Methods for the Communalization of Confusion

A Critique of “Anti-Mass”


The Anti-Mass pamphlet Methods of Organization for Collectives marks a new phase of the decomposition of the movement and of the spectacle of that decomposition. The widespread consumption and reprinting of the pamphlet is one sign of an increasingly generalized (though partial) critique of the movement. The grosser manifestations of “vanguard party” Leninism, reformism, sacrificial militantism, and martyr worship are now called into question, and those who haven’t already succumbed to one of the various forms of total cretinization (PL, harikrishna, heroin) naturally respond to whatever appears to confirm their own critique. But those who are beginning to question the fundamental nature of the false opposition will find in Methods a confirmation less of their own radicality than of their remaining confusions. The movement — torn apart by internal contradictions and by the contradictions between its false consciousness and the actually developing class struggle — is now an endangered species attempting to survive by producing mutations of itself. Anti-Mass is one such hybrid: a mouldy soup of McLuhanism, anarchism, William Burroughs, Maoism, and “situationism.”

Methods correctly observes that “the ‘movement’ itself behaves as a mass and its organizers reproduce the hierarchy of the mass.” But since its social “analysis” is purely structural — a na├»ve physics of revolution — its solutions are voluntaristic creations of a purely structural nature (e.g. “you make the revolution by actually changing social relations”). Abstracted from social praxis, their “class” alternative to “mass” is a sheer phantom; and, by a not so subtle sleight-of-hand, becomes identified — in a Hegelian glorification of that which is — with the collective. Anti-Mass even admits its own imposture when it vaguely wonders “how collectives can become part of history — how they can become a social force.”

The social force which is alone capable of transforming all existing conditions by becoming conscious of itself as a class is the proletariat. It is this particular class which, in order to negate the specific conditions of its dispossession (a poverty of lived experience in the midst of fantastic material possibilities), must organize itself nonhierarchically, destroying all separate power. And the proletariat has, in its past struggles, sketched a particular organizational form of direct democracy for the expression of its own power — workers councils. But Anti-Mass can ignore history just as it can fail to develop a real critique of wage-labor — of the production as well as the consumption of commodities and spectacles — because its real purpose is only to give movement activists a new ideology and a method for maintaining their stale illusions. When Methods speaks of alienated labor it speaks of it as a fragment — “the issue of how to transform work into self-activity” — and offers a solution in the form of a counterrevolutionary pep talk on “correcting anti-work attitudes.”

Anti-Mass’s conception of “the collective” is necessarily ambiguous. On the one hand, the collective is an existing movement form; on the other, it is quite simply declared to be “the organizational nucleus of a classless society,” negating “all forms of hierarchy.” Collectives are criticized only for not realizing themselves. But the miserable practice of movement collectives — impotent externally and reproducing old world social relationships internally — is not merely the failure of particular experiments, but is the direct result of the basic confusion of communalism with a non-alienating revolutionary form. The false content and false unity produced by the collectivization of the problems of survival and by the neo-familial relations are no substitute for the precisions demanded by a coherent revolutionary practice based on rigorous theoretical and practical accord, or for the concrete mutual recognition which comes from passionate engagement in common projects. The collective is only an amelioration of isolation, and its dissimulation.

The truth of the practice of Anti-Mass itself is revealed (in accordance with its own maxim) in the form it takes. All its verbiage about “communicating with individuals” notwithstanding, Methods takes a firm, principled position within the spectacle, titillating jaded movement post-graduates with neo-Maoist homilies and Madison Avenue salemanship. Like the hippy who thinks to overcome alienation by moving to the country, Anti-Mass offers a pathetic arithmetic of organization in which bureaucracy is fought quantitatively by limiting the number of members of a collective and encouraging face-to-face contact. It is truly ludicrous how these new ideologists of incoherence — lacking any conception of the mandated, revocable delegate — squirm when they try to imagine how any more than five people could ever coordinate their practice (turn to page five, paragraph three, and laugh). They can get away with this only because they have nothing to coordinate but luke-warm imitations of revolutionary practice, such as their Burroughsian distortion of the subversive d├ętournement of advertisements, and their calls for global analysis.

Their own global “analysis” swallows the movement’s “anti-imperialism” ideology:

In fact the “provinces” are moving ahead of the centers in political consciousness and motivation. From Minnesota to the Mekong Delta the revolt is gaining in coherence.

At the same time, they remain oblivious to the real global movement against all alienations: What’s so “provincial” about Watts, Paris, Prague, Cleveland, or Gdansk? Moreover, the revolt in the less developed countries — which in any case can only play a largely peripheral role — gains in coherence only insofar as it supersedes false struggles in the service of indigenous ruling classes (as, for example, in the 1956 peasant revolt against the North Vietnamese bureaucracy, or the workers councils of Algeria before they were liquidated in 1965 by the Algerian State).

Anti-Mass’s lack of a fundamental critique of modern capitalism is identically their lack of a critique of its global pseudo-negation and real support: the various forms of false opposition. The so-called “movement” in the United States is nothing more than a spectacularization, a mutilation, and a containment of the real movement for generalized and total self-management. The point is not to pick up the pieces and patch it up, but to criticize it theoretically and practically. (For our own contribution towards this long-overdue project see our forthcoming journal, due out this Fall.)

Revolutionary theory is now the enemy of all revolutionary ideology, and knows it.

August 1971


Mini-pamphlet. 700 copies. The announced Contradiction journal did not materialize (see Remarks on Contradiction and Its Failure). For selections from the movement critique drafts, see Critique of the New Left Movement.

No copyright.

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