The Joy of Revolution




Chapter 4: Rebirth

“It will, of course, be said that such a scheme as is set forth here is quite impractical, and
goes against human nature. This is perfectly true. It is impractical, and it goes against human nature.
This is why it is worth carrying out, and that is why one proposes it. For what is a practical scheme?
A practical scheme is either a scheme that is already in existence, or a scheme that could be carried out
under existing conditions. But it is exactly the existing conditions that one objects to; and any scheme
that could accept these conditions is wrong and foolish. The conditions will be done away with, and
human nature will change. The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it
changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that
rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development.”

(Oscar Wilde, The Soul of Man Under Socialism)


Utopians fail to envision postrevolutionary diversity
Decentralization and coordination
Safeguards against abuses
Consensus, majority rule and unavoidable hierarchies
Eliminating the roots of war and crime
Abolishing money
Absurdity of most present-day labor
Transforming work into play
Technophobic objections
Ecological issues
The blossoming of free communities
More interesting problems



Utopians fail to envision postrevolutionary diversity

Marx considered it presumptuous to attempt to predict how people would live in a liberated society. “It will be up to those people to decide if, when and what they want to do about it, and what means to employ. I don’t feel qualified to offer them any advice on this matter. They will presumably be at least as clever as we are” (letter to Kautsky, 1 February 1881). His modesty in this regard compares favorably with those who accuse him of arrogance and authoritarianism while themselves not hesitating to project their own fancies into pronouncements as to what such a society can or cannot be.

It is true, however, that if Marx had been a little more explicit about what he envisioned, it would have been that much more difficult for Stalinist bureaucrats to pretend to be implementing his ideas. An exact blueprint of a liberated society is neither possible nor necessary, but people must have some sense of its nature and feasibility. The belief that there is no practical alternative to the present system is one of the things that keeps people resigned.

Utopian speculations can help free us from the habit of taking the status quo for granted, get us thinking about what we really want and what might be possible. What makes them “utopian” in the pejorative sense that Marx and Engels criticized is the failure to take present conditions into consideration. There is usually no serious notion of how we might get from here to there. Ignoring the system’s repressive and cooptive powers, utopian authors generally envision some simplistic cumulative change, imagining that, with the spread of utopian communities or utopian ideas, more and more people will be inspired to join in and the old system will simply collapse.

I hope the present text has given some more realistic ideas of how a new society might come about. In any case, at this point I am going to jump ahead and do a little speculating myself.

To simplify matters, let us assume that a victorious revolution has spread throughout the world without too much destruction of basic infrastructures, so that we no longer need to take into consideration problems of civil war, threats of outside intervention, the confusions of disinformation or the delays of massive emergency reconstruction, and can examine some of the issues that might come up in a new, fundamentally transformed society.

Though for clarity of expression I will use the future tense rather than the conditional, the ideas presented here are simply possibilities to consider, not prescriptions or predictions. If such a revolution ever happens, a few years of popular experimentation will change so many of the variables that even the boldest predictions will soon seem laughably timid and unimaginative. All we can reasonably do is try to envision the problems we will confront at the very beginning and some of the main tendencies of further developments. But the more hypotheses we explore, the more possibilities we will be prepared for and the less likely we will be to unconsciously revert to old patterns.

Far from being too extravagant, most fictional utopias are too narrow, generally being limited to a monolithic implementation of the author’s pet ideas. As Marie Louise Berneri notes in the best survey of the field (Journey Through Utopia), “All utopias are, of course, the expression of personal preferences, but their authors usually have the conceit to assume that their personal tastes should be enacted into laws; if they are early risers the whole of their imaginary community will have to get up at four o’clock in the morning; if they dislike women’s make-up, to use it is made a crime; if they are jealous husbands infidelity will be punished by death.”

If there is one thing that can be confidently predicted about the new society, it is that it will be far more diverse than any one person’s imagination or any possible description. Different communities will reflect every sort of taste — aesthetic and scientific, mystical and rationalist, hightech and neoprimitive, solitary and communal, industrious and lazy, spartan and epicurean, traditional and experimental — continually evolving in all sorts of new and unforeseeable combinations.(1)


Decentralization and coordination

There will be a strong tendency toward decentralization and local autonomy. Small communities promote habits of cooperation, facilitate direct democracy, and make possible the richest social experimentation: if a local experiment fails, only a small group is hurt (and others can help out); if it succeeds it will be imitated and the advantage will spread. A decentralized system is also less vulnerable to accidental disruption or to sabotage. (The latter danger, however, will probably be negligible in any case: it’s unlikely that a liberated society will have anywhere near the immense number of bitter enemies that are constantly produced by the present one.)

But decentralization can also foster hierarchical control by isolating people from each other. And some things can best be organized on a large scale. One big steel factory is more energy-efficient and less damaging to the environment than a smelting furnace in every community. Capitalism has tended to overcentralize in some areas where greater diversity and self-sufficiency would make more sense, but its irrational competition has also fragmented many things that could more sensibly be standardized or centrally coordinated. As Paul Goodman notes in People or Personnel (which is full of interesting examples of the pros and cons of decentralization in various present-day contexts), where, how and how much to decentralize are empirical questions that will require experimentation. About all we can say is that the new society will probably decentralize as much as possible, but without making a fetish of it. Most things can be taken care of by small groups or local communities; regional and global councils will be limited to matters with broad ramifications or significant efficiencies of scale, such as environmental restoration, space exploration, dispute resolution, epidemic control, coordination of global production, distribution, transportation and communication, and maintenance of certain specialized facilities (e.g. hightech hospitals or research centers).

It is often said that direct democracy may have worked well enough in the old-fashioned town meeting, but that the size and complexity of modern societies make it impossible. How can millions of people each express their own viewpoint on every issue?

They don’t need to. Most practical matters ultimately come down to a limited number of options; once these have been stated and the most significant arguments have been advanced, a decision can be reached without further ado. Observers of the 1905 soviets and the 1956 Hungarian workers councils were struck by the brevity of people’s statements and the rapidity with which decisions were arrived at. Those who spoke to the point tended to get delegated; those who spouted hot air got flak for wasting people’s time.

For more complicated matters, committees can be elected to look into various possibilities and report back to the assemblies about the ramifications of different options. Once a plan is adopted, smaller committees can continue to monitor developments, notifying the assemblies of any relevant new factors that might suggest modifying it. On controversial issues multiple committees reflecting opposing perspectives (e.g. protech versus antitech) might be set up to facilitate the formulation of alternative proposals and dissenting viewpoints. As always, delegates will not impose any decisions (except regarding the organization of their own work) and will be elected on a rotating and recallable basis, so as to ensure both that they do a good job and that their temporary responsibilities don’t go to their heads. Their work will be open to public scrutiny and final decisions will always revert to the assemblies.

Modern computer and telecommunication technologies will make it possible for anyone to instantly check data and projections for themselves, as well as to widely communicate their own proposals. Despite current hype, such technologies do not automatically promote democratic participation; but they have the potential to facilitate it if they are appropriately modified and put under popular control.(2)

Telecommunications will also render delegates less necessary than during previous radical movements, when they functioned to a great extent as mere bearers of information back and forth. Diverse proposals could be circulated and discussed ahead of time, and if an issue was of sufficient interest council meetings could be hooked up live with local assemblies, enabling the latter to immediately confirm, modify or repudiate delegate decisions.

