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The Paradox of Self-care as an Act of Care Community

Second Part of an article about dealing with activist burnout


You can read the first part of this article here.

Let’s replace the toxic paradigm of self-sacrifice with the liberating paradigm of self-care. But first we need to reclaim care for the self from the industry of self-care. Are you familiar with that famous Audre Lorde quote: self care is an act of political warfare? A whole industry of self-care has appropriated this emancipatory principle and has been supplying the bourgeoisie with endless pretexts for covering up their complicity and finding excuses for their ignorance, passivity, and lack of commitment in the face of the violence of exploitative, oppressive systems.

We have long been criticising this situation on the left, but let’s stop and ask ourselves to what extent this is emancipatory criticism and to what extent it is simply a manifestation of the belief that we are not worthy of care, space, and recognition? In the way that it was understood by Lorde and other radical activists alongside her, self-care, as a revolutionary act, means saying NO to capitalist time. And, implicitly, to say no to chasing after results and assigning value to your work based on productivity. If capitalist time is focused on visible results, revolutionary time is unpredictable and, most of the time, it is also lengthy. The consequences of our work can become visible in a shorter time than expected or over numerous years. Building rebel communities and anti-authoritarian social movements takes time and, at the end of the day, to ensure that we have the patience that this time demands, we need to take care of ourselves.

Self-care doesn’t necessarily have to lead to individualism or consumerism. Once we start seeing our bodies and hearts as more than just resources, to see them instead as repositories of our histories and as sources of wisdom that go beyond rationality, they become very precious. Understanding ourselves in such a way, we open the door towards also seeing other people in the same way, thus getting closer to an ideal of mutual care. Mutual care, according to iox, is a form of collective strength in the face of exploitation and destruction.

What I used to call rest consisted mostly of stopping due to exhaustion, rain checks or procrastination…rather they are interruptions in the accelerated and urgent rhythm of life in capitalist adversity…

Slowing Down and Resting

Let’s compare a slow, fluctuating time to the time of capitalism, to speed, productivity, and flow. Slowing down does not mean a break and it does not mean postponing, but is a real change of rhythm, which brings your body to the present and closer to your soul. When you slow down, you manage to hear your own breath, the beating of your heart, the silent and sustained rhythms of your body. You can understand and learn about all those places within you where your body has bandaged a wound, has replaced pain with pleasure or has locked away suffering. By slowing down, you can learn to rest.

The big revelation that burnout has brought me is that up until recently I actually had no idea how to rest. What I used to call rest consisted mostly of stopping due to exhaustion, rain checks or procrastination. Sometimes, in order to protect myself from intense and unreasonable work rhythms, I would just bail. All these ways of stopping were not really planned and, sometimes, I was not even aware of them. Often, I needed the legitimation of other comrades who would say: just go to sleep, it’s too late to be working now, or you are allowed to have fun or screw work, even if it’s activism. When this is what most of your breaks look like, you can’t call them rest. Rather, they are interruptions in the accelerated and urgent rhythm of life in capitalist adversity, where sleep is functional and purely pragmatic.

Burnout has forced me to slow down and stop. The following were deafening at first: intrusive thoughts, restlessness, stifling anxiety. Fear, guilt, shame, guilt, fear; they all come crashing down when you stop. I was scared about what will other people think, if I stop doing this? And, in truth, this is possible; you will disappoint. By facing this fear, I realised that, first of all, I needed to be kinder to myself. And if people around me do end up disappointed, this is also part of love outside of punishment.

Through kindness, I discovered that, for me, rest is first and foremost a change of inner rhythm. From the fast and disciplined rhythm of work, I moved on to a disorganised rhythm, one that more closely follows my inner occurrences. Rest became a place of not only physical but also psychical regeneration, in which I am trying to learn what is truly restorative for me, outside of the model of normative society. When I manage to do it right, rest is a space of daydreaming, regardless of whether these dreams are realistic or truly fantastic.

In fact, it’s not moments of indulgence that make you lose your motivation – burnout does.

