. Chaotic good.
Let’s get down to business. The first step is knowing what the fuck is going on.
To push away that which is closest to us, our very form of life, and see it objectively — this might seem impossible. Yet it is not: the first step is to give our form of life a name, to identify it as something finite in time and space, so capable of ending. This perpetual present that has its only favor being the certainty of its own destruction has a name: capitalism. Capitalism is based on an equation so simple a child could understand it: technology plus human labour plus natural resources creates commodities. These commodities can be either more technology for production — otherwise known as capital — or commodities for consumption. The iron law of value states that everything may become a commodity to be exchanged for some value, and value is incarnated as monetary price. Commodities are exchanged not to fulfill human needs, but to accumulate more value. The flow of commodities produces flows of carbon as a trivial side-effect of industrial production, and hence the destruction of our entire ecosystem is built into the logic of capitalism. The constantly decreasing term in our equation is the finite “natural” resources of our planet, which taken to their wild asymptotic end spells the real possible extinction of the vast majority of currently existing forms of life.
Capitalism is a relationship based on force and class division. For capitalism to continue the vast majority of humanity must sell our time producing more wealth for the capitalist bourgeoisie. The vast majority of humanity has no option but to sell its labour upon the market in return for commodities to help them survive. The proletariat, the “working-class” in its broadest sense, includes the vast amounts of excluded and unemployed (who stand as a reserve army of labour) that are not necessarily actually at work, and so consists of everyone who have nothing except their time to sell. The bourgeoisie, also called capitalists or owning classes, are those that own the capital.
Capitalism tends to go hand-in-hand with private property, as all of these commodities, resources and capital are private property, owned by an individual, corporation, or even the state. The inescapable logic of capitalism is then to colonize every sphere of life, assigning that which was held in common both a private owner and value. This double operation must take place so that this newly valued commodity can be exchanged on the market in order to produce more profit for its owner, and hence, expand value and capitalism. As capitalism has now encompassed the entire globe, it needs new kinds of commodities. Even the most immaterial components of life — from our genes to our future (via insurance) — can be given a price. There seems to be possibly infinite commodities; these are so-called “immaterial” commodities in the form of code, emotions, and knowledge itself. The inconvenient truth is that even the most immaterial of commodities such as the Internet or intellectual property rests upon a firmly material foundation, currently the foundation of oil-based products such as food, plastic, computers.
Anarchism is about social relations. Anarchist theory understands capitalism as a system of social relations. How do we organize daily life? Capitalist values pervade all aspects of life, including our sex lives and our sense of self.
You keep following the logic, and all of a sudden you find yourself in scary places:
Far into the horizon, the coal moves endlessly down the conveyor belt, from open-cast coal mine to the smoke-stacks of the power plant. In Glentaggart suddenly there is a break, a rupture, something almost unheard of: sabotage. The belt has been cut; the coal tumbles to the ground. Sabotage is the elementary form of resistance to capitalism. And so, sabotage is simultaneously the elementary form of preventing catastrophic climate change.
Sabotage is a generalised phenomenon. Everyone is doing it. Who doesn’t hate their job? As capitalism tries to squeeze ever more productivity out of people, workers themselves attempt to self-manage, perhaps by reading “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” or other self-help books, blaming themselves for their persistent depression. More often workers go insane, and if wealthy will end up in psychiatrist offices… and if not, homeless on the street. No one can work all the time unless they somehow self-manage themselves into becoming part and parcel of capital itself. In response to the frantic pace of capitalism, there is the proliferation of everyday resistance to capitalist productivity. This can take two forms: First, that of individual ‘acts’ of resistance or survival, taking sick days from work, sleeping in, stealing, fake benefit claims, the sabotage of equipment. The second form, that of collective action through strikes or occupations is more dangerous to capitalisms maintenance. As such the state and the capitalist owning class have developed tactics to deal with such threats. These can take forms ranging from the police club to the scab union official.
A limited and controlled amount of sabotage is the grease behind the wheels of the capitalist machine. A small amount of stolen time for “tobacco breaks” is tolerated, as is the use of computers for checking personal e-mail and playing video games in offices. These activities are not clamped down either because they are not noticed, or because truly wise managers realise this small amount of sabotage is necessary to prevent the working-class from going insane at work. To give the worker at least some minor level of autonomy is necessary for the smooth operation of the entire machine.
