Poisoned Fruit in the Walled Garden - Part I

WARNING: some of the terms in this series of articles may be offensive to some readers... which is probably a good thing!

Twenty-sixteen was probably the worst year for online hate speech to date: a year when a grassroots network known as the alt-right managed to overwhelm many forums and comment boards with their bigotted posts. 

Mobilizing mobs of sock puppet [fake] accounts, members of this small far-right network stormed Disqus and Twitter, flooding them with near-identical, right wing comments on a wide range of global issues.

It was a clear attempt to mould a new popular consensus: one of contempt for Jews, feminists, Black Lives Matter activists, refugees and Muslims... plus anyone else not in their own demographic. The alt-right was, quite frankly, open about this goal; it's unofficial leader wrote on white nationalist site the Daily Stormer:

..."we" being white straight males.

However, it would probably be more fair to call theirs an 'unpopular consensus' because, no matter what the alt-right would like you to believe to the contrary, their views are still in the minority - both abroad and in Germany.  It is easy to forget that fact, though, when right wing voices like theirs are commandeering an increasing proportion of the online discussion.

How big of a proportion is it? One set of statistics that comes to mind is a study undertaken by the Anti-Defamation League into antisemitic hate speech on Twitter. It found that 2.6 million hate tweets had been posted by just 1,600 individuals in 2016, the majority of them during a six-month period.  (By way of contrast, the writer of this piece has only sent 1,300 tweets within the last five years). Together, these tweets were seen around 10 billion times.

The study's authors wrote that, 'Waves of anti-Semitic tweets tend to emerge from closely connected online “communities.”  These aggressors are disproportionately likely to self-identify as Donald Trump supporters, conservatives, or part of the “alt-right."'

Since some of the websites connected to the alt-right ( 4Chan and Daily Stormer for instance) organize "troll raids" and "twitter storms" with the express intent of normalizing their bigotry, this figure sounds like it could be connected to them. Alt-right sites have openly and repeatedly mobilized sock puppet mobs to produce phoney "public outcries" over issues as trivial as the new Ghostbusters film, or as big as Brexit.

... not to mention, the U.S. election.

More locally, the alt-right seems to be targeting English language sites in Germany like TheLocal.de, mainly to protest the CDU's open immigration policy. One needs only enter "thelocal.de" + "[any white nationalist website]" into a search engine to see how often articles from The Local are referenced and re-posted in the extremist backwaters of the internet. 

Since distorting and inflaming white / male outrage is the alt-right's whole raison d'etre, it seems likely there is a connection between those references and the influx of right-wing posts on The Local.  Even more incriminating is the fact that the rise in such comments tracks back to 2014 - the same year that the CDU announced its open-borders policy, which was quickly commended by President Obama.

Even when The Local doesn't oblige its right wing trolls by providing fodder for their doom-and-gloom predictions about a looming, non-white ‘invasion’, those trolls still manage to force a connection between refugees and social unrest.

The site recently published a piece about a man who had saved a woman’s life after dialing her number by mistake… a cheery outcome, one would think. Yet one troll who apparently hadn't fulfilled his daily quota of hate felt the need to comment that it was, "a much better outcome than the man that died trying to burn his estranged wife up in the refugee home." (Emphasis is author's own). 

While it's true that far-right membership in most Western countries has increased somewhat (a fact which should not be ignored) there is still an irreconcilably big chasm between the proportion of bigoted views that one sees in society, and the proportion of those views one sees online.

A glance at some slightly more official documents provides a timely reminder that you can't always trust what you see on Twitter and Facebook though.  The  Verfassungschutz's 2015 publication on right-wing extremism in Germany gives an estimated membership of 11,800 people across all far-right parties in Germany. Meanwhile, up until recently comments on The Local were almost 100% in favour of far -right views.
The results of a 2015 World Values Survey, one of the biggest of its kind, clearly shows which proportion of the population in Germany and America (which is included for comparison) holds views which are compatible with the Alt Right. It's a far, far lower number than online discussion forums would suggest:

Racist tendencies: (does not want a multiracial neighbour):
Germany 14,8%, United States 5.6%
Alt Right: mostly against

Anti-immigrant: (does not want a migrant neighbour)
Germany: 21.4%, United States: 13.6%
Alt Right: mostly against

Anti-equity (women's work rights):
Germany 15.5%, United states: 5.7%
Alt Right mostly against

This is just a quick selection, but the scores are similarly low for all biases surveyed in the study. 

So if less than 22% percent of the German (or U.S.) population holds bigoted views, then why are some 50-100 percent of online comments on hot-button topics (feminism, Islam, refugees, the Brexit) so outrageously biased? Somewhere, somehow, someone has loaded the dice for this vocal minority. In many cases, it's the vocal minority that is doing the loading, itself.

Yet right wing troll raids like these are the reason why not a day goes by without some media outlet writing a rushed article about the "shocking" increase in right wing views in society - essentially, swallowing the troll illusion hook, line and sinker. Some journalists don't look far from their favourite social media platforms for information, it seems. 

One can see a mirror image of the alt-right effect in the likes of Pegida which, despite claiming to speak for some sort of silent majority, rarely gets more than a couple of hundred people to their events... at least, outside of the mostly-white east, they do.  (This writer once saw a demo of theirs which consisted of a dozen people, with nearly half that number again made up of press trying to cover the event).  

To some extent, the rise of the alt-right is the fault of the online community as a whole for allowing its own focus to be monopolized so.  Those who look at troll comments and take them at face value are obviously contributing to the problem, too. Made-up "facts" like, '12 billion Turkish people plan to move to England if Turkey joins the EU', or, 'Trump voters are sick of the establishment' are unfounded, unproven and most likely a hoax.  Both were originally picked up and promoted by far-right sites, though. 

With only a bit of investigation it's possible to figure out that the alt-right's insidious plot is to foil the people: in fact, it openly admits as much on its own websites.  It discusses how best to mislead people by twisting facts, planting faked news items and organizing Twitter raids right out in the open. The Daily Stormer even has a [now private] section for organizing such raids (TRS).

