Comments Off on Leaving the SPVM Behind to Attack a High-Tech Hub: A Promising Anti-Capitalist May Day
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
This May Day, Montreal’s annual anti-capitalist demonstration organized by the CLAC gathered in Jarry Park under the theme “No old normal, no new normal”. It was a sunny late afternoon, and the energy was high amid the banners and black flags as the demo began to snake through the residential streets of Villeray.
Heading west on De Castelnau, fireworks were set off, and construction cones were used to block the road behind us. The cops seemed confused about the route we were taking, which meant that there were less of them in our near vicinity. Dropping south onto Jean-Talon, the demo continued west through the viaduct beneath the St-Jérôme commuter rail line.
Leaving the Police Behind
Turning south on Parc Avenue from Jean-Talon, the demo excitedly entered a second viaduct under the same rail line. This time, a surprise was in store for the police vans and bike cops waiting for the crowd to pass to the other side before continuing to trail the demo: smoke bombs were set off in the viaduct, and crow’s feet were deployed on the road to puncture the tires of any cop vans that might brave the smoke-filled passageway. These actions effectively blocked the viaduct, a chokepoint in the area, to all traffic.
With the majority of the cops stuck on the north side of the train tracks, the demo took a hard left toward rue Saint-Zotique immediately upon exiting the viaduct. Garbage and terrasse furniture were pulled into the street to further protect the demo, and our pace quickened.
We don’t have to accept the police surrounding our demos, flanking, filming, and harrassing us, or tailing us with a dozen riot vans ready to tear-gas us at a moment’s notice. Some situations may call for direct confrontation, but on this day our best bet was evasion. With a little inventiveness, foresight, and collective intelligence, we can leave the police behind.
Paying a Visit to the Artificial Intelligence Headquarters
About two minutes later heading east on Saint-Zotique, the demo took a right on Saint-Urbain. An assortment of bike cops were observing the demo from about a block away, but their riot cop backup was nowhere in sight, and the bike cops kept a safe distance.
On our right stood the “O Mile-Ex” building, which functions as the headquarters of Montreal’s artificial intelligence sector, as politicians and academics have strained over the past five years to position the city as a global AI hub. The inter-connected buildings at 6650 and 6666 Saint-Urbain house MILA (a research institute affiliated with Université de Montréal that collaborates with Google and Facebook), Thales (a French defense and security contractor), Borealis (the AI lab of the Royal Bank of Canada), Quantum Black (the AI lab of notorious global consulting firm McKinsey), SCALE AI (a “supply chain supercluster” controlled by the Desmarais family), and a couple dozen other labs and startups.
While they talk a lot about “ethics” to distract the public, these companies develop technologies that strengthen the hold of capitalism and authority over our lives. Whether they lead to more efficient supply chains for large corporations, automated video surveillance and facial recognition to protect the government and the property of the rich, or workplace monitoring algorithms that impose dehumanizing conditions on workers, we know who stands to gain from these tools, and it is not the exploited, excluded and oppressed of society. As anarchists wrote recently, “what is at stake is our capacity to have secrets, to resist, to agitate, to attack what destroys everything we love and protects everything we hate.”
In addition, the O Mile-Ex facility with its hordes of tech yuppies is a massive driver of displacement in the surrounding area. Together with the new Mil campus of Université de Montréal, its effects spill over into Parc-Extension, a working-class, mostly immigrant neighborhood under increasing threat of gentrification.
Technology companies have exploited our isolation during COVID-19 confinement measures to increase their profit margins and expand their presence with little resistance, and as the crisis of the pandemic gives way to the next phase of the crisis of capitalism, they seek to shape a “new normal” that cements their power.
For all these reasons, it was a beautiful sight to see multiple crews within the crowd target these buildings. As MILA’s windows were broken one after another by hammers, rocks and other projectiles, any illusion that these businesses and researchers enjoy the benefit of a social consensus shattered as well. Smoke bombs were tossed into the building through the holes in the windows, hopefully setting off the sprinklers and causing water damage.
After the attack on O Mile-Ex, some cops that appeared toward the south on Saint-Urbain received volleys of rocks and fireworks. The demo headed east on Saint-Zotique, continuing to evade major police deployments, turning south on Clark then cutting through Parc de la Petite-Italie to then turn north on Saint-Laurent. The park and the many intersecting streets on Saint-Laurent provided respectable opportunities for de-blocking and departure. The dispersal was accelerated by riot cops that began charging up Saint-Laurent behind the demo, firing tear gas. Some police were even spotted on the roof of a residential building, dropping tear gas canisters on the crowd: an unexpected maneuver. A civilian driver who was aggressively trying to push through protesters was confronted and had his car windows smashed out. The cops that swarmed the area where people were dispersing detained a few people, arresting two, but no serious charges have been laid. Blocking streets more consistently with garbage and other obstacles in these contexts could have been helpful.
It is a precious experience to take risks together in the streets with hundreds of comrades and anonymous accomplices, who dream of a world after capitalism, of burning police stations and border posts, of looted supermarkets, of forests, mountains, and rivers protected from all forms of industrial degradation and returned to the nurturance of indigenous peoples’ territorial autonomy. Although the accomplishments of one May Day demo may be minor as regards the whole landscape of our aspirations, we believe the relationships we develop through these moments should not be underestimated.
The Convergence des luttes anticapitalistes (CLAC) denounces the violent repression of its demonstration again this year. Indeed, the SPVM proceeded, as usual, to unjustified and brutal arrests. The police used truncheons and tear gas to silence the people who are tired of being exploited every day to enrich the nauseating bourgeoisie and their companies that profit from COVID-19. Several people were injured and the police even destroyed the cell phone of one participant.
More than 750 people gathered to denounce the exacerbation of social injustice and precariousness during the current pandemic. Capitalism and neo-liberalism have laid the foundations for this disaster and it is certainly not through this economic system that we will get out of the crisis. The organizers would like to thank the participants of the demonstration who took to the streets this year, despite the health crisis, with masks and distancing measures.
As part of the International Workers’ Day, CLAC organized today the annual May Day anti-capitalist demonstration, which started at 4PM in Jarry Park. Last year, due to the health situation, there was no rally, but we did call for a day of visibility actions, which was a great success.
This year, we went to protest in the Mile-Ex to denounce the artificial intelligence companies that are shamelessly taking advantage of the crisis, converting public subsidies into tools for the private sector. The companies located there are a major force in the gentrification and displacement of the residents of Parc-Extension in addition of participating in the technological surveillance proliferation.
Stacy Langlois, a protester, said: “As always, it is the workers, the poor, the migrants, the people in predominantly female jobs, who are killing themselves – literally – to support the rich. We’re the ones who cook and deliver their food so they don’t have to go line up at the grocery store like the rest of us.” She continues: “Their recovery plan is to keep us in misery.”
In addition, the tightening of borders and the abuse of immigration authorities are on a mission to preserve these inequalities. Migrants who were “lucky” enough to come here are dying in our hospitals and warehouses. The streets of the poorest neighborhoods are empty, as the police are always looking for their next victims. The First Peoples are being humiliated, assaulted and killed by the governmental bodies driven by the extractivist companies. And in all this chaos, we are forced to obey, to remain silent, to be blind to everything that is happening around us. It is absurd and revolting!
In a fiery opening speech, Steven Lafortune-Sansregret cried out: “What we must revive is not the economy, but the struggles for the end of capitalist exploitation! “Together, ready to fight, we are much stronger and much more numerous than those who oppress us with impunity. Let’s refuse this “uberized” future and build a world of mutual aid and equity. To achieve this, we will use all necessary means.
We don’t want the world they are trying to sell us! No old normal, no new normal ! Let’s abolish capitalism!
that, today, as has always been the case, May 1 is an opportunity for the workers of all nations to celebrate their historic victories and to put forth demands for further improvements to their working conditions and their health and safety conditions in general;
that protecting the health and safety of health care workers is of primordial importance;
that the health care system and all of its workers, nurses, doctors, councillors, managers, office workers, and support staff are currently under enormous pressure and deserve our unconditional support;
We, the popular groups, unions, and community groups that organize and participate in the May 1 public events, call on those who will be joining our events:
to express their solidarity with health care workers, as well as with all “essential” workers, regardless of their citizenship status;
to wear a mask at all of our events;
to respect, insofar as possible, a safe two-meter distance from others at all of our events;
to avoid all unnecessary contact during our events.
We call on all groups and organizations that are planning events for May 1, 2021, to adhere to and respect this pact. Otherwise, we demand that they not hold an event on that day and, instead, stay home and not pose an additional threat to heath care workers and our health care system.
–> Si votre groupe ou votre organisation endosse ce PACTE pour un 1er mai solidaire, veuillez écrire à email@example.com pour être ajouté à la liste des signataires/participants.
–> Si vous adhérez à l’esprit de ce pacte en tant qu’individu, nous vous invitons à “participer” à l’événement Facebook qui se trouve à cette adresse, et à le relayer dans vos réseaux.
Across the world, May 1 is known as International Workers’ Day.
