Emancipate Yourselves from Mental Slavery

A reader of one of my previous columns (“Another Stupid Remark from Mitt — But Who’s Counting?” C4SS, September 10)  published in a local newspaper complained that the Center for a Stateless Society is “a far-left organization that promotes worker radicalism and anarchy.”  But characterizing a position as “far-left” or “promoting worker radicalism and anarchy” isn’t the same as answering it on grounds of logic and evidence.

By definition, any characterization of where arguments fall on the political spectrum takes for granted a tacit assumption of the reference point considered “mainstream” or “centrist.”  And by definition, whatever is classified as “mainstream” or “centrist” in any system of power falls within the range of positions that are compatible with preserving that system of power.

Any “reform” that involves tinkering around the edges of a power structure without fundamentally changing it, and can be implemented by the same classes of people who are running the present system, will be classified as “moderate.”  Any proposal that involves changing the fundamental structure of power and disempowering the groups that run it will be called “radical.”

Any system includes a cultural reproduction apparatus that tends to create the kinds of “human resources” who accept as normal and given the structure of power under which they live. Bear in mind that the corporate-state power structure didn’t come about naturally or spontaneously.  It came about through conscious, massive application of political power over the past 150 years.

From the Gilded Age on, the state intervened massively in the market to create a society dominated by giant, centralized organizations like government agencies and corporations, and later by centralized state education, large universities, and nonprofit foundations. When this state-created and state-subsidized centralized industrial economy became plagued with chronic excess capacity and underconsumption, the state turned toward policies to keep it going.  This included a domestic economy centered on federal spending to absorb surplus capital through such massive state spending projects as the Interstate Highway System, a military-industrial complex that ate up huge amounts of surplus industrial output, and a foreign policy aimed at forcibly incorporating the markets and resources of the entire planet as a sink for surplus capital and output.

At the time the system was being imposed by the state, there was large-scale resistance by a general population that didn’t accept it as normal.  From the 1870s through WWI, a major part of the population refused to accept as normal a situation in which they worked as wage labors for large authoritarian hierarchies.  Movements such as the farm populist movement and the Knights of Labor amounted to near-insurrections, and such measures as the post-Haymarket repression and Cleveland’s suppression of the Pullman Strike constituted counter-revolution.

After the insurrection was defeated, the white-collar bureaucrats controlling corporate and state hierarchies adopted an educational system aimed at processing people who accepted the structure of power as normal.  The official public education movement, advocates of “100% Americanism,” and the like, aimed at creating “human resources” who were “adjusted” to accept authoritarianism and hierarchy as normal, and to “comply” with any orders coming from an apparatchik behind a desk — whether in a classroom, factory, or government office.

And they succeeded quite well, as exemplified by this reader.

“Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.  None but ourselves can free our minds.”

Translations for this article:

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