Why is it that the Alt Right is so upfront about its trolling? Probably because its members know no one is looking, just like so many online consumers don't bother looking into which ideas wind up on their plates... not even journalists, it seems. This is why it was possible for a "news clip" about a pro-Trump student getting beaten up at school to viral without anyone realizing that the clip - which was shot on a phone and circulated via YouTube - did not contain a single word about Trump, or the election.  The probable-hoax was broadcast on at least one local station; it obviously didn't do its homework.

The alt-right is counting on internet users being in a hurry and glomming on to the most shocking snippets they find, and then quickly passing them on without question. It's a tendency all internet users eventually fall victim to, however intelligent they might be.  So in this one sense, the alt right is teaching us 'normies' an important lesson: shock-trolling only works if millions prioritize shock value over worthwhile information.  

However high profile the alt-right may be, though, it hasn't commandeered so many big discussion platforms with its right wing views all on its own. In the next installment, find out what the alt-right has in common with government-led troll operations from both the East and the West.  

Part II will be published next Friday, December 9th


Techno Party

Throw together a building without owner, opening times without curfew, people without limits, music without definition, and you have a squat party.

That pair of words conjures up more images than any two in the English language.  Crowded night buses.  Roads to nowhere. Lorries. Dogs. Queueing and smoking.  Haggling. Drinking.  Snorting.  All just a preamble to the main feature: the dancefloor, and all the subplots that spin out of control on it.

A stage of pallets and speakers, set for a chemical cabaret.  The fantastical, the fanatical, the enlightened, the dejected - a lineup of gems in the rough - all take their turns and bow out. 

Next up: the Old Bill. Their stony-faced dispatch enters stage right: cue first intermission break.  Floodlights glare on flattened beer cans and electrified, blinking stares.  Rolly smoke pirouettes in the air.

Eventually they retreat, freeing the party. Regular scheduling resumes: heaving techno, sweating effuse from the walls and ceiling.  Dripping on our necks.  A dancer's long, blonde hair is tossed like 3 sheets to the wind.  

A fairy-tale pixie enchanting the DJ.  LSD administered like communion by traveler-priests.  Conspiratorial huddle grows outwards from the decks.  Ethereal, pervasive reality.  Sunrise and sunset, following too closely on each other's heels. 

You've been holding yourself back for something but can't remember why, now.  Commitments to the outside world recede, reduced to pinpoints on the horizon. Hoarded energies held back for the future are released as steam to the present, pumping up the volume on the moment to the max. 

Monday to Friday, you are marooned in the forced routines of work, study and mass transit.  But between Friday and Monday, the blaze of sight and sound consumes you.  You leap from one weekend to the next, uncharted outcroppings in oceans of static.   The poise and polish of everyday life vanish with all the routines.  You are not your best self here, just your real self.

Mornings so raw and honest, all contingency plans become obsolete except for constant movement. Staying  ahead of the people who would compromise today for tomorrow's prospects, postpone all action until it's achieved via remote-control. The only way to move beyond their reach is to Keep. On. Dancing.

Between parties all these details are magically forgotten, stored in a part of your brain that's only used when fucked. A saga that resumes every time you drop another pill. Don't leave it too long though, lest you forget to reach --

The End.

You can find great photos of parties from the years that this piece refers to at London photographer Molly Macindoe's website.


Without Resistance, No Underground.

I could feel that something wasn't right.  Even though it was a crowded dancefloor, someone was bumping into me a little too regularly in time with the music, as if they were mirroring my moves. But I still wasn't prepared for what I saw when I turned my head: a little troll of a man, grinding his pelvis as close to my ass as he could get without committing an assault. But actually, he had already crossed that line a few times; it was just that the intentional nature of that assault had been camouflaged by the general mayhem happening around us.

The smarmy expression on his face made it pretty clear that this wasn't just an accident, though, as did the fact that he didn't back away once he was caught - not until I 'assisted' him with a sharp shove and the suggestion to stay well the fuck away.

He vanished, and I thought the message had been received.  But then, a few minutes later and just a few feet away, I saw him rubbing up against yet another woman in the same creepy, auto-erotic way.  Her back was turned and she seemed unaware what was happening, so  I went over and warned her to watch herself. She looked vaguely shame-faced about it (why? She hadn't done anything wrong). A few seconds later she had left.

He stayed.

This, to me, is an example of what happens when ethics are removed from a scene that used to be underground: the questioning and yearning for self-reinvention that made it so relevant in the first place - that gave it the 'people power' at the grassroots level that it needed to thrive - vanishes.  It becomes a microcosm of the society around it, warts and all, rather than an alternative.

Maybe that's why more and more people in the music press are talking about the alienation of women, blacks and even queers (the longest standing demographic in all party scenes) from the modern techno industry. That's all very well, but the majority of articles take the tone of "why aren't straight white men inviting minorities into the scene" when the fact is that we have always been part of it. We are just being erased by the media and driven away by the newcomers that have embraced its rather materialistic, new definition. Techno is fast becoming (or has fast become, depending who you ask) a 'zombie' underground. It carries on without any real purpose because it no longer challenges the status quo, and is therefore less threatening for the faceless masses it's aimed at. 

Maybe that's why quite a few people in Berlin have told me that they see techno clubs as being necessarily apolitical. Even when they, themselves, are spending two days a week at said clubs, they claim that they can't ever be relevant; that they can't make any lasting changes to the way that people think or act.

Saying that to a person like me is a bit like telling an Inuit that the sky can't light up with beautiful colours in the middle of a long, dark Arctic night.

Pitchfork's Andy Beta has written that Detroit's Underground Resistance label was "a reaction to inner-city decay," and I can definitely identify with that statement.  Techno as I first experienced it was a reaction to, and a revival of, all the dereliction that made areas like Detroit (and similar parts of the urbanized West) seem like no-go zones.

Note that I say 'experienced' and not 'heard'.  That's because techno was very much unleashed from the restrictions of being just a 'sound' at that time (1998).  Everyone there presumed me to be their equal and a partner in the scene's creation, rather than a vehicle to some selfish, disconnected state of enjoyment. As an equal, my freedom to change what was around me was as great as theirs. That's an experience that no DJ or artist, no matter how edgy, can create all alone.