Pleasure, Pleasure, Pleasure

Three times pleasure because it’s like we are even ashamed to say this word. I sometimes think that we completely internalised capitalist and consumerist bullshit. We believe that pleasure is some sort of bourgeois indulgence, a matter of consumerism, shopping and entertainment. I noticed about me and others that we cannot allow ourselves to feel pleasure, as if that would make us so indulgent that we would forget our motivation, our revolution and everything else. Since when is indulgence almost synonymous with perpetuating oppression? Could it be that it’s been so ever since capitalism has convinced us that being lazy and wasting time is a bad thing?

In fact, it’s not moments of indulgence that make you lose your motivation – burnout does. I lost not only my motivation, but also my hope and even my sense of self; you can no longer tell why you’re doing the things you’re doing, what used to drive you, what your motivation was, where your satisfaction used to come from in your day to day and in the long run. If you’re a little bit like me, then your motivation is strongly bound up with your narrative about yourself: who you are, how you think of yourself, how you relate to other people. By losing these fundamental milestones, you end up de-personalised.

In slowing down, in rest and extended time, you can listen to your body and allow it to show you (again) who you are. Pleasure can be a way to anchor yourself, a way to allow your body to remind you of who you are, what brings you pleasure. Going beyond hedonism or immediate satisfaction, pleasure is that place where your spirit feels at home and happy hormones are not there to cover up negative experiences, but to heal them. Such an experience can teach you to listen to yourself, to hear what your body, your heart, your intuition are saying. This way, you can reach what you really wish for, going beyond immediate or medium-term goals, beyond normative family-home-career scenarios.

I was always of the opinion that it’s a good thing to fight my limits, but this way of thinking has led me to live a life of hardness, has almost turned me into my own guard.

Tenderness, Gentleness, and Sweetness

When political work has no room for pleasure, it means that anger and pain are its sole driving forces. Satisfaction becomes marginal, subsumed within this anger. My anger has served me well, has even helped me survive, but it has also harmed me greatly.

This is not my first burnout. The other two times this happened, I was even more disconnected from my own body, even deeper inside this paradigm of anger and excessive energy. This constant activity and the complete depletion of my body’s resources even led me to hallucinations one time. It was only then that I realised I was experiencing a burnout. That time, it hadn’t been any series of unfortunate events in combination with excessive work, but simply uninterrupted, draining, high-paced and high charged work. Anger was my main affect at that point. I learned to spit fire, to grow sharp fangs, to bite and not just bark – all these are things I’ve had lovingly said to me by friends. All this fierceness has probably helped lead me somewhere in life, but it’s also cost me my tenderness and my gentleness.

Here I mean mostly tenderness towards myself, and not other people. That, and having understanding for yourself, seeking regenerative rest and rediscovering pleasure, kindness, and tenderness towards yourself are essential not only to avoid a burnout, but also to overcome it. I was always of the opinion that it’s a good thing to fight my limits, but this way of thinking has led me to live a life of hardness, has almost turned me into my own guard.

Sometimes, however, it might be that we deny ourselves kindness and push on with extreme work in order to stop ourselves from feeling things. Because we know, more or less consciously, that those feelings waiting to come up are endless deception, and a very broken heart. A very broken heart however needs exactly that kind of tenderness and sweetness: allowing yourself physical and emotional comfort, with great care for all the small things they can bring you. Living everyday alongside small, necessary evils is not a virtue. Being your own guard and exploiter does not lead to progress. But there are ways in which you can contribute to the political change you are dreaming of while also being kind to yourself – which, to me, sounds like a great success.

In the end, the care I received has made me more modest and more trusting in my communities

On Collective Practices

Having had the privilege of working in anti-capitalist environments, my colleagues understood my burnout and I enjoyed their support while it was happening. Their camaraderie meant less guilt and the reassurance that, eventually and despite everything, it will all be ok.

These people around me understood burnout as an aspect of mental health and so instituted good practices from the domain of anti-sanist activism. It’s important to remember that a person doesn’t choose to experience a burnout, and cannot choose to get over it. In my case, my healing, my recovery after this profound crisis took six months. This means that, for about half a year, I’ve had to diminish my workload from 9-10 hours a day to about 2 or 3. This change which has allowed me to heal would have been almost impossible in normative work environments.

