Carlotta Ochoa Wagoner

How  do we organize?  Do we need “leaders”?  Is “authority” necessary?

                                                                       “When the people is rising,
                                                                   fate must succumb to its will . . .”
                                                                 (from the Tunisian national anthem)


The question of organization looms large in the minds of many today who see that the course of the world requires our attention, our reflection, and much more active involvement of citizens than is
presently the case. We know there is such involvement. But it is still scattered and sporadic in many countries. Apparently, the point where many people will say, ‘Enough is enough’ has been reached only in a few countries. Thailand, Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain show which way people turn when they are not willing to accept injustice anymore. What we have seen there were largely peaceful, non-violent protests although extreme police violence against peaceful crowds can sometimes lead to a violent outbreak, as in Bangkok.(1)   We don’t know how organized the different movements were. In the Egyptian case, the Western dominant media speak of a “facebook revolution.”(2)   But probably it was neither a revolution, in the strict sense of the word (the old power elite is still in power, they merely exchanged a few discredited guys at the top) nor was Facebook-supported communication the only “organizing” factor.(3)  There were too many impulses, heterogenous social forces were involved, and much of what happened, on the side of the crowd, was spontaneous. 

When large numbers of people begin to move, it is never simply because of organizers, agitators and instigators, as the people in power want us to believe. In Egypt, more than a million, perhaps two million, crowded Tahir Square and adjacent streets and avenues in early 2011 because they were fed up with unemployment, rising prices, illegalized strikes, arbitrary arrests and torture by the police.(4) And on top of it there was the pent-up anger fueled by seeing for so many years the shameless corruption of politicians. In Egypt, these extraordinary numbers of people turning out in the street were possible because, without any instigation, without any Facebook communication, they shared for years quite similar sentiments. They still shared them in Tahir Square. There was all that frustration, the anger, the hope, the goal of democracy and the deeply felt desire to live in a better, more just society. When such unity of sentiment and, at least vaguely, of direction exists, little is needed to start a popular revolt. In Cairo, Alexandria, Port Said etc. it happened when the International Monetary Fund advocated a rise in the gasoline price (a cut of subsidies) that made public transport more expensive and when, more or less simulaneouly, the news of the wanton murder of a young dissident in police custody reached people.(5)

We have known for long, and see again in the Egyptian case, that such seemingly small things can ignite a social explosion. In Tunisia it was similar: the self-immolation of an unemployed youth, the rise of the price of bread because of IMF pressure to cut subsidies served as a catalyst. The global economic crisis had decreased the possibilities of unpopular regimes to subsidize such commodities in many countries of the so-called Third World.(6)

In the West, austerity policies have been put in place. Social conquests attained by trade unions and the working class movement in the past have been attacked and rescinded. Social infrastructure is neglected. Real wages (and real “salaries” of all but top executives and “successful” financial analysts) have been lowered. Collective bargaining practices are no longer perceived as instruments of mediated improvement of the ‘standard of living’: in fact, most unions have been weakened and have become defensive rather than combattive. The statistics hide the extent of enduring mass unemployment. The majority of the aged are more and more exposed to the risk of poverty, if they are not experiencing stark deprivation already. The young face uncertain futures, precarious jobs or joblessness. Those in between those age brackets (to the extent that they are employed)  feel the wear and tear of competition in the work place;  most of them fear job loss; many have accepted pay levels they would not have accepted in the past.  Today, the general mood isn’t optimistic at all. But there are those who think that like sheep, the masses will endure a lot and that they will continue to look for ‘salvation’ now from this, now from that major political party, as they seem to have done doggedly for so long. But it is not a sign of true readiness to analyze the situation if such commentators overlook the real loss of legitimacy that politicians and parties have experienced. The percentage of those who are completely disillusioned is simply too big. And from disillusionment, apathy, frustration and anger, it may only be a small step to civic action.

As we have seen, change is in the air. In several country; the masses have already said, “We don’t take it anymore.” The media and many governments may play such a possibility down when focusing on so-called stable countries, especially the U.S.. Or Britain, France, Italy, Belgium, Germany, Poland, for that matter. It is true that they are betting on continuing apathy, on a chance that Egyptian-style mass protests won’t occur. On the other hand, they have taken precautions; they have prepared and continue to prepare for it.  They always had their “worst case scenarios” and “contingency plans.”  Their “emergency” laws and “patriot” acts. But so had Mubarak and Ben Ali, presumably. So had the now defunct etatist regimes in Poland, Czechoslovakia, East Germany and so on. If the vast majority of the citizens turns against discredited “leaders”, distrusted parties and self-serving socio-economic “elites,” such plans may help to avert a breached dam for a while. But when the dam is breaking, the water will gush out with even greater force. There are too many examples in history to confirm this insight.

It is the bite of the crisis that has brought about what those in power call “instability.”  And what the people in Egypt comprehended as a beautiful chance but also a necessity to achieve needed change. 

Today, in the West, the number of citizens who refuse to be put to sleep by the media, who have come to the point where they question what is rotten and undemocratic is increasing. It is increasing sharply, and this accelerating tendency could be observed in the protests in Wisconsin, in the Stuttgart protests in Germany last year and, in even greater magnitude, in the upsurge of social movements in Italy, Spain, and Greece.

One feature is shared by all these citizens’ movement: they don’t rely very much on opposition parties. They prefer loose networking, they show the qualities of true grass-roots movements. They are basically skepticable of “established” leaders. And they tend to demand – now more obviously, in other cases, implicitly – citizens’ participation. Empowerment of the bulk of the population, the citizens, whom they see as factually disempowered, in spite of (or because of?) the existing regime of parliamentary, representative democracy.

But can they achieve their basic goal, the empowerment of all citizens and their real and factual involvement in social, economic, and ecological decision making processes,  without coherent action, without discipline? Some ask, can they achieve it without organization? 

In this way, a question arises. How conscious, how disciplined, and how organized is the people? Not only in Egypt, but in the U.S. and in Europe, as well. Can they bring about relevant change? And how?


Observing the U.S. situation in the 1960s, Erich Fromm once noted that “modern man has exceedingly little self-discipline outside of the sphere of work.”(7)  Fromm is probably right in his basic, underlying assimption that self-discipline, in fact, is nothing but an outcome of, as well as a prerequisite of, mature human existence. In other words, it is the essence – the essential emotional and intellectual quality – needed for and inherent in autonomous emotional behavior as well as (theoretically and/or practically) productive human activity. In short, it is something we would need in every kind of thoughtful, mature praxis, as opposed to conventional, often unthinking routine and other forms of often manipulated or ordered, thus obviously hetero-directed practice.(8)

We can doubt in fact that man as a social being under the influence of present bureaucratic and hierarchic, market-driven economic institutions and accompanying political institutions (referred to by Althusser and others as appareils d’état, state apparati, which include not only government agencies but also schools, courts, the armed forces, etc.) is truly and fully capable of autonomous action (so-called self-disciplined practice), even if we limit our focus to the work sphere.(9) In fact, we may assume that even the scientist working in a seemingly dedicated and energetic way at some project is pre-consciously responding to internalized constraints and expectations of an institution. The writer, working at a novel, may well be working under the influence of assumed expectations of the market, of his publisher and his likely readers. The semi-skilled worker, engaged in responsible team work in a car factory, is subject to the team spirit, to the collective responsibility enforced by the work contract and work rules and inscribed in the company philosophy, as it is called. The team will be collectively punished by pay reductions or subjected to an obligation to do unpaid ‘over-time’ if this worker is lacking in ‘self-discipline’ which is just another word for internalized discipline expected and enforced by Others. Alienation is the overwhelmingly present fact of life, and it precludes, on the whole and tendentially, genuine self-discipline. Where the latter surfaces, it does so inspite of the prevailing conditions and circumstances.

