The Joy of Dialectics
On the South African revolution, past and present, and the problem of social
consciousnessin our time
'The senses of modern people are already too policed to accept violent truths about contemporary politics.'
– Maurice Joly, Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu
'On the spiritual level, the petit-bourgeoisie are always in power. Under pressure of the realities of the epoch, it is necessary to finish with this spirit.'
– Guy Debord and Gil Wolman, Why Lettrism?
'We believe that the most urgent exercise of freedom is the destruction of idols, especially when they represent freedom. The provocative tone of our tract reacts against unanimous and servile enthusiasm.'
– Internationale Lettriste #1, The Position of the Lettrist International
'Our critiques do not depart from any feeling of hostility, and we hope that if they sometimes seem severe, this will not become an obstacle to communication. What we have written is intended, not as a full stop, but as a starting point. In no way is our intention to prescribe a recipe on the basis of a diagnosis supposedly put forward. What we wanted was to introduce a few dissonant notes in the apparently harmonious concert that we're hearing all around us, in which each player has a time and place but the score raises a number of objections.'
– Edições Antipáticas, On the Passage of a Few Thousand People Through a Brief Period of Time
This was began as the final portion of a text on anarchists' responses to Mandealer's death – beginning with that of Michael Schmidt and ending with the lyrical eulogy published by Richard Pithouse, a prominent South African anti-authoritarian (though not anarchist) academic – and soon took on a life of its own. What emerged was a broader look at the fundamentally elitist and reactionary attitude that all would-be anti-authoritarians who fail to develop a dialectical (and therefore radical) perspective tend to share, by default, with the Rachael Schmidhouses of this world (1). What follows involves a critique of this all too common pseudo-critical attitude starting from some of its particular implications for South African radicals.
I should emphasise that the labelling of persons, placing individuals into categories supposedly fixed once and for all, holds no interest for me whatsoever. What I try to contribute towards is clarity regarding the real social function of personal behaviour, roles, and attitudes. These either undermine the existing order or they support it. Formal apartheid fell precisely when the majority – both black and white – whom had previously adopted the middle of the road pragmatism that always functions to keep everything the same, was forced to choose which side they were on by the decisive actions of a radical minority – the black youth who made history in the townships and workplaces.
Moreover it was a choice forced to find expression through action, rather than the worthless words of sympathy and condemnation which had until then changed nothing. The infinitely sophisticated justifications concocted by one and all for expressing dissatisfaction with a life of slavery symbolically while at the same time keeping their heads down in reality were demolished through this radical simplification. To collaborate with the permitted changes presented by the established order was practically understood as complicity in the continuous reform of repression directed against the radically unacceptable changes being imposed by insurgents in the streets, schools, and factories.
Of course, complicity in the established order is necessary for any form of survival. When faced with the choice of struggle against the everyday depredations of power or dumb submission, there was no question as to where the young revolutionaries stood. But certain forms of complicity, those which actively supported the repression of others (such as the acceptance of law-enforcement roles) and those which actively supported the reform of such repression (such as the acceptance of roles managing capitalist firms and state institutions) were considered neither necessary nor acceptable. Those blacks who chose to engage in such forms of complicity (spies, cops, bosses and 'Bantu Authorities') were treated with the enmity they deserved, often to the point where they were forced to resign or their homes were destroyed and the occupants banished from the townships on pain of death. There was little romantic, and much problematic, about such measures, on which more will have to be said elsewhere. The fact remains: No revolution is possible without such practical polarisation, just as no significant social change is possible without revolution. It is essential to force the innumerable enemies of truth – who come from the Center, Right and Left – to declare themselves openly by imposing conditions in which their lies are unequivocally exposed. Such was the case when the ANC was forced to reveal its true character in the betrayal of the 1957 Alexandria bus boycott by its bureaucrats, who were subsequently so despised by the people that they were not allowed to hold public meetings in the township for the next nine months. The great tragedy of the South African revolution, which is the tragedy of every proletarian revolution around the world, lies in the ultimate failure of those who made history – the real revolutionaries who died in their thousands uncelebrated, unremembered, maligned and slandered, or who sunk into the oblivion of despair, drug-addiction, petty crime or respectability (organised crime) after experiencing (too late!) the bitter fruits of their mistakes – to recognise the same contemptible complicity, the same eager collaboration in the reform of repression, which marked the politicians of the Bantu Administration Board, the then-current house-niggers of the country, in the revolutionary politicians of the ANC/SACP: the house-niggers-in-waiting. It was precisely the dazzling image of revolt manufactured for such struggle-celebrities by the spectacle of false-opposition which sent ordinary insurgents, the mere mortals who made the revolution in reality, into a daze where all they could see were stars. They paid for this historic failure with their lives. Armed truth is revolutionary; 'the ruthless criticism of everything that exists' is its most vital weapon. Those who make revolutions unarmed only dig their own graves.
Most servants of the spectacle – all those who serve it through their vivacious ululations, romantic cheer-leading, rapt eulogies, and half-arsed pseudo-criticism – act with the best intentions. Then again, so do most struggle-celebrities. So do most priests, cops, charity workers, academics, teachers, generals, and business leaders. How else could they justify to themselves their role in the apparatus of repression enough to be able to sleep at night? The road to heaven is paved with good intentions. Maybe Mandealer and his predecessors are enjoying the results. For the living, however, neither heaven nor the miasma of intentions that shroud its mysteries can be considered a suitable consolation for a miserable life.
The personal choice to keep moving in the direction of coherence – to keep struggling against the contradictions which block the path of this movement through consistent and rigorous confrontation – is made (produced) by way of action (practice) and consciousness of action (theory) on a continual basis. At every point the choice poses itself in concrete ways that usually have to do with what one is and is not prepared to tolerate in oneself and in others.
The question of tolerance for the intolerable is, as will be seen, precisely the subject of the present text. The other question that takes obvious center stage is the making of history. It will be apt therefore to conclude this introduction with a few brief words on my treatment of this subject.
When a woman whose son had been killed by Lord Nelson's cops at a protest screamed 'Mandela can go to hell!' she took a step in the right direction. A few steps further along, there is an episode in the Iraqi 'Kurdish' uprising of 1991 (a proletarian rather than an ethnic insurrection that precipitated the end of the first Gulf War, accompanied by the widespread formation of workers councils and an equally widespread mutiny in the army which probably would have supported the councilist insurrection had not US forces massacred the mutineers as they were retreating and supported Saddam Hussein's counterinsurgency operations – an recent instance of radical history strangely neglected today considering the amount of attention currently given to the present Kurdish movements in northern Syria and southern Turkey, perhaps because it has little to do with the leftist & nationalist ideological enthusiasms involved in these movements) where 'In Hawlir, the uprising was started by a woman who, desperately furious at the killing of her son by a security cop, disarmed the cop, killed him and then stormed off to the building of the security cops to shoot some more, followed by a snowballing crowd of angry, curious, people. In fact, angry people throughout the whole of Kurdistan attacked, wrecked and torched police stations, local government buildings, Baathist [Sadaam's Party] centres, army bases, security headquarters etc. — often making off with various trophies.' Unfortunately the lucid anger of this South African mother and those like her remain, for the moment, lone voices wailing in the wilderness, without language, without concepts, and without critical access to their own past, which has nowhere been recorded. Uncommunicated, misunderstood and forgotten, they are smothered by the spectacle's false memory of the unmemorable – of which the immense accumulation of rubbish surrounding Lord Nelson's limousine ride to sainthood is a particularly despicable example.
The historical aspect of this text is part of an ongoing collective effort (towards which the author of the Dialectical Delinquents website has made valuable contributions in his web page South Africa: A Reader) to rectify this intolerable situation. In an era where a critical perspective on the most vital recent historical events is entirely absent; it is necessary to provide a foundation simply by publicising basic materials from which such perspectives can be assembled. Those devoted to a concrete discussion of the possibilities and obstacles to revolution in the unfortunate conditions of the present have to begin by creating some of the very bases of information that need to be discussed. The extensive use of relevant quotations is one measure my style of writing is compelled to adopt by the social amnesia so prevalent today at every level. The persistent focus on the immediate past is another such measure. A radical transformation in South Africa will depend as much on how the past is re-membered as on how the present is subverted: The subversion of the present is in fact nothing other than the radical detournement ('the conscious, deliberate dissociation and recombination of elements into a new artistic entity') of the past. My aims and methods are therefore similar to the producers of the Encyclopédie des Nuisances, as described in their Preliminary Discourse:
'Of course, it is true that if our contemporaries were to become aware of the possibility of evaluating their history, they might also embrace the possibility of freely constructing it. We are not at that point now, but, if we want to get there, it would be advisable to disseminate the taste for the first of those two activities. It will be our intention to contribute to the attainment of this objective.
For we can no longer rely on the eventuality that commodity production itself will exhaust, by way of the accumulation of its disastrous results, the patience of those whom it victimizes on a daily basis. This would probably be expecting too much, since it is obvious that, at the same time that it is producing conditions that were only yesterday considered to be unendurable, it is also producing the men capable of enduring those conditions today. Or at least, men who are incapable of formulating and communicating their dissatisfaction, which amounts to the same thing: customs deteriorate; the loss of the meaning of words participates in this deterioration. And that is why we propose to sabotage this aspect of the contemporary production of harmful phenomena, since we have some possibility of acting on it.'
In From The End of Empire to The Empire of The End, written ten years after the Portuguese Revolution of 1974, Julio Henriques described the mutism produced by the decomposition of revolutionary hopes, a suicidal silence and 'incommunicable' insanity spawned from a situation in which 'Portuguese society does not possess subversive energies capable of effectively declaring themselves openly'. After more than 20 years of similar decomposition, South Africa is only now beginning to recover the subversive energies strangled by the stupefying successes of Mandela and DeKlerk, though we seem nowhere near the point where these energies, despite what is arguably the highest level of class struggle in the world today, are once again capable of declaring themselves openly – a contradiction I described in the recent text Street Sweepers 'Arrest' Mayor... & MORE!!! 'Existence determines consciousness', and the problem of social consciousness in our time, the problem of social existence, involves nothing less than the universal alienation of social communication in the form of money – the 'cash nexus' that simultaneously connects every one of the 7 billion people on this planet and stands as a barrier between them – an implacable obstacle to all human intercourse. In this sense revolution is nothing other than the question of cutting out this abstract mediation, this imaginary middle-man, by means of direct dialogue. 'When the workers can assemble freely and without intermediaries to discuss their real problems, the State begins to dissolve.' Though the formulation quoted here (taken from Debord and Sanguinetti's Theses on the SI and its time) was written in 1972, the essence of this recognition can already be seen in the remarkable text of an obscure English shoemaker, William Benbow, written in 1831 – The Grand National Holiday and Congress of the Productive Classes. Unfortunately it is not as easy as agreeing on a date for the 'general assembly of mankind' and organising provisions for the happy day, as the subsequent history of every failed revolutionary project since then has shown – beginning with Benbow's own, which was aborted a mere three months after its conception when he and his comrades were arrested for sedition. Besides the logistical organisation of social communication and the substance of its content, there is the more neglected question of its form and style. Much of what follows is taken up by a contribution towards clarification on this subject, regarding which there currently reigns an almost total confusion whose predominance serves to disable all nascent subversive energies from effectively declaring themselves publicly in a form capable of inciting the recognition and association of others.
In Defence of Intolerance
Often the supposed enemies of capital are in fact its greatest allies. In the last century Soviet Communism – a misnomer on both counts – served exceedingly well to contain opposition to the old world within acceptable bounds. With that straw man in ashes, this century may well see the job fall to libertarian socialism. Two climactic episodes in the historic development of this ideology illustrate the primary point of the following essay, which has to do with the pervasive tendency for would-be revolutionaries to accept the unacceptable, and the disastrous consequences that ensue from this laissez-faire practice.
On May 1937 the President of Republican Spain, Manuel Azaña, then living in the parliament house in Exposition Park, talked by telephone to the President of Catalonia, Luis Companys, who was in his office in the Palace of the Generalitat. The conversation had been going on for some time, when it was sharply interrupted by an anarchist in the Telefónica who said: 'This conversation will have to stop. We have more interesting things to do than listen to your stupid conversations.' The line was then broken. (Jaume Miravitlles, quoted in Prolegomena: To a Study of the Return of the Repressed in History)
These commendable acts of irascible intolerance by the telephone-exchange workers of Barcelona took place against the background of the deplorable 'May events' (2) that signalled the beginning of the end for the Spanish Revolution, in which the workers of the anarchist-influenced union the CNT, after fierce initial resistance, were beaten and cajoled (as happened in South Africa during the pre-election period) into accepting Stalino-democratic control over their own revolutionary movement. The ground for this acquiescence had already been laid, however, a year earlier, in an equally climactic episode at the beginning of the revolution. After the fascist coup attempt had been immediately beaten in more than half the country, the peasants and workers whose armed force defeated Franco's uprising continued to push their advantage by taking control of the whole fabric of their everyday lives. In July 1936
'The Spanish anarchists had made the revolution, beyond their wildest expectations, and did not know what to do with it. On the night of the victory in Barcelona, top leaders of the CNT-FAI, including Juan Garcia Oliver and Buenaventura Durruti, called on Luis Companys, a Catalan nationalist and head of the Generalitat, the Catalan regional government. The army had dissolved or gone over to Franco; the police had also largely disintegrated, and were being replaced by armed anarchist patrols; the bourgeois state in Catalonia at that moment was reduced to a few buildings. Companys told the CNT-FAI leaders that the power was theirs, and if they wished, he would resign and be a soldier in their army. The CNT-FAI leaders decided to leave standing the skeleton of the bourgeois state and its momentarily powerless head, Companys [...] The anarchists, as they put it in their own words, had to either impose a "full totalitarian dictatorship" or leave the parties supporting the Popular Front intact. They chose the latter course, and through the door of the small, powerless edifice, which they did not dissolve, came, in the following months, under the cautious management of Companys, all the forces of the counter-revolution.' (Loren Goldner ; The Spanish Revolution, Past and Future)
That the anarchists associated a contradictory confrontation with state power – the necessary means of liberation – with totalitarian oppression was to have the same disastrous consequences as the South African association of liberation with a mere seizure of state power. Both required people to tolerate an external authority which very quickly crushed their independence underfoot.
'Yesterday, we were the masters of everything, today they are. The popular army, whose "popularity" is nothing other than the fact that it is recruited from among the people, it always happens that it does not belong to the people; it belongs to the Government, and the Government leads and the Government orders. The people are simply permitted to obey...' The revolutionaries of 1976 might well recognise this 1937 protest from an incontrolado of the Iron Column and – with their eyes fixed on the Mandelas, Malemas, NUMSAs and AMCUs of this world (a world which has been arranged precisely so that there is almost nowhere else to look) – heave a heavy sigh. The pitiless march of events very quickly turns toleration into submission. When revolutionaries betray an indulgence and even enthusiasm for the agenda, language, and manners of leftists, academics, journalists, artists and assorted intelligentsia, they fatally betray themselves. Yesterday they enlisted with such people to fight fascism and imperialism, today they do the same to fight neoliberalism, global-warming and globalisation. Even when the discourse takes place within a participatory paradigm of social-justice and anti-hegemonic custodianship in which the ontology of privilege and systemic institutional exclusion are rendered transparent thus enabling a people-centered horizontal epistemology of accountable consultation with affected stakeholders through a reflexive yet holistic conscientization sensitive to the inclusivity of marginalised my gin allies margarine ice marjoram eyes marmalade I is D marzipan and disempowered communities, prattle about rights, democracy and all the rest only serves to conceal the slavery on which such profound sounding bullshit is based. To engage in, or even passively tolerate, such stupid conversations is to submit to (and thus support) the lies of politicians (popular or otherwise) and their intellectual lackeys.
The depth to which such submission can sink is shamelessly displayed in the panegyric (3) to the recently deceased Father of the Nation by Richard Pithouse, an otherwise sensible, even exemplary, anti-authoritarian who has elsewhere made valuable contributions to the struggles of the dispossessed. In this sickening outpouring, authority of every sort is reverently honoured. Kowtowing to cultural celebrities – he is impressed not by the fierce bravery of black children fighting for their lives in the townships at the time but rather by how 'in 1986, in the midst of the state of emergency, Asimbonanga, Johnny Clegg's exquisite song for Mandela, soared above the blood and teargas on the streets' (just as the bosses responsible for the blood and teargas soared above the streets in their helicopters and jets) – is naturally followed by grave prostrations at the feet of political celebrities:
"The passage from apartheid to democracy has made us citizens of one polity and given us the freedom to set our own course... We should not forget the bright strength of the Idea of Nelson Mandela. Mandela was a revolutionary who was prepared to fight and to risk prison or death for his ideals – rational and humane ideals."
Like Civilisation, freedom was given to us. Before the advent of the former we were hopeless savages, before the 'passage' of latter, helpless vassals. That, in any case, is the moral of the story. Although not quite as absurd, this glowing eulogy by an anti-authoritarian for the chief of a repressive organisation which tortured and killed those whose subversive acts provoked the state of emergency after they enlisted in its military camps – the knowledge of which Mandela actively suppressed until it could be publicly whitewashed in the same sort of 'independent commission' convened by Zuma to cover up the Marikana massacre – is only one step away from declaring him a revolutionary leader in the 'indigenous anarchist' tradition. After a picturesque introduction replete with native ancestors and spicy borrowings from Bantu vocabulary, Pithouse admiringly invokes the writings of this revolutionary poster-boy as 'elegantly laid out' in his book No Easy Walk To Freedom, uninterested in the fact that all this professional politician's utterances are based on lies, as in the best-seller Long Walk To Freedom, an 'auto-biography' which was in fact whitewashed by a white liberal ghost-writer, Rick Stengel, who purged it of all content that might dent the image of a tall, clean-limbed tribal prince, luminously charismatic (projecting a 'bright strength' into TV screens, voting booths and police vans), a Good Shepherd committed to the liberation of his sheep (a pacified flock is easier to fleece), dedicated to peaceful civil disobedience and reduced by cruel circumstance to living martyrdom on a prison island.
The lies of liberal democracy and the violence of capitalist dictatorship are mutually reinforcing. Mandela needed the services of the professional journalist – the specialist of falsification – to cover-up the truth expressed in the miserable conduct of his life because without it he would be in danger of revealing the ugly reality, as was done recently in the unwitting public admission by a police chief that the Marikana massacre was made specifically for the sake of the bosses, to break the mine-workers' strike:
'North West police chief Lt-Gen Zukiswa Mbombo conceded on Thursday that she made a blunder during a television interview about protests at Marikana. She was cross-examined by evidence leaders' head Geoff Budlender, SC, at the Farlam Commission of Inquiry's public hearings in Pretoria. Budlender asked Mbombo to explain why the police had prioritised "ending" the strike. He played the video recording of August 16, 2012, in which Mbombo says in an interview with broadcaster eNCA: "The plan is that we intend to ensure that today we end this strike. We intend to make sure that we end it in the best way we can, in an amicable solution ."'
Amicable solution. The watchwords of nation-builders Lord Nelson, Saint Tutu and Comrade De Klerk. Lietenant-General Bimbo should also be given a Nobel Peace Prize. Unfortunately for middle-management, the stench of the corpses produced by capital's amicable final solutions are closer to them than to the rosy arses of the board of directors.
'Mbombo agreed with Budlender when he put it to her that it was not supposed to be the police's major concern, whether the strike continued or not."It is important that when someone in a very senior position like yours, speaks to the public on television, you must choose your words carefully. I am sure you agree with me that the matter of the strike was between Lonmin and its employees," said Budlender. "It was a slip of the tongue, it was not our intention to end the strike. Our goal was to end the violence that was going together with the strike," she said. "I am not sure now how I can explain the slipping of my tongue."' (The Star, 7 February 2014)
Lieutenant-General Bimbo – professional pig but amateur liar – may not be able to explain the accidental slipping out of the truth, but anyone with half a brain can see that it was simply because she did not have the benefit of a PR coach. For its part, the joke of an "independent commission" is forced to bend over backwards to cover-up her bullshit. "Choose your words carefully" = "We must all at least pretend that we believe the sham we're putting on is not a load of complete crap discharged over a clear case of mass-murder in a desperate attempt to bury the facts." We can see then why the Maos, Mandelas, Malemas & Ben-Bellas of this world rely on the services of the Snows, Stengels, Mgxitamas & Fanons. (4) We can also see why, during the Algerian uprising in 2001, '...the insurrection was not satisfied in asking the truth (the conclusions of governmental enquiry commissions [into police brutality] were denounced in advance...), it imposed the truth every time possible...' (Jaime Semprun, Apology for the Algerian Insurrection)
Despite the people's-power fog spouted by their paid ideologues, the policy of rulers like Mandela are entirely elitist and no more opposed to violent coercion than was Roosevelt, Churchill, or Stalin (all of whom had pride of place on the walls of his home as portraits). In the prison manuscript that served as the basis for Stengels' hatchet-job, Mandela, champion of democracy, describes how he and his party resorted to organised thuggery in the 1950s when township residents failed to respond with enough enthusiasm to their orders for 'mass action' [my own notes are included in brackets]:
Pickets were used in Sophiatown and the strike was almost a 100% success there. In Port Elizabeth the response was far better on the 2nd and 3rd days but only after the ANC had taken tough counter-measures [against the petulant decision of the black masses who dared to think for themselves!]. We have often discussed the question to what extent we should rely on coercive measures in organising political demonstrations and we have had to choose between two alternative courses. We could rely purely on the support the people have freely given because they fully realise that successful demonstrations would be in their best interest and that any action on their part that directly or indirectly assists the enemy should be avoided, that once the majority supports a demonstration freely, coercion should be used against the dissident minority [precisely what the ANC now denounces when strikers take action against scabs – apparently there are two alternative courses for the Party, but only one possible course for the masses: absolute submission]. The other alternative is to rely from the beginning to end on coercion [how, unless the 'majority-rule' championed by the official ideology of this Party meant a majority of the rulers, could this even have been considered an option?] and to use it even if on a specific issue the majority of the people are against us. The organisation declared itself against the use of coercive measures as a means of mobilising the support of the people [...] But this is neither a question of principle nor wishful thinking but of necessity and should be governed strictly by actual conditions. The real issue is whether the use of force will advance or retard the struggle [whose struggle?]. If the use of force on a given occasion will harm the cause [which cause?] then we must avoid it by all means. But if it will advance it then it must be used whether or not the majority agrees with us. (Manuscript of Long Walk To Freedom, Nelson Mandela) (5).
The abstract cause of this noble champion of liberty was precisely the same as that of Donoso Cortes who, in reaction to the revolutionary upheaval that shook through his nation in the 19th century, reminded the Spanish bourgeoisie of the alternatives confronting them: "When legality is sufficient to save society, then legality, by all means; when legality is not enough, then dictatorship." Since its inception, the cause of capitalist society was adept at resorting to both simultaneously and, more than two centuries since the French revolution, the proletariat has still not woken to the deception. When the revolution of 1936 meant that Franco's upstart dictatorship was not enough to guarantee the bourgeoisie's control over society, the counter-revolution of the democratic Republic finished the job.
1789 to 1989, General Emperor Napoleon to President Lord Nelson. The Second Republic falls to Franco's iron fist, to be replaced with the new constitutional monarchy. The single-state solution of classic apartheid is dismantled while the global market constructs a modern transnational version to rule in its stead. The barbarians overrun the citadel of power, but are assimilated. Together with the old rulers, they rebuild the new empire. And the streets resound with the cry 'Verwoed is dead, long live Verwoed!' while the black boers butcher rebels on behalf of the lauded, laurelled icon.
This is what happens when the masses do as they are told by their professors and reduce their role in world history to that of support for admirable men. In these situations mass-action plays a major role in the massive pacification wherein people are made to play minor roles in the story of their own lives. In the ensuing drama, the huge toyi-toyis of the 1990s become a sea of free extras in support of the luminary lead-roles, Mandealer and De Klerk. Minor roles, major contradictions: Liberation now means the liberty of movie executives to secure rent-a-crowds without paying for them; just as free-time means time the bosses don't have to pay their workers for. The scenario is familiar. The mysticism of the bourgeois whose abstract rights guarantee concrete wrongs returns as the mythical, pseudo-historical sacrifice of the black ruler that justifies the real, eternal sacrifice of the black masses. The principle right this society permits is the right to dream, to dream without practical consequences: the domination of the intellectual ideal and the suppression of the senses. Donso Cortes, in his Essays on Catholicism, Liberalism and Socialism, Considered in Their Fundamental Principles, eloquently describes the process, down to the detail of compulsory amnesia:
'Away there where God is infinite substance, man, abandoned to silent contemplation, inflicts death on his senses, and passes through life like a dream, fanned by sweet-scented and enervating breezes. The adorer of the infinite substance is condemned to a perpetual slavery and an infinite indolence : the desert will be for him something more sublime than the city, because it is more silent, more solitary and grand; and yet he will not adore it as his god, because the desert is not infinite. The ocean would be his only divinity, because it embraces all, only for its wild turbulence and strange noise. The sun, which illumines all, would be worthy of his worship, if only he could not take in its resplendent disc with his eye. The heavens would be his lord if it had no stars, and the night, if it had no rumours. His god is all these things together: immensity, obscurity, immobility, silence. There, shall suddenly rise, by the secret virtue of a powerful vegetation, colossal and barbarous empires, which shall fall one day, with rude noise, crushed by the immense weight of others more gigantic and colossal, without leaving a trace in the memory of men either of their fall or of their foundation.'
Absorbed in adoration of the bright strength of a mirage, the humane and rational ideals of a phantom, the freedom of a black master to preside over the repression black slaves, Professor Pithouse rapturously declares himself in favour of black liberation, but, like Michael Schmidt, it is in the pure form of its spirit incarnated as a privileged hero that he prefers to meet it, recognize it and aid it with his obsequious obituaries. Maybe he can say, as Bakunin did just after fighting behind the barricades at Dresden, 'You are mistaken if you think that I do not believe in God... I seek God in man, in human freedom, and now I seek God in revolution.' Unlike the telephone-exchange workers who cut the lines of communication of the high and mighty, bursting with impatience to realize themselves and the new world whose unknown pleasures raged through their hearts, the Professor prefers to let the magnificent monologue of Power caress his ears into an indefinite slumber.
Like every other modern political party, Mandela's organisation 'declared itself' against elitist violence in theory while practicing it in reality – brushing aside any adherence to principle, which, when applied to politicians, is as they admit, wishful thinking. These are the rational and humane ideals so loudly trumpeted by Professor Pithouse his fellow choristers. This is the meaning of Lord Nelson's equality, his morality, his justice. Is it any surprise, then, that the Professor begins his paean to our dearly departed and clearly benevolent agent of democratic government by enthusiastically quoting the ideologue-in-chief of a party which
'On the political front, worked to persuade—and to coerce—the Algerian masses to support the aims of the independence movement through contributions. FLN-influenced labor unions, professional associations, and students' and women's organizations were created to lead opinion in diverse segments of the population, but here too, violent coercion was widely used. Franz Fanon, a psychiatrist from Martinique who became the FLN's leading political theorist, provided a sophisticated intellectual justification for the use of violence in achieving national liberation.' (Wikipedia; Algerian War)
In 1939 Aime Cesaire would say to 'the flunkies of order and cockchafers of hope': 'Put up with me, I won't put up with you'. Unfortunately a mere six years later he himself put up with becoming just one of those flunkies as mayor of Fort-de-France and honourable member of the legislature for Martinique on behalf of the Stalinist ('Communist') Party. Mayors, by definition, have to put up with presidents and CEOs just as those who put up with mayors will, by necessity, have to put up with every little cop and boss able to crawl into a uniform. Fanon, Malcolm X and Angela Davis would follow his example, entering thoughtlessly into authoritarian organisations with the expectation that such miserable rackets would provide them with a free ride on the royal road to revolution. Neither the Algerian nationalists, the Nation of Islam nor the Black Panther Party proved to be any less spiritually bankrupt than Cesaire's (more accurately: Stalin's) Communist Party, nor did this bureaucratic disease fail to infect the theoretical efforts of those it possessed body and soul with practical putrefaction. If his predecessors could not, despite all the opportunities open to them, draw the most basic conclusions from the experiences of the revolutionary movement in their own time; Steve Biko, looking back at the hopeless dead-ends of these black Jacobins, would at least put two and two together, maintaining that principled independence from the ANC which saved him from the brain-dead idiocy of party politics, even if the Black Consciousness organisations themselves were ultimately too stupid to get the message. Death saved him from having to witness the quite literally mindless carnage to which his followers (from Azapo to Andile Mngxitama) subjected the project for which he died in exchange for a little prestige, a little pocket change from a powerful patron, exclusive control of a slogan, a brand name, a hand gesture, a slum neighbourhood, a uniform, and the other idiotic trifles for which the gangsters of the world routinely commit mass murder.
It is no longer possible to adopt the catholic viewpoint of Montaigne, that 'Saying is a different thing from doing; we are to consider the sermon apart and the preacher apart.' The truth claimed as an exclusive possession by the church has long ago been discredited by the actions of both its ministers and its congregation even for one so inclined to credulity as Gandhi, who famously declared that he would have believed in the teachings of Jesus but the actual behaviour of christians made it impossible to do so. Montaigne's attempt (and it is by no means only his) to separate mantra from tantra, theory from practise, is a foolish way of arguing that has thrown all things into confusion. While it is true that 'A man whose morals are good may have false opinions, and a wicked man may preach truth, even though he believe it not himself'; it is also the case that truth, a thing of very precious use that will not be basely gotten nor vily possessed, becomes utterly debased in the hands of a professional liar – just as the most sophisticated knowledge turns rotten and unprofitable when, in the hands of political sycophants and moral pygmies, it finds itself ill placed and pitifully disposed. Montaigne himself goes on to say that 'I never read an author, even of those who treat of virtue and of actions, that I do not curiously inquire what kind of a man he was himself; for the Ephori at Sparta, seeing a dissolute fellow propose a wholesome advice to the people, commanded him to hold his peace, and entreated a virtuous man to attribute to himself the invention, and to propose it.' People like Fanon might well be read with profit, not as a useful theorist (his theses on 'the lived experience of the black man' were advanced long before by his mentor Aime Cesaire; his analysis of the behaviour of native ruling classes had already been done, better and more concisely, by Octavio Paz; his apology for revolutionary violence offered generations earlier by George Sorel & Mikhail Bakunin – neither of whom confused, as Fanon so despicably did, not merely in theory but in practice, the anti-hierarchical violence of oppressed masses with the hierarchical violence of political rulers-in-waiting) but as a negative example of what is not to be done. As a matter of fact, those who want to get to grips with the realities of revolution today will have to throw away a good deal inherited from all their ancestors – even those who were not nearly as theoretically threadbare and practically bankrupt as the Lenins, Fanons and Lord Nelsons of this world. As Montaigne writes elsewhere: 'The time is now proper for us to reform backward; more by dissenting than by agreeing; more by differing than by consent. Profiting little by good examples, I make use of those that are ill, which are everywhere to be found...'
As a professor, it is expected that Pithouse would participate in lectures and seminars about Fanon, a perennially fashionable figure among Third World academics. As an anti-authoritarian activist (he doesn't call himself an anarchist, though he certainly shares the weaknesses of this ill-defined sect), it is unfortunate that he should suffer so complete a degeneration of judgement. Like libertarian-marxist academic Daniel Guerin before him, he is reduced to acrobatic apologetics which twist the truth into a shape designed to allow those so disposed to accept the unacceptable. 'To rally a popular opposition to the colonels' regime in Algeria today without reference to Ben Bella, or while making a total political critique of Ben-Bellaism, would be an undertaking doomed to failure' wrote Guerin in L'Algérie caporalisée? For Guérin the Ben Bella regime's numerous attacks on the workers, the exploits of its police and army were only 'mistakes, weaknesses and omissions' of an acceptable orientation. The king was badly advised or misinformed; never responsible. Since Guérin was well aware of the open struggles of Ben Bella's regime against the masses, he has to reconstruct history by totally separating Ben Bella from his regime. As we will see, Professor Pithouse attempts to perpetrate precisely the same separation regarding President Nelson and the ANC.
With such exercises in sycophancy it is, as a matter of course, necessary to jettison all critical perspective into the shit-bucket of history. As a matter of form, Professor Pithouse advances some half-arsed criticism of the ANC as it is now, all the while contributing towards the tremendous historical falsification surrounding this party. It can't be over-emphasised that false criticism, like false opposition, actively contributes to the perpetuation of social domination. Julius Malema, like Mandela before him, presented just such an example of false criticism within the ranks of Party, the supporters of Zuma did the same in the Mbeki era, the liberal wing of Capital put pressure on the apartheid government to reform lest black revolt really threaten the rule of the commodity, The Mail & Guardian sensationalises corruption scandals with the implication that life would be different under good politicians such as the Professor's hero... Of course it is all a decoy. What Pithouse really wants to focus on is the rubbish he spews about how The Ruling Party's 'emancipatory energies have been squandered' – as if such energies ever existed! – in order to slobber all the more over 'its glorious moments and the grand heights of its political vision' in terms of such ridiculous hyperbole as would embarrass even the most vacuous party hack. As tellingly argued by Michael Albert in the recent article, Aiding Venezuela, pseudo-critique is essential to supporting a dismal state of things relatively close to what 'a serious internationalist and anti-authoritarian left ought to gleefully and nearly unreservedly celebrate'. By fixating on alternative state-policies that might have been pursued in opposition to the path actually taken by the government, this leftist camouflage dissembles the reality that under the current global conditions in which states at the margins of capitalist accumulation are constrained to manoeuvre, in an era where the doctrine of Keynesianism festers in profound decomposition, the Venezuelan and South African states really 'have done as well as could be hoped for.' Those who accept these conditions are disqualified from complaining about any inevitable imperfections on the part of Mandela and Chavez in matters of implementation. But such whinging must occur because to do otherwise 'would say that you can courageously seek a wonderful outcome virtually perfectly, and nonetheless have chaos unfolding and pain being endured, even after having [worked] so long to make things better.' In the moralist universe of the leftist, this recognition is taboo.
Mandela, Guevara, Chavez and Stalin did in fact seek a wonderful outcome as perfectly as any other imperfect human in their position could have hoped to accomplish. The problem is that they attempted to abolish alienation through alienated means, a delusory quest they share with their intellectual defenders who equally refuse to confront the contradictions consequent upon their acceptance of their own alienated roles. What is really questionable about these Great Socialist Leaders is their own acceptance of the shameful office of Chief Executive and Top Cop assigned to them by modern slavery, not their relative conduct within this role. But there are all sorts of cops in this world, and such a line of questioning quickly leads to a dangerously disrespectful attitude towards many other roles, illusions and habitual activities within everyday life which professional commentators are only too eager to avoid. No, the Professor is not concerned with real criticism of his hero's organisation. Like a good guard-dog, Pithouse's real vitriol is reserved for all those with the audacity to advance any revolutionary critique of his Master, barking:
"There are critiques of how this delicate moment [the early 1990s] was handled. Some are important, some are infused with little but the cheap wisdom of hindsight and some are just empty bluster – the radicalism of those for whom engagement does not move beyond the adoption of a posture and the manipulation of words. Those who say that we should have chosen war over negotiation tend to take no account of the balance of forces at the time, locally and globally, nor the depth of the bitterness of war or how its corrosion eats into its victors. War is certainly no guarantee of anything - none of the anti-colonial wars fought in Africa led to democratic and just societies [...] It is clear that the wheel of history did turn in 1994 and that Mandela did take us across the burning water".
The messianic tones of this glorious fable add to a sense of historic inevitability designed to imbue a situation, whose outcome was far from certain at the time, with an utterly false sense of closure. The slanderous insinuation that partisans of permanent revolution (a process he seems unable to relate to in anything but apocalyptic and religious terms) were/are all infected with an infantile disorder is simply an anti-authoritarian variation of the dirty tactics used by Lenin in his polemics against those critics in his own Party who glimpsed, in advance, the disastrous outcome Bolshevik policy was fated to produce. Ironically, the same stale shit flung by the author of Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder is always directed against people like Pithouse by their authoritarian opponents whenever the question of revolutionary organisation is posed practically in the course of social movements – as was the case during the South African revolution from the mid 1970s onwards. But this is nothing new. The same calumny used by Trotsky to silence revolutionary opposition to The Correct Line in Ukraine and Kronstadt was soon turned against him by Stalin.
The Hands that Handled the Mangled Moment
The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,
And famine grew, and locusts came;
Great is the hand that holds dominion over
Man by a scribbled name.
– Dylan Thomas, The Hand That Signed The Paper
What is most problematic about the Professor's apologetics is not just that they are all lies, but that they conceal the real contradictions of an historical moment whose implications we continue to suffer today; they mystify decisions faced by millions of South Africans during the height of their struggle, whose consequences continue to terrorise the present. What phoney account of 'the balance of forces' can so unthinkingly phrase so momentous a decision in terms of whether 'we should have chosen war over negotiation'? Who is this royal we, of whom he so casually and – significantly – familiarly speaks? The answer, such as can be inferred from the available evidence, is revealing. Could it be referring to his best friend Mandealer and the deceitfully-named 'liberation army' of whom Lord Nelson was commander-in-chief? Since he refers to 'the anti-colonial wars fought in Africa', we must conclude that this repulsive instrument of authoritarian violence, some of whose glorious deeds were mentioned above, must indeed be what he means. Delirious at the thought of conferring with the high and mighty about the ways in which we might have delivered us 'across the burning water' (Would we walk across like Jesus? Part the waves like Moses? Soar across like Johnny Clegg & De Klerk?) he forgets that Umkhonto we Sizwe, unlike the other anti-colonial armies, had no strategically significant presence in the country whatsoever, and was more fitted to terrorist propaganda-by-the-deed (in which more black civilians than white were killed), which it very successfully conducted, than guerrilla war, which it never even seriously considered.(6) The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report describes how an ANC campaign to plant anti-tank minefields in rural areas was abandoned due to the high rate of civilian casualties, especially black farm workers. No mention is made of a single army vehicle ever being hit. This is in line with the entire course of 'armed struggle'. Police statistics indicate that in total, in the period 1976 to 1986, approximately 130 people were killed by what the source calls 'terrorists'. Of these, about thirty were members of various security forces and one hundred were civilians. Of those, about 60 were black. The numbers presented by the ANC itself does not differ significantly from those provided by the state. If a people are the state that rules them, as the ideology of democracy claims, then an attack against those people is an attack against their state. The method of warfare carried out by democratic states throughout the world indicates that this is precisely the thinking of the leaders of those states — to bomb hospitals, schools, orphanages, maize fields, and office blocks is to bomb the Angolan, Iraqi or Vietnamese states. Should we then be surprised when the contenders for state power who lack the resources of the Japanese, American or South African government use this same democratic logic with the means they have at their disposal?
In the terms of which he is familiar – of states and armies, presidents and soldiers – there would have been neither the 'depth of bitterness' nor the 'corrosion' of war, because there would be no contest. Professor Pithouse does not merely provide the wrong answers; he poses the wrong questions. The choice confronting the insurgent masses of South Africa was never one of guerrilla war or negotiation – activities whose forms excluded them entirely as revolutionary subjects, reducing them to passive spectators as the bright strength of their rational and humane leaders strangled a struggle that these paragons of Black Power never organised in the first place – but continued resistance or renewed submission in the social war which the rulers have never ceased waging against them.
What Engels noted of England in 1844 continues in far more intensified form today, all around the world: 'It must always be kept in mind that the social war is avowedly raging in England; and that, whereas it is in the interest of the bourgeoisie to conduct this war hypocritically, under the disguise of peace and even of philanthropy, the only help for the working-men [sic] consists in laying bare the true state of things and destroying this hypocrisy; that the most violent attacks of the workers upon the bourgeoisie and its servants are only the open, undisguised expression of that which the bourgeoisie perpetrates secretly, treacherously against the workers.' The thinking, if it can be so called, that serves to conceal this war under a false unity where 'citizens of one polity' are butchered democratically contributes towards the disguise of ongoing atrocity. In the South Africa of 1989 this public secret took on an altogether nightmarish aspect in a torrent of violence which has only continued to escalate over the course of the last 25 years, though its forms of expression, now placed in the sociological category of 'crime' and its 'prevention', have changed.
Like Michael Schmidt – whose inane arguments he unsurprisingly repeats – Richard Pithouse is unable to conceive of freedom in any terms other than those imposed by the slave-holders: the false alternative of guerrilla/civil war they choose to pose is set-up precisely so as to make any possibility besides the one that took place appear either undesirable or impossible. Hence their support for a president who, like Thomas Jefferson, the slave-owning abolitionist, worked to ensure 'a total emancipation, and that this is disposed, in the order of events, to be in the consent of the masters, rather than by extirpation.' In Race and Revolution, the American historian Gary Nash rightly took his colleagues to task for failing to ask 'why were such compromises made to slavery' by the revolutionary leaders, preferring to deal with the question of liberation in the terms adopted by those who denied its possibility. 'Thus, they have assumed that slavery could not have been abolished and have justified what did not happen. Their explanations reek of inevitability, almost always in historical writing an argument put forward by those whose mistakes are being excused and virtually never by those victimised by the mistakes.' But the Haitian revolution proved that slaves could very well seize emancipation without waiting for it to be granted to them from above: a moment of universal history which has reverberated very widely indeed, from Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit to Biko's I Write What I Like – to speak only of repercussions at the level of theory.(7) Naturally, professional historians limit such criticism to the narrow realm of their own specialisation and so serve to trivialise it. What matters is not the activity of academic historians, though this plays its part, but the way in which the dominant image of the past – propagated by all the forces of the ruling spectacle – is handled by ordinary people in their struggle to make their own history today. 'The memory of the victims is not past; it is present. It is not commiseration and sadness; it is determination and combat.' There is much in Miguel Amorós' The Day They Killed José Pellicer, referring to the catastrophic consequences following the defeat of the Spanish Revolution, which we in South Africa can recognise. There can be no doubt that for those at the sharp end of history in every country, the day they killed José Pellicer was a day just like today. Ntshimane Nolala, a mechanic quoted by the BBC during the National Mourning following Lord Nelson's death, illustrated the difference between the rhetoric of victors and the reality of victims this way – and by so doing demonstrated a far better understanding of 'the balance of forces' than most professors:
'The only thing blacks got was the vote after every four years and the spattering of a few black elite [politicians] whose aspiration is to be next to Mandela and those of his ilk. Today I work as a mechanic, I have no formal qualification; everything I know about fixing taxis I taught myself — this government of black people does not care about me, it has no time for me. Yes we are free to go where we want to without fear but we are still not free, not in economic terms. What you have in South Africa now is a handful of black people looting the scraps off the table left by those who control the economy; our leaders are enriching themselves now while the majority still have nothing — that is what has become the legacy of our freedom. Those who died for this freedom sadly died for nothing in my view.'
The official truth disguises the truth about officials. The history of victims, told by those who have benefited from victimisation – whether it be the oppressors or the leaders and intellectuals who build their careers on the revolt of the oppressed – must be looked at with suspicion. 'At best it will be paternalistic and condescending', as Congolese historian Jacques Depelchin noted, 'at worse it will deliberately deflect attention from questions which might undermine or challenge the dominant position.' Once the inevitability of their past is taken as given, people fail to raise questions or think of answers to questions which do not take this inevitability for granted. Because the enemy has not ceased to be victorious, the false impression that it was, is, and always will be destined for victory takes root among us, and those, past and present, who quixotically dare to defy destiny are pilloried with impunity. Not even the dead are safe from the danger posed by those who traffic in counterfeit memory. It is true that to articulate what is past does not mean to recognise 'how it really was', but to take control of a memory, as it flashes in a moment of danger, and deliver it from the conformism which always threatens to overwhelm it. Abundantly arrayed throughout the ranks of those who claim to oppose it, this conformism is the chief weapon of oppression. Content with 'miracles' such as 'the passage from apartheid to democracy' without demanding an immediate succession of additional miracles, it ignores how any single miracle that remains miraculous (i.e. isolated and exceptional) tends very quickly to disappear and, under the guise of pragmatism, refuses to realise the realism of demanding the impossible. Its partisans, who tolerate so much of the established order and are in turn tolerated by it, eulogise not only its heroes but the basis of its miserable conditions which give rise to the need for heroism. Such is the case when Professor Pithouse celebrates the woefully misplaced 'great tide of popular hope' and the blinding deception which fabricated a paper democracy and 'illuminated its early days with a brilliant light.' Of course it is only those whose lives remain chained in the pits of despair who have any need of blinding visions and brilliant hallucinations. 'It must always be night, otherwise they wouldn't need the lights', said jazz musician Thelonious Monk – an observation which seems entirely to elude the learned Professor, who continues to labour under the delusion that allegiance to the likes of Lord Nelson can ever take us one iota closer to abolishing the darkness that continues to smother us. The guardians of sleep and nightmare might well ask: 'With enemies like these, who needs friends?'
Because the Professor's ideas, accustomed to drifting through the haze-filled maze of academic theory – which is, after all, his day job, however much he may dabble in the struggles of the poor – tend to conceive of social revolution in terms of skilled professionals negotiating the corridors of power – whatever lip-service may be paid to popular struggle – there is no need to ask 'by whom?' when he speaks of 'how this delicate moment was handled.'
– At the risk of sounding unkind. His contribution to these struggles, as a founding member of Abahlali base Mjondolo and continued supporter of various township struggles, has already been acknowledged above, and the intention here is not to denigrate it. Nothing in these texts makes any pretence of drawing up balance-sheets for the definitive judgement of individuals. Nonetheless, the enemies of a world dominated by slave masters and their property cannot flinch from calling a spade a spade simply for the sake of propriety. 'Critical theory does not present a fixed, "objective" truth. It is an assault, a formulation abstracted, simplified and pushed to the extreme. The principle is, "If the shoe fits, wear it": people are compelled to ask themselves to what extent the critique rings true and what they are going to do about it. Those who wish to evade the problem will complain about the critique as being unfairly one-sided, not presenting the whole picture.' (Ken Knabb, Double Reflection) The choices one makes about where to spend the majority of one's time and energy can only be separated from how one chooses to dispose of one's 'free-time' by doing violence to reality. The role of the professional intellectual comes with a vested interest in containing the production of ideas within a specialised realm in which the dominant position of the academic is secure. The set-up of this racket has very definite consequences for the perspectives of those who choose to participate in it. Those of us who don't have professional positions to lose should be wary of having our bounds set by people thus constrained. Besides which, Pithouse himself has not refrained from making use of strong words – to the defamation of my comrades from the past and present – and it is to be expected that those concerned with equality and justice are prepared to take as liberally as they give. It is especially in defence of the largely forgotten dead, unable to defend themselves from such dishonorable slander and being so relatively unknown, that one must take a stand.(8) Those such as Dan Mokonyane, a perceptive and principled revolutionist heavily involved in the 1957 Alexandria bus boycott (a struggle whose history Mandealer predictably distorted for self-serving ends in his autobiography) who dared to advance a total revolutionary critique of Lord Nelson and his negotiations from the start (his book The Big Sell-Out was published before the 1994 elections) are accused by Pithouse, as they are by The Party itself, of 'cheap wisdom', 'empty bluster' and 'the radicalism of those for whom engagement does not move beyond the adoption of a posture and the manipulation of words'. Such accusations are to be expected from those for whom 'engagement' moves all the way up to the top of The World Trade Centre in Kempton Park, where the betrothal of the white and black boers was consummated and the Holy Alliance of Capital, Party and Union cemented. Coming from independent anti-authoritarians like Professor Pithouse, however, these mendacious insinuations are an outrage.
To add insult to injury, Pithouse advances such insinuations in the name of a spectacle where real people are daily fucked-over in the interests of imaginary citizens. It is not so unreasonable that one who has witnessed a barbaric ritual from the savage past, such as that where '...the "citizen" was explored as political subject, as if the social contract that gave birth to this figure were not in ruins, the still smoking remains of a building burnt to the ground', should respond with disgust. Those still confused and alarmed by such strong sentiments might consult the Edições Antipáticas text On the Passage of a Few Thousand People Through a Brief Period of Time (2010-2013, Portugal) for an explanation:
'We're sorry, but of all the identities we were told we had, from gender to nation, the first to be thrown out will always be that of the citizen. The idea that a valid and worthy political process is under way, balancing forces and wills, in which we, as participants, have rights and duties that oblige us to keep it moving and heading in the right direction, is no longer just a joke in poor taste but a serious insult.'
If the bad times are ever to end for the majority of people on this planet we will need far fewer hopeful, respectful citizens and far more angry, disrespectful anti-utopians. It is not enough simply to 'understand utopia as a dream that has not been realized, rather than one that is unrealizable' as Ngo Van Xuyet wrote in Ancient Utopia and Peasant Revolts in China. While it is necessary to recognise, as he does, that 'utopia, so deeply rooted among the dispossessed, proceeds from a popular understanding of emancipation whose memory must be preserved, before it disappears in the tortuous and brutal adaptations to economic modernity that perpetuate the burden of the coercions of the past', it is essential to grasp that utopia can't be preserved as it is. The utopian conception of emancipation, like the religious conception of emancipation, can't be realised without at the same time being suppressed. The nowhere of utopia, as with the nowhere of heaven and contemporary culture, can only be salvaged by being transplanted firmly into its material basis in social time and space – that is, by being brought down to earth. The first step of such a procedure is to recognise the real social function of utopia, which is nothing other than to support, despite the best intentions of its adherents, 'the tortuous and brutal adaptations to economic modernity that perpetuate the burden of the coercions of the past' through precisely those flights of fancy that hallucinate about South Africans transported across the burning water into the mythical Atlantis of the Rainbow Nation, happily united as citizens of one polity at last able to determine their own course. Pithouse haughtily insinuates that the critics of the democratic lie are utopian when in fact, according to the literal definition of 'one who has a blueprint for human salvation', it is precisely those who traffic in ridiculous ready-made solutions such as universal suffrage, economic growth and the Freedom Charter that have condemned their followers to set their own course within the bounds of this twenty-first century nowhere for the last two decades. Utopia is dead. The millions who are continually misled towards the enthusiastic consumption of its corpse are doomed to a mode of existence dominated by dead-time. Just as the only serious modern artists long ago realised that culture was a pregnant cadaver that needed to be ripped apart before the living potential still dormant in its womb could be saved, so utopia must be subjected to ruthless criticism if the aspirations which give rise to it are not to continue their relentless decomposition. Anti-utopia, the living presence of the new world, forges a place for itself through the destruction of all that tends to preserve the old world here and now – starting with the most effective weapons: those in the minds of the oppressed themselves that have been turned against them: the superficial criticisms that serve only to modernise slavery, the utopian demands that, divorced from the necessarily revolutionary means by which to impose them, support the most cynical realpolitik in the name of the most progressive causes: the abstract rights that are used to enforce concrete wrongs: the social-justice organisations that are organised to adjust the appearance of social-injustice to acceptable levels.
For the dispossessed, the spectacle's (sym)pathetic commitment to social justice for respectable citizens is the burden of the past. Like the culture and the laws of bosses and cops, it can only be swept aside by their own irreverent commitment to permanent social revolution. In his 1948 Armistice speech, after having been responsible for the greatest deployment of American soldiers in the greatest mass slaughter the world has ever known, after having justified Hiroshima and Nagasaki because 'the advantage in atomic warfare lies with aggression and surprise', after providing a moral basis for future mass-murder in America's divine mission to act as the police-force of the world, US General and Spiritual Leader Omar Bradley – a combination perfectly suited to so portentous a servant of the spectacle – would go on to say, with the characteristic humility deserving of a good christian: 'We have many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.' The conscience of the spectacle continued to perfect its commendable expressions throughout the following decades, from the confession of George W Bush that he was instructed by God to invade Iraq to the various exemplary excoriations in which the first-person plural is liberally deployed by the celebrated luminaries of South Africa. Three years after the explosive return of social contestation in 1976, Prime Minister PW Botha told his fellow managers of proletarian misery that apartheid had to 'adapt or die'. Even earlier, in response to the 1973 strike-wave which signalled the resurgence of the modern labour movement, Prime Minister BJ Vorster cautioned those who wished to continue to manage black exploitation, advising them that 'Employers, whoever they may be, should not only see in their workers a unit producing for them so many hours of service a day. They should also see them as human beings with souls.' Since then the language of power has become frantically reformist. It now shows nothing but well-being in every shop window, all sold at the best price; it denounces the ever-present defects of its own system. Since this mass explosion of extreme dissatisfaction, which was signalled around the world by the events of May 1968 in France and whose movement mounted in an increasingly radical and widespread manner over the following years, the owners of society suddenly discovered that everything had to be changed without delay, in teaching as in urbanism, just as thoroughly in the way work was lived as in technological orientation. In short, this world had lost the confidence of all its governments; they then proposed to dissolve it and constitute another. They only observed that they were more qualified than the ignorant indelicate masses – who had so alarmingly taken up the banner of revolution in the factories, schools, farms, homes, prisons, asylums and streets – to undertake this overthrow that required such experience and such incredible means, which they were accustomed to using and, therefore, which they justly possessed. The fact that the proletariat allowed such scum to handle – with the delicate helping hands of revolutionary mediators like Mandealer – the total transformation it had itself begun to undertake was its chief failure. It is only in the framework of this failure that modern capitalism can credibly present itself, with the obliging assistance of its intellectual advertisers, as a reformism that has succeeded. It prides itself on having achieved this trumpeted liberty and this commodity well-being. One day, it hopes to succeed in delivering its paid slaves, if not from salaried work, then at least from the abundant remains of deprivation and excessive inequality inherited from its formative period — or, more precisely, from those deprivations that it sees fit to recognize as such. Today we inherit not merely persistent poverty, but the mental-handicap whereby deprivation continues to be defined in narrow terms, and therefore combated in hopelessly inadequate ways; whereby the question of slavery remains within a framework of alleviation defined by those who benefit from its persistence; whereby poverty can only be attacked in relative rather than absolute terms even by the majority who get no benefit whatsoever from its continued existence in any form; whereby the question of abolition, the question of revolution, remains censored everywhere just as much as its necessity is raised in practice more concretely and more urgently every day. This miserable legacy is a consequence of the fact that proletarians everywhere resigned themselves to the lie, propagated so enthusiastically by their anti-capitalist advisors, that they could be carried across the water by the Mandealers of this world, precisely because they abandoned the positions expressed by Biko when he observed 'The blacks are tired of standing at the touchlines to witness a game that they should be playing. They want to do things for themselves and all by themselves.' If the masses of individuals who today again grow tired of waiting for their promised 'better life for all', had, at the crucial moment, remained resolute in their determination to fight for themselves, everything would have turned out differently. Exactly how, is, of course, open to conjecture. It didn't happen, so we will never know. We let the moment escape us. Certainly I don't claim things would then have turned out perfectly, or automatically in our favour. But throughout history the most delicate moments (9) are precisely those in which the 'cheap wisdom' of the dispossessed threatens to overthrow the established balance of things – so carefully maintained by the delicate hands of distinguished manipulators – with reckless questions followed-up by irresponsible actions.
If reality is able to be totally transformed, as we've witnessed time and again, what actually is impossible? Why remain a slave resigned to social-death a moment longer? Why not start to take everything we desire right now? Why wait for the kingdom of heaven to descend from the commanding heights of the World Trade Centre? By whom shall the delicate moment of divine deliverance be handled? Why don't we do it ourselves? Why don't we do it in the road? If not here then where? If not now then when? If not us then who?
When professors of social-justice speak of 'the necessity of the given historical process' based on an account of 'the balance of forces' in which the forces concerned are treated as externally-given, natural and unchangeable processes (like the force of gravity), they adopt, whether they intend to or not, the mechanical ideology of the objectivist, as described in Karl Korsch's compilation A Non-Dogmatic Approach To Marxism:
'The objectivist speaks of the necessity of the given historical process... [and] in proving the necessity of a given series of facts, always runs the risk to get into the position of an apologist of those facts; the materialist reveals the antagonisms of classes and thereby determines his own position... He is not satisfied with pointing to the necessity of the process, but clearly states the economic form of society underlying the content of just that process, and the particular class determining just that necessity... he would point to the existence of certain classes which determine the content of the given order and exclude any possibility of a solution but by the action of the producers themselves. On the other hand, the materialist principle implies, as it were, the element of party, by committing itself, in the evaluation of any event, to a direct and open acceptance of the position of a particular social group.
'Which side are you on?' Sang the miner's wife. From Harlan County 1931 to Marikana 2012, the song remains the same. For those not beholden to the spectacle of Power, the question 'by whom' is supremely important; for it is not the machinations of specialists that determine the outcome of a given moment of struggle, but the conscious actions of masses of individuals who either go their own way outside and against all external representation or abandon the making of history to these skilled experts who handle things for them, more delicately (i.e. duplicitously) the more seriously the revolutionary movement threatens the basis of society. Of course it is not a simple matter of choosing one way or the other and floating sedately to victory. Nothing is pre-determined, and the most important aspect of revolutionary struggle itself revolves around the continuous battle against the tendency towards a separation of rebels from their own power, which takes more and more complex forms the further the movement advances in practice. As has been noted numerous times, the actions of the external enemy are rarely as decisive on the direction of any revolutionary movement as the relation of its participants to this internal foe. It is precisely in regard to this relation that the revolutionary children slandered by Professor Pithouse and almost everyone else have proved anything but infantile. As noted in the film of Isaac Cronin & Terrell Seltzer, Call It Sleep,
'The Children of Soweto, as they became known, immediately demonstrated their maturity. They attacked with equal vigour the institutions of the state and the so-called progressive forces which sought to represent them. They refused to show respect for private property. They did not allow leaders to control their actions. They refused to participate in a dialogue with power. They set no goals for themselves other than their total emancipation.'
If it is true that the children of Soweto (and their revolt was equalled at the time only by their peers in the Western Cape) consciously did these things and communicated themselves to others; their elders seemed not to be able to follow them, as evidenced by the development of the struggle which, 20 years later, subordinated itself to the suicide celebrated by Pithouse, wherein black leaders haggled over the terms of their follower's continued submission to white power. This begs the question of the relation between radical minorities and the majority – a crucial one whose scope is far beyond the bounds of this text. All we can do for now is sketch a few outlines.
In 1976, a black youth lucidly communicated the following perspective to a TV news reporter
Youth: "We would like to make it clear to the outside world that we will get whatever we want, and we will see to it that whatever we want, we get. If possible we will use force; that means violence. [Pause] Next question."
Reporter: "If possible?"
Youth: "If possible."
Reporter: "You would prefer to use force?"
Youth: "To use violence."
Youth: "Because by sitting around a table and talking about these things with white people...see...it brings no good future to us. It's just like talking to a stone. Now by violence they will understand a little of what we say. A little. By war they'll understand everything; whatever we say. By war."
The maturity of the revolutionary perspective expressed in words and deeds by the children of South Africa throughout the movements of the 1970s & 80s was a result not merely of personal coherence attained through personal experience, but class consciousness developed through a century of proletarian struggle within and against the expansion of urban settlements in the 1880s. A hundred years of negotiations with authority, of reformist demands and spontaneous rebellion had brought the country to the point in which the reality of what was at stake, and the necessary measures through which to attain it, was apprehended by a minority of black proletarians – the children who moved so trenchantly from the classroom to the class-war. 'It was children who built the roadblocks, children who led the crowds to the administrative buildings, children who delegated spokespersons, and children who in 1984 told the older folk that things would be different, that people would not run away as they had in 1960.' At the time this minority appeared to the majority – their elders – as extremist, partly due to the limitations of the kids themselves, partly due to the limitations of their elders. As a consequence, the revolutionary perspective failed to deepen or widen, and by 1990 the black people of South Africa seemed determined to fulfil their children's prophecy of a 'no good future' by envisioning freedom as the freedom to vote for their masters. Today we know by experience exactly what 'sitting around a table and talking about these things' brings. We have lived with its consequences for 20 years. We suffer its humiliations and miseries every day. Where one might have been able to debate the truth of the schoolkid's perspective (10) in 1976, 1986, or even 1996, it is impossible to deny their validity today. If it is true that for the last 20 years this perspective has been eclipsed, signs all around us suggest that the proletarians of this country are again learning the futility of talking to deaf stones. Until now, the escalating revolt has been a direct result of the refusal of power to engage in dialogue with the powerless. This is to be expected. The rulers at least know that between two fundamentally antagonistic forces there can be no communication. The empty promises offered as a substitute for the measly mechanisms of self-management dangled by democracy are not a result of bad leadership, but of democratic leadership, full-stop. Self-managed slavery is the basis of bourgeois democracy. The specific mechanisms vary according to time and place. The decentralised town meetings of early New England and other mechanisms of Murray Bookchin's municipalist ideology are one example. Another are the 'Community Policing Forums' of SA and the constitutional ideology of consultation: Your masters will explain to you how they're going to screw you over. The slogan of Abahlali baseMjondolo is 'Nothing for us without us', which – when taken far enough – could be the basis for a revolutionary critique of the spectacle wherein the entire existence of an era is based on the passive consumption of objects, actions and images whose basic characteristics are determined by no-one. At present, however, it means that the state should invite the poor to participate in determining how its neo-aparthied services are to be delivered – who will be hired to produce them, who will be selected to consume them, which companies will be outsourced, and so on. If they are to arm their rebellion and so prevent its collapse, insurgents in the ongoing revolt of the poor will have to consciously confront the reality that there is nothing for us that is not determined without us.
There are signs that this has already begun to take place. The poor certainly don't need academics like John Williams, reporting on research in the Western Cape, to tell them that 'Most community participation exercises in post-Apartheid South Africa are largely spectator politics, where ordinary people have mostly become endorsees of pre-designed planning programmes, [and] are often the objects of administrative manipulation.' Increasing impatience with the charade is building into a volatile situation indeed, but one which no government can solve under the politico-economic conditions currently dominant. It is of course possible that a significant change in these conditions will be made by the agents of the economy to contain the insurgent movement through some newly modernised misery. In this case, submission by ordinary South Africans to the Mandealers of today will become the principle enemy of the revolutionary movement, one which we have little hope of overcoming if we remain in thrall to the Lord Nelsons of yesteryear. When the time comes for a collective decision to be made over whether we continue our offensive against a miserable past (materialised as the rule of dead labour over the living, the domination of capital over life) or rationally and humanely opt for continued slavery, we had better have gotten over our submission to the bright strength projected by the dominant images of the past. The best training for continued servitude is admiration for past submission in the minds of the oppressed. And the only way to undermine this mental slavery is to put into practice the central axiom of revolutionary theory: between two mortal enemies, there can be nothing to say.
Critique of Instrumental Treason
To refuse stupid conversations is to embrace necessary ones; to turn away from the spectacle is to turn towards one another – a move both sensuous and seditious, erotic and erudite, involving ludic theory as well as theoretic lucidity, playful foresight as well as insightful foreplay. The absence among anti-authoritarians (and there are few serious revolutionists today who don't at least pretend to be so) of both a sufficiently stern negative critique as well as a properly passionate positive project directed towards the problems and potentials of such a movement, whether at the level of action or ideas, reduces them to the sort of drivel regurgitated by Pithouse and company. 'Leaving aside the question of their intentions in relation to their real life and their interests, what all these gentlemen lack at the very least is dialectics.' Habitual reactions devoid of violent passion express the poverty of a leftism (too many Causes, not enough effects) that must be left behind for a more thoroughgoing subjectivity that disdains to relate to events in world history dispassionately, as a spectator to an object external to itself, and instead forcibly lays hands on objective circumstance and by so doing, moulds it into the image of its desire.
'The question of an alternative path cannot be avoided even if in its triumphant stupor capitalism denies such a possibility.' So asserted Depelchin against all the Schmidthouses, speaking out in the South Africa of 1992 while their hero was speaking to the agents of Capital about how best to plot its future dominance. 'It will have to come from those who have been silenced... A radical transformation in South Africa will depend much more on how the past is re-membered than on how the future is plotted.' This formulation is still a little too shackled to the bounds of the professional historian. When recast dialectically, we can say that tactically speaking, the key to a revolutionary subversion of the past lies buried in the possibilities of the present. Similarly, the quest for the liberation of the human spirit leads directly to the rediscovery of the body (The scholars claim Yang Zhu said it first). 'Know thyself'. 'Heal thyself'. Reveal congeal repeal yourself. Express suppress surpass yourself. 'We disassociate.' Secede. We discombobulate. Supercede. Grow thyself. Show thyself. Self-portrait:
There are trips we live among
and to hear them is
to here ourselves.
People make these journeys;
their feet speak
of the travels they've seen.
Today I went to see one
close to my heart. The time was short.
I had to run. She was sick
and I went to visit her
at the clinic. I had no train fare
so I slipped through a hole in the wall
that ran along the tracks.
Our hearts, born out of the bitter
loneliness of our parents, beat
pure and sweet
but soon get baffled by the clamour
of the troubles they've seen.
Blisters grown over eye and ear
made to migrate year after year
are our feet
as their calluses become soles
marching to and fro in all directions.
'The only difference
between the rich and the poor
is money.' None of us
escape remote-control, or
taste and see for ourselves.
But we can hear the rips
in the fabric of existence:
The pitter-patter beat
in pattern and material –
'marking time' as they say.
To listen to them is to feel
of air, of hair
in cochlea, the wriggle
of thought in skull, the hammer
of I & I's tear
re-paired under our own control.
Relearn yourself. Through the vicissitudes of an unremarkable birth, the society of ancient Greece, a democracy of slave-owners, invented tragic poetry and turned it into the autobiography of the species. Return to yourself.
King Oedipus, before unearthing the knowledge whose horror was to blind him: 'I know who gave birth to me. I've always known: Chance and fortune. Luck and the roll of the dice. These are my real parents. Always were. Who could ask for better? They have given me everything. No one has been luckier than me. I will know who I am. I will know who I am. I am not ashamed. Let the knowledge fall on me like a summer rain.'
Re-member yourself. Modern society, a democracy of slaves, invented the spectacle, the bad dream of a world in chains that ultimately expresses nothing more than its wish for sleep. It has turned poetry, art, culture, as well as the images of heroes and the ideals of leaders, into the guardians of that sleep. Represent yourself. Reinvent yourself.
The slumber is somnambulant. Gestures and phrases are repeated, stereotyped plots are populated with the spawn of modern production moving inexorably towards a pre-set self-destruction. The built-in obsolescence of the modern commodity is expressed, as ever, most forcibly in that commodity par excellence, labour-power. Not merely in the fixed short-term contracts that constitute an ever growing proportion of the work-force, but in the attention-spans of a generation of workers socialised through face-book, playstation, MTV and internet porn. The incessant ring of the school bell, cutting across whatever is being done and abolishing it from thought. The automated turnover of state management in electoral democracy. The passage of music and movie stars across an ever dwindling career arc. And for those who have no part in making their own, all history is as useless as yesterday's news. The entire surface of the earth grows rapidly stale under the distracted gaze of the tourist, the spectator of nature & travel shows. And why should they take a closer look? The longer they stare, the more shallow becomes the object of their attention. The accelerated pace of work so necessary for increased productivity is the main beneficiary of all this, as was intended. Ivan Chtcheglov, onetime prisoner of a Parisian mental institution, puts it most lucidly in his Formulary for a Unitary Urbanism. 'A mental disease has swept the planet: banalization.
This state of affairs, arising out of a struggle against poverty, has overshot its ultimate goal — the liberation of humanity from material cares — and become an omnipresent obsessive image. Presented with the alternative of love or a garbage disposal unit, young people of all countries have chosen the garbage disposal unit. It has become essential to provoke a complete spiritual transformation by bringing to light forgotten desires and by creating entirely new ones. And by carrying out an intensive propaganda in favor of these desires.'
Very well, and what could be more intensive than the many-sided sensuous intercourse through which we involve others in ourselves? Profane ourselves. Untrain ourselves. Unrestrain ourselves. Know overflow echo blow each other. Up or down it doesn't matter. Do I are you, or should that be we our them? Who me? Never! 'Therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.' So intoned John Donne, solemnly. And all the girls in the juvenile detention center giggled, their ears stuffed full of lit cigarettes. John Doe said: Morality is the straitjacket of the spirit. Why dream forever? Wake up together. 'To caress or to repress, that is the question.' (Ballad of the unemployed in the abattoir of desire, ibid.) Eternity has failed us, it's time to say goodbye. We are tired of hipster hop. We are bored of rock 'n' rigmarole. Let's raise our own ruckus, and when it's grown may it have many unruly children. In no sense is innocence meant as an absence of sensuous experience. Rather, it is a state of consciousness that brings into play simultaneously the recognition of loss and the means by which to effect a return: it is a state of play that brings us back to our senses, that opens the doors of perception locked-up tight by a closefisted state of mind, that exposes the dark privacy of an indecent solitude to the clean air of a common cosmos. That fucks the tight-arsed, anal-retentive sphincter of the bourgeois-religious universe. Hence 'Heraclitus the profound' abandoned the brilliant speculations of the age's great sages and the aristocratic affairs of state inherited by his noble birth to go play games with children on the temple steps. Nevertheless, 'In an age in which even products as banal as hair dye promise to open the way to an (insubstantial) liberation and transformation of the individual, we must be careful not to join the chorus.' The genius of childhood for reinventing the exhilarating beauty of things by bringing all creation into the game of life and a vivid dialogue with the senses – for enlivening a machine, a cat, a stone, a tree, a cement mixer with the vibrant joy of poetry – remains an impotent talent imprisoned in a playpen which children, as expressed by their ubiquitous eagerness to grow-up, are wisely anxious to leave. Unfortunately for them the adult world is not peopled by those who really make things run — and understand how and why things run – but 'just a mess, full of tall children, grown stupider, less alert and resilient, and nobody knows what makes it go — as a whole, or any part of it. But nobody ever tells.' Neither the genius of childhood nor the individual refusal of constraints are themselves enough to shatter the framework in which social alienation imprisons things; for the intolerable domination of dead objects over the living must be abolished not only in imagination or aspiration, but in fact. Still, they are vital forms of subjectivity for the forces of subversion to put at their disposal. 'The potential for unmediated life is taken for granted throughout childhood, before being ridiculed by the reality of "coming of age". After this encounter with experience, what could seem more reckless than refusing to renounce such a childish demand? Holding onto it would entail more than a constant effort to extricate oneself from the transactions of "maturity": certainly not to re-animate innocence, but to undermine and deform the present world so that, without resembling childhood, it comes to fullfil a promise with which it had intended to deceive.' Unbidden, the thought came of an old flame now very far away:
In a few weeks her birthday will come
and go and mark her twenty-fifth year
alive and the third that I've known her.
What do I know? A quarter century
of gorgeous flesh and marrow, a woman –
no roman statue, cold-cut goddess – she
overflows with warmth. Aphrodite
may have come to this world on a cloud
of 'creamy foam, foam fallen on spray,
clustered like bullets, bullets in embryo,
clustering round a cold bullet mould –
a leaden dragon whose claws prison
flawless bubbles of crystal' on the crest of
crashing waves of lead sea water – but not her.
She came into this world submerged
in clouds of teargas, billows of black smoke. Fire
and brimstone formed the body of the beast
into whose belly she was slipped
almost by accident. Fated to
emerge in a state of innocence
during a State of Emergency,
her stately form was born, in a sense,
of statelessness, of grace a graceless state
could never touch, kill, or imitate.
She's touched me where nobody else has.
No roman statue, cold-cut goddess –
she moves, and in her sensuality
has moved me. I remember her laughter
at Hemingway's cheesy line
'The earth moved.' – How she twinkled!
What did I know then? It moved for me
and it was she – her love, her lips, her tongue –
who helped me learn to move with it – well,
to try – as clumsy as I may be.
There is little profit to be grown
in approaching an experience
as if the questions and the answers
are all ready-known. I was shown innocence
and how the mountains and the rivers
grind together in the thrust of flesh and bone.
We continue to choke on the fumes
generated by endless crisis.
There is more poison in the air now
than when she was born, but everywhere
the surfaces are cleaner – shiny
as an ocean clothed in an oil-slick.
Alive in a bodied innocence
borne in a State of Emergency,
her stately movement tends, in a sense,
to statelessness, to grace a graceless state
can never tame, buy, or dominate.
What do I know now? It moves for me.
'No-one can strengthen his subjectivity without others helping him.' To be rapt in the amazement of sensuous intimacy is good. To be trapped in a world where this is limited to the narrow realm of the couple is wretched. When passion is practiced in a closed circle, it fades into a dream, becomes a mere image of itself. The ambiance of romance is unstable by nature. At any moment 'ordinary life' may prevail once again. To feel the vertigo of hurtling out of the confines of the ego, only to be buried in the coffin of jealousy, manipulation, and market exchange that passes for love in this society, is the ultimate anti-climax. Sex becomes an unsatisfying substitute for masturbation. You might as well choose the garbage disposal unit after all. The couple is the prison of the libido and the last refuge of the preacher. Although I generally prefer sex to sects, there's no avoiding the fact that the same tendency towards infatuation, covetousness, involution, isolation, and self-separation propagates itself through all these collectivities. What is insufferable about larger pseudo-communities, from nations and races to sub-cultures and families, is necessarily reproduced in the community of two, although a couple, being more habitual, tends to feel more bearable. Like all other forms of activity, the point is to recognise and appropriate what is useful from a poverty-stricken practice and generalise it throughout the sterile categories of our miserable existence, exploding them from within.
The life of dialogue and action, of personal affection and direct intercourse amongst a community of equals, is the food of revolutionary subjectivity. An existence of passive contemplation, of obedience and admiration amongst an ideological collectivity, is the weapon of objectification. In recognition of the former, the movement Argentinian unemployed known as piqueteros began to speak of 'organising first from a base of affection', politica afectiva. In recognition of the latter, Wilhelm Reich (especially in The Mass Psychology of Fascism) began to focus on the mechanisms through which mass submission to an admirable Father-Leader develops from the repressive personal relations in which the oppressed are forced to live.
In capitalist society, the mother and father of the nuclear family and the beloved 'Mother and Father of the Nation' represented by Winnie and Nelson Mandealer mask the most sickening role – that of conditioning their subordinates to internalise the vicious repression of the dominant order – behind the image of benign pa(or ma)ternalism. Progressive liberal ideology in politics and conservative traditional family-values form a united front in the relentless attack that pits shameful capitalist constraints against the concrete needs of the individual. It is quite natural therefore that Reich's proposed counter-strategy would focus on 'developing the necessities of the social revolution out of subjective needs, and by basing all political issues on the "whether" and the "how" of satisfying the needs of the masses.' In What is Class Consciousness? he castigates those of his colleagues who 'see the personal and the political as opposite poles instead of recognizing the dialectical relationship between them. Not only are some personal problems (such as the question of sexual partners or of separate dwellings for young people) among the most typical social problems, but one could go so far as to say that politics is nothing more than the praxis of the needs and interests of the different strata and age groups of society.' The Mandealers of this world, on the other hand, flourish because the conception of politics currently dominant divorces ordinary people and the satisfaction of their needs from the realm of history, relegating it to an occult sphere ('civil society', 'private life') where traditional depravity, repression and poverty are taken for granted or even celebrated as 'culture', where traditional tools of political action – open discussion and debate, combination on the basis of shared interests for collective struggle – are replaced by various methods of escapism, real and imaginary, on the part of isolated individuals, which only reproduces new forms of depravity, repression and poverty at a seemingly higher level (the malaise of affluent alienation among the middle classes, the middle-age relapse into blithe respectability of once rebellious youth). 'To sum up very briefly: the difference between revolutionary and bourgeois politics is that the former sets out to serve the needs of the masses, whereas the latter is wholly founded on the structural, historically conditioned inability of the masses to formulate their needs.'
It is no surprise then that those historical movements which most directly focused on the direct satisfaction of needs also tended to throw the false need for representatives, leaders and their organisations, into the dustbin. Two of these movements are of particular significance to South Africa because they involved the struggles of those who today form the most active members of township revolt: unemployed young workers. A third, the Female Liberation movement, likewise did away with struggle-celebrities and took Reich's stress on the unity of the personal and the political so much to heart that it became a popular slogan. In a country where sexual oppression is so appallingly ubiquitous at so many levels, the relevance of such a movement to the current struggles needs no elaborate demonstration.
Now is not the place to recount the history of these movements, let alone conduct an analysis of their innovations and contradictions. Although the gap between how people think of themselves and what they actually do means that a concrete understanding of such social phenomena must focus on the forms of action and association developed therein, rather than simply repeat what their participants said about them, a few words straight from the horse's mouth might serve at least to illustrate how these struggles have independently tried to put some of the tactics suggested by Reich into practice. From the Piquetero movement, already mentioned above, which arose during the Argentine Great Depression:
'It's about being able to create a new relational mode. What happens is that no one knows exactly how to do it. No one knows. And, it requires a collective process. It's not like someone is going to come over and tell us how. One thing we have called this is affective politics, politics of affect, politics of affections.' (Martin, Buenos Aires, Argentina, Neighborhood Assembly, 2003)
Which introduces many of the themes of the Female Liberation movement, as expressed, for example, in the words of an October 1969 editorial in the British feminist magazine Shrew:
"Our first priority isn't to get over information, but to know what everyone in the room thinks. We believe in getting people to interact, not to listen to experts. We want them to listen to themselves and make an analysis of their situation, which will lead them to action."
Unfortunately it's difficult to come across any first-hand accounts from these neighborhood assemblies that have been translated in English, so it's difficult to know precisely how analogies to the feminist consciousness-raising practices which produced the sort of ideas expressed above worked. Far more material is available about the struggles which took place in Italy during 1976/77. A brief description of this, from Memories of a Metropolitan Indian illustrates the similarities between what went on there and the current struggles in South Africa:
'The movement's fulcrum was in central Italy, backed up by southern Italy. It was in these places that the weight of unemployment was most keenly felt and where the concept of class was far less determined by the capitalist nexus. The refusal of work was interpreted along the lines of there was no work and it seemed impossible for there to be any... Two tendencies were present in this refusal of work. On the one hand there was a progressive desire to overcome a poverty stricken human condition. And, on the other there was a specific feeling, typical of a pre-industrial society which boiled down to demanding a system of state support'.
The Metropolitan Indians were a loose grouping from the mostly working-class suburbs on the fringes of the Italian cities who came together with desires of breaking out of the 'native reservations' into which they had been trapped by the established order. If it is true that dreams of producing or consuming popular culture permeated the movement without effective challenge, as illustrated by the following quote from one of its members, these dreams could be considered one reactionary aspect of an explosive contradictory desire which at the same time contained an undeniably revolutionary edge. The will to live, to satisfy their needs for living, loving, working, playing, creating and recreating together was necessarily subversive of an established order which – as it existed then – could only deny them these opportunities. Paradoxically, this very will was, when separated from a revolutionary critique of life as a whole, put in the service of the very same order. This is always the case. All existing needs and desires, as they are – in the forms presented to us by the entire range of possibilities permitted by this society – are necessarily compatible and supportive of a world based on poverty and slavery, acting as fuel for the constant transformations it undergoes in order to contain dissent; to satisfy disruptive demands with acceptable concessions; and to defuse the forces that once threatened to blow it all to pieces. There is no neat theoretical resolution of this contradiction; all that can be done is to push – as coherently, consistently and concretely as possible – the most radical edge of any given moment to its necessary conclusions in the revolutionary transformation of all that exists, while at the same time identifying and struggling against tendencies towards co-optation as effectively as possible. That failure of its partisans to carry out such activity contributed in large part to the collapse of the movement which state terrorism and police repression (as in South Africa in the late 1980s) accelerated but did not cause. Although the details are different, the description of a young member of the autonomia movement will sound familiar to many township youths in its essentials – the joyless sterility of the landscape, the domination of an embalmed culture by official institutions and their ridiculous religious ideologies:
'I lived in Prevestino. In Prevestino there is nothing, nowhere to meet, not a bar, no cultural events, not one moment of joy, nothing. The neighbourhood is ruled over by the PCI [Italian Communist Party] and the youths of FUGCI [Young Communist League] who come up with the usual things, a film by Eisenstein once in a while telling us to re-appropriate culture and a "Unita" festival good only for singing some shit, dreadful shit, then back into their holes again, everything over for them. We don't want this. We want to reclaim our lives, which in our district are miserable, mad, and unhappy. The neighbourhood denies life and society denies life and then the PCI comes up to you proposing a film and some sacrifices.'
The rejection of leftist militantism and its ideology of sacrifice, the lust for life, the disdain for leaders and the rackets they organise, and the determination to base praxis on the self-interested satisfaction of one's own needs, is similarly in evidence by the following quote by a fellow-traveller of the Metropolitan Indians:
'I have never belonged to any organisation. Even if it is useful, an organisation ends up being like a mother. To say I belong to Avanguardia Operaia is to look for an illusory security, to cling onto apron strings, to have an identity. Because politics up to now signified renouncing one's personality, forgetting one's real needs: love, sex, interpersonal relationships.'
Then there is the following, from a speaker at one of the numerous mass-meetings held in open spaces, occupied schools, apartment-blocks and universities around the country. It is uncertain whether she was a member of any organisation either. Clearly, the tendencies and tactics listed above were produced by a social movement rather than a particular group:
'Comrades ...I've had relationships with men and also with women comrades – that is I mean – I've also had lesbian relationships and it's always been very beautiful...and one time I had a relationship with a gay boy who had never been with a girl...for me there only exists comradely sexuality and sexuality is also to look a person in the eye and also to look at a flower because when I look at a flower I lose myself.'
Again the similarities with consciousness raising groups of the Female Liberation movement and the assemblies of the Piqueteros are apparent. This and the following quote also illustrates the differences between these three movements – each of which attempted to transform personal misery into the basis for collective action by inventing practices whereby participants tried to clarify the public nature and implications of private experience for themselves – and the current revolt in South Africa whereby barricades and other forms of protest are deployed, according to Pithouse, as means for 'turning the hidden crisis of poverty, often experienced as an endless, private and shameful disaster by the poor, into a public and urgent crisis for elites' (The Enduring Rationality of Revolt). The processes of mass public dialogue about the significance of everyday life in these and other historical movements is today almost non-existent, despite the widespread acts of revolt by which many continue to practically critique the misery of neo-Apartheid SA. If it is true that revolutionary theory must seek its adequate practice, revolutionary practice must also seek its adequate theory; the basic precondition of which is the extensive appropriation and intensive use of any and all means necessary for the sort of mass communication – open spaces, mass assemblies, affinity groups, social clubs, occupied buildings, printing presses, telecommunications networks, and so on – on which revolution, the great debate of humanity on its own destiny, is based. The Piqueteros accompanied their barricades and burning tyres with popular assemblies engaged in extensive dialogue and action that tried to subvert the dominant separation between private and public struggle. Radical mass action, if it is to serve as a means accomplish the formulation and satisfaction of our own needs, must involve a process of revolutionary transformation and practical critique starting first of all with ourselves. Subversion of the totality begins at home. As another participant of the Italian autonomia movement noted, the quest to satisfy the needs of the body leads directly to the struggle for spiritual transformation:
'Above all we have upset the boundaries of any relations with the political: previously one left the public to arrive at the private, at least one searched to do so. But it is not a method that has produced much, leading people to paranoia, to schizophrenia. So today we are seeking to change ourselves because only in this way can we succeed in changing the people around us... and reality.'
In the same way, the quest for the liberation of the human spirit leads dialectically back to the rediscovery of the body. The connection between Eros and communication is already an accomplished fact. Its establishment, in alienated form, can be seen by the fact that the majority of information (11) today is processed via the internet, and the vast majority of data on the internet is pornography, which in turn reflects back into everyday life through an ever more explicitly sexualised art and culture.
Pornography attained its preeminent position as 'the last refuge of art' by effectively drawing to the surface real desires for intensity, rapt attention, affection and intimacy that remain repressed in a world where people are dominated by an isolated, disempowered, automated and distracted existence. But desires brought to the surface, when they are constrained to remain at the superficial level of images, tend to fulfil a thoroughly reactionary role. To make repressed desires more repressed still by making them public: this is the current social function of pornography.
The publicity given to these desires, being confined to dumb repetitions, perpetrate a two-fold deprivation: firstly, the debasement of language in modern porn (immediately apparent when compared, for example, to De Sade) deprives desire of the basic means of communication, without which self-expression, self-recognition, and self-realisation are unthinkable. Under such impoverished conditions nothing can develop other than a cardboard cut-out caricature of desire: a form that fits the 2-dimensional world of the image just right. This mentally-handicapped deaf-mute monstrosity, having been genetically engineered to be physically incapable of anything other than acting out ad nauseum a banal travesty of lust – passion reduced to the monotonous mechanical WHAM BAM JIGGLE JIGGLE of the automaton (spiced up with handcuffs and blindfolds for the more refined palate) – is then given free rein to prosper and multiply ad infinitum in a masquerade of liberated libido where free love is precisely as free, and in precisely the same way, as is the commodity free labour in capitalist society. It is no coincidence that the porn industry is bigger business than Hollywood. The spectacle of liberated sexuality joins hands with the spectacle of liberated labour-power in a shotgun wedding made in heaven, paid for in gilded poverty and boredom on earth, and consummated in hell – the infinite holiday resort of Shaw's Don Juan rather than the febrile hallucinatory allegory of Dante's Inferno.
Puritanism, however, is hardly the answer. On the contrary, the means of seduction will have to be liberated so much further than is presently permitted as to make the spectacle of pornography look like the paltry morality play (why else the fetish for submission and domination, humiliation and glorification about how 'dirty' one's kinky acts supposedly are?) that it is.
Today the realisation and suppression of porn, art and the proletariat are one and the same.
One fundamental purpose that pornography serves is to forestall what Marcuse described as a move "away from genital supremacy towards the erotization of the entire organism" (Eros and Civilization). According to Marcuse, in the dominant society, "the socially necessary desexualisation of the body: the libido becomes concentrated in one part of the body, leaving most of the rest free for use as the instrument of labour. The temporal reduction of the libido is thus supplemented by its special reduction." By contrast, in the new eroticism, "the instinct's objective is no longer absorbed by a specialized function – namely, that of bringing 'one's own genitals into contact with those of someone of the opposite sex'." More broadly:
"The erotic aim of sustaining the entire body as subject-object of pleasure calls for the continual refinement of the organism, the intensification of its receptivity, the growth of its sensuousness. The aim generates its own projects of realization: the abolition of toil, the conquest of disease and decay, the creation of luxury. All these activities flow directly from the pleasure principle, and, at the same time, they constitute work which associates individuals to 'greater unities,' no longer confined within the mutilating dominion of the performance principle."
On this wider view of the erotic, what should be counterposed to pornography's illusory land of cockaigne is a broadening of sensuality far beyond the handful of bodily parts that pornography so tediously and myopically focuses on. For all that, sexual alienation is merely a subset within the almost universally effective modern means of cultivating a comfortable resignation to this despicable existence: love and marriage. The pornography industry maybe bigger than Hollywood, but it is also entirely complimentary as almost all forms of entertainment, including most movies, novels and pop songs, are dominated by the subject of sex, romance and their eventual 'natural' consummation in the family. Even, maybe especially, the most marginal and supposedly radical forms of family (such as polyamory, a strange bastardisation of bourgeois libertinage and pre-colonial polygamy) demonstrate, as Debord pointed out, 'how much the image of love elaborated and propagated in this society has in common with drugs' (Perspectives for Conscious Changes in Everyday Life). The spectacle is a drug for slaves. Obviously we are not slaves because of drugs but demand drugs because we are slaves. It makes no sense to attempt, as the monks and mystics of old, some ideological abstinence or withdrawal from the results of a miserable existence simply because it is easier than attacking the causes. But it is essential to keep conscious the basic limitations of our relationships and the context in which they develop. And in conditions where the pressure of prevailing unconsciousness maintains a constant barrage against the integrity of the person this basic task becomes a constant effort. Every moment the temptation for a sleep from which there is no need of ever waking beckons. In the struggle against sleep and nightmare a family, defined broadly as any group of individuals entered into any relation of affectionate intimacy within an impoverished domestication, is not what is needed. What is necessary is a party, defined broadly as a group of individuals entered into a determined relation of affectionate intimacy in sustained antagonism to the established totality.
Marcuse's new eroticism suggests how such a party might involve the realisation and suppression of the family in two regards. Firstly, the goal of continual sensuous refinement, intensification and growth of the organism implies the necessary realisation of the affection currently limited within the bounds of the family as well as a necessary expansion well beyond those narrow boundaries and the unified reign of poverty they maintain. The 'comradely sexuality' described by the young Italian above, as well as the 'amorous comradeship' and desire to move from mutual aid to mutual pleasure publicized by Emile Armand come to mind as possible sources of inspiration and instruction in the resumption of such a movement. Secondly, the projects, associations, and collective labours generated by this expansive pleasure principle imply the necessary realisation of the communal cohabitation – the shared life within a shared space – that forms the material basis and fundamental strength of the family, as well as the necessary expansion of this common realm beyond the impoverished confines of a universally deprived private life:
'It is only the narrow idea that everybody has of their own home that makes it seem natural to leave the street to the police. The world could not have been made so uninhabitable, nor sociality so intently controlled - from shopping centres to bars, from company headquarters to illicit backrooms - had not everyone beforehand been granted the shelter of private space... So, the construction of the Party, in its most visible aspect, consists for us in the sharing or communisation of what we have at our disposal. Communising a place means: setting its use free, and on the basis of this liberation experimenting with refined, intensified, and complicated relations.' (Anonymous, Call)
Whereas in vernacular English, 'house' almost exclusively refers to a residence or dwelling, historically the term has meant a family, especially one that can trace its lineage. It has also referred to a temple and a seat of government. Invested in one spatial figure is the holy alliance of god, state and family. It is further worth noting that the term 'domestication', derived from the Latin domesticatus, literally means 'dwells in a home' – and, by extension, under the laws of god, state, family. Domestication names the violent process of capture and subsumption of mineral, biological and human nature within this home. On the other hand, the modern term 'economy', derived from the Greek oikonomia, or 'management of the house', points beyond the artificial separation between private and public life to the foundation of civilisation in an institution that has, from ancient times to this day, combined production and reproduction, creation and recreation, within a context of human self-alienation. The domus, the house, the family born of marriage and romance, are, like the individuals who form them, both the active subjects of society and its passive objects – creators of a hostile alien power that returns to recreate them in its image.
Other than its purely reproductive functions as the basis of political-economy, the modern nuclear family satisfies, for the couple at its head, the need for conviviality based on elective affinity. It is the one near-universal intentional-community that survives today. But in the current context, where humans are totally deprived of conscious mastery over their own history and the basic conditions of their everyday lives, the love, affinity, and conviviality of such a community can only be expressed in forms that are pitifully limited at best, and are more often so perverted as to appear as their opposites. If the poverty of this conviviality (exiled to the margins of life by the domination of an economy that exists as an external force above and against it) is all too glaringly apparent, the conviviality outside of the family (relations with friends and comrades that exist as it were 'between' families) is more impoverished still. The reason is obvious. If the poverty of family life stems primarily from its marginal existence (besides the various alienated relations that tend to be reproduced unchallenged within it), camaraderie and friendship, existing as they do at the margins of the margins, are bound to be even worse off. If the economy is to be abolished as an autonomous entity separate from individuals and their affinities, the institution at its basis, the family, will have to be completely destroyed and rebuilt from the bottom up.
The radical spirit of each age has always involved communal organisation and institutional rejection. Those mentioned above were preceded by a tremendous global movement with 1968 at its epicentre. Prior to that were the collectives of Spain in the 1930s and working-class movements in Russia and Germany at the turn of the century. From there through the utopian socialists and religious communes of the nineteenth century, all the way back to the ancient cults that tried to break away from Babylon only to reproduce new forms of order in different ways, collective attempts at establishing a new life have been a constant undercurrent in the history of civilisation.
