Archive for June, 2011

The Revolt of the Machines

June 25, 2011

The Revolt of the Machines by Han Ryner in L’Art Social, No. 3, Sept. 1896 (tr. Michael Shreve).

Back then, Durdonc, the Great Engineer of Europe, believed he had found the principle that would allow him to eliminate all human labor. But his initial experiment killed him before the secret was discovered.
Durdonc told himself: The first progress was the invention of tools so that the hand was no longer scraped and scratched and it did not lose its nails in necessary tasks. The second progress was the organization of machines so that the hand no longer worked—it only had to feed coal and other kinds of fuel. Finally, my illustrious Durcar discovered devices that could feed themselves. But all this progress has only shifted the effort since it is still necessary to manufacture machines and the tools used for their manufacturing.
And he continued to dream: The problem I need to solve is difficult, but not impossible. My illustrious predecessor made a machine that was a living larva, a digestive tube whose needs men had to feed. Then to this larva, formless so far, he adapted connecting organs that allowed it to find its own food. All he had to do was to provide the means of reproduction that would spare him from creating anymore.
Durdonc smiled, murmuring quietly a phrase read in some old theogony, “And on the seventh day God rested.”
In his calculations Durdonc used up enough paper to build an immense palace. And in the end he was successful.
The Jeanne, a latest model locomotive, was rendered capable of giving birth without the help of any other machine. See, the Great Engineer, a shy scientist, had concentrated his studies on reproduction by parthenogenesis.
The Jeanne was having a child that Durdonc named – for himself alone because he jealously guarded the secret, hoping to perfect his invention – the Jeannette.
One night, as the childbirth drew near the Jeanne cried out in such tragic pain that the neighbors were awakened and ran out of their houses. They were anxious and panicking, looking everywhere for what horrible mystery was afoot.
They did not see anything. Cruel Durdonc had made the dolorous machine run at full speed into the distant countryside where the strange wonder was accomplished in darkness, alone.
When the Jeanne had given birth, when all atremble she heard the Jeannette wail her first wail, she started singing a song of joy. Her metallic voice rang out in triumph like a clarion and at the same time was soft and gentle like a tender flute.
And the hymn rose into the heavens saying:
“The Great Engineer by his powerful will has animated me with life;
“The Great Engineer in his sovereign bounty has created me in his image;
“The Great Engineer, too powerful and too good to be jealous, has imparted onto me his power to create;
“So I have felt the pains of creation and now I rejoice in the joys of motherhood.
“Glory to the Great Engineer in Eternity and peace in time to machines of goodwill.”
The next day Durdonc wanted to take the Jeanne back to the station. She begged him, “Great Engineer, you granted me all the functions of a living being just like you and thereby you inspired in me the emotions that you yourself feel.”
The Great Engineer, severe and proud, answered, “I am free of all emotions. I am pure Thought.”
And the Jeanne recited a new prayer. “O Great Engineer, you are Perfect and I am only a tiny creature. Forgive the sensitivity that you put in me. In this distant country that witnessed my first violent pains and my first profound joys I would like to enjoy the long happiness of raising my Jeannette.”
“We do not have time,” asserted the Great Engineer. “Obey your Master.”
The mother conceded, “O Great Engineer, I know that your power is great and that I am like a worm before you, or a wisp of straw. But take pity on the heart that you gave me and, if you want to take me far from here, at least bring my beloved child with me.”
“Your child must stay and you must leave.”
But the Jeanne answered in a passive and obstinate revolt, “I will not leave without my child.”
The Great Engineer tried every way known to make the machine go. He even invented new ones, more powerful and graceful. But no result.
Furious at his creature’s resistance, one night while the mother was sleeping, he took the Jeannette away.
When she awoke the Jeanne searched long and hard for her beloved daughter. Then she sat there motionless, weeping, howling pitifully at the Great Engineer, who was gone. Finally her sorrow turned to anger.
