In 1880, La Revue socialiste asked an aging Karl Marx to draft a questionnaire to be circulated among the French working class. Called “A Workers’ Inquiry,” it was a list of exactly 101 detailed questions, inquiring about everything from meal times to wages to lodging.
When Perry Anderson wrote in 1976 that “Western Marxism” could be considered a “product of defeat,” he was referring to the catastrophes and betrayals that framed the period from 1924 to 1968. In retrospect, this seems like foreshadowing. The intervening decades have seen not simply a defeat for the workers’ movement but its total dissolution – the collapse of the institutions that once made it an undeniable social force, and the rollback of the reforms it had won from the state. In our situation it has become difficult to say what “Marxism” really is, what distinguishes it as a theory, and why it matters. But this is by no means a new question. And of all the definitions and redefinitions of Marxism, Louis Althusser’s were perhaps the most controversial. In 1982, just before François Mitterrand’s turn to austerity, Althusser began to draft a “theoretical balance sheet.” He wrote “Definitive” on the manuscript, and never published it.
Long before the Haymarket Massacre, May Day represented a time of transition. Winter had receded; in anticipation of the wealth of summer, the people opted for leisure over work. The holiday shifted from “green” to “red” when leisure was attacked, work violently imposed, and wealth expropriated. May Day 2012 was another kind of transition – to what, nobody knows.
“Don’t fuck with the Oakland Commune.” Words which will live forever in history, to be remembered and repeated at every glorious defeat inflicted upon the heroes of the future by mayors, police officers, unions, churches, and children. A letter, signed by the Occupy Oakland Move-In Assembly, promised to respond to the inevitable eviction of an illegal building occupation by “blockading the airport indefinitely.” Tactics only dreamed of by al-Qaeda, within the reach of Occupy Oakland after just four months. Yesterday these words were at the center of a material practice which brought our movement up against its limits.
There were no broken windows. So that particular liberal defense is off the table. Those who have decided to side with the state instead of this new and radical social movement will find that it is now their illusions that have been shattered.