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Beyond Words1

David Cooper

At this Congress during the last two weeks we have been oscillating between various antitheses. The Congress was supposed to be about dialectics, but the whole point about dialectics is that one has to be the dialectics that one is about, and then to know that this is what it is all about anyhow.

So let me point to various dialectics that have been going on here in the Roundhouse.

For instance, there has been the oscillation between the theoretical, contemplative pole (with its hidden dimension of action) represented by Gregory Bateson, and then the political activistic pole (which has a less evident dimension of theory) represented by, say, Stokely Carmichael. An index of the success we have achieved in the living out of this dialectic might be little more than the simple fact that people engaged in dealing with such contrasted aspects of reality have found it possible, not only to last out their full agreed term at the Congress, but also to live under the same roof for most of their time here. But I think that more than that has been accomplished. I think that a subtle extension of awareness has been happening in people that will not issue immediately in alterations of political or scientific posture, but which will, I think, become retrospectively evident in the history of these next decades or so.

Then let us look at another dialectic. We have moved between the pole of detailed, concrete study of the lives of individuals, families and networks, and the pole represented by the study of the anonymous, large-scale, social-political event.

There are so many false solutions to this problem of mediation. Let me mention just two that have been suggested to me recently - in fact at this Congress. One was that anti-psychiatrists should elect to see only those people who could turn them on politically so that the antipsychiatrists could then potentiate the political activism of these people. The other was that anti-psychiatrists should cut across the mythical, socially invented neurosis of their patients and deflect them into the emerging new revolutionary groups - so that schizophrenia could be used against those social manipulators who had in fact invented it as a disease. But these are false solutions. Before we propose answers we have to be quite sure that we have the question because, once again, the answer is in the question when the question is fully formed in our minds and bodies. That is dialectic.

Another dialectic that has been clearly demonstrated here is the dialectic that has as one pole the horizontal study of structures that assumes one can cut across social time and then say things about the hypothetical moment one has apparently isolated. The other proposed pole, the vertical one, is a sort of historical reductionism that is exemplified by the worst sort of psycho-analysis and by academic history ('white history' as Stokely Carmichael has called it) - history that merely chronicles events while pretending to do more than this - but all it does is to re-affirm ruling-class values in a respectable enough way. Now, we have seen this dialectic make nonsense of the fictional antagonisms of both structuralism and naive historicism.

What other dialectics have been going on here? Let me suggest one that may be more immediately real to many people here - people who have, I hope, suffered rather than enjoyed the daily ritual of lectures and who have then sweated through the seminars, films, special presentations, panels, workshops and so on.

During this fortnight we have, at least some of us, moved from the position of compulsive speaking - you know, the spectacle every morning after the main lecture of two queues of people with their hands outstretched for the microphone on either side - I think we've moved on a bit from that.

The position that we have moved on to is one in which silence, at first vociferously demanded, has now, for a number of people here, become a matter of constant option. We may now opt, on the basis of our acquired capacities, for the jewel of silence, for the possibility of a non-refusing personal aloneness. This seems to me to be the precondition of reasonable discourse.

By reasonable discourse I mean a way of talking not to but with each other, a manner of speech that simply makes the constant promise of transforming some segment of the world that we commonly, or communally, between us, experience.

Related to this there is one image from this Congress out of many impressive images that will always remain preeminent in my mind. Stokely Carmichael was being repetitively criticized for his frank and total abandonment of white liberal 'support' and the 'support' of the so-called moderate black leadership. Stokely stood there, shaking his finger at the questioners, asking over and over again: 'What have you done? ... What have you done? ... What have you done?'

Of course he was accused of not answering the questions, but we should now begin to realize that the answer was his question. Our task, as this has been exhaustively spelt out, is not to try to help him but to effect the erosion of what he calls white power. There is nothing racistic about that if one realizes that there is in the world a contingent but not necessary identity of white power and imperialism. This, I think, is absolutely crucial to the difficulties that many people seem to have with Stokely Carmichael's stance. It is on the basis of a misunderstanding of this pivotal distinction that some people have concluded that the ideology of Carmichael's position is a sort of counter-racism. The essence of Stokely Carmichael's position is, I think, fairly clear to us now. It is the passionate recognition, reinforced by detailed analysis of the situation, that the condition of black people in the USA is in a relation of direct continuity with the condition of people in the Third World struggling towards their liberation.

