The Acts of Revolution
The Acts of Revolution was written by Karl Hess, and appeared in Libertarian Connection, Issue No. 2 (February 10, 1969). It is now available in the Public Domain, according to the information available to the Fair Use Repository.

Two attitudes, more than any others I have been able to perceive, confuse revolutionary actions in the United States today.

First is the demand that revolutionary action have “a goal” and the assumption that, lacking a goal, it must also lack fervor and even practical possibility.

Second is the mind-set that says revolutions may not be made except in the ferment of class solidarity and, most particularly, working class radicalization.

What is a revolutionary goal today? We should suspect that it would not be the same sort of goal that past revolutions have envisioned. The world has changed. Why not, then, concepts of goals? Past revolutions, being waged in the world as it then existed, have had appropriate goals. They have been goals of democratic government, revolutionarily expressed in violence against less democratic governments. All past revolutions of consequence, however, have had in common the goal of a kind of government. It has been government that has been the goal. It has been the kind of government that has defined the revolution itself – or the counter-revolution.

Many interested in revolution today are dismayed by the fact that some who advocate revolutionary actions (such as SDS) do not have goals in the sense that other revolutions had them.

Max Eastman, interviewed 9 January 1969 in the New York Times, put it this way in describing the difference between revolutionaries of his style and those of the new style:

They want to make a revolution but they have no ultimate purpose. I have a certain emotional sympathy for them, but they are rather pathetic because they have no plan. They just seek a revolution for its own sake. We had a purpose, which was to make over capitalism into Socialism, and it was based on an ideal and on an ideology.

Eastman states, accurately, the established view of revolution as seen from the entire range of modern authoritarian positions, from state capitalism or socialism through reform liberalism, traditional conservatism and theo-conservatism.

The point is that revolution today – coming as it does after a long development of democratic governance – not only does not require a goal, in the established sense, it could not tolerate such a goal. Any such goal – of simply making government more democratic – would be, actually, counter-revolutionary and not revolutionary at all.

Revolution today is against such goals. Revolution today must be against the state and not for any form of the state. Revolution today must have as its goal the abolition of every agency of power which can or would be able to force standards, goals, or any arbitrarily normative values upon persons who do not voluntarily hold or seek such values, standards, or goals. (Persons in such a concept would not renounce self-defense or self-control, just coercion.)

Thus, to hang up a revolutionary action because it has no goal, in the old sense of “sort of government” goals is to suffer a psychosis far more than seeking a political analysis.

Revolutionary action today not only should not have but could not have a goal in the established sense of the word. There are no revolutions left in the framework of the old goals. They’ve all been tried. Even in the wildest of [9] the proposals for so-called revolutionary action in the framework of the old goals is nothing but reformism. Perhaps the various “new man” concepts of the “old-fashioned” revolutionary establishments, such as those in Cuba and China, there are hints of actually new, not merely reformist thinking but so hung up on governmental forms have all of those establishments become that such concepts cannot be expected to gain much growing room. (The Castros stay home minding the store, reforming the government and the citizens – and, note, they are still citizens just as much as under Batista – while the new-man visionaries are sent off to die in the handcuffs of other state managers!)

Revolutionary action, to repeat, must avoid goals, not seek them. Revolution for revolution’s sake is a quite proper stance when it is taken to overthrow the very concept of the state and of citizenship, the very concept of drudge-slavery to any or anybody’s “system” in which the force of life is sacrificed to a life of force. Every other position is merely repititious, reformist, and counter-revolutionary.

Now to the nitty-gritty. Is class radicalization immediately essential to a revolution? Again, it used to be. But, all past revolutions have been against, essentially, the persons in charge of a state apparatus.

Such persons represented other persons in a class, or classes.The revolution in terms of sheer physical demands had to pit a class against a class; persons against persons, with the outcome being decided more or less on the way that the balance of numbers of persons tilted.

The governments which have resulted from those past person-person revolutions have become to a very marked degree machine-persons governments. Their bureaucracies, in the most advanced states, faced with an ever widening gap of numbers between persons who must be controlled and persons who do the controlling, have turned to technology and to the inter-positioning of a very significant layer of machine technology between themselves and the persons governed.

The American model, by far the most advanced example of control, is even now moving to supplement the control machinery or technology with an enlargement of the control personnel itself. Thus, in the new Administration of Richard Nixon, it may be expected that the Bismarckian concept of a “free” people in the service of the state will be brought finally to perfection or close to it.

The device will be that of co-optation, of inviting more and more persons to become, voluntarily, members of the ruling class, ex-officio members, as it were, of the bureaucracy itself. Richard Cornuelle, who compares to the Nixon apparatus the way List may have compared to Bismarck’s, has established the economic parameters of the device: “invite” private business to do as many of the jobs of government as possible. To the bedazzled this apparently seems like freeing business from government. Obviously, of course, what it actually does is simply make business a part of government. The same with the so-called “black capitalism” concept. It does not liberate black people. It fully enlists them in the established society. There may be nothing at all unpleasant in any of these measures. Most persons, it may be assumed, will rather enjoy the sensations. But it must be appreciated, also, that the effect upon state power and the stature of the nation is to enhance it, not weaken it or lessen it.

