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(en) Praxis, #1 journal of the Red & Anarchist Action Network - Summer, 2003, The Eros Effect: An Interview With George Katsiaficas

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Fri, 13 Jun 2003 06:30:49 +0200 (CEST)


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> by Red & Anarchist Action Network (RAAN)
Currently a diffuse but global uprising is occurring against
neo-liberalism. From Atenco, Mexico (where people stopped the new
airport) to Peru (stopping privatization of water) to Nigeria, Ecuador,
the Zapatistas and many others, the broad popular upsurge is building
momentum. While increasingly active, workers in Europe, Japan and
the USA have often been at the tail of such movements. As material
conditions deteriorate, these workers will become more radicalized.
They will set themselves in motion, aligning themselves (as in Seattle)
with more radical strata in the core and periphery and possibly using
them as models. A few years after the anti-war movement tried to shut
down Washington DC in 1971, farmers brought their tractors to DC in a
similar attempt. This is an example of what I name the "eros
effect"--the intuitive spread of tactics and movements without direct
organizational intervention. We need to build our militant circles as
tightly and radically as possible, and have confidence that even though
small, our actions speak to the society at large.
The Eros Effect
An interview with George Katsiaficas

This interview originally appeared in the first issue of Praxis, journal of
the Red & Anarchist Action Network (Summer, 2003)

George Katsaficas is a professor of Humanities and Social Studies at
the Wentworth Institute of Technology. In 2001 he spent time
reasearching the Kwangju uprising in South Korea. He is the editor of
New Political Science and the author of several books including The
Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and
the Decolonization of Everyday Life and Imagination of the New Left:
A Global Analysis of 1968. He has also editted several books, most
recently The Battle for Seattle. A close friend of Herbert Marcuse,
Katsiaficas runs the website ErosEffect.com.

RAAN came into contact with Katsiaficas mostly as a result of his
phenomenal work in The Subversion of Politics, a book that deals in
part with the German Autonomen and Italian Autonomia. After a few
exchanges in dialogue, RAAN was able to conduct this interview, in
which we have tried to hit upon some practical solutions to common
problems within the anti-authoritarian movement.

June 1, 2003 Gwangju (South Korea)

RAAN: To what extent do you see a need for an open alliance between
anti-statist forces, and what forms have such alliances taken in the
past? What do you feel has been the main cause for division amongst
anti-statists, and what are the necessary steps that you feel need to be
taken to obtain a unifying open alliance of these anti-statists?

George Katsiaficas: In my opinion, one of the main problems dividing
the radical movement has been and continues to be an obsessive
compulsion to define ideology first rather than unity on the basis of
action and program. By this I mean an over-theoretical
orientation--"Zerzanists" vs. "Bookchinites" as a contemporary
example in the anti-statist movement. Consider for a moment, the
radical movement of the 1960s, which had not widely developed an
anti-statist position but which was nevertheless quite radical and
active, pulling in millions of people into a militant movement that
opposed the government and momentarily posed the idea of a
revolution. I remember a story about one of the final Students for a
Democratic Society conventions in 1968 with thousands of people
present. The PL (Maoist/workerist) faction insisted Albania was a
"socialist" country and should be supported. The RYM (Revolutionary
Youth Movement) disagreed. Hundreds of people were chanting, "Ho
Ho Ho Chi-Minh, NLF is going to win!" against the other side chanting
"Mao, Mao Mao Tse-tung, Revolution by the young." During a brief
pause, someone in the back yelled, "What's the capital of Albania??"
Silence followed. No one in the room even knew the name of the city.
The eloquence of this silence speaks volumes to the overideologization
of the movement and the waste of thousands of activists' energies.
Actually it's worse than a waste--it's the counterrevolution inside the
movement, the prevalence of dead labor, weighing like a "nightmare on
the brains of the living."

RAAN: To what extent have autonomous movements in the past been
attacked or hindered by the political left (Leninists, Greens, etc), and
what can be done to minimize the damage done?

GK: In the latter part of the 20th century, the best revolutionary
organizations in the Americas developed outside--or in opposition to
the established left. Think of the Fidelistas in Cuba, the Tupamaros,
Sandinistas, SDS and the Black Panther Party (in its young and radical
days). Autonomous movements in Italy and Germany were quite
confrontational vis-a-vis the established Left and the Greens (as I
discuss in The Subversion of Politics).