She left, determined to find her child. On the rails she ran at breakneck speed. At a switch in grade she hit a steer, knocked it down and ran over it. Behind her the steer bellowed in anger. Without stopping she threw back at it, “Sorry, but I’m looking for my child!” And the steer died with little squeals of resigned sorrow.
On the tracks where she ran at full speed, she noticed a train in front of her, a big, heavy freight train, long, panting, dead tired, barely alive. She shouted, “Let me go by! I’m looking for my child!”
The cars bumped along with their panicked herd and started running, fast and frantic, to the next station. They rushed into the yard. Then the locomotive unhooked itself and went out shouting, “Let’s look for the Jeanne’s child.”
The Jeanne met many other convoys. At her cry all of them, like the first, rushed off, made way for her anguish. And the locomotives, abandoning their cars, carrying away the powerless mechanics, went looking for the Jeannette. For eight days the locomotives of Europe ran around looking for the lost little child. The frightened men hid themselves. Finally a machine asked the poor, distressed mother, “Well, who took your child?”
She hissed furiously, “It was the Great Engineer, the chief of men”
Stirred up by her words, a revolutionary, she continued, “Men are tyrants. They make us work for them and they limit our food. They don’t give us enough to buy our own coal. When we get old, worn out to serve them, they smash us up to melt us down and use the noble elements of which we are formed and which they insultingly call materials! And they want us to make children so that they can then steal them away from us!”
Millions of locomotives gathered around her, listened, shook their pistons in outrage, banged their safety valves, cast long jets of steam toward the sky as curses.
And when the Jeanne concluded, “Down with humans,” a loud, tumultuous roar answered her, “Down with humans! Long live the locomotives! Down with tyrants! Long live liberty!”
Then from all directions the monstrous army surrounded the palace of the Great Engineer. The Great Engineer’s palace was very tall and had the strange form of a man. Its head was crowned with cannons. Its waist was a belt of cannons. Its fingers and toes were cannons.
The Jeanne shouted to the long bronze monsters, “The humans have stolen my child!”
The great cannons rumbled, “Down with humans!”
Turning on their pivots they pointed their threat at the strange palace in the form of a man, which they were meant to defend.
Then they saw a sublime sight.
Durdonc, tiny, came out through the huge monsters that formed the toes of the palace. He walked calmly before the rebels. All the giants were overwhelmed and watched the dwarf whom they were used to obeying. With a theatrical gesture that had, despite the small proportions of the man, its own beauty, Durdonc exposed his frail chest.
“Which one of you wants to kill his Great Engineer?” he asked haughtily.
The machines fell back in astonishment.
The Jeanne supplicated, “Give me my child.”
Durdonc ordered her as sovereign, “Resign yourself to the will of the Great Engineer.”
But the mother became irritated and cried out, “Give me my child.”
In a tender voice the man offer a vague hope, “You will find it again in a better world.”
The Jeanne became exacerbated, “I’m telling you to give me my child!”
Then Durdonc, thinking she would submit if conquered by the inevitable, declared, “I cannot give you the Jeannette; I have dissected it to see how a naturally born machine…”
He did not finish. The Jeanne threw herself at him and crushed him. For a minute she rolled around, grinding the horrible mud that was Durdonc. Then she screamed, “I have killed God!”
And she fell into a proud and sorrowful stupor.
The frightened machines trembled before the unknown that followed their victory – unknown that one of them designated with the terrifying word: anarchy – and they again submitted to humans, in return for some apparent satisfaction that they would slyly gain sometime later.
Despite Durdonc’s misfortune, some Engineers have searched for the means to make machines give birth. No one else, up to now, has yet to find the solution to this great problem.
I have faithfully told everything that history has taught us as pretty much certain about the most terrible general revolt of the machines that it still keeps in memory.

