Letter on Specialization – Massimo Passamani (1997)


Not putting one’s destiny into play unless one is willing to play with all of one’s possibilities

(Not putting one’s destiny into play unless one is willing to play with all of one’s possibilities)

Today I thought about how sad it is to fall into the habit of defining ourselves in terms of one of the many activities in which we realize ourselves, as if that activity alone described the totality of our existence. All this recalls the separations that the state and the economy inflict on our lives much too closely. Take work, for example. The reproduction of the conditions of existence (i.e., the activity of putting out the effort in order to eat, sleep, stay warm, etc.) should be completely one with discussion, play, the continuous transformation of the environment, loving relationships, conflict, in short with the thousands of expressions of our uniqueness. Instead, work has not only become the center of every concern, but confident in its independence, it also imposes its measure on free time, amusement, encounters and reflection. In short, it is presented as the measure of life itself. In fact, since this is their social identity, almost everyone is defined in terms of the job they carry out, i.e., in terms of misery.

I am referring particularly to the repercussions that the fragmentation that power imposes on everyone’s lives has on the theory and practice of subversives. For example, take arms. It seems obvious to me that a revolution without arms is impossible, but it is equally clear that arms are not enough. On the contrary, I believe that the more revolutionary a change is, the less armed conflict is its measure. The broader, more conscious and more joyous the transformation is, the greater is the condition of no return that is created in relationship to the past. If subversion is carried into every sphere of existence, the armed defense of one’s possibility for destroying becomes completely one with the creation of new relationships and new environments. Then, everyone would be armed. Otherwise, specialists come into being — future bosses and bureaucrats — who “defend” while everyone else demolishes and rebuilds… their own slavery.

This is especially important because it is not “military” defeats that set off the decline and the consequent triumph of the old world, but rather the dying away of autonomous action and enthusiasm that are smothered by the lie of the “harsh necessities of the transition” (sacrifice before happiness in communism, obedience to power before freedom in anarchy). And historically, the most brutal repression is always played out precisely in this decline, never in the moment of widespread and uncontainable insurrection. Paradoxically, anarchists should push, arm in hand, so that arms are needed as little as possible and so that they are never separated from the totality of revolt. Then I ask myself what “armed struggle” could ever mean. I understand it when a leninist is speaking about it, since he possesses nothing of revolution except the misery he sets up — the coup d’etat, the taking of the Winter Palace. But for an anti-authoritarian? Perhaps, in the face of the general refusal to attack the state and capital, it could have the significance of emphasizing the inoffensiveness of every partial opposition and the illusoriness of a liberation that tries to abolish the ruling order simply by “delegitimating it”, or self-managing one’s elsewhere. It could be. But if there is anything partial, it is precisely the guerrilla mythology, with its entire stock of slogans, ideologies and hierarchical separations. So one is harmless to power, when one accepts going down the paths known to it and, thus, helps to impede all those it does not know. As to illusions, what else can one call the thesis according to which daily life — with its roles, duties and passivity — is criticized through armed organization. I absolutely recall the thesis: the endeavor was to supply a libertarian and non-vanguardist alternative to the stalinist combatant organizations. The results were already written in the methods. As if to attack the state and capital, there would be need for acronyms, boring claims, unreadable communiqués and all the rest. And still we hear talk of “Armed Struggle” and “combatant” organizations. Remembering — in the midst of so much self-interested amnesia — that arms also make up a part of the struggle can only be positive. But what does this mean? That we should no longer publish journals, have debates, publicly call for the elimination of the pope, throw eggs at judges or yogurt at journalists, loot during marches, occupy spaces or blockade the editorial office of whatever newspaper? Or does it mean — exactly as some magistrates dream — that this “level” should be left to some so that others can become specialists of the “attack”? Furthermore, with the intention of sparing the useless involvement of the entire movement for the actions of a few, as if it were not separations that have always prepared the best terrain for repression.

It would be necessary to free the practices of attack from any “combatant” phraseology, in order to cause them to become the real meeting of all revolts. This is the best way to prevent them from falling into a rut. So much the more so, since the exploited themselves sometimes move to the attack without waiting for instruction from any organization whatsoever. Dissatisfaction arms itself against the terrorist spectacle of power, sometimes feeding the spectacle. And anarchists should not be the one’s to disarm it. In order to hide every sign of dissatisfaction, in order to show that no one — except the latest “terrorists” — rebels against democracy, the state tries to invent a clandestine anarchist organization to which it attributes thousands of expressions of revolt — a revolt that goes beyond any gang, armed or not — in order to negate them. This way, it manages silence and social consensus. Precisely because the masters would like to enclose our activities into a military structure, dividing them into different “levels”, it is necessary for us to expand and unite them as much as possible into a revolutionary project that surpasses the armed mythology through excess. Each one with her own aptitudes and desires. And more than this, carrying subversion into every sphere of existence. The arm that contains all arms is the will to live with all one’s possibilities, immediately.

