9.2.17

Summer in Berlin is sur-really something!


Hard to remember that fact in February though, isn't it? Winter in Berlin means grey skies, grey streets and a grey-black mood. But at least we have our cameras and videos to remember the summer by, eh? 

Just imagine this: up until colour photography started being widely used, even the memories that people used to keep of this city on film were grey.  That meant they weren't even able to escape into a vision of the summer that had been (and hopefully would be again) like we can. So we should probably all take a second to be thankful for our smartphones, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube - and for Blogger of course!





Technology's transformed the camera since the black n' white days, and made it loads more accommodating to the mind reels of memories that all Berliners collect, to bursting point, each summer. There's never enough time to process all these memories at the time, so why not use the winter lull to try and catch up and make sense of it all? Or at least, to reaffirm how little sense any of it makes? 

As a mini-tribute to the little rectangular glowing screen in front of me that holds on to these memories, and doubles as my replacement sunlight over the winter months, I'm going to share a few of the sights I've stored on it from summer 2016.  Looking through these pictures today brought me a badly-needed hit of vicarious colour, heat and light to fill the end-of-winter void. Here's hoping it will do the same for you!


Streetart in sunny Strausberg, spotted on the way to a pristine lake


Stumbling into openair parties by accident, on the way home from work

Random unexplained statues on the Spree



Wreckage of old buildings being transformed into impromptu canvasses, outside of Berghain



Fete de la Musique @ Friedrichshain

...and protest parades under the sun


All-dayers at building sites full of sand the "beach"

Being able to walk anywhere, wearing anything, without getting cold...

...and keep walking...
...till you pass out in a flamingo boat!?
Ending the day with a sundowner on the Spree :-)

15.12.16

Poisoned Fruit in the Walled Garden - Part II

In the second in a series of posts about the impact of far-right wing trolling on the internet, find out what government operations from both the east and west have in common with the trolls of the alt-right. (Read Part I here)

The alt-right might be in the spotlight now, but its own activities are often overshadowed by the works of other trolls which are on a mission to promote slightly less offensive, conservative views: those of the military and the government.



Nearly everyone these days is familiar with the trolls working for China's 50-cent party, or the denizens of “Putin’s troll factories”. Typically, these trolls pose as Americans or Europeans and try to pack as much disinformation as they can into each rushed comment that they knock out.  They write transparent adulations to those in power in broken, Google-translated English. Their bugbears are the American Democrats; democracy in general; anyone who criticizes Russia or China; the EU; homosexuality (which is criminalized to some extent in both countries).
                                  
The reasons why the governments of Russia and China might have seen fit to mobilize their own sock puppet mobs to tow the party line might seem obvious: the old establishments there would have found it too difficult to cling to their accustomed, totalitarian level of control over popular opinions, in the face of new freedoms and technology.  Few of their dogmatic distortions would have stood a chance online, where millions can find the truth (or at the very least, an opposing view) at the click of a mouse.

But what, then, does this say about the U.S. military when the authors of its narrative choose to employ the same methods as those used by China and Russia, to counter criticism from so-called 'extremists' - particularly when it might be that those 'extremists' are just people with a really good argument?

In 2011, the Central Command of the U.S. military was revealed to have secured a deal with Florida-based cyber security firm NTRepid, to buy up persona management software. This software would allow each service man or woman to own up to 10 sock puppet identities, for use worldwide. Once the impending deal was exposed, the U.S. military was quick to state that none of the personas would work in English or on American soil, but those are the only solid details that have ever been given regarding the program. Centcom’s own insistence that it conducts its online deceptions in a way that ensures ‘maximum deniability’ - namely, by avoiding detection - doesn’t reassure, especially since its closest analogues within the US and the UK have been caught ransacking all of the barriers between the personal and the public; the domestic and the international, in pursuit of similarly-hazy, ‘anti extremist’ aims.  
                                  

Above: a slide from the GHCQ powerpoint presentation that was entered into evidence during Berlin hearings into the role of the German Bundesnachrichtdienst (secret service) in enabling NSA mass surveillance.

The presentation
illustrates how government operations envision themselves infiltrating major social media sites - Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube - using tactics that are nearly identical to those employed by the alt-right. 


The 'Joint Threat Research Intelligence Group' (a department of UK signals agency, the Government Communication Headquarter) has honed an online propaganda program which is being used by America, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand, whose spy agencies work together in an alliance known as the "5 Eyes". Although JTRIG is shrouded in secrecy (British MPs say they have no idea what it’s up to), most leaks to date have suggested that it focuses on non-criminal ‘targets’ such as Anonymous, to change their ‘extremist’ views. It is, bluntly speaking, a propaganda machine for conservatism.