Until now these efforts have always remained isolated, only to be co-opted by the dominant society (once the revolutionary fires had died) in the constant process of modernisation. Hence two features of 19th and 20th century radical movements – large collective child-care and group housing – today exist as widespread practices under contemporary capitalism. Their adoption has done little to subvert the family in a radical way. Child-rearing in western societies has been almost universally socialised. From crèches to colleges, kids are now brought up at least as much by institutions as by parents. On the other hand, the ever increasing cost of housing drives nearly all young people on first leaving home to live communally out of necessity. Often houses are shared between strangers who remain far more isolated among themselves than the members of neighbouring households were a generation or two ago.
Rather than an impossible and undesirable return to the failed experiments of the past, an attempted 'reversal of perspective' regarding these already widespread trends seems like a far more promising step. Such a move would have to include at its centre the many unemployed young people who are increasingly produced by a mode of production based on micro-electronic automation. The youth who can't get jobs, who can't afford student debt, who can't move out of their parent's home, who can't see any good future in a family structure that is as much a suffocating stricture as the economy that dysfunctionally serves it. The youth who riot, who barricade streets, who form gangs with peers as an alternative to both jobs and families, who get drunk and high, who rob respectable working people, who murder one another, who end up dead or in jail.
The former basis of the Black Panthers in the US during the 1960s, the movement to 'take over the city' in Italy during the 1970s, and the comrades of rebellious South African townships during the 1980s. The ones who set Greece ablaze in 2008 and ground Argentina to a halt in 2001. What will become of them and their absent futures? How can they organise their anger autonomously but also in ways that their elders can recognise and respond to positively? The Greek uprising of December 2008, initiated by young people in response to the murder of one of their own by police in Athens, suggests some of the collective steps that have recently been successful in drawing such people into revolutionary struggle as well as the limits that have yet to be over-come. According to Communique from an Absent Future by Research and Destroy, the revolt
"consisted of weeks of rioting, looting, and occupations of universities, union offices, and television stations. Entire financial and shopping districts burned, and what the movement lacked in numbers it made up in its geographical breadth, spreading from city to city to encompass the whole of Greece. It was an uprising of those for whom economic crisis represented a total negation of the future. Students, precarious workers, and immigrants were the protagonists, and ultimately the dynamics that created the uprising also established its limit. It was made possible by the existence of a sizeable radical infrastructure in urban areas, in particular the Exarchia neighborhood in Athens. The squats, bars, cafes, and social centers, frequented by students and immigrant youth, created the milieu out of which the uprising emerged. However, this milieu was alien to most middle-aged wage workers, who did not see the struggle as their own. Though many expressed solidarity with the rioting youth, they perceived it as a movement of entrants – that is, of that portion of the proletariat that sought entrance to the labor market but was not formally employed in full-time jobs. The uprising, strong in the schools and the immigrant suburbs, did not spread to the workplaces."
This dynamic is similar to the situation in South Africa during the 1980s, where young people waged a ferocious revolt in the schools and townships that failed to spread to their elders, whose continued work allowed white South Africa to isolate the unrest more or less effectively – a situation that has, with certain obvious differences, begun to re-emerge today. Partly this had to do with the adoption of an elitist attitude by many young comrades, imitating their ANC role-models, who too often preferred to relate to adult workers as a militant vanguard rather than embark on the more difficult task of total communication – i.e., communication that takes as its subject the totality of everyday life. There can be no revolution without free and direct discussion between proletarians about their conditions of existence as a whole. The civics and street committees set up by militant kids in the townships did not resemble soviets or worker's councils not only because they were often tools for the self-aggrandisement of self-appointed representatives (which was also true), but because they were always merely concerned with preserving the existing order under black self-management rather than transforming life from the inside out. Seduced by the hierarchical example of Mandealer and his cronies, the young-lions limited themselves to forms of action and association suitable for nothing better than giving a new coat of paint to the same old oppressions – precisely because too many had too often adopted the role of revolutionary specialists.
They have been compared to the Red Guards in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and with good reason. Just as the children who turned China upside down during the 1960s took inspiration from the sweeping pronouncements of Chairman Mao whilst acting out the details under their own direction, so too the children of South Africa took inspiration from the brilliant Fata Morgana of Nelson Mandealer whilst acting more or less autonomously; in both cases, the influence of the 'leaders' was entirely pernicious. If their impatience at the timidity and hypocritical submission of their elders is eminently understandable, their tendency to substitute their own courage and rebellion for that of the majority – as the Party claims to fight for liberation on behalf of a People who are supposedly incapable of liberating themselves – was nevertheless doomed to fail. This was all the more tragic in light of the fact that, stimulated by the audacity of the youth, the workers did in fact become increasingly unruly, very rapidly, to the extent that, by 1985 the working-class of South Africa was the most combative in the world. The 1984 Vaal rebellion, so vividly described by Rantente's brilliant Third Day of September, ushered in a period wherein young revolutionaries effectively 'made the townships ungovernable' for the remainder of the decade. Less than a year later many of their elders had, in the words of one auto worker, 'carried the baggage of the struggle into the workplace' and made the factories ungovernable, to the extent where they literally made the senior managers of the East London Mercedes Benz plant sick with worry, many of whom resorted to alcoholism since, according to the CEO, 'the union had taken over control of the plant... Management was not in control' – a situation described by one consultant as 'utter chaos' that rendered the East London 'the pariah of the world' as far as investors were concerned. If the older township residents had not yet kicked out the bosses from the workplaces in the same way the youth kicked out the cops and black politicians, they seemed to be taking definite steps in this direction. In their own words: 'Many were not separating the workers' struggle, which is the struggle for better working conditions, with the struggle for liberation. Hence, you would use the factory as the battleground for liberation'. Had the young revolutionaries begun to associate with the workers on a basis of equality, the counter-revolutionary influence of the union bureaucracy (clearly seen in the Mercedes Benz plant, where hundreds of workers were sacrificed when a disastrous sit-in strike was provoked as a weapon in a petty power-struggle between union officials (12), which was not merely beholden to the image of the reactionary ANC-SACP, but formally united to the nationalist-stalinist racket through the 'tripartite alliance', might have been more successfully combated. Unfortunately, in the townships that formed their own battleground, the young militants tended to reproduce the hierarchical militaristic style popularised by Lord Nelson and Commissar Hani's 'armed struggle'. In this brutal spectacle, the young comrades played the role of commanding officer that had been made glamorous by the global PR campaign surrounding their idols, while they made everyone else play the role of obedient foot-soldier – or else. (13) In the same way as the youth who today, dazed by the image of bourgeois celebrities, chase after an impossible fame and fortune for themselves rather than assemble to decide on a way to destroy their misery together, the generation that fought so fiercely and valiantly on the barricades in the 1970s and 80s, dazzled by the bright mirage of struggle celebrities, pursued impossible fantasies of revolutionary leadership for themselves rather than attempt to work out with their fellows the only forms of organisation through which they might have realised their passionate desires.
The life of dialogue and action, of personal affection and direct intercourse amongst a community of equals, is the food of revolutionary subjectivity. An existence of passive contemplation, of obedience and admiration amongst a hierarchical collectivity, is the weapon of objectification. There can be no prevarication, as professors of political science and social justice are wont to undertake.
While spectacular discourse involves an endless monologue that leaves no room for any reply, real life can only be socially constructed through searching dialogue. Spectacular domination tends to eradicate historical knowledge, beginning with just about all rational information and commentary on the most recent past, by replacing it with and unanswerable lies. Nothing in the last twenty years has been so thoroughly coated in obedient mythology as the history of the revolutionary movement in South Africa from 1976 to 1996. Though their intentions may be merely to eulogise their own favourite bureaucrats, intellectuals who play with questions of historical calumny and mystification inevitably support all those who rule through the manipulation of false appearances. The thoughtless reproduction of spectacular relations – as predictable as it is debilitating – that tends to disable any critical (therefore active, creative and conscious) relation to history among the oppressed and their would-be allies demands ruthless critique whenever it is encountered. It is so seldom done precisely because it is not an easy target. Furthermore, when respect for those who speak through the spectacle is so widespread, when they are held to be rich, important, prestigious, to be authority itself, spectators tend to want to be just as illogical (and thus just as degraded and degrading) as the spectacle, thereby proudly displaying an individual reflection of this authority. Beyond what is strictly secret, spectacular discourse obviously silences everything it finds inconvenient. It isolates all it shows from its context, its past, its intentions and its consequences. It is thus completely illogical. The individual who shares the laziness of the spectator in his repetition of dogmatic arguments imbued with illogical authority puts himself at the service of the established order right from the start, even though subjectively he may have had quite the opposite intention. 'Those who reproduce and nourish any hierarchy reproduce and nourish the conditions that maintain all of them.' The spectacular machinery which maintains these conditions is precisely what critical theory is best equipped to sabotage. And yet almost none of my contemporaries seem prepared to tackle this basic task, preferring to shelter their words in the safe prison cells of pseudo-critique.
A society where passivity must be maintained by intimidation is naturally one in which censorship is disguised by self-censorship, and where deception is disguised by self-deception. The spectacle, the organisation of silence and lies, functions so efficiently because, at least at the level of appearances, it is self-organised by the spectators themselves, who deceive without the need of resorting to the deliberately fallacious and its attendant dangers.(14) But any conviction that suppresses its expression for the sake of its holder's convenience does so at the cost of its own life.(15) When respect for the spectacular consensus, or at least a desire for spectacular kudos prohibits any honest declaration of what someone is against, or equally what he wholeheartedly approves; and when at the same time she needs to disguise a part of what he is supposed to acknowledge because for one reason or another it is considered dangerous to her social status, his action implies a dissociation from the common project which unites all those who express convictions, theories, passions and desires in accord with her own. Moreover, though the separation between one's life project and one's life as a whole may be accepted as a given in the professional projects of specialists and the generalised separation imposed by the society which requires such specialists; such a conveniently split personality is completely inimical to an internal character of earnestness – that major dignity by which we have the courage to form, on our own responsibility, critical decisions, and have definite critical reactions. The action or inaction by which one dissociates from a part of themselves – from the collective project they had claimed as their own – therefore implies just as much a dissociation from all those who continue to live in accord with this project in all the earnestness and coherence they can muster. It is the pain produced by this provocative severance that can and should produce anger in others. The absence of anger on their part would in turn imply a dissociation just as total as that of their former associate, with whom they would then be reunited (16) in a common practical alienation from the very substance of their own lives, and a common vanity in all their eloquent expressions of faith.
When dialogic activity arbitrarily limits its field of play based on pre-determined ideological catagories, it very quickly tends to decompose into its opposite; what was food rots into rubbish, what once nourished now poisons. When subjectivity rots, passivity oozes out. Clearly, it is necessary to find a way out of this tortured, tortuous impasse – again and again as the situation demands. And how to do it?
How to Win Friends and Influence People
'Anger is, in fact, a terrible faculty – thanks be to the good sense of our bodies for it. But may we not be caused to have overmuch of it. For the body has a natural wildness, even in its good sense: no doubt we shall be saddened when we remember, later, the cruel parts that we had, of living necessity, to play.'
– Laura Riding, In Defence of Anger
It has been conceded by some, who balk at my often trenchant tone, that while they may agree with what I say, the manner in which I say it (disparaged as 'ad hominem attacks') is objectionable. If my criticism can in fact be considered a form of personal attack, it begs the question: against what sort of person?
If criticism is addressed to fellow fighters in the struggle between the masses and the classes, one would expect them to welcome any critical observations as a service to the further development of their own practice – observations the veracity of which they are free to accept partially or reject violently, to consider seriously or ignore completely. Our passion for supersession ('He who is not busy being born is busy dying') demands that we continuously test our strength, re-examine the bases of our praxis, discard our weaknesses, correct errors, overcome limitations; the refusal to do so itself constitutes sufficient grounds for serious criticism. As Francis Bacon noted: 'It is not the lie that passeth through the mind, but the lie that sinketh in, and settleth in it, that doth the hurt; such as we spake of before. But, howsoever these things are thus in men's depraved judgments, and affections, yet truth, which only doth judge itself, teacheth that the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making, or wooing of it... is the sovereign good of human nature.' For myself, it is practical truth that excites my desire, in the sense of 'if he is not skillful in using such a tool, he will not be able to strike true': a necessary precondition for any effective strategic assault against the old world. 'Time, that indissoluble matrix', offers no refunds. Isandlwana is only captured once. The brevity of our lives, if we desire to wield our abilities to the full, drives out the possibility of self-satisfied complacency. Criticism is a gift and a duty. For those not too attached to the petty details of their own miserable existence, its reception can be a rollicking joy. Dialectical living is both necessary and gratifying. Progress demands it; pleasure proceeds from it, as fruit follows from the withered flower. It should also be said that we gain nothing by purging emotion from our criticism, and if our fellows incur our anger (on legitimate grounds – irascibility on insufficient cause plagues our ranks almost as badly as does dissimulation) this cannot be expressed in an inoffensive pseudo-objective tone. As was said regarding a different professor in The Strange Case of Dr. Johnny and Mr. Drury:
'a constantly renewed struggle against the "multiple" totality of one's alien and contradictory identities is also one against the alienated 2-faceted nature of spectacular society: the exhausting repression of its constraints, and the glittering falsity of its seductions. We are partly complicit in these miseries, partly by unnecessary choice, on top of the fact that we're unavoidably forced to repress and distort our real desires. Within the given varying margins of freedom any particular social situation allows us, this struggle develops inseparably a "nice" generous warmth and critical openness towards one's fellow proletarians as well the "nasty" violent raging "monster" of proletarian violence against our enemies and a usually less physical expression of this rage against the reproduction of our enemies' attitudes amongst our friends and fellow proletarians. This is a way of defining the proletarian expression of the process of superceding the Jekyll and Hyde contradiction, of a struggle for suppressing our own "multiple identities" in the struggle for unity, for mutual recognition.' (dialectical-delinquents.com)
If, however, the people we're dealing with are not our fellows, but merely appear to be, why should they not be personally attacked? Have the official partisans of false opposition – the professional representatives of rebellion – not proven themselves over and over again to be deadly enemies of all insurgent rebels?
It may also be useful to inquire why the inventor of the modern Encyclopedia, Diderot, had occasion to write 'All the nonsense of metaphysics is not equal to an ad hominem argument.' It seems to me one of the greatest values of this perspective is that it grasps the most general social process as an expression of concrete individuals – ('People make their own history...') thereby grounding the idea of society in the basic reality of actual people rather than ideological abstractions – and, contrariwise, each particular individual as an embodiment of historically specific social relations, determined by the possibilities and constraints of her society at any given moment in time ('...but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under circumstances of their own choosing') – thereby grounding the idea of the person in the concrete reality of material conditions rather than in the 'free and independent' fictions of modern ideologies. Since, 'for man the root is man', this procedure is the only means by which any truly radical thought can ever 'grasp things at the root' – precisely why Debord had occasion to maintain 'I have often ascertained that the abandonment of ad hominem critique is the prelude to the abandonment of all critique.'
There is no royal road to revolution, but neither is there any excuse for deceptive equivocation. Whereas I here affirm two times two is four, and the Hero and His Party always claims two times two is six, the eulogies of professors and journalists assert two times two is five. It will not do. Only if you feed on a continuous outpouring of bullshit can you have your meal and eat it too. And let us not pretend that confusion, bordering on delirium, does not continually threaten to reappear in all our own struggles. 'The problem continues to be posed — in continually more complicated terms. All conclusions remain to be drawn; everything has to be recalculated. We have to resort to other measures.'
Written during the 2011 wave of protests against austerity measures in the UK, Wayne Spencer's Season of Kisses and Sighs summed up what is at stake:
'How often have we said of late (and how often have we heard others say) that what we need in this country is a revolution like those in Tunisia and Egypt? But they are only words. We avow in easy abstraction the need for revolution yet we do precisely nothing about it. We can barely conceive of an autonomous project on such a scale. Our capacity to think and act by and for ourselves, to step beyond this society's cowering norms, is undernourished to the point of starvation. Well, we shall just have to create what we need. We might begin by bringing to the practical project of revolution at least as much time, effort and passion as we have been wont to lavish on our jobs, families, pastimes and vacations. We might also develop the habit of viewing and treating our enemies as enemies.'
Besides the brutal honesty demanded of all true human intimacy, one of the basic necessities in the struggle for mutual recognition is the good will necessary for persistence through the inevitable miscommunications. There is a (very) remote possibility, for example, that Pithouse did not intend to communicate what I have taken him to task for. If, in any disagreement, there are benefits in granting the strongest possible interpretation to the point of view against which we take exception – rather than imputing straw-man arguments for the easy demonstration of our own eloquence – it is also usually best to assume that people mean what they say. Nevertheless, the limitations of the written word are such that they grant a sense of finality to expressions which are, as with all human products, imperfect and unfinished, in need of emendation, qualification, incision, and so on. The give and take of conversation, where clarification can be given in an immediate way through an in-person process involving variations-on-a-theme, tends to be replaced with a seemingly 'complete' appearance, frozen on the page or screen in dead letters. Even in everyday speech, it is often surprising how little people are able to understand one another. What we thought we said clearly we are called on to say again in different words. As Gertrude Stein, one who pushed the boundaries and limits of the written word perhaps more than anyone else in the English language, recognised: 'Repeating then is in every one, in every one their being and their feeling and their way of realizing everything and everyone comes out of them in repeating... Sometimes it takes many years of listening, seeing, living, feeling, loving the repeating there is in some before one comes to a completed understanding.' As she notes, 'repeating is often irritating', both for the listener and the speaker. But we condemn ourselves to painfully avoidable misunderstandings without it. It is likewise challenging, but necessary, to acknowledge that polemics directed at repugnant expressions or practices do not equate to dismissing an individual irremediably (although, if merited by the situation, such an eventuality is of course possible). 'When we are angry, which is to feel cheated of a particular satisfaction promised to our judgement by a particular situation, we are opposing to the immediate chagrin an insistence on the general possibility of satisfaction... Anger is concrete hope in the midst of disappointment' (Laura Riding, In Defence of Anger). Nor can the anger, occasioned by the eruption of a violent and sudden – but nevertheless provisional – disassociation, be healthily resolved without public expression. 'True anger is an incident of communication. It occurs publicly, retaining the presence of the person concerned within reach of reassociation.' The disagreements of close friends, family and lovers are frequently full of passion; only in the inconsequential situations to which most 'public life' has been reduced are the inhibitions of 'polite society' at all beneficial – inhibitions which developed during an historical epoch, now long gone, when interpersonal relations were bounded within autonomous groups among which violence was always potential: courtly courtesy (remnants of which remain among the phenomena of love, sex and marriage in many South African folk traditions which would strike a feudal-era European as very aristocratic) between strangers of different groups was an essential deterrent to bloodshed. There is an argument to be made for some modern adaptation of old-school courtesy as a corrective to intra-class violence among proletarians who suffer all the demoralisation of a domination that atomises individuals into autonomous communities-of-one where self-interest expresses itself in terms of 'each man for himself' far more than ever before. Like all such adaptations, though, it will have to be thoroughly critical about aspects of past practices which are no longer useful in present conditions. A related measure, the adaptation of conflict-resolution practices derived from South African folk-traditions, would similarly have to emphasise the traditionally democratic dialogue of the assembly form, voluntary mediation and arbitration over compulsory adjudication, the place of free discussion among all affected parties, the focus on restorative rather than retributive justice and the interdependent context of social beings recognised in the concept of ubuntu; at the same time, it would be necessary to de-emphasise, to the point of extirpation, the traditionally hierarchical control of the facilitator, whose role was vested (subject to traditional qualifications, checks and balances eroded by integration into the colonial mode of rule) in 'tribal authorities' whose neo-colonial function today remains oppressive to all women and almost all men. That the inventors of the 'people's courts' which arose in South Africa during the struggles of the 1980s were unwilling and/or unable to make such judicious adaptations allowed the counter-productive authoritarian aspects to triumph while the highly-promising and potentially useful aspects fell by the wayside: an unfortunate development which led to the failure of this initiative. In any case, polite propriety is desperately inappropriate when addressing matters of such consequence as the revolutionary transformation of reality, or the oppression suffered by women under the domination of religious patriarchy, whether it calls itself Islamic – such as that to which my mother and her sisters who came of age within the conservative, working-class area of Salt River in Cape Town were subject during the violent social upheavals of the 1970s (classified by the state as 'Cape Malay' under the Group Areas Act) or their sisters in Iran who fought together with their men against both Shah Pahlavi's monarchy and Ayatollah Khomeini's theocracy during the revolution of 1979 (17) – or Christian – such as Eve Libertine whose 1978 song Reality Asylum expressed the reality of her experience under the domination of Anglican England in a form appropriate to its content
'I vomit for you, Jesu. Puke upon your papal throne. I have suffered for you, where you have never known me. I too must die. Will you be shadowed in the arrogance of my death? The cross is the virgin body of womanhood that you defile. In your guilt, you turn your back, nailed to that body. Lame-arse Jesus calls me sister! There are no words for my contempt! Every woman is a cross in his filthy theology. He turns his back on me in his fear. His vain delight is the pain I bear. Alone he hangs, his choice, his choice. He hangs upon his cross in self-righteous judgment, hangs in crucified delight, nailed to the extent of his vision. His cross, his manhood, his violence, guilt, sin. He would nail my body upon his cross, as if I might have waited for him in the garden, as if I might have perfumed his body, washed those bloody feet? This woman that he seeks, suicide visionary, death reveller, rapist, grave-digger, earth-mover, life-fucker. He shares nothing, this Christ; sterile, impotent, fuck-love prophet of death. He is the ultimate pornography. Jesu. You scooped the pits of Auschwitz. The soil of Treblinka is rich in your guilt, the sorrow of your tradition. Your stupid humility is the crown of thorn we all must wear. For you? Ha. Master? Master of gore. The cross is the mast of our oppression. Suffer little children, suffer in that horror. Hero-horror horror-hero hero-shimmer shimner-hero Hiroshima Hiroshima. The bodies are your delight. The incandescent flame is the spirit of it. They come to you Jesu, to you. Hear us, Jesus! You sigh alone in your cock fear! You lie alone in your cunt fear! You cry alone in your woman fear! You die alone in your man fear! Your fear your fear your fear warfare warfare WARFARE. JESUS DIED FOR HIS OWN SINS. NOT MINE.'
