If you endorse the idea of the destruction of work, you will always find someone, even among anarchists, who replies, ‘And tomorrow? If we don’t work, what will we eat tomorrow?’
So, if you get this response it means you are talking to a pragmatic anarchist, or rather to one who has his feet firmly on the ground. One of those who, when you ask him if he still considers the role of the working class to be significant in the clash between dominated and dominators, replies ‘Absolutely!’
But don’t risk asking him what being realistic or pragmatic means. His reply might upset your dreams for a long time to come.
He will tell you that you need to respect the conditions of the class struggle, not put yourself ideologically above people’s heads so as not to become a vanguard of the proletariat—adding fairly persuasively that this is not due to a need for efficiency in the struggle or getting immediate results, but because it is necessary to continue to support the exploited at the place where they show most capacity to respond to capitalist exploitation, i.e., the workplace.
Of course you will feel like saying (which I advise you to keep to yourself), ‘But isn’t that camouflaged ideology, in other words ideas that have lost all contact with reality?’ And you will want to say that the working class no longer exist, that they have been broken up by capital’s historic encounter with the new technologies, so all reformist practice such as making claims or defending past gains simply support this strategy of dominion and annihilation. But in my opinion it would be pointless. Realism, or political pragmatism, is a pernicious illness. It insinuates itself into the practice of those who only see things in causal, schematic terms. They cannot escape them. In fact, gradualism can be extremely convincing. At least it is comforting concerning what could happen in the short term, and puts off fear of the future. In this way our pragmatic, realistic comrade tells us that an essential point of the struggle is making sure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past. Fascism, never again! And looking back to the old forms of fascism they miss seeing the new ones that in no way resemble those of the past, but are perhaps even worse. This comrade, knowingly retorting that if you don’t work you can’t eat, and that it is hazardous and unrealistic to insist on the destruction of work, is supporting a thesis that remains locked in the reality of the present which he ends up justifying without realising it. He is not interested in discussing ideas or questions of method. All he wants to know about are results, which he can only gauge from a quantitative point of view: men and things to be counted, elements of reality to coincide with projects, social dynamics to be understood. These are the ideas and methods that gave results in the past. There can be no such thing as critical reflection or anything that might put them in doubt.
Any idea that might threaten his search for the consensus of the exploited or that might in some way present anarchist revolutionaries as subverters of the constituted order, including the legitimate expropriation of the means of production, must be isolated, otherwise goodbye to expropriation, and goodbye to the peaceful passage to the free society of the future. Experimentation can only be carried out in small groups, this comrade in his enlightened, pragmatic vision of the struggle will say, and these are meaningless from the point of view of the class struggle.
This mentality has a number of other characteristics. First, it corresponds to a vision of reality that depends on certain conditions, an evolution one assists simply by providing occasions for improvements. The function of the absolutely other is not taken into consideration. What started off as a point of view will quickly become condemnation and taking a distance if experimentation in that direction takes on any significant form and consistency. Secondly, it accepts technology as the main element in any civil cohabitation, so can only imagine the future society as starting off from an alternative use of today’s technology. Third, it cannot free itself from its own institutional task, that of exorcising fear of the unknown. Any attempt to speed this gradualism up encounters insurmountable problems, making the unknown appear the enemy and the known (i.e. the conservation of the existent) something to be protected from falling into the hands of the barbarians. To reply to them with our theses on the absolutely other is often a complete waste of time. Every era, right from the obscure beginnings of history, has been traversed by the long shadow of the bureaucrats. Something else is required.
[Original title: Per favore, restiamo con i piedi per terra, in “Canenero”, no. 26, 12 May 1995. English translation by Jean Weir published in "Let's destroy work, let's destroy economy", Elephant Editions, London.]