In leaked material, JTRIG has admitted that its activities include monitoring ‘domestic extremist groups such as the English Defence League’ and ‘denying, deterring or dissuading hacktivists’. So, its targets are those which might one day pose a threat but haven't yet done anything wrong, nor even planned to.

It should also be remembered that intelligence agencies in both the UK and the US have often been wont to label anti-nuclear activists, animal rights activists, anarchists, anti-globalization activists, ecological activists and even whistleblowers as ‘terrorists’ for their use of “harassment, intimidation and coercion”, and "economic pressure" tactics - which essentially means 'boycotts'.  While these tactics may be considered slightly aggressive by some, they are a far cry from actual, suitcase-go-kaboom terrorism.

A picture slowly forms of a Western intelligence which views anyone who upsets the status quo (or its profit margins) as a physical threat, regardless of the moral questions that are raised by upholding that status quo and those profit margins and regardless of the physical threat which the status quo may pose to society. Additionally, it lumps in activists who idealize causing damage (like jihadis or the neo-nazi far right) alongside activists who idealize peaceful aims,
yet whom eventually resort to some form of non-violent sabotage to achieve them. It’s pretty critical to make a distinction between the two kinds of activists, though, unless one aspires to a nihilistic, materialist society which is wholly devoid of any deeper moral drives or ideals.



Above: a screenshot showing a moment when a Reddit user was caught out using an automated template to post dismissive comments to one of the site’s political subs
 
The JTRIG mission has perhaps been best summarized by the Intercept, which wrote: “Several GCHQ memos published last fall by the Guardian revealed that the agency was eager to keep its activists secret not to protect national security but because, ‘our main concern is that reference to agency practices […] could lead to damaging public debate which might lead to legal challenges against the current regime.

An interesting implication contained in the above statement is that the 5 Eyes alliance which essentially created JTRIG speaks as a single regime - one which coordinates its actions in order to answer needs and desires that are above and beyond the needs and desires of its component nations, or their people. In short, this statement seems to confirm the existence of a superstate whose sovereignty transcends the interests of the member nations... at least in the (five) eyes of the beholder, it does.
 
Perhaps none of this will stand out to internet users as much as some of the juicier controversies that explode out of the social media spheres each week or month, but perhaps that in itself, is what should give them pause.  These official trolls represent oh-so subtle, understated efforts to blend the ‘regime’ message with the messages sent by friends, family and peers, manufacturing the appearance of an agreement among them, where none exists.
In the process, the government's trolls have succeeded in almost validating the garish antics of the alt-right that are grabbing stage centre, at the moment. In their attempts to drum up support for their respective regimes, these trolls are inadvertently propping up the neo-fascist trolls that claim to speak for the silent, right wing masses. 

But can the agendas of these groups even be so different when they agree on the methods, if not the madness that drives them?
 

‘The guarded-aggressive, totalitarian ideology put forth by these people is their main indicator. A few members of this group try to look even somewhat liberal.'

'They introduce arbitrary tracts full of facts and events — often completely fraudulent — that force their opponents to do extensive research to refute them.'


‘It is an absolute orgy of animal hatred...'


'These remarks have been word-for-word identical [...] putting forward exactly the same “arguments”, accusations and insults, using exactly the same phrasing and sentence constructions.'


'One gets the feeling that they are being written by exactly the same people with the same impoverished imagination and vocabulary.'



The above quotes may sound like they are descriptions of tactics that are currently used by the alt-right, but they’re not: they’re taken from a 2007 expose entitled "Commissars of the Internet" which was published on La Russophobe, a dissident blog out of Russia. Its authors worked on the major independent publication, Novaya Gazeta. The series described how many of these writers were harangued and gang-stalked across the online world by feral trolls which showed all the hallmarks of being in the pay of the Kremlin. 

Unlike the alt-right, though, the people trolling the Russian blogosphere were speaking for those at the top of their country’s hierarchy: people who were capable of hiring hit men to silence journalists, and of
shutting down websites at will, with a multi-million-ruble budget on hand from which to pay operatives who would drown out dissent with astroturfing campaigns. Even so, a single voice of opposition was obviously too much for them to bear - nothing but total conformity would do.  It never does, with totalitarians.

One of the journalists whom the authors described as being continually harassed by the Russian brigadniki, acclaimed humanitarian activist and journalist
Anna Politkovskaya, was even assassinated in 2006 - and on Putin's birthday, no less.



“[It] is we who are responsible for Putin's policies ... [s]ociety has shown limitless apathy ... we have let them see our fear, and thereby have only intensified their urge to treat us like cattle. The KGB respects only the strong. The weak it devours. We of all people ought to know that.  From 'Putin's Russia' by Anna Politkovskaya

Totalitarians don't just stop at killing off the local opposition, though; even when dissenters give up the fight and leave Russia for good, officials will still go to great lengths to 'correct' their views in RL (real life). Another famous example of how online trolling can have fallout in RL is that of writer
Alexander Litvinenko, who was poisoned with polonium in London in 2006, after accusing Vladimir Putin of having ordered the death of his fellow journalist, Politkovskaya (somewhat understandable, given the circumstances).

