Saturday, October 29, 2011

"On the Degradation of Language and the Art of Listening", a short essay from blog "FROM POLITICS TO LIFE"


When you call someone a name you stop listening to him.

I do not write, publish, speak or discuss in order to propagate a fixed set of ideas for others to embrace; I’m not interested in disciples or followers. I do so to communicate and discuss my own fluid and evolving ideas, my desires, my dreams, my experiences and my projects as clearly as possible in order to discover affinities, to find accomplices with whom to share my activities. I am convinced that the only real wealth worth pursuing is found in other people with whom one can share the creation of a life together aimed at the realization of the needs and desires of each and every one. Therefore, I gladly throw my words out into the world as a wager that they will strike a resonant chord with others with whom I can share projects of revolt against the ruling order and of taking back our lives and activities as our own. Unfortunately, often these words, chosen with so much care, seem to meet misunderstandings of the strangest sorts.

My desires, my dreams and, thus, my projects are informed by a revolutionary perspective, that is, by the recognition that it is necessary to make a fundamental, destructive break with the existing world in order to open the possibility for a world in which we can truly create our lives together on our own terms. The existing world, dominated by the state, capital and their technological and ideological machinery of control, defines wealth in terms of the things that one owns. In such a world, human beings themselves become things that are owned by the apparatus, the ruling institutions. Their value is not in the unique beauty of their being, but in their capacity to produce more things either physically in the form of products or socially in the form of roles and predetermined relationships. Thus, what is unique in each of us is suppressed in the interest of production. Wealth in this sense is purely quantitative, the ownership of a large amount of shit, possession of a greater share of the impoverished reality that this world imposes. All this must be destroyed if we are to create a world in which we recognize the qualitative wealth of the uniqueness that each one of us has to offer the other. And this is the project I try to express.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to express such a project. Finding the balance between the simplicity that makes one’s language accessible and the complexity that is necessary to express how this revolutionary desire confronts the catastrophic reality of the world in which we live is not easy. It requires a certain precision and delicacy. By delicacy, I do not at all mean gentleness. Rather, I mean the use of great care in choosing the words that can best express one’s meaning while avoiding the pitfalls set by the increasing degradation of language in anarchist circles that has been caused by ideological thinking. But even this is not always enough. Real communication is never one-way, and the degradation of language (and ideas) doesn’t just affect how people say things, but also how they hear things. Those who make their language the servant of ideological ways of thinking will not so much listen to what someone says as filter it into the appropriate places within the frameworks of their systems for viewing the world.

The desire for simplicity itself can be a danger here. Things certainly seem simpler when we feel we have found the answers, so that we no longer need to call our ideas, our activities, our lives and ourselves into question. In a world of every day misery and catastrophe, the codified categories of ideology can be particularly reassuring. But this sort of reassurance comes at the expense of real communication and real discussion. Exchanges of words are reduced to mutual reassurances, evangelistic outreach and condemnations of those who don’t agree. The capacity to listen disappears, taking with it any possibility for real debate. Let’s look at a few examples of how this can work.

Activism, as a specialized role, carries its own vague ideology: things are bad, we need to do something to change them, we need to organize people for this purpose. Quite vague, indeed. But it doesn’t prevent activists from being fervent believers and hard-core evangelists. For the activist, as for any evangelist, the individuals they encounter are not unique human beings with whom to create relationships or share life, they are ciphers to convert into tools for the cause. Activists have sacrificed their own uniqueness and humanity to whatever cause, so why would they expect less of others? Thus, when activists speak of communicating with others, they mean that they are out to organize those others to fight for their cause. The activist transforms talking with your neighbors about the realities you face together into community organizing to build a movement.

