The Durruti Free Skool project, conceived by Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr, had its meet up this past weekend with participants from the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Philadelphia, Hawaii, and Vancouver



12–14 August 2011

Berkeley, California

Brian Ang

Report on the Durruti Free Skool Meet Up

12–14 August 2011

Berkeley, California

The Durruti Free Skool project, conceived by Joshua Clover and Juliana Spahr, had its meet up this past weekend with participants from the San Francisco Bay Area, Santa Cruz, Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, Philadelphia, Hawaii, and Vancouver.  Throughout 2011, Durruti Free Skools were organized locally concerning the matrix of Marxism, anarchism, and poetry as each conceived it, and participants with sufficient means convened to interact in Berkeley.  The meetings occurred in several Berkeley locations, starting with a casual gathering at the Small Press Distribution warehouse on the 12th and primary meetings on the 13th and 14th in a meeting room of the Berkeley Public Library, Juliana’s house in downtown Berkeley, and the Zughaus Art Gallery.

The casual gathering at Small Press Distribution started the weekend comfortably.  No formal structure was presented for the gathering, but participants mingled easily in their eagerness to start talking, with out-of-town participants especially interested in the recent activist actions of the Bay Area.  Journals and pamphlets prepared for the occasion were distributed and exchanged.  The group from Vancouver distributed 6 problems for the durruti free skool, consisting of six articles, one each from Danielle LaFrance, Reg Johanson, Roger Farr, Patrick Morrison, Aaron Vidaver, and Louis Cabri, which included refreshing polemics toward the poetics of the organizers and articulations of their own projects, including Roger’s theory of argot against ever-adapting police surveillance and Aaron’s Freedom of Information Act research.  Reg and Louis were unable to make the trip with the other four for the meet up.  San Diego’s Jeanine Webb distributed her poetry journal TACOCAT and I distributed my poetry journal ARMED CELL.

The comfortable start contributed to an amiable atmosphere for beginning Saturday’s morning proceedings at the Berkeley Public Library.  The casual meet up for last year’s prequel to the Durruti Free Skool, the 95 Cent Skool, which I also participated in, was a pleasurably chaotic house poetry reading, which contributed to its more explosively groping start of participants trying to find out what everyone else was about: in the shorter time frame of the Durruti Free Skool, the difference was positive.  Juliana contributed valuable facilitation from the start and throughout the weekend in encouraging conversations down generative avenues and encouraging forth participants’ positions.  In this encouraging forth, familiar ethical deliberations and problematizations about violence arose early on, including the meaningful differences among destruction of private property, violence done to another person or persons, and institutional violence, and about what might positively focus the indeterminate possibilities of violence, such as Marxist class struggle.  A principle contradiction in the group began to emerge between a desire for organizing a concrete action project that participants present could immediately start organizing together, and a desire for learning about the heterogeneity of existing projects and concerns to develop tools homogenously useful for all.  The difficulty of immediately organizing a project together arose in part from both the heterogeneity of concerns from the diversity of places represented and the heterogeneity of concerns among participants from the same place, as in among the Bay Area participants (about 50% of the participants).  This contradiction would cut across conversations all weekend in different ways.  From my situation in the Bay Area and within the heterogeneity of concerns, I advocated for the potency of the locally emergent Bay of Rage collective, which has organized provocative marches (in downtown Oakland, for instance) around local issues of the moment; the collective contributes a much-needed anti-capitalist militancy and capacity for illegality.

The afternoon session occurred at Juliana’s house.  An engagement occurred between Joshua Clover and Roger Farr regarding a distinction of Joshua’s between “speech” and “action” that privileged action.  Roger challenged that they aren’t dichotomous, for the politics of discourse, including calling for action, is inextricable in the complexities of action.  A notion of pure action, hinted at in the morning sessions, risks a crude idealism.  The discussion expanded to a larger distinction between textuality and action.  Joshua used the example of the pamphlet of tactics to resist police distributed preceding the recent Egyptian protests in Tahrir Square as one of the few examples of efficacious text, only granting objects such as pamphlets the status of text.  Joshua emphasized his disagreement with attempts to read protest situations semiotically as texts.  The concerns provided the opportunity for discussing Roger’s pirate radio poetry broadcasts during the Vancouver 2010 Olympics: semiotic conditions which weighted every syllable with illegality and prompted the State to crack down on the transmitter.  This state repression led to protesters defending the transmitter in the streets.  The engagement drew out both the importance of Joshua’s stridency regarding impactful action as well as his scrupulous impatience with speech and textual objects being overly praised as efficacious; Roger’s experience demonstrated how attention to the semiotic conditions of protest situations can irrupt action.

