Monday, 21 May 2018

An Introduction to Anarchist Thoughts on Property - Audio Anarchy


An Introduction to Anarchist Thoughts on Property



This piece explores some historical thoughts on the origin and nature of private property. By examining the texts of John Locke, PJ Proudhon, and Peter Kropotkin, we encounter questions of where private property came from, how it became an accepted standard, and what its philosophical justifications are. All of these historical thoughts echo loudly into the world of today.
I made a transcript of the video to help preserve the work of Audio Anarchy.

(Transcript)

Hello this is Audio Anarchy Radio, continuing with our series that introduces various concepts from anarchist perspectives. Today we are going to be talking about property.  When speaking of property a good place to begin is with John Locke the 17th century English philosopher.

John Locke

Locke was one of the first political philosophers to think about the nature of property. He struggled with the concept of private property, given that he believed God gave the earth to mankind, not certain individuals. In his words quote
“God gave the world to man in common but since he gave it to them for their benefit, and the greatest conveniences of life they were capable to draw from it. It cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational and labour was to be his title to it, not to the fancy  or covetousness of the quarrelsome and  contentious he that had his good left for his improvement as was already taken up needed not complain, ought not to meddle with what was already improved by another’s labour. If he did, it is plain he desired the benefit of another’s pains which he had no right to. And not the ground which God had given him in common with others to labour on and whereof there was as good left as that already possessed and more than he know what to do with or his industry could reach to”,

end quote.

So it is not the land that God has given us than an individual as laying claim to, but rather the product of an individual’s labour. By claiming property we are claiming individual entitlement to the product of the work that we do, not the common gift of God. By his logic a ploughed field has value because of the labour that one invested in ploughing it and that is why one would claim it as his or her own.

Locke makes it clear that this is based on the assumption that there is always quote “good left” in his words quote
“nor was this appropriation of any parcel of land by improving it any prejudice to any other man since there was still enough and as good left and more than the yet unprovided could use, so that in effect there was nevertheless left for others because of his enclosure for himself. For he that leaves as much as another can make use of does as good as take nothing at all. Nobody could think himself injured by the drinking of another man, though he took a good draw, who had a whole river of the same water left to quench his thirst. And the case of land and water where there is enough is perfectly the same.”

End quote.

He continues to add that the process of enclosure actually helps to preserve the state of abundance. He claims that a man can live on ten acres of cultivated land where he most likely require a hundred acres of uncultivated land in order to maintain the same level of sustenance. Hence when one encloses ten acres of common land, one is not taking ten acres but giving ninety. Of course at this point we’re only talking about the means that one uses to sustain oneself. In his words quote,
“Before the appropriation of land he gathered as much of the wild fruit, killed, caught or tamed as many of the beasts as he could. He that so employed his pains about any of a spontaneous products of nature as any way to alter them from the state which nature put them in by placing any of his labour on them did they thereby acquire a propriety in them. But if they perished in his possession without their new use, if the fruits rotted, or the venison putrefied before he could spend it, he offended against the common law of nature. And was liable to be punished. He invaded his neighbours share for he had no right farther than his use called for any of them. And they might serve to afford him convivences of life. The same measures covered the possession of land too. Whatsoever he tilde and reaped, laid up and made use of before it spoiled, that was his peculiar right. Whatsoever he enclosed and could feed and make use of; the cattle and product was also his. But if either the grass of his enclosure rotted on the ground or the fruit of his planting perished without gathering and laying up; this part of the earth not standing his enclosure was still to be looked on as waste, and might be the possession of any other.”

End quote.

So did you hear that? This bourgeois thinker who influenced the very foundations of the United States and all subsequent property law, asserts that all those companies who are filling their dumpsters with unsold produce every night, as well as the United States government itself which subsidizes agriculture by buying up surplus grain and letting it rot away in silo’s is stealing from us. Even from Locke’s bourgeois perspective he’s calling us to the barricades right now.

Locke admits that the introduction of money into society changed the shape of property. Using money it becomes possible for one to freeze one’s labour into a durable form represented by precious metals or in the case of today currency. Once this possibility was introduced the potential size of an individual’s enclosure is no longer limited by fruits, vegetables or livestock will rot away in time. Whereas before if I used a thousand acres to grow fruit that would rot away before I could eat it all, I was stealing from the common gift of God. If on the other hand I trade all my surplus fruit for precious metals which are durable and will not rot away I have wasted nothing. Locke imagines a large island where there is an incredible abundance of resources, but nothing that is so scarce or durable that it could be used as a form of money. On this island Locke realises; there would never be any incentive for an individual to use more land than one would require for one’s personal needs. Because there would be no way to crystalize any extra labour preformed into a more durable format. So here Locke is admitting that the emergence of money and trade threw a crimp into his logic on property. But he continues to rationalise his justifications by claiming that since gold and silver have no inherent value beyond what we’ve bestowed on them; all of us have voluntarily consented to this expansion of property by agreeing to accept the value of currency.

In his words quote
“but since gold and silver being little useful to the life of men in proportion to food, raiment, and carriage has its value only from the consent of men. Where labour yet makes the great part the measure it is plain that men have agreed to a disproportionate and unequal possession of the earth, they having by a tacit and voluntary consent found out a way how a man may fairly possess more land than he himself can use the product of; by receiving in exchange for the over plus gold and silver which may be hoarded up without injury to anyone. These metals not spoiling or decaying in the hands of the possessor.”

End quote.

So, this is about as far as Locke can take us.

