“…the most stupefying characteristic of today’s society is its ability to make ‘daily comfort’ exist a hand’s breadth away from catastrophe.”
In the middle of October in eastern Kentucky, a coal mine pond gave way, releasing 200 million gallons of sludge into streams, killing fish, washing away roads and bridges and fouling the water supply. The tar-like sludge spread into the Ohio River. But such disasters are not so uncommon. One need only consider the cyanide spill that happened in Romania at the end of January spreading as far as Yugoslavia and leaving a few hundred tons of dead fish (not to mention birds, otters and other creatures) in its wake, or the spillage of radio-active material at Tokaimura, Japan that caused major environmental damage for a radius of several miles around it in October of 1999. And of course, we cannot forget Bhopal or Chernobyl. But these are the most spectacular disasters, the ones that could not be made invisible (though even disasters of this sort may, in time, become so common that they cease to be news—consider that there 45 coal mine ponds that were said to be at higher risk of failure than the one that collapsed in October). Disaster is, in fact an ongoing aspect of our present existence. The estuary at the mouth of the Colorado River is quickly dying, most likely due to the effects of hydro-electric dams. Chemical pollution has spread death from the mouth of the Mississippi River well into the Gulf of Mexico. The ozone layer disappears along with the forests and the plankton that feed it. And the melting of the polar ice caps has forced scientists to admit to the reality of global warming. When one adds to this the more blatantly intentional disasters caused by the attempts of the great powers to teach the lesser powers the meaning of democracy by bombing the shit out of the powerless, it is clear that life in the present is always lived on the edge of disaster.
When the litany of disasters that surrounds us sung, it is easy to feel that we are dealing with the inevitable, with an unavoidable fate. But this is not the case. Every one of the disasters described above can be traced to the functioning of specific social institutions and the decisions of the people who hold power in them. As has been said many times, there are people who make these decisions and they have names and addresses.
They also share a particular social position. As the rulers of this social order, they benefit from it in terms of power and economic wealth. (That they do so at the expense of their individuality and any real enjoyment of life does not decrease their responsibility for the present existence.) While some of the disastrous effects of their decisions may have taken them by surprise, it cannot be honestly said that they acted blindly. After all, these are the same people who had no problem with showering a small predominately agricultural country with herbicide in an attempt to destroy its economy. The environment is not their concern; power and economic expansion are.
When capitalism developed the technological system ideal for its expansion, the industrial system that began in the shipping industries which then provided the resources for developing the manufacturing industries, the door was opened to a world of daily misery and ongoing disaster. Whether it be the genocide against indigenous people who did not adapt quickly enough to their enslavement to the needs of capital, the illnesses and injuries that the regime of work imposes on workers, the increasing precariousness that faces everyone who is not of the ruling class, misery is the order of the day in this society.
To fully understand why this is, it is necessary to realize that capitalism thrives on crisis. Its order is an order of crisis management. For the rulers of the social order this is not a problem. They are well protected from the consequences of the crises that they sometimes quite intentionally induce. Those at the bottom, those who have been excluded from any real control over the circumstances in which they live, suffer the consequences of this system.
The industrial system, which is so necessary to the expansion of capital, has been an environmental disaster from the beginning, offering William Blake some of his most frightening poetic images. The famous London fog of the 19th century was, in fact, industrial smog which accompanied high rates of tuberculosis among the poorer classes. Today, the toxification of the environment combines with the stress of daily survival to create cancer, heart disease, immune system breakdown and increasing levels of mental distress and disorder from which those in power seek to protect themselves with medical care that most of us could never afford—and which plays its own role in the toxification of this world.
Capitalism will not provide a solution for the disasters it causes. It is a system of stop-gap measures, and, increasingly, as the new technologies come to the fore, a system of tinkering with ever tinier atomized bits. Unfortunately, in the face of economic precariousness and environmental disaster, survival tends to take precedence over life and joy. And in this way, the rule of capital penetrates even into our minds, as we find ourselves succumbing to the use of stop-gap measures, of the methods of crisis management, in an attempt to guarantee our—and the earth’s—survival. Thus, the strange phenomenon some of those who call themselves anarchists using litigation, petition, even the electoral process in the attempt to save a patch of forest, stop a particular development or prevent the destruction of an indigenous culture. The problem is not that people struggle for these specific aims, but that in desperation they lay aside their ideals, their desires and their dreams, and use methods of struggle that only reinforce the economy of disaster that rules existence today.
The struggle against this present existence in which misery and disaster are the norm must, in order to have a chance, base itself in our desire to live full, passionate lives, on the joyful intensity we create in our lives in spite of the existence imposed on us. Only then can our struggle move beyond the careful measurements of crisis management, beyond the stop-gap measures for guaranteeing survival at the expense of life that merely aid capitalism in maintaining and expanding its rule, instead embracing those methods of struggle that move toward insurrection, toward revolution, toward the unknown. Our present existence is a toxic prison. There is no way to know what lies beyond the walls. But here we know we are being killed and this can only end when our love of life moves us to tear down the walls.
