JR'S Free Thought Pages
John Dalberg-Acton’s Maxim and the Anarchist Principle
By Johnny Reb, December, 2019
One of my favourite movies is the beautifully filmed 1966 David Lean movie Dr. Zhivago, based on Boris Pasternak’s famous novel. The movie is not without its biases but is nevertheless a riveting account of the events leading to the Russian Revolution, the astonishing early success and the subsequent western capitalist incited counter revolution that followed in the form of a brutal four year civil war. Despite the Red Army eventually prevailing, the war was devastating to the ability of Lenin and his Bolshevik comrades to live up to their promises to the country’s primarily peasant population. The reactionary counter revolution was instigated by former Tsarist monarchists, the wealthy landed aristocracy and Christian churches who were soon joined by several capitalist countries throughout the world. These capitalist countries were intent on defeating the emerging people’s democracy and its possible spread throughout the rest of the world. The invading capitalist countries included the United States and Britain which sent financial aid, weapons and thousands of troops to destroy the newly founded people’s democracy. Countries that wanted to destroy the revolution (which had spread to Germany in 1919) also included an acquiescent Canada which sent 4000 soldiers from Victoria to Vladivostok.
The movie was also the first date with my future wife so it is special for me from that perspective as well. I’ve seen this film many times over the years, including other marvellous David Lean productions.
There are several incredibly memorable scenes in this beautifully filmed epic, but two are particularly relevant to this essay.
The first is the poignant scene of a long disorganized column of exhausted Russian troops retreating from the slaughter on the Eastern Front. But marching toward them heading to the front are hundreds of new recruits led by an aging Cossack general and his senior officer who warns the retreating troops that the German barbarians are coming to take “your country” and rape your women. The response from one of the self-appointed spokesman of the ragged retreating soldiers is brilliant: “that’s your country, officer”. Then the fun begins:
The second scene takes place on train full of dishevelled men in box cars who have been seconded into forced labour and perhaps reluctant recruitment into the Red Army. One of the men on the train is an anarchist, played brilliantly by Klaus Kinsky in a cameo role. The anarchist Kinski declares himself “the only free man on the train” because he is the only one with the courage to call the guard exactly what he is to his face - a servile boot licker, “lickspittle” and a “liar”. This was after the guard had informed the Kinski anarchist that he is on the train as a “voluntary” labourer. He later declares “long live anarchy!
The wisest men follow their own direction
- Euripides 480-406 BCE
We now know that the Supreme Being – a veritable succubus battening on humanity – was a fraud perpetrated by priests and princes that was meant to lend an effable character to the order of social precedence and regulate the status of masters and slaves - Raoul Vaneigem, A Letter to my Children and the Children of the World to Come, 2019
Crony capitalism has its own hired “intellectuals”. They envision the abolition of culture and the liberal arts because of their cost, because it they do not serve the market and are liable to encourage the passion for knowledge and critical thought that invariably tend to expose the lies of power. Bullshit and obscurantism suit business. The totalitarianism of money and profit go beyond brainwashing by the absolute reign of mindlessness and a global economic system that has reduced life to mere survival fed by false needs and artificial desires and now threatens every life-form on the planet. The message is “enjoy today because tomorrow will be worse”, helping sales while tightening the shackles of resignation, passivity and fatalism - Raoul Vaneigem, A Letter to my Children and the Children of the World to Come, 2019
The worst result of the banker’s crimes and the cynicism of the market are less the lies and dishonesty that the occult fascination of money, as though it was the supreme value – the value with the power to buy everything and all others. People who persist in voting for the political flacks and henchmen of big business have the souls of petty chiselers who dream of becoming big-time crooks with impunity. Everywhere the cult of owning and predation destroys the human being. - Raoul Vaneigem, Letter to my Children and the Children of the World to Come, 2019
Euripides and Raoul Vaneigem would surely have agreed with the freethinking freedom loving Indian anarchic polymath and Nobel Prize winner for literature, Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941). Tagore had nothing but contempt for nationalism, patriotism and capitalism which he claimed have never been anything but political authoritarian quasi-religious dogmas of arbitrary power that are intrinsic to the modern nation state that, like natural disasters, intruded on the autonomy of self-managed local communities. Like the economic moral depravity of capitalism (which according to Ngugi Wa Thiongo “came to the world dripping with blood”), the capitalist state is not only incompatible with liberty, but is also a deeply immoral, coercive and despotic institution that does not protect the masses but rather is a system from which the masses of people need protection. For example, think seriously about who the police and military are designed to serve and protect? The short answer is private property, wealth and power.
In my contemplative retirement years I’ve come to the conclusion that, in addition to preservation of traditional hierarchies, one of the primary hallmarks of conservatism, in addition to its contempt for freedom and democracy, is love of power in all its sordid manifestations. I’m reminded of the famous quote by Thucydides from his History of the Peloponnesian Wars that “The strong do as they wish and the weak suffer as they must”. People who are political conservatives, it seems to me are those either at or near the apex of hierarchical pyramid or those of the servile herd majority who don’t mind being endlessly told what to do. Conservatives hold to one deeply immoral adage: “might is right”. As a kid I detested Sunday school and have avoided as much as possible any and all authoritarian settings. The primary public schools I attended in the 1950s were run like boot camps with some seemingly mentally deranged teachers systematically brow beating and physically abusing very young impressionable students, especially recalcitrant precocious kids such as me. As long as I can remember I hated any form of regimentation, including the silly patriotic rubbish and quasi-religious rituals of being a boy scout; I lasted one week as a scout and one day as an airhead cadet. Unlike some of my friends, becoming a cop or a soldier who I now consider merely goons, thugs and hired killers for the state – of which the state is the primary instrument of control by entrenched power elites, corporations and financial mafia - was never a live option for me, regardless of how destitute I may become. Life, if it is anything, is surely not mere survival - as Raoul Vaneigem claims – one paycheck from the street scratching out a living as wage slaves under the dictatorship of capital - but a creative endeavor hopefully motivated by solidarity, love and creativity, not atomization, power and profit.
Acton’s Famous Axiom
The thrust of this polemic is grounded in the well-known lines John Dalberg- Acton wrote in a letter from Naples in 1887 to the effect that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”The corollary to his truism regarding the corrupting influence of power was “Great men are almost always bad men”. What he means by “great men” is vague, yet they are generally powerful wealthy, often psychopathic, controlling people who we were also told in our high school history courses, were “great”. I realize now that these so-called “great men” were invariably political conservatives - vultures, bastards, assholes and enemies of the working class such as Cecil Rhodes, Winston Churchill and the leaders of most capitalist countries such as Britain, the United States and Canada. I have often wondered whether there is some irony in the fact that Acton was a Catholic, held a peerage and that he was perhaps thinking of himself and others like him. Certainly a “Lord” (or any other of hundreds of non-existent monotheistic deities throughout history) is the allegorical and metaphorical quintessence of authoritarianism and infinite power. If power corrupts (as it most certainly does) and absolute power corrupts absolutely, then what does this say about monotheistic deities, specifically the Christian and Islamic Gods worshipped by billions? But I suppose the thousands of mythical gods slavishly revered and prayed to by billions of deluded earthlings are by design granted moral and legal exemptions not unlike the “too big to fail” and “get out of jail free” cards handed to mafia banks and other corporate criminals by the nanny corporatist states throughout the world in 2008. Like the corporate lap poodle leaders of the world’s Western capitalist countries, the Christian and Islamic deities are either asleep at the wheel or just don’t give a damn about the vast majority of their sheep like followers who are impoverished, destitute and miserable, many suffering and dying in countries bombed into the stone age by the malevolent American Empire and their obedient imperialist allies as their resources are ransacked, privatized and plundered.