Random acts of self-expression were everywhere I looked: the now-standard fire eating acts and impromptu art 'installations' made out of scraps, plus less standard things like people scaling the wall with their bare hands.  Because people were allowed to go to any extreme they wanted, they tended to take off on tangents that weren't already well represented in the mainstream. Sexism, racism, theft and assault were just too damned predictable to waste time on. (It wasn't just an effect of creativity - many people drawn to free parties had a left wing slant, but the parties themselves weren't seen as a place to preach about it). 

And techno, the sound that's now so well defined by anoraks, was a random meshing of frantic tensions and clashing factions; a controlled sonic explosion, a demolition that the DJ would skillfully weave back together into something resembling mental structure.  The 4/4 beat was a baseline that could be manipulated as needed to match the mood, a way of conjuring whatever it was that people felt their cities lacked, but that authorities fell short of actually creating.

Techno's format wasn't ever intended to be a holy dictum, un-corruptible and complete - it was the sound of change and versatility.  Maybe the venues that play it should better reflect that fact.

But how can they recreate that mentality these days?

That's the real question. I've seen two crews in the club scene that have managed it, seemingly effortlessly: the people at Mensch Meier and at Zuruck Zu Den Wurzeln.  Both have a clear, "If you see something, say something" policy that states any bad behaviour, especially against minorities, gets a negative response. Both have crews that are made up of women and men as well, which certainly helps.

But what seems to matter even more than the rules they've made, is the setting.  Each of these crews creates a stable space that keeps changing with the people in it to accommodate their needs. In a place like that, everyone really IS an equal and a partner in the party's creation. As a result, they treat it with greater respect.

Clubs that have a static 'product image' that they enforce un-sentimentally seem to have far more aggravation at them.  Maybe that's because they tend to let people in for the wrong reasons: either 1) because they're able to play by established rules (which also tend to be unfair and antiquated rules) or 2) because they can unquestioningly follow the herd (and therefore lack any moral compass).  Asking everybody to check their brains at the door seems like it requires a lot more effort and stress than simply altering the way that clubs behave. 

In Berlin though, there are already certain venues that can generally be relied upon to keep their parties relevant to the cause of resistance. Here are a couple of suggestions of where to go to find them in the coming weeks:

The Koepi cellar has two benefit parties with wicked underground tunes this weekend, one on Friday that is in support of free migration. Starts 23:00 and features Tekno Tribe DJs.

On Saturday they have another benefit party for Needle‘n‘Bitch, a queer-feminist project in Yogyakarta/Indonesia that aims to "provide safe, secure, and comfort feeling for anyone who are not able to access it in this sexist, patriarchy, and homophobic society." Starts at midnight and they're playing D‘n‘B, Breakcore and Hardtekk.

This Saturday Mensch Meier has a benefit to help out the Rigaer Strasse campaign against forced evictions and police intimidation (read more about that here and here). Plus there's a Tattoo Station. It's 8-12 Euros to get in with a donation.
Next Friday is yet another Invasion party featuring Spiral Tribe and Latitanz DJs, also at Mensch Meier. The Invasion crew aims to bring different free party systems from around Europe to every one of their parties in Berlin.  Every event they've done has been intense and diverse, but different in some fundamental way from the last one. This crew really keeps me guessing... even though I sometimes think I already know it all, when it comes to underground parties. How nice to be proven wrong!

And on Saturday the 8th there is a very timely forum about sexual violence called Fear Makes No Nois" at Mensch Meier, starting at 14:00, plus an after party. It's organized by a member of the Am Boden crew, so it should be strong on ethics and musical integrity.

Next Saturday October 8th, About Blank is doing a party called "Under Techno, There's Punk" (my translation).  The aim there is to reconnect some of Berlin's clubbers with the rebellious roots of punk. How they'll achieve that radical transformation with a club full of writhing glittery dancers is an interesting question... but I'm curious to find out!

The emphasis on the material aspects of the techno scene - style, technology, rankings - seems like a neat way of avoiding any discussion about the revolutionary associations that the scene previously had, and what the best way to keep them alive in this day and age may be. 

But maybe some people are just afraid to face up to these aspects of techno because they're less tangible, less easy to nail down and describe. It's a bit like being afraid of the dark. The answer isn't to ignore what happens in the murky corners, either on a dancefloor or within one's psyche: it's to shine a light on them and ask if everything is all right.


Give Up Activism

This piece was written by a member of the Reclaim the Streets collective some 16 years ago, when the term 'anti-capitalist' was still brand new.  In it, Andrew X explains his view that "real revolutionary activity is the seizing of the self" rather than the seizing of a cause, and urges readers to give up the divisive mentality that comes with the traditional 'activist' role.  Since this and the other emails posted by RTS are no longer easily accessible (due to the website having been hacked) I'm re-posting it here so that newer activists can still read it and (hopefully) be inspired by it!

Photo from Messy Monday's channel on YouTube
Give Up Activism.


The activist is a specialist or an expert in social change. To think of yourself as being an activist means to think of yourself as being somehow privileged or more advanced than others in your appreciation of the need for social change, in the knowledge of how to achieve it and as leading or being in the forefront of the practical struggle to create this change. 

Activism, like all expert roles, has its basis in the division of labour--it is a specialised separate task. The division of labour is the foundation of class society, the fundamental division being that between mental and manual labour. The division of labour operates, for example, in medicine or education--instead of healing and bringing up kids being common knowledge and tasks that everyone has a hand in, this knowledge becomes the specialised property of doctors and teachers--experts that we must rely on to do these things for us. Experts jealously guard and mystify the skills they have. This keeps people separated and disempowered and reinforces hierarchical class society. 

A division of labour implies that one person takes on a role on behalf of many others who relinquish this responsibility. A separation of tasks means that other people will grow your food and make your clothes and supply your electricity while you get on with achieving social change. The activist, being an expert in social change, assumes that other people aren't doing anything to change their lives and so feels a duty or a responsibility to do it on their behalf. Activists think they are compensating for the lack of activity by others. Defining ourselves as activists means defining *our* actions as the ones which will bring about social change, thus disregarding the activity of thousands upon thousands of other non-activists. Activism is based on this misconception that it is only activists who do social change--whereas of course class struggle is happening all the time. 