In the big bad world, you can only allow yourself change of this magnitude if you are a boss or a CEO. Otherwise, for precarious workers, reducing your workload to a third of it means also reducing your income and benefits accordingly, and creating professional hardship in the long run. On this note, it is important not to forget the material aspects of our work. Even if they are not the focus of this article, it would be impossible to stop work or to heal without integrating them in our planning. So, next time we are thinking about the (re)distribution of resources in our collectives, we should keep in mind that it might become necessary to cover for the temporary withdrawal of our members.

The support and understanding that I enjoyed have also meant that I didn’t feel so alone. That might actually be one reason why we sometimes keep postponing a long-needed break: we fear the loneliness, we fear the loss of connection with our comrades. We’ll lose track of the last social media debates, we’ll lose track of all the projects, travelling, organising. Ideally, however, a break away from work should not lead to isolation and solitude. One important thing that I was lucky to receive therefore has been the reassurance that my burnout will not exclude me from the social life and the emotional rhythm of political work. That I’ll still be part of the gang, so to say.

There, in my burnout, I understood that one of the toxic drives of my extreme work ethic was the fear that if I allowed myself a break, if I changed the way I worked, I would no longer be loved, appreciated, seen. Even before, I knew that appreciation was important and that it is not a damnable thing to seek and need recognition for our efforts, especially when it comes to our communities. However, it was only when I reached my limits that I realised that it wasn’t clear to me to what extent people around me liked me beyond the work I did. Even if this is a terrifying perspective, burnout leaves you with no other choice but to find out.

This is the moment when you can allow yourself to fall back into the arms of your community, to let show your frailty and vulnerability. By stretching out your hands full of all your accumulated pain, you can learn to ask for and receive care. Asking for and receiving care are hard to imagine and live for many of us. For me, at least, it’s a very fragile and painful emotional space. Don’t be like me, learn to practice care before you reach an acute crisis. In the end, the care I received has made me more modest and more trusting in my communities: a kind of increased self-assurance, but anchored in those who I know love me.

…it’s important to have workspaces which strive towards eliminating the pressure of productivity, of always delivering and towards dismantling the moral hierarchy that exists between those who work more and those who work less…

What My Burnout Has Taught Me

In the world of activism, where we have more autonomy and self-organisation and less power hierarchies than in other fields of activity, we have more control over our work conditions. Looking at this from an anti-capitalist perspective aiming to prevent burnout, it’s important to have workspaces which strive towards eliminating the pressure of productivity, of always delivering and towards dismantling the moral hierarchy that exists between those who work more and those who work less. And then, based on my experience, once the burnout has happened, it is essential to receive reassurances that everything will be well, that you’re not to blame, that you will not be alone, to receive continued material support and recognition. And you, the person going through the hard time, need to make an effort to learn how to ask for and receive care and then you need to forgive yourself.

Forgive yourself, it’s very important that you forgive yourself! Even is those around you are acting nicely, even if they are offering you care and support, even if you manage to give yourself time, to slow down, to find pleasure, to rest, at the end of the day, you might still be left with some guilt. And there, in that painful place within yourself where you believe you’re not worthy of rest or pleasure, that there is no recognition outside of much work, that’s where you need to forgive yourself.

We become embittered if we don’t forgive ourselves. We collect resentments and they stay with us, turning into alienation and cynicism, even if we do manage to allow ourselves breaks. And then we return to helplessness, we lose the motivation that drives our fight. The forgiveness I speak of might be a longer and more complicated process than overcoming burnout. Rummaging through your soul and facing debts and guilt that have been there for who knows how long is hard, to say the least. In the first stages, forgiving myself has shown me that I no longer have to prove anything to anyone and that a little extra modesty, in the form of taking a step back, is very liberating. Becoming vulnerable and trusting those around you allows you to let go in a liberating way, in this form of modesty and taking a step back. And this step back means both taking on a background role which allows other to bring about new version of your collective utopia, and believing in your communities, who know where to go even beyond what you can offer them.