It’s obvious that society would collapse if everyone thought that way. That’s the point! There’d be anarchy!
Imagine if these ideas had spread among the “white working class”:
Sabotage is any act that destroys the reproduction of capitalism. The individual as worker is the basic unit of the reproduction of capitalism and this worker can mutate out of the confines of capitalism, into something entirely new, a potential saboteur, a Luddite for the twenty-first century. One can even consider dropping out of school or a career — and therefore wasting the considerable “investment” made in a person by society — to be a form of life-sabotage. Even generalised depression will lead to sabotage, as one becomes a “bad” employee or simply fails to turn up to work. The problem is not the lack of small acts of sabotage. The problem is to increase their intensity and organisation to a point where the flows of commodities — and so carbon — are blocked. This will require a new kind of mass sabotage, a new kind of strike: the human strike.
There is a constant tension between protest and sabotage that goes under the term “direct action.” The thesis of the protest is always that if “the masses” were only told by placard-waving activists about the disastrous state of the world, then they would rise up and force things to change. However, people outside “activism” already realise the dire state of affairs. Most people find it easier to push it out of their minds rather than march in endless circles with signs, correctly realising that protest is an ineffective tactic. Protest merely asks the powers that be of capital and the state to politely stop. Millions tried this to stop the Iraq War in 2003, to no effect.
Anarchism dignifies the poor in a way that liberalism and fascism simply don’t.
Keep in mind that this was written in 2009:
Green capitalism is green colonialism, albeit more confused as the distinctions between the Global North and the Global South dissolve as what the colonial British called the “coloured empires” of India and China today compete directly with the traditional colonial West for natural resources. China is buying tremendous swathes of Africa and the United States creating military bases near every bastion of oil, whilst plans have started for massive solar panel farms in Northern Africa to ship electricity straight to Europe. Green capitalism is nothing but a strangely postmodern ‘green’ colonialism. The reason for this game is not just a lack of energy sources, as there is no shortage of coal and the ever increasing prospects of oil shortage. The reason is much more deadly, for climate change is expected to lead to a sharp decline in food production as the world population grows to nearly nine billion. Follow the money: the large investments of green capitalism are to construct new border fortifications — the present day of equivalent of Hadrian’s Wall — to stop the flow of climate refugees, whose numbers are sure to mount. We don’t need a climatologist to tell us which way the wind is blowing.
This new era of capitalism will not be heralded by a military war, but by a generalised low-intensity conflict that encompasses the totality of life: the global social war. Increased police violence, constant surveillance, RFID chips, and biometric identity cards are tactical operations in a war of capital against “the enemy within,” ever so easily exemplified by anarchists, unemployed youth, and immigrants. As this social war becomes ever more mundane, climate change will force wartime measures upon every citizen. Carbon emissions limits and trading will be excuses for new austerity measures to inflict upon the poor. Green technology will maintain the bourgeoisie form of life even inside the most privileged of countries, whilst the rest of the world must be left to starve to death.
The uncomfortable conclusions keep coming:
To declare oneself to be against democracy is akin to declaring oneself fit for a mental asylum even in the most “radical” of social circles, despite the fact that the primary obstacle to a social revolution against capitalism is representative democracy itself. Historically, social revolution is ignited via the gathered intensity of a minority that takes action into their own hands, not waiting for a vote or consensus. From the Paris Commune to St. Petersburg, almost every revolution has only had one out of a hundred people on the streets, with Tehran in 1979 having one in ten people in the streets. One does not wait for permission to act. One acts, with those who are willing, and then if the act is taken at the right time, the action may then generalise. Historically, waiting for a vote has been the enemy of revolution: DeGaulle defeated the unrest in May 1968 by calling for an election.
This is the point where a person has to reflect deeply on whether they’re a revolutionary or an asshole.
