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(en) US, Boston, Anti Authoritarian Movement - BAAM Extra edition: The Ideas of Howard Zinn - The Art of Revolution

Date Tue, 27 Jul 2010 18:36:30 +0300

The following is part of Howard Zinn's introduction to the 1971 American edition of Herbert Read's collection of writings, Anarchy and Order. The collection was first published in London in 1954. ---- The word anarchy unsettles most people in the Western world; it suggests disorder, violence, uncertainty. We have good reason for fearing those conditions, because we have been living with them for a long time, not in anarchist societies (there have never been any) but in exactly those societies most fearful of anarchy--the powerful nation-states of modern times. ---- At no time in human history has there been such social chaos. Fifty million dead in the Second World War. More than a million dead in Korea, a million in Vietnam, half a million in Indonesia, hundreds of thousands dead in Nigeria, and in Mozambique.

A hundred violent political struggles all over the world
in twenty years following the second war to
end all wars. Millions starving, or in prisons,
or in mental institutions. Inner turmoil sym-
bolized by huge armies, stores of nerve gas,
and stockpiles of hydrogen bombs. Wherever
men, women and children are even a bit con-
scious of the world outside their local bor-
ders, they have been living with the ultimate
uncertainty: whether or not the human race
itself will survive into the next generation.
It is these conditions that the anarchists
have wanted to end: to bring a kind of order
to the world for the first time. We have never
listened to them carefully, except through
the hearing aids supplied by the guardians of
disorder--the national government leaders,
whether capitalist or socialist. The order de-
sired by anarchists is different from the order
("Ordnung," the Germans called it: "law and
order," say the American politicians) of na-
tional governments. They want a voluntary
forming of human relations, arising out of the
needs of people. Such an order comes from
within, and so is natural. People flow into
easy arrangements, rather than being pushed
and forced. It is like the form given by the
artist, a form congenial, often pleasing, some-
times beautiful. It has the grace of a volun-
tary, confident act....
The order of politics, as we have known it
in the world, is an order imposed on society,
neither desired by most people, nor directed to
their needs. It is therefore chaotic and destruc-
tive. Politics grates on our sensibilities. It vio-
lates the elementary requirements of aesthet-
ics--it is devoid of beauty. It is coercive, as
if sound were forced into our ears at a decibel
level such as to make us scream, and those re-
sponsible call this music. The "order" of mod-
ern life is a cacophony which has made us al-
most deaf to the gentler sounds of the universe.
It is fitting that in modern times, around
the time of the French and American Revolu-
tions, exactly when man [sic] became most
proud of his [sic] achievements, the ideas of
anarchism arose to challenge that pride. West-
ern civilization has never been modest in de-
scribing its qualities as an enormous advance
in human history: the larger unity of national
states replacing tribe and manor; parliamen-
tary government replacing the divine right of
kings; steam and electricity substituting for
manual labor; education and science dispel-
ling ignorance and superstition; due process
of law canceling arbitrary justice. Anarchism
arose in the most splendid days of Western
"civilization" because the promises of that
civilization were almost immediately broken.
Nationalism, promising freedom from
outside tyranny, and security from internal
disorder, vastly magnified both the stimulus
and the possibility for worldwide empires
over subjected people, and bloody conflicts
among such empires: imperialism and war
were intensified to the edge of global suicide
exactly in the period of the national state. Par-
liamentary government, promising popular
participation in important decisions, became
a façade (differently constructed in one-
party and two-party states) for rule by elites
of wealth and power in the midst of almost-
frenzied scurrying to polls and plebiscites.
Mass production did not end poverty and
exploitation; indeed it made the persistence
of want more unpardonable. The produc-
tion and distribution of goods became more
rational technically, more irrational morally.
Education and literacy did not end the decep-
tion of the many by the few; they enabled
deception to be replaced by self-deception,
mystification to be internalized, and social
control to be even more effective than ever
before, because now it had a large measure
of self-control. Due process did not bring
justice: it replaced the arbitrary, identifiable
dispenser of injustice with the unidentifiable
and impersonal. The "rule of law," replacing
the "rule of men," was just a change in rulers.
In the midst of the American Revolution,
Tom Paine, while calling for the establish-
ment of an independent American govern-
ment, had no illusions about even a new
revolutionary government when he wrote, in
Common Sense, "Society in every state is a
blessing, but government even in its best state
is but a necessary evil."