For 135 years, the working class has taken to the streets, organized, and demonstrated on this day, in a show of force to assert its interests and its opposition to the capitalist class and the politicians who play its games. The May 1 tradition was born in the blood of revolutionary trade unionists in the US, in 1886, thereafter spreading through the Americas and from there to Europe and the rest of the world, carried forward by the trade union movement, revolutionaries, anti-capitalists, and internationalists. Historic compromises have since led to its institutionalization in a number of countries, but anti-capitalist movements and milieus have, nonetheless, preserved its revolutionary expression in numerous initiatives in diverse contexts
This tradition is very much alive in Montréal and throughout Québec, where numerous events mark May 1 every year, including union rallies, an anti-capitalist demonstration, and a variety of community gatherings and social events meant to advance a range of demands and to, in different ways, mount a visible opposition to the privileged classes.
There are a number of events taking place in Montréal this year:
It seems that some of the leaders of the “conspiracy theory” anti-masking, anti-distancing, and anti-vaccination movement are behind a march organized for May 1 to “manifester [leur] désaccord face aux mesures sanitaires au Québec” [express (their) discontent with the public health measures in Québec]. (A number of citizens’ intiatives, including Montréal Antifasciste and Xavier Camus, have documented the influential roles of a number of individuals with ties to the far-right in the movement against Québec’s public health measures.)
This particular action in opposition to these measures will be held outside of the main vaccination center in Montréal, the Olympic Stadium, clearly without masks and with no intention to practice safe distancing.
At a point when the third wave is beginning to peek throughout Québec, when the health system
risks being overwhelmed by the COVID-19 variants, with the vaccination campaign not unfolding as quickly as would be optimal to offset these variants, and at a point when heath care and social service workers are at the end of their rope after thirteen months of intense efforts to counter the pandemic, we find it breathtakingly unacceptable that the conspiracy theory movement and the COVID deniers will take to the street on May 1 and put those workers’ lives, as well as the lives of all other workers deemed essential, at risk with their irresponsible behaviour.
The health and safety of workers have always been a key preoccupation of the movements advancing the interests and demands of the working class and the organizers mobilizing for May 1.
It’s about time the majority of workers make perfectly clear their growing fatigue with the recklessness of the conspiracy theorists behind the movement against the public health measures, who, it must be stressed, have submerged themselves in the far right’s pseudo-ideology.
The pandemic we are mired in precarize everyone and highlights serious injustices. The stimulus wished by the leaders is an economic stimulus which is not addressed to us. It is not addressed to the artists and other people who don’t make enough profit to merit the right to exist. It does not concern sex workers, whose existence itself is still criminalized. This stimulus ignores handicapped people, the marginalized, those with mental health issues. The stimulus they talk about, it is for the oil companies, the Bombardier corporations, the party friends like Guzzo, but it is not for us. To let the governments save us from the crisis they created themselves through the constant cuts to healthcare and through their “snowbird” lives, would be to accept death. What we need to stimulate is not the economy, but the struggles for our rights and the end of capitalist exploitation.
The economic rebuilding project bets on a technological world stained with inequalities and based on dirty capitalist exploitation. The strenghtening of national borders and the abuses of immigration instances, which are illegitimate in this so-called Canada, aim to preserve these inequalities. And while in the North we vaccinate, we forget those who clothes us in the Gildan factories of Haïti. We forget that each zoom conference depends on the work in African and South American mines. Those same countries who might not see the vaccine before the next pandemic. Words of thanks and empty promises won’t bring back to life the Haitian “petrochallengers” killed by police forces trained by Canada, nor give back the eyes lost by Chilean protesters blinded by Canadian weapons. It will take much more to give back life to Raphaël « Napa » André, to Joyce Echaquan, and to all the native people killed here and elsewhere.
We saw worldwide injustices explodes in this last dreadful year. Migrants people who had the “chance” to come here now die in our hospitals and our warehouses. The streets of our poorest neighborhood are empty, the police being constantly on the hunt for their next prey. The First Nations are humiliated, attacked and killed by government instances, guided by extractivist companies. And in all this chaos we are imposed obedience, silence and self-deception in front of all that goes on around us.
We cannot let this be! Let’s refuse to police ourselves and our actions, because we recognize that to live in a world constrained by racist, colonialist and LGBTQIA2S+phobic laws is a challenge in itself. It is those same laws which feed genre inequalities which gives more reason to the most fortunate and to the rich heir·esse·s: do not legitimate them by accepting those laws for ourselves! We are angry when we see the disappearance of monetary assistance, of our jobs, and the precarization of those left, or from the imposition of a curfew with no scientific basis. We see it only as an excuse to legitimate State repression. The sanitary discourse makes no sense when we see that it is not applied equitably. The Legault government again shows its true face when it tries to safeguard the economy while throwing our lives away. We refuse this future dreamed of by billionaires, which drags our attention away through fear while they profit from the exploitation of the most vulnerable.
These billionaires, it is them who are the first polluters but the last to feel its consequences. It is those largest corporations who continue to exploit the work of migrant workers and to practice extractivism in First Nations’ territories, under the guise of economic growth and of the hypocrisy of the “green” or “sustainable” economy. While the whole world knows that the climate crisis is a major issue and will affect first marginalized people. For them, it’s business as usual as long as possible, until death do us part.
To make matters worse, the waiting lists in healthcare are even worse than what they were before the pandemic. Media took the opportunity to sell more anxiety-inducing news about the virus, casting a shadow on current struggles, especially those for the defense of the land. These struggles are alive, and we will remind them of that fact.
We are perceived as nothing but a mass of workers, empty and replaceable, but not is all lost. Together, we are ready to fight, and we are much stronger and numerous. Let’s refuse this “uberized” future and oppose to it a world of sharing and equality. And to get there, we will fight through all our might, which will take place by taking back the streets.
We will see you this May 1st, at 4PM, at Jarry park (corner of Gary-Carter and St-Laurent)!
Comments Off on Anarchy, Lockdown and Crypto-Eugenics: A critical response from some anarchists in Wales & England
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
“The Covid19 crisis has presented a challenge to anarchists and others who believe in a fully autonomous and liberated life” – so a recent submission to Montreal Counter-information declares. These words certainly resonate with our experiences. Anarchy in the UK is not just presented with a challenge; it is itself in crisis. Spycops, squatting ban, abusers, Corbynism, TERFs – the list is long, and the virus already found “the scene” in a sorry state. But Covid-19 represents something different, and on this we can agree with the analysis from Montreal. This is also where our agreement ends. In the following text we critique the analysis – we do so as its arguments are similar to those we have heard among friends and even comrades over the past months. Though the epidemic in the UK appears to be waning, its associated tendencies remain. The text calls for serious critiques, and so we offer the following in the spirit of antagonism against the present. We close with some suggested points of unity for anarchists in these times.
“Politicians”, their text begins, “lie”, and big pharma has exploited the pandemic. Maybe we can agree on a little more! In the UK, we were told that the virus was only a flu and to keep working as usual. (At the time of writing, the death count numbers over 125,000.) And we were told of Oxford’s vaccine, a people’s vaccine with no patent or borders (a mask that quickly slipped as the state reverted to vaccine nationalism). But these aren’t the lies they have in mind. Rather, they argue that politicians and the media have craftily overstated the virus’ threat, in a cunning plan to impose lockdowns and reap pharmaceutical profits. (Surely the hand-sanitiser corporations are behind this too..?) Anarchists, we are then told, have believed this powerful lie. Out of an “admirable [!] want to do well by the elderly and infirm”, the state has succeeded in “hacking our hearts and minds”.
This idea, appealing as it might be, is only a pale shadow of the reality. Covid-19’s threat is not a conspiracy, any more than Covid-19 itself. It is not the result of media hype any more than it is the product of Bill Gates’ brain or transmitted from 5G towers. It is the direct consequence of severe ecological destruction and capitalism’s toxic living conditions. Having brought it into existence, it is of course “exploited” by capital and state. As the critic notes, it is unlikely that capitalism will eradicate it, even if certain states claim this as their goal. Instead it is managed, incorporated, capitalised upon. This is at a far more fundamental level than creating profits for some pharmaceutical companies – we are seeing in the colonial core an historic restructure of work and class-composition. Our critic begins to scratch at this surface (they describe lockdowns as “classist”, as if a lack of lockdown would be classless!). Scratch a little deeper, and we see that capitalism faces a familiar contradiction: exploit workers, but ensure there are workers to be exploited tomorrow. Manage the virus, manage production. Like inflation, the death-graph must be regulated – kept just right. Everywhere this paradox is obvious: “stay at home” but “go to work”! Technocrats and managers debate the 2 metre rule just as the 19th century Factory Acts debated the relation of profits, health and cubic-feet per worker.
