Brian D. Speaks of Catharsis and CrimethInc.
The current state of affairs in hardcore punk and how to intensify the fight for a better world wherever we stand
Brian D. is an enigmatic person known to some as the singer of the metallic hardcore band Catharsis that emerged in the mid 90’s to bring anarchist politics back to hardcore punk. Besides playing in a band he was an editor of a hardcore punk zine called “Inside Front” that later on became a platform for a wider political activism and community organizing, a basis for a decentralized anarchist collective known as CrimethInc. that, since then, is pushing the anarchist principles that people in communities should have autonomy, self-determination and the space to be able to decide collectively for themselves. I’m catching up with Brian once again as he recently toured Scandinavia with reunited Catharsis and then traveled around Central Europe and Balkans meeting people and collectives to discuss about the life-cycle of social movements and what possibilities can emerge after their demise.
So, you’re back in Europe after last year’s Catharsis reunion tour. Why did you come back again and how do you see Europe this time?
The reason to come back this time was to play in Scandinavia, which we hadn’t been able to get to the last time when we came to Europe. There are other parts of Europe we haven’t gotten to yet. Once we started playing again actually it felt really good, and I don’t think that much have changed for us since we were playing 13 years ago. So, we actually wanted to keep playing. As far as how the scene is, I feel like the hardcore scene generally seems less politicized now than it did 13 years ago, at least in most of the world. That’s too bad, but of course all of our old friends and other comrades come to these shows, so the shows have been really good environments. When we played in Stockholm two of our friends were there with their children, very little children, and one of the kids, I think was maybe 12 years old, did a stage-dive. I think the kids had a really good time and that felt really good to be in a multigenerational space with some people with whom we had been close for 15 or almost 20 years, altogether. That was one of the best things.
It’s strange that while with the economic crisis, austerity measures and the popularity of the Occupy movement the people are becoming more political, the hardcore scene on contrary is getting less politically motivated.
One of the reasons I think why that happened is that in 1990’s DIY (Do-It-Yourself) was a radical idea. The kind of media that was dominated by corporations was unidirectional, like television, or movies, that came at you and you just received it. And DIY in that context meant to do something interactive and participatory, that was a very radical idea. I don’t think that is the case anymore, I think the corporate media models have absorbed this, you now have facebook and these internet video games that are participatory, although the participation is shaped by the computer programming company. In this context the mere act of wanting to be involved in something participatory isn’t as political and I think it has taken some of the power out of hardcore as a space for political action. Also, at least in the US, the antiglobalization movement became really strong with Seattle 1999 and suddenly there was an anarchist movement that was distinct from any subculture, I think the consequence of that was that some people who had been in hardcore and punk for political reasons sort of withdrew their energy from the subculture and left it to the least political people. So, I agree that it’s misfortunate and I really miss having punk as an explicitly political, radical space, that have always been my homeland in some way.
The far-right and Neo-Nazi scene is on the rise all around Europe, with Golden Dawn in Greece and other extreme nationalist formations getting big, what are your impressions on the situation in Scandinavia when you were playing shows there? We’ve heard about hardcore punk kids being repressed for taking actions against fascism.
The day before we get to Stockholm I was told that tear-gas was used for the first time against demonstrators, in Stockholm, at an antifascist protest. So it’s not just the question of the fascists, it’s also the police who always work with fascists to defend them. Police and fascists accomplish the same purpose, just through different means. Also, we were told that many people had organized together against the fascists and also people in Sweden were very interested in the events in Ferguson, in the United States. It seems to me that things are pulverizing and the people who understand the police as their enemies are taking fearsome actions against them, and against fascists. And of course fascists, far-right groups and the State itself are also being forced to take more extreme actions.
I think in a place like Scandinavia, where everyone, including anarchists, have assumed for a long time that the point for their organizing was to force the State to grant more privileges and rights to people. This creates a very dangerous situation, because when the intensifying crisis of capitalism makes it impossible to continue providing the social safety net to people, fascists can say that they have an answer to the problem while anarchists of course understand that there’s no egalitarian and liberating solution that the State can really offer, especially not as capitalism produces this crisis. So, in places like Scandinavia if you look at the Government to solve your problems, and you legitimize the governments, the kinds of activism you’ve engaged in actually makes it easier for fascists to organize in the long run. I think it’s really dangerous, I think the important thing in Europe right now is to be arguing that there is no solution to the crisis of capitalism. Even if the people are closing down all the borders and try to create this sort of nationalist gated communities, as long as capitalism is functioning it will still continue to inflict misery upon everyone, so we really have to advance an explicitly anarchist, antiborder and antinationalist critique of the problems that capitalism is causing to everyone.
You’re actually the first person from the United States that I have the opportunity to talk face to face to about what happened in Ferguson. So, what’s your feedback on what happened there and is it possible to connect it to the wider social and political struggles, to compare it with the situation here in Europe and the CrimethInc. series After The Crest about the life-cycle of the movements?
