One of the most striking features of today’s Western capitalist society is the dominance of what we usually call “individualism”.
We live in a “me” culture, where, it seems, nobody has the ability to see beyond the end of their own all-important nose.
Everybody is jostling for attention, bombarding the world with accounts of their meals, their coffee breaks and their shopping, frantically sharing the “selfies” they have taken of the most significant person in their life.
We seem to have collectively swallowed the neoliberal lie that “there is no such thing as society” and we now see simply an accumulation of individuals.
Our understanding of freedom has been shorn of all collective or social sense and is taken merely in its liberal form as the “liberties” granted to an individual by the state.
This individualist language has even crept into radical environmental thinking where, for example, instead of talking about a deep respect and love for the whole of nature to which we belong, we prefer to imagine our fellow creatures as possessing “rights”, as if they were tax-paying non-human citizens of some smug global liberal bourgeois republic.
We often cannot even take a holistic view of the hideous system in which we are trapped, because the anti-holistic contemporary mindset cannot recognise a whole as anything other than a construct of its separate parts.
Instead of identifying the entire system as oppressive and corrupt, in all its many aspects, we feel we have to piece together its badness in terms of the “intersectionality” between the various injustices suffered by separate individuals – in whose personal experiences all reality and value are considered solely to reside.
Paradoxically, however, there is another vast problem that looms over 21st century human culture and that is the absence of authentic individuality!
The “me” culture is also a “me too” culture. Everybody wants to be seen to be doing the same things as everyone else. Nobody wants to miss out.
Modern individuality is an off-the-peg identity. There is plenty of choice, but the range of possibilities has been prepared in advance and lined up on the supermarket shelves of social self-definition so that you can take your pick.
The one thing you can’t do is to refuse to take part. You are not allowed to go elsewhere for your sense of self. You must not, under any circumstances, yield to the temptation to send their pre-packaged personality-choices crashing to the floor with mocking contempt.
The modern individual’s desire to feel important is matched by a desperate need to be loved, a terrible fear of not being accepted by their family, their work colleagues and all their hundreds of non-existent online “friends”.
Good taste is seen as liking the things that other people like. Good sense is seen as having the opinions that other people have.
Social self-preservation, for the contemporary pseudo-individual, involves knowing what not to say, what not to read, what not to think.
The problem, of course, is that the “consensus” to which these people remain faithful does not actually arise organically, but has been manufactured by the dominant system. It is all part of The Spectacle, The Matrix, The Thing.
If we are ever going to smash down the walls of this civilizational prison, we are therefore going to need rebels strong enough to remain immune to this psychological manipulation.
We need people who are prepared to spend their lives chipping away at every crack they can find in the reinforced concrete and take no notice of those who tell them it’s the wrong crack, or the wrong wall, that they’re chipping in the wrong way or that there’s no chance of ever escaping and they’d do better to struggle for nicer biscuits in the prison canteen.
We need strong individuals – people who have no desperate need to be loved by everyone, no terrible fear of not being accepted.
Unfortunately there don’t seem to be too many of them around today. They are a dying breed in a world where “individuality” is regarded more as a question of decoration than of substance.
This seems to have been the case for quite a while. The philosopher and writer John Cowper Powys (1872-1963), for instance, made some very pertinent comments on the question in his 1930 book The Meaning of Culture.
He draws a distinction between an “educated” person, who accepts the consensus of their time, and a “cultured” person who builds their own personal philosophy through a process of intuitive choice, seeking out opinions and insights which somehow appeal to their own mind, regardless of how unfashionable or “out of date” these may or may not be.
He writes: “That this personal philosophy already exists before it is brought into conscious articulation cannot be doubted… One always feels that a merely educated man holds his philosophical views as if they were so many pennies in his pocket. They are separate from his life. Whereas with a cultured man there is no gap or lacuna between his opinions and his life. Both are dominated by the same organic, inevitable fatality. They are what he is.”
Powys stresses the importance of nurturing this personal philosophy by finding our own intellectual path to follow, rather than shuffling along with the crowd.
The reaction from others may well not be positive, he says, because of “the cultured person’s innate predilection for combining extreme opposites in his thoughts and his taste.”