It’s been said that what one does with power is the ultimate litmus test of one’s morality and that power attracts people with pathological psychopathic personalities. Acton’s adage and its implications regarding the most egregious sources of power (state, church and today’s multinational corporations) provide the obvious answer as to why the earliest anarchists such as Mikhail Bakunin not only challenged the legitimacy of state power and its use of coercion (and structural violence of police and military if necessary) to control the masses, but the even more hierarchical and tyrannical institutions of religion such as Christianity  and Islam.
One of Bakunin’s most well-known quotes is:
A Boss in Heaven is the best excuse for a boss on earth, therefore if God did exist; he would have to be abolished.
My first knowledge of anarchist philosophy arose from a very effective, yet eccentric, graduate course probability and statistics professor who introduced the small class of about two dozen to Proudhon, Bakunin, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Emma Goldman and others. For those of you interested, one can read online Bakunin’s God and the State and the excellent volume edited and translated by Sam Dolgoff titled Bakunin on Anarchy as a starting point by simply clicking on the links provided. The three most well known anarchist slogans are: “No Gods, No Masters”, “Question Everything” (especially all authority) and “Demand the Impossible”.
Over two centuries ago it was the tsunami of the French Revolution, a primarily bourgeois uprising that first seriously challenged raw power with any effectiveness, overturning the tripartite tyranny of the monarchy, the Christian church, priests and their omnipotent God that sanctioned the hierarchy, absolute power and the enslavement of the masses. The apex of the pyramid was the mythical God, but after its decapitation, along with the enabling huckster priests and monarch Louis XVI, the twin pillars of god, the monarchy and divine principle were abolished for good. The eradication of L'Ancien Régime and its monarchical and theological totalitarianism signalled the hopeful victory of ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, thanks to men of the Enlightenment such as David Hume, Rousseau, Diderot, Voltaire and Meslier. Although rebellions such as this, including the Paris Commune (1871) and Bolshevik Revolution (1917), were ultimately compromised and defiled and, as some would argue, destroyed, as the forces of reaction brought us Napoleon, Hitler, Stalin and, more recently, authoritarian corporatist neo-fascist ideologues and its dogmatists such as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and now the monstrosity of Donald Trump. The former two are arguably the ideological precursors of the global dictatorship of finance capital that prevails today. And sadly, well over half the people of the world continue to be mentally incarcerated by the authoritarianism of Christianity, Islam and hundreds of religions that falsely justify, promote and regulate the status of masters and slaves. Is it any mystery as to why real democracy continues to be nonexistent?
In a world of Donald Trump we are witnessing once again the rise of fascism (which has always been a latent presence lurking within mainstream conservatism) and many polemics, especially from the liberal left, about the erosion of our democracy. What democracy, I say? Even considering democracy vaguely defined traditionally as “the will of the people” or Rousseau’s “general will”, real democracy is a farce. But in the conceptual sense of a self-managed political order and economy, we are very far from any semblance of genuine democracy, especially considering the power of wealth, capital and the corporate controlled media that manages and manipulates the spectacle of electoral politics manipulated by the billionaire and millionaire classes to serve their interests.
To my mind anarchism is the only philosophy of real freedom, embracing Edward Abbey’s claim that “anarchism is taking democracy seriously”. Conservatives and liberals alike respond with the claim that socialism and anarchism simply “do not work”. Do not work for whom one ought to ask? Notwithstanding the reality that neither socialism nor anarchism has existed throughout history, does capitalism “work”? And, work for whom? In a world in which 8 billionaires have more wealth than half the world’s population and in the prototypical capitalist country of the United States one-tenth of one percent have more wealth than the bottom 90%, the answer ought to be obvious.
Anarchists for at least the past 150 years have attempted to create authentic democratic principles and an ethical environment upon which an entire socio-economic and political philosophical vision could be implemented based on the logical implications of Acton’s well-known quote. Anarchists of various leanings today and throughout history all agree on Acton’s power principle as axiomatic and have been at the forefront of democratic movements on which a global world order based on a science of human organization and behaviour that could be constructed to replace authoritarian world orders, the latest and perhaps most insidious as any that came before is globalized corporate finance capitalism.
It seems that the Acton quote may offer a basis for explaining how a failed Catholic artist like Adolf Hitler and a Christian seminary educated tyrant such as Joseph Stalin could end up with the blood of millions on their hands; or how the Chinese emperors, Roman emperors, popes and the French ancient regime failed to resist the allure of power. But these examples are no different than the current democratic frauds of a deeply immoral oligarchic corporate capitalism that pillages and desecrates the planet’s natural resources by coercing or merely overrunning countries and indigenous peoples with impunity, including its imperialistic wars of power and profit. It’s hard to imagine how we’ve tolerated for so long a brutal capitalist ideology and economic order that’s been imposed on the world founded on the exploitation of our fellow man and the natural world. What is deeply disturbing is that most pious Christians whose guru Jesus Christ claimed that the poor will inherit the earth and depicted the financial parasitic capitalists of his day as a “den of thieves”, support this vile system. And in the past forty years of late stage capitalism, it’s become progressively more unjust with obscene and unprecedented levels of economic inequality and arcane bloodsucking mechanisms for squeezing out any and all value and profit from the diminishing resources of an overpopulated planet of withering and dying ecosystems.  Mother Nature has been gang raped by capitalism for five centuries.
Even among the capitalist theologians we refer to as “economists” where one finds even more idiots than in politics, the alarm bells have been sounding since the global massive heist and multi-trillion dollar swindle of the commons that was vomited up following the global financial meltdown followed by nauseating disgraceful bailouts of corporate criminals in 2007-09. During the midst of the economic debacle the village idiot George W Bush had the rare presence of mind to declare “this sucker’s going down”! If capitalism lived by its own hard ass rules, the ugly “sucker” cess pool system would have collapsed into a dung heap. And good riddance because the self-destruction of totalitarian kamikaze casino capitalism may have provided a gateway for creating a new bottom up world based on authentic democratic principles of justice, egalitarianism and a self managed economy that serves all and not the current oligarchic form of governance run by a tiny parasitic financial elite and their sycophantic political yes-men sock puppets.
When an alleged democratic political movement or ideology succumbs to the iron law of oligarchy, it relinquishes oversight, limits on power, controls, checks and balance and collapses into authoritarianism, ignoring the will of the people (the enigma of real democracy), it will invariably result in widening spirals of license and tyranny, leading to corruption, bribery, deceit, propaganda, outright lies and countless other forms of moral depravity. But if real democracy construed as “the will of the people” is to be created then it surely must imply self-management, direct democracy (not the republican or parliamentarian frauds) and a rejection of deeply immoral oppressive exploitive ideologies such as state capitalism. In fact the state itself, an instrument of structural violence in support of war mongering capitalist pillage, must also be dismantled.