The question of what makes an action successful arose.  Ida Yoshinaga from Hawaii spoke about her commitments to impacting institutions by resisting and rolling back institutionalized structural violence.  Joshua pessimistically countered that there is no rolling it back: the institutions aren’t failing but fulfilling their logics under capitalism’s creative/destructive drive.  Theirs was another fructifying engagement, for Joshua’s stridency complemented Ida’s: a factor of a given action’s success can be measured by progress toward the revolutionizing of institutions, the upper limit being the revolutionizing of the whole of capitalism’s institutions, there being a crucial difference between revolution and reform of institutions as such.  In consonance with Roger’s commitment to semiotics, I advocated the significance of constructing an action with the aim of achieving the right to declare victory: along the path of revolutionizing institutions, the effort to keep reproducing activities in a desired direction is important.  In proximity to the desire for immediate action, a certain assumption began gathering strength—that to organize together required “liking” each other, to which San Francisco’s Wendy Trevino intervened saying that people don’t have to like each other personally to do political things together.

As the participants were almost all poets, the question of the relation of poetry to all this predictably arose.  There was an overall dissatisfaction with poetry’s political posturing and dearth of efficacy.  Aaron Vidaver said that if he wanted to do political organizing, he wouldn’t go to poets.  I agreed: yet it is a fact that poetry’s cultural field has produced individuals on the forefront of political movements, indicating its capacity for political intensities in its milieus.  More ambitiously, poetry might be able to be part of the semiotic conditions for an action’s meaning.

Sunday’s meetings occurred at the Zughaus Gallery.  Juliana maintained the question of efficacious interruptions of capitalism and expressed shrewd criticism of projects like The Yes Men, emphasizing material results beyond a pleasing subversive spectacle.  Berkeley’s Jasper Bernes added that it is realistically impossible to destroy enough value to bring down capital and used the example of World War II: in countries sustaining heavy damage, they still operated at high economic capacity and were quickly restored to full strength. He emphasized the usefulness of dramatic acts and taking opportunities of disorder to their limits, and in the spirit of self-criticism, pointed out that it was pathetic and stupid that there wasn’t the will to riot on Wall Street at the time of the bailout. Out of the desire for organizing concrete actions, much time was spent on Joshua’s theory of organized mass default.  Debt default currently occurs widely but has not yet found organization.  More research and dissemination of the practical specifics of this tactic are needed, including the need for theorizing and creating support networks for such a movement.  This led to a conversation about the overall theorization of support networks to resist and withdraw from wage labor: something that is homogeneous in each participant’s relation to capitalism.  A number of participants marshaled an emphasis on emotions perceiving their neglect in the discussions, indicating how the oppression of guilt and shame about debt and defaulting could hinder organization.  Joshua emphasized the inextricability of emotional support from material support.  To me, the need for support networks to materially and emotionally resist wage labor and the repercussions of debt default indicated the importance of a project overarching these concerns and with the crucial capacity for complementary offensives to the inevitable repression: a practical communism.  If Antonio Negri can be believed that “we are already communists” in the impulse to help one another and are only stifled by capital’s logic, then contra Mao Tse-Tung, perhaps communism can be both love and a hammer with which to crush the enemy.

From the constraints of the form of the Durruti Free Skool meet up, it was realized as well as I realistically hoped.  The contradiction between the desire for the organization of a shared project and the desire for developing from the heterogeneity of concerns refined for me my own belief in autonomous activity: practically speaking, such autonomy empowers individual and affinity group agency instead of deferring to lines or leaders, while it also cultivates a sensitivity toward how one can intervene most efficaciously, as well as ethically, for autonomous agency declines authoritarian organization.  Following from the impulse behind the Vancouver group’s critiques and propulsions of existing projects, I would have liked to have had a greater use of participants’ primary projects as launching points to stride more strongly toward complex intensities of concerns than the provisional communitarianism that was cultivated.  In all, the Durruti Free Skool was an important project for continuing a cultivation of the relevant relations of Marxism, anarchism, and poetry.  It should be replicated.

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