CARRYING OUT THE WILL OF THE LAND: THE PLANETARIAT
- Introduction: Cultures of Resistance -
"Anarchy doesn't mean out of control; it means out of their
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
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
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 ("Lets
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
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
- 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
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.