Socialist Worker

There’s no fun in hog heaven

by Mike Davis
Issue No. 1922

MY ABIDING interest, to quote Bertolt Brecht, is with “those who walk in darkness”.

I have nearly finished my book, The Planet of the Slums, which explores the global future of the one billion slum-dwellers permanently exiled from the world economy.

My next major project is Heroes of Hell, a history of revolutionary terrorism from the 1870s to the 1970s. I anticipate that the sympathies of the book, toward those who killed tyrants and exploiters, not innocents, will probably violate the Patriot Act.

The first book attempts to to understand the urban informal working class in terms of classical debates about “historical agency” and revolutionary subjectivity.

The second book focuses on the hero culture of the damned.

But I have no mission in academia. The university has become an organised conspiracy against the world of ordinary human experience. But it would be an insult to anyone who does the real work of the world to say, “I hate my job.”

On the contrary, as a tenured, overpaid professor, I have surely arrived in hog heaven. Nothing could be cushier. But it isn’t much fun.

Indeed, it is surprising how intellectually arid, as well as sanctimonious and hypocritical, our great universities have become.

The direction of my work, in truth, has little or nothing to do with my day job. I derive inspiration, rather, from my continuing membership of the editorial collective of New Left Review and my 40 year long participation in ordinary socialist politics.

I believe in property destruction, theft and (counter-)violence—in some circumstances and as mass actions. The hungry have the right to loot supermarkets.

Strikers and demonstrators have a right to defend themselves. At times it is insufficient to protest against the power—you must actually fight it. But some of what now calls itself the “black bloc” or “anarchism” is just a selfish gentrification of working class anger.

Big Bill Haywood or Durruti would scoff at such minor street theatrics.

I’ve always hated the types, whatever their politics, who like to throw rocks from the back of a crowd then let the mass of demonstrators take the charge, or macho actors in balaclavas who disdain any democratic discipline.

It is simply impermissible to hijack other people’s protests or make them the involuntary targets for police retaliation.

At the same time, however, I resent over-organised demonstrations without any dimension of spontaneity or free association—the kind of actions that are more like mass safety valves, or funerals, than authentic contestations.

Or a protest politics that plays simply to the mass media and the soundbite, with no regard for the ongoing organisation of protesters or their involvement in the actual elaboration of policy and strategic direction.

Both “black bloc” types and movement bureaucrats have a similar contempt for protests as social processes with unpredictable grassroots dynamics.

One fetishes the “deed”, the other “legality”. One always wants to break through the fence, the other never. Neither pays any attention to the actual mood or the expressed opinions of the mass of demonstrators.

So, smashing McDonald’s may be good fun—and, in some circumstances, a good tactic—but it isn’t the same as smashing the state, or, for that matter, organising a movement.

On the other hand, such infantilism is far less of a problem than the tendency of some leaders and coalitions to accede to the constant tighter circumscription of protest by police and the homeland security state.

If the right to protest is to survive, it must be aggressively asserted in all circumstances.

Extracts from an interview with Clamor magazine—

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Sat 9 Oct 2004, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1922
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