Unfortunately, this activist ideology can seep into the way of thinking of individuals who are critical of activism and leftism, leading even these people to hear meanings in words that aren’t there. Thus, recently when I spoke of the need to talk with those around us about what we are facing in the world today and what we desire, one person asked if I was talking about “movement building”, a term with which I wasn’t familiar, but that sounds like something that would contradict my entire project as I’ve live and expressed it. (This individual was at least just asking and not immediately labeling and accusing, but her question left me flabbergasted.) Another, when I was not present, said that it sounded like the same old leftist shit (or something to that effect) and then later referred to me in writing as a “reformist community organizer”. I never knew that the idea of talking with one’s neighbors could carry so much baggage. Then again I’ve never been an activist or an organizer, and have carefully kept my distance from that sort of thinking. I always thought talking with someone meant just that, talking with someone. But ideological filters to listening can twist the simplest things into a complex maze of hidden implications in which the possibilities for meaningful discussion get lost.

But the worst attacks against open, straightforward communication within the anarchist milieu in recent years stem from the intrusion of political correctitude into the milieu. Political correctitude finds its clearest voice in the identity politics that became the dominant voice of the American left in the 1980’s. I was fortunate and managed to have very little direct contact with the preachers of political correctitude and identity politics for quite a while. It was clear to me that they were promoting an ideology based in victimization. Identity politics is an ideology based upon identifying with the category (or categories) through which one is oppressed: race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or whatever. In other words, one identifies with the categories that the ruling order has imposed. This identification is then supposed to be embraced as a source of pride, unity and strength. I don’t want to go into a full critique of this here, but only want to deal with the aspects relevant to communication. First of all, defining one’s identity in terms of one’s oppression is defining oneself as a victim (euphemisms such as “survivor” don’t change this). This leaves one feeling perpetually vulnerable and puts one on the defensive. Here is the basis for political correctitude. People who are always on the defensive, in need of being provided with a feeling of safety, become overly sensitive to language, granting it a power over them that it need not have. In “communication”, such people no longer look for actual meaning, but put their radar out for the code words and phrases that they have defined as inherently oppressive. Their rage will scream out at the wrong word in the wrong place or at another’s refusal to use the words and categories of their ideology. In the meantime, their real oppressors in the ruling class use smooth, politically correct language to enforce their oppression. A linguistic moral order is established that creates only one real change: the reduction of our capacity to communicate. In addition, creating a group identity involves identifying an opposing group to which the first group contrasts itself. If one defines oneself in terms of race or gender or sexual orientation, then this contrasting other must be defined in the same terms, and so the world gets divided into “people of color/white”, “female/male”, “gay/straight”, etc. (or more accurately, this supposedly radical ideology maintains and enforces the divisions the ruling order has already created). Since the first group in each set is oppressed, obviously the second group must be the oppressors, regardless of what any of them as individuals have actually done. Individual responsibility is swallowed up in an automatic collective guilt. But precisely because this collective guilt is detached from the real concrete acts of individuals, some mechanism to explain it must be developed. And so we learn that all “white people”, all “males” and all “straight people” are “privileged”. And people from oppressed groups who adhere to these categories, along with their humble auxiliary of willing political correctitude cops drawn from the “privileged” groups, can use this alleged “privilege” to automatically discredit someone. Thus, this ideology justifies the worst sort of ad hominem argument, the kind based on supposedly inherent traits, not on real actions of the person involved. It should be obvious how this closes down the capacity for really listening, and thus for real discussion and communication. A statement such as “…white folks, straight people and men need to shut the fuck up” is not on offer for discussion or communication and certainly not an attempt to open up an exploration of affinities and possibilities for shared projects. It is a command clearly intended to call someone to accept a subordinate position. Again, people are seen as things, as categories, and “communication” is reduced to the arrangement of these things, making real listening irrelevant.

