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Hakim Bey, An Esoteric Interpretation of the I.W.W. Preamble

An Esoteric Interpretation of the I.W.W. Preamble
Hakim Bey

People who think that they know our politics, who know that we are
individualists (or even worse, "neo-individualists"), will no doubt be
shocked to discover us taking an interest in the IWW. They'll be even
more flabbergasted to hear that Mark Sullivan & I joined the NY Artists
& Writers Job Branch of the IWW this January at the urging of Mel Most
(who subsequently went & died on us!). Actually, we're a bit shocked
ourselves. "Never complain, never explain" ......; but perhaps this time
we'll relax the rule a bit --- hence the apologia.

The Mackay Society, of which Mark & I are active members, is devoted to
the anarchism of Max Stirner, Benj. Tucker & John Henry Mackay.
Moreover, I've associated myself with various currents of
post-situationism, "zero work", neo-dada, autonomia & "type 3" anarchy,
all of which are supposed to be anathema to the IWW & syndicalism in
general. Other members of the NY Artists Branch are also individualists
or pacifist-anarchists (in the Julian Beck line of transmission); some
unease has already been expressed during meetings about the Preamble &
other IWW texts.....; so, aside from making a sentimental gesture in
honor of Mel's memory..... why are we collaborating with the IWW?

First: what's wrong with a little sentiment? When I first discovered
anarchism at about 12 or 13 I wanted to be a hobo (more practical
ambition than piracy, I figured), & the Wobbly organizers appeared to me
as authentic American heros. I still think so.

Second: we type-3's like to show our contempt for ideology --- even our
own brand of anti-ideology. Class-warfare may not suffice for us as an
explanation of all reality, but obviously it is real --- we know where
our sympathies lie. We oppose the idea of the social construct "Work"
--- but we are far from opposing "the workers". The alienation of labor,
we feel, cannot be explained entirely by wage-system economics; it also
has a psychological origin. This double critique throws the very concept
& deep structure of "industrial work" into the crucible of radical
deconstruction. Meanwhile however industrial work is real, & workers'
control must be considered a fully valid tactic toward realizing both
the economic & the psychological aspects of any hypothetical "new
society within the shell of the old."

A "individualists" moreover we have good reason to appreciate the IWW
concept of the union. Stirner --- contrary to the belief of those who
have not actually read his book --- spoke approvingly of a "Union of
Unique Ones" (we prefer this translation to "Union of Egoists"), in
which all members would reach for individual goals through common
interests. He suggested that the workers had the most to gain by
embracing this notion, & that if the productive class were to organize
on such a basis it would prove irresistible. (The prejudice against
Stirner, by the way, can be traced to Marx & Engels, who considered him
potentially even more dangerous than Bakunin, & wrote their biggest book
to destroy his influence.)

The Mackay Society, incidentally, represents a little-known current of
individualist thought which never cut its ties with revolutionary labor.
Dyer Lum, Ezra & Angela Haywood represent this school of thought; Jo
Labadie, who wrote for Tucker's Liberty, made himself a link between the
american "plumb-line" anarchists, the "philosophical" individualists, &
the syndicalist or communist branch of the movement; his influence
reached the Mackay Society through his son, Laurance. Like the Italian
Stirnerites (who influenced us through our late friend E. Arrigoni) we
support all anti-authoritarian currents, despite their apparent
contradictions. Why? Because we feel that some realization of personal
liberty is possible even in the very act of struggling for it. From our
point of view, radical organizing (up to the point of insurrection) is
not a sacrifice one makes to the future; it is rather a mode of
self-liberation with its own immediate reward --- even if that reward
consists only of fragments & moments of realization. Wobblies, with
their contempt for "pie in the sky someday" (or as Lewis Carroll put it,
"Jam tomorrow or jam yesterday, but never jam today"), must feel the
same distrust of any leftist utopianism which demands our martyrdom on
behalf of a materialist "someday" which we ourselves will not live to see.

In a recent issue of Factsheet Five, M. Gunderloy (another notorious
neo-individualist) salutes the "winds of change..... blowing through the
One Big Union" as exemplified by an "intriguing article on 'The Greening
of the IWW'" in The Industrial Worker. If the IWW is compatible with
Earth First!, it must surely be able to accept pacifists &
individualists. In the Jan. issue of the IW a San Francisco delegate
describes the 1989 Without Borders Conference as a "festival of
anti-work counterculturalism" --- but admits that the local Branch
benefited greatly from the gathering. The SF delegate would perhaps be
surprised to hear that we "neo-individualists" also felt
underrepresented at the conference. The point is that the anarchist
movement is growing & that all varieties & currents of anarchism will
thrive, cross-pollinate, & bloom. No anti-authoritarian tendency should
be excluded --- or exclude itself --- from this ferment. Ideology is
dying --- Communism today, maybe Capitalism tomorrow --- & anarchism is
the only modern political movement left with any chance of being taken
seriously. We challenge the IWW to broaden its horizons beyond class
consciousness, just as we challenge the punks (or the environmentalists)
to become more aware of class, of labor, & of anarchist history. We're
all in this together, & it's time to start treating one another in a
comradely fashion.

The IWW Preamble is almost a sort of "sacred" text --- a Scripture. No
believer likes to meddle with scripture --- & we're just superstitious
enough not to want to disturb the ghosts of those old hobos we venerate.
But times change, & Scriptures need to be re-interpreted. Thus, with a
smile, this suggestion for an "esoteric" reading of the text.

From the viewpoint of the alert exegetist, there are some wonderfully
vague & elastic key-terms to be found in the Preamble. The definition
of "working class" could be extended to include all those who suffer
from the alienation of labor, both economic & psychological. "The
employing class" would then consist of all forces opposing both economic
& psychological freedom. "The good things of life" are clearly not to be
understood only as material goods, but also as the arts of life,
actions, creations, inspirations, modes of freedom, ways of living.

"An injury to one is an injury to all" not because "we" are parts of
some mystical body or church under some categorical imperative or moral
code or Holy Spook, but because each of us aspires to "good things"
which circulate freely only among free spirits, individuals acting in
"union" for certain values --- values which begin to emerge in the very
act of declaring them, & declaring one's willingness to struggle with them.

Why after all are we against "hunger & want"? Because we're
bleeding-heart pious do-gooders? Or because hunger & want (both economic
& psychological) prevent the full realization of a society in which good
things circulate freely, & therefore diminish the power of each
individual to obtain those things?

As artists & writers we appreciate the image of the banner inscribed
with the revolutionary watchword --- our own "work" is precisely the
creation of such banners, such symbols. We do not create icons to be
worshipped or slogans to be carved in eternal stone --- no, we make
tools for realization. Our Job Branch "produces" the potential for free
consciousness by working toward the abolition of consensus perception,
both self-repression & the oppression of authority. The wages of
alienation is the death of the human spirit; the revolutionary watchword
is "possession of the earth" --- which includes possession of the self,
of the imagination, the body, the creative power --- all these, too, are
"the machinery of production."

Notes: Mel Most was an IWW organizer who died last year. Mark Sullivan
is the founder of a branch of the John Henry MacKay Society. "Type 3"
anarchy is a term coined by Bob Black to mean an amalgamation of
individualist and communist anarchy. "Autonomia" is an
anti-authoritarian movement which began in Italy and Germany in the
1970s. Julian Beck founded, with Judith Malina, the Living Theatre. (--

= = =

from The International Review, 1991 (published "the 15th day of
Operation Desert Storm"), pp 2--3. This unnumbered Boulder, Colorado
publication was edited by Paul Sager and Louis A. Villaire.