Thursday 2 December 2010

The Virtue of Torment

from Revolutionary Solidarity, Elephant Editions

La virtù del supplizio, “Anarchismo” n. 74

Aldo Perego

Prison, a physical territory distinct and separate from the rest of social life and what it represents and determines, seems to occupy a reserved space in our thoughts and minds.

The law is a concentrate of the way society has chosen to regulate its conflicts (by force and through image), whereas prison sums up what directly crushes and oppresses us. For us it is a question of understanding how and where one can act to put an end to all the filth of survival, including facing the problem of the destruction of prison and the law. And in order to put an end to the law it is also essential to stop thinking and talking in its language, that normally used to denounce the “abuses” of power. By so doing we certainly don't want to contest the prisoner's possibility to demand to be treated properly when tormented by the screw. But by shutting oneself up in particular wrongs (the screw's abuses) without considering the monstruosity of the very existence of prison, the prisoner finds himself drawn into a perverse accountancy: what does it mean to ask for the right to be treated properly? Would any individual whatsoever not prefer not to be treated at all?

The other side of the law

Law as the right of an individual to obtain or do such and such a thing, or as a whole including texts and legal practices. The latter apparently include and guarantee the former. So the democratic procedure always consists of padding out law with the rights of man, whereas any law we might benefit from is itself a dispossession, a search for ourselves in something other than ourselves. But what do laws define? Freedom conceived of only in negative terms: “my freedom ends where another's begins”. A vision of the individual as a territory limited by others, a vision of small proprietors, precursors of the famous “my body belongs to me”. It is not by chance that the temporal dimension, a fundamental human value, is lacking in these concepts.

Every right is by nature both a principle and a practical means of exclusion and privation. Whoever says right says exchange, because the law is these to organise a measured repartition of rights and duties and, in the case of damage, it prescribes the amount of compensation. A right always belongs to a miserable proprietor, because he needs a property title for something he is afraid of losing or that could be taken from him. Law is always aimed at governing a community which is incapable of living as such, in order for it not explode completely.

Law is also an ideology: a mental and rational construction that serves to justify the real social function of justice.

Today law is a precise quantifiying coded instrument which determines and points out what each individual, including each civil servant, must do. The police are held to respect very severe regulations and at the Same time they are continually having to break them in order to function. Legal control of their work is a fake: everyone knows the pig uses particular techniques in order to function and to exert pressure, which judges nearly always close a eye to. No matter whether it is applied to the investigator or the common citizen, the law does not prevent excesses, it merely keeps them within reasonable limits so as not to put the social order and institutions at risk. In the same way a prison sentence serves to circumscribe the revenge of the injured party by keeping it within the Limits that have been established and applied by a third party “above the party”, as all societies dispose of norms to allow those in power to regulate their arguments, legitimize their power and obtain the consensus of the exploited.

The Bible does not define, it lists, justifying such an operation with the unknowable and inscrutable divine will concerning what one should and shouldn't do. The modern era also supplies a definition of man on which to organise its social rules. The same goes for the law, with the pretext of establishing what is right and what is wrong. Hence the classification into good and bad. Innocence and guilt are attributes of the legal mechanism as they contain a judgement (which the person concerned is heartily invited to interiorise). Now, to understand and live the crudest acts (rape, murder, torture) does not mean to judge them. Whoever sits in judgement is action in the name of something that goes beyond the social relations which determined these same acts.

Precisely in the Same way as morals do in interpersonal relations, the law applies a pre-established norm to a conflict or violence to solemnize the trauma, defining it in order to exorcise it. In this logic it is necessary for there to be a guilty party, not just someone responsible as guilt penetrates the guilty, becoming their whole being. This is complete when the law claims to judge not only action but the whole person in the light of their action, reinforced with an analysis of the motivations, psychiatric reports and personality tests.

The law and Democracy

The sphere of State control is extending as rights increase, as it is necessary to have them respected and to sanction transgressions. The tendency of democratic society is to penalise everything. It has a clause and a punishment for every form of violence from the slap of the parent to rape. The extension of rights is synonymous with generalised criminalisation. It is claimed that violence has been banished from all social relations. But that reinforces the monopoly of violence that has been “legitimised” by the State, which is infinitely worse than any other kind. The law does not eliminate violence, it normalises it. Like democracy, it constitutes a filter to intolerance and violence alike.