It would be a bit too facile to assume that Acton’s truism could be developed into a full-fledged explanation of the historical bases of hierarchy, various authoritarianisms, religious paternalisms and the capitalist incarnation we suffer from in our own time based on blind faith in economic mysticism, mumbo jumbo and bullshit such as the EMH (Efficient Market Hypothesis) and the worship of Adam Smith’s pie in the sky “Invisible Hand of the Marketplace” that follow previous forms of power and control into the dustbins of history.
Anarchism at its most basic understanding is any movement that rejects hierarchies and arbitrary authoritarian institutions such as organized religion, the state, the military or even the family in some cases. My understanding and embrace of anarchism was strengthened by my reading of Noam Chomsky, who describes himself as a votary of the anarchist tradition. Many anarchists are sceptical of whether Chomsky is really an anarchist, because he is insufficiently revolutionary and frequently endorses social democratic policies, thinking you ought to vote for Bernie Sanders (or even Hillary Clinton) if you vote in a swing constituency. Chomsky’s political approach within existing capitalism is essentially pragmatic whereas his intellectual approach is in line with traditional anarchist principles. He often speaks about the anarchist approach as the question of legitimacy of (often arbitrary) power and authority:
“Authority, unless justified, is inherently illegitimate and that the burden of proof is on those in authority. If this burden can’t be met, the authority in question should be dismantled.”
This doesn’t imply that there are no legitimate authorities such as science. But it does mean that no authority is presumptively legitimate. A monarch or dictator’s order might be democratic, useful and morally responsible, but it is not so because he is the absolute authority. Doing good things in a democratic manner periodically does not necessarily make tyrants good or necessary. Your political leader, teacher or professor may be right, but they are not right because they are your leader, teacher or professor.
Perhaps the most widely circulated sympathetic definition of anarchism at the turn of the 20th century was that provided by Peter Kropotkin in an article for the 1905 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica:
Anarchism is the name given to a principle or theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government—harmony in such a society being obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilized being.
In 1917, the Russian-American anarchist Emma Goldman defined anarchism in a similar, if more compact, way:
The philosophy of a new social order based on liberty unrestricted by man-made law; the theory that all forms of government rest on violence, and are therefore wrong and harmful, as well as unnecessary.
Goldman went on to remark that “the new social order rests, of course, on the materialistic basis of life; but while all anarchists agree that the main evil today, as it was for Marx, is an economic one, they maintain that the solution of that evil can be brought about only through the consideration of every phase of life.”In both definitions, anarchism calls for a society that can satisfy the economic and spiritual needs of all members of society - especially its worst off - and is achieved through the replacement of currently constituted political authority with new forms of social relations.
In the post World War II era British anarchist Colin Ward argued, “An anarchist society, a society which organizes itself without authority, is always in existence, like seed beneath the snow, buried under the weight of the state and its bureaucracy, capitalism and its waste, privilege and its injustices, nationalism and its suicidal loyalties, religious differences and their superstitious separatism.”
In the 21st century the American anarchist Cindy Milstein succinctly defined contemporary anarchism as consisting of a “dual project: the abolition of domination and hierarchical forms of social organization, or power-over social relations, and their replacement with horizontal versions, or power-together and in common—a free society of free individuals.”
Historically, a central aim of anarchism’s dual project has been the achievement of social equality. This is especially crucial in today’s corporatist directed world of shocking and grotesque economic inequalities as in the United States, now with the widest gulf between rich and poor in the world. Three billionaires now have more wealth than half the US population and with one-tenth of one percent controlling more wealth than the bottom 90%. Anarchists have always been against social, religious and economic hierarchy as well as economic inequality and strove for a worker self-managed direct democracy, socialist and stateless order. In such a society, individual freedom would be harmonized with communal obligations through cooperation, democratic decision-making, and social and economic equality.
Anarchism has been distorted, misconstrued and attacked relentlessly by conservatives and liberals alike and is therefore very much misunderstood by the majority of people. Anarchism is first and foremost a philosophy of freedom which confronts and questions all forms of power, control, exploitation and coercion, most of which are not legitimate and therefore cannot be justified or tolerated. Anarchism, not to be confused with American right wing libertarianism, is rather a leftist social philosophy and movement traditionally opposed to all forms of hierarchy such as capitalism, militaries, churches, monarchies, theocracies, cops and corporations that include social, political and religious domination in the pursuit of freedom of human action premised on egalitarianism, self-governance, well-being, direct democracy, control of the means of production by the people and assured material well being. Like any socio-political philosophy, anarchism has many nuances such as anarcho-syndicalism, insurrectionary anarchism and anarchist pacifism. Two of the most important well-known contemporary anarchists I respect and admire are Noam Chomsky and David Graeber, both of whom are brilliant writers, critical thinkers and social reformists or revolutionaries. An anarchist writer among many well worth reading is Raoul Vaneigem (1934 - ). His classic The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967) which partly motivated the current paper would be one of many interesting places to start. Vaneigem has written many other books, most of which have not been translated into English, but there are some interesting interviews with him you can read online.  For example, one can discover some enlightened readings at the excellent web site www.libcom.org. Follow this link:
Also follow the links provided below for an explanation of the anarchist philosophy and challenges to the conservative establishment vilifications, distortions and misconceptions as generally understood by the rabble of indoctrinated sheep called society.
For an interesting enlightening interview with LSE anthropologist and anarchist David Graeber on London Real TV you may follow the link I have provided below. It’s a lengthy interview, prior to the release of his recent fascinating book “Bullshit Jobs”, but worth every minute. Graeber is a highly intelligent and yet engaging charming fellow with working class roots you’d love to spend an evening with chin wagging and chatting over a few beers.
Anarchist Resources on www.skeptic.ca:
Society is not merely an abstraction – or as Margaret Thatcher  put it, “non-existent” - it is rather a reflection of the consciousness and solidarity of people who live within it. The source of what is wrong in the world lies within this consciousness, not simply in the political and economic systems themselves. There will never be peace until we are free of the dispositional attitudes such as competition, dogmatism, superstition and greed that create conflict. That we exist within a society (and are not simply free floating automatons mired within a dog eat dog capitalist ideology) and that societal problems flow from us and the values we have internalized from that society is true, but, as with most things in life, the issue is more complex and nuanced. Yes, we have our dark side animal natures that require at least mitigation, if not elimination, in order to make us human. Failure to do so leads to monstrosities such as Donald Trump. But arguing for the status quo of capitalist exploitation (or any other authoritarian order) by appealing to an enigmatic “human nature” is an intellectual fraud. We do not have to live in a world described by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) in his magnum opus Leviathan; nor do we have to accept his views regarding human nature or his authoritarian solution to our insecurities and vulnerabilities.
The relationship between the societal norms and the individual is a symbiotic one, and this is well known to those who most powerfully control the beastly capitalist system of profit and exploitation under which most people in the world currently endure. Sadly, our so-called “democracies” under capitalism simply do not exist - other than the freedom to exploit man by man - including pillaging the world’s natural resources. In our globalized corporatist world of financial feudalism and depending on the cultural norms underlying the society in which we live, we are all to a greater or lesser degree, structural victims, held captive by consumerism and wage slavery and a race to the bottom with little or no voice and even less influence. But resistance has been growing in recent years as millions have taken to the streets, demanding radical change. This will only increase. Billions of people throughout the world, the overwhelming majority, feel themselves captives within a giant game of aggrandizement, wealth accumulation by privatizing and plundering the commons and profit as the principle that takes precedence over all else, including all life forms on the planet. It is being played to limitless extremes as if the planet is an infinite resource and no rules playing field for multi-national corporations, banks and other financial reptiles and vampires as they are enabled by our undemocratic compliant governments and other powerful organizations, including the media and increasingly compromised, privatized and corporatized education systems which are in steep decline.
