I. Mystifications, or Who Killed Robin Hood
II. The Social Climate of Confusion
1. The Socialist Perspective in the Social Climate of Confusion, or Have Ideology, Will Travel
III. The Transformation of the World
1. Nexus of Individual and Organization
2. The Individual
The trivial, catastrophic and extremely painful development of bourgeois society, which in its initial revolutionary impetus gave birth to dialectics, is slow to close its life cycle and has not yet led back to the broad and immediately inspiring perspective it seemed to open at its beginning. In other words, potentialities which could be visualized in thought – dialectically apprehended – these potentialities had to become solid material reality before the consciousness of many could be affected by them.
Dialectical idealism is expression as end – final emergence of Spirit into the light – and justification of the bourgeois order. Dialectical materialism is expression as beginning, as process, and hope: realization of the revolutionary project of the proletariat. The realization of the one (materialism) will be the repenetration of the other into history as history, will be as it were the closing of that life-circle, which will correspond to its realization. But a system of thought – all have historically fitted this role – can be taken as explanation, as philosophy, as separation: ultimately, as justification of the existing order – justification of the bourgeois order by Hegel and bases for the justification of socialism by Marx.
Marxism – aside from being philosophy as philosophy, as another interpretation – was the philosophic expression of the consciousness of the proletariat. The development of capitalism and the struggle of the proletariat would bring the proletariat into its consciousness. Marx assumed – but this time for the purposes of political struggle arising out of his personal desire to be involved in it – that reality would soon be ripe to reveal the truth of the thought and to awaken it in the minds of many. Before the revolution is in the streets, it is in the minds of the people. This awakening is not the problem of the apprehension, the “understanding” by intellectuals of Marxist thought – that is, the philosophic expression of proletarian consciousness, which can only be apprehended by them as philosophic interpretation – nor is it a question of such an “understanding” by workers. The mere apprehension of an idea as idea permits its manipulation by other ideas, themselves subject to conditions that negate the idea.
The impossibility of having a revolution, but the objective (real) possibility of taking power, led Lenin to subvert Marxism in order to justify what would become the Bolshevik coup d’état. Lenin (following Kautsky’s example) reintroduced pre-Hegelian dichotomies, and claimed Marxism as a philosophic expression of a consciousness for the proletariat. From here came the idea that, left to itself, the proletariat could only develop a trade union consciousness. From here also came the idea that this consciousness for the proletariat – to be effective, and to which the proletariat could not come of itself – had to be brought to it by an intellectual elite. For Lenin: the professional revolutionary, the Party. The dictatorship of the proletariat, which for Marx was an extension of the state over the time it would take to change over from profit to use production (Marx overestimated the state as the decisive instrument in the social revolution), became, in the hands of Lenin, dictatorship over the proletariat by the establishment of the party in the permanent role of the state. Marxism became an ideology, as Leninism, at the service of a ruling caste, who are in effect the new masters, the new owners, by virtue of their privileged detention of power.
Fascism also necessitated a subversion of Marxism as expression of the consciousness of the proletariat. Assisted by liberalism and Gentile, there was the necessity to neutralize the dialectics of consciousness by a return to Hegel (for the preeminence of the state, where the trade union consciousness – syndicalism – discovers its true culmination and resolution, but where, effectively, the consciousness of the proletariat is appropriated and negated) and to pre-Hegelian categories for the permanent duality between subject and object, thought and action, being and consciousness (becoming).
The roots of the fascist “myths” lie very close at hand: in liberalism. Fascism is the reactive fear that liberalism will not be able to hold the fort. It was the fear that the prevailing ideology (liberalism) could not resist the onslaught of a proletariat armed with syndicalism on one side and the Leninist proletarian state on the other. Fascism – always a possibility within capitalism – became necessary after the “victory” of socialism in Russia. It is, of liberalism, the totalitarian form: the rule of the fragmentary in order to eliminate totality, the rule of the parcel of life over the whole; that is, the effective negation of the whole of life.
Liberalism from the start affirmed and maintained the permanence of pre-Hegelian dualities. It is the world of the fragmented that wills itself so: it is the ideology of the specialist: the division of the world into mutually impenetrable – unrelated – parts. The unrelatedness of things allows liberalism (and the specialists who find justification through it), in the face of disintegration, to hope for reform and develop napalm. As ideology, Classical Liberalism is merely the mask of free-enterprise capitalism, and is passing, now that free-enterprise itself has passed. Its replacement, Welfare Liberalism, is becoming the mask of monopoly capitalism, which is itself gradually being absorbed out of the hands of the bourgeoisie by the state and its operational arm, the bureaucracy. Welfare Liberalism will more and more manifest concern for the “collectivity,” abandoning its “individualistic” past (creating thereby deepening dramas of conscience among the specialists), to meet the needs of monopoly capitalism, and as such meet the concern for the “collectivity” manifest in socialism – as both move increasingly to state capitalism, moving toward a permanently proletarianized (degraded) life.
It is no accident that western liberal democracies, socialism, Leninism (in its prolongation: Stalinism) and fascism got together to destroy the revolution in Spain. The ones by withholding aid, the others by sapping from within, and the last, led by little caudillo, bringing the actual tanks, guns and bullets necessary to make the graveyards. These totalitarian ideologies (mystifications) have all found their root in the objective need to establish or maintain operating forms of capitalism.
It is not accidental (fortuitous) that Mussolini called himself a socialist, or that German fascism was called National Socialism. Liberalism was – and continues to be in modified form – the ideological mainstay of the established and highly developed countries of the west. Socialism became its counterpart where no bourgeois class existed or was eliminated and replaced by a bureaucracy operating a bureaucratic capitalism.
Lenin’s search for a justification for taking power was also a search for the fulcrum for the exercise of that power. What was necessary (for him) for the underdeveloped countries subject to the imperialism of western capitalism was a weapon that an underdeveloped country could wield against imperialism, that is, an incipient capitalism that already had the characteristics of monopoly capitalism: bureaucratic capitalism. After that it was easy for him to establish the permanence of the state (the extinction of the proletarian state is specifically ruled out in The State and Revolution, until after the socialist revolution, and who knows how long that will take in passing?). Necessity, concealed in what happens, only appears at the end.
What has come about is the socialist perspective, in all its manifestations: Stalinism, Maoism, Castroism, and the various African socialist-nationalisms. In a current Russian definition to which all these ideologies could adhere, the state is no longer the state over the people, but a state of the people, finding Hegel again, and at the service of a repressive organization of life, in a final reification of the social question.