Pierre Joseph- Proudhon

Pierre Joseph Proudhon, was a nineteenth century thinker who questioned the bourgeois foundations of property. He was the first person to call himself an Anarchist, claiming that anarchy is order. He was referring to what he called the natural order of true unity from below, rather than a false unity brought about by constraint. The phrase Anarchy is order is thought to be the origin of the circle A. He is well know for exclaiming that “property is theft!” and starts his book What is Property? By saying
“If I were asked to answer the following question `what is slavery?` and I should answer it in one word `it is murder` my meaning would be understood at once. No extended argument would be required to show that the power to take from a man his thought, his will, his personality is a power of life and death. And that to enslave a man is to kill him. Why then to this other question `what is property?` may I not likewise answer it is robbery, without the certainty of being misunderstood? The second proposition being no more than a transformation of the first.”

End quote.

Proudhon’s thoughts on property depend on a distinction between property and possession. For him property is ownership by a landowner or a capitalist that is derived from conquest or exploitation and is maintained through the state property laws and an army. On the other hand possession, is ownership of a home, land to cultivate, our tools of a trade that excludes control over the lands and lives of others. In his words quote
“There are different kinds of property, first property pure and simple; the dominant and senioral power over a thing, or as they term it naked property. Second, possession, the tenant, the farmer, the usufructuary, or possessors. The owner who lets and lends for use, the heir who is to come into possession on the death of an usufructuary or proprietors. If I may venture a comparison, a lover is a possessor, a husband a proprietor. This double definition of property domain and possession is of the highest importance and it must be clearly understood in order to comprehend what is to follow.”

End quote.

Proudhon wonders how property became an accepted natural right when categorised along with natural rights like life and liberty; property doesn’t seem to fit in. Or he sees things like life and liberty as inherent immutable components of humanity, he sees something like property as a specific creation of proprietors. He investigates the basis for property as a natural right, starting with Locke’s justification on the basis of labour. To this he asks, quote
“why is not this principal universal? Why is the benefit of this pretended law confined to a few and denied to the mass of labourers? Why does the tenant no longer acquire through his labour the land which was formerly acquired by the labour of the proprietor? I prove that those that do not possess today are proprietors by the same title as those that do possess. But instead of inferring their form that property should be shared by all, I demand its entire abolition.”

End quote.

In response to a justification of property such as quote
“some labourers are employed in draining marshes and cutting down trees and brushwood in a word and cleaning up the soil they increase the value, they make the amount of property larger, they are paid for the value which they add in the form of food and daily wages. It then becomes the property of the capitalist.”

End quote.

Proudhon responds, quote
“the price is not sufficient, the labour of the workers has created a value, now this value is their property. But they have neither sold nor exchanged it, and you capitalists, you have not earned it.  That you should have a partial right to the whole in return for the materials that you have furnished and the provisions that you have supplied is perfectly just. You contribute to the production, you ought to share in the enjoyment; but your right does not annihilate that of the labourers, who in spite of you have been your colleagues in the work of production. Why do you talk of wages? The money with which you pay the wages of the labourers remunerates them for only a few years of the perpetual possession which they have abandoned to you. Wages is the cost of the daily maintenance and refreshment of the labourer, you are wrong in calling it the price of a sale. The working man has sold nothing, he knows neither his right nor the extent of the concession which he has made to you. Nor the meaning of the contract which you pretend to have made with him.  On his side utter ignorance, on yours error and surprise, not to say deceit and fraud. In this century of bourgeois morality, in which I have had the honour to be born; the moral sense is so debased that I should not be surprised if I were asked by many a worthy proprietor what I see in this that is unjust and illegitimate. Debased creature, galvanised corpse, how can I expect to convince you if you cannot tell robbery when I show it to you? Under the pretext that he has paid his labourers that he owes them nothing more, that he has nothing to gain by putting himself at the service of others while his own occupations claim his attention he refuses to acknowledge his own justification for property. And when in the impotence of their isolation, these poor labourers are compelled to sell their birth right, he this ungrateful proprietor, this knavish upstart stands ready to put the finishing touch to their deprivation and their ruin. And you think that just? Take care.”

End quote.

Finally in response to Locke’s justifications Proudhon exclaims
“God gave the earth to the human race, why then have I received none? He has put all thins under my feet and I have not were to lay my head. Multiplied he tells us that is as easy as to do as to say. But you must give moss to the bird for its nest.”

End quote.

Proudhon goes on to examine the justifications of property, based on the concept of original occupancy. At this he exclaims “Property was the first of rights, just as submission to authority was the most holy of duties”.  When a contemporary of Proudhon attempted to justify property through original occupancy, by claiming quote
“my liberty needs for its objective action material to work upon. In other words, property or a thing, this thing or property naturally participates then in volubility of my person. For instance I take possession of an object that has become necessary and useful in the outward manifestation of my liberty. I say this object is mine since it belongs to no one else, consequently I possess it legitimately. So the legitimacy of possession rests on two conditions; first, I possess only as a free being. Supress free activity, you destroy my power to labour. Now it is only by labour that I can use this property or thing and it is only by using it that I possess. Free activity is then the principle of the right of property but that alone does not legitimate possession. All men are free, all men can use property by labour, does that mean that all men have a right to all property? Not at all. To possess legitimately I must not only labour and produce in my capacity of a free being but I must also be the first to occupy the property, in short if labour and production are the principle of the right of property the fact of first occupancy is its indispensable condition.”

End quote.