But when the issues are not particularly controversial, mandating will probably be fairly loose. Having arrived at some general decision (e.g. “This building should be remodeled to serve as a daycare center”), an assembly might simply call for volunteers or elect a committee to implement it without bothering with detailed accountability.


Safeguards against abuses

Idle purists can always envision possible abuses. “Aha! Who knows what subtle elitist maneuvers these delegates and technocratic specialists may pull off!” The fact remains that large numbers of people cannot directly oversee every detail at every moment. Any society has to rely to some extent on people’s good will and common sense. The point is that abuses are far less possible under generalized self-management than under any other form of social organization.

People who have been autonomous enough to inaugurate a self-managed society will naturally be alert to any reemergence of hierarchy. They will note how delegates carry out their mandates, and rotate them as often as practicable. For some purposes they may, like the ancient Athenians, choose delegates by lot so as to eliminate the popularity-contest and deal-making aspects of elections. In matters requiring technical expertise they will keep a wary eye on the experts until the necessary knowledge is more widely disseminated or the technology in question is simplified or phased out. Skeptical observers will be designated to sound the alarm at the first sign of chicanery. A specialist who provides false information will be quickly found out and publicly discredited. The slightest hint of any hierarchical plot or of any exploitive or monopolistic practice will arouse universal outrage and be eliminated by ostracism, confiscation, physical repression or whatever other means are found necessary.

These and other safeguards will always be available to those worried about potential abuses, but I doubt if they will often be necessary. On any serious issue people can insist on as much mandating or monitoring as they want to bother with. But in most cases they will probably give delegates a reasonable amount of leeway to use their own judgment and creativity.

Generalized self-management avoids both the hierarchical forms of the traditional left and the more simplistic forms of anarchism. It is not bound to any ideology, even an “antiauthoritarian” one. If a problem turns out to require some specialized expertise or some degree of “leadership,” the people involved will soon find this out and take whatever steps they consider appropriate to deal with it, without worrying about whether present-day radical dogmatists would approve. For certain uncontroversial functions they might find it most convenient to appoint specialists for indefinite periods of time, removing them only in the unlikely event that they abuse their position. In certain emergency situations in which quick, authoritative decisions are essential (e.g. fire-fighting) they will naturally grant to designated persons whatever temporary authoritarian powers are needed.


Consensus, majority rule, and unavoidable hierarchies

But such cases will be exceptional. The general rule will be consensus when practicable, majority decision when necessary. A character in William Morris’s News from Nowhere (one of the most sensible, easygoing, and down-to-earth utopias) gives the example of whether a metal bridge should be replaced by a stone one. At the next Mote (community assembly) this is proposed. If there is a clear consensus, the issue is settled and they proceed to work out the details of implementation. But

if a few of the neighbors disagree to it, if they think that the beastly iron bridge will serve a little longer and they don’t want to be bothered with building a new one just then, they don’t count heads that time, but put off the formal discussion to the next Mote; and meantime arguments pro and con are flying about, and some get printed, so that everybody knows what is going on; and when the Mote comes together again there is a regular discussion and at last a vote by show of hands. If the division is a close one, the question is again put off for further discussion; if the division is a wide one, the minority are asked if they will yield to the more general opinion, which they often, nay, most commonly do. If they refuse, the question is debated a third time, when, if the minority has not perceptibly grown, they always give way; though I believe there is some half-forgotten rule by which they might still carry it on further; but I say, what always happens is that they are convinced, not perhaps that their view is the wrong one, but they cannot persuade or force the community to adopt it.

Note that what enormously simplifies cases like this is that there are no longer any conflicting economic interests — no one has any means or any motive to bribe or bamboozle people into voting one way or the other because he happens to have a lot of money, or to control the media, or to own a construction company or a parcel of land near a proposed site. Without such conflicts of interest, people will naturally incline to cooperation and compromise, if only to placate opponents and make life easier for themselves. Some communities might have formal provisions to accommodate minorities (e.g. if, instead of merely voting no, 20% express a “vehement objection” to some proposal, it must pass by a 60% majority); but neither side will be likely to abuse such formal powers lest it be treated likewise when the situations are reversed. The main solution for repeated irreconcilable conflicts will lie in the wide diversity of cultures: if people who prefer metal bridges, etc., constantly find themselves outvoted by Morris-type arts-and-crafts traditionalists, they can always move to some neighboring community where more congenial tastes prevail.

Insistence on total consensus makes sense only when the number of people involved is relatively small and the issue is not urgent. Among any large number of people complete unanimity is rarely possible. It is absurd, out of worry over possible majority tyranny, to uphold a minority’s right to constantly obstruct a majority; or to imagine that such problems will go away if we leave things “unstructured.”

As was pointed out in a well-known article many years ago (Jo Freeman’s “The Tyranny of Structurelessness”), there’s no such thing as a structureless group, there are simply different types of structures. An unstructured group generally ends up being dominated by a clique that does have some effective structure. The unorganized members have no means of controlling such an elite, especially when their antiauthoritarian ideology prevents them from admitting that it exists.

Failing to acknowledge majority rule as a backup when unanimity is not attainable, anarchists and consensists are often unable to arrive at practical decisions except by following those de facto leaders who are skilled at maneuvering people into unanimity (if only by their capacity to endure interminable meetings until all the opposition has got bored and gone home). Fastidiously rejecting workers councils or anything else with any taint of coercion, they themselves usually end up settling for far less radical lowest-common-denominator projects.

It’s easy to point out shortcomings in the workers councils of the past, which were, after all, just hurried improvisations by people involved in desperate struggles. But if those brief efforts were not perfect models to blindly imitate, they nevertheless represent the most practical step in the right direction that anyone has come up with so far. Riesel’s article on councils (SI Anthology, pp. 270-282 [Revised Edition pp. 348-362]) discusses the limitations of these old movements, and rightly stresses that council power should be understood as the sovereignty of the popular assemblies as a whole, not merely of the councils of delegates they have elected. Some groups of radical workers in Spain, wishing to avoid any ambiguity on this latter point, have referred to themselves as “assemblyists” rather than “councilists.” One of the CMDO leaflets (SI Anthology, p. 351 [Revised Edition p. 444] [Address to All Workers]) specifies the following essential features of councilist democracy:

•  Dissolution of all external power.
•  Direct and total democracy.
•  Practical unification of decision and execution.
•  Delegates who can be revoked at any moment by those who have mandated them.
•  Abolition of hierarchy and independent specializations.
•  Conscious management and transformation of all the conditions of liberated life.
•  Permanent creative mass participation.
•  Internationalist extension and coordination. 

Once these features are recognized and implemented, it will make little difference whether people refer to the new form of social organization as “anarchy,” “communalism,” “communist anarchism,” “council communism,” “libertarian communism,” “libertarian socialism,” “participatory democracy” or “generalized self-management,” or whether its various overlapping components are termed “workers councils,” “antiwork councils,” “revolutionary councils,” “revolutionary assemblies,” “popular assemblies,” “popular committees,” “communes,” “collectives,” “kibbutzes,” “bolos,” “motes,” “affinity groups,” or anything else. (“Generalized self-management” is unfortunately not very catchy, but it has the advantage of referring to both means and goal while being free of the misleading connotations of terms like “anarchy” or “communism.”)

In any case, it’s important to remember that large-scale formal organization will be the exception. Most local matters can be handled directly and informally. Individuals or small groups will simply go ahead and do what seems appropriate in any given situation (“adhocracy”). Majority rule will merely be a last resort in the progressively diminishing number of cases in which conflicts of interest cannot otherwise be resolved.

