Now certainly I agree that flags are such ugly things (and that irony is the refuge of the educated – always complaining but they never quit), but I do have an affection for the old black and red. My wife and I ended up in a conversation about this tonite.
It started with some wordplay of the sort that we are wont to do, in which I used the phrase “the pot calling the kettle black” to which she responded “our kettle is white, and our pot is red, what are you talking about?” (which is true – we have a lovely electric tea kettle that I bought when I lived in a hotel in Missouri – my best souvenir of that era, by far – and a very nice pot with a ceramic lining that we got as a wedding gift). I made some quip back about black and red, like the flag, and she said “like our politics.” Then she said “but you’re more red than black.”
We then proceeded to discuss that. It’s not true in one sense – I’m definitely an anarchist and not any of the state centered varieties of politics I associate with the various Reds of the world. I said so. She said “sure, but I didn’t mean your politics. I meant … culturally. You’re an organization person. Not that there can’t be anarchist organization, but you know what I mean.” This is true. In my (limited) experience with north american anarchist circles, I feel more affinity in terms of immediate outlook, priorities, and sensibilities with many of the reds I know. Simply put, my feeling is that average red vs the average anarchist I know is more serious and just more focused on the issues that I’m most concerned with – which are exclusively workplace focused. These reds tend to have more experience in workplace (and tenant) struggles and in workplace based organizations, and to have more experience with the existing reformist mass organizations. There are of course exceptions to this, some of whom are among my dearest and closest comrades. But it remains the case that I will feel more immediate affinity to a rank and file red vs a typical north american anarchist in my experience. This is despite a strong disagreement on many historical matters and on future directed matters like what the revolution should look like and often very serious disagreements over what should happen (and what energy should be directed to) in the short-term. So while I won’t actually be saluting any flags (I’m not any kind of patriot though I will admit to what friends jokingly call a bit of nationalism on my part about the Great Lakes section of the Midwest – with Chicago being our proud capital of course), and while I would certainly follow the marching orders (*ahem*) that came from the black half, the part that most warms my heart is the red portion of the flag. (Not trying to draw lines and stand behind them, just saying.)
In other news, in the continuing discussion between Le Colonel and Le Mike here, the Colonel asked about Negri’s appeal – why does he say such odd things sometimes and why do those things speak to people, basically – which reminded me of this old post I wrote trying to sort through a similar question. Since then, in a nutshell – I’ve become less sympathetic on a few points like the historical questions about gender and immaterial labor. I’m now pretty convinced that imperialism is the case and empire is not. And I remain convinced of the utility of the end-run around the (gatekeeping functions of the) anti-imperialist left that some of us got out of Empire.
The other part of appeal that I didn’t address in that old post was the social base part. Part of what spoke to me about the immaterial labor stuff was that much of the work I had (and have) done was of that variety (though for Negri all labor is undergoing immaterialization, allegedly, but we’ll leave that out for now). This is true of a lot of other people I know, especially those who got excited about all of this. I think this relates to the social base of the people I mentioned in old post, the people from anarchist and counter-globalization circles of the late 90s and early 00s, at least the stuff I was familiar with. This is connected to how I understand an idea from Love and Rage circles, the ‘reproles’ idea. (For more on L&R see here and here. The book under the first link includes some stuff on the ‘reproles’ idea, see also this and this.) Basically that idea amounted to noting the fact that there was a generation of folk who were experiencing economic decline noticeably, growing up into worse economic circumstances than they were raised in, and this was the social base of L&R.
Much of this group involved some sort of tie to immaterial labor, it seems to me, and is similar to the social base that got most excited about Negri’s recent work (in my experience, and I should say I’m of that stratum so I may be exaggerating its reach or whatever). What the immaterial labor thing did was dramatize our presence and the presence of our experience – its “fit” if you will – within Marx and marxist categories in a way that provided a new sort of confidence and helped underwrite a feeling of “Marx is ours too” so to speak. Negri helped facilitate (or solidify) a transition back to Marx. I’m generalizing here a bit from my own biography, and actually I’m distorting that as I was already a marxist and that’s what led me to Negri, though the stuff that helped get me to Negri – Harry Cleaver’s work, among other things – is what broke me out of a bad understanding of Marx and marxism and of an overly narrow and simplistic grasp of the line (or not) between the black and red parts of ye olde flagge, so to speak. (Part of my frustration with the Negri stuff has also been in a nutshell the incompleteness of the back-to-Marx transition. The other frustration is with the gender stuff.) In any case, the Negri stuff spoke to me and I think to people like me who got jazzed about if because it helped us understand our experiences – by pointing out how other resources (like Marx) could describe those experiences in ways we hadn’t realized as fully – and because it facilitated stepping past/around the anti-imps. That’s my sense of the appeal of Negri’s stuff in the moment it got people fired up – the moments in time w/ the summit protests and all that were a big part of this too, of course, and which I think involved somewhat similar dynamics practically to the changes at the level of theory that I described. (I could be wrong on some of that. I missed out on L&R and came late to the black bloc etc kind of thing, I was doing campus feminism and antihomophobia stuff in the late 90s instead.)