The polarization of means and ends – thought and action – into logical categories reveals a true antagonism between them in the bourgeois world. Thought is always separated from action, always hobbles after occurrence. Or else is discombobulated and deals with other. In his dirge to the bourgeois world, Spengler noted that there are two fundamental – irreconcilable – kinds of men: those who think and those who do. Malraux, another bourgeois haunted by the primacy of death, said: “Man conceives of himself but it is in no way necessary that he do so (and many don’t). The essential drama, or problem, is in the opposition between two systems of thought, one which tends to question man and life, the other to suppress all questioning by activity.”
The means elicit the emergence of the ends that realize them. The action you engage in engages you. Not to act is another form of action. Action always generates the thought, as thought generates the action. These opposites always fuse. The rest is liberalized fiction.
The radical who penetrates a group to radicalize it, who parcelizes himself, to bring some of its members up to his degree of radicalization, also enters on the level of the group. He is of them immediately. Any subsequent radicalization therefore is something other than thought, mediated by his creation of the conditions that negate that thought.
The socialist parties (the Social Democrats, the communists and the 55 other varieties) have practiced this at the level of the organization of society. They penetrated with a view to transforming it and were indeed transformed by it. Their work was in fact work for the perpetuation of the social order. This, which had seemed to be an occasional tactic, is now revealed to have been a strategic change permitted then necessitated by the subversion of Marxism practiced by the theoreticians of Social Democracy.
The political party of the past century that has wanted to be revolutionary, by subverting others in power plays and faction fights, aimed on the one hand at dislocating every other contending party, and, on the other hand, at entering the parliamentary game in an effort either at some sort of dislocation there or coming into revolutionary power with the sanction of the state. The parties of socialism have all, according to their lights, gone the way of complete failure. But the failure of their action has left intact in the minds of some the theory which these parties share and which informed their action. It is the socialist perspective. By not being the end of class-societies, by not being the social revolution, it opens the possibility for a new hierarchization of life: with a ruling caste holding state power (developing a bureaucratic capitalism) over an amorphous, permanent proletariat. The revolutionary moment is for them an embarrassment: it is the time when men become masters of their own lives, and they conceive of it as a transitional phase, a moment of discomfort between moments of power, assumed always for the benefit of one class which – as they wield power in its name – must become a permanence.
Hence the reconstitution (beginning with the structure of the party itself) of hierarchies present in the prevailing organization of life. Their mass bases, constituencies, dual powers, and parallel institutions keep the hierarchization of life: keep the militants below who execute more or less blindly the dictates of the leader-theoreticians above, pending their total abandonment of power to new representatives, new specialists of political power.
We are entering, they say, into a qualitatively new world of abundance, the so-called post-scarcity society. Not quite. We are entering a world which more and more imposes poverty – not the residues of material poverty, an administrative problem, but the poverty of existence which emerges with the disappearance of material poverty – as we enter into the possibility for abundance, the free development of life. The proletariat is not the industrial workers, not even all workers lumped together. As jobs disappear the proletariat also becomes the workless: there can only be unemployment where employment is a possibility. The proletariat is the result of the disintegration of society, the result of artificially produced poverty of existence. It is the negation of class society, not its continuation by other means. Emancipation will only be complete when the real man has organized and recognized his own powers as social powers, so that he no longer separates this social power from himself as political power.
In the socialist perspective, the workers – and particularly the industrial workers as vanguard – are the proletariat, at the root of society, and destined to be kept there. The struggle evolved – and continues to evolve for those who still function within this perspective – around the vanguard, at the service of the work ethic. The proletariat became a permanence in order to maintain socialism in one country or to get power out of the end of a gun. It was transformed into an ideology – passing from negation of class society to permanent instrument of its disappearance – aimed explicitly at maintaining a mystification necessary to preserve the new set of masters.
Such a line of thought is obviously barred for those who do not see the socialist bureaucracy as a ruling class, or who ignore the specificity of this class by enveloping it in the classical conditions of bourgeois power. So we hear that only a “socialist America” could consider reversing the trend of the appropriation of world wealth by the United States and Western Europe. The control of abundance is not just changing the way it is parceled out, but redefining its every orientation. That orientation can hardly be considered redefined by economism: the economic incentives of recent reputation which, less than use-production, are handouts, further impetus to produce for the state. Poverty is still imposed, men are still dispossessed – work is still turned against the individual as an instrument for domination.
The socialist perspective aims at a political revolution already consummated wherever capitalism dominates. To fail to understand this clearly (imbed it in revolutionary theory, translate it into practice) may again lead those who wish to transform the world into a reenactment of a moment of change already in the past.
The Paris Commune reexperienced the French Revolution. One of its initial orders proclaimed the separation of Church and State rather than the dissolution of religion and the scattering of priests. The theoretical and practical activity of the French Revolution was assumed by the Assembly, giving to much of its actions and deliberations an aura of the unreal. It is only toward the last that the Commune came into its own, up from the street, but it was cut down. Those who remember that Marx did not really influence the Commune should also know that he, with his underestimation of the preemptive role of the state, would have had difficulty circumventing such a development. He saw in the Assembly the elements of the state of his transitional or socialist phase.
Guevara analyzed that military affairs could accelerate both the process of decomposition of South American oligarchies, and the radicalization of the peasantry. The analysis depends on a generalized discontent among the people which the guerillas hope to polarize in their favor. It is the transposition of the Maoist approach to the South American climate. The key is not to abolish the power of a ruling class but to assume it, in a nationalist perspective, and put the country at the service of an efficient bureaucracy. It is the palace revolution, the coup d’état. The socialist perspective – necessarily linked to nationalism – was adopted by Castro after he came to power, in the same way that he was led to incorporate the Cuban Communist Party. It was the most viable form for institutionalizing the new bureaucracy that constitutes in all cases the replacement of the old ruling class. The positions of the Cuban Communist Party against Castro – he was an adventurist – are too well known to be documented here. Only to be noted is that such ideological arguments have no weight before the common aim: the assumption of power. Equally well known is the progressive and complete retreat from leaving power in the hands of the people. The councils of farm and factory rapidly became rubber stamps, as they are in Yugoslavia, of everything but the frills. They are free to make the decisions that change nothing. They are free to agree to the decisions of the ruling bureaucracy.