This is quite central to the strategy of their struggle for justice, but it is also very illuminating for us in the first world. Illuminating for us when we come to consider what we may do. I hope that the emissaries of the Home Secretary present here today will duly carry this message back to Roy Jenkins. If they do just this they will have well earned the salaries that we are paying them for their work here today.

We are not oppressed by this force - white powerimperialism - in the same way that the Third World (including black people in the US) is, but we are oppressed by it. What we have to do is to recognize how we are oppressed, to feel the violence of this oppression as a vitalizing despair - as a despair that refuses to subside into the desperation that proposes cutting across this reality by putting psychedelic drugs in the water supply and blowing up power stations in the US. There are no short cuts. What we have to do beyond the monumental task of perceiving the Third World as it is, in itself, is perceive the more obscure reality of the presence of the Third World in us.

When we become conscious of our oppression we have to invent the strategy and tactics of our guerrilla warfare. We deracinated white intellectuals, we who are bourgeois and colonizing in essence even though some of us wear the spurious label of 'working-class origin' - we must realize that we cannot pretend to engage in clandestine operations aimed at subverting the system because we have not been bred in that sort of struggle. Certainly we have to keep some secrets, but on the whole our scene is illuminated by all the forms of artificial lighting that issue from our culture.

What we have to do quite simply is to deploy all our personal resources in attacking the institutionalization of experience and action in this society. We have one advantage over our rulers - we have a consciousness, although only marginal at times, of what is going on in the world ; we see through their mystifications - the mystifications that mystify the mystifiers but need no longer mystify us. By a transactional network of expertise we can transform each institution - family, school, university, mental hospital, factory - each art form, into a revolutionary centre for a transforming consciousness. We recognize that the socialist countries in Eastern Europe are in much the same case as us. We must recognize that revolution in the sense of the socialist transformation of economic life and social forms does not automatically entail changes in actual persons; the same alienations carry over, the same murderous bureaucracy continues - often in a caricatured form, as in Stalinism. External revolution does not entail inner revolution. We can take over the state apparatus and effect socialist changes and yet feel no better for having done this - no reality of liberation, beyond the transient liberating feeling of the struggle to do this. It seems to me that it is partly a self-concealed recognition of this truth that has stopped some powerful European working-class movements from taking power - this together with the confusing diffusion from them of oppression into the Third World; the praxis that has pushed the European working class out of their true class position.

If we persist with the theme of transformation of our institutions into revolutionary centres of consciousness, we have to be clear about why more has not been achieved by what we have already done in this way. The most immediate answer is that we have become victims of a very old colonizing technique - the technique of divide and rule. Innovators in the fields of education, psychiatry, all the arts and sciences, have been atomized, split off from other people doing much the same thing in some other area. In this way we lay ourselves open to the strategy of engulfment into the monolithic bourgeois bureaucratic system, with the consequence that we get ourselves invalidated and suppressed if we carry innovation 'too far'.

To move out of this position we have to realize certain elementary truths about how we unconsciously perpetuate this structure that castrates us. We seem to have some curious paranoid passion to convert certain unlikely people into being the regulators of ourselves, so that we can hate and despise them as the bureaucrats who frustrate our genius. So we have to recognize that their power, the power of governments in the first world and, to a significant extent, in the European socialist world - their power is nothing less than our power. Our power, that we have perversely put into them, because we choose impotence.

If we re-interiorize our exteriorized power by uniting in our cultural revolution, we shall soon see what is left of them. We shall see men who have dehumanized themselves and would further dehumanize us. We shall see men who are terrorized by the vision of human autonomy and spontaneity.

So we see governments that we have to destructure and then lead in the direction of our liberation and incidentally theirs. This is what we have to do about the Third World - we have to liberate not them but us. No doubt we shall suffer in doing this, but I think we shall have the compensation of the surprising realization that we can actually enjoy doing it.

I would now like to propose to you a schema that I find useful in considerating [sic] questions of human identity - questions that must precede any planning for action.

Each of us is composed of a series of dualities that run through every level and form of our existence - from social persona, through the biological to the metaphysical and the mystical. These dualities include : subject-object; whiteblack; oppressor-oppressed one; colonizer-colonized ; torturer-tortured; murderer-murdered one; psychiatristpatient; teacher-taught; keeper-kept; the cannibal-the one who is eaten up; the fucker-the fucked; the shitter-the shitted-upon.

