V is for Vengeance
"Good evening, London. I would introduce myself, but truth to tell, I do not have a name. You can call me 'V'. Since Mankind's dawn, a handful of oppressors have accepted the responsibility over our lives that we should have accepted for ourselves. By doing so, they took our power. By doing nothing, we gave it away. We've seen where their way leads, through camps and wars, towards the slaughterhouse. In anarchy there is another way. With anarchy, from rubble comes new life, hope reinstated. They say anarchy's dead, but see... reports of my death were exaggerated... Tonight you must choose what comes next, lives of our own or a return to chains. Choose carefully. And so adieu."
This is a speech from near the end of Alan Moore and David Lloyd's story of anarchism and fascism, V for Vendetta. In that speech "V" presents the people of London at large with their options. These options are a life of imposed conditions and forceful oppression or the freedom and responsibility of deciding their own conditions of life. No other choice is given and it seems to be assumed that if the people don't make the choice to break their chains and live without them then surely the oppressive forces will make sure that they remain. This is a speech that has always stuck with me ever since I first read V for Vendetta as well as the climax to the second part of the book in which V incarcerates and tortures Evey Hammond in order to bring her to the point of freedom in which she breaks her own intellectual and moral chains to perceive beyond the mainstream, indoctrinated world to a world of personal freedom and responsibility. [V did it because, as he said, he loved her.]
As I look out upon the world we all live in today, the choice V puts before the people of London seems to be our choice too. We are in a world now increasingly aware of the situation it is in and this is despite the fact that pretty much all media are owned by those committed to the model of human relationships that is destroying it: capitalism. This capitalism, powered by the vast exploitation of things and people thought of as nothing but "resources", destroys increasing proportions of the planet in order to make things to sell to the richest of us whilst, at the same time, threatening to tip the whole planet over the edge of a climate catastrophe which will kill hundreds of millions of us directly. Even in this very [Northern Hemisphere] summer of 2022 hundreds of new temperature records have been set and the promise is only of more and more with increasing regularity. Even if you take the duplicitous view that "its not our fault" surely anyone who actually cared about this trend would want to do something about it? I myself saved a man from committing suicide this summer, the intolerable heat having pushed him over the edge in regard to the hell he was expected to live which some call "life", and so know first hand how extreme heat can affect people.
Let us look at our world with open eyes. I write from Western Europe so my views will be tainted by what I see from here but you will be able to fill in the blanks from your own locations too. We have seen, in the 21st century, increasing polarisation of views. Politics, in general, has taken a huge swing to the right such that now, in many countries, its only a choice between neoliberal capitalist nationalists with different coloured rosettes. Police forces and the militaries of many countries now have openly Nazi members, some of whom are so bold as to post photos of themselves being Nazis or white supremacists on social media. Occasionally, snippets of media messages between such people become public and "we" are horrified that this could be allowed to happen. But of course this can be allowed to happen because mainstream governments everywhere have become right wing. Nationalism is now good again. Capitalism, and being the rich and powerful ones, is all the rage. We are in the middle of a war between Ukraine and Russia because people want access to resources and the USA, the overriding power of the age, the only country on earth with military bases in dozens of countries and on every continent, can be mocked on film as "world police" while, actually, they function more as a world tyrant it is dangerous to cross [as many African countries know to their cost as their arm is held up their back in order to make sure their politicians give Americans access to all those "resources" they want to profit from - such as minerals and child labour].
