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Claus Sterneck / Claus in Iceland
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Wolfgang Sterneck
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Ron Hayley:


- Introduction: Cultures of Resistance -

"Anarchy doesn't mean out of control; it means out of their control."
Jim Dodge, American bio-regionalist

Traditionally, anarchists have relied on two main strategies to bring about social change: syndicalism and propaganda of the deed. Syndicalism involves the organizing of syndicates or trade unions, their federation into "one big union", the calling of a general strike, the seizure of the means of production, and the establishment of systems of self-managed production. "Propaganda of the deed" involves anarchist militants engaging in direct action against persons or property with the aim of empowering people and making society increasingly ungovernable. While it is beyond the scope of this article to discuss these strategies in detail, each is problematic in its own way.

The problem with syndicalism is that the traditional working class, shrinking in size, no longer commands strategic power in the economy. Morcover, it has become domesticated, i.e. has very little of its own culture and tradition to nourish a radical consciousness.

The problem with "propaganda of the deed" is that it tends to speak to the already converted, and doesn't educate and empower those not already convinced. Moreover, it lands the best activists in jail, and the public perception of spiralling "violence" and "disorder" can actually increase people's tendency to put faith in state authority.

And then there's a third strategy: radical populism, which advances its goals by building "cultures of resistance".

What are these "cultures of resistance"? Picture culture as a continuum. At the one extreme is domesticated culture; at the other, autonomous culture. Gene Lisitzky has written of one autonomous culture, the Hopi, in the following terms: "They all dance. Everyone is both an artist and a priest. Everyone has the opportunity to express both himself and the common desire, and everyone has the responsibility for helping to direct nature in the path it should take."

Contrast this with our domesticated culture where people go to concerts structured like fascist pep rallies, where the Pope tells us it's a sin to use birth control, and where "art" is the stuff that is put on display in "museums". Autonomous cultures permit the individual to participate in and or/benefit from the ongoing process of "cultural selection", and to organize themselves on a "subsistence" basis - able to produce for their own needs independently of the formal economy. Members of autonomous cultures do not eat corporate deathburgers, wear designer jeans, get their rocks off listening to heavy metal or watching "Porky's" or "Friday the 13th, Part III" on video, and, as much as possible, avoid working as data entry clerks, doing telemarketing, or scrubbing bathrooms at McDonald's. The use of the term "domesticated" is deliberate. Like household pets, domesticated peoples have had the "wildness" bred out of them, and are dependent on handouts from benevolent masters.

This is not always evident because of the shimmer of gold plating on our dog chains. Autonomous peoples have resisted assimilation. They have had to be dragged kicking and screaming into "civilization". This is understandable in the case of Africans and Indians who chose to commit suicide rather than submit to slavery. But even where autonomous peoples have been offered houses and money in exchange for their "insecure" and "poverty-stricken" way of life, many - like the Navajos at Big Mountain or the Gypsies in Europe - have chosen to retain previous lifestyles. Autonomous peoples have always needed and valued freedom more than the bangles and baubles of a civilized world.

- The Original "Cultures of Resistance":

Aboriginal Peoples -"... industrial society seeks to destroy aboriginal cultures ... this is historically what the process of industrialisation - or 'civilization' - has always done. The alienated, individuated, and centralized pseudoculture of the industrial state, worldwide, can only arise from the destruction of coherent, integrated communities and cultures. The resistance of such cultures to this process has occurred since history began and continues to this day not just in North America but in Norway, New Zealand and Australia as well as in countries of the Third World, like Nicaragua ... Together, such indigenous cultures striving within dominant societies for their autonomy have been called the Fourth World." - editorial, The New Catalyst (Winter 1986/87)

All over the globe, capitalism (and "communism") are seeking to replace autonomous culture with domesticated culture. In the words of Peter Berg, "Global Monoculture dictates English lawns in the desert, business suits in Indonesia, orange juice in Siberia, and hamburgers in New Delhi." Thousands of unique cultures have been lost. The Beothuk, the Caribs, the Yahgans, the Yahis, aborigines of Tasmania, the more than one Amazonian hundred tribes decimated in the sixteenth century - these are among the peoples that have disappeared at the hands of European culture.

