Mr. Hook's Point/Counterpoint Edition of
The Joy of Revolution by Ken Knabb
OR: Why I Rant - by Mr. Hook
Because of articles like this one:
The Joy of Revolution by Ken Knabb
Which I found while surfing at: http://www.bopsecrets.org/PS/joyrev1.htm
What follows is a "Point/Counterpoint" Edition of THE JOY OF REVOLOUTION - or at least it would be if the original author actually made any points worthy of note. The article is credited as "The Joy of Revolution," from Public Secrets: Collected Skirmishes of Ken Knabb (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1997). It boasts that it isn't copyrighted material, for reasons which will become readily apparent.
Everything written in purple are the words of Ken Knabb. Everything written in blue are the snide comments of Mr. Hook.
I do this for the benefit of my fellow man. And because it brings me joy:
Chapter 1: Some Facts of Life
"We can comprehend this world only by contesting it as a whole...The root of the prevailing lack of imagination cannot be grasped unless one is able to imagine what is lacking, that is, what is missing, hidden, forbidden, and yet possible, in modern life."
COUNTERPOINT: Translation: In order to make the world a better place we have to figure out what is "missing, forbidden, yet possible" in life. Don't consider that some things in life are "forbidden" for a reason, only focus on what is "possible" (which is anything). Basically, the world sucks only because people don't realize how much better it could be.
It occurs to me that people who think the world sucks are perfectly capable of realizing how much better the world could be. Perhaps they don't lack imagination, but rather the means or the will to shape the world to their own liking. But that's just life. Already the author, Ken Knabb (can I call you Ken? I would prefer Knob. But let's not go there.), mis-diagnoses why the world sucks (presuming it does).
Utopia or bust
Never in history has there been such a glaring contrast between what could be and what actually exists.
COUNTERPOINT: Really? Never? Not even prior to the Agricultural Revolution? I'm not sure if Ken has done his homework on this one.
POINT: Its hardly necessary to go into all the problems in the world today most of them are widely known, and to dwell on them usually does little more than dull us to their reality. But even if we are "stoic enough to endure the misfortunes of others," the present social deterioration ultimately impinges on us all. Those who dont face direct physical repression still have to face the mental repressions imposed by an increasingly mean, stressful, ignorant and ugly world. Those who escape economic poverty cannot escape the general impoverishment of life.
COUNTERPOINT: Notice that Ken doesn't feel it necessary to describe the world's problems in detail. Ken wants to refrain from dulling our senses to reality. (To late, Ken!) Notice also that in Ken's mind, the world's problems are imposed by impersonal outside forces, not the people who actually populate the world. Ken's world is "mean, stressful, ignorant, and ugly." On his biography page, Ken claims that he was born in 1945 in Louisiana. I didn't realize Louisiana had fallen on such hard times. Here Ken also clues us in to the fact that most of the repression he suffers from is "mental" (imagined) as opposed to "physical" (real). He's only trying to escape the "general impoverishment of life." Good luck with that, Ken! Viva la Revolution!
POINT: And even life at this pitiful level cannot continue for long. The ravaging of the planet by the global development of capitalism has brought us to the point where humanity may become extinct within a few decades.
COUNTERPOINT: This sentence is actually quite helpful. It tells us three things about Ken. First: Ken's boogey-man, the root all evil on this good earth, is CAPITALISM! Second: Ken thinks an ecological cataclysm is just around the corner. His sky is falling, literally. Ken is an atheist, so he doesn't believe in any biblical prophecies about Armageddon or the end of the world, so he has conveniently substituted an ecological apocalypse in its place. Repent! Extinction is nigh! Third: Ken is a moron. (Sorry, Ken.)
POINT: Yet this same development has made it possible to abolish the system of hierarchy and exploitation that was previously based on material scarcity and to inaugurate a new, genuinely liberated form of society.
Plunging from one disaster to another on its way to mass insanity and ecological apocalypse, this system has developed a momentum that is out of control, even by its supposed masters. As we approach a world in which we wont be able to leave our fortified ghettoes without armed guards, or even go outdoors without applying sunscreen lest we get skin cancer, its hard to take seriously those who advise us to beg for a few reforms.
COUNTERPOINT: Ghettos? Armed guards? A veiled reference to the great Ozone Depletion? Repent! Extinction is nigh!
POINT: What is needed, I believe, is a worldwide participatory-democracy revolution that would abolish both capitalism and the state. This is admittedly a big order, but Im afraid that nothing less can get to the root of our problems. It may seem absurd to talk about revolution; but all the alternatives assume the continuation of the present system, which is even more absurd.
COUNTERPOINT: At least Ken is honest enough to tell us that any alternatives to his ideas are absurd. That last sentence is actually quite clever: Propose an inherently absurd idea (revolution) while insisting that all other ideas are MORE absurd. Notice that Ken never actually negates the absurdity of his own idea, but merely tries to slander other people's ideas. Nice one, Ken! You had me at "hello."
Stalinist "communism" and reformist "socialism" are merely variants of capitalism
Before going into what this revolution would involve and responding to some typical objections, it should be stressed that it has nothing to do with the repugnant stereotypes that are usually evoked by the word (terrorism, revenge, political coups, manipulative leaders preaching self-sacrifice, zombie followers chanting politically correct slogans). In particular, it should not be confused with the two principal failures of modern social change, Stalinist "communism" and reformist "socialism."
COUNTERPOINT: Get ready, Ken is about to tell us how HIS revolution will be so much nicer and better than all those icky, repressive totalitarian revolutions in days of yore:
POINT: After decades in power, first in Russia and later in many other countries, it has become obvious that Stalinism is the total opposite of a liberated society.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken fails to inform us why it took "decades" for it to become obvious that Stalinism was a crock. I wonder what took so long.