This, however, does not mean that man is fundamentally and completely incapable of self-disciplined autonomous practice in our society. If alienation, perhaps from the point of view of a researcher who seeks to grasp things statistically in order to identify a tendency, is a determinating factor that makes people function in ‘required’ ways in order to avoid stress, punishment, in order to guard as best they can against job loss, against being viewed with suspicion, etc., or simply in order to forget the burdensome, hetero-directed aspects of their existence, such a socio-pychological interpretation of alienated existence is nonetheless uncritical and positivist. It is so in so far as those who hold on to it, ‘forget’ to take into account the possibility that one type of social behavior (for instance, the typical, flexible conformism of people who try to be as well adapted as possible to an economy shaken by one global crisis after the other) can all of a sudden turn into a very different social behavior, as the masses in downtown Bangkok, downtown Stuttgart (fall 2010), and recently downtown Cairo showed.  On the other hand, the need and the courage  to overcome what is alienating in us (and alienating it is, insofar as it is above all a consequence of outside pressure as well as internalized factors linked to our childhood, to schools, to the media, to the work place) can reveal itself in a partial way. And perhaps only on certain occasions, in certain situations, do to certain impulses in us, liberating impulses, as I would call them, assert themselves. Is it possible to say that such impulses or rather, such potentials are alive in us –  and yet hidden like the flame of a candle that barely breathes under a suffocating lid? People sometimes show surprising autonomy in special situations that require it. 

Such courage and a departure from customary routines of behavior that have taken hold of many people in our societies are especially visible when concerns about threats posed to the health and happiness of our offspring move us to action. In several countries, including the U.S., more than just tiny minorities of the people begin to be moved by issues that matter, among them quite centrally ecological issues. In West Virginia, people resist the cutting off of mountain tops by a big coal mining corporation. In Utah, there is concern about the consequences of uranium mining for miners and entire communities. In Libby MT, asbestos is an issue. In upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Nova Scotia people are activated by the need to resist chemical fracturing (so-called “fracking”). In Europe, and especially in Germany, we have a large and growing movement against nuclear power plants, and against disposal of nuclear wastes in unsafe locations. Opposition against carbon dioxide (CO²) storage and against shale gas exploration that relies on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”, for short) and thus the injection of large quantities of diesel and toxic chemicals is picking up.  People are concerned about their drinking water, knowing full well that in the case of “fracking” the pipes through which toxic substances are injected under high pressure cross the water table and that one gallon of diesel can pollute one million gallons of ground water. In a first test run, in the German state of North Rhine Westphalia, about 6,000 gallons of diesel were injected, according to a public radio report.

In the case of the on-going German anti-nuclear movement and in the case of last fall’s resistance against the Stuttgart “S-21” project, we could observe the existence of responsible, self-decided rather than hetero-directed action by exceedingly large numbers of people. Perhaps, they still bow to many pressures in the work place. But they have become critical of the dominant media. They have seen how they are defamed. They have compared their experience of demonstrations and the added experience of politicians who lied to them with the often (but not always) biased way the big papers, radio and television reported and continue to report about their struggle. 

Basically, the same tendency to become mature and autonomous as individuals who take part in a shared (or collective) political project, that is to say, in action against something that is perceived as irrational and for something else that is embraced in its place, characterizes many people in many movements that take place in many places. Many participants in civic action groups and civic movements have learned how to seek information about “fracking”, for instance.  Or about the nuclear industry, about deep-sea drilling, tar sands, artic oil exploration. They seek such information independently. And independent information to boot. It can be observed in Canada, in the U.S., in Europe no less than in so-called Third World countries. Such persons are people who have chosen to be autonomously active. And this as a consequence of their own insight and awareness, out of an ethos that does not allow them to dodge responsibility for the future we are going to make and/or suffer. Some have been activated by friends, family members, work mates, in order to then learn to stand on their own feet, as involved, truly committed citizens. Many have stopped to see the police that is deployed against them by state governments and the federal government as a force merely composed of friendly neighborhood cops. Small wonder. Everywhere, from Seattle and Toronto to Goteburg, Copenhagen, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona and Genoa, many young and a few elderly protesters have been taught quite physically the meaning of the words “police brutality.” In many places, especially in certain parts of Europe (Germany; Greece), we have seen how elderly housewives and aged farmers, how teenage school kids and landladies can be roughed up indiscriminately by young officers from out of state locations who were recruited for special riot police units. These guys have themselves been subjected to harsh, perhaps brutalizing military training before seeing service in the police force. The state knows, one is tempted to say, how to produce functioning tools out of young people looking for a ‘secure’ job in a situation of mass unemployment that has persisted uninterruptedly since the mid-1970s.


So, is it true that the State still succeeds, to some extent, with its strategies that intend to intimidate “the many”?
Is it true that the majority of people in our society has been turned incapable of autonomous, responsible, self-disciplined action?
For self-disciplined the protesters are and must be, as they stick – on the whole – to non-violent action each time they determinedly take to the streets in order to make their demands heard. Demands that the media often are quiet about for years, until the numbers of those demonstrating swell and they can no longer be overlooked.(10)

How do we dare to arrogantly surmise that something a few ordinary citizens – farmers, shop girls, factory workers, school teachers and other civil servants, housewives, retired workers and pensioners formerly on the pay roll of cities or states – are capable of, is impossible for the rest of the population?

As for those thousands if not tens-of-thousands of  protesters who regularly engage, some already for many years, in attempts to blockade nuclear transports in the North German region known as the Wendland – aren’t they self-disciplined? No outside authority, no ethics foreign to them and imposed on them forces them to do so. They endure the cold. Often water cannons are directed at them; or they are attacked in other ways. They stick to peaceful forms of protest consciously, in a self-disciplined way. They share food, assist each other, share insights gained. They encourage and comfort each other. As social beings, both emotionally and intellectually, they show the capacity hidden in each one of us, the capacity for self-discipline, for emotionally and rationally sane, humane, responsible action. Theirs is a truly autonomous, i.e. non-alienated, by no means hetero-directed praxis. 

Perhaps such praxis is in contrast to their still somewhat hetero-directed practice as school-kids, farmers, lawyers, boatbuilders, school-teachers, factory workers, shop girls and so on. That is to say, in contrast to behavior not thought of as political that they engage in and may feel compelled to engage in. For instance, in school or as paid employees. 

But even on the job, and in school, don’t they talk to their peers about their experience as resisters opposing the ‘permanent nuclear storage site’ (or ‘endlager’) at Gorleben? Haven’t they turned more committed, more lively, more ready to talk back, to question, to inquire, in other social contexts as well? 

Doesn’t the Gorleben,Wendland experience, a shared (some say, collective) experience gained by these often strong, autonomous persons who appear finally to be capable of  much solidarity, rub off? Doesn’t it infuse the life of their village communities? Their small town neighborhoods, their families? 

Yes, the act of courage as protesters is still to some extent merely a partial liberation. But it frees them, considerably so. It changes their lives and their outlook and perhaps their language.

As such, this liberated and liberating autonomous praxis is in contrast to the hetero-directed, market influenced practice which most of us show, in many contexts. It is true perhaps that we don’t overcome the constraints of our society easily. The lawyer who has the courage to demonstrate against nuclear waste dumps may often feel compelled to submit to what he does not like, during his professional career. But perhaps he corrects and changes such compliant professional behavior, in the short or the long run, to some extent. And this as an outcome of collective, solidary political experience gained in the civic movement. And the same may be said of those who engage in other professions. Even of the farmer, the fisherman, the self-employed printer of lithographies or books, and the self-employed boatbuilder. They seem more autonomous than the factory worker or shop girl who bow to the orders of a foreman or boss. But being self-employed, they may nonetheless bow to the need to earn a living. The question therefore is perhaps: Doesn’t revolt in one respect (and perhaps some sociologists would say, in one sector of their life, pertaining to a specific ‘role’ that they ‘play’) induce, in the long run and sometimes quickly, all of a sudden, courageous and independent action and thought in other respects – thus freeing the entire person and reducing the impact of customary social constraints?

Perhaps, even without such experience of politial activity disliked by the powers that be, we can discover liberating experiences in our lives. The alienating forces of the market cannot be swept aside in a market economy, it is true. But by some, today, they are and by all of us, they can be pushed in the background. Obviously, the trade union activist who engages in organizing activity, is not submitting to the constraints of the market when he risks being blacklisted and fired. He braves the tide, hoping to turn it around. And, with a little good luck, having few material desires that require considerable income, having inherited perhaps a small house and harvesting most of his vegetables in his own little garden, might not the self-employed boatbuilder indulge in the freedom to construct, every now and then, a boat that he invests all his craftsmanship, his sense of quality and of beauty in, regardless of whether “the market” will “honour” his endeavours in its customary monetary way? In such weeks or months, he would tendentially free himself from internalized and external constraints, and the work he would be doing would become – again, tendentially – free work. 