Transferred to the United States, much of this has merely become the portrait of a nice violence, that could, from the outside, bring down the ruling class here, if enough young American hotbloods would only disappear into some South American jungle, or take to the streets, the shaded windows or the roofs, rifle at the ready. To the mystique of peace prevalent in the peace movement is substituted the mystique of violence in an emerging “violent movement.” I lump into this term those new monks – devotees and dilettantes – of violence who claim to have no “ideology,” they “only want to make a revolution.” Theirs is the ideology (mystification) of revolution. Their direction is essentially that they have no direction. Most of them don’t even know they want to die. It is not a transformation of life that is in view, but a tactic that will throw the ruling class in disarray, and it will respond perhaps by retiring to the countryside to play golf. The suicide of several thousand people marching to meet the military apparatus and a largely unloving population is passed over in silence, or entertained as a “beautiful movement,” another Commune perhaps, where men who have failed also die on the barricades in memory of what they thought they had and what might have been. One of these groups of the violent movement had a vision – if unwittingly – of the truth when it wrote: “at least death is on our side.” No doubt. And floral arrangements on tombstones.
Into this mishmash of Maoism, peace movement and violent movement (the last two are aspects of the same mentality, the same spirit, which is the spirit of suicide) have entered those who ultimately will make use of it, if not enlist them all: the established advocates of the socialist perspective, with all their factional fights, infiltrations, hierarchizations. Among people whose action struggles for a theory, they offer their mystification of theory. They prefer the Chinese to the Russian model of bureaucracy and offer that as a fundamental choice as others here offer Republicans or Democrats as a fundamental choice.
The socialist perspective flourishes where theory and practice are separated: where militants (activists) below may go along the prevailing line set by the theoretician-masters above, who necessarily think of their militants as troops; and, as troops hobbling after them, a necessary concomitant to an ascension to power, for the greater glory of socialism in more countries.
The structure of Students for a Democratic Society – and the social climate of confusion – has allowed for the simultaneous development of a reformist and a radical wing. The reformers have the upper hand.
SDS began with the modest slogan, in loco parentis, directed at university administrations. It accused them of taking up the role of parental – paternal – authority on the campus, with all of the control on thought and behavior which that implied, in an atmosphere hypothetically devoted to the free inquiry of open minds. That inquiry was not free or the minds open was hardly questioned. It would have led to the mentor of the university: the prevailing social structure, and the state.
So far as the social structure was concerned, the organization called for a reform of the Democratic Party. The logic was simple. There is a reactionary coalition of southern Democrats and northern Republicans. Congress is dominated by committees. The committees are dominated by committee chairmen. The chairmanships are accorded by the seniority system. The southern Democrats, having an iron grip over their constituencies, only leave Congress to receive their funeral orations. They control their constituencies because the negroes don’t vote. Tactic (which joined the tactic of SNCC or Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party): register the negro, get in new representative blood, oust the chairmen, the chairmanships will then pass to more liberal northerners – the reactionary coalition will be broken – and the cause of Democracy in America will be saved.
The direct descendants of the tactic to reform the Democratic Party are the Community Action projects, with their reformist approach to social action. What is wrong with reformism is not the desire to ameliorate the immediate conditions of a number of people, but rather that these reforms are gotten to transform the same number of people into constituencies. The whole scheme operates entirely within the horizon of the prevailing organization of life. A constituency is political power separated from social power. Reform, in ignoring the revolutionary possibility, works now as ever for the continuation of the prevailing structure, and sanctions what ostensibly it negates.
Participatory democracy becomes not the face-to-face democracy of citizens exercising power without the mediation of representatives, but merely the desire to have more people go to the ballot boxes, more people join in the spectacle of elections. “By 1957 the 20,000,000 ballots cast in the election of Miss Rheingold made it the largest election in the United States outside of that for President” (Boorstin).
The “multiple issue” orientation of SDS signifies not a total attack upon the prevailing organization of life, but a separate and separated – a fragmentary and parcelized – approach to a number of “issues” that for the most part are directly linked to the marginal character of student life. This plethora of fragmentary issues finds its echo in the desire for decentralization and leaderlessness (which is less the absence of leaders than the creation of the conditions for leaders to take over) within SDS chapters. It is the desire of each of the chapters to be able to pursue their thing, along their own lines, unrelated to what everyone else is doing. Democracy, they call it.
The draft enters as an enveloping issue: it touches all students, and as such becomes an effective tool in the hands of those who wish to place the plethora of fragmentary issues at the service of a unifying perspective. Centralization becomes the artificial imposition of unity over the fragmentary in exchange for the abandonment by the militants of their real power to those – at the head, the steering committee, what have you – who speak and determine in their name.
Within SDS, with this past and these perspectives, is reinforced the need for developing a power base. There is a reinforcement of the need for centralizing power in the steering committee, the need for a mass base, a constituency, militants, bodies: bodies to hold flags, to march, to put in front of tanks, in front of stone walls. The problem here is not to deny the stone wall but to see it emerge as it were out of the fragmentary and fragmented attack upon the prevailing organization of life. There is feeble assistance, but assistance, by the Radical Education Project, which from its proclaimed purpose of reinvestigating or simply investigating the American scene, conceals its theoretical foundation in the socialist perspective.
Many in SDS have a healthy intuitive distrust of the obvious hierarchies of the little parties (Progressive Labor, Trotskyites, not to speak of the CP itself): it is the independent ideologues (mystifiers) and ideology (mystification) of the socialist perspective that can reach and subvert them – the Monthly Review, Studies on the Left, Marxist-Humanists, Independent Socialists, the Guardian (old and new), Maoists (Debrayists, Cheists), on to include the IWW on one end of the spectrum and the little theoreticians up from liberalism like Hayden on the other.
Many of those who are still called – and still call themselves – militants have seen in the relative autonomy of SDS chapters not the early forms of another hierarchical organization – which it is – but a healthy rejection of hierarchies, cell bosses, party chairmen, secretaries. They have been swept off their feet by anarchism, which conceals beneath an affirmation of the individual his abdication to the domination by the cohesive community. The anarchists speak of duty to the community as those they fight speak of duty to the party or the nation.
It should be noted that the preeminence of the community over the individual is founded in the necessity to organize the population around the struggle against want. All of the splendid affirmations of individual liberty by anarchism are mediated by this necessity. But with the passing of the necessity, the anarchists have maintained the communitarian model as the foundation of the liberation of the individual.
In its day anarchism functioned as an affirmation of the individual against those who tended to objectify – reify – the individual as a cog in the “objective need” to install in a capitalist mode of production the socialist perspective. It is the affirmation of the individual that we keep in memory of anarchism. It is the individual that matters. It is each one of us who must refuse to sacrifice himself for the boss – be it community, farm, factory, party, or state.
