Chapter 3: Climaxes
"As soon as the relations of exploitation and the violence that underlies them are no longer concealed by the mystical veil, there is a breakthrough, a moment of clarity, the struggle against alienation is suddenly revealed as a ruthless hand-to-hand fight against naked power, power exposed in its brute force and its weakness, a vulnerable giant...sublime moment when the complexity of the world becomes tangible, transparent, within everyones grasp."
Raoul Vaneigem, Basic Banalities (SI Anthology, p. 93)
COUNTERPOINT: Unless, of course, the powers that be decide to kill all the dissidents. But we've already discussed that, haven't we?
Causes of social breakthroughs
Its hard to generalize about the immediate causes of radical breakthroughs.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken! Ken! He's our man! If he can't do it, no one can!
POINT: There have always been plenty of good reasons to revolt, and sooner or later instabilities will arise where something has to give. But why at one moment and not another? Revolts have often occurred during periods of social improvement, while worse conditions have been endured with resignation. If some have been provoked by sheer desperation, others have been touched off by relatively trivial incidents. Grievances that have been patiently accepted as long as they seemed inevitable may suddenly seem intolerable once it appears possible to remove them. The meanness of some repressive measure or the asininity of some bureaucratic blunder may bring home the absurdity of the system more clearly than a steady accumulation of oppressions.
COUNTERPOINT: Yup, that's usually why people reject communism, Ken. Get a clue.
POINT: The systems power is based on peoples belief in their powerlessness to oppose it.
Normally this belief is well founded (transgress the rules and you are punished). But when for one reason or another enough people begin to ignore the rules that they can do so with impunity, the whole illusion collapses. What was thought to be natural and inevitable is seen to be arbitrary and absurd. "When no one obeys, no one commands."
COUNTERPOINT: Which is fine. Unless, of course, they decide to kill all the dissidents.
POINT: The problem is how to reach this point. If only a few disobey, they can easily be isolated and repressed. People often fantasize about wonderful things that might be achieved "if only everyone would agree to do such and such all at once."
COUNTERPOINT: Ken would know, it's the story of his life.
POINT: Unfortunately, social movements dont usually work that way. One person with a six-gun can hold off a hundred unarmed people because each one knows that the first six to attack will be killed.
Of course some people may be so infuriated that they attack regardless of risk; and their apparent determination may even save them by convincing those in power that its wiser to give in peacefully than to be overwhelmed after arousing even more hatred against themselves. But it is obviously preferable not to depend on acts of desperation, but to seek forms of struggle that minimize risk until a movement has spread so far that repression is no longer feasible.
COUNTERPOINT: Repression is always feasible, Ken. Especially with guns.
POINT: People living under particularly repressive regimes naturally begin by taking advantage of whatever rallying points already exist. In 1978 the Iranian mosques were the only place people could get away with criticizing the Shahs regime. Then the huge demonstrations called by Khomeini at 40-day intervals began providing the safety of numbers. Khomeini thus became recognized as a general symbol of opposition, even by those who were not his followers. But tolerating any leader, even as a mere figurehead, is at best a temporary measure that should be abandoned as soon as more independent action becomes possible as did those Iranian oil workers who by fall 1978 felt they had enough leverage to strike on days different from those called for by Khomeini.
COUNTERPOINT: Note that Ken thinks striking on different days than a leader suggests is a tremendous act of defiance. You tell 'em, Ken!
POINT: The Catholic Church in Stalinist Poland played a similarly ambiguous role: the state used the Church to help control the people, but the people also used the Church to help them get around the state.
Fanatical orthodoxy is sometimes the first step toward more radical self-expression. Islamic fundamentalists may be extremely reactionary, but by getting used to taking events in their own hands they complicate any return to "order" and may even, if disillusioned, become genuinely radical as happened with some of the similarly fanatical Red Guards during the Chinese "Cultural Revolution," when what was originally a mere ploy by Mao to lever out some of his bureaucratic rivals eventually led to uncontrolled insurgency by millions of young people who took his antibureaucratic rhetoric seriously.(1)
COUNTERPOINT: Here Ken sings the praises of fanatical Islamist-fascism. Why am I not surprised?
If someone proclaimed: "I am the greatest, strongest, noblest, cleverest, and most peace-loving person in the world," he would be considered obnoxious, if not insane.
COUNTERPOINT: Here Ken has a brief moment of insight as to what I think of him.
POINT: But if he says precisely the same things about his country he is looked upon as an admirably patriotic citizen. Patriotism is extremely seductive because it enables even the most miserable individual to indulge in a vicarious collective narcissism. The natural nostalgic fondness for ones home and surroundings is transformed into a mindless cult of the state. Peoples fears and resentments are projected onto foreigners while their frustrated aspirations for authentic community are mystically projected onto their own nation, which is seen as somehow essentially wonderful despite all its defects. ("Yes, America has its problems; but what we are fighting for is the real America, what America really stands for.") This mystical herd-consciousness becomes almost irresistible during war, smothering virtually all radical tendencies.
COUNTERPOINT: What Ken is really describing here is Nationalism (promoting one nation above all others), as opposed to Patriotism (devotion to one's country). Note that Ken doesn't seem to know that Nationalism and Patriotism are different things. Not to worry! Having just condemned "Patriotism" in no uncertain terms, in the very next sentence Ken is about to whole-heartedly endorse "Patriotism," even though "Nationalism" is what he means.
POINT: Yet patriotism has sometimes played a role in triggering radical struggles (e.g. Hungary 1956). And even wars have sometimes led to revolts in the aftermath. Those who have borne the greatest share of the military burden, supposedly in the name of freedom and democracy, may return home to demand a fairer share for themselves. Seeing historic struggle in action and acquiring the habit of dealing with obstacles by destroying them, they may be less inclined to believe in a changeless status quo.
The dislocations and disillusionments produced by World War I led to uprisings all over Europe. If World War II did not do the same, it was because genuine radicalism had since been destroyed by Stalinism, fascism and reformism; because the victors rationales for the war, though full of lies as always, were more credible than usual (the defeated enemies were more obvious villains); and because this time the victors had taken care to work out the postwar reestablishment of order in advance (eastern Europe was handed over to Stalin in exchange for his guaranteeing the docility of the French and Italian Communist Parties and his abandonment of the insurgent Greek CP).
COUNTERPOINT: Ken has just coined a new term: "Credible Lies." Good work, Ken! Well, at least he recognizes that the defeated enemies of WW II were "more obvious villains." We should at least give Ken credit for having more insight than the average Leftist. But he fails to mention the astounding success story of America, the world's biggest and brightest CAPITALIST DEMOCRACY. If WW II failed to ignite the "disillusionments" produced by WW I, maybe it's because the West finally got the notion that FREEDOM IS WORTH FIGHTING FOR through it's thick collective noggin. Arnold Toynbee has commented extensively on this subject, but as we have seen, FREEDOM remains an elusive concept for Ken.
POINT: Nevertheless the global jolt of the war was sufficient to open the way for an autonomous Stalinist revolution in China (which Stalin had not wanted, as this threatened his exclusive domination of the "socialist camp") and to give a new impetus to the anticolonial movements (which the European colonial powers naturally did not want, though they were eventually able to retain the more profitable aspects of their domination through the sort of economic neocolonialism that the United States was already practicing).
COUNTERPOINT: I'm sure the Chinese are thanking their lucky stars to this day. Chairman Mao had a nasty habit of deliberately causing famines to keep the proles at bay. Yup, after the Stalinist revolution in China it was all fun and games. Honest.
POINT: Faced with the prospect of a postwar power vacuum, rulers often collaborate with their ostensible enemies in order to repress their own people. At the end of the Franco-German war of 1870-71 the victorious German army helped surround the Paris Commune, enabling the French rulers to crush it more easily. As Stalins army approached Warsaw in 1944 it called on the people of the city to rise against the Nazi occupiers, then waited outside the city for several days while the Nazis wiped out the thus-exposed independent elements which might later have resisted the imposition of Stalinism. We have recently seen a similar scenario in the de facto Bush-Saddam alliance in the aftermath of the Gulf war, when, after calling on the Iraqi people to rise against Saddam, the American military systematically massacred Iraqi conscripts retreating from Kuwait (who, if they had regained their country, would have been ripe for revolt) while leaving Saddams elite Republican Guards intact and free to crush the immense radical uprisings in northern and southern Iraq.(2)
COUNTERPOINT: I'm not sure where Ken got the idea that the American military ever "systematically massacred" Iraqi conscripts retreating from Kuwait. His footnote doesn't actually support that assertion. Although it is instructive to note that Ken thinks George H.W. Bush and Joseph Stalin are comparable figures. He certainly assumes that their motives were identical, which gives us keen insight in to the depth of Ken's ability to analyze events. I wonder how Ken feels about the present day "War on Terror" in Iraq. I've got twenty bucks that says Ken is dead set against it. Always having to keep "American Imperialism" in check and all...
POINT: In totalitarian societies the grievances are obvious but revolt is difficult. In "democratic" societies struggles are easier, but the goals are less clear.
COUNTERPOINT: Maybe they lack leadership, Ken.
POINT: Controlled largely by subconscious conditioning or by vast, seemingly incomprehensible forces ("the state of the economy") and offered a wide range of apparently free choices, its difficult for us to grasp our situation.
COUNTERPOINT: What's the matter, Ken? Too much freedom for you?
POINT: Like a flock of sheep, were herded in the desired direction, but allowed enough room for individual variations to enable us to preserve an illusion of independence.
COUNTERPOINT: That's right, Ken. Freedom is an illusion. But the type of "freedom" you pine for is a DE-lusion. Moron.
POINT: Impulses toward vandalism or violent confrontation can often be seen as attempts to break through this frustrating abstractness and come to grips with something concrete.
COUNTERPOINT: Yup, Ken is pro-petty crime. Good to know, Ken!