Communication and the capacity for listening have also deteriorated due to the entrenchment of positions that has become prevalent within anarchist circles in recent years. This entrenchment can be seen in the ongoing tendency to create categorical dichotomies: social anarchism vs. life-style anarchism, green anarchy vs. classical anarchism, and the like. The capacity to make distinctions and even complete breaks where necessary is important and must not be lost in some ecumenical haziness in which we all just embrace each other in an incoherent orgy of contradictory conceptions drained of meaning. But the capacity to make distinctions also means the capacity to recognize false dichotomies that serve no other purpose than to define one’s own ideological identity. In fact, there is much in the entrenchment of positions within the American anarchist milieu that parallels the functioning of identity politics. For example, there tends to be a hyper-sensitivity to words that are taken out of context and drained of meaning (recent discussions about the word “communism” provide a fine example). There is also a tendency to use labels to consign the “other” to a hostile ideological camp and end discussion in this way. A sad example is the way some people have begun to use “leftist” to label anyone who disagrees with them. In this way, the necessary harsh critique of the left loses its content and degenerates into a vacuous “anti-left” ideology that serves no other purpose than to silence one’s critics. If we are to ever discover where our real affinities and differences lie, we need to leave the safety of our entrenched positions, throw away our ideological filters, and actually listen to each other, sharing fierce but principled critiques and recognizing that since we are still living and the world is still changing, none of us has found the answer. We have so much we need to talk about, but it is useless to try if we cannot listen, if we only put up the radar for signals that help us place others and their ideas into our ideological categories. So among the anarchist projects worthy of effort is the revival of the fine art of listening that makes communication as peers possible. But this is not an easy task since it involves attacking one’s own entrenched positions as well as those of others.

Communication is hard enough where the art of listening has been nurtured. A few words are never enough to express all that a person has to say. The passionate reasons that goad one into action cannot fit into a few lines on a few pages. In fact, an endless flow of words would still not be enough to express it all. But the point is not to express it all in words; the point is to leave a clue, a verbal finger pointing toward the moon of one’s ideas and dreams that says just enough to find accomplices in the crime of freedom. Unfortunately, these days most people only “think” from the entrenched positions of their confused ideological conceptions and contradictory dogmas, and so one cannot expect to be understood by very many. From such confinement, most can only see the pointing finger. But the few who can think and feel and dream outside of every ideological fortress may be able to hear these words and respond with comprehension, critically, their eye upon the moon. And maybe a few critical voices, striving fiercely for clarity, will be able to break through the entrenched positions, and the art of listening will make real discussion a possibility again. 

>>> the text found at the blog "From Politics to Life" 

Monday, October 10, 2011

15 Theses on the Global Crisis


1. We are in a global historic situation
Structural crisis, financial/banking crisis, »ecological crisis« and regional crises and a deep cyclical downturn add to a situation of historical »break«. The strategic »business models« of the past two decades (investment banking, hedge funds, derivatives trading, private equity firms) are at an end. (For example: crisis of the automobile industry and the automobile.) For the past three months world trade has been collapsing, this is the turning point and much more dangerous than the »banking crisis« of the last two years. And it goes beyond the scope of the world economic crisis of the 1930s. At that time world trade fell by 66 percent due to a protectionist wildfire in the first half of the thirties; at the current speed this point would be reached around autumn 2009, even though the protectionist race has not even really started yet. When it does start, not only the world trade system, but also the international financial system and the international monetary system will come apart.

2. Crisis of overaccumulation

Since 1974 all crises have been »solved« through a large-scale expansion of credit: the various financial bubbles expressed the basis in crisis of the so-called »real economy«. In the United States the financial sector accounted for 40 percent of the GDP. The other side is the gigantic debt of states, companies and private households. Since 1980 private debt has risen twice as fast as income in the US, in Britain it is at 220 percent of income. »Securitization« and Credit Default Swaps were at the center of this credit expansion: securitazition of new financial products rose from 78 billion euros to 454 billion euros between 2000 and 2007; global derivatives markets are estimated at 60 trillion at least. By comparison, world GDP is at about 45 trillion.
The crisis of overaccumulation means that reformism in the sense of regulation is impossible - »regulating the financial sector« would mean killing off what little growth there is.

3. »Crisis of the crisis« - the 1968ers' revenge

1973-2006 was a long drawn-out crisis - the current collapse is the crisis of this crisis. A massive devalorization of capital did not solve the crisis that started at the beginning of the seventies: stopping the collapse prevented revolution, but it also prevented a new boom. The Volcker shock in 1979 rang in the neoliberal attack, but since then the crises have been coming on faster: debt crisis, savings and loan crisis, global crisis at the beginning of the nineties, monetary crises 1997/98 (South East Asia, rouble, Latin America), dotcom crisis, and now since 2006 the global crisis.
In history the oppressed have usually struggled when severe crises broke out (famine...); operaismo (and later Bonefeld and Holloway) have interpreted the world economic crisis of the 1930s as a backlash of repression against the working class strength which had become apparent at the beginning of the century and the revolutions at the end of the First World War. The crisis after 1973 was shaped by class struggle and therefore historically a new situation.

4. Chimerica is breaking down

The debt-financed and consumption-driven economy of the US is and has been dependent on huge inflows of capital, particularly from China, which has become the global industrial center for production of consumer goods. Between 2003 and 2006 the US trade deficit rose to 800 billion dollars per year. In this triangle the banks profited most: they borrowed money cheaply on the world market and lent it expensively to consumers (mortgages, student and car loans). The main capital providers China, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea now hold four billion dollars of currency reserves between them. These investments have lost half of their value due to the dollar's depreciation. The US had to nationalise Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac because of pressure from China - which had invested 500 billion dollars there - a historic defeat of »the West«!
The capital inflow needed to maintain this fragile arrangement depends on the US dollar as »world currency« - and that depends on the US army's military supremacy, but also on China's exports - and those went down 25 percent in February.
Is that the end of a hegemon - while its military supremacy persists?

5. Protectionism and class struggle

The end of a hegemon brings about the failure of multilateral approaches, because multilateralism needs a hegemonic power. The crisis aggravates protecionism. Many states have put through protectionist measures against Chinese imports. But the now-burst »Bretton Woods II« cannot simply be replaced with something new by means of through political decisions (trade policy): it is very much entangled with class relations, and all are afraid of class struggles in China.

6. Now: banking collapse?

In Eastern Europe the suspension of debt payments is threatening to tear down the european, particularly the austrian banking system. More and more loan defaults are coming to the open. The IMF estimates necessary depreciations at 23,2 trillion Dollars. As soon as the large transmissions go into reverse, i.e. deleveraging starts, not only trillions of fictitious capital »value« are destroyed, but also »real things«.

7. It's the system, stupid!

TThe crisis provisions up to now do not aim at economic recovery, but at surviving politically. The neoliberal attacks on the working class have been continued, and even toughened.
Until now everything was about preventing panic. Parallel institutions have been built, sort of »secret governments« have been formed, power has been regiven to the IMF and so on, but up to the moment no new factions have come to the fore, which would be able to point out and enforce long-term strategies.
For the various bailouts gigantic amounts of money have been brought up which will have to be payed for by the working class in the end (in the US the sum is already estimated at 1 trillion dollars, i.e. about 4,000 dollars per person). Their problem is they know a deflation is threatening; but they do not know what the »value« of the assets, bonds, securities etc really is: it is already impossible to calculate how much has to be pumped in. Therefore the big question: deflation or hyperinflation?

8. No dialectic between reform and revolution

No »reforms« are in sight that would give some room to the working class: instead the policy of shock and awe against the class is tightened, creating constant uncertainty. More regulation does not mean more welfare state! Stronger regulation will be necessary anyway, because central banks and states cannot prolong their strategy: It is impossible to guarantee savings on the one side and let the banks take great risks on the other. (Ackermann, head of Deutsche Bank, mentioned a 25 percent return on equity.)

9. The heaviest attack in decades on working class living conditions (mass sackings, rise of homelessness etc) is already going on in the first phase of the crisis

The automobile industry, banks and insurance companies have already cut many jobs in the recent years. But until now that was managed through redundancy payments. Now unemployment is jolting up much faster than in previous crises. In Germany about 200,000 temps have already been sacked. Nevertheless the composition of unemployment is changing rapidly: in February at Märklin (toy producer) and Karmann (automobile industry), the first lay-offs without redundancy payments are due...
Our analysis in summer 2008 was right and has become common knowledge: exports in Germany fell more than 20 percent from January 2008 to January 2009; for 2009 a decline of eight percent is estimated, the most severe decline in the Federal Republic's history - but only if exports stabilize in the second quarter, so forget it!