John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee once explained that all the blacks needed to get their civil rights was to ask for them. The asking led to the March on Washington, “the greatest assembly for a redress of grievance that this capital has ever seen” (New York Times, Aug. 28, 1963). Then, “Mr. McKissick said several times during his testimony that the civil rights movement, as originally conceived, was dead. It died with the March on Washington in 1963, he said, because it dealt strictly with integration. A vacuum now has been filled with black power, he said” (New York Times, Dec. 9, 1966). To the illusion of John Lewis which was the illusion in SNCC succeeds the illusion of black power. It took three years.
* * *
“Advocacy of ‘revolution’ is a tactic to appeal to those who respond to the ‘language’ of revolution” (New York Times, Jan. 22, 1968). Professor Charles V. Hamilton, who said this, has co-authored a book on black power with Stokely Carmichael, the man who has so much upset the powers that gyrate with all his talk of revolution.
In their book the following tactic is suggested: if a representative of black interests no longer represents these interests, the constituency must revoke his mandate. And so black power is not conceived as a negation of the prevailing order but as an affirmation of a specially deprived special interest group within the legislative body. (Congress, by the way, does not represent the living – nor does any legislature – except as they come through the economic interests of a section (division) of the country. Congress has represented, from a time when the economic divisions in the country separated along real lines, sectional economic interests. These divisions no longer significantly exist: the same corporations own the factories in Maine or Connecticut, Tennessee or California. The upshot, in Congress, has been not to compromise over differences due to the allegiance to different bosses, but to compromise over the way in which the booty will be divided. What are the real interests of the black people – or the white – Mr. Carmichael?)
He said (Prof. Hamilton again), “middle-class Negroes who formerly had sought to work with the established system were now joining black power groups in increasing numbers, raising the level of black leadership.” (Emphasis added.)
Unmistakably, the black power enterprise is an attempt by the “black bourgeoisie” – how is it different from the white? – to control the blacks. It is not necessary that they assume the head – that they really control – but merely that they appear to do so. Institutionalizing the image of their domination, and introducing the presence of despair – the despair of those who will take the image for the real thing, and wonder, perhaps, where the revolution went. This black parliamentarianism represents a fundamental reabsorption of the blacks by the prevailing structure. And the blacks will be left with religion, and the reaffirmation of the subordinate role (slave role) of the female: they will continue to be deprived materially of what the heavens of religion grant them (in heaven), the possibility of being (which is becoming) men.
Racism – to which blackness is a response – is not in the nature of man, or of the white man, but of the prevailing system. Blackness as a fundamental trait against the system is merely a specific of it. And now that capitalism rises in Africa, racism is manifesting itself there, against those who are not black. From the fear of extermination – which has economic objectivity not only for the blacks: Vietnam also functions as an exterminator, though even here the blacks on the bottom of the pile suffer out of turn – the defense of blackness leads to a defense of all the Hamiltons and Carmichaels and Powells and Elijah Mohammeds, in an indiscriminate agglomeration of classes that can only serve the class that rules.
Rap Brown said, “violence is part of your culture.” Is it not part of his culture? The illusion of blackness as something other than the color of his skin haunts him, as it does any man who attempts to elevate race – why not social position? – to the level of a characteristic in what would presumably be some definition of the nature of man. He also said, “the black movement is a leaderless movement.” If by that he meant that the movement (himself included) must struggle against all those who pose as leaders and attempt to channel the struggle by way of the black power advocates, his agreement with the Black Power Conference in Newark in 1967 remains to be explained away. He also speaks with a forked tongue. At best he reminds one of the trade unions, of all those anti-bureaucratic workers who find themselves presided over today by a powerful bureaucracy.
“Summer rioting is healthy for individual rioters because it gives them a psychological lift to confront the oppressive ‘system’ ” (Hamilton again). Despite the comfortable locution, the “individual rioter” is the element that can dislocate the whole dream of these unhealthy gentlemen. In Detroit, in 1967, they did not spare the shops with the black power slogan “black owned” or “soul brother” (which should have read “your soul, brother”): and whites joined in. It is the individual rioter who lives in imposed poverty, on the margin of the dying labor force, it is he who has nothing – but nothing – to gain from being appropriated once again by a new set of old masters. There is a race between his visceral rejection of the prevailing organization of life – its transformation into consciousness as conscious existence – and exhaustion, indifference, apathy, where the streets of Harlem or Hough or Watts – even with a flood of cars and television sets, even with a deluge of commodities – are accepted with the same permanent indifference as the fields and jungles of Vietnam. That despair constitutes the victory of the Powells, Hamiltons, and Carmichaels of the earth, aligned as they are with all the Johnsons and Kennedys, De Gaulles and Maos, all those who speak to men in the name of something more than them.
Fundamentally, there must be a refusal to sacrifice oneself for the boss – of the farm, the factory, of the party, or the state, no matter what his color or the decorations on his hat or shoulder. On the portal of one of the medieval churches, the people of those times put this understanding graphically: the greats of the earth – all the kings and princes, all the popes and nobles – are chained one to another in a line going to hell.
The nature of man is what we will make it.
The activism of the last few years arose out of individual rebellion against the prevailing organization of life. Some came for moral reasons or because their parents had gone too far to the right or not far enough to the left, but all, viscerally, because life had somehow been turned into the show of life, where activity is an abstraction from all activity, a passivity viewed as activity, so much lauded by McLuhan as “involvement in depth.”
It was necessary to strike out, to break the restraining bond, to march, carry flags and banners, make slogans, write letters, address petitions to the government which – if displeased by all the noise – could well afford to file all such things in the waste basket, with a carbon copy to police files.
Slowly, many have come to realize that there is also the spectacle of opposition which can be easily framed in the generalized spectacle of the prevailing system, that their activity again has become an abstraction from activity, that they can march, then rush home to watch themselves do so on television, which in turn is careful not to film knots of demonstrators who might be willing to act for it. And so they turn in search of an opposition, to stop participating in the spectacle of their own passivity.
Since revolution is the dissolution of existing social relationships, the activists destroy beforehand the conditions for bringing it about. They reintroduce hierarchies: either as followers of a leader-theoretician or as leader-theoreticians who seek to raise and maintain a mass base, a constituency. If a mass base struggles for the power of its masters, the masters already hold the power in the name of the mass base; it is already the old world in the expectation of the new. The activist abandons his subjectivity – his being – to a new mediation by new representatives of political power, he rebecomes in the very movement of his separation from the old world slave to his new masters. It does not matter whether these activists are “independents” – of the peace or violent movements – or belong to SDS or SNCC, or the established parties of the socialist perspective.
Activists are elements for maneuverability, they are transformed into objects at the service of slavery and sacrifice. The transformation of men into objects is the practice of alienation. The activist of peace and the activist of violence join hands at the level of the spirit they share, which is the spirit of suicide. What is destroyed is precisely what must be preserved: subjectivity, the individual. We are the subjective existence of society. Consciousness can never be anything else than conscious existence.