That’s an interesting question. First, I want to say about Ferguson that Michael Brown, the teenager that was killed there, is not an unusual case. The police kill a black or brown person in the US every few days and there have been many demonstrations and even riots about this in Oakland at the beginning of 2009 after the murder of Oscar Grant by the public Oakland Police. In the town where I come from, last November, there were protests… well, in Durham, NC, the town next to mine, where the teenager Jesus Huerta was killed and in the time between then and now there have been many other cities in the US where the people have protested against police murders, also in Denver most recently. So Ferguson is important not because something unusual happened there but because something very typical, very usual happened there.
Taking this to your question about After The Crest… After The Crest was our inquiry into what we can learn from the ways that movements die. Occupy came to the end because it was not prepared to confront the police, and one of the reasons it wasn’t prepared to confront the police was that it was never really a movement that made space for poor and predominantly black and brown people. That’s one of the limits that it reached, it couldn’t address the problems that our society faces as long as it was a movement made up of predominantly middle class and homeless people without the big part of the population between those two polls. I think that what’s happening in Ferguson points the way to what the new social movements in the US look like. A movement that starts from the police as a force that forces us all into the inequalities of capitalism. Without the police it would be impossible to have these tremendous differences between rich and poor, it would be impossible to maintain the kind of white supremacist conditions that the prisons and the court system inflict. And the police are really the frontlines of capitalism. Forcing it onto all of us. So the movement in Ferguson showed us a little bit of what it looks like for people to fight back against that.
Here in Europe we have the same things happening, most popular cases being with Berkin Elvan in Turkey and Alexis Grigoropoulous murder in Greece that still resonate very strong and ignite new waves of anticapitalist resistance.
In Egypt the January 25 Revolution of 2011 was started by the Anti-Police Brutality group. So actually struggles against police are common all around the world and have been going on in US for decades, if you remember the Rodney King’s riots in 1992. Police-ing is as universal and global as capitalism and the resistance to it is also going to be from Egypt to the United States to Sweden (or as the slogan says “From Oakland to Greece, Fuck the Police”).
As a singer of a hardcore punk band, how do you think we can build communities of resistance and true horizontalism within the scene? You know, most of the hardcore singers can talk about political stuff between songs and shout “Fuck the Police” but usually don’t propose any kind of alternatives. How can we change this? It’s obvious it’s not going to work with singing songs and writing zines only.
I think that hardcore and punk have always been predominantly youth movements and one of the things that you do when you are young is to speak about what you would like to become. You speak about your life you’d like to be. This is appropriate and then you spend the rest of your life trying to live up by your words. I think often many young hardcore punk singers sing about what they would like to do and the challenge is can you live up with that in your life. I’ve been very fortunate to be part of a community in which we are together involved in struggles against police, against prisons, against capitalism, against white supremacy or patriarchy, that’s not something that I can do by myself. By myself I can write some lyrics, I can scream, I can write a zine, but I have to be part of a larger community, to participate in a meaningful struggle against these things. So I think if we want to have more political hardcore or more political art in that sense, we need more art that is really grounded in real struggles, one of the answers is that we just need to build these real struggles together, multigenerationally.
So how do you see the today’s connection between DIY and Political struggle?
Well, the principle of self-organization, which is basically identical with Do-it-Yourself, the DIY ethic, is still essential to everything beautiful about humanity, right? The liberation, it is the anarchist ideal that we should take our lives in our own hands, to make the most of our potential. That’s everything.
I think that one of the ways that we have seen a counter-attack to the ways that DIY community has advanced, is in these new corporate products that are “participatory”. As I was speaking about that earlier, the video games that you play together against each other, the way that the whole social media networks function so the people feel like they are having the experience of doing it themselves just by using their iPhone to shoot a video that they will upload to Youtube. Now, the problem in these circumstances is that we are “doing it ourselves” but we are not setting the terms of our activity. The ideal is not just that we participate in making the media but we participate in making the conditions of our lives. And that’s the thing that no corporation can grant us. I think this challenge faces us today that we have to show what the differences between this kind of fake do-it-yourself opportunities that are forcing us to use corporate products and the real make-your-own-life ethic that was always at the root of DIY punk subculture, and still remains at the heart of anarchist struggles.
Can you elaborate on the example of the “participatory” video games? Do you mean corporations like the creators of the game “Half-Life”, who are like a big cooperative of hundreds of co-creators who seem to be participatory and direct democratic in their own circle but for the outside world they are just as predatory and greedy corporation like anyone else?
I don’t really see the hardcore punk as the agent of change. It’s one of the places where we can come together… we can come together as human beings and talk together about our dreams and pursue them, but it has to be connected to the other things, to the meaningful. What you have described about “Half-Life” is a gated community, it’s like in ancient democracies where a minority of the men could vote but everyone else was like slaves or women who were forbidden to participate in the political process. I think we’re going to see more and more of these gated communities that are egalitarian inside but exclude other people. This is actually not the same as liberation because you have to exclude every part of yourself that rests on other people. The people who are part of Google may work in a digital utopia, you know, but they have to drive the work basically over the bodies of everybody who is impoverishly excluded by the work they do.