POINT: Just as the first organization of the classical proletariat was preceded, during the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth, by a period of isolated "criminal" acts aimed at destroying the machines of production that were depriving people of their jobs, we are presently witnessing the first appearance of a wave of vandalism against the machines of consumption that are just as certainly depriving us of our life. In both cases the significance obviously does not lie in the destruction itself, but in the rebelliousness which could potentially develop into a positive project going to the point of reconverting the machines in a way that increases peoples real power over their lives. (SI Anthology, p. 82 [The Bad Days Will End].)
(Note that last sentence, incidentally: To point out a symptom of social crisis, or even to defend it as an understandable reaction, does not necessary imply recommending it as a tactic.)
COUNTERPOINT: What's that, Ken? Come on, are you pro-crime, or not? Inquiring minds want to know, Ken.
POINT: Many other triggers of radical situations could be enumerated. A strike may spread (Russia 1905); popular resistance to some reactionary threat may overflow official bounds (Spain 1936); people may take advantage of token liberalization in order to push further (Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968); exemplary small group actions may catalyze a mass movement (the early civil rights sit-ins, May 1968); a particular outrage may be seen as the last straw (Watts 1965, Los Angeles 1992); the sudden collapse of a regime may leave a power vacuum (Portugal 1974); some special occasion may bring people together in such numbers that its impossible to prevent them from expressing their grievances and aspirations (Tiananmen Square 1976 and 1989); etc.
COUNTERPOINT: So, Ken HAS heard of Tiananmen Square! How odd that he doesn't remember how badly it ended. Negative points for poor memory, Ken!
POINT: But social crises involve so many imponderables that it is rarely possible to predict them, much less provoke them. In general it seems best to pursue projects we are personally most drawn to, while trying to remain aware enough to quickly recognize significant new developments (dangers, urgent tasks, favorable opportunities) that call for new tactics.
COUNTERPOINT: So Ken's advice is to...wait and see? I'll get right on that, Ken.
POINT: Meanwhile, we can move on to examine some of the crucial stages in radical situations once they do get started.
Effervescence of radical situations
A radical situation is a collective awakening. At one extreme it may involve a few dozen people in a neighborhood or workplace; at the other it shades into a full-fledged revolutionary situation involving millions of people. Its not a matter of numbers, but of open-ended public dialogue and participation.
COUNTERPOINT: Great, a committee meeting that NEVER ENDS. Viva la Revolution!
POINT: The incident at the beginning of the1964 Free Speech Movement (FSM) is a classic and particularly beautiful example. As police were about to take away an arrested civil rights activist on the university campus in Berkeley, a few students sat down in front of the police car; within a few minutes hundreds of others spontaneously followed their example, surrounding the car so it could not move. For the next 32 hours the car roof was turned into a platform for freewheeling debate. The May 1968 occupation of the Sorbonne created an even more radical situation by drawing in much of the nonstudent Parisian population; the workers occupation of factories throughout France then turned it into a revolutionary situation.
COUNTERPOINT: And the rioting! Well, Ken doesn't mention the rioting. But I'm sure he meant to.
POINT: In such situations people become much more open to new perspectives, readier to question previous assumptions, quicker to see through the usual cons.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken pinpoints the intellectual stimulus which rioting provides without actually mentioning the riots themselves. Neat.
POINT: Every day some people go through experiences that lead them to question the meaning of their lives; but during a radical situation practically everyone does so all at once. When the machine grinds to a halt, the cogs themselves begin wondering about their function.
Bosses are ridiculed. Orders are ignored. Separations are broken down. Personal problems are transformed into public issues; public issues that seemed distant and abstract become immediate practical matters. The old order is analyzed, criticized, satirized. People learn more about society in a week than in years of academic "social studies" or leftist "consciousness raising." Long repressed experiences are revived.(3) Everything seems possible and much more is possible. People can hardly believe what they used to put up with in "the old days." Even if the outcome is uncertain, the experience is often seen as worthwhile for its own sake.
COUNTERPOINT: Remember how the Sorbonne occupation ground to a halt because of all the petty infighting? I wonder how that part escaped Ken's obviously acute senses.
POINT: "If we only have enough time..." wrote one May 1968 graffitist; to which a couple others responded: "In any case, no regrets!" and "Already ten days of happiness."
COUNTERPOINT: That's right, Ken's revolution lasted all of ten days. No wonder nobody noticed (except for the French, of course).
POINT: As work comes to a halt, rat-race commuting is replaced by leisurely circulation, passive consumption by active communication. Strangers strike up lively discussions on street corners. Debates continue round the clock, new arrivals constantly replacing those who depart for other activities or to try to catch a few hours of sleep, though they are usually too excited to sleep very long. While some people succumb to demagogues, others start making their own proposals and taking their own initiatives. Bystanders get drawn into the vortex, and go through astonishingly rapid changes.
COUNTERPOINT: Pay attention now, because Ken has just given us a glimpse of what his utopia would look like: Strangers strike up lively discussions on street corners, nothing gets resolved, bystanders get drawn into the vortex. Isn't that how you'd want to spend the rest of your life? Ken does. It's the "good life" Ken wants to impose on the rest of us. Because all the other alternatives to Ken's utopia are MORE absurd. Ken said so, therefore, it must be true.
POINT: (A beautiful example from May 1968: The director of the national Odéon Theater was at first dismayed at its being taken over by the radical crowds; but after taking in the situation for a few minutes, he came forward and exclaimed: "Yes! Now that you have it, keep it, never give it up burn it rather than do that!")
COUNTERPOINT: Maybe the poor guy feared for his life and just decided to humor the mob, Ken. Did you ever think of that? I didn't think so.
POINT: Of course, not everyone is immediately won over.
COUNTERPOINT: Go figure.
POINT: Some people simply lay low, anticipating the time when the movement will subside and they can recover their possessions or their positions, and take their revenge. Others waver, torn between desire for change and fear of change. An opening of a few days may not be enough to break a lifetime of hierarchical conditioning. The disruption of habits and routines can be disorienting as well as liberating. Everything happens so fast its easy to panic.
COUNTERPOINT: That's how riots happen, Ken. Keep up the good work!
POINT: Even if you manage to keep calm, its not easy to grasp all the factors in play quickly enough to determine the best thing to do, which may appear obvious in hindsight. One of the main purposes of the present text is to point out certain typical recurring patterns so that people can be prepared to recognize and exploit such opportunities before its too late.
COUNTERPOINT: I'll let you in on a little secret, Ken. It's already too late. The CAPITALISTS already beat you to the punch. Sorry, Ken.
POINT: Radical situations are the rare moments when qualitative change really becomes possible. Far from being abnormal, they reveal how abnormally repressed we usually are; they make our "normal" life seem like sleepwalking. Yet of the vast number of books that have been written about revolutions, few have much to say about such moments. Those dealing with the most radical modern revolts are usually merely descriptive, perhaps giving a hint of what such experiences feel like but seldom providing any useful tactical insights.
COUNTERPOINT: Kind of like this essay, huh, Ken?
POINT: Studies of bourgeois and bureaucratic revolutions are generally even less relevant. In such revolutions, where the "masses" played only a temporary supporting role for one leadership or another, their behavior could to a large degree be analyzed like the motions of physical masses, in terms of the familiar metaphors of rising and ebbing tides, pendulum swings from radicality to reaction, etc. But an antihierarchical revolution requires people to cease being homogenous, manipulable masses, to get beyond the subservience and unconsciousness that make them subject to this sort of mechanistic predictability.
COUNTERPOINT: Hmmmm. Ken seems to think that "non-hierarchical" masses will behave quite differently than all those icky "hierarchical" masses. Interesting.
During the sixties it was widely felt that the best way to foster such demassification was to form "affinity groups": small associations of close friends with compatible lifestyles and perspectives.
COUNTERPOINT: You mean like terrorist cells, Ken? You may be on to something there...
POINT: Such groups do have many obvious advantages. They can decide on a project and immediately carry it out; they are difficult to infiltrate; and when necessary they can link up with others.
COUNTERPOINT: Do you think the 9-11 hijackers were familiar with Ken's work? Probably not.
POINT: But even leaving aside the various pitfalls to which most of the sixties affinity groups soon succumbed, theres no getting around the fact that some matters require large-scale organization. And large groups will soon revert to accepting some sort of hierarchy unless they manage to organize themselves in a manner that renders leaders unnecessary.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken wants to create massive groups without having to lead them in order to do so. Ken dreams the impossible dream. That's why we love him so.
POINT: One of the simplest ways for a large gathering to begin organizing itself is for those who have something to say to line up or sign up, with each person allowed a certain time within which they can talk about anything they want. (The Sorbonne assembly and the FSM gathering around the police car each established a three-minute limit, occasionally extended by popular acclaim.) Some of the speakers will propose specific projects that will precipitate smaller, more workable groups. ("I and some others intend to do such and such; anyone who wants to take part can join us at such and such time and place.") Others will raise issues involving the general aims or ongoing functioning of the assembly itself. (Whom does it include? When will it meet again? How will urgent new developments be dealt with in the interim? Who will be delegated to deal with specific tasks? With what degree of accountability?) In this process the participants will soon see what works and what doesnt how strictly delegates need to be mandated, whether a chairperson is needed to facilitate discussion so that everyone isnt talking at once, etc.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken wants to eliminate the leadership positions required to manage large groups, but he's already admitted to the bureaucratic necessity of appointing chairpersons. I told you Ken was a moron. Ken is even kind enough to make my case for me. You rule, Ken! (But not in a hierarchical way, obviously.)
POINT: Many modes of organization are possible; what is essential is that things remain open, democratic and participatory, that any tendency toward hierarchy or manipulation is immediately exposed and rejected.
COUNTERPOINT: Whom does it include? When will it meet again? How will urgent new developments be dealt with in the interim? Who will be delegated to deal with specific tasks? With what degree of accountability?...Man, we sure could use some LEADERSHIP skills right about now...