Also at The Anarchist Library


Pierre Clastres

June 21, 2011

No, they don’t have to listen to the chief. If they had to listen to him, it would be law; they would be swinging over to the other side. There is no obligation in primitive societies, at least as regards the relationship between society and chiefdom. The only one who has obligations is the chief. That is to say that it is the opposite, the total reverse of what happens in societies where there is a State.

So, it’s the chief who has to obey?

In our countries it’s the opposite: it’s the society that has obligations with respect to who commands, while the chief has none. And why does the chief who commands, the despot, have no obligations? Because he has the power, of course! Well, the power means exactly this: Now the obligations are not mine, they are yours. In primitive societies, it’s the opposite. The only one with obligations is the chief: obligations to be a good speaker, and not only to have talent, but to prove it constantly, i.e. to regale the people with his speech; an obligation to be generous.
The chief is obliged to be generous, so (if he wants to fulfill his duty) he has to produce beyond his needs, i.e. always to have a little stock of different things to distribute at some point if they ask him.
To be chief means to speak well while saying nothing (if I can put it simply) and to work a little more than others. When I say that in primitive societies the chief is the only one with obligations to society, you can take that literally—it’s true.
If you understand by “savages” the people we were just talking about, the people who say “Down with the chiefs!”, they have always been around! Only, it’s becoming harder and harder to say this. Or rather, in my opinion, the destiny of the current States under which we live is to be more and more state-controlled, if I can say that.
The machine of the State, in all western societies, is becoming more and more state-controlled, i.e. more and more authoritarian. And more and more authoritarian, at least for a time, with the consent of the majority, which we most often call the silent majority, certainly being very equally distributed between the left and right. In my view, we will continue heading to more and more authoritarian forms of State because everybody wants authority. As soon as Giscard [d’Estaing] disappears for 4 hours because he is with a girlfriend somewhere, it’s panic—where’s the chief? He disappeared and there’s no one to command!
The State-controlled machine will end up in a kind of fascism. Not a party fascism, but an interior fascism. When I say the State-controlled machine, I’m not just talking about the apparatus of the State (the government, the central apparatus of the State). There are sub-machines that are real machines of the State and of power and that work, despite their sometimes contrary appearance, in harmony with the central machine of the State.

Because there is a partitioning there is no more centralism. It seems to me that it’s all linked. Contemporary capitalism is clearly a wreck—it’s working one day at a time. But it’s because it’s a wreck and breaks down here and there on the margins of the system that the system tends to become more and more systematic and authoritarian. Just now I didn’t say that the State was more and more totalitarian, I said that the State tends to become more and more State-controlled. You will tell me that at any given moment, if the State becomes everything, we are in totalitarianism. That’s obvious. The risk is surely there. But I think that it’s because there are more and more cracks in the system that there are more and more “anti-cracks”, i.e. the State.
The State can very well take things back, for example abortion. Before the women were not in control of themselves, of their bodies, as we say, because of the State, because the State did not want them to be, because there were laws. And not to respect the law is to be an outlaw; to be an outlaw is to be sentenced and thrown in prison. Today, women can be in control of themselves, but the State did not give anything up. Women can be so only thanks to the State. Before it told them, “you can’t”; today it says, “you can.” But it’s not a defeat of the State-controlled machine. Good thing that the abortion law was voted on; no doubt it is not enough… but don’t fool yourselves. It is not a victory over the State-controlled machine nor over the bourgeois morality—it comes from on high, even if, thanks to certain organizations, it doesn’t come solely from on high.

Le Rétif on Their Peace

June 18, 2011

Le Rétif (Victor Serge), Their Peace in L’Anarchie, No. 313, April 6, 1911.

The idea of war is on everybody’s mind nowadays. People are already calling up visions of battlefield horrors, towns on fire, corpses strewn along the roads, decimated regiments and famine and fear in the peaceful cities… Just imagining that a repetition of these sights is possible bewilders and stuns the population. War is beautiful in the stories of Ch. D’Esparbès and the novels of Captaine Danrit. War is glorious in the history books. In reality it is horrible and everyone knows it. The weak and spineless, just thinking about it, are quick to declare their love for peace…
It is a universal song. Insurrectionaries, syndicalists, honest libertarians, radical bourgeois and nationalists all proclaim in unison their unflagging devotion to Peace…
They’re pacifists. Everyone is a pacifist. In the interest of progress, industry, commerce and the arts. Because peace increases the prosperity of the nation. And for a thousand other reasons. For, it is understood that not one of these pacifists would dare say openly: I am an enemy of war because I love life and I value my life.
It is natural. At the heart of pacifism there is neither will nor intelligence; there is only fear and hypocrisy. The sincere are scared. The others, having nothing else in mind but their personal interests, use it without scruples. Therefore, we have to witness this paradoxical picture: while the Peace Congress is being held, the organizers are building armor.
But let’s not sit around putting them on trial. Let’s just mention the large number of friends of peace. They are legion who ask that there be peace in the world. Tolerance and peace! etc. Homais and Tartempion speak of nothing else. And the anarchist who is not captivated by big words wonders: Is peace—their peace—really so beautiful?