Children are capable of such freedom inscribed in what they do. How they encounter others. How they explore the world. How they ‘make’ or ‘create’ something. All of this testifies to the same human (and, indeed, humane) potential. All children reveal it, at the beginning. They lose it, by and large, in the process of growing up, succumbing to the logic of the world of adults, the world dominated by institutions and ‘market relations.’ Thus, finally, in our adult lives, we tend to be motivated and influenced, often pre-consciously, by considerations tied to money. Everything, in this world assumes the quality of a fetishized commodity, a German thinker (a philosopher, social scientist, political economist, and democratic revolutionary who said of himself, Je ne suis pas marxiste: I’m speaking of course of the often misunderstood and misinterpreted Karl Marx) concluded already in the 19th century. 

If commodification is prevalent, then autonomous, self-regulated, self-disciplined praxis – regardless of whether we are on our own or working in a larger, a group context – becomes an exceptional phenomenon. Still, these exceptions, these possibilities to cross a threshold, perhaps for a moment, perhaps for good, do exist.The lover of his work (an amateur or amatore, in a way) transcends, in his happier moments, the shackles implied in commodified social relations. (This can be as true of the novelist or painter, as it can be of the boatbuilder, the teacher, and even the scientist once he “forgets” imposed tasks and objectives, and frees his curiosity.) The child that in her (or his) play and daydreams and curious exploration of the world experiences the freedom that schools, by and large, will not permit, is setting an example of human liberation, an example relived again in genuine love and genuine friendship. Leaving the sphere of momentary or extended, tentative individual self-liberartion, we find the same liberated human reality again in freely chosen political commitment and activity, but now in a group context, as a collective experience. The politically committed person who is in engaging in emancipative civic activities (rather than in politics that serve particular, usually “vested” interests) and who remains outside the shadow of a paternalistic organization that demands the kind of discipline owed to a party, does the same, in a way, as any true lover of his work, though on another level. 

They all  transcend the threshold set by a society that subsumes people to institutions and other organized entities. Whether we call these institutions or entities schools, churches, governments, armies, hierarchical political parties, firms, companies, or corporations, is of little significance.  What matters is the discovery that they tend to submit people to their alienating, hetero-directing projects and purposes. What matters is the insight that we are not mistaken when we speak of their determining impact on people. And at the same time, there exists that desirous resistance, the resistant desire in every human being that can be suffocated and that can appear to be extinct, and that nonetheless can resurface, as love, as a creative impulse in the child or artist or daydreaming shop girl, and as emancipative political action.(11)  Especially  as political action of people who are finding inside themselves a commonly shared hope, a shared sense of catastrophe that must be averted, or a shared sense of justice and the common good.


When complaining about the prevalent lack of self-discipline in modern capitalist (and, in his life-time, also state-capitalist) societies, Erich Fromm also noted the tendency, apparent especially in the West, to be self-indulgent. Self-indulgency is fanned by a capitalist society that perpetually encourages consumerist desires, in advertisements visible and audible on television, but also brought to us by way of newspaper ads, billboards etc. Erich Fromm, during the 1960s, apparently thought that he could identify this tendency towards self-indulgency among U.S. middle class university students and other groups of people who all gave the impression of subscribing to hedonism coupled with rebelliousness. We can probably ask whether it was possible to generalize. Still, a certain truth may be contained in Fromm’s assumption if we take concrete examples. 

The warning voice of Fromm may have been necessary in the 1960s and early 70s. Still, the denunciation of the rebels of the ‘60s are too common and too frequent today to warrant another condemnation, on top of Fromm’s warning voice. I prefer to stress the courage and dedication of civil rights workers, the intellectual awakeness of many AIM and Black Panther members, the daring imagination and thirst for freedom of Beat poetry and of the poets who wrote it.  And yet, if applied to ourselves, today, I find the essence of true, that is real, socially perceptive insight present in Fromm’s critical statement about self-indulgency when he explicates that there exists, in Western society, a way of being “distrustful of all discipline” that is not conducive to freedom but entails negative consequences.(12)  I can agree with Fromm that “rational discipline”(13) imposes itself by tasks. 

Fromm differentiated between “discipline […] enforced by irrational [external or internalized] authority” and the “rational authority imposed by [the active person] himself.”(14)  “Without such discipline,” Fromm wrote, “life becomes shattered, chaotic, and lacks in concentration.”(15) 

Now we know that not every person is working alone at a desk, in a study. In fact, very few of us do. Not every person is a self-employed boatbuilder or blacksmith, working on his own, without even the help of an apprentice. The majority work in fairly, and sometimes very large, work units. On board planes or ships, in large offices, in factories and large stores, on the premises of shipyards and power plants, in mines and open pits, and so on and so forth. And Fromm’s argument, in favor of  rational rather than irrational authority, can easily be hijacked by those in positions of command in such work contexts. They will claim that they exert rational rather than irrational authority, and without the presence of  such “authority” as is exercised by them, the work process would be “chaotic” and lacking in “concentration.” Of course, under present circumstances, they are right. Even if, from a more comprehensive and more humane point of view, we can argue that the production of agent orange by certain chemical corporations was irresponsible, inhumane, and irrational, its production for customers like the U.S. army that used it extensively in Vietnam was governed by “market rationality.” In terms of the logic or the “rules of the game” that apply in our society, the bosses of Boehringer or of Dow Chemical were exerting rational authority when they conceived, steered and controlled agent orange production. In the same way, every production process in a big factory is governed by what Herbert Marcuse and others called “instrumental reason.” It is a limited, alienated rationality that is at work, and it is put to work and made effective by persons exercising authority in bureaucratic, hierarchical organizations.(16)

Erich Fromm’s plea for authority exercised by the individual vis-à-vis himself in the form of self-discipline skirts, I think, the question of how such self-critical and self-responsible, mature individuals can and should behave in a group context of work, especially under conditions when wage labor applies, as is typical for our present society. For the scholar, it is easy to imagine a republic of philosophers, each of them mature, self-critical, exercising authority over his or her irrational urges, etc., playing his part in the common concert of research or debate or philosophical reflection. But is this the reality in large bureaucratic research institutions today? How do we apply this to the shop floor? And to the number of workshops and departments in a vast factory? And to industry, to the aggregate number of factories that are, in various respects, in  relation with each other.

Today, if we take for example producing companies, they are not only dependent on a few others (for raw materials, energy, often also for parts and components). But  they are at the same time competing with like firms, and their relation to all of these and still others firms who buy their products are governed not by friendly cooperation; they are mediated by the market. For citizens who would prefer a solidary economy based on cooperation, present inter-company relationships are neither conducive to sustainable ways of producing nor likely to eliminate squandering of resources which takes place, for instance, when inbuilt obsolescence is favored. Or when squanderung of certain resources is considered to more cost-efficient than the modernization of the production process.  Similarly, companies often fail to minimize production of that which is not needed. For instance in the case of overproduction, but also in cases where artificial, non-sensical needs are created through PR campaigns etc.. Among non-needed products we should also count hardware for the military, the production of which is a multi-billion dollar business. In addition, companies do not seek to avoid scarcity of what is needed by producing and making available sufficient quantities of essential goods to those in need. This is the case when customers are too poor to pay for what they need, e.g. accommodation, adequate food, “cultural” goods, etc..  In addition, the climate of competition that pervades all of society tends to undermine social bonds and leads to social fragmentation. The atomized individual who is a bit like Leibniz’ monads and Descartes’ Ego is tendentially separated from all others and pitted against all others, at least if she or he completely succumbs to the logic of the politico-economic system. As consumer (customer), she or he is a lonely, isolated and powerless individual, confronting and confronted with the overwhelming market power of big corporations. Attempts to exercise “consumer power” must fail to attain even minimal results unless they are the result of joined (collective) political campaigns that involve very large numbers of the population. As employee, the same experience made by the customer, that of being a lonely signer of a – this time, work – contract abounds. Again, the counterpart most often is a company or corporation; the relation is a relation characterized by unequal power which is justified by today’s labor laws and courts and governments. As voter, she or he is just an isolated, passive consumer of political offers that are usually made by two big, very similar political parties. Their leaders are exerting or hoping to exert, and are therefore competing for,  positions of  (institutional political) power and influence which in turn, for obvious reasons (such as 1. keeping “the economy” as it is, rather than as it should be, running; 2. preserving so-called stability as an end in itself; 3. respect for and 4. personal ties to existing economic “elites”; 5. campaign finance) imply linkages with those exercising considerable economic power. It is thus unlikely that the political leadership will truly represent the mass of powerless, atomized individuals that they vow to represent.