But its not just a matter of geopolitics, capitalism, nationalism or resurgent fascism. There are a plethora of other issues which might seem distinct from these things but which are actually allied. For example, as I write this I've just been reading about the case of a British woman who has taken away her 13 year old child's access to social media and cut them off from their friends because she, a gender critical mother, thinks they might be being influenced by friends or media that are trans-positive. In her tweets she accuses trans of being a dogma but, I wonder, who has ever punished a child in this way in order to force them to be trans? No one, of course. What shows that trans is not a dogma is that no one is forcing anyone to become it or even really to believe anything a trans person might say. Most trans people by far simply want to be left alone to live their lives as themselves. It doesn't occur to them to "make people trans" for being trans is not an ideology in which the aim is to make people the same. Being gender critical, however, cannot say the same thing. Its fanatics will incarcerate their children and brag about it in public, they will use the law to try and actively harm other people and take away things providing for their needs. No trans person has ever used these means on GC opponents. The same people who in America want to disadvantage trans people also are strongly against abortion and birth control rights for women [and share a strangely monotone profile as white conservatives]. In fact, what we have here is a convergence of actually similar beliefs for capitalists, nationalists, fascists, gender critics, anti-abortionists, conservative Christians and others all share one thing in common: they want to create a static world with a fixed set of rules and principles. They want the world, politically and morally speaking, to get stuck in an authoritarian form of their choosing.
What they want, then, is what Norsefire wanted in V for Vendetta, a world where the world will be how they want it to be and, if anyone dissents, some appropriate punishment must be meted out like imprisonment, a resettlement camp, or maybe even their death. In the world today, it seems to me, things really are coming to a head between the fascists and the anarchists [as I shall term them in a shorthand way for argument's sake] for its a matter of if you are on the side of all those people who want the world to be a certain way, our way, or if you want people to be able to change things for themselves and have the freedom of speech and practice to be able to make a difference. Put another way, we might ask: do you want people to have the freedom to change things and affect their lives materially as they wish or do you want things to be imposed upon you by force? The fascists, for whether capitalist, neoliberal, anti-abortionist, racist or gender critic that's what you are in the end, simply want to impose things on you and the marker of that is that they use force to try and erase you - while complaining that, actually, the world is really against them. [Fascists, as Umberto Eco once said in his famous article about fascism, always need an enemy.] The anarchists simply want freedom from coercion and control so that they [and, actually, anyone else!] can live their lives in peace. To this end, they also want vast centralised capitalist and neoliberal political institutions that can coerce anybody broken up, all the better to encourage creative freedom. The freedom-loving people of the world don't want to coerce you to their beliefs or make you do things you don't want to do. They want people to be free to live their own lives and to associate, or not associate, with whoever they want. The fascist, however, cannot see that. They think that the anarchists are the mirror image of themselves - nasty, vituperative bullies - when they are not!
So the choice is between people who want freedom, in one form or another, and those who want coercion, in one form or another. Its between those who want to lock you into a societal prison and those who want to let you out of one. This metaphor of the "societal prison", the panopticon Jeremy Bentham theorised and Michel Foucault discussed in his own work analysing discipline and punishment, is one that I have started using a lot in the last few months. Society is really, now, one vast global prison. Oh, for sure, you might not feel as equally incarcerated in different parts of it and, of course, depending on who you are, what you look like, what you've got and who your friends are, but that's really what it is. Just try crossing a border, for example, to see how actually, physically, materially, incarcerated you really are. People, these days, can't go where they like. There are places, in fact, they might not be allowed to go at all. Ever. Some authority, somewhere, might have entered into a computer that you are undesirable or not welcome [as is true in my case although, these days, I have long since stopped using that particular tracking device known as a passport and simply cross whatever borders I need to surreptitiously] or you might just have a face, nationality or skin colour that doesn't fit. Its time to realise that the world is a prison and you live in it.
I am used to calling this prison "authoritarian capitalism". Capitalism is the philosophy of exploiting everything so that someone [almost certainly not you] can get rich. It is a philosophy which requires a mass of exploitable [societally imprisoned] poor and makes an increasingly powerful few rich. It is, thus, the best way human beings have yet discovered to create vast, systematic inequality. I wonder why presidents and prime ministers love it? At the same time, "authoritarianism" is the belief that people need to be led and, even more than this, they need to be forced to do the things the leader or leaders have decided is the thing to do. These days the authoritarians hide behind a rhetoric of "democracy" but this is, of course, total bullshit as, most of the time, these same people are working behind the scenes to deprive the imagined democracy of any real meaning or effects. [America's hideously and laughably obvious gerrymandered "democracy" is only the most obvious example of this.] We can't, after all, have an election in which there is an actual choice and authoritarian capitalism might lose. So everything is fixed to make sure it can't in a "heads I win, tails you lose" kind of scenario. The prison walls are thus reinforced by the very methods we are told to imagine they are destroyed by. Everybody is being played for a fool as the powerful piss down your back and tell you its raining.
