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Andy | 08.08.2004 02:39 | Analysis | Free Spaces | Repression

The "decent majority" try to have things their own way, but the cost is the corrosion of freedom and a drift towards totalitarianism. Hysteria against the "anti-social" is a means to incorporate the masses into projects of social control. Against these projects, activists should counterpose resistance in solidarity with the "anti-social", and a logic of minorities and multiplicities which breaks down any idea of "society" as a fixed totality.


Noisy neighbours… gangs of feral children… boy racers…. youths who shout obscenities and congregate outside shops… football hooligans… graffiti “vandals”… petty thieves… people making their neighbours’ lives “a misery”… litter and fly-tipping… crack houses… drunken louts… When does a day go by when the chorus of ranting from the socially included against an open-ended series of folk devils does not grace the front page of every tabloid, every local paper and the stories covered on the national news? What politician, from the Nazis of the BNP to the so-called International Working Class Association, taking in the Lib Dems, Labour and the Tories, can refrain from the constant cries for action against the “anti-social” and on behalf of the “decent” and the “law-abiding” (for which read: social and political conformists, people who obey the law and therefore are sheepish in relation to the dictates of the state, people whose “common sense” is so unthought-out, so confused and contradictory, that they cannot imagine any possibility of a rejection of their views being anything but ignorance or evil)? The war against the “anti-social” is becoming the main strategy of capital and the state in the present historical period – the “touchy nodal point” which holds together the pseudo-consensus which buttresses the status quo. The anti-social have today the same position as the Jews in Nazi Germany – the enemy of the people, to be exterminated at any cost. The Nazis in fact used the concepts of the asocial and the gemeinschaftsfremde also; the Jews were a subordinate category of the gemeinschaftsfremde, or the anti-community, the anti-social. In Franco’s Spain, too, we find the discourse of a Spain and an anti-Spain. The war against the anti-social was the lynchpin of historical fascism, and it is the lynchpin of the micro-fascism of contemporary politics.

The anti-social are a vaguely-defined, amorphous enemy. Often, they are invoked in the form of pseudo-obviousness – as those who immediately offend against some particular individual (“I know these people on my estate, and they piss in the lifts, they broke into my flat, etc. etc. – THEY’RE the ones we’re after!”) But the category itself has no clarity. It can mean anyone or next to no-one. On the one hand, the anti-social are by definition a “tiny minority”, and this – for some strange reason – is a part of what makes them evil. It is, says Tony Blair, a stratum of 5,000 people, or in an earlier speech, no more than 20 or 30 in each city. But it is also EVERYONE – since everyone at some point exceeds the self-definition of the insiders, at some point has some unconditionality which must not be interfered with even if it offends or “harasses” others. The same tabloids which stand for gleichschaltung, raise hell when the police raid a house to seize ornamental pigs after a complaint by a Muslim, or when a taxi-driver is banned from flying an England flag in his taxi (both real examples of tabloid stories, whatever the basis for them); and the people who rally against the anti-social, rally to these beleaguered individuals. So the anti-social is also even the most included. Or, since petty crime is necessarily anti-social according to the dominant discourse, the anti-social are everyone except the 2% or so who have never broken the law. The anti-social is everyone and is everywhere.

And the “decent majority” is also everyone and no-one. On the one hand, it is assumed to encompass everyone except the “anti-social”. And all but the most “extremist” among us would identify with the label, and use it when referring pejoratively to others. (Even capitalists and politicians are condemned as “criminals”, as “anti-social”!) But on the other, it is a norm, a role; and as such, it is an ideal construct, a “spook”. It is in fact no-one, and any might overflow it at any minute, whether due to a neurotic symptom, a strong passionate attachment or an unfortunate case of labelling by a “corrupt” official or elite member. So the war against the anti-social is a war of everyone and no-one, against everyone and no-one. Yet of course, in social terms, it emerges as a specific project of social control, engineered by the politicians, the police, the media barons, and others among the powerful, to construct social space in line with what Steven Gill has called “disciplinary neo-liberalism”, to destroy uncontrolled or potentially uncontrolled spaces, to domesticate or destroy every trace of wildness or of uncontrollability, to carry on the building of a police state to ensure the continuing dominance of the existing systems of production, consumption, spectacle and power.