POINT: The origin of this grotesque phenomenon is less obvious. Trotskyists and others have tried to distinguish Stalinism from the earlier Bolshevism of Lenin and Trotsky. There are differences, but they are more of degree than of kind. Lenins The State and Revolution, for example, presents a more coherent critique of the state than can be found in most anarchist writings; the problem is that the radical aspects of Lenins thought merely ended up camouflaging the Bolsheviks actual authoritarian practice. Placing itself above the masses it claimed to represent, and with a corresponding internal hierarchy between party militants and their leaders, the Bolshevik Party was already well on its way toward creating the conditions for the development of Stalinism while Lenin and Trotsky were still firmly in control.(2)
But we have to be clear about what failed if we are ever going to do any better. If socialism means peoples full participation in the social decisions that affect their own lives, it has existed neither in the Stalinist regimes of the East nor in the welfare states of the West. The recent collapse of Stalinism is neither a vindication of capitalism nor proof of the failure of "Marxist communism."
COUNTERPOINT: In fact, CAPITALISM has been vindicated time and time again, in many parts of the world (USA, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, etc). CAPITALIST societies have enjoyed the best medical care, the highest life expectancy, less poverty, less crime, less political, religious and economic "repression" than any of their communist/socialist counterparts in the 20th Century (Russia, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Cuba, etc.). Ken seems not to have noticed.
POINT: Anyone who has ever bothered to read Marx (most of his glib critics obviously have not) is aware that Leninism represents a severe distortion of Marxs thought and that Stalinism is a total parody of it. Nor does government ownership have anything to do with communism in its authentic sense of common, communal ownership; it is merely a different type of capitalism in which state-bureaucratic ownership replaces (or merges with) private-corporate ownership.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken is trying to convince you that there's nothing wrong with Marxist communism per se, but that it has been distorted by mean and ugly tyrants in the past. Notice that his main complaint isn't that Stalin and Lenin weren't Marxist/communist, but that they weren't Marxist/communist ENOUGH. Ken's attempt to divest the "idea" of communism from its totalitarian practice is a bit of a strain, frankly. Consider that in the final sentence Ken tries to differentiate between "government ownership" and "communal ownership." Ken's fantasy life is rich indeed if he thinks he can have an international "community" without any governmental regulation. But not to worry, Ken will figure it all out right after he abolishes money (I kid you not! - read on.)
Ken also complains that his critics are ignorant of Marx's writings. If Ken was at all familiar with Marx's Communist Manifesto, he would know that Lenin followed almost all of Marx's proposals to the letter, including the use of violent revolution to achieve his reforms. The violence and tyranny of the Soviet state were a direct corollary of the Communist Manifesto, NOT a distortion of it. If Ken had actually read Marx, he would know that. He either hasn't read, or deliberately distorts. You decide.
POINT: The long spectacle of opposition between these two varieties of capitalism hid their mutual reinforcement. Serious conflicts were confined to proxy battles in the Third World (Vietnam, Angola, Afghanistan, etc.). Neither side ever made any real attempt to overthrow the enemy in its own heartland. (The French Communist Party sabotaged the May 1968 revolt; the Western powers, which intervened massively in countries where they were not wanted, refused to send so much as the few antitank weapons desperately needed by the 1956 Hungarian insurgents.) Guy Debord noted in 1967 that Stalinist state-capitalism had already revealed itself as merely a "poor cousin" of classical Western capitalism, and that its decline was beginning to deprive Western rulers of the pseudo-opposition that reinforced them by seeming to represent the sole alternative to their system. "The bourgeoisie is in the process of losing the adversary that objectively supported it by providing an illusory unification of all opposition to the existing order" (The Society of the Spectacle,§§110-111).
Although Western leaders pretended to welcome the recent Stalinist collapse as a natural victory for their own system, none of them had seen it coming and they now obviously have no idea what to do about all the problems it poses except to cash in on the situation before it totally falls apart.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken is dead wrong about no one predicting the collapse of communism. Ronald Reagan did. Repeatedly. In fact, he caught a lot of flack for predicting its doom in advance. Look it up, Ken.
POINT: The monopolistic multinational corporations that proclaim "free enterprise" as a panacea are quite aware that free-market capitalism would long ago have exploded from its own contradictions had it not been saved despite itself by a few New Deal-style pseudosocialist reforms.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken apparently hasn't examined how in some ways the New Deal may have actually prolonged the Great Depression. Trust me, the possibility hasn't even occurred to him. Poor guy.
POINT: Those reforms (public services, social insurance, the eight-hour day, etc.) may have ameliorated some of the more glaring defects of the system, but in no way have they led beyond it. In recent years they have not even kept up with its accelerating crises. The most significant improvements were in any case won only by long and often violent popular struggles that eventually forced the hands of the bureaucrats: the leftist parties and labor unions that pretended to lead those struggles have functioned primarily as safety valves, coopting radical tendencies and greasing the wheels of the social machine.
COUNTERPOINT: Imagine what a "mean, stressful, ignorant, and ugly" world it would be without labor unions. Go ahead. I dare you.
POINT: As the situationists have shown, the bureaucratization of radical movements, which has degraded people into followers constantly "betrayed" by their leaders, is linked to the increasing spectacularization of modern capitalist society, which has degraded people into spectators of a world over which they have no control a development that has become increasingly glaring, though it is usually only superficially understood.
COUNTERPOINT: Translation: The welfare state isn't enough because it still allows CAPITALISM to flourish. Down with CAPITALISM! Repent! Extinction is nigh!
POINT: Taken together, all these considerations point to the conclusion that a liberated society can be created only by the active participation of the people as a whole, not by hierarchical organizations supposedly acting on their behalf. The point is not to choose more honest or "responsive" leaders, but to avoid granting independent power to any leaders whatsoever. Individuals or groups may initiate radical actions, but a substantial and rapidly expanding portion of the population must take part if a movement is to lead to a new society and not simply to a coup installing new rulers.
COUNTERPOINT: Here, Ken proposes an entire society of followers with no leaders. The astonishing thing is not that Ken proposed it, but that he thinks it can actually work. Who will lead the revolution, if not Ken? The world needs you Ken! We all need you! I need you...to shut up.
Representative democracy versus delegate democracy
I wont repeat all the classic socialist and anarchist critiques of capitalism and the state; they are already widely known, or at least widely accessible. But in order to cut through some of the confusions of traditional political rhetoric, it may be helpful to summarize the basic types of social organization. For the sake of clarity, I will start out by examining the "political" and "economic" aspects separately, though they are obviously interlinked. It is as futile to try to equalize peoples economic conditions through a state bureaucracy as it is to try to democratize society while the power of money enables the wealthy few to control the institutions that determine peoples awareness of social realities.