We can call this capital’s “positive” side. Though each worker is cheap and replaceable, capital needs a body of workers. It can’t have everyone ill at once, and it can’t afford killing off too much of its working population. But it also finds and creates bodies superfluous to capitalist production: disposable bodies, bodies in the colonial margins, old bodies, less or unproductive bodies, bodies that cannot “work”. It’s here that we see capitalism’s eugenic and Malthusian tendency. This tendency, always present, has for the disabled been intensified in recent years, as the numerous lives lost due to benefit cuts demonstrate. Since the beginnings of “public health” in the 19th century, triage systems (a military invention) have ranked bodies in a hierarchy of value, rationing resources under conditions of artificial scarcity. In recent times, do-not-resuscitate notices imposed on Covid-19 patients with learning disabilities were the result of a care algorithm – tech meets “accidental” eugenics. Capitalism itself could accurately be described as an algorithm of crypto-eugenics, always at risk of fascism outright. Like fascism, Covid-19 presents an existential threat to the lives of certain minorities – the proletarian disabled and the elderly in particular – and a slower death to others. And like fascism, liberal democracies allow it to exist, manage it, keep their monster on the leash. At times this management fails: health-care systems collapse, production plummets. At other times, the far-right call for the monster to be set free.
Recognising the pandemic as an existential threat is where “our conversation should begin”. The critic talks of anarchists on the one hand, and the elderly and “infirm” on the other. It’s the anarchist that is agent-subject here, their freedom to act with or without them (the “vulnerable”) in mind. It erases from the beginning elderly anarchists, disability anarchism. Where are they and their freedoms in this imagined revolt? Our critic continues: as free anarchists, we also care for others, we co-operate with “consent” and without “force”. But who’s force, what consent? It’s a simple truth that your right to drink in the pub (that is, the right of the business to re-open) shits on the freedom of those at serious risk, those a few links down the chain of transmission. These chains of transmission are our chains. As anarchists we affirm the violence of liberation. Let us be clear: those that threaten the disabled cannot be consented with. We will find no freedom in frozen morgues.
The critic goes on to downplay the threat of Covid-19, a familiar refrain. Montreal Analysis come Barrington Deceleration – talk about technocrats! They cite statistics on average risks, masking the deadly risks to specific minorities (it won’t be bad for you!). They pit Covid-risks against cancer treatment (we can only afford one or the other!), despite the virus being far more deadly for those fighting cancer. Even were Covid-19 somewhat less risky (look, only 60,000 deaths!), the crypto-eugenic logic remains. In the UK, we must critically analyse recent events – particularly that certain assemblages of the state openly plotted course for “herd immunity” without a vaccine. It’s safe to assume that this Malthusian wet-dream would have led to health-system collapse and perhaps half a million deaths (“acceptable losses”).
Where the critic calls on anarchists to question and critique the Covid-19 threat, we call on anarchists to reflect critically on eugenics as a logic of capital and state. We must also grapple seriously with its nasty history in the anarchist tradition, from Emma Goldman’s writings to sections of primitivist and anti-civ thought. As pandemics become more prevalent and eco-fascisms enter the mainstream, anarchists must fight to ensure nobody is “left behind”.
Finally, our friend attacks the tyranny of lockdown, claiming that as anarchists this should be our aim, and that in failing to do so we have cowardly ceded ground to the far-right. But their target is both abstract and confused. They use the terms curfew, lockdown and closures interchangeably (one of their cited articles even describes mandated mask wearing as “draconian”!) and argue that these measures must be attacked “in principle” as they are imposed without “consent”. We argue that as anarchists there is no state which can be consented to, and that the very notion of a social contract has nothing to do with anarchy. Rather than make vague statements for #freedom in the style of the Tea party right, we must locate and attack the instruments of power and control. “Lockdown” has come to mean a myriad of very contrasting measures – from asking people to stay at home to policed curfews, from enforcing meager workplace health and safety to the breaking of strikes, from closing businesses and schools to violent prison lockdowns (the term’s original meaning), from fining tourists and quarantine hotels to detaining migrants in military camps. It should be obvious which of these as anarchists we must attack, and which we can leave alone – or even fight for.
We must define our targets and recognise our enemies. Free business has nothing to do with our freedom. Simply opposing lockdown “edicts from on high” is as empty as supporting all protest. In the UK we have seen large, rowdy Covid-conspiracy demos led by celebrity anti-Semites, but we have also seen unpolitical gatherings fighting the police – as well as organised demonstrations for black lives. The US presents an even simpler dichotomy. Nothing could be clearer than the difference between the late-Spring business protests against Democratic governors and the Summer’s black uprising against the police. The first stood for the rights of small businesses and merged into the right-wing militia movement. The second exploded anger at the cops, expropriated goods and created temporary autonomous spaces. As anarchists we know where we stand.
Speculative points of unity:
Smash crypto-eugenics, of the right and of the left Obstruct Covid-conspiracy demos, recognising them as far-right mobs Resist the criminalisation of the pandemic, policing powers, curfews and intensified surveillance Target the reinforced border regime and “lifeboat fascism” Organise against the return to unsafe workplaces Fight the evictions of anarchist spaces and the mass-eviction wave Further networks of mutual aid and act with dangerous care Sabotage ecological destruction and animal exploitation, the cause of present and future pandemics Analyse the changing terrain, refuse the postponement of anarchy
“It has been stated over and over again that the English doctors are unanimous in declaring that where the work is continuous, 500 cubic feet is the very least space that should be allowed for each person. … [but were this to happen] [t]he very root of the capitalist mode of production, i.e., the self-expansion of all capital, large or small, by means of the “free” purchase and consumption of labour-power, would be attacked. Factory legislation is therefore brought to a deadlock before these 500 cubic feet of breathing space. The sanitary officers, the industrial inquiry commissioners, the factory inspectors, all harp, over and over again, upon the necessity for those 500 cubic feet, and upon the impossibility of wringing them out of capital. They thus, in fact, declare that consumption [tuberculosis] and other lung diseases among the workpeople are necessary conditions to the existence of capital.” Karl Marx, Das Kapital (Chapter Fifteen: Machinery and Modern Industry, Section 9). If we assume a work-room height of 10 feet, 500 cubic feet would give a base of approximately 7 x 7 feet, 7 feet being a little more than 2 metres.
On the 26 June 2020, England revised its guidance from 2 meters to 1. Whilst “the evidence shows that relative risk may be 2-10 times higher”, “there are severe economic costs to maintaining 2 metre distancing. With a 2 metre rule in place, it is not financially viable for many businesses to operate.” https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-two-metre-social-distancing-guidance/review-of-two-metre-social-distancing-guidance
The linked Guardian article is from February 2021, but concerns regarding do-not-resuscitate forms were raised by medical establishment bodies at the beginning of the UK epidemic. https://www.cqc.org.uk/news/stories/joint-statement-advance-care-planning
“I just need you to recognize that this shit is killing you, too, however much more softly, you stupid motherfucker, you know?” Fred Moten on racism (interview, 2013). Vaccine nationalism is increasingly shifting this to the “postcolonial” elderly and disabled. Other groups of course include certain sections of the workforce (mostly low-paid) and people of colour, the urban poor, the incarcerated, migrants. (We would argue that the existential threat directly applies here to the elderly and disabled, whereas the Covid-regime intensifies existing threats against the latter groups.) A lot could also be said about the privatisation of Covid-risk to the household and the domestic abuse this has further enabled.
The UK’s Office for National Statistics estimates disabled people as making up 60% of all Covid-19 deaths (November 2020). Similar to “BAME” deaths, “raised risk is because disabled people are disproportionately exposed to a range of generally disadvantageous circumstances compared with non-disabled people.” https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/articles/coronaviruscovid19relateddeathsbydisabilitystatusenglandandwales/24januaryto20november2020#main-points
The ONS estimated that approximately 15% of the population had antibodies to Covid-19 on the 18th of January 2021 (the rate was lower for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland). On this date the total UK deaths of people who had received a positive test result (a relatively low measure) was approximately 95,000. “Herd immunity” is estimated to require a threshold of at least 60% (the percentage Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Vallance gave in his interview with Sky News on March the 13th, 2020) possibly more. That is, to reach herd immunity without a vaccine, more than four times as many people in the UK would need to have been infected than had in January 2021, making it reasonable to assume four times as many deaths (giving 380,000 as a conservative estimate). This is before considering reinfection, the lack of treatments at the beginning of the pandemic, likely health-system collapse, the higher chance of new variants etc. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/healthandsocialcare/conditionsanddiseases/articles/coronaviruscovid19infectionsurveyantibodydatafortheuk/3february2021
More evidence has emerged of herd immunity without a vaccine being a pushed for strategy prior to March 23rd, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-54252272
By the Sex Work Autonomous Committee, an autonomous political organization of sex workers based in Montreal with the aim of demanding the decriminalization of sex work, and better working conditions in the sex industry more broadly.
Cari Mitchell is a former sex worker and a member of the English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP), a network of sex workers in the United Kingdom working both outdoors and indoors campaigning for decriminalisation and safety.1
In 2000, the ECP organized a sex workers’ strike that was part of the Global Women’s Strike on International Women’s Day. The Global Women’s Strike is an international network campaigning for recognition and payment for all caring work. A sex/work strike was organized again at that date in 2014 and 2019, on these occasions, with other sex workers’ organizations. We asked Cari Mitchell to share her experience as one of the organizers of the strike.
