Destroy What Destroys You
A critique of the overvaluation of positive alternatives
Creating the world we want is a much more subtle but more powerful mode of operation
than destroying the one we don’t want.”
The quote by Marianne Williamson sounds nice. However, it conceals the necesity to destroy, to fight against the structures of power or, simply, against negative situations or acts. It is biased towards the positive and, because of that, and maybe without wanting to, it contributes to maintaining things as they are – maybe, yes, with a bit of green gentrification and positive psychology.
To change the world and to create more just, sustainable, ecofeminist and queer world it is necessary to do both, destroy and create. To conceal the need for destruction turns Marianne Williamson into an accomplice of the heteropatriarchal and productivist capitalist system that is destroying us.
In recent years within social movement a requirement has been spread to always talk of the positive, to build positive alternatives, while destruction and the fight against the negative – the unjust, unsustainable, and undesirable – seem to be not appreciated. This is especially the case in the Transition Movement, which hides from conflicts and is characterised by an absence of any analysis of power.
In this article I would like to promote the power of destruction or “the passion for destruction”, which, according to Bakunin, “is a creative passion, too!”.
The limits of positive alternatives
As a total objector in Germany during the 1990s I remember the always same critique for my refusal of substitute civilian service: “Don’t you think that when you refuse to do obligatory military service you should do something alternative instead?” Why? Why, when I refuse to kill, should I have to do something else? Isn’t it sufficient not to kill?
With this I don’t want to say that a fundamental change of the values of our society would not be necessary, or fighting a very deeply rooted militarism (both, in Spain and in Germany). Nevertheless, it is plain ridiculous to require from a person who refuses to kill – or refuses another negative act – that they should do something else. Not doing a negative act – that is to say, not doing anything – is in itself already something positive. Maybe, instead of requiring of us all these positive alternatives, we could refuse more to collaborate with the destruction of our planet and stop contributing to this destruction with negative acts (even though this might require leaving our zone of comfort): the world would already be a much better place.
Beyond that, to think that creating alternative is sufficient – or more powerful – to change the world is, in the best case, simply naive. The alternatives, if they manage to be successful, will soon clash with the limits imposed by the hegemonical system, or – if they stay small – will be tolerated and coopted within a “green” capitalism which at the same time untamed. Some ecological projects in a Transition Neighbourhood are well compatible with extractivist and productivist capitalism if they do not try to question and to change the balance of power. The Transition Neighbourhood can easily be transformed into a process of green gentrification which leaves marginalised communities, the poor, immigrants … at the margin (or excludes them). And the white heterosexual cisgender upper middle class enjoys their green island in a sea of poverty and exclusion.
In addition, the destruction of our planet leaves fewer and fewer spaces for the construction of alternatives. How can we create an ecological and social alternative in a space from which they want to extract, at the same time, minerals via open pit mining, or use the same land for plantations of palm trees for palm oil (one of the deadly conflicts in post-peace agreement Colombia)? Or, how to develop ecological agriculture (or permaculture) when the chemical industry is contaminating the air, the war and the land on which you depend?
The structures and dinamics of extractivist, productivist and heteropatriarchal capitalism are threatening the basis of our life, and focusing only on building some positive does little to slow down these dinamics and to change these structures.
The need to say “no” and to resist
Bill Moyer, an activist and researcher on social movements from the US who developed the Movement Action Plan, says that a movement has to convince the public (at least) three times:
That there is a problem.
That the present policies are part of the problem (and that we need to oppose them).
That the alternatives proposed by the movement do provide a solution.
In this sense, saying “no” is fundamental, even before promoting solutions. Without entering into a debate about the Movement Action Plan , one of the first important tasks of any social movement is to deligitimise the present policies and those in power. Only when a majority of the public support the “no” begins the difficult task to promote a paradigm shift and alternative solutions.
Again, not always is there a need for alternatives. The “no” to the destruction can be sufficient. An active “no”, that is to say, one that is not limited to an expression of preference, but includes active nonviolent resistance. Nevertheless, I do agree that there is a need for alternativs to the destructive structures and dynamics: to extractivist, productivist and heteropatriarchal capitalism.
The role of alternatives
Even though I think we should occupy ourselves more with destrying what destroys us (in the words of Ton Steine Scherben): with saying “no”, refusing to collaborate with the destruction of the basis of our life, resist, etc., I don’t want to suggest that it would be sufficient to say “no”, that is to say, we cannot forget the alternatives. The question is a different one: what alternatives do we need?
It is obvious that only by saying “no”, with the “passion for destruction” (Bakunin) we also will not be able to build a more just and sustainable world. We need other forms to relate to each other, to organise in a horizontal way (without informal/hidden power structures), other forms of economy, other forms of justice… And these want come out of nowhere when we have destroyed what destroys us – neither can we destroy all without building alternative structures (but we can destroy a lot without waiting for alternatives).
The structures of our movement, of small alternative projects, are spaces to learn and practive our alternatives, and can serve as models for new structures when we have been able to finally destroy the hegemonical heteropatriarchal capitalist system. In this sense are necessary both, the construction of alternative models and the development of practical alternatives. But not only.
Therefore, I would like to suggest that we get down to destroying, and with passion. Not arbitrarily – to the contrary. We should destroy very strategically, identifying the policies, structures and institutions that are key to destroying the basis of our lives, and attempt to destroy these in a nonviolent way. This requires organisation, it requires strategy, it requires the development of new practices of resistance, of a profound social change.
We will also build and create. But on the way we are going to destroy what destroys us.
The title refers to a song by the German rock band Ton Steine Scherben from 1971 (in German: Macht kaputt was Euch kaputt macht). English translation of lyrics: https://lyricstranslate.com/en/macht-kaputt-was-euch-kaputt-macht-destroy-what-destroys-you.html
 More about the Movement Action Plan: Andreas Speck: The Movement Action Plan, https://www.nonviolence.wri-irg.org/en/node/40508; Bill Moyer, JoAnn McAllister, Mary Lou Finley & Steve Soifer: Doing Democracy. The MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements, New Society Publishers, 2001, https://www.newsociety.com/Books/D/Doing-Democracy