That the women of Pussy Riot decided to blaspheme at the altar of a cathedral was not due to any arbitrary impulse. That they were jailed for their efforts is no miraculous coincidence. Self-censorship of such expressions to toned-down ersatz can only do violence to the reality. In the narrow realm – known as 'private life' – where people are permitted to come together for the purposes of consequential action, the discussion is not limited to the respectful sharing of feelings; disputes are not papered over by politically correct restraint. Because of the fund of good will developed during previous encounters, participants in these interactions are able to overcome this and reach a new understanding. When relating to strangers, as is necessary whenever people come together to participate in the common project of revolutionary change, it is necessary to draw on this same good will, developed during difficult practice, to overcome the challenges to mutual recognition, edification, and so on. Because frank talk can't be easily used to recruit followers or make friends – because 'the senses of modern people are already too policed to accept violent truths about contemporary politics' – many are tempted to make friends and influence people by advertising watered-down half-truths and tripple-distilled bullshit. This is especially true for the paid critics of the spectacle. Thus, it has taken what the governments of the world label a 'terrorist' organisation to conduct the most widespread practical discussions on the abolition of sexism anywhere in the world today:
It is necessary to draw women out of the "holy mother, principle of honor, indispensable and irreplaceable wife" statuses, and investigate the reality of women as a subject-object sum. As a matter of fact, one of the most important aspects of such an investigation would be exposing the great whitewashed villainy that masquerades as love (rape, murder, violence, unending swearing being the foremost). The list continues to being exploited as: the mother of all labours, owner of free labour, worker with bottom wage, the most unemployed, a source of the endless desires and oppression of men, a birth-giving and child-rearing machine for the system, an instrument of advertisement, sex-porn etc... Capitalism has developed more mechanisms for the exploitation of women than all of those that came before it. In truth, no other social phenomenon has ever been subjected to colonialism the way women have been body and soul. It should be understood that women are being restrained under a colonial status with hard to define borders. In light of such truths, it is without doubt that the feminist movement should be the most radical anti-system movement. Initially legal equality was pursued. This sort of equality, which does not mean much, seems to be generally provided today. It seems there are improvements in appearance regarding human rights and the others such as economic, social and political rights. In appearance women are free and equal with men. However the most crucial trickery lies herein with the very type of equality and freedom. Establishing freedom, equality and democracy for women who are mentally and bodily taken captive and sentenced to the most profound type of slavery – not only by the official modernity, but also by the hierarchical and statist system which has penetrated the social fabric of civilizations of all times – requires extensive theoretical studies, ideological struggles, programmatic and organizational practices and most importantly it requires strong actions. (isyandan.org)
Words such as Libertine used in 'exposing the great whitewashed villainy that masquerades as love' could not be exchanged for more something more polite as long women remain in societies dominated by christian morality. What Nietzsche said of the atheists of his day could accurately be applied to many western societies where religion has long been in decline: they kept everything about the Christian morality except the Christian God. If this god is dead, his shadow still looms large and continues to impose on women such roles as "holy mother, principle of honor, indispensable and irreplaceable wife". The fact that the colonial imposition of compulsory sexual morality now has harder to define borders calls for more fearless precision and less useless equivocation than ever. The pathetic shillyshallying currently so popular among what is marketed as social critique is fit for nothing other than keeping everything the same, and this is precisely why the production and consumption of this commodity is so encouraged by the existing order. Strong actions are inseparable from strong ideas, themselves inseparable from strong language. If 'it is without doubt that the feminist movement should be the most radical anti-system movement', it is also without doubt that what is permitted pass for feminism today has long ceased to be either radical or anti-system, and survives now more as an academic- or state- department than as a social movement. It is no coincidence that when the movement for female liberation – which began with the autonomous self-organisation of women themselves – became a Cause represented by this or that specialist institution, it renounced both the revolutionary theory produced by this movement as well as the language capable of communicating it. So it is that those who express the most 'radical anti-system' ideas from a female point of view without pulling any punches – such as the spokesperson for the 'World's First Army of Women' (the YJA-STAR) quoted above – are either ignored, dismissed, or uncritically 'supported' via simplistic propaganda. The activities and perspectives of the female revolutionaries in northern Syria, which are currently engaged in one of the most widespread and far-reaching revolutionary struggles of our time, demands the attention of all those who are serious about abolishing sexual misery. Yet, like the most radical expressions of female liberation in the 20th century , these are largely passed over in silence by the specialists who claim to represent the interests of women today. For the professors of gender studies academies and the directors of gender justice charities (who are all nothing if not respectable) such people, such ideas, and such language can only ever be a permanently unacceptable scandal, to be denounced as 'empty bluster' or 'the adoption of a posture and manipulation of words' – and why manipulate merely words when you could rather manipulate students, interns and generously-funded budgets procured from an adroitly-manipulated image of social critique? Precisely the same decomposition can be observed regarding of the South African revolutionary movement and the memory, theory and language capable of communicating everything essential concerning it. In this age of 'virtues all half virtue, of vices scarce half-vices, made up of truth blurred in the edges of lies so limping they will not stir the pulse in the utterance', this cocktail of silence and slander is only to be expected from the professional custodians of pseudo-critique. What was not expected was for Professor Pithouse, who was fired from his position at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal for daring to maintain some degree of personal integrity, to heap calumny on our comrades in the same asinine way as his shamelessly servile colleagues.
As Orwell long ago observed in Homage to Catalonia, an endless architecture of stomach-turning eulogies to great Leaders and abstract Causes provide the vacuous warehouses wherein the machinery of omerta and malicious put-downs produce their vile vapours. All semblance of truth is overwhelmed, smothered and drowned under torrents of pollution (misinformation wrapped in a footnote covered-up by a scholarly citation) spouted full-time from the smoke-stacks of fog-factories. So it is that the near-total media black-out regarding the revolutionary aspect of the struggle in Syria joins hands with the near-total absence of all critical perspective towards this struggle on the part of would-be radicals around the world, whose version of solidarity involves accepting at face-value the Public Relations statements of official representatives. What is the practical relation between the radical rhetoric of the militia spokesperson quoted above and the everyday activity of the 'women's committees, shelters, and centers, meeting places where women can talk about their family and social problems and develop solutions, or flee an unwanted marriage' which have reportedly sprung up in every urban centre of the region? What are some of the concrete contradictions of the present moment? For example, in what ways do the conditions of those in the women's military and civil organisations – where so many traditions inherited from Maoism remain unquestioned (such as compulsory celibacy, subordination of individual to military hierarchy, ideological indoctrination in the Teachings of the Great Leader, 'self-criticism' sessions, and so on ) – challenge the position of women in the familial and tribal organisations, where so many traditions inherited from religious and ethnic patriarchy remain unquestioned? And in what ways does membership to the one-big-family of the People's Army reproduce the subordination of each individual female to the separate interests of a new abstract collectivity (in the same way that Progress and Civilisation liberates women from unwaged domestic slavery so they may know the boundless joy of wage slavery)? The nuanced perspective that allowed Orwell to explore such questions during his sojourn in revolutionary Spain has thus far been conspicuously absent in all available material on Syria. Those who have spent enough time to be able to pose such questions usefully seem altogether disinclined to do so. Uncomfortable questions, practical contradictions, the nitty-gritty dirty details, the risky revelations of the messiness, incompetence, irony, and pettiness that complicates all historical events just as they do throughout everyday life – all are almost universally suppressed by a combination of that party-loyalty that Orwell found so loathsome, and a desire to preserve a neat 'grand narrative' people can sell to themselves and others free of inconvenient facts and uncomfortable ambiguities.
Historically, attempts to impose straw man arguments by claiming (either explicitly, as the cruder variety of leftist does, or implicitly, as the sophisticated Professor Pithouse does) that anyone who refuses to offer 'support' as an uncritical ally must necessarily be a bourgeois reactionary or at best an infantile producer of empty bluster (often both at the same time) have always stemmed from state-capitalist rackets such as Chavez's Veneuela, Mao's China, Castro's Cuba, Lenin's Russia, etc ad nauseum, and their nauseating Western allies, who always claimed (some of them still do!) to be instituting anti-capitalist democracy on a grand scale. One can admire the courage of those who are fighting for their lives even as one despairs at the lies that they are told, and that they then (unwittingly) tell themselves and the world.
In Spain scores went to their death thinking that fighting for an 'anti-fascist front' was fighting for a revolution when exactly that front was what killed their revolution. In South Africa scores went to their death thinking that fighting for an 'anti-apartheid movement' was fighting for a revolution when exactly that movement was what killed their revolution. Any dissenting voices were drowned out in the chorus of adulation and loud silence, or all too often strangled with a more hands-on approach (the routine tortures and murders perpetrated against their own members in ANC-run camps like Quadro simply written out of the history books). Those who want to indulge in vicarious fantasies may do so at their leisure, but for all who want to contribute towards putting this world of lies and politics out of its misery, fallacious imputations towards those who disagree with our pet causes is simply counter-productive. In a country where the stupor produced by Madiba Magic is finally starting to thaw, but where even those who rebel against the current order are still entranced by the false aura of St Tutu, Lord Nelson, Commissar Hani, Commander-In-Chief Malema, and Comrade Vavi, such mystification seems particularly dangerous.
Partisans of instrumental treason ululate for presidents who resort to terrorism for the sake of an empty formal democracy but dismiss as 'empty bluster' any consistent critique that recognises and denounces all presidents as inevitable obstacles to what Mokonyane and his friends called a democracy of content. Those who speak of 'the enduring rationality of revolt' without expressing solidarity with the few who, from the start, had the courage and coherence to revolt publicly against the rationality of a slavery that endures far beyond the empty victories of bourgeois elections – such people speak with cadavers in their mouths. And it shows. Those condemned to come of age among the ruins of a Rainbow Nation whose false promises have long ago been exposed as counterfeit are much less inclined than our elders to indulge in the luxury of venerating the failures of our ancestors.
Certainly few clued-in people of my generation (and quite a number of older ones) have any qualms naming President Mandela for the sellout he was, as I discovered in a recent discussion with residents of a local township where everybody compared him, very unfavourably, to Emiliano Zapata, who chose to die with some integrity rather than mire himself in the dirty man-dealing enthusiastically embraced by Lord Nelson. The depth of bitterness revealed by those who express such perspectives seems difficult for the elderly (in spirit if not in body) to grasp. To understand it, one would have to experience every day the sharp-end of a world where all dreams for a better future have already been deferred to death – something which (fortunately for them?) not every anti-authoritarian has to do.
Talkin 'bout contradiction
Contradictions abound. If the problem of an adequate resolution to what used to be called the Social Question continues to be posed in more complicated terms, this is because every day it is posed in more concrete terms. In The Big Sell-out, Dan Mokonyane notes the irony of Mandealer and the ANC begging the same people who enforced and operated the system of white supremacy to stay in the country because it was supposed that the black majority was in desperate need of their 'skills'. Of course from the perspective of those who, like Lord Nelson and his cronies, inherit the machinery of oppression, the skills necessary for their operation are indeed vital. But whether the rest of us are in need of such skills is highly questionable. During the struggle this was well understood by black youths who burned and boycotted their own schools, who abandoned the wasteland of compulsory indoctrination in favour of more interesting terrain saying 'Freedom now, education later', who refused the ennui of passive subordination to the needs of the commodity saying 'Azania is bored, and from this boredom a revolution shall erupt', who self-organised their own educative adventures observing 'The school for the oppressed is a revolution'. It was less well understood by their official spokespeople, like Zwelakhe Sisulu, who in 1986 wrote 'We are no longer demanding the same education as Whites, since this is education for domination. People's Education means education at the service of the people as a whole, education that liberates, education that puts the people in command of their lives...' and in 1990 worked as Lord Nelson's press secretary and personal assistant, later becoming CEO of the state television monopoly, inherited direct from the totalitarian apartheid regime (those skills do come in handy after all) – the South African Fraudcasting Corporation.
One of the definitive contradictions of our era, as Mokonyane noted, is 'the dwindling force of cognition' (of which Sisulu represents a particularly rapid example) in which 'The society of modern science par excellence proves to be the most unscientific through which human kind has passed. And so the paradox is once more enacted before our very eyes. The rest is ideological lies, deception and filth, in order to regulate humankind in artificially manufactured scarcity for purposes of control.' The mental illness referred to by Chtcheglov is a symptom of the same disease. So is the astonishing eagerness of so many anti-authoritarian revolutionists, supposedly total enemies of all the miserable constraints maintained by the old world, to contribute to the international pilgrimage of mythical garbage circling round the religious spectacle of Mandela's funeral, whereas Abu Núwas, the Poet Laureate of the Abbasid Caliphate during the reign of Harun al-Rashid, was reported to have said 'I would that all which Religion and Law forbids were permitted me; and if I had only two years to live, that God would change me into a dog at the Temple in Mecca, so that I might bite every pilgrim in the leg.' Nobody can expect to be entirely consistent in a world where radical contradiction is inherent, but even those thoroughly duped by the delirium of leftism would have a hard time avoiding the fact that Lord Nelson is no less glaringly obvious a symbol of submission than the Kaaba. The least one would expect is that those on the lower side of the social divide and their would-be allies refuse to grant the sort of ridiculously unwarranted respect to those at the top as is automatically lavished by the dazzled dupes who can only relate to the institutions of modern slavery and their managers – bosses and cops of all sorts – in the false terms they choose for themselves. An exemplary instance of this refusal, echoing that of Abu Núwas and foreshadowing that of the Spanish anarchists, was offered to history by the infamous reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire: a master class in the lost art of the radically irreverent insult – and, not coincidentally, the revolutionary art of detournement. In 1676 The Cossacks of the Zaporozhian Host, inhabiting the lands around the lower Dnieper River in Ukraine, had defeated Ottoman Turkish forces in battle. However, Mehmed demanded that the Cossacks submit to Turkish rule in the following terms:
As the Sultan; son of Muhammad; brother of the sun and moon; grandson and viceroy of God; ruler of the kingdoms of Macedonia, Babylon, Jerusalem, Upper and Lower Egypt; emperor of emperors; sovereign of sovereigns; extraordinary knight, never defeated; steadfast guardian of the tomb of Jesus Christ; trustee chosen by God Himself; the hope and comfort of Muslims; confounder and great defender of Christians – I command you, the Zaporogian Cossacks, to submit to me voluntarily and without any resistance, and to desist from troubling me with your attacks.
The response provoked by this haughty command, besides its general value as a unique testament to all that is noble about the unfettered human spirit, is of particular interest to those who wish to recover the hidden history of libertarian revolution in the twentieth century. As Arthur Adams, author of The Ukraine, 1917-1921, writes regarding the relation between this ancient and rather obscure conflict and one of the most admirable uprisings in the history of the 20th century – the anarchist movement associated with Nestor Makhno – "any effort to identify the motives of the peasant rebellions of 1918-1920 must begin with a consideration of the most powerful and glorious of all Ukrainian traditions—that of the Zaporozhian Cossacks." (Ukranian delegates to the All Russian Peasant Congress in November 1905 similarly stated: "In our people their lives to this day that sense of freedom which was found among the Zaporozhian Cossacks.") Ilya Repin's famous painting depicts the Cossacks coming together to share the pleasure of inventing ever more creative ways to express their explosive defiance, their fierce independence, and their absolute contempt for the offensive pretensions of the high and mighty. They replied to His Majesty in the following terms – a more succinct and eloquent expression of collective resistance to Power has scarcely been put into words:
O sultan, Turkish devil and damned devil's kith and kin, secretary to Lucifer himself. What the hell kind of a knight are you, that can't slay a hedgehog with your naked arse? The devil excretes, and your army eats. You will not, you son of a bitch, make subjects of Christian sons; we've no fear of your army, by land and by sea we will battle with thee, motherfucker!
You Babylonian scullion, Macedonian wheelwright, brewer of Jerusalem, goat-fucker of Alexandria, swineherd of Greater and Lesser Egypt, pig of Armenia, Podolian thief, catamite of Tartary, hangman of Kamyanets, and fool of all the world and underworld, an idiot before God, grandson of the Serpent, and the crick in our dick. Pig's snout, mare's arse, slaughterhouse cur, unchristened brow, go screw your own mother!
So the Zaporozhians declare, you lowlife. You won't even be herding pigs for the Christians. Now we'll conclude, for we don't know the date and don't own a calendar; the moon's in the sky, the year with the Lord, the day's the same over here as it is over there; for this kiss our arse!
- Koshovyi Otaman Ivan Sirko, with the whole Zaporozhian Host
Power remains as ruthless, as despicable, as unjustifiable as it as ever been, yet its spectacle has colonised the tongues and minds of its slaves to such an extent that impolite expressions of inconvenient truths are considered too blasphemous even among supposed revolutionists. Today, with more than half the population of the planet urbanised, the banalisation which seemed so characteristic of 'advanced countries' in Chtcheglov's era has now swept into power throughout the world. In South Africa and most countries like it, most existing work is already socially useless. In the mainstream academic sociology of crime, it is well known that the police force (bureaucrats with guns) in all countries spend the overwhelming majority of their time doing everything except 'fight crime', and neither pigs nor the vast industry of rent-a-cops have any positive effect on criminal activity at all. In fact, in South Africa fighting crime means fighting the police: a statistical analysis of Ministry of Safety and Security data conducted by Piers Pigou in 2000 revealed that cops are three times more likely to be involved in criminal activity than non-pigs. Besides the enormous amount of useless work done by the police, army and government bureaucracy, it is obvious that in a sane world the majority of work in the largest sector of the economy – 'services', will be abolished. Finance, insurance, real-estate, 'hospitality', domestic-work, education, construction, transport, energy, medicine, charity, retail as well as the industries they support, colonise more and more of the neo-colonial world. Fewer and fewer find employment anywhere else, to the extent where 20 – 40% of the workforce in these countries has already had work abolished for them by the old world on a near-permanent basis.
What we see today more clearly than ever is that the questions posed by Marx & Lenin regarding revolutionary activity – the entire problem of transforming a mode of political action (State & Party) that imposes its own logic regardless of any revolutionary intent – is only the shadow of the real problem which has in the meantime mushroomed to staggering proportions: the problem of transforming an entire way of life that imposes separation, passivity and unconsciousness at every level regardless of intent. The question of automation and 'the work carried out by technocrats' is the question not merely of technology and scientists, but all the emotional, material and intellectual tools by which we reproduce an environment that condemns us to lifelessness, and all the specialists that teach us to submit to and strengthen these mechanical automatons and the autonomous social processes they control. The everyday lives of proletarians under Bolshevik rule were dominated not by The Party, but by work. The Party and its agents may have been the jailors, but it was the factories and cities that were the jails. People were enslaved not only to ideology, but to actual machines, and it could be said that even the bosses of these systems, the gate-keepers of ideology in the Kremlin and the White-house, were mere agents who deployed whatever was at their disposal – ideology and money, gulags and guns – in service to the new Mammon: capital, commodities and the rule of dead labour. This disastrous history of failed revolutions, of refurbished poverty and modernised misery, has at least shown us more and more clearly what we are up against, what is not to be done. Although intellectually the insight might have been there all along – 'To say that "economic development is in the interest of the workers", is the same as to say: the quicker the working class multiplies and augments the power inimical to it the more favorable will be the conditions under which it will be permitted to forge for itself the golden chains by which the bourgeoisie drags it in its train.' (Marx, 1847) – only over time, as the 'rotten bits' of the ruling society were progressively sanitised around the world, has the problem posed itself so forcefully that ever growing numbers sense it for ourselves. Depelchin put it this way in his Silences in African History:
'In order to better understand what the stakes are it might be worth re-examining and comparing (from a structural perspective) the historical transitions from slavery and that which is currently taking place in South Africa. In political terms, when the changes in Africa from slavery, through colonial rule, to the end of Apartheid are considered, the balance sheet might be seen by some as (ultimately) positive. However, in socio-economic terms, the picture is less so as the owners of capital have always tended to recoup their losses. Political changes have been operated as safety valves so that the tenets of the socio-economic system could remain in place. The crucial objective was to ensure that the owners of capital continued to determine the parameters of their relationship to labour. From such a perspective, the history of that relationship could be seen as one of unending modernisation in which the structural relations of exploitation have not changed, but their forms have. However, the value of the current transition, in which one could say 'Apartheid is dead, long live Apartheid', affords the possibility of a critical re-examination of how historians have contributed to the silences which were first generated by those who most profited from the system. Put in another way, what Atlantic slavery inaugurated was the beginning of an enslavement process to a socio-economic system which has increased and intensified its grip, even as the formal and visible aspects of that enslavement were transformed and became less visible. Compared to the times of Atlantic slavery, the situation has grown worse because enslavement has now entrapped those who are supposed to be in control of the process. The owners of capital have become enslaved to the cycles of accumulation and reproduction of capital in ways and to a degree that the slave owners were not. The submission to the rules dictated by capital at the end of the twentieth century is probably more total than it has ever been...
During previous transitions, the system could always reform itself by jettisoning the rotting parts: slavery, the slave trade, colonial rule and, more recently, Apartheid. What is to be done when the rotting parts are gone, but the rotting continues to spread?'
What we now experience is, as Depelchin points out, a further stage in the privatization of misery, an historical process which has seen the administrational burden (as well as the apparent benefits) of slavery passed onto larger and larger portions of the world population. 1994, therefore, became the point when responsibility for the political management of apartheid passed fully into black hands. There is nothing new in this: the Bantu Authorities Act of 1951 & then the Black Local Authorities Act of 1982 brought this about for Bantustans & townships respectively.
As for the famous apartheid laws: many of them were introduced before the Nats came to power in 1948 and many of them were repealed before they left power in 1994. The laws against interracial sex for example were introduced in 1927 and scrapped in 1985; the laws reserving certain jobs for whites were introduced in 1911 and scrapped in 1981; the laws reserving certain benches, busses, and beaches whites-only was scrapped in 1991 -- the list goes on. The scrapping of these laws, like the creation of laws granting blacks political authority, signified neither the end of apartheid nor the bestowal of liberation. The pomp and ceremony of a society based on lies cannot change the everyday lives of its victims. Modern-day slavery is here to stay. Mandela was the first black president of apartheid South Africa. The spectacle can only disguise the fact that the emperor has no clothes for so long.
The violence which erupted during the negotiations period illustrates the catastrophic consequences of a conception of revolution modelled on house-breaking. When oppression is seen as exclusion from the privileges of a society, the demand for inclusion becomes synonymous with liberation. That very definition implies the continued existence of outsiders, and what started as a critique of the society which required exploitation becomes a demand for certain people (women, gays, workers, ethnic minorities, blah blah), in the South African case, certain blacks, to become exploiters themselves. The immediate consequences of this are the alienation of that substantial portion of the oppressed who sees what is coming from such an approach and therefore connects all rebellion against the system as opportunism outright. The conservative image of IFP supporters stems from this. Half-way revolutions have always bred their own grave-diggers. To help compel rebellion beyond the clutches of an early death, revolutionary theory 'must be able to denounce as bad, to the indignant stupefaction of all those who find it good, the very centre of the existing world', a necessity elaborated by Yves Le Manach, whose Artichauts de Bruxelles stress that 'the struggle against the centre does not pose itself in terms of class struggle as if we were foreign to the centre, but in terms of a personal engagement of disobedience.' Despite appearances, we are not external to the world we inhabit – it passes through us.
African society, which has produced all sorts of ruling classes caricaturing all the classes of history, harbours in extreme form the historical contradictions of all class society. The resolution of Native Question, left to the states, has suffered the fate of the Social Question – that is, the question of how Africans liberate themselves from misery has, like the analogous question raised by the revolt of the industrial proletariat, been turned into the question of how to continue exploiting them despite their misery. The failed revolutionary project of the dead workers movement has been followed into the trashcan of history by the African nationalist movement. In their rotting corpses, the march of events has exposed the shared poverty of each; the stench of every old oppression demonstrated (to all but the most thoroughly-lobotomised) the theoretical and practical bankruptcy of both.
