Against Leviathan,‭ ‬Against Work

‭I engage in a pastime that’s both time-honored and yet somewhat of a relic in the punk world:‭ ‬tabling shows.‭ ‬I pack my panniers full of radical books and zines and bike them across town,‭ ‬setting them up on borrowed card tables in generally smoky venues,‭ ‬and more often than not lug nearly all of them back home with me at the end of the night.‭ ‬I’m not in it for the money—‭ ‬the petty cash all goes back into acquiring more material.‭

So why do I do it‭?

It’s a two-part answer.‭ ‬There are books and zines out there with messages that I find important.‭ ‬In addition,‭ ‬there’s a heritage of selling books and zines at shows,‭ ‬which means that there’s already in place an accepted process for getting this literature into people’s hands.‭ ‬I suppose there’s a corollary answer that the act of standing behind a table of books and zines is something with which I’m already familiar and comfortable,‭ ‬having attended so many book fairs and zine fests.‭

As a result of sharing a distro with a friend who has since left the country as well as my own wishful wholesale purchasing,‭ ‬I have found myself with a number of books on my table that I haven’t read.‭ ‬I am trying to rectify this,‭ ‬even if it means slogging through nearly all of Crimethinc’s titles.‭ ‬It has always surprised people to learn that I’ve never read a Crimethinc book,‭ ‬given the company I have kept over the years.

I once befriended someone who had gotten into anarchism in high school via Crimethinc.‭ ‬When I was in high school,‭ ‬Crimethinc didn’t exist yet.‭ ‬Neither did the internet,‭ ‬per se.‭ ‬It doesn’t make me better or worse,‭ ‬but it means I don’t have a shared experience with many people I know.‭ ‬Reading‭ ‬Evasion as a teen didn’t cause me to leave home and hitchhike across the country.‭ ‬I didn’t start doing that until much later,‭ ‬and it wasn’t because I read about it.

Although I planned to lose my Crimethinc virginity with‭ ‬Evasion,‭ ‬years past its expiration date,‭ ‬I was going out of town for five days and wanted to read something longer.‭ ‬At the last minute I left‭ ‬Evasion at home and brought Fredy Perlman’s‭ ‬300-page essay‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ I’ve read many other titles by Perlman,‭ ‬but this one had seemed daunting.‭ ‬Many of my friends started it and never finished.‭ ‬I thought out of town would be the best place to focus on it.‭

The first day of my trip,‭ ‬one of the friends I was visiting handed me the newest Crimethinc book,‭ ‬Work.‭ ‬As I leafed through it,‭ ‬I noticed that it was actually somewhat similar to‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ They both attempt to critique a totality while picking apart the smaller aspects.‭ ‬They also both utilize borrowed illustrations.‭

As if that wasn’t enough,‭ ‬upon first perusal I felt like the font used in‭ ‬Work had a similarity to the one used in‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ although font nerds might put my head on a stick for suggesting that.‭ ‬Having read‭ ‬Letters of Insurgents so many times,‭ ‬I reserve a special place in my heart for what I call Black‭ & ‬Red font,‭ ‬which is also in‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ I don’t know what the font is called,‭ ‬nor do I care to substitute my own naming for the historically accurate one.‭ (‬If I really wanted to know,‭ ‬I would just ask Lorraine.‭) ‬After careful comparison however I realized that although the‭ ‬Work font—‭ ‬revealed in the colophon as RePublic‭ ‬—‭ ‬does bear some resemblance to Black‭ & ‬Red,‭ ‬they are not the same.‭ ‬The italics for example are quite different,‭ ‬and Black‭ & ‬Red doesn’t contain any ligatures.

During this closer look at fonts and such,‭ ‬I noticed that‭ ‬Work cites‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ as a source.‭ ‬I decided to read the books concurrently rather than in tandem.‭ ‬Many factors led me to have many hours of reading time on this particular trip,‭ ‬both during the day and at night.‭ ‬I traded off reading from each of them,‭ ‬and ended up finishing them both by bedtime on my last night.‭ ‬That’s almost‭ ‬700‭ ‬pages of non-fiction in the span of five days,‭ ‬speedy even for me.

Reading them together has fused them in my mind.‭ ‬We all read books within contexts,‭ ‬and reading two books in such proximity puts them in a sort of conversation with each other.‭ ‬Ever since my friend handed me‭ ‬Work,‭ ‬the two books have been together constantly,‭ ‬and I’m finding it hard to imagine separating them physically.‭ ‬They’re definitely not the same book but rather complementary slices of the same pie.

