What do we want?
When do we want it?
A. It's hopeless.
B. It accomplishes nothing, except a changing of the guard.
C. It diverts us from the real struggle, which is to attain a higher level of consciousness, and to explore our potential (which is still unknown).
The working class of late has not shown itself to be particularly
responsive to the rhetoric of the New Left. The evidence would
suggest that any insurrection at this stage in the affairs of
the American state is more likely to come from the right. Movements
such as Yippie!, the Black Panther Party, SDS, and so on have
proven to be shorter-lived and far less tolerated than the Minutemen
or the Ku Klux Klan. This is not simply because of the raw power
of the police machine.
John Galbraith has pointed out that when capital was the key to economic success, social conflict was between the rich and the poor. But in recent times, education became the difference that divides. "Politics," he writes, "reflect the new division. In the United States suspicion or resentment is no longer directed to the capitalists or the merely rich. It is the intellectuals who are eyed with misgiving and alarm. This should surprise no one. Nor should it be a matter for surprise when semi-literate millionaires turn up leading or financing the ignorant in struggle against the intellectually privileged and content. This reflects the relevant class distinction of our time." It is a distinction few intellectuals are willing to accept. Humanists and socialists alike would prefer to steer away from any position which might open them up to charges of elitism, yet everything points to a sharp (and widening) cleavage not only between the generations but between the new basic classes. Students can no longer appeal to the workers with much hope of being listened to (or, for that matter, of getting out of a union hall meeting without having their heads beaten in).
Add to that the fact that the very "masses" upon whom all organized revolutionaries pin their long range hopes are the people (in the highly industrialized states) who are the least likely to rise up against anybody except the revolutionaries themselves. Come the revolution, we will all be listening to Bob Hope. The problem in part is that only a minority of the population in any advanced industrialized nation is responsive to the new and accelerated pace of change. A few, among them many of the young and many of the intellectually privileged and content, are in tune with the new culture; that is, change is not something that frightens them. Mobility offers possibilities, not dread of being uprooted. The "broad masses," on the other hand, are still peeking out at the world from around the corner of their memories of the Depression and the Second World War.
Few will dispute that the guns and the tanks and the bombs and the advertising agencies and the mass media are in the hands of the established order. The target of any revolution cannot just be the White House, the Pentagon, and Fort Knox. It must be, let's say, "the hearts and minds of the people," whether Vietnamese or American. And these, at the moment, are largely under the control of the establishment press, the advertisers, and the politicians. So, already, the revolution must move against an enemy that commands the heights and is dug in everywhere, who, furthermore, has overwhelming firepower, with air and ground and naval support. And the odds are not yet through being added up. The establishment also has at its disposal a humming army of computers, an array of prototypal technostructures whose function is not only to anticipate trouble, pin-point likely danger spots, but, as a regular day-to-day operation, keep a closer eye on every individual citizen than could be done in any previous society. There is no one in America-or any advanced industrial state, for that matter-whose identity is not magnetically recorded on a tape somewhere. So, in addition to the overwhelming firepower of the enemy, the revolutionary faces the dangers of bugging, wiretapping, computerized surveillance, and so on.
So far, however, we have been ticking off the obvious. We have not really got the real strength of the enemy, which is that, unlike a banana republic, the modern industrial state is not run by a strongman flanked by bullyboys, a division of armored jeeps, and financed by a clutch of businessmen with vested interests in keeping wages down. It may indeed stem from just such a basic structure, but in the process of its evolution it has become too complex, too bottomless, to be tackled as though it remained nothing more than that. The power of the industrial state is greater by several factors, and not just in terms of physical might.
Where we see progressiveness and openly liberal attitudes, we see the technological reality refining its methods of manipulation, organization, and, ultimately, control. It gets better at it all the time, absorbing more, spreading out in ever-widening circles, and turning every attack to its own advantage, simply by accepting the attacker, swallowing him, and thus very nearly literally feeding on opposition.
Historically, it has been hard enough to get broad masses of people to bite the hand that wouldn't feed them; to hope, under conditions of affluence, to get those same broad masses to bite a hand that does feed them-and feeds them very well-is a thin hope indeed. Add this stark reality to the problems already mentioned, and one begins to see that it would have to be one hell of a super-revolution, the one which could smash the technological society.