Form and Content

The tension between the form of 'activism' in which our political activity appears and its increasingly radical content has only been growing over the last few years. The background of a lot of the people involved in June 18th is of being 'activists' who 'campaign' on an 'issue'. The political progress that has been made in the activist scene over the last few years has resulted in a situation where many people have moved beyond single issue campaigns against specific companies or developments to a rather ill-defined yet nonetheless promising anti-capitalist perspective. Yet although the content of the campaigning activity has altered, the form of activism has not. So instead of taking on Monsanto and going to their headquarters and occupying it, we have now seen beyond the single facet of capital represented by Monsanto and so develop a 'campaign' against capitalism. And where better to go and occupy than what is perceived as being the headquarters of capitalism--the City? 

Our methods of operating are still the same as if we were taking on a specific corporation or development, despite the fact that capitalism is not at all the same sort of thing and the ways in which one might bring down a particular company are not at all the same as the ways in which you might bring down capitalism. For example, vigorous campaigning by animal rights activists has succeeded in wrecking both Consort dog breeders and Hillgrove Farm cat breeders. The businesses were ruined and went into receivership. Similarly the campaign waged against arch-vivisectionists Huntingdon Life Sciences succeeded in reducing their share price by 33%, but the company just about managed to survive by running a desperate PR campaign in the City to pick up prices.1 

Activism can very successfully accomplish bringing down a business, yet to bring down capitalism a lot more will be required than to simply extend this sort of activity to every business in every sector. Similarly with the targetting of butcher's shops by animal rights activists, the net result is probably only to aid the supermarkets in closing down all the small butcher's shops, thus assisting the process of competition and the 'natural selection' of the marketplace. Thus activists often succeed in destroying one small business while strengthening capital overall. 

A similar thing applies with anti-roads activism. Wide-scale anti-roads protests have created opportunities for a whole new sector of capitalism--security, surveillance, tunnellers, climbers, experts and consultants. We are now one 'market risk' among others to be taken into account when bidding for a roads contract. We may have actually assisted the rule of market forces, by forcing out the companies that are weakest and least able to cope. Protest-bashing consultant Amanda Webster says: "The advent of the protest movement will actually provide market advantages to those contractors who can handle it effectively."2 Again activism can bring down a business or stop a road but capitalism carries merrily on, if anything stronger than before. 

These things are surely an indication, if one were needed, that tackling capitalism will require not only a quantitative change (more actions, more activists) but a qualitative one (we need to discover some more effective form of operating). It seems we have very little idea of what it might actually require to bring down capitalism. As if all it needed was some sort of critical mass of activists occupying offices to be reached and then we'd have a revolution... 

The form of activism has been preserved even while the content of this activity has moved beyond the form that contains it. We still think in terms of being 'activists' doing a 'campaign' on an 'issue', and because we are 'direct action' activists we will go and 'do an action' against our target. The method of campaigning against specific developments or single companies has been carried over into this new thing of taking on capitalism. We're attempting to take on capitalism and conceptualising what we're doing in completely inappropriate terms, utilising a method of operating appropriate to liberal reformism. So we have the bizarre spectacle of 'doing an action' against capitalism--an utterly inadequate practice. 


The role of the 'activist' is a role we adopt just like that of policeman, parent or priest--a strange psychological form we use to define ourselves and our relation to others. The 'activist' is a specialist or an expert in social change--yet the harder we cling to this role and notion of what we are, the more we actually impede the change we desire. A real revolution will involve the breaking out of all preconceived roles and the destruction of all specialism--the reclamation of our lives. The seizing control over our own destinies which is the act of revolution will involve the creation of new selves and new forms of interaction and community. 'Experts' in anything can only hinder this.

The Situationist International developed a stringent critique of roles and particularly the role of 'the militant'. Their criticism was mainly directed against leftist and social-democratic ideologies because that was mainly what they encountered. Although these forms of alienation still exist and are plain to be seen, in our particular milieu it is the liberal activist we encounter more often than the leftist militant. Nevertheless, they share many features in common (which of course is not surprising). 

The Situationist Raoul Vaneigem defined roles like this: "Stereotypes are the dominant images of a period... The stereotype is the model of the role; the role is a model form of behaviour. The repetition of an attitude creates a role." To play a role is to cultivate an appearance to the neglect of everything authentic: "we succumb to the seduction of borrowed attitudes." As role-players we dwell in inauthenticity--reducing our lives to a string of clichés--"breaking [our] day down into a series of poses chosen more or less unconsciously from the range of dominant stereotypes."3 This process has been at work since the early days of the anti-roads movement. At Twyford Down after Yellow Wednesday in December '92, press and media coverage focused on the Dongas Tribe and the dreadlocked countercultural aspect of the protests. Initially this was by no means the predominant element--there was a large group of ramblers at the eviction for example.4 But people attracted to Twyford by the media coverage thought every single person there had dreadlocks. The media coverage had the effect of making 'ordinary' people stay away and more dreadlocked countercultural types turned up--decreasing the diversity of the protests. More recently, a similar thing has happened in the way in which people drawn to protest sites by the coverage of Swampy they had seen on TV began to replicate in their own lives the attitudes presented by the media as characteristic of the role of the 'eco-warrior'.5
"Just as the passivity of the consumer is an active passivity, so the passivity of the spectator lies in his ability to assimilate roles and play them according to official norms. The repetition of images and stereotypes offers a set of models from which everyone is supposed to choose a role."6 The role of the militant or activist is just one of these roles, and therein, despite all the revolutionary rhetoric that goes with the role, lies its ultimate conservatism. 

The supposedly revolutionary activity of the activist is a dull and sterile routine--a constant repetition of a few actions with no potential for change. Activists would probably resist change if it came because it would disrupt the easy certainties of their role and the nice little niche they've carved out for themselves. Like union bosses, activists are eternal representatives and mediators. In the same way as union leaders would be against their workers actually succeeding in their struggle because this would put them out of a job, the role of the activist is threatened by change. Indeed revolution, or even any real moves in that direction, would profoundly upset activists by depriving them of their role. If *everyone* is becoming revolutionary then you're not so special anymore, are you? 

So why do we behave like activists? Simply because it's the easy cowards' option? It is easy to fall into playing the activist role because it fits into this society and doesn't challenge it--activism is an accepted form of dissent. Even if as activists we are doing things which are not accepted and are illegal, the form of activism itself the way it is like a job--means that it fits in with our psychology and our upbringing. It has a certain attraction precisely because it is not revolutionary. 