These interconnected and interdependent masters of capital that make up a power elite, including multi-billionaires and their political lackeys who meet at lavish hotels in Switzerland each year to divvy up among themselves what’s left of the world’s resources. The ideology of choice for those functioning within the corporate political sphere is founded on and promotes the dogma of greed and profit. Selfishness, ambition, patriotism, competition, nationalism all are found within its tenets and are promoted as natural human tendencies that are beneficial for an individual and so should be developed. Such “values”, we’re told, bring success, usually understood as material comfort, career achievement or social position, and with success, the story goes, comes happiness. The notion of a genuine democracy entailing a self managed economy (that serves the vast majority, not a privileged caste of plutocrats) and a society of justice, egalitarianism and caring for our worst off are never mentioned. Within the corrupt construct of happiness, declared in the highly undemocratic US constitution and rightly recognized as something that everyone longs for - has been replaced by consumerism and acquisitiveness of mostly superfluous toys, technological devices and gadgets, including decadent holidays and cruises, endlessly promoted in marketing schemes and mind numbing advertising in every available space in the media, billboards, sporting venues and elsewhere which is sought after day and night. Even justice and love are commodities.
The tendency towards greed and selfishness, hate and violence, no doubt exist latent within every human being, the dark side of our animal nature lies dormant within us all, but so does the tendency to cooperation and community. The positive side of our nature is often blacked out by the paucity of moral exemplars and the outrageous amoral behaviour of both our business leaders and their sycophantic conservative and limousine liberal politicians who wave the flag of nationalism, patriotism and imperialist wars of profit. And we are enslaved by debt peonage and conditioned by fear of the other.
The two most pervasive and effective tools employed to condition the minds of all are religion, public and private education systems and the endless indoctrination and manufactured consent of the corporate controlled mass media. We are endlessly conditioning into nationalism, patriotism and militarism at every opportunity, including at every professional sporting event. That includes the ridiculous national anthems that often display robotic military rituals.
This is a transitional time, a time of late stage capitalism, collapse and mad rush for what’s left of the world’s resources, of disintegration and rebuilding; underlying the present tensions and discord is the energy of change and the emergence of the something totally new. Only our lack of imagination prohibits us from alternatives to the current totalitarianism of capital its profit machine. Corruption and deceit plague every political order on the planet as more people are waking up from their sleep walking and distracted lives.
The fight for democracy is taking place, between those elitist conservative forces in the world that are wedded to the old ways, and a dynamic, global movement for social justice, environmental action, peace , freedom and a self managed economy and society. Sapped of energy, the existing forms and modes of living are in a state of corruption and decay; propelled solely by the impetus of the past they persist in form only, hollow carcasses without vitality. As growing numbers of people around the world are realizing this to be true, and while some react with fear and look for certainty behind the palliatives of religion, flag or ideology, the majority call for a fundamental shift, for justice and the inculcation of a political, economic and societal order that allow unifying solidarity and harmonious ways of living to evolve. The very survival of life on the planet depend on it
 As both Tolstoy and Kropotkin have pointed out, Jesus was essentially a moralist and revolutionary contra the Roman Empire, eventually executed as an enemy of the state. J C preached equality, cooperation, egalitarianism and a communistic ethic. But once Christianity emerged from cult status to state religion of the Roman Empire as declared by an edict of the Emperor Constantine, it proceeded to use this political power to dismantle and destroy the intellectual heritage and treasures of the classical world. Then it was complicit in promoting subservience to god and the state and authoritarianism, private property and the slave trade, colonialism and the denigration of the cultures of indigenous peoples throughout the Western colonies. It’s not surprising that many anthropologists and philosophers have targeted Christianity as the ideological precursor of colonialism, racism, genocide and capitalism.
 Could we have conjured up a way of living that is more barbaric and absurd than the all-powerful cruelty of the invented gods, the caste of priests, kings, queens and princes ruling enslaved peoples, their colonialist atrocities, the obligation to work that is supposed to promote creativity and satisfaction and substantiate the Stalinist paradise, the millennial Third Reich, Francisco Franco’s Spanish Catholic inspired fascist heaven on earth, the Maoist Cultural Revolution, the society of well-being (the short lived fear based post WW II capitalist welfare state, now being totally dismantled), and finally the neoliberal tyranny of bailed out banks, corporations and parasitic predatory private capital beyond which there is neither individual nor social safety and finally the notion that mere survival is everything and life is nothing? The quest for profit before all else has transformed our economies into being controlled by a totalitarian financial mafia and apelike psychopathic brutes, of which Donald Trump is a prime exemplar.
 Vaneigem argues that the death of capitalism may not be far off as we are facing serious environmental challenges with rampant pollution and ecosystem collapse. Our neighbourhoods and communities have been defiled and destroyed by vulture-like real estate developers with zero democratic oversight (city hall is bought and paid for) and our land and water is in the process of being taken over by private corporations and perhaps soon we will be paying for clean air to breathe. Calling for abolition of capitalism and the racketeering bureaucratic state of yes-men politicians and replacing them with self-management and direct democracy, in an interview from 2009 during the global multi-trillion dollar bailouts of financial mafia, Vaneigem says:
“Even if we are today seeing recycled ideologies and old religious infirmities being patched up in a hurry and tossed out to feed a general despair, which our ruling wheelers and dealers cash in on, they cannot conceal for long the shift in civilization revealed by May 1968. The break with patriarchal values is final. We are moving toward the end of the exploitation of nature, of work, of trade, of predation, of separation from the self, of sacrifice, of guilt, of the forsaking of happiness, of the fetishizing of money, of power, of hierarchy, of contempt for and fear of women, of the misleading of children, of intellectual dominion, of military and police despotism, of religions, of ideologies, of repression and the deadly resolutions of psychic tensions. This is not a fact I am describing, but an ongoing process that simply requires from us increased vigilance, awareness, and solidarity with life. We have to re ground ourselves in order to rebuild—on human foundations - a world that has been ruined by the inhumanity of the cult of the commodity.
The moralization of profit is an illusion and a fraud. There must be a decisive break with an economic system that has consistently spread ruin and destruction while pretending, amidst constant destitution, to deliver a most hypothetical well-being. Human relations must supersede and cancel out commercial relations. Civil disobedience means disregarding the decisions of a government that embezzles from its citizens to support the embezzlements of financial capitalism. Why pay taxes to the military, spy agencies, police goon squads and bank mafia state, taxes vainly used to try to staunch the sinkhole of corruption, when we could allocate them instead to the self-management of free power networks in every local community? The direct democracy of self-managed councils has every right to ignore the decrees of corrupt parliamentary democracy. Civil disobedience towards a state that is plundering us is a right. It is up to us to capitalize on this epochal shift to create communities where desire for life overwhelms the tyranny of money and power. We need concern ourselves neither with government debt, which covers up a massive defrauding of the public interest, nor with that contrivance of profit and inexhaustible “economic growth” on the finite planet. From now on, the aim of local communities should be to produce for themselves and by themselves all goods of social value, meeting the needs of all - authentic needs, that is, not needs prefabricated by consumerist propaganda.”