To the alienation through activity of the activists succeeds the speculative alienation of the intellectuals, the theoreticians. The major defect of theoreticians is that they view the world as an object for observation, a case study, not as practical activity, not subjectively. They do not grasp any more than do those who function as their bodies (troops) the significance of the practice of theory.
The only limit to participating in the total openness of an organization that is revolutionary is that each member recognize and appropriate for himself the coherence of the total critique which the organization makes of the existing world. The coherence has to be both in the critical theory and in the relationship between the theory and practical activity. A revolutionary organization radically criticizes separate power. That is, it criticizes the belief on the one hand that some men may think and that others may do – that ideas are a power unto themselves, separated from their application into practical activity by those who think them. And it criticizes the belief, on the other hand, in power separated from those it belongs to, to remove power from the people and place it in the hands of representatives operating from a constituency, a mass base, or in the hands of a party, a bureaucracy, a dictatorship of the proletariat. The theory of practice is the practice of theory.
This clearly cuts across the lines of the socialist perspective that has a real opposition to the present ruling class, but which ultimately merely wants to set up another: accordingly, it is the worst enemy of any real attempt at the transformation of life. But it also clearly cuts across those organizations of militants that presume to change the existing world by the continued show of opposition, by continued leaflets signed Forces of Liberation when the only forces of liberation are still only in the minds of people. It is the illusion of the existence of a nonexistent theoretico-practice. It is practice without theory, the militant or activist deprived even of his leader-theoreticians, even having a kind of contempt for what it calls book-learning, which is only its own avowal of the absence of theory. (And theory is first of all a reflection upon life, not books.) The militant left to himself rediscovers himself as object, playing someone else’s game, at the service of sacrifice.
Their organizations all begin by saying: let the struggle begin. But to what could be a clear beginning succeeds the show of opposition, centered around putting bodies in the street, street meetings, picket lines, going to the people as the contemptuous saying goes. Such organizations confuse a lack of leaders – which is desirable, necessary – with a lack of theory, which is not possible. It invites not only the appropriation of its action by the socialist perspective but invites eventually that perspective to determine its action by determining the conditions within which the action will take place.
It is here that all the hierarchized organizations recruit the bodies they need to function. It is here also that men prepare to die on the barricades for what, long before the barricades, they have already abandoned.
There comes a moment in the life of many a man when he becomes suddenly aware that all the old values, the values he has been brought up on and their manifestations, have suddenly gone dead; it is the loss of illusion, the feeling of having been taken. During and after the break there is an awareness that the system is all of a piece. Each detail, no matter how minor, a TV show, a professor’s line, a remembered scene, sustains and reinforces the whole. This disintegration is nihilism. It is still a continuation of the system by other means: the despair of a form of life is still an affirmation of that life. Its first movement out of that life rebecomes acceptance as soon as it is not transcended. The nihilism that passes through the disintegration of some values to the disintegration of all values – where social dissolution becomes psychological disintegration – leads to suicide. Amphetamines and junk are the methods of suicide, aside from all those every year who put a bullet in their heads. Here also reenters a belief in the nature of man, mistaking the endurance of a condition for its permanence. A human condition linked to a historical perspective always becomes, in that perspective, the nature of man.
The hippies, following the beatniks, are recuperated and reintegrated into the prevailing organization of life even as they are a sign of its dissolution. There are the small businesses, the artisan work, the communitarian living. Founded on a dissolution of the society, all such communities will disappear, dissolve as soon as the effective dissolution of the individuals is recuperated by the society. The quiet use of drugs, to blow your mind into another world, permits the uninterrupted acceptance and existence of this one. The disintegration of religion for those who are still in need of the mediation of the priests, reintroduces the I Ching, Zen, tables of understanding, all the old religions now dying in the east; palmistry and alchemy, and the dreams of magic, all the residual forms of religiosity that look like a reactivation of the religious spirit, but which is unmistakably the death sign on the established western religions. Man makes his gods in his own image, and needs them as long as men are cut off (deprived) from being men.
The sexual revolution does not exist as expressed, only as lived and it is on all sides – poorly lived. The freedom to sleep with your neighbor is first of all the freedom of the anti-bourgeois who imitates the bourgeois. It is a condition which is bachelor haunted, a reflection of the bourgeois family. It is the painful, subterranean awareness that will not go away that a piece of ass does not bridge the separation, that back, flat on two backs, the penumbra is reexperienced as darkness and isolation. This mundane bourgeois experience is relived by anyone trying to break out of the bourgeois mold.
The whole hippie experience reveals and creates various illusions: the awareness of the dissolution of society is the reconstruction of another society; the disintegration of bourgeois “morality” is experienced as sexual liberation; the search through drugs for the euphoria of bored minds is invested with liberatory potential. The whole, for the bourgeois world, is viewed as subculture, marginal and recuperated by culture: happenings, pop-op art, psychedelic colors and the films of Warhol. What seems to have been rejected and destroyed is recreated in the piecemeal reconstitution of the world of their fathers, as culture, for the delectation of a jaded ruling class.
It also happens that the nihilist loses what seems to be his apolitical style and conceives of a political style as an adjunct to his life. He is recuperated immediately either into the acceptable opposition of community action or the unacceptable but no less recuperated socialist perspective. He becomes somebody’s activist, somebody’s body for the show of opposition. But no one today assumes the socialist perspective after the nihilist experience without pushing aside the feeling of despair that haunts him, the feeling, profoundly, that he has abandoned something. That something is his life.
Partial emancipation makes total emancipation appears as a possibility. Yet we find that a partial emancipation from the prevailing conditions is lived as though it were total. The experience of it transforms the partial emancipation into slavery, and again blocks the horizon to total emancipation. Whatever maintains in any way the prevailing conditions is a continuation of slavery, imposed poverty, the relations between men mediated by things, the world of commodity, show. The illusion of freedom recreates the freedom to entertain illusions.
As the parties reveal their attempt to grasp social movement in order to condition it to their ends, the activists and nihilists reveal the disintegration of society. They reveal their penetration into the dispossessed, for we are dispossessed of the possibility of abundance as we are of the possibility of liberation. They reveal their absorption into the class that is the negation of classes, the proletariat.
It is only when the nihilist – or activist – rediscovers play that he rediscovers himself as subject. Then the bourgeois world becomes the object of and for his play. He will play with cops as a guerrilla plays with columns sent against him (meet them on his terms), play with all the “forms” and manifestations of the bourgeois world, which is the equivalent of foiling them, doing a turnabout on them, for the purpose of his own liberation.