He adds: “His philosophical opinions will be found as a rule, judged by the standards of the merely educated, to be at once startlingly revolutionary and startlingly reactionary.”
Powys concedes that everyone has some kind of roughly-sketched personal view of the world, but says that what denotes the cultured person is “the conscious banking up of this philosophy of his own, its protection from disintegrating elements, the guiding of its channel-bed through jungles of brutality and stupidity. The more culture a man has, the more austerely – though naturally with many ironic reserves – does he abide by his own taste.”
It is not easy to be true to one’s own innerly-motivated ideas when they conflict fundamentally with those of society – how can we forge a life, a role, when we are separated from most other people by a huge gulf of mutual non-understanding?
This is the question asked by the English existentialist Colin Wilson (1931-2013) in his 1956 best-seller The Outsider.
He writes: “For the Outsider, the world into which he has been born is always a world without values. Compared to his own appetite for a purpose and a direction, the way most men live is not living at all; it is drifting.
“This is the Outsider’s wretchedness, for all men have a herd instinct that leads them to believe that what the majority does must be right. Unless he can evolve a set of values that will correspond to his own higher intensity of purpose, he may as well throw himself under a bus, for he will always be an outcast and a misfit”.
The anarchist psychoanalyst Otto Gross (1877-1920) explored the same area in a 1913 essay entitled Overcoming the Cultural Crisis (Zur Überwindung der kulturellen Krise).
Here he says that any individual with the mental strength to stand firm for their own inner principles will inevitably find themselves in conflict with society.
Gross observes: “It appears that the real nature of these conflicts always leads back, in the last resort, to a general principle: the conflict between that which is proper to the individual and that which is alien to them, that which is individually innate and that which is suggested, learned, imposed from the outside.”
The need to accept this conflict and to accept the responsibility of living by one’s own innermost principles is also the subject matter of The Forest Passage (Der Waldgang) written in 1951 by Ernst Jünger (1895-1998).
In this extraordinary call for opposition to oppressive power, Jünger declares: “The resistance of the forest rebel is absolute: He knows no neutrality, no pardon, no fortress confinement. He does not expect the enemy to listen to arguments, let alone act chivalrously. He knows that the death penalty will not be waived for him. The forest rebel comes to learn a new solitude…”
His solitude allows the rebel to descend “to the very springs of morality, where the waters are not yet divided and directed into institutional channels”.
This concept of morality is important, as, for Jünger, the search into one’s deepest being is not a quest for a separate individualist identity.
Instead one meets, in the forest, “with one’s own Self, with one’s invulnerable core, with the being that sustains and feeds the individual phenomenon in time”.
This core being is a collective one, a “strata which underlies all social life and has been common to all since the origins”. He explains: “The I recognizes itself in the other, following the age-old wisdom, ‘Thou art that’.”
So there we have it. The individual who searches deeply and courageously enough inside themself ends up finding that their essence lies in something much larger. And they are then free and conscious enough to use their individuality in the interests of that greater whole.
What might have appeared, at the start of the journey, to be nothing but individual awkwardness or stubbornness, reveals itself to be what Gross calls elsewhere “the revolutionary instinct of humankind” acting through the individual free enough to allow it to do so.
Jünger admits that it has become especially difficult in the modern world to assert one’s freedom – “Resistance demands great sacrifice, which explains why the majority prefer to accept the coercion”.
The authentic individual, the real rebel, fully embraces their own individuality in order to put it to the service of the principles that form the very essence of human existence.
This is one of the great paradoxes of anarchism – a dynamic and deeply ethical philosophy for individuals strong enough to go beyond individualism and offer themselves up to the general good.
As Jünger puts it: “Each individual must know if freedom is more important to them – know whether they value how they are more than that they are”.
And once the individual has made this inner decision, found this inner strength, they can seek out other cultured rebels with whom to challenge the shallow fake-individualism of the modern world.
In a 1957 follow-up book to The Outsider called Religion and the Rebel, Wilson asks: “Is the Outsider strong enough to create his own tradition, his own way of thought, and to make a whole civilization think the same way?”
And he replies that ultimately, of course, the individual can achieve nothing on their own, no matter how determined they are: “While the Outsiders are a scattered and bewildered minority, without a tradition, without a philosophy, they are of no use whatever.