We Don't Need Any More Martyrs

The key to understanding both the role of the militant and the activist is self-sacrifice--the sacrifice of the self to 'the cause' which is seen as being separate from the self. This of course has nothing to do with real revolutionary activity which is the seizing of the self. Revolutionary martyrdom goes together with the identification of some cause separate from one's own life--an action against capitalism which identifies capitalism as 'out there' in the City is fundamentally mistaken--the real power of capital is right here in our everyday lives--we re-create its power every day because capital is not a thing but a social relation between people (and hence classes) mediated by things. 

Of course I am not suggesting that everyone who was involved in June 18th shares in the adoption of this role and the self-sacrifice that goes with it to an equal extent. As I said above, the problem of activism was made particularly apparent by June 18th precisely because it was an attempt to break from these roles and our normal ways of operating. Much of what is outlined here is a 'worst case scenario' of what playing the role of an activist can lead to. The extent to which we can recognise this within our own movement will give us an indication of how much work there is still to be done. 

The activist makes politics dull and sterile and drives people away from it, but playing the role also fucks up the activist herself. The role of the activist creates a separation between ends and means: self-sacrifice means creating a division between the revolution as love and joy in the future but duty and routine now. The worldview of activism is dominated by guilt and duty because the activist is not fighting for herself but for a separate cause: "All causes are equally inhuman."7
As an activist you have to deny your own desires because your political activity is defined such that these things do not count as 'politics'. You put 'politics' in a separate box to the rest of your life--it's like a job... you do 'politics' 9-5 and then go home and do something else. Because it is in this separate box, 'politics' exists unhampered by any real-world practical considerations of effectiveness. The activist feels obliged to keep plugging away at the same old routine unthinkingly, unable to stop or consider, the main thing being that the activist is kept busy and assuages her guilt by banging her head against a brick wall if necessary. 

Part of being revolutionary might be knowing when to stop and wait. It might be important to know how and when to strike for maximum effectiveness and also how and when NOT to strike. Activists have this 'We must do something NOW!' attitude that seems fuelled by guilt. This is completely untactical. 

The self-sacrifice of the militant or the activist is mirrored in their power over others as an expert--like a religion there is a kind of hierarchy of suffering and self-righteousness. The activist assumes power over others by virtue of her greater degree of suffering ('non-hierarchical' activist groups in fact form a 'dictatorship of the most committed'). The activist uses moral coercion and guilt to wield power over others less experienced in the theogony of suffering. Their subordination of themselves goes hand in hand with their subordination of others--all enslaved to 'the cause'. Self-sacrificing politicos stunt their own lives and their own will to live--this generates a bitterness and an antipathy to life which is then turned outwards to wither everything else. They are "great despisers of life... the partisans of absolute self-sacrifice... their lives twisted by their monstrous asceticism."8 We can see this in our own movement, for example on site, in the antagonism between the desire to sit around and have a good time versus the guilt-tripping build/fortify/barricade work ethic and in the sometimes excessive passion with which 'lunchouts' are denounced. The self-sacrificing martyr is offended and outraged when she sees others that are not sacrificing themselves. Like when the 'honest worker' attacks the scrounger or the layabout with such vitriol, we know it is actually because she hates her job and the martyrdom she has made of her life and therefore hates to see anyone escape this fate, hates to see anyone enjoying themselves while she is suffering--she must drag everyone down into the muck with her--an equality of self-sacrifice. 

In the old religious cosmology, the successful martyr went to heaven. In the modern worldview, successful martyrs can look forwards to going down in history. The greatest self-sacrifice, the greatest success in creating a role (or even better, in devising a whole new one for people to emulate--e.g. the eco-warrior) wins a reward in history--the bourgeois heaven. 

The old left was quite open in its call for heroic sacrifice: "Sacrifice yourselves joyfully, brothers and sisters! For the Cause, for the Established Order, for the Party, for Unity, for Meat and Potatoes!"9 But these days it is much more veiled: Vaneigem accuses "young leftist radicals" of "enter[ing] the service of a Cause--the 'best' of all Causes. The time they have for creative activity they squander on handing out leaflets, putting up posters, demonstrating or heckling local politicians. They become militants, fetishising action because others are doing their thinking for them."10
This resounds with us--particularly the thing about the fetishising of action--in left groups the militants are left free to engage in endless busywork because the group leader or guru has the 'theory' down pat, which is just accepted and lapped up--the 'party line'. With direct action activists it's slightly different--action is fetishised, but more out of an aversion to any theory whatsoever. 

Although it is present, that element of the activist role which relies on self-sacrifice and duty was not so significant in June 18th. What is more of an issue for us is the feeling of separateness from 'ordinary people' that activism implies. People identify with some weird sub-culture or clique as being 'us' as opposed to the 'them' of everyone else in the world. 


The activist role is a self-imposed isolation from all the people we should be connecting to. Taking on the role of an activist separates you from the rest of the human race as someone special and different. People tend to think of their own first person plural (who are you referring to when you say 'we'?) as referring to some community of activists, rather than a class. For example, for some time now in the activist milieu it has been popular to argue for 'no more single issues' and for the importance of 'making links'. However, many people's conception of what this involved was to 'make links' with *other activists* and other campaign groups. June 18th demonstrated this quite well, the whole idea being to get all the representatives of all the various different causes or issues in one place at one time, voluntarily relegating ourselves to the ghetto of good causes. 

Similarly, the various networking forums that have recently sprung up around the country--the Rebel Alliance in Brighton, NASA in Nottingham, Riotous Assembly in Manchester, the London Underground etc. have a similar goal--to get all the activist groups in the area talking to each other. I'm not knocking this--it is an essential pre-requisite for any further action, but it should be recognised for the extremely limited form of 'making links' that it is. It is also interesting in that what the groups attending these meetings have in common is that they are activist groups--what they are actually concerned with seems to be a secondary consideration. 