One day the government was having trouble with the people, so it decided to put the leaders in jail. But the trouble continued, it even got worse. The government, seeing the mistake of having left itself no one to bargain with, decided to return the leaders to the people, hoping to reestablish a normal situation. By that time the people had gotten used to the absence and paid no attention to them anyway. It was the beginning.
“A sedentary gathering of a few hundred youngsters in Washington Square grew into an impromptu march of a few thousand. . . . Afternoon traffic was slowed as the demonstrators chanted ‘the war is over,’ spun noise-makers and banged gaily on cars they stalled as they tramped down the middle of streets or crossed against lights. The tone of the five-hour affair was mainly cheerful. On the way up, the lighthearted demonstrators followed a young man in a brown cape who was carried on the shoulders of another young man. ‘I don’t know why they followed me,’ he said, ‘I guess they wanted leadership.’ ” (Thereby transforming his role of spontaneous leader, of gamester, into a leader with followers.) He was deposed on the way back, however, after he had shown respect for the Establishment’s police arm. He had led a “hip hip hooray” for the police. Then, to the obvious astonishment of the police, he had asked them which route they would prefer the marchers to take on the way back. “After obtaining a 215-pound volunteer to carry him back, the 121-pound leader took off at the head of the parade. But the marchers ignored his request that they follow this route. When last seen he was on foot and alone.” (New York Times, Nov. 26, 1967). That was also a beginning.
The philosophers have only interpreted (justified) the world in different ways; the point is to change it.
Liberation is individual or it is nothing. The individual is the pivotal element for and of liberation. All organization is the negation of the individual first in that it creates something other than the individuals who come then to form its parts. That other, which is the product of common action, acquires life and, as life, endurance which wills itself as permanence. Society – and the organization that precedes it – outlives the individual. This biological detail is of immense social importance.
The problem is how to assure that the organization does not lead to a re-hierarchization of the world, but to its uninterrupted transformation. It can only be the basis for the new community, the new collectivity: it must be in incipient form that which is and prefigures the new relationships between individuals. Those relationships are, in effect, the forms at the level of daily life of the new collectivity.
No individual can be free unless the collectivity is free. And the collectivity can only be free if it is the free association of individuals. Man is a social animal. Individual freedom was always, historically, negated because the collectivity was organized concretely for the struggle against want, a primary fact which preempted the freedom of the individual, and made of it, at best, a paradise of the mind. The removal of forced labor from the realm of man will allow men to rediscover in their non-alienated forms the whole history of man’s past, to rediscover for instance nature or competition, to rediscover work. It is this liberation from the alienations of history which will constitute the end of history.
We must assume that the proliferation of individuals – of men whose consciousness has become conscious existence (and in this sense consciousness is really a minority problem) – will engender, by being the contradiction within the absolute and absolutely old world, a qualitative leap into its uninterrupted transformation. The dialectics is not of history – much less of bourgeois history – but of life.
Classical Liberalism defended the individual against the enveloping, undifferentiated collectivity – a weapon of the state – in the name of individualism, for the benefit of free-enterprise capitalism, where man is wolf to man, and all will turn out for the best in the best of all possible worlds. In individualism, freedom is conceived as a right of man not founded upon the relations between man and man, but rather upon the separation of man from man. It is the right of such separation. The right of the circumscribed individual, withdrawn into himself. It leads every man to see in other men the impediment, not the realization, of his own freedom. Murder is always incorporated.
The moment the individual, whose consciousness has become conscious existence, gives up his rebellion for the sake of organizational cohesiveness, nurses an unresolved opposition between members, he ceases to be an individual and is recuperated by the wiles of the old world. At root, we wish to break with these men who have forgotten their childhood, as the defenders of the old world have forgotten theirs. Who remember of it only the images that broke it, dominated it – who remember only the history of their adjustment to the enveloping and sterilized adult world.
There is no pleasure without pain. The old banalities return to us, but washed of their inversions. For when the world as it is now organized uses the line, it has in mind the permanence of pain, the endurance of suffering. The old man, leaning at the bridge, puffing eternally at his pipe, while the armies march forever by, the old man is patience, the only consolation. Pleasure appears as a streak, a break, a momentary usurpation that relieves and makes permanent the other. It gives birth to the sustaining visions of paradises lost. But the paradises are all and always of the mind. The lot of man, as you know, is to suffer. To repent. He killed his father, primal though he was. He murdered God. He cut off the king’s head. Visions and acts of liberation become domination. Life is this. People who do not laugh, for they are pensive, distant, contemplating with immeasurable sadness the laughter of their masks. Death, which comes to put an end to a long and productive life, becomes the ultimate injustice, the last straw.
A definition of production could be, that which has no beginning, knows no rest and has no end. For labor to be labor, it must be sustained: when labor retires, it is to die.
Yet, man is joy. A joy lost now between the hours when sleep is no longer sleep and not quite waking, it is the imaginings of childhood, the fantasies of man awake. It is imagination constructing and dissolving secret worlds, creativity sealed in characters in a book, stone on churchwall, area between the ears. Man as joy is man at play. And yet play, colonized in that it comes out in manners selected, allowed by the world, feeds the continuation of the world as it is. Play is creativity that knows rest, that knows silence and ends – that experiences time as something other than that true image of the assembly line: the endless circularity of the Swiss clock, the non-ending line in the perverted image of a cycle.
What we aim at, beyond want and external compulsion, is the play of life itself, the manifestation of freedom. The problem is individual as consciousness of its need, it is collective for its resolution: the one passes through the other, and lies already imbedded in the other. The aim is also the weapon. The collectivity – be it now community or nation – as suppression of the individual is ideology (mystification) at the service of the prevailing organization of life.
Many a man senses the poverty of existence, feels the wrong that haunts him, but at no point is the sense grasped, nowhere does it emerge into consciousness as a condition he is subject to. The grasping here is not the intellectual handling of ideas about a condition. Many (nearly all who think within the socialist perspective) are aware of such ideas. But the poverty of existence has not emerged into consciousness as their condition, the wrong is not to them (it is the humanist syndrome: which is always the concern for the other man’s sty). After all, they have fair jobs, or jobs they like, or women they love, or goods for consumption, or all these things. It is for them a general condition, undifferentiated, vague, a problem for the collectivity, which means other men, always. They themselves are free as the blown ashes.
When the unbearable poverty of existence emerges as the poverty of one’s own existence, when the condition ceases to be undifferentiated and becomes personal, consciousness as conscious existence expresses and founds the concretion of the general condition.