And what of the thesis according to which it is necessary to take one’s responsibility in the face of power by claiming one’s actions? It seems clear to me that acronyms ready for sticking on inconvenient individuals make the police happy. So if responsibility is not to be a lie or a pretext for control, it must be individual. Each person is responsible to herself in her actions. The mutual recognition of responsibility only happens on a plane of mutuality. Therefore, there is no responsibility in the face of those who, by exploiting, place themselves against all mutuality. In the face of authority, there is no terrain — political or military conflict — of common recognition, but only hostility. What does it mean, then, to take one’s responsibility in the face of power? Could it maybe mean — in perfect leninist observance — being recognized by it as an organization? Here responsibility ends and its collective substitute, the spectacle of social war, begins.

The leftist democrat, respectful of the law, is the first one to become infatuated with guerrilla iconography (especially when it is exotic) and once the guerrilla has laid down his arms, he is the first one to return, gradually from the left, to law and democracy. From this point of view, the one who declares the insurrectional perspective closed in its entire range, adhering more or less directly to reformism, helps to reinforce the false need for combatant organizations — reversed projections of political impotence. Leftist militants are even able to use subcommandante Marcos to legitimate their role against right through the game of postponements. For his part, the subcommandante hopes for nothing more than to be able to act democratically for his fatherland.

Leaving behind the more or less modernized leninists, we come to the sphere of anarchists. Even here, among the specialists of debate, many clasped the “Chiapas insurgents” to their hearts, provided that insurrection — this infantile disorder of anarchism — is never talked about from our side… And as long as one takes the due distance from those who continue to talk about it.

Once at the very end of a meeting on self-managed spaces, a friend of mine told me that in the 1970s there was the firm belief that anyone who used a gun, for this reason alone, was right, while now it seems that reason has been transferred lock, stock and barrel to those who occupy spaces. Interchangeable specializations. In itself, occupying spaces is an important method of struggle, which contains the very possibility of all subversion in a nutshell: the determination to reach out a hand and take one’s space. This clearly doesn’t mean that such a method, by itself, could put an end to the world of constraints and commodities. As always, the ideas and desires of those who apply it make the difference. If anyone in the occupied spaces seeks the guarantee of survival in a slapdash way, she will find it there, just as — by putting the occupation itself into play — she could find the point of departure for his most boundless demands there. The same goes for books, explosives or love affairs. The most important thing is not to place limits — in one direction or the other — borrowed from the ruling criteria (law, the number, the fortune of success).

Personally, I don’t know “the insurrectionalists”; I only know individuals who support the necessity of insurrection, each with his own reasons or methods. A necessity, as one of our friends said, determined by the fact that within the present society it is only possible to propose different ways of responding to the existing questions (perhaps with direct democracy, citizens’ committees, etc.), whereas with insurrection the questions themselves change.

And if we refuse all specialization, why describe ourselves as “squatters”? Why describe ourselves through one practice alone? Is it maybe because we can speak publicly of this practice, because it can spread further than others and because it implies a collective dimension? Poor criteria, in my opinion. One can also speak publicly of sabotage, as long as there isn’t any need to say, “I did this” or “that guy did the other thing”, in order to discuss a question. Several people could also carry out an act of sabotage together, but if only one person were to put it into practice, this would not make the action lose its meaning. It seems to me that the question of the capacity for spreading in itself should be a reason for reflection, certainly not a unit of measure. If someone who loves breaking the windows of banks or shopping centers were to say to you, “Hi, I am a vandal,” it would make you laugh. It would be equally ridiculous if a subversive described himself as a “writer” because he doesn’t disdain publishing some book or article. I have never heard any anarchist present herself as a “saboteur”. If I ever heard this, I would think I was meeting a cretin. Furthermore, who has ever critiqued occupation as such? Who has ever said that dynamite is “more revolutionary” than crowbars? Making the struggle in all its form into an indivisible totality — this is the point. I would say this not of the struggle, but of my life. Without “propaganda” and “the arms of critique”, “armed struggle” and “the critique of arms”, “daily life” and “revolution”, “individual” and “organization”, “self-management” and “direct action”, and away with pigeonholing.

But without specific proposals (labor struggle, the occupation of spaces or something else), how do you create a broader involvement? Proposals are possible, even though it is necessary to agree on what and with whom. But such proposals are either instances of a theoretical critique and a global practice, or they are… accepted proposals.

Nonetheless, not everything is to be destroyed. The possibility of destruction must not be destroyed. This is not wordplay. Destruction is thought, desired, projected and organized. To do this, no useful contribution, whether theoretical or practical, is wasted, no method abandoned. It is certainly not with fine proclamations of subversion that we can go to the assault on the world. This way, one only becomes a retiree of revolt. The possibility of destruction is completely to be invented, and no one can say that that there has been much effort put into doing this. Often with the alibi that he doesn’t want to construct anything, someone will go deeply into reasonings, and equally often, she lacks the will to be as open-minded and quick as her ideas, to refuse to remain at the mercy of events. In short, the ability to know how to choose the occasion. “In the heart of the occasion, everything is a weapon for the man whose will is not disarmed.”

I say again: everything together or nothing. When one claims to subvert the world only with discussion, or occupations, or books, or arms, one ends up trying to direct assemblies, occupying hovels, writing badly and shooting worse. The fact is that by repeating these banalities that should be the foundation for starting to truly discuss, one becomes boring like the specialists of repetition. The worn-out dialogues change by changing the situation.

Massimo Passamani.
Canenero N°44, settimanale anarchico – 10 gennaio 1997.