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(en) Ireland, Anarchist journal Workers Solidarty #92 - Book Review: The Rebel Sell

Date Sat, 01 Jul 2006 11:10:32 +0300

The Rebel Sell: How the Counter Culture Became
Consumer Culture (Capstone Publishing)
by Joseph Heath and Andrew Potter:
With a tagline on the inner dust cover that re-
veals the authors disappointment that "Coun-
terculture has almost completely replaced so-
cialism as the basis of radical political thought"
I had expected to sympathise quite strongly
with this book. The picture of the authors with
"defy the state" graffiti behind them on the back
dust cover also gave me a warm feeling inside
so I picked it up on the spot. Given these ini-
tial signs I had assumed (mistakenly as it turns
out) that the authors were at worst socialists of
some kind, and at best quite sympathetic to an-
archist ideas.

I was completely off the mark ­ the authors are
in fact pretty firmly in the social democratic,
liberal tradition, they claim to consider them-
selves part of the "left", but I certainly came
across nothing more radical than the socialism-
lite of the average Labour voter. I did find my-
self nodding, chuckling through and thoroughly
enjoying their attacks on the "counterculture"
­ I particularly enjoyed their attack on the pre-
tensions of Adbusters to be revolutionary and
"against the system" when they're now flogging
sneakers just like their supposed mortal enemy
­ Nike. Unfortunately, the authors seem to be-
lieve that "counterculture" and "anarchist" ide-
as are pretty much interchangeable.
One particular passage about Rousseau is
worth quoting in its entirety since it will serve
to show how the authors misunderstand anar-
chism to be a "rebellion against mass society"
"He was opposed to the specifically hierarchi-
cal form that this order had taken on in his own
society. It was the perversion of the natural or-
der into class domination that angered him. In
other words, despite the sweeping nature of his
indictment, Rousseau's critique was directed
against a specific class enemy ­ the aristocracy.
Furthermore, he regarded the general popu-
lation ­ the masses ­ as a natural ally in the
struggle. The social upheavals that his thought
inspired ­ up to and including the French Revo-
lution, were not anarchic uprisings against soci-
ety at large. They were aimed quite specifically
at the ruling classes."
But anarchists like ourselves would argue that
an uprising directed against the ruling classes is
a perfect example of class struggle anarchism.
At the very end of the book, the "Spaceship
Earth"chapter critiques the environmental
movement, easy targets like Deep Ecology
and "Buy Nothing Day" and finally concludes
with their "practical fix" of encouraging emis-
sions trading as a solution to our environmental
problems. As Sharon Beder rightly observes in
"Global Spin :The Corporate Assault on the En-
vironment", emissions trading merely involves
selling the "right to pollute" to the highest bid-
Overall, this is an interesting but deeply flawed
book which is worth reading for it's powerful
deconstruction of the claims of the countercul-
ture to be revolutionary, and despite its utter
confusion on the significant differences be-
tween anarchism and countercultural ideas.
Cian Lynch
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