Even if the odds weren't so bad, consider the state the troops are in. What happened to the crowd in the Chicago Civic Plaza on Moratorium Day demonstrated clearly where the real organizational muscle was. But there is more to it. Shortly before Moratorium Day, I was in Berkeley, at the University of California campus. Listen to one of the most radical students I talked to: "It's ready to blow, man. There's a revolution coming. It's overcrowded here. Construction everywhere. Bad food. Lousy accommodation. It's mean. Bad vibrations. Everybody's really uptight, only it's low-level uptightedness. People are bugged, I mean, really bugged... the food prices, the shortage of rooms, the noise... it's gonna go, man. Wow." So there is a revolution about to erupt. But follow the conversation further. It drifts. Soon, the student is talking about the intensity of the mescaline experience as compared to the hashish experience. A lot of quibbling gets going with other students present about the virtues of hash. And from there the conversation proceeds directly to the issue of the best places to go skiing. One place is generally conceded to be much better than the others, because "dampness from the ground soaks right up through your head and goes raining off in reverse right into the sky from your head, all those pores in your scalp, like they were sprinklers, man." This is, if you have been smoking hash. Somehow, no contradiction is seen between the desire to have a revolution and the desire to smoke hash and go skiing. The revolutionary fever was heavily seasoned with hedonism, which weakens it badly. And most conversations I got into on the campus seemed spiced in much the same way. A friend reports meeting two radicals at Berkeley, whose position is simple: Everything will have to be smashed from stem to stern; America has become that diseased. The conversation ends when they ask my friend if he would like to blow a joint. Okay. They go down the street and climb into a brand-new Thunderbird, property of the most talkative radical and proceed to get stoned.
The story may be apocryphal, but not very.
Yet, through a process of nothing much more than elimination, we have arrived at a position where the vanguard of a revolution must be the "alienated" young. The working class has become reactionary (labor and management may quibble over the spoils, but none seeks to blow up the trough), the bourgeoisie middle class are more dominant than ever, the poor are already contained in ghettoes which are concentration camps lacking only barbed wire. Let us look, therefore, at the picture these alienated young presented as the 1960s drew to a close. Here is Barry Farrell's description of the last two nights of the Woodstock festival:
As night fell the scene became more dramatic still, disclosing a loud electric image of the future. From the fringes of the crowd, the stage looked like a pearl at the bottom of a pond, a circle of light fired down from towers as big as missile gantries. Just beyond it, helicopters fluttered in and out of an LZ ringed with Christmas lights, bringing in the rock groups, evacuating casualties and stars. Much music was lost under the beat of their bladesan annoyance until it was perceived as a higher music than rock aloneas rock-helicopter music, space music to accompany the sound-and-light vision of the American '70s.
The speaker's expert voice purred across the breadth of the farm, reading off lists of the injured and ill, urging respect for the fences. In the newspeak of our age, he praised the crowd for being groovy, cautioning them not to blow the cool thing they had going by breaking any of the rules. Then he would give way to another group, and the musicians would appear, tiny forms bathed in lurid light.
On the festival's last night, when the field had turned to slime and abandoned sleeping bags lay sprawled underfoot like corpses, my feelings for the event began to darken. Everyone around me was shivering under soaked coats and blankets. Their bonfires, fed with newspapers and milk cartons, cast up a stench that hung above the meadow in a yellow haze. On the dark roads, unseen faces whispered the names of drugs to passing strangers. Mescaline? Hash? At the central crossroads, anxious voices shouted the names of lost friends. Gloria! Donald!
The great stoned rock show had worked a counter-miracle, trading on the freedom to get stoned, transforming it into a force that tamed the crowd and extracted its compliance. Not that anyone minded, of course-the freedom to get stoned was all the freedom they wanted. And, being stoned, everyone was content to sit in the mud and feed on a merchandised version of the culture they created. In the cold acid light, the spoiled field took on the aspect of an Orwellian concentration camp stocked with drugs and music and staffed with charming police. The speaker's coaxing voice only enriched the nightmare, which became complete when I asked a trembling blue-faced boy if he was feeling all right. "Groovy," he said, adding a frozen smile.