A nonhierarchical society does not mean that everyone magically becomes equally talented or must participate equally in everything; it simply means that materially based and reinforced hierarchies have been eliminated. Although differences of abilities will undoubtedly diminish when everyone is encouraged to develop their fullest potentials, the point is that whatever differences remain will no longer be transformed into differences of wealth or power.

People will be able to take part in a far wider range of activities than they do now, but they won’t have to rotate all positions all the time if they don’t feel like it. If someone has a special taste and knack for a certain task, others will probably be happy to let her do it as much as she wants — at least until someone else wants a shot at it. “Independent specializations” (monopolistic control over socially vital information or technologies) will be abolished; open, nondominating specializations will flourish. People will still ask more knowledgeable persons for advice when they feel the need for it (though if they are curious or suspicious they will always be encouraged to investigate for themselves). They will still be free to voluntarily submit themselves as students to a teacher, apprentices to a master, players to a coach or performers to a director — remaining equally free to discontinue the relation at any time. In some activities, such as group folksinging, anyone can join right in; others, such as performing a classical concerto, may require rigorous training and coherent direction, with some people taking leading roles, others following, and others being happy just to listen. There should be plenty of opportunity for both types. The situationist critique of the spectacle is a critique of an excessive tendency in present society; it does not imply that everyone must be an “active participant” twenty-four hours a day.

Apart from the care necessary for mental incompetents, the only unavoidable enforced hierarchy will be the temporary one involved in raising children until they are capable of managing their own affairs. But in a safer and saner world children could be given considerably more freedom and autonomy than they are now. When it comes to openness to the new playful possibilities of life, adults may learn as much from them as vice versa. Here as elsewhere, the general rule will be to let people find their own level: a ten-year-old who takes part in some project might have as much say in it as her adult co-participants, while a nonparticipating adult will have none.

Self-management does not require that everyone be geniuses, merely that most people not be total morons. It’s the present system that makes unrealistic demands — pretending that the people it systematically imbecilizes are capable of judging between the programs of rival politicians or the advertising claims of rival commodities, or of engaging in such complex and consequential activities as raising a child or driving a car on a busy freeway. With the supersession of all the political and economic pseudoissues that are now intentionally kept incomprehensible, most matters will turn out not to be all that complicated.

When people first get a chance to run their own lives they will undoubtedly make lots of mistakes; but they will soon discover and correct them because, unlike hierarchs, they will have no interest in covering them up. Self-management does not guarantee that people will always make the right decisions; but any other form of social organization guarantees that someone else will make the decisions for them.


Eliminating the roots of war and crime

The abolition of capitalism will eliminate the conflicts of interest that now serve as a pretext for the state. Most present-day wars are ultimately based on economic conflicts; even ostensibly ethnic, religious or ideological antagonisms usually derive much of their real motivation from economic competition, or from psychological frustrations that are ultimately linked to political and economic repression. As long as desperate competition prevails, people can easily be manipulated into reverting to their traditional groupings and squabbling over cultural differences they wouldn’t bother about under more comfortable circumstances. War involves far more work, hardship and risk than any form of constructive activity; people with real opportunities for fulfillment will have more interesting things to do.

The same is true for crime. Leaving aside victimless “crimes,” the vast majority of crimes are directly or indirectly related to money and will become meaningless with the elimination of the commodity system. Communities will then be free to experiment with various methods for dealing with whatever occasional antisocial acts might still occur.

There are all sorts of possibilities. The persons involved might argue their cases before the local community or a “jury” chosen by lot, which would strive for the most reconciling and rehabilitating solutions. A convicted offender might be “condemned” to some sort of public service — not to intentionally unpleasant and demeaning shitwork administered by petty sadists, which simply produces more anger and resentment, but to meaningful and potentially engaging projects that might introduce him to healthier interests (ecological restoration, for example). A few incorrigible psychotics might have to be humanely restrained in one way or another, but such cases would become increasingly rare. (The present proliferation of “gratuitous” violence is a predictable reaction to social alienation, a way for those who are not treated as real persons to at least get the grim satisfaction of being recognized as real threats.) Ostracism will be a simple and effective deterrent: the thug who laughs at the threat of harsh punishment, which only confirms his macho prestige, will be far more deterred if he knows that everyone will give him the cold shoulder. In the rare case where that proves inadequate, the variety of cultures might make banishment a workable solution: a violent character who was constantly disturbing a quiet community might fit in fine in some more rough-and-tumble, Wild West-type region — or face less gentle retaliation.

Those are just a few of the possibilities. Liberated people will undoubtedly come up with more creative, effective and humane solutions than any we can presently imagine. I don’t claim that there will be no problems, only that there will be far fewer problems than there are now, when people who happen to find themselves at the bottom of an absurd social order are harshly punished for their crude efforts to escape, while those at the top loot the planet with impunity.

The barbarity of the present penal system is surpassed only by its stupidity. Draconian punishments have repeatedly been shown to have no significant effect on the crime rate, which is directly linked to levels of poverty and unemployment as well as to less quantifiable but equally obvious factors like racism, the destruction of urban communities, and the general alienation produced by the commodity-spectacle system. The threat of years in prison, which might be a powerful deterrent to someone with a satisfying life, means little to those with no meaningful alternatives. It is hardly very brilliant to slash already pitifully inadequate social programs in the name of economizing, while filling prisons with lifers at a cost of close to a million dollars each; but like so many other irrational social policies, this trend persists because it is reinforced by powerful vested interests.(3)


Abolishing money

A liberated society must abolish the whole money-commodity economy. To continue to accept the validity of money would amount to accepting the continued dominance of those who had previously accumulated it, or who had the savvy to reaccumulate it after any radical reapportionment. Alternative forms of “economic” reckoning will still be needed for certain purposes, but their carefully limited scope will tend to diminish as increasing material abundance and social cooperativity render them less necessary.

A postrevolutionary society might have a three-tier economic setup along the following lines:

•  Certain basic goods and services will be freely available to everyone without any accounting whatsoever.
•  Others will also be free, but only in limited, rationed quantities.
•  Others, classified as “luxuries,” will be available in exchange for “credits.”

Unlike money, credits will be applicable only to certain specified goods, not to basic communal property such as land, utilities or means of production. They will also probably have expiration dates to limit any excessive accumulation.

Such a setup will be quite flexible. During the initial transition period the amount of free goods might be fairly minimal — just enough to enable a person to get by — with most goods requiring earning credits through work. As time goes on, less and less work will be necessary and more and more goods will become freely available — the tradeoff between the two factors always remaining up to the councils to determine. Some credits might be generally distributed, each person periodically receiving a certain amount; others might be bonuses for certain types of dangerous or unpleasant work where there is a shortage of volunteers. Councils might set fixed prices for certain luxuries, while letting others follow supply and demand; as a luxury becomes more abundant it will become cheaper, perhaps eventually free. Goods could be shifted from one tier to another depending on material conditions and community preferences.

Those are just some of the possibilities.(4) Experimenting with different methods, people will soon find out for themselves what forms of ownership, exchange and reckoning are necessary.

In any case, whatever “economic” problems may remain will not be serious because scarcity-imposed limits will be a factor only in the sector of inessential “luxuries.” Free universal access to food, clothing, housing, utilities, health care, transportation, communication, education and cultural facilities could be achieved almost immediately in the industrialized regions and within a fairly short period in the less developed ones. Many of these things already exist and merely need to be made more equitably available; those that don’t can easily be produced once social energy is diverted from irrational enterprises.