With the rise of the nation-state, even traditional peoples in Europe have been forced to give up their language and customs. Only a century ago, Scottish and Welsh children were beaten in school for using their native Gaelic tongue (this same practice in relation to Native children was carried out in Ontario until the 1940's), and bagpipes were outlawed tempporarily in Scotland during the eighteenth century. In Czechosovakia today, the Prague Jazz Section, an important proponent of avant-garde culture, is being suppressed. As Czech emigre writer, Josef Skvorecky has pointed out, spontaneous, liberatory music (largely African-derived) has threatened the Communists just as much as the fascists, because it promises to undermine the authoritarian character structure on which both systems are based.

And yet the very cultures which colonialists and nation-states oppress have given the world uncountable treasures. The Indians of the Western Hemisphere have contributed up to one-half of the food crops of the entire globe: corn, all but two variety of beans, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, pumpkins, celery, peppers, avocados, peanuts, rhubarb, melons, sunflowers, tapioca, buckwheat, vanilla, maple syrup, chocolate, popcorn, and non-food products like cotton and tobacco. From African-based cultures, we have gotten music forms like rock, reggae, jazz, soul, soca, mariachi, and gospel - to name but a few.

But, more importantly than food or music, indigenous cultures have different ways of looking at the world, different values, different systems of selfgovernment, different perspectives on life and on what contributes to its quality. Every time one of these cultures dies, it's like John Donne's poem - "... if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less": we lose the possibility of transcending our own culture, of appraising it critically, and of opting for different lifeways.

- Three Kinds of Autonomous Cultures -

It is useful to distinguish three kinds of autonomous cultures: indigenous, folk, and counter-cultural. Indigenous cultures are those Fourth World cultures referred to above. They are tribally-based, and have lived by hunting and gathering, herding and nomadism, or by means of horticulture. They occupy specific bioregions, and have an animistic cosmology. They tend to have a celebratory attitude towards life which contrasts sharply with "honkyism". Honkyism is a disease of Northern Europe characterized by sexual repression, alienation from the body, a fondness for the artificial, an obsession with material goods, and a willingness to make a fool of oneself in order to get that brand new refrigerator ("Let’s make a deal", etc.) If you've ever gone to a funeral or a wedding, you know about honkyism. Las Vegas, Nevada is the Mecca of honkyism.

By contrast, indigenous peoples possess dignity and style. One might say they come by it "naturally". I remember seeing a film in first year anthropology about the Nuer of Sudan. I was captivated by their grace and sensuousness. Indigenous cultures - under assault all over the globe - still have much to teach, especially in relation to understanding the ecological crisis. As Jay Mason, Native activist, has said, "People know we have to respect the earth and human life. It's not idealistic and utopian. We have to respect life. It's our ancient knowledge. We've taught whites just about everything else - corn, beans, squash, cotton, rubber, how to govern. Now this too."

Folk cultures are those which have existed under conditions of feudalism or despotism, but which have maintained strong community roots, and their relationship to the soil. Folk cultures - primarily of peasants - are characterized by colourful dress, their seasonal festivals hark back to paganism, and they retain vestigial forms of village selfgovernment. Their music - "folk music" - has certain common features whether in the form of jigs, reels, waltzes or polkas. Bill Devall and George Sessions, authors of Deep Ecology, have described the Western "minority tradition", which includes folk cultures, as being "decentralized, non-hierarchical, [and] democratic," and as possessing such characteristics as "small-scale community" local autonomy, mutual aid, selfregulation and non-violence."