I recall reading some time ago of a rare public complaint made by a listener to the Nazi state radio service, who had heard an embittered and strongly-worded diatribe against the Jews, calling for their extermination. The objection was not to the extermination of the Jews, nor to the views propounded in the broadcast. It was to the use of bad language – and the way this could corrupt good, German ears. Here is the disproportion, the sole focus on the insiders, which is at the core of every project of social cleansing. The “decent majority” define themselves as the only ones who matter. The majority dictates, even when the minorities in their proliferating multiplicity outnumber the majority, even when “majority” becomes a purely socio-normative and not at all a quantitative concept. The majority DEFINES itself as the only group which matters – and from its self-imposed standpoint of superiority, it wages endless war against out-groups of every kind, against any who resist the stultifying rigidity of its own life-world (work-consume-die), or who are excluded from this world by the people who run it, and forced to seek survival beyond its “moral” parameters of social control.

The new agenda is carried to terrifying lengths by the paradoxical barbarism of high technology – the use of cyborg implants, CCTV surveillance, biometrics, and a thousand other robotised interferences in the very integrity of human life as a natural phenomenon. And alongside the attack on the integrity of the body, the insiders launch an assault on every last right and liberty, whatever its origins – whether the liberties of conservatism, liberalism, socialism, of local traditions of various kinds or of the global ideologies of capitalism itself. Where the “majority” spreads its rule, there are no rights, because conformity is a precondition for provision, and because openness, which is necessarily space for the different, is experienced by the insiders as a threat, as space for the enemies and the anti-social. Britain’s anti-social behaviour laws are paradigmatic in this respect, in that no right is too sacred to be abolished in a single case at the whim of a particular magistrate. One victim of an ASBO has been banned from using computers, another banned from riding a bicycle, another banned from buying alcohol, another banned from living in his lifelong home area, and so on. A man in Scotland has been banned from putting Christmas decorations on the outside of his house. There are cities which operate city-wide shop banning schemes – which could make it hard for some people to obtain even basic necessities such as food. Where in all this is the idea of rights or of freedom, however defined? And of course protesters have been among those targeted.

The targeting of protesters is a subset of a larger set, however. The “threat” posed by protesters is conceived in terms of their “anti-social” effects, thus of their being outside the moral parameters of the “decent” in-group. Look at the discourse used against animal rights activists – not that they are wrong to oppose vivisection, but that writing repeated letters or demonstrating outside people’s houses is somehow “anti-social” and so must be smashed. The trump-card of the war against the anti-social is raised whenever the state wants an excuse to curtail rights, to crack down against dissent, to continue the inexorable building of a massive global police state.

To reverse perspective is to stop seeing things through the eyes of the community, of ideology, of the family, of other people… [It is to] base everything on subjectivity and to follow one’s subjective will to be everything’ (Raoul Vaneigem)

Other targets are vulnerable for similar reasons. Surveys reveal, for instance, that the spread of CCTV’s increases social conformism and reduces tolerance for difference across a wide spectrum. The psychologically different are typically victims of normalising crackdowns. ASBO’s and related laws are regularly used against sex workers, sexual deviants (such as people who have sex in public), beggars and youths. The campaign to drive beggars from city centres is especially insidious, often being combined with a pseudo-philanthropic drive to raise money instead for projects the purposes of which are to enforce the normalisation of beggars into capitalist work routines and conformist social action. Even people who smuggle tobacco are under threat of being evicted by some councils! Make no mistake, these attacks kill. Beggars are dying of cold in the winter, sex workers are dying because they are driven underground and therefore take more risks. People are dying in showdowns with the police over issues which need never have arisen but for the growing intolerance of conformists. And there is, of course, a backlash. One ASBO victim responded to being banned from his home area by taking several people hostage. Another man, desperate to be home before his court-imposed curfew, hijacked a bus while drunk and crashed it into a lamp-post. This is the inevitable boomerang against the included, the “normal”, which results from their own intolerance. Not a threat from the outside, but the social symptom of their own ideology.