Perhaps the fact that we now live in the era of crisis after crisis is also relevant to this controlling, exploiting agenda? These days, in several countries I habitually scan the media of, we are told daily there's a food crisis, a cost of living crisis, an energy crisis, a climate crisis. The source of all these crises is actually just the same thing though: capitalism, acquisition, desire for private possession and control. Capitalism, as I have already intimated, is simply a philosophy of authoritarian control of resources and privatisation of the profits from selling the things you have captured, coerced and exploited. Private profit, not provision of needs, stealing not sharing, is the point of capitalism and politicians make laws that privilege this destructive ideology so that its needs are put above the lives of real, existing people. The politics of capitalism, which grew hand in hand with it, exists to make people rich and powerful whilst keeping the mass incarcerated and dependent on a system, the prison system they've been trapped in, that is out of their hands [and must absolutely be kept that way as Jeremy Corbyn found out to his cost in the UK]. This mass is kept in slave jobs [or kept begging for a slave job] for minimal wages [they'd make you work for nothing if they could] in a system to which they are chained so that they can't just ignore it. Such capitalism, everywhere, is exploitation, hierarchy, coercion, control, force. It encourages those with responsibility within any system of human relationships to regard you, your family, friends, and neighbours, as mere impediments to getting rich quick or obtaining the means and power to do so. It operates, technocratically, by occupying the territory you live in and by occupying minds [not least through screens that you never take out of your hands even as you walk down the street] so that you literally can't imagine any other way to live. As I said above, such mentalities are all about making sure that morally, intellectually, politically, socially and economically, THINGS GET STUCK.
So, yes, in the era of crisis after crisis, we certainly have a crisis but the crisis isn't what we are being told it is today [from women who want birth control to kids saying they are trans to immigrants who simply want to remain alive to workers who want to be paid enough to live]: the crisis we, all of us, have is one of AUTHORITARIAN CONTROL, our systematic exploitation, that mentality which says the only way to live is setting things in stone [how we want] and forcing everyone else to submit to it, being in the societal prison I previously described. The antidote to this, so the anarchists tell the fascists and anyone else who will listen to them, is the ability to change our lives, real freedoms, actual democratic associations with others, a genuine freedom of association itself, bona fide autonomy and agency for ourselves and others. Such people say that if "liberty" is to be a word anyone can use with a straight face then it must have consequences and be actually demonstrable in the lives of everyone, it must tend to destroy and destruct any system which wants to coerce and control in general. And so the crisis, the real crisis, is actually that this thing we all need, genuine freedom of this kind, is the very thing that all the capitalists and nationalists and fascists and anti-abortionists and racists and gender critics and authoritarian religionists don't want anyone to have: real freedom to affect, decide and maintain your own life exactly as you want to.
Things, I imagine, are coming to a head. The problem with being in a prison is that, sooner or later, you bang up against locked doors and barred windows and you notice that your freedom of movement, intellectual as well as actual, is severely restricted. Of course, those who run this prison try to distract us with Netflix specials by millionaire comedians who utilise material aimed to divide us, endless computer games in which we can shoot people in the face just for being there and a never-ending supply of other "entertainments" aimed to distract us in "virtual" worlds - all the better to keep is from affecting the real one to any real purpose. The rulers of this earth want everyone tame, narcotised, asleep, passive, under control. Waste your time in your prison cell how you like, spend all day jerking off to free Internet porn, just don't step outside, see what's really going on, and want - much less act - to change anything. Indifference, indolence, acquiescence, collaboration are all fine for the rich and powerful. By all means even fight amongst yourselves [in endless online flame wars or battles of gesture politics] provided you don't recognise, and target, the real enemy: those who [want to] control, shape and manipulate the masses, the ones who utilise a system made to imprison and control for their own benefit. Be assured, the bosses of power companies and multi-national corporate CEOs of food companies don't give a fuck whether you live or die. They just want imprisoned customers for their products. The politicians are there to see they get them... by whatever coercion or control is necessary.
