The Shadows of 68: In Blind Revolt 2

[This is the second part of the previous post on the shadows of 68.]

In the mid-70s your first published prose piece was a rather abstract, verbose and convoluted, Freudo-Hegelo-Marxist critique of the unexamined shadow side of the movement, its post- 68 state of crisis, the abject failure of the so-called ‘turn to the workers’, the deep subjective alienations, self-repressions and plain craziness of political activism increasingly defined as ‘militancy’ and ‘avant-gardism’ (even when, to a degree, psychologically informed). If, analogously with psychodynamic theories of infant identity formation, a narcissistic ‘mirror relationship’ with the so-called ‘masses’ necessarily defines identity for the socialist ‘avant-garde’, the neo-Marxist intellectual and leftist ‘politico’, what then happens when that relationship is so obviously absent? The title ‘Paradise Now, Perhaps’ implicitly and tentatively reminding of the unconsciously libertarian/anarchist origins of our initial revolt, the text is, in many ways, also a ‘goodbye to all that’, a goodbye to this kind of alienated and alienating ‘politics’:

Paradise Now, Perhaps

1. One topic now dominates discussions, both within and outside the seminars: liberation and self-liberation, our inner needs and political activity. From the Kursbuch [the leading left magazine, edited by poet Hans-Magnus Enzensberger] to writers like Struck, Biermann, Schneider, Duhm. We are packed like sardines into the cinema showing the anti-psychiatry docos. The ‘ journey to the masses’ begun in 69 now meets up with its own reflection and notices that it is, strangely, completely absent. If the masses, however, are absent (not ‘for themselves’, not ‘mobilised’), then who set out to go to them in the first place? If they don’t take any notice of me, if they weren’t ‘for themselves’ for me, then I wasn’t (and am not) ‘for myself’ either, right? Only now and then, in the lonely pauses between actions, when none can be stage-managed, or when the class enemy doesn’t feel like playing along either, then it’s the return of the repressed on the empty stage; and that is known as ‘a crisis’. (In capitalist crisis the capitalist balance is also regained capitalistically). Then we get freaking out or a change of party or of the stuff you’re reading. Until the next action or project in which what the individual represses is only faintly discernible in the speed of the turning wheel, in the echoing volume of warm-collective militancy. – He or she who gets into that head space won’t get out of it again too quickly. He or she who declines to escape into that head space is accused of escapism.

2. To be politically active, to be ‘political’, thus means to be outside of oneself (namely within the action, the work, the cause, the others, the masses…), i.e. to be ‘ver-rückt’, dis-placed, ‘out of it’, crazy. If one is outside oneself, external to oneself, one’s relations to others can also only be external, strategic, mechanical. (And Lenin’s state capitalist Party-Lever working on human material becomes inevitable, even for non-Leninist mobilising, intervening, agitating…). Political work on this basis is then, like all wage labour, the ‘practical-sensuous-active’ (Marx) absence from and of your self; however, it is a form of labour that wants to extend its own being ‘out of it’ into becoming a general social principle (which it already is): the normality of the average, socially recognised insanity (wage labour, the religion of the commodity). In political work or theory the ignoring and forgetting of self becomes systematic. And in that it is identical with the tradition of western science and its positivist religion of ‘objectivity’. The identity calls itself ‘scientific socialism’ or, in current jargon, just ‘Theory’.

3. Although nothing has changed, apparently something in fact has changed. After all, it’s neo-capitalism, neo-masses, neo-misery now. New levers are needed. Theory begins its search: ‘Especially youthful masses imbued with consumerist ideology will not be able to be mobilised by economic and political demands alone. The revolutionary movement has to offer more today than a socialist concept of the state and the economy.’ (M. Schneider, Neurosis and Class Struggle, pp. 322-323). Although the political party must, by definition, remain external to the masses, it can try to increase its ‘efficiency’ (degree of mobilisation) by psychological means. It can become therapeutic: ‘Political self-organisation must also be a form of therapeutic self-organisation. Not the organisation that follows the ‘purest’ political line (that of a particular Leninist, Stalinist or Maoist tradition) will be rewarded with historical success, but rather the organisation that is able to connect with and take up the historically new needs of the masses’ (ibid.) G. Vinnai (The Social Psychology of the Working Class) imagines a similar ‘emancipatory education by the organisation’ that will teach the ego-weak proles ‘behaviour of solidarity’ (pp. 151-152). The rules of power politics simply demand their price: ‘The class struggle for its liberation demands that the individual partly – for the good of the organisation – make himself into a thing, an instrument in the struggle with an opponent whose vanquishing will enable the elimination of the constraint to make oneself into a thing’ (p. 154). General Motors also organises sensitivity training; the capitalist avant-garde prefers calling in the group psychologist to calling in the police.

4. Already in Weimar Germany pure ‘educating’ of the masses didn’t go too well for the socialist avant-garde. ‘He who votes for Hitler, votes for war!’ They voted for him anyway. As a result, one faction stressed the ‘social fascism’ and ‘United Front’ line a little more, while the others asked themselves what had actually gone wrong. Already in 1933-34 Wilhelm Reich suggested developing a more subtle psychological form of political technology by enriching the instruments of socialist avant-garde intervention with knowledge of the ‘ pre-rational aspects’ of mass daily life – a knowledge that the national socialist avant-garde seemed to have mastered so successfully, even without any ‘scientific national socialism’. Day of National Labour and Day of the National Bowl of Lentil Stew, ‘folk-comrades’, erect arms, spades and rifles, the glowing red around the swastika, Hitler Youth and rom-com actor Willi Fritsch, League of German Maidens and rom-com actress Zarah Leander, compulsory labour service for the nation and Sunday torte. (‘Actually, things were no different than today, my son. People just had less and were happier. Unfortunately, then the war came along.’) In the Great (Russian)Motherland of the Working Classes there was a similarly concentrated spectacle, only one more impoverished, still stuck in ‘socialist’ primary accumulation of capital. Mens sana in corpore sano…(healthy mind in healthy body)…

Soviet Union/National Socialism/New Deal: in the statist elimination of the liberal (and Marxian) primacy of economics, in the subjectification of power politics and later of the market spectacle, i.e. in the whole totalitarian process of history in the 20th century till now, in all this horror at least one thing has become manifest: the ‘eruption of subjectivity’ as a neurotic/psychotic return of the repressed, a certain ‘dialectic in the Enlightenment’ project. At the margins it may all be the ‘primal tribe’, but at the core of the state totalitarian mega-machine it is surely more the spectacle of positivist, technocratic ‘objective’ consciousness (Roszak) perfecting itself. Siberia, Auschwitz, Hiroshima.

5. How can I get rid of my, and generalised, neurotic self-repression if I don’t accept it? In contrast, political work represses the self-repression, actively and systematically externalises it, discovers it again as an enemy on the one hand, as the people-as-patient on the other, a patient at whom one is obliged to hurl the usual double binds of the mainstream therapist: ‘Be spontaneous!’, ‘Organise and liberate yourselves!’, ‘Feel solidarity!’. R.D Laing: ‘The psychotherapist is mostly the blind leading the half-blind’. Fortunately they don’t always let themselves be led. That’s been tried a few times before.

(in: Schwarze Protokolle, 1974)

Inner Betrayal: The Hidden Narcissistic Continuities of Militancy and Ministership

After the end of the street-fighting Häuserkampf in Frankfurt in the mid-seventies (an unsuccessful squatter struggle to keep many occupied grand old apartment buildings in the Westend district near the university in student and migrant worker hands and safe from modernising and speculative development), and some short flirting with ‘counter culture’ and rural communes, many ex-RK members turned either to individual psychoanalysis, the free-sex Bhagwan cult or the newly emerging communal green politics.

The latter, it is worth noting, began in Germany around 1975 not among students but with small commercial wine-growers’ militant, non-violent resistance to a new nuclear power plant at Wyhl in southwest Germany and then with a strong, unique and spontaneous movement of many ‘citizen initiatives’ – Bürgerinitiativen ‒ across the country. The latter were small local groups of citizens acting on local social and environmental issues using both traditional means of lobbying, educating etc. and new and creative forms of non-violent direct action and begrenzte Regelverletzung (limited rule-breaking) learnt from the original student movement. Rather than remaining merely local and self-absorbed, these grass roots groups also self-federated into a national umbrella organisation, the BBU or Bundesverband Bürgerinitiativen Umweltschutz.

The German Green Party originally grew directly out of, and derived its initial strength from, this self-active ferment widespread throughout German civil society in the 70s which had been stimulated by the student-led ‘68’ phenomenon. However, by ‘parliamentarising’ and bureaucratising issues, the Greens then ‒ in the usual historical dialectic of ‘success’ – actually served to help radically weaken and dis-empower this originally very active and vibrant grass roots movement that had spawned it.