COUNTERPOINT: I'm glad Ken realizes that it's futile to equalize peoples economic conditions through a state bureaucracy, especially since he plans to abolish money. My mind is at ease now.
POINT: Since the system functions as a whole it can be fundamentally changed only as a whole.
To begin with the political aspect, roughly speaking we can distinguish five degrees of "government":
(1) Unrestricted freedom
(2) Direct democracy
____ a) consensus
____ b) majority rule
(3) Delegate democracy
(4) Representative democracy
(5) Overt minority dictatorship
The present society oscillates between (4) and (5), i.e. between overt minority rule and covert minority rule camouflaged by a façade of token democracy. A liberated society would eliminate (4) and (5) and would progressively reduce the need for (2) and (3).
COUNTERPOINT: Tyranny and Anarchy were out this week, they couldn't make the list. Or rather, Ken couldnt.
POINT: Ill discuss the two types of (2) later on. But the crucial distinction is between (3) and (4).
In representative democracy people abdicate their power to elected officials. The candidates stated policies are limited to a few vague generalities, and once they are elected there is little control over their actual decisions on hundreds of issues apart from the feeble threat of changing ones vote, a few years later, to some equally uncontrollable rival politician.
Representatives are dependent on the wealthy for bribes and campaign contributions; they are subordinate to the owners of the mass media, who decide which issues get the publicity; and they are almost as ignorant and powerless as the general public regarding many important matters that are determined by unelected bureaucrats and independent secret agencies. Overt dictators may sometimes be overthrown, but the real rulers in "democratic" regimes, the tiny minority who own or control virtually everything, are never voted in and never voted out. Most people dont even know who they are.
COUNTERPOINT: Actually, most of them are listed on http://usa.gov/. That's right, they're all part of a vast, right-wing conspiracy to make Ken say silly things. And look, it's working! They really do control "virtually everything!" They're making me doubt Ken's vague straw man argument as I type these words. Those bastards!
POINT: In delegate democracy, delegates are elected for specific purposes with very specific limitations. They may be strictly mandated (ordered to vote in a certain way on a certain issue) or the mandate may be left open (delegates being free to vote as they think best) with the people who have elected them reserving the right to confirm or reject any decision thus taken. Delegates are generally elected for very short periods and are subject to recall at any time.
COUNTERPOINT: Let's see if you can follow the logic here: Delegates are elected to vote a certain way (but they don't have to), the electors don't have to abide by the vote the Delegates cast (if they don't want to), and the Delegates can be recalled at any time (whether they want to or not)? Does Ken know the difference between Anarchy and Democracy (assuming, of course, that he wants to)?
POINT: In the context of radical struggles, delegate assemblies have usually been termed "councils." The council form was invented by striking workers during the 1905 Russian revolution (soviet is the Russian word for council). When soviets reappeared in 1917, they were successively supported, manipulated, dominated and coopted by the Bolsheviks, who soon succeeded in transforming them into parodies of themselves: rubber stamps of the "Soviet State" (the last surviving independent soviet, that of the Kronstadt sailors, was crushed in 1921).
COUNTERPOINT: Maybe the Bolsheviks decided to recall all the delegates. Hey, it's what Ken would have wanted.
POINT: Councils have nevertheless continued to reappear spontaneously at the most radical moments in subsequent history, in Germany, Italy, Spain, Hungary and elsewhere, because they represent the obvious solution to the need for a practical form of nonhierarchical popular self-organization.
And they continue to be opposed by all hierarchical organizations, because they threaten the rule of specialized elites by pointing to the possibility of a society of generalized self-management: not self-management of a few details of the present setup, but self-management extended to all regions of the globe and all aspects of life.
But as noted above, the question of democratic forms cannot be separated from their economic context.
COUNTERPOINT: If you're wondering how GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGEMENT is different from an utterly pointless board meeting that never ends, don't panic! Ken will explain GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGEMENT ad nauseum. Mark, my words, you'll be sick to death of hearing about GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGEMENT by the time you're done reading this. GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGEMENT is Ken's panacea, his holy grail, the thing that will save humanity from itself (or not).
Irrationalities of capitalism
Economic organization can be looked at from the angle of work:
(1) Totally voluntary
(2) Cooperative (collective self-management)
(3) Forced and exploitive
____ a) overt (slave labor)
____ b) disguised (wage labor)
And from the angle of distribution:
(1) True communism (totally free accessibility)
(2) True socialism (collective ownership and regulation)
(3) Capitalism (private and/or state ownership)
Though its possible for goods or services produced by wage labor to be given away, or for those produced by volunteer or cooperative labor to be turned into commodities for sale, for the most part these levels of work and distribution tend to correspond with each other. The present society is predominately (3): the forced production and consumption of commodities. A liberated society would eliminate (3) and as far as possible reduce (2) in favor of (1).
COUNTERPOINT: As we all know, in CAPITALIST societies, the police will hold a gun to your head unless you produce and consume commodities. It's never happened to me, but it's obviously happened to Ken. Many times.
POINT: Capitalism is based on commodity production (production of goods for profit) and wage labor (labor power itself bought and sold as a commodity). As Marx pointed out, there is less difference between the slave and the "free" worker than appears. Slaves, though they seem to be paid nothing, are provided with the means of their survival and reproduction, for which workers (who become temporary slaves during their hours of labor) are compelled to pay most of their wages. The fact that some jobs are less unpleasant than others, and that individual workers have the nominal right to switch jobs, start their own business, buy stocks or win a lottery, disguises the fact that the vast majority of people are collectively enslaved.
COUNTERPOINT: I'm confused, Ken. Are you really suggesting that anyone who is financially compensated for the work that they do is "temporarily enslaved?" Here's a thought: Why don't we just "liberate" all the farmers of the world and STOP PAYING them? They'd still volunteer to feed the rest of us, right? Or are we all going to revert to subsistence farming? And didn't Pol Pot already try that?