It is not enough merely to seek to link together all the activists in the world, neither is it enough to seek to transform more people into activists. Contrary to what some people may think, we will not be any closer to a revolution if lots and lots of people become activists. Some people seem to have the strange idea that what is needed is for everyone to be somehow persuaded into becoming activists like us and then we'll have a revolution. Vaneigem says: "Revolution is made everyday despite, and in opposition to, the specialists of revolution."11
The militant or activist is a specialist in social change or revolution. The specialist recruits others to her own tiny area of specialism in order to increase her own power and thus dispel the realisation of her own powerlessness. "The specialist... enrols himself in order to enrol others."12 Like a pyramid selling scheme, the hierarchy is self-replicating--you are recruited and in order not to be at the bottom of the pyramid, you have to recruit more people to be under you, who then do exactly the same. The reproduction of the alienated society of roles is accomplished through specialists. 

Jacques Camatte in his essay 'On Organization' (1969)13 makes the astute point that political groupings often end up as "gangs" defining themselves by exclusion--the group member's first loyalty becomes to the group rather than to the struggle. His critique applies especially to the myriad of Left sects and groupuscules at which it was directed but it applies also to a lesser extent to the activist mentality. 

The political group or party substitutes itself for the proletariat and its own survival and reproduction become paramount--revolutionary activity becomes synonymous with 'building the party' and recruiting members. The group takes itself to have a unique grasp on truth and everyone outside the group is treated like an idiot in need of education by this vanguard. Instead of an equal debate between comrades we get instead the separation of theory and propaganda, where the group has its own theory, which is almost kept secret in the belief that the inherently less mentally able punters must be lured in the organisation with some strategy of populism before the politics are sprung on them by surprise. This dishonest method of dealing with those outside of the group is similar to a religious cult--they will never tell you upfront what they are about. 

We can see here some similarities with activism, in the way that the activist milieu acts like a leftist sect. Activism as a whole has some of the characteristics of a "gang". Activist gangs can often end up being cross-class alliances, including all sorts of liberal reformists because they too are 'activists'. People think of themselves primarily as activists and their primary loyalty becomes to the community of activists and not to the struggle as such. The "gang" is illusory community, distracting us from creating a wider community of resistance. The essence of Camatte's critique is an attack on the creation of an interior/exterior division between the group and the class. We come to think of ourselves as being activists and therefore as being separate from and having different interests from the mass of working class people. 

Our activity should be the immediate expression of a real struggle, not the affirmation of the separateness and distinctness of a particular group. In Marxist groups the possession of 'theory' is the all-important thing determining power--it's different in the activist milieu, but not that different--the possession of the relevant 'social capital'--knowledge, experience, contacts, equipment etc. is the primary thing determining power. 

Activism reproduces the structure of this society in its operations: "When the rebel begins to believe that he is fighting for a higher good, the authoritarian principle gets a filip."14 This is no trivial matter, but is at the basis of capitalist social relations. Capital is a social relation between people mediated by things--the basic principle of alienation is that we live our lives in the service of some *thing* that we ourselves have created. If we reproduce this structure in the name of politics that declares itself anti-capitalist, we have lost before we have begun. You cannot fight alienation by alienated means. 

A Modest Proposal

This is a modest proposal that we should develop ways of operating that are adequate to our radical ideas. This task will not be easy and the writer of this short piece has no clearer insight into how we should go about this than anyone else. I am not arguing that June 18th should have been abandoned or attacked, indeed it was a valiant attempt to get beyond our limitations and to create something better than what we have at present. However, in its attempts to break with antique and formulaic ways of doing things it has made clear the ties that still bind us to the past. The criticisms of activism that I have expressed above do not all apply to June 18th. However there is a certain paradigm of activism which at its worst includes all that I have outlined above and June 18th shared in this paradigm to a certain extent. To exactly what extent is for you to decide. 

Activism is a form partly forced upon us by weakness. Like the joint action taken by Reclaim the Streets and the Liverpool dockers--we find ourselves in times in which radical politics is often the product of mutual weakness and isolation. If this is the case, it may not even be within our power to break out of the role of activists. It may be that in times of a downturn in struggle, those who continue to work for social revolution become marginalised and come to be seen (and to see themselves) as a special separate group of people. It may be that this is only capable of being corrected by a general upsurge in struggle when we won't be weirdos and freaks any more but will seem simply to be stating what is on everybody's minds. However, to work to escalate the struggle it will be necessary to break with the role of activists to whatever extent is possible--to constantly try to push at the boundaries of our limitations and constraints. 

Historically, those movements that have come the closest to de-stabilising or removing or going beyond capitalism have not at all taken the form of activism. Activism is essentially a political form and a method of operating suited to liberal reformism that is being pushed beyond its own limits and used for revolutionary purposes. The activist role in itself must be problematic for those who desire social revolution. 

by Andrew X


Social Distortion: What Berlin's Election Results Really Mean

In the wake of the Berlin elections, the right wing has gone into overdrive suggesting that immigration was the cause of the CDU's recent drop in Berlin. Nothing could be farther from the truth...  

In the past few days, endless headlines and cut-and-paste headlines and tweets on social media have suggested that the CDU's ranking fell in Berlin because everyone here was fed up with Merkel's "open-door refugee policy".  That's utter bollocks.  Many English readers will assume it's the truth, though, for the simple reason that they don't understand what's being written or said about the elections in the German language.  The English speaking right wing has been taking full advantage of that fact to create the illusion of a popular right-wing revolt.

As Huffington Post's Cas Mudde pointed out in his analysis of the election, most English readers seem to envision the elections here as a "a two-horse race" between the AfD and the CDU. In reality it's more of a six-party split: five are to the left (or centre-left) and one is to the right. So, Berlin remains an incredibly progressive and cosmopolitan city, just as it was before the elections. It hasn't converted into some sort of Trump-supporting 51st state overnight!

Anyone who lives in Berlin will know that the majority of people in this city support and give aid to the local refugee / immigrant population whenever the can.  And the 2016 election results reflect that fact.  Below are the official results of Sunday's election (taken from cleanenergywire.org):

The CDU's position on refugees has mainly been to organize the transportation of refugees through Europe so they don't die in smugglers' boats. The right wing has dubbed this its "open door" policy. "Humanitarian" seems like a better term for it.

The SPD's position is to increase funding for refugees arriving in all nations, rather than keeping them out. They also seek greater integration for people who are already here.

Freie Demokraten Partei (FDP) advocates fighting the causes of flight (e.g. war) and granting asylum to refugees for at least as long as there are circumstances that threaten their lives in their homelands.

The Green Party states that its opposed to "Fortress Europe".

