Notes on Revolution, or Reaction

I

My early disbelief in revolution was cured rather effectively by studying the history of revolutions, by a book explaining the Bolsheviks’ radical political tactics, and by a book explaining the psychology of mass movements. All were the result of suggestions from Ted Kaczynski when we corresponded.

Of course, all radicals have goals and purposes that determine the possibility of their particular revolution. Certainly a primitivist revolution is impossible. A few years of political organizing under that banner has demonstrated quite clearly that a technological enemy and a hunter/gatherer ideal will not motivate enough people, and enough of the right kinds of people, for a politically effective response to the problem.

But we will consider the possibility of revolution against world society. By “world society” I do not mean a New World Order conspiracy, nor do I necessarily mean a world government. I refer only to elites’ concerted attempts over the past few decades to instigate greater global cooperation, more international trade, and more international technological infrastructure in order to overcome the industrial era’s problem of international anarchy. I refer to institutions, alliances, and situations like the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank, the European Union, the internationalization of scientific research and university education, the global dominance of the United States… And I insist that the driving force behind this movement toward world society is technological progress, particularly the post-WWII turn to computing, artificial intelligence, the internet, and mass transportation infrastructure.

As the Marxists began with the object of siezing the mode of production in order to transform capitalism, we begin with the object of destroying the mode of production in order to make a world society impossible.

II

Clearly “revolution” is a misleading term. It is not, strictly speaking, inaccurate, but it provokes the wrong questions and conjures the wrong images. A revolt against world society could look like the jihadis as much as it could look like the Bolsheviks. Few would refer to jihadis as “revolutionaries.” Nor has that term often been used to describe the myriad of conflicts in opposition to what their respective movements variously name “capitalism,” “colonialism,” “American hegemony,” or “the new global order.” It seems “revolution” is confined mostly to Western history and refers mainly to a radical takeover or transformation of a state.

A word more empty of meaning, and one that provokes better questions, better images, is “reaction.” What we propose is, after all, more a reaction to a global order than a proposition for a new one. It does not advocate any new social arrangement. On the contrary we hope to conserve the great many things our present social order is destroying. Thus, the term not only provides a better starting point for discussion by throwing out the misconceptions of that old term “revolution”; it is also a more accurate descriptor for what we really propose must be done.

III

My previous turn away from revolution was based on a faulty and overly individualistic ethos. I espoused the goal of fully flourishing as an individual, and rebuked society for putting fetters on me. I imagined the self was like an acorn that, if left untouched by culivating forces, would naturally grow into a grand and wild oak tree. This led to several errors, one of these being my inability to imagine any realistic social arrangement that would not put fetters on my self-expression. So I rebuked revolutionary organization as yet another machine hoping to make cogs of its constituents. In reality, a great deal of personal sacrifice is required for any social arrangement, and social arrangements are absolutely necessary for the goal of fully flourishing as an individual. Revolutionary organization presents no problems different from any other cooperative endeavor.

IV

To say that a reaction against world society is necessary is not to lay out any plan for what that reaction might look like. It is only a way of starting a conversation with three assumptions: first, that we must, for whatever reasons, respond to the problem of world society; second, that we must respond in the strongest possible ways, which would require political cooperation; and third, that this response will be relegated to the “bin of evil,” where the global elite puts the criminals, the radical journalists, the terrorists, and all of its other enemies.

Accepting these assumptions, we can begin.

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V

It is clear that terroristic strategies, by themselves, have never achieved what it would take to sufficiently threaten the technological infrastructure of world society. I have considered whether or not our current historical moment changes this, and it decidedly has not.

Friedman’s The Lexus and the Olive-Tree argues that new technologies present a unique opportunity for individuals and small groups to cause damage that was previously only in the purview of states. The technologies “super-empower” individuals and small groups. On the face of it, this certainly seems to confirm that a terroristic effort could potentially cause irrevocable damage to the world economy and technological infrastructure. It also seems to be compatible with our critique of mass society, allowing us to conceivably embark on a radical political effort as individuals and small groups.