Take housing, for example. Peace activists have frequently pointed out that everyone in the world could be decently housed at less than the cost of a few weeks of global military expenditure. They are no doubt envisioning a fairly minimal sort of dwelling; but if the amount of energy people now waste earning the money to enrich landlords and real estate speculators was diverted to building new dwellings, everyone in the world could soon be housed very decently indeed.

To begin with, most people might continue living where they are now and concentrate on making dwellings available for homeless people. Hotels and office buildings could be taken over. Certain outrageously extravagant estates might be requisitioned and turned into dwellings, parks, communal gardens, etc. Seeing this trend, those possessing relatively spacious properties might offer to temporarily quarter homeless people while helping them build homes of their own, if only to deflect potential resentment from themselves.

The next stage will be raising and equalizing the quality of dwellings. Here as in other areas, the aim will probably not be a rigidly uniform equality (“everyone must have a dwelling of such and such specifications”), but people’s general sense of fairness, with problems being dealt with on a flexible, case-by-case basis. If someone feels he is getting the short end of the stick he can appeal to the general community, which, if the grievance is not completely absurd, will probably bend over backward to redress it. Compromises will have to be worked out regarding who gets to live in exceptionally desirable areas for how long. (They might be shared around by lot, or leased for limited periods to the highest bidders in credit auctions, etc.) Such problems may not be solved to everyone’s complete satisfaction, but they will certainly be dealt with much more fairly than under a system in which accumulation of magic pieces of paper enables one person to claim “ownership” of a hundred buildings while others have to live on the street.

Once basic survival needs are taken care of, the quantitative perspective of labor time will be transformed into a qualitatively new perspective ofee creativity. A few friends may work happily building their own home even if it takes them a year to accomplish what a professional crew could do more efficiently in a month. Much more fun and imagination and love will go into such projects, and the resulting dwellings will be far more charming, variegated and personal than what today passes for “decent.” A nineteenth-century rural French mailman named Ferdinand Cheval spent all his spare time for several decades constructing his own personal fantasy castle. People like Cheval are considered eccentrics, but the only thing unusual about them is that they continue to exercise the innate creativity we all have but are usually induced to repress after early childhood. A liberated society will have lots of this playful sort of “work”: personally chosen projects that will be so intensely engaging that people will no more think of keeping track of their “labor time” than they would of counting caresses during lovemaking or trying to economize on the length of a dance.


Absurdity of most present-day labor

Fifty years ago Paul Goodman estimated that less than ten percent of the work then being done would satisfy our basic needs. Whatever the exact figure (it would be even lower now, though it would of course depend on precisely what we consider basic or reasonable needs), it is clear that most present-day labor is absurd and unnecessary. With the abolition of the commodity system, hundreds of millions of people now occupied with producing superfluous commodities, or with advertising them, packaging them, transporting them, selling them, protecting them or profiting from them (salespersons, clerks, foremen, managers, bankers, stockbrokers, landlords, labor leaders, politicians, police, lawyers, judges, jailers, guards, soldiers, economists, ad designers, arms manufacturers, customs inspectors, tax collectors, insurance agents, investment advisers, along with their numerous underlings) will all be freed up to share the relatively few actually necessary tasks.

Add the unemployed, who according to a recent UN report now constitute over 30% of the global population. If this figure seems large it is because it presumably includes prisoners, refugees, and many others who are not usually counted in official unemployment statistics because they have given up trying to look for work, such as those who are incapacitated by alcoholism or drugs, or who are so nauseated by the available job options that they put all their energy into evading work through crimes and scams.

Add millions of old people who would love to engage in worthwhile activities but who are now relegated to a boring, passive retirement. And teenagers and even younger children, who would be excitedly challenged by many useful and educational projects if they weren’t confined to worthless schools designed to instill ignorant obedience.

Then consider the large component of waste even in undeniably necessary work. Doctors and nurses, for example, spend a large portion of their time (in addition to filling out insurance forms, billing patients, etc.) trying with limited success to counteract all sorts of socially induced problems such as occupational injuries, auto accidents, psychological ailments and diseases caused by stress, pollution, malnutrition or unsanitary living conditions, to say nothing of wars and the epidemics that often accompany them — problems that will largely disappear in a liberated society, leaving health-care providers free to concentrate on basic preventive medicine.

Then consider the equally large amount of intentionally wasted labor: make-work designed to keep people occupied; suppression of labor-saving methods that might put one out of a job; working as slowly as one can get away with; sabotaging machinery to exert pressure on bosses, or out of simple rage and frustration. And don’t forget all the absurdities of “Parkinson’s Law” (work expands to fill the time available), the “Peter Principle” (people rise to their level of incompetence) and similar tendencies that have been so hilariously satirized by C. Northcote Parkinson and Laurence Peter.

Then consider how much wasted labor will be eliminated once products are made to last instead of being designed to fall apart or go out of style so that people have to keep buying new ones. (After a brief initial period of high production to provide everyone with durable, high-quality goods, many industries could be reduced to very modest levels — just enough to keep those goods in repair, or to occasionally upgrade them whenever some truly significant improvement is developed.)

Taking all these factors into consideration, it’s easy to see that in a sanely organized society the amount of necessary labor could be reduced to one or two days per week.


Transforming work into play

But such a drastic quantitative reduction will produce a qualitative change. As Tom Sawyer discovered, when people are not forced to work, even the most banal task may become novel and intriguing: the problem is no longer how to get people to do it, but how to accommodate all the volunteers. It would be unrealistic to expect people to work full time at unpleasant and largely meaningless jobs without surveillance and economic incentives; but the situation becomes completely different if it’s a matter of putting in ten or fifteen hours a week on worthwhile, varied, self-organized tasks of one’s choice.

Moreover, many people, once they are engaged in projects that interest them, will not want to limit themselves to the minimum. This will reduce necessary tasks to an even more minuscule level for others who may not have such enthusiasms.

There’s no need to quibble about the term work. Wage work needs to be abolished; meaningful, freely chosen work can be as much fun as any other kind of play. Our present work usually produces practical results, but not the ones we would have chosen, whereas our free time is mostly confined to trivialities. With the abolition of wage labor, work will become more playful and play more active and creative. When people are no longer driven crazy by their work, they will no longer require mindless, passive amusements to recover from it.

Not that there’s anything wrong with enjoying trivial pastimes; it’s simply a matter of recognizing that much of their present appeal stems from the absence of more fulfilling activities. Someone whose life lacks real adventure may derive at least a little vicarious exoticism from collecting artifacts from other times and places; someone whose work is abstract and fragmented may go to great lengths to actually produce a whole concrete object, even if that object is no more significant than a model ship in a bottle. These and countless other hobbies reveal the persistence of creative impulses that will really blossom when given free play on a broader scale. Imagine how people who enjoy fixing up their home or cultivating their garden will get into recreating their whole community; or how the thousands of railroad enthusiasts will jump at the chance to rebuild and operate improved versions of the rail networks that will be one of the main ways to reduce automobile traffic.

When people are subjected to suspicion and oppressive regulations, they naturally try to get away with doing as little as possible. In situations of freedom and mutual trust there is a contrary tendency to take pride in doing the best job possible. Although some tasks in the new society will be more popular than others, the few really difficult or unpleasant ones will probably get more than enough volunteers, responding to the thrill of the challenge or the desire for appreciation, if not out of a sense of responsibility. Even now many people are happy to volunteer for worthy projects if they have the time; far more will do so once they no longer have to constantly worry about providing for the basic needs of themselves and their families. At worst, the few totally unpopular tasks will have to be divided up into the briefest practicable shifts and rotated by lot until they can be automated. Or there might be auctions to see if anyone is willing to do them for, say, five hours a week in lieu of the usual workload of ten or fifteen; or for a few extra credits.

Uncooperative characters will probably be so rare that the rest of the population may just let them be, rather than bothering to pressure them into doing their small share. At a certain degree of abundance it becomes simpler not to worry about a few possible abuses than to enlist an army of timekeepers, accountants, inspectors, informers, spies, guards, police, etc., to snoop around checking every detail and punishing every infraction. It’s unrealistic to expect people to be generous and cooperative when there isn’t much to go around; but a large material surplus will create a large “margin of abuse,” so that it won’t matter if some people do a little less than their share, or take a little more.

The abolition of money will prevent anyone from taking much more than their share. Most misgivings about the feasibility of a liberated society rest on the ingrained assumption that money (and thus also its necessary protector: the state) would still exist. This money-state partnership creates unlimited possibilities for abuses (legislators bribed to sneak loopholes into tax laws, etc.); but once it is abolished both the motives and the means for such abuses will vanish. The abstractness of market relations enables one person to anonymously accumulate wealth by indirectly depriving thousands of others of basic necessities; but with the elimination of money any significant monopolization of goods would be too unwieldy and too visible.

Whatever other forms of exchange there may be in the new society, the simplest and probably most common form will be gift-giving. The general abundance will make it easy to be generous. Giving is fun and satisfying, and it eliminates the bother of accounting. The only calculation is that connected with healthy mutual emulation. “The neighboring community donated such and such to a less well off region; surely we can do the same.” “They put on a great party; let’s see if we can do an even better one.” A little friendly rivalry (who can create the most delicious new recipe, cultivate a superior vegetable, solve a social problem, invent a new game) will benefit everyone, even the losers.

A liberated society will probably function much like a potluck party. Most people enjoy preparing a dish that will be enjoyed by others; but even if a few people don’t bring anything there’s still plenty to go around. It’s not essential that everyone contribute an exactly equal share, because the tasks are so minimal and are spread around so widely that no one is overburdened. Since everyone is openly involved, there’s no need for checking up on people or instituting penalties for noncompliance. The only element of “coercion” is the approval or disapproval of the other participants: appreciation provides positive reinforcement, while even the most inconsiderate person realizes that if he consistently fails to contribute he will start getting funny looks and might not be invited again. Organization is necessary only if some problem turns up. (If there are usually too many desserts and not enough main dishes, the group might decide to coordinate who will bring what. If a few generous souls end up bearing an unfair share of the cleanup work, a gentle prodding suffices to embarrass others into volunteering, or else some sort of systematic rotation is worked out.)

Now, of course, such spontaneous cooperation is the exception, found primarily where traditional communal ties have persisted, or among small, self-selected groups of like-minded people in regions where conditions are not too destitute. Out in the dog-eat-dog world people naturally look out for themselves and are suspicious of others. Unless the spectacle happens to stir them with some sentimental human-interest story, they usually have little concern for those outside their immediate circle. Filled with frustrations and resentments, they may even take a malicious pleasure in spoiling other people’s enjoyments.

But despite everything that discourages their humanity, most people, if given a chance, still like to feel that they are doing worthy things, and they like to be appreciated for doing them. Note how eagerly they seize the slightest opportunity to create a moment of mutual recognition, even if only by opening a door for someone or exchanging a few banal remarks. If a flood or earthquake or some other emergency arises, even the most selfish and cynical person often plunges right in, working twenty-four hours a day to rescue people, deliver food and first-aid supplies, etc., without any compensation but others’ gratitude. This is why people often look back on wars and natural disasters with what might seem like a surprising degree of nostalgia. Like revolution, such events break through the usual social separations, provide everyone with opportunities to do things that really matter, and produce a strong sense of community (even if only by uniting people against a common enemy). In a liberated society these sociable impulses will be able to flourish without requiring such extreme pretexts.


Technophobic objections

Present-day automation often does little more than throw some people out of work while intensifying the regimentation of those who remain; if any time is actually gained by “labor-saving” devices, it is usually spent in an equally alienated passive consumption. But in a liberated world computers and other modern technologies could be used to eliminate dangerous or boring tasks, freeing everyone to concentrate on more interesting activities.

Disregarding such possibilities, and understandably disgusted by the current misuse of many technologies, some people have come to see “technology” itself as the main problem and advocate a return to a simpler lifestyle. How much simpler is debated — as flaws are discovered in each period, the dividing line keeps getting pushed farther back. Some, considering the Industrial Revolution as the main villain, disseminate computer-printed eulogies of hand craftsmanship. Others, seeing the invention of agriculture as the original sin, feel we should return to a hunter-gatherer society, though they are not entirely clear about what they have in mind for the present human population which could not be sustained by such an economy. Others, not to be outdone, present eloquent arguments proving that the development of language and rational thought was the real origin of our problems. Yet others contend that the whole human race is so incorrigibly evil that it should altruistically extinguish itself in order to save the rest of the global ecosystem.

These fantasies contain so many obvious self-contradictions that it is hardly necessary to criticize them in any detail. They have questionable relevance to actual past societies and virtually no relevance to present possibilities. Even supposing that life was better in one or another previous era, we have to begin from where we are now. Modern technology is so interwoven with all aspects of our life that it could not be abruptly discontinued without causing a global chaos that would wipe out billions of people. Postrevolutionary people will probably decide to reduce human population and phase out certain industries, but this can’t be done overnight. We need to seriously consider how we will deal with all the practical problems that will be posed in the interim.

If it ever comes down to such a practical matter, I doubt if the technophobes will really want to eliminate motorized wheelchairs; or pull the plug on ingenious computer setups like the one that enables physicist Stephen Hawking to communicate despite being totally paralyzed; or allow a woman to die in childbirth who could be saved by technical procedures; or accept the reemergence of diseases that used to routinely kill or permanently disable a large percentage of the population; or resign themselves to never visiting or communicating with people in other parts of the world unless they’re within walking distance; or stand by while people die in famines that could be averted through global food shipments.

The problem is that meanwhile this increasingly fashionable ideology deflects attention from real problems and possibilities. A simplistic Manichean dualism (nature is Good, technology is Bad) enables people to ignore complex historical and dialectical processes; it’s so much easier to blame everything on some primordial evil, some sort of devil or original sin. What begins as a valid questioning of excessive faith in science and technology ends up as a desperate and even less justified faith in the return of a primeval paradise, accompanied by a failure to engage the present system in any but an abstract, apocalyptical way.(5)

Technophiles and technophobes are united in treating technology in isolation from other social factors, differing only in their equally simplistic conclusions that new technologies are automatically empowering or automatically alienating. As long as capitalism alienates all human productions into autonomous ends that escape the control of their creators, technologies will share in that alienation and will be used to reinforce it. But when people free themselves from this domination, they will have no trouble rejecting those technologies that are harmful while adapting others to beneficial uses.

