The Graveyard of Utopia: Soviet Urbanism and the Fate of the International Avant-Garde

Ivan Kudriashev’s “Luminescence” (1926)

Table of Contents

I. Introduction: Soviet Urbanism and the Fate of the International Avant-Garde

II. A Structural Overview of the Proceeding Work: The Sociohistoric Phenomenon of the International Avant-Garde and Soviet Urbanism as Its Decisive Moment

III. The Dialectic of Modernism and Traditionalism: The Development of the International Avant-Garde in Architecture

A. The Spatiotemporal Dialectic of Capitalism

B. Traditionalist Architecture

C. Modernist Architecture — Negative Bases

1. Traditionalist Architecture: “Style,” Ornamentation, and Eclecticism

2. The Academic Establishment

3. The “Anarchy of Production” under Capitalism

D. Modernist Architecture — Positive Bases

1. The Spatiotemporal Dimensions of Abstract Art (or, the Volumetrics of Modern Architecture) 

2. Industrialism (or, the Ergonomics of Modern Architecture) 

3. The Housing Shortage, the Urban Proletariat, and the Liberation of Woman (or, the Sociohistoric Mission of Modern Architecture)

IV. The Soviet Moment: The Turn toward Urbanism, the Crisis in the West, and the Crossroads of the Architectural Avant-Garde in Russia

A. The Artistic and Intellectual Origins of the Soviet Architectural Avant-Garde

B. The Further Development of the Soviet Architectural Avant-Garde into the 1930s

C. Totality, Total Architecture, and the Turn toward Urbanism

1. Totality

2. Total Architecture

3. The Turn toward Urbanism

D. The Crossroads of the Architectural Avant-Garde in Russia

V. Conclusion: The Sepulchral Cities of Modernity

VI. Notes

Ivan Leonidov, proposal for a section of Magnitogorsk (1930)



The twin fires of war and revolution have devastated both our souls and our cities. The palaces of yesterday’s grandeur stand as burnt-out skeletons. The ruined cities await new builders[…]

To you who accept the legacy of Russia, to you who will (I believe!) tomorrow become masters of the whole world, I address the question: with what fantastic structures will you cover the fires of yesterday?

— Vladimir Maiakovskii, “An Open Letter to the Workers”[1]

Utopia transforms itself into actuality. The fairy tale becomes a reality. The contours of socialism will become overgrown with iron flesh, filled with electric blood, and begin to dwell full of life. The speed of socialist building outstrips the most audacious daring. In this lies the distinctive character and essence of the epoch.

— I. Chernia, “The Cities of Socialism”[2]

Between 1928 and 1937, the world witnessed the convergence of some of the premier representatives of European architectural modernism in Moscow, Leningrad, and other cities throughout the Soviet Union. Never before had there been such a concentration of visionary architectural talent in one place, devoting its energy to a single cause. Both at home and abroad, the most brilliant avant-garde minds of a generation gathered in Russia to put forth their proposals for the construction of a radically new society. Never before had the stakes seemed so high. For it was out of the blueprints for this new society that a potentially international architecture and urbanism could finally be born, the likes of which might then alter the face of the entire globe. And from this new built environment, it was believed, would emerge the outlines of the New Man, as both the outcome of the new social order and the archetype of an emancipated humanity. With such apparently broad and sweeping implications, it is therefore little wonder that its prospective realization might have then attracted the leading lights of modernist architecture, both within the Soviet Union and without. By that same account, it is hardly surprising that the architectural aspect of engineering a postcapitalist society would prove such a captivating subject of discussion to such extra-architectural discourses as politics, sociology, and economics.

Le Corbusier in Paris unveiling his model for his Palais des Soviets (1931)

Le Corbusier sitting in front of the construction site for the Tsentrosoiuz Building in Moscow (March 1931)

The bulk of the major individual foreign architects and urbanists who contributed to the Soviet cause came from Germany. Such luminaries as Walter Gropius,[3] Ludwig Hilberseimer, and Peter Behrens each contributed to Soviet design competitions. Former Expressionists — now turned modernists — like Bruno Taut, his brother Max, Arthur Korn, Hans Poelzig, and Erich Mendelsohn all joined the greater project of socialist construction in the USSR.[4] Major architects also arrived from other parts throughout Western Europe, eager to participate in the Soviet experiment. Foremost among them, hailing from Switzerland, was the French-Swiss archmodernist Le Corbusier, whose writings on architecture and urbanism had already become influential in Russia since at least the mid-1920s. From France additionally appeared figures like André Lurçat and Auguste Perret,[5] lending their talents to the Soviet cause. The preeminent Belgian modernist Victor Bourgeois actively supported its architectural enterprise as well.