 Margaret Thatcher and her obtuse American cohort Ronald Reagan were two of the primary instruments of the far right conservative reactionary movement against the liberation movements of the 1960s (civil rights, anti-war, women’s lib, anti-capitalist, etc.) Thatcher and her TINA principle – there is no alternative (to unregulated capitalism and total privatization of everything) – also proclaimed that “there is no such thing as society”. Anyone who lived through these years leading to our current corporate capitalist dystopia will surely recall the transformation, especially evident in the workplace with the destruction of unions, the ever increasing work load, diminishing pay slips and benefits. The future is bleak for the notion of meaningful creative work as in the sense of a dedicated lifelong career with liveable pensions when coupled with the corporate oligarchy and financial aristocracy that has destroyed unions, solidarity, community and any modicum of democracy and quality education we once enjoyed is a disaster for our current generation of young people looking for opportunities to flourish. Added to these challenges are countless other catastrophic events such as world war, global warming, species extinction and contamination of our necessary life forces of clean air, water and soils. In his magnum opus The Revolution of Everyday Life (1967) Vaneigem had this to say about work and the workplace which have greatly deteriorated since those hopeful days:
“The tripalium is an instrument of torture. Labour means ’suffering’. We are unwise if we forget the origin of the words ’travail’ and ’labour’. At least the nobility never forgot its own dignity and the indignity which marked their bondsmen. The aristocratic contempt for work reflected the master’s contempt for the dominated classes; work was the expiation to which they were condemned to all eternity by the divine decree which had willed them, for impenetrable reasons, to be inferior. Work took its place among the sanctions of Providence as the punishment for poverty, and because it was the means to a future salvation such a punishment could take on the attributes of pleasure, basically work was less important than submission.
The bourgeoisie does not dominate, it exploits. It does not need to be master, it prefers to use. Why has nobody seen that the principle of productivity simply replaced the principle of feudal authority? Why has nobody wanted to understand?
Is it because work ameliorates the human condition and saves the poor, at least in illusion, from eternal damnation? Undoubtedly, but today it seems that the carrot of happier tomorrows has smoothly replaced the carrot of salvation in the next world. In both cases the present is always under the heel of oppression.
Is it because it transforms nature? Yes, but what can I do with a nature ordered in terms of profit and loss, in a world where the inflation of techniques conceals the deflation of the use-value of life? Besides, just as the sexual act is not intended to procreate, but makes children by accident, organized labour transforms the surface of continents as a by-product, not a purpose. Work to transform the world? Tell me another. The world is being transformed in the direction prescribed by the existence of forced labour; which is why it is being transformed so badly.
Perhaps man realizes himself in his forced labour? In the nineteenth century the concept of work retained a vestige of the notion of creativity. Zola describes a nail smiths’ contest in which the workers competed in the perfection of their tiny masterpiece. Love of the trade and the vitality of an already smothered creativity incontestably helped man to bear ten or fifteen hours which nobody could have stood if some kind of pleasure had not slipped into it. The survival of the craft conception allowed each worker to contrive a precarious comfort in the hell of the factory. But Taylorism dealt the death-blow to a mentality which had been carefully fostered by archaic capitalism. It is useless to expect even a caricature of creativity from the conveyor-belt. Nowadays ambition and the love of the job well done are the indelible mark of defeat and the most mindless submission. Which is why, wherever submission is demanded, the old ideological fart wends its way, from the Arbeit Macht Frei of the concentration camps to the homilies of Henry Ford and Mao Tse-Tung.
So what is the function of forced labour? The myth of power exercised jointly by the master and God drew its coercive force from the unity of the feudal system. Destroying the unitary myth, the power of the bourgeoisie inaugurated, under the flag of crisis, the reign of ideologies, which can never attain, separately or together, a fraction of the efficacy of myth. The dictatorship of productive work has stepped into the breach. Its mission is physically to weaken the majority of men, collectively to castrate and stupefy them in order to make them receptive to the least pregnant, least virile, most senile ideologies in the entire history of falsehood.”
Selected Passages from “The Revolution of Everyday Life” (1967) by Raoul Vaneigem
“Today, reality is imprisoned in metaphysics in the same way as it was once imprisoned in theology.”
“The hierarchical principle is the magic spell that has blocked the path of men in their historical struggles for freedom. From now on, no revolution will be worthy of the name if it does not involve, at the very least, the radical elimination of all hierarchy... The invention of gods coincides with the twin birth of sacred myth and hierarchical power.”
“When the Christian God delegated his son to the world, he gave generations of bosses a perfect model by which to authenticate their own sacrifice. Sacrifice is the archaic form of exchange. It is a magical exchange, un-quantified, irrational. It dominated human relationships, including commercial relationships, until merchant capitalism and its money-the-measure-of-all-things had carved out such a large area in the world of slaves, serfs and burghers that the economy could appear as a particular zone, a domain separated from life. When money appears, the element of exchange in the feudal gift begins to win out. The sacrifice-gift, the potlatch — that exchange-game of loser-takes-all in which the size of the sacrifice determines the prestige of the giver — could hardly find a place in a rationalized exchange economy. Forced out of the sectors dominated by economic imperatives, it finds itself reincarnated in values such as hospitality, friendship and love: refuges doomed to disappear as the dictatorship of quantified exchange (market value) colonises everyday life and turns it into a market.”
“The system of commercial exchange has come to govern all of man’s everyday relations with himself and with his fellow men. Every aspect of public and private life is dominated by the quantitative. The merchant in Brecht’s The Exception and the Rule confesses: “I don’t know what a man is. Only that every man has his price.” To the extent that individuals accept power and enable it to exist, power in turn judges them by its own yard-stick: it reduces and standardises them. What is the individual to an authoritarian system? A point duly located in its perspective; a point that it recognises, certainly, but recognises only in terms of the numbers that define its position in a system of co-ordinates.”
“In fact, ideology draws its essence from quantity: it is simply an idea reproduced again and again in time (Pavlovian conditioning) and in space (where the consumers take over). Ideology, information and culture tend more and more to lose their content and become pure quantity. The less importance a piece of news has, the more it is repeated, and the more it distracts people from their real problems. Goebbels said that the bigger the lie, the more easily it is swallowed. But ideology takes us away from the Big Lie by constantly bidding against itself. One after another it lays before us a hundred paperbacks, a hundred washing powders, a hundred political ideas, and with equal conviction proves that each of them is incontestably superior to any of the others. Even in ideology quantity is being destroyed by quantity itself: conflicting conditionings end by cancelling each other out. Is this the way to rediscover the power of the qualitative, a power that can move mountains?”
“What is God? The guarantor and quintessence of the myth used to justify the domination of man by man. This repellent invention has no other raison d’être. As myth decomposes and passes into the stage of the spectacle, the Grand External Object, as Lautréamont called him, is shattered by the forces of social atomization and degenerates into a remedy for intimate use only — a sort of salve for social diseases.
At the high point of the crisis brought on by the end of classical philosophy and of the ancient world, Christianity’s genius lay in the fact that it subordinated the recasting of a mythic system to one fundamental principle: the doctrine of the Trinity. What does this dogma of the Three in One, which caused so much ink and blood to flow, really mean?