“It is impossible to say at this point what might be the ultimate result of a concerted effort of all ‘Outsiders’.”
Individuals of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your individualism!
John Cowper Powys, The Meaning of Culture, (London: Jonathan Cape, 1930)
Otto Gross, Psychanalyse et Révolution: Essais, trans. by Jeanne Étoré, (Paris: Éditions du Sandre, 2011)
Ernst Jünger, The Forest Passage, trans. by Thomas Friese, ed. by Russell A. Berman. (Candor, New York: Telos Press, 2013)
Colin Wilson, The Outsider, (London: Victor Gollancz, 1956)
Colin Wilson, Religion and the Rebel, (London: Victor Gollancz, 1957)
On other occasions, they are fissures in the fabric of the political system itself, in one of the many protective walls that it has built to hide the truth of its essential falsity.
This is what has been happening in the UK in recent weeks, with the post-referendum chaos and the push by the neoliberal establishment to regain control of the Labour Party and oust leader Jeremy Corbyn.
Of course, from an anti-capitalist and anarchist point of view, Corbyn’s brand of politics is still part of the overall system we oppose.
But what is important is that for the ruling elite even this vaguely socialist form of capitalism falls outside the range of possible positions it is prepared to tolerate, particularly as it is combined with a critical stance regarding NATO and with a support for Palestinian rights.
The establishment is thus prepared to use all the weapons at its disposal to dislodge Corbyn and prevent him from retaining leadership of the Labour Party.
Every small success for Corbyn and his friends means that his opponents have to up the ante and resort to methods they would rather not have used.
And the more of these methods they are forced to use, the more they necessarily reveal about themselves and about the agendas they serve.
Take, for instance, the revelation by Craig Murray (followed by further details in The Canary) that the anti-Corbyn “heckler” at Gay Pride was Tom Mauchline, a Blairite PR professional working for Portland Communications.
The way that the “news story” of the heckling was fabricated and served up by complicit media outlets such as The Guardian goes a long way to exposing the techniques behind the systematic corporate propaganda laughably known as “journalism”.
Some of the wheeler-dealers behind the scenes have been forced to show their faces in public as their efforts become more desperate – such as rich Labour Party donor Michael Foster, who has applied to the High Court to try and overturn the decision to put Corbyn on the leadership ballot paper.
Reported The Guardian: “Foster, a former showbiz agent who has given more than £400,000 to the party since 2010, came to prominence during the last Labour party conference, after he confronted Corbyn at a Labour Friends of Israel reception, angered the Labour leader had not mentioned the word ‘Israel’ in his address to the meeting. ‘Say the word “Israel”,’ he shouted at Corbyn, who is a long-standing pro-Palestinian campaigner.”
Foster’s approach was well illustrated by a 2015 report from The Independent on his bid to become an MP, which quoted an account from a rival candidate Loveday Jenkin, of the small Mebyon Kernow party. “Having got a laugh at hustings by mentioning Mr Foster’s £1.5m home in the poorest constituency in England, she claimed he had erupted in response, calling her ‘a cunt’ and threatening: ‘If you pick on me again, I will destroy you’.”
The blatantly right-wing agendas behind the scenes, the absurd and hysterical rhetoric (including the conflation of pro-Palestinian views with antisemitism) and the frantic rule-bending and gerrymandering of the Labour Party’s anti-Corbyn bureaucracy have opened many people’s eyes to what this organisation really amounts to.
And this is good news for all dissidents, as it pushes more people towards an understanding of how the system actually operates, of how its “democracy” is a lie and the political scene is carefully managed to prevent the slightest possibility of real change.
Look at this online comment, for example, following the suspension of the pro-Corbyn Brighton, Hove and District Labour Party by its own head office.
“The establishment don’t want real people to have any say in politics. Infiltrated steering committees which set the party rules and determine policy have always been the guarantee of the establishment that they will always maintain control. This should now be obvious to all.
“The panic we are seeing in the NEC is the establishment realising they have spooked the herd as they would say. In other words the people are waking up and the ruling class with their agents and place men in the PLP and NEC are getting caught out in the consciousness shift.