The 'democratic transition', a surgical manoeuvre handled delicately by our dedicated saviours, has excised the last putrid tumors from the body politic. Despite the sterilised environment of freedom and democracy, the rotting has continued to fester for two decades. By now the stench has grown increasingly unbearable, the vapours increasingly toxic. The new illusion of progress is more sophisticated than the old in the sense that its 'collateral damage', the suffering of human beings who are sacrificed in its name, can no longer be blamed on any clearly visible enemy. It is all only an uncontrollable, unforeseeable 'act of god': the natural-disaster of 'market failure' to which two remedies, austerity or state-welfare – neo-liberalism or neo-leftism – is offered. The basis of modern progress, which retains all the miseries of the old societies but none of their advantages, addressed by neither pseudo-remedy, is naturalised, while opposition to it, diverted by this false binary, is neutralised. The problem has grown more clear, but also more complicated. It is obvious that those who bent over backwards to hold onto the skills of white supremacy could never understand the meaning of the phrase 'Black man, you are on your own.' But it is also true that the importance of Black Consciousness as a specific ideology has eroded in an age where black men, women and children are being butchered by 'their own' (although this itself is hardly a new phenomenon). Nevertheless there are elements of the theory – its focus on the autonomy of rebels in struggle, its focus on the implications of oppression in their everyday lives, its focus on consciousness as the primary weapon in the class war – that can and must be generalised in any future revolutionary movement. The failure of Marx, Mandela, Malcolm X, Mussolini, Martin Luther, Mao, and countless other heroes; of Nihilism, Primitivism, Marxism, Anarchism, Situationism, Nationalism, Pan Africanism, Black Consciousness, Welfare or Free-market Capitalism, and all the other ideologies; of automation, education, civilisation, religion, import-substitution, austerity, prosperity, technology, cooperatives, trade-unions and all the other false prophets of the old world; the continued success of slavery despite the empty promises of all these saviours poses the problem in universal terms: proletarians, you are on your own.
Contradictions abound. 'All of these problems must be discussed at length in the following years.' But popular memory has failed utterly to counter the propaganda of the spectacle or keep alive the important contributions of the past. The children who sprayed those beautiful slogans on their schools after gutting them by fire remain lost in the mist. Their perspective, ruthlessly recuperated by the likes of Sisulu, is nowhere to be seen among the rebels of today. The only reason voices like these have not vanished completely is because they have been preserved in a few ancient texts. And yet almost nothing that is read today is worth the paper it's printed on. While forests are felled to publicise the latest literary idiocies by vast hordes of lumpen intelligentsia who know how to cater to the lobotomised appetites of the modern market, the insights of Dan Mokonyane, Selby Semela, Sam Thompson & Norman Abraham remain unknown, uncorrected, and unrefined. South African rebels have not used them to shake free any new possibilities. The impoverished spirit of our country has deprived them of the readers they deserve. If it were apparent that a revolutionary movement in which these necessary conversations were taking place was in process of formation, this would not matter much. Unfortunately the opposite is the case. And it is clear that without at least the beginnings of such a movement, even a library full of new agitational material will accomplish little. But publications are not produced in a void. The millions within the current movement must necessarily have some relation to those who crystallise in writing the revolutionary theory currently being developed through their own revolt. In the statements of Abahlali baseMjondolo this relation is refreshingly direct. But the writers of these statements, as much as they have taken their perspective from their comrades in struggle, still tend to be limited to the leadership – a relation reproduced in many instances, from the Zapatistas in Mexico to the Bolobolo & Zabalaza anarchist groups in South Africa. It is natural that such leaders would fail to communicate the contradictions that develop within these groups; often they are predisposed to remain altogether ignorant themselves. My own experience with these groups has certainly revealed far more, and far wider divergences in reality, than are conveyed in such statements – which is not to invalidate their abstract 'truth', but to question their authority as an official representation, an authority derived from their monopoly of communication with others on 'the outside'. Until the many more lowly comrades begin to voice their own perspectives, and conflicting tendencies are openly expressed in the clean air, such problems are inevitable – which is not to say there are any automatic solutions either. But without such measures the intractable problems which have plagued such groups and led to the recent implosions of the Anti Eviction Campaign and Abahlali baseMjondolo in the Western Cape are unlikely to find any resolution. In South Africa a major barrier preventing the more lowly comrades from venturing to speak for themselves is the insistence on English as a medium of communication, which imposes a serious limitation in a country where the majority does not speak this language as a mother-tongue. It seems that much of this has to do with the decision to direct written communication towards an 'international' audience. This of course influences not only the language, but the very intention of the text, and naturally the tendency to convey a particular public image will flourish in this environment. It is not certain to what extent, if any, these groups address written communication to their fellow proletarians, and if so what language is used. In any case it certainly seems better for English speakers to learn the local languages, or secure an adequate interpreter, than for locals to imprison themselves in an scantily articulate half-way house. Then there is the limitation of literacy itself, which seems to be less of a problem than ever before. With cell-phone text messages, internet networking and chatter-services proliferating in every corner of the planet, more people read and write now than at any previous time in history. But the quality of this literacy is another story, as the many studies of neo-illiteracy in the United States show quite strikingly – the US government's own assessment states that only 15% of adults can be considered fully literate (equivalent to undergraduate level which, for anyone who has had experience with undergraduates will know, is itself a questionable standard) while almost half are at 'either basic or below basic levels of proficiency'. In this context, what Wayne Spencer said to me in an email makes a lot of sense: 'insistence on good writing will, I suspect, only serve to discourage the very large number of people who lack proficient writing skills and perpetuate the spectacular association of revolutionary theory with intellectualism. The many contemporary neo-illiterates can and must develop their writing skills dialectically as they struggle with the practical challenges of expressing their own thought and action. But they first must speak aloud in any way they can.'
These are just a few of the questions that nobody is talking about. All of them remain to be discussed and tested exhaustively. But nothing is even touched on because the thought of the world remains bent on heroes and hero-worship. Contradictions abound. We have a long way to go before theory becomes a material force. There is still far too much laissez-faire and not nearly enough savoir-faire. 'We have to resort to other measures.'
In executing this task, the dialectical method – 'the algebra of revolution' – has proven invaluable to many. To know the joy of dialectics is to partake of a carnal knowledge, to embody a theory that has been disembodied, to recover a unity that has been dismembered, to treasure a passion that has been mutilated, to endeavour – however unlikely the adventure – to re-member the future.
February 2014 – November 2015
Appendix on Alienated Communication and its Subversion
The following is a series of extracts that, from various angles, elaborate on, and provide context for, some of the points outlined above.
'The Situationists have shown – assuming that one knows how to read – the method of opposing a critical use of language, including a clearly arrogant tone and even insults if necessary, to the democratic pseudo-dialogue that dominates relations of alienated daily life and the pseudo-communication that develops there. The critique of alienation begins with the suppression of polite respect for everything that speaks for the maintenance of what exists. The relations of individuals in the democratic society of alienation have established sufficiently anesthetizing forms of social communication to be completely impervious to essential critiques, i.e. to the critique of their essence. This organization of social life can allow, on any level, anything one can say about it, welcoming the most extreme thesis as an "interesting and freely expressed" opinion. In this society a liberty of expression without consequences prevails. Therefore it is determinant that the essential critique – which is followed by consequences or it is nothing – attack in its very method of expressing and communicating itself the defense mechanisms of alienated communication. The Situationists recognized this and for a long time acted accordingly, which is certainly not one of the things they can be reproached for.'
– Daniel Denevert to Jean-Pierre Voyer, 15 March 1972
'The discourses that our social organization has conducted about itself for the last 150 years are coherent, not only in their overtly eulogistic content, but also in the species of self-critique that they always add and that only serves to reinforce it. This pseudo-critique can easily be recognized in that it noisily denounces the ravages of our economic, political, social, industrial or ideological systems, or even those more serious ravages that risk subsequently coming to pass, thus accrediting -- for a large public -- its image as authentic critique, but it does so by leaning upon the conceptual foundations or the moral imperatives that are, themselves, products of our current social organization, that appeared with it, that can only maintain themselves with it, and that will disappear with it. To justify itself, such a pseudo-critique thus requires the support of the system that it claims it wants to bring down.
The philanthropic movement of the 19th century that, in the name of moral imperatives and a progressive ideology, denounced the living conditions of the workers during the Industrial Revolution, in the same way that the Leftist university critique of the 1960s critiqued the new forms of alienation in the name of the same imperatives and the same ideology, have best illustrated the nature and role of this pro domo critique.
Pseudo-critique has a triple function:
1) It occupies the terrain of social critique at the historical moments when an authentic critique begins to make itself known.
2) It attempts to impose the ideological forms that are the foundations of the system on those who want to have done with that very system.
3) Finally, it denounces all real social critique that aims at the abolition such foundations by at least accusing it of "nihilism," "visionary idealism" or "apocalyptic prophetism." Sometimes the calumnies are more serious, and any person who contests the system will see him/herself denounced – according to the times – as an agent of Prussian imperialism, the STASI, or crypto-revisionism. More crudely, he will see himself labelled as a papist, a pornographer or a Guenonian...
But authentic social critique does not recognize the validity of such determinations. It still and always recognizes as its own only the living root of man from which it edifies itself and destroys all circumstantial historical systems, and of which each can have experience the moment she takes exception to all these systems – this root that one more generally calls liberty, and about which pseudo-critique remains so completely in the dark that it sometimes wonders if it is not a question of a mystical, hermetic (or perhaps neo-Platonic?) deus ex machina.
The refusal of all the ideological appearances that our social organization produces and distributes to everyone according to their needs thus brings each to recognize herself in absolute despoilment, in scandalous banality and, at the same time, to recognize the other in his identical poverty. In the current social war, one easily distinguishes one's ally in her nudity or in the tears in her squalid livery; one identifies one's enemy by his uniform and the care that he takes to conserve his haughty bearing. Thus, the new contesters, by conspicuously showing that they have nothing to defend that is their own, are the poles of attraction of the new identity. And this is the only meeting place of those who want to have done with the current world.'
– Michel Bounan, Incitement to Self-Defence, 2004
'The Christian distinction between right and wrong is weakened by the tenderness with which wrong is treated with the result that Christian reproof, resting largely on suave, unangry insinuations, is, in its indirectness, more unpalatable and more offensive to the dignity of the criticized person than direct anger would be.'
– Laura Riding, In Defence of Anger, 1936
'Aristippus, when there happened to be a falling out between him and Aeschines, and one said to him, "O Aristippus, what is now become of the friendship that was between you two?" answered, "It is asleep, but I will go and awaken it." Then coming to Aeschines, he said to him, "What? Do you take me to be so utterly wretched and incurable as not to be worth your admonition?"'
– Plutarch, Morals, c. 100 AD
'A debate is the in-depth exploration of a certain question through the confrontation between two or more sides, each one with their own position. Unlike those who think that debates are to be avoided so as to not provoke divisions, we think that they have to be nourished. Because the goal of a debate is not to declare a winner before whom all have to bend the knee, but to enrich the conscience of each one. Debates clarify ideas. The enunciation of and the confrontation between different ideas – a debate is exactly this! – elucidates the dusky parts and indicates the weak points of these ideas. This helps everybody, nobody excluded. It helps all of the sides who are participating in the ideas to refine, correct or reinforce their own ideas. And it helps everyone who assists the debate, who will make a choice on which side to be (be it the one side, the other side, or neither of the sides discussing). The history of the anarchist movement is full of debates. All were useful, even if sometimes they were painful. But its history is also full of missing debates, different ideas which were never confronted, leaving everybody to their own initial certainties (or doubts). Was this for the better, since in this way sterile polemics have been avoided? According to us, no, it was for the worse, because in this way fertile discussions were prevented.'
– Anonymous, Appendix to an aborted debate on anonymity and attack, 2014
'Everything critique leaves out is left to the spectacle.'
– Nadine Bloch, All Things Considered, 1976
'For me the necessity for public criticism does not come from a need to prove anything (to who?) but to clarify our own position, firstly for ourselves, secondly for those who we criticise (so they can clarify their own position for themselves - how are the criticisms true, and how untrue, and what are they themselves going to do about it - as well as their relation to us, if any). You speak of building a revolutionary movement. How could this ever happen if different perspectives, tendencies, etc. fail to work themselves out in the open? I think the ideological imperative for a papering over of differences 'notwithstanding weaknesses', nowadays often under the guise of 'fairness' and 'respect', just as in past epochs under the guise of 'working class unity' (or, a favourite of the bourgeois, 'national interest') is one of the problems which any revolutionary movement will have to overcome, and one of the greatest tools will be fearless criticism. This 'work of the negative' is also all too often suppressed by the abstract demand for something 'constructive' or 'positive'. In many cases however, the offer of a positive alternative product, as in the case of my own critique of anarchism, would be completely inappropriate and in fact counter-productive. If I am criticising a particular 'revolutionary' ideology as part of a critique of the pretensions of 'revolutionary ideology' in general, it follows that an offer of an alternative revolutionary ideology would be no solution. If that comes across as arrogant; so be it. I can only answer, as John Mill did, that
"There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation. Complete liberty of contradicting and disproving our opinion, is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for purposes of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right... In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner. The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others, so far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying it into practice, is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it: for, being cognisant of all that can, at least obviously, be said against him, and having taken up his position against all gainsayers—knowing that he has sought for objections and difficulties, instead of avoiding them, and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter—he has a right to think his judgment better than that of any person, or any multitude, who have not gone through a similar process."
How many self-proclaimed radicals jump cheerfully into such a process? From my own experience: very few indeed. When they don't denouncing as 'self righteous', 'negative', 'arrogant', 'authoritarian', et cetera, those who question their activity; they dismiss them as 'irrelevant' or 'nit-picking'; or they simply say they 'don't have time' to bother thinking about the meaning of their own deeds. It's true that in these reactions participants in revolutionary movements are no worse than everybody else, but they are certainly no better, and ... they as well as everyone else will have to get over this limitation if their attempts at social change are ever to get anywhere...'
– Siddiq Khan to Mandisi Majavu, 25 November 2013
'We commonly shunne correction, whereas we should rather seeke and present our selves unto it, especially when it commeth by the way of conference, and not of authority. At every opposition we consider not whether it be just but – be it right or wrong – how we may avoide it; Instead of reaching our armes, we stretch forth our clawes unto it. I should endure to bee rudely handled and checked by my friends, though they should call me foole, coxecombe, or say I raved. I love a man that doth stoutly expresse himselfe amongst honest and worthy men, and whose words answere his thoughts. We should fortifie and harden our hearing against the tendernesse of the ceremonious sound of words. I love a friendly society and a virile and constant familiarity; An amitie which in the earnestnesse and vigor of its commerce pleases it selfe: as love in bitings and scratchings. It is not sufficiently generous or vigorous, except it be contentious and quarrelous; if it be civilised and artificial; if it feare a shocke or free encounter: Neque enim disputari sine reprehensione potest ('Disputation cannot be held without reprehension')... It is nevertheless no easie matter to draw men of my times unto it. They have not the courage to correct, because they lack the heart to endure correction; and ever speake with dissimulation in presence one of another.'
– Montaigne, Of the Art of Conferring, 1580
'When you get the time, I'd like to solicit some more criticism/questions/comments on a follow-up text I & my comrade wrote about anarchist/anti-authoritarian responses to Mandela's death... I'm afraid you will probably find all these texts even more arrogant than my anarchist one [Why I Am Not An Anarchist]. Increasingly though, I'm starting to think that there needs to be far more of this sort of arrogance... I'm inclined to share the opinion of Kenneth Rexroth who said in reference to the work of H.L Mencken: "Today all controversial writing seems pusillanimous by comparison. We have solved all questions of violent controversy ... The things that should concern us, that we should get into knock-down and drag-out fights about, we have agreed to leave to the specialists, the technicians, the social workers and psychiatrists... Meanwhile, from the New York Daily News to The Nation magazine we politely share each other's thinking, as the group dynamickers softly put it, about subjects about which our fathers, led by smoky, beery bachelors like Mencken, joyfully tore each other to shreds in the public prints."'
– Siddiq Khan to Mandisi Majavu, 14 March 2014
'You are correct, I find your writing increasingly arrogant and boorish. Dissent is all good, but casting aspersions on other people's work, integrity and motivation is destructive and infantile (notice there was no need for me to add infantile in that sentence. My point would have been made without adding infantile. but I added it to be provocative. But adding that one word weakened my criticism, simply because I come across as juvenile etc).
I really do not understand why you have to label good comrades as 'good guard dogs' who bark and 'erstwhile big-man" etc. What is going on man? Are you on some ego/power trip or something? What do you get out of this malicious vitriol you are writing of late? I do not mean to be harsh, but someone obviously has to be honest with you.
Seeing that you are Mr Activist Extraordinaire, why don't you just focus on the good that you are doing without having to attack whoever else shares your values at one level or another?'
– Mandisi Majavu to Siddiq Khan, 17 March 2013
'Our task consists in a ruthless critique, directed more against our so-called 'friends' than against our declared enemies; and to fulfill it, we willingly renounce cheap democratic popularity.'
– Marx and Engels, Gottfried Kinkel, 1850
'There is clearly a fundamental disagreement between us about the arrogance of my style, but what I'm really interested is feedback on its clarity. I disdain to mince words because to do so would not only fail to get the point across, but would get across the wrong point. Rather than 'cast aspersions' (the leader of Bolo'bolo applied precisely the same label to the anarchist essay) on anyone's work, I aim to attack, as precisely as possible, any abhorrent aspects of it. Although my attempts, being but baby-steps, are still far from perfect, I aspire to the same sort of accuracy Rexroth attributed to Mencken in the previously-mentioned article: "Often his attack was an all-out barrage, but underneath the shells and shrapnel was the old sharpshooter, carefully picking off the enemy, one by one, with perfect accuracy." Maybe for Menken this was simply the standard of his era; for me the virulence of the attack is a function of the depth of loathing I have for the world of modern slavery into which I was born. You may be right that there is something egotistical about hatred, but a barrage of hatred directed against power can only be confused as a 'power trip' because civilisation and its discontents have so thoroughly succeeded in sowing universal confusion, and neither civilisation nor confusion is likely to be abolished by Buddhist 'unruffledness' or Christian Love. Moreover, it seems necessary to question whether the individual lampooning people's egos is more egotistical than those who take themselves so seriously as to be offended by such an act.
Unless one is content to live in a world of words, to attack the patriarchal family is to attack the role of all mothers and fathers. Considering the misery this institution causes, and its disgusting history, mild suggestions of alternatives are hardly merited as an appropriate gesture. Considering billions of people have taken up these roles -- and consequently force other subservient roles on others, such as children, livestock and servants -- it would be easy to say such an offensive constituted an attack on these billions of persons. Easy, but confused, and quite likely, wilfully so. The existence of the roles themselves are an attack on the persons they occupy, as the existence of colonial soldiers are an attack on the territory they occupy. The tools of modern slavery, whether soldiers or roles, that colonise others are the same ones that colonise you and me, and they work to enforce an abject misery common to us all. In the struggle against them it is wise to exercise, as the situationists did, 'no useless leniency'. As far as I'm concerned, there are no grounds for confusion. I don't attack people, I attack the tools of slavery. Some people, such as Mandealer, are by their social function so completely identified with slavery as to effectively become tools themselves. In which case the people themselves deserve to be attacked.
As for your final rhetorical question: it is a false binary. I struggle against the enemy in my own life and speak out against it in whatever way I can. 'You can't blow up a social relation'. In the class war communication itself forms part of the attack on the old world. Considering that you are probably quite familiar with these sentiments, I suspect your question was another attempt to be provocative. But provocation for its own sake accomplishes the opposite of its intention, and comes across as lame. I, on the other hand, criticise lameness for the sake of clarity, and come across as provocative.
Even a good comrade is bound to be a bad comrade at some point (to believe otherwise is arrogance), and when you feel he writes like an ass or a guard-dog he would benefit from being told so. It would be just as confused merely to say 'Man, you are an ass' or 'Man, you are arrogant' as to refrain from pointing out 'When you say X in paragraph Y you sound like an ass because of ABC' so as not to bruise the ego of a good comrade. I thought we had made this clear... But maybe not? In any case, I invite any feedback you may have on the above debate between my comrade and I regarding clarity of style. It's necessary to get more than just two viewpoints.'
– Siddiq Khan to Mandisi Majavu, 17 March 2014
'In all seriousness the only feedback I can give you on this is: do not publish it, for the reasons I have already explained in the previous email. I can't see anything positive in this exercise. It all seems to be about showing off your intelligence, your self righteousness and your alpha male status.'
– Mandisi Majavu to Siddiq Khan, 18 March 2014
'Psycho-moralizing about "ego trips" and "power trips," [the hippy] holds them responsible for the present social poverty... A sneak preview of the psycho-humanist police force of the new order. Emerging from the desperate isolation of advanced capitalism, the hippies reacted by simply grasping on to each other for support. Their rejection of isolation quickly lost itself in illusions of community. Measuring his own life by the criteria of style, the hippie naturally judges others likewise... the community of style becomes an ersatz communication. All the domestic banalities are fetishized and social relations are marked by mutual toleration and active dissimulation of real separations. A motto of one commune is "I'll tolerate you if you tolerate me."'
– Contradiction, On The Poverty of Hip Life, 1972
'The following [a draft of Joy of Dialectics – SK], in my opinion, needs to be vastly trimmed, as you quite often go right off track, deviating into things that have no relevance to the subject... It's not that I have any significant disagreement with your reflections, just that they distract from the essential points, and weaken the strength and aim of what you want to say. The reader gets overwhelmed with a feeling of having lost the plot, and a sense of it being pointless to go on reading this. You have this tendency to generalize too quickly and go off on abstract tangents. And the poetry jars in this context. A text doesn't have to say everything you know. What you say that you want to say can be kept for writing about situations where these ideas have some pertinence (there are loads of things I've written, some good , some crap, that I never publish).'
– Nick Brandt to Siddiq Khan, 4 March 2014
'It seems from what you say about my wayward digressions from 'the point' that I have unconsciously laboured under the bad influence of the Wise brothers. As I recently said to Dave, when I first started reading them I encountered exactly the same difficulty understanding what 'the point' was which you have expressed concerning my bit on Pithouse:
"I find the particular writing style both of you have adopted to be so breathtaking that it creates, at times, serious difficulties for me in concentrating on what you're getting at. As Debord said to Annie Le Brun, 'So much disordered haste in the passage from one detail to another guarantees the truth of the unity that one feels in the details, when they ring true; but it also guarantees – with respect to all or almost all of them – that there remains much more to say.' The difficulty for me in your writing, and for many others I suspect, lies precisely in this feeling of absence, of being left hanging, that I've been conditioned to abhor by cultural traditions in which the polished artefact remains the measure of all things. As I wrote to one of the local anarchists 'The limitations of written communication in general do tend to work against dialogue in the sense that simplification becomes necessary for effectiveness; part of what defines a good rhetorical flourish is the satisfying sense of conclusiveness it carries when, as we know, there is very little in life that is that neat.' It is your refusal to satisfy the reader with the delusion of the conclusive that renders your style 'difficult' compared to that of, say, Vaneigiem & Debord, or those who have taken them as models, such as myself. A commendable transposition of Brecht's alienation-effects that subverts precisely those defects of the written word which literary prose elevates into a virtue."