Foreign architects at work on Magnitogorsk, including Mart Stam and Johan Niegeman (circa 1931-1932)

Ernst May’s “May Brigade” (1930)

Ernst May lecturing in the Soviet Union on his proposal for Magnitogorsk (1930)

Ernst May dressed in heavy winter gear in the Soviet Union, late 1930

Besides the major individual figures attached to this effort, there existed several noteworthy aggregations of international architects and urbanists, under the heading of “brigades.” The German socialist Ernst May, mastermind of the highly-successful Neue Frankfurt settlement, traveled to Russia along with a number of his lesser-known countrymen, including Eugen Kaufmann, Wilhelm Derlam, Ferdinand Kramer,[6] Walter Kratz, and Walter Schwagenscheidt. The Austrians Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (designer of the famous “Frankfurt Kitchen”), her husband Wilhelm Schütte, and Anton Brenner also accompanied May in his journeys.[7] Together with the Hungarian Bauhaus student Alfréd Forbát,[8] the German-Swiss builder Hans Schmidt, and theBauhaus and De Stijl veteran Mart Stam, originally from Holland, these architects comprised the famous “May’s Brigade” of city planning. Many other German architects and city-planners, still less well-known, belonged to May’s group as well: Hans Burkart, Max Frühauf, Wilhelm Hauss, Werner Hebebrand, Karl Lehmann, Hans Leistikow, Albert Löcher, Ulrich Wolf, Erich Mauthner, Hans Schmidt, and Walter Schulz, to list a few.[9]

André Lurçat in Moscow, 1934

Members of Hannes Meyer’s “Red Brigade” in the Soviet Union (1931)

Hannes Meyer, another Swiss German, also departed for Moscow, after being suddenly dismissed from his position as director of the Bauhaus on grounds of his leftist political sympathies.[10] He took with him seven of his best students from Dessau, who were themselves of quite varied backgrounds: Tibor Weiner and Béla Scheffler, both Hungarian nationals; Arieh Sharon, of Polish-Jewish extraction; Antonín Urban, a Czech architect; and finally Konrad Püschel, Philip Tolziner, René Mensch, and Klaus Meumann, all German citizens.[11] These members together comprised the so-called “Red Brigade.” A number of other German architects associated with Kurt Meyer’s (unrelated to Hannes) urban and suburban group were also shown in attendance at the international building conference in Moscow in 1932: Magnus Egerstedt, Josef Neufeld, Walter Vermeulen, E. Kletschoff, Julius Neumann, Johan Niegemann, Hans-Georg Grasshoff, Peer Bücking, and Steffen Ahrends.[12]

Albert Kahn’s Cheliabinsk tractor factory (1934)

Frank Lloyd Wright and Mr. and Mrs. Iofan at a banquet, Moscow (1937)

Czech modernists Vítězslav Nezval and Karel Teige in Moscow (1926)

The newly formed constellation of Eastern Europe that emerged out of the postwar dissolution of the Russian and Austro-Hungarian empires was also represented in force by some of its leading modernists. From Czechoslovakia, the great Constructivist poet and architectural critic Karel Teige[13] lent his incisive observations to the Soviet Union’s various attempts at regional and municipal planning. Two of Teige’s close compatriots in the Czech avant-garde, the functionalist architects Jiří Kroha[14] and Jaromír Krejcar,[15] were already active in the Soviet Union at that time. Besides Wiener, Scheffler, and Forbát, who were associated with May’s and Meyer’s groups in Moscow, the Hungarian modernists Laszlo Péri, Imre Perényi,[16] and Stefan Sebök[17] each worked independently for the Soviet state. Finally, the Polish avant-gardists Edgar Norwerth[18] and Leonard Tomaszewski[19] also collaborated with various organs of the government of the USSR during the execution of its second five-year plan.

The radical architect and Bauhaus director Hannes Meyer (1930)

Bruno Taut, Grete Schutte-Lihotsky, and others in the Soviet Union (1933)

A number of American architects contributed to the Soviet effort as well.  Albert Kahn, the celebrated builder of Detroit — along with his brother, Moritz Kahn — helped design over five hundred factories in the Soviet Union as part of its push toward industrialization.[20]  Thomas Lamb, the well-established constructor of many of America’s first cinemas, and Percival Goodman, an urban theorist who would later build many famous American synagogues, also offered their abilities to the Soviet state.[21] The pioneering American architect Frank Lloyd Wright, though he would not officially visit Russia until 1937, nevertheless spoke openly about the greatness of the Soviet project during the early 1930s. By the early 1930s, Wright was disillusioned with the capitalist socioeconomic system: “The capitalistic system is a gambling game. It is hard to cure gamblers of gambling and everybody high and low in this country prefers the gambler’s chance at a great fortune to the slower growth of a more personal fortune.” By contrast, he exclaimed the virtues of the Soviet project: “I view the USSR as a heroic endeavor to establish more genuine human values in a social state than any existing before. Its heroism and devotion move me deeply and with great hope.”[22]