The real social effect of this project of violence against the excluded is not, of course, the fluffy image of social harmony conjured by the idiots who think that once people “learn” respect at the end of a truncheon, their imaginings of a past Golden Age will become reality. The real effect is instead what has recently been described by a protester in New York: police take anything out of the ordinary to be an excuse for extreme violence, and all the safeguards are dropped. Of course, the “anti-social” actions do not stop; sometimes the “anti-social” end up forming violent gangs and associating with organised crime for their own protection (as in America), sometimes they escalate their actions because the exclusion which causes many of these actions is worsened. But there are real social changes due to such projects of control. These take the form of what was known in Nazi Germany as GLEICHSCHALTUNG – the coordination of social space as if it were a single machine with the state at its head. Social space is thus homogenised and rigidified, activity ordered and regulated, difference labelled and criminalised or pathologised. In Britain, pubs, for instance, are expected to conform to police-led conformity efforts or be closed down as anti-social; musicians are supposed to get expensive licenses; homeless people are supposed to be re-trained to make them better wage-slaves. Even physical spaces are regulated, through means such as closing alleyways which could be used by the “anti-social”, and smashing up houses where people use drugs (even if the same people who support this, then complain about needles in the street). All of this is part of a massive project of gleichschaltung, destroying open spaces, lines of flight and loopholes so as to create an order akin to an Orwellian or Kafkaesque nightmare, and with more than a passing resemblance to classical totalitarianism (even if the regulation of speech and publication has not reached such extremes).

And all this is supported by many people who see themselves as ordinary – the “little man” of Reich’s classic text – and even some who see themselves as working class, as socialist, or as anarchist. Support for aspects of this agenda – for symbolic “evictions” of youths from public spaces, for the use of evictions and ASBO’s against certain groups of people – have come from some unlikely sources, including authors in SchNews, Black Flag, Solidarity, Freedom Fortnightly and Red Action. Anarchist activist Flacco wrote a piece in a SchNews annual lauding people who smashed up telephone boxes, blocked alleyways and tried to shut down public toilets to make these unusable by certain groups of the “anti-social”. The logic of closure of space always serves the powerful – imagine the situation if the police and residents in an area are involved in sustained clashes, and all the public hiding-places and secret escape routes had been destroyed or were covered by cameras – yet it often gets support from the powerless, because the superficial agenda of “dealing with” some specific problem is placed ahead of any attempt to deal systematically with social relations – especially issues like this, which are under-theorised in any case. It is not only the bosses, but also the “decent law-abiding majority” who are the enemy of freedom today. Or to put it another way: the self-definition as “decent law-abiding majority” turns potential rebels, members of subordinate groups, into the discursive lackeys of the status quo. The more they collaborate in gleichschaltung and the closure of spaces, the more they tighten the bars of their own cages.

‘The catastrophe is that things continue to “go on as they are”… Hell is not what awaits us but the life we are living’ ( Walter Benjamin, Zentralpark). Hell is not what is brought from the outside by the anti-social, but the existing regime of the social itself.

And there is an entire fantasy-frame behind this conformism. There is an “us and them”, where “they” are defined as a race apart, and where the basic laws of causality are suspended. There is a myth of “society” as a whole, rather than as a set of social relations, so “society” can act as one against its enemies. There is an illusion that the iron fist of state (or vigilantist) power will somehow create a utopia, or at least a “decent” world where only the “decent” exist. There is a stupid claim – contradicted by all sociological evidence, which says the exact opposite – that tolerance for minor deviance causes major deviance, and that serious “crime” arises from tolerance of small-scale social problems. And there is the paranoia which says that “decent people” are afraid – as perhaps they are – of every minor manifestation of otherness. That people are afraid to go out of their houses in case they see graffiti or litter, or in case they see a beggar sitting on the pavement. And as if this paranoia is somehow obvious, rational, normal, and needs to be pandered to instead of criticised. It is apparently very easy indeed to make certain people’s lives a “misery”, or a “living hell” – usually those for whom the hells of the “Third World”, of Darfur, of Guantanamo Bay, of bombed Iraq, of occupied Palestine, even of Auschwitz, are of no significance. And for those who actively strive to bring misery to the “anti-social”, to turn the penal system into a “living hell”. “Make THEM feel the fear”, said a recent police poster – with “they”, of course, being the so-called “criminals”. So where is the ethical consistency? Nowhere. There is simply “us and them” – hell for us, or hell for them. And for some reason, we are all supposed to side with “us” – even though this in-group as at the root of both hells, at the root of the global hell.

