Quarantine Letter #7: A Step Forward?
I felt weightless. I felt nothing would happen to me. I felt that anything might happen to me. I was looking straight ahead, running, trying to keep up, and things were occurring along the dark peripheries of my vision: there would be a bright light and then darkness again and the sound, constantly, of something else breaking, and of movement, of objects being thrown and of people falling.
Bill Buford, Among the Thugs
I’ve found the arrival of your letters to be uplifting and they bring with them much to ponder in the current situation. Hopefully this letter can do the same for others.
We find ourselves in a peculiar split in our perception of time. On the one hand, the days are slow and bleed into each other in such a way that it seems that what Kora said in her letter has come true — a terrible bliss. On the other hand, what is relevant in how to respond to the crisis changes so rapidly that if we dare turn away from our phones and the struggle for even a short while, we will find nothing is any longer what it was, as if we had stepped into a slow moving, nearly frozen time space.
While many of us find ourselves unable to participate in struggles in the ways we are used to, the rent strike as a form of refusal has been working nicely. For a second it seemed that we had found a worthwhile line of attack, one capable of grabbing hold of the imagination. With any luck we will continue to see the strike spread.
We also were in the early days of experimenting with slow rolls, causing traffic jams outside of prisons and jails. A place where the virus finds itself able to attack so effectively those who make up the surplus population. A population that so many regard as no more human than the virus.
It seems that for the time being, in the eyes of the media and those who consume their images that the slow rolls have been popularized by the political right — a death cult willing to tolerate a steepening of the death toll to enable economic remobilization.
We can respond to this situation in a few ways. One of them is to form a tenuous alliance with the emerging energy, embracing the figure of revolt against the state, if nothing else. As a reflex, this makes sense. When we see the beginnings of social movement activity, we have often rushed to join the action. In this case, I think that would be a mistake.
We have done our best over the years to make a break from the left. While it’s true that we do from time to time have the misfortune of finding ourselves in common struggle with them, the left no longer recognizes us, and our relation to them is that of a strategist to her enemy, certainly not that of old friends. This is even more true than in these shared struggles, since any degree of efficacy we achieve invariably tends to place us in direct conflict with the Leftists. Kora was right in her letter to highlight our desire to escape the Democratic Party. Well, now is a time where we can truly become ungovernable; with the economy on the line, the Democrats wouldn’t dare try to associate and then neutralize us. The Democrats are tied to the neoliberal project and this necessitates the continuation of the economy. With over 25 million on unemployment, any concentrated effort to disrupt the economy (be it slow rolls, general strikes, etc.) is anathema to the Democrats. The goal of suppressing the economy is one goal that they could not coopt.
We’ve also done a fine job of not working with the political right much at all (and have more often found ourselves their direct antagonists). I don’t think now is the time to make an unholy alliance with a right wing that is deadset on forcing us back to work. Work is already a site of misery under the best of conditions, but the death it threatens us with has recently become even more acutely imminent. I do not say this out of any sort of blood feud (and anyway, those sectors of the right against which we have found ourselves squaring off are fairly marginalized in this current upswing). As comrades have pointed out elsewhere, there are times where we must struggle in a mixed and muddled space that includes the Right. In such cases, as our comrades pointed out, the strategies we must deploy to sideline conservatives are unlike those we typically use against leftists when we find ourselves in a shared struggle with them. But this approach is not what we should do in this case. While the right wing “reopener” demonstrations may appear as the anti-state actors in the moment, with their sneers and shouts directed at state governors, they are not the Party of Anarchy for which we remain on the lookout. They desire a return to normalcy, a false normalcy that would only see us back to work, with the virus spreading at an even faster rate that it already is.
Perhaps I am wrong. As Icarus asked in his letter, I want to see the different positions and proposals explained and laid out for us. We are all searching for the correct moves, and when we have inklings towards or against a move, it would do us well to show others the way forward, or where not to venture.
In that spirit I will briefly offer some ideas on what may help us going forward. The alliances we must form now are with those ready to fight, but who do not have the ideological baggage of the left or the right. Their energies are the ones we should be attaching ourselves to.
Buford’s descent into the English soccer hooligan subculture in Among the Thugs offers an instructive case study. At one point, he recounts a scene in which the fascist British National Party attempted to forge bonds with the hooligans by means of a violent episode, in the hopes of co-opting them as the BNP’s street fighters. We need not coopt anyone. Our task, instead, involves the generation of alliances that lead to activation. Co-opting would require us to be in a dialogue aimed at orienting others to our views, whereas an alliance respects their ways as their own. Who can we forge alliances with, and then activate those alliances that will lead to the most chaotic, desirable, and economy-shattering result?
We’ve already recognized renters refusing to pay, and prisoners refusing to stay put in warehouses and watch as they become death camps. These are alliances worth exploring. But what of the sideshows that still outmaneuver the pigs, and socially distance while drifting? Or the dirt bike and ATV crews who make the cities their playgrounds? Or the “Essential Workers” who commit sabotage, and organize wildcat strikes? Or for that matter, all those who keep their distance from social media, but who would be only too happy to join a slow roll for life when the time comes? These are the people we need to be finding.
Even in uncanny times, old tasks still ring true. We would do well to stay the course:
Find each other
With love and nervous anticipation,
April 25, 2020