“They are petrified of losing power and having to face the consequences of their immoral and illegal actions. They are determined to stop Corbyn at all costs because they fear the situation snowballing beyond their control but it’s already too late… I believe we’re seeing the start of a revolution. There’s no turning back now.”
This healthy scepticism about the political establishment, combined with an awareness that the British secret state does indeed infiltrate political parties in order to keep control of them, is something that worries the elite.
The findings of the Chilcot Inquiry, although inevitably designed for damage limitation, were only as damning as they were because the public already knew that Blair had lied about Iraq, had ignored the people’s views and was working for US neocon interests.
The result of the Brexit referendum was not unrelated to this spiralling lack of confidence in those who set themselves up as “the authorities”.
David Cameron’s wriggling around his family’s tax affairs, as revealed in the Panama Papers, and the doom-mongering propagandistic tone adopted by the Remain campaign all fuelled a general distrust in the powers-that-be.
Members of the privileged political classes were shocked by the complete contempt in which many of us hold the establishment and everything it tells us. One “strategist” complained: “The public just said they lie and pull the wool over our eyes. I asked one woman to give me an example of these lies, and she said, ‘9/11’.”
It barely matters whether or not you think the distrust on specific issues is justified (the idea that pencils rather than pens were provided at the EU poll so that the Remain camp could later rub out the pro-Brexit crosses was maybe a little off-target!) when you understand the significance of the fact that a large part of the population no longer believes a word the authorities say!
The more pressure that is heaped on the power elite, the more they are forced to show their hand and reveal themselves and the more they have to resort to blatantly unfair and undemocratic methods to hold on to power, the more people will see through the lies behind their phoney “democracy”.
And the more the system’s media lackeys scream that we are all ignorant extremists, crazed conspiracy theorists and dangerous apologists for terrorism, the surer we can be that we have got them on the back foot, that their power is crumbling, that they are fast losing control.
As blogger Johnny Void argues: “What is now needed is escalation on all fronts. It’s time to move beyond marching or empty speeches, and to forge a struggle that makes the ruling class tremble. The EU, an institution that is neo-liberal to the core and an austerity machine, has been defeated in the UK.
“The architects of cut throat capitalism are in disarray. There will never be a bigger opportunity, the future is there for the taking and we have more power than we ever dreamed of.”
2. Panicking French state tries to build right-wing militia
Panic at the top of the French state is prompting a slide towards an openly fascistic form of control, with a constantly renewed “state of emergency” now extended until the end of January 2017 and an attempt to build a “patriotic” reserve force reminiscent of the pro-Nazi wartime militia or milice.
As we have previously reported in The Acorn, while the immediate justification for the draconian measures is always “terrorism”, whether at Charlie Hebdo, the Bataclan or Nice, the French state has no qualms about using them against internal political dissent.
Most of the 2,000 raids in the wake of the November attacks were of course on Muslim communities – shocking accounts emerged of sneering police taking sadistic delight in their state-sanctioned racist intimidation.
But the authorities also very quickly used the new powers to clamp down on protests around the COP21 summit in Paris, for instance, raiding the homes of anti-capitalist activists and placing them under “preventative” house arrest until the summit was over.
The French state’s attempts to conflate anti-capitalist resistance with terrorism have so far floundered – its long-running determination to prosecute the “Tarnac” rebels as so-called “terrorists” has now finally failed, for instance, with the prosecutors’ appeal against last year’s legal decision rejected.
And the easy exploitation of terrorist attacks to create a mood of “national unity” and rallying behind the government is no longer working – people are instead blaming their political leaders for failing to stop the killing, despite all their rhetoric and powers.
There is a growing wave of rebellion across the country, on a scale unseen for decades. While this has in recent months taken the form of a battle against the neoliberal Loi Travail, now finally being pushed through parliament using special measures that bypass the need for a vote, the root causes are much deeper.
This was very clear in the way that the movement against the Loi Travail quickly took on the shape of a movement against the state of emergency and the “anti-terrorist” politics of fear, against the perpetual lies and distortions of the corporate media used to demonise any real opposition to the corrupt elite and, importantly, against the state-authorised violence of the police and gendarmes against the population.