“Social cleansing” is the term which should be used here. What is going on is akin in structure to ethnic cleansing, but with the difference that the out-group is defined as socially rather than ethnically undesirable. And basically ethnic cleansing is simply an especially doctrinaire form of social cleansing, where an ethnic group is labelled as inherently criminal or anti-social, in relation to the “decent” core of the nation. The agenda of normalisation is turned into a war against the different.

Indeed, the term “social cleansing” is already used in Latin America for the extreme forms of such practices which occur there – for instance, the genocide against street children in Brazil and elsewhere, and the violent bulldozing of shanty-towns. As usual with the barbarism of capitalism, its brutality in the so-called Third World eclipses its not inconsiderable barbarity in the north/west. Just the other week I received (and re-posted) a call for solidarity from activists in Goa, India. An entire area of the city had been bulldozed, the residents chased away, many of them arrested; people who resisted were beaten and attacked by police. What is the reason for this? Ostensibly, the extermination of prostitution, considered to be a “moral” problem. The hundreds made homeless, some of them sex workers, many of them simply residents of the “wrong” area, are victims of the “moral” agenda of the power-holders who stand for the “respectable”, “decent” majority. This is what happens when this “majority” is put at the heart of politics. Of course it is sharpest in the global periphery, where capitalist power is at its weakest and where the included are besieged most obviously by marginalities. But it is a great evil wherever it arises.

And what is the “war on terrorism” but a global expansion of this project of control? “Terrorists” are distinguished from warmongers only in that they fall within a space defined as deviant. “They” hate the “way of life” of the socially included, “they” have no moral values and express pure evil, and “they” must therefore be ruthlessly destroyed by methods far worse than those for which “they” would be condemned as beyond the pale. The quick passing of the Abu Ghraib scandal, and the fact that the demand for the practices which caused torture to occur to be abandoned was barely heard and that no changes (except the banning of cameras from US detention facilities) resulted from the scandal, reveals how the priorities of the included pan out. An even clearer example is the “war on drugs” – which means an alliance with the neo-fascist AUC in Colombia, attacks against the peasantry in Bolivia, mass destruction and devastation wherever the west lays its plans. The “war on terror” and the “war on drugs” are social cleansing extended to a global scale. The war against immigrants, identified as culturally different, is also a part of social cleansing.

It is often pointless, but necessary nonetheless, to point out the utter moral bankruptcy of an agenda which permits genocide but forbids swearing, which permits chemical warfare in the name of normalising social behaviour, or which permits mass enforced homelessness to enforce the sexual norms of the majority. The libidinal investments in such a distorted morality are such that its moral hypocrisy is invisible to its adherents, and that it becomes all the more barbaric, the more categories are included among the moral goods it values.

Sadly, the identity of the decent majority has contaminated resistance movements – anarchists, activists, the left. Even the Zapatistas, regarding the issue of banning drugs. Perhaps because those involved in resistance necessarily come from the wider society, they fail to break with its categories. Perhaps many people still unconsciously seek a place at the table of power. Or perhaps the categories of “community” were so useful to resisters in an earlier epoch that they are hard to discard. Whatever the case, this discourse is a constant barrier to thinking out clearly a resistance to the oppression which is the present. Because it stands in the way of formulating a politics directed firmly against social cleansing in all its forms – not only against this or that unwanted effect of social cleansing, but against the whole genocidal logic it encompasses.

Victory to the anti-social! Victory to the marginal!