How, then, is the lonely individual to exert his critical and self-critical rational authority in this context if he finds himself in the position of a cog of a giant wheel? Is the appeal to be self-disciplined as an autonomous individual not really a helpless appeal? Especially if we reflect the possibility of an interpretation which would let us overlook the fact that every individual is a “social being” and a “species-being.”  That she or he is situated, that is, in the social context of a specific society at a specific point in history. And situated as well in the planetary ecological context of “socialized nature.” That is to say, of a nature that is subjected to the impact of social (human) activity. And that has in turn an impact on man, both as a social being and as the biological being which makes every human being a part of nature and, in many ways, dependent on nature as a whole. For undoubtedly, nature which today and for century has been exploited and harmed by human activity, is doubtlessly the indispensable material base for human productive and reproductive activity. The fact that is more than just that and that its very ‘balance’ and ‘health’ needs to be safeguarded, is a knowledge that for thousands of years has been inscribed in the ethos and practice of many indigenous societies. It is a knowledge that has been lost or willfully discarded by Western society since at least the renaissance. Today we owe this insight to the ecological movement that human emancipation, real empowerment of the multitude and the democratization of our horrendously deficient democratic systems cannot be achieved if at the same time the destructive course that undermines  the “natural base” of society is not changed in a fundamental way. Something, that the present “elites” (e.g. in the U.S. and the European Union) but also several self-proclaimed “workers parties” in newly industrialized countries (e.g. the PCdoBrasil and important factions of the PT, in Brazil, if I may unjustly single out this country, in view of recent projects like changing the forest law and constructing the Belo Monte Dam) appear to be reluctant to do.


The same question that every person as a working person (or as the individual consumer that she or he is) is faced with, must be asked in the context of the political struggle as well. How can she or he arrive at autonomous action, governed by self-discipline? Is an individual’s isolated  autonomous action not something that remains fictitious in the political arena?  And –  in most cases – also in the work sphere? 

On the other hand, how effective is the struggle that today frequently seems to pit a limited though growing number of the disempowered against the powerful few, with the so-called silent majority still remaining an absent spectator, in front of the television set? And what is needed to increase its effectiveness?  “Simply” more people who grasp their capacity for autonomous, yet no longer isolated but joined action? Or leadership – and if so, more and better leadership than the “subaltern classes” have had in the past? In that case, what does “more and better” mean? And are we not perhaps wrong when we concentrate overly on “effectivity” – a concept that so often these days has strange and in fact questionable implications, such as “pragmatism,” “compromise” that compromises one’s ethos and fundamental aims, “positivism” that often proves myopic and incapable of sensing imminent and sudden “historical turns”?

Obviously those who became active yesteryear and still are, as well as those who become active today, and last not least those who are still assuming that they are not “in the ring” even though they are affected by social and political and economic conflict but also, and no less, by a grave ecological crisis, do share something.(17) They are all objectively, to a very large degree, disempowered. They are kept out of the real decision making processes that decide the further course of society. They hear talk about the common good, but their opinion regarding what is the common good is not seriously being sought. 

Those who become active today, a growing number in many countries, are  those who try to answer, by their very actions, the implicit quest for self-emancipation of the disempowered multitude. 

But, again, the question looms large in many minds: do they do so efficiently? Is there a real chance that they will bring about something positive? And what is the best, most humane, emotionally and rationally most defensible way of being active, of being “in the ring,” so to speak? Engaged in a political conflict with the powerful and the privileged, in order to stem the tide and turn back a development that leads us into ever sharper ecological, economic and social crisis.

Are those who face the mighty adversaries at the helmet of large corporations and of governments  (governments that are close linked with if not ‘allied’ to these corporations) perhaps in need of structures of leadership? Can we do without organizations  that are lead by persons embodying what they will claim is nothing but “rational authority”? 

It is Regis Debray who has forcefully made this point, in favor of leadership and authority,  in an interview with an Argentine journalist, Luisa Corradini. His accentuation of authority brings to mind Erich Fromm’s criticism of those who reject all authority, in the name of an “anti-authoritarian” attitude that, according to Fromm, sometimes was a cover for self-indulgency, lack of responsibility, and lack of “self-discipline.” In this interview, Debray is affirming the need of organization and the need of leaders who embody genuine authority.(18)

But Debray’s starting point seems to be very questionable to me; for he claims: “People want to obey a boss. It’s instinctive.”(19) Of course, this is the old pragmatic view, entirely positivist in that it does not transcend the status-quo. It is also provocative when enunciated by someone who claims or who often is thought to embrace a perspective of human emancipation. The sense of what is possible, what is not yet the case (at least not in a quantitatively significant way) seems to be missing. Also the sense of what is factually the case, here and there – that people seriously desire and practically attempt to overcome dependence on the authority of bosses who decide and organize things, for instance, production processes. We all know that the workers at the Brockmans textile plant in Luisa Corradini’s native Argentina are getting along now without such bosses. And so do the workers at the former Continental tire factory in Puebla, Mexico. 

But don’t they rely on outside advice, you may ask. Do not ‘leaders’ emerge, from the rank and file –  people particularly trusted and/or particularly gifted who begin to organize what needs to be organized, thus replacing management? To what extent do plant assemblies at Brockmans, comparable to the plenary sessions, the asembleas at the Puerta del Sol and the Plaza de Cataluña in Barcelona, share in the decision-making process that was once reserved to management? And is it not true that informal leaders or portavoces, speakers, as they prefer to say, have emerged even in the non-hierarchical popular assemblies held in the public squares of Spain’s cities by the “indignant” citizens of that country? Was it not necessary to prepare and organize this movement to some extent? And this despite all the spontaneity that undoubtedly played a large role –  because the crisis was so sharp, unemployment and especially youth unemployment so rampant, and the awareness how much was and is wrong in the country so widespread...


Vinciane Despret has referred to “the emotions which produce us.”(20)  It is, in a way, a structuralist and perhaps even post-modernist assumption that Althusser and many of those influenced by him  would have liked, theoretically focused as they have been on the conditions and processes that form and condition human beings, thus members of classes, in our present society.(21) Quite a few today still take “subjects” [i.e., people, seen as “subjected” social beings] to be produced by discourses and therefore they are engaged principally in discourse analysis. Yes, of course the discourses have an effect on people – and Stephane Hessel’s pamphlet Indignez vous (22) is not the first example of a rebellious, anti-hegemonistic discourse that was noticed by many and that touched a nerve, in our specific situation and time. But if certain discourses – obviouly the rebellious ones and not the mainstream discourses – touched the heart of many of those who are disempowered today and if they gave impulses to critical thought and kindled the social imagination of many  ( e.g. the protesting Spaniards of the Puerta del Sol Square, and many people outside Spain to boot),  the rebellious and emancipatory discourses themselves were born and continue to be born out of a lived experience and a consequent awareness of the on-going social and ecological and economic crisis that is encountered and often, in  exceedingly sharp ways, suffered by people. So the impulses are two-fold: they are situated outside discourses, in what some will be tempted to say, the real world, the real economy, the real eco-system of the planet, the real lived life as it is experienced in society. And they are also situated in that part of the real world which is the world of discourses. 

Now, both what is going on in the society that exists outside the discourses and representations –  this ‘real world’ with its real climate change, with its the real (producing, trading, lending, speculating) economy & the enormous cancerous growth of a ‘fictitious’ economy of balance sheets and numbers and often unrealized profits (when shares soar but are not sold),  and in that other sphere, the cosmos of discourses that undialectic Marxist considered as part of a “superstructure”, is produced by the practice of people embedded in class relations, as part of classes. The people are human beings situated as social beings in a given society at a given time.  They are conditioned and conditioning. And this means exactly that these human beings are the ones who by their very praxis, to the extent that this praxis is effective as the praxis of dominant classes and as opposing, challenging and transcending praxis of subaltern masses, are producing social facts, tendencies, processes by their combined praxis. And, at the same time, they are exposed to and subjected to the effects of the praxis of the other, antagonistic class (including its discoursive praxis). Thus, and in that sense, they are indeed produced. But such “producedness” is not total, comprehensive, not a “closed circuit” of inescapable, non-transcendable complete determination. We have, I think, to understand the dialectics of it in order to remain conscious of historical reality as produced by man and as producing man. And thus we can overcome the temptation to bow to a deterministic view, whether in the old, mechanical “Marxist” way of seeing the dynamics of a fetishized economic process (which is after all man-made, protected by man-made laws and government policies, but at the same time changable) as the ultimately completely determining  force, or in the post-modernist way of assuming multiple, autonomous determinations, one of them, side by side with economically and ecologically determining factors, being the presence and power of discourses.(23)

Certainly, the produced discourses – originating as they are under the impact of multiple crises – produce effects in people who actively receive them, rather than shutting their eyes and ears and turning away. Certainly the social and economic and ecological circumstances predispose many of us to receive critical discourses and to take part in their further development, either implicitly, as thinking and conversing social beings, or as writers. And certainly, the effect of  ecological tendencies, of social and economic crisis that are produced by man, in combination with the effect of discourses produced by men has been bringing about concrete, political action, for instance in the squares of Spain, that will have an effect in turn. An effect on established politics. An effect on the many who still remain spectators. Indirectly, and in a way that is as yet hard to be precise about, an effect on the economy. And also, quite certainly, on dominant as well as counter-discourses. 