It's something that tends to grow on you, I guess. Certainly for me the more familiar I become the more impressed and inspired by both their practical and theoretical projects I am. And the particular form of expression, after the initial disorientation, feels like a breath of fresh air. I may not have consciously set out to write as badly as them, but maybe that's also just why my part of the text falls short: it's not yet bad enough. The reading and writing of theoretical texts is itself part of the everyday life we need to critique. This is not the gist of what the Wise bros say their style is about, as far as I recall, but it's one of the outcomes it produces in practice. Why should we, whose theory proclaims the collapse of all existing context, refrain from expressing our critique in a form which 'jars in this context'? Is part of the malaise of our milieu not that we are far too acceptable to our contexts already? Don't we need to be a whole lot more jarring? Which is not even to say that what I've written is jarring in the right way. Pages and pages of gibberish can also be jarring, but I wouldn't elevate that into a principle. One needs to determine these things dialectically, figuring out what is called for in each situation through experiment and discussion (as we are in fact doing now). Disagreements over details will be unavoidable, but the unruly spirit, I think, is essential. '
– Siddiq Khan to Nick Brandt, 5 March 2014
'It's an excellent way to write a first draft of something, a way of discovering the locked treasures in your mind and history and reading etc. - freely associate, write all the connections in your head, let them all come out. But any further drafts have to consider the person reading it and so requires some order: how could this be misinterpreted, is this relevant, how could i make this generalisation more concrete, what more general idea could come out of this precise concrete situation, etc. That's why it's pretty much essential for a public text to be something other than an individual project, even if one person takes responsibility for the final version. The problem with Dave Wise's texts is that they aren't shown to anyone else other than his brother (and then not always) before being made public. An identical twin brother you've spent some time with almost every single day of your life... is pretty useless as a critic.'
– Nick Brandt to Siddiq Khan, 7 March 2014
'I am less concerned than Brandt about the reactions of "the reader." In practice, who is going to throw away a revolutionary critique because of perceived shortcomings in the style of a few of its paragraphs? A jaded revolutionary of a certain age? A passive consumer of literature easily outraged by any violation of the narrow tenets of good writing he or she has been taught in college? An easily-bored surfer in search of simple sensations? I do not think that you need consult the preferences of such individuals. Revolutionary critique is intended solely for those resolved to transform the entirety of their lives and their world. You can expect more diligence and a better-focussed ruthlessness from readers of this type. '
– Wayne Spencer to Siddiq Khan, 19 March 2014
'Not only does existing theory establish a de facto orthodoxy as to what is appropriate subject matter for a critique, but existing theorists establish a de facto orthodoxy as to how to make critiques.'
– Chris Shutes, Behindism, 1974
'Revolutionary theory is the domain of danger and uncertainty: it is forbidden to people who want the narcotic certainties of ideology, including even the official certitude of being the unswerving enemies of all ideology. The revolution that it concerns is a form of human relations. Revolutionary theory is part of social existence. It is a conflict between universal interests concerning the totality of social practice, and only thus does it differ from other conflicts. Its laws are the laws of conflict, war is its path, and its deeds are more comparable to an art than to a scientific research or an inventory of good intentions.'
– Guy Debord and Gianfranco Sanguinetti, Theses on The SI and Its Time, 1972
'I am not to be ranked among the admirers of the SI [Situationist International]. But I see in it historical merits. What seems easy today was, back then, extremely difficult to formulate, publish and then diffuse in the consciousness of the era (including the old themes and knowledge that we, more than all the others, contributed to bringing back...) All this cannot happen without errors and there have been many. Even what is done for the best, or the least bad, contains an unfortunate counterpart (the "glory" of the SI in a certain milieu is currently the most dangerous consequence, but not the only one). One cannot hope that future enterprises will be able to avoid all stammering and bad reading! The central problem is how an era, that is to say, its practice, finds its own ideas (the theoretical ideas that haven't only come from the era but through very complicated and perilous mediations). A large part of these ideas will be badly stated; but no matter if they are very well or very badly stated and written, they will often be poorly heard or poorly comprehended by many people. These risks should not discourage us from acting in history... Sometimes a measure that was really well-suited to our goals shows itself, in a subsequent stage, to have also been the source of errors on another front; as I said the last time I saw you, the good reason (not only that: the good intention) for the adoption in 1957 of the nearly anonymous collective creation of the journal -- to combat the tendency of the public to create stars – today doesn't facilitate reading of it, and has helped make the SI itself a collective star. Thus, cretins have often simultaneously presented the SI as a monolithic bloc and as my personal work; from whence comes the noise about my dictatorship... Nevertheless, an attentive reading is always possible... Those who want to dream religiously for or against the SI as an inaccessible or lost paradise cannot comprehend any of these realities, because they do not want to...
The response of Schu appears very honest to me and certainly constitutes the basis for a discussion between us. But I find that he too much idealizes "the revolutionary": or that one applies this title to someone according to excellent intentions that exclude all faults... or that one denies him this title – and then does one dare to say that he is a traitor or a bourgeois? I believe that one gains less by employing this label concerning the total existence of an individual, and more by applying it to the ideas and actions that have been concretely produced. One can call "revolutionary" any individual who realizes something objectively revolutionary and who furthermore refuses to do anything that must be understood as clearly counter-revolutionary – or has no desire to do so. I am not sure I am "a revolutionary"... I find worrisome this phenomenon of the cart of an ontological revolutionary totality that arrives before the horses of praxis. We wait for the horses and we will qualify the meaning of the furrow. If my sagacity on this point can appear extremely earthbound, it is because the illusionism that we now leave behind – intimately connected to the fact that, today, there are tens of thousands of revolutionary intentions that know themselves and accomplish very little, and millions of others that do not know themselves and often accomplish something – now demands an extreme vigilance concerning those who neglect the concrete or deceive themselves concerning it.'
– Guy Debord to Juvenal Quillet, 11 November 1971
Historical Note on Dialectical Thought
As they begin to search for effective means with which to make their desires active, precise and explosive, those among dispossessed who find themselves in favour of anger and revolt are confronted with the unfortunate fact that, today, the thought of all their predecessors is everywhere in a state of utter putrefaction. This is an inevitable result of the total destruction suffered by the classical working-class movement during the twentieth century as well as 'the law of the dwindling force of cognition in bourgeois society' briefly mentioned above. This 'law' simply states what everyone unfettered by material or intellectual ties to the slave-masters can easily point out themselves through countless observations in their own everyday life: in the world of modern slavery, ignorance is power. Furthermore, the established order not only profits from the dominance of passive ignorance, censorship and secrecy, but actively rules through downright lies, mystification, propaganda and disinformation. Unsurprisingly, once revolution became the official ideology of a significant portion of the established order – as well as all those aspiring slave-masters who constituted the official and ever loyal (false-) opposition – the methods through which it initially found its most effective expression were not merely hidden under a conspiracy of silence but actively perverted. This global, more or less officially-organised effort has proven almost universally successful, and it necessarily continues today, with ever more sophisticated means at its disposal.
A receding wave drops the heaviest stones first, the pebbles next, and carries the sand a little farther. To deserters from revolutionary praxis, the heaviest stone is the heart of the activity itself—its method, the dialectic. That is what they abandon first. The list is long of tired revolutionists, who, for one and a half centuries, have renounced the accursed dialectic while they still continued to recognize the necessity for "the emancipation of the proletariat to be accomplished by proletarians themselves", for the organisation of "workers' self-management", the "historic necessity" of socialism, the need to "smash the state" and proclaim "all power to the soviets", to "liberate the passions" and "transform everyday life".
In an opposite rush of the current, the same phenomenon is observable. The incoming tide washes the sand along before budging the stones. A person who comes to revolutionary praxis — especially if he has passed his intellectual youth — grasps successively the different isolated and abstract aspects of it before he penetrates to its method in its entirety—not rarely stopping short of this. Even among those who go 'all the way' at a given moment, there is a tendency towards self-satisfaction as if dialectics were a certification of religious consecration that once gained may be complacently fondled at leisure rather than a tool to be consistently and coherently applied moment to moment. The vast majority quickly tire of the necessity for constantly putting their hard-won abilities to use and – dialectical thought being one of those skills practiced on a use it or lose it basis – rapidly forget how to penetrate anything at all.
Revolutionary theory is thus subjected to incessant attempts at dismemberment by revolutionists themselves. The dialectic is the point of concentration of the resistance at which incoherent (and therefore impotent) thought opposes the rigorous pursuit of practical truth.
In its early development, the revolutionary worker's movement appropriated the dialectical method as the most advanced theoretical tool that the classical (both in the sense of 'representing an exemplary standard' and 'representing class-based society') philosophy of its time and place had produced. In the ancient world, formally dialectical thought was developed by the Indo-European tradition through Heraclitus, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. In terms of the physical world, at the cosmological level, the dialectic is a sexual process denoting the general force that compels existing relations towards generative intercourse, from which new quality and new relations emerge – 'the force that through the green fuse drives the flower'. The dialectic method was in fact called the 'genetic method' in a page of Das Kapital for this reason. Just as universal history involves the movement of new quality as it emerges at the level of social existence, so dialectics involves the movement of dynamic relations as they interact and change at the level of both social and physical existence. The modern era, which saw the rise of the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, itself appropriated this method and, in the person of Hegel, perfected it as a purely philosophical tool. Influenced by the intense class-struggle of its time, first between the ascendant capitalist and feudal order and, second between the oppressed and the capitalists, (the successful revolt of the black slaves in Haiti had a major impact on The Phenomenology of Spirit, which Hegel was writing at the time – as it did on the entire course of world-history in that epoch – hence this book – which elaborates the 'dialectic of Master and Slave' that was to preoccupy the generation of black revolutionaries such as Malcolm X, CLR James, Aime Cesaire, Steve Biko and Frantz Fanon a century and a half later, and posits the possibility for emancipation to arise not as a gift from the master or charitable abolitionists but as a form of self-assertion from the slave – can be considered one of the first theoretical products of the black-consciousness movement, which in its turn became a major factor in the precipitation of the contemporary female liberation movement, as testified by early participants Shulamaith Firestone, Carol Hanisch, and Selma James), the Hegelian dialectic was formed during the struggle of the revolutionary bourgeoisie, at a period when it enlisted the most advanced thought of its era, the entire inheritance of its society's intellectual traditions, as part of its assault on the feudal order. Crucially, these intellectual resources were used not only in the conduct of ideological battle, but equipped the bourgeois forces materially in the form of the best military strategy of the era. Clausewitz, an officer in the Prussian army who fought against Napoleon, was (like Hegel) actually opposed to the liberal bourgeoisie. As Hegel was a product of the bourgeois Enlightenment, so Clausewitz was a product of the bourgeois revolutionary wars. He pioneered a philosophy not of war in the abstract, but of revolutionary war, of war in his own time, a time of revolution, even as he placed himself firmly in the counter-revolutionary camp. This series of contradictions would continue as the focus of struggle shifted to the war between capital and the working class: The proletariat, who were mobilised in the battle of the bourgeoisie against the ancien regime, appropriated the bourgeois methods in its turn, modified them to suit its purposes, and directed them against both the nobility, the clergy and the capitalists. This was a process that occurred throughout all strata of the classical working-class movement. Beginning with the brilliant critique of Hegel's philosophical idealism initiated by Ludwig Feuerbach – which itself took up the battle of ideas represented by the widespread anti-clerical sentiments of the popular classes, and the everyday materialism practiced by ordinary people despite their religious ideals, firmly on the side of sensuous, entirely embodied human subjectivity as opposed to what Engels called 'misanthropic, fleshless spiritualism' which fancied the world of the flesh as a realm of superficial appearances that conceals a deeper reality composed of eternal essences* – the revolutionists of the classic working-class movement set Hegel, whose perspective grasped reality with unprecedented accuracy but then went on to represent it, as it were, upside down – on his feet, and so grounded the dialectic in the fertile soil of actual experience, of real people as they actually engage in the 'sensuous, practical activity' of the physical world. As opposed to the militant atheism of Feuerbach, the Christian philosopher August Cieszkowski made his own influential contribution towards overcoming the real historical alienation expressed by the false imaginary separation between nature and spirit, following the tradition of popular early socialists like Winstanley, Mutzer, Lamennais, Weitling, and Moses Hess. While Feuerbach emphasised the subjective, sensuous aspect of the new revolutionary method as a means to overcome 'fleshless spiritualism', Cieszkowski put particular focus on the power of practical activity. Finally, both strands would be brilliantly synthesised in the justly famous theses elaborated by the young Marx and Engels. While these two may be the most famous, they were not the only revolutionaries to appropriate dialectical thought for their own purposes. Every tendency of the classic working-class movement, as represented by anarchists like Stirner, Bakunin and Proudhon, as well as by independent revolutionists like Hess, Herzen and Dietzgen, did likewise – all to wildly different degrees of success. Regardless of what these early revolutionists were able to achieve when they tried to make use of dialectics, in the hands of their followers it has become completely debased. Touched by the partisans of revolutionary ideology – which elevates fragments of historical truth into systems with competing pretences to completeness, sets of celebrities, subcultures, unquestionable dogmas justified by authorised texts, a narrow handful of approved activities and a mindless tendency to propagate itself for its own sake – the gold of revolutionary theory turns into lead.
The important thing to note is that consciousness directed toward towards society in its totality (one which does not accept as natural the superficial divisions between individual categories or aspects of this whole abstracted from their context – one that recognises the practical truth of each in its concrete, dynamic, many-sided connections to a dynamic, many-sided whole) is always, necessarily, a dialectical consciousness. Quite clearly proletarian revolution, a practice involving the liquidation and reconstruction of society in its totality, is impossible without such a consciousness, and all attempts to separate the two are destined to breed monsters. The horrendous history of all previous revolutionary movements provides an abundance of evidence for this.
* Not surprisingly, result of this dogma always seems to justify real oppression: human nature is essentially evil, therefore enlightened dictators must protect the masses from themselves; the working-class is essentially counter-revolutionary, therefore proletarians must be guided into utopia by revolutionary commissars; compared to the rich, the poor are essentially unfit (or 'disadvantaged' as is now the correct term in polite society) in the battle for survival, which human existence essentially is, therefore everyone essentially deserves just what they get; all's essentially for the best in the best of all possible worlds, although there are a few inevitable 'market failures', therefore social opposition must be limited to contestation over this or that fragment – focusing on the details of alleviation rather than prevention: treatment is symptomatic, as the drug companies advise – and cannot practically throw into question anything essential to the basis of this sick society as a whole.
(1) In a comment on the 1991 'Kurdish Uprising' text quoted below, one of the authors wrote about the enthusiastic support currently given by anarchists around the world to the Turkish PKK (a Stalinist organisation with a long history of repression of dissent and sexual abuse that, despite a recent 'anti-authoritarian turn' imposed by the authority of the leader Abdullah Ocalan, has not reformed its cult of personality, nor its nationalist – should we call it national-anarchist? – ideology, nor openly criticised all the vile aspects of its recent past) and its Syrian front-groups in the name of a supposedly revolutionary anti-fascist front (i.e. anti-ISIS) despite the bitter experience of the Spanish Civil War where the social revolution was strangled precisely because those who wanted to wage it supported the political aims and methods of anti-fascism: 'the whole sense of having lost their way – of anarchists repeating, and on an even worse terrain, mistakes they should have learnt from over 75 years ago, is so depressing, that I feel moved to write something about it if I have time and energy... I think their attitude comes from repressing anger towards the system as a whole, a resignation that doesn't want to admit it's resignation (or, insofar as it does, it considers this resignation "realistic"), diverting their emotional fury and disgust for capital's mass murder into a fury and disgust against the horrendous beheaders. As if emotions can't be manipulated, as if emotions should be separated from reason. Somehow they've convinced themselves that it's realistic to fight for "the better of two evils." But there is no better of 2 evils; "evil" is "evil is "evil", and they all turn out the same in the end (just the fact that Saudi Arabia beheads people for things such as "sorcery" is enough to show this...'
(2) 'The Telephonique up to then had been under the control of the CNT [anarcho-syndicalist] UGT [stalino-socialist] unions jointly, with the CNT predominating. This building had been taken over by the workers in July and was of enormous importance both literally and figuratively. Literally it meant that the workers organizations controlled all telephone calls in the city of Barcelona and could set up an inspection over the government while at the same time workers' organizations could have all the calls they needed to coordinate their forces in time of struggle.
(3) But more than the literal significance was the symbolic significance of the occupation and control by the workers of the Telephonique. It not only signified workers control -- that was also signified in other parts of the city in other industries which had been controlled by private capitalists -- but the Telephonique was preeminently a public utility, like the tramways, the railroads and such industries. Thus the taking over of the Telephone works was a direct threat against the idea of nationalization and State capitalism, so dear to the hearts of Socialists and Stalinists.' (Albert Weisbord, Analysis of the Days of May)
(4) Nelson Mandela: The Crossing
Edgar Snow's classic 1936 'autobiography' of Chairman Mao set the bar of intellectual falsification high from the start. Almost everything about the mythical Mao portrayed in these pages are horrendously false, as Jung Chang & Jon Halliday's Mao, The Unknown Story or anything by Simon Leys reveals. Who better to fabricate credible newspeak than a journalist?
(5) More details on this manuscript and the face-lift it received at the hands of Stengel can be found in Rian Malan's article 'What a lost prison manuscript reveals about the real Nelson Mandela' in The Spectator Magazine, available online free.
(6) In an interview Neville Alexander, a fellow prisoner, recalled of the real attitude of the leaders of armed struggle: 'And when Mandela said to us, [was] that they [ANC] don't believe ... that we can overthrow the apartheid state. They believe that we've got to compel the apartheid ideologues and strategists to come to the negotiation table ... He recalled the fact that [Ben Bella], the Algerian leader at the time, had told him when he had been in Algeria, that they should not try to overthrow the apartheid state, because they would not be able to do so. That it would be strategically wasteful of lives, time, energy, etc.' What is not strategically wasteful of lives is a bloody struggle on behalf of blacks in order to negotiate the terms of their continued enslavement with their masters: rather a useful struggle for their official representatives who were able to wrangle money and power out of it.
(7) Details of these repercussions on the theoretical plane are presented in Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, by Susan Buck-Morss. On the historical plane, the review of Daniel Rasmussen's American Uprising: The Untold Story of America's Largest Slave Revolt in issue 2 of the journal Modern Slavery.
'When I tell any Truth it is not for the sake of Convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those who do.' (William Blake, Public Address)
(8) Moments when masses of individuals abandon the hopelessness with which their masters (and the lackeys who are paid for their realistic doses of calculated protest) support the dominant balance of forces: 'In his essay Hope in Common David Graeber describes the system of social control under capitalism as a "a vast bureaucratic apparatus for the creation and maintenance of hopelessness, a kind of giant machine that is designed, first and foremost, to destroy any sense of possible alternative futures." In their quest the machine's operators are aided by the hopeless themselves, for one simple reason. Being proven wrong is irritating in general, but in the question of hope it would be utterly devastating. What if hope turns out to exist after all, after one had given up on it forever? How miserable would you feel if after abandoning your most cherished dream, you discovered years later it had been within your grasp all along, if you had only had the courage to reach for it? Desperate to avoid such a fate, legions of amateur doom sayers labor tirelessly to convince the rest of us that all revolution is bound to fail and we might as well give up now. Their patron saint is Henry David Thoreau, who in his celebrated work On Civil Disobedience made a cogent and brilliantly composed argument for the abolition of government — only to dismiss the idea with a breezy "But that's never gonna happen, so let's just do random minor things the government doesn't like and hope they don't shoot us." Thoreau's intellectual descendants continue his quest today.'
(9) Even so, their perspective ultimately failed to produce the needed practical results. It is more important to learn from their failures than to extol their intentions. Examining their actual practice, rather than the statements they or their spokesmen made is essential in order to clarify what happened and why. This history and its remembrance is quite a complicated affair, precisely because it has so much to do with how we continue to live and struggle today. Besides what is in the present text, further considerations on this important subject form the basis of This Day in Pre-history.
(10) According to the article Dumbfound by Encyclopedie des Nuisances, information is itself the alienated form taken by communication in the present epoch.
(11) All information on the East London Mercedes Benz plant comes from the excellent documentary Red by Simon Gush (free online here https://vimeo.com/90423854), which demonstrates how social peace was engineered in this factory through the manufacture of a luxury car for Nelson Mandela – one of the most dramatic examples of the stupefying powers of 'Madiba magic' you will ever encounter
(12) Belinda Bozzoli's detailed case study of the 1986 Alexandra rebellion, Theatres of Struggle (2004), provides the most insightful account I've come across of the mindset, organisation, intentions, and sociological background of the young comrades. It also includes one of the best reports, both subjectively and objectively, of a township revolt during these times, and is an good compliment to Rantete's classic. The comparison with the Cultural Revolution comes from here.
(13) That which deceives or leads into error in any way is deceptive: that which is done in order to deceive, abuse, lead into error by plan intended to deceive with artifice and misleading confidence most calculated to abuse, is fallacious.
(14) 'Moralistic counsels against rebelliousness and anger are essentially recommendations of the ironic mood: to regard provocations as trivialities and be superior to them. But to the person who has been subjected to violent interference the attitude of superiority means death, for his desire is to be left alone in living privacy; the only decent recommendations would be to urge him to have the courage to be unhappy. And to the person whose anger has been tempted the attitude of superiority also means death, for his desire is to communicate with people in living associations worthy of intellectual respect. It is extraordinary how much suicide has been recommended to us in graceful moralistic guise. Let us, by all means, kill ourselves if we grow tired of ourselves; but not because others have grown tired of us – certainly not if it is our anger that wearies them. Our anger is a measure of our hardiness, and their capacity to endure it is a measure of theirs. When people nervously shrink from it in others, it is perhaps a sign that they are tired of themselves. The discussion of anger may, in fact, properly include the recommendation of suicide – but not to the angry.' (Laura Riding, In Defence of Anger)
(15) For a concrete example of this, see the 'Aufhebengate' scandal as documented in the texts The strange case of dr. johnny and mr. drury; Cop-out – the significance of Aufhebengate; & Aufhebengate again: a response to responses; all on the dialectical-delinquents.com
(17) The suppressed proletarian content of this revolution, which began to move towards the development of forms appropriate to itself with the creation of the short-lived shoras (worker's councils) and had a significant impact at the time on those the adoption by those who had been classified as 'Coloured' and 'Cape Malay' of a combative attitude towards the apartheid regime. Before the revolution it was common in my family, and the larger community as well it would seem, to adopt nicknames by which they would be colloquially known, mostly it seems as an expression of familiarity and affection. My grandmother Amina, for example, had the nickname Minnie. This practise changed during the 1970s and 80s, just as during the same period those in the townships, influenced by Black Consciousness, repudiated their 'christian' or western name which parents gave to their children for the convenience of white bosses and state officials who could not be bothered to learn how to pronounce traditional african names. It is not insignificant that at this time the 'coloureds' of my mother's generation were also beginning to repudiate this classification which divided them from other 'non-whites' in favour of the black identity of their own creation, which united them theoretically as well as practically with those classified as 'bantu' and 'indian'. My aunt reckons that the Iranian Revolution was a big influence on the changed attitude towards the transformation of their self-image among muslims in Cape Town.