To this Proudhon responds
“Well is it not true from this point of view that if the liberty of man is sacred, it is equally sacred in all individuals that if it needs property for its objective action, that is for its life, the appropriation of materials is equally necessary for all. That if I wish to be respected in my right of appropriation I must respect others and theirs, and consequently that though in the sphere of the infinite a person’s power of appropriation is limited only by himself, in the sphere of the finite the same power is limited by the mathematical relation between the numbers of persons and a space which the occupy. Does it not follow that if one individual cannot prevent another, his fellow man from appropriating an amount of material equal to his own no more can he prevent individuals yet to come. Because while individuality passes away universality persists and the eternal laws cannot be determined by a partial view of their manifestations. Must we not conclude therefore that whenever a person is born the others must crowd closer together and by reciprocity of their obligation that if the newcomer is afterwards to become an heir the right of succession does not give him the right of accumulation but only the right of choice. If the right of life is equal the right of labour is equal and so is the right of occupancy. Would it not be criminal were some islanders to repulse in the name of property the unfortunate victims of shipwreck struggling to reach the shore. The very idea of such cruelty sickens the imagination, the proprietor like Robinson Crusoe on his island wards off with pike and musket the proletariat washed overboard by the waves of civilisation and seeking to gain a foothold on the rocks of property. `Give me work!` cries he with all his might to proprietor, `don’t drive me away, I will work for you at any price.` `I do not need your services` replies the proprietor showing the end of his pike or the barrel of his gun. `Lower my rent at least, I need my income to live upon. How can I pay you when I can get no work?` `That is your business` then the unfortunate proletariat abandons himself to the waves or if he attempts to land upon the shore of property the proprietor takes aim and kills him. The right of property provided it can have a cause can have but one. I can possess by several titles, I can become proprietor only by one, the field which I have cleared, which I cultivate, on which I built my house, which supports myself, my family and my livestock, I can possess. First as the original occupant, second as a labourer, third by virtue of the social contract which assigns it to me as my share. But none of these titles confer upon me the right of property, for if I attempt to base it upon occupancy society can reply `I am the original occupant.` If I appeal to my labour it will say `it is only on that condition that you possess.` If I speak of agreements it will respond `these agreements establish only your right of use.` Such however are the only titles which proprietors advance, they never have been able to discover any others. Indeed every supposes a producing cause and the person who enjoys it. But in man who lives and dies in the sun of earth who passes away like a shadow there exists with respect to external things only titles of possession, not one title of property. Why then has society recognised a right injurious to itself? Where there is no producing cause. Why in according possession it has also conceded property? Why has the law sanctioned this abuse of power?”

end quote.

There is of course a major distinction between what Proudhon was advocating and the likes of the state socialists, as he said “instead of inferring therefrom that property should be shared by all I demand its entire abolition.” Proudhon considered the state socialists of the time to be the worst proprietors, seeing state ownership is the most degenerative case of capitalist exploitation. In his words quote

I see in it a barrier to liberty, the free disposition of the soil taken away from him who cultivates it and this precious sovereignty forbidden to the citizen and reserved for that fictitious being without intelligence, without passion, without morality that we call the state. By this arrangement the occupant has less to do with the soil than before. The clod of earth seems to stand up and say to him `you are only a slave of the taxes, I do not know you`.

End quote.

Proudhon was also opposed to libertarian notions of collectivism, he only favoured association where association was necessary, as the organic combination of forces. Operations that required specialisation and many different workers preforming their individual tasks to complete a unified product required association. This is because the workers would inherently be dependent on each other and without association the workers are related as subordinate and superior, master and wage slave. Proudhon considered this to be free association and did not favour what he called the cult of association which would require everyone to collectivise for the sake of collectivisation. He felt that operations which could be preformed by an individual such as the artisan or peasant without the help of specialised workers did not require association.  This is the origin of his saying that “property is freedom” where here he is referring to property as possession.



Peter Kropotkin

Peter Kropotkin was one of the first proponents of anarchist communism. He looked at the world of individual autonomy and personal possession that Proudhon had imagined and further questioned its basis. He noted that all of society’s labour was intimately tied together in a myriad of ways and that even apparently isolated groups were not functioning as autonomously as they seemed. He pointed out that even the peasant farmer or isolated artisan was dependent on roads and the bridges made in common. The swamps drained in common toil and the communal pastures enclosed by hedges which were kept and repaired by each and all. If the looms for weaving or the dyes for colouring fabrics were improved all profited. So even in those days a peasant family could not live alone, but was dependent in a thousand ways on the village or the commune.

He continued that in the industrialising world these connections are even more complicated and tightknit. Kropotkin felt that this demonstrated the instruments of labour to be a common inheritance. And that this was in direct contradiction to wages or even collectivist remuneration. He felt that the common instruments of labour must necessarily bring with it the enjoyment in common of the fruits of common labour. He saw enough for everyone and proposed that those currently in control of property were resting on a centuries old foundation of appropriated common labour. He thought that the amount of work necessary to track people’s ongoing labour was less efficient than just having a fully communitarian society where everything was freely available to everyone.

So contrary to Proudhon, Kropotkin did not feel that one was entitled to the product of one’s labour, but rather to whatever one’s needs may be. Kropotkin advocated a gift economy where everything would be available to anyone. He often pointed out that in situations of crisis people regularly banded together to help each other and lend services without thought of remuneration. Often with amazing and beautiful results. He imagined a world where everyone was always united by such a common cause.

In conclusion, there’s a long history of anarchist thought on the nature of property and possession. Proudhon has interesting ideas about property existing both as an act of theft and a liberating force. Kropotkin has interesting ideas about the interconnectedness of it all and of the potentials for a beautiful communitarian world. To me even the writings of Locke are interesting, because at least this bourgeois philosopher was even thinking about the origins and rights of private property. This is a far cry from today’s world where large social questions are no longer discussed. There are no more promises, no more ideas, people are not continuing to work because they have been promised the hope of an eventual better life by and large those living in America today have accepted the conditions and parameters of their lives, and are operating within that framework. The politicians don’t even have to lie about promises of alternatives, the questions they do ask are meaningless because the method is false. If asked for a justification of private property those of the established order would not speak of a basis in equality, liberty or justice, they would simply reply that private property is necessary for capitalism, and that would be sufficient.