It’s a pie of criticism thrust into the face of that which some call the Spectacle,‭ ‬others Leviathan,‭ ‬and still others the Totality.‭ ‬There are many names for this hydra,‭ ‬including…‭ ‬Hydra.‭

One of the main differences between these similarly sized polemics are matters of chronology.‭ ‬Perlman wrote‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ nearly thirty years before‭ ‬Work came onto the scene.‭ ‬This is not to say that‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ is outdated‭; ‬rather,‭ ‬it is a narrative told in a different era.‭ ‬The reason that many of my friends can’t get through the book is because of the omnipresent references to ancient history.‭ ‬I think past generations studied ancient history a lot more.‭ ‬For anyone who was out back smoking during high school history class and never caught up on their own time,‭ ‬a criticism of civilization citing numerous examples from Ur to the Pilgrims would seem not unlike a string of nonsense words,‭ ‬things that would have to be looked up or else just not understood.‭ ‬Perlman starts with the Sumerians and gives a survey history of Western Civilization,‭ ‬epoch by epoch,‭ ‬describing how each step that civilization takes is the Leviathan destroying all that is human and replacing it with its own burrowed tentacles.‭ ‬Whether a worm or an octopus,‭ ‬Leviathan goes only one direction,‭ ‬and that is toward destruction.‭

Maybe because I wasn’t smoking during history class or maybe just dumb luck,‭ ‬I happened to remember enough about the history of Western Civilization to make it through this book without having to look anything up to understand what was going on.‭ ‬I’m no scholar,‭ ‬but I was successfully indoctrinated in high school to the point that I have some idea about the Etruscans,‭ ‬Byzantine Empire,‭ ‬the era of the two Popes,‭ ‬and the Crusades.‭ ‬I don’t believe it’s necessary to be fluent in this knowledge,‭ ‬but some familiarity helps.

Work tells a similar story but in the present.‭ ‬The Leviathan is named as Capitalism,‭ ‬but it’s clear that it’s not just an economic system but force of occupation in all aspects of our lives.‭ ‬The book breaks down capitalism into every category in which it touches us,‭ ‬changing who we are inside and out.‭ ‬I can’t think of any facet that the book doesn’t cover.‭ ‬I’m not saying I agree with everything in it,‭ ‬but the analysis is pretty total.

The question of course is why write a polemic at all.‭ ‬If someone is sympathetic enough to read a book in the first place,‭ ‬wouldn’t they be already one of the converted,‭ ‬so to speak‭? ‬And does anyone hostile ever change their views based on something they read‭? ‬My answer would be,‭ ‬eh,‭ ‬sometimes and sometimes.‭ ‬Or maybe eh,‭ ‬often and rarely.‭ ‬Or on some days eh,‭ ‬who cares and fuck‭ ‘‬em.‭

As for me,‭ ‬I feel good about having spent the time to read both of them together.‭ ‬They bring me some sorrow about the pervasiveness of the damage already done and its continuance on a daily basis.‭ ‬However,‭ ‬they both remind me of why I’m an anarchist in the first place.‭ ‬This is important because I’ve been losing my way in the past few years.‭ ‬Not because I’ve changed my opinion on the way things are,‭ ‬but because anarchists have been a source of havoc in my life.‭ ‬My question is always why I do anything at all,‭ ‬if my reward is bad friends.‭ ‬Maybe it’s the occasional good friend,‭ ‬but what ended up being a five-day reading retreat for me renewed my passion in not just the things I do but the way I do them,‭ ‬the tense but mindful approach.‭ ‬I won’t be able to tell Fredy Perlman about this experience,‭ ‬but I’ll have the writer(s‭) ‬of‭ ‬Work know that in true Crimethinc fashion,‭ ‬I read two-thirds of‭ ‬Work while on a farm and the other third while sitting on the roof of an urban punk house.

Back at home,‭ ‬I had a conversation with a couple of friends about my experience with the books that are now cousins in my mind.‭ ‬One friend asked me what‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ was getting at.‭

“It’s a history of Western Civilization,‭” ‬I said,‭ “‬and how it’s fucked‭! ‬It’s all fucked‭!”
“Well,‭ ‬what about‭ ‬Work‭?” ‬he said.
‭“‬It’s about how capitalism has invaded all aspects of our lives‭!” ‬I said,‭ ‬sort of laughing at this point.‭ “‬and how it’s fucked‭! ‬It’s all fucked‭!”

My friend said he’d give‭ ‬Against His-Story,‭ ‬Against Leviathan‭!‬ another try.‭ ‬A second friend offered to loan him his never-finished copy.‭ “‬Oh no,‭” ‬the first friend said,‭ “‬I have my own never-finished copy.‭”
Perhaps that’s why we write books.‭ ‬And why we table them at shows still.‭ ‬People still do read them.

1 thought on “Against Leviathan,‭ ‬Against Work”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *