The Withering Away of the Revolution
Chapter 10 of The Storming of the Mind
Stewart Limited, ©Robert Hunter 1971
As promised, no attempt has been made to examine all of
the causes of the restructuring of consciousness which is taking
place. Neither has any attempt been made to examine all
the ways in which it manifests itself. Such an effort would have
to range far beyond the rock phenomenon, the use of psychedelics,
the effects of urbanization and mass media and those other few
manifestations which have been touched upon here. The effort has
been rather to approach a few of these phenomena and reach for
the keys to their essential nature; to show, basically, how the
doors of perception are being unlocked. We have not yet faced
the central question: How can the new consciousness begin its
real work of taking power out of the hands of those who are in
the process of wrecking our world? There is a very specific deadline
involved: the point, likely sometime in the next ten or twenty
years, where the statistical probability of extinction will have
become a certainty.
To speak of a self-structuring hierarchical jump is to speak of
a revolution, a fundamental change in the way our affairs are
conducted. Without such a change, the overwhelming likelihood
is that we will kill ourselves off. No one suggests that men be
put in charge of nuclear reactors who are only capable of "muddling
through." Yet exactly such a suggestion is made when it comes
to putting people in charge of the dynamic institutions which
mine the course of society. The question is not whether a revolution
is needed. The question is: How can it succeed? Where are the
lines of least resistance? What are the weapons at the disposal
of the new consciousness? Are these weapons being picked up? Is
some sort of an apocalyptic bloodbaththe "shit storm"
foreseen by Norman Mailerinevitable?
In the past, in virtually every case, it was. Is there any good
reason for believing that conditions have changed in some mysterious
way? That a true revolution can now be effected without the streets
being littered with bodies?
First, in order to get some sort of a perspective, let us consider
the odds against a successful revolution. So long as we
stick to the traditional definition of a revolution, the odds
seem formidable, more formidable perhaps than they have ever been
in the past. An impression of the sheer power of the existing
power structure, particularly in America, might best be conveyed
through the lens of personal experience:
It was as though the great buildings around us were hi-fi speakers
in the land of the giants with the volume on full. The vibrations
beat against the 162-ton Picasso sculpture, reverberating along
the Cor-ten weatherproofed steel walls of the 31-storey Chicago
Civic Plaza, a sound that had several dimensions: anger, frenzy,
fun, frustration, fear, surprise. It was therapeutic, as raw as
the first roar of a timid man who has discovered the heroic within
his grasp. It was defiant and exultant because the sound was composed
of ten thousand voices and each voice suggested the liberation
of a ninety-pound weakling who has completed his Charles Atlas
course and is now moving with a growl down onto the bully-inhabited
beach. And then it was also pure rooting-for-the-home-team stuff,
complete with cheerleaders:
What do we want?
When do we want it?
And, finally, it was frightening. "PEACE, NOW! PEACE,
NOW!" The sound was blurred, like the noises of waves,
and it was easy to close your eyes, let go of the mood for a moment,
and hear them chanting, "SIEG HEIL! SIEG HEIL!"
There was that hypnotic rhythm to it, a pace close to that of
goose-stepping hordes. This was October 15, 1969, the First Moratorium
Day. The word was already out that the United States this day
had lurched like an elephant slammed by a hand grenade under the
impact of the biggest anti-war demonstration in history. And it
was only a month since the Woodstock music festival had gone off
like a land mine.
Now the speeches were done with, the Chicago sixlooking pale
and if not self-conscious, at least a bit uncertainhave been
duly honored, every angle has been played except the last: time
for a moment's silence for the dead in Vietnam. Heads were bowed.
Even the traffic was stilled, the crowd having become so large
the streets around the Civic Plaza were sealed off. The swelling
silence engulfed the murmuring, and soon we were as quiet as ants,
a colony of ants amid a warehouse display of fridge-like buildings
and stacks of rusting canned goods; there was even an altar before
us-the First Methodist Church, the world's tallest place of worship.
The silence soon matched the height of the building. After a few
seconds, hands started fluttering up, making the V-sign of peace,
a gesture by now as religious as the Catholic sign of the cross.
Soon almost all the hands were raised in the V-sign, except for
those hands which were black, and all those black hands, thousands,
were making the clenched-fist Black Power salute. I saw no black
fingers making the peace sign. Something had happened....
The demonstration was over. But the crowd was not quite prepared
to dissolve. And now came the cry: OINK! OINK! It was the warning
and battle-cry. It meant the riot cops were moving. Over the heads
around me, bobbing like bubbles in a stirred-up bathtub, I could
see a blue tide cominga line of robin's egg riot helmets. The
warning, almost a wave-action, had passed through me a second
before, an impulse transmitted from nerve to nerve, body to body,
thus flashing from one end of the plaza to the other, communicating
to nearly ten thousand of us in seconds what would have taken
several minutes to pass on by word of moutha flicker of tension,
excitement and fear. Briefly, my senseof isolation, of self, of
individuality, cracked. I was a small unit in a larger
creature, one spark in the total field laid down by a brain composed
of ten thousand such sparks. And the brain is stupid, composed
of too few parts-it has not much more going for it than an insect.
(No metaphor is intended herea crowd is a gestalt, and its
currents work like magnetism on the ciphers of our "identities,"
creating whirlpools and floodstreams where none existed before.)
OINK! OINK! screamed thousands of voices.
The effect of the cry was to cauterize some of the automatic fear
which had been in the message of a few seconds before. Shout cops
and the impulse, maybe nothing more than the Pavlovian reaction
of children caught stealing apples, is nevertheless to run. Shout
OINK! OINK! and the impulse is to press forward to the edge of
the trough. Good mob psychology to change the object of terror
into an object of contempt.
The movement of the crowd was like water toward a cliff. The robin's
egg helmets might as well have been magnets attracting chipsbut
of course the police knew this, knew by now after years of riots
and demonstrations all about the psychology of mobs. It is a psychology
not so different from that of rats or very retarded children.
Knowing it, the police had purpose in their movement. They were
good cowboys. The round-up began. They were pulling us into a
new position, the better to control us.
The round-up was underway. I tried to hang back close to the Picasso
sculpture, rising like a giant steel bat over the plaza. Tried
to hang back. It didn't work. The surge of the crowd was too strong,
and too much of its deep herd impulse had gotten into my head-like
a primordial gorilla hand groping for the controls. I did not
fight as hard as I might to avoid being carried forward and, first
thing I knew, I was right up against the police line.
Easy to imagine that these cops gave off no odor. They were, in
fact, as odorless as astronauts or the hostesses at Disneyland
and the Playboy Club. The cop in front of me, looking by chance
into my eyes no more curiously than you would look into the eyes
of a passing dog, seemed like a steel robot, a big one, wearing
a rubber mask over a transistorized brain. His truncheon was at
least two and a half feet long. When the walkie-talkie order hit
that transistor of his, he would bash my face in as automatically
as an electronic door opening to let customers into a supermarket.
Now I could see the purpose to the movement of the police. They
had taken up positions at one end of the glass-walled civic plaza,
and the reaction of the crowd was not, after all, so unanimous.
Only a fragmentthe most hopped-up elementshad been drawn
out, or, more precisely, extracted. So this was a dental
operation. The police knew now where the trouble would come from.
By their carefully-drilled movements, they had isolated the militants
from their buffer of tax-paying citizens. These Chicago police
were a good modern army. Beyond doubt their choreographer was
sitting up in one of the skyscrapers, directing the performance
like a man cutting a cake with sure strokes of his blue-edged
And the crowdthe crowd was still a dull-witted gestalt. Part
puppy-dog, part wolf. But in the end, manageable, more manageable
than a baby. The police, having drawn the most dangerous part
of it into position, (having snagged the fangs) now kept it on
the line like a fisherman jerking his line to make sure the hook
is in place. This was done simply by moving the police line a
few dozen yards to the right, a few dozen to the left. The crowd
followed. Meanwhile, as anticipated in somebody's calculations,
the majority of the original ten thousand demonstrators had dissolved
back into the rush-hour traffic, and soon there were fewer than
one thousand left chanting and singing in front of the police
line. After a while, they decided to head over to the federal
building, where a few hundred others, many of them young blacks,
and Black Panthers, had gathered to make speeches and throw insults
(nothing more) up at the courtroom where the charade of the trial
of the Chicago six was in progress. The police line followed the
demonstrators. From the federal building, the movement was back
toward of the plaza, then over to Lincoln Park. All along the
way, police marched silently, shoulder-to-shoulder with the demonstrators.
At last we arrived at the park. It was late afternoon, and the
potent force of ten thousand had been whittled by the blue knife
down to less than a hundred. The skill in that whittling was at
least equal to the talent employed in the carving of totem poles.
The police had a very effective machine going for them.
Yet there, in Chicago, I was watching the functioning of a police
machine which was still only a primitive tool compared to the
computerized techno-structured operations now coming into existence.
The difference between this Chicago police machine and those modern
ones beginning to take shape everywhere is a matter of centuries
compressed into decades. Compare a knife to a laser beam. You
can at least see the knife coming. Against the laser beam you
have no chance at all.
Police machines, even the machines of Hitler and Stalin, were
clumsy, forced to resort to terrorism and brute force. It has
been shown that slave labor is poorly adapted to industrialization
and adapted to post-industrialization not at all. The new machineries
of police control are as far removed, in their most highly-developed
forms, from Nazi Germany as helicopters from Icarus. The efficiency
of the Chicago police on the occasion of the First Vietnam Moratorium
revealed more about their state of development than did the police
riot during the 1968 Democratic Convention. There, while the whole
world was watching, the police broke their ranks and the machine
sputtered to a halt. Under those circumstances, had the Chicago
police been faced by well-armed, welldrilled opponents, they would
have been cut to ribbons. As it was, they were chasing children,
attacking journalists and bystanders, and so they seemed to have
tremendous brute power. It was an illusion. In fact, at that particular
moment, the Chicago police were at their weakest. If the Democratic
Convention riots of 1968 had been the real measure of the effectiveness
of the Chicago police, then the Black Panthers could be certain
of victory. When the police become a mob, they are as helpless
against precision attack as that crowd on Moratorium Day was against
precision control. And yet the point here is that those chillingly-efficient
Moratorium Day police tactics were relatively unsophisticated.
The blue knife that worked so well was still not a laser beam.
In the very near future, control of mobs of ten thousand will
be child's play.
The mass media have communicated a false message to the younger
generation: Look at the Democratic Convention! Look at Watts!
Look at the cities that burned as funeral pyres in the wake of
Martin Luther King's assassination! Remember the night when a
tiny gadget near Niagara Falls broke down and all of New York
was plunged into darkness? See how easy it is to throw a monkey
wrench into the functionings of a modern industrial state? A bit
of LSD in the water supply, a few snipers moving along the rooftops,
a demonstration here, a reversal of a court decision concerning
marijuana there...so easy, so easy.
Yet one has only to walk through Watts, or along West Madison,
or through Harlem, to realize that probably fewer than a hundred
miles of streets out of all the millions of miles of paved roadway
in the United States actually were touched by flame the night
after King died. And nothing has changed in New York because of
the black-out, except that the hydro system is slightly more efficient
now. LSD breaks down in water. As for snipersthey are killed,
and have about as much chance of beating the existing system as
a fly has of wresting power from the man with the fly-swatter.
An overturned pot law can be planted back even more firmly on
its feet a few weeks later. Guerrilla warfare? One might try reading
Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-tung, especially his ten
principles of operation. In the context of modern America, it
might well have been written by George Wallace. Point One: Attack
dispersed, isolated enemy forces first; attack concentrated, strong
enemy forces (universities?) later. Point Two: Take small
and medium cities and extensive rural areas first; take big cities
later. Etc. It should be obvious to everyone that guerrillas can
only operate if the population supports them, and there is no
advanced industrial nation today where that basic condition exists.
A mass base is completely lacking for a putsch or revolution
in the old style of the French and Russian revolutions. And even
if it weren't, in order to beat the technological and organizational
opposition, the revolutionaries would have to forge a faster,
more powerful machine. To fight a revolution in an advanced industrial
nation today (on its own ground, in short) one would have to become
even better at the game than those who currently wield the blue
knife and the laser beam.
The argument against revolution in an advanced industrial nation,
in the old sense of a violent overthrow of the existing power
structure through the mechanism of an armed insurrection, proceeds
along three lines:
A. It's hopeless.
B. It accomplishes nothing, except a changing of the guard.
C. It diverts us from the real struggle, which is to attain a
higher level of consciousness, and to explore our potential (which
is still unknown).
Let us deal with these in turn:
A. It's hopeless.
The working class of late has not shown itself to be particularly
responsive to the rhetoric of the New Left. The evidence would
suggest that any insurrection at this stage in the affairs of
the American state is more likely to come from the right. Movements
such as Yippie!, the Black Panther Party, SDS, and so on have
proven to be shorter-lived and far less tolerated than the Minutemen
or the Ku Klux Klan. This is not simply because of the raw power
of the police machine.
John Galbraith has pointed out that when capital was the key to
economic success, social conflict was between the rich and the
poor. But in recent times, education became the difference that
divides. "Politics," he writes, "reflect the new
division. In the United States suspicion or resentment is no longer
directed to the capitalists or the merely rich. It is the intellectuals
who are eyed with misgiving and alarm. This should surprise no
one. Nor should it be a matter for surprise when semi-literate
millionaires turn up leading or financing the ignorant in struggle
against the intellectually privileged and content. This reflects
the relevant class distinction of our time." It is a distinction
few intellectuals are willing to accept. Humanists and socialists
alike would prefer to steer away from any position which might
open them up to charges of elitism, yet everything points to a
sharp (and widening) cleavage not only between the generations
but between the new basic classes. Students can no longer appeal
to the workers with much hope of being listened to (or, for that
matter, of getting out of a union hall meeting without having
their heads beaten in).
Add to that the fact that the very "masses" upon whom
all organized revolutionaries pin their long range hopes are the
people (in the highly industrialized states) who are the least
likely to rise up against anybody except the revolutionaries themselves.
Come the revolution, we will all be listening to Bob Hope. The
problem in part is that only a minority of the population in any
advanced industrialized nation is responsive to the new and accelerated
pace of change. A few, among them many of the young and many of
the intellectually privileged and content, are in tune with the
new culture; that is, change is not something that frightens them.
Mobility offers possibilities, not dread of being uprooted. The
"broad masses," on the other hand, are still peeking
out at the world from around the corner of their memories of the
Depression and the Second World War.
Few will dispute that the guns and the tanks and the bombs and
the advertising agencies and the mass media are in the hands of
the established order. The target of any revolution cannot just
be the White House, the Pentagon, and Fort Knox. It must be, let's
say, "the hearts and minds of the people," whether Vietnamese
or American. And these, at the moment, are largely under the control
of the establishment press, the advertisers, and the politicians.
So, already, the revolution must move against an enemy that commands
the heights and is dug in everywhere, who, furthermore, has overwhelming
firepower, with air and ground and naval support. And the odds
are not yet through being added up. The establishment also has
at its disposal a humming army of computers, an array of prototypal
technostructures whose function is not only to anticipate trouble,
pin-point likely danger spots, but, as a regular day-to-day operation,
keep a closer eye on every individual citizen than could be done
in any previous society. There is no one in America-or any advanced
industrial state, for that matter-whose identity is not magnetically
recorded on a tape somewhere. So, in addition to the overwhelming
firepower of the enemy, the revolutionary faces the dangers of
bugging, wiretapping, computerized surveillance, and so on.
So far, however, we have been ticking off the obvious. We have
not really got the real strength of the enemy, which is
that, unlike a banana republic, the modern industrial state is
not run by a strongman flanked by bullyboys, a division of armored
jeeps, and financed by a clutch of businessmen with vested interests
in keeping wages down. It may indeed stem from just such a basic
structure, but in the process of its evolution it has become too
complex, too bottomless, to be tackled as though it remained
nothing more than that. The power of the industrial state is greater
by several factors, and not just in terms of physical might.
Where we see progressiveness and openly liberal attitudes, we
see the technological reality refining its methods of manipulation,
organization, and, ultimately, control. It gets better
at it all the time, absorbing more, spreading out in ever-widening
circles, and turning every attack to its own advantage, simply
by accepting the attacker, swallowing him, and thus very nearly
literally feeding on opposition.
Historically, it has been hard enough to get broad masses of people
to bite the hand that wouldn't feed them; to hope, under
conditions of affluence, to get those same broad masses to bite
a hand that does feed them-and feeds them very well-is a thin
hope indeed. Add this stark reality to the problems already mentioned,
and one begins to see that it would have to be one hell of a super-revolution,
the one which could smash the technological society.
Even if the odds weren't so bad, consider the state the troops
are in. What happened to the crowd in the Chicago Civic Plaza
on Moratorium Day demonstrated clearly where the real organizational
muscle was. But there is more to it. Shortly before Moratorium
Day, I was in Berkeley, at the University of California campus.
Listen to one of the most radical students I talked to: "It's
ready to blow, man. There's a revolution coming. It's overcrowded
here. Construction everywhere. Bad food. Lousy accommodation.
It's mean. Bad vibrations. Everybody's really uptight, only it's
low-level uptightedness. People are bugged, I mean, really bugged...
the food prices, the shortage of rooms, the noise... it's gonna
go, man. Wow." So there is a revolution about to erupt.
But follow the conversation further. It drifts. Soon, the student
is talking about the intensity of the mescaline experience as
compared to the hashish experience. A lot of quibbling gets going
with other students present about the virtues of hash. And from
there the conversation proceeds directly to the issue of the best
places to go skiing. One place is generally conceded to be much
better than the others, because "dampness from the ground
soaks right up through your head and goes raining off in reverse
right into the sky from your head, all those pores in your scalp,
like they were sprinklers, man." This is, if you have been
smoking hash. Somehow, no contradiction is seen between the desire
to have a revolution and the desire to smoke hash and go skiing.
The revolutionary fever was heavily seasoned with hedonism, which
weakens it badly. And most conversations I got into on the campus
seemed spiced in much the same way. A friend reports meeting two
radicals at Berkeley, whose position is simple: Everything will
have to be smashed from stem to stern; America has become that
diseased. The conversation ends when they ask my friend if he
would like to blow a joint. Okay. They go down the street and
climb into a brand-new Thunderbird, property of the most talkative
radical and proceed to get stoned.
The story may be apocryphal, but not very.
Yet, through a process of nothing much more than elimination,
we have arrived at a position where the vanguard of a revolution
must be the "alienated" young. The working class
has become reactionary (labor and management may quibble over
the spoils, but none seeks to blow up the trough), the bourgeoisie
middle class are more dominant than ever, the poor are already
contained in ghettoes which are concentration camps lacking only
barbed wire. Let us look, therefore, at the picture these alienated
young presented as the 1960s drew to a close. Here is Barry Farrell's
description of the last two nights of the Woodstock festival:
As night fell the scene became more dramatic still, disclosing
a loud electric image of the future. From the fringes of the crowd,
the stage looked like a pearl at the bottom of a pond, a circle
of light fired down from towers as big as missile gantries. Just
beyond it, helicopters fluttered in and out of an LZ ringed with
Christmas lights, bringing in the rock groups, evacuating casualties
and stars. Much music was lost under the beat of their bladesan
annoyance until it was perceived as a higher music than rock aloneas
rock-helicopter music, space music to accompany the sound-and-light
vision of the American '70s.
The speaker's expert voice purred across the breadth of the farm,
reading off lists of the injured and ill, urging respect for the
fences. In the newspeak of our age, he praised the crowd for being
groovy, cautioning them not to blow the cool thing they had going
by breaking any of the rules. Then he would give way to another
group, and the musicians would appear, tiny forms bathed in lurid
On the festival's last night, when the field had turned to slime
and abandoned sleeping bags lay sprawled underfoot like corpses,
my feelings for the event began to darken. Everyone around me
was shivering under soaked coats and blankets. Their bonfires,
fed with newspapers and milk cartons, cast up a stench that hung
above the meadow in a yellow haze. On the dark roads, unseen faces
whispered the names of drugs to passing strangers. Mescaline?
Hash? At the central crossroads, anxious voices shouted the names
of lost friends. Gloria! Donald!
The great stoned rock show had worked a counter-miracle, trading
on the freedom to get stoned, transforming it into a force that
tamed the crowd and extracted its compliance. Not that anyone
minded, of course-the freedom to get stoned was all the freedom
they wanted. And, being stoned, everyone was content to sit in
the mud and feed on a merchandised version of the culture they
created. In the cold acid light, the spoiled field took on the
aspect of an Orwellian concentration camp stocked with drugs and
music and staffed with charming police. The speaker's coaxing
voice only enriched the nightmare, which became complete when
I asked a trembling blue-faced boy if he was feeling all right.
"Groovy," he said, adding a frozen smile.
The Woodstock festival has already been recorded as a victory
for music and peace, and that is as it should be. But it should
also be remembered as a display of the authority of drugs over
a whole generation-an authority already being merchandised, exploited,
promoted. It was groovy, as the speaker kept saying, but I fear
it will grow groovier in memory, when the market in madness leads
on to shows we'd rather not see.
As for Hair, one had only to glance at the faces in the
lobby at intermission to see that these were not people about
to take to the barricades. Flushed, excited faces, titillated.
After all, hadn't they just had their jollies by becoming involved
enough to cheer all the heavy anti-draft lines, the pro-pot lines,
the ecstatic lyrics about beauty and truth? They got it out of
them, all right. Now they will go home feeling liberated, some
of them so liberated they will not even worry about how tired
they're going to feel in the morning when it comes time to go
back to work for The Machine.
Hair was only incidentally a piece of show biz. Its real
significance lies in the fact that its arrival (along with the
effective total collapse of censorship, the popularity of pot,
the sudden militancy of every minority group, and the rediscovery
of holism) signaled the beginning of a new stage in the affairs
of the technological society. Hair was the death-knell
of revolution, ringing joyously and ecstatically through the industrialized
world. Then along came Woodstock, and as Barry Farrell wrote in
Life, "no one there doubted that we were crossing
a cultural Rubicon." The question is: How many realized that
they had entered the gates of the comfortable concentration camp?
The trap had begun to close. The barricades, like the guillotine,
were suddenly relics of the past. As that small slice of humanity
which represents the cutting edge of our evolution rushed forward
to meet the dawn of the Age of Aquarius, they left their machine-guns
and ideologies and programs behind. Straitjackets were shedded
like old skins. We had begun to give up. What every pessimistic
modern philosopher from Huxley to Jacques Ellul had warned us
against was finally happening. We were losing control of our destiny,
losing our minds, throwing down our weapons and surrendering in
droves. We had stopped fighting. Hegel's historical man, whose
spirit was in "a mighty conflict with itself," who could
advance to higher forms only by overcoming himself, was suddenly
as obsolete and pathetic as the Priest King of Nemi, who could
succeed to office only by slaying the incumbent, and having slain
him, retained power only until he himself was slain, with the
result that "year in year out, in summer and winter, in fair
weather and in foul, he had to keep his lonely watch, (sword in
hand, pacing around the tree that was his throne) and whenever
he snatched a troubled slumber it was at the peril of his life."
Revolution, whose death-convulsions had taken the form of student
revolts in the fallopian tubes of the technological society, is
finally finished as the vehicle of human advance. And since revolution
really means cyclic recurrence, (a vicious circle) we do not have
to bemoan, as Marcuse does, the "passing of historical forces"
which seemed, at earlier stages, to represent the possibility
of change. There is no political institution left on the face
of the earth whose ideology is not basically technological, so
all a revolution hitched to realpolitik can offer now is more
of the same. Revolution is giving way to liberation and short-circuiting
the vicious circle entirely. If Hair and Woodstock signal
the triumph of the technological society, they also signal the
end to futile and self-perpetuating conflict.
The Hair and Woodstock phenomena are complex, like the
flight of Apollo 11; the question has to be asked: What is the
effect? Do these phenomena liberate or do they add a deeper dimension,
a new twist, to the elaborate and subtle mechanisms of aggregate
control? The immediate problem with Hair is that its emergenceor
the emergence of some immensely popular show employing exactly
the same devices of protest, outrage, anger, obscenity and revolutionary
rhetoricwas anticipated as far back as the 1950s by French
philosopher Jacques Ellul, who argued that the more restrictive
the social mechanism, the more exaggerated are the associated
ecstatic phenomena. (Neither Hair nor Woodstock could be
described as other than ecstatic.) "Technique," wrote
Ellul, "encourages and enables the individual to express
his ecstatic reactions in a way never before possible. He can
express criticism of his culture, and even loathing. He is permitted
to propose the maddest solutions. The great law here is that all
things are necessary to make a society and even revolt is necessary
to make a technical society." Hair, which expresses
plenty of loathing and not a few mad solutions, is tolerated (along
with pornography, obscenity, and even, to an increasing degree,
pot and homosexuality) not because there is more freedom than
before, but because the expression of criticism allows people
to let off steam. And having let off steam they are less likely
to get serious about changing the social order.
Marcuse has a word for it: "repressive de-sublimation,"
which is the "release of sexuality in modes and forms which
reduce and weaken erotic energy." (Erotic energy being the
source of real rebellion as opposed to burlesques.) In tolerating
a show like Hair or a happening like Woodstock, the technocratic
order would be doing nothing less than moving into the realm of
"pleasant forms of social control and cohesion." The
thrust of the argument is that pleasant forms of control work
more effectively than repression. Thus, there is the appearance
of rebellion, but no substance. As Ellul puts it: "Technique
defuses the revolt of the few and thus appeases the need of the
millions for revolt."
B. It accomplishes nothing, except a changing of the guard.
Leonard Cohen remarked in 1968, when asked if there was a revolution
going on: "Of course it's a revolution. But I want to see
the real revolution. I don't want it siphoned off by the
mobilization people. It's got to take place in every room. Revolutionaries,
in their heart of hearts, are excited by the tyranny they wield.
The lines are being drawn and people on both sides are beginning
to terrorize each other. Somehow we have to break out of this
process, which can only lead to both sides becoming like
each other. I'm afraid that when the Pentagon is finally stormed
and taken, it will be by guys wearing uniforms very much like
those worn by the guys defending it."
Many of us advance into our lives by little more than cause and
effect. That is, we take a step for a variety of reasons and,
having taken this small initial step, discover the consequences.
We are then forced to deal with those consequences. and we do
that by rationalizing the original act. Having rationalized it,
one has then set up the crude framework of a behavioral pattern
which can now be fleshed out by further actionsproceeding
in the same direction. Each new action, so long as it continues
to proceed in the same direction, becomes slightly easier than
the one before. It's like learning to drive, acquiring reflexes.
Once one is familiar with the gears it becomes largely automatic.
Strong men, or men of action (such as revolutionaries must be),
are therefore those whose behavior has been most effectively rationalized.
They set themselves in motion automatically. Revolutionary heroes
are therefore bound to a large degree to be behavioral automatons.
Further, all revolutionaries are forced to accept a discipline
which forbids them to freely explore interpretations other than
those which serve as the basis for the revolution. Revolutionary
zeal is one of the worst forms of tyranny, locking the individual
into a position every bit as static as that of his opposite number,
the reactionary. At the extremes, in terms of individual personality,
the revolutionary and the reactionary merge. For both, the doors
leading to personal growth and development of their own unrealized
potential are closed.
The man of action requires an uncluttered setting with simple
ground rules in order to function. Ideally: A setting as stark
as a boxing ring. Only then can the Aristotelian proposition of
either/or be put to work. The object of the revolutionary (or
reactionary) game is to reduce complex on-going processes to a
fixed game board involving nothing more than two players; black
vs. white, good vs. bad, freedom vs. slavery. If he is successful
in reducing multi-ordinal reality to a simple game, the revolutionary
has then "set the stage" for an uprising. Needless to
say, in a complex highly-integrated modern industrial state, the
initial task of the revolutionary is that much more difficult.
The point here is simply that the revolutionary stance is an idée
fixe, monomania. Further, it is, on a grand scale, a kind
of decadencea rejection of the complex (and real) in favor
of the simple (and less real). What the revolutionary offers us,
finally, is one other idea about how things should be done. His
goal is to ram that idea down our throats, and in order to be
able to do that, he must first seize power.
Which brings us to the heart of the matter. Chairman Mao advises
us that "the seizure of power by armed force, the settlement
of the issue by war, is the central task and the highest form
of revolution." It is a power struggle first and foremost.
Exactly the sort of thing for which the Priest Kings of Nemi stand
as the central metaphor. The revolutionary does not want change,
he wants one change, the change which will bring him into
power. And then...? Why then his task is to fight off the next
wave of revolutionaries who want another change. "Everybody
wants to save the world," Henry Miller once noted, "but
nobody wants to help his neighbor."
"The urge to manipulate others," writes George B. Leonard,
"whether to 'solve' a 'problem' or build an empire, begins
in the nursery
The drive for surplus power
is born of
lack and nourished by deprivation. 'Power'the word itselfappears
only when there are unfulfilled needs. We would never have heard
the term 'Black Power' if blacks had been treated fairly. 'Woman
Power' is a statement of denial, a cry for justice. Ultimately,
little will be gained if blacks, women, and others of the oppressed
merely gain dominance, thus triggering yet another cycle of deprivation
and desperation....'Power' is derived from an Old French word
meaning, 'to be able.' When we return to this definition, the
real question becomes, 'What do you want to be able to do or be,
to feel or enjoy?' The past has taught us well: Playing power
games and losing is a waste of time. Playing power games and getting
exactly what you want is the ultimate despair."
All political parties, whether revolutionary or established (along
with their ideologies and systems) are built on a narrow base
of power. Some specialize in humanism, others on exploitation,
yet others on inevitable conflict. In all cases, the issue of
power remains the locus of activity. All existing political organizations
(again whether revolutionary or not) remain essentially anthropomorphic.
The struggle is between people and groups of people, each locked
into a monomaniacal opposing stance. Any disinclination to accept
the whole ideological package is a sign of betrayalone becomes
a "revisionist" or a "Commie-lover" or something
to that effect, depending on where and what you are. Revolutions
are seen as mechanisms whereby our sickness might be cured: racism,
greed, insanity, hate, fear, distrust, alienation, poverty, dictatorship.
Revolution, at best, is seen as a kind of heart transplant; at
worst, lobotomy. Always, of course, for the good of the patient,
and always on the assumption that the operation will cure all
ills. "Social change" is the vehicle, the means toward
the higher end of more moral behavior, of greater brotherly love,
of physical well-being, an end to hunger and deprivation
And to affect these tremendous social changes, it remains absolutely
necessary to seize power. Underdog must overthrow topdog. Underdog
is then the new topdog and the old topdog now has a taste of being
underdog. The guard has been changed. There is a new man in the
saddle. Beyond that stage, what happens?
The operational mode of thinking remains the trigger of all practical
change. Today, Marxism is the mirror image of capitalism, but
basically no different. Because Communists and Socialists and
Capitalists have all hitched their social wagons to the engine
of technology, there can be no basic change. Exploitation of nature
remains the key to wealth, whether equally distributed or not.
And through the domination of nature, the men continue to dominate
each other and be dominated.
Theodore Roszak puts it well:
To immerse oneself in the old ideologies-with the notable exception
of the anarchist tradition which flows from such figures as Kropotkin,
Tolstoy, Thoreauis to find oneself stifling in the stone and
steel environment of unquestionable technological necessity. It
is a literature of seriousness and grim resolve, tightly bounded
by practicality, class discipline, the statistics of injustice,
and the lust for retribution. To speak of the ecstasies of life
in such a somber environment is to risk folly. Here where all
men trudge, none may dance. Dancing is . . . for later. If the
demise of the old ideologies begins anywhere, it begins with this
delaying gesture. For to postpone until 'later' consideration
of the humanly essential in the name of 'being realistic' is to
practise the kind of deadly practicality which now stands our
civilization in peril of annihilation. It is to deliver us into
the hands of the dehumanized commissars, managers, and operational
analystsall of whom are professional experts at postponing
the essential. These are the practitioners of what C. Wright Mills
called 'crackpot realism.'
Revolution is based in part on the proposition that institutions
must be shuffled, and then the hearts of men and women
can be affected. Controlthrough the institutional agenciesis
the prerequisite for real change. It does not cross the revolutionary
mind that institutions are the last extensions of manthat to
begin attempting to cure human ills through the agencies of institutions
is to start at the ass end. Institutions, laws, legislation and
flags can be easily changedwhat, we must ask, has that got
to do with individuals? Such thinking misses completely the basic
psychological insight that we cannot deliberately bring about
changes in ourselves or in others. Any intention toward change
will have the opposite effect. A "successful" revolution
means simply that we are saddled with a new set of controllers.
Meanwhile, in our hearts nothing has changed. The power games
go on. Exploitation of nature continues. Man is still assumed
to be, "realistically," the center of the universe.
A king of flat-earth psychology continues to dominate our collective
Meanwhile, the earth continues to die.
C. It diverts us from the real struggle, which is to attain
a higher level of consciousness, and to explore our potential
(which is still unknown.)
Leon Trotsky once prophesied that the final revolution in the
world would consist of a series of small and violent upheavals
going on everywhere, lasting perhaps for generations. This sounds
dead on, yet not even Trotsky could have envisioned how "small"
and how "violent." The final revolution will be taking
place in an arena no larger than my head and your head, and it
will involve a psychic and emotional violence whose measure has
not yet been taken. So long as we are concentrating our energies
on power struggles, on toppling institutions only to replace them
with others, we are channeling our energies outward; it is an
exercise as futile as the trip to the moon, all part of an outward
voyage whose aim is exploitation, whose method is manipulation,
whose end is power and control. History is a stuck record, with
human struggle caught in a single groove, the vicious circle of
cyclic recurrence. Down goes one king, and up goes another. The
day after a palace is stormed, the new bosses set up shop across
the street. We have not yet escaped from collective childhood,
in the sense that we still need leaders, and still do not trust
our own senses. (Liberals, with their tremendous fear of being
"judgmental," are among the worst offenders. It is the
liberals who have come closest to building systems on a fusion
of man and his works, yet they have not learned that their weaknessequivocalityis
also their greatest potential source of strength.) Revolution
is seen always as the means to an end which is human liberation,
freedom not only from want, but from the tyranny of the emotions,
racism, hatred, murder, crime, and exploitation. "Social
change" will lead to a change in consciousness. Yet this
is in reality a Rube Goldberg course. The possibility of moving
directly from A to B. without having to climb to the top of the
pyramid in order to get down to the bottom of it, has not even
historically been considered; except, of course, by theologians
and artists. The only way for the greater human being to come
into existence is directly, giving birth to himself. No ideology
is prepared to accept the idea that the cure might precede the
revolutionary operation, that perhaps the operation might only
make the patient sicker. Changereal change, as opposed to a
change of political underwearwill only come after the fact
of individual liberation. And since this is something that cannot
be organized or led, that does not lend itself to political or
ideological frames of reference, it is dismissed (by the operationalists)
as being nothing at all. Yet we might with good cause demand:
Revolutionary, heal thyself! The real revolution works in exactly
the opposite fashion to what has always been assumed to be the
case-changing the social institutions does no good, because the
last link in the chain, the individual, is the farthest removed
from the locus of power. When however, the individual is the first
link to be affected, it turns out that the seats of power are
themselves the last to be changed. Institutions and thrones are
about as far removed from the ordinary citizen as anything in
the social landscape. The aim of revolutionary types has been
to organize the people to move against the thrones, to tear down
the institutions. In the process, people submit to discipline
and the need for violence, and thus become violent disciplinarians
themselves. The fact that they may be crushing an entrenched set
of violent disciplinarians at this point makes no real difference.
How far have they progressed in the direction of realization of
themselves? Nowhere. They may have succeeded in brutalizing themselves,
in reverting to the logic of domination and can be certain of
emerging from the bloodbath convinced that the operational point
of view is the only point of view. Other than that, there is no
progress in the critical directionwhich is to explore unknown
territory, to move upward, not downward, in terms of personal
and collective evolution, to acquire a keener vision, a deepening
of the senses, an enlargement of vision, to the point where we
might perceive subtler harmonies, regularities which were not
noticed before, and, finally, to bring our shattered selves back
into a working whole. The task is to complete the human being,
not turn him back into a barbarian.
The question arises: It's all very well to say that we must all
"save ourselves," no one can do it for us, but what
about the obvious inequalities of the present system? What about
corruption? Police brutality? Militarism? Murder? What good does
it do if you liberate yourself and achieve a state of "higher
morality" or whatever, if, in the meantime, Vietnamese peasants
continue to be bombed, Blacks are starving in ghettoes, Indians
are processed and reprocessed through prisons, millions are dying
of starvation, madmen have their fingers poised on the nuclear
trigger, and the planet is being destroyed by parasitic corporations
and governments? Isn't 'self-liberation" at this stage a
luxury we can ill afford to indulge ourselves in? There is real
work to be done, and done in a hurry if we are to survive.
The short answer lies in what Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls describes
as the most important phenomenon in all pathology: "self-regulation
versus external regulation. The anarchy which is usually feared
by the controllers is not an anarchy which is without meaning.
On the contrary, it means the organism is left alone to take care
of itself, without being meddled with from outside. And I believe
this is the great thing to understand: that awareness per seby
and of itselfcan be curative. Because with full awareness
you become aware of this organismic self-regulation, you can let
the organism take over without interfering, without interrupting;
we can rely on the wisdom of the organism." In the sociological
context, the message is clear enough: awareness is the
starting point for action which is not pre-determined by ideological
bias; without awareness, without having gotten to the "center"
of our beings, as the Gestaltists call it, without having transcended
the operational mode of thinking which reduces our actions to
little more than acted-out equations, without having "cured"
ourselves of our refusal to let the situation dictate our actions
(rather than vice-versa), there is nothing we can do with certainty
which will not simply amount to a subtler kind of power-game,
a reversal of roles, orand this is the unavoidable trapwhich
will not amount in the long run to a projection of our own disequilibrium
This is not to suggest a "moratorium" on political activity,
which in itself can be therapeutic, but it is to say that the
blind have no right to be leading the blind. Only when our own
eyes are open can we presume to lead. Otherwise we may rest assured
that whatever illusions we may have about "progress"
are in reality nothing more than circular gropings in the dark,
with pitfalls everywhere. The answers, once one's eyes are open,
can be clearly perceived.