Because nobody is imagining anything else.

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Six


SIX



There came a morning when they ate breakfast and instead of heading out to work on the machines Hazel brought a clean shirt out of the back bedroom and handed it to the boy.

`Here. We’re going to town. You need to be cleaner.`

He hesitated. It had been a week, no, ten days that he had been here with the old woman and Robert and he felt it was not long enough to be safe if they were looking for him. `I’ll stay here and work on the machines.`

`It’s the county fair,` she said. Then, turning to the picture, she added, `Every year the fair comes. We go it.`

He washed at the kitchen sink and when he came back outside buttoning his shirt she was at the car.  She was still wearing bib overalls – had worn them every day since he’d first met her – but they were clean and she had a clean work shirt on beneath the overalls.

`Here,` she said, handing him a folded piece of paper. He looked down and was surprised to see that it was a twenty-dollar bill. `Man’s got to have some money. For spending at the fair.`

`You don’t need to give me money…`
`Of course I do. You want it getting out that I don’t give my hand money for the fair?`

They drove in complete silence, setting off at thirty miles an hour on the highway for the two miles into Clinton.

The town itself was small – not over a thousand people – and the fair was equally small. It was a sideshow banner, a Ferris wheel, a Tilt-a-Whirl, some small car rides for children and a row of game booths. The boy was surprised to see that there were hundreds and hundreds of people there, all scrubbed clean and milling on the short midway. At one end of the fairgrounds there were two large sheds and he could see livestock in the buildings, cages with chickens and rabbits and turkeys, pens with sheep and hogs.

`So many people,` he said to Hazel as they walked from the grassy meadow where the cars were parked. `Where do they come from?`
`Farms,` she said. `There’s farms all over the place. Town wouldn’t even be here except for farmers. `Sides, it’s the last day of the fair and that brings them in a little extra-`

At that precise moment the boy saw the sheriff’s deputy who had arrested him and taken all his money and made him a fugitive. He thought of it that way. He saw not just the deputy – who was walking away from them at an angle across the midway – but the deputy who had arrested him and taken all his money and made him a runner from the law.

He had to hide. If the lawman saw him it would be over. He’d probably go to prison, being a fugitive.

`I have to go,` he said to Hazel, interrupting. `You know.. to the bathroom.`

He left her walking towards the fair and angled off in the opposite direction taken by the deputy. It led him past the draglines and the Ferris wheel and near the Tilt-a-Whirl.

`Hey, kid you want a job?`
The boy turned and found himself looking at a figure who summed up everything he ever wanted to be in a man. The man wore Levi’s so low the crack of his butt showed in the rear and the top edge of pubic hair in the front and a T-shirt with a pack of cigarettes rolled up in a sleeve, one of which he lit now with a Zippo lighter that he snapped open and flicked in an easy motion with one hand. His hair was combed in a perfect greased-back jet-black ducktail and as a final touch of glory he wore heavy-duty black engineer’s boots with straps and buckles that looked freshly oiled and polished.

`Doing what?` the boy asked.
The man looked over the boy’s head when he spoke, coolly ignoring him, letting his eyes move up and down the fairgrounds.

`I’ll give you thirty-five bucks a week to set up and run the Tilt-a-Whirl for the rest of the summer. We’re leaving tonight.`

Thirty-five dollars a week from a job with the glory of the carnival seemed unbelievably rich and absolutely perfect for a man who was on the run and the boy at first nodded, then shook his head. `I can’t.`

The man shrugged. `The world is full of can’ts- it’s a word used by losers.`
`No. I mean I can. I want the job. But I have some… trouble. I have to stay out of sight.`
`For how long?`
¬Just until I leave … you know, for the day.`
The man studied him, looked up and down slowly, looked away again, dragging deeply on the cigarette. `You’re serious.`
`Yes.`
`Is it the law?`
The boy hesitated. `Yes.`
`You’re wanted?`
`I ran off.`
`Oh, hell. We all did that.` He brought his eyes back to the boy, flicked ash neatly off his cigarette.
`Good arms – can you work?`

Can I work? The boy thought – thought of beets and tractor driving and days so bent over he couldn’t stand straight. `Yes. I can work hard.`

`Hmmm,` the man said, taking a long drag on the Camel. He thought for a moment more, then shrugged. `All right. I’m Taylor. You screw me and I’ll find you and cut you. Deep.` He fished into his pocket with two fingers and extracted a twenty-dollar bill. `Here. From your first week’s pay. Get your butt into town and get some boots and a T-shirt. You look like a trick. Get back here about midnight to work the breakdown. The law ought to be gone by then – or he’ll be so drunk it doesn’t matter.`

The boy took the money and started out behind the Tilt-a-Whirl, into some low trees that led off to town, and had gone twenty paces before he remembered Hazel. She would worry. He stopped. It wasn’t like leaving the Mexicans, somehow. They had themselves, their families. Hazel had nothing. In the short time he’d been with her she had become something for him; someone inside him.

He trotted back to the midway, stopped in back of the Ferris wheel where the machinery hid him and looked for her. And for the deputy. He saw the deputy first, talking to two women near the draglines. He stood with his back straight and his stomach sucked in and the boy thought, You bastard, you’ve got my money, you son-of-a-bitch of a thief.

He looked away and at length saw Hazel in her bibs moving towards the livestock barn. He gave one more glance at the deputy, who was still by the draglines with the girls, and moved to intercept Hazel, keeping the sideshow tents between him and the lawman.