So how this relates to hardcore punk… hardcore has been a space where people have been able to come together and envision something potentionally revolutionary. I still love the ritual of being physically together, crashing into each other, screaming, doing these things that are outside of our usual experience in this culture, those have been things saving me through my whole life. It seems the spaces where we will be most able to connect with people to set out on the project of creating new revolutionary possibilities for our lives are not the hardcore scenes in the future but I would bring that hardcore energy to everything I do.
Many people are criticizing CrimethInc. for selling out the revolution or Catharsis as a band for putting a price on books, vinyl records or whatever. Even if hardcore punk labels and radical publishers are presenting revolutionary ideas they still rely on capitalist ways of promoting and selling things on the market. Also, it’s especially interesting moment with vinyl records being a high-price collector’s items.
Well, it shouldn’t be hard to find Catharsis’ songs for free on the internet and if you’re reading this interview and you have not been able to, you should just send me an email and I will send them to you personally. If people want to own vinyl records that cost tremendous amount of money, we’ve worked with Robert from Refuse Records to make them available for those who want them for cheap, but records at this point are like art objects. I don’t own a lot of records. As for the prices of CrimethInc. books, CrimethInc. books cost less than half of what the almost any other anarchist book publisher charges for books in the US and significantly less than any other mainstream publisher’s books. And that’s because we ONLY charge for the cost of producing them. We don’t make any money off the books at all. Whenever we make any money beyond the production cost in some way, we make that into producing free things, so I think people are always going to complain about something, especially if they haven’t done something themselves. As a zine and book publisher you know it’s not so easy to do this, also I’ve spent a lot of my life stealing photocopies and giving them away. So if people think that what they’re doing is not enough, I would be excited to see them do better than we have. Because someone should.
So how do you think that people who are involved in activism but are usually financially broke can actually manage to pay rent, publish books and literature, play in a band, release records or whatever in that sense?
One of the things that I learned from the punk subculture is how to live on very little money. This has been very useful to me and I’ve dedicated my whole life to revolutionary projects. If I needed to make as much money to survive as most people do I’d certainly would not have the time to do all the things that I’ve done. Of course, dumpster-diving, shoplifting, and things like this are not the solution to everybody. The abolition of capitalism is the solution but we have to dedicate as much personal energy as possibly can to the struggle for it, if we want to see that happen. This is one of the reasons why I’m trying to minimize my expenses and you know, as far as you’re getting access to resources it’s very difficult. At various points in our lives people who have been involved in CrimethInc. projects have worked when they have to or have done other dangerous things to get money, to put the money on the projects that we do. Basically we don’t see a way for our lives again without having everything changing. That means we have to make our revolutionary projects our first priority. I don’t have any other good suggestions to other people who want to do similar things except stake everything that you have on your work.
Yeah, when you live your life based on constantly being involved in revolutionary projects you’re attaining autonomy, even if you envision direct democracy and participatory society as a philosophical concept of seeing the world, it’s only when you build your own life and extend it into communities around you that we really build autonomous society with autonomous individuals. So my question is, did you see some great examples of autonomous projects and how the things work when you have been in Europe during your trip and you would like to implement on a local scale when you go back at home?
Well, I have been in Europe only for few weeks on this visit. Definitely in coming to Europe on previous tours I’ve learned a lot that has influence on the kind of organizing that I do in the US and what I think is possible. On this particular trip the main thing that I think is very useful is getting the chance to talk with people in Bosnia about the uprising they had there in February. Speaking of autonomy, one of the tragedies of the uprising in Bosnia is that it began with burning of government buildings and ended, it died in these plenums (direct democracy people’s assemblies) that basically emptied out and slowly disappeared because they have become separated from the militant side of the movement. For me the really educational side about this is that we can’t make our distinction between taking direct action against the government, against the authorities, and the participatory construction of the world we want to see or something… The reason to have assemblies is not to address demands to the government, it’s to figure out how to self-organize the world we want to see. This is why autonomy becomes really important, because those assemblies can’t be decision-making bodies in the same way that the government is. Any government that is predicated on monopolizing the decision making, any system where there is only one legitimate way to make decisions is going to impoverish the rest of life. So these assemblies, which will appear I’m sure in future struggles, need to be spaces of encounter where we exchange ideas, where we come together, where we figure out how to struggle together, but they can’t be new forms of government, they shouldn’t be replacements for existing governments.
This interview is going to be published online where most of the traffic comes from Facebook. People tend to not read long articles or interviews online, they’re mostly attracted to pictures on facebook and very short text bites, is there a way to combat this tendency?
Well, this is definitely… the problem of our age is that information is being subject to inflation the same way that financial currency is: the more information, the less any of its worth. Now actually facebook means that even the horizontal networks through which informations spreads are being polluted by control mechanisms. As for alternatives to this, I would say form real communities where you talk in person about this, where you read books and zines together in reading groups, develop passions where you really want to learn about things and you don’t have to spent so much time with the media, you’re just taking in soundbites of different newsclips, ultimately you don’t have anything to do with it outside of your own power, your own agency, you determine what your life should be. We don’t need more information, we need ways to connect our thoughts and information to learn about what we can do in action.