by Tongo Eisen-Martin
Kids are still in cages, but hegemonic parables remind us: we choose between presidents, therefore we are. Along with other fainter tantrums of consumerism that white society does its best bragging with, the news of impeachment possibilities makes us feel good and properly entertained. The successful small talk among the non-revolutionary petit bourgeoisie continues behind enemy lines; class membership (or betrayal) by way of debate topic. Try as we might, revolution will not be here by the next May Day.
Karl Marx warned that the ideological opiate of (theoretically) state-protected rights make our alienation of labor (and identity) acceptable, seamless, and at times euphoric; always institutional. Marx writes:
“This crystallization of social activity, this consolidation of what we ourselves produce in an objective power above us, growing out of our control, thwarting our expectations, bringing to naught our calculations, is one of the chief factors in historical development up till now.”
Object-worship and object-orientation directs and pacifies the consciousness of people who live as reduced human beings. We suffer the assault from all other spheres of society and absolutely will never belong socially—to not be alien to our own self-identity is to risk death. The superstructure forces us to choose between the rock (cog-existence of being truly physically an enemy of yourself) and the hard place (being a target of state violence).
Your employer must pay you as little as possible so that they can be successful. The only way to devalue what you have created for the capitalist, in terms of paying you less, is to devalue you as a person. You are no longer a historical actor. Your job is to carry something from here to there. Push a few buttons. Sweep a floor. Put a part with another part. Shoot someone who is not white… We are human tools. Machine-like in that the work does not respect our health, interests, talents, principles, or souls.
How do we view ourselves as we relate to productive forces when the primary industry is hypermilitarized bourgeois control? We rock ourselves to sleep with cliché claims of a self-interest propelled society. While self-interest, like free competition, is just another paper protagonist, creating nothing. Just a consolation motivation waiting to operate in the expansion of a contradiction-created society. Personal countdowns to “financial freedom” like days scratched into prison walls further make a mockery of sobriety. And as Marx insists, rather than being evidence of liberated individuals, the right to private property “leads every person to see in other people, not the realization, but rather the limitation of their own liberty.”
The opportunity to not be an enemy of the state is worth selling out over. This delusion has only grown with the mega-ascendancy of the bourgeoisie. Now under the flag of the modern post-industrial monopoly of violence, where as before, a caricature of private property made us feel like citizen-lions; now, online, you can even wear God’s skin. As your eyes move about all of the business of late-stage imperialism, your revolutionary potential is satisfied with non-physical existence. We throw ourselves into reformist movements without coming to terms with the fact that, among other aspects of strengthening the system, reforming repression or political suppression of certain evils does not abolish phenomena of oppression but rather accomplishes the illusion of “universality.” Which further reinforces the prison of our minds.
“In the state… a person is the imaginary member of an imaginary sovereignty, divested of their real, individual life, and infused with an unreal universality… Thus a person was not liberated from religion; they received religious liberty. They were not liberated from property; they received the liberty to own property. They were not liberated from the egoism of business; they received the liberty to engage business.”
…Which all strengthens bourgeois interests. Same grotesque class tools—new grotesque class shapes.
A past proletariat had a sense of collective existence in that its very existence produced something tangible. However alienating that creation was, it was a revolutionary opportunity towards humanization through struggle, as we could take back the societal material that we literally created. As the ex-proletariat, we do not have the same verification that we actually exist outside of what we consume. Or rather, we do not have evidence that we are part of a productive collective worthy of liberation. We exist individually only in comparison to other people’s possessions, leisure and potentials for violence; and/or in comparison to the control they have over their lives or others (or neither their lives nor others). As synthesized by this incarnation of American hegemony, in turn, our political struggle does not require proof of existence as well.
I miss my secondhand blankets. I miss the secondhand San Francisco. The tail-end potentials for revolutionary violence. The watery local governance. Not as fast as New York’s, but still an apartheid minute; streets up for grabs. Before the term (and strategy) “masses” became a dried-out myth. I miss the Halloween night socialism and internationalist broken glass.
Now, instead of rebelling against the alienation of social definition, we bow down to the processes—exponential accumulation of post-industrial (evolving into post-sensory) wealth and superstar fascists. We believe ideas that justify our reduction into human tools and objects. We accept the peculiar congratulations sold in department stores. We believe that we should not have control over what we create. We reduce ourselves to the situation. We decide not to value parts of ourselves. The same parts of ourselves that the capitalist does not value (which is any part of ourselves that does not create something that creates surplus value). Your true history does not make money, so you devalue it. Unity does not make money, so you devalue it. Love does not make money, so you devalue it.