Man belongs to God in his soul, to the temporal authority in his body, and to himself in his spirit. His salvation depends on his soul, his liberty on his spirit, his earthly existence on his body. The soul envelops the body and the spirit, and without the soul these are as nothing. If we look more closely at this schema, we find an analogy for the union of master and slave under the principle of man envisaged as a divine creature. The slave is the body, the labour power appropriated by the lord; the master is his spirit which governs the body and invests it with a small part of its higher essence. The slave sacrifices himself in body to the power of the master, while the master sacrifices himself in spirit to the community of his slaves (e.g., the king ‘serving’ his people, de Gaulle ‘serving’ France, the Pope washing the feet of the poor). The slave abdicates his earthly life in exchange for the feeling of being free, that is, for the spirit of the master comes down into him. Consciousness mystified is mythic consciousness. The master makes a notional gift of his master’s power to all those whom he governs. By drenching the alienation of bodies in the subtler alienation of the spirit, he economizes on the amount of violence needed to maintain slavery. The slave identifies in spirit, or at least he may, with the master to whom he gives up his life force. But whom can the master identify with! Not with his slaves qua possessions, qua bodies, certainly: rather, with his slaves qua emanation of the spirit of mastery itself, of the master supreme. Since the individual master must sacrifice himself on the spiritual plane, he has to find someone or something within the coherent mythic system to make this sacrifice to: this need is met by a notion of mastery-in-itself of which he partakes and to which he submits. The historically contingent class of masters had thus to create a God to bow down to spiritually and with whom to identify. God validated both the master’s mythic sacrifice to the public good and the slave’s real sacrifice to the master’s private and privative power. God is the principle of all submission, the night which makes all crimes lawful. The only illegal crime is the refusal to accept a master. God is a harmony of lies, an ideal form uniting the slave’s voluntary sacrifice (Christ), the consenting sacrifice of the master (the Father; the slave as the master’s son), and the indissoluble link between them (the Holy Ghost). The same model underlies the ideal picture of man as a divine, whole and mythic creature: a body subordinated to a guiding spirit working for the greater glory of the soul — the soul being the all embracing synthesis.
We thus have a type of relationship in which two terms take their meaning from an absolute principle, from an obscure and inaccessible norm of unchallengeable transcendence (God, blood, holiness, grace, etc.). Innumerable dualities of this type were kept bubbling for century after century like a good stew on the fire of mythic unity. Then the bourgeoisie took the pot off the fire and was left with nothing but a vague nostalgia for the warmth of the unitary myth and a set of cold and flavourless abstractions: body and spirit, being and consciousness, individual and society, private and public, general and particular, etc., etc. Ironically, though moved by class interests, the bourgeoisie destroyed the unitary myth and its tripartite structure to its own detriment. The wish for unity, so effectively fobbed off by the mythic thinking of unitary regimes, did not disappear along with those regimes: on the contrary, the wish became all the more urgent as the material nature of separation became clearer and clearer to people’s consciousness. By laying bare the economic and social foundations of separation, the bourgeoisie supplied the arms which will serve to end separation once and for all. And the end of separation means the end of the bourgeoisie and of all hierarchical power. This is why no ruling class or caste can affect the transformation of feudal unity into real unity, into true social participation. This mission can only be accomplished by the new proletariat, which must forcibly wrest the third force (spontaneous creation, poetry) from the gods, and keep it alive in the everyday life of all. The transient period of fragmentary power will then be seen in its true light as a mere moment of insomnia, as the vanishing point prerequisite to the reversal of perspective, as the step back preparatory to the leap of transcendence.
* * *
History testifies to the struggle waged against the unitary principle and to the ways in which a dualistic reality began to emerge. The challenge was voiced to begin within a theological language, the official language of myth. Later the idiom became that of ideology, the idiom of the spectacle. In their preoccupations, the Manichaean’s, the Catharine, the Hussies, the Calvinists, etc, have much in common with such figures as Jean de Menu, La Boomed or Anion Vain. We find Descartes desperately locating the soul, for want of any better place, in the pineal gland. The Cartesian God is a funambulist balancing for some perfectly unaccountable reason atop a perfectly intelligible world. Pascal’s, by contrast, hides himself from view, so depriving man and the world of a justification without which they are left in meaningless confrontation, each being the only criterion for judging the other: how can something be measured against nothing?
By the close of the eighteenth century the fabric was rending in all directions as the process of decomposition began to speed up. This was the beginning of the era of “little men” in competition. Fragments of human beings claimed the status of absolutes: matter, mind, consciousness, and action, universal, particular — what God could put this Humpty Dumpty together again?
The spirit of feudal lordship had found an adequate justification in certain transcendence. But a capitalist God is an absurdity. Whereas lordship called for a Trinitarian system, capitalist exploitation is dualistic. Moreover, it cannot be dissociated from the material nature of economic relationships. The economic realm is no mystery: the nearest things to miracles here are the element of chance in the functioning of the market and the perfect programming of computerized planning. Calvin’s rational God is much less attractive than the loans with interest that Calvinism authorizes so readily. As for the God of the Anabaptists of Munster and of the revolutionary peasant of 1525, he is a primitive expression of the irrepressible thrust of the masses towards a society of whole men.
The mystical authority of the feudal lord was very different from that instituted by the bourgeoisie. For the lord did not simply change his role and become a factory boss: once the mysterious superiority of blood and lineage is abolished, nothing is left but a mechanics of exploitation and a race for profit which have no justification but themselves. Boss and worker are separated not by any qualitative distinction of birth but merely by quantitative distinctions of money and power. Indeed, what makes capitalist exploitation so repulsive is the fact that it occurs between ‘equals’. All the same, the bourgeoisie’s work of destruction — though quite unintentionally, of course — reveals the justification for even revolution. When peoples stop being fooled they stop doing what they are told.
* * *
Fragmentary power carries fragmentation to the point where the human beings over which it holds sway themselves become contradictory. At the same time the unitary lie breaks down. The death of God democratizes the consciousness of separation. What was the “Romantic agony” if not a response to the pain of this split? Today we see it in every aspect of life: in love, in the human gaze, in nature, in our dreams, in reality. Hegel spoke of the tragedy of consciousness; he would have been nearer the mark had he spoken of a consciousness of tragedy. We find such a consciousness in revolutionary form in Marx. A far more comforting picture, from the viewpoint of Power, is offered by Peter Schlemiel setting off in search of his own shadow so as to forget that he is really a shadow in search of a body. The bourgeoisie’s invention of artificial unitary paradises is a self-defensive reflex which is more or less successful in retrieving the old enchantment and reviving prematurely shattered dreams of unity.
Thus in addition to the great collective onanisms — ideologies, illusions of social unity, herd mentalities, opium’s of the people — we are offered a whole range of marginal solutions lying in the no-man’s-land between the permissible and the forbidden: individualized ideology, obsession, monomania, unique (and hence alienating) passions, drugs and other highs (alcohol, the cult of speed and rapid change, of rarefied sensations, etc). Now all these pursuits allow us to lose ourselves completely while preserving the impression of self-realization, but the corrosiveness of such activities stems above all from their partial quality. The passion for play is no longer alienating wherever the person who gives himself up to it seeks play in the whole of life — in love, in thought, in the construction of situations. ln the same way the wish to kill is no longer megalomania if it is combined with revolutionary consciousness.