“It is by leaving the plan(e) of capital, and never ceasing to leave it, that a mass becomes increasingly revolutionary and destroys the dominant equilibrium of the denumerable sets. It is hard to see what an Amazon-State would be, a women’s State, or a State of erratic workers, a State of the ‘refusal’ of work. If minorities do not constitute viable States culturally, politically, economically, it is because the State-form is not appropriate to them, nor the axiomatic of capitalism, nor the corresponding culture” (Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus)

In Italian autonomism in the 70s, the emarginati – those marginalised from society – were given a central position in movements of resistance. The explosion of multiplicities which break down the society of bureaucratic and ideological control. Today, this project must be rediscovered in the struggle of the “anti-social”, in the struggle against social cleansing, against gleichschaltung, against disciplinary neo-liberalism.

The slogan “victory to the anti-social” is strictly equivalent to the slogan “victory to the intifada”. It does not imply that every act labelled “anti-social” is somehow good in itself. Nor does it imply a political identification with particular groups (such as the PLO leadership, or the religious bigots of Hamas) who are at the forefront of the struggle. No doubt some very unsavoury, even oppressive, practices are part of what is subsumed under the massive label “anti-social”. Perhaps the bosses try to trick us by including there a few of our own oppressors, such as organised fascists, wife beaters, child abusers. Just as the Israeli rhetoric targets the “terrorists” and “fanatics” of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. But must one who opposes the wanton murder of civilians, who opposes the imposition of an Islamic state, therefore renounce solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinians against Israeli oppression? Must one renounce the slogan “victory to the intifada”? Of course not! So also, we must raise globally the cry, “victory to the anti-social”!

“Victory to the anti-social” means victory to the logic of freedom, to the logic of openness of social spaces, to the idea that whatever rights one advocates are for everyone and not just for conformists, to the idea that any strengthening of state power or of community repression is a restriction on the freedom of all.

The minorities, the multiplicities, those whose singularity, whose irreducibility, whose “uniqueness” (in Stirner’s sense) makes them irreducible to “the social” in the sense of a social totality with a core or centre, who are therefore in the situation of various marginalities and peripheral positions, are not a single group, are not denumerable or axiomatisable. The movement to denumerate, label, classify the marginals is a project of the core, for what is marginal can be classified only in relation to the core, as otherness, as lesser being. Hence the movement to classify “criminals” into types, “psychotics” into various clinical categories, and so on. But the whole threat posed by the marginal to the social inside, to the repressive regime imposed as a unitary “society”, is precisely their tendency to break down boundaries, to overflow and hybridise categories, to flee from and escape logics of fixity, to make space into something open and contingent and contestable instead of the fixed property of a totalitarian regime. What remains beyond social fixity, beyond gleichschaltung? What remains is the possibility of open space, of smooth space; of voluntary social relations, of creative human activity, of a world without measure and without borders, a world of free creative activity where social production is subordinated to desiring-production and is nothing more nor less than the multiplication of the powers and desires of those who enter into it (and which ceases the moment it ceases to perform this role and becomes repression).

The anti-social are the three billion perverts on the stand, the millions and millions of potential Alices. The anti-social are you and I, to the extent that we overflow the status quo, the system of social totalisation through gleichschaltung. Social cleansing must not be tolerated. Social openness must be posed as the alternative to repressive closure. Victory to open spaces which are multiple and not subordinate to an overarching social order! Victory to the anti-social!

The response of revolutionaries, of those who truly value freedom, who seek the release of desires and intensities, who oppose statist gleichschaltung and disciplinary neo-liberalism, must be to POLITICISE anti-sociality. To politicise the movements of the marginals, to bring them to points of confrontation with the system, to points of refusal of the status quo, and into movements to create temporary and permanent autonomous zones. This is similar to Vaneigem’s proposals as regards active nihilism.