The article first appeared in Romanian on the CUTRA website. Translation: Anisia Petcu. Reproduced with permission.

Can documenta15 still be saved? An Open Letter

Open Letter to the documenta15 supervisory board, the German government and the media


From Werner Ruf, Ingo Wandelt & Rainer Werning

We, the signatories of this “Open Letter”, are worried that the internationally renowned art exhibition documenta is possibly taking place for the last time in its current form. Ruangrupa, this year’s Indonesian curators of documenta followed the ambitious goal of finally allowing the “Global South” of the planet a voice. They are trying to take a look at a post-colonial world, which was previously characterized by imperialism, colonialism, racism and other forms of oppression and exploitation. The central idea wasLumbung”, the rice bard as a refuge for a socially managed and used resource of life. That could serve as a vital intercultural communication.

The laudable idea of letting people of the former Third World to speak for themselves naturally contains the “danger” that unnoticed facts in our own writing of history, kept persistently secret and suppressed – may suddenly become relevant. Who owns the prerogative of interpreting what happened and happens “down there”? If “the Southerners” attain the power of interpretation, does this lead to questioning “our” world view, previously cultivated over centuries together with claims to power?

The Indonesian artists’ collective ‘Taring Padi’ displayed a banner made out of many hundred pictures, created two decades ago. Since then, it was shown in many places without provoking protests. Two of the images found on this banner formed the justification for the hasty political instrumentalisation of documenta 15; and to denounce the banner as “anti-semitic”. This resulted in their condemnation – lock, stock and barrel. Even the demand that the exhibition be immediately cancelled. High-ranking German politicians believed that they these images were a threat to the existence of the State of Israel, while others consciously avoided visiting Kassel [the site of the exhibition].

The artists’ collective of Taring Padi declared early on that: “The banner installation ‘People’s Justice’ (2002) is a campaign against the militarism and violence that we experienced during the military dictatorship of Suharto for 32 years in Indonesia; and its legacy up to the present day. Therefore, the depiction of military figures in the banner expresses our experiences. As such, all figures depicted in the banner reference commonly-known symbols within the Indonesian political context, for example: corrupt bureaucracy, military generals and their soldiers – which are symbolised by pigs, dogs, and rats; to criticise an exploitative capitalist system and military violence ()

The pig’s face with a helmet containing the word MOSSAD is thus just one of similarly helmeted figures with abbreviations like KGB, CIA, INTEL, 007, which as a whole stand for international secret services. These served as the bones of the régime of (1965-1998). The weekly paper Die Zeit’ wrote the following on 3rd November 1967 – about Suharto’s bloody anti-Communist military campaign:

“The avenging army has not hesitated in realising the one-off chance of exterminating its only rivals. With official approval, carried out by the army, by militant Muslim youth groups, and by the PNI (Partai Nasional Indonesia), probably the largest mass murder since the days of Hitler began. There was a pogrom of the CPI [the Communist Party of Indonesia, at the time the third largest Communist Party worldwide – Authors note] supporters which would eventually get out of hand and turn into a national killing spree, whereby private feuds and general social conflicts were settled under the comfortable cloak of anti-Communism.”

The second incriminating image shows a face with sharks’ teeth, the cigar of a capitalist in its mouth, head covered with a hat, on which you can see SS insignia. The shape of side curls [as worn by Orthodox Jewish men – translator] are also discernible. Does this stand for the “hateful, greedy Jew” or a cunning broker, who symbolically represents finance capital which sells off the wealth and natural resources of Third World countries at the stock exchange? The SS insignia is clearly aimed at the inhumanity and brutality of the accused colonial system. Is “the Jew” being attacked here or the international finance system? The problem is more about an interpretation by the Western – specifically German – viewer, than that it is an unambiguous statement about “the Jews”. Also relevant is that the incriminated figure wears European clothing. The Israeli sociologist Moshe Zuckermann refers to this as a “purely German scandal”. Both incriminated images are not intended as antisemitic pieces, but are strictly anti-Suharto images. This basic intention of the banner clearly is not once visible to Western eyes.

