The Recovery Movement has a Distinct Class Character
Let us examine a typical NA meeting taking place in a Boston Black community housing project, in which the management deals cocaine to the tenants, is supported in doing so by the Boston Housing Authority, and does not want the recovery meeting to be here. Similarly to the way the Vietnamese defeated the vastly superior United States military, the NA meeting survives because of the politics of recovery — it will be quite negative public imagery for the management to deny the people their recovery meeting. (See, United Youth of Boston, 1996)
The Freedom Now Group of Narcotics Anonymous cannot be fully understood if it is examined separate from, and outside of the context of the dilapidated, crack infested housing project in which it resides, with the corrupt management that Reagan/Bush/Clinton/Bush have treated with loving care; in the middle of an African American urban war-zone; in a New England city in which housing, schools, neighborhoods and jobs are highly segregated, with African Americans getting the bottom of the barrel in all of these areas. To fully understand this recovery group it must be seen in the context of all-embracing super-exploitation and oppression, and more money always stands to be made off of human suffering.
Every vein of this society pulses with this corrupt blood. This meeting, Twelve-Step meetings, the recovery movement — none of these is exempt from this corrupt blood. This is the social context in which 100 African Americans and Latinos are coming together on a daily basis to solve our common problems.
We are living in the imperialist phase of capitalism, its moribund, dying phase. There are no longer any “new frontiers” to exploit. It’s a matter of draining the blood out of already drained corpses. Anytime one-hundred people get together in a room and no money is changing hands, no one is being exploited, in any such situation today capital is being deconstructed. In its heyday, capital moved to wherever it could smell fresh blood. There is no more fresh blood. Wherever a profit is not being made off of human suffering today some capitalist is going out of business. This is a law of the genesis of capital.
One-hundred people meet together, then leave, and instead of buying drugs, instead of playing the lottery, instead of hiring a prostitute, instead of buying junk food, instead of going to work and acting out subservience to their superiors, instead of going home and raging at their families — instead of these they go home with feelings of self-respect, love for their families, harmony with their co-workers, intentionality with regard to making the circle of their lives whole, healing their relationships, making us stronger in our fight against the common enemy both inside of us and external to us — wherever this is happening the weticos (cannibals) are missing out on their supply of blood.
In the terminology of political economy: If no money is being made, then money is being lost. This is a socioeconomic law of capital formation. Capital is, at base, a social relation of production, whereby the social value of one person is being expropriated by another. Any time one-hundred people get together every day, and no exploitation is going on, capital formation is not taking place. We are in a liberated zone.
During the U.S. war of aggression against the people of Vietnam, a common illustration of the definitions of capital and commodities used by anti-war socialists was that of the tractor in the Vietnamese village: Capital, in this case, the tractor, is a social relation of production. It is not merely a thing; it is more fully the way in which people are related to one another through the medium of a thing. (Human relationships under capitalism are based on the ownership of objects of labor by one group, which are used by this owning class as a social power-over the rest of the society.)
While the village was occupied by the U.S. army and their puppet “South Vietnamese” troops, the tractor was used by a poor peasant farmer to cultivate poppy fields for the production of heroin, from which U.S. military officers, smugglers and drug-trade businesses made much profit. The heroin served to pacify disgruntled U.S. soldiers, to keep them under control. Finally, and not least of all, the heroin was shipped back to the United States and dumped into U.S. urban areas like Detroit and Newark immediately following large-scale revolutionary uprisings of the African American populations in these cities, to anesthetize the rebellious.
Here the tractor is, first of all, past congealed labor: the labor to produce the raw materials — metal, rubber, plastic, fuel, etc., that go into the production of the tractor itself. All of this past congealed labor is owned by the drug traffickers and the U.S. military, in the form of this tractor, in the service of power-over, domination and subjugation. The labor-power of the peasant cultivating the fields with this tractor is owned, likewise, by the U.S. corporations, the Pentagon, etc. The tractor is a social relation of production through which profits are being made and populations are being controlled by the monopoly capitalists (imperialists).
When the Vietnamese National Liberation Front overran the puppet troops and the U.S. army, the tractor then came to be used by the peasant farmers collectively to produce rice to feed the villagers and the guerrilla fighters. No profits were being made and no people were being expropriated for their lifeblood, their labor. The tractor was “liberated” and the village was part of a liberated zone.
The Recovery Movement has created parallel liberated zones. World-wide the populations filling recovery halls are working class — overwhelmingly so. You are a member of a recovery group when you say you are (Tradition #3, Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions, p139) — there is no economic or political barrier to membership. It costs nothing to participate in a recovery meeting. The “investment” that middle class and upper class people have in spending money on the psychiatrist as part of the “proof” that something important is taking place is absent and opposite for the poor and working class. The fact of it being free is itself a proof of its legitimacy.
The fact of the common sufferers being their own healers and experts on recovery flies in the face of hierarchy, meets with the daily life experience of working class and poor people, and is an impediment to upper class people who have no more authority in a recovery meeting than any of the other people there. Therefore, for some upper class people a recovery meeting may be the only place in which they do not have authority over others. This is inhibiting for some, and this is a breath of fresh air for everyone who would like a break from the boss (including some of the bosses themselves).
People come to Twelve Step programs because they have self-destructive behavior patterns over which they have no control by themselves. The section of the population who are the real criminals, who monopolize the real power-over in this society, systematically, (1) are a tiny minority; (2) have much more difficulty recognizing the need for surrender — their power-over and material wealth block them from connecting with their need to overcome the illness at its root: Their compulsion to exploit and oppress us is the root of their addiction. Just as the physical effect of dope is the strongest barrier to the heroin addict’s ability to see that it is killing him, so the fact of the accumulation of such inordinate material wealth and power-over itself forms the blinding force of their addiction to exploitation and oppression. The vast majority of people participating in recovery groups world-wide are working class.
Addiction is the core emotional counterpart to the capitalist mode of economic production and to the politics which accompanies this economic system. Wherever an addictive process is in place on an individual level the system of exploitation of humans by humans, the capitalist system, is being augmented and fortified. By this definition, the rich, the ruling class, is identified on a mass basis with the basic illness of this society. On an individual level this or that child of our rulers may seek recovery and join us. On a political level, on the level of society as a whole, the recovery movement has the stamp of the working class.