The Woodstock festival has already been recorded as a victory for music and peace, and that is as it should be. But it should also be remembered as a display of the authority of drugs over a whole generation-an authority already being merchandised, exploited, promoted. It was groovy, as the speaker kept saying, but I fear it will grow groovier in memory, when the market in madness leads on to shows we'd rather not see.
Leonard Cohen remarked in 1968, when asked if there was a revolution
going on: "Of course it's a revolution. But I want to see
the real revolution. I don't want it siphoned off by the
mobilization people. It's got to take place in every room. Revolutionaries,
in their heart of hearts, are excited by the tyranny they wield.
The lines are being drawn and people on both sides are beginning
to terrorize each other. Somehow we have to break out of this
process, which can only lead to both sides becoming like
each other. I'm afraid that when the Pentagon is finally stormed
and taken, it will be by guys wearing uniforms very much like
those worn by the guys defending it."
Many of us advance into our lives by little more than cause and effect. That is, we take a step for a variety of reasons and, having taken this small initial step, discover the consequences. We are then forced to deal with those consequences. and we do that by rationalizing the original act. Having rationalized it, one has then set up the crude framework of a behavioral pattern which can now be fleshed out by further actionsproceeding in the same direction. Each new action, so long as it continues to proceed in the same direction, becomes slightly easier than the one before. It's like learning to drive, acquiring reflexes. Once one is familiar with the gears it becomes largely automatic. Strong men, or men of action (such as revolutionaries must be), are therefore those whose behavior has been most effectively rationalized. They set themselves in motion automatically. Revolutionary heroes are therefore bound to a large degree to be behavioral automatons. Further, all revolutionaries are forced to accept a discipline which forbids them to freely explore interpretations other than those which serve as the basis for the revolution. Revolutionary zeal is one of the worst forms of tyranny, locking the individual into a position every bit as static as that of his opposite number, the reactionary. At the extremes, in terms of individual personality, the revolutionary and the reactionary merge. For both, the doors leading to personal growth and development of their own unrealized potential are closed.
The man of action requires an uncluttered setting with simple ground rules in order to function. Ideally: A setting as stark as a boxing ring. Only then can the Aristotelian proposition of either/or be put to work. The object of the revolutionary (or reactionary) game is to reduce complex on-going processes to a fixed game board involving nothing more than two players; black vs. white, good vs. bad, freedom vs. slavery. If he is successful in reducing multi-ordinal reality to a simple game, the revolutionary has then "set the stage" for an uprising. Needless to say, in a complex highly-integrated modern industrial state, the initial task of the revolutionary is that much more difficult.
The point here is simply that the revolutionary stance is an idée fixe, monomania. Further, it is, on a grand scale, a kind of decadencea rejection of the complex (and real) in favor of the simple (and less real). What the revolutionary offers us, finally, is one other idea about how things should be done. His goal is to ram that idea down our throats, and in order to be able to do that, he must first seize power.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter. Chairman Mao advises us that "the seizure of power by armed force, the settlement of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form of revolution." It is a power struggle first and foremost. Exactly the sort of thing for which the Priest Kings of Nemi stand as the central metaphor. The revolutionary does not want change, he wants one change, the change which will bring him into power. And then...? Why then his task is to fight off the next wave of revolutionaries who want another change. "Everybody wants to save the world," Henry Miller once noted, "but nobody wants to help his neighbor."
"The urge to manipulate others," writes George B. Leonard, "whether to 'solve' a 'problem' or build an empire, begins in the nursery The drive for surplus power is born of lack and nourished by deprivation. 'Power'the word itselfappears only when there are unfulfilled needs. We would never have heard the term 'Black Power' if blacks had been treated fairly. 'Woman Power' is a statement of denial, a cry for justice. Ultimately, little will be gained if blacks, women, and others of the oppressed merely gain dominance, thus triggering yet another cycle of deprivation and desperation....'Power' is derived from an Old French word meaning, 'to be able.' When we return to this definition, the real question becomes, 'What do you want to be able to do or be, to feel or enjoy?' The past has taught us well: Playing power games and losing is a waste of time. Playing power games and getting exactly what you want is the ultimate despair."