An author on the alt-right website Daily Stormer could well have been voicing the mantra embraced by the Kremlin when he wrote: "This is about survival. We must win by any means necessary, or we will cease to exist". It's the sort of false equivalency that leads true extremists to kill people for their ideas alone. But the beliefs that the Kremlin, the alt-right, and even the NSA are fighting for the survival of seem to be beliefs that are undergoing a natural extinction. They are ideas whose death would make way for some sort of evolution or rebirth in society's consensus.  Do beliefs in mind numbing uniformity, torture, war, prejudice, cruelty and sectarian hate actually ever need rescuing from the brink? 


The alt-right is just one in a long line of astroturfing movements that is being led by a once-privileged group which is facing an online consensus that limits its former
scope of power. And the only way to regain that power, it seems, is to reduce the rest of the world to a droning singularity of voice, identity, thought. 

That is the only way that any despotic regime ever manages to survive.
                                               

Translation of BND-NSA inquiry question (left, above)

Not far from our hearing hall here was the Berlin Wall, which enclosed GDR citizens. We had various deaths - 136 at the inner-German frontier, 872 fatalities which in particular were caused by the Stasi. Against this historical context, I am wondering how you can compare the NSA and that state security?

Answer in English (left, below): "Yes, they've learned the lessons of that surveillance state [the Stasi]". 





“Drowning in information” is the tagline of the latest release of NSA documents that were compiled by Edward Snowden. The sensory overload experienced by spy agencies as they attempt to sift through every thought and image we produce tends to overspill on to us, too. When it comes to leaks about spying on ordinary citizens, those citizens are also drowning in information which they don’t know how to process, to interpret.

The modern internet may be filthy with leaks, but sites which interpret the content of the leaks and share their conclusions are still too thin on the ground and their conclusions are often too limited. Taken together, these sites tend to form a well-intentioned echo chamber that can seem as dislocated from day-to-day online experience as the government itself. But that's an illusion: the Western government's troll operations are just as geared towards engineering a whole new consensus down on the ground as anything done by the 'populist' alt-right.  In this new consensus, opinions exist not to reveal anything, but merely to further the goals of entrenched power.   


In the next post in this series, we will see how corporate culture was instrumental in implanting those goals in the online world, in the first place.  



Like this piece? Check out 'Populism by Unpopular Demand on Fleeting Reams



© A. E. Elliott 2016

This series of articles are taken from an upcoming book by the author. Any attempt to republish or re-use this work without accreditation and/or the author's consent will constitute a breach of copyright.

2.12.16

Poisoned Fruit in the Walled Garden - Part I

WARNING: The views & statements reproduced in this series of articles may be offensive to some readers.

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 online forums and comment boards.

Mobilizing small battalions of sock puppet  (fake) accounts, members of this loose network stormed popular comment sites such as Disqus and Twitter, flooding them with hateful posts on a wide range of global issues: Brexit, Trump, immigration, Islam and a so-called Jewish 'conspiracy'.
It seemed like a clear attempt to mould a new popular consensus  of open contempt for all minorities, everywhere including Berlin. 

It would probably be more fair to call theirs an 'unpopular consensus', though.  Because, no matter what the alt-right would like us to believe, its views are still in the minority.  It is easy to forget that fact, however, when right wing voices are commandeering an increasing proportion of the online conversation.

How big of a proportion? One study undertaken by the Anti-Defamation League to look into antisemitism on Twitter, found that 2.6 million hateful tweets had been posted by just 1,600 individuals in 2016.  (By way of contrast, the writer of this piece has only sent 1,300 tweets  of any kind, within the last five years). Together, these anti-Semitic tweets were seen around 10 billion times in total.

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."'

Alt-right websites like Breitbart have been instrumental in mobilizing right wing trolls to carpet-bomb social platforms such as Twitter, Facebook and Disqus with hate speech, so as to engineer phoney "public outcries" over current issues. These issues can be as trivial as the new Ghostbusters film, or as big as the Brexit.  

On other websites connected to the alt-right, such as 4Chan and Daily Stormer, one can find the same trolls openly organizing "troll raids" and "twitter storms". Site readers are encouraged to forge an array of bogus identities (black people, asians and women seem to be popular choices) from which to post hate speech. They do this with the express intent of normalizing bigotry and dividing groups that would otherwise stand together in the face of right wing hate. 


Above: Troll raid callouts on the neo-nazi website Daily Stormer



Above: alt-right trolls swap strategies for turning blacks against Jews

So what does any of this have to do with Berlin? 

