Creating Power In A Cultural War

Estelle Ellison
9 min readSep 30, 2022

Here is the afterward to my new zine that launches this October! This version appears here with some content edited out for safety reasons, but the unchanged version will appear in the printed zine! I felt the only way I could finish Discerning Power In A Cultural War was by writing in a different style so that I could speak more plainly about things rather than theorizing them as has been the case throughout this series I can’t believe I’m bringing to a close.

Some concluding thoughts to end this zine. In a lot of ways, this zine was written in a nonlinear fashion. From its inception, I started this project as an offering to everyone in political organizations, “progressive” non-profits, subcultural milieus, or just interpersonal relationships impacted by people’s values during this fascist period. A major challenge of writing this zine was that a fair amount of dynamics I’d hoped my work would help prevent ended up happening over the course of the year it took to finish. My intention was to finish everything in fall of 2021 but this zine had to evolve in several ways, due to traumatic situations I personally had to live through as well as new information I’d learned through my work, from comrades, and general reportbacks.

Abolish Time somewhat paradoxically exists on heavily surveilled platforms, but also outside of the surveillance systems we are all familiar with at our jobs and by the state itself. In the material we’ve gone over earlier in this zine we discuss the ways that different aspects of different work cultures function as a means of surveillance. The party line is a form of surveillance, productivity metrics are surveillance, and avoiding or interacting with public critical statements can be data points to be surveilled. Indeed, your likes and your following my account have probably been surveilled in one way or another.

I reiterate this stuff here because I think it is important context for what I’d like to try getting across in this afterword. The reason this project is something more than just me writing into the void is that we are all surveilled into submission. By this, I mean that there are many negative external motivators in this world that normally prevent us from making honest critical observations about our surroundings. Even when we are able to do so within the privacy of our own minds, we oftentimes feel great pressure not to make our critiques or doubts known. This dynamic is a result of surveillance, but I believe it is also the core reason people read my work. I can’t flyer in people’s workplaces and wheatpaste in various cities, but I can post what the managerial class would consider to be incendiary material to a public account that people can read outside of their bosses gaze.

When I started Abolish Time, all of my political experience was localized to the bay area. 3 years since then, I’ve learned a great deal more than I ever could have imagined about political scenes from around the country. I believe this dedicated space I’ve created for sharing the very critiques that surveillance strategies are intended to capture and silence is why people find value in my work and support me in the hopes that I will continue this public cultural service. Because of this paradox, I do my best to anonymize my writing such that sensitive information is not disseminated online, while still being useful enough to people in relevant situations. White liberals and conservatives alike often complain about the language I use and how my writing exists in relation to larger political discourses, but this is an intended impact of my choosing to write pieces that also function as a gatekeeping strategy. I don’t know if people share their experiences with me because my work is anonymized or in spite of it, but I nonetheless find it a challenge to hold so much sensitive information while also trying to help in ways that feel appropriate. In any case, this information reaches me because I think Abolish Time functions as somewhat of an extremely incomplete substitute for access to space where critical observations can be safely shared.

It is easier for people to start a conversation about something I wrote than it is possible for them to create and share their own critiques of their workplace or political home. “What do you think of this?” is less dangerous for people to ask when they are expected to unconditionally support the group structures they participate in. Even in situations where critiques are invited by leadership structures, these opportunities usually function as a setup for those who wish to see their concerns acted upon. Throughout the year I spent writing this zine, I spent a fair amount of it worried that newly radicalized youth would underestimate their opponents in various conflicts. I was also concerned that people would treat the simple act of naming harmful dynamics as if it is enforceable and made a positive response inevitable.

Something that sticks out to me when I was a teenager in a vanguard party was when a member in a different local shared their critique with the national organization via internal party documents. They were in their mid-20s advocating for the party’s praxis to be changed. While I remember thinking their document was a piece of strong and convincing writing, it was presented to me by adult professionals in their 40s, 50s, and 60s many of whom were professors or lawyers who’d been studying and crafting the party line for decades. I hadn’t yet resolved to quit the organization at that time, but it was made very clear to me that I lacked the means to engage in a written debate against dozens of highly educated and skilled writers who firmly believed they were driving the next revolutionary vanguard party. They believed it was their duty to protect their party structure from any changes. The member was inundated with response documents that were too numerous to overcome. I remember being expected to condemn the member along with everyone else. We were put in study groups so that we could reject the document in a way that aligned with the party.

I share this anecdote despite how rare the severity of that group’s discipline is because I think it illustrates the fact that groups that exist within hierarchical disciplines often “entertain” critiques in bad faith, especially when there are large age discrepancies. In these situations, the critique is no longer what is debated or discussed. The aim is to normalize grievances as necessary sacrifices in the pursuit of actualizing the group’s goals. While this may seem like a necessary fact of life for minor things (however ableist this notion oftentimes is), this attitude sets the stage for worse and more complex issues to form and take root in a group’s structure. “Can you convince us why we should take your grievance seriously?” from the outset already frames critiques as being of negligible importance.