“In the last reckoning, the nihilists are our allies. If they now live in the despair of non-transcendence, a coherent theory will suffice to set them straight, placing the potential energy of their accumulated rancour in the service of their will to live… Nihilists, one more effort if you want to be revolutionaries!” (Vaneigem)

Of course, this politicisation of anti-sociality is incompatible with any attempts to win over the “decent majority” by appealing to their existing beliefs, their existing attachments, their existing discourse. The “decent majority” can be faced only with the stark demand that it unlearn its dominance, its impositional discourses, and that it become other. But this demand is also emancipatory, for the “decent majority” is itself trapped in its roles, its conformity. The becoming-anti-social of the decent majority is also its breaking of its ties to the status quo, its refusal of the “cops in our heads”. In this way, the liberation of the anti-social is simultaneously a “universal” liberation.

In this, the historical context must be remembered: the fact that, before the Industrial Revolutions, the peasantry everywhere engaged in petty deviance as a function of its class struggle against the landlords, and in many places still does; the fact that the disciplinary division between decent citizens and delinquents was a historical strategy by the powerful to break down this great resource of class resistance and deny it to the workers of the industrial age. Neither the delinquents as a state-labelled group, as a subculture defined by its otherness from the decent, nor the decent defined by their moralistic exclusion of the delinquents, can be in any way a revolutionary class. Only by breaking down the binary – by creating a type of social subjectivity which is at once deviant and affirmative – can a truly revolutionary challenge be posed.

Enough with the rhetoric of incorporation – with the idea that so much gleichschaltung is OK, that such-and-such is a legitimate victim because she or he deserves it, that such-and-such social problem is severe enough to warrant repression, that such-and-such use of repressive power is to be condoned or even supported as a blow against some social evil or other. All of this is libidinal fuel to the fires of the status quo! First they came for the beggars, and I did not speak out because I was not a beggar. Then they came for the street racers, and I did not speak out because I was not a street racer. Then they came for the prostitutes, and I did not speak out because I was not a prostitute. Let us not repeat the fatal logic of Pastor Niemoeller! Victory to the emarginati, victory to the anti-social!


Carry out symbolic inversions against leading advocates of social cleansing. “Evict” judges. Serve “citizen’s ASBO’s” on home secretaries. Prevent councillors from getting to council meetings, “in case they cause a public nuisance”. Try to shut down the ACPO conference as an “unruly gathering”.

Organise mass defiance of ASB laws. For instance, a mass sit-in by under-18s in areas where they’re banned from being out at night, with others in attendance also. Chain everyone together and just stand or sit around. At whatever time the curfew ends, the cops will have to stop arresting youths. A Gandhian/Kingian approach might be effective here, because the laws concerned are so illiberal. So even this kind of protest would be very overtly defiant of the fascistic laws.

Organise similar mass solidarity demos in other cases. For instance: stage a march through a city centre, with someone banned from the centre under an ASBO. Conceal the person’s face so they can’t be identified. And surround them to prevent this person being arrested.

Resist the panopticon. Organise a new Rosa Parks campaign against CCTVs on buses – set up local networks and explicitly declare a boycott until CCTV’s are removed. Don’t be surprised if cameras and/or buses get sabotaged during the campaign too. Actually CCTV’s anywhere are at risk of this. But with a resistance campaign against (say) a specific bus company, there could be real pressure, instead of just symbolic damage.

Resist evictions. This has already happened in some places. Strategies include: blockading the house or flat to be evicted; putting up barricades; removing the person to be evicted (and property etc.) elsewhere and then just moving them back when the bailiffs have gone.

Target corporations involved in manufacturing tools of repression, in the same way one might target companies involved in vivisection. For instance, organise boycotts of these companies’ other, less harmful products. Pressure others to withdraw funding and other kinds of support from these companies. Hold protests and pickets outside their offices.

Organise mass-defiance inversion protests against crackdowns. For instance: when there’s attacks on graffiti artists, stage a mass graffiti campaign. When a parent is jailed because a kid played truant, organise a school strike.

Of course, the “anti-social” will also resist directly. Often in ways some activists are uncomfortable with. We don’t have to support every single act of resistance, but it’s important always to remain in solidarity, and not to condemn acts of resistance against social cleansing even if we disapprove of them. Instead, use every opportunity to explain and promote the motives behind even those actions one disapproves of.

especially chapters 18 and 19

Article by Dot Matrix on domestic violence in the latest issue of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed

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