Consciousness as conscious existence, in becoming awareness of the poverty of existence – of each individual deprived of the possibility of being a man – becomes the expression of the desire for its transcendence – becomes desire for life – and joins play then not as diversion but as fundamental expression of becoming man.
I seek another, seek from another the recognition which is the verification of my own authenticity. And the recognition is mutual – the recognition I seek I find also in my myself as verification of the other.
The individual is not a static point, a level attained from which there is no departure. He is a process, and in that is a becoming, that only expresses itself in becoming. As people change – and they never fail to change – the conditions for recognition change. Recognition itself is not an abstract relation established between two other abstractions, even if these were called “living individualities.” The struggle is always to transcendence. Being is becoming, is movement.
Our thoughts, words, our actions bring us together and separate us. Communication permits as it were the ongoing recognition necessary between us. The foundation of communication is transparency. Fundamentally, transparency is to say, to express, everything. It becomes crucial when differences – oppositions – between individuals emerge. It is openness practiced, assumed both from oneself and from all others. This, used by a clarified consciousness (no longer mystified), is the most potent weapon against the wiles of the old world, the one confronted at the level of daily life.
But as the individual is not in isolation, neither are the individuals. We live – oppressive mundanity – in a bourgeois environment, every day, even through the hours of our sleep. We are in the atmosphere of the dwindling force of cognition – the progressive inability of the bourgeois world to deal with the truth, which also expresses its desire to actively conceal it. This relation to truth introduces a profound uneasiness, which is the subterranean awareness, the feeling that all is lie and dissimulation. (It finds its artistic expression in all the artists who see a crisis of all communication in the crisis of communication in the bourgeois world.) That crisis is its inability to tell and to face the truth: fundamentally, that it is passing. For the bourgeois world like any other cannot conceive of its passing, which it otherwise knows must be.
Communication among individuals who have become aware of their separation from the enveloping reality becomes complicated in that they are not isolated from its influence. It is not enough for one to recognize another once and for all, for the recognition can be subverted – and nothing subverts like reality, living experience. Transparency as weapon is also the end.
The invisible insurrection of a million minds is not enough: for they must pass to action, they must engage – and be engaged by – the real world. It is at this level – beyond mutual affirmation and as its expression – that the minds, become individuals, must organize.
The organization must create from the start the conditions for its development and its supersession at every phase. Not only one but several – many – organizations can function on this basis: but they are one in reality, that is, beyond appearance (the manner in which things exist).
The dwindling force of cognition – which is materially founded and maintained by the prevailing commodity economy, where men have materially based reasons for being incapable of seeking the truth as well as engage in the active concealment of it – also disappears as an element within the organization. (His position, as ace in the hole, within the bourgeois world does not fail at some point to engage Marcuse (an accomplished dialectician) in the dwindling force of cognition. It is not accidental that he turns at the end of One Dimensional Man to a technological gradualism, an intensification of the prevailing direction of technology over life – a revolution by the technocrats, no doubt? – as the element for the qualitative transformation of the world. It is an extension of the socialist perspective: he also has lost the proletariat; that is, the effective negation of this development. He says somewhere that an analysis which is not predicated on the possibility of its supersession, defines itself in terms of established domination. And so it is with him.)
The organization achieves a relation to all things which is determined purely by content: in accordance with its particular layout it already combats formalism and schematism and insists on the equal rights of all available means of expression. Talent calls talent.
Free expression of opinion replaces the “internal” discussions (all differences are brought outside and publicly clarified: all elements of differences between individuals are made accessible to all concerned) and replaces also the voting bound up with factions, the bureaucratic wangling, maneuvering, frauds and disciplinary proceedings. The sole compulsion derives from the conscience of the individual who is prepared to stand up for his views and actions – and change his mind, or change the minds of those around him – but who no longer knows the ridiculous fear of loss of prestige associated with concern for the maintenance of his position, his role, his mask.
The organization does away with all barriers between it and the environment and shapes with complete transparency for every man both its relations to society and its internal mechanism. Such a transparency, real, factual, immediately entering into consciousness, of all relations is only possible where commodity economy has ceased to exist with equal reality, factualness, immediacy.
The elimination of the universally enslaving commodity economy is a strategic goal of humanity – the organization accordingly enters everywhere into the generally desired dissolution of the existing conditions and is a day-to-day example of the transformation of society as a whole.
The organization which desires to alter conditions that have become unbearable cannot take a single practical step with revolutionizing the ruling conceptions that have also become unbearable, without, that is, disclosing the dependence of the intellectual on the material misery.
To accomplish its task, the organization needs the expression and elaboration of theory. In order to prevent that the expression coming from the organization become the property of the organization, it is necessary that the theory maintain the character of pure utility and that the writers not hesitate to destroy the relations of property between one another or between themselves and other writers (in the past or present) by incorporating thoughts, expressions, no matter how long, without hesitating to change their meaning in current texts, and fail to give proper “credits” (acknowledge property rights). In other words, that it practice the anticopyright with all writing – with all means of expression. Plagiarism – which is to steal the products of another individual’s spirit, imagination – establishes within man the permanence of the prevailing property relations.
The organization that dissolves the commodity economy within itself reintroduces in daily life that which in the bourgeois world (for daily life is bourgeois dominated) has an equivalent for all values, all quality – money. There is a quantity of it that will buy health, art, love, a quantity for friendship, and one that will make friends of enemies. Money is the supreme quantifier of all relationships after all relations have been reduced to relations between commodities.
The need for money is the real need created by the economic system, and the only need it creates (it is only through money that other needs become real). Money, which has the appearance of a means, is the real power and unique end. It is the universal and self-sufficient value of all things. It has therefore deprived the whole world, both the human world and nature, of their own proper value. Money is the alienated essence of man’s work and existence; this essence dominates him. The more you have, the less you are.
Neither the individual nor the organization can escape into relations that are not at some point penetrated by the mediatory powers of money. Its concrete elimination lies in the relation one establishes consciously with it in order to explode its content.
There must be absolutely no attempt at accumulation in order to put money to work making money. Money must always be at the service of the expression of the play of the individuals at grips with the old world, who make of play the center from which they activate and are activated.
It is commonly felt – and thought – that under capitalist conditions the masses are excluded from theoretical understanding and that therefore it can only be grasped by them or penetrate their consciousness as a practical movement. As the struggle takes shape more clearly, we will only have to observe what is happening and make ourselves vehicles of its expression.