Like democracy, the law functions on the basis of reason without having recourse to force. But for this reason brute force is also necessary in order for it to express itself, for any discussion to take place on its own terms. In the Same way democracy bases itself on the refusal of the violence it has generated and which it needs in order to perpetuate itself.

And so this filter also affects radical action, when it enters a court for example, rendering it incapable of proposing anything other that what is acceptable to the law. However, that is not a reason for not acting, or for regretting having acted, but rather for doing it knowingly: no revolutionary intervention can exist within the ambit of the law. The legal apparatus separates the accused from the discussions that concern him by delegating his power, as is continually done in democracy, to a few of its representatives: in this case to lawyers.

The worst thing is that, because the trial is public, one is convinced one is controlling the law, whereas it is really the law that is controlling the public. The Image that comes from the court carries an essential, hypnotically repeated message: violence is the monopoly of the State. And when conflicts between parties lead to confusion and uncertainty it is the State that sorts things out: “I also have a monopoly of truth”. The trilogy “police-justice-media” must therefore be analysed as a whole. Even if the game between the three partners overturns it is still able to absorb any scandal. There is a scandal when it transpires that someone has broken the rules: but such an accusation presupposes one's remaining inside the game. The real rupture would be to break out of it.

No denunciation, no blinding glare of truth contains on its own the strength to threaten the existence of social institutions and relations.

The social prison

So, why take up the question of repression and the law? Certainly not just because of the existence of the primary, essential, exemplary horror of the courts and prisons. We have no need to seek a peak of horror in order to put the whole of society in question, as that would fail to supply us with elements for getting to the roots of exploitation and alienation. Moreover, a scale of atrocities would be inconceivable. The prisoner in jail, the soldier being trained for fighting in the mud of a trench, the worker who has an accident at work, the peasant who toils sixteen hours a day, each one has a number of good reasons for finding the ultimate horror in their own condition.

In effect a solid, efficient society knows how to cover up a relationship of oppression with the honey of partial satisfactions. Is the humanisation of work not one of Capital's constant programmes? And then, in a “free” and democratic society it is not necessary to simply produce wealth, it is necessary above all to “find a job”. In prison too they now understand that no one should stay idle any longer: the prisoner will be conceded a job in order to “earn his time”, and will be allowed to move himself, “fall up his time”. The concept of the inflicted sentence alone is now historically and culturally out of date. So these same subjects who failed to fulfill and “ennoble” their existence when they were outside the walls, now find themselves with an occupation that offers considerable advantages to themselves and the State.

The penal institution is necessary to the class society, no matter how many or how few prisoners it holds. The idea of an eventual suppression of it is a pure illusion, just as the idea of an economy managed from the Base is, the existence of firms where the wage earners could “self-manage” their own exploitation (a horror worthy of the most sanguinary dictatorships). Prison has an indispensable symbolic function. The reclusion of the few not only recalls the existence of the norm that has been violated, but also functions as a point of reference, a rough border of the limits not to be ventured beyond.

Today’s society is one of maximum impotence and generalised assistance. The whole of existence now requires intermediaries, so there is a proliferation of public services whose function is assured thanks to a network of induced needs. The State fills the void of existence with the instruments that it uses to control at the same time as it maintains structures like prison as places of social dumping. Of course, this function could be assured in other ways. A society that was capable of reforming itself would do so with lower costs (social and accounting), but it would still maintain that function in some way.

Superficial critiques that are incapable of conceiving of an end to the law consider that it can and must be maintained, at best without intervening, imagining a future society without violence and attributing the violence of today to the misdeeds of the class society. This has been the dream of many enlightened partisans of all the schools of thought desirous of a “perfect” world.

A separate mechanism for the resolution of conflict by projecting an image and excluding the individual, the law will never be abolished even though its functions may be entrusted to another entity that is not above people and is far more maleable, revocable, submitted to elections, or controlled by popular assembly. A spontaneous form of justice with flexible laws or even without any text at all would not for that cease to be machinery dividing good from evil independently of and against social relations. It makes no difference to us whether judges be bureaucrats or not, the penal Code rigid or adaptable. It is the very notion of law that we want to destroy Even if the law changes daily with the “evolution of customs” it does not change its function.