Unitary palliatives thus entail two risks for Power. ln the first place they fail to satisfy, and in the second they tend to foster the will to build a real social unity. Mystical elevation led only to God; by contrast, horizontal historical progression towards a dubious spectacular unity is infinitely finite. It creates an unlimited appetite for the absolute, yet its quantitative nature is limiting by definition. Its mad rush, therefore, must sooner or later debouch into the qualitative, whether in a negative way or — should a revolutionary consciousness prevail — through the transformation of negativity into positivity. The negative road does not lead to self-realization: it precipitates us into a wilful self-destruction. Madness deliberately sought the voluptuousness of crime and cruelty, the convulsive lightning of perversity — these are the enticing paths open to such unrepentant self-annihilation. To take them is merely to respond with unusual enthusiasm to the gravitational pull of Power’s own tendency to dismember and destroy. But if it is to last, Power has to shackle its destructiveness: the good general oppresses his men, he does not execute them. On the other hand, it remains to be seen whether nothingness can be successfully doled out drop by drop. The limited pleasures derived from self-destruction could end up bringing down the power which sets such limits to pleasure. We only have to look at Stockholm or Watts to see that negative pleasure is forever on the point of tipping over into total pleasure — a little shove, and negative violence releases its positivity. I believe that all pleasure embodies the search for total, unitary satisfaction, in every sphere — a fact which I doubt Huysmans had the humour to see when he solemnly described a man with an erection as ‘insurgent’.
The complete unchaining of pleasure is the surest way to the revolution of everyday life, to the construction of the whole man.”
“The ‘ideal world,’ says Nietzsche ‘is a lie invented to deprive reality of its value, its meaning, its truth. Until now the ideal has been the curse of reality. This lie has so pervaded humanity that it has been perverted and has falsified itself even in its deepest instincts, even to the point where it bows down to values directly opposed to those which formerly ensured progress by ensuring the self-transformation of the present.’ The lie of the ideal is of course merely the truth of the masters. When theft needs legal justification, when authority raises the banner of the general interest while pursuing private ends with impunity, is it any wonder that the lie fascinates the minds of men, twisting them to fit its laws until their contortions come to resemble ‘natural’ human postures? And it is true that man lies because in a world governed by lies he cannot do otherwise: he is falsehood himself, he is trapped in his own falsehood. Common sense never underwrites anything except the decree promulgated in the name of everyone against the truth. Common sense is the lie put into lay terms.
All the same, nobody lies groaning under the yoke of inauthenticity twenty-four hours a day. There are always a few radical thinkers in whom a truthful light shines briefly through the lie of words; and by the same token there is very little alienation which is not shattered every day for an instant, for an hour, for the space of a dream, by subjective refusal. Words are never completely in the thrall of Power, and no one is ever completely unaware of what is destroying him. When these moments of truth are extended they will turn out to have been the tip of the iceberg of subjectivity destined to sink the Titanic of the lie.”
“No one is about to deny liberalism full credit for having spread the thirst for freedom to every corner of the world. Freedom of the press, freedom of thought, freedom of creation if all their “freedoms” have no other merit, at least they stand as a monument to liberalism’s falseness. The most eloquent of epitaphs, in fact: after all, it is no mean feat to imprison liberty in the name of liberty. In the liberal system, the freedom of individuals is destroyed by mutual interference: one person’s liberty begins where the other’s ends. Those who reject this basic principle are destroyed by the sword; those who accept it are destroyed by justice. Nobody gets their hands dirty: a button is pressed, and the guillotine of the police and state intervention fall - a very fortunate business, to be sure. The State is the bad conscience of the liberal, the instrument of a necessary repression for which deep in their heart they deny responsibility. As for day-to-day business, it is left to the freedom of the capitalists to keep the freedom of the worker within proper bounds. Here, however, the upstanding socialist comes on the scene to denounce this hypocrisy.
What is socialism? It is a way of getting liberalism out of its contradiction, i.e., the fact that it simultaneously safeguards and destroys individual freedom. Socialism proposes (and there could be no more worthy goal) to prevent individuals from negating each other through interference. The solution it actually produces, however, is very different. For it ends up eliminating interferences without liberating the individual; what is much worse, it melds the individual will into a collective mediocrity. Admittedly, only the economic sphere is affected by the institution of socialism, and opportunism i.e., liberalism in the sphere of daily life is scarcely incompatible with bureaucratic planning of all activities from above, with manoeuvring for promotion, with power struggles between leaders, etc. Thus socialism, by abolishing economic competition and free enterprise, puts an end to interference on one level, but it retains the race for the consumption of power as the only authorized form of freedom. The partisans of self-limiting freedom are split into two camps, therefore: those who are for liberalism in production and those who are for liberalism in consumption. And a fat lot of difference there is between them!
The contradiction in socialism between radicalism and its renunciation is well exemplified by two statements recorded in the minutes of the debates of the First International. In 1867 we find Chémalé reminding his listeners that “The product must be exchanged for another product of equal value; anything less amounts to trickery, to fraud, to robbery.” According to Chémalé, therefore, the problem is how to rationalize exchange, how to make it fair. The task of socialism, on this view, is to correct capitalism, to give it a human face, to plan it, and to empty it of its substance (profit). And who profits from the end of capitalism? This we have found out since 1867. But there was already another view of socialism, coexistent with this one, and we find it expressed by Varlin, Communard-to-be, at the Geneva Congress of this same International Association of Workingmen in 1866: “So long as anything stands in the way of the employment of oneself freedom will not exist.” There is thus a freedom locked up in socialism, but nothing could be more foolhardy than to try and release this freedom today without declaring total war on socialism itself.
Is there any need to expatiate on the abandonment of the Marxist project by every variety of present-day Marxism? The Soviet Union, China, Cuba: what is there here of the construction of the whole man? The material poverty which fed the revolutionary desire for transcendence and radical change has been attenuated, but a new poverty has emerged, a poverty born of renunciation and compromise. The renunciation of poverty has led only to the poverty of renunciation. Was it not the feeling that he had allowed his initial project to be fragmented and affected in piecemeal fashion that occasioned Marx’s disgusted remark, “I am not a Marxist”? Even the obscenity of fascism springs from a will to live but a will to live denied, turned against itself like an ingrown toenail. A will to live become a will to power, a will to power become a will to passive obedience, a will to passive obedience become a death wish. For when it comes to the qualitative sphere, to concede a fraction is to give up everything.
By all means, let us destroy fascism, but let the same destructive flame consume all ideologies, and all their lackeys to boot.
* * *
Through force of circumstance, poetic energy is everywhere renounced or allowed to go to seed. Isolated people abandon their individual will, their subjectivity, in an attempt to break out. Their reward is the illusion of community and a more intense affection for death. Renunciation is the first step towards a man’s co-optation by the mechanisms of Power.
There is no such thing as a technique or thought which does not arise in the first instance from a will to live; in the official world, however, there is no such thing as a technique or thought which does not lead us towards death. The faces of past renunciations are the data of a history still largely unknown to us. The study of these traces helps in itself to forge the arms of total transcendence. Where is the radical core, the qualitative dimension? This question has the power to shatter habits of mind and habits of life; and it has a part to play in the strategy of transcendence, in the building of new networks of radical resistance. It may be applied to philosophy, where ontology bears witness to the renunciation of being-as-becoming. It may be applied to psychoanalysis, a technique of liberation which confines itself for the most part to “liberating” us from the need to attack social organization. It may be applied to all the dreams and desires stolen, violated and twisted beyond recognition by conditioning. To the basically radical nature of our spontaneous acts so often denied by our stated view of us and of the world. To the playful impulse, whose present imprisonment in the categories of permitted games from roulette to war, by way of lynching parties leaves no place for the authentic game of playing with each moment of daily life. And to love, so inseparable from revolution, and so largely cut off, as things stand, from the pleasure of giving.