All political parties, whether revolutionary or established (along with their ideologies and systems) are built on a narrow base of power. Some specialize in humanism, others on exploitation, yet others on inevitable conflict. In all cases, the issue of power remains the locus of activity. All existing political organizations (again whether revolutionary or not) remain essentially anthropomorphic. The struggle is between people and groups of people, each locked into a monomaniacal opposing stance. Any disinclination to accept the whole ideological package is a sign of betrayalone becomes a "revisionist" or a "Commie-lover" or something to that effect, depending on where and what you are. Revolutions are seen as mechanisms whereby our sickness might be cured: racism, greed, insanity, hate, fear, distrust, alienation, poverty, dictatorship. Revolution, at best, is seen as a kind of heart transplant; at worst, lobotomy. Always, of course, for the good of the patient, and always on the assumption that the operation will cure all ills. "Social change" is the vehicle, the means toward the higher end of more moral behavior, of greater brotherly love, of physical well-being, an end to hunger and deprivation
And to affect these tremendous social changes, it remains absolutely necessary to seize power. Underdog must overthrow topdog. Underdog is then the new topdog and the old topdog now has a taste of being underdog. The guard has been changed. There is a new man in the saddle. Beyond that stage, what happens?
The operational mode of thinking remains the trigger of all practical change. Today, Marxism is the mirror image of capitalism, but basically no different. Because Communists and Socialists and Capitalists have all hitched their social wagons to the engine of technology, there can be no basic change. Exploitation of nature remains the key to wealth, whether equally distributed or not. And through the domination of nature, the men continue to dominate each other and be dominated.
Theodore Roszak puts it well:
To immerse oneself in the old ideologies-with the notable exception of the anarchist tradition which flows from such figures as Kropotkin, Tolstoy, Thoreauis to find oneself stifling in the stone and steel environment of unquestionable technological necessity. It is a literature of seriousness and grim resolve, tightly bounded by practicality, class discipline, the statistics of injustice, and the lust for retribution. To speak of the ecstasies of life in such a somber environment is to risk folly. Here where all men trudge, none may dance. Dancing is . . . for later. If the demise of the old ideologies begins anywhere, it begins with this delaying gesture. For to postpone until 'later' consideration of the humanly essential in the name of 'being realistic' is to practise the kind of deadly practicality which now stands our civilization in peril of annihilation. It is to deliver us into the hands of the dehumanized commissars, managers, and operational analystsall of whom are professional experts at postponing the essential. These are the practitioners of what C. Wright Mills called 'crackpot realism.'
Leon Trotsky once prophesied that the final revolution in the
world would consist of a series of small and violent upheavals
going on everywhere, lasting perhaps for generations. This sounds
dead on, yet not even Trotsky could have envisioned how "small"
and how "violent." The final revolution will be taking
place in an arena no larger than my head and your head, and it
will involve a psychic and emotional violence whose measure has
not yet been taken. So long as we are concentrating our energies
on power struggles, on toppling institutions only to replace them
with others, we are channeling our energies outward; it is an
exercise as futile as the trip to the moon, all part of an outward
voyage whose aim is exploitation, whose method is manipulation,
whose end is power and control. History is a stuck record, with
human struggle caught in a single groove, the vicious circle of
cyclic recurrence. Down goes one king, and up goes another. The
day after a palace is stormed, the new bosses set up shop across
the street. We have not yet escaped from collective childhood,
in the sense that we still need leaders, and still do not trust
our own senses. (Liberals, with their tremendous fear of being
"judgmental," are among the worst offenders. It is the
liberals who have come closest to building systems on a fusion
of man and his works, yet they have not learned that their weaknessequivocalityis
also their greatest potential source of strength.) Revolution
is seen always as the means to an end which is human liberation,
freedom not only from want, but from the tyranny of the emotions,
racism, hatred, murder, crime, and exploitation. "Social
change" will lead to a change in consciousness. Yet this
is in reality a Rube Goldberg course. The possibility of moving
directly from A to B. without having to climb to the top of the
pyramid in order to get down to the bottom of it, has not even
historically been considered; except, of course, by theologians
and artists. The only way for the greater human being to come
into existence is directly, giving birth to himself. No ideology
is prepared to accept the idea that the cure might precede the
revolutionary operation, that perhaps the operation might only
make the patient sicker. Changereal change, as opposed to a
change of political underwearwill only come after the fact
of individual liberation. And since this is something that cannot
be organized or led, that does not lend itself to political or
ideological frames of reference, it is dismissed (by the operationalists)
as being nothing at all. Yet we might with good cause demand:
Revolutionary, heal thyself! The real revolution works in exactly
the opposite fashion to what has always been assumed to be the
case-changing the social institutions does no good, because the
last link in the chain, the individual, is the farthest removed
from the locus of power. When however, the individual is the first
link to be affected, it turns out that the seats of power are
themselves the last to be changed. Institutions and thrones are
about as far removed from the ordinary citizen as anything in
the social landscape. The aim of revolutionary types has been
to organize the people to move against the thrones, to tear down
the institutions. In the process, people submit to discipline
and the need for violence, and thus become violent disciplinarians
themselves. The fact that they may be crushing an entrenched set
of violent disciplinarians at this point makes no real difference.