Developing our own open councils, general assemblies, and other
venues of discussion and action is necessarily difficult because of the
attendance of sects and ideologists. In Berlin, Turkish Stalinists
insisted on carrying giant posters of Stalin in the Mayday marches. One
year, people tried to make them leave, but the Stalinists hurt many
people with iron bars and insisted on staying. Building movements as
opposed to hierarchical organizations often requires autonomous space
in which sectarian groups refuse to participate. In Ocean Beach,
California, for example, the movement was built in a "white, youth
ghetto" repugnant to groups of the traditional left, thereby allowing the
free development of alternative institutions as well as anti-war and
anti-racist centers of organizing in San Diego generally. (See the last
part of Andre Gorz's book, Ecology as Politics for discussion of OB.)

RAAN: The autonomous movements and near-revolutions of the 60s
and 70s represented a return to the union of revolutionary theory and
practice in the workers' movement, which had been at the mercy of
Stalinism and Social Democracy since the end of WWI. Is there a
similar potential for the rebirth of these movements within the current
political climate?

GK: Currently a diffuse but global uprising is occurring against
neo-liberalism. From Atenco, Mexico (where people stopped the new
airport) to Peru (stopping privatization of water) to Nigeria, Ecuador,
the Zapatistas and many others, the broad popular upsurge is building
momentum. While increasingly active, workers in Europe, Japan and
the USA have often been at the tail of such movements. As material
conditions deteriorate, these workers will become more radicalized.
They will set themselves in motion, aligning themselves (as in Seattle)
with more radical strata in the core and periphery and possibly using
them as models. A few years after the anti-war movement tried to shut
down Washington DC in 1971, farmers brought their tractors to DC in a
similar attempt. This is an example of what I name the "eros
effect"--the intuitive spread of tactics and movements without direct
organizational intervention. We need to build our militant circles as
tightly and radically as possible, and have confidence that even though
small, our actions speak to the society at large.

RAAN: You don't speak of the particulars of organization and method
in The Subversion of Politics. For instance, guerrilla radio has been
popular among North American anti-authoritarians and the Internet has
made names like the Midnight Notes Collective celebrities among the
circle of anti-statists. What role have these planes of communication
played in autonomous movements?

GK: First, I am anti-celebrity. The effect of celebs in the movement is
to depoliticize the popular upsurge and co-opt it into the hierarchical
fame-status-power structure.

In terms of the German Autonomen, they developed before the Internet.
Nowadays the web is a powerful organizing tool but can never replace
face-to-face action. Radio and possibly even internet TV will continue
to be important venues for radical practice--as will electronic bulletin
boards, list serves and other electronic forms. This tendency is today
nowhere more developed than in South Korea, where millions of people
were mobilized against the USA after two schoolgirls were killed by a
US military vehicle.

RAAN: In your explanation of the Italian Autonomia you mentioned the
Red Zoras, Red Brigades, and Prima Linea as different strands of
guerrilla tactics to other autonomous sects like the Metropolitan
Indians, Lotta Continua, etc. Have these different inter-class divisions
served as autonomous inclusiveness of oppressed groups such as
women, youth, etc or do you see them as furthering capitalist
antagonism? Why?

GK: I disagree with the characterization of the Metropolitan Indians as
a sect. In fact they are a model to me of how not to be a sect. In their
multiplicity of views, ease of action and communalism, we find the
basics of nonsectarian organization.

For me the universal resides in the particular. Feminism is in everyone's
interest. Black music appeals to us all. Fighting racism is in all our
interest. Within separate groups, advanced activists need to elicit the
universal appeal of the particular group and need for coordinated
visions and actions. Some need to unite in organizations that are not
defined by "identity" but not all!

RAAN: Still referring to the above inter-class divisions, do you feel
violence or militancy has been fetishized into a macho, and therefore
patriarchal or ageist, tendency?