`Oh, there you are,` she said as he came up. `We’ve got to see the workhorses. There might be some I’d want to buy. For when Robert comes back…`
`I have to leave,` the boy said because he did not yet know a way to say things smoothly. `I have to go.`

She stopped and turned and he was surprised to see a tear in the corner of her eye. `Is it the talk about Robert? Because I just talk, you know. I know he isn’t coming back. If I talk about it, it eases the pain of knowing. But if its that I can -`

`No. I have some other things in my life. Somethings I’ve done. I have to leave,` he repeated. G’damn, he thought, why does it hurt this way? Goddamn! I don’t even know her. Jeez. `I’m sorry. Here.` He dug into his pocket and held out the Twenty-dollar bill she’d given him. `You take this back.`

`No. you go now. Take the money. You’ll ned it.` She took his hand and with surprising strength folded his fingers back on the bill and pushed the hand back towards his pocket. `Go. Now.`

And she turned and went into the stock barn, leaving him. He felt some loss he didn’t understand, a loss he would always feel and never understand, started after her and stopped, remembered the deputy, his new job, and turned, jogging off towards town, his eyes burning and his feet heavy.


Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Five


FIVE




the boy had just put his head down on his rolled-up trousers that he used for a pillow, his trousers with the money in the pockets, when he heard pounding on the trailer door and Bill was standing over the bunk with a flashlight.

Sleep was still in his mind and the boy opened his eyes and looked up into the light and said,
`What’s wrong?`
`Wrong? Nothing’s wrong, it’s time to go to work.`

Bill turned and left and the boy started to lie back, so hungry for sleep – it couldn’t have been an hour – that his eyes almost slammed shut, but Bill turned and pounded on the trailer again.
`Come on, boy – we got work to do.`
And that time it worked and the boy slid out of the bunk and put his feet on the floor and pulled his trousers on and went out to pee and eat a breakfast sandwich as Bill drove the truck to take him out to the field.
`How much money did I give you last night?`
Bill asked while they were pouring diesel into the tractor from five-gallon cans.

`I don’t know – I didn’t count it yet,` the boy lied. He had counted in the yard light coming through the window of the trailer before he went to sleep.  A hundred and forty dollars Bill had given him.

`I don’t want it back,` Bill said, reading his thoughts. `It wasn’t a lot, was it? Like a thousand dollars or anything?`
`No. I don’t think so.`
`I mean I don’t care. I just need to know so I can tell how much I won.`
`A hundred,` the boy said. `A hundred and forty dollars.`
`Oh. Jeez, I was hoping it was more. I wanted to go over twenty-one thousand – the way it is, I’m shy by seven hundred dollars or so.`
`You won twenty thousand dollars?`
`Almost. But Oleson, he won over twenty last year and I just wish I could have won more than he did- you know, just to say it when we’re sipping a beer and rub his ugly face in it.`

He left the boy just as the sun edged up and the boy started discing on a field that was a mile long. It was all he could do to stay awake and finally he stood and sang at the top of his lungs to keep from falling asleep. He had decided to hell with it and was going to stop the tractor and sleep when he saw Alice coming with the pickup to bring the forenoon lunch.

He was moving close to the end of the field and she drove round and waited where he would end the round.

She smiled at him and gave him cake and sandwiches and a Thermos of coffee, which he drank first while it was still warm, hoping it would keep him awake.

She did not leave while he ate this time as she always had before, but instead sat in the truck with the door open, while he sat on the ground leaning back against the wheel a few feet away chewing the food and staring out at nothing.

`Was there a woman?`
The question came so suddenly that the boy jumped. He looked at her. `What?`
`Woman,` she repeated. `Was there a woman?`
`I don’t know what you mean-`
`I mean last night at the bar. I know he played poker. He’s always a bad one for cards. And to drink now and then. I can understand that. But I want to know if had a woman there at the bar with him when you went in for him. Was there a woman?`

He looked out across the field again, chewed and swallowed. It was a meatloaf sandwich and tasted so good he didn’t want to swallow but keep chewing. `No. Just men.`

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Anti Work Essays



A series of Audio essays by the group Audio Anarchy. The audio used for the videos can be downloaded here.

"Why do we work? From necessity or love? If the former, then our world is failing us, we are being exploited, being made slaves for the benefit of others. The ethic that work is a 'good thing' is a throwback to a Victorian mentality of puritanical pain and denial of our humanity, an ethic that is so far removed from the reality of our human nature as to be pathological."
A collection of essays written from the anti-work perspective. These essays investigate concepts of freedom, compulsory labor, the 'work ethic', the wages system, employment, and 'occupations.'

The play list.

Anti Work 101




An introduction to the concept of anti work, as despite the popularity of hating work the concept of abolition it all together often strikes a person as absurd on first hearing of it.

The Decline and Fall of Work



An excerpt from chapter 5 of the Revolution of everyday life by Raoul Vaneigem

The Tyranny of the Clock



The Tyranny of the Clock by George Woodcock

In Praise of Idleness 



An extract from Bertrand Russell's essay In Praise of Idleness.

The Abolition of Work




Friday, 11 May 2018

Four




FOUR



He never once spoke to Lynette.
Bill set him up in a small trailer next to the machine sheds that had once been used for camping but was now falling apart. It had a bunk across the end covered with mouse droppings and a small table next to the bunk. No lights, no heat, and when it rained it leaked like a sieve.

`You won’t be in here that much,` Bill told the boy. `We work all the time summer and fall. You’ll be working from light to dark and then some.`

Except that it wasn’t work, not like hoeing beets had been. It was just sitting driving a tractor. Bill had two large Case diesel tractors and it only took him a few minutes that first day to teach the boy how to refuel and run one of them. He hooked the diesel onto a disc and sent the boy off to work the fields he’d leased.