More fury broke out on Tuesday July 19 and Wednesday July 20 after a young black man, Adama Traoré, died in custody on his 24th birthday after being arrested in Val d’Oise, just north of Paris.
He was a fit and active young man and his family have no time for the spurious claim by gendarmes that he died of a “heart condition” (see this interview with his mother).
The violent way in which the cops dealt with friends of family gathered in the street is shown in this short video.
The shock and anger spread to the streets, with two nights of rioting. At least one police vehicle was torched (see this video).
Authorities said on the morning of Thursday July 21 that 9 people had been arrested for firearms offences, throwing Molotov cocktails police and trying to burn down the town hall at Beaumont.
On top of all this there is the ZAD, a free zone of rebellion set up in opposition not just to the threat of a new airport in the countryside north of Nantes, but also in defiance of the whole industrial capitalist system.
The French state and its corporate backers are itching to evict and crush this important symbol of resistance, but know it will not be taken without a massive battle involving tens or hundreds of thousands of supporters from across France and beyond (including the UK).
Perhaps the authorities intend deploying the right-wing militia promoted by interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve after the Nice massacre, using the same language of “national cohesion” and “French patriots” that was used by Nazi collaborators in their war on the French Resistance.
3.Black July: Berlin resists gentrification, eviction and the state
Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Berlin to oppose gentrification and support a left-wing squat.
Rioting broke out on July 9 as a call for a “Black July” of resistance prompted a feisty display of defiance.
In a statement published after the protest, activists declared: “We hate the cops in every way and the riots during the demonstration on Saturday bring us joy. We don’t only want to kick the state out of our street, but also want it out of our lives.“
94 Rigaer Strasse was attacked by police in June and partly evicted, but squatters have managed to stay put in part of the well-known and important alternative space in the German capital.
Squads of police have been laying siege to the building day and night, with helicopters circling overhead.
On Saturday July 9 at least 3,500 people took to the streets in the Friedrichshain district, formerly part of East Berlin – see this video.
As can be seen by the numbers on the march as captured by this video, this is not an example of an isolated activist campaign with no roots in the community.
Reports the BBC: “Many of the neighbours live in housing collectives and sympathise with the squatters, who see themselves as a left-wing alternative to gentrification and rising rents. During the protest, some neighbours beat spoons against pots in support of the squatters.”
The statement from Rigaer94 says (in part): “We are a political housing project consisting of a diversity of people, and a house with the best neighbours you could imagine. We are united by the will to fight against the violent conditions that the state is consistently trying to enforce (especially against us in the past few weeks).
“Our passion for freedom forces us into daily conflict with our surroundings, with institutions as well as with servants of the state, nazis, sexists and other assholes. Within this conflict we are also confronted by our own contradictions, but this should never hinder us from working on a revolutionary praxis and from creating, through autonomous struggles, space in which we can develop relations to other people.
“Since a final analysis of our ideas only makes sense once we have achieved our goals of freedom, self-determination and enrichment, for now, we can only say that the latest happenings are an early affirmation of this autonomous struggle.
“What the state views as a dangerzone, is an attempt to create a self-organized and resistant zone, where the people live together without institutionalized violence and without representation by politicians, managers or other institutions.
“Success is already apparent: mass politicization of new generations of rioters, skillsharing in the neighbourhood, opening-up of structures and the collectivization of resources, more and better communication between us and others, self-empowerment, international resonance and destroying feelings of powerlessness and fear of repression etc.
“With the knowledge of the unresolvable contradictions in our small nucleus of social-revolutionary struggle, we called for a Black July. The decentralized concepts and calls to send Berlin into chaos are an alternative to the struggle within the framework of cultural political norms.
“The informal organisation and free association of decentralized networks that create their own rules, has always a strength. Especially in times when the state seeks to eradicate its enemies. Looking at the elements of psychological terror of the siege by the police and at the warlike rhetoric of their leaders, we have come to the conclusion that they do want to break us.
“We hate the cops in every way and the riots during the demonstration on Saturday bring us joy. We don’t only want to kick the state out of our street, but also want it out of our lives. The last weeks have only strengthened our position.
“Soyons ingouvernables! Seien wir unregierbar! Let’s be ungovernable!”