The SS figure is placed in close proximity to the zombie-like creatures, also shown with fangs. The overall context strong indicates this really deals with an SS figure, and in no sense reduces “the Jews” to a particular incarnation of evil. A crony of Suharto, who was also his biographer, was no less than the hardened Nazi, SS-Obersturmbannführer and war criminal Rudolf Oebsger-Röder. Under the name O. G. Roeder, he was responsible for managing the image of Suharto at home and abroad as the constantly “smiling general”. After the Second World War, Röder, with others, was responsible for the Organisation Gehlen’ (hence the O.G. before his name) – the forerunner of the Bundesnachrichtendienstes [BND – German Federal Intelligence Service]. He later worked in Jakarta, both for the BND and also as a correspondent for the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

“We see things not as they are, we see them as we are”, wrote the author Anaïs Nin once. “We” have mixed “here” a dangerous cocktail from pre-judgements, hate-filled rejection, deeply reactionary reactions, political opportunism and vandalism.

What this leads to is that foreign guests, even curators and artists of this year’s documenta were physically endangered. This has not just introduced serious damage to this international art show. In addition, loud calls are chiming for curtailment of artistic freedom censorship. In Summer 2022!

Following 70 year’ diplomatic relations between the German Bundesrepublik and the Republic of Indonesia, it is time to open the archive to look at the wider ranging (West) German support for the Suharto Terror régime. This would follow the sense of the government’s sworn transparency and “value-based foreign policy.”

In particularly, we request that the documenta 15 supervisory board immediately use all its available powers to shape orderly modes of behaviour and a culture of dialogue that deserves its name. This means holding corresponding open forums, and an active exchange of opinions for the remaining time of documenta 15. We expect moreover an advisory body which contains at least one scholar from South-East Asia.

Edermünde/Wuppertal/Königsdorf am 27th July 2022

Prof. Dr. Werner Ruf (former political scientist and peace researcher with a main focus on international relations)

Dr. Ingo Wandelt (ethnologist and Indonesian scholar)

Dr. Rainer Werning (social scientist and political commentator focussing on South-East and East Asia)

Translation: Phil Butland. Reproduced with permission

Refugee Voices Tours

Experience Berlin from the perspective of people who living with refugee status


Refugee Voices was founded in October 2015 by activists and refugees who met on Oranienplatz and the Gerhard-Hauptmann-Schule, when both places were occupied by people trying to change the unfair situation for many people with refugee status in Europe.

The idea of our initiative is to give a voice to people who are often talked about in the media, but who are rarely given a chance to speak for themselves and explain their own stories. We aim to break down the stigma of the word ‘refugee’ by people who are themselves refugees speaking about their experiences, we hope this will open people’s eyes to the challenges that refugees face in Europe but most importantly we hope it will change people’s attitudes towards the current situation.

Our walking tours and workshops seek to inform the public about why so many people have been forced to flee their countries and seek refuge in Europe. We draw parallels between Europe’s own history of revolutions, wars and migration to create a relatable dialogue around what it means to be a refugee in 21st Century Europe and what issues lie at the heart of one of the most contentious topics of our time.

Since 2015 we have offered tours and workshops to thousands of people from all across the world, from all age groups and all walks of life. Our community of guides continues to grow across Europe and most recently we have made it possible for the public to attend our tours online.

On Saturday, 30th July, Refugee Voices is offering a new tour Afghanistan: caught between occupation and oppression, raising awareness of the situation Afghans are facing today and explaining this very complex history in a way that is both understandable and interactive.

The walking tour begins at the tourist information centre at the Brandenburg Gate and ends at Potsdamer Platz and will last around 2 hours. If you wish to attend the tour, please message us either via our FB page or send an email to to secure your spot!

Running on Fumes: Burnout in Activism

Veda Popovici elaborates how neoliberal work habits become virtuous within anti-capitalist activist groups in the first of her two part essay.