The fields were a good three miles from his farm and once the boy was there working, Bill kept him there until well after dark. Alice drove out in a pickup and brought him cake and sandwiches for forenoon lunch, a full hot meal in lard buckets for midday dinner, cake and sandwiches again for afternoon lunch and then a full supper, always taken in the field so he could keep working.

He had thought at first they might send Lynette with the food but it was always Alice, always good food, more than he could possibly eat but always Alice. She brought him coffee to drink in a Thermos and he hated coffee but drank it anyway, with sugar she brought in an old peanut butter jar, to keep awake on the droning tractor he was driving.

There were no lights on the tractor, for which the boy was grateful. Just at dark – close to nine o’ clock – Bill wold come in the pickup and take him back to the trailer. The boy would fall asleep on the bunk, mouse turds and all. Before daylight Bill would pound on the side of the trailer to wake him. He would just have time to stop at the outhouse, eat a stand-up breakfast at the tailgate of the truck – a thick-bread sandwich with eggs and bacon between the slices. Then Bill would drive the boy back to the field, dozing all the way, to refuel the tractor and start discing again sat first light.

The boy prayed for rain, prayed to get sick, prayed for the tractor to break down, prayed for Bill to get sick, prayed for lightning, prayed for the very earth to swallow the tractor and end the work. But all he got was good weather, the roar of the poorly muffled diesel and the endless, endless North Dakota fields. He thought of many things; he thought of all things. Tractor thoughts. He thought of love and making love and what it must be like when it is right and would let his mind go until he thought he would cripple himself with desire and of course he thought of Lynette, though he never saw her. He thought of movie stars and cars he would like to own, a hot rod he would build someday and Hank Williams and he sang, at the top of his lungs, trying to harmonise with and sing louder than the tractor, he sang every country-and-western song he knew and then made some up and at last, in the end, he came down to thoughts of revenge. He thought of getting even with everybody who had ever done a wrong thing to him – his parents, bullies, life, a teacher who’d hit him, an aunt who’d called him a shit-kid when she was drunk – thought of all the ways he could hurt them and make them know, know that they had done him the wrong way.

And still there were more fields. He worked a week, then another, then another with no break and each Monday morning Bill handed him seven crisp five-dollar bills to add to the beet money in his pockets. He was rich but even if he’d had time off he didn’t want to go to town because he was afraid of being found and sent back.

He lived for sleep and lived to see Alice coming with the pickup to bring him food. He would try to get her to talk but she walked along the edge of the field while he sat and ate, picking bits of grass and small flowers until he was done, then took the dishes and leftover food back, all without speaking more than a word or two but smiling at him and nodding and leaving him.

Jail must be like this, he thought after three weeks – except that it doesn’t move and they don’t pay you.

When it all fell apart and sent him on the run again as a fugitive it was Bill’s fault. Or, as the boy thought of it, of course it had been Lynette’s fault for making the picture in his mind that kept him there at Bill’s farm and then it was Bill’s fault for needing to go to town and not coming back.

The boy did not know anything was wrong. He worked the whole day and when it was time to stop for the night it was not Bill who came to take him back to the farm but Alice.

`Bill had to go to town,` she said to him as they drove to the farm. `He’ll be back later.` But there was something in her voice, some tightness that he had not heard before, and he would have thought more of it except that he hadn’t heard her voice enough to know for sure.

None of it mattered. He ate a beef sandwich she brought, so hungry that his jaws ached, and when she stopped in the yard near the yard light he was so exhausted he stumbled to the trailer and fell asleep without undressing.

These nights – he thought of them as tractor nights – he didn’t sleep so much as pass out. Nothing moved while he slept. His head jammed into the extra pair of pants he used as a pillow, he didn’t dream, he just went down. For this reason it was hard to wake him, and when he at last heard the pounding on the side of the trailer and came out of unconsciousness he couldn’t think.

He rolled upright, his eyes still closed and his feet on the floor, and he thought, God, I haven’t slept at all and here’s Bill already, and he stood and went to the trailer door. It took him four tries, swiping his hand across the lever-type handle before he caught it and opened the door to find not Bill standing there but Alice.

She was wearing a terry-cloth bathrobe and her face looked tight in the moonlight, the skin drawn over her cheekbones in something like a snarl.
`Is it time to go back to work?` he asked.
`No. it’s two o’clock in the morning. I need you to go to town and get Bill.`
`Get Bill? What do you mean?`
`I mean he hasn’t come home yet, which means he’s stinking drunk and you have to get him. If he tries to drive he’ll likely kill himself or some other-`
`But I can’t go into town-`
`You take the grain truck and drive into Adams. It ain’t but nine miles. He’ll be at the tavern – there’s only the one beer hall – and you go inside and tell him Alice says to come home now. I’d do it myself but it ain’t right for a woman to go into a beer hall and pull at her man. Then you take him out to the grain truck and bring him home and I’ll deal with the son of a bitch when.`

The boy just now saw the anger in her eyes and thought of all the reasons he couldn’t go into town – it wasn’t safe, he was too young to go to a beer hall, he didn’t have a license, he needed sleep, Bill was the boss and he shouldn’t go in and drag him home, Bill was bigger than he was and what if he didn’t want to be dragged home – and none of them came out.

Instead he was quiet and she led him to the 1951 one-ton GMC grain truck and she told him how to start it and turned on the lights and he was heading down the driveway when he realised he had never been to Adams and didn’t know how to get there. He stopped and jumped out of the truck – it seemed like ten feet to the ground – and ran back to where Alice was standing.

`Just turn left and go straight when you hit the main road. You can’t miss it.`

Under almost any other circumstances he would have liked driving the grain truck. He had driven tractors and sometimes he’d driven the ’51 Chevy sedan when his parents were sleeping off a binge. He would sneak out and drive the car round the block in the middle of the night. The grain truck was a good chance to practise shifting and working the clutch. But he was worried too much about what to do when he got to town to enjoy the driving.

Alice had been right about Adams. There were just five buildings, which comprised the main street. A grain elevator, a gas station, a dry-goods store, a farm implement dealer and a tavern called simply Pete’s Place; ten or twelve houses were scattered out near an old water tower.

The boy stopped the truck in front of the tavern, the only building with any lights showing. There were three cars there and Bill’s pickup all pulled in nose to kerb  and he brought the truck in that way – though he was worried about getting reverse right and backing out when it was time to leave – but misjudged the length of the trucks front and drove it up on the sidewalk a bit before it got stopped.

He hesitated at the door of the tavern. He knew about taverns and knew about drunks and hated them both. He had spent many nights waiting in the car outside taverns while his parents drank – sitting there sometimes for two, three hours before he worked up the courage to go in and try to get them to leave. They never did. All the memories came back now, of the fights and the screaming and the tears, and he shook his head. It’s all bullshit, he thought, and pushed open the door.

Pete’s looked like all the small-town taverns he had ever seen. Down the right was a rough wooden bar with no barstools and a low-to-the-floor galvanised steel-pipe rail for the drinkers to put their feet on.

On the left side there were three tables with metal chairs scattered around them. At the far end of the bar was a large clock on the wall with its hands frozen at 1.30 and the room was lit by a dim bulb hanging from a single wire in the middle of the ceiling.

There was a bald bartender wearing a filthy white shirt, open at the neck, and at the corner of the bar near the rear, where there was a small opening for the bartender to get through, three men stood playing cards.

`Damn!` one of the men yelled, and the boy saw that it was Bill. `I can’t lose!`
Again the boy waited, thinking, I’m not hired for this – to go to a tavern and watch drunks play cards.

 But he stepped forward and moved to where the men stood, wondering as he walked what he would say. The money there took it all out of his mind.

The bartop seemed to be covered with money. Twenties, fifties, hundred-dollar bills were piled in front of each man and Bill’s pile was huge. The boy couldn’t imagine how much money – thousands of dollars? – was in Bill’s rumpled pile.

As the boy came close, Bill said, `I’ll bet one, no, two thousand dollars. You want to see what I’ve got, you’ll have to pony up.` He removed some money from his pile with the exaggerated care of the truly drunk, counting bills slowly and putting them in the pot,  and the boy stopped about four feet away and stood silently, watching, mesmerised by the money.

The other two men hesitated briefly, and then silently – they seemed drunker than Bill – put the money from their piles into the pot.

`Cards,` Bill said, and the boy saw he was dealing. `How many?`

One man took two, the other one, and Bill laughed. `Shit, I need three.` And he dealt himself three cards.

The boy knew poker, as a small boy had watched it played in bars when his mother was drinking and dragged him with her to chip joints in Chicago. A drunk named Casey had taught him the rules of poker when he was four and the boy had played it later, when he set pins in the bowling alley back home. He and the other pinsetters worked for seven cents a line and lived back in the pits where they drank Pepsi and peed out the back window between lines. One of them had a deck of cards and when it was slow they played poker for pennies and the boy almost never won.

After the draw the man on Bill’s left looked at his cards, holding them back against his body and staring down his nose, and smiled. `Your ass is mine this time,` he said to Bill. `I’ll bet all I have.`

He counted money into the pot – it came to just under four thousand dollars, the man said aloud – and leaned back with the same smug smile on his face.

The other man smiled as well and called the bet and then raised what he had left, another seven thousand dollars. `If you’ve got the balls,` he said to Bill, `if you’ve got the balls…`

Here the bartender stepped in. he ad been leaning back watching the game, his eyes worried. `You’re betting your whole soil allotment money. This is nuts.`

`This,` Bill said, calling the raise, `is not nuts, this is poker. What have you suckers got?`
The man on the left had a jack-high straight and reached for the pot but the second man laid his hand down. `Flush,` he said, `king high.`

Bill had not even looked at his cards and he held them up now and studied them and smiled and laid them down.

`Four ducks – four little deuces. Jeez am I hot!`
The boy expelled breath and realised he’d been holding it all this time and Bill started to scoop the money in when the fight started.

`You son of a bitch! You held a pair of deuces and you bet two grand?`
`When you’re hot, you’re-` Bill started, and the man on his left took a drunken roundhouse swing at him and hit him on the side of the temple, knocking Bill away from the bar and on top of the boy.

`stop this crap!` the bartender yelled, but it was too late. Bill came up like a mad bull and charged into the stomach of the first man, driving him back away from the bar and into the wall. The third man, still standing at the bar, turned now and hit Bill first on the back of the head with his fist and then took another swing at the second man, catching him in the forehead.

Had they been sober any of the blows would have caused severe damage but they were all slow and their punches were flabby. The boy scrambled out of the way and was going to watch until it was over but as the three men pushed and swore and bled and hit at each other they came rolling past the boy. Bill saw him and said through his teeth, `The money, get the goddamn money!`

The boy nodded and moved to the bar and grabbed the money. There was too much for his pockets, so he tucked his T-shirt in and jammed it down inside past his neck until the front of his shirt bulged with it.

The fight had moved towards the door and the bartender waited until the exact right moment and opened the door and kicked-pushed the men outside.