What are we to do about this? This is a serious issue when the vast majority of even the anarchists are, frankly speaking, abject cowards who have developed a strong affinity for their physical and mental prison surroundings. My namesake, Emma Goldman [who had teeth knocked out by cops amongst other indignities], did not like cowards - judging them worthless to their ideas - and I have no affinity for cowards either. If you're already incarcerated in a maximum security prison, your life planned out for you as something to be exploited by people who don't give a fuck whether you live or die, what have you got to lose by trying to break out of that prison, perhaps with others in the same shit situation you yourself are already in? Might it, perhaps, take you away from watching anodyne superhero movies in which a corporate conglomerate, Disney, who has ransacked the world's cultural landscape so that it basically controls it itself, can sell you stories about "freedom" that aren't actually about freedom at all and, what's more, shackle you to its corporate teat even in the act of doing it? The real freedom you should be concerned with is about what goes on outside not what happens in your bedroom as you masturbate furiously to Guardians of the Galaxy. Whilst you graze your life away to a never-ending stream of entertainment provided for your pacification, people are starving, freezing and being purposefully pushed and gaslighted to their deaths.
It actually really shocks me how few people genuinely do anything about that. Face facts: if you live in any city in the world someone, somewhere, is hungry, thirsty, sick, homeless, etc. That, in itself, is bad enough. But then consider that this person has to live knowing that a percentage high in the 90s probably doesn't give a fuck. And by "give a fuck" I mean enough to actually do anything - which is the only giving a fuck that actually matters. [No, it makes little difference how much you tweeted about that shit. We are talking about affecting lives here not some ideological debate.] Such people become marks on the landscape we screen out - and are manipulated to screen out. They are people who are not playing the game of capitalist society as they should and they should be punished for that. You don't want to be associated with them, much less help them, lest you be tainted by the "infection" they have been imputed with. Stay away from them lest you become like them, that's what we are insidiously taught. Helping them often becomes a crime in itself to heighten the risk to ourselves should we deign to care.
So what do we do? V gave us our answer right at the head of this essay. We should take back our freedom. We should refuse the chains and the prison cells EVEN AT COST OF OUR LIVES. We should attack. Haven't we been imprisoned enough? Haven't we been capitalisted to death enough? Aren't child labourers digging minerals out of African earth so you can have batteries in your devices enough? Aren't energy companies who have hijacked the means of power generation for enormous profits enough? Isn't making you beg for health care enough? Isn't government of and for the rich enough? Isn't perpetual culture wars against sexual, gender and race minorities enough? Isn't wars of nationality when we are all the same species enough? They took our power, said V, but by doing nothing, they add, we also gave it away. WE NEED TO TAKE IT BACK! We need to avenge the 300 year capitalist vendetta against the poor and say that V is no longer for Vendetta: V IS FOR VENGEANCE! V is for freedom and not fascism, it is for anarchy and not centralised control and a static society of do as you're told. V's ideal in V for Vendetta was "the land of do as you please" and that is the land we anarchists want. But if we must have our vengeance against every fascist and fascist-adjacent collaborator to do it [the one who is not with us is against us] then that is what we must do! No longer must things get stuck as the controlling [of whatever flavour or kind] try to make sure nothing can ever change. Hereafter, we must be committed to creating new cultures that respect our freedom and that flourish in whatever ways their creators want them to. The biggest anarchy we know of, nature itself, exists and flourishes without anyone controlling it - it just proliferates, however it can, all by itself [utilising considerable amounts of mutual aid, I might add!]. That which we seek can and should too.