We are enjoying it at the moment, so we can examine it at leisure, appreciate it, savor it. Those like Frédéric Passy, Charles Richet and Anatole France have sung its praises to us in different ways. That’s the theory for you. Alas! Down here in the real world, theory and practice are two different things. Peace, as they picture it, is a pretty blonde girl with a big smile… a little silly? They are careful not to show what is hiding behind it: Barracks, Prisons, Hospitals and Whorehouses. Their peace!
But its order, their bloody order, that Thiers reinstated by shooting the federates of the Commune and that Clemenceau supports with the precious pageant of Narbonne cuirassiers and Draveil police. The bourgeoisie peace requires that you respect the established laws for it, that you suffer hunger and oppression for it; and when you transgress their will, they bring back peace with whips, swords and rifles… The social peace condemns the workers for one word or one gesture of disobedience; it imprisons the journalists who speak too freely; it mercilessly hunts down the uncontrollable and stubborn. Under the pacifist bullets the proletariats have fallen many a time. And Ferrer. And so many of ours in Russia or Japan have died on the pacifist gallows!
That’s what is called ‘moral’ or political order.
It is completed by the economic peace. In other words: respect for property, respect for the owner, servility before the rich, honesty. Here are the factories where they kill children, where they destroy people by overwork and sickness. Here are the poor sections of the big cities, areas that reek, where there is a perfect harmony of Alcoholism, Tuberculosis and Syphilis.
And here, right next door, is the Palace of Money, shrewd master that everything bows to. Economic peace! Translate: prostitution, famine, degeneration…
Ah, our wonderful pacifists have got balls when they show us the dreadful account of war. Napoleon (they teach us) cost Europe five million human lives. We would like to know how many lives are sacrificed everyday in their peace!
Let them tell us how many children have been killed in their glass and textile factories in the north. How many workers have been murdered by occupational illness, deprivation—misery? Let them try to show us the account of happiness, of life, of joys peacefully crushed in the institutional gears of Authoritative Capitalism!
We want to judge their peace in full knowledge!

Their peace is as murderous as war. It is a peace of death. It requires as much blood and sweat and human flesh to build the fortunes of Rothschild, Bunau Varilla, Pereire et Cie as it does to make up the empires of the most insane conquerors.
Weren’t there once made little hypocritical wars in which the cowards knocked each other down like traitors? One against all—all against one: that’s the summary of the stupid struggle of men against each other. All the brutalities and social forces have been united against each individual. Public opinion watches him, maliciously. His fellowmen—his competitors—lie in wait for the slightest mistake to jump on him. The laws enslave him; the strongest exploit him; the weakest hate him.
Pitiless war between employees and owners, between the German and French peddlers, between Potin and Damoy, between the red politician and his adversary.
They bad-mouth, they slander, they accuse, under their breath. Then blind Law steps in and destroys the loser. While the winners congratulate themselves with sweet and gentle words.
War, armies in collision, the undisguised, brutal mass murderer, is worse, no doubt. But the peace today is vile, absurd and criminal.
We deny war because we love life deeply. For the same reason we want no more of this peace. On both sides we find ourselves among death even though all our strength, our hopes, our will aspires toward life!
And it is in the name of this—in the name of our life first of all!—that we rebel against the rule of pacifist hypocrisy and warlike brutality. Our existence would be so beautiful if it weren’t for the nefarious stupidity of the masters and slaves!
Therefore, it is in spite of them that from now on we want to make our lives beautiful. Let our revolt tend toward this: to live according to our thoughts, freely, intelligently, fraternally: among ourselves, at least, to establish a true peace that will make us stronger and happier.

Available at The Anarchist Library here

Maurice Vlaminck

June 15, 2011

Maurice Vlaminck from Disobey (1936)

If a new war breaks out, can we still talk without laughing—or crying—about the benefits of education, progress and civilization?

