The publication of “Iron Fist” in late 2001 was a milestone for me. Larry Gambone’s decision to publish it as a Red Lion Press pamphlet was an honor, and was the main thing that kicked off my career as a published writer (as opposed to the kind who writes angry letters to the editor and unpublishable manuscripts, which is what I did before). And now I’m equally honored by the translation of my first published pamphlet into Portuguese.
I finished the final draft and sent it to Larry a week or two before the 9/11 attacks, so my memories of the heady feeling of making it into print publication are mixed up with my memories of the post-9/11 atmosphere. The Seattle anti-WTO demonstrations in December 1998 and the subsequent protests against neoliberalism had filled me with a sense of possibility and hope (which, oddly enough, I associate with the last scene in The Matrix, where Neo announces his intention to challenge the false consciousness of virtual reality with the promise of a “world without limits). I’d first gone online the year before and discovered the Voluntary Cooperation Movement of Gambone, Dick Martin, Ed Stamm et al, along with a wide range of other anarchist, anarcho-syndicalist and libertarian leftist movements, and experienced the radical new possibilities of the Web. My elation was only reinforced by the news that I would soon be in print.
It was against that background that I woke up on a Tuesday September morning, prepared to enjoy a day off during the first real cool front of the Fall, and learned of the attack on the first tower. Younger and possessing a bit more bravado in those days, I saw myself as caught up in the beginning of a long-term conflict of world-historic proportions, between a dying system and its successor. Just how much carnage the old system would wreak on its way down, and how long the period of transition would last, I had no idea. But I figured — rightly it turns out — that it would involve a large expansion both of US military aggression overseas and of the national security state at home. Fearing the possibility of the gains of the post-Seattle period being destroyed by repression and public reaction, I wondered if we were headed into a long-term period of retrenchment and dormancy for the Left, like Jack London’s Iron Heel.
Now, thirteen years later, I can say I’m even more optimistic and exhilarated by the unfolding possibilities than I was before 9/11. We’ve seen the rapid proliferation and cheapening of the kinds of small-scale production technologies in micromanufacturing, horticulture and information that will be the building blocks of a new society outside the old corporate framework — the basis for the kind of “Exodus” that autonomists like Hardt and Negri have written about. And we’ve seen a new arc of networked resistance movements — the file-sharing movement, Anonymous, Wikileaks, the Arab Spring, M15, Occupy and its successors — that have built exponentially on the earlier contributions of the Zapatistas and the post-Seattle movement.
Erick Vasconcelos, the translator, asked me especially to make some remarks on the Third World. A little over a year before I wrote “Iron Fist,” I’d started reading Noam Chomsky, William Blum and Gabriel Kolko on the real history of Empire since WWII, and on the older colonial systems of power that preceded it. Although I’d assimilated some of these lessons and incorporated them into “Iron Fist,” if I could do one thing differently in writing it today it would be to integrate the history of robbery and exploitation in the West more explicitly into the larger context of colonial and neocolonial exploitation in the Third World, and devote more attention to the latter. I would have focused far more on the continuity of transnational corporate rule with older forms of imperialism and colonialism. I have since done so to a considerable extent in Chapter Seven of Studies in Mutualist Economy, which you can still find online at my old Mutualist.Org website.
And since this is likely to be read mainly by a Brazilian readership, I should probably add a few remarks directed primarily toward you. As overjoyed as I was to see Argentina, Brazil, and the rest of South America swept by avowedly anti-neoliberal regimes, that would no longer roll over for American power, it has been a great disappointment to see Lula’s Workers’ Party in power succumb to the same top-down, authoritarian tendencies that have characterized every other party of the Left once it has come to power. The same pattern Orwell observed in Spain, and Murray Bookchin described more generally in the revolutions of the 20th century in The Third Revolution, have been repeated in Brazil. The war of enclosure and demolition against favela dwellers (especially as it was done for the World Cup), the brutal attempts to “sanitize” the streets of homeless people, the war on street vendors — all of these actions, of the sort that would be associated with a stereotypical right-wing dictator, are utterly sickening from a governing body that presumes to call itself the “Workers’ Party.”
Finally, let me say how happy I am that C4SS’s Portuguese language readers are the world’s fastest-growing readership for our material. I thank Erick (as well as Murilo Leme, who has also done considerable translation) for his efforts in translating not only this pamphlet but many C4SS columns and articles. Thanks to all of you for your interest and support!
$2.00 for the first copy. $1.50 for every additional copy.
This essay, originally published by Red Lion Press in 2001, was one of Carson’s first ground-breaking contributions to the revival of Mutualist ideas within today’s anarchist and libertarian milieus. It has been re-issued in a beautiful new printing by ALL Distro.
“Manorialism commonly, is recognized to have been founded by robbery and usurpation; a ruling class established itself by force, and then compelled the peasantry to work for the profit of their lords. But no system of exploitation, including capitalism, has ever been created by the action of a free market. Capitalism was founded on an act of robbery as massive as feudalism. It has been sustained to the present by continual state intervention to protect its system of privilege, without which its survival is unimaginable.
“The current structure of capital ownership and organization of production in our so-called ‘market’ economy, reflects coercive state intervention prior to and extraneous to the market. From the outset of the industrial revolution, what is nostalgically called ‘laissez-faire’ was in fact a system of continuing state intervention to subsidize accumulation, guarantee privilege, and maintain work discipline.
“A world in which peasants had held onto their land and property was widely distributed, capital was freely available to laborers through mutual banks, productive technology was freely available in every country without patents, and every people was free to develop locally without colonial robbery, is beyond our imagination. But it would have been a world of decentralized, small-scale production for local use, owned and controlled by those who did the work — as different from our world as day from night, or freedom from slavery. . . .”