How far have they progressed in the direction of realization of
themselves? Nowhere. They may have succeeded in brutalizing themselves,
in reverting to the logic of domination and can be certain of
emerging from the bloodbath convinced that the operational point
of view is the only point of view. Other than that, there is no
progress in the critical directionwhich is to explore unknown
territory, to move upward, not downward, in terms of personal
and collective evolution, to acquire a keener vision, a deepening
of the senses, an enlargement of vision, to the point where we
might perceive subtler harmonies, regularities which were not
noticed before, and, finally, to bring our shattered selves back
into a working whole. The task is to complete the human being,
not turn him back into a barbarian.
The question arises: It's all very well to say that we must all "save ourselves," no one can do it for us, but what about the obvious inequalities of the present system? What about corruption? Police brutality? Militarism? Murder? What good does it do if you liberate yourself and achieve a state of "higher morality" or whatever, if, in the meantime, Vietnamese peasants continue to be bombed, Blacks are starving in ghettoes, Indians are processed and reprocessed through prisons, millions are dying of starvation, madmen have their fingers poised on the nuclear trigger, and the planet is being destroyed by parasitic corporations and governments? Isn't 'self-liberation" at this stage a luxury we can ill afford to indulge ourselves in? There is real work to be done, and done in a hurry if we are to survive.
The short answer lies in what Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls describes as the most important phenomenon in all pathology: "self-regulation versus external regulation. The anarchy which is usually feared by the controllers is not an anarchy which is without meaning. On the contrary, it means the organism is left alone to take care of itself, without being meddled with from outside. And I believe this is the great thing to understand: that awareness per seby and of itselfcan be curative. Because with full awareness you become aware of this organismic self-regulation, you can let the organism take over without interfering, without interrupting; we can rely on the wisdom of the organism." In the sociological context, the message is clear enough: awareness is the starting point for action which is not pre-determined by ideological bias; without awareness, without having gotten to the "center" of our beings, as the Gestaltists call it, without having transcended the operational mode of thinking which reduces our actions to little more than acted-out equations, without having "cured" ourselves of our refusal to let the situation dictate our actions (rather than vice-versa), there is nothing we can do with certainty which will not simply amount to a subtler kind of power-game, a reversal of roles, orand this is the unavoidable trapwhich will not amount in the long run to a projection of our own disequilibrium This is not to suggest a "moratorium" on political activity, which in itself can be therapeutic, but it is to say that the blind have no right to be leading the blind. Only when our own eyes are open can we presume to lead. Otherwise we may rest assured that whatever illusions we may have about "progress" are in reality nothing more than circular gropings in the dark, with pitfalls everywhere. The answers, once one's eyes are open, can be clearly perceived.
Before proceeding to look beyond the barricades (a garbage heap of antique social furniture) there is a point which needs to be cleared up, since much of what has been said so far about the futility of revolution can easily be misconstrued as a put-down of very real and just revolutions taking place not only in America, but in Canada and Vietnam and elsewhere. My argument is simply that revolution must take the shape of its container; it defines itself in relation to the system it seeks to defy or overthrow. But I am speaking of revolution in the context of the technological society, or one-dimensional society, or the affluent society, or whatever label one chooses to describe what is mainly a white man's modern world. Not everyone in North America lives in that world. The ghettoeswhether black ghettoes in Los Angeles or Chicago or Eskimo or Indian ghettoes in Canada and in the Arctic-are truly another country. And the struggles that go on within these territories are against colonialism, imperialism, and brutal oppression. They have much in common with the struggle of the Vietnamese. The "container" in these cases is quite different from the kind of container in which those of us who are predominantly white and living in suburbs and high-rise apartments find ourselves.