Certain technologies — nuclear power is the most obvious example — are indeed so insanely dangerous that they will no doubt be brought to a prompt halt. Many other industries which produce absurd, obsolete or superfluous commodities will, of course, cease automatically with the disappearance of their commercial rationales. But many technologies (electricity, metallurgy, refrigeration, plumbing, printing, recording, photography, telecommunications, tools, textiles, sewing machines, agricultural equipment, surgical instruments, anesthetics, antibiotics, among dozens of other examples that will come to mind), however they may presently be misused, have few if any inherent drawbacks. It’s simply a matter of using them more sensibly, bringing them under popular control, introducing a few ecological improvements, and redesigning them for human rather than capitalistic ends.

Other technologies are more problematic. They will still be needed to some extent, but their harmful and irrational aspects will be phased out, usually by attrition. If one considers the automobile industry as a whole, including its vast infrastructure (factories, streets, highways, gas stations, oil wells) and all its inconveniences and hidden costs (traffic jams, parking, repairs, insurance, accidents, pollution, urban destruction), it is clear that any number of alternative methods would be preferable. The fact remains that this infrastructure is already there. The new society will thus undoubtedly continue to use existing automobiles and trucks for a few years, while concentrating on developing more sensible modes of transportation to gradually replace them as they wear out. Personal vehicles with nonpolluting engines might continue indefinitely in rural areas, but most present-day urban traffic (with a few exceptions such as delivery trucks, fire engines, ambulances, and taxis for disabled people) could be superseded by various forms of public transit, enabling many freeways and streets to be converted to parks, gardens, plazas and bike paths. Airplanes will be retained for intercontinental travel (rationed if necessary) and for certain kinds of urgent shipments, but the elimination of wage labor will leave people with time for more leisurely modes of travel — boats, trains, biking, hiking.

Here, as in other areas, it will be up to the people involved to experiment with different possibilities to see what works best. Once people are able to determine the aims and conditions of their own work, they will naturally come up with all sorts of ideas that will make that work briefer, safer and more pleasant; and such ideas, no longer patented or jealously guarded as “business secrets,” will rapidly spread and inspire further improvements. With the elimination of commercial motives, people will also be able to give appropriate weight to social and environmental factors along with purely quantitative labor-time considerations. If, say, production of computers currently involves some sweatshop labor or causes some pollution (though far less than classic “smokestack” industries), there’s no reason to believe that better methods cannot be figured out once people set their minds to it — very likely precisely through a judicious use of computer automation. (Fortunately, the more repetitive the job, the easier it usually is to automate.)

The general rule will be to simplify basic manufactures in ways that facilitate optimum flexibility. Techniques will be made more uniform and understandable, so that people with a minimal general training will be able to carry out construction, repairs, alterations and other operations that formerly required specialized training. Basic tools, appliances, raw materials, machine parts and architectural modules will probably be standardized and mass-produced, leaving tailor-made refinements to small-scale “cottage industries” and the final and potentially most creative aspects to the individual users. Once time is no longer money we may, as William Morris hoped, see a revival of elaborate “labor”-intensive arts and crafts: joyful making and giving by people who care about their creations and the people for whom they are destined.

Some communities might choose to retain a fair amount of (ecologically sanitized) heavy technology; others might opt for simpler lifestyles, though backed up by technical means to facilitate that simplicity or for emergencies. Solar-powered generators and satellite-linked telecommunications, for example, would enable people to live off in the woods with no need for power and telephone lines. If earth-based solar power and other renewable energy sources proved insufficient, immense solar receptors in orbit could beam down a virtually unlimited amount of pollution-free energy.

Most Third World regions, incidentally, lie in the sun belt where solar power can be most effective. Though their poverty will present some initial difficulties, their traditions of cooperative self-sufficiency plus the fact that they are not encumbered with obsolete industrial infrastructures may give them some compensating advantages when it comes to creating new, ecologically appropriate structures. By drawing selectively on the developed regions for whatever information and technologies they themselves decide they need, they will be able to skip the horrible “classic” stage of industrialization and capital accumulation and proceed directly to postcapitalist forms of social organization. Nor will the influence necessarily be all one way: some of the most advanced social experimentation in history was carried out during the Spanish revolution by illiterate peasants living under virtually Third World conditions.

Nor will people in developed regions need to accept a drab transitional period of “lowered expectations” in order to enable less developed regions to catch up. This common misconception stems from the false assumption that most present-day products are desirable and necessary — implying that more for others means less for ourselves. In reality, a revolution in the developed countries will immediately supersede so many absurd commodities and concerns that even if supplies of certain goods and services are temporarily reduced, people will still be better off than they are now even in material terms (in addition to being far better off in “spiritual” terms). Once their own immediate problems are taken care of, many of them will enthusiastically assist less fortunate people. But this assistance will be voluntary, and most of it will not entail any serious self-sacrifice. To donate labor or building materials or architectural know-how so that others can build homes for themselves, for example, will not require dismantling one’s own home. The potential richness of modern society consists not only of material goods, but of knowledge, ideas, techniques, inventiveness, enthusiasm, compassion, and other qualities that are actually increased by being shared around.


Ecological issues

A self-managed society will naturally implement most present-day ecological demands. Some are essential for the very survival of humanity; but for both aesthetic and ethical reasons, liberated people will undoubtedly choose to go well beyond this minimum and foster a rich biodiversity.

The point is that we can debate such issues open-mindedly only when we have eliminated the profit incentives and economic insecurity that now undermine even the most minimal efforts to defend the environment (loggers afraid of losing their jobs, chronic poverty tempting Third World countries to cash in on their rain forests, etc.).(6)

When humanity as a species is blamed for environmental destruction, the specific social causes are forgotten. The few who make the decisions are lumped with the powerless majority. Famines are seen as nature’s revenge against overpopulation, natural checks that must be allowed to run their course — as if there was anything natural about the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which force Third World countries to cultivate products for export rather than food for local consumption. People are made to feel guilty for using cars, ignoring the fact that auto companies (by buying up and sabotaging electric transit systems, lobbying for highway construction and against railroad subsidies, etc.) have created a situation in which most people have to have cars. Spectacular publicity gravely urges everyone to reduce energy consumption (while constantly inciting everyone to consume more of everything), though we could by now have developed more than enough clean and renewable energy sources if the fossil-fuel companies had not successfully lobbied against devoting any significant research funding to that end.

The point is not to blame even the heads of those companies — they too are caught in a grow-or-die system that impels them to make such decisions — but to abolish the setup that continually produces such irresistible pressures.

A liberated world should have room both for human communities and for large enough regions of undisturbed wilderness to satisfy most of the deep ecologists. Between those two extremes I like to think that there will be all sorts of imaginative, yet careful and respectful, human interactions with nature. Cooperating with it, working with it, playing with it; creating variegated interminglings of forests, farms, parks, gardens, orchards, creeks, villages, towns.

Large cities will be broken up, spaced out, “greened,” and rearranged in a variety of ways incorporating and surpassing the visions of the most imaginative architects and city planners of the past (who were usually limited by their assumption of the permanence of capitalism). Exceptionally, certain major cities, especially those of some aesthetic or historical interest, will retain or even amplify their cosmopolitan features, providing grand centers where diverse cultures and lifestyles can come together.(7)

Some people, drawing on the situationists’ early “psychogeographical” explorations and “unitary urbanism” ideas, will construct elaborate changeable decors designed to facilitate labyrinthine wanderings among diverse ambiences — Ivan Chtcheglov envisioned “assemblages of castles, grottos, lakes,” “rooms more conducive to dreams than any drug,” and people living in their own personal “cathedrals” (SI Anthology, pp. 3-4 [Revised Edition p. 6] [Formulary for a New Urbanism]). Others may incline more to the Far Eastern poet’s definition of happiness as living in a hut beside a mountain stream.