The Left Party's website simply says, "Refugees Welcome." Nuff said!

So, out of the six parties that make up Berlin's government, the AfD is the only one with an anti-immigration platform.  If this is what the right wing media means when it says we are "punishing" CDU for its immigration policies, then we're not doing a very good job, are we!?  Because in total, nearly 80% of voters in Berlin have opted for left or centre-left parties who want to go on supporting immigration and asylum rights.

That doesn't mean one should be complacent, though. It is alarming that the AfD's 14.7 percent vote has given them an opposition voice in a city like Berlin, which is due to be led by a socialist-environmentalist coalition. However worrying that is, though, it doesn't amount to the widespread revolt against immigration that the right wing is clearly fantasizing about. But then, they probably know that's the case.  Whenever the public sentiment is against you, misrepresentation of facts is a great way to nudge peoples' minds in the 'right' direction.

Another detail that most of mass media monopolies outlets seems to have missed is the fact that CDU's Minister for the Interior, Henkel, is a deeply unpopular deputy mayor in Berlin. In this role he has become one of the most despised figures in town.  Henkel tends to go into a meltdown each time that someone holds a demonstration that he dislikes... and that happens pretty often in Berlin.  In fact, it happens pretty often in most countries. Demonstrations are very rarely held to say things that people in power want to hear, which is a point that Mr. Henkel utterly fails to appreciate.

He infamously labelled the countercultural area around Rigaer Strasse a 'danger zone' and posted round-the-clock police surveillance there, despite the fact that it has less violent crime than nearby Simon Dach Strasse [a touristy bar strip].  Of course, the fact that Rigaer Strasse is where all the anarchists, activists, communists, pacifists, refugees, feminists and vegans live has probably played a role in his decision to clamp down on the area. Because, what could be more terrifying than being offered a vegan sausage by a smiling leftist...?

Henkel's hardline approach has resulted in a tonne of over-policing at demos, and general heavy-handedness (such as the recent tear-gassing of Blockupy activists who were staging a sit-in at the Ministry of Finance). He was behind numerous heavy-handed crackdowns on refugee protest camps around the city before that, too. He's a conformist and a bully, and proud of it - none of which sits well with the majority of people living in Berlin.  His behaviour has impacted the CDU's popularity in Berlin, a city where demonstrations and political street parties make up a major part of the social calendar.

Meanwhile, the bigger concerns for voters in Berlin's elections seem to have been rising rents, corruption and misspending by officials.  To date, only the left or centre-left parties have pledged to tackle issues like the decline of free childcare or rising public transit fares in Berlin. The AfD, by comparison, has focussed almost entirely on scapegoating foreigners, queers and women - who, as we all know hold the reins to real power in Germany (eye-roll implied).

As even the rightist tabloid Berliner Zeitung conceded that, in Sunday's elections, "AfD was elected in areas with low church affiliation, high Hartz IV rate and a low percentage of foreigners." In other words, positive experience won out over negative expectations of refugees and immigrants, in most areas. 

Indeed, the people in Berlin who are concerned about the refugee policy seem more concerned about the fact that they don't have proper homes and have to sleep rough, or in overcrowded shelters. Or that they need a better form employment than collecting bottles and dealing drugs. (At present many are barred from entering the legal job market).

The latest flood of cut and paste tweets gloating about the CDU's failure are nothing but a desperate, English led campaign to make reactionary sentiments seem bigger and badder than they really are in Berlin.  But then, what else would you expect from a bunch of bullies who like to push the most vulnerable members of society around?  Given a chance to push our minds around using the media, they'll take that, too.

I wouldn't mind people painting Berlin as a conservative town if it were anything like the truth, but it's not.  This may be why we are seeing so much writing that claims otherwise; it's like the old adage says:


Polls Apart: Berlin's Election Issues Are Extreme

Vote for the wrong party in this election and your party might be over - for good!

If you live in Berlin, hail from the EU and are registered at your home address, you will have received a funny little orange and white voting form, recently. It's one of the little upsides of all the bureaucracy in this city: they remember to include you in things like the municipal elections without you having to beg for it.

Lots has been written about the conventional party choices - SPD, CDU, Linke - so I won't be covering those in this piece.  Besides, it's not only fair but also kind of the mandate of this whole blog to talk about the counter-cultural and left wing issues that are facing Berlin voters this Sunday.

So here are the key buzzwords to look out for, and what they mean:

A100: Going Nowhere Fast.

The A100 is a new highway that will run through Treptower Park, across the Molecule Man bridge, straight down Afterhours Alley (think Else, Magadalena, Wilden Renate & About Blank) and end at Ostkreuz station, or thereabouts.

The road will decimate at least two of the above things by polluting the greener parts of Treptow with noise and smog, and evicting the energetic clubbing scene that's based around Ostkreuz and Treptow.

The stated goal of this absurd inner city highway is to increase traffic flows to Ostkreuz station and thus, speed up transit time to BER airport. But hang on a minute: where is the BER airport? It doesn't even exist yet, and probably never will. So there would seem to be little sense in ruining an inner city district with a vibrant grassroots economy to make sure people can get there faster.

At the very least, the A100 project should probably be put on hold until the BER airport debacle gets sorted, but the usual deals with devil contractors have ensured that it steams pointlessly ahead, regardless of what the city actually wants or needs.

AfD: No Alternative.

The Alternative fur Deutschland party is by far the most right wing party in the polls and quickly gaining (but also losing) support in various areas of Germany, right now.

The hardcore reactionary party that wants to stop immigration completely, using 'guns if necessary' to patrol borders. It's kind of a no-brainer that their policies won't have brilliant knock-on effects for all foreigners living in Berlin although, as usual it will be visible minorities (people of colour, women, trans and queer people) who will come off the worst for their policies.

The leader Frauke Petry, while female, seems to be little more than a cuddly sock puppet that the hideous baddies of the AfD have donned to lure unsuspecting voters into their fold. When questioned by the Telegraph recently, Petry was pathologically evasive about what the party's platform actually is and what they aim to do. When pressed, she usually just insinuates that her left wing critics are the real Nazis (an old Republican trick) without stating why, or explaining how that would make them any different from her AfD peers, even if it were true.  Deflecting, denying and refusing to give any direct answers... voting for Petry means voting with your eyes open and your brain switched off.