KEN: Who said that! No leaders allowed!
ME: Says who?
KEN: I do!
ME: Are you our new leader?
KEN: No leaders allowed!
ME: You're not the boss of me!
KEN: That's right! Everyone is their own boss from now on!
ME: This is boring. I'm going to go home and bake a cake.
KEN: Wait! We were just getting started here, don't you want to participate in the glorious Revolution?
ME: If I wanted to sit in committee meetings all day, I could always get a real job and sit in committee meetings. At least then I'd be getting paid for my trouble.
KEN: But don't you see that we have to abolish money?
ME: And who's going to abolish it? You? You're not the boss of me!
KEN: That right! No leaders allowed!
ME: Fine then. I'm going home to bake a cake. Then I'm going to go look for a job. Capitalism sounds like fun. I might give it a try.
KEN: What? You're going to submit your life to the whims of some Capitalist slave driver?
ME: I need to earn some more money. I'll be all out of cake by then.
KEN: But don't you understand that Capitalism needs to be abolished?
ME: You're not the boss of me!
KEN: That's right! Everyone is their own boss from now on!
ME: Mmmm. I like cake.
POINT: Despite its naïveté and confusions and lack of rigorous delegate accountability, the FSM is a good example of the spontaneous tendencies toward practical self-organization that arise in a radical situation.
COUNTERPOINT: So. Despite the fact that the FSM was a complete and utter waste of time, we should still uphold it as a fine example of how the Revolution will ultimately prevail. Right, Ken?
POINT: Some two dozen "centrals" were formed to coordinate printing, press releases, legal assistance, to rustle up food, speaker systems and other necessary supplies, or to locate volunteers who had indicated their skills and availability for different tasks. Phone trees made it possible to contact over twenty thousand students on short notice.
COUNTERPOINT: Committees rule! (But they don't actually lead!) Oh, and I like how the "centrals" managed to "rustle up food." They didn't actually start a farming community on the campus of Berkley or anything. I've often wondered if "rustling up food" is really any different than "vandalizing" all the vending machines on campus. Don't you?
POINT: But beyond mere questions of practical efficiency, and even beyond the ostensible political issues, the insurgents were breaking through the whole spectacular façade and getting a taste of real life, real community. One participant estimated that within a few months he had come to know, at least as a nodding acquaintance, two or three thousand people this at a university that was notorious for "turning people into numbers." Another movingly wrote: "Confronting an institution apparently and frustratingly designed to depersonalize and block communication, neither humane nor graceful nor responsive, we found flowering in ourselves the presence whose absence we were at heart protesting."(4)
A radical situation must spread or fail.
COUNTERPOINT: So even by Ken's own standards, the Sorbonne occupation was a complete failure. Nice.
POINT: In exceptional cases a particular location may serve as a more or less permanent base, a focus for coordination and a refuge from outside repression. (Sanrizuka, a rural region near Tokyo that was occupied by local farmers during the 1970s in an effort to block the construction of a new airport, was so stubbornly and successfully defended for so many years that it came to be used as a headquarters for diverse struggles all over Japan.) But a fixed location facilitates manipulation, surveillance and repression, and being stuck with defending it inhibits peoples freedom to move around. Radical situations are always characterized by a lot of circulation: while some people converge to key locations to see whats happening, others fan out to spread the contestation to other areas.
COUNTERPOINT: Are you beginning to notice a pattern here? First Ken argues in favor of fixed locations as sanctuaries and even provides an example. Then he turns around and argues against painting yourself into a corner by holing up in fixed locations. Ken possesses a truly dizzying intellect.
POINT: A simple but essential step in any radical action is for people to communicate what they are actually doing and why. Even if what they have done is very limited, such communication is in itself exemplary: besides spreading the game to a wider field and inciting others to join in, it cuts through the usual reliance on rumors, news media and self-appointed spokespeople.
COUNTERPOINT: I think Ken is trying to advocate "word of mouth" communication here. How this is different from spreading rumors, I honestly don't know.
POINT: Its also a crucial step in self-clarification. A proposal to issue a collective communiqué presents concrete alternatives: Who do we want to communicate with? For what purpose? Who is interested in this project? Who agrees with this statement? Who disagrees? With which points? This may lead to a polarization as people see the different possibilities of the situation, sort out their own views, and regroup with like-minded persons to pursue diverse projects.
COUNTERPOINT: Who do we want to communicate with? For what purpose? Who is interested in this project? WHO WILL LEAD US!?!?!...I don't know. Just don't ask Ken. He flies off the handle if you even mention the word "leadership." Go ahead. Try it. You see what you get.
POINT: Such polarization clarifies matters for everyone.
COUNTERPOINT: Or causes the group to disband. Whichever.
POINT: Each tendency remains free to express itself and to test its ideas in practice, and the results can be discerned more clearly than if contradictory strategies were mixed together in some lowest-common-denominator compromise. When people see a practical need for coordination, they will coordinate; in the mean time, the proliferation of autonomous individuals is far more fruitful than the superficial, top-down "unity" for which bureaucrats are always appealing.
COUNTERPOINT: What did bureaucrats ever do to Ken, that they would inspire such everlasting hatred in his petty little heart? Do you think Ken was dropped on his head as a child? Form a committee and discuss amongst yourselves...
POINT: Large crowds sometimes enable people to do things that would be imprudent if undertaken by isolated individuals; and certain collective actions, such as strikes or boycotts, require people to act in concert, or at least not to go against a majority decision.
COUNTERPOINT: Whatever you do, for the love of all that is good on this green earth, don't try to LEAD the crowds to do anything! That would be BAD. Ken says so.
POINT: But many other matters can be dealt with directly by individuals or small groups. Better to strike while the iron is hot than to waste time trying to argue away the objections of masses of spectators who are still under the sway of manipulators.
COUNTERPOINT: So is Ken advocating group action or individual intervention? Can anybody tell? Anybody? Go ahead. I dare you. Ken won't mind. He's his own boss.
The situationists in May 1968
Small groups have every right to choose their own collaborators:
COUNTERPOINT: Just not their own LEADERS! Got it?
POINT: specific projects may require specific abilities or close accord among the participants.
COUNTERPOINT: But NO SPECIALISTS!
POINT: A radical situation opens up broader possibilities among a broader range of people.
COUNTERPOINT: I guess Ken would know.
POINT: By simplifying basic issues and cutting through habitual separations, it renders masses of ordinary people capable of carrying out tasks they could not even have imagined the week before. In any case, the self-organized masses are the only ones who can carry out those tasks no one else can do it on their behalf.
COUNTERPOINT: You hear that? They're SELF-ORGANIZED! NO LEADERS! Are you following any of this?
POINT: What is the role of individual radicals in such a situation?
COUNTERPOINT: NOT TO LEAD! Obviously.
POINT: It is clear that they must not claim to represent or lead the people.
POINT: On the other hand, it is absurd to declare, in the name of avoiding hierarchy, that they should immediately "dissolve into the masses" and cease putting forward their own views or initiating their own projects.
COUNTERPOINT: To lead, or not to lead, that is the question. Well, Ken's question anyway. It consumes him. I can tell.
POINT: They should hardly do less than the ordinary "mass" individuals, who have to express their views and initiate their projects or nothing at all would happen.
COUNTERPOINT: What's that, Ken? If no one leads, nothing would happen? That would be just awful!
POINT: In practice those radicals who claim to be afraid of "telling people what to do" or of "acting in place of the workers" generally end up either doing nothing or disguising their endless reiterations of their ideology as "reports of discussions among some workers."
COUNTERPOINT: That's what happens when you abolish the idea of leadership, Ken. I thought you knew that. Sheesh.
POINT: The situationists and Enragés had a considerably more lucid and forthright practice during May 1968.
COUNTERPOINT: I'm sure they did, Ken. But let's not pretend that they were actually LEADING anything. That would be absurd.
POINT: During the first three or four days of the Sorbonne occupation (14-17 May) they openly expressed their views on the tasks of the assembly and of the general movement. On the basis of those views one of the Enragés, René Riesel, was elected to the first Sorbonne Occupation Committee, and he and his fellow delegates were reelected the following day.
COUNTERPOINT: See, in Ken's world, committees have the authority to rule, but they don't actually LEAD. Not even a little bit. Got it?
POINT: Riesel and one other delegate (the rest apparently slipped away without fulfilling any of their responsibilities)
COUNTERPOINT: That's what happens when there's no leadership, Ken. Are you beginning to see a pattern here? I didn't think so.
POINT: endeavored to carry out the two policies he had advocated: maintaining total democracy in the Sorbonne and disseminating the most widespread appeals for occupying the factories and forming workers councils. But when the assembly repeatedly allowed its Occupation Committee to be overridden by various unelected leftist bureaucracies and failed to affirm the call for workers councils (thereby denying the workers the encouragement to do what the assembly itself was doing in the Sorbonne), the Enragés and situationists left the assembly and continued their agitation independently.
COUNTERPOINT: Good for them, Ken. Way to lead!...er, I mean delegate...yeah, that's what I meant. Moron.
POINT: There was nothing undemocratic about this departure: the Sorbonne assembly remained free to do whatever it wanted. But when it failed to respond to the urgent tasks of the situation and even contradicted its own pretensions of democracy, the situationists felt that it had no further claim to be considered a focal point of the most radical possibilities of the movement. Their diagnosis was confirmed by the subsequent collapse of any pretense of participatory democracy at the Sorbonne: after their departure the assembly had no more elections and reverted to the typical leftist form of self-appointed bureaucrats running things over the heads of passive masses.
COUNTERPOINT: Remember when I said that small groups which lack hierarchy are forced to invent it? I wasn't kidding, Ken. Honest.
