Fredy Perlman: against the system

A brand new profile has now gone live on the Organic Radicals site, looking at Fredy Perlman, who died in 1985 at the age of 50.

The anarchist author and publisher, co-founder of Black & Red Books in Detroit, USA, fiercely and eloquently condemned the modern system of artifice, destruction and exploitation.

“The Progress of the machine is first of all an unrelenting war against everyone and everything that is not a machine”, he wrote. “Death is always on the side of the machines”.

Perlman was inspired by organic radical William Blake, even using his art to illustrate his own work, translated Guy Debord’s La Société du spectacle into English and influenced the green anarchism of John Zerzan.

Combining cultural and economic analysis, he showed the way that power and money had progressively gained a stranglehold over our world.

People within this global system accepted money as an equivalent for life and therefore the “sale of living activity”, paid labour, became a condition for their survival, he said. “Daily activity takes the form of universal prostitution”.

They therefore lost, or rather were robbed of, nearly everything that once gave context and meaning to human life.

“The increasingly numerous urban zeks concentrated in factories are, in fact, despoiled of every last trace of community, and in this sense they are more like domesticated cattle or sheep than like human beings in the state of nature”, he wrote.

“Joy ceased to be life’s aim; life itself became a mere means; its end was profit. The variety of hundreds of cultural forms was reduced to the uniformity of a unique routine: work, save, invest, sell, every day from sunrise to sunset, and count money after sundown”.

“Reduced to blank slates by school, we cannot know what it was to grow up heirs to thousands of generations of vision, insight, experience”.

Perlman did not shrink from deploying the term “usury” to describe the practice of the financial parasites who had become dominant in Europe since the end of the Middle Ages, before spreading across the world.

“Until the Renaissance, Europeans considered Usury a monstrosity. They associated the practice with alien ancient Etruscans and Carthaginians or with alien contemporary Jews and Muslims, and they called its practitioners bloodsuckers. Now European Usurers who call themselves bankers and investors replace saintly Anchorites in the paintings depicting the exalted.

“Usurers are the greatest Lords and princes of the realm. Greatness comes, not to those who serve the gods, but to those who serve the devil… The exalted are the unprincipled devotees of the fourth beast of the Book of Daniel, the servants of Leviathan”.

This last term was the title Perlman chose to give to the global system in his best-known work.

As early as 1968, Perlman had named the enemy as being “a single world system” and by 1983’s Against His-story, Against Leviathan! he was describing it as “a single Leviathan which holds all Earth in its entrails”.

This was “a beast that originated in Ur, a beast whose artificial progeny would eventually swallow all human communities and, by our time, begin to eat the Biosphere”.

“The Leviathan is a thing, and from its standpoint, humanity as well as nature are also things, objects, either obstacles or potential instruments”, Perlman warned.

“The liquidation of free beings is in fact Leviathan’s central project, and communities that nurture free beings are its greatest enemy”.

The resistance of such free beings was, for Perlman, “the only human component of the entire His-story”.

He declared: “The struggle against His-story, against Leviathan, is synonymous with Life; it is part of the Biosphere’s self-defense against the monster rending her asunder”.

We would do well to bear in mind today what Perlman, referencing Yevgeni Preobrazhensky, wrote about the origins of the wealth with which the ruling class sets in motion all the machineries of its ongoing exploitation.

This initial capital comes from plunder at home and abroad, from land grabbing and the eviction of peasants, from, in short, the theft of other people’s homes, possessions and lives.

Explained Perlman: “The expropriated fields, forests and animals were garnered as bonanzas, as preliminary capital, as the precondition for the production process that was to turn the fields into farms, the trees into lumber, the animals into hats, the minerals into munitions, the human survivors into cheap labor”.

Crucially, and very relevantly at the current time, this injection of raw wealth has to be repeated at regular intervals, because the business-as-usual profiteering is prone to various crises and would otherwise eventually grind to a halt.

Perlman pointed out: “The primitive or preliminary accumulation of capital is not something that happened once, in the distant past, and never after. It is something that continues to accompany the capitalist production process, and is an integral part of it.

“The process described by Marx is responsible for the regular and expected profits; the process described by Preobrazhensky is responsible for the takeoffs, the windfalls and the great leaps forward”.

Leviathan is an all-devouring beast and nobody is ever safe from its insatiable greed, particularly when it feels the need to reset itself or build itself back better.

As Perlman warned back in 1979: “For two hundred years Capital developed by destroying nature, by removing and destroying human beings. Capital has now begun a frontal attack on its own domestics; its computers have begun to calculate the expendability of those who’d been taught to think themselves its beneficiaries”.

For the entire fully-referenced article go here.

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2 thoughts on “Fredy Perlman: against the system

  1. Simply to thank you for reminding me of the magnificent sweep of Perlman’s thinking. I first tripped over him 50 years ago when a Trotskyist. He frightened me. Today his prescient words tingle with relevance. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My favourite Fredy Perlman book is ‘”Manual for Revolutionary Leaders” by Michael Velli…’ In it there’s a description of societal breakdown in which people collectively fetch foods from the countryside and distribute it locally (self-organisation)…A Commissar arrives, suggests they all stop what they’re doing, hold committee meetings to draw up a plan for “What Is To Be Done”…
    Every disaster or catastrophe – the immediate response by leading state functionaries is to convene meetings to decide ‘What is to be done ?’ while state forces are deployed to maintain ‘Law n Order.’ The state’s priority is always to ensure the state’s survival…

    Liked by 1 person

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