The real reason for the persecution of anarchists is that they mean business:
The best we can hope for is another sentimental education. Even the most radical democrats must see their hopes dashed, as capitalism betrays them again and again. Defeated protest after defeated protest, useless treaty after useless treaty, perhaps at some point even activists will surrender hope that capitalism and the state can “cure” catastrophic climate change. The poor, the working-class, the indigenous and others know the illusion of development, sustainable or otherwise, is gone. The only option — as pioneered by the workers in Bangladesh who burnt down their factories to the youth in France who burnt down their libraries — is the destruction of their identity as workers under capitalism. To want absolutely nothing from capital and the state except its abolition by our own hands. A zero-carbon world is possible, but not an authoritarian nightmare imposed from above by “democratic” capitalism, but one created and self-organized from below. We do not have forty years for this sentimental education, for as a species we are running out of time to halt the biocrisis. If possible, this sentimental education must be accelerated. The managers and architects of the movement, the NGOs and all of civil society, the moralistic social democrats masquerading as anarchists, are only the experimental ground for the state to perfect its methods of governance. The point is not to perfect the State. The point is to destroy it.
OH FUCK FRENCH ANARCHISTS WITH GUNS!
Not everybody in the military fights.
Their warnings about “eco-fascism” had a point, but it hasn’t quite worked out like that…yet:
The first step of the fascist programme is to record everything. That which the state cannot locate, cannot join its perfect community — or must be killed for being outside of it. The origin of this peculiar madness may lie in the idea of the Book of Judgement, in which the sins of every person are recorded to determine their destiny after the apocalypse. When this vision materialized as the aptly-named Domesday book in medieval England, it is no wonder that the peasantry believed that its completion would herald the doomsday itself. The latter-day descendants of the Domesday book are the vast computerized databases of today, and it is forgotten that the Nazi dictatorship started the stocktaking of individuals to be eliminated with the construction giant files. That the state should soon be able to measure the ecological virtue of its citizens may only be a step towards the dark side of a regime of generalised self-management, in which everyone is expected to either become a pure and model citizen or die trying. For those with long memories, it is not without a sense of disturbance that one hears the green capitalists talking about increasingly punishing those who emit more carbon than is allowed. The logic of fascism is the logic of the “perfection” of the human in a “harmonious and ecological” community. The coming eco-fascism will represent the completion of the project that the fascists failed to complete with the Gemeinschaftsfremdengesetz: the rebuilding of the human in the interests of capital by the unholy marriage of ecology and cybernetics.
There’s another alternative to violence: making changes internally. If we’re serious about revolution, we need the social skills to carry out the tasks of life autonomously.
Even if communisation begins in everyday life on the margins of capital, to succeed communisation must become an explicitly international revolutionary project within and against the totality of capital. That this should happen immediately is our evolutionary imperative, for with every passing moment, further irrevocable damage is done by capital that will make the task of future generations even more difficult. It would be a tragedy on the level of the species if we began to communise, but the process started too late to halt a “tipping point” in catastrophic climate change. We must tolerate no feeble half-measures; unless communisation causes an explicit revolution, communisation itself reaches a limit and loses its revolutionary momentum, fossilising into some sort of social democracy or eco-fascism after a momentary breaking out of revolutionary fever, which would have the same deadly result as the the continuation of the capitalist present. Thus the paradox is that communisation must begin now under the most local of conditions with none other than our own activity, and yet it can only succeed ultimately by forcing the totality of capitalism to crumble, so that the tremendous task of a revolution in our social relationships takes place not on the level of spectacular illusion, but in material reality. Only a social revolution will successfully steer us through an era where we must confront a species-level crisis on a global scale. We as a species now have our back against the wall due to catastrophic climate change. Compared to ecofascism and green capitalism, communisation is the least bloody of paths to bring an end to this situation.
Despite the anthropological evidence that humans lived for millenia without capital or even states, some would say the project of communisation is unrealistic and fantastical. Perhaps. The only philosophy which can be responsibly practiced in the face of despair is the attempt to contemplate all things as they would present themselves from the standpoint of revolution. Communisation is the antidote to the apocalypse.
It’s ironic to me that the most utopian people have the most practical ideas. Compare the vagueness of what the Democrats stand for.
