Monday, July 25, 2011

Review: Work

The Crimethinc Ex-Workers Collective ( recently released Work:  Capitalism.  Economics. Resistance.  I'm in the middle of it, and it possesses the unique quality of being the first anarchist book in my library and reading history where I find myself in frequent conflict with the authors.  However, one of the joyous things about all of Crimethinc's thought-provoking publications is their collective authorship.  Since the books come from the viewpoints of many different revolutionaries, they oppose a singular repressive hegemony (i.e., controlling worldview).  There are several disagreeable statements (i.e. "It's naive to imagine small businesses are somehow more accountable to their communities", pg. 89), but then within a few pages is a statement of such shocking acuity that I must keep reading (i.e. "For example, the curriculum for honors studens includes nothing about how to grow or prepare food includes nothing about how to grow or prepare food, make or mend clothing, or repair engines; the implication is that if these students do well, there will always be poor people to do these things for them.").

A particularly intelligent critique of "superstars" earned my respect for the book.  As a child of the culturally neglected Midwest, I remember feeling lifelong anger towards the Coasts and the the household names who got to express themselves (supposedly), while many people's artistic abilities and desires and needs are snuffed out.  Capitalism sells us the idea that Stars/Artists/Writers are Famous because they are Excellent, and mediocre art is a waste of effort.  I disagree.  Mediocre art can still be beautiful and life-giving.  And, many "stars" really do not produce such excellent material that they deserve our creative attention. Crimethinc puts it like this:  
"Perhaps we're drawn to [famous strangers] because they embody our creativity--the creative potential of all the exploited--purchased from us, concentrated, and sold back...Stories that once were told around the fire now circulate through the market, including the stories that criticize it."  
(pg 75, if you're following along in your very own  copy of Work)  I identify this concept with my early anarchist creations, the tiny comic-books and novels from my very early years, from before  learning that art was supposed to be excellent and recognizing that my stuff was far from excellent.  Indeed, during elementary school, I tried to start a school newspaper, write fan fiction of Anne of Green Gables, create secret codes for my friends, and distribute abstract watercolors as bookmarks. Most six-year-olds are anarchists in this way, celebrating their own freedom of expression.  They produce art for their pleasure and for the pleasure of their parents and grandparents, not for profit or advancement in a hierarchy.  

Me, I tried to produce Writing when I was in college, realized it wasn't my gift, and gave up all artistic or literary pursuits for five or six years.  Only NaNoWriMo and anarchist ideas of personal freedom allowed me to start producing again, and the artistic expressions I produce make me very happy.  My current liberating standard of writing is as follows:  if Glenn Beck is somehow qualified to spew his hideous ideas forth in print, I am certainly qualified to spew forth my ideas!  Low standards, not high standards, are the key to production.

Anyway,  Work is a sustain assault on using our lives and energies to profit capitalist powers.  In this sense, I agree with every word of it.  Life is too short, precious, beautiful, to use it for bolstering the processes that concentrate power and resources in the Upper Crust (I prefer social sandwiches crustfree).  However, this book sells short the  fulfillment many people get from performing worthwhile jobs that provide meaningful goods and services.  Sometimes it falls into anarcho-primitivist fallacies, as if we would all be happier without any trade or innovations whatsoever, existing in an idyllic state of Nature.  But the anarchist ideals will require not less but more work from every person involved, and not all that work will directly benefit only the individual doing it.  The revolution needs lots of gardens, and those gardens all need a lot of work.  

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