But we must recognize that the differences in natural talents between individuals are in reality much less than we believe. About such differences, Adam Smith says that they are not so much the cause as the effect of the division of labor. To which Marx added concretely that in principle there is less difference between a sailor and a philosopher than between a watchdog and a greyhound. It is the need for individualization and quality production that will end mass life.
The intellectual tends to mystify understanding, as being simply the handling of notional relations, abstractly. Perceiving a need for “understanding” by, say, workers or students, he thinks they cannot understand as he does (a fair assumption), therefore he must reduce, simplify, come to the level of their ability to perceive in his manner. No such massification must take place. The intellectual also is subject to the practical movement that has to penetrate his consciousness in order for him to grasp – and be grasped by – the reality he has only been trying to explain.
Within the practical movement necessary, conceived here as quality that transforms consciousness, lies concealed the quantity of experience – of activity – that allows this or that individual to make the qualitative leap that transforms any level of understanding into cohesive perception and consciousness as conscious existence. Consciousness is a minority problem: it is fundamentally an individual problem arising out of the interaction between the general (say, generally, social conditions) and the particular (each individual).
The participation of the organization in practical activity, its presence in
the world, is also its presence in the minds of men. They can witness its theory
and practice. It is each man therefore who decides to enter into a dialogue –
at the level of an exchange of views – with a number of individuals already in
the organization. It is the result of this dialogue which shows him and those
already within the organization if the consciousness is shared. This is the
problem and the act of recognition. Once this recognition has been established,
it must be maintained with transparency (the foundation of communication among
individuals). If differences appear – and the course of reality will see that
differences do appear – they are either:
1) simple error, misunderstandings, which the ongoing transparency of relations will quickly correct; or
2) antagonisms that reveal real opposition and therefore the need for a new transcendence on both sides. For one or several individuals of the organization to be cast into the void by exclusion, for recognition to cease, in effect, is really to cast the whole organization into the void over an unresolved opposition – opposition merely suppressed by suppressing the individual or individuals that bring it about.
Whoever wills to maintain an opposition, on the other hand, chooses to close off communication, to end the transparency of relations, and so eliminates the condition for his continued association with the organization. Since all differences emerge into the open (the public), this separation would be self-evident.
The organization is the weapon for the effective negation of class-society; the combined action of individuals. It has no formal power over the individual.
It has been suggested that a truly “democratic” organization would allow the masses to enter at any time and take over the organization: determine its practical as well as its theoretical content. However, the mass penetrating as mass (as undifferentiated individuals) subverts because it brings to the organization a false consciousness, which is consciousness mystified (dominated by the old world). In the name of democracy – rule by the mass, one of the most powerful illusions of the modern world – one would allow the practical directions and the theoretical content of the organization to be returned to the old world, and appropriated.
This penetration by the mass was felt to be another safeguard against the hierarchical party structure, as well as the condition for its removal. Many revolutionaries of the past 70 years or so saw the revolutionary aims of parties subverted by their hierarchical structures, and the anti-hierarchical, anti-bureaucratic unions subverted by an absence (if not a specific renunciation) of revolutionary aims. And then, there were certain examples, certain Workers Councils that – with the union structure – had been involved in the best revolutionary moments of the past century. (It should be noted that a dissolutive element present at the very beginning of some of these was that political parties were represented as other unions. Represented at the level of individual representatives of labor were political weapons (parties), representing the attempt to appropriate the political power of the individual representatives.) The problem arose out of thought over the problem of the administration of things.
The Seattle General Strike is informative. Briefly, the union bureaucrats were all off to Chicago (to debate another General Strike that never came off). There had been no general strike before, there were no concrete organizational (managerial) lines laid out to follow. This was – despite ideas about general strikes that were in the air of the time – uninitiated experience. The unions (craft unions, this was the AFL, mostly) elected three representatives each, who then formed the General Strike Committee (an Assembly, or if you will, a Workers Council). They immediately discovered the syndrome of large bodies – impediment to swift action – and made subcommittees. Here then were the uninitiated, the age-old dumb workers: in a few days they were confronted with and solved the problems of the administration of the city. The strike merely lasted a week: but the time involved here is not what matters, similar structures elsewhere and under more arduous conditions lasted much longer. The problem is not to continue administration, but to initiate it effectively. They initiated, and without waste. It was essentially the same union-based structure that made the anarchists function throughout the civil war in Spain. Here, then – in degrees varying from a nonrevolutionary week in time of peace, to the duration of the war in Spain – were the dumb, anti-hierarchical, anti-bureaucratic workers dismantling the myth of all the bureaucracies: that effective management is not only the kingdom of the bureaucrat, the functionary, but it takes the bureaucrat to even think up and solve the problems of management, the problems of administration. This problem – of the administration of things – is a false problem: it is not a problem.
The real problem for us who have the trade union movement experience (revolutionary or not) as history, as knowledge, is the problem of individuation: the conditions for the emergence of each man as free subjectivity.
The safeguard against subversion by the masses as masses is the mutual recognition of individuals, it is selection that is self-selection. But the growth of the organization – in confrontation with the old world, in the mundane everyday – the conditions for the “mass” taking over would be found again in the increasing moments of change that lead to the qualitative leap we commonly call the revolutionary moment: but the mass would penetrate as individuals and it would be high time for them to take over what then would really have become a common struggle.
We know that the proliferation of individuals – of men whose consciousness has become conscious existence – will engender, by being the contradiction within the absolute and absolutely old world, a qualitative leap into its uninterrupted transformation.
We apprehend the future through the distorting-mirror of what is to be destroyed in the present. Every projection into the future is in a sense a prolongation of the past. Every Utopia less a construction of the future than an elimination of the evils of the present as mere negation, prolonged in time, and thereby fixed: reified. Everything must be destroyed which is construed as impediment, whether an old building, an old city or an old work of art, not to speak of an old civilization. There is no destruction which does not also construct: but what elicits the construction is the destruction itself. The supersession of a condition is not the apprehension of its need in thought. It is only the conscious action of men upon the world which ultimately transforms it.
This text was published as a pamphlet in April 1968 by the Council for the
Liberation of Daily Life (New York). Its distribution was continued by the
Situationist International when Chasse became an SI member later that year.
For some earlier situationist remarks on the New Left, see Chapter 2 of On the Poverty of Student Life (1966). For some later remarks, see Contradiction’s Critique of the New Left Movement (1972).
Some readers may be interested to note that the analysis in the last section of this text, on revolutionary organization, is to a great extent derived from Josef Weber’s The Great Utopia (1950), which served as a preliminary platform for the Contemporary Issues group.
For those who may be concerned about Chasse’s generic use of “man” or “men” to refer to humans of either sex, please note that the text was written at a time when such usage was still standard.