The Hudson Institute has calculated that within thirty years the first four post-industrial societies will have surfaced on the face of the planet. They will be, in this order, the United States, Canada, Japan, and Sweden. They will be characterized by the fact that per capita income will range from $4,000 to $20,000; most economic activity will have shifted from industrial production to the service industries, research institutes and non-profit organizations; private enterprise will no longer be a major source of scientific and technical development. Large-scale integration will be all but complete. We will be far down the path of convergence with the Communist world. At this point, the technological society will have clamped its iron arms around the world, bioelectronics will have succeeded in literally plugging us into world-wide hookups and a de facto police state will have emerged. It is in these areas (the post-industrialized regions) that the obsolescence of revolution will be most apparent.
This is not to say that, outside the affluent sphere, revolution will be obsolete. The "wretched of the earth" will still be with us, old-style police states based on brutality and oppression will still exist, colonialism in a variety of forms will likely still prevail. In these "outside regions," there is no reason to assume that armed insurrection, revolution, and violent overthrown of corrupt and brutal administrations is in any way unjustified or unnecessary.
To draw our models for revolutionary behavior from these other regions, however, is to refuse to recognize the qualitative differences between these societies. Within a single generation, there will be a difference between the most advanced societies and the ones trailing behind them which will not only be a matter of degree but of kind. Those of us in the most advanced regions will be living in a different world. A fundamental change is involved. For us to continue to assume that revolutionary programs applicable in China, India, most of South America and Africa (areas which have not even approached the industrialized stage) can somehow have any relevance in our own advanced industrial context, is, at best, an unsophisticated notion; at worst, plain stupidity. Within the comfortable concentration camp, inside a system which can absorb and contain and feed on all forms of protest and rebellion, a whole new set of tactics must be evolved, and are being evolved. Moreover, we have no choice in the matter, since old-style revolutionary activity simply will not work. We will be effectively blocked from indulging in the kind of uprising and overthrow which amounts to cyclic recurrence. We will have no Bastilles left to storm except those within our skulls, no oppressors left whom we can get our hands on except our egos. The struggles which were always directed outwardagainst tyrants and dictators-will have been effectively thwarted, and will be turned back on themselves. Inward will go the revolution, turning every man's head into a battlefield.
The "social bottle" of those regions on planet earth which are furthest into the future is different, unique; by the standards of other ages and other cultures, it is downright freaky. It has been molded into a new formby the computer, by television, by changes in social character, by technoplanning, cybernetics, chemistry, psychology, technique. We all agree it is made from new materials: plastic, nuclear power, vinyl, electronic circuitry, datapoints and programming. Yet how many of us are prepared to see that revolution, the counterpoint to all that is totalitarian and repressive (even when rationally totalitarian and repressive) must also change; it must, in fact, become as strange, as novel, as freaky as its container. And it is becoming all of thatso much so that most of us fail to recognize it as revolution. In drama we see, as Martin Esslin put it, "By all traditional standards of critical appreciation of the drama, these [modern absurd] dramas are not only abominably bad, they do not even deserve the name of drama." Mark Gerzon goes on to say: "Many people have realized that nothing can be judged by traditional standards, for we do not live any longer in a traditional society. How many parents have said about modern music and painting that they do not even deserve the name? The arts have broken with tradition because they found the limitations on style and structure unnecessary and artificial..." Similarly, "revolution" is in the process of breaking from traditional style and structure.
Before proceeding, it is necessary to clearly distinguish between this ultimate struggle and the penultimate struggles being waged by oppressed people living outside the perimeter of The Machine. Basically, these next-to-last struggles are efforts to break into the area already inhabited by those of us who are affluent. Although our own struggle is of a different nature, we cannot ignore those other struggles and neither can we afford to refuse to help. But first we must have some understanding of the difference. To this end, let me focus on the Black Panther Party, which is a real revolutionary force (in the old pre-technological style).