`I don’t care what you do outside,` he said, turning back in the bar, `but I’m sick of you wrecking my bar.`

The boy ducked through the door after them, holding his arms across his belly to keep the money in, and watched the fight. But moving outside had changed the battle – with space around them they backed off, weaving drunkenly and holding their fists the way they thought fighters should hold their fists, taking ineffective jabs and trying footwork that couldn’t be done sober in work boots until finally Bill said `Jeez, forget it, I’m going home,` and climbed in his pickup, started the engine, backed out and drove off leaving the boy.

For a moment the boy stood there, realised that he had all the game money inside his T-shirt, and before they could figure that out he moved to the grain truck, started it and after some gear grinding backed it into the street, turned and followed the taillights of Bill’s pickup moving away from town.

Bill stopped about four miles out of town and pulled over and was leaning on the fender of the pickup, vomiting, when the boy caught up with him. The boy stopped the truck, put it in neutral, set the brake and climbed down.

`It goes away when I puke – always has,` Bill said when he stood up. `You got the money?`

Except for some vomit on his bib overalls and those sunken eyes Bill now looked stone-cold sober. The boy dug the money out of his shirt and handed it to Bill/ `I never saw a game like that – so much money.`
`Last year it was Oleson’s turn. It just goes around. How pissed is he?`
`Who? Oh, you mean Alice.`
`Yeah.`
`She’s mad. She called you a son of a bitch and said she’ll handle you.`

`Ahh – that bad. Well, let’s not tell her about the money. It would just confuse the whole thing for her.` Bill was lining up the bills and stacking them on the hood of the pickup and he held out a handful of money to the boy. `Here – your pay for the evening.`

The boy took the money and glanced at it in the light from the grain truck’s headlights. He saw a fifty-dollar bill and many twenties and some tens and thought, Jeez, it must be at least two hundred dollars! He jammed it in his pocket and climbed up into the truck, waited for Bill to start off and followed the pickup back to the farm, shifting loosely, easily, his arm propped on the window of the truck, driving with one hand, singing a Hank Williams song in harmony with the engine, his pockets full of oney, and he thought, Hell, there ain’t nothing to look back for – thinking it in melody like a country-and-western song, thinking, I’ve got it now, I’ve got it by the balls, and he smiled because he thought, that was the way a man would think it, not a boy but a man.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Audio Anarchy in Memorium




A number of years ago when I was finishing up University I got curious about the many strands of left wing politics and the multitude of `isms. So I started exploring, buying cheap books on the history of revolts, essays and political texts. For anarchism an early source of information was a website called Audio Anarchy. Sadly Audio Anarchy has recently gone offline, the domain has expired and the links to the site and the downloads section now no longer work. Its not really surprising I have Audio Anarchy on my podcast apps and the last update was in 2006, so the people behind it gave it a lot of support. Maybe it'll be restored but I don't hold out hope. Fortunately though I was able to download all the recorded audio files via the wayback machine.

Audio Anarchy is a project for transcribing anarchist books into audio format.
Hopefully, this can help make anarchist texts and ideas more accessable. Beyond the obvious appeal for people who don't like to read (or don't have time to read in this busy on-the-go world), hearing a book read aloud can also be enjoyable.
The Audio Anarchy project is organized in a distributed way. Instead of having a single person or group of people read an entire book, different people read separate chapters to distribute the work load. Ideally, this site will do more to help facilitate that kind of organization in the future.

The group made seven albums, a selection of essays by Emma Goldman, a collection of short speeches called the Anarchist tension by Alfredo Bonanno, Against the Logic of Submission by Wolfi Landstreicher, Thoughts on Society of the Spectacle -which isn't a direct reading its a reading of a selection of passages from Guy Debord's Society of the Spectacle with the readers explaining what they read and giving some practical examples- Days of War, Nights of Love a publication by the American anarchist group Crimethinc. A selection of Anti work essays from several authors including George Woodcock, and the groups last production was Fredy Perlman's novel Letters of Insurgents.

They also developed a side project called Radio Anarchy, which was four original recordings by the group on several subjects, the history of the concept of property, a biographical recounting of Hitchhiking through the USA, a critique of democracy and technology.

Quite an impressive list to be honest, and quite useful. I made several of them into videos for YouTube and kept meaning to get around to the rest of them, its a good thing I did because it meant I kept checking on the site every once in a while.

The site lasted from 2002 until the winter of 2018, in its sixteen years of existence it had over a million overall downloads, but that number doesn't account for downloads via the torrents, Days of War Nights of Love was still active when I checked and I was able to kickstart several others with the audio files I downloaded, unfortunately some of the torrents used different version so unless another seed logs on they won't work. The group also sold CD's of their recordings so their reach extended even further.



Here's the files:

The master folder Media Fire (https://www.mediafire.com/#y53rhbmrad5rb)
Google doc folder

The Anarchist Tension
Thoughts on Society of the Spectacle
Anti Work Essays
Essays by Emma Goldman
Against the Logic of Submission
Days of War Nights of Love
Letters of Insurgents
Radio Anarchy

Thoughts on Society of the Spectacle

A selective reading from the Society of the Spectacle with elaboration and demonstrations of how the particular thesis's relate to the world and real life.



"The whole life of those societies in which modern conditions of production prevail presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. All that once was directly lived has become mere representation." Instead of a direct recording of the text, here a collection of people read some of their favorite aphorisms, and tell stories about how those aphorisms relate to their lives.

The readings are taken from  the now defunct Audio Anarchy, the audio can no longer be downloaded from their website but copies of the audio can be downloaded here.

The text of Society of the Spectacle (SOS) can be found here. Though personally I recommend reading Guy Debord's follow up Comments on Society of the Spectacle first, Debord is a lot more clearer in that.

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