Counter-cultures emerged within the belly of the beast. Unlike folk cultures, which tend to be the preponderant culture even where subjected to feudal norms, counter-cultures find themselves in a hostile environment, are often based in urban areas, and are bound together by ideological, rather than geographical, ties. These ties range from religion (as with the non-conforming "congregationalist" sects of the English revolution) to music, dress and common values (as in the case of punks and hippies) to a combination of all of these (as in the case of Rastifarians).

Increasingly, autonomous cultures of all kinds are coming to recognize they have a lot in common, and are beginning to form alliances. Faced with pollution hazards and the elimination of species, indigenous and folk cultures are banding together to fight for the preservation of the ecosystems on which their lives depend. They are being joined by counter-culturalists who recognize their kinship with the earth and all its creatures. All three types of autonomous cultures are linked by their desire to preserve cultural diversity and autonomy in the face of the "Global Monoculture". In other words, we are seeing the emergence of culture of a new type - cultures, in order to survive, are becoming consciously political. Likewise, political movements, faced with the necessity to "dig in" for the long haul and fulfill their members' needs, are becoming more cultural.

- The Emergence of the Planetariat -

”What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her,
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn.
And tied her with fences and dragged her down.
I hear a very gentle sound
With your ear down to the ground
We want the world and we want it ...NOW!”

Jim MorrisonI call this convergence of autonomous cultures the "planetariat". One of the characteristics of the planetariat is exemplified by the slogan, "think globally, act locally." As bio-regionalist Peter Berg says, "There's no effective way to fashion regard for the planetary biosphere withoot attention to the distinct regions that make it up. For our heads to be everywhere, our feet have to be some place." The planetariat is a unity-indiversity. "Without the parts there can be no whole. The parts must, therefore, not only be retained but encouraged to pursue their natural diversity." (John Henry Wadland).

I have chosen four groups to illustrate this process of convergence: the Fourth World, the peace and ecology movements, feminism, and the youth and "bohemian" counter-cultures.

Fourth World peoples are on the front lines of the struggle between the planetariat and the technocracy. Everywhere, their ancestral lands are under attack from a system whose voracious appetite induces it to gobble up everything it can get its hands on. From the Amazon rain forest to the Black Hills of South Dakota, from the Four Corners area of the American Southwest to the outer islands of Indonesia, tribal peoples are threatened with extinction and the loss of their landbase. The term "Fourth World" was coined because it was found that these peoples had very different needs and aspirations from their "Third World" compatriots. The latter, in some ways, wished to emulate the "development" model of the West and, once in control of state power, often posed as much of a threat to indigenous peoples as the former colonialist powers. This tension in values is evident in the conflict between the Sandinistas and the Miskito Indians of Nicaragua's Atlantic coast.

Indigenous peoples have begun to form global alliances. Organizations like the World Council of Indigenous Peoples and the United Nations Work~ng Group on Indigenous Populations have come into existence, and groups like Cultural Survival and Survival International have been formed to aid indigenous peoples by publicizing their situation and by providing them with resources.

Because of the scope of the ecological crisis, and the global nature of the arms race, the peace and ecology movements of our time are also international. Of particular importance is the emerging global non-aligned peace movement which is opposed to the division of the world into superpower blocs. It believes in people-to-people initiatives, and is developing networks of support and communication between peace activists, East and West. The peace movements of the East bloc countries have their roots in the youth/bohemian counter-cultures that have survived or emerged under conditions of state "socialism". Each movement has a distinctly national character, and is usually concerned with a whole array of issues ranging from peace and ecology to human rights and artistic freedom. Many of these groups work under the umbrella of the organized church because, in one group's words, "the ecclesiastical setting provides the only possible public arena for peace work independent of the state." Such grassroots movements are of particular importance because they challenge the myth of "monolithic unity" in the "Communist" countries cultivated by reactionaries in both blocs, and point to the fact that ordinary people have more in common with each other than they do with their respective rulers.