For an insurrection to generalise, it must be open so that anyone can join in, from the youth dressed in black to the elderly and children. Otherwise, the insurrection will reach a limit and fail. The insurrection should also make sense, with telling examples being the defence of the autonomous spaces like Ungdomhuset in 2006 in Denmark or the fight back against police violence in Greece in 2008. Some will say that insurrection brings violence, and this will terrify exactly those who are needed to participate. Yet is not the world today overflowing with violence? Just ask anyone whose family was killed by an unmanned drone in Afghanistan, or who lost a friend to the police, or to rape within their own homes. People know the world is violent. The revolutionary question is how to halt this violence that is inflicted upon the world by state and capital. As opposed to the armed struggle, an insurrection is based on actions that everyone with a modicum of fitness feels that they could do, as long as their courage holds: storming offices, throwing tear gas canister back at police, mass seizures of food and other supplies from capitalism, building barricades. Outside of the defense of autonomous space there are endless roles for all sorts, from care and healing, to learning and preserving the knowledge needed, keeping the autonomous space alive. At some point, the limit of the insurrection is reached where the state feels like it must stop the insurrection. The army will be called out to shoot their own people. Let us not pretend this would not have happened in France in 1968 or Greece in 2008 had the insurrection generalised and the infrastructure of production had been destroyed and seized. When the army refuse to shoot upon their own families and friends, when they mutiny and join the insurrection, the material force of the state collapses like the house of cards it always was. While some of the material conditions of insurrection have changed since the turn of the century, we should not blind ourselves that revolutions in the street either win or fail due to the insurrection spreading into the army itself.
The question of insurrection transforms from a question of the destruction of the state into the question of building a new world without capital and the state. How to sustain the insurrection? The answer is exquisitely simple: ask the people themselves. Ask nuclear power plant workers how to shut down the plant. Ask nurses how the hospitals can continue to run in a situation of scarcity of pharmaceuticals. Ask the immigrants employed as slave labour by large farms how they would run their farms communally. Ask the army how they could have an insurrection against their officers. The knowledge needed for communisation is already in everyone’s heads. The only task then is to put the question of insurrection on everyone’s lips. Asking the question of how to survive without the state, and then opening the space through insurrection so that people can put their answers into practice, this is the abstract methodology of blocking the flows of belief in the state. The task of revolutionaries is to make it obvious that the belief in any state is unnecessary. That instead, people can believe in themselves. From this, action follows, the abstract methodology of the insurrectionary inquiry becomes real, and the social war is won by life rather than capital.
The inspiring call to arms:
This is the dialectic of the present moment: Climate change is simultaneously both the best and worst thing that has ever happened to humanity. For all the endless chatter of crisis, there is little comprehension of what a true crisis on the level of the planet looks like. To both the capitalists and anti-capitalists, a crisis is a crisis in the market, a war, a plague. These are all relatively minor crises compared to catastrophic climate change, a biocrisis that may threaten the continued existence of most life on the planet under current conditions. The global social war of life versus dead capital has commenced, and there is no neutrality. One must take a position, to either side with the continued existence of capitalism and the state…or to be unified in the necessity of its destruction. The apocalypse is only the religious grasping of the very real possibility of social revolution in a world that has lost the very language to express revolution, a genuine if contorted reflection of the evolutionary necessity for insurrection.
There is a secret meaning to the apocalypse. It is not the end of time, but the end of this particular time. Not the end of the world, but the end of this particular world. In other words, the end of capital and the state. By projecting the apocalypse into the future, all human agency in the present becomes frozen and lost. Yet this entire understanding of time as a coming apocalypse is a mere fantastic invention. With a little shift, agency returns to the present. History is redeemed. The peasant revolts, the Paris Commune, the Spanish Civil War, Kronstadt, the Seminoles, the Panthers, autonomia, the antiglobalisation movement, suddenly transform from a litany of failures to past moments that were building precisely to this present moment. The future transforms from a bleak nothingness to one rich in possibility, where any moment can open the door to insurrection. In the present, every breathe is infused with a new kind of intensity. A certain quickening of the blood that was long thought disappeared from humanity returns, a clarity of purpose that is available only to those whose life is given not to waiting for the apocalypse, but to the survival of life. Far more important than the theoretical possibility of revolution, revolutionaries appear, as does a kind of redemption that lies not in the future, but in the here-and-now.
It’s like sudden enlightenment in Zen. We could just…stop doing capitalism.
It’s good that people are becoming aware that antifa is a thing and that reasonable people support punching Nazis in the face.