What can be done?

By Timothy Schatz May 15, 2020

By Timothy Schatz

May 15, 2020

COVID-19 has accelerated capital’s self-destructive tendencies. Its delicate arrangements have come crashing down as it turns to auto-cannibalization. Yet now is not the time for idle distractions or premature celebration:  rather, now is the time for thinking. We have to thank the virus for combining the myriad of disparate crises into a single, raging torrent, for in doing so it has re-revealed a truth often forgotten: the state is not our ally.

Under normal operations leftist organizations let their energies flow into the state, and with that goes any liberatory potential. For the state has been made into the auxiliary organ of capital, and will continue to be so for as long as capitalism remains the mode of production. As such, the constant begging for scraps and calls for state intervention are not the means to liberation, rather they are counter to the goal. Our liberation is not, and cannot be, based on the whims of a master. As such, petitioning, protesting, general spectacles, and other common activist modes cannot be our means any longer. Yet the question must be asked (and answered) what is to be done?

As revealed through corona, it is clear that we are woefully underprepared, not just for the virus but in general. If the Eugene Left, and the Left in general, is to have any liberatory ambition, they must seek the means of revolution, that is, the means of war. However, getting to that point in which we could be prepared is not a simple procedure. Historically the left has found its material power in working class movements, such as the  networks of communes and co-ops unified under the Bolsheviks, or the similar arrangements in 1930’s Catalonia. As it stands today,  the class war has not yet reached the needed level of maturation, here nor anywhere else. It therefore remains an open question: what can be done now? What lines of actions can we open alongside labour organizing?

Yet matter remains open as to where and how these power sources can be built, and they must be built, for radicalized labour is far from an ideal state. It would seem obvious to turn to the city, for the city is the loci of production under capitalism. Yet the city (in our case the town) has already been enclosed; that is, there is little to no space, both in the literal sense and as in surplus resources. As such, it comes at a high premium. But, here in the PNW, we are far from lacking cheap space, in fact we are drowning in it. Here lies my suggestion for what can be done: a return to the forests. However, it is important to understand that this suggestion is not a call to turn away from the world, rather it is the re-appropriation of space and time through hijacking the contradiction of the commodity form and the subsequent transmutation of standing reserve into the means of war.

Capitalism, in accordance with its logic, has already reduced the earth to a mere standing reserve; however, there is time between the transmutation of the (actual) standing reserve into objects of consumption. Here our forests stand. The forests can be bought and traded, yet they maintain to be an actual forest until loggers have cut down the trees. But the commodity form views the forest as mere cubic yards of lumber while it is in fact not that but is only potentially that once it has been cut down, thus is the contradiction. Capitalism has flattened the dimensionality of the world such that their being is only that of a commodity, i.e. for capital objects are always already worth an amount of money and are qualitatively identical. The history of the last approximately 400 years has been the bloody process by which the entire planet has been commodified, from land, to people, to ideas. Here we can identify the means of liberation: the end of the enclosement. 

The techno-capital city is a machine of blood and oil. Capital needs its machines and labourers to be concentrated, as concentration breeds higher profit. Machinic production propagates in the city as competition drives out the weaker capitalists. And at the same time it needs the land, which was (and is) the site of material wealth by which the vast riches of industrialization flow forth. As such the land was depopulated and people were forced into the cities out of material necessity. This process of encoursure was not bloodless, for it was (and is) the process of primitive accumulation in which humans were taken from nature enslavement and coercion. Yet we are not separated from nature. Rather, we have merely thought that we are, for we are beings in nature and are so are a part of  nature in communion with the rest of life and inanimate matter. As such, as many if not all of us know, our actions affect the planet in a way which we are not immune from. Yet here is the path back into nature which shall give us the means of war.

In being part of nature we are nature made self-conscious, and so we are given the opportunity to take nature’s adaptability beyond the biosphere and into the noosphere. We can act on the side of the rest of nature against the onslaught of capitalism. The realm of the biosphere is more adaptable than the geosphere, yet it is not fast enough in reacting to itself.  Life, as part of nature, responds to natural crises, both biological and geological, on the level of a generation. However, Capital is a crisis of the noosphere, and requires meeting it on that level. In this way, capitalism has prepared the landscape for experimentation, that is, the space and time for an explosion of noetic evolution. The forest, which appears as standing reserve for capitalism, is in fact the space for radical new possibilities which can break out into capitalism from within itself. Yet the space has a finite amount of time before it genuinely becomes x  cubic yards of lumber. Perhaps then corona is a blessing in disguise. All in all, it is in this sense we must return to forests as the loci of not the means of mere reproduction but the means of war.

This is the first of a series of essays by Timothy Schatz.

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