However, there are several problems with terroristic strategies that go beyond technical capability. Imagine that a minority radical group, say a few hundred people, decide to build an EMP or a biological weapon or what have you. It is unlikely that their attack would cause enough damage by itself to bring down the world economy, and even if it could the risk of failure would be great. Instead, the group would have to sustain their efforts with multiple attacks. But without widespread support, the group would make an easy enemy for the state, which could harness its own widespread support to stamp out the radical group swiftly. This is what happened with Al Qaeda after 9/11, for example, which is why in jihadi circles there is much disagreement over whether 9/11 was a net benefit to the cause. Some of the primary theorists of jihad today argue that 9/11 was a terrible mistake, strategically.

Even if the terrorist group could manage to survive a government crackdown, its attacks against infrastructure would do more to make itself the enemy than anything else. And, again like with 9/11, the state could easily use the attacks to unify its citizens and inspire even greater loyalty to the very institutions that we oppose.

Instigating and harnessing widespread dissatisfaction is a much more powerful method than terrorism. If dissatisfaction with world society is widespread, it becomes much more difficult to make a bogeyman out of the radicals, and to identify and stamp them out. Furthermore, any uprisings against technological infrastructure would, by their very nature as uprisings, do much to delegitimize the institutions and elites of world society, instead of delegitimizing the radicals. Of course the mainstream media would regard these uprisings as poorly as they regard any outburst of violence, but this is no matter. Consider the Ferguson Riots in the U.S., and the related riots in several other areas, which the media portrayed rather negatively. Despite these portrayals, the collective nature of the race riots caused many people realized that there was something legitimate to the rioters’ grievances. The same would occur with violent outbursts against this or that institution of world society.

Finally, in the end there is no reason not to harness widespread dissatisfaction with world society and its various institutions, since it has already begun and will continue to build. This is true regardless of radical efforts, although perhaps radical involvement could bring the rolling thunder to a boom.

VII

Our initial efforts should not set grandiose expectations. We should not, for example, start out conceiving of ourselves as some kind of vanguard party that will lead the revolution. It is much better to assess properly what kind of power the starting groups have and work, step by step, toward building power from that position. Only after walking down this path some way will the rest of the path in front of us become clear.

The methods of building power in radical political efforts are much different from those of mainstream political efforts. They are largely not electoral, and involve tactics like entryism and even criminal actions, the latter especially for funding. The best introduction to this kind of thinking can be found in Philip Selznick’s aforementioned book, The Organizational Weapon. I strongly believe that a primary effort of any contemporary radical against world society should be to learn about these unconventional power-building tactics.

VIII

A final note: we should not start off with the assumption that a reaction against world society will be in any way as ideologically cohesive as previous revolutionary efforts. The Marxists were cohered by a doctrine. Beyond very basic premises, we have no such requirement, and attempting to impose unnecessary beliefs on our allies will serve only to weaken us. The only requirements of our proposal are:

  • A commitment to making the project of world society impossible. This includes its institutions, like the United Nations, IMF, and the World Bank; its technologies, like the internet, social media companies, and transportation infrastructure; and its values of humanism and progressivism.
  • A commitment to the analysis that the means of defeating the globalizing project is disrupting its technological and economic basis. My own argument is based on a materialist framework, but one could just as easily come to the conclusions through some basic reasoning.

One can imagine some of the regional conflicts that exist today could be convinced that their opposition to world society will be served most by targeting the technological and economic basis of that society. In this hypothetical scenario, these conflicts, often religiously motivated, will surely not change their ideological character. The important part is a change in their practical character.

Beyond these two elements, I suggest only one other element of belief, which does not necessarily apply to every reactionary: a willingness to dispose of civilization. Of course the destruction of civilization is not the goal and will never be the practical outcome of reaction. But in the moments of major resistance to world society there should be no hesitation to take the necessary plunge. I doubt that most of the groups involved in a reaction against world society will commit to this anti-civilization ethos. It is, however, necessary to encourage the nihilist and anarchist impulses where they exist, so that there is a force that brings the reactionaries ever closer to the most extreme end of the tactical spectrum.

2 Comments

  • norristh says:

    A colleague and I were just discussing why I’m uncomfortable with the term “revolution” for the kind of anti-civ action we advocate. My reasons are similar to yours. I rather like the term “devolution,” since the idea is to make it physically impossible for the centralized power structures, and force them to yield to local autonomous communities. “Reaction” is good too!

    • admin says:

      Devolution has less of a right-wing tinge, and I like it better for that reason. Ultimately these are just word games, and I am learning that I can be loose and playful with terms like “revolution” instead of coming up with strictly defined theoretical terms. (Except in writings that call for exactness, of course!)

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