10. Phases of crisis policy

- 2007 until September 2008: lulling us in;
- at least with the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September it became obvious that we are in a deflationary development since then sums undreamed-of before have been pumped into the banking system while its has been hidden from the workers that they will have to pay for them
- at the moment we are in a third phase: spelling it out clearly, preparing measures and at the same time distracting us at with gimmicks like the »scrapping bonus« for wrecking your old car and buying a new one. In a context of drastic job cuts, union bosses announce their willingness to offer up everything.
In the fourth phase they will curb with the most brutal measures the hyperinflation which was fuelled up till then. (Possibly with monetary reforms - but certainly through a massive frontal attack: Volcker is Obama's economic advisor!). The dynamics of crisis will generalise throughout society and radicalise globally.

11. Crisis of representation - crisis of policy

We are already in the midst of a »regime change« - mortgage banks, hedge funds etc are rotten: »the end of Wall Street«. Even if the ruling elites have not substantially changed their policy, the little changes there were have already severely reinforced the crisis: the Social Democrats are at the end, the Christian Democrats are suffering even worse. Falling membership of trade unions and political parties is not a sign of political apathy. There are lots of initiatives, social commitment and criticism of capitalism...
Two thirds of all Germans are saying in opinion polls that the social market economy is not a good social system. But many people are still hoping for reforms. It is decisive what these hopes will turn into once they break under the force of the crisis. Two thirds of all Greeks said in December: this is a social revolution...

12. Crisis of the radical Left

The (radical) Left is not up to date but doing business as usual. Campaigning, mobilising for symbolic summit protests, placing hopes in unions and other institutions. Trade unions are offering concessions to the bosses in advance or are conducting diversionary protests. The »organised unemployed« are an expression of class division, not of fighting it! [explanatory note: specificity of the German situation where on the one hand nearly all the radical left campaigns for a »guaranteed income« while on the other hand the state has already introduced some sort of guaranteed income, the so-called HartzIV, which was the most violent attack against the level of reproduction in the last decades]
We have to intervene in social processes instead of engaging in detached representational politics!

13. The »Great Depression« as analogy - the end of a historical constellation

In the world economic crisis of the 1930s everyone agreed on how to solve the crisis: capitalists, stalinists, national socialists and US Democrats (Roosevelt) were focused on mass production of consumer goods and machines, along with a national welfare state - and all were experimenting with labour camps. Today neither a new mode of production nor a new form of productive integration by the state is anywhere in sight. The current crisis should rather be compared to the »great depression« of the five years from 1873 to 1878, which resulted in twenty years of stagnation until 1896. Capitalism got out of the crisis by changing radically, leading over decades to serial production of durable consumer goods (sewing machines, vacuum cleaners, cars, fridges...). The main innovation was the assembly line: peasant workers could be employed in the factories in large numbers, the traditional workers' organisations were at their end. Today the assembly line, the »third World« and oil as source of energy are at their end - and going with it industrial unions as dominant form of working class organisation.

14. There is no outside any more

For the first time in the history of capitalism the working class in China will be hit by the effects of the crisis simultaneously with the rest of the global proletariat. And after the uprisings called »food riots« by the media in the first half of 2008 the industrial workers in China started struggling against the effects of the crisis. It is estimated that thirty million migrant workers have become unemployed up to now.
In November and December there were movements in Italy, Russia and Greece. In January the center moved to Eastern Europe: to Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Greece - but also in England, France, Iceland, South Korea, Guadeloupe, Reunion, Madagaskar, Mexico and Ireland people took to the streets against the crisis policy - in many cases combined with strikes. The question is whether a collectively struggling global working class will emerge from these movements. Argentina (2003) and Iceland demonstrate that this does not happen automatically. The movement has forced the government to resign, but fell into stagnation in February although inflation is at twenty percent and social problems are aggravating!

15. Self-organisation!

Capitalism is not going to collapse by itself, leaving a world in which all will be well. But today radically new things should be possible. The »economic crisis« is turning into a political crisis anyway. The last crash could be blamed on exaggerated expectations from the boom and on 9/11, but everyone can see that now the financial system itself is collapsing. New things should be possible - but if we remember how quickly twenty years ago possibilities for action were destroyed and dissenters were pushed aside it becomes obvious that we cannot take any comfort in being 'ahead'. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

"Hedonism and Revolution: The Barricade and the Dancefloor" by Christoph Fringeli


Will true pleasure only exist after the revolution, or will it be indispensable to lead to the revolution?
Ever since the project of universal emancipation through communist revolution existed there has been a tension between two approaches – a dichotomy of views of people who ostensibly want to reach the same goal. On the one hand we find a view that could be summarized as: Only the revolution will bring about real pleasure and fulfillment, and we have to be ascetic cadres to reach it. The other side seems to declare that: Only by developing pleasures and following our desires will the revolution even become a possibility. If we look back at the two main phases of revolutionary struggles in the last century (ca. 1917-1923 and ca. 1967-77, depending in which country), we can easily see that for many revolutionaries the idea that hedonism and revolution should go together was present and central to the whole project.

Closely related to this is the way the role of work is seen. Marx says in the third volume of Capital: “The empire of freedom begins indeed only there, where work which is defined by misery and external expediency, ceases…” (“Das Reich der Freiheit beginnt in der Tat erst da, wo das Arbeiten, das durch Not und äußere Zweckmässigkeit bestimmt ist, aufhört.”) He leaves no doubt that the empire of freedom is always built on an empire of necessity, but also that it is the human goal to achieve the most freedom possible. And this must include the abolishment of wage labor.


“The revolutionary is a doomed man. He has no personal interests, no business affairs, no emotions, no attachments, no property, and no name. Everything in him is wholly absorbed in the single thought and the single passion for revolution”.
Sergey Nechayev:„Revolutionary Catechism“ (1869)

Sergey Nechayev set the pace for an ascetic image of the revolutionary that would be picked up by the direct heirs of Bakuninism: the Leninists. First of all, the revolutionary is a man. He as such resembles the hero or anti-hero in the western, which is the epitomy of masculinity. He has no desires as a person, and he only has a mission for which the end justifies the means. The “ideal” man has only one passion – the revolution – yet it is he who is supposed to bring about a society of human fulfillment. But this was something that had to go wrong, and the end came in the misery of the Maoist and Trotzkyist milieus.
A close associate of Nechayev, Mikhail Bakunin, had the phantasy that a small number of strategically placed revolutionaries would be able to start the revolution and run it in the form of an invisible dictatorship. This network has some surprisingly basic authoritarian ideas for an anarchist. One can see how it became the leading idea for an avant-garde party as espoused by the Bolsheviks that has led to the dictatorship of a party and not to the dictatorship of the proletariat as supposedly intended. Bakunin would probably try to deny the connection and his adepts would point out that his formulations were directed against the supposedly authoritarian organisation of Marx and his friends, but if we look at the wordings of Nechayev and Bakunin we can sense the specter of Lenin and Mao. According to Lenin’s understanding, the emotionless revolutionary did not have a human mother, but was given birth to by the party. The rigid structure and clandestine operation of this party, to some degree forced upon the Russian Social Democrats by the conditions of their struggle, became the model for the 3rd International and the various Communist Parties founded after the first World War in most countries around the world. As the party became the ruling organisation in Russia, the hierarchies became solidified, a new bureaucratic stratum developed, and finally the party apparatuses became purged of the revolutionaries.