Last year I suffered an intense burnout. What does that mean? It means that, at the end of a series of unfortunate events and against the backdrop of an intense work rhythm, I reached the limits of what I had to give. And by that I mean the limits of my soul, body, heart and brain. Perhaps the best translation of the term burnout into Romanian is an extreme usage of the self. It’s not “just” exhaustion or depression, it’s pushing yourself so hard for so long that you end up burning all your inner, emotional, and physical resources. A car running on fumes, which is you, left with nothing else besides anxiety so deep it borders on terror, broken and invasive thoughts, chaotic emotions that have taken over and an aching body, shaking and sometimes delirious. And, what’s worse, when you’ve been burned out or excessively used, it becomes almost impossible to refill your tank of inner, emotional and physiological resources.

As scary as it seems – and is – burnout is in no way unusual. It’s a frequent occurrence in capitalist work structures and is, unfortunately, also very present in activist work environments, where self-sacrifice, adversity and constant, intense work are part and parcel of your everyday work rhythm. Over the last years I witnessed several such episodes of my comrades’. This helped us begin to understand, to educate ourselves about what was happening to us. What seems most important, however, is to begin by critically analysing the mechanisms which constantly push us to ignore our limits, while at the same time normalising practices of mutual, individual and collective care. If I were to summarise the challenges of these efforts to one fundamental question, it would be this: how can we convince ourselves that self-care, understanding and reinforcing (instead of forcing) our limits are essential for the sustainability of social movements?

The constant chase for results and the constant evaluation of the worth of our work as a relation between our expectations and results are capitalist values.

Burnout and Work in The Big Bad World

Out in the big bad world, by which I mean in normative society, burnout is already accepted as a given. Having already been a subject of study for a long time, the World Health Organisation has also recently recognised it as a professional ailment, a sort of work disease. In a likewise normative fashion, the excessive usage of the self is even more present in jobs where the individual motivation stemming from moral concerns and the emotional investment are bigger. In other words, in those jobs where we speak of good and evil, where you are emotionally invested in your work. Activism is such a field of activity.

Setting aside the fact that even normative society recognises the extreme burden of political work, we all understand how hard it is to simply live everyday being acutely aware of the immense discrepancy between the hurt and injustice of the world, and what we would like to see happen. This distance between what exists and what we would like it to be can sometimes become smaller, at times even significantly so, but remains the same most of the time. Of course, this pushes us and gives meaning to our political work, but when the results are small for long periods of time, it’s easy to feel constantly emotionally overwhelmed and to lose our motivation. We end up asking ourselves: what’s the point of all this?

However, we also need to ask ourselves, what if this logic is, on some level, reproducing or created by the capitalist ethic?

The constant chase for results and the constant evaluation of the worth of our work as a relation between our expectations and results are capitalist values. Capitalism teaches us speed, productivity, flow. Capitalist time is time in which your efforts are planned in quick succession, where each effort has to lead to palpable results and each result in quantifiable: you’ve “invested” time and work, what are you “getting” out of it? Capitalist time is rationalised: all your efforts are planned, all results get measured and all the goals you achieved had been previously measured and temporally situated. Deviations from this schedule or changes in rhythms both produce chaos. And nobody wants chaos in capitalism.

…the neoliberal model normalises a colonisation of the worker’s life by the employer… you get all those teambuilding and socialising events… through which the corporation sneaks into your soul.

Work Equals Life and…

How did I end up with a burnout? In short, it was a background of intense work that didn’t yield many results, to which a series of urgent events were added: death and fear of it, disease and fear of losing autonomy, losing worlds and losing people: solitude and more solitude and a broken heart, sustained violence against me and people I care about. When that which you do is political work, your life is pretty much one with your work. It becomes unclear where a task you’ve taken on ends and where your simple day to day life begins.

I was lucky enough to have grown up in an anti-work mentality. My parents used to often tell me in all seriousness: never do one minute of overtime if you are working for a boss. never do anything extra that you are not getting paid for! However, their experience is based on the Fordist work model: a 9 to 5 job, after which you get to go on and take care of your life and do your own thing once your shift is over. Your job is separate from your life, and the job you do is not really connected to your life. Of course, this is an aspect that gets criticised as alienating from a Marxist perspective: your working self ends up being so divorced from your individual and social life that you start experiencing anxiety and inauthenticity. The trick however is that neoliberalism considers this model obsolete and, by appropriating the critique of alienation, it says no to alienation and combines work and personal life. “Combines” is, however, not the right word. In fact, the neoliberal model normalises a colonisation of the worker’s life by the employer, the loss of privacy and the dissolution of measurable work norms such as work hours; instead, you get all those teambuilding and socialising events, informal language etc., through which the corporation sneaks into your soul.