If there aren’t enough cathedrals or mountain streams to go around, maybe some compromises will have to be worked out. But if places like Chartres or Yosemite are presently overrun, this is only because the rest of the planet has been so uglified. As other natural areas are revitalized and as human habitats are made more beautiful and interesting, it will no longer be necessary for a few exceptional sites to accommodate millions of people desperate to get away from it all. On the contrary, many people may actually gravitate toward the most miserable regions because these will be the “new frontiers” where the most exciting transformations will be taking place (ugly buildings being demolished to make way for experimental reconstruction from scratch).


The blossoming of free communities

The liberation of popular creativity will generate lively communities surpassing Athens, Florence, Paris, and other famous centers of the past, in which full participation was limited to privileged minorities. While some people may choose to be relatively solitary and self-sufficient (hermits and nomads will be free to keep to themselves except for a few minimal arrangements with nearby communities), most will probably prefer the pleasure and convenience of doing things together, and will set up all sorts of public workshops, libraries, laboratories, laundries, kitchens, bakeries, cafés, health clinics, studios, music rooms, auditoriums, saunas, gyms, playgrounds, fairs, flea markets (without forgetting some quiet spaces to counterbalance all the socializing). City blocks might be converted into more unified complexes, connecting outer buildings with hallways and arcades and removing fences between back yards so as to create larger interior park, garden or nursery areas. People could choose among various types and degrees of participation, e.g. whether to sign up for a couple days per month of cooking, dishwashing or gardening entitling them to eat at a communal cafeteria, or to grow most of their own food and cook for themselves.

In all these hypothetical examples it’s important to bear in mind the diversity of cultures that will develop. In one, cooking might be seen as a tedious chore to be minimized as much as possible and precisely apportioned; in another it might be a passion or a valued social ritual that will attract more than enough enthusiastic volunteers.

Some communities, like Paradigm III in Communitas (allowing for the fact that the Goodmans’ schema still assumes the existence of money), may maintain a sharp distinction between the free sector and the luxury sector. Others may develop more organically integrated social patterns, along the lines of Paradigm II of the same book, striving for maximum unity of production and consumption, manual and intellectual activity, aesthetic and scientific education, social and psychological harmony, even at the cost of purely quantitative efficiency. The Paradigm III style might be most appropriate as a initial transitional form, when people are not yet used to the new perspectives and want some fixed economic frame of reference to give them a sense of security against potential abuses. As people get the bugs out of the new system and develop more mutual trust, they will probably tend more toward the Paradigm II style.

As in Fourier’s charming fantasies, but minus his eccentricities and with much more flexibility, people will be able to engage in a variety of pursuits according to elaborately interrelated affinities. A person might be a regular member of certain ongoing groupings (affinity group, council, collective, neighborhood, town, region) while only temporarily taking part in various ad hoc activities (as people do today in clubs, hobbyist networks, mutual-aid associations, political-issue groups and barnraising-type projects). Local assemblies will keep tallies of offers and requests; make known the decisions of other assemblies and the current state of projects in progress or problems yet unresolved; and form libraries, switchboards and computer networks to gather and disseminate information of all kinds and to link up people with common tastes. Media will be accessible to everyone, enabling them to express their own particular projects, problems, proposals, critiques, enthusiasms, desires, visions. Traditional arts and crafts will continue, but merely as one facet of continuously creative lives. People will still take part, with more zest than ever, in sports and games, fairs and festivals, music and dancing, lovemaking and child raising, building and remodeling, teaching and learning, camping and traveling; but new genres and arts of life will also develop that we can now hardly imagine.

More than enough people will gravitate to socially necessary projects, in agronomy, medicine, engineering, educational innovation, environmental restoration and so on, for no other reason than that they find them interesting and satisfying. Others may prefer less utilitarian pursuits. Some will live fairly quiet domestic lives; others will go in for daring adventures, or live it up in feasts and orgies; yet others may devote themselves to bird-watching, or exchanging zines, or collecting quaint memorabilia from prerevolutionary times, or any of a million other pursuits. Everyone can follow their own inclinations. If some sink into a passive spectator existence, they’ll probably eventually get bored and try more creative ventures. Even if they don’t, that will be their affair; it won’t harm anyone else.

For anyone who finds the earthly utopia too insipid and really wants to get away from it all, the exploration and colonization of the solar system — perhaps eventually even migration to other stars — will provide a frontier that will never be exhausted.

But so will explorations of “inner space.”


More interesting problems

An antihierarchical revolution will not solve all our problems; it will simply eliminate some of the anachronistic ones, freeing us to tackle more interesting problems.

If the present text seems to neglect the “spiritual” aspects of life, this is because I wanted to stress some basic material matters that are often overlooked. But these material matters are only the framework. A liberated society will be based far more on joy and love and spontaneous generosity than on rigid rules or egoistic calculations. We can probably get a more vivid sense of what it might be like from visionaries like Blake or Whitman than from pedantic debates about economic credits and recallable delegates.

I suspect that once people’s basic material needs are generously taken care of and they are no longer subjected to a constant barrage of commercial titillation, most of them (after brief binges of overindulgence in things they were previously deprived of) will find the greatest satisfaction in relatively simple and uncluttered lifestyles. The erotic and gustatory arts will undoubtedly be enrichened in many ways, but simply as facets of full, rounded lives that also include a wide range of intellectual, aesthetic and spiritual pursuits.

Education, no longer limited to conditioning young people for a narrow role in an irrational economy, will become an enthusiastic lifelong activity. In addition to whatever formal educational institutions there may still be, people will have instant access via books and computers to information on any subject they wish to explore, and they’ll be able to get hands-on experience in all sorts of arts and skills, or to seek out anyone for personal instruction or discussion — like the ancient Greek philosophers debating in the public marketplace, or the medieval Chinese monks wandering the mountains in search of the most inspiring Zen master.

The aspects of religion that now serve as mere psychological escapes from social alienation will fade away, but the basic questions that have found more or less distorted expression in religion will remain. There will still be pains and losses, tragedies and frustrations, people will still face sickness, old age and death. And in the process of trying to figure out what, if anything, it all means, and how to deal with it, some of them will rediscover what Aldous Huxley, in The Perennial Philosophy, refers to as the “highest common factor” of human consciousness.

Others may cultivate exquisite aesthetic sensibilities like the characters in Murasaki’s Tale of Genji, or develop elaborate metacultural genres like the “glass bead games” in Hermann Hesse’s novel (freed from the material limits that formerly confined such pursuits to narrow elites).

I like to think that as these diverse pursuits are alternated, combined and developed, there will be a general tendency toward the personal reintegration envisioned by Blake, and toward the genuine “I-Thou” relations envisioned by Martin Buber. A permanent spiritual revolution in which joyous communion does not preclude rich diversity and “generous contention.” Leaves of Grass, Whitman’s wishful thinking about the potentialities of the America of his day, perhaps comes as close as anything to conveying the expansive state of mind of such communities of fulfilled men and women, ecstatically working and playing, loving and loitering, strolling down the never-ending Open Road.

With the proliferation of continually developing and mutating cultures, travel could once again become an unpredictable adventure. The traveler could “see the cities and learn the ways of many different peoples” without the dangers and disappointments faced by the wanderers and explorers of the past. Drifting from scene to scene, from encounter to encounter; but occasionally stopping, like those barely visible human figures in Chinese landscape paintings, just to gaze into the immensity, realizing that all our doings and sayings are just ripples on the surface of a vast, unfathomable universe.

These are just a few hints. We aren’t limited to radical sources of inspiration. All sorts of creative spirits of the past have manifested or envisioned some of our almost unlimited possibilities. We can draw on any of them as long as we take care to extricate the relevant aspects from their original alienated context.

The greatest works do not so much tell us something new as remind us of things we have forgotten. We all have intimations of what life can be like at its richest — memories from early childhood, when experiences were still fresh and unrepressed, but also occasional later moments of love or camaraderie or enthusiastic creativity, times when we can’t wait to get up in the morning to continue some project, or simply to see what the new day will bring. Extrapolating from these moments probably gives the best idea of what the whole world could be like. A world, as Whitman envisions it,

Where the men and women think lightly of the laws,
Where the slave ceases, and the master of slaves ceases,
Where the populace rise at once against the never-ending audacity of elected persons, . . .
Where children are taught to be laws to themselves, and to depend on themselves,
Where equanimity is illustrated in affairs,
Where speculations on the soul are encouraged,
Where women walk in public processions in the streets the same as the men,
Where they enter the public assembly and take places the same as the men . . . .
The main shapes arise!
Shapes of Democracy total, result of centuries,
Shapes ever projecting other shapes,
Shapes of turbulent manly cities,
Shapes of the friends and home-givers of the whole earth,
Shapes bracing the earth and braced with the whole earth.



1. P.M.’s Bolo’bolo (1983; new edition: Semiotext(e), 1995) has the merit of being one of the few utopias that fully recognize and welcome this diversity. Leaving aside its flippancies and idiosyncrasies and its rather unrealistic notions about how we might get there, it touches on a lot of the basic problems and possibilities of a postrevolutionary society.

2. Although the so-called networking revolution has so far been limited mainly to increased circulation of spectator trivia, modern communications technologies continue to play an important role in undermining totalitarian regimes. Years ago the Stalinist bureaucracies had to cripple their own functioning by restricting the availability of photocopy machines and even typewriters lest they be used to reproduce samizdat writings. The newer technologies are proving even more difficult to control:
     “The conservative Guangming Daily reported new enforcement measures targeted at an estimated 90,000 illegal fax machines in Beijing. Chinese analysts say the regime fears that the proliferation of fax machines is allowing information to flow too freely. Such machines were used extensively during student demonstrations in 1989 that resulted in a military crackdown. . . . In the comfort of their own homes in Western capitals, such as London, oppositionists can tap out messages to activists in Saudi Arabia who, by downloading via Internet in their own homes, no longer have to fear a knock on the door in the middle of the night. . . . Every taboo subject from politics to pornography is spreading through anonymous electronic messages far beyond the government’s iron grip. . . . Many Saudis find themselves discussing religion openly for the first time. Atheists and fundamentalists regularly slug it out in Saudi cyberspace, a novelty in a country where the punishment for apostasy is death. . . . But banning the Internet is not possible without removing all computers and telephone lines. . . . Experts claim that for those willing to work hard enough to get it, there is still little any government can do to totally deny access to information on the Internet. Encrypted e-mail and subscribing to out-of-country service providers are two options available to net-savvy individuals for circumventing current Internet controls. . . . If there is one thing repressive East Asian governments fear more than unrestricted access to outside media sources, it is that their nations’ competitiveness in the rapidly growing information industry may be compromised. Already, protests have been voiced in the business communities of Singapore, Malaysia, and China that censoring the Internet may, in the end, hamper those nations’ aspirations to be the most technologically advanced on the block.” (Christian Science Monitor, 11 August 1993, 24 August 1995 and 12 November 1996.)

3. “In the post-Cold War era politicians have discovered crime-baiting as a substitute for red-baiting. Just as the fear of communism propelled the unimpeded expansion of the military-industrial complex, crime-baiting has produced the explosive growth of the correctional-industrial complex, also known as the crime-control industry. Those who disagree with its agenda of more prisons are branded criminal sympathizers and victim betrayers. Since no politician will risk the ‘soft on crime’ label, an unending spiral of destructive policies is sweeping the country. . . . Repression and brutalization will be further promoted by the institutions that are the primary beneficiaries of such policies. As California increased its prison population from 19,000 to 124,000 over the past 16 years, 19 new prisons were built. With the increase in prisons, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the guards’ union, emerged as the state’s most powerful lobby. . . . As the percentage of the state budget devoted to higher education has fallen from 14.4 percent to 9.8 percent, the share of the budget for corrections has risen from 3.9 percent to 9.8 percent. The average salary and benefits for prison guards in California exceeds $55,000 — the highest in the nation. This year the CCPOA, along with the National Rifle Association, has directed its substantial war chest to promote the passage of the ‘three strikes, you’re out’ initiative that would triple the current size of California’s prison system. The same dynamics that evolved in California will certainly result from Clinton’s crime bill. As more resources are poured into the crime-control industry, its power and influence will grow.” (Dan Macallair, Christian Science Monitor, 20 September 1994.)

4. Other possibilities are presented in considerable detail in Workers’ Councils and the Economics of a Self-Managed Society (London Solidarity’s edition of a Socialisme ou Barbarie article by Cornelius Castoriadis). This text is full of valuable suggestions, but I feel that it assumes more centering around work and workplace than will be necessary. Such an orientation is already somewhat obsolete and will probably become much more so after a revolution.
       Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel’s Looking Forward: Participatory Economics for the Twenty First Century (South End, 1991) also includes a number of useful points on self-managed organization. But the authors assume a society in which there is still a money economy and the workweek is only slightly reduced (to around 30 hours). Their hypothetical examples are largely modeled on present-day worker co-ops and the “economic participation” envisaged includes voting on marketing issues that will be superseded in a noncapitalist society. As we will see, such a society will also have a far shorter workweek, reducing the need to bother with the complicated schemes for equal rotation among different types of jobs that occupy a large part of the book.

5. Fredy Perlman, author of one of the most sweeping expressions of this tendency, Against His-story, Against Leviathan! (Black and Red, 1983), provided his own best critique in his earlier book about C. Wright Mills, The Incoherence of the Intellectual (Black and Red, 1970): “Yet even though Mills rejects the passivity with which men accept their own fragmentation, he no longer struggles against it. The coherent self-determined man becomes an exotic creature who lived in a distant past and in extremely different material circumstances. . . . The main drift is no longer the program of the right which can be opposed by the program of the left; it is now an external spectacle which follows its course like a disease. . . . The rift between theory and practice, thought and action, widens; political ideals can no longer be translated into practical projects.”

6. Isaac Asimov and Frederick Pohl’s Our Angry Earth: A Ticking Ecological Bomb (Tor, 1991) is among the more cogent summaries of this desperate situation. After demonstrating how inadequate current policies are for dealing with it, the authors propose some drastic reforms that might postpone the worst catastrophes; but such reforms are unlikely to be implemented as long as the world is dominated by the conflicting interests of nation-states and multinational corporations.

7. For a wealth of suggestive insights on the advantages and drawbacks of different types of urban communities, past, present and potential, I recommend two books: Paul and Percival Goodman’s Communitas and Lewis Mumford’s The City in History. The latter is one of the most penetrating and comprehensive surveys of human society ever written.

Fourth and last chapter of “The Joy of Revolution,” from Public Secrets: Collected Skirmishes of Ken Knabb (Bureau of Public Secrets, 1997).

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