„Revolution is when even one single human is dissatisfied. The state of this dissatisfaction unlocks the arsenal of revolution, the weapons and means for revolution, the source of strength of the motoric antagonism and the collective movement of contradiction, and the aim of revolution: Happiness.“ Franz Jung: “And Again, The Meaning of Revolution”, in “The Technique of Happiness”
After the butchery of the first World War, a situation where capitalism had run its course in a unimaginable blood bath, the way seemed open for world revolution. The victory of the revolution in Russia opened up what seemed like endless possibilities. Despite the harrowing conditions of war communism that followed and the defeat of the revolution in Western Europe by ca. 1923, many attempts were made to extend the political and military victory not just to economics but also to the arts, to sexuality and to communal living.
The revolutionary flood of the first post war years produced many initiatives in the West, combining psychoanalysis with new artistic investigation and revolutionary politics. The surrealists re-discovered the writings of the Marquis de Sade and the utopian socialist Charles Fourier. De Sade of course describes in his writings the unleashing of libertinage in a society of domination. Fourier on the other hand extolls the qualities of free love in large communes he called Phalansteries. But when surrealist leader Andre Breton joined the Communist Party, this was not the revolutionary research the party wanted. They put him in a cell with workers of a gasworks and soon neutralized the input of the surrealists, some of who become ardent Stalinists and went on to write bad poetry in praise of historic materialism. Comparable to this was the tension between the Party officials and people like Wilhelm Reich. The KPD’s book service banned the distribution of Wilhelm Reich’s „The sexual struggle of youth“ (Der sexuelle Kampf der Jugend) in 1932 and expelled him soon after.
The Stalinist counter-revolution which emerged victoriously in the Soviet Union in the late 20’s was not only political, it was also a sexual, moral, literary and artistic counter-revolution. For example, in 1934 a law against homosexuality was re-introduced. The family policies of the Stalinist government became more and more conservative making both divorce and abortion a lot more difficult. The emancipatory project was beaten back.


Crushed by the blows of both fascist and stalinist counter-revolution (which was complete after the Spanish Civil War), the idea of universal emancipation survived in small circles. The combination of political with social, cultural and sexual revolutionary ideas slowly re-emerged after the war in fringe circles of the artistic avant-garde. By the mid-60’s the cold war had been going on for nearly two decades and a long-overdue critique of Bolshevism was coming out of the small left-communist circles and received a wider reception. Simultaneously there was a much wider youth culture developing again from small groups of beatniks or ‚gammler’ who had attempted to drop out in the decade before to the mass phenomenon of the Hippie movement. Take, for example, West Berlin: This city was still an island of the West in the middle of what was then the GDR. Many young West-Germans moved there to dodge the draft, and the university became a hotbed of agitation against the Vietnam war, the Nazi-past of the West German establishment, and the state of emergency laws passed at the time. The leading tendency in the West Berlin SDS saw itself as a self-proclaimed „anti-authoritarian“ tendency. There exists an interesting document authored by 4 of the main proponents of this tendency, called „Gespräch über die Zukunft“ where they phantasize about turning West Berlin into a council republic, and expected the proletariat of the third world to be their allies in the world revolution. These somewhat pompous perspectives in a city with a deeply ingrained anti-communist consensus may seem bizarre now, nevertheless, they had a lot of resonance at the time. Needless to say these authors barely had a class perspective in relation to West Berlin itself.
We witness a brief moment where apparently revolution could just be around the corner, and a cultural rupture seems to going hand in hand with a political rupture. A counter culture is developing with dozens of left wing bars, bookshops, communes. People grow their hair, and start dressing differently. They smoke dope expressing their own opposition to the post-Nazi society, where many old nazis are high up in the justice and political system. The idea of the counter culture as forming a nucleus of a future society in the here and now is manifestly tied to the political groups and struggles. It’s no wonder one of the first armed groups call themselves „Zentralrat der umherschweifenden Haschrebellen“ (“Central council of the nomadic hash rebels”).
Similar things are happening the world over. Maybe it’s a matter of quantity turning into quality, and what could merely be a consumer niche could turn into a counter culture. The author Walter Hollstein writes,”This means that the ‘underground’, if it doesn’t want to corrupt itself, has to manage the step from the subculture to the counter culture. Subculture here solely means the accidental dissensus from dominating culture, which in a temporary way expresses itself limited to its own clothing, fashion, group relations and behavior; counter culture means the manifest alternative in the arsenal of contradictions in this capitalist society.” Hollstein revises his judgement of the Underground from a previous sociological essay to a more positive view here, especially in light of the success of the underground press in the US. Going along with the politisation of the Hippies was the politisation of the underground press in the 60’s that boasted 500 titles and 5 million readers. This went hand in hand with a network of crisis centers, communes, free stores and farm collectives. By 1970 Hollstein sees a situation where the underground is not a phenomenon isolated from the general population anymore. He sees a “restructuring of social space” at work that is coming from “liberated terrains” which are defended against state repression. Nevertheless, Hollstein sees the terrain of social contestation not necessarily as something aiming at an immediate system change. It is about a long term process of social transformation with many possible setbacks.