Against the backdrop of our insecurity about our own value… we fall prey to a work model that very much resembles the neoliberal one, in which self-deprecation is used to serve the logic of productivity.

the Personal is Political

Even though I live in communities, groups and collectives with anti-capitalist commitments, where we harshly criticise this neoliberal model and strive to organise our lives and work in liberating terms, a measure of this model still seeps into our lives. Merging your political work and your individual and collective life is seen as valuable in leftist environments. The personal is political. The permanent effort of reflecting your principles in your everyday life is a way of living authentically and without subordination. More importantly, it is a way through which we can bring our much dreamed-of utopia closer to ourselves and the present moment. What do you do however when this merging between life and work starts to be weirdly like the neoliberal model? When the fundamental motivation of your work is so intimately bound to your definition of yourself, borders start to disappear, and it becomes very easy to lose yourself.

This time I wasted today could’ve been used doing this, that or the other – all of which would have been good for other people or groups. Or how can I call myself a member of a movement if I am not constantly contributing to it? These or any number of similar rhetorical questions, even when not explicitly formulated or not formalised as set intentions, can become everyday credos that replace the main motivation. Against the backdrop of our insecurity about our own value, we become our own guard and in doing so, we fall prey to a work model that very much resembles the neoliberal one, in which self-deprecation is used to serve the logic of productivity.

By which I mean – the normative world has taught me to hate myself and I therefore know that I am not worthy of recognition, that I have almost no intrinsic value and that all my self-worth comes from this work and its results. A derivative of a neoliberal model, this work logic will quickly create in us the need to become heroes, saviours whose value resides in how much they can sacrifice themselves: the more and the longer you do it, the more valuable you are for the movement.

…those people who have been involved in social movements for many years… work more than the newcomers of the different projects and collectives… you start to observe that this brings them a lot of informal power and authority.


Both self-exploitation and self-sacrifice are normalised in normative activist environments, namely in the NGO industry. Because it is work with supposedly noble motivations, the constant expectation is to set yourself aside, to postpone or ignore your needs and force your boundaries. This way of thinking is so widespread, that we reach a culture of martyrdom in which whoever is capable of the biggest self-sacrifice becomes better, more valuable, a role model. However, self-sacrifice in the service of political work is a paradox: it seems selfless, but it is, in fact, truly selfish.

Oftentimes, those people who have been involved in social movements for many years and who have contributed to many key moments in the respective movements’ history, are also the same people who work more than the newcomers of the different projects and collectives. Even if it seems natural that the former be the ones to carry the heavier load, they also do it because they are better adjusted to an intense and prolonged work rhythm – a rhythm better integrated in their own lives, accompanied by internal motivation and external recognition which are closer to their own wishes. Add to this the fact that these people were there for the various key moments of the moment, and you start to observe that this brings them a lot of informal power and authority.

Unintentionally, their intense work rhythm becomes a kind of “model” of activism that the other people in the group start aspiring towards as well. I have seen this many times and, to a certain extent, I have also lived through it: the good activist is the person who can work 9, 10, 11 hours a day, every day, who is simultaneously juggling several initiatives and who even has time for political commentary or a social life. The kind of recognition that this situation brings, alongside the informal power and authority, can easily become the main motivation, even if they had not been intended as such. And in this situation, self-sacrifice becomes selfish.

Even if we do not wish to and do not do it intentionally, whenever such a work model becomes the aspiration, we end up reproducing the neoliberal version of productivity. And simultaneously (and equally unintentionally), we can reproduce oppressive dynamics (sanist, classist etc.) through the way in which we distribute work, resources and recognition.

The article first appeared in Romanian on the CUTRA website. Translation: Anisia Petcu. Reproduced with permission. Part Two of this essay is available here.