Furthermore, aren't we all "enslaved" by the necessities of food and drink in the first place? Aren't we just "temporary slaves" to our own bodily needs? How can we ever hope free ourselves from this relentless ENSLAVEMENT?
Incidentally, Ken is a Zen Buddhist. He probably does feel enslaved by his own bodily needs. Poor guy.
POINT: How did we get in this absurd position? If we go back far enough, we find that at some point people were forcibly dispossessed: driven off the land and otherwise deprived of the means for producing the goods necessary for life. (The famous chapters on "primitive accumulation" in Capital vividly describe this process in England.)
COUNTERPOINT: Ken says that at some point people were forcibly dispossessed of their land. Did they possess the land they were forcibly dispossessed from? Were they land "owners" to begin with? Ken doesn't say. To be fair, he simply refers to it as "the" land. The land that existed before time? Again, Ken fails to inform.
POINT: As long as people accept this dispossession as legitimate, they are forced into unequal bargains with the "owners" (those who have robbed them, or who have subsequently obtained titles of "ownership" from the original robbers) in which they exchange their labor for a fraction of what it actually produces, the surplus being retained by the owners. This surplus (capital) can then be reinvested in order to generate continually greater surpluses in the same way.
COUNTERPOINT: Not to belabor the point, but how can you rob land from people who don't own it? Or if you prefer, why don't the dispossessed people try to take their land back? You know, raise an army, and fight for what is rightfully theirs? It just seems odd to me that the dispossessed would give up all hope of ever owning their own land. I suppose the unnamed "robbers" could extort the dispossessed by offering them a chance to buy their land back, but Ken's "dispossessed" seem to be permanently displaced. Why is that?
I rent the home I live in. I don't own the land I live on. But the possessions I own are mine, not my landlord's. I have renter's insurance. I use a portion of my paycheck to pay rent. Am I being extorted? No, my residence is completely voluntary. I could always live somewhere else. I could pay less or more rent depending on what sort of living conditions I prefer/tolerate. Am I dispossessed? Certainly not, but I don't own any land, either. I wonder if Ken thinks I'm dispossessed. I worry about Ken sometimes.
Also notice the implicit assumption that the workers are underpaid: "they exchange their labor for a fraction of what it actually produces." Does Ken have any clue as to what that fraction really is? Has Ken ever owned a farm? Does he know what percentage of a farmer's income is used to pay the hired help? Also, how does Ken know that land owners "generate continually greater surpluses?" Do the land owners' surpluses accumulate indefinitely? If so, wouldn't it be impossible for farmers to ever go bankrupt (which they obviously can, and do)? Ken? You still there?
POINT: As for distribution, a public water fountain is a simple example of true communism (unlimited accessibility).
COUNTERPOINT: Actually, a public water fountain is a simple example of a city park, owned by the taxpayers of that city. The fact that the fountain is made accessible to the public is an act of beneficence on behalf of the taxpayers, not a pure form of communism.
A purely communist water fountain would shortly fall into ruin. Since no one really owns it, there are no real incentives to keep it clean/intact. If something goes wrong or needs cleaning, it must be someone else's problem. Hence your average pure communist fountain is a filthy polluted wreck. Try visiting the great "Public Works" projects in the former Soviet Union sometime. You'll see.
POINT: A public library is an example of true socialism (free but regulated accessibility).
In a rational society, accessibility would depend on abundance. During a drought, water might have to be rationed. Conversely, once libraries are put entirely online they could become totally communistic: anyone could have free instant access to any number of texts with no more need to bother with checking out and returning, security against theft, etc.
COUNTERPOINT: A buddy of mine used to say that eventually the entire internet will be accessible to anyone and everyone - free of charge. He was wrong. So is Ken.
POINT: But this rational relation is impeded by the persistence of separate economic interests. To take the latter example, it will soon be technically possible to create a global "library" in which every book ever written, every film ever made and every musical performance ever recorded could be put online, potentially enabling anyone to freely tap in and obtain a copy (no more need for stores, sales, advertising, packaging, shipping, etc.). But since this would also eliminate the profits from present-day publishing, recording and film businesses, far more energy is spent concocting complicated methods to prevent or charge for copying (while others devote corresponding energy devising ways to get around such methods) than on developing a technology that could potentially benefit everyone.
COUNTERPOINT: If every book ever written, every film ever made and every musical performance ever recorded where put into an easily accessible repository "free of charge," who would continue to write books, or make films, or record music, knowing full well there was no way to profit from their labor? Not to worry, I'll bet Ken would still write books for us. He's such a humanitarian, that Ken.
POINT: One of Marxs merits was to have cut through the hollowness of political discourses based on abstract philosophical or ethical principles ("human nature" is such and such, all people have a "natural right" to this or that) by showing how social possibilities and social awareness are to a great degree limited and shaped by material conditions. Freedom in the abstract means little if almost everybody has to work all the time simply to assure their survival.
COUNTERPOINT: Pay attention! This is one of the cornerstones of Ken's entire world-view! His central thesis of human existence is this: Human freedom is limited by material conditions. The notion that people have to work to assure their survival is an anathema to Ken. In order for humans to be truly free, humans have to be free of material concerns. He thereby concludes that if human material concerns are adequately addressed/eliminated/satisfied, utopia will follow. This is Ken's MOST misguided belief (of which there are many). As you will see, Ken honestly believes that if every citizen's material concerns were adequately addressed, then ALL societal conflicts will eventually become irrelevant. This view is delusional at best, but all of his following prescriptions for how to govern human interaction/society are based on this ONE faulty assumption.
It's not Ken's fault. Marx was wrong too.
POINT: Its unrealistic to expect people to be generous and cooperative when there is barely enough to go around (leaving aside the drastically different conditions under which "primitive communism" flourished). But a sufficiently large surplus opens up wider possibilities. The hope of Marx and other revolutionaries of his time was based on the fact that the technological potentials developed by the Industrial Revolution had finally provided an adequate material basis for a classless society. It was no longer a matter of declaring that things "should" be different, but of pointing out that they could be different; that class domination was not only unjust, it was now unnecessary.
Was it ever really necessary? Was Marx right in seeing the development of capitalism and the state as inevitable stages, or might a liberated society have been possible without this painful detour? Fortunately, we no longer have to worry about this question. Whatever possibilities there may or may not have been in the past, present material conditions are more than sufficient to sustain a global classless society.