Now the ideal possibility here is that we contain all these oppositions and learn to bear both the pain and the joy of this act of self-containment. But, because of the historical situation, for which we are each of us totally responsible, we have each of us split any number of these dualities within us and have externalized these split-off aspects of ourselves into others. This supreme irrationality, which consists in blinding ourselves to the divisions that we achieve in ourselves so that we can extrude some painful bit of ourselves into others, this is the existential basis of colonialism, for instance, or institutionalized racism, or conventionalpsychiatry, or ordinary university education.

I am not getting into some sort of psychologism here, but I do think we have to eliminate the crude mechanistic idea of economic infra-structure and psychological and social supra-structure. There is in fact a constantly changing dialectical relationship between all these elements. Do we have to submit to the compulsion to hierarchize a structure that can then only become sclerosed, fossilized, dead?

What happens then is that we have a game situation in which there is a pay-off both for the one who seems to be at the better end of the thing and for the one who is at the less fortunate end. The pay-off is that one has one's identity defined by the other and then one has the security of knowing precisely who, what and where one is - or so one thinks. The value of this sort of ludic and ludicrous selfcertainty often outstrips any question of advantage or disadvantage in terms of material things. This is proven repeatedly in history - for instance the game of white master and black slave which until now has been played out with only occasional and exceptional protests in the USA. If you are a black slave, at least you know where you stand. But then, if you take what at first seems to be an immense risk, you begin to question this whole game structure. You begin to ask who defines you by forming and controlling the rules of the game. This brings us back to a central point made by Stokely Carmichael recently - a point that must never get lost in the rhetoric of activism - I mean the question : who defines whom?

It seems to me that now, in this year, this question is posed more clearly than ever before. The question was posed some years ago in terms of the Algerian war of liberation, and J.-P. Sartre was one of the main protagonists of this type of analysis. It has been more and more explicitly posed in statements about the Vietnam war of liberation. The Vietnamese are the receptacles for all the split-off bad aspects of the US. They are the vicious, hypersexual, aggressive, subverting, offensive aspect that the White House and the Pentagon refuse to recognize in themselves. If you want to know what psychosis is, it is precisely this sort of mutilation of reality. Psychiatry seems however to know nothing of it.

If we are to define our predicament in Europe and North America, I think that this must be in terms of the loss of vision entailed by the increasing differentiation of experience and the delimitation and compartmentalization of forms of action entailed by this differentiation of experience.

This is very much the problem that we pose ourselves when we label anyone schizophrenic. Schizophrenia is a half-compelled, half-chosen retreat from the precariously and artificially stabilized level of highly differentiated experience that passes as sane in our culture at this time. Schizophrenia is simply the project - usually an abortive one thanks to social interference - to rediscover a pristine wholeness that really lies outside one's history but which is pointed to by one's history. This wholeness undercuts the differentiation of experience. It undercuts all the false divisions within and between arts and sciences, and the whole process of bringing people up - education.

So we have to overcome the false disciplines and find the true discipline. Schizophrenia is an abortive and always aborted attempt to achieve some degree of this sort of sanity. For real craziness we have to search the palaces of our rulers. Then we very soon find it.

A year or two ago I witnessed a happening in which an obsessionally arranged pile of books was burnt - it was, I think, a German philosophical dictionary in twenty volumes. This was a perfectly reasonable protest against institutionalized pseudo-scholarship, but it is not the most relevant sort of happening that we can put on. It might be more relevant to centre on the principle vehicles of mystification - mass-communication media. Perhaps we could, for instance, publicly tear up our daily newspapers (we can certainly read them first if we know how to read them!) and make bonfires of television sets and radios (with police permission, of course). And then we can tear up our ballotpapers in the next elections. At this historical juncture it seems important to let other people know that we don't pretend to elect those manipulators who pretend they are elected by some sort of unconditioned free choice.

In the meantime let us get on with consolidating the forms of collaboration that have become visible as possibilities here in the Roundhouse. Groups all over the world are doing something much the same as some of us are doing here in London, and we want to get this transnational network established so that people can move around from one centre to another, and then transform other centres into this potential for revolutionary consciousness.

I was very impressed with a story that Herbert Marcuse told us. During the Paris Commune, before they started shooting at people, the Communards shot at the clocks, at all the clocks in Paris, and they broke them. And they did this because they were putting an end to the time of the Others, the time of their rulers, and they were going to invent their own time.

As I look around me now I see a vista beyond your sea of faces, going way out there I see a vista of broken clocks. And now I think, it is our time!



"Beyond Words"
by David Cooper
Originally published in The Dialectics of Liberation (Penguin, 1968)


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