Well, the alt-right now seems to be targeting English language sites in Germany like TheLocal.de. It seems to be doing this in the hopes of drumming up enough hatred against refugees and immigrants to secure a win for one of Germany's far right parties in the next elections.  

And this is anything but a "local" phenomenon: one needs only enter "thelocal.de" + "[any white nationalist website]" into a search engine to see how often articles from The Local are being reposted in the extremist backwaters of the internet - many of which reputedly originate in the American deep South.

The number of extreme right-wing comments on The Local began to rise starting in 2014. Interestingly, this was the same year that the Christian Democratic Union announced its open-borders policy, which was quickly commended by President Obama.  It seems that this move was enough to kick the neo-nazi troll machine into action - possibly due to fears that Obama might try to emulate Germany's open-doors refugee policy.  

Alt-right trolls are easy to identify: they seem to spend most of every day and night posting hateful comments and scouring the internet for scare stories that they can connect refugees or Islam in some way... no matter how tenuous that connection may be. But they don't reflect the views that are actually held by most English-speaking German residents, anymore than they reflect the views that are held by most Americans, when they invade overseas websites. 


Right-wing commenters have become ubiquitous on TheLocal.de
It's true that far-right membership in most Western countries has increased somewhat (a fact which should not be ignored), but there is still a noticeable gap between the proportion of bigoted views one sees online, and the proportion of those same views one sees in real life.

Distorting the online mirror to make one group seem bigger than another is simple, funhouse trick that anyone with enough money or the time can pull off, it seems.
But w
hereas Twitter and Facebook can be manipulated to push one agenda over another, government studies and other social barometers of are less easy to fool.


In the 2015 World Values Survey, one of the biggest studies of its kind, only a relatively small percentage of respondents revealed a bias that was in any way similar to those held by the alt-right. When asked which kind of people they would prefer not to live next to, only 5% - 22% of respondents revealed a bias against people of colour, immigrants, women, queer people, etc. Below is a sample of those results:

Does not want a multiracial neighbour: Germany 14,8%, United States 5.6%

Does not want a migrant neighbour: Germany: 21.4%, United States: 13.6%

Thinks that a woman's rights to work comes second to a man's: Germany 15.5%, United states: 5.7%
 
So clearly, the levels of casual racism, sexism and overall bigotry are far lower in society than a glance at Twitter or Disqus would seem to suggest. One can see a mirror image of the alt-right effect in the German groups Pegida.  Despite claiming to speak for some sort of silent majority, the protest group rarely seems to get more than a couple of hundred people to their events, outside of the mostly-white east.  (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).

The German  Verfassungschutz's 2015 publication also indicates that membership in far right parties in Germany totals just 11,800 people. Yet, until very recently, almost 100% of views expressed on English language sites in Germany have been far-right. This is why it's dangerous
for social media users to view their platforms as an honest reflection society's views: because groups like the alt-right are all too happy to manipulate that perception.

It's not hard to foil the alt-right's insidious plot to fool the people, though, since it openly announces its intentions to do so on its key websites. There, right wing trolls can be seen discussing ways to mislead people by planting faked news items; organizing Twitter raids; harassing journalists; etc. And since unofficial alt-right leader Andrew Anglin has admitted to owning sock puppet accounts and The Daily Stormer has a [now private] section for organizing troll raids (TRS).

How can the alt-right afford to be so open about its activities? Simply put, it knows that no one is looking... not even journalists, it seems. This may be why it was possible for one "news clip" about a pro-Trump student getting beaten up at school to viral without anyone realizing that the clip - shot on a smartphone and circulated via YouTube - did not contain a single word about Donald Trump or the election. 
 

The alt-right is counting on internet users who are in a hurry and are willing to go glomming after the most shocking snippet they can find, and pass it on without taking time to check its authenticity. It's a tendency that all internet users eventually fall victim to eventually, though, however intelligent they may be.  So in this one sense, the alt right is teaching us 'normies' an important lesson: shock-trolling only works when internet users prioritize shock value. Instead of banning fake news websites, perhaps Facebook would be better offer reminding its users to 'Question Everything'.

However high profile the alt-right may be, though, it hasn't managed to commandeer the internet's discussion platforms all by itself. In the next of three posts, find out what the alt-right has in common with government troll operations from both the East and the West.    

Part II will be published next Wednesday, December 14th

Like this piece? Check out "Populism by Unpopular Demand" on Fleeting Reams 

© A. E. Elliott 2016

This series of articles are taken from an upcoming book by the author. Any attempt to republish or re-use this work without accreditation and/or the author's consent will constitute a breach of copyright. 
 

25.11.16

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.

30.9.16

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.

25.9.16

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.

Experts

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. 


Roles

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. 

Isolation

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

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