COUNTERPOINT: This is not only and extraordinary claim, but an utter failure to comprehend how societal "classes" form and sustain themselves in the first place.
POINT: The most serious drawback of capitalism is not its quantitative unfairness the mere fact that wealth is unequally distributed, that workers are not paid the full "value" of their labor. The problem is that this margin of exploitation (even if relatively small) makes possible the private accumulation of capital, which eventually reorients everything to its own ends, dominating and warping all aspects of life.
COUNTERPOINT: Again, this assertion that workers are not paid the full "value" of their labor is asserted but not supported. Notice also the "unequal" distribution of wealth that obsesses the Marxist mind-set. Ask yourself this: Should Janitors make the same amount of money as Doctors? Hold that thought, because we'll come back to it later.
Notice also that the specter of CAPITALISM has returned, that ungodly force that consumes all in its path and bites the heads off of cute little puppies, dominating and warping all aspects of life! Repent! Extinction is nigh!
POINT: The more alienation the system produces, the more social energy must be diverted just to keep it going more advertising to sell superfluous commodities, more ideologies to keep people bamboozled, more spectacles to keep them pacified, more police and more prisons to repress crime and rebellion, more arms to compete with rival states all of which produces more frustrations and antagonisms, which must be repressed by more spectacles, more prisons, etc. As this vicious circle continues, real human needs are fulfilled only incidentally, if at all, while virtually all labor is channeled into absurd, redundant or destructive projects that serve no purpose except to maintain the system.
COUNTERPOINT: Notice that crime is equated with "rebellion." No mention of the capacity for human greed or avarice, just folks responding to the unstoppable forces of CAPITALISM! Notice that the arms race isn't about competing for military global dominance, but merely the result of the insidious competitive spirit of CAPITALISM! Why if we could just rid the world of all this CAPITALISM, all the frustrations and antagonisms of mankind would virtually disappear overnight! Until then human needs are fulfilled ONLY INCINDENTALLY. Careful there, Ken. For a moment there I thought you might be entertaining the notion that one's ability to feed and clothe oneself might actually be a happy side effect of CAPITALISM!
I've got news for you, Ken: If eliminating CAPITALISM from our daily lives is all it would take to initiate a brave new world, then Stalin's Russia, Mao's China, and Pol Pot's Cambodia should all have been astounding utopian success stories! They did a pretty good job of eliminating CAPITALISM from their societies. They eliminated quite a bit of human freedom too, in case you hadn't noticed.
If you want to elevate people out of poverty, give them CAPITALISM. If you want to give people of lower classes some upward mobility, give them CAPITALISM. If you want creative people to have free reign to profit from their own labors, give them CAPITALISM. If you want to starve to death in Siberia, you can always give "pure communism" a try. Hey, at least you'd all starve together in equal measure, and you'd all be in a class unto yourselves. Ken? Are you listening to me, Ken?
POINT: If this system were abolished and modern technological potentials were appropriately transformed and redirected, the labor necessary to meet real human needs would be reduced to such a trivial level that it could easily be taken care of voluntarily and cooperatively, without requiring economic incentives or state enforcement.
COUNTERPOINT: This is the stupidest thing Ken has said so far, which is quite an achievement for him. If you've been keeping score at home, this is the second cornerstone which lays the foundation for all of Ken's beliefs, namely that: Economic incentives and law enforcement are completely unnecessary and serve as oppressive burdens on human society. In order for human society to flourish, economic incentives and law enforcement must be completely eliminated/replaced. Ken is wrong on both counts, which will become increasingly obvious as his explanation of GENERALIZED SELF-MANAGEMENT unfolds. Stay tuned.
POINT: Its not too hard to grasp the idea of superseding overt hierarchical power. Self-management can be seen as the fulfillment of the freedom and democracy that are the official values of Western societies. Despite peoples submissive conditioning, everyone has had moments when they rejected domination and began speaking or acting for themselves.
COUNTERPOINT: It's called "thinking for yourself," Ken. You ought to try it sometime (instead of letting Marx think on your behalf).
POINT: Its much harder to grasp the idea of superseding the economic system. The domination of capital is more subtle and self-regulating. Questions of work, production, goods, services, exchange and coordination in the modern world seem so complicated that most people take for granted the necessity of money as a universal mediation, finding it difficult to imagine any change beyond apportioning money in some more equitable way.
COUNTERPOINT: So in other words: If Ken fails to abolish money, he'll still find a way to distribute all of the existing money "equitably." But it won't require a government bureaucracy to achieve all this wealth re-distribution. He won't even need an army to confiscate all the wealth in current circulation. Don't worry, Ken has it all worked out. Honest!
POINT: For this reason I will postpone more extensive discussion of the economic aspects till later in this text, when it will be possible to go into more detail.
COUNTERPOINT: Be grateful for small mercies.
Some exemplary modern revolts
Is such a revolution likely? The odds are probably against it. The main problem is that there is not much time.
COUNTERPOINT: No, Ken, the main problem is that you're out of your fripping mind. Trust me on this.
POINT: In previous eras it was possible to imagine that, despite all humanitys follies and disasters, we would somehow muddle through and perhaps eventually learn from past mistakes. But now that social policies and technological developments have irrevocable global ecological ramifications, blundering trial and error is not enough. We have only a few decades to turn things around. And as time passes, the task becomes more difficult: the fact that basic social problems are scarcely even faced, much less resolved, encourages increasingly desperate and delirious tendencies toward war, fascism, ethnic antagonism, religious fanaticism and other forms of mass irrationality, deflecting those who might potentially work toward a new society into merely defensive and ultimately futile holding actions.
COUNTERPOINT: Repent! Extinction is nigh! War, fascism, ethnic antagonism, religious fanaticism and other forms of mass irrationality are what you get when you embrace CAPITALISM!
If Ken isn't already on Kim Jong Ill's payroll, he should be.
POINT: But most revolutions have been preceded by periods when everyone scoffed at the idea that things could ever change. Despite the many discouraging trends in the world, there are also some encouraging signs, not least of which is the widespread disillusionment with previous false alternatives.
