Saturday, July 7, 2012

Experiments in post-capitalism

I'm just back from a week in northern Minnesota, at an IWW event called the Work People's College. Labeling events as life-changing seems a bit trite when they won't especially change one's daily behavior, but this was still a pretty spectacular week for me. If you have ever experienced a very good week at Bible camp, with all the late night conversations and the intensity of being around a terrific, supportive community of like-minded people and out in nature somewhat isolated from the doldrums of life in ordinary time, then you'll have an idea of the setting. An exquisite lake formed the backdrop for our camp, and we swam or canoed near every break. Of course, we weren't discussing theology but political praxis most of the time, and we sang labor songs around the campfire.

How was this post-capitalist? We still depended on grocery stores in the nearby town to supply our food needs, of course. We were not able to extract ourselves from the capitalist economy as it stood. But we were able to carve out six days of liberty, of learning, and of mutual aid. We took turns cooking and cleaning up; we all watched out for the children in our midst; we practiced respect of our fellow worker human beings. We were able to trust each other and live simply out of tents. We strove to delegitimize the divisions down the lines of race, gender, and perceived class that the bosses use to separate the workers from our deserved control of the economy.

I have heard that in Barcelona, before the Spanish Civil War wherein the communists and fascists alike killed the anarchists, people were able to look each other in the eye and live with a sense of great equality, greeting each other as Comrade regardless of profession. And indeed in this space we all introduced ourselves with little aplomb. My fellow workers were the best-read group of people I have ever met (bearing in mind that I went to grad school in English, that is saying quite a bit), all knowledgable in some dimension or another of the situation of working people.

For security reasons, I'm not going to go into specific tales online. I learned a lot about IWW culture and process, all of which would pretty boring to non-Wobblies among my readers, and reduntant to Wobblies. But I have decided on a few ways that my life needs to change as a result of this camp.

First of all, I need to pay less attention to the news. I've been a very well-informed citizen indeed for the past few years (what with my two hours a day of NPR), and resultantly depressed and despairing. During the past week I had very limited news access, and I was happy and productive. The actions of the capitalist state are always going to be against the working people unless we apply massive amounts of pressure. The laws in Kansas are horrible, discriminatory, infuriating, and compel good people to do deeply immoral things. But that is always the status of law imposed by a state for the good of the bosses. Most important liberation must be done by ordinary citizens, anyway, and we can never depend on law or justice in the capitalist legal system to fight discrimination--that must be done on the ground. Laws on the topic are nearly irrelevant. If a community wants to work against the various supremacies that divide us, it will do that work regardless of laws uphold them. If a community remains mired in those supremacies, no law can compel it to embrace our common humanity. So I am going to practice ignoring the abominable legislative attempts to justify oppression, and focus on the work I can do against it.

Secondly, I want to camp more! I proved to myself that I don't have to be inside and recently showered at all times, and that I can set up a tent (although not keep it sitting on the ground and relatively dry--that lesson must come later) and sleep on the ground. There's a certain freedom from possessions and acceptance of nature's commonality in camping and I want to practice those acts more often.

And finally, I need to reduce my consuming tendencies further. For the past three months, I've tamped down my impulsive wishes for new clothing more effectively than usual. When I get depressed, buying clothes is my most effective retail therapy. But I must recognize that the whole system is designed to pull me into consumption by causing alienation, and seek out other ways to bolster the spirit.



  1. A lot of this post was a little over my head (maybe I need to read slower), but we just returned from camping and I agree with you there. It was very refreshing. Camping with kids isn't exactly "simple", but once we were there I felt like I could focus on my family. The kids were filthy but I didn't have to worry that they were getting my house filthy. And all the things they were throwing around didn't have to be picked up (lake water, sand, rocks). Woo-hoo!

    Had the luxury of camping with friends who were an extra pair of eyes for the kids and helped out by taking T to the bathroom, taking the kids for a walk while we took our tent down, kept M with them while Nate and Toby and I went for a canoe ride, regularly taking dirt and bark out of Malachi's mouth, etc.

    Much better than retail therapy :).

  2. I do have the problem of resisting new yarn... but I've following the rule of one project at a time and I almost never broke it so far, so it's not perfect yet, but it's getting better!

  3. I’m just now reading this, and I think the fact that you were able to create that kind of a space for that amount of time in the middle of the US is very inspirational. One thing I miss about Spain is the way people would gather and just be together, be it at someone’s home, a bar, a park, school… and also how often they would do this. It seems to me that in other countries and cultures (but not all other countries and cultures), there exists are stronger impulse towards community and a deeper commitment to personal relationships, and what you described about your experience at the camp reminded me of that. Spain is still a capitalist country, and it promotes consumption and there exists a tremendous amount of inequality, so it does not fit into the anarchist model you describe. That said, they do seem to place more emphasis on the importance of life and living than US culture. I remember in my job, being told that I could cancel my class and leave work to resolve some personal issues because, to quote my boss, “I can’t be well at work if I’m not myself ok.” Coming from a place that ingrained in me exactly the opposite, I was actually unable to leave my job for the day and just worked through it. My point is that I think, at least in the US, many people (including myself) are so entrenched in a work schedule (be it grad school, the office, retail, restaurants, etc), that they just sadly don’t take note of the things you describe to realize the inequalities inherent in the law (or the system) or the most simple ways we might overcome them, such as camping. I also think that the ability to recognize those things is the sign of a person living a full life.