Further above I have been pointing out the actual existence of autonomous (in many ways, challenging if not rebellious) action. The events in Tunisia, Egypt, Spain, Greece, but also civic movements in the U.S., Germany, Italy etc. provided examples. Is it legitimate and convincing if I add now my tentative assumption that such action is always produced (i.e., an effect of something) as well as producing? And producing means: producing effects, something new, or sometimes perhaps just an addition to something existent. Anyway, a change. A modification or transformation in something that is, that exists already.

I add to this something that amounts to a reservation: The autonomy of praxis, that is to say, the possibility of transcending, liberating and thus emancipative praxis exists, as a potential, in all of us. It is a basic feature of human beings, but a feature the ‘becoming real’ of which is structurally stifled and often, almost completedly aborted, in class societies, including capitalist society. 

Authoritarian tendencies, authoritarian character structures are no accident; they are structural necessities for the continued reproduction of the system. But the dialectical tension inscribed in the suppression of innate human creative potential to transcend that which is given brings about, at the same time, rebellious urges. These are urges that often are ineffective because of displacement (Verschiebung, in Freud’s terminology). In other words,  because they result in social behavior of ‘underdogs’ that is qualified by many sociologists and socio-psychologists as evidence of, as the French say, anomie. Such anomic behavior is usually less dangerous to the ‘powers that be’ than to other members of the subaltern classes who become victims of it. It is necessary to point out, however, that what Sociologist commonly refer to as anomy (anomie) can take various forms. It can be simply undirected gratuitious aggression, it can take the form of individualistic urges to destroy and damage things (hooliganism), etc.. But it can also be sublimated in the form of anarchist street actions, like those of the “Clown Army” in Germany. Or it can surface as street theater, or challenging political theater, for instance the art of the Bread and Puppet Theater or of the Living Theater. 

Frantz Fanon has been particularly clear in outlining the possibility of a transformation of such undirected violent action into directed political action. Chris Marker has noted the same transformation in a documentary he did about the Vietnam war; he noted and confirmed the reality of liberating praxis behind the political maxim “Hatred into energy.” Helpless, unproductive hatred felt by victims of U.S. aggression was helpful in identifying the aim of action, and it was then converted into energetic action destined to throw back and if possible, vanquish the aggressor. Among the populace of the country that threw off the American yoke, hatred has thus disappeared as a result. Such praxis proved liberating in the socio-psychological sense, as well. 

It is perhaps of interest that the Argentinian psychiatrist Eduardo A. Mata has also noted the potentially emancipative core of rebellious behavior of young people that bourgeois psychologists and sociologist subsume under the category of ‘anomy.’ This, of course, tends to challenge Erich Fromm’s concern about undisciplined, anarchic thoughts and actions that he seems to take for symptoms of a lack of self-discipline and thus, merely rebellious.


Let us now come back to Regis Debray specific advocacy of a boss, and of authority. Debray sways or oscillates between old-style social democratic and old “Marxists” positions which both confirm the necessary existence of energetic leadership if political praxis is to have a real effect rather than remaining simply symbolic.

His closeness to and support of Mitterrand as “socialist” president of France is very well known, but so is his temporary closeness to Cuba and its revolutionary leaders.

The journalist asks him if not, today, in the great democracies of the twenty-first century, the people do not tend to think that they have no need anymore to have bosses (jefes). Debray assumes the air of somebody who is called upon to demystify democratic ideologies. Of course, he says, the have bosses. Every democratic argument that would assert the opposite would amount to hypocrisy. Now, it is very easy to agree with that. In “las grandes democracias del siglo XXI”, though certainly in forms different from those experienced before (say under Peron, under Videla, etc.) there exist rulers and ruled, there are the political bosses linked to special interest groups, to financial capital, to other sections of the bourgeoisie, and on the other side of the unbridgeable abyss, there is the disempowered mass of ordinary citizens. Up to this point, we can agree with Debray.

But, Debray points out in a manner worthy of a structuralist, in history we have a constant, le politique  (“lo político”, politics), said to consists in the endeavour to avoid that which is worse. (To realize the lesser evil, in other words. Still others have described it as “the art of the possible”, of aiming for and at best attaining that which it is possible to attain.(24)) Basically, Debray hypostatizes politics. Eliminating human praxis, class praxis, he turns it into that which acts. From there, it is just a little step to the assumption that if politics demands a boss, a leader, then the decisive question is who occupies the driver’s seat. Which class is in control of the political machine, this is the only relevant question for a Macchiavellian, realist thinker. A realist in the Aristotelian sense, who can find little of value in “paradoxical”, dialectic logic. The pragmatist is not against a boss in control of the state, of “democracy” if only the demos profits from it, that is to say, the multitude,  the crowd whose rule (kratia) is always either entirely fictious or indirect and mediated in his view.

For Debray, the boss (jefe) is there to achieve and guarantee and symbolize the unity of the political project, and thus as a boss of a popular government, the unity of the people.

Interestingly, a Bolivian author, Luis Tapia Mealla, who is writing while Evo Morales has been made president by the active political involvement of, above all, the indigenous populace in that country, seems to assert something similar. Tapia Mealla states that, having seen the people conquer important positions of political power,  the state manages to function as that which it is meant to be in the first place but which, in its concrete, historic, bourgeois-capitalist reality, it has failed by and large to function. It exists and functions finally as “sintesis, unidad, mediación y racionalidad.”(25) But does this depend on a political boss or  jefe? Doesn’t it depend much more on the continued involvement and participation of the multitude, in various sub-local, local, regional, and national bodies (committees and assemblies), directly and through diverse delegates obliged to report back and subject to potential recall in the case of a breach of trust? And isn’t Morales, who has not moved into the Presidential palacio, who continues to share a flat with other comrades and who continues to cook his own meals, who continues to wear the clothes of the common people instead of the business suit of politicians, no more than a delegate, modest, a speaker, an organon or instrument of people’s power, and as such replacable, recallable, no ruler, no boss, but a co-worker, a team-mate, a companion and comrade of the women and men in the  popular barrios?

Debray’s vision of a president like Mitterrand seems only slightly different but the underlying reality of people’s power in Bolivia and lack of people’s power under Mitterrand in France is very different,
Debray describes a president or boss in these terms: “El jefe es, siempre, un hombre de palabras. Una palabra que cristaliza, que dinamiza...”(26) And he ends by comparing him to a rey pastor, a benevolent, guiding ruler or king who is a good shepherd of his sheep.(27) 

This does not reveal very much trust in the ability of the masses to govern themselves, autonomously. As I said, it is very close to traditional social democratic and “Marxist” but also to bourgeois positions. But miles away from the warning words of Marx that “the emancipation of the working class can only be the work [or outcome of the praxis] of the working class itself.”

For Debray, Moses is the ideal type of the necessary leader or boss.(28) Yes, this is food for thought. It can remind us of Schoenberg’s opers, and of the film “Moses and Aaron” by Danièle Huillet and Jean-Marie Straub. Arnold Schoenberg experienced how gullible and seducable large segments of the masses were at his time, falling for Fascism. Today, many fall for consumerist seductions, war propaganda, xenophobic and anti-immigrant rhetorics. Yes, it is wrong to idealize the masses.  But is it right to idealize leaders, bosses, presidents, the classe politique?(29)  On the contrary, we should see how many, among us, among the masses, are awake, decent, filled by genuine longings that encompass visions of justice, sisterly relations between human beings, rational, sustainable rather than chaotic, crisis-ridden, market-driven economic development.