However, the political scene and the counter culture are developing a problematic relationship. Both the American and the German SDS are spawning a number of purely political parties, or rather nuclei of parties. An analogue development to the German K-Groups happened in the disintegration of the US- SDS into tendencies such as the Progressive Labor Party, mirroring the elitist cadre concepts of the KPD, KPD/ML, the KBW, KABD, the PL/PI and what not. This phenomenon starts showing somewhat bizarre outgrowths. Each of these party-nuclei proclaim to be the true heirs to the historic Communist Party of Germany, based on the early 30’s phase of this party. Their rigorism goes all the way back to the Nechayev way of thinking on the glorification of the selfless party member. While the counter culture sees itself as a first frame of action where spontaneity, autonomy, self organisation and collective activity can be learned, the dogmatic K-groups, as they become to be known, criticize the counter cultural milieus as „subjectivist, individualist, putschist, utopian“. The counter cultural is accused of an aesthetisation of politics, which is a serious charge that directly references how Walter Benjamin characterized fascism.
The author Diethard Krebs counters this with an argument about the game and the ritual. Both are happenings that are repeated following certain rules, but the game can only be played by people who don’t suffer mortal shortages and in societies with an advanced ability to critique themselves. The game depends on freedom from fear. The ritual on the other hand has standardized regimentations and repetitions of orders causing normative behavior. It’s easy to find examples for these kind of forms in the drug culture as the game and the K-groups as strongly ritualized formations.
The fractions drift apart: cadre parties, rural communes, Maoism, and free love, agitating at the factory gate, and taking loads of drugs just go together less and less. At the same time the mainstream of society and culture is imbibing and recuperating more and more elements of the counter culture. Free love gets commodified as pornography, and supposedly subversive rock n’ roll stars are marketed by huge record companies. In the decades since then, tales from the “good old days” of the late 60’s, and ironically even memoirs about their days in the K-groups are part of a veritable industry of historification, at least in Germany.
As the elements of the revolutionary movement drifted apart, they also diminished. By the end of the 70’s the armed struggle had become the trajectory of social war with small minority groups eventually strengthening the state and the consensus of the citizens. On the other hand, sub-cultural strategies helped the rise of postmodernism and the disarming of revolution.


In the 1990’s we at Datacide and others tried to theorize the techno rave scene as a possible proletarian counter culture. For a moment the techno rave had this potential, but not more, and it is now lost. Much more than any „straight“ political direction, we saw in it the possibilities of self-organisation, collectivity and pursuit of pleasure in the counter culture around sound systems, anonymous white label records and illegal parties. This movement was strong enough – at least in the UK – to be directly targeted by laws and by the force of the police. Despite a politisation that did take place especially around the campaigns against the 1994 Criminal Justice Act and the Reclaim the Streets actions, these hopeful developments had run their course by the end of the decade.
In the past decade – despite the worsening crisis of international capitalism – the radical left is in disarray and extremely weak. Worse than that, some of its elements have at points aligned themselves with reactionary and fascist forces under the banner of anti-imperialism. One example amongst many is the British Socialist Workers Party entering an opportunist alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in the electoral front Respect. Suddenly basic emancipatory aims such as gay rights and women’s rights vanished in an attempt to forge a united front that supported the most reactionary forces such as Hamas or Hezbollah. These groups are financed by the theocracy of Iran where workers and student movements are savagely suppressed and the death penalty is used for „crimes against virtue“.


While we’re at an ebb of the revolutionary movement at the moment, things could look a lot different in 10 years. We don’t know yet how the movement will look, and how its international organisation would constitute itself. But we do know that it will not be an authoritarian cadre party, nor a tiny group hallucinating itself as an invisible dictatorship, nor united fronts with reactionary movements. Until then, a relentless critique has to be applied to everything in existence, as Marx put it, which is an exciting task because as Vaneigem says: „We have a world of pleasures to win and nothing to lose but boredom.“

Christoph Fringeli

text: Datacide magazine