The Importance of CrimethInc.
Lifestyle Anarchism is often used as a pejorative to disrespect those who allegedly put individual liberation before collective action for social change. CrimethInc Ex-Workers Collective is a common target of opponents to “Lifestylism”. Detractors will often cite a lack of critical theory or broader understanding of the context of their actions. Essentially, the problem is that there is not enough of an active focus on incorporating individual or small-collective actions into a broader social movement. In this way, they do not so much provide an alternative lifestyle to capitalist statism, but depend on it. In essence, it is a sub-culture, not a counterculture. Which is a legitimate criticism, I would forward.
However, the concept of individual liberation that defines CrimethInc is an important part of a broader social movement for community and autonomy both.
It is true that though dropping out, dumpster diving, hitch-hiking and vandalism are certainly liberating experiences, they are not in of themselves productive in a social context. Despite their limited potential for propaganda of the deed, Individualized Anarchy is an ineffective and patently ridiculous solution for permanent social change. Living off the margins of society is not autonomy; it is parasitism.
Establishing this, we may now acknowledge the fact that such “Lifestylism” is actually an important stepping stone to throwing off the conservatism that holds us back as individuals. In temporary circumstances, the unbridled freedom offered from living off the margins of society is not unlike the experience of Henry David Thoreau. If we are privileged enough to exist in a situation that permits it, we should seize the opportunity to do so for a short time, to fulfill ourselves as individuals and gain a greater sense of autonomy and confidence that is too often robbed of us by the system.
But we must press on father than this. While we throw off the shackles of an oppressive society, we should also be planning and organizing and accomplishing the creation of a new one. Whenever possible, people should get off the grid in all forms reasonable. Growing community food collectively, designing autonomous rain-catches, collectively investing in solar panels and wind turbines, educating one’s children to be as great as they can be outside the long arm of capital, reducing consumption to a bare minimum across the board in one’s personal life and local community; these are the true occupations of the ex-worker. If work is the enemy, play must be ensured productive (and vice versa). “Lifestylism” as we know it is more of a vacation than a true life-long pursuit.
Moreover, solidarity and mutual aid between those who are unable to get off the grid and those who are must be continually expanded. Workers and their allies must continue to organize for not just short-term benefits or survival, but also long-term plans of community autonomy. These mutual struggles on a simultaneously local, regional, and global level will build the solidarity between communities that will lay foundations for federations of autonomous communes that the platformists dreamed of, and only too briefly and partially realized.
If I may interject another point, CrimethInc’s decentralized nature has become more form than function. This needs to change. CrimethInc needs to be a banner of liberation that has no real address; publishing locations must be multiplied where possible, direct action organized autonomously and frequently under the name, and self-initiative encouraged. As it stands, it would not be far-fetched to claim that CrimethInc is really just a group of cool folks up in the lovely town of Salem, Oregon, and whoever contributed to the several books they published. This needs to change. Perhaps the central CrimethInc page could be replaced in function by a wiki, while the current main site changed to merely a publishing location page linked to by the wiki. These simple, uncontroversial changes would encourage participation and autonomy greatly. In addition, several critiques emphasized the need for CrimethInc’s own renewed emphasis on social change, rather only individual liberation. It would be fantastic to see some CrimethInc autonomous collective put out a more socially rather than individually oriented work, and this picked up and published by the now-largest collective in Salem. This would balance the direction of CrimethInc towards sustainability and greater social vision, and not coincidentally give it new opportunities to reach out to new activists rather than just mainly frustrated middle-class non-activists. This broadening of outreach will contribute greatly to the overall movement and avoid division and unconstructive critique within it when it is recognized.
Essentially, we must all realize that we are all important to the struggle; collectivists and individualists, planners and spontaneous activists, the “playful” and “serious”, CrimthIncers and “Professionals” all. More than that, we can all benefit and learn from each other, to improve our movement. Because this is all our movement. We are all liberated, or none of us are. We’re all in this together. Feminists, Queers, Straights, Straight-Edge, Drug Using, Communists, Collectivists, Individualists, even the Egoists and dare I say sometimes the anarcha-Capitalists, those without labels and all of those who are willing to work together in a system of autonomous communities regardless of the words they use to describe themselves. We’re one big union, as some of our forebears used to say. One big movement. Our moment.
The world’s first general strike happened in Rome in 494 B.C.E. Refusing to abide by the harsh enforcement of proto-capitalistic draconian debt laws, the proletariat of the city as a whole left the city of Rome and threatened to found a new city. We need something remarkably like this in the modern day, and though CrimethInc’s approach as it is now is far from complete or comprehensive, it certainly is a step in the right direction that should be applauded, encouraged, and built upon.
References & Further Reading
- The Salem CrimethInc Website: http://www.crimethinc.com/
- A harsh anarchist critique of CrimethInc from a post-CrimthIncer: http://www.anarkismo.net/article/3664&comment_limit=0&condense_comments=false
- Wikipedia on the Secessio Plebis: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secessio_plebis
- Wikipedia on Lifestyle Anarchism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifestyle_anarchism