Many leftist militants and anarcho-‘spontis’ ‒ often the previously most militant ones ‒ then quickly joined mainstream society as professionals or, from 1979 onwards, budding Green Party politicians, often rationalising their movement away from their previous self-definition as ‘revolutionaries’ as a form of new-found ‘maturity’ or ‘realism’. Be that as it may, rather than engage in the doubtlessly difficult work of any personal ‘growth’ or ‘maturation’ ‒ i.e. of sifting through, critically reflecting on and then integrating the past ‒ many seemed to simply cut off their past and throw the critical baby out with the dogmatic bathwater.

Gone, with many or most, was all previous systemic critique of and opposition to capitalism, imperialism, parliamentarianism, i.e. ‘the System’. The rebels, in time-honoured tradition, became the very so-called ‘realists’ they had previously so loudly attacked and derided. And ‘realism’ then swiftly became, for many, the utterly banal acceptance of the oppressive, inhuman and unjust realities of the system as simple givens.

Having originally begun as an anti-authoritarian, socialist ‘extra-parliamentary opposition’ to the democratically deformed bourgeois state, capitalism and US imperialism, they now, from the late eighties onwards, initially hesitantly and then increasingly openly, tended to concur with the conservative theory of ‘TINA’, the acronym of the later notorious phrase of neo-liberal avant-gardist Margaret Thatcher: ‘there is no alternative’ (to capitalism, parliamentary democracy and the western or NATO alliance). Conservative-neoliberal TINA became the new ‘realism’, a self-fulfilling prophecy of helping to liquidate any potential systemic alternative.

For example, the position that started off in the early eighties as a semi-ironical self-labelling as ‘realism’ (‘Realpolitik’) in the German Green Party quickly became a truly un-ironical, accommodating and uncritically reformist ‘realpolitik’ that would not have disappointed even its monarchist inventor Bismarck. (Except, ironically, for its mainly neo-liberal predisposition in terms of – after accession to government power in a ‘green-red’ coalition in 1998 ‒ helping the social-democrats begin to dismantle the welfare state that Bismarck had helped establish to stabilise the monarchist system against the perceived dangers of social-democracy).

One of the former core RK militants of the ultra-actionist Putz (Biffo) faction (with whom I had played basketball in RK days), Joschka Fischer, later became the leading Green Realpolitiker, for many years in fact Germany’s most popular politician, the world’s first state environment minister in 1983 and, in 1998, German Foreign Minister and Vice-Chancellor in a Green-Social Democrat Coalition government. In the latter ministerial capacity he was thus co-responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Serbian civilians due to NATO bombing during the Kosovo crisis of 1998 and also supported the illegal bombing of Afghanistan by US forces in 2001 which resulted in around 10,000 civilian deaths. Both bombings were of course officially described as ‘humanitarian interventions’ on behalf of ‘freedom and democracy’, the latter even supported by the UN in violation of its charter. In 2005 it was also revealed that the government of which he had been foreign minister had secretly known of and condoned secretive CIA ‘renditions’ of terror suspects via German airports to countries where torture is routinely used during interrogations.

How is this to be understood? The immediate and, to a degree, plausible response is to see Fischer’s, and the Green Party’s, serious violation of international law and human rights as a simple ‘betrayal’ of previous (leftist, Green) ideals and insights. Robert Michels’ well-known institutional ‘iron law of oligarchy’ (first applied to the evolution of late nineteenth century workers’ movements and socialist parties in his Political Parties of 1915) could simply be applied to the Green Party: its electoral ‘success’ and accession to power had simply swallowed another set of ideals that had been ‘useful’ in the grass roots ‘movement’ phase but were no longer useful in the bureaucratic ‘party’ phase. Parties, as large hierarchical organisations, must necessarily develop their own separate orgnaisational interests, i.e. different interests from the movements that originally spawned them. Thus, according to Michels’ macro-sociological perspective, successful egalitarian activists have little option but to become authoritarian politicians and bureaucrats alienated from their constituents under the weight of movement momentum and its institutional ‘successes’ and then of their own institutional dynamics and inertia. Individual predispositions and personalities really have very little to say in these institutional developments. It is thus not really a matter of personal failure or ‘betrayal’ but of systemic organisational dynamics.