POINT: While this was going on among a few thousand people in the Sorbonne, millions of workers were occupying their factories throughout the country. (Hence the absurdity of characterizing May 1968 as a "student movement.") The situationists, the Enragés and a few dozen other councilist revolutionaries formed the Council for Maintaining the Occupations (CMDO) with the aim of encouraging those workers to bypass the union bureaucrats and directly link up with each other in order to realize the radical possibilities their action had already opened up.(5)
COUNTERPOINT: Long story short: The workers' union cut a deal with the French government for higher wages and more benefits. And then everybody went home. This is why France has such draconian socialist policies integrated into its workers' comp legislation. As a side note: Ken's little "Revolution" came to an abrupt halt just 10 days after it began. Feel Ken's pain. Go ahead. I dare you.
Workerism is obsolete, but workers position remains pivotal
"Virtuous indignation is a powerful stimulant, but a dangerous diet. Keep in mind the old proverb: anger is a bad counsellor...Whenever your sympathies are strongly stirred on behalf of some cruelly ill used person or persons of whom you know nothing except that they are ill used, your generous indignation attributes all sorts of virtues to them, and all sorts of vices to those who oppress them. But the blunt truth is that ill used people are worse than well used people."
George Bernard Shaw, The Intelligent
Womans Guide to Socialism and Capitalism
COUNTERPOINT: If only the John Kerry campaign had read this. Think of how much money they could have saved!
"We shall abolish slaves because we cant stand the sight of them."
COUNTERPOINT: You're right, killing them is much easier, and more satisfying. Just ask Stalin.
POINT: Fighting for liberation does not imply applauding the traits of the oppressed. The ultimate injustice of social oppression is that it is more likely to debase the victims than to ennoble them.
A lot of traditional leftist rhetoric stemmed from obsolete work-ethic notions: the bourgeois were bad because they didnt do productive work, whereas the worthy proletarians deserved the fruits of their labor, etc. As labor has become increasingly unnecessary and directed to increasingly absurd ends, this perspective has lost whatever sense it may once have had. The point is not to praise the proletariat, but to abolish it.
COUNTERPOINT: Translation: Work is for suckers!
POINT: Class domination hasnt gone away just because a century of leftist demagogy has made some of the old radical terminology sound pretty corny. While phasing out certain kinds of traditional blue-collar labor and throwing whole sectors of the population into permanent unemployment, modern capitalism has proletarianized almost everyone else.
COUNTERPOINT: I'm intrigued by the concept of "permanent unemployment," Ken. Could you elaborate on that idea? No? Oh well.
POINT: White-collar workers, technicians, and even middle-class professionals who formerly prided themselves on their independence (doctors, scientists, scholars) are increasingly subject to the crassest commercialization and even to virtually assembly-line style regimentation.
COUNTERPOINT: I guess Ken would know.
POINT: Less than 1% of the global population owns 80% of the worlds land. Even in the supposedly more egalitarian United States, economic disparity is extreme and constantly growing more extreme. Twenty years ago the average CEO salary was 35 times that of the average production worker; today its 120 times as much. Twenty years ago the richest half-percent of the American population owned 14% of the total private wealth; they now own 30% of it. But such figures do not convey the full extent of this elites power. The "wealth" of the lower and middle classes is almost entirely devoted to covering their day-to-day expenses, leaving little or nothing for investment at any significant, socially empowering level.
COUNTERPOINT: Actually, somewhere between forty and fifty percent of all American households invest in stocks and bonds, Ken. Did you know that?
POINT: A magnate who owns as little as five or ten percent of a corporation will usually be able to control it (due to the apathy of the unorganized mass of small stockholders), thus wielding as much power as if he owned the whole thing.
COUNTERPOINT: You're right, Ken. It's not like stockholders can say, VOTE, or anything. I wonder if Ken has ever been a stockholder. Probably not.
POINT: And it only takes a few major corporations (whose directorates are closely interlinked with each other and with upper government bureaucracies) to buy out, wipe out or marginalize smaller independent competitors and effectively control the key politicians and media.
COUNTERPOINT: Even Microsoft has to beat its competition, Ken. Those are the breaks.
POINT: The omnipresent spectacle of middle-class prosperity has concealed this reality, especially in the United States where, because of its particular history (and despite the violence of many of its past class conflicts), people are more naïvely oblivious to class divisions than anywhere else in the world.
COUNTERPOINT: Maybe if Americans are "oblivious to class divisions" it's because the vast majority of them belong to the "middle" class. The obvious success of the American middle class is what makes everyone want to live here, Ken. America is a beacon of hope and opportunity in a world of backwards socialist dictatorships. That's probably why most Americans don't find "pure communism" to be an attractive alternative to CAPITALISM, either. Anybody willing to place bets on how long it will take Ken to notice?
POINT: The wide variety of ethnicities and the multitude of complex intermediate gradations has buffered and blurred the fundamental distinction between top and bottom.
COUNTERPOINT: It's what we Americans like to call the "melting pot," Ken. Welcome aboard! Glad you could make it!
POINT: Americans own so many commodities that they fail to notice that someone else owns the whole society.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken fails to mention here who REALLY owns the whole society. I'll bet it has something to do with "the rich." Place your bets now!
POINT: Except for those at the very bottom, who cant help knowing better, they generally assume that poverty is the fault of the poor,
COUNTERPOINT: Actually, that's what Hindus believe, Ken. Buddhists, too. Something to do with "bad karma," as I recall. Look it up.
POINT: that any enterprising person has plenty of opportunity, that if you cant make a satisfactory living in one place you can always make a fresh start somewhere else. A century ago, when people could just pick up and head further west, this belief had some foundation; the persistence of nostalgic frontier spectacles obscures the fact that present conditions are quite different and that we no longer have anywhere else to go.
COUNTERPOINT: We ran out of West. Too bad. It's game over, man! GAME OVER!
POINT: The situationists sometimes used the term proletariat (or more precisely, the new proletariat) in a broadened sense, to refer to "all those who have no power over their own lives and know it."
COUNTERPOINT: People who have no power over their own lives and "know it" are suicidal, Ken. Just ask any Palestinian suicide bomber. They are also deeply wrong about their own powerlessness. Oh well.
POINT: This usage may be rather loose, but it has the merit of stressing the fact that society is still divided into classes, and that the fundamental division is still between the few who own and control everything and the rest who have little or nothing to exchange but their own labor power. In some contexts it may be preferable to use other terms, such as "the people"; but not when this amounts to indiscriminately lumping exploiters with exploited.
COUNTERPOINT: Now for his next trick, Ken intends to abolish class structure by lumping people back into two broader classes (haves, and have-nots). Thanks a bunch, Ken! What would we do without you?
POINT: The point is not to romanticize wage laborers, who, not surprisingly, considering that the spectacle is designed above all to keep them deluded, are often among the most ignorant and reactionary sectors of society.
COUNTERPOINT: Down with workers! Workers suck!
POINT: Nor is it a matter of scoring points to see who is most oppressed.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken understands this. Why doesn't the Left?
POINT: All forms of oppression must be contested, and everyone can contribute to this contestation women, youth, unemployed, minorities, lumpens, bohemians, peasants, middle classes, even renegades from the ruling elite. But none of these groups can achieve a definitive liberation without abolishing the material foundation of all these oppressions: the system of commodity production and wage labor. And this abolition can be achieved only through the collective self-abolition of wage laborers.
COUNTERPOINT: Just to clarify, Ken thinks CAPITALISM will collapse just as soon as all the workers of the world wake up to the fact that they're sick and tired of getting PAID to do their jobs! What are the odds? Place your bets now!
POINT: They alone have the leverage not only to directly bring the whole system to a stop, but to start things up again in a fundamentally different way.(6)
COUNTERPOINT: The workers suck, but we need them to populate our Revolution. Pity Party at Ken's place! Stupid workers.
POINT: Nor is it a matter of giving anyone special privileges. Workers in essential sectors (food, transportation, communications, etc.) who have rejected their capitalist and union bosses and begun to self-manage their own activities will obviously have no interest in holding on to the "privilege" of doing all the work and every interest in inviting everyone else, whether nonworkers or workers from obsolete sectors (law, military, sales, advertising, etc.), to join them in the project of reducing and transforming it.
COUNTERPOINT: Out of the goodness of their hearts? Wow. And Ken thinks WE'RE naïve.
POINT: Everyone who takes part will share in the decisionmaking; the only ones left out will be those who remain on the sidelines claiming special privileges.
COUNTERPOINT: I wonder if eating is considered a "privilege" in this scenario. Furthermore, I wonder how Ken plans to keep the spectators on the sidelines (as opposed to say, allowing the "privilege" hogs to storm the food production facilities...or kill all the dissidents). I'm not sure Ken has thought things through. In fact, I'm not even sure if thinking is really Ken's forte.
POINT: Traditional syndicalism and councilism have tended to take the existing division of labor too much for granted, as if peoples lives in a postrevolutionary society would continue to center around fixed jobs and workplaces.
COUNTERPOINT: Why wouldn't they, especially if they were truly "free" to do as they pleased? We wouldn't want to impinge on their "freedom" now would we? Would we, Ken?
POINT: Even within the present society such a perspective is becoming increasingly obsolete: as most people work at absurd and frequently only temporary jobs without in any way identifying with them, while many others dont work on the wage market at all, work-related issues become merely one aspect of a more general struggle.
COUNTERPOINT: Most people change jobs at least six times in the course of one lifetime, Ken. Learn to cope.
POINT: At the beginning of a movement it may be appropriate for workers to identify themselves as such. ("We, the workers of such and such company, have occupied our workplace with such and such aims; we urge workers in other sectors to do likewise.") The ultimate goal, however, is not the self-management of existing enterprises. For, say, media workers to have control over the media just because they happen to work there would be almost as arbitrary as the present control by whoever happens to own them.
COUNTERPOINT: Notice that Ken thinks company ownership is completely arbitrary. He is so wrong about this that it's almost enough to make one doubt his dizzying intellect.