Before proceeding to look beyond the barricades (a garbage heap
of antique social furniture) there is a point which needs to be
cleared up, since much of what has been said so far about the
futility of revolution can easily be misconstrued as a put-down
of very real and just revolutions taking place not only in America,
but in Canada and Vietnam and elsewhere. My argument is simply
that revolution must take the shape of its container; it defines
itself in relation to the system it seeks to defy or overthrow.
But I am speaking of revolution in the context of the technological
society, or one-dimensional society, or the affluent society,
or whatever label one chooses to describe what is mainly a white
man's modern world. Not everyone in North America lives in that
world. The ghettoeswhether black ghettoes in Los Angeles
or Chicago or Eskimo or Indian ghettoes in Canada and in the Arctic-are
truly another country. And the struggles that go on within these
territories are against colonialism, imperialism, and brutal oppression.
They have much in common with the struggle of the Vietnamese.
The "container" in these cases is quite different from
the kind of container in which those of us who are predominantly
white and living in suburbs and high-rise apartments find ourselves.
The Hudson Institute has calculated that within thirty years the
first four post-industrial societies will have surfaced on the
face of the planet. They will be, in this order, the United States,
Canada, Japan, and Sweden. They will be characterized by the fact
that per capita income will range from $4,000 to $20,000;
most economic activity will have shifted from industrial production
to the service industries, research institutes and non-profit
organizations; private enterprise will no longer be a major source
of scientific and technical development. Large-scale integration
will be all but complete. We will be far down the path of convergence
with the Communist world. At this point, the technological society
will have clamped its iron arms around the world, bioelectronics
will have succeeded in literally plugging us into world-wide hookups
and a de facto police state will have emerged. It is in
these areas (the post-industrialized regions) that the obsolescence
of revolution will be most apparent.
This is not to say that, outside the affluent sphere, revolution
will be obsolete. The "wretched of the earth" will still
be with us, old-style police states based on brutality and oppression
will still exist, colonialism in a variety of forms will likely
still prevail. In these "outside regions," there is
no reason to assume that armed insurrection, revolution, and violent
overthrown of corrupt and brutal administrations is in any way
unjustified or unnecessary.
To draw our models for revolutionary behavior from these other
regions, however, is to refuse to recognize the qualitative differences
between these societies. Within a single generation, there will
be a difference between the most advanced societies and the ones
trailing behind them which will not only be a matter of degree
but of kind. Those of us in the most advanced regions will be
living in a different world. A fundamental change is involved.
For us to continue to assume that revolutionary programs applicable
in China, India, most of South America and Africa (areas which
have not even approached the industrialized stage) can somehow
have any relevance in our own advanced industrial context, is,
at best, an unsophisticated notion; at worst, plain stupidity.
Within the comfortable concentration camp, inside a system which
can absorb and contain and feed on all forms of protest and rebellion,
a whole new set of tactics must be evolved, and are being
evolved. Moreover, we have no choice in the matter, since old-style
revolutionary activity simply will not work. We will be effectively
blocked from indulging in the kind of uprising and overthrow which
amounts to cyclic recurrence. We will have no Bastilles left to
storm except those within our skulls, no oppressors left whom
we can get our hands on except our egos. The struggles which were
always directed outwardagainst tyrants and dictators-will have
been effectively thwarted, and will be turned back on themselves.
Inward will go the revolution, turning every man's head into a
The "social bottle" of those regions on planet earth
which are furthest into the future is different, unique; by the
standards of other ages and other cultures, it is downright freaky.
It has been molded into a new formby the computer, by television,
by changes in social character, by technoplanning, cybernetics,
chemistry, psychology, technique. We all agree it is made from
new materials: plastic, nuclear power, vinyl, electronic circuitry,
datapoints and programming. Yet how many of us are prepared to
see that revolution, the counterpoint to all that is totalitarian
and repressive (even when rationally totalitarian and repressive)
must also change; it must, in fact, become as strange, as novel,
as freaky as its container. And it is becoming all of thatso
much so that most of us fail to recognize it as revolution. In
drama we see, as Martin Esslin put it, "By all traditional
standards of critical appreciation of the drama, these [modern
absurd] dramas are not only abominably bad, they do not even deserve
the name of drama." Mark Gerzon goes on to say: "Many
people have realized that nothing can be judged by traditional
standards, for we do not live any longer in a traditional society.
How many parents have said about modern music and painting that
they do not even deserve the name? The arts have broken with tradition
because they found the limitations on style and structure unnecessary
and artificial..." Similarly, "revolution" is in
the process of breaking from traditional style and structure.
Before proceeding, it is necessary to clearly distinguish between
this ultimate struggle and the penultimate struggles being waged
by oppressed people living outside the perimeter of The Machine.
Basically, these next-to-last struggles are efforts to break into
the area already inhabited by those of us who are affluent. Although
our own struggle is of a different nature, we cannot ignore those
other struggles and neither can we afford to refuse to help. But
first we must have some understanding of the difference.
To this end, let me focus on the Black Panther Party, which is
a real revolutionary force (in the old pre-technological style).