(libcom.org) A curious idea has been proposed to give anarchism a more acceptable public image by employing marketing methods known to have worked in promoting McDonalds, Coca-Cola and Top Gun. Do we embrace the methods of the madness or do we reject them? If so – why? If not – why not?
I’ll say this for the capitalists: their branding is far superior to anything radical left has or has ever had to offer. When it comes to packaging, no one does it like the capitalists. It’s mighty tempting to think that throwing out the capitalist marketing with capitalism is throwing out the baby with the bathwater but I wouldn’t be so hasty.
We cannot continue trying to combat the seductive appearance and glazed veneer of the American Dream with acronyms like LRBW and expect results, this much is true. This means that we should seriously start re-thinking the propaganda war and how to start combating the shiny gloss that the capitalists use to such great effect.
The solution, I feel, is not a straightforward exercise to simply fight fire with fire for, in order to accomplish this, we would first need fire – which we don’t have – as well as the cold-blooded ruthlessness required to have its use achieve full potential. We cannot simply employ capitalist propaganda methods because it’s nonsensical to try and outshine the wrapping when, on the one hand, it would reduce the argument to who has better propaganda (nullifying the comparison of substance where the strength of our argument lies and where we clearly have a superior product) and, on the other, capitalists are far better at it, pouring so much resource into endeavours on all channels, employing their best and brightest to work on marketing the idea of consumerism full time. The latter to such great lengths and success that even in lower income circles (and this is a worldwide phenomenon) it is virtually taboo to even suggest that ownership of luxury items is not a prerequisite for happiness. Given the bombardment they’re exposed to from movies, TV, radio, internet, advertising, newspapers, books, Oprah and any new revenue stream the corporations are inventing and re-inventing all the time, it’s hardly a surprising state of affairs. No one in the milieu really talks about this prevailing condition amongst the working class. If any talk of it is heard it is mainly flat out denial that this problem even exists or claiming that the condition is not severe or widespread enough to represent a problem. This view often justified by high frequency appearances of Argument Tombola’s old-wives’ tale about living conditions becoming so bad that a critical mass number of people would no longer be able to tolerate them despite the propaganda and would spontaneously rise up in opposition. This would be a perfectly acceptable strategy if we were trying to destroy (blank)isms but since we are trying to dismantle the system of oppression *because* it makes living conditions for the vast majority of people on the planet unbearable already, then we might do better than not simply wait for its prolonged effects to completely annihilate humanity (and itself in the process which would, technically, constitute our victory over the system, even if no-one is left around to enjoy it).
To be further deluding ourselves into a false sense of action is not productive and best described as Revolution Worship a.k.a. that favourite anarchist daydream where the problems which need to be solved in order to have a revolution are postponed and left to be solved as trivial nuisances after the revolution is over. This view (and, for that matter the view of revolution as a happening or an event that has a beginning, a middle and an end) is part of a widespread and more general problem of lack of understanding as to what constitutes a revolution. I could easily use twice as many words to layout my analysis on that one but it should suffice to say for the purpose of this discussion that solving the riddle of zombie consumers is a prerequisite part of the revolutionary struggle that simply cannot take place “after the revolution” because it is a necessary prerequisite for the revolution to “begin” in the first place. Or, academically: the propaganda of consumerism is a direct barrier to the accelerated conditions of the revolutionary class war, that are a necessary stepping stone in facilitating the eventual victory for the working class over the ruling elite (which will usher in the next phase of the revolution).
Our answers to capitalist advertising need to move past mild musings with consumer seduction (e.g. riot porn, romanticizing The Struggle) and we should distance ourselves from advertising the revolution as a brand altogether. We cannot win that battle and so we should focus instead on things that we can do effectively. For even if we could and do win Best Brand Campaign Grand Prix, in so doing we’d be losing the war by corrupting the concepts to appear as tangible commodities, thus handing them over to the oppressor to use as another weapon in their arsenal; to re-package and sell as their own – something that capitalists excel at. We cannot outpackage capitalism even if we wanted to. This is not what I’m proposing. It’s pointless to even consider this as an option. This has been and will always remain our enemy’s goal from the very beginning so to do the leg work on their behalf would not only be pointless for us but also a tragic irony. Propagandism represents a real danger to the movement and a risk of corrupting it once the stagnation ends and we begin gaining momentum. Let me expand on that for a moment: allowing loosely defined ‘isms’ to be subjected to the effects of spin doctors destroys their only value as teaching tools, reducing them down to vulgarity of slogans and symbols which promote a fuzzy ideology “for the benefit and betterment of everyone indiscriminately”. Without even getting into a discussion about taste, these things should be sceptically avoided by default for no other reason than that they have long-standing tradition of being which-came-first-chicken’s egg the ruling elites use as a catalyst to persist and further the agenda of corruption and oppression. They do this under a guise of defending and/or following any number of distinct ideologies of which capitalism has the most subtle and sophisticated propaganda. To the ruling class it does not matter if you call the system ‘feudalism’, ‘capitalism’, ‘communism’ or ‘anarchism’ because to them an ideology only serves the purpose of giving voice to academic validation of the means and ends. It is only yet another way of subduing public dissent, a phrase that should be a coined term due to unopposed acceptance of its occurrence.
We cannot sell anarchism because if we could – anyone could and we’d be back to square one. Anarchism is simply an attempt to define and separate the concerns of the oppressors from the concerns of the oppressed under a blanket philosophy that serves only the purposes of definition and should not be an emblem according to which we identify our tribe. It is where emblems and definitions overlap that the political philosophy begins to transcend the hazy ideals its proponents aspire to into the day-to-day reality of oppression and the effects it has on people. Here we need to make a clean break from being anarchists and become revolutionaries in the way we act and speak. ‘Anarchist’ is a political designation. ‘Radical’ is that same designation described from the perspective of the accepted convention. These are not roles. ‘Revolutionary’ is a role that serves a purpose in society. Political labels are what we must divorce our identities from in our very own minds. From the hindsight of the future world of our descendants, anarchism is not a radical political view but the accepted norm. If we truly believe it to be so – the philosophy of a viable improvement of managing resources and organizing social stratosphere – then we must also accept either that this way of organizing our lives is the only logical outcome of the class war that can sustain our species in the centuries to follow or, alternatively, human kind will perish beforehand from the devastating effects of rampant greed left unchecked under the present conditions. These should be our uncompromising axioms: either we liberate ourselves from the yoke of elitist supremacy or it will spell doom for us all someday soon enough.
We must embrace this attitude and proclaim it to others without fear and false modesty or we’ll never exert any meaningful effects that further that cause. Ask yourself: why is it so wrong to promote these ideas with a clear voice, free from ideological rhetoric and stench of narcissistic and self-congratulatory overtones? The temptation, as always, is to reject potential risks of opportunism this approach would undoubtedly bring and remain on the fringe and in the comfort zone because that reduces the risks and validates our standpoint as ethically pure. With small numbers of participants we can preserve the purity of our ideas more easily but we could never utilize them to any other end apart from idea preservation as an end in itself.
We could certainly adopt some of the underpinning sales principles from Glengarry Glen Ross where we present ourselves in the best light but we must stop short of Roma’s ABCs. We need to NBC – Never Be Closing. We don’t want to appeal to people’s lowest common denominator instincts with smooth-talker speeches in grand, poetic soliloquies; preying upon their feelings of insecurity. We want a dialogue, we want critical thinkers. But in the same breath we cannot afford to be intellectual hipsters, either. We cannot continue and not be heard or given the time of day because we complacently accept the common perception of being the political cult equivalent of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“Have you heard the Good News, m’am? The insurrection is coming.”
Not fighting this perception and dismissing people who see us in this light as intellectually inferior robs both the revolution of their support and them of a better life. In the end, we should not be ashamed to sell what we believe and certainly not ashamed of what we are selling because we are not selling anything that requires people to sacrifice anything they value. Neither time nor effort – not even monetary currency. We are merely advocating re-directing time and effort they already spend doing their masters’ bidding for the benefit and sake of them and their children while to the detriment of those masters only as a side effect. We should work with the principles of marketing a product and apply those for different ends but reject the methods. With everything and with gusto. Language, attitude, image. We chose the language. We should refer to all political ideologies not anarchist as anti-anarchism. Why should anarchism be perceived as the negative of capitalism? They are not objective polar opposites of ethos with equal footing. One is a superior social system to the other. In some spheres we should stop referring to anarchism altogether and instead talk about it as ‘sustainable economy’ when talking about economics or ‘real democracy’ when talking about politics.
We should stop defending our positions about safety and means of survival by starting our sentences with ‘under anarchism food/schools/police/hospitals will be blah blah blah’. It should not be phrased “under anarchism”. That’s perpetuates a political stream view that reduces its proponent to that of an amateur pundit. It should be phrased “under rule of rational thinking” because it is logical that organization of anything society needs should be done so without authoritarian loopholes that allow some to exploit many for their own selfish ends because that is what makes sense in terms of our survival. We need to start buying into that ourselves if we are ever to convince others. I’m not one to mince exact words but you get the picture.