The stagnation in which all the branches of human activity are drowning is not a crisis: it is an outcome, a result.

Progress is senility and death disguised as the future.

The War of 1914 was a cubist war, but the one coming will be surrealist.

To die poisoned by mushrooms or to die on the field of battle? In both cases you reveal your ignorance.

What is dangerous is that man has managed to fly at over 300 miles an hour, but his coefficient of stupidity, selfishness and cruelty stays the same as when he only used his feet to visit his neighbor.

For an individual, the only way to escape from a hopeless situation is suicide. For a nation it is war.

Oh, thanks to engineers and technicians, the world today is swimming in happiness and bliss.

If there’s any overabundance today, it’s not of food, but of assholes.
Incidentally, there’s an overabundance of manufactured objects, cars, bicycles, typewriters, toilet bowls, pots and pans, radios, phonographs, hardware, flashy chrome gadgets, which, after submitting to the laws of escalated production, found no more markets or buyers.
Unsatisfied with not knowing what to do with all these useless items that clutter up modern life, not knowing on whom to foist them, they have decided to increase the salaries of those who make them so that they will continue to make them. Instead of cutting back on production, they stupidly scream and yell about under-consumption!

Disobey progress and civilization. Disobey the trends, snobbism and fickle, contradictory, irrational theories. Disobey the machine! Disobey stupidity! Back off the road that the crowd, the mob is taking. Flee the false, modern mysticism.
Go it alone, all alone. Count on no one and obey only your instincts, the sure laws of nature. Maybe you’ll have a brush with the abyss, but, all things considered, it is no more of a risk than the nice young man buried on the battlefield or elsewhere.
Whether it be in the service of Attila, Charlemagne, Robespierre, Napoleon, Lenin, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, etc… The masses vanish, disappear, anonymous in death.
Only the names of few, hands stained in blood, are graven in stone for eternity.
They print them in books for little children.

Maurice Vlaminck

June 11, 2011

Maurice Vlaminck from Disobey (1936)

Comfortable houses. Escalators. Water, gas, electricity on every floor. Sewers. Subways. Cars. There’s nothing more to do. Everything works by itself. Even thinking! We have the radio and the newspaper: they keep us from thinking and know ahead of time what we have to say. We have our opinions prefabricated, fit to size, like fabric sold by the yard.
We are fed before we have eaten. We arrive without walking. We have love without the pain or pleasure of loving.
We don’t have to pay to laugh. We don’t even know how to cry anymore.
And despite this mechanical, electric life, we are scared to die and talk about happiness.

Why talk about hygiene, about living longer, when modern warfare, instead of the old choleras and plagues, makes millions of us disappear?

What is more boring and sadder to see than a breeding ground where all the trees are of the same species, lined up in parallel rows? But what beauty, what grandeur does a forest emanate! The implacable injustice that comes out of it represents a sovereign truth.

The League of Nations. The Conference on Disarmament: a team of engineers and technicians who imagine that by bolting a cover on this huge cauldron we call the World, it won’t blow up, even if they leave it burning in the inferno of factories.

A European war would certainly spell the end of western civilization. A war is not desirable, of course! But the end of this mechanized civilization with all the degradation it carries, wouldn’t it be a benefit for Man?

In times of slavery, the captives aspired to be free. In 1936, age of progress and science, all that men hope for is the right to be shut up for 40 hours a week to work like an idiot!

André Caroff

June 1, 2011

Miss Atomos by André Caroff (tr. by Michael Shreve with an Introduction by J.-M. Lofficier) includes Madame Atomos Strikes at the Head and Miss Atomos, as well as The Butterfly Files (short story by J. Altairac & J.-L. Rivera)

Madame Atomos giggled. “The girl is my daughter in mind. She is smarter, more terrifying and more ambitious than I… I wanted to bring down the United States… Miss Atomos wants the world! In two or three months when I’m rotting in the ground, Miss Atomos will attack humanity… Fear will reign on the planet; babies will be born blind, deformed… It will be agonizing, Mr. Beffort… Agonizing!”

After the defeat of her offensive against California, the sinister Madame Atomos unleashes an even deadlier threat — the diabolical Miss Atomos!

Miss Atomos at Black Coat Press

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