CATS: Your collective has existed for many years and used many political strategies to obtain rights for sex workers. How did the strike come up as a tactic to obtain decriminilization of sex work?
C.M.: Our collective which started in 1975 was founded by immigrant sex workers. From the beginning we demanded the abolition of the prostitution laws and for money in women’s hands from governments so we can get out of sex work if and when we want. It was and still is mostly women that are doing sex work, mostly mothers, mostly single mothers, doing our best to support our families. In the ECP we also fight legal cases against criminal charges such as loitering and soliciting and brothel keeping. Whatever people come to us with, we help them. We are an organisation of different nationalities, races, ages, sexualities and all genders.
We work closely with other organizations. We are part of the Global Women’s Strike and the campaign for a Care Income Now2. Like other women we want our work of giving birth and raising the next generation to be counted, valued and paid for. And as sex workers we know that if we had that money for the work we are already doing, most of us wouldn’t have gone into prostitution in the first place. We wish that those people who complain about the number of women who have to go into sex work because of poverty and lack of economic alternatives, would instead press the goverment for that money.
We are based at the Crossroads Women’s Centre in London and work closely with Women Against Rape, which is an anti racist, anti-violence against women organization. We also work with disability organizations – we have a number of women in our own network who have disabilities or who have children with disabilities, which is why they are working to get the money to cover the extra costs of dealing with a disability. Queer Strike which is part of the LGBTQ movement in the UK are also allies as is Support Not Separation which fights against children being taken from their mothers – which is happening here at frightening rates, the excuse being given that mothers are not protecting children against poverty or domestic violence. This is so outrageous. We know of sex workers who only started working to support their children and then have had them taken away by social services saying they are unfit mothers!
We have an international network so we learn from everyone’s experiences. Our sister organization in San Francisco is USPROS (The US PROStitutes Collective) and EMPOWER is our sister organisation in Thailand – who are involved at the moment in the massive struggle for justice in that country.
We campaign for decriminalisation along the lines of the law that was introduced in New Zealand in 2003 which has been shown to improve sex workers health and safety. The law removed consenting sex from the criminal law which means that the police now have to prioritise our safety rather than prosecute.
Women going on strike to demand recognition for their unwaged and low waged work has quite a long history. In 1975, all the women in Iceland went on strike and the whole country ground to a halt. It was fantastic! There are photos of thousands of women out in the streets. Newscasters had to have their children with them in the studio while they were reading the news about the women being out on strike!
People have always known that withdrawing our labour is a way of bringing attention to the issues we want to raise. On International Women’s Day in 2000, the Global Women’s Strike was organizing a women’s strike in many countries calling on governments to recognise and value all the unwaged work women are doing in the world. UN figures at the time showed that women are doing two thirds of the world’s work for just 5% of the income and 1% of the assets. We were already working with sex workers in Soho, London – one of the most well known red light areas in the country. Sex workers there had been part of our network for decades and we had fought a number of campaigns with them against the local Westminster Council trying to close down flats – trying to gentrify the area. Many of the women working in Soho are migrant women and the police targeted them in particular for raids, arrest and deportation but used as an excuse the claim that women were trafficked and needed saving. When we spoke with them, sex workers from Soho said they wanted to join the International Women’s Day strike. Women there work in walk-up flats – the clients come and knock on the door and wait. On the Strike day those doors were closed and Soho sex workers came together with others who worked in different places and ways. We all joined the Global Women’s Strike.
So that no-one could be identified, all the people on the march wore masks. No-one could tell who was a sex worker and who wasn’t, it was a fantastic success and there was a lot of publicity.
In the ECP we try to bring out the truth about sex work- about who we are and why we are doing it so people can have more of an understanding. We talk about the effects of criminalization on our safety and how we are workers just like any other workers, that most of us are supporting families both in the UK and in other countries as well. There are so many migrant sex workers sending money home to countries all over the world. These messages came across in our demands in the Strike in 2000 which was a great leap forward.
We continued to work with sex workers in Soho as Westminster Council continued to pursue them. Some flats were closed and women were driven out onto the streets. Tragically, one woman was murdered in 2000, shortly after the Strike. She was very well known within our network, we knew all about her. Her name was Lizzie and she was murdered while working on the street shortly after being forced out of a Soho flat. No sex worker has ever been murdered while working in a Soho flat. It is 10 times more dangerous to work outside than it is to work indoors with others.
The prostitution laws make it unlawful for sex workers to work together for safety, they drive the industry underground and so make us all vulnerable to violence. Under loitering and soliciting laws – just standing on the street and talking to a client, sex workers can be taken to court and convicted on the word of a single police offier. Once you have a conviction you have a criminal record under sexual offences and it’s pretty much impossible to get out and get another job. So you’re stuck. The police now often use civil orders which also force women to move out of areas they are familiar with and into darker side streets. If you work in a group for company and safety your colleagues can take your client’s car registration number when you get in the car and you can make sure he knows this. But that’s not possible if you have to work by yourself in a dark area to avoid coming to the attention of the police. Where police continue to crackdown, violence and murder of sex workers rises.
Indoors, it’s not illegal to exchange money for sexual services, but everything you have to do to work with others is against the law. More than one woman working from a premises is a brothel and arranging for people to work together, advertising, paying the rent is all unlawful under brothel keeping legislation. It is basically illegal to work safely in this country. Working together means people can look out for each other and learn from each other not only how to work more safely but also for instance to get the money first, how to deal with clients, how to do the job in the quickest time. One of the problems with continued police crackdowns is that most sex workers in this country are now having to work on their own.
Things have changed though – years ago sex workers used to be described in the press as vice girls, but that doesn’t happen anymore. The press is much more respectful and the public is much more aware of who sex workers are. They know that a lot of us are mothers, migrants, trans, women of color; they know that we are vulnerable women who have few alternatives to sex work. The strikes have been a really effective contribution towards this change. The more recent International Women’s Day strikes were organized by other sex workers organizations but we were very prominent in them, especially in the 2014 and 2019. We did a lot of organizing to get people out and we were very much out there and they were both a great success. It doesn’t always feel like it but things are moving along.
CATS: Your movement is in favor of decriminalisation and not legalisation. Can you explain why you think this model is the best option for sex workers?
C.M.: Decriminalisation which was won in New Zealand in 2003 has been a verifiable success. It was introduced under health and safety legislation and sex workers there say that they now have more legal and other rights and more protection from violence – they know they will not be prosecuted if they come forward and report violence to the police and under these circumstance violent men are more aware they will not get away with it. This makes an enormous difference to sex workers safety and is a standard we think should be everywhere.
Legalisation is completely different. It’s state-run prostitution. People have to register with the authorities to work legally and most people are unable to do that. Legalisation creates a two tier system where if you can afford to be known to be working you’re ok and you can work in the legalised areas or premises – but most of us can’t come out as sex workers. Who knows what might happen if your child’s school or a social worker or health authorities find out. It’s simply not something most people can do. In those countries where there is legalisation the prostitution stigma remains, most sex workers don’t register with the authorities and continue to work unlawfully. In the well known areas where people work outdoors, someone just walking into the area can be identified as a sex worker. Who can afford that? Internationally, sex workers are not campaigning for legalisation, we’re campaigning for decriminalisation. We want all consenting sex to be removed from the criminal law
CATS: Your strike was part of a broader women strike in the UK and internationally on International Women’s Day to bring attention to labor exploitation in all aspects of women’s lives. How do you think being a sex worker can compare to other feminised labour or unpaid work such as caregiving and cleaning?
C.M.: In lots of ways it’s similar work. Clients come to us not only because they want sex, but also because they want someone who is sympathetic to them, who will listen to them. Maybe it’s for fifteen minutes, maybe it’s for half an hour, maybe it’s an hour, maybe it’s for longer but they want the personal contact, that they are at the center of someone’s attention for that time.
In fact, one of the women in our network did sex work with a client but was also working with him as a care worker. She did both jobs with the same person and said it was much more work doing the caring work then it was doing the sex work.
In 2017, we did a survey which found there were many other jobs that women describe as exploitative and dangerous3. Sex work is one of the most dangerous jobs women do purely because violent man know that they can get away with being violent to us – they know we’re not going to report anything to the authorities because we don’t want to get prosecuted. That’s how it is.
That survey was really illuminating. We launched it in the House of Commons and it’s been very useful to show there are many other jobs that are described by women as being particularly exploitative and dangerous – that sex work is not uniquely exploitative.
In sex work, you can earn a bit more money in a bit less time and that’s very important especially if you’re a mother or you’re doing another job, maybe you’re working in a bank or working another way and you’re doing it to top up your low wages. A lot of people are doing that. Also, if you are a migrant, you don’t have access to jobs in this country in the same way at all. For instance if you’re an asylum seeker you don’t have the right to look for jobs. A lot of people are living in poverty and suffering discrimination – for instance trans people and women of color face racism and other disrimination all the time in the job market – that’s why so many people are driven into the sex industry.