A final refinement of the co-optation process also is highly visible in the new Administration. It is the sub-contracting of governmental functions; as in all of the proposals to put government welfare programs, as an example, on a businesslike basis by farming them out to private indutry. The same concept has guided the creation of the present military-industrial complex.

It is a very practical device. It works. It also fixes state capitalism as the form of American social organization. This is not revolutionary. The Soviets already have accomplished it but they had to do it in the old person-person style of revolutions. The American development of state capitalism has been along new lines and has involved, very much, the new institutions of technological bureaucracy.

The new shape of revolution must take into account the new shapes of authority. The authority no longer is exercised in terms of raw manpower and firepower. In America, for instance, firepower is relatively well distributed, excepting the massive forms which, however, seem of limited use in countering insurgency anyway.

Control depends more and more upon machines and modalities and less and less upon personal action. The tax collectors could not, on the basis of hand labor, keep the continent under control. In fact, so far out of control had the situation become where hand labor had been practised that one of this nation’s most concrete contributions to Latin American democracy lately has been task forces of tax experts to teach the revenue collectors below the border how to apply up-to-date Yankee methods to the taxation or control of the unwilling masses.

(The myth that this activity involves attempts to “get” rich guys who might otherwise escape taxation is laughable and need not be examined at length here. Suffice it to say that rich guys are easily done in by hand labor whereas the masses must be machined for any efficiency at all. Hitler, for instance, surely understood this. He merely bought the industrialists, murdered the libertarians – but he set up an actual industrial system to butcher the mass of Jews.)

All of this applies, of course, in the fullest sense only to the highly developed nations. Revolutions against oppressive governments in under-developed nations not only are most likely to be of the person-person style but their goals are most likely also to be of the old kick-out-that-person, put-in-that-person variety.

Revolution today, in the developed nations, urgently requires a revolutionary vanguard. But that vanguard does not, at the outset, certainly, require a radicalized class or mass behind it. Its revolutionary targets will not be massed authority or barricades, but amassed technology, red-tape, systems, forms, files, communications, records, rules, regulations, computers and scanners, electronic tappers, trippers, and trappers.

Revolutionary acts against the sensitive technological layers of authority will produce numbing results in the bureaucracy itself. It is not altogether visionary to imagine that such revolutionary action would paralyze the bureaucracy. At the same time, however, it must be anticipated that the cure for such paralysis will very likely be the most strenuous physical exercise. A well developed bureaucracy, faced with harassment of its technology and communications can be expected quickly to turn to physical repression.

In the United States, perhaps more so than in the Soviet Union, this repression can be expected to receive widespread support because the process of co-optation will have produced more governmental fellow-travelers, particularly among businessmen and blacks.

But it is then, not now, that the process of radicalizing people should become an important revolutionary task – simply because it will then be more practical and productive, where today, with the widespread co-optation just underway, it can be wasteful of time and energy and – particularly – ingenuity.

There is an obviously alternative course that assaults against the system may take: resistance, which moves toward but never arrives at revolutionary acts. Retreatism, passive resistance, flower-power innocent persuasion, all have carved impressive new alternative communities out of a hostile state environment. Practitioners honestly expect that eventually their unalloyed and unconquerable good-will – which must move even the police sometimes – will move the world. Given time I have no doubt that it not only would but that, given a post-revolutionary opportunity, it actually will. But that’s the point. It faces the same prospects of repression as do revolutionary acts. The patience of the established order can be stretched too far, even by the most open acts of charity and consideration. Next to direct assaults against, withdrawals from the conventional modes and morality constitute the most obvious threats to the conventions. This is not to discourage the current searches for alternative life styles. Far from it. It is only to suggest that, along with expectations of widespread radicalization, it might be prudent to expect success after or as a result of revolutionary action rather than before.

Much the same conclusion can be drawn from black awareness (or awareness of blackness) in this country. Can you seriously imagine the development to date without the riots?

Revolutionary action today should seek, first of all, to radicalize those individual specialists and activists who can best confront and/or confound the communications and technology of the state and of the state support system.

As they do their work, or, rather, if they do their work well, the bureaucracy and its supporters or benificiaries will finally be reduced to the use of very visible and crude controls over the population. It is these visible and crude controls which radicalize most people. Golden cords are tougher. Electronic cords are even tougher. It is against those, then, that the first revolutionary blows must be delivered. Until cut, they tangle up everything else.

With the state in disarray, eventually, will come the time for wider radicalization and, finally, for the fullest possible understanding of the revolution without goals; the revolution, at last, for the endless process of liberty in a world dedicated to man’s life.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory