The Impotence of the Revolutionary Group

by Sam Moss
Published in Living Marxism, 1939

A Definition, not a Failure

Beyond conspiracy, the most important aspect of almost all radical undertakings is that they are shit at business. The individuals involved are incompetent, stupid, lazy etc, the milieu is a honeypot for people who cannot cope with the world... personally, I don't have a problem with that as I am not an organisationalist. However, if the radical milieu is dominated by people who can't get in the football team and/or find a girlfriend and/or process their relationship with their parents then it is no surprise that they cannot run a card index system or small shop. They keep on attempting to function within the milieu as if it were real life, and because they have failed in real life they want to start businesses of one type or another in the milieu, replaying the tropes of enterprise culture but in a different register.

... The reason the milieu has no memory is that as soon as individuals have sorted out their psychological problems they no longer require the alibi of social critique, they drop the pretence and get on with ordinary lives, have babies, go on holidays – I am not sure whether these people would be more a hindrence or a help during revolutionary moments. Rather than rehearsing over and over strategies of efficiency, learning how to transgress correctly at the periphery so as to re-enter society at a higher level, it seems more appropriate to me to actually begin to understand how alienation operates via the establishment of niche milieus. – fd

I.

The difference between the radical organizations and the broad masses appears as a difference of objectives. The former apparently seek to overthrow capitalism; the masses seek only to maintain their living standards within capitalism. The revolutionary groups agitate for the abolition of private property; the people, called the masses, either own bits of private property, or hope some day to own them. The communist-minded struggle for the eradication of the profit system; the masses, capitalist minded, speak of the bosses' right to a "fair profit." As long as a relatively large majority of the American working class maintain the living conditions to which they are accustomed, and have the leisure to follow their pursuits, such as baseball and movies, they are generally well content, and they are grateful to the system that makes these things possible. The radical, who opposes this system and thereby jeopardizes their position within it, is far more dangerous to them than the bosses who pay rtiem, and they do not hesitate to make a martyr of him. As long as the system satisfies their basic needs in the accustomed manner, they are well satisfied with it and whatever evils they behold in society, they attribute to "unfair bosses," "bad administrators" or other individuals.

The small radical groups – "intellectuals" who have "raised themselves to the level of comprehending historical movements as a whole," and who trace the social ills to the system rather than to individuals – see beyond the objectives of the workers, and realize that the basic needs of the working class can not be satisfied for more than a temporary period under capitalism, and that every concession that Capital grants Labour serves only to postpone the death struggle between these adversaries. They therefore – at least in theory – strive continually to turn the struggle for immediate demands into a struggle against the system. But beside the realities of bread and butter which capitalism can still offer a majority of the workers, the radicals can submit only hopes and ideas, and the workers abandon their struggles the moment their demands are met.

The reason for the apparent difference of objectives between the revolutionary groups and the working class is easy to understand. The working class, concerned only with the needs of the moment and in general content with its social status, reflects the level of capitalist culture – a culture that is "for the enormous majority a mere training to act as a machine." The revolutionists, however, are so to speak deviations from the working class; they are the by-products of capitalism; they represent isolated cases of workers who, because of unique circumstances in their individual lives, have diverged from the usual course of development in that, though born of wage slaves, they have acquired an intellectual interest, that has availed itself of the existing educational possibilities. Though of these, many have succeeded in rising into the petty-bourgeoisie, others, whose careers in this direction were blocked by circumstances have remained within the working class as intellectual workers. Dissatisfied with their social status as appendages to machines, they, unable to rise within the system, rise against it. Quite frequently cut off from association with their fellow workers on the job, who do not share their radical views, they unite with other rebellious intellectual workers and with other unsuccessful careerists of other strata of society, into organizations of changing society. If, in their struggle to liberate the masses from wage slavery, they seem to be acting from the noblest of motives, certainly it doesn't take much to see that when one suffers for another he has only identified that other's sorrow with his own. But whenever they have the chance to rise within the existing society they, with rare exceptions, do not hesitate to abandon their revolutionary objectives. And when they do so, they offer sincere and sound logic for their apostasy, for, "Does it require deep intuition to comprehend that man's ideas change with every change in his material existence?" Sports in the development of capitalism, the revolutionary organizations, small ineffectual, buzzing along the flanks of the broad masses, have done nothing to affect the course of history either for good or ill. Their occasional periods of activity can be explained only by their temporary or permanent forsaking of their revolutionary aims in order to unite with the workers immediate demands and then it was not their own revolutionary role that they played, but the conservative role of the working class. When the workers achieved their objectives, the radical groups lapsed again into impotence. Their role was always a supplementary, and never a deciding one.

II.

It is the writer's conviction that the day of the revolutionary party is over; the revolutionary groups under present conditions are tolerated, or rather ignored, only as long as they are impotent; that nothing is so symptomatic of their powerlessness as the fact that they are permitted to exist. We have often stated that the working class which will endure while capitalism lasts, and which cannot be obliterated under this system can alone wage a successful struggle against capitalism and that the initiative can not be taken out of its hands. We may add here after all the conservatism of the working class today, only reflects the still massive strength of capitalism, and that this material power cannot be cast out of existence by propaganda but by a material power greater than that of capital. Yet from time to time members of our own group take to task the group's inactivity. They declare that, isolated as we are from the class struggle as it is waged today, we are essentially mere study groups that will be completely out of touch with events when social upheavals do occur. They state that since the class struggle is omnipresent in capitalism it behoves us as a revolutionary organization to deepen the class war. But they do not suggest any specific course of action. The fact that all other radical organizations in the field, through striving to overcome their isolation are nonetheless insignificant Marxist sects like ourselves, does not convince our critics of the futility of any action that small groups can take.

The very general statement that the class war is ever-present and that we should deepen it, is made first of all in the assumption that the class struggle is a revolutionary struggle, but the fact is that the workers as a mass are conservative. It is assumed that the class war aims directly at the weakening of capitalism, but the fact is that, though it serves this ultimate purpose, it is directly aimed at the position of the workers within the society. Furthermore, the actual class struggle is not waged through revolutionary organizations. It is waged in the factories and through the unions.

In America today it is being waged by such organizations as the A.F. Of L. and the C.I.O., and though here and there across the continent arise sporadic strikes that are outlawed by all the existing conservative organizations and that indicate the form the class war may take when all these 0rganizations are completely emasculated by the State, these workers' movements are infrequent and isolated today. True, the leadership of both the C.I.O. and the A.F. of L. is conservative, but then so is the membership of both unions. In order to retain their membership and attract more workers to it, the unions must wrest concessions from the capitalist class for them; the workers remain in the unions 0nly because they obtain such concessions through them; and to the extent that they do obtain such concessions for the workers, the unions are waging the class struggle. If, therefore, we are to plunge into the class struggle, we must go where the struggle is being waged. We must concentrate on either factories or the unions or both. If we do so, we must abandon , at least overly, our revolutionary principles, for if we give them expression , we shall swiftly be discharged from the job and expelled from the union, and, in a word, cut off from the class struggle and returned precipitantly to our former impotent state. To become active in the class struggle means, then to become as conservative as the large body of workers. In other words, as soon as we enter the class struggle we can contribute nothing special to it. The only alternative to this course is to continue as we are, clinging impotently to our principles. Regardless of which course we pursue, it is obvious that we cannot affect the course of events. Our impotence illustrates what should be obvious to all: that history is made by the broad masses alone.

The Groups of Council Communists distinguish themselves from all the other revolutionary groups in that they do not consider themselves vanguards of the workers, nor leaders of the workers, but as being one with the workers' movement. But this difference between our organization and others is only an ideological difference, and reflects no corresponding material difference. In practice we are actually likc all the other groups. Like them, we function outside the spheres of production, where the class struggle is fought; like them, we are isolated from the large mass of workers. We differ only in ideology from all the other groups, but then it is only in ideology on which all the other groups differ. Practicallythere is no difference between all groups. And if we were to follow the suggestion of our critics and "deepen the class struggle," our "Leninistic" character would become quite evident. Let us for assume, for example, that it is possible for us as an independent group to organize the workers of some industrial area. The fact that they have not moved of their own accord without our aid means that they are dependent upon us for their initiative. By supplying the initiative, we are taking it out of their hands. If they discover that we are capable of giving them the initial impulse, they will depend on us for the subsequent impulses, and we shall soon find ourselves leading them step by step. Thus, they who advocate that we "intensify" the class war are not merely ignoring the objective conditions that make such an act questionable, but are advocating also our leadership over the masses. Of course, they may argue that, realizing the evils of such a course , we can guard against them. But this argument is again on an ideological level. Practically, we shall be compelled to adjust ourselves to circumstances. Thus it becomes obvious that by such a practice we would function like a Leninist group, and could at best produce only the results of Leninism. However, the impotence of the existing Leninist groups shows the improbability of the success of even such a course, and points once more to the obsolescence of small revolutionary groups in regards to real proletarian needs, a condition perhaps forecasting the approaching day when it shall be objectively impossible for any small group to assume leadership of the masses only to be forced in the end to exploit them to its own needs. The working class alone can wage the revolutionary struggle even as it is today waging alone the non-revolutionary struggle, and the reason that the rebellious class conscious workers band into groups outside the spheres of the real class struggle is only that there is as yet no revolutionary movement within them. Their existence as groups, therefore, reflects, not a situation for revolution, but rather a non-revolutionary situation. When the revolution does come, their numbers will he submerged within it, not as functioning organizations, but as individual workers.

But though no practical differences between us and other revolutionary organizations is permitted by the objective conditions, we can at least maintain our ideological difference. Therefore, where all groups see revolution in the most impossible situations and believe that all that is lacking for revoution is a group with the "correct Marxist line"; where, in a word, thev exaggerate the importance of ideas, and incidently of themselves as carriers of those ideas – an attitude that reflects their careerist proclivities – we wish to see the truth of each situation. We see that the class struggle is today still conservative; that society is characterized not simply by this single struggle but by a multiplicity of struggles, which varies with the multiplicity of strata within the system, and which so far has affected the struggle between Capital and Labour in the interest of the former.

But because we see not merely the immediate situation but also the trends therein, we realize that the difficulties of capitalism are progressively increasing and that the means of satisfying even the immediate wants of the working class are continuously diminishing. We recognize that as a concomitant of the increasing non-profitability of capitalism, is the progressive levelling out of the divisions within the two classes, as capitalists expropriate capitalists in the upper class, and, in the lower class, as the means of subsistence, the better to extend them, is apportioned more and more uniformly among the masses, for the sake of averting the social catastrophe attendant upon the inability to satisfy them. As these developments are taking place, the divided objectives of the upper class are converging toward one objective; the preservation of the capitalist exploitative system; and the divided objectives of the workers are, despite the increasing ideological confusion, converging toward one objective: a fundamental change of present socio-economic forms of life. Then will we, only another strata of the working class now, or more correctly an offshoot, really merge with the entire working class as our objectives merge with theirs and we shall lose ourselves in the revolutionary struggle.

But this question may be raised, why, then, realizing the futility of the act, do you band together into groups? The answer is simply that the act serves a personal need. It is inevitable that men sharing a common feeling of rebellion against a society that lives by exploitation and war should seek out their own kind in society, and in whatever weapons fall to their command. Unable to rebel against the system with the rest of the population, they will oppose it alone. The fact that they engage in such action however futile it may appear establishes the basis for the prediction that when the large masses, reacting to the compulsives of the objectively revolutionary situation, feel similarly affected, they too will band together out of the same urgency and they too will use whatever weapons fall to their disposal. When they do so, they will not rise from ideological factors, but from necessity, and their ideologies will only reflect the necessities then, as do their current bourgeois ideologies reflect the necessity today.

The view of the revolutionary ineffectiveness of small groups is accounted a pessimistic one by revolutionary organizations. What if this view does indicate the inevitability of revolution? What if it does point to the objective end of a pre-established leadership of the masses, and to the end of all exploitation? The radical groups are not happy with this picture. They derive no pleasure from the prospect of a future where they have no more significance than their fellow human beings, and they condemn a view of such a future as a philosophy of defeatism. But, actually we have spoken only of the futility of small radical groups; we have been quite optimistic as to the future of the workers. But to all radical organizations, if their groups are defeated, and if their groups are dying, then all is dying. In such pronouncements therefore they reveal the true motivation for their rebellion and the true character of their organizations. We, however, should find no cause for despair in the impotence of these groups. Rather we should behold in it reason for optimism regarding the future of the workers. For in this very atrophy of all groups that would lead the masses out of capitalism into another society we are seeing for the first time in history the objective end to all political leadership and to the division of society into economic and political categories.

Impotent: a dialogue between Frere Dupont and DA

Until they become conscious they will never rebel, and until after they have rebelled they cannot become conscious. – Orwell, 1984

DA:

Why did you propose we research the life and ideas of Sam Moss?

FD:

I cannot answer that question straight away without first thinking of how this text appeared in my life. Speaking straight off, without prior thought, I first thought it was a spoof piece – it does not read ‘right’, it does not fit into my preconceived notions of what someone in the ’30’s should be thinking. I have to say that although it had ‘inspired us’ I did not actually read it until this year when I was writing up ‘Why Did You Join the AF for the 2nd Time’. I thought immediately that the piece was well within the scope of activities of the other member of Monsieur Dupont who had produced a ‘final’ version of the Manchester communist paper Subversion called ‘Spoofversion’ as well as a spoof piece of historicism as Proletarian Gob called ‘Corpse of the Millennium’. He was quite into the Stuart Home collective identity thing around 2001 and was experimenting with writing in that direction, so the Sam Moss piece read just like that, like something a modern post-situ communist would put into the mouth of an imagined communist of the past. Strangely enough, in a rare attempt where I was trying to discover some common ground with a local self-described ‘council communist’, I suggested this piece as reference point, and they accused me of writing it. All this sets me thinking that the piece is so striking because it is anachronistic, and it doesn’t really belong to any particular tradition of thought but has just appeared, and has managed to persist through time out of sequence.

Why (and how) do you think such a slim document, a document that exists without much discussion or connection to anything in a similar vein, has survived into this century?

DA:

It’s funny, I never considered the possibility of the article being authored by a contemporary writer or written as satire but now that you mention it, this is probably a more reasonable response to it.  The first time I saw the article was a photocopied print out of it that DN, the co-editor of The Warrior Wind zine I helped do, mailed to me.  I came across it again on the internet and both times I read it I felt a strong affinity with it, but it also really bothered me.  When I first came across it I was still holding onto a lot of positions and roles that I’ve since moved on from, and it helped with that process.

Having seen ‘On the Impotence of the Revolutionary Group’ in the bound edition of Living Marxism, the journal in which it was published, I know for sure that it was actually published in 1939 and written by someone using the name Sam Moss (it remains to be seen whether or not this was a real person or a pseudonym).  In Living Marxism it was presented as the starting point of a discussion on organization, but I was not able to find any evidence of replies to it, except perhaps in archived correspondence between Moss and Paul Mattick (which I have not read).  How has it survived?  This is a harder question.  The version of the article floating around the internet does not specify the year it was published; it literally says “193?”.  This leads me to think that whoever first typed it up and put it on the web found it somewhere other than an actual copy of Living Marxism or the bound collection published by Greenwood Reprint, because both of those have the date on them very clearly.  In a lot of ways, the article is the nightmare of every activist or militant; it lays out the dirty thoughts that inevitably pop into one’s head when doing political work but which get pushed out by pragmatism and ideology.  It’s honest and direct.  From what I understand there was discussion of it within the Anarchist Federation in the U.K., which is chronicled in ‘The Impotency of Councilism’, but I think that’s the only case of pro-revolutionaries really tackling it recently.  Who found it to publish in the AF Internal Bulletin?  How does understanding the history of our ideas change them?

FD:

As you say, the discussion of it is published as ‘The Impotency of Councilism’ by Monsieur Dupont, and it was included for discussion (as far as I know) by Pete. That discussion did not really impact me at the time and I only read it (despite having my name on it) this year; but I remember the various discussions, as Pete reported them to me, that this piece was a part of, and which by proxy I was participating in. Although, I have to say that I think my participation was still fairly limited at that time and I think I was only just coming up to speed with the counter-intuitive approaches that Pete had adopted. I was still at the level of: the proletariat lacks consciousness of conditions because of its conditioning and that what ‘we’ must do is supply the form of this consciousness and that this would contribute to countering the effect of conditioning.

These counter-intuitive (but highly coherent and realistic) approaches are clearly mapped out for us in the Moss text and refer to almost Zen-like conceptions of not-doing, and the almost cybernetic/evolutionary conceptions of category dissonance, and these might also be understood as questions of appropriate occurrences belonging to scale e.g. what is true for the individual organism is not necessarily true for the species.

Moss succinctly sets out the problem for us: we are moved by revolutionary consciousness, the proletariat is not; ‘our’ consciousness-based aims do not coincide with proletarian goals; there is no obvious means by which ‘we’ might distribute our consciousness within the proletariat because by definition our small group scale is defined by such consciousness but equally, by definition, the necessary characteristics of the proletariat do not include revolutionary (or any form of) consciousness; when we communicate our pro-revolutionary ideas we communicate only at the level we exist (in small groups) and then only to those groups who are already interested in our ideas. In common parlance this is called, ‘preaching to the converted’ (there is no other kind of effective preaching) and in cybernetic terms it is called ‘redundancy’ which means, there is a pattern of meaning shared between the transmitters of information and the receivers of it – in effect Sam Moss repeats one of the most incisive insights of Jesus: let those who have ears hear (by implication, those who do not have ears, will not hear). Pro-revolutionary consciousness is a trap and a wall against others more than it is a platonic truth that we could release in the masses. Both Jesus and Sam Moss show us that there is no such thing as ‘the universal’ at the level of consciousness; consciousness indicates subjective separation from the universal (i.e. material conditions and direct expression of conditions) – where there is consciousness there is no appeal to the universal.

How does understanding the history of our ideas change them? Or put another way, how does the understanding of an idea change our history? I would have thought the positions we have developed would belong to our present, and essentially exist without precedent. Aren’t we alone? That is what we are told. We are mad; our ideas are weird and have no connection to anything. And truly, that is what I often think myself – there is no connection to anything else in the world. We should have expected to find nothing to support our conclusions outside of our own arguments (a circular and doomed position). Nobody ever could have been as pessimistic as us and still remain within the communist context. And yet, despite expectations, we see this is not the case, we find ourselves as part of a tendency that has materially existed in its current form for at least 70 years (as the LPA put it, 70 years of non-existence). Moss becomes the pretext for a history we are constructing; his contribution means we can refer the interested and contemptuous to texts written by others than ourselves. Our discovery of the appearance of his writing in Mattick’s journal bestows upon us three-dimensionality. And this actuality which we did not expect means we can continue, we can make further connections outwards from this point, we are not simply hitting a glass wall that separates us from everyone else (as you say, we are speaking what others suspect and yet we are not drawing the conclusions they might expect). It is likely that somewhere along the line the arguments put forward in this magazine and by Monsieur Dupont are going to be included and acted upon by others. Already, we see the use of the term pro-revolutionary (which collapses into a single word the arguments made by Moss concerning the distribution of knowledge and revolutionary capacity) by those who think they disagree with us. Even as our conclusions are repulsed the arguments we have used to reach them are adopted surreptitiously – this process is, by definition, the creation of a history.

At this juncture we do not know what became of Sam Moss, he certainly seems to have disappeared from communist accounts as far as we can tell. In one sense his arguments seem to predict his disengagement. And yet, whilst we share his profound pessimism, we find we can continue, we do not give up, we see there is space ahead of us which we can move into. Why do you think this is the case? What is it that we hope to achieve? What are we doing? Who are we?

DA:

I will speak for myself here then direct those same questions to you.  I know that I cannot answer your question about who we are, but I hope that this publication, as it evolves, will help point to an answer.

Why do I continue to participate in the pro-revolutionary milieu despite the profound pessimism, despite realizing that this milieu is unable to do what it wants to do (create revolution)?  Thinking about it right now four things come to mind: friendship, intellectual loneliness, lack of creativity, and an unrealized desire to attack the Left.

First of all, most of the people I care about deeply are in some way connected to the milieu.  I think that this will become less and less true as I get older and further away from my activist past (and my positions/inactivity push away the hardened), but for right now this is the case.   Recently I’ve been able to engage with people I play Go with, but I am usually very intellectually lonely and unable to find others who share my interests or passions, which keeps me drawn to the pro-revolutionary milieu where all of the anachronisms (letters, books, zines, reading groups, small-run newspaper and magazines, letter-press printing, etc) that I like are still common.  It is one of the few contemporary social groupings where ideas are taken seriously, though internet forums are pushing all of this into the background.  I also do not know how not to relate to the milieu.  I am stuck in this role of being critical of everything; of having frustrating conversations that I get very little from other than “that is not what I am anymore”.  Even though I spend most of my time learning to play trumpet or playing Go or cuddling with my romantic partner, I am continually drawn to libcom.org or anti-politics.net.  I read strange Marxist books, get excited by emails from other communists, and even follow the animal rights campaign I used to be involved in.  Why?  My attachment is probably unhealthy, whatever that means.  I do not know what else to do, especially when I sit in front of a computer for so many hours at work.

When I was fourteen or fifteen I made a really awful anarchist zine that did not make much sense, but I distributed it at school and a few demonstrations.  It had some reprinted articles, poorly laid-out graphics, and strange poetry I wrote under assumed names.  The zine was met with disinterest or scorn, but I kept making little publications, which became increasingly coherent.  I always wonder why everyone interested in pro-revolutionary ideas doesn’t make their own zine or try to put their thoughts on paper and give them out to strangers, to their comrades, or whoever.  I think that would be a lot of fun and would force people to look at their ideas face to face and probably (hopefully) reapproach old positions and start asking new questions.   What am I doing?  I want to stay in the milieu to open Pandora’s boxes, to raise questions with uncomfortable answers, and counter the organizational/strategic logic that traps so many people in feedback loops until they burn out or become hardened and robotic.  My motivation is selfish, but it’s a selfish desire for community (or the closest I can get to it).

There is also a voice in my head that tells me that crisis and class struggle will push pro-revolutionaries into some amount of agency and that in a genuinely revolutionary situation, the pro-revolutionary organizations of today, if they continue to exist and have a hand in events, will play a managerial and recuperative role.  If this is the case, it makes sense to attack or undermine them now while they are weak rather than waiting till the historical situation changes and makes it possible for them to accumulate members and power.  This is one of the motivations for making this publication as well as my personal zine Total Destruction.  Of course, I live in an area with no organized Left and have never been a member of a formal pro-revolutionary organization, so my ability to directly ‘intervene’ in the Left is extremely limited to throwing theory at people far away and having one-on-one conversations with friends of mine who are involved in that stuff.  I don’t want to devote my life to this – or any – strategy; my life project is elsewhere, but my activities are interesting enough in themselves that I do not feel I am sacrificing or neglecting my desires to carry them out.

FD:

Who are we? The question of we and us how such a condition can be established is always an immediate concern – how is it possible to pass from a convergence of individuals to a group condition? We are so desperate that we rush all of our pent up readiness when we encounter even the slightest opportunity. If someone replies to a thought, if someone takes a leaflet, if we read of a strike…. we are infatuated.

I think Moss has set out the inherent absurdity of groups, which he defines and sets besides the great forces of society. I see this procedure of setting out the conditions of our irrelevance as a challenge similar to that posed by the existentialists in terms of the contradiction between the essential meaninglessness of existence and the imperative of commitment.  There is no earthly reason to continue the opposition to capitalism in terms of consciously organized groups (as these have proved themselves to be not up to the task) and yet we (dare I say we?) feel impelled to continue to organize such groups. The question, as Moss, addresses it, of ‘other motivations’ must now be based upon the understanding that there is no more opposition in what we do than there is in what everyone undertakes in their existence. Opposition is assigned to each of us, along with a share in conformity, as a sort of birthright: we are, so we oppose conditions; we are, so go along with things.

The consciousness of ineffectiveness is not an automatic rationale for giving up. It is possible to continue, but whether this is for good or ill, it is difficult to say. Perhaps it really would be better (on what scale?) to fall into silence. I do feel there is an aesthetic involved here and that we are deriving some sort of compensation from our isolation, we are poets of nowhere else to go and perform stunts at the end of a line, becoming an object ‘impotence’ which fetishise this ending. This is in contrast with others who have also reached the end of the line but carry on in bad faith as if they really will recruit an anarcho-syndicalist union, or a mass revolutionary organization. There is some sense, after having encountered so many defeats, that I now wish for further defeat so as to prove my thesis. And the image that most appeals to me is that of the buffoonery of no-exit which marks the limit of what is possible in any given position.

I think of those figures who find a rhythm, or a punch line, or a ritual circuit in their defeat: Chaplain singing in ‘Italian’ in Modern Times; Kafka’s dogs ‘making water’ to summon food and deny their domestication; Tom Waits’ voice that is supposed to represent, above all, experience; Michel Simon, habitue of the brothel, keeper of dead hands in L’Atalante; The eternity of the peasant grimace conveyed by Toto and Ninnetto in Uccellacci e uccellini; what we might call Raymond Carver’s cut-away from a cycle of decline; the Rolling Stones’ weariness in ‘72; .  All of these convey an end of the pier nihilism; they perform the same gestures over and over, finding a punch line and a rhythm in the raggedness of the edge of things. They have arrived at the limit of what is possible and the limit is a circus, an opportunity to pass the hat round, it is performed less to an audience that will carefully study it than to a crowd which merely glances as it passes on. I think Moss is also a poet of nowhere else to go, or at least we are turning his essay into such a performance.

See, we can even become cynical about our own motives; we can transform our interest into a structure and turn the structure into a fetish. We can call it Moss-ism, or Dupontism. We can define a circuit of identity and we can start accumulating experiences and developing a nomenclature in the name of our identity. We can pass time in the name of this activity; time can be given a shape in our activity. Are we as cynical in our way, as knowingly decadent (that is not really decadent), as say Mick Jagger in Performance? I admit that even after acknowledging that what is not ‘mainstream’ in cultural terms is still dominated by commodified gestures flaunting their perversion that I remain transfixed by, say, a Burlesque rendition of, say, Und Endlich Stirbt.

The logic of the unexpected and bizarre is still wholly predictable; it replaces the tedium of good times with the banality of complaint. But I still love it. In the world we must exist, we must exist amongst that which exists, and to express this existence we must choose the objects that suit us, and even when we know they don’t suit us, we must choose them. There is nothing else than our living now amongst the things that are ours approximately and temporarily. This insight into the limit of social organization and our relation to it, i.e. that we exist in loops rather than in a progressive series means that the decadent artifact (our transgressive thought, a Sam Moss essay, or the pop-Gothic form) will only increase its allure.

Our choosing of the most perverse, and there is nothing more perverse than what we might call the Moss-position (i.e. the denial of significance in that to which we are consciously involved with), has caused us to become more intelligent. Our refusals induced subtleness in our arguments where affirmations would have rendered us blunt and unseeing. But our activities are still a choosing and a conscious alignment, a set of choices from the array of what exists and this active consumption only really makes sense when set beside the passive consumption of the mass markets. We are never perverse enough, we have fought shy from real nihilism, real negation because that would involve our personal real subsumption in the process at the level of taste that has already subsumed us objectively at the level of the commodity. Beyond the aestheticism, we really do not have much choice about where we are and what connections we might make with the revolutionary subject. We do not have the resources, the energy, the time, and the wider conditions are not in place that we might realistically derive or develop these – we cannot move from our tastes to human community. In fact our tastes are as much an obstacle as any other received behavior to the realization of human community, and must be abolished like all the others.

Even this get out can be challenged though. We might progress the Dupontist logic one step further and talk of the Impotence of Impotence as a means of illuminating our bad faith and the true character of romanticist chagrin. What is it exactly that we are hoping to defend by seemingly attacking everything and pushing all arguments into absurdity? Yes, it is true that I could carelessly argue how my constant ticking of the box ‘none of the above’ indicates an acute awareness of my real position as an individual vis a vis the social totality, but there remains in even the most determined consciously nihilistic gesture a sort of romantic remnant, or investment in some set of circumstances better than this which is wholly absent from others who take no interest in such matters – the decadent gesture is a way marker, it indicates a limit and suggests something we dare not name that exists beyond it. It is a cliché to proclaim the Black Mass the supreme form of the sacred, but it is true of us.  We refute the reality of a communist movement because we require a purer form of communism, and that in itself seeks to retrieve the idea of such a movement but now preserved from its more obvious and embarrassing absurdities. Nothing of what we have achieved is as negative as the behavior and opinions of those who say yes to the world we live in, those who accept it without question and shove as much of it as they can down their gob without a thought about it – that’s true nihilism. And we are very pale imitators by contrast.

Nonetheless, here we are. We do what we do. We have released a certain number of restraints on the imperative of ‘do something’, and we have achieved this by accepting the limitations of our scale. There is nothing else than what is before us, no opportunity to do anything. We do not say that that mere individuality is all there is in the world; on the contrary, we accept that there is a totalizing process on an inconceivable worldwide scale and that our impotence (and every individual affect) is produced as an outcome of that process. But still, in the acknowledging of the limit on ourselves we have opened spaces for our activities. Where other pro-revolutionaries are bound by the idea that there exists an engineered redundancy between themselves and history (their ideas somehow express the leading edge of objective process), and also a redundancy between themselves and others (these others whose ideas must be caused to fall into line with the pro-revolutionary account of history) and they are impelled by this knowledge to behave in accordance with the restraints of this redundancy. For example, for most pro-revolutionaries, it is their duty (according to their perception of who they are) to hold public meetings, write leaflets, sell newspapers, recruit others – it is not just their duty, it is their burden. They absolutely must perform the function that is assigned to them by history. And if they don’t perform, they are as bad as us – Mossists, Dupontists, defeatists, nihilists, poets of the end of the line. In fact, they are this anyway, they are in exactly the same position of us but do not recognize it, their ideas take flight into idealist organizational forms. They resemble a man who has bought a lottery ticket and who immediately discounts the one in 14 million chance of actually winning it and instead fantasizes about how he is going to spend his winnings – most of our contemporaries are generals of thin air. But by contrast to their miserable historical burden (which is pure fantasy) we define our activity precisely in terms of the 1 in 14 million odds that we are up against. We have found a new energy for activity – for example, I do not write this, or organize a meeting, or distribute this journal because I think it will achieve anything, I do not think I am communicating anything beyond what is wholly expected, I am committed to it, I undertake it for its own sake, it defines who I am. I don’t care that what I have written here is shit because I know it doesn’t contribute either way to history.

Or to put it more accurately, I am involved in this because involvement on the terms I have set out turns me on – it is a joy that my being is now fused with my activities. And the condition for such joy is that my activity is objectively meaningless and not connected to the dead weight of a history or tradition. I am free to say anything I want because I see in front of us a space which we might fill, and I am directing my speech towards that space. I am not constrained to backward map my speech onto a set of principles and as a result what I have to say is not contorted by adherence and belief as the communications of our contemporaries are (and have been for decades). I am free to talk utter shit because this freedom implies that whether a communication is true or not it has no relevance to anything, it is an outcome of our impotence in relation to convincing a mass of others on a scale in which we do not signify. There can be no connection from our ‘few’ to their ‘many’ in terms of our supplying a historic meaning (principles, organization, leadership) to their struggle and that has to be a good thing! We are freed from that pseudo-relation and are now addressing a completely different set of problems to that which can be defined as ‘getting our message across’ and it is in our engagement with this newly opened space that this set of problems will begin to take shape.

I suppose the short version of all this is that we wrote Nihilist Communism because we had to express our Will-to-honesty. We were scathing enough to know that what we said was unpalatable in the present and would only find readers in the future. We were impelled by a Will-to-honesty and we were scathing, but there was a limit to the honesty and to what we were scathing about. Other illusions immediately took root.

We see in Sam Moss’s arguments an implied laissez-faire attitude to those who will continue on their way regardless. Who are we to bother trying to change the direction of those whose direction we cannot change? Obviously, this attitude (realistically) rejects the underlying assumption of all political activity, so: A. how do you think this fatalism (if that is what it is) effects the relation with our contemporaries and B. How do you think the ideas we are exploring here re-define the relation between pro-revolutionaries and the proletariat?

DA:

I will answer the second part of your question first.  I do not think our ideas or any ideas can re-define the relationship between pro-revolutionaries and the proletariat.  This relationship has been codified and defined by conditions over the last two centuries and will not change because of argument or discussion.  We arrive at the end of a Go game; the only moves remaining are the defining of borders.  No territory can be captured.  The Ko fights are over.  We wait until the stones are thrown in the air or the board cracks in half.

Insurrectionary anarchists have attempted to redefine the relationship by arguing that pro-revolutionaries are of the exploited; that the actions of pro-revolutionaries cannot be distinguished from the constant class struggle carried out by exploited as a whole.  When an insurrectionary anarchist hurls a petrol bomb at a bank or carries out other clandestine actions (usually “in solidarity with” a prisoner/foreign indigenous group/etc), they say that they are accumulating actions onto the mountain of the “social war” – after all, there is no time to wait, attack now!  This rings false to me for a number of reasons.  First, pro-revolutionaries are distinguished from the proletariat objectively: most pro-revolutionaries are not proletarian.  Secondly, all of this “attacking” is divorced from class struggle (which expresses itself as the pursuit of immediate interests) and does not change conditions.  The number of actions and extremity of slogans do not bring us closer to revolution and communism, or I would have moved to Greece or Italy a long time ago.  Of course, the lack of actions and slogans does not bring us closer either, though armed struggle groups (in collision with the state) have acted against revolt in the past and will most likely do so in the future.

As I’ve said in a letter, I could go out each night and break windows, spray-paint slogans against the police, or put industrial glue into parking meters (as someone from the Red & Anarchist Action Network did where I live), but I would still be ‘waiting’.  Waiting is something I cannot break out of.  I cannot attack until conditions change and I have room to move.  I would never condemn those who get pleasure from destroying property or whatever, but I think it’s telling to see the positions arrived at by those who fall into the role of ‘those who act only at night’.  The clandestine group seems to always fall into leftism (or in the case of animal rights types – an extreme moralism).  Why is that?  Why is the gaze of those who wear masks always directed to images of far away events?

I’m confused by my relationship to my contemporaries.  On the one hand, in discussions I feel as though I’m speaking a different language, but I’ve also become closer to a few friends since coming to these sorts of positions.  I’ve found them to be more popular (or at least less unpopular) then I thought they would be, though most people do not go as far as we do.  There is a lot to talk about in defining the borders of our Go game, even if they are meaningless on anything other than the most immediate, human scale.  Sometimes in conversations I propose the idea of attacking the Left now while the Left is relatively weak.  What better time to disband organizations and disrupt movement?  I cannot do this where I live, but it would interest me if others tried it.  At the same time, I think that any successful attack on the Left would face repression as other sectors of capital come to the Left’s defense, probably along lines of “free speech” or “political freedom”.  Attacking the Left could be approached as a game, not a political strategy.  Like most things I write or say, I propose this without thinking that anyone will take me up on my proposition.  I always tell myself that it is better to expect failure and be surprised, though I’m sure certain friends of mine would say that this ‘fatalism’ diminishes my capabilities and my arguments against agency are a self-fulfilling prophecy.

To finish – what limitations can we try to overcome or illuminate as this journal develops?

FD:

You are right of course that the relation of pro-revolutionaries to the proletariat is not altered by the ideas we are exploring, or at least not from the perspective of history. On the other hand, I do think it changes the proletariat as an object in our account and I think we may encounter some unexpected logical problems as more people engage with us and we might therefore want to develop the positions we have defined in terms of nuance, and the embracing of parallel arguments. For example, it is difficult for us to argue that communist workers are in fact less advanced than those who have no political consciousness at all – we would have to explore our notions of creative and destructive roles and how the proletarian category is defined as a subject.

I also think our relationship to the proletariat is changed subjectively, a new set of activities becomes open to us which is not propagandistic, and which does not address the issue of converting subjective qualities of consciousness into mass scale quantities. A new set of irrelevant tasks is set before us, or a new set of tasks that are based on their non-centrality to the major forces of society, and we must choose between them on the grounds of some criteria that are not altogether apparent at the moment – I mean, what is it exactly that we are supposed to do? In the end, it seems we carry on but can we find any justification in that? Or is this question of justification the entirety of our project, reconnecting with the right to think and act? Are we a comet that is already on its return course towards some form of intervention and perhaps a (deliberate) transgression of our original insights?

You ask what limitations can we try to overcome? Well, I suppose, starting modestly, it is either to be engaged with seriously by our contemporaries, or else it is to provoke them into paroxysms of rage and thereby establish a new readership. This second option would suggest a participation in a para-milieu similar to those milieus generated by the Surrealists, Situationists, Tropicalia, Os Cangaceiros, Crimethinc etc in relation to the ‘workers’ movement’ and if we took that route would we exist ‘internally’ without ever making contact with the ‘traditional’ milieu? Maybe that choice is not really ours to make anyway – it is difficult to gauge what the limits are, whether we are beyond the pale or not. Maybe the significant boundaries have already been breached.

If this journal encounters a near-total non-response it could either be considered proof of an interesting direction or else of a complete disaster. And from each branch of this divergence there would be created the invitation to two further choices: does either of the original outcomes, or neither, or both, mean ‘go on’ or ’stop now’? And then yet another branching occurs if we stop do we do something else,
or do nothing? And if the project is continued when there has been no response, should it be distributed in the same places, or different ones? But if there has been favorable response, should it therefore be distributed elsewhere to reach different people, or should a longer dialogue be developed with the same people?

At each branching, the decisions to be made are not historically self-evident… in evolutionary terms what is required is twenty different journals all producing more or less the same content and each exploring their own way through the options. This blanket betting on all early outcomes would give the milieu a more clear idea of what we are on about, and also to the limits to our activities. At the moment our singular little efforts might at any moment produce the wrong outcome simply because an incorrect direction has been taken for a misinterpreted reason. When analysis of outcomes depends on individual choices the analysis itself becomes extremely brittle and precarious.

In cybernetic terms there is in any circuit two sources of energy: the first is that energy which belongs to the circuit as such and the second is that which belongs to the switch that activates/deactivates the circuit. The usual example for this is that the electricity that activates a light bulb depends on the agency of someone to turn it on. Plainly, there is some intrinsic truth, or energy, inherent to the questions we are exploring, but the fact is that this truth can only operate if we subjectively invest our energy into activating its circuitry. If we do not throw that switch and activate the circuit of questions concerning the pro-revolutionary’s role, then these questions die. We are the only ones presently who are talking in the terms that we are talking, and obviously, from an evolutionary perspective, that is not a good place to be – in the same way, these ideas, as they appeared to Sam Moss had to lie dormant for perhaps sixty years before they were seriously evaluated. So, the limit that you talk of, the ultimate limit that we must encounter and address is the autonomy of our ideas. When we find ourselves in a position where we can throw the switch on our project to turn it off, walk away from it and thereby deprive it of our personal commitment but then still encounter the ideas that it contains elsewhere and independently of our actions, it is then that we will know those ideas have crossed a significant threshold.

I will leave it here for you to sum up or answer.

(Note: This dialogue appeared in the first issue of LETTERS)

 


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