Gay Marriage: A Token Issue... but it's a start.

Elections are nothing if not a reflection of what politicos see as being trendy... which is why gay marriage is mentioned in so many Berlin party manifestos. Yet they maintain a strange silence about the amount of ridicule and outright bashing queer & trans people still face - yep, even here.  But with the majority of Germans claiming to be in support of gay marriage it would, at the very least, be a place to start laying down the laws that would make all sexualities equal.

Refugees: If You're Not Part of the Solution, You're Part of the Problem.

Many people in Berlin are helping refugees out of their own pockets and free time by putting them up and volunteering assistance to get them legal aid, food, money, etc.  The city's government needs to step up to the plate and do its part... or at the very least, stop harassing and intimidating the people who are actually helping out.

Which brings us to the next keyword...

Rigaer Strasse: A Danger to Capitalism.

The CDU's Senator Henkel brought in 500 cops, including some armed with guns, to deal with a minor altercation involving a police officer and two pedestrians in Friedrichshain's Rigaer Strasse last year.  Police have been stationed in the area ever since, despite the distinct absence of actual criminal violence to justify their presence (or their payroll).

Lack of evidence notwithstanding, Henkel is insistent that the area be classified as a gefahrengebiet (which I translate roughly to mean 'danger zone' because, well, it sounds less dry than the literal translation of 'danger area').

But yes, there's no doubt that Rigaer Strasse is dangerous.  As one of the last DIY, non-profit havens in Friedrichshain, it seriously endangers the profit margins of would-be investors and shop keepers who want to offer overpriced goods. 

Here are some of the other 'threats' that the area around Rigaer holds:

Laushangriff, an underground music venue and inexpensive Absinth bar
Fischladen, a bar hosting regular queer friendly, refugee friendly events and open kitchen nights
Friedel 54, a feminist collective that puts on live bands, cinema nights and open kitchen nights
Abstand, a punk venue that also houses refugees
Katderschmiede, a venue and housing project that is being evicted as we speak.
A museum of GDR subcultures in a local church. 

Senator Henkel takes the view that people like those above are a danger to the city. The rest of Berlin on the other hand, would tend to say that they ARE the city. Not too hard to see how that could lead to some friction if the CDU was in charge...

Street Harassment/Sexual Assault: Gender Inequality Has No Borders.

After a rash of sexual assaults happened in public in Cologne on New Year's Eve, racists got busy fist-bumping one another over the fact that men from abroad are (supposedly) more bigoted towards women than the guys here at home. Well, you only have to be a woman here at home to know that this is 'kaka' as they say in ze Deutsch. Virtually all women in Germany have been groped, followed, raped, beaten or verbally harassed by a man at some point. It's been an issue for much longer than the current refugee crisis has been happening, at any rate, so closing the borders won't help much.

What really shocked women's rights activists about the Cologne incident was the realization that sexual harassment and 'minor' sexual assaults are still technically legal in Germany (and that rape could be legal in some instances, too - at least at the time, it could. However, the rape law has been amended since then).

It was a further reminder that, no matter how empowered women in Germany may feel, the law has yet to back them up when it comes to asserting that power.  Yet as of now, the only parties tackling the issue of street harassment in these elections are the racists, to whom it is nothing but a giant exercise in denial and projection.  Sad. 

Berlin's Economy - Or Lack Thereof.

Okay, the Berlin economy is kind of non-existent when you look at traditional markers of a strong, local industry and high spending.  But where have the traditional markers gotten the rest of the planet, so far?

Loads of people are poor here and there's little industry. The city is, in effect, one big residential and educational zone. But is that such a bad thing? Instead of complaining that a city like Berlin needs to change because it doesn't fit existing business models, perhaps political leaders should be saying that the business model needs to change to fit a city like Berlin.

Luckily, the city has plenty of initiatives to do just that.  Its abundance of non profit, alternative 'social clubs' like those on Rigaer Strasse are just one, small part of that.

The standard business model is all about raising prices: allowing landlords to raise rents at will. Installing roads that bring people with bigger cars, higher demands and more cash to spend. Luring investors who want to buy low and sell high.

But look at the deep, acrimonious divides between haves and have-nots in London and New York, and you'll see that raising prices alone is not the sustainable answer.  In those cities, the poor and blacks are viewed with deep suspicion and fear because 'they want what we have'. Only the super-wealthy are free from scrutiny and surveillance. 

Berlin does have many alternative business and development models in existence here, right now, and they offer another view of what a city could be. Many people come here to start up or invest in better business models that haven't been given a fair shake, yet: the first packaging-free supermarket, renewable energy firms, green roofing and low CO2 housing consultants, tree houses, co-operatives of all kinds...

You can eat much of whatever is growing in Prinzessinnengarten, but you can't eat money. You can bank on cooperative, skilled and sympathetic people, better than you can on a savings account. Yet the CDU and SPD consistently ignore the ample resources that the city has got, and focus on importing what it hasn't, usually at the expense of the more innovative, local model.  That's just plain wasteful.

Besides: if the standard busines model is working so well in the rest of Germany and the world then why, in the name of all that's holy, is everybody moving to Berlin?

The answers I hear are always the same, from every newcomer: It has a better work-life balance. It has more down to earth attitude. It has a sense of acceptance. It offers more flexibility to make changes, whether at a personal or administrative level.  There are plenty of green spaces to enjoy.  Berlin has initiatives that are already working to build upon and sustain all the above advantages, and whoever leads this city next needs to be willing to help them. It really is as simple as that.

The Final Analysis.

For auslanders living here, this election is pretty critical - don't miss your chance to have a say. After all, many of the major platform issues will determine whether or not Berlin stays as awesome as it was back when you first missed your flight back home and decided to stay here forever!

For More Information:

...in English info about the Green Party
...in English info about the Die Linke (The Left Party)

in German about the Pirate Party

...and remember:

...so, while casting a ballot for one's cause is good, fighting for it all year round is even better.

All writing & images © A. E. Elliott (unless otherwise specified)

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Berlin, Germany
...is NOT a fashion blogger! I write about underground music, streetart, left-wing activism, social trends and the environment. Other publications that I have written for include: Urban Challenger Blog, Siegesaeule, Shlur, Alternative Berlin, Sensanostra.