Debray’s concept of the political leader, the boss (jefe) is in fact very much unlike Schoenberg’s Moses. It is functionalist and pragmatic. It subsumes others (the people) to a hetero-directed project which replaces the people as the implicit sovereign and which the people must serve. For Debray, “El jefe es el maître des horloges (el dueño del tiempo). [...] Crear el calendario es un privilegio del jefe.”(30) This says everything. There is no need to add anything to this extremely revealing statement.

And yet, a few steps further, referring to Marc Bloch, Debray approaches a sentiment uttered by Erich Fromm. For Debray claims that “Para Bloch, el jefe debe tener dominio de sí mismo y ser implacable.”(31) It is an echo of Fromm’s insistence on self-discipline, as a necessary element of autonomous praxis. If therefore, the people, the populace or multitude (and every one who forms a part of it)  is to become the boss of its history, it would follow that it needs to attain self-discipline, the ability to have “dominio de sí mismo” and the ability to jointly act as “maître des horloges (el dueño del tiempo)”: maker, of plans, from below, by linked (networked) popular assemblies that make planning bureaucracies an anachronism. Is that impossible, for the people or many among the people? Is self-discipline and rationality more impossible for the people than for Mr. Clinton and Mr. Bush? Or Monsieur Mitterrand, Monsieur Sarkozy? Il signore Berlusconi? Frau Merkel and Herr Schroeder?
Sartre, Debray noted, saw above all the comedy, the farce of the jefe.
Debray thinks of the jefe as indispensible and so he is forced to endow him with superior moral qualities. It is Laskin and Philett who have noted the difference between formal (real political) and reputational leadership.(32) Perhaps the moral authority we acknowledge in temporary “leaders” like Martin Luther King is close to what Laskin and Philett describe as reputational leadership and what some people including Debray saw in Moses. Presidents are formal leaders. There power is the power of kings, of rulers and people’s power must take their place, turning presidents into officers, organons of factual people’s power.


Before I conclude these reflections on authority and autonomy, I want to return to Luis Tapia Mealla. In his study on “La producción del conocimiento local” (The production of local knowledge), Luis Tapia Mealla has emphasized the “posibilidad del autoconocimiento social.”(33)  That is to say, the potential of the ordinary citizens (the masses or the multitude, the subaltern classes in the diction of Gramsci that was dictated by his imprisonment) to arrive at much more than a vague intuition of the social situation in a specific class society at a specific point in its historic development. I take the concept of autoconocimiento to be very important; it is not identical, to my mind, with the German selbstbewusstsein (consciousness of one’s self, in a phenomenological sense that centers on the Cartesian ego, the isolated “subject”): no, for Luis Tapia Mealla, autoconocimiento is both praxis and result, and the prefix auto- indicates that the praxis is not heterodirected, that the result is not imposed by the act of “teaching” of others, that on the contrary, both the practice and its results are autonomously brought about, by ordinary people, members of a class and thus by a class. Luis Tapia Mealla, who focuses on the situation and development in Bolivia and whose book is also a product of the dynamics inscribed in this development which it reflects, does not say that the disempowered automatically possess such autoconociemento of themselves as members of a class, and of the situation this class finds itself in. Like Ernst Bloch, he emphasises the potential. And transcending philososphical reflection, he turns to the real, social world, trying to identify the “historic conditions” of this potential, the conditions under which the hidden potential remains mere potential and the conditions under which it becomes evolved potential, potential turned into a reality. For Luis Tapia Mealla, the linkage between crisis and evolving consciousness and thus knowledge of one’s social class, one’s situation, one’s denied yet perceived existential social needs is very apparent. Such knowledge is both related to the autonomous appropriation of the relevant results of progressive social and politico-economic science and the very important rediscovery of one’s social memory (as family history and history of the oppressed and disempowered class that the people, in their vast majority, belong to).

For Luis Tapia Mealla, it is important that the masses (the ordinary citizens) guard against populismo which variously played a role in Bolivian history in the post-1945 period. It is very apparent that the “revolution” carried out in the past in the framework of populism amounted to a “revolución passiva”(34) –  a revolution from above that left the subaltern classes in a passive role and that was therefore bound to give way to counterproductive and counterrevolutionary political developments (most brutally under Banzer, who cooperated with the dictatorships in Chile, Argentine, and Uruguay). 

Rather than passively following more or less “charismatic” populist leaders, the multitude must learn to arrive at “autodeterminación” which, according to Tapia Mealla, is the foundation of liberty (fondación de la libertad).(35)


(1) On May 16, 2010, MSNBC reported that the Thai regime (a regime in power because the military had toppled the legally elected president) “imposed a curfew” in parts of Bangkok where adherents of the democracy movement had gathered peacefully. Playing down the number of protesters, the anonymous author of the report said, “Thousands of [peaceful] anti-government protesters have been gathering in central Bangkok since April 3. At least 25 people have been killed in violence [brought to bear on them by the army and the police] in parts of central Bangkok since Thursday.” (“Thailand to impose curfew in parts of BangkokAt least 25 have died in clashes between authorities, ‘Red Shirt’ protesters”, in: MSNBC News, May 16.2010 ).- Also in May,  a blogger commented on the bloody crackdown of May 19, 2010: “May 19th, 2010, will be remembered for a gigantic collapse of common sense, for utter failures on all sides. The government, the reds, the people. However, it is doubtful the red leaders will see the light of day again anytime soon. There will be a hard crackdown against government enemies […] Look at the human toll […] Th[is] did not happen the way planned, yet – and rest assured there are some tragic dark people out there applauding the torching of “obscene” Central World. Hey it’s supposed to be a class struggle. We can’t really look forward to anything right now. The most dangerous days may lay ahead. The next tomorrows are crucial. The resistance says this is just the beginning.” (  - The report about the events on May 19 and in the days leading up to the crack-down that was filed by Associated Press in early June said, “Nearly 90 people were killed and some 1,800 injured in violence related to two months of protests by Redshirt demonstrators demanding that Abhisit call an early election. As troops cracked down [with extreme brutality on peaceful Red Shirts] on May 19, angry protesters put more than 30 buildings around the capital to the torch, including the country's largest shopping mall and the stock exchange.” (AP, “Thai PM Plans Cabinet Shuffle to Bolster Coalition”, in:, Saturday, June 5, 2010 )

(2) It was the New York Times which spoke about “a revolution galvanized by social networking and roused by the story of Wael Ghonim, the Google executive detained for 10 days after he helped jump-start the demonstrations by setting up a popular Facebook group.”  (Ben Zimmer, “How the War of Words Was Won in Cairo”, in: The New York Times [New York Edition], Feb.13, 2011, p. WK4

(3) In Cairo, the huge masses of people in Tahir Square and in other downtown areas carried on, in a peaceful and solidary and very disciplined way, for a period of amazing duration. But then, with the first signs of so-called victory of the Egyptian democracy movement, normal routines of daily life began to keep the masses off the street. The activists who remained undaunted were immediately faced again with repressive violence that both the police and the armed forces continued to employ against them. And yet, after an intermittent period of lessened activity, big crowds are returning to Tahir Square at this very moment. The struggle is as yet undecided. The Egyptian democracy movement not yet victorious. The “Egyptian democratic revolution” continues today. And, as the French say, “every revolution is a throw of dice.”

(4) Stark unemployment and outlawed strikes were a key factor both in the Tunisian and the Egypt uprising. Regarding the high rate of youth unemployment, a blogging journalist on CNN wrote, “The math is stacked against the Arab youth. On our program, we have talked about the need to create 100 million jobs to just stand still on the unemployment front, since birth rates in the region are at the top of the global league tables. For example, in Tunisia unemployment is at 14 percent in the general population and nearly double that amongst those below the age of 25.” (N.N., “Boiling Points in North Africa”, in: Business Blogs / CNN, Jan.14, 2011. ) – Workers in Egypt found hardly a chance to press for improvements of their situation by way of strikes although they managed to form autonomous but illegal trade unions. As in Taiwan under martial law that was imposed in 1947 and lifted only in the 1980s, strikes were outlawed in Egypt under Sadat and Mubarak. Even after Mubarak had stepped down, the Tantawi regime remained determined to suppress strikes. According to a report published on Feb.19,  “workers using their new-found freedom to protest about pay and conditions”  were told “that strikes must stop. […] ‘They [the strikes] will be confronted and legal steps will be taken against them to protect the security of the nation and citizens,’ said the statement on state media, which in effect bans strikes and industrial action.” (REUTERS, “After the carrot, Egypt's rulers show the stick”, in: The Himalayan Times, Feb.19, 2011.