"But what about the innocent?" I am asked on social media when mentioning this. "I don't want to hurt anybody." Don't you? Because there are plenty who will hurt you if it gives them a leg up. This brings me, in closing, to the case of the French anarchist bomb thrower, Émile Henry. Henry threw a bomb in the Paris Cafe Terminus on 12th February 1894 and was put to death by the French state on 21st May 1894 for the same crime. [The French President, Marie François Sadi Carnot, was subsequently stabbed to death by the Italian anarchist, Sante Caserio, on 21st June 1894 to avenge both the death of Henry and that of another anarchist put to death for bomb throwing, the Frenchman Auguste Vaillant, who threw a very under-powered bomb in the French Chamber of Deputies.] One of the reasons Henry threw his bomb in a cafe was because he imagined that the bourgeois IN GENERAL were responsible for the political and social state of society [on reasoning that, on the face of it, seems very much like that of V in V for Vendetta, i.e. if you give up your power voluntarily then you are to blame, at least by participation and association, for what results]. Henry, in effect, wanted to implicate EVERYBODY in the society they share in common. There is no hiding place, there are no innocents, when what goes on quite plainly is, in fact, going on in front of your face.
I must admit that I have a degree of sympathy with Henry's reasoning. It is easy to point out the obvious bad guys. They bear the guilt and responsibility they bear but its Mr and Mrs Ordinary, replicated by a few billions in their cowered cowardice, that allow these people to continue. These are the willing prisoners that don't want to escape from the prison [should they even realise they are in one] and who will actively stop others from trying to escape and collaborate with the Warden and the guards retained to keep the inmates relatively passive. These people, suggests Émile Henry, are our enemies too and, in his post arrest speeches and addresses, few that they are, he makes it plain that, as a result, he meant to kill them too when he threw his bomb. In his trial address he even references "the merciless war that we [i.e. the anarchists] have declared on the bourgeoisie". He realises he [and any who come after him] might face death of their own for this but, so Henry's reasoning goes, what else are anarchists to do? Acquiesce? Give in? Collaborate? Admit that their values are an unrealisable figment of the anarchist imagination? Of his anarchism Henry says: "Its roots go deep: it spouts from the bosom of a rotten society that is falling apart; it is a violent backlash against the established order; it stands for the aspirations to equality and liberty which have entered the lists against the current authoritarianism. It is everywhere. That is what makes it indomitable, and it will end by defeating you and killing you." V is for Vengeance!
Yet Henry was not a violent man and the reasons he gives for his violence are of the need to answer, to rebut, deliberately pursued injustice. He says: "I had been told that society’s institutions were founded on justice and equality, and all around me I could see nothing but lies and treachery. Everyday I was disabused further. Everywhere I went, I witnessed the same pain in some, the same delights in others. It did not take me long to realize that the same great words that I had been raised to venerate: honour, devotion, duty were merely a mask hiding the most shameful turpitude." Émile Henry was a morally outraged man when he built and threw his bombs and he acted out of and from that outrage. What else are those outraged by what passes today for "civilization" to do? Shrug their shoulders? Pass it off as "things which are happening to other people" and which we, hopefully, will mostly avoid? Henry was one who could not do that and he paid the price of his own life gladly for his actions. What he could not do was sit in the prison cell, aware of the daily outrages against the vast majority of the prisoners, and do NOTHING. In that, he was entirely right, a true anarchist. V is for Vengeance!
Yet I do not tell you to shoot. I do not tell you to bomb. I do not tell you to kill. I am an anarchist so I say you will tell yourself what it is you have to do. But do something. We can abdicate responsibility no longer and must choose between fascism that wants to control and coerce or anarchism that wants to see free. We are anarchists so we must act. V is for Vengeance!
[This piece was written by Anarqxista Goldman, a European anarchist writer and activist of some years standing who currently lives in the south of the continent in an anarchist commune dubbed "The Nude House" with six others committed to a version of Émile Armand's "amorous camaraderie" which is both egoist and anarchist in action and intent. You will find all of Anarqxista's anarchist books and essays on The Anarchist Library where their vision of an egoist, insurrectionary anarchism of things in common that relies on people utilising their autonomy, agency and free association is explained much more fully. Anarqxista's anarchism is an anarchism of "free spirits" and it is their belief that it is only such as these that will ever be in any position to achieve it by their own direct action.]