Both this text and the artwork that accompanies it are part of the series of texts on precarity and anti-exploitation, curated by Adina Marincea, as part of the project Situated Knowledge – feminist affinity groups in the digital space. Situated Knowledge is a collaborative project created in partnership with the Spam Index platform, bringing together five affinity groups: Queerness (LGBTQAI), Maternity, Minority: between language and ethnicity, Precarity and anti-exploitation, Diaspora-Migration.

The illustrator Thea Lazăr works and lives in Cluj-Napoca and is a member of the Here There Collective. Her practice is mostly digital, but meant to live offline, in installations which wish to tell stories about the environment and socio-political situations, bringing to life local or unknown stories. @thealazar

News from Berlin and Germany, 28 July 2022

Weekly news round-up from Berlin and Germany


Rising rents in Berlin, 150 years ago

Complaining against rising rents is something well-known in Berlin. In 1872, the city was going through another episode of its more or less permanent housing crisis. Berlin had just become the capital of the German Empire, and the year before, 130,000 people moved to the city. Families lived with up to ten people in a single room, and unhoused Berliners set up shacks outside the city gates. Then came the Blumenstraßenkrawalle (Flower Street Riots), in Friedrichshain, where workers laid barricades across the cobblestone streets to stop police horses. What strikes most in this story is how recent it sounds. Source; ExBerliner

CSD: employee with Nazi tattoo?

Stewards with neo-Nazi tattoos were apparently hired for the Christopher Street Day (CSD) parade last Saturday. A tattoo of the Black Sun, which is considered an alternative for the banned swastika, could be seen on the forearm of a steward. Various Instagram and Twitter posts also show photos of the steward in question wearing the Black Sun on his forearm. He is said to have been on the road for a security company. He is not said to have been the only one. The Gay Advice Berlin and the association Bunte Vielfalt e. V., the operators of the two affected trucks, also expressed shock. Source: Berliner Zeitung



Charge of “Proximity to BDS”

The journalist Emily Dische-Becker has been accused of being close to anti-Semites. But no-one has explained exactly what her guilt is supposed to consist of. She has been criticised, among other things, for a video in which she prepares documenta guides for discussions on the topic of anti-Semitism; she is criticised for organising the conference “Hijacking Memory”, which had as its theme exactly what is happening now: right-wing propaganda instrumentalizing the accusation of anti-Semitism; she is criticised for a great deal, especially when one considers that she has no institutional role whatsoever – this is someone being singled out, entirely in media troll fashion. Source: taz

The trees of Buchenwald

266,000 people from all European countries were imprisoned in Buchenwald concentration camp, and the death toll is estimated at around 56,000. Recent attacks on the memorial are an international affront. Trees planted on the site of one of the largest and most notorious Nazi camps have been sawed or broken off by neo-Nazi cowards at night, including a tree for the murdered Buchenwald children. It is not “only” trees that have been defaced by the perpetrators. And this just in the days when the construction of the camp had begun 85 years ago. These attacks are not stupid boy pranks. This is political vandalism. Source: nd

Nord Stream: Concern about gas from the East

Gas is flowing again through the most important gas pipeline to Germany. But it is just as little as before the maintenance work: only 40 percent of normal capacity. Whether it will stay that way is unclear. A statement by Russian President Vladimir Putin shows where Nord Stream 1 could be heading: due to “slow progress in maintenance”, the delivery volume could be further reduced, he said during his visit to Tehran. Since private households, social institutions and consumers of district heating are protected by law, it is mainly industry that would be affected by a supply stop. Source: dw

Flat rate should stay

The 9-Euro-Ticket needs to continue until the end of the year, says a broad-based initiative which has launched an appeal to put pressure on the federal government. In addition to extending the flat rate, the initiative “9-Euro-Ticket weiterfahren” demands more investment in the expansion of public transport as well as in more staff and better working conditions. Signatures are to be collected at stops, in regional trains and on the internet. The initiative is also planning a nationwide day of action on 27 August. The 9-Euro project ends on the following Wednesday. The appeal is supported by poverty researcher Christoph Butterwegge, and activist Carola Rackete, among others. Source: taz