Remove the qualitative and all that remains is despair. Despair comes in every variety available to a system designed for killing human beings, the system of hierarchical power: reformism, fascism, philistine politicism, mediocrity, activism and passivity, boyscoutism and ideological masturbation. A friend of Joyce’s recalls: “l don’t remember Joyce ever saying a word during all those years about Poincaré, Roosevelt, de Valera, Stalin; never so much as a mention of Geneva or Locarno, Abyssinia, Spain, China, Japan, the Prince affair, Violette Nozière....” What, indeed, could he have added to Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake? Once the Capital of individual creativity had been written, it only remained for the Leopold Blooms of the world to unite, to throw off their miserable survival and to actualize the richness and diversity of their “interior monologues” in the lived reality of their existence. Joyce was never a comrade-in-arms to Durruti; he fought shoulder to shoulder with neither the Asturians nor the Viennese workers. But he had the decency to pass no comment on news items, to the anonymity of which he abandoned Ulysses that “monument of culture,” as one critic put it while at the same time abandoning himself, Joyce, the man of total subjectivity. To the spinelessness of the man of letters, Ulysses is witness. As to the spinelessness of renunciation, its witness is invariably the “forgotten” radical moment.
Thus revolutions and counterrevolutions follow hard upon one another’s heels, sometimes within a twenty-four hour period in the space, even, of the least eventful of days. But consciousness of the radical act and of its renunciation becomes more widespread and more discriminating all the time. It’s inevitability. For today survival is non-transcendence become unliveable.”
“Bourgeois power fed on the crumbs of feudal power. It is crumbled feudal power. Eaten away by revolutionary criticism, trodden underfoot and broken up, (without this liquidation ever reaching its logical conclusion — the end of hierarchical power), aristocratic authority survived the death of the aristocracy in the form of parody, the pain-stricken grin. Awkward and stiff in their fragmentary power, making their fragment a totality (and the totalitarian is nothing else), the bourgeois rulers were condemned to see their prestige fall apart at the seams, rotted by the decomposition of the spectacle. As soon as myth and authority lost their credibility, the form of government could only be either burlesque terror or democratic bullshit. O look at Napoleon’s pretty children! Louis Philippe, Napoleon III, Thiers, Alphonse XIII, Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Franco, Salazar, Nasser, Mao, de Gaulle... ubiquitous Ubus in the four corners of the world spawning more and more cretinous miscarriages. Yesterday they still brandished their twigs of authority like Olympian thunderbolts; today the apes of power glean no more from the social scene than a little dubious respect. Certainly, the absurdity of a Franco is still lethal — no-one would dream of forgetting it — but one should always remember that the stupidity of power will be a deadlier killer than stupidity in power.
The spectacle is the brain scrambling machine of our penal colony, the master-slaves of today are its faithful servants, the extras and stage-managers. Who will want to judge them? They will plead not guilty and in fact they aren’t really guilty. They don’t need cynicism so much as spontaneous confessions, terror so much as acquiescent victims, or force so much as herds of masochists. The alibi of the rulers lies in the cowardice of the ruled. But now everyone is governed, manipulated as things by an abstract power, by an organisation-in-itself whose laws are imposed on the self-styled rulers. Things are not judged, they are just stopped from being a nuisance.
In October 1963 Monsieur Fourastié reached the following conclusions on the subject of the future leader: “The leader has lost his almost magical power; he is and will be a man capable of provoking actions. Finally, a reign of workgroups will develop to prepare decisions. The leader will be a committee president, but one who knows how to sum up and make decisions.” You can see the three historical phases characterising the evolution of the master:
1. The principle of domination, linked with feudal society.
2. The principle of exploitation, linked with bourgeois society.
3. The principle of organisation, linked with cybernetic society.
In fact, the three elements are inseparable; one cannot dominate without exploiting and organising at the same time; but their importance varies with the epoch. As one passes from one stage to the next, the autonomy and the role of the master wane and diminish. The humanity of the master tends towards zero, while the inhumanity of disembodied power tends towards infinity.
According to the principle of domination, the master refuses slaves an existence which would limit his own. With the principle of exploitation, the boss allows the workers an existence which fattens and develops his own. The principle of organisation classifies individual existences like fractions, according to their managerial or executive faculties. (A shop-steward would, for example, be defined in terms of long calculations involving his productivity, his representativeness, etc., as 56 per cent directing function, 40 per cent executive function and 4 per cent ambiguity, as Fourier would have said.)
Domination is a right, exploitation a contract, organisation an order of things. The tyrant dominates according to his will to power, the capitalist exploits according to the laws of profit, the organiser plans and is planned. The first wants to be arbitrary, the second just, the third rational and objective. The aristocrat’s inhumanity is a humanity seeking itself; the exploiter’s inhumanity tries to disguise itself by seducing humanity with technical progress, comfort and the struggle against hunger and disease; the cybernetician’s inhumanity is the inhumanity which accepts itself. In this manner, the master’s inhumanity has become less and less human. A systematic extermination camp is far more horrifying than the murderous fury of feudal barons throwing themselves into gratuitous war. And what lyricism there still is even in the massacres of Auschwitz compared with the icy hands of generalised conditioning which the cyberneticians’ technocratic organisation reach out towards the future society, that is so close!
Make no mistake: it’s not a matter of choosing between the “humanity” of a lettre de cachet and the “humanity” of a brain-washing. That’s the choice between being hanged and being shot! I simply mean that the dubious pleasures of dominating and crushing underfoot tend to disappear. Capitalism formally introduced the need to exploit men without passionately enjoying it. No sadism, no negative joy of inflicting pain, no human perversion, not even the man “against nature”. The reign of things is accomplished. In renouncing the hedonist principle, the masters have renounced mastery. It is the task of the masters without slaves to correct this self-denial.
What the society of production sowed is reaped today by the dictatorship of the consumable. Its principle of organisation merely perfects the real mastery of dead things over men. Whatever power remained to the owners of the instruments of production disappeared when their machines escaped them and passed under the control of the technicians who organise their use. Meanwhile, the organisers themselves are gradually ingested by the charts and programmes which they have so carefully worked out. The simple machine wil1 be the leader’s last justification, the last support for his last trace of humanity. Cybernetic organisation of production and consumption must necessarily control, plan and rationalise daily life.
These small-time masters are the specialists, masters/ slaves who pullulate all over daily life. No one need worry, they don’t stand a chance. Already by 1867, at the Congress of Basel, Francau, a member of the First International, was declaring: “We’ve been towed along by marquises of diplomas and princes of science for far too long. Let’s look after our own affairs and however inept we are we can’t make more of a mess than what they’ve done in our name.” Ripe words of wisdom, whose meaning grows as specialists proliferate and encrust individual life. Those who succumb to the magnetic attraction exercised by the huge Kafkaesque cybernetic machine are nicely divided from those who follow their own impulses and try to escape from it. The latter are the trustees of everything human, since from now on nobody can lay any claim to it in the name of the masters of old. There are only things falling at the same speed in a vacuum on the one hand, and, on the other, the age-old project of slaves drunk with total freedom.”