(5) By mid-January, the Egyptian population already got wind of the subsidy cuts favored by the IMF. “In Egypt, which allocates about 7 percent of GDP to fuel and food subsidies, plans to restructure the food subsidy programme are whispered in the halls of parliament. The government wants to replace the current ‘in-kind’ system [...]  Yet the controversial plan is repeatedly delayed by nervous officials,”  wrote McGrath on Jan 18 (Cam McGrath, “Arab Regimes Fear Bread Intifadah”, in: IPS News, Jan.18, 2011. On Jan. 20, it was reported that the Mubarak regime was “considering discounts on basic commodities for workers in an attempt to fend off potential labor protests”. (N.N., “Egypt mulls subsidized goods, increased benefits for laborers”, in: Al Masry Al Youm, Jan.20, 2010.
On Jan. 21, under pressure from the IMF, the finance minister was reported as saying that “commodity subsidies must not be allowed to undermine the government's achievements in terms of economic reform”. (Nagy Abdel Aziz, “Minister: Egypt's commodity subsidies must not undermine economic reform”, in: Al Masry Al Youm, Jan. 21, 2011.
not-undermine-economic-reform)  - A few days later, a 49-year-old man, “Abdou Abdel Moneim  […] doused himself in fuel” and set himself aflame in protest because he could no longer buy subsidized food. He had come to Cairo to hand a complaint that he was not able to get subsidized food to MPs entering parliament but was turned away. (Cam McGrath, “Dispirited Arabs Burning for Change”, in: IPS News, Jan.23, 2011. On the same day, the IMF demanded that the Mubarak regime scrap gasoline, diesel and cooking oil subsidies. A rise in the price of diesel has an immediate effect on the price of public transport by bus. (Amira Saleh / Mohsen Abdel Razeq, “IMF calls on Egypt to abolish subsidies on petroleum products”, in: Al Masry Al Youm; Jan. 23, 2011.

(6) Perhaps if we want to give one major reason for the Egyptian democracy movement and the social as well as democratic demands that were  voiced by it, it is the global economic crisis that struck Egypt. According to a statement issued by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) and reported by Al Masry Al Youm, “Decline of Egypt’s economic performance is proof of the government’s failure to provide real solutions to the economic crisis […] ‘The Egyptian economy has been affected by the global economic crisis and the country’s poor people have paid the price, especially since the only beneficiaries of [Egypt’s economic] policies are those close to decision-makers,’ the organization said.”  ( Wael Ali, “Rights group: Economy's decline proves failure of Egypt's govt”,   in: Al Masry Al Youm, Jan. 19, 2011.

(7)  Erich Fromm, The Art of Loving, New York (Bantam Books) 1963, p.91. -  We might as well say that man, in many parts of the world today, has been socialized in a way that has hurt and reduced his capacity for autonomous thought and action. At least certain ‘facts,’ certain opinions uttered by many people when polled, certain forms of action and behavior (or of lack of it) seem to corroborate such a hypothesis.

(8) The opposition of thoughtful, mature práxis, tied to a consciously chosen project  [praxis] and conventional, often unthinking routine and other forms of often manipulated or ordered, thus obviously hetero-directed practice [pratique] is central to Sartre’s approach. Cf. Jean-Paul Sartre, Critique de la raison dialectique. – Riesman saw only different (unflexible and flexible) forms of determination or hetero-directedness of individuals and groups when he assumed the existence of two basic character structures, the one being inner-directed (the individual as member of a social group or class having rigidly internalized values and patterns of behavior thanks to a specific socialization process), the other being outer-directed and thus more influenced by mass media, fashions, etc. (Riesman, The Lonely Crowd), something that implies flexibilization. It was Theodor W. Adorno who, perhaps in Riesman’s footsteps, developed his concept of the typical, mass-media influenced person in modern, “late-capitalist” societies. Riesman did not see the inner-directed and outer-directed personality or character structure as a-historic (given) facts but as outcomes of dominant social tendencies. Some psycho-sociological  interpretations (or socio-psychological interpretations, for both sociologists and psychologists have tackled this question) tend to link fixed value-orientation to 19th and early 20th century North American and European society, while linking flexibilization and loss of such orientation to mid and late 20th century Western societies. Others link a likeliness to be manipulated by television and fashions (and the concomitant general flexibilization and gullibility) to working class existence whereas a relative immunity to manipulation and a more conscious adherence to certain values (such as achievement orientation, the work ethos, etc.) is taken for granted in the case of a so-called (sloppily defined) middle class people who are either upward-mobile (“careerist”) or attempt to guard against downward mobility. Snobbish or “WASPish” upper class values have been assumed to exert an influence in the case of the very affluent Eastern “liberal elite” in the U.S. – It is easy to assume that most people, i.e. “blue collar” or low-ranking “white-collar” working people, are especially gullible.  But we know that quite a few working class people can show firm adherence to such values as solidarity, friendship, etc. and that the impact of fashions and the media on the middle and upper class can also be considerable. Whereas Alan Sillitoe – in one of his stories that show his deep knowledge of British social reality, especially in the North of the country that was not yet fully deindustrialized at the time –  let us know how “proles” can laugh  about the figures in the news or the sit-coms shown on television while they watch, with the sound turned off.– All of this is interesting insofar as it indicated the presence of determining socio-psychological “factors” as well as a certain amount of  creative “autonomy” that persons, as members of social classes can rely on.

(9) The concept of state apparatus, in the singular and plural, is too frequently used today, however, to warrant a reference to Althusser. Incidentally, Althusser found the concept, used in the singular but implying different sections and forms of state activity, including propaganda and thus the sphere of the media, of discourse and of ideology, in Lenin’s State and Revolution

(10)  The United States are not the only place where this can be observed. I have been informed that in Germany, even so-called liberal papers like the Sueddeutsche Zeitung hardly reported for several years about massive and growing opposition to a speculative downtown urban renewal project in Stuttgart, the capital of the South West German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg. They obviously are not on the side of protesting citizens even though 150,000 turned out during the largest demonstration this city has ever seen. The Munich-based daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung even put the term parkschutzers (protectors of the [public downtown] park) in quotation marks when reporting about the people who try to save roughly five-hundred old trees from being felled. The quotation marks are meant to indicate “so-called.” They are putting in question that these dedicated people are really concerned about protecting the park that has existed for more than 200 years and that is to give way to office buildings if the property developers and German Rail, Inc. have their way.

(11) The Philippine thinker E. San Juan Jr. speaks of the possibility of “a gesture of resistance by a nascent, irrepressible agency” that we are capable of even when the balance of forces leaves us no chance of effective struggle. In such a situation, “we can at least interrogate the conditions of our subordination—if only as a gesture of resistance by a nascent, irrepressible agency.” (E.San Juan Jr., “Sneaking into the Philippines, along the Rivers of Babylon: An Intervention into the Language Question”, in: - I think that the concept of a “nascent, irrepressible agency” that exists in human beings, no matter how terribly they may be suppressed and regardless of how much they have internalized submission,  is a concept that comes very close to what I have been talking about here.

(12) Erich Fromm, ibidem, p.91

(13)  Ibidem, p.91

(14)  Ibidem, p.91

(15)  Ibidem, p.91

(16) If Fromm speaks about authority, he intends authority I exercise over my own irrational urges which is something that most people speaking authority by and large don’t refer to. His critique of the rebellious, “self-indulgent” U.S. middle class youth he encountered probably on campus and his advocacy of authority could, however, be misunderstood at the time. It was authority, specifically the authority of the presidents of U.S. universities who sought to silence free speech and other forms of criticism of the Vietnam war, that the “self-indulgent” (certainly not very self-critical) rebels of the mid- and late 1960s rebelled against. And they were, I think, very justified in doing so.  In view of this fact, I think with a certain amount of admiration of Mario Savio, Angela Davis and others who played a prominent role in Berkeley since the mid-1960s. Initially in the context of the free speech movement.