POINT: Workers management of the particular conditions of their work will need to be combined with community management of matters of general concern. Housewives and others working in relatively separated conditions will need to develop their own forms of organization to enable them to express their own particular interests.
COUNTERPOINT: You mean like women's bible studies, Ken? I didn't think so.
POINT: But potential conflicts of interest between "producers" and "consumers" will be quickly superseded when everyone becomes directly involved in both aspects; when workers councils interlink with neighborhood and community councils; and when fixed work positions fade through the obsoleting of most jobs and the reorganization and rotation of those that remain (including housework and child care).
COUNTERPOINT: Remember way back in chapter one when I asked you to think about whether or not Janitors and Doctors should be paid the same amount? Before you answer that, think about whether or not you'd like them to swap and take turns doing each other's jobs. Because that is precisely what Ken is proposing here. I kid you not! Just wait until we get to chapter four...
POINT: The situationists were certainly right to strive for the formation of workers councils during the May 1968 factory occupations. But it should be noted that those occupations were triggered by actions of largely nonworker youth. The post-1968 situationists tended to fall into a sort of workerism (though a resolutely anti-work-ethic one), seeing the proliferation of wildcat strikes as the major indicator of revolutionary possibilities while paying less attention to developments on other terrains. Actually, blatant union sellouts often force into wildcat struggles workers who are in other respects not particularly radical; and on the other hand, people can resist the system in many other ways besides strikes (including avoiding wage labor as much as possible in the first place).
COUNTERPOINT: Here Ken scolds the workers who refuse to strike while admitting that there are perfectly good reasons for not striking. Does his fount of wisdom know no bounds?
POINT: The situationists rightly recognized collective self-management and individual "radical subjectivity" as complementary and equally essential aspects of the revolutionary project, but without quite succeeding in bringing them together (though they certainly came closer than did the surrealists, who tried to link cultural and political revolt simply by declaring their fervent adhesion to one or another version of Bolshevik ideology).(7)
COUNTERPOINT: Maybe the situationists failed because they lacked something, Ken. Could it be I don't know LEADERSHIP maybe? Nah. That can't be it. Perish the thought!
Wildcats and sitdowns
Wildcat strikes do present interesting possibilities, especially if the strikers occupy their workplace. Not only does this make their position more secure (it prevents lockouts and scabbing, and the machines and products serve as hostages against repression), it brings everyone together, virtually guaranteeing collective self-management of the struggle and hinting at the idea of self-managing the whole society.
COUNTERPOINT: Let's all recall Ken's earlier ambivalence toward "fixed" locations for a moment...There. Had enough? Moving on...
POINT: Once the usual operation has been stopped, everything takes on a different ambience.
COUNTERPOINT: No kidding?
POINT: Once A drab workplace may be transfigured into an almost sacred space that is jealously guarded against the profane intrusion of bosses or police.
COUNTERPOINT: You mean like a church? I didn't think so.
POINT: An observer of the 1937 sitdown strike in Flint, Michigan, described the strikers as "children playing at a new and fascinating game. They had made a palace out of what had been their prison." (Quoted in Sidney Fines Sit-Down: The General Motors Strike of 1936-1937.)
COUNTERPOINT: Don't miss this, folks! Just as his revolutionary pamphlet declared at the Sorbonne, ALL KEN WANTS TO DO IS GO OUTSIDE AND PLAY. All the time. Forever and ever. Amen.
POINT: Though the aim of the strike was simply to win the right to unionize, its organization was virtually councilist. During the six weeks that they lived in their factory (using car seats for beds and cars for closets) a general assembly of all 1200 workers met twice daily to determine policies regarding food, sanitation, information, education, complaints, communication, security, defense, sports and recreation, and to elect accountable and frequently rotated committees to implement them.
COUNTERPOINT: Committees rule, but they don't lead. Not even a little bit. Honest.
POINT: There was even a Rumor Committee, whose purpose was to counteract disinformation by tracking down the source and checking the validity of every rumor.
COUNTERPOINT: Awwww. They had their own propaganda ministry! How cute.
POINT: Outside the factory, strikers wives took care of rounding up food and organizing pickets, publicity, and liaison with workers in other cities.
COUNTERPOINT: I wonder who paid for the food. Ken doesn't say.
POINT: Some of the bolder ones organized a Womens Emergency Brigade which had a contingency plan to form a buffer zone in case of a police attack on the factories. "If the police want to fire then theyll just have to fire into us."
COUNTERPOINT: Hey, at least they didn't live in Tiananmen Square. Lucky bastards.
POINT: Unfortunately, although workers retain a pivotal position in some crucial areas (utilities, communication, transportation), workers in many other sectors have less leverage than they used to.
POINT: Multinational companies usually have large reserves and can wait it out or shift operations to other countries, while workers have a hard time holding out without wages coming in.
COUNTERPOINT: Still no word on who paid for the food. Maybe it was "rustled up."
POINT: Far from threatening anything essential, many present-day strikes are mere appeals to postpone shutting down obsolete industries that are losing money.
COUNTERPOINT: Strikes are for losers! Don't even bother! Suckers.
POINT: Thus, while the strike remains the most basic worker tactic, workers must also devise other forms of on-the-job struggle and find ways to link up with struggles on other terrains.
Like worker strikes, consumer strikes (boycotts) depend on both the leverage they can exert and the support they can enlist. There are so many boycotts in favor of so many causes that, except for a few based on some glaringly clear moral issue, most of them fail. As is so often the case in social struggles, the most fruitful consumer strikes are those in which people are fighting directly for themselves, such as the early civil rights boycotts in the South or the "self-reduction" movements in Italy and elsewhere in which whole communities have decided to pay only a certain percentage of utility bills or mass transit fares. A rent strike is a particularly simple and powerful action, but its difficult to achieve the degree of unity necessary to get one started except among those who have nothing to lose; which is why the most exemplary challenges to the fetish of private property are being made by homeless squatters.
COUNTERPOINT: Homeless squatters to the rescue! They're WAY more reliable than those crummy old workers!
POINT: In what might be called reverse boycotts, people sometimes join in supporting some popular institution that is threatened. Raising money for a local school or library or alternative institution is usually fairly banal, but such movements occasionally generate a salutary public debate.
COUNTERPOINT: Sure they do, Ken. Sure they do.
POINT: In 1974 striking reporters took over a major South Korean newspaper and began publishing exposés of government lies and repression. In an effort to bankrupt the paper without having to openly suppress it, the government pressured all the advertisers to remove their ads from the paper. The public responded by buying thousands of individual ads, using their space for personal statements, poems, quotations from Tom Paine, etc.
COUNTERPOINT: I.E. - The paper became unreadable.
POINT: The "Freedom of Speech Support Column" soon filled several pages of each issue and circulation increased significantly before the paper was finally suppressed.
COUNTERPOINT: I guess they'd never heard of letters to the editor. Oh well. Also, Ken fails to mention precisely how the paper was ultimately "suppressed." Could it be that they eventually ran out of money? Inquiring minds want to know.
POINT: But consumer struggles are limited by the fact that consumers are at the receiving end of the economic cycle: they may exert a certain amount of pressure through protests or boycotts or riots, but they dont control the mechanisms of production. In the above-mentioned Korean incident, for example, the public participation was only made possible by the workers takeover of the paper.
COUNTERPOINT: Again, the notion of writing letters to the editor never crossed their minds. It obviously never occurred to Ken, either. Oh well.
POINT: A particularly interesting and exemplary form of worker struggle is what is sometimes called a "social strike" or "giveaway strike," in which people carry on with their jobs but in ways that prefigure a free social order: workers giving away goods they have produced, clerks undercharging customers, transportation workers letting everyone ride free. In February 1981 11,000 telephone workers occupied exchanges throughout British Columbia and carried on all phone services without charge for six days before being maneuvered out by their union. Besides winning many of their demands, they seem to have had a delightful time.(8)
COUNTERPOINT: Well at least there's that. We wouldn't want their lives to get boring, now would we?
POINT: One can imagine ways of going further and becoming more selective, such as blocking business and government calls while letting personal calls go through free. Postal workers could do likewise with mail; transportation workers could continue to ship necessary goods while refusing to transport police or troops. ...
COUNTERPOINT: Yeah, that'll win over the hearts and minds of the general public. You just wait and see. Go for it, Ken! I dare you!
POINT: But this type of strike would make no sense for that large majority of workers whose jobs serve no sensible purpose. (The best thing that such workers can do is to publicly denounce the absurdity of their own work, as some ad designers nicely did during May 1968.) Moreover, even useful work is often so parcelized that isolated groups of workers can implement few changes on their own. And even the small minority who happen to produce finished and salable products (as did the workers who in 1973 took over the bankrupt Lip watch factory in Besançon, France, and started running it for themselves) usually remain dependent on commercial financing and distribution networks.
COUNTERPOINT: Funny how that works, isn't it, Ken?
POINT: In the exceptional case where such workers make a go of it on their own, they simply become one more capitalist company; more often, their self-management innovations merely end up rationalizing the operation for the benefit of the owners. A "Strasbourg of the factories" might occur if workers finding themselves in a Lip-type situation use the facilities and publicity it gives them to go farther than the Lip workers (who were struggling simply to save their jobs) by calling on others to join them in superseding the whole system of commodity production and wage labor. But this is unlikely to happen until there is a sufficiently widespread movement to enlarge peoples perspectives and offset the risks as in May 1968, when most of the factories of France were occupied:
COUNTERPOINT: For ten whole days! Let it go, Ken. Let it go. Bygones.
What could have happened in May 1968
"If, in a single large factory, between 16 May and 30 May, a general assembly had constituted itself as a council holding all powers of decision and execution, expelling the bureaucrats, organizing its self-defense and calling on the strikers of all the enterprises to link up with it, this qualitative step could have immediately brought the movement to the ultimate showdown...A very large number of enterprises would have followed the course thus discovered.
COUNTERPOINT: Oh well.