No matter what the opinion folk say, the social order wins every time one votes, in the Same way that no matter what the jury vote, the very existence of the law is what constitutes the victory: it does not need anything else.

Just good boys and girls?

The modern legal apparatus is extremely rational and scientific as it ostentates its superior “impartiality” through the application of procedures which weigh up the possibilities conceded to the accused and their defence almost to the milligram. It can even allow itself to be scrupulous to the individuals who are obliged to submit to it: it controls them, despoils them completely, having acquired full powers over their existence. Its very existence is a victory as it constrains everyone, including those like us who contest it, to play according to its rules.

Only the incorrigible political lefty zealot can consider a sentence or an acquittal to be a victory or defeat of justice. And it is no wonder that it is precisely those who refuse to criticise the law as such who do not understand or accept the nature of Democracy, Fascism, Antifascism, and so on. Just as they participate in elections or claim immigrants' right to vote. They call for working class juries instead of “bourgeois” judges. Their perspective is not at all that of destroying justice as such, but of democratising it like everything else. However, one sees there, tragically or comically, the reproduction of the characteristics of justice and its prison corollary. This often takes place among the exploited themselves, which gives an idea of the extent of the problem.

At times some might feel obliged to pass over to the enemy camp and argue in legal terms, but that never constitutes a victory And anyway it is always a task that is best left to the lawyer. For example, a public action capable of raising doubts, waving the scarecrow of a clamorous “legal” error and some good work by the lawyers during the debate can even Force the judiciary to renounce coming down heavily an the accused, but that does not alter the fact that in any case the law has acted according to its own rules by obliging us to respect them. Moreover, an institution that is capable of admitting its mistakes is an institution that strengthens itself.

In the same way a Court that acquits, like one that convicts, is still a Court. It would be hard to imagine anywhere that the disinherited have less power than in a court. An exceptional case could arise from pressure exercised on the judiciary by a social movement, for example when a crowd gathers demanding an acquittal precisely in the same way as a police station can be besieged by hundreds of demonstrators demanding that those arrested be freed, but this pressure is external. It is always elsewhere that the strength of the exploited can constitute itself.

All the same, eradicating the conviction that the only way to obtain benevolent treatment by the legal apparatus is to busy oneself from the inside to show up the social inoffensiveness of those caught up in it is often an arduous task

Yes, and in theory we are all convinced that the best way to solidarise with an act of revolt is to commit another. Many are capable of applauding and praising a successful action, and there is no lack of comrades ready to put this maxim into practice by reproposing it, thereby contributing to its generalisation. Any act of subversion goes far beyond its actual outcome, in good as in evil. On the contrary, regularly when things “go wrong” and the authors of the act of rebellion are singled out or arrested, it does not occur to anyone to act in turn. Solidarity no longer concretises in our action but in the reaction to the actions of others, in this case, those of the judges.

So we prefer to wait, listen to lawyers' advice, the arrested comrades' declarations, the completion of investigations. We wait to see how things are going as though what mattered before was our desires and our attempts to realise them, and now it is simply a question of getting our comrades “out”.

Not intending to act instrumentally, getting comrades out of prison is undoubtedly our primary aim. All the same, it is necessary to evaluate the means one intends to use and to be aware of their nature and Limits.

Instead it turns out that it would seem more becoming to put the usual critiques of the law aside. Forget the bellicose declarations of war against society, and limit oneself to being just, and consequently to having an innocent person acquitted, freeing a sick comrade, or considering what in other circumstances we would accept as gestures of revolt, as nothing but childish pranks. But is that really what we want? To appeal to the humanitarian sentiments of those we despise?

In the face of the law and the fear it arouses, it seems that we are incapable of doing anything other than recanting ourselves and what we say we desire.

Rebels and revolutionaries when we are free, once we are in the hands of the enemy we are only capable of showing the innocuousness of the actions we carried out.

Power puts subversives, anarchists, in prison because as such they are “socially dangerous”. Is painting them as inoffensive lambs all we can do to get them out?

Are we cynical? Are we making an apology for sacrifice? Nothing of all that. We are simply tormented by a question that is beginning to worry us — are we just good boys and girls?

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