GK: Yes and no. "Chaos days" and Mayday in Berlin have often been
criticized as ritualized male violence, but I believe there is also a
moment in their occurrence that builds militant experience, tempers
activists' street savvy and builds affinity groups' reliance on each other.
In my view, popular and militant street actions play a vital role in
enhancing the movement's systematic critique of the existing social
order and deepening peoples' commitment.

RAAN: For those who bring offense to your group, whether it is
verbal/physical/sexual or otherwise, what do you think is the best
course of action? I would assume for serious problems
excommunication is in order, but wouldn't that allow for a much more
dangerous situation where your group would be compromised (IE:
character assassinations and clique formations)?

GK: Groupthink can be a serious problem in understanding what
exactly an offense to the group is. One of the primary tasks today is to
build our capacity for dual power. The system will not permit
autonomous courts, judgments and sentences but in some cases we
must be able to carry them out. What about police infiltrators? What
about rapists in our midst?

RAAN: What methods of outreach have been used in broader spectrum
outreach? In the German autonomous movements there's a strong
sense of it as a particularly youth based movement that lacked
connection to workers, housewives, etc. In your opinion, what can be
done to overcome particular class orientations and provide a stronger
inclusiveness?

GK: Revolutionary subject emerges in the course of the revolution, as
Marcuse observed. What this means is that people themselves are
capable to self-organize and propel themselves onto the stage of
history. In the Gwangju Uprising, as I have extensively written and
spoken about (www.eroseffect.com), people fought to expel heavily
armed paratroopers from the city and then quickly cooperated with each
other to run the city in a far more humane and just manner than
previously thought possible. Everywhere where revolts occur, we see
that the people themselves are far superior to ensconced elites in their
ability to justly and peacefully manage society. Inclusiveness proceeds
from the self-activation of people based on their own internal needs and
desires, not their imposition from a vanguard as Lenin thought. In
moments of crisis, however, the question of a new hegemonic bloc is
critical.

RAAN: When discussing the German squatter's movement and
specifically the defense of Hafenstrasse, you mention the tactics used
to repel police forces. From your understanding of these police
confrontations, did a sustained period of time in these autonomous
movements nurture any career activism or "professionalization"
because of constant evolution of tactics of resistance, or what exactly
was the response to over-familiarity or "sceneism"?

GK: Yes, because of the continuing intensity of the confrontations, the
Hafenstrasse became a difficult place for women and children to live in.
At one point all the children --and many of the women--had moved out.
As the houses were legalized and funds allocated by the government
for their renovation, Red Anna, a long-time militant, became something
of a city planner in working up plans for the renovations. People
structured the newly won space to insure the collective form of living
groups. Whether or not the house remains radical after the Victory was
won is a question I cannot answer. I have not been there in many years.

RAAN: How is in-group communication typically encouraged? Are
roles (cook, cleaner, speaker, etc) rotated to ensure everyone has an
equal role as well as ensuring everyone knows how the entire collective
works in case people are removed/arrested? How does one foster the
group spirit without creating Groupthink (everyone just agreeing
because the larger group says something)? Should there be set
organizational principles where independent persons are assigned the
task of opposing decisions simply for the purpose of creating a critical
atmosphere?

GK: Actually in my experience, the reverse problem "i.e. of
good-hearted but disruptive individuals" is more common. Forging
decisions by consensus is always desirable but not always possible. In
no way should organizations mandate dissent if it does not organically
emerge. We in the USA are individualistic more than enough to insure
dissent and internal debate. Indeed, everyone wanting to be the leader
--particularly among males--is too much of a problem in the USA.

It is highly idealistic to expect to do everything equally. Yes, shit work
like taking the garbage out and other such tasks need to be shared. But
some people are better writers, musicians, cooks, or public speakers
than others. While it is desirable to rotate such tasks, it is not always
most productive. On the other hand, since publicly identified "leaders"
are jailed, killed, sent into exile, or more commonly in the rich countries,
co-opted into the system's control center, care should continually be
taken to develop the skills and abilities of every member of the
movement. If we are able to multiply through the ongoing efforts of
everyone, rather than simply add new members through the brilliance of
orators and charisma of individuals, we will build a stronger, more
resilient movement.
See also:
http://www.kazm.net/raan/
http://www.kazm.net/forum/


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