COUNTERPOINT: That's right, Ken finds encouragement in socialism's appalling failures. Isn't that cute?
POINT: Many popular revolts in this century have already moved spontaneously in the right direction. I am not referring to the "successful" revolutions, which are without exception frauds, but to less known, more radical efforts.
COUNTERPOINT: Ken openly admits that all of the "successful" revolutions were frauds, but that doesn't seem to dampen his enthusiasm for revolutions. Interesting.
POINT: Some of the most notable examples are Russia 1905, Germany 1918-19, Italy 1920, Asturias 1934, Spain 1936-37, Hungary 1956, France 1968, Czechoslovakia 1968, Portugal 1974-75 and Poland 1980-81; many other movements, from the Mexican revolution of 1910 to the recent anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa, have also contained exemplary moments of popular experimentation before they were brought under bureaucratic control.
COUNTERPOINT: I'm genuinely impressed, Ken! "Brought under bureaucratic control" is one of the most brilliant euphemisms for "quelling riots" I've ever heard. I'll bet Den Xiaoping wished he had thought of that one.
POINT: No one is in any position to dismiss the prospect of revolution who has not carefully examined these movements.
COUNTERPOINT: Oooh, Ken! Pick me, Ken, pick me! What about me? Where's the love? *sigh* Well, back to biting puppies I guess...
POINT: To ignore them because of their "failure" is missing the point.(3)
COUNTERPOINT: The only one missing the point here is you, Ken. You have to trust me on this. Damn it, Ken, TRUST ME! - Or the puppy gets it...
POINT: Modern revolution is all or nothing: individual revolts are bound to fail until an international chain reaction is triggered that spreads faster than repression can close in. Its hardly surprising that these revolts did not go farther; what is inspiring is that they went as far as they did. A new revolutionary movement will undoubtedly take new and unpredictable forms; but these earlier efforts remain full of examples of what can be done, as well as of what must be avoided.
COUNTERPOINT: Actually, Ken, I have my own ideas on "what must be avoided." Like you, for instance. Do you think Ken would be offended if we all decided to avoid him? Oh wait, he's into Zen Buddhism, isn't he? He already avoids other people. Imagine my delight when I found out that Ken spends most of his days staring at a blank wall and listening to himself breathe. Keep up the good work, Ken! No, seriously, your doing good there...keep it up...whatever you do...don't stop!
Some common objections
Its often said that a stateless society might work if everyone were angels, but due to the perversity of human nature some hierarchy is necessary to keep people in line. It would be truer to say that if everyone were angels the present system might work tolerably well (bureaucrats would function honestly, capitalists would refrain from socially harmful ventures even if they were profitable). It is precisely because people are not angels that its necessary to eliminate the setup that enables some of them to become very efficient devils. Lock a hundred people in a small room with only one air hole and they will claw each other to death to get to it. Let them out and they may manifest a rather different nature. As one of the May 1968 graffiti put it, "Man is neither Rousseaus noble savage nor the Churchs depraved sinner. He is violent when oppressed, gentle when free."
COUNTERPOINT: Got that? Only "oppression" causes violence. I guess the Cambodian Killing Fields are littered with the bones of countless thousands simply because Pol Pot was such a horribly oppressed guy. I guess when Pol Pot emptied the cities of Cambodia and forced families to disband so they could all become farmers he was just acting out his own oppression on others. Actually, as far as I can tell, Pol Pot lived a charmed life and claimed that he died with a clear conscience. Oh well. Somehow, Pol Pot managed to be a very efficient devil, and he didn't even have to resort to CAPITALISM. (To this day, socialists try to disown Pol Pot, as if he wasn't trying his best to achieve their utopia for them. And yet Pol Pot achieved more things on Marx's to-do list than any other despot, he just used well-trained peasants instead of factory workers for his bloody uprising. Hey, you at least have to give Pot credit for knowing how much blood would have to be spilled in order for a socialist utopia to be achieved.)
Notice that Ken tacitly admits that men are devils, but he only wants to limit their devilish efficiency, not actually turn them into angels. Again, the root of all evil in Ken's world is CAPITALISM! All that ails the human heart can be cured if only we were all supplied with equal portions of material comforts. Really? Ask any materially wealthy person if they think they have enough money. Go ahead, ask. I dare you.
This all harkens back to Ken's mistaken belief that all you have to do is improve a persons living conditions/material concerns, and they'll be truly "free." Notice that in Ken's world, the better angels of our nature directly correlate with the relative measure of our material comforts. And here I thought Ken was anti-consumerism. Oh well. No mention of why we're here or what the purpose of human life on earth might be. But then we wouldn't want to burden people with such weighty questions. Would we, Ken?
POINT: Others contend that, whatever the ultimate causes may be, people are now so screwed up that they need to be psychologically or spiritually healed before they can even conceive of creating a liberated society. In his later years Wilhelm Reich came to feel that an "emotional plague" was so firmly embedded in the population that it would take generations of healthily raised children before people would become capable of a libertarian social transformation; and that meanwhile one should avoid confronting the system head-on since this would stir up a hornets nest of ignorant popular reaction.
COUNTERPOINT: People know totalitarianism when they see it, Ken. They don't want to be "liberated" by a totalitarian regime. Do you?
POINT: Irrational popular tendencies do sometimes call for discretion. But powerful though they may be, they are not irresistible forces. They contain their own contradictions. Clinging to some absolute authority is not necessarily a sign of faith in authority; it may be a desperate attempt to overcome ones increasing doubts (the convulsive tightening of a slipping grip).
COUNTERPOINT: You mean like Atheism, Ken? I didn't think so.
POINT: People who join gangs or reactionary groups, or who get caught up in religious cults or patriotic hysteria, are also seeking a sense of liberation, connection, purpose, participation, empowerment. As Reich himself showed, fascism gives a particularly vigorous and dramatic expression to these basic aspirations, which is why it often has a deeper appeal than the vacillations, compromises and hypocrisies of liberalism and leftism.
COUNTERPOINT: This is just a taste of Ken's vitriol for the Left. I wonder what he thinks of the Christian Right?
POINT: In the long run the only way to defeat reaction is to present more forthright expressions of these aspirations, and more authentic opportunities to fulfill them.
COUNTERPOINT: You mean like Christianity, Ken? I didn't think so.
POINT: When basic issues are forced into the open, irrationalities that flourished under the cover of psychological repression tend to be weakened, like disease germs exposed to sunlight and fresh air. In any case, even if we dont prevail, there is at least some satisfaction in fighting for what we really believe, rather than being defeated in a posture of hesitancy and hypocrisy.
COUNTERPOINT: We are the disease. Ken is the cure. Long live Ken!!!
POINT: There are limits on how far one can liberate oneself (or raise liberated children) within a sick society.
COUNTERPOINT: There are limits to stupidity, too, Ken. I don't think you're quite there yet. Please tell me you've never had children, Ken. That would make my day!
But if Reich was right to note that psychologically repressed people are less capable of envisioning social liberation, he failed to realize how much the process of social revolt can be psychologically liberating. (French psychiatrists are said to have complained about a significant drop in the number of their customers in the aftermath of May 1968!)
COUNTERPOINT: French psychiatrists complain about a lot of things, Ken. Ignore them. If you dare.
POINT: The notion of total democracy raises the specter of a "tyranny of the majority." Majorities can be ignorant and bigoted, theres no getting around it. The only real solution is to confront and attempt to overcome that ignorance and bigotry. Keeping the masses in the dark (relying on liberal judges to protect civil liberties or liberal legislators to sneak through progressive reforms) only leads to popular backlashes when sensitive issues eventually do come to the surface.
COUNTERPOINT: This is the truest thing Ken has written so far. Learn from Ken. Follow his example. You'll be a better person for it.
POINT: Examined more closely, however, most instances of majority oppression of minorities turn out to be due not to majority rule, but to disguised minority rule in which the ruling elite plays on whatever racial or cultural antagonisms there may be in order to turn the exploited masses frustrations against each other. When people get real power over their own lives they will have more interesting things to do than to persecute minorities.
COUNTERPOINT: Don't worry, Ken, human beings have never had any difficulty rationalizing their hatred for their fellow man. I'm sure they'll think of someone else to persecute. If I ever ran out of minorities, for instance, I'd start persecuting you, Ken. Or puppies. Kind of a toss up there. Could go either way. I'll keep you informed. Just kidding, Ken! KIDDING! - About the puppies, I mean.
POINT: So many potential abuses or disasters are evoked at any suggestion of a nonhierarchical society that it would be impossible to answer them all.
COUNTERPOINT: Oh, come on, Ken, you know you want to! Pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeease?
POINT: People who resignedly accept a system that condemns millions of their fellow human beings to death every year in wars and famines, and millions of others to prison and torture, suddenly let their imagination and their indignation run wild at the thought that in a self-managed society there might be some abuses, some violence or coercion or injustice, or even merely some temporary inconvenience.
COUNTERPOINT: Wow. Ken wants to prevent millions of deaths, man-made famines, and prison torture, but he STILL wants to take another stab at "pure communism." Maybe people who forget their own history really are doomed to repeat it. Oh well.
DO NOT MISS the fact that Ken openly admits that abuse, violence, coercion, injustice and temporary inconveniences are still on his to-do list! He'll just be MORE GENTLE with us than those FILTHY CAPITALISTS!
POINT: They forget that it is not up to a new social system to solve all our problems; it merely has to deal with them better than the present system does not a very big order.
COUNTERPOINT: Note to Ken: The countless communist atrocities of the 20th Century don't inspire confidence, they inspire fear and rejection. That's why no one listens to you, Ken. But I listen. Because I care. And because I like you, Ken. You crack me up!
POINT: If history followed the complacent opinions of official commentators, there would never have been any revolutions.
COUNTERPOINT: If the complacent opinions of official commentators governed our behavior we'd still be living in grass huts arguing about what color to paint the grass, Ken. Negative points, Ken! - for stating the way obvious.
POINT: In any given situation there are always plenty of ideologists ready to declare that no radical change is possible. If the economy is functioning well, they will claim that revolution depends on economic crises; if there is an economic crisis, others will just as confidently declare that revolution is impossible because people are too busy worrying about making ends meet. The former types, surprised by the May 1968 revolt, tried to retrospectively uncover the invisible crisis that their ideology insists must have been there. The latter contend that the situationist perspective has been refuted by the worsened economic conditions since that time.
Actually, the situationists simply noted that the widespread achievement of capitalist abundance had demonstrated that guaranteed survival was no substitute for real life.
COUNTERPOINT: I think the situationists have demonstrated beyond the shadow of a doubt that situationism is no substitute for real thinking, Ken. Is that glib enough for you, Ken? I could go on
POINT: The periodic ups and downs of the economy have no bearing on that conclusion. The fact that a few people at the top have recently managed to siphon off a yet larger portion of the social wealth, driving increasing numbers of people into the streets and terrorizing the rest of the population lest they succumb to the same fate, makes the feasibility of a postscarcity society less evident; but the material prerequisites are still present.
COUNTERPOINT: I'm sorry, Ken, what planet did you say you were living on? I think you forgot to mention it earlier. Remember in that first paragraph where you said you worried about dulling my senses to reality? Waaaaaaaaaaaaaay to late for that, Ken. Nope. Too late, Ken. Let it go. MoveOn.
POINT: The economic crises held up as evidence that we need to "lower our expectations" are actually caused by over-production and lack of work. The ultimate absurdity of the present system is that unemployment is seen as a problem, with potentially labor-saving technologies being directed toward creating new jobs to replace the old ones they render unnecessary. The problem is not that so many people dont have jobs, but that so many people still do. We need to raise our expectations, not lower them.(4)
COUNTERPOINT: You've brought us this far just to dump this 1940's-World's Fair-better-life-through-technology-where-machines-do-all-the-work-for-us-so-we-can-live-the-goodlife B.S. on our doorstep!?!?! You disappoint me, Ken, and I'm not being facetious, not this time. You suck, Ken. Get a clue. Read a book or oh, wait
Increasing dominance of the spectacle
Far more serious than this spectacle of our supposed powerlessness in the face of the economy is the greatly increased power of the spectacle itself, which in recent years has developed to the point of repressing virtually any awareness of pre-spectacle history or anti-spectacle possibilities. Debords Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988) goes into this new development in detail:
In all that has happened over the last twenty years, the most important change lies in the very continuity of the spectacle. What is significant is not the refinements of the spectacles media instrumentation, which had already attained a highly advanced stage of development; it is quite simply that spectacular domination has succeeded in raising an entire generation molded to its laws...Spectacular dominations first priority was to eradicate historical knowledge in general, beginning with virtually all information and rational commentary on the most recent past...
COUNTERPOINT: No wonder Ken still thinks Marxist communism is a great idea. But we digress...
POINT: The spectacle makes sure that people are unaware of what is happening, or at least that they quickly forget whatever they may have become aware of. The more important something is, the more it is hidden. Nothing in the last twenty years has been so thoroughly shrouded with official lies as May 1968...The flow of images carries everything before it, and it is always someone else who controls this simplified digest of the perceptible world, who decides where the flow will lead, who programs the rhythm of what is shown into an endless series of arbitrary surprises that leaves no time for reflection...isolating whatever is presented from its context, its past, its intentions and its consequences...It is thus hardly surprising that children are now starting their education with an enthusiastic introduction to the Absolute Knowledge of computer language while becoming increasingly incapable of reading. Because reading requires making judgments at every line; and since conversation is almost dead (as will soon be most of those who knew how to converse) reading is the only remaining gateway to the vast realms of pre-spectacle human experience.
COUNTERPOINT: It's called Television, Ken. Learn to cope. If the whole human race can be sucked down the toilet by something as innocuous and annoying as the invention of TV, we deserve to become extinct. Repent! Cable TV is nigh! Hmmmmm. Doesnt have quite the same ring to it. And I thought you were pro-technology, Ken. Oh well.
POINT: In the present text I have tried to recapitulate some basic points that have been buried under this intensive spectacular repression. If these matters seem banal to some or obscure to others, they may at least serve to recall what once was possible, in those primitive times a few decades ago when people had the quaint, old-fashioned notion that they could understand and affect their own history.
COUNTERPOINT: Those quaint, old fashioned people who still believed they could shape their own destinies embraced CAPITALISM, Ken. Where were you?
POINT: While there is no question that things have changed considerably since the sixties (mostly for the worse), our situation may not be quite as hopeless as it seems to those who swallow whatever the spectacle feeds them. Sometimes it only takes a little jolt to break through the stupor. Even if we have no guarantee of ultimate victory, such breakthroughs are already a pleasure. Is there any greater game around?
COUNTERPOINT: Yes, Ken, it's called Parcheesi.
1. Ken Knabb (ed. and trans.), Situationist International Anthology (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1981), p. 81 [Geopolitics of Hibernation]. Here and elsewhere I have sometimes slightly modified my original SI Anthology translations.
2. See Maurice Brintons The Bolsheviks and Workers Control: 1917-1921, Volines The Unknown Revolution, Ida Metts The Kronstadt Uprising, Paul Avrichs Kronstadt 1921, Peter Arshinovs History of the Makhnovist Movement, and Guy Debords The Society of the Spectacle §§98-113. (These and most of the other texts cited in this book can be obtained through the distributors listed at the end of the Situationist Bibliography.)
3. "The journalists and governments superficial references to the success or failure of a revolution mean nothing for the simple reason that since the bourgeois revolutions no revolution has yet succeeded: not one has abolished classes.
COUNTERPOINT: That's because you have to abolish freedom first, Ken. Abolishing freedom is hard work.
POINT: Proletarian revolution has not yet been victorious anywhere, but the practical process through which its project manifests itself has already created at least ten revolutionary moments of historic importance that can appropriately be termed revolutions. In none of these moments was the total content of proletarian revolution fully developed, but in each case there was a fundamental interruption of the ruling socioeconomic order and the appearance of new forms and conceptions of real life variegated phenomena that can be understood and evaluated only in their overall significance, including their potential future significance...The revolution of 1905 did not bring down the Czarist regime, it only obtained a few temporary concessions from it. The Spanish revolution of 1936 did not formally suppress the existing political power: it arose, in fact, out of a proletarian uprising initiated in order to defend the Republic against Franco. And the Hungarian revolution of 1956 did not abolish Nagys liberal-bureaucratic government. Among other regrettable limitations, the Hungarian movement had many aspects of a national uprising against foreign domination; and this national-resistance aspect also played a certain, though less important, role in the origin of the Paris Commune. The Commune supplanted Thierss power only within the limits of Paris. And the St. Petersburg Soviet of 1905 never even took control of the capital. All the crises mentioned here as examples, though deficient in their practical achievements and even in their perspectives, nevertheless produced enough radical innovations and put their societies severely enough in check to be legitimately termed revolutions." (SI Anthology, pp. 235-236 [Beginning of an Era].)
COUNTERPOINT: Damn it, Ken! Those lazy commies weren't trying hard enough!
POINT: 4. "Were not interested in hearing about the exploiters economic problems. If the capitalist economy is not capable of fulfilling workers demands, that is simply one more reason to struggle for a new society, one in which we ourselves have the decisionmaking power over the whole economy and all social life." (Portuguese airline workers, 27 October 1974.)
COUNTERPOINT: Ok, Ken, let's apply that same logic to the following sentence: If the ideal Communist system is not capable of fulfilling workers demands, that is simply one more reason to struggle for a new society, one in which we ourselves have the decisionmaking power over the whole economy and all social life."
That's already been done, Ken. It's called the United States of America.
Democracy + Capitalism = Freedom, Ken. I don't think I can put it any simpler than that.
Do you have any idea how many people lost their lives trying to escape the Soviet Union, Ken? Any idea how many hundreds of millions of lives throughout the world have been expended on the altar of a communist utopian ideal? I didn't think so. That's why you suck, Ken. And I don't mean that in a good way.
End of Chapter 1 of "The Joy of Revolution," from Public Secrets: Collected Skirmishes of Ken Knabb (1997).
COUNTERPOINT: Don't cheer yet, there's three more chapters where this came from.
Index Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4