CATS: How is a sex work strike organized concretely? How can you make sure everyone can participate, even the more precarious ones? The whorearchy (the hierarchisation of different types of sex work as some being more respectable such as stripping or camming then full-service sex work, particularly those who work outside) is one of the factors that affects the amount of criminalization someone will experience. Was this an issue while organizing the strike and how can you address this?
C.M.: We’ve been going for a long time and have a really big network around the country – as well as internationally. We’re in touch with people who work outdoors and indoors in many different places and we invited everyone to come to join the 2000 Strike. The organizing meetings were with people who were not only working in Soho but in other places as well. We sat down and made sure that everybody was able to put forward their suggestions. We were very careful to make sure everybody knew that they would not be public on the day, they would not be recognisable and would be able to take part without compromising their security in any way. That they were not going to be identified because everyone would be wearing masks.
People who worked in many different ways including strippers and people working online took part. We were really determined not to be divided. We are all affected by the laws in some way, however we work, but it was very important to us to make sure that people knew we start with the situation of people who work on the street who are most up against the law, are most stigmatised and therefore most vulnerable to the police and to other violence. So people knew we were not going to have any slagging off of anyone about the way they worked, that’s just not on the agenda. We are all doing it for the money because we need that money and we choose to work in different ways, whichever way fits our lives the best. I think that’s one of the reasons why we were successful in organizing the 2000 strike and the subsequent ones. Because people knew that we’re not going to be divided against each other.
CATS: Here in Montreal and Canada, most unions and mainstream feminist organizations are still in favor of the Nordic model. How was it organizing a sex work strike within a bigger feminist movement? How did you find alliance in the left and the feminist movement?
C.M.: Feminists who take a moral stand against prostitution have always been around, but back in 2000, they were not really interested in coming out against us and neither were the unions. Since then Nordic model has been more of an issue and we take every opportunity we can to address it – like going to trade union conferences, speaking out when we’re interviewed with feminists in the press. When you point out that criminalizing clients is going to increase the stigma and drive everybody underground so undermining safety, it’s obvious why we’re against it. Every country where the Nordic model has come in has shown an increase in violence against sex workers. Those women who call themselves feminists and are pressing for the Nordic model are in fact the biggest obstacle to getting decriminalization. If they would go to the government and say ‘Well, we don’t think women should be in prostitution, but we think that women should have money in their hands so they don’t have to do it’, that would be great ! But they don’t – they take a moral standpoint against prostitution and often make a career out of opposing it as politicians or journalists or academics. At the 2000 International Women’s Strike, there were thousands and thousands of women marching. There was the odd group of feminists standing on the edges with some odd placards, but they were never in a position to counter what sex workers were saying publicly.
Women’s safety is something that the government shouldn’t be able to argue about. We have here a prestigious government committee which spent a year doing an enormous piece of research into prostitution and in 2016 recommended that it be decriminalized, both outdoors and indoors. Also, crucially that prostitution records be wiped clean so that sex workers can get other jobs. It also recomended prostitution not be conflated with trafficking. But their recommendations were not taken up – the government saying it needed more research which just meant more money in academic’s hands. But even those academics who did do further research were not able to come up with the kind of counter report they had so wanted to produce.
The laws have to change and they will change. A divorcee used to be called a “scarlet woman” but not nowadays- things are changed, there has been a women’s movement and decriminalization will happen because sex workers are a key part of that international women’s movement.
CATS: The criticism of borders and the way they are almost always excluded in the trafficking discourse seems to be a big part of your campaign. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
C.M.: We have a lot of immigrant women in our network and a lot of them are seeking asylum, running from other countries and trying to survive. Under UK legislation, people making claims for asylum have to live off of 37 pounds a week4, a pittance! So in order to survive and maybe to send some money home, sex work is one of the options people have.
We also know from our experience not only in Soho but also in cities around the country that the police target migrant sex workers under the guise of saving women from traffickers. We have made it a priority to counter that. For instance, in Soho, women say ‘look we are not being forced, we are working here because we need to survive and to send money home to our family. Every penny we earn, we send it home to our family’. The only force sex workers are under is the force is not having enough money to survive without doing it.
The best research has shown that less than 6% of migrant sex workers are trafficked. So when we speak publicly we make sure that we counter the publicity that police get when they raid. And it’s clear that these raids don’t have anything to do with saving any women from trafficking but to aid the immigration agenda of the government – which is to deport as many migrant people as possible. Women who are picked up are often sent to immigration centers and deported against their will. Terrible.
CATS: Now what do you think are the next steps for the sex workers movement in the UK? How does COVID impact the way you mobilize?
C.M.: I’m sure it is the same in your country, but COVID has exacerbated everything. At first, everybody did try to stop working. People were and still are in this horrendous dilemma of either stopping working so you’re not making your family vulnerable to the virus – but then you’ve got no money to feed them. And you can’t pay your landlord if you work indoors. Or you can decide to continue working and have a bit of money but then you have to be very very careful with clients – and the police may come after you.
People who have continued working have taken very careful precautions with clients. During the lockdown, most people have basically stopped because they feared their neighbors or the police or other authorities are going to catch up with them in some way, they will get in trouble with the law and then you have another whole story to deal with.
Some sex worker organizations were doing a great job of raising money for sex workers who were unable to continue working, and we helped distribute that money around to people in our network who needed it. But we decided that as that good work was going on, we would focus on pressing the government to recognize sex workers as workers, to demand an amnesty from arrests, and to demand that sex workers are able to easily access emergency payments. But the government hasn’t done one single thing to enable sex workers to get that money. We made sure with our public campaigning that this point was very prominent and it did bring together some members of parliament. We asked everyone on our mailing list to write to their local MP and press them to raise these matters in parliament, and some MPs did do that. The government got back saying ‘Well people can access a benefit called Universal Credit’ which is a benefit that is very hard to access, takes ages to get to you, and isn’t enough to live on. People in general are much more aware about these very low benefits – so many people in this country are having to rely on them one way or another in order to survive right now.
The pandemic has clarified a lot of issues, starting with how much caring work women are doing, making sure people in communities have enough food, that they are okay. It also clarified the brutality of the government. For example in care homes, elderly people were not protected from the virus at all. They sent people who were positive with the virus from hospitals and into care homes so then of course, hundreds and thousands of elderly people died. But the government was happy – they haven’t got to pay their pension! The government recently announced that billions of pounds are going to the military, so we know that they have the money. They have had to organize a furlough system whereby people get 80% of their salaries if they are temporarily laid off. So we know that the money is there and we know that they have been lying to us when they say there is no money. It is very clear now they didn’t organize to make sure hospital and care home workers had all the protection they needed. It’s the same with sex workers, they don’t really care if we live or die. I think people have even more scepticism about the government than before.
Governments want to keep criminalisation of sex work because they want to keep us all divided, they want to divide us into good girls and bad girls. But we refuse that in the same way that we refuse to be divided as sex workers depending on the different ways we work. In New Zealand, decriminalization hasn’t resulted in an enormous increase of people doing sex work because that depends on the financial situation in the country. It’s just that you are not criminalized for earning money in that way. Governments have to contend with the international sex worker movement and based on safety and rights, we will win.
1 You can learn more about the ECP at https://prostitutescollective.net/
2 Care Income now is an international campaign led by the Global Women Strike that advocates for a care income for all those, of every gender, who care for people, the urban and rural environment, and the natural world. For more info: https://globalwomenstrike.net/open-letter-to-governments-a-care-income-now/
3 The report of the survey – What’s A Nice Girl Doing In A Job Like This: a comparison between sex work and other jobs commonly done by women, can be found on ECP’s website: https://prostitutescollective.net/
Stella, l’amie de Maimie: Fighting to end the criminalization of sex workers’ bodies since 1995
Sex working bodies are criminalized, surveilled, stigmatized, and discriminated against daily. Some people respect and revere our bodies, while others vilify and reduce us to the parts of bodies. Anti-sex work prohibitionists and law enforcement attempt to control us for using our bodies for pleasure, economic empowerment, and our advancement in society. Even though our bodies are only one of the many working tools we use in the context of our sex work, the stigma around sex work leads to social control and criminalization of our work and our lives. It results in discriminatory health, public, legal, and social services for sex workers, compromising our health and safety.
The criminalization – and ultimate prohibition of sex workers, clients, third parties, and advertising – introduced through The Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act (née Bill C-36) implemented in December 2014 impacts sex workers first and foremost – it displaces sex workers from habitual workplaces forcing sex workers to work in unknown areas and without safety mechanisms, it criminalizes communication necessary for consent in sex work, and fosters fear of arrest in clients whereby they do not share important information to sex workers. These “end demand” models are often described as “decriminalizing sex workers and criminalizing clients” – this is a lie. Limited understanding of “end demand” models means that their proponents are unaware of the ways in which this regime still criminalizes sex workers and put sex workers at risk.
Since 1995, sex workers in Montreal have been fighting for sex work law reform – the removal of criminal and immigration laws against sex work, as a first step to respecting sex workers’ rights. Decriminalizing sex workers, clients, and the people we live and work with is primordial to respecting sex workers Charter rights to safety and security. This echoes not only the Supreme Court decision in Bedford, but major international human rights research conducted by Amnesty International, UNAIDS, Human Rights Watch, and the World Health Organization, who all call for the total decriminalization of sex work. Decriminalization is only a first step: members of our community who occupy public space – particularly those who are Indigenous, Black, trans, who use drugs, who are living in homelessness — will continue to be harassed, surveilled, and policed. Ending unwanted and unsolicited visits from police in our lives is long overdue.
We continue our struggle to end the policing of our lives and our work, and we stand in solidarity with communities to defund police towards a police free society.
We invite sex workers working to contact us for non-judgemental advice and support, and ways to protect yourself during a time of increased surveillance, police repression, and general sentiments of prohibition.
The original French version of this text can be found here.
In early 2020, a truly awful text entitled “Re-attachments: Toward an ecology of presence” (or Rattachments: Pour une écologie de la présence, in the original French version) was published out of Quebec, signed by a collective called “Dispositions.” Anchored in appelist thought, this text combines out-of-context linguistic mysticism with certain thinly disguised conservative ideas and also defends tendentious neocolonial and capitalist positions – all with an altogether astonishing narcissism. Up until this point, we’ve kept our critiques of this text to the private sphere, as it did not seem worth the effort of critique on our part. Unfortunately, the fact that the text is circulating once again a year after its publication, and been translated into English, compels us to react. Though we developed our critique specifically in response to Rattachements, it could easily also apply to an American text that inspired it, Inhabit (itself now also translated into French and distributed in Quebec). Citations follow the order of the text, but are not precisely referenced, as the printed version of the text is not paginated.
After hurriedly presenting the current crisis, both human and ecological, Rattachements proposes that we transcend the paralyzing binary permeating the environmental movement: “activist environmentalism” and “individualist environmentalism.” One might expect a strategic proposal to replace this binary: to the contrary, the authors claim that to operate within the terrain of values, to determine the “orientation of [an] action,” falls within “activism” and that it is therefore of no interest. From the get-go, it seems that an esoteric immanence sprinkled with belief in the future (a hope counterbalanced later in the text) stands in for political strategy: for the authors, it would be sufficient, according to the authors, to “[know] that all the components for a magical life are already there waiting for us — understanding that we are acting in the long term.”
Who exactly the authors are addressing in this text is not specified, although it is indicated in the negative at the beginning of Section II. An assertion – reeking of class condescension – that poses the question of how one might “speak about ‘nature’ to the subjects formed by the metropolis.” The tone seems to connote genuine sorrow for the dispossessed urban poor, but nothing is said about how their dispossession should be overcome or how people so deprived might reconnect with nature, other than by buying land in the country. In effect, the authors insist on a reconnection to nature that is nothing but the privilege of the wealthy. So, to the poor dispossessed: so sad, but there is no ‘redemption through presence’ for you in Rattachements.
Elsewhere in the text, the authors correctly observe that the state seeks to capture the totality of struggles in defense of the earth and will pass off just about any green policy as progress towards our collective well-being, but they refrain from mentioning any of the myriad anticapitalist, radical ecological, and decolonial groups and collectives that struggle against the state without being captured by it. The authors render invisible the totality of existing radical movements in order to underscore the supposedly exceptional nature of their thinking and the inspired brilliance of their practices. In expressing regret at this supposed absence, this text intentionally obscures the practices of millions of people struggling around the world. As the real and existing radical movement is ignored by the authors, they propose the following in order to bring about change: “It is a question of defending forms of life from that which denies their possibility. It is about fighting and defeating the enemy (whose many forms lurk both within, and outside of us).” We do not know which forms of existence must be saved nor which enemies must be fought. An ellipsis would suffice, according to the authors. Capitalism? Colonialism? These terms are virtually absent from the text. A particular mention of settler colonialism (a few pages before the middle) is certainly relevant here, affirming that settler colonialism continues its policy of the extermination of Indigenous communities in Quebec and Canada, although the authoritative tone employed to express this (rare) interesting idea contrasts strangely with the subjectivism of the rest of the text.
While Rattachements claimed from the outset to break with traditional politics (indicated by their disdain for “activist environmentalism” as well as for strategy), a new perspective is put forward near the middle of the text that stands in direct contradiction with its presentist politics. Indeed, after having advocated a sort of mystical return to the self, encouraged a search for “the components for a magical life”, after having ignored social and collective problems, the authors contradict themselves in stressing that politics is the art of conflict, and that acting (politically) against “the economy” (why not capitalism?) implies “a real territoriality — a presence, a reattachment” … and thus “the possibility of concrete conflictuality.” Let’s be generous and assume ‘being present’ is a necessary prerequisite to ‘being in conflict.’ But beyond that, nowhere is it explained how a mystical presence in the world would become, by force of words, a real conflictual presence. Is it even possible to theorize political conflict without collective organizing (in the social and class sense), without strategy, without naming the (capitalist) enemy, etc? The presence that is advocated here is totally individualistic and devoid of political content. Note once again that only this signifier “presence” (in oneself, in nature) serves as political content from the beginning of the text to the place where we find ourselves. It is thus unfortunate to see that the authors, in attempting to integrate some bad Carl Schmitt as regurgitated by French appelistes, don’t even manage to pose a real political contradiction.
For sure, beyond mystical presence in and of itself, the whole notion of re-attachment ignores the question of the settler colonialism that founded the Americas. It seems a single mention of this colonization passes for serious reflection on the subject and, especially, suffices for drawing political consequences from it. Indeed, in the second part of the text, the authors incessantly speak of inhabiting, territories to inhabit, areas to (re)take, and so on: themes that are just new deployments of colonization, under a different name. Let’s say it plainly: if the authors of the text are claiming that territories are ‘rightfully due to them,’ it is because they have totally internalized the values of the white colonial bourgeoisie, the only social class that speaks of its right to vast open spaces and various territories, and for whom a simple affirmation of their existence constitutes politics.
The authors insolently take advantage of this to reject the collective responsibility that descendants of settlers bear. Recognizing this collective responsibility is necessary if we want to think through a real decolonial politics, but this is of no importance to the authors: they fear that such a recognition leads only to a “sacrificial politics.” The chain from cause to effect – from the acceptance of our collective responsibility in the genocidal colonial process to the issue of sacrifice – is not made explicit in the text. Rather, it seems that by refusing to carry this shared responsibility, they are trying to make their desires in unceded territories more palatable: to reappropriate territories, to build houses there, to cultivate the land, to be able to own property, to celebrate freely with friends, to be “present” and to place themselves beyond reproach. And to prevent others from discovering their secret: that such practices are nothing other than a new coloniality and a vague hedonism. This neo-colonial mentality at work was showcased at length in the excellent text Another Word for Settle: A Response to Rattachements and Inhabit. This text shows clearly the profound flaws of these two appelist texts.
For the Dispositions collective, not wanting to talk about collective crimes Western societies and individuals have perpetuated right up until the present day is just another way of absolving themselves of their political responsibilities. After having (very poorly) discussed political conflict near the middle of the text, the authors quickly circled back to their personalist leitmotif. Under the pretext of not wanting to guilt individuals (because guilt paralyzes political action), they refuse to name systemic problems. The simple solution would be to take aim at capitalism, the state, and its structures – this would also designate a clear enemy and create political conflict. In refusing to do so, the authors are instead unilaterally wagering that their self-absolution leads to inaction, or even to compulsory inaction. As a result, the authors fall into a wilfully naive relativism about responsibility, according to which there are neither ‘guilty nor victims.’ Starting from immanentism and personalism as politics, the text struggled with the issue of politics before reaching a conclusion that is liberal, apolitical, individualistic and contrary to any social revolutionary spirit.
Is pessimism the fundamental affect of the times? For the authors, perhaps. Although one wonders if this affirmation is not simply serving to justify anew the duty of inaction, the right to avoid struggle, the refusal of strategy. Another way of justifying that in these difficult times, it is better to be in love with oneself, which is truly in step with the times. But now the situation is reversed: never short of contradictions, the authors affirm now that we must “[become] responsible.” Nice words from those who are not ‘guilty’ but rather ‘pessimists.’ Is this really a contradiction? Not totally, since the responsibility posited by the authors is individual (towards oneself and one’s friends) and concerns the relations the individual maintains with others and with nature. Historical, political, and economic responsibility are cast aside. What is needed is to be responsible towards yourself and your neighbours. Doesn’t that just remind you of the “individualist environmentalism” decried at the beginning of the text! Or simply liberal individualism. Of course, for those who are not crushed by social and economic structures, it is easy to take on responsibility ‘towards’ oneself, with an aura of stoic saintliness. It is different for peoples and individuals who organize themselves and fight against colonialism, imperialism and capitalism; but it has long since been understood that Rattachements was not going to speak of the wretched of the earth, obsessed as it is with the spiritual reconnection of the white colonial petty-bourgeoisie to the world that surrounds them.