We should stop adopting the underdog, victim-o-oppression image that we neither created nor control and promote a positive, bold image. We should be projecting ideas of a superior model instead of passively adopting and timidly apologizing for the underground resistance guerrilla or hippies-on-acid or black-clad Molotov stereotypes everywhere we go and with everything we do. Revolutionaries need to come out from under the anarchism rock and start publicly articulating some of that daring bravado they only seem to show when releasing pent-up aggression in riot conditions. And when I say ‘articulate bravado’ it is not to be confused with puritan snobbery, moral pretentiousness and intellectual condescension all too common in the milieu full of hypocrites and disruptionists who would rather mask their cowardice with passive-aggressive sneering than be exposed for closet authoritarians that they are.
An interesting question that presents itself is what prevents us from becoming simply more vocal and affirmed with our beliefs? The answer is as simple as it is devastating: parochial social norms. It is simply not cool to not be indifferent about anything at all, including our own interests. The zeitgeist of the generation seems to be that people must at all times maintain a cold and critical look towards everything in a perverse appearance of indifference to even the things they care about (alas, especially to things we care about) else risk losing respect of peers. The anarchists are not immune to pressure to conform to this pretence that is now endemic throughout the younger movement, as the next generation prepares to take on the front running role while the individuals in it continue to struggle with this contrarian, ridiculing and ridiculous outlook on life.
To combat the external pejorative labels of our political views we must first deal with them in and dismiss them from our own minds. To do otherwise would be to remain passive, cynical observers in the interest of preserving that very image out of a pathological and irrational insistence to be “cool”. In the process we would condemn those not given an opportunity to understand the true forces behind their life of servitude and ignorance while we wait for the adequate conditions in order to recruit more easily. Our habitat and resources may not survive prolonged periods of social organization; the required external pressure for these critical mass circumstances of great numbers of angry and resentful people to come about for mere purposes of convenience of recruitment while, in so doing, present an opportunity for an industrial individual or group to do the same and wield as a mob for their own motives (historically, the No. 1 revolution hijacker, more affectionately known in textbooks as the notorious ‘power vacuum’).
Yet despite the clear need for us to take the initiative and at least attempt to avoid this from happening we continue to remain vigilant as ever to dismiss someone passionate about their interests; always eager to debate non-issues and invent lame excuses for the sake of appearances. Instead of taking the fight to our oppressors while the going is still good (and time is running out), we divert focus as an excuse to remain apathetic, denying any wrongdoing while accusing others of despondence. This same narrow-minded apathy we exercise is what liberals, conservatives and “socialists” alike display with their outrage about politicians who are corrupt, while all too happy to deal with that by only complaining or venting and even themselves partaking in socially acceptable forms thereof; all sprinkled with juicy rationalisations revolving around “it’s them, not us” rhetoric and someone else being designated by the electoral process to ensure fairness and justice. So, instead of holding their officials responsible by exercising their *constitutional* and *legally permitted* (even if frowned upon) right to riot, they defer responsibility for both being guilty of corruption themselves and holding others accountable for it, turning that responsibility over to… the invisible forces of karmic justice? It’s what I would guess, seeing as they are out of any other logical options. It’s anyone’s guess really but we have to be smarter than that. We have to be better than that. We have to be because there is nothing and no-one else in the way of the snowball.
Dealing with internal problems like sabotage and such is not something that we should follow the authoritarian approach on, by “tightening security” – even as I say the phrase, it is as the concept itself abstract and meaningless because it is without context in reality – but by taking on the revolutionary role in the things we do and the things we say. Staying true to our beliefs and speaking true of our beliefs are two very different things, requiring different levels of effort and discipline or, as a hetero, white, male liberal I once knew put it: being a gentleman and staying a gentleman is a lot harder than calling yourself one in the company of ladies.
I do not at this point wish to further elaborate on the problem of disruptionists and infiltrators (which I feel is relevant to the overall discussion) because I need to prevent this essay from being even longer but I will say this: if we were indeed true to our principles as we maintain we are – we would not be nearly as susceptible to being fooled by outward appearances that have no substance underneath. I will leave you with the topic on dealing with disruptionists and informants by venturing into the murky waters of wishy-washy quoting for fun and profit, choosing to butcher Shakespeare who said:
“This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man”
Or, as I like to paraphrase it: if we wish to expose false pretences of others we must either do so by adopting effective policing methods used by our enemies or learn to recognise and reject our own so we may not be so eager to confuse those of others’ with sincerity.
I don’t vouch for effectiveness but I prefer the former far less than the latter.\