We dream of a white childhood.
We create or participate in bourgeois-sponsored and/or broadcasted passive collectives to verify our existence, without being realistic about everything that they represent. We run to the first collective identity that will immediately make us feel a little better (less scared or less hurt). We believe that individually we can achieve great feats and overcome obstacles (even those created by unbridled oppression), but collectively, without help from the bourgeoisie or one of their trickles, we can’t achieve anything. The result is a psyche of absolute dependence on the ruling class. And the bourgeois-wielded superstructure reproduces itself with smoke and gunsmoke. Marx writes,
“[The aim of architects and controllers of institutions], in short, is to take from people their own powers, and to give them in exchange alien powers which they can only employ with the help of other people.”
We daily forgive the bourgeoisie.
I must apologize to my white friends for allowing them to be white for so long. My version of 1980’s edutainment has not been enough. Right now (as we speak), they are operating inspired-ly for Democrats. They are using the master’s tools, or (Biblically interpreted), using the master’s rib cage. They’ve tired of our blues. They are unenthusiastically participating in my lynching. I’ve allowed them to believe that all they have to do is rise above their upbringing (while I have had to rise above bullets).
“The limits of political emancipation appear at once in the fact that the state can liberate itself from a constraint without people themselves being really liberated; that a state may be a free state without the person themself being a free person.”
So what we have is normalized, institutionalized, legislated, and well-armed insanity that solidifies the position of the ruling class. And the only way to deal with this torrential insanity is with clear, sober, well-reasoned, theory-generated, praxis-tempered, committed organization.
The role therefore of the revolutionary organization is to prepare ourselves and prepare the conditions for a revolutionary stage of history. The most primary condition of a revolutionary stage is the mass raising of people to revolutionary consciousness. Where no intermediaries projected by ruling class hegemony exist between us and our liberation. And this goes for school teachers whose core curriculums voice the institutional paint; for corporate scientists with preteen dreams come true; for organizers with fifteen minutes of rally stardom.
Our oppressors can only maintain their control over the material reality of society through implanting and maintaining cultural passivity through violence and coercion. We should be clear that we did not get to this place of poor, counter-revolutionary interrelations through some kind of natural deficiency, but rather it is the result of past and present organized violence in all facets of reality (not just military). But supremacy of violence is not the end of the world if people of resistance are politically superior to agents of their repression. Part of this is psychological in that basically a tool or an operative for imperialists does have to turn off some of their critical thinking in order to carry out their job (in essence psychologically suffer as deeply as anyone else from alienation). Some have to actually act like children. Or animals… or zombies.
Commitment to political development is ever-kinetic as empires develop more and more diverse functions. These functions inevitably contradict or create problems for each other. Problems we can take advantage of; but we have to be cognizant that the system evolves not just because of the step of its economic evolution, but because it needs to constantly grow beyond the familiarity of the people it oppresses. Keep in mind that African and indigenous revolts and conspiracies to revolt only got bigger and more effective the more familiar we became with our captors and invaders. Spontaneous social events cannot be depended upon, because spontaneous realities of our oppressor’s contradictions cannot be depended upon for successful resistance.
And so mass work with people is the work of transforming the culture of people from that which maintains slavery to that which fights for liberation. The role of the revolutionary organization is to determine correct political analysis and hold movement work accountable to correct political analysis and principles of liberation; and synthesize revolutionary culture in terms of how we relate to each other and our oppressors.
Or, as Marx concludes:
“Human emancipation will only be complete when the real, individual person has absorbed into their self the abstract citizen; when as an individual person in their everyday life, in their work, and in their relationships, they have become a species-being; and when they have recognized and organized their own powers as social powers, so that they no longer separate their social power from themselves as political power.”
Cities borrow new races of Europeans for their settler-colonial project. Aging mothers limp to night shifts while Americans torture kids for fun. Academic muscle work reinforces jagged-edged bills. In late-stage imperialism, the new city sidewalks are built to spit back at you. And soon there will be no one left in the cities who find that funny. But we are beginning to blame the right people. Replaying old pamphlets at parties and cursing at open-air commissary counters—we just might be revolutionaries again. ♦
Tongo Eisen-Martin was born in San Francisco and earned his MA at Columbia University. He is the author of someone’s dead already (Bootstrap Press, 2015), nominated for a California Book Award; and Heaven Is All Goodbyes (City Lights, 2017), which received a 2018 American Book Award and a 2018 California Book Award.