How do the authors propose getting past the initial dichotomy of the text? How should we conceptualize political conflict? “To make ecology truly political, we must ask the following question: what makes it possible for this or that community to live a fulfilling life, to increase its happiness?” Fairly weak as a grand political statement for the current era. Fighting capitalism? Organizing a new, self-managed world? Absolutely not: it seems that developing happiness and well-being in one’s own little corner of the world is enough to change the world and make revolution. This promise of happiness ‘in one’s own surroundings’ is the same as that of liberalism and capitalism, and is in no way in contradiction with social structures. Most members of the middle and upper classes can aspire to such happiness, without ever challenging the system of production and consumption that destroys millions of lives.
What is really at work here is the willingness to tend to your own garden and come to believe there is something inherently revolutionary about that. If you need more proof that the so-called politics invoked by the author are nothing more than the most banal ideas of our time: we should care for our relations, our collective apartments, our shared houses and our political meetings. Apart from the distasteful touch of ‘ownership,’ there is only a desire to get along well with your friends. No politics. Just: ‘I want things to go well with my housemates and with my crew.’ As in the whole text, no political, social or collective problems are raised. The authors admit that it is because they feel “so dreadfully inert” that they wish to reconnect with presence. Their condition seems to stem from simple depression, not a political call.
Some dubious references are brought up at the beginning of Part III: a mythical peasant life is invoked in a gesture that is both backward-looking and confused, experiences of the Zapatista struggling for self-determination are referenced (even though these experiences stand in direct contradiction to the reoccupation of territories by the descendants of colonizers, at the heart of the authors’ project), and finally they emphasize the autonomy of the Kanienʼkehá꞉ka, as if indigenous peoples were not specifically subjected to a colonial regime of non-autonomy in so-called Canada. It’s clear that these figures serve only to give the text a decolonial veneer, although the veneer is cracking due to the ‘back to the land and good rural life’ aspects of the text – an approach that is quite simply conservative and colonial. The authors again feel the need to insult those who engage in activism: they are making a “lazy self-sacrifice.” Why? Because they do not adhere to the bourgeois presentism and individualism of the authors? Coming from those who prefer to drop out and party on stolen territories with their clique, the insult is a particularly low blow.
In critiquing the pacifist strategies and tactics employed by certain environmental groups, the authors don’t hesitate to lump all activists together in the same boat. They counterpose to activism “the need for ecstatic forms of life,” the only form of “real organization” according to the authors. This is absurd nonsense: the text asks its readers to not only spit on activists, but also to favour the murky (and once again, mystical) idea of ecstasy over collective struggle, organization, and, yes, even sometimes sacrifice. On one hand, it should be noted that throughout the text the authors conflate activism, reformism, sacrifice and “absence from the world,” concealing various radical and social practices of struggle and proposing no solution other than their presentism and their retreat in “the commune” (a term that is out of place in this text). On the other hand, the authors seem unperturbed by the idea that “ecstasy” can be reserved for those whose class conditions – notably, economic – allow them to treat themselves to such a good “ecstatic” time. Would the authors dare to demand that night-shift warehouse workers in the Saint-Laurent industrial park not struggle against their employer, but ‘choose’ ecstatic life instead? Would they dare to submit their ‘ideas about ecstasy’ to those incarcerated in Leclerc? The narcissism and classism of the text peak right around here. How could you think for one second that for the truly oppressed, a choice exists between struggle (a bad sacrificial choice according to Dispositions) and the life of ecstasy (which one can choose deliberately if we wish to). This is how 200 years of revolutionary materialist reflections and practices go up in smoke.
And this ecstatic life, what does it look like? One must fight, steal, travel. And most importantly, “[find] money, [acquire] buildings and land to put in common. [Watch] life flourish.” In sum, fun pursuits for having a good time in the present, and capitalist pursuits for real life, for the future. We can’t help but observe that this ‘strategic’ paragraph of the text (the authors are clearly ignorant of the meaning of this word) only deals with festive and individual activities, as well as investments and classically economic activities (liberal and capitalist). If buying land and forming a cooperative on it is deemed to be revolutionary (or a strategy!), the authors will need to learn that it is not: buying a parcel of land and forming a cooperative on it is an economic action belonging to the capitalist regime and made possible by it, accessible only to the global middle and upper classes due to the costs of investment. It is also, in the context of North America’s foundational settler colonialism, an action that generally serves to perpetuate colonialism. Obviously, it can be useful for revolutionary movements to possess infrastructures, spaces, etc. But this possession, legal and capitalistic, is never revolutionary in itself, and even less so when it is used personally or for one’s small group.
The only concrete proposal in the text is therefore to abandon political struggles in favour of the self (family or nucleus of friends), and then to adopt capitalist life practices that allow individual enjoyment for those who can afford it. We find here the melting-pot that we named at the beginning of the text: the conservatism of bourgeois values, neocolonialism, capitalism, individualism and hedonism; we are entitled to assume that this is what is meant by finding “all the components of a magical life.”
Neocolonialism and conservatism are taken yet a little further, in the very fashionable vein of ‘back to the land.’ It thus becomes important to gather “what our aunt taught us about plum trees, how to sharpen our wood carving knives, how to can ten bushels of tomatoes.” We must find ourselves in “the commune” (again, a term out of place in this text), meaning in the country house bought with our friends, to perform these highly symbolic actions. The authors teach us that such actions are even capable of “definitively suspending the progress of the catastrophe.” It’s heavy with retrograde values as well as totally apolitical actions that are simply a matter of daily life. In short, nothing very ecstatic. Finally, we don’t need to judge the ecstasy of others: rather, we can judge that living with a few people in the countryside, while unburdening ourselves of our political responsibilities, does not in any way augur well for a revolutionary organization or political triumph. It is hard to see how such a project would distinguish itself from the myriad individual and apolitical initiatives trying to establish rural settlements (increasingly popular due to anxieties provoked by the ecological crisis) or worse, from green entrepreneurship (the famous organic permaculture farm). If these “autonomous” initiatives were really able to bring about the overthrow of current capitalist and colonial structures, Val-David would long since be a commune liberated from the market and from all oppression.
The last two pages condense various hallmarks of Rattachements: no structural analysis, no material analysis, the domination of our times considered primarily subjectively, a call to mystical presentism (return to oneself, to real life, to the world), a so-called politics that ignores all actual living conditions, etc. The climax of this colonial, capitalist, narcissistic and mystical text: “To make oneself both perceptible and open to perceiving. Affect and power, orientation and magnitude. It is not a question of fighting on ‘two fronts’, but of the practical elaboration of the double meaning of “presence” and “sensible.” The text thus closes its long litany of contradictions with a sentence that means absolutely nothing.
This long critique may seem repetitive and sometimes confusing. It nevertheless simply follows the thread of a long text called Rattachements, itself confused, full of contradictions, not fulfilling its promises. The text is meant to be a reflection on the present time and a proposal for revolutionary action, but in our opinion it is nothing more than a long display of neo-colonial, bourgeois, capitalist and narcissistic values. There are many absurdities, many contradictions, a vulgar personalism and nothing useful for current revolutionaries. Those who don’t think the text is so terrible should take the trouble to reread it carefully: it is terrible, it is an enemy. We know that the people behind this text are not enemies, but we cannot be complacent in the face of what they have written and distributed.
In the end, their text proposes yet another enviro-capitalist and individualist ‘alternative’: the very type of practice that diverts the vital force of political action and that contributes to the catastrophe under the pretext of ‘personal action.’ The lines of argument of Rattachements are contrary to the social and political understanding we need, contrary to the collective organization necessary to fight against the capitalist system. We believe that a different analysis and politics are needed: a politics made by and for activists and the oppressed which must lead us towards a self-managed world; not a politics of little narcissists living their best life in the countryside. Individualistic desertion will not save us and cannot guide our actions in the times to come. As long as Rattachements circulates, it is our duty to criticize it harshly.
Comments Off on Anarchist Reorientation in the Time of COVID
Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
Originally published March 20, 2020
The situation changes quickly. Along with everyone else, I follow it avidly and share updates, watch our lives change from day to day, get bogged down in uncertainty. It can feel like there is only a single crisis whose facts are objective, allowing only one single path, one that involves separation, enclosure, obedience, control. The state and its appendages become the only ones legitimate to act, and the mainstream media narrative with the mass fear it produces swamps our ability for independent action.
Some anarchists though have pointed out that there are two crises playing out in parallel — one is a pandemic that is spreading rapdily and causing serious harm and even death for thousands. The other is crisis management strategy imposed by the the state. The state claims to be acting in the interest of everyone’s health — it wants us to see its response as objective and inevitable.
But its crisis management is also a way of determining what conditions will be like when the crisis resolves, letting it pick winners and losers along predictable lines. Recognizing the inequality baked into these supposedly neutral measures means acknowledging that certain people being asked to pay a much higher cost than others for what the powerful are claiming as a collective good. I want to recover some autonomy and freedom of action in this moment, and to do this, we need to break free of the narrative we are given.
When we let the state control the narrative, the questions that are asked about this moment, we also let them control the answers. If we want a different outcome than the powerful are preparing, we need to be able to ask a different question.