The actions taken by various comrades in Latina, Italy on December 2 (see above) are part of an ongoing struggle against prisons, and particularly against the FIES in Spain, by anarchists both in outside of prison. While the struggle has expressed immediate demands (the end of the FIES regime in Spain; release of prisoners who are ill; the end of all practices which separate “troublesome” prisoners from friends, comrades and family; the end of torture and beatings; etc.), it contains the awareness of the necessity to destroy all prisons and the society that produces them. This awareness manifests in the methods of struggle the comrades choose to use, in their refusal to petition, negotiate or compromise. On the inside, this means ongoing strikes of various types and the destruction of prison property. On the outside, direct action and attacks against the institutions that create and maintain prisons, and on a broader level all institutions of power, the existence of which make this whole world a prison.
The conscious ness of the struggle is very clear: “We are in solidarity with all women and men who fight against their imprisonment, certainly not with those who just want to ameliorate the misery. But what is meant by being in solidarity? Simply, feeling that one shares in the will to smash all bars and constraints. In a world in which men and women are locked in prison and which itself comes to resemble an immense prison more and more each day, we will never be free. There are no solutions within this society: as long as money exists, there will never be enough for everyone; as long as property exists, there will be theft; as long as authority exists, its outlaws will arise. So it is not just a question of criticizing the prison tools (physical removal, seclusion, deprivation, etc.), but also its aims (to terrorize the poor, punish rebels, defend the privileges of the state and the ruling class)…”
This solidarity is also quite practical as the ongoing concerted efforts in this struggle by prisoners in Spain and Italy in conjunction with comrades on the outside clearly indicates. It is particularly significant that the actions of those on the outside are not charitable acts of social work, but direct attacks against the institutions that create prisons. “We don’t want to be generous with criminals like so many good ladies of charity, but rather to commit the greatest of crimes: to subvert the existent—this prison that contains all others—in order to create on its ruins the possibility of free agreements and free resolution of conflicts. In this perspective, the only possible reform of prisons is to raze them to the ground so as never to build them any more.” Here is the difference between prison support (however necessary it may be) and revolutionary solidarity.
But practical revolutionary solidarity in the struggle against prison requires ongoing communication between those inside and those outside about their struggles. This is no easy matter. Letters are inspected and censored, visits are monitored, phone calls are tapped. Within the American prison system, the authorities have promoted racial division quite successfully, making unified action against the prison regime extremely difficult. But revolutionaries and anarchists need to recognize that in our struggle some of us will find ourselves inside, possibly for long periods of time. And as the rulers seek to increase control, the outside will increasingly come to resemble a prison. So we are facing an important challenge: to find ways to develop an ongoing struggle against the social order that incorporates the specific struggle against prison in a practical way and that integrates the struggle inside with that outside in a revolutionary and anarchist manner—that is as a struggle to destroy all that stands in the way of our freedom to create our lives and relations as we desire.
(from Terra Selvaggia, July, 2000)
“It is a question of normal service operations.”—Donato Capece, cop unionist, on the beatings in the prison at Sassari.
Prison is applied science, where little or nothing happens by accident or through an oversight. For example, controlling and blocking mail and conversations at pleasure; transferring prisoners unexpectedly; maniacally searching them, their cells, their visitors; changing their approved status from one day to the next; the thousands of forms to compile for everything; the despotism of the last word of the guard—well—this is a precise, studied method aimed at breaking down the strength of individuals, at the continuous and scientific humiliation of their dignity.
In every prison in the world, none excluded, prisoners are isolated, tortured, moved to suicide, allowed to die and directly murdered by their jailers.
And this is not an oversight or an excess at all; this is a method.
Of course, there are prisons that “are worse” and prisons that “are not so bad”. But this narrow range of shading from black to dark gray is only further extortion, an ability to threaten prisoners with the worst, so that they become their own controllers.
Prison is a science; claiming to be able to “reform” it, to eliminate “the abuse” and the violence, to make it more livable is science fiction.
To put it more clearly, this claim is a lie.
And it is a lie for at least two reasons.
The first is that prison is naked and rationalized violence, and it is state violence. The second reason is that this existence cannot do without the constant threat of imprisonment.
Furthermore, those responsible for the existence of prisons are certainly not the ones locked up inside them; those responsible are the same people to whom we are indebted for oppression, exploitation, imposed extortion outside of prison as well, and they are the only ones to benefit from it. Now, after the beating of prisoners by guards at Sassari, an old script has been put back on stage and magistrates, journalists, members of parliament, priests with or without cassocks, all scoundrels pledged to the daily maintenance of the existent and therefore of prison, are anxious to support the unsupportable, that is to say, that the deeds at Sassari were an excess—perhaps a little questionable—but understandable, all things considered.
Meanwhile, toward the end of May, a man and a woman, imprisoned respectively at Regina Coeli and Ragusa, died in jail.
At this time, after a normal massacre, the jailers, the day laborers of oppression, arrogantly sought praise, approbation, a raise in pay and obtained the promise of thousands of new cops, accomplices for more efficient “service operations”. What’s more, they were put forward as the real victims of prison.
But no confusion whatever is possible between those who lock up and those who are locked up, just as on the outside it is not possible to confuse those who oppress with those who are oppressed.
And then, let’s say it, the vast majority of those who are inside were, were “free” exploited outside: the law and prison, like exploitation, are arms of class domination and this world is, in fact, one gigantic prison.
It is with the rebellion of every single prisoner, here and everywhere, the struggles of prisoners […throughout Italy and Spain,…throughout the world…] for the closure of the special modules of extermination, that we unite ourselves in order to put an end to the prisons, in order to put an end to the present existence.