Courageous Italian environmental campaigners are holding firm in their opposition to a horrendously destructive high-speed railway project, in the face of shocking state repression.
The NO TAV struggle against the proposed rail link between Lyons and Turin, which would completely ruin the Susa valley in the Alps, has been ongoing since the 1990s and has mobilised whole communities as well as prompting widespread solidarity.
In particular, the violence of the policing and the repressive attitude of the state has radicalised people who might otherwise have remained unaware of the full brutality of the industrial capitalist system.
In their latest assault on the campaign, the Italian authorities launched dawn raids on the homes of NO TAV supporters on June 21.
Various punishments were meted out on 23 people of all ages, all accused of taking part in a 5,000-strong unauthorised protest on June 28 2015, in the course of which a section of fencing around the construction site was pulled down.
Some were jailed and others put under house arrest. Several, however, have refused to comply with the restrictions on their liberty, among them Nicoletta, a 70-year-old retired classics teacher.
In an interview with the Constellations website, she described last year’s crunch protest as “a big day out for the people, with all age-groups forming a huge, colourful and joyful snake, which was interrupted at a certain point by unacceptable and insurmountable barriers, and poisoned by clouds of tear gas.
“I won’t disown a single step or action of that day, which was my right and duty of resistance.
“For this reason I reject any restrictive measures which have been or will be imposed on me: I refuse to submit by signing on daily at the police station, and I will not allow my life to be confined by house arrest and my home to be turned into a prison.
“I will not be my own jailor. I feel with me the motivation and collective force of the oppressed, those who have nothing to lose but their chains, and a whole world to win”.
Massive protests and road blockades continue in Mexico, a month after 12 people were killed and more than 100 injured when police attacked members of a teachers’ union in Oaxaca on June 19. The rebellion is not just about education but about general “structural reforms” being imposed in Mexico, as across the neoliberal world. Teachers in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero, Michoacán, and Mexico City have held marches almost daily, set up permanent encampments in city centres, seized tollbooths in daily highway blockades, and even blocked trains. This video, Nochixtlan tierra de gente valiente, explains more about the struggle.
* * *
Anti-nuclear protesters in eastern France have re-occupied woods at Bure targeted for radioactive waste burial. After a camp was evicted on July 7, determined activists gathered in Lorraine on Saturday July 16 and managed to re-establish the rural occupation. A local media report (which also includes a video) comments that the site will perhaps become “a new ZAD (Zone À Défendre)”.
* * *
It’s a very strange thing, the world of “terrorism“… What are we to make, for example, of the claim by a Russian survivor of the Nice attack that it involved not one terrorist but two – one driving and the other shooting? That would certainly provide an explanation for the otherwise puzzling concentration of bullet holes on the (European) passenger side of the windscreen (see below). But why are no other witnesses apparently referring to this second attacker? Meanwhile, an interesting general insight from a policeman in Florida, USA. In an interview with the Vero Beach Press Journal, Sheriff Ken Mascara of Florida’s St Lucie County reveals that the FBI tried to trick Orlando gay club killer Omar Mateen into committing a terror plot in 2013 through the planting of an informant in his life. He said the FBI dispatched this mystery person to “lure Omar into some kind of act”.
* * *
Countryside campaigners in Sussex, UK, are battling plans by a local council to sell off parts of the South Downs currently owned by the public. Eastbourne Borough Council wants to sell Black Robin Farm, Bullock Down Farm, Cornish Farm and Chalk Farm. The millions of pounds raised would be used for urban projects such as the “redevelopment” of the Devonshire Park complex. The South Downs Society and the Campaign to Protect Rural England are both opposing the plans.
* * *
A No Borders Camp is to be held in the Ventimiglia area near the Italian-French frontier from August 5 to 10. Exact details will be released closer to the start, but the action is set to begin with a 9am meet-up on Friday August 5 on the French side at Tende (Vallée de la Roya) to protest against a road tunnel project threatening the local environment. “Stop the lorries and abolish the borders!” More information here.
* * *
Acorn quote: “And now we arrive at a crucial question: Is the Outsider strong enough to create his own tradition, his own way of thought, and to make a whole civilization think the same way?” Colin Wilson, Religion and The Rebel