Outside of orthodox marxism, we see this dynamic too in today’s mass abuse apologism. The wholesale condemnation of both callouts and attempts to cancel people has become overwhelmingly popular in recent years, and so many groups, orgs, and subcultural milieus took advantage of this line of thinking. However; when people who benefited most from this tendency were faced with knowledge of ongoing harm situations that required interventions, I found that they would refuse to act on this knowledge unless it was repackaged and presented as a public statement. Obviously, this maneuver was done not to appropriately address the situation, but rather so they could better target whoever made their grievances known. This move is insidious because it takes advantage of the fact that many survivors are genuinely afraid of going public. Demanding a public statement before addressing the situation, within the twisted logic of mass abuse apologism, makes it so that they have a right to continue business as usual for as long as no one comes forward and reveals themself.

Transformative justice was in large part sunk by abusers who refused to answer for their actions as well as abusers who rushed to start processes on the grounds that they allowed for the containment of condemning information. By requiring that participants not talk to community members about what all transpired before, during, and after these hasty processes, they effectively avoid any negative consequences for their actions. Additionally, abusers often bank on processes formed in this manner benefiting them rather than the people they abused.

This same pattern of entertaining grievances in bad faith rapidly appeared in the non-profit world as what amounted to strike-breaking techniques. Boards of directors called for specific teams that would investigate matters of equity, diversity, and general accountability where decision-making power rested firmly with the managerial class. As a result, discontent non-profit workers would become invested in these teams largely unaware that the outcome was already decided.

In each of these examples of false invitations to critique power, we find competing notions about how to create a radical or “progressive” group formation. I think this tension reflects the struggle for insurrection. Do we bide our time until some distant abstract opportunity to directly confront the state? Or do we all whittle away at the very dynamics that produce the state now, supporting each other so we can both survive this fascist period and end capitalism for good? Do we cling to proximity to capital for as long as we can in the hopes that we might someday replace the institutions we wish to expropriate? Or do we create interdependent networks of care that develop our collective agency and overall ability to confront oppressive power dynamics?

With these counterposed questions, “scale” is usually offered as the solution. Whatever we do must “scale up.” It is my belief that this line of thinking is just ableism and abuse apologism in disguise. At its core, the scale question is a defense of organizational harms. It makes sense that this sentiment often comes from people who wish to justify their participation in political formations that have yet to address both interpersonal and organizational abuse. Scale must come before all else, and grievances within this framing are small-scale issues. The inflated importance of scale leads to a scramble to find the perfect roadmap and formula for a scaled-up organization that doesn’t succumb to the issues we’ve all become extremely familiar with over the past several decades.

The pursuit of such an infallible map of the future is a rejection of people’s needs today. You can’t compartmentalize people’s survival needs if you wish for insurrection. There is a now-ness to insurrectionary survival that requires us to embrace each other with our respective material needs. We are deep in the midst of a cultural war that demands our constant vigilance as we fight against the further entrenchment of a fascist period. Fascism seeks to mobilize as many people as possible into becoming points of lethal force directly and indirectly. In a world where choosing to wear or mask or not literally determines who lives and who dies, Americans have never been more removed from the scale of violence they participate in on a daily basis. Fascism appeals to people’s ability to feel reassured, to live an individualistic fantasy where they see themselves as the savior of a world they in actuality are ruthlessly destroying. The same liberals who call for gun control lethally imperil their own friends and family as they fight for their supposed “normalcy” at the expense of everyone struggling in the margins.

Survival for those of us struggling in the margins is becoming more and more insurrectionary because fascism is denying us the means to live in the normalcy neoliberalism is constructing during this global pandemic. What use is an organization that can “scale up” to those of us who are most vulnerable to eugenics if we have to settle for harm and abuse on top of inaccessibility? What opportunity for insurrection are we waiting for as neoliberal fascism shapes the state with more funding than ever before? What confrontation do we expect the state to allow? It is my belief that an American insurrection will have to be one of mass sabotage and a rejection of the forms of violence that make up today’s “normalcy.” We do not need an executive body to coordinate care networks. The managerial class will never incite a revolt against itself. We need to collapse the social foundations of this reality that fascism imposes upon us.

We have to struggle together to reject every dynamic that is killing us. Leadership will always prevent us from developing our collective agency, our ability to collaborate, and the trouble we can make when we spontaneously synchronize. We have to leave the managerial class to their own existential crises as they grapple with the fact that their skillset will never produce revolution. When we discern power as it exists around us, the opportunities to strike back against oppressive violence begin to multiply. The more opportunities for us to further our insurrectionary survival, the more we will find ourselves wielding power of our own collective creation. We imperil everything that tries to kill us when we insist on surviving what fascism has in store for us.

No state will save us. Our relationships will, or we simply will not make it through this historical period alive.

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This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.



Estelle Ellison

Time dissuades us from getting free... Black Trans Disabled Writer (She/They)