Increasingly, the ecology movement has been transcending national boundaries as well. Greenpeace, born out of an international campaign against an underwater U.S. nuclear test, has since grown into an organization with branches in seventeen countries. As Greenpeace has become increasingly bureaucratized and conservative, co-founders like Paul Watson have split off to form direct action groups like the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. When Watson, who pursues a strategy of "aggressive nonviolence", interferes with the slaughter of sea animals through disabling fishing vessels and destroying processing plants, he declares himself to be merely fulfilling his "planetary obligation" to defend life on earth. For him, the "laws of nature" supersede the laws of nation-states when it comes to defending victims of corporate and governmental greed.

Another instance of international collaboration is the current campaign against the destruction of raain forests, with special attention being paid to the role of the World Bank and the fast food companies. Though not concerned exclusively with peace and ecology issues, the Green movement is another example of an international current which shares a common set of values and ideology in several dispersed parts of the globe. "Green Politics: The Global Promise" by Charlene Spretnak and Fritjof Capra is a basic - though flawed - source of further information on this important movement.

The women's movement has also become increasingly global in recent years. Though rent by conflicts over race and class, there are numerous examples of women cooperating internationally to fight abuses like genital mutilation and forced sterilization. Though not exclusively a "women's issue", the boycott of Nestles is an example of people responding to multinational exploitation of nursing mothers. In addition, there is concern about multinationals dumping unsafe methods of birth control, such as the Dalkon shield and the drug Depo-Provera, in Third World countries. The women's peace camp movement and the demonstrations at the Pentagon by Women and Life on Earth are further examples of this trend.

And, finally, there is unprecedented cooperation occurring between punks and others who correspond with each other through publications like Maximum Rock'n'Roll and exchange albums and tapes around the globe. Amazingly enough, the punk movement is one of the most intricately networked of the movements we have discussed so far, and a sizeable component of the songs and articles produced by it deal with issues of war, racism, global exploitation, and animal liberation - to name but a few.

- Can We Learn From Each Other? -

As autonomous cultures begin to cooperate, the basis is created for groups to leam from one another, for cultural rigidities to break down. Already, whites are being challenged on their racism, Rastas are reexamining attitudes towards women. Rastas and Native people are discovering that they have a lot in common musically and spiritually, and Westemers are leaming from the ecological wisdom of indigenous peoples. When we meet one another, we are potentially meeting as cultural equals -confident of we are and yet open to leaming from the strengths of other cultures. For people of European origin, this is particularly difficult as we tend to exhibit Western arrogance or develop an inferiority complex based on the honkyism of our own culture, and the role imperialism plays in the lives of other peoples. Some people respond by becoming what the Chinese us'ed to call "fake foreign devils" (Chinese who were ashamed of their Chineseness and sought to behave like foreigners). White radicals become fake Mcaraguans, fake Indians or fake Rastifarians. We have to respect ourselves to respect others. We have to discover our own cultural roots.

There are autonomous elements in even the honkiest of cultures. Amongst the English, there is a love of nature and of animals, and a belief in the right of all to walk through the country regardless of boundaries, itself a relic of the practice of "the commons".

Amongst Italians we find a society which is intensely social and sociable, amongst French-Canadians a zest for life, greater solidarity and affection, and amongst Jews we find a strong tradition of mutual aid. Even Christmas and Easter are vestigial forms of ancient pagan holidays. Throughout society, indigenous and folk elements persist and can be preserved and expanded upon. Of course, try as we might, for white North Americans, much of our heritage has been irrevocably lost (for Irish-Canadians, it may consist of green beer on St. Patrick's Day). But that only means that we have to work that much harder to create a new culture. The hippies did an admirable job in the 60's, the punks are doing it today, and feminists have also been quite successful at building an alternative milieu. Only when we have the freedom to define our own cultural identities, can we begin to challenge the status quo and work for its ultimate abolition.

Source: Kick It Over No. 19. Toronto, Summer 1987.

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