Political parties have always been conduits for cosy professional careers inside and outside parliament and a host of taxpayer-funded perks for life, in the case of progressive parties often for those hampered or blocked from normal career paths for reasons of class or circumstance. Thus as they move upwards young militants quickly become ambitious yuppies, and their rationalizing ideologies change accordingly, as Michels noted, from a certain initial radicalism to the realism, pragmatism, opportunism needed to get ahead within the system. For example, German Green Party members started off as ‘have-nots’ (two thirds in 1983, the year they entered German Federal parliament, were without professions) but were articulate, educated, with organisational experience, i.e. the resources needed for upward mobility. Their initial ‘post-material values’ also allowed them to become a pressure group for new occupations, career paths and elite positions. They started as an ‘opposition movement of a blocked counter-elite’ (Franz Walter) and ended up as an integral part of that neoliberal elite, espousing ‘eco-modernised’ forms of that elite’s ideology of capitalist domination and systemic stabilization.

Another perspective complementing this sociological systemic view would be more psychological. The apparent reversal or ‘betrayal’ may have been there, in latent form, from the start. How is it that one can so often scratch a revolutionary or guerillero and find a minister in the making? This perspective could ask, for example, why anyone would ‘go into politics’ (professional, radical or otherwise) in the first place. It is probably safe to assume that, as with any human action, there are conscious (idealistic or opportunistic) motivations, and there are also, almost always, strong unconscious motivations for which the conscious ones may often be little more than rationalisations.

Could it be that Fischer’s, many of the New Left’s and the Greens’ political and ethical reversals, regressions or ‘betrayals’ are also an aspect of a more personal level of failure? What sensitivity or empathy for the poor and oppressed may they have been forced to cut off within themselves at some point in their development? The power-hungry will tend to ignore their victims. Could their co-responsibility or collusion in capitalist exploitation, the breaking international law, causing death, suffering and despair in innocent others also be in some way linked to their own failure to face, understand and integrate their own unconscious reasons for their originally militant protest and ‘going into politics’? What unconscious reasons could there be for a seeking of power, public attention, fame?

These reasons, I would venture, are very often some form of unacknowledged personal suffering and despair that are rooted in early (perinatal and/or infantile) identity-forming experiences of non-validation on the part of parental caregivers. These may take a variety of forms from unresolved loss, non-bonding, powerlessness, abandonment, sexual or physical abuse to ‘mere’ emotional abuse or neglect. All these are in turn products of similar parental socialisations within the larger context of culturally determined child-rearing practices and the flux of socio-historical traumata (wars, depressions, poverty, the wounds of class, ethnic or gender discriminations etc).

How many political, or corporate, careers can then be interpreted as personal neuroses, ‘inferiority complexes’ or ‘narcissistic personality disorders’ seeking unconscious compensation in control, power-over and the attention public power brings? Could an unconscious need to gain political power and control over others derive from an early sense of disempowerment or loss of control in birth, infancy and early childhood? Could a narcissistic drive for public admiration and media attention possibly derive from an early core sense of mis-recognition and non-confirmation, abandonment, failure, self-blame and inner worthlessness gained in deficient or absent maternal and parental attention and bonding?

Why do so many leading politicians in most countries, as sometimes even facially expressed, seem stuck in infantile or adolescent modes of behaviour and why do these modes apparently resonate with so many people who believe in or vote for them? Do the political sheep unconsciously recognise their own personal issues in their favoured political shepherds? And how have these historically and culturally shifted from, say, the crudeness of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Churchill of my parents’ generation to the slickly marketed Nixon, Reagan, Thatcher, Hawke, Clinton, Bush, Blair, Howard, Rudd or Obama of mine?

In more general terms, can there be real hope for a more rational and humane politics if the ‒ ultimately infantile ‒ shadows of personal unconscious despair, denied or displaced anti-parental anger and narcissistic need for attention, validation and power-over, for example, are not honestly confronted, understood and worked through and thus personal despair/hope – as much as possible – more clearly distinguished and separated from a fatal confusion with public, political despair/hope? In its wider dimensions, an awareness of these shadows may also move from the personally psychological to deeper spiritual levels.

Can the considerable, suffering-inducing shadows of politics itself ever be overcome without honestly facing up to and to some extent overcoming the personal shadows of politicians and the politically active themselves? I would argue that politics can neither be reduced to psychological/spiritual issues nor the latter ignored if there is to be any hope of a more humane politics and a liberated, more humane world. It would seem we need to both change the flawed world and, in doing so, the flawed selves this very world has made of us all.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on November 3, 2012.

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