POINT: This factory could immediately have taken the place of the dubious and in every sense eccentric Sorbonne of the first days and have become the real center of the occupations movement: genuine delegates from the numerous councils that already virtually existed in some of the occupied buildings, and from all the councils that could have imposed themselves in all the branches of industry, would have rallied around this base.
COUNTERPOINT: But they didn't.
POINT: Such an assembly could then have proclaimed the expropriation of all capital, including state capital; announced that all the countrys means of production were henceforth the collective property of the proletariat organized in direct democracy; and appealed directly (by finally seizing some of the means of telecommunication, for example) to the workers of the entire world to support this revolution. Some people will say that such a hypothesis is utopian.
COUNTERPOINT: Yeah, I can see how some people might say that.
NOTE: The first time I read that last sentence I rolled my eyes so hard I had to get my eyeglass prescription adjusted. Thanks a lot, Ken!
POINT: We answer: It is precisely because the occupations movement was objectively at several moments only an hour away from such a result that it spread such terror, visible to everyone at the time in the impotence of the state and the panic of the so-called Communist Party, and since then in the conspiracy of silence concerning its gravity." [SI Anthology, pp. 234-235 (Beginning of an Era).]
COUNTERPOINT: Just think, Ken's utopia was only HOURS AWAY from happening if only it weren't for those BACK-STABBING COMMUNISTS! One begins to understand why Ken hates the Left (But not as much as he hates those FILTHY CAPITALISTS! Trust me on this.).
POINT: What prevented this from happening was above all the labor unions, in particular the largest one in the country: the Communist Party-dominated CGT. Inspired by the rebellious youth who had fought the police in the streets and taken over the Sorbonne and other public buildings, ten million workers ignored their unions and occupied virtually all the factories and many of the offices in the country, launching the first wildcat general strike in history. But most of these workers were unclear enough as to what to do next that they allowed the union bureaucracy to insinuate itself into the movement it had tried to prevent. The bureaucrats did everything they could to brake and fragment the movement: calling brief token strikes; setting up phony "rank-and-file" organizations composed of loyal Party members; seizing control of the loudspeaker systems; rigging elections in favor of returning to work; and most crucially, locking the factory gates in order to keep workers isolated from each other and from the other insurgents (on the pretext of "guarding against outside provocateurs").
COUNTERPOINT: Finally! Ken sheds light on his long-standing hatred for "bureaucrats!" I feel so enlightened! Don't you?
POINT: The unions then proceeded to negotiate with the employers and the government a package of wage and vacation bonuses. This bribe was emphatically rejected by a large majority of the workers, who had the sense, however confused, that some more radical change was on the agenda.
COUNTERPOINT: But if that were true, Ken, then why didn't they just postpone the vote?
POINT: In early June, de Gaulles presenting the carrot/stick alternative of new elections or civil war finally intimidated many workers into returning to work. There were still numerous holdouts, but their isolation from each other enabled the unions to tell each group that all the others had resumed work, so that they would believe they were alone and give up.
COUNTERPOINT: The notion that people might have wanted to keep their jobs and return back to work seems not to have occurred to Ken. Why am I not surprised?
Methods of confusion and cooption
As in May 1968, when the more developed countries are threatened with a radical situation, they usually rely on confusion, concessions, curfews, distractions, disinformation, fragmentation, preemption, postponement and other methods of diverting, dividing and coopting the opposition, reserving overt physical repression as a last resort.
COUNTERPOINT: Or they just kill all the dissidents.
POINT: These methods, which range from the subtle to the ludicrous,(9) are so numerous that it would be impossible here to mention more than a few.
A common method of confusing the issues is to distort the apparent alignment of forces by projecting diverse positions onto a linear, left-versus-right schema, implying that if you are opposed to one side you must be in favor of the other. The communism-versus-capitalism spectacle served this purpose for over half a century. Since the recent collapse of that farce, the tendency has been to declare a centrist pragmatic global consensus, with any opposition being lumped with lunatic-fringe "extremisms" (fascism and religious fanaticism on the right, terrorism and "anarchy" on the left).
COUNTERPOINT: How about Ken vs. Reality? I'd pay good money to see that fight. (Assuming Ken fails to abolish money, of course.)
POINT: One of the classic divide-and-rule methods has been discussed earlier: encouraging the exploited to fragment into a multitude of narrow group identities, which can be manipulated into directing their energies into squabbling with each other.
COUNTERPOINT: Human beings are like that, Ken. Learn to cope.
POINT: Conversely, opposed classes can be lumped together by patriotic hysteria and other means. Popular fronts, united fronts and similar coalitions serve to obscure fundamental conflicts of interest in the name of joint opposition to a common enemy (bourgeoisie + proletariat versus a reactionary regime; military-bureaucratic strata + peasantry versus foreign domination). In such coalitions the upper group generally has the material and ideological resources to maintain its control over the lower group, which is tricked into postponing self-organized action on its own behalf until its too late. By the time victory has been attained over the common enemy, the upper group has had time to consolidate its power (often in a new alliance with elements of the defeated enemy) in order to crush the radical elements of the lower group.
COUNTERPOINT: Coalitions suck! Even worse, once the proles sieze power they usually end up becoming the very "ruling class" they intended to abolish in the first place. I wonder why Marx never thought of that. He probabaly never read Animal Farm. Or knew what the hell he was talking about. Poor guy.
POINT: Any vestige of hierarchy within a radical movement will be used to divide and undermine it. If there are no cooptable leaders, a few will be created by intensive media exposure. Leaders can be privately bargained with and held responsible for their followers; once they are coopted, they can establish similar chains of command beneath them, enabling a large mass of people to be brought under control without the rulers having to deal with all of them openly and simultaneously. Cooption of leaders serves not only to separate them from the people, but also divides the people among themselves some seeing the cooption as a victory, others denouncing it, others hesitating. As attention shifts from participatory actions to the spectacle of distant leader-celebrities debating distant issues, most people become bored and disillusioned.
COUNTERPOINT: I'm bored and disillusioned with you, Ken. What does that say about you?
POINT: Feeling that matters are out of their hands (perhaps even secretly relieved that somebody else is taking care of them), they return to their previous passivity.
COUNTERPOINT: Come on, people! All Ken wants you to do is hand out a few incoherent pamphlets! What are you waiting for? Someone to tell you what to do? Well, Ken doesn't have the leadership qualifications for that. Ken helps those that help themselves!
POINT: Another method of discouraging popular participation is to emphasize problems that seem to require specialized expertise. A classic instance was the ploy of certain German military leaders in 1918, at the moment when the workers and soldiers councils that emerged in the wake of the German collapse at the end of World War I potentially had the country in their hands.(10)
COUNTERPOINT: Another way to discourage popular participation is to kill all the dissidents. I don't understand how Ken keeps missing this salient fact.
Terrorism reinforces the state
Terrorism has often served to break the momentum of radical situations. It stuns people, turns them back into spectators anxiously following the latest news and speculations. Far from weakening the state, terrorism seems to confirm the need to strengthen it. If terrorist spectacles fail to spontaneously arise when it needs them, the state itself may produce them by means of provocateurs. (See Sanguinettis On Terrorism and the State and the last half of Debords Preface to the Fourth Italian Edition of "The Society of the Spectacle.")
COUNTERPOINT: If only Osama Bin Laden would follow Ken's example. (To late, Ken!)
POINT: A popular movement can hardly prevent individuals from carrying out terrorist or other thoughtless actions, actions that may sidetrack and destroy it as surely as if they were the work of a provocateur. The only solution is to create a movement with such consistently forthright and nonmanipulative tactics that everyone will recognize individual stupidities or police provocations for what they are.
COUNTERPOINT: Good luck with that, Ken!
POINT: An antihierarchical revolution can only be an "open conspiracy." Obviously some things require secrecy, especially under the more repressive regimes.
COUNTERPOINT: Read those two sentences again, very carefully. Is Ken tacitly admitting that his Revolution will be brought on by a repressive regime? I don't think he meant to.
POINT: But even in such cases the means should not be inconsistent with the ultimate goal: the supersession of all separate power through the conscious participation of everyone. Secrecy often has the absurd result that the police are the only ones who know what is happening, and are thus able to infiltrate and manipulate a radical group without anyone else being aware of it. The best defense against infiltration is to make sure theres nothing of any importance to infiltrate, i.e. that no radical organization wields any separate power. The best safety is in numbers: once thousands of people are openly involved, it hardly matters if a few spies are among them.
COUNTERPOINT: Yes, whenever you're trying to overthrow an oppressive government, letting a few spies infiltrate the ranks never hurts. Words fail me, Ken!
POINT: Even in small group actions safety often lies in maximum publicity. When some of the Strasbourg scandal participants started to get cold feet and suggested toning things down, Mustapha Khayati (the SI delegate who was the main author of the Student Poverty pamphlet) pointed out that the safest course would not be to avoid offending the authorities too much as if they would be grateful for being only moderately and hesitantly insulted! but to perpetrate such a widely publicized scandal that they wouldnt dare retaliate.
COUNTERPOINT: The massacre at Tiananmen Square happened on live TV, Ken. It happened anyway. Go figure.
The ultimate showdown
To get back to the May 1968 factory occupations, suppose that the French workers had rejected the bureaucratic maneuvers and established a councilist network throughout the country. What then?
COUNTERPOINT: No use crying over spilled milk now, Ken. Not that anything I say is going to stop you...
POINT: In such an eventuality, civil war would naturally have been inevitable...
POINT: Armed counterrevolution would certainly have been launched immediately. But it would not have been certain of winning. Some of the troops would obviously have mutinied. The workers would have figured out how to get weapons, and they certainly would not have built any more barricades (a good form of political expression at the beginning of the movement, but obviously ridiculous strategically)...Foreign intervention would have inevitably followed...probably beginning with NATO forces, but with the direct or indirect support of the Warsaw Pact. But then everything would once again have hinged on the European proletariat: double or nothing. [SI Anthology, p. 235 (Beginning of an Era).]
COUNTERPOINT: Remember when Ken assured us that no matter how much blood is spilled during a revolution that the everyday death toll of CAPITALISM is far worse? Ken lied. Big time.
POINT: Roughly speaking, the significance of armed struggle varies inversely with the degree of economic development. In the most underdeveloped countries social struggles tend to be reduced to military struggles, because without arms there is little that the impoverished masses can do that will not hurt them more than the rulers, especially when their traditional self-sufficiency has been destroyed by a one-crop economy geared for export. (But even if they win militarily, they can usually be overpowered by foreign intervention or pressured into compliance with the global economy, unless parallel revolutions elsewhere open up new fronts.)
COUNTERPOINT: Just keep telling yourself that, Ken. Not to worry, I'm sure the victims of your revolution will understand that it was for their own good.
POINT: In more developed countries armed force has relatively less significance, though it can, of course, still be an important factor at certain critical junctures.
COUNTERPOINT: You mean like Tiananmen Square, Ken? Are you even listening to me, Ken?
POINT: It is possible, though not very efficient, to force people to do simple manual labor at gunpoint. It is not possible to do this with people who work with paper or computers within a complex industrial society there are too many opportunities for troublesome yet untraceable "mistakes."
COUNTERPOINT: THOSE SNEAKY CAPITALIST BASTARDS!
POINT: Modern capitalism requires a certain amount of cooperation and even semicreative participation from its workers. No large enterprise could function for a day without its workers spontaneous self-organization, reacting to unforeseen problems, compensating for managers mistakes, etc.
COUNTERPOINT: Maybe that's why the workers fail to feel the full weight of their exploitation, Ken. Did you ever think of that?
POINT: If workers engage in a "work-to-rule" strike in which they do nothing more than strictly follow all the official regulations, the whole operation will be slowed down or even brought to a complete halt (forcing the managers, who are unable to openly condemn such strictness, into the amusingly awkward position of having to hint to the workers that they should get on with their work without being quite so rigorous). The system survives only because most workers are relatively apathetic and, in order not to cause trouble for themselves, cooperate enough to keep things going.
COUNTERPOINT: The system survives because most people ENJOY GETTING PAID, Ken! If you don't believe anything else I say, trust me on this one, Ken. Just this once. Please?
POINT: Isolated revolts may be repressed one at a time; but if a movement spreads fast enough, as in May 1968, a few hundred thousand soldiers and police can hardly do anything in the face of ten million striking workers. Such a movement can be destroyed only from the inside. If the people dont know what they need to do, arms can scarcely help them; if they do know, arms can scarcely stop them.
COUNTERPOINT: The soldiers at Tiananmen Square were driving tanks, Ken. Tanks can stop an awful lot of people at once - especially the ones not driving tanks. Funny how that works, isn't it?
POINT: Only at certain moments are people "together" enough to revolt successfully. The more lucid rulers know that they are safe if they can only disperse such threats before they develop too much momentum and self-awareness, whether by direct physical repression or by the various sorts of diversion mentioned above.
COUNTERPOINT: The Tiananmen Square stand-off lasted three months, Ken. Trust me, the Chinese government saw it coming...and acted accordingly.
POINT: It hardly matters if the people later find out that they were tricked, that they had victory in their hands if they had only known it: once the opportunity has passed, its too late.
COUNTERPOINT: So why are you still trying to recreate the Sorbonne occupation on a global scale, Ken? Isn't it too late? Isn't it time you threw in the towel and went home, Ken? Please? For me?
POINT: Ordinary situations are full of confusions, but matters are generally not so urgent. In a radical situation things are both simplified and speeded up: the issues become clearer, but there is less time to resolve them.
COUNTERPOINT: Come on, Ken, you had ten days. What more do you want?
POINT: The extreme case is dramatized in a famous scene in Eisensteins Potemkin. Mutinous sailors, heads covered by a tarp, have been lined up to be shot. Guards aim their rifles and are given the order to fire. One of the sailors cries out: "Brothers! Do you realize who you are shooting?" The guards waver. The order is given again. After a suspenseful hesitation the guards lower their weapons. They help the sailors to raid the armory, together they turn against the officers, and the battle is soon won.
Note that even in this violent showdown the outcome is more a matter of consciousness than of brute power: once the guards come over to the sailors, the fight is effectively over. (The remainder of Eisensteins scene a drawn-out struggle between an officer villain and a martyrized revolutionary hero is mere melodrama.) In contrast to war, in which two distinct sides consciously oppose each other, "class struggle is not just a battle waged against an external enemy, the bourgeoisie; it is equally the struggle of the proletariat against itself: against the devastating and degrading effects of the capitalist system on its class consciousness" (Lukács, History and Class Consciousness). Modern revolution has the peculiar quality that the exploited majority automatically wins as soon as it becomes collectively aware of the game it is playing. The proletariats opponent is ultimately nothing but the product of its own alienated activity, whether in the economic form of capital, the political form of party and union bureaucracies, or the psychological form of spectacular conditioning. The rulers are such a tiny minority that they would be immediately overwhelmed if they had not managed to bamboozle a large portion of the population into identifying with them, or at least into taking their system for granted; and especially into becoming divided against each other.
COUNTERPOINT: That's right, Ken, we're all just too bamboozled to follow you down the road paved with your good intentions. We know where the road leads, Ken. Do you?
POINT: The tarp, which dehumanizes the mutineers, making it easier for the guards to shoot them, symbolizes this divide-and-rule tactic. The "Brothers!" shout represents the countertactic of fraternization. While fraternization refutes lies about what is happening elsewhere, its greatest power probably stems from the emotional effect of direct human encounter, which reminds soldiers that the insurgents are people not essentially different from themselves. The state naturally tries to prevent such contact by bringing in troops from other regions who are unfamiliar with what has taken place and who, if possible, dont even speak the same language; and by quickly replacing them if they nevertheless become too contaminated by rebellious ideas. (Some of the Russian troops sent in to crush the 1956 Hungarian revolution were told that they were in Germany and that the people confronting them in the streets were resurgent Nazis!)
COUNTERPOINT: Communists are sneaky that way, Ken. You should keep your eye on them.
POINT: In order to expose and eliminate the most radical elements, a government sometimes deliberately provokes a situation that will lead to an excuse for violent repression. This is a dangerous game, however, because, as in the Potemkin incident, forcing the issue may provoke the armed forces to come over to the people.
COUNTERPOINT: Just like at Tiananmen Square, huh, Ken? I know I keep harping about the Tiananmen Square massacre, Ken, but you just seem so oblivious to the wider implications of the event. So I have to wonder: Is your ignorance genuine, or willful?
POINT: From the rulers standpoint, the optimum strategy is to brandish just enough of a threat that there is no need to risk the ultimate showdown. This worked in Poland in 1980-81. The Russian bureaucrats knew that to invade Poland might bring about their own downfall; but the constantly hinted threat of such an invasion successfully intimidated the radical Polish workers, who could easily have overthrown the state, into tolerating the persistence of military-bureaucratic forces within Poland. The latter were eventually able to repress the movement without having to call in the Russians.
COUNTERPOINT: Sometimes, from the rulers' standpoint, it's just a lot simpler TO KILL ALL THE DISSIDENTS! You're making me repeat myself, Ken. You suck.
"Those who make revolutions half way only dig their own graves." A revolutionary movement cannot attain some local victory and then expect to peacefully coexist with the system until its ready to try for a little more. All existing powers will put aside their differences in order to destroy any truly radical popular movement before it spreads. If they cant crush it militarily, theyll strangle it economically (national economies are now so globally interdependent that no country would be immune from such pressure). The only way to defend a revolution is to extend it, both qualitatively and geographically. The only guarantee against internal reaction is the most radical liberation of every aspect of life. The only guarantee against external intervention is the most rapid internationalization of the struggle.
COUNTERPOINT: I'm still waiting for Ken to explain how he intends to accomplish any of this without a well trained, well fed, fanatically devoted army. How much longer do you think I should wait?
POINT: The most profound expression of internationalist solidarity is, of course, to make a parallel revolution in ones own country (1848, 1917-1920, 1968). Short of this, the most urgent task is at least to prevent counterrevolutionary intervention from ones own country, as when British workers pressured their government not to support the slave states during the American Civil War (even though this meant greater unemployment due to lack of cotton imports); or when Western workers struck and mutinied against their governments attempts to support the reactionary forces during the civil war following the Russian revolution; or when people in Europe and America opposed their countries repression of anticolonial revolts.
Unfortunately, even such minimal defensive efforts are few and far between.
COUNTERPOINT: Not enough tanks, Ken. Sorry.
POINT: Positive internationalist support is even more difficult. As long as the rulers remain in control of the most powerful countries, direct personal reinforcement is complicated and limited. Arms and other supplies may be intercepted. Even communications sometimes dont get through until its too late.
COUNTERPOINT: Things are tough all over, Ken. Learn to cope.
POINT: One thing that does get through is an announcement that one group is relinquishing its power or claims over another. The 1936 fascist revolt in Spain, for example, had one of its main bases in Spanish Morocco. Many of Francos troops were Moroccan and the antifascist forces could have exploited this fact by declaring Morocco independent, thereby encouraging a revolt at Francos rear and dividing his forces. The probable spread of such a revolt to other Arab countries would at the same time have diverted Mussolinis forces, which were supporting Franco, to defend Italys North African possessions. But the leaders of the Spanish Popular Front government rejected this idea for fear that such an encouragement of anticolonialism would alarm France and England, from whom they were hoping for aid. Needless to say this aid never came anyway.(11)
COUNTERPOINT: Stop, Ken...you're making me cry...
POINT: Similarly, if, before the Khomeiniists had been able to consolidate their power, the insurgent Iranians in 1979 had supported total autonomy for the Kurds, Baluchis and Azerbaijans, this would have won them as firm allies of the most radical Iranian tendencies and might have spread the revolution to the adjacent countries where overlapping portions of those peoples live, while simultaneously undermining the Khomeiniist reactionaries in Iran.
Encouraging others autonomy does not imply supporting any organization or regime that might take advantage of it. Its simply a matter of leaving the Moroccans, the Kurds, or whomever to work out their own affairs. The hope is that the example of an antihierarchical revolution in one country will inspire others to contest their own hierarchies.
COUNTERPOINT: Unfortunately for Ken, the very idea of an "anti-hierarchical" revolution is so silly that no-one has ever taken it seriously. Except for the French. For ten whole days. In 1968. I'm sure it must have seemed like a good idea at the time.
POINT: Its our only hope, but not an entirely unrealistic one. The contagion of a genuinely liberated movement should never be underestimated.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken's capacity for self-delusion should never be underestimated. Not even a little bit.
1. On the Cultural Revolution, see SI Anthology, pp. 185-194 [The Explosion Point of Ideology in China], and Simon Leyss The Chairmans New Clothes.
2. "As Shiites and Kurds battle the regime of Saddam Hussein and Iraqi opposition parties try to patch together a democratic future, the United States finds itself in the awkward position of, in effect, supporting continuing one-party rule in Iraq. US government statements, including those of President Bush, have stressed the desire to see Saddam Hussein overthrown, but not to see Iraq broken apart by civil strife. At the same time, Bush administration officials have insisted that democracy is not currently a viable alternative for Iraq...This may account for the fact that thus far, the administration has refused to meet with Iraqi opposition leaders in exile...The Arabs and the US have the same agenda, says a coalition diplomat. We want Iraq in the same borders and Saddam to disappear. But we will accept Saddam in Baghdad in order to have Iraq as one state. " (Christian Science Monitor, 20 March 1991.)
3."I am flabbergasted at the memory people retain of their own revolutionary past. Present events have shaken that memory. Dates never learned at school, songs never sung openly, are recalled in their totality...The noise, the noise, the noise is still ringing in my ears. The horns tooting in joy, the shouting, the slogans, the singing and dancing. The doors of revolution seem open again, after forty-eight years of repression. In that single day everything was replaced in perspective. Nothing was god-given, all was man-made. People could see their misery and their problems in a historical setting...A week has passed, although it already feels like many months. Every hour has been lived to the full. It is already difficult to remember what the papers looked like before, or what people had then said. Hadnt there always been a revolution?" (Phil Mailer, Portugal: The Impossible Revolution?)
COUNTERPOINT: Ahh, the good old days...all ten of them!
POINT: 4. One of the most powerful moments was when the sitdowners around the police car averted a potentially violent confrontation with a mob of fraternity hecklers by remaining totally silent for half an hour. With the wind taken out of their sails, the hecklers became bored and embarrassed, and eventually dispersed.
COUNTERPOINT: Do you think if we ignored Ken long enough, he'd just go away? Hey, I figured it couldn't hurt to try...
POINT: Such collective silence has the advantage of dissolving compulsive reactions on both sides; yet because it is nonspecific it does this without the dubious content of many slogans and songs. (Singing "We Shall Overcome" has also served to calm people in difficult situations, but at the cost of sentimentalizing reality.) The best account of the FSM is David Lance Goiness The Free Speech Movement (Ten Speed Press, 1993).
COUNTERPOINT: If Ken starts singing "We Shall Overcome," please shoot me. Or better yet, shoot Ken. He won't mind. He's his own boss.
POINT: 5. On May 1968 see SI Anthology, pp. 225-256, 343-352 [The Beginning of an Era and May 1968 Documents], and René Viénets Enragés and Situationists in the Occupation Movement. Also recommended is Roger Grégoire and Fredy Perlmans Worker-Student Action Committees, France May 68 (Black and Red, 1969).
6. "Labor will not only SHUT DOWN the industries, but Labor will REOPEN, under the management of the appropriate trades, such activities as are needed to preserve public health and public peace. If the strike continues, Labor may feel led to avoid public suffering by reopening more and more activities. UNDER ITS OWN MANAGEMENT. And that is why we say that we are starting on a road that leads NO ONE KNOWS WHERE!" (Announcement on the eve of the 1919 Seattle general strike.) See Jeremy Brechers Strike! (South End, 1972), pp. 101-114. More extensive accounts are included in Root and Branch: The Rise of the Workers Movements and in Harvey OConnors Revolution in Seattle, both currently out of print.
COUNTERPOINT: Where are we going? KNOW ONE KNOWS! How will we know when we get there? KNOW ONE KNOWS!
See, I told you Ken has a plan.
POINT: 7. Raoul Vaneigem (who incidentally wrote a good brief critical history of surrealism) represented the clearest expression of both aspects. His little book De la grève sauvage à lautogestion généralisée (literally "From Wildcat Strike to Generalized Self-Management," but partially translated as Contributions to the Revolutionary Struggle) usefully recapitulates a number of basic tactics during wildcat strikes and other radical situations as well as various possibilities of postrevolutionary social organization. Unfortunately it is also padded with the inflated verbiage characteristic of Vaneigems post-SI writings, attributing to worker struggles a Vaneigemist content that is neither justified nor necessary. The radical-subjectivity aspect was rigidified into a tediously repeated ideology of hedonism in Vaneigems later books (The Book of Pleasures, etc.), which read like cotton-candy parodies of the ideas he dealt with so trenchantly in his earlier works.
9. "One day into this thing, and Im tired, but compared to the positive sensations that are passing through this place, fatigue doesnt stand a chance...Who will ever forget the look on managements faces when we tell them we are now in control, and their services are obviously no longer needed...Everything as normal, except we dont collect phone bills...Were also making friends from other departments. Guys from downstairs are coming up to help out and learn our jobs...Were all flying...Sailing on pure adrenalin. Its like we own the bloody thing...The signs on the front door say, CO-OP TEL: UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT NO MANAGEMENT ALLOWED." (Rosa Collette, "Operators Dial Direct Action," Open Road, Vancouver, Spring 1981.)
COUNTERPOINT: I think we should take a moment here to note that Ken's panacea, GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGEMENT, is surely doomed to fail, if, from the outset, NO MANAGEMET IS ALLOWED. Just a thought.
POINT: 9. "A South African company is selling an anti-riot vehicle that plays disco music through a loudspeaker to soothe the nerves of would-be troublemakers. The vehicle, already bought by one black nation, which the company did not identify, also carries a water cannon and tear gas." (AP, 23 September 1979.)
10. "On the evening of November 10, when the Supreme Command was still at Spa, a group of seven enlisted men presented themselves at headquarters. They were the Executive Committee of the Supreme Headquarters Soldiers Council. Their demands were somewhat unclear, but obviously they expected to play a role in the command of the Army during its retreat. At the very least they wanted the right to countersign the Supreme Commands orders and to insure that the field army was not used for any counterrevolutionary purpose. The seven soldiers were courteously received by a Lieutenant Colonel Wilhelm von Faupel, who had been carefully rehearsed for the occasion...Faupel led the delegates into the Supreme Commands map room. Everything was laid out on a gigantic map which occupied one wall: the huge complex of roads, railway lines, bridges, switching points, pipelines, command posts and supply dumps the whole an intricate lace of red, green, blue and black lines converging into narrow bottlenecks at the crucial Rhine bridges...Faupel then turned to them. The Supreme Command had no objection to the soldiers councils, he said, but did his hearers feel competent to direct the general evacuation of the German Army along these lines of communication?...The disconcerted soldiers stared uneasily at the immense map. One of them allowed that this was not what they had really had in mind This work can well be left to the officers. In the end, the seven soldiers willingly gave the officers their support. More than this, they practically begged the officers to retain command...Whenever a soldiers council delegation appeared at Supreme Headquarters, Colonel Faupel was trotted out to repeat his earlier performance; it always worked." (Richard Watt, The Kings Depart: Versailles and the German Revolution.)
COUNTERPOINT: See, the German "revolutionaries" suddenly realized how unrealistic their goals really were. Imagine Ken's disappointment! Go ahead. I dare you.
POINT: 11. If this question had been openly posed to the Spanish workers (who had already bypassed the vacillating Popular Front government by seizing arms and resisting the fascist coup by themselves, and in the process launched the revolution) they would probably have agreed to grant Moroccan independence. But once they were swayed by political leaders including even many anarchist leaders into tolerating that government in the name of antifascist unity, they were kept unaware of such issues.
COUNTERPOINT: Stupid leaders! When will they ever learn?
POINT: The Spanish revolution remains the single richest revolutionary experience in history, though it was complicated and obscured by the simultaneous civil war against Franco and by the sharp contradictions within the antifascist camp which, besides two or three million anarchists and anarchosyndicalists and a considerably smaller contingent of revolutionary Marxists (the POUM), included bourgeois republicans, ethnic autonomists, socialists and Stalinists, with the latter in particular doing everything in their power to repress the revolution.
The best comprehensive histories are Pierre Broué and Emile Témimes Revolution and the War in Spain and Burnett Bollotens The Spanish Revolution (the latter is also substantially incorporated in Bollotens monumental final work, The Spanish Civil War). Some good first-hand accounts are George Orwells Homage to Catalonia, Franz Borkenaus The Spanish Cockpit, and Mary Low and Juan Breás Red Spanish Notebook. Other books worth reading include Vernon Richardss Lessons of the Spanish Revolution, Murray Bookchins To Remember Spain, Gerald Brenans The Spanish Labyrinth, Sam Dolgoffs The Anarchist Collectives, Abel Pazs Durruti: The People Armed, and Victor Alba and Stephen Schwartzs Spanish Marxism versus Soviet Communism: A History of the P.O.U.M.
End of Chapter 3 of "The Joy of Revolution," from Public Secrets: Collected Skirmishes of Ken Knabb (1997).
COUNTERPOINT: Chapter four is the best, you won't want to miss it!
Index Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4