(17) Yes, those who are often called a “silent majority” are subject to the impact of the ecological and economic and social crisis just as everybody else, or even more so. And aren’t they, in a context of distribution of “wealth” from the bottom to the top, a key target of “class struggle” from above? But let’s not be mistaken about it, they know it. And even if they don’t know it, they sense it intuitively. Most do, at least. If they remain passive viewers, in front of the television set during the late hours when they are home from work, they  who are willy nilly part of the ongoing social conflict  are not unaware of their sad situation. Some still trust in strange “leaders” and in one of the major established parties, major parties that are more or less  serving the purposes of the establishment. Many of them simply have lost all hope that they can do something about it. Defeat has been written into their face. What they need is the example that the disempowered can achieve something. 

(18) Regis Debray, interviewed by Luisa Corradini, “"Los hombres desean obedecer a un jefe", dice Régis Debray / Es instintivo, señala el pensador francés”, in: La Nacion (Buenos Aires), August 27, 2008

(19) Debray, ibidem.

(20) Vinciane Despret. Ces émotions qui nous fabiquent: ethnopsychologie des émotions. Paris 1999

(21) In a way, this is a positivist, “scientistic” and thus non-dialectical assumption that sees only one part of a given social context, the determining effect of praxis conducted by the dominant social forces (a praxis that is brought to bear on the entire social field of class relations, on 1. the politico-institutional field,  2. the politico-economic field, and 3. the cultural field, including the fields of discourse, of science, and even of the non-verbal arts). What is overlooked is the  potential  capacity or (already) exercised capacity to resist and develop an autonomous counter-praxis that is a key human quality of all those who are subjected to the praxis of the dominant social forces. It is true that as individual, isolated resistance such counter-praxis by and large remains symbolic and seemingly inefficient. But in the appropriate social context, even the isolated symbolic production of a text like “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau and his symbolic refusal to pay a tax that would finance an immoral war he opposed, produced a social effect we must not underrate. Yet nonetheless, it is always joined real social action which transcends discourse that brings about real change. “Philosophers have only interpreted the world” in different ways; “what matters is to change it” and bring about a more ecological, more humane, just and democratic society that involves citizens in real terms, and not in a way that amounts to no more than a mirage of participation.

(22) Stéphane Hessel, Indignez-vous. Montpellier (Indigène) 2010

(23)  Juergen Link, for instance, rejects concepts implying a mono-causal understanding, such as “industrialism, capitalism, techno-scientism” because, he maintains, “one component (the economy, technology, knowledge) is determining all the others.” (Jurgen Link, “Korreferat zu Hannelore Bubitz, »Im Beichtstuhl der Medien«”, in: kultuRRevolution, special issue: “(lead) nation building deutsch“, ed. by Wolfram Breger, Jurgen Link, Rolf Parr, No. 60, June 2011, p. 82 [Transl. by me, C.O.W.]. -  Does this not suggest multiple determinations that enjoy some sort of autonomy; a suggestion already dear to Russian formalists and Czech structuralists when they maintained the (relative or absolute) autonomy of literature? Perhaps the deterministic view as such, to the extent that it is unidirectional and conceived  in the context of what Erich Fromm calls Aristotelian rather than paradoxical logic (E. Fromm, The Art of Loving, pp. 62-67), in other words, to the extent that it is conceived in a positivist way rather than dialectically, needs to be challenged? I would certainly say that class relations and thus the presence of the market come to bear on praxis/practices in the field of technology, of science,  of the media, literature, the arts. And therefore the particular character of the economic activities of men under Capitalism colors and has an effect on the other activities, whereas of course the praxis and the results of human praxis in the field of technology for instance (a specific technology that owes its particularities to a large extent if not almost entirely to the profit logic [Verwertungslogik; Kontroll- und Herrschaftslogik] and the needs of capitalism) have in turn an effect on the dynamics of capitalism, including its particular productivity and destructive quality.  Is it perhaps necessary to asks ourselves to what extent  Jurgen Link’s recent theoretical position in this regard amounts to bricolage?  -  Cf. also the position of Samuel Sieber which seems to be similar to Jurgen Link’s more recent position. In the wake of Michel Foucault, Samuel Sieber assumes several parallel « dispositives »: that of the media [thus, the cosmos of media discourses]; that of politics, including specific government technologies; that of technology (and here, he refers especially to: “telephone, internet, photogaphy, video”); and probably – for he is speaking of moments of crisis (Krisenmomente) – that of the economic power apparatus, including the sub- or partial dispositive constituted by the financial sector. See: Samuel Sieber, “Politik und Medien in der Schleife der Iterationen / Medien in Krisen, Katastrophen und Revolten”, in: kultuRRevolution, No. 60, June 2011, especially pp.54-54. This amounts again to independent though interrelated realms that seem to be governed by their own laws, rather than being subject to the specific praxis of classes that confront each other in the context of today’s capitalist class society.

(24) Regis Debray, ibidem.

(25) Luis Tapia Mealla, La producción del conocimiento local, s.l., 2003

(26) Regis Debray, ibidem.

(27) Ibidem.

(28) Ibidem.

(29)  It is J. Weidenfels who has shared this thought with me. See:  J. Weidenfels, “Die katholische Soziallehre, die »Wirtschaft«, die repräsentative Demokratie und die Partizipation”, in: Urban Democracy, issue # 6 / 2011.

(30) Ibidem.

(31) Ibidem.

(32) Cf. Richard Laskin and Serena Phillett, (Univ of Alberta and Univ of Saskatchewan),  “Formal Versus Reputational Leadership”, paper presented on Apr. 26, 1963 at the Annual Meeting of the Pacific Sociological Association, held in Portland, Ore.,  April 25-27.1963 (Session V:  Political Sociology)

(33)  Luis Tapia Mealla, La producción del conocimiento local, s.l., 2003 

(34) Ibidem.

(35) Ibidem.





Occupy Wall Street!/OccupyYoutube

We Are Change

Chomskyon decentralized solidarity movements

Noam Chomskyon Occupy Wall Street protests 

Z Communications  AND Z mag

M.Albert/Wilpert, "The State 
of the U.S. Left", in: Z Communications (backup copy)

Michael Albert,
Occupy Wall Street Entreaty &
Spanish Anarchists Interview 
(Z Communications, Sept.2011)
[backup copy]

Left Forum

Local to

Nathan Schneider, "From Occupy
Wall Street to Occupy Everywhere"
(The Nation, Oct. 31, 2011)



Democracy real YA!

Manifesto of Democracia real YA!

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Inés Benítez, "Spain:
'Indignant' Protests Heat Up Election Campaign" (IPS news net, Oct.4,2011)

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Tito Drago,"'Indignant' 
Demonstrators Marching to 
Brussels to Protest Effects 
of Crisis" (IPS news net, July 30, 2011) 

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Tito Drago, "Spain: Streets Paved 
with Evicted Families" (IPS, Oct.7, 2011)

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To VIMAon the general strike (Oct.19-20,2011)

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ELEFTHEROTYPIA on the general strike 

Athens (Greece) indymedia

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Mavroulis Argyros on the general strike 
(in:, Oct.20, 2011)

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Deutschsprachige Web-Seiten

K21 (Stuttgart)

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"people of the world, rise up"
Aufruf von K21 zur Demo am 15.Okt.
(backup copy)

Echte Demokratie jetzt

Echte Demokratie jetzt
Aufruf zur Demo am 15. Okt.

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Attac Deutschland

attac Aufruf zur Demo am 15.Okt.2011

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Occupy Frankfurt

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15 October Net

Aufruf (backup copy)

Bündnis 90 / Die Grünen

Die Gruenen [Green Party, Germany] 
zur Demo am 15.Okt

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Die Linke (Left Party, Germany)

DIE LINKE unterstützt die weltweiten Proteste gegen die Diktatur der Finanzmaerkte und für mehr Demokratie backup copy


We Are Change Austria



We Are Change - CH


Students in Chile are protesting against the privatization of higher education that took place
under Pinochet, and against the underfinanced public education system
(xinhua net, Oct.20, 2011)

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Al Ahram Weekly

Galal Nassar, "The Arab Spring and the crisis of the elite" 

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Mohamed Azouz, Egypt govt mulls 
raising workers' incentives in bid to thwart labor strikes 

Ahmad Fouad Najem, "Forbidden"

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The Nation

Kucinich, Speech before U.S. Congress, March 31, 2011
(The Nation; April 4, 2011)

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Tom Hayden, "The Defunding 
of the Peace Movement" 

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Not in our name

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disarm now

"Former US Attorney General Testifies for Plowshares Activists"

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Justice with Peace
(United for Justice with Peace Coalition)


Support Julian Assange

Forum Social Mundial
Retos anticapitalistas

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