Graphic taken from the article, "A
People's History of Howard Zinn"
by Andrew Flood, www.anarchism.

Anarchists almost immediately recognized
that the fall of kings and the rise of commit-
tees, assemblies, parliaments, did not bring
democracy; that revolution had the potential
for liberation, but also for another form of
despotism. Thus, Jacques Roux, a country
priest in the French Revolution concerned
with the lives of the peasants in his district,
and then with the workingmen in the Gravil-
liers quarter of Paris, spoke in 1972 against
the `senatorial despotism," saying it was "as
terrible as the scepter of kings" because it
chains the people without their knowing it
and brutalizes and subjugates them by laws
they themselves are supposed to have made.
In Peter Weiss's play, Marat-Sade, Roux,
straitjacketed, breaks through the censorship
of the play within the play and cries out:
Who controls the market
who locks up the granaries
who got the loot from the palaces
who sits tight on the estates
that were going to be divided
between the poor
before he is quieted.
A friend of Roux, Jean Varlet, in an early
anarchist manifesto of the French Revolution
called Explosion wrote
"What a social monstrosity, what a master-
piece of Machiavellianism, this revolutionary
government is in fact. For any reasoning be-
ing, Government and Revolution are incom-
patible, at least unless the people wishes to
constitute organs of power in permanent in-
surrection against themselves, which is too
absurd to believe."
But it is exactly that which is "too absurd to
believe" which the anarchists believe, because
only an "absurd" perspective is revolutionary
enough to see through the limits of revolution
itself. Herbert Read, in a book with an appro-
priately absurd title, To Hell with Culture (he
was seventy: this was 1963, five years before
his death), wrote:
"What has been worth while in human his-
tory--the great achievements of physics and
astronomy, of geographical discovery and of
human healing, of philosophy and of art--
has been the work of extremists--of thse who
believed in the absurd and dared the impos-
The Russian Revolution promised even
more--to eliminate that injustice carried into
modern times by the American and French
Revolutions. Anarchist criticism of that Rev-
olution was summed up by Emma Goldman
(My Further Disillusionment in Russia) as
"It is at once the great failure and the great
tragedy of the Russian Revolution that it at-
tempted...to change only institutions and con-
ditions while ignoring entirely the human and
social values involved in the Revolution... No
revolution can ever succeed as a factor of lib-
eration unless the means used to further it be
identical in spirit and tendency with the pur-
poses to be achieved. Revolution is the nega-
tion of the existing, a violent protest against
man's inhumanity to man [sic] with all of the
thousand and one slaveries it involves. It is
the destroyer of dominant values upon which
a complex system of injustice, oppression,
and wrong has been built up by ignorance and
brutality. It is the herald of new values, usher-
ing in a transformation of the basic relations
of man to man, and of man [sic] to society."
The institution of capitalism, anarchists be-
lieve, is destructive, irrational, inhumane. It
feeds ravenously on the immense resources
of the earth, and then churns out (this is its
achievement--it is an immense stupid churn)
huge quantities of products. Those products
have only an accidental relationship to what
is most needed by people, because the orga-
nizers and distributers of goods care not about
human need; they are great business enter-
prises, motivated by profit. Therefore, bombs,
guns, office buildings, and deodorants take
priority over food, homes, and recreation ar-
eas. Is there anything closer to "anarchy" (in
the common use of the word, meaning con-
fusion) than the incredibly wild and wasteful
economic system in America?
Anarchists believe the riches of the world
belong equally to all, and should be dis-
tributed according to need, not through the
intricate inhuman system of money and
contracts which have so far channeled most
of the riches into a small group of wealthy
people, and into a few countries. (The United
States [in the 1970s] with six percent of the
population, owns, produces, and consumes
fifty percent of the world production.) They
would agree with the Story Teller in Bertholt
Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, in the
final words of the play:

Take note what men of old concluded:
That what there is shall go to those
who are good for it
Thus: the children to the motherly,
that they prosper
The carts to good drivers,
that they are well driven
And the valley to the waterers,
that it bring forth fruit.
It was on this principle that Gerrard Win-
stanley, leader of the Diggers in seventeenth
century England, ignored the law of private
ownership and led his followers to plant grain
on unused land. Winstantly wrote about his
hope for the future:
"When this universal law of equity rises up
in every man and woman, then none shall lay
claim to any creature and say, This is mine,
and that is yours. This is my work, that is
yours. But everyone shall put to their hands to
till the earth and bring up cattle, and the bless-
ing of earth shall be common to all: when a
man [sic] hath need for any corn or cattle,
take from the next storehouse he [sic] meets
with. There shall be no buying or selling, no
fairs or markets, but the whole earth shall be
a common treasury for every man, [sic] for
earth is the lord's..."
Our problem is to make use of the mag-
nificent technology of out time, for human
needs, without being victimized by a bu-
reaucratic mechanism. The Soviet Union did
show that national economic planning for
common goals, replacing the profit-driven
chaos of capitalist production, could produce
remarkable results. It failed, however, to do
what Herbert Read and other recent anar-
chists have suggested: to do away with the
bureaucracy of large-scale industry, charac-
teristic of both capitalism and socialism, and
the consequent unhappiness of the workers
who do not feel at ease with their work, with
the products, with their fellow workers, with
nature, with themselves. The problem could
be solved, Read has suggested, by workers'
control of their own jobs, without sacrificing
the benefits of planning and coordination for
the larger social good....
Both the capitalist and the socialist bu-
reaucracies of our time fail, anarchists say,
on their greatest promise: to bring democra-
cy. The essence of democracy is that people
should control their own lives, by ones or
twos or hundreds, depending on whether the
decision being made affects one or two or a
hundred. Instead, our lives are directed by a
political-military-industrial complex in the
United States, and a party hierarchy in the So-
viet Union. In both situations, there is the pre-
tense of popular participation, by an elaborate
scheme of voting for the representatives who
do not have real power (the difference be-
tween a one-party state and a two-party state
being no more than one party--and that a
smudged carbon copy of the other.) The vote
in modern societies is the currecy of politics
as money is the currency of economics: both
mystify what is really taking place--control
of the many by the few....
What a waste of the evolutionary process! It
took billions of years to create human beings
who could, if they chose, form the materials
of the earth and themselves into arrangements
congenial to man, woman, and the universe.
Can we still choose to do so?
It seems that revolutionary changes are
needed--in the sense of profound transfor-
mations of our work processes, our decision-
making arrangements, our sex and family
relations, our thought and culture--toward
a humane society. But this kind of revolu-
tion--changing our minds as well as our
institutions--cannot be accomplished by the
customary methods; neither military action
to overthrow governments, as some tradition-
bound radicals suggest; nor by that slow pro-
cess of electoral reform, which traditional lib-
erals urge on us. The state of the world today
reflects the limitations of both these methods.
Anarchists have always been accused of a
special addition to violence as a mode of rev-
olutionary change...What makes anarchists
unique among revolutionaries, however, is
that most of them see revolution as a cultural,
ideological, creative process, in which vio-
lence would be as incidental as the outcries of
a mother and baby in childbirth. It might be
unavoidable--given the natural resistance to
change--but something to be kept to a mini-
mum while more important things happen....
Anarchism seeks that blend of order and
spontaneity in our lives which gives us har-
mony with ourselves, with others, with na-
ture. It understands the need to change our
political and economic arrangements to free
ourselves, for the enjoyment of life. And it
knows that the change must begin now, in
those everyday human relations over which
we have the most control. Anarchism knows
the need for sober thinking, but also for that
action which classifies otherwise academic
and abstract thought.
Herbert Read, in Chains of Freedom, writes
that we need a "Black Market in culture, a de-
termination to avoid the bankrupt academic
institutions, the fixed valued and standardized
products of current art and literature; not to
trade our spiritual goods through the recog-
nized channels of Church, or State, or Press;
rather to pass them `under the counter.'" If
so, one of the first items to be passed under
the counter must surely be the literature that
speaks, counter to all the falsifications, about
the ideas and imaginings of anarchism.

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