We mistrust the mainstream narrative on so many things, and are usually mindful of the powerful’s ability to shape the narrative to make the actions they want to take seem inevitable. Here in Canada, the exaggeration and lies about the impacts of #shutdowncanada rail blockades was a deliberate play to lay the groundwork for a violent return to normal. We can understand the benefits of an infection-control protocol while being critical of the ways the state is using this moment for its own ends. Even if we assess the situation ourselves and accept certain reccomendations the state is also pushing, we don’t have to adopt the state’s project as our own. There is a big difference between following orders and thinking independently to reach similar conclusions.
When we are actually carrying out own project, it becomes easier to make an independent assessment of the situation, parsing the torrent of information and reccomendations for ourselves and asking what is actually suitable for our goals and priorities. For instance, giving up our ability to have demonstrations while we still need to go work retail jobs seems like a bad call for any liberatory project. Or recognizing the need for a rent strike while also fear mongering about any way of talking to our neighbours.
Giving up on struggle while still accomodating the economy is very far from addressing our own goals, but it flows from the state’s goal of managing the crisis to limit economic harm and prevent challenges to its legitimacy. It’s not that the state set out to quash dissent, that is probably just a byproduct. But if we have a different starting point — build autonomy rather than protect the economy — we will likely strike different balances about what is appropriate.
For me, a starting point is that my project as an anarchist is to create the conditions for free and meaningful lives, not just ones that are as long as possible. I want to listen to smart advice without ceding my agency, and I want to respect the autonomy of others — rather than a moral code to enforce, our virus measures should be based on agreements and boundaries, like any other consent practice. We communicate about the measures we choose, we come to agreements, and where agreements aren’t possible, we set boundaries that are self-enforceable and don’t rely on coercion. We look at the ways access to medical care, class, race, gender, geography, and of course health affect the impact of both the virus and the state’s response and try to see that as a basis for solidarity.
A big part of the state’s narrative is unity — the idea that we need to come together as a society around a singular good that is for everyone. People like feeling like they’re part of a big group effort and like having the sense of contributing through their own small actions — the same kinds of phenomenons that make rebellious social movements possible also enable these moments of mass obedience. We can begin rejecting it by reminding ourselves that the interests of the rich and powerful are fundamentally at odds with our own. Even in a situation where they could get sicken or die too (unlike the opioid crisis or the AIDS epidemic before it), their response to the crisis is unlikely to meet our needs and may even intensify exploitation.
The presumed subject of most of the measures like self-isolation and social distancing is middle-class — they imagine a person whose job can easily be worked from home or who has access to paid vacation or sick days (or, in the worst case, savings), a person with a spacious home, a personal vehicle, without very many close, intimate relationships, with money to spend on childcare and leisure activities. Everyone is asked to accept a level of discomfort, but that increases the further away our lives are from looking like that unstated ideal and compounds the unequal risk of the worst consequences of the virus. One response to this inequality has been to call on the state to do forms of redistribution, by expanding employment insurance benefits, or by providing loans or payment deferrals. Many of these measure boil down to producing new forms of debt for people who are in need, which recalls the outcome of the 2008 financial crash, where everyone shared in absorbing the losses of the rich while the poor were left out to dry.
I have no interest in becoming an advocate for what the state should do and I certainly don’t think this is a tipping point for the adoption of more socialistic measures. The central issue to me is whether or not we want the state to have the abiltiy to shut everything down, regardless of what we think of the justifications it invokes for doing so.
The #shutdowncanada blockades were considered unacceptable, though they were barely a fraction as disruptive as the measures the state pulled out just a week later, making clear that it’s not the level of disruption that was unacceptable, but rather who is a legitimate actor. Similarly, the government of Ontario repeated constantly the unacceptable burden striking teachers were placing on families with their handful of days of action, just before closing schools for three weeks — again, the problem is that they were workers and not a government or boss. The closure of borders to people but not goods intensifies the nationalist project already underway across the world, and the economic nature of these seemingly moral measures will become more plain once the virus peaks and the calls shift towards ‘go shopping, for the economy’.
The state is producing legitimacy for its actions by situating them as simply following expert reccomendations, and many leftists echo this logic by calling for experts to be put directly in control of the response to the virus. Both of these are advocating for technocracy, rule by experts. We have seen this in parts of Europe, where economic experts are appointed to head governments to implement ‘neutral’ and ‘objective’ austerity measures. Calls to surrender our own agency and to have faith in experts are already common on the left, especially in the climate change movement, and extending that to the virus crisis is a small leap.
It’s not that I don’t want to hear from experts or don’t want there to be individuals with deep knowledge in specific fields — it’s that I think the way problems are framed already anticipate their solution. The response to the virus in China gives us a vision of what technocracy and authoritarianism are capable of. The virus slows to a stop, and the checkpoints, lockdowns, facial recognition technology, and mobilized labour can be turned to other ends. If you don’t want this answer, you’d better ask a different question.
So much of social life had already been captured by screens and this crisis is accelerating it — how do we fight alienation in this moment? How do we address the mass panic being pushed by the media, and the anxiety and isolation that comes with it?
How do we take back agency? Mutual aid and autonomous health projects are one idea, but are there ways we can go on the offensive? Can we undermine the ability of the powerful to decide whose lives are worth preserving? Can we go beyond support to challenge property relations? Like maybe building towards looting and expropriations, or extorting bosses rather than begging not to be fired for being sick?
How are we preparing to avoid curfews or travel restrictions, even cross closed borders, should we consider it appropriate to do so? This will certainly involve setting our own standards for safety and necessity, not just accepting the state’s guidelines.
How do we push forward other anarchist engagements? Specifically, our hostility to prison in all its forms seems very relevant here. How do we centre and target prison in this moment? How about borders? And should the police get involved to enforce various state measures, how do we delegitimate them and limit their power?
How do we target the way power is concentrating and restructuring itself around us? What interests are poised to “win” at the virus and how do we undermine them (think investment opportunities, but also new laws and increased powers). What infrastructure of control is being put in place? Who are the profiteers and how can we hurt them? How do we prepare for what comes next and plan for the window of possibility that might exist in between the worst of the virus and a return to economic normalcy?
Developing our own read on the situation, along with our own goals and practices, is not a small job. It will take the exchange of texts, experiments in action, and communication about the results. It will take broadening our sense of inside-outside to include enough people to be able to organize. It will involve still acting in the public space and refusing to retreat to online space. Combined with measures to deal with the virus, the intense fear and pressure to conform coming from many who would normally be our allies makes even finding space to discuss the crises on different terms a challenge. But if we actually want to challenge the ability of the powerful to shape the response to the virus for their own interests, we need to start by taking back the ability to ask our own questions.
Conditions are different everywhere, but all states are watching each other and following each others’ lead, and we would do well to look to anarchists in other places dealing with conditions that may soon become our own. So I’ll leave you with this quote from anarchists in France, where a mandatory lockdown has been in place all week, enforced with dramatic police violence:
And so yes, let’s avoid too much collectivity in our activities and unnecessary meetings, we will maintain a safe distance, but fuck the confinement measures, we’ll evade your police patroles as much as we can, it’s out of the question that we support repression or restrictions of our rights! To all the poor, marginal, and rebellious, show solidarity and engage in mutual aid to maintain activities necessary for survival, avoid the arrests and fines and continue expressing ourselves politically.
Artificial Intelligence AI labs, recipients of several $100M in government funding, are working to put “machine learning” algorithms in the service of a long list of industries. Under an “ethical” facade, some applications will simply allow well-placed capitalists to further enrich themselves. Others aim to reinforce repression, whether detecting shoplifters at the supermarket with automated video surveillance, developing facial recognition tools that work even on partly covered faces, or “predicting” crime or the probability of a prisoner re-offending.
5g Wireless Networking The unprecedented bandwidth of 5G technology enables the deployment of AI on the scale of a city in real time. Every movement becomes trackable thanks to thousands of cameras integrated into a centralized surveillance apparatus. This vision is already in practice in more than one European “smart city”. Countless sensors dotting public spaces, in businesses, cars and public transit, and worn on our bodies aim to make every action the object of calculation, prediction and control, all under an eco-friendly label. By its pervasiveness, a web of algorithms is made invisible and therefore impossible to resist.
Robotics and Automation Self-driving cars. Robotized warehouses. Cashierless stores. Delivery robots that call the cops when they are attacked. An infrastructure is being deployed that will change the world of work and our living environment permanently. We don’t mourn the disappearance of back-breaking and boring jobs. A dehumanizing pace is imposed on the remaining workers, who must keep up with the machines and productivity software or be shown the door. Meanwhile, what measures of social control and what exploitative schemes await the new excluded masses of an age of technological unemployment?
Life in Front of a Screen Possibilities for authentic relations between humans and with our surroundings are increasingly erased in service of a virtual hyper- connectivity. Understanding, discovery, and the search for meaning are reduced to production of data. Attention deficit, memory problems, loss of emotional skills and imagination, disrupted sleep, musculo-skeletal pain, anxiety, loneliness, depression: the symptoms of addiction to online technologies are worsening as the proportion of the population that has spent their entire lives immersed in touch screens grows.