VKhUTEMAS students, 1927

First OSA Conference, 1928

Despite the great influx of foreign modernists seen during this period, however, the influence of the new architectural avant-garde was hardly alien to the Soviet Union. On the contrary, it had begun to establish itself there as early as 1921 — if one discounts the renowned monument proposed by Tatlin for the Third International in 1918.[23] That year witnessed the appointment of the architects Nikolai Ladovskii, Nikolai Dokuchaev, and the sculptor Boris Efimov to the faculty of VKhUTEMAS, the well-known Moscow technical school often compared to the Bauhaus in Germany.[24] Along with Vladimir Krinskii, Konstantin Mel’nikov, and the international modernist El Lissitzky, Ladovskii and Dokuchaev went on to constitute the avant-garde group ASNOVA (the Association of New Architects) in 1923, though it would only publish the declaration of its existence in 1926. Ladovskii’s brightest pupil and laboratory assistant Georgii Krutikov would join the group upon graduating the academy in 1928. Opposed to ASNOVA, the equally-stalwart modernist OSA (Society of Modern Architects) formed the Constructivist school of architectural thought in 1925, led by such outstanding designers as Leonid, Aleksandr, and Viktor Vesnin and their chief theorist Moisei Ginzburg. Il’ia Golosov officially became a member in 1926, followed by two of their exemplary students, Ivan Leonidov and Nikolai Krasil’nikov, in 1927 and 1928 respectively. Though divergent in terms of their fundamental principles, both OSA and ASNOVA were united in their opposition to atavistic architecture and their mutual commitment to modernity.

Wall Street crash, 1929

Schmitt’s “Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy” incarnate: Burning of the German parliament, the Reichstag (1933)

The overwhelming gravity that the debates over Soviet urbanism held for the avant-garde, their seemingly high stakes, is difficult to emphasize enough. Just as the USSR was first embarking upon its five-year plans, the nations of the West were facing the threefold crisis of global capitalism, of parliamentary democracy,[25] and of the European sciences[26] in general. At no prior point had the future of the worldwide socioeconomic system of capital seemed so uncertain — never had its basis been so shaken. On nearly every front — economic, political, and epistemological — it faced defeat. Italy, Germany, and finally Spain fell beneath the rising tide of Fascism. Everywhere it seemed that Europe was entering into the darkness of Spenglerian decline.

Comrade Lenin clearing the Earth of the rabble (1920)

Workers of the World, Unite!

But by that same score, in a positive sense there had never been a planning project as ambitious as the Soviet centralized economy. It represented a moment of unprecedented opportunity for international modernists to build on the highest possible scale, the chance to realize their visions at the level of totality.[27] For with the huge projected budgets set aside for new construction toward the end of the 1920s, the modernists saw an opening to implement their theories not just locally, but on a regional, national, and — should the flames of revolution fan to Europe — a potentially international scale. This mere fact alone should hint at the reason so many members of the architectural avant-garde, who so long dreamed of achieving an “international style”[28] without boundaries, would be attracted to the Soviet cause. That the number of international representatives of the avant-garde swelled to such an unparalleled degree should come as no surprise, either, given the prospect of imminently realizing their most utopian dreams. In the midst of the collapse of the old order, as heralded by world war, pestilence (Spanish influenza), revolution, and a nearly universal depression, it appeared as if the modernists were being granted their deepest wish — of erecting a new society upon the ashes of that which had preceded it. “Our world, like a charnel-house, lays strewn with the detritus of dead epochs,” Le Corbusier had thundered in 1925.[29] In the wake of global instability, crash, and catastrophe, the Soviet five-year plan seemed to offer to him and his fellow avant-gardists the chance to wipe the slate clean.

VKhUTEMAS poster celebrating the Five-Year Plan

Poster for the First Five-Year Plan (1928), with vaguely antisemitic overtones

It is therefore little wonder that the tenor of the debates over Soviet urbanism should have been cast in such stark terms. The fate of the entire avant-garde, if not society itself, hung in the balance. Whichever principles won out might ultimately determine the entire course of future building for the USSR, and perhaps the world (pending the outcome of the seemingly terminal crisis in the West). Modernist architects, who had up to that point been mainly concerned with the design of individual structures, and only here and there touched on the greater problem of urbanism, now scrambled to articulate their theoretical stances on the issue of “socialist settlement.” As a number of rival positions emerged, they came into heated conflict with one another. Whole books were written and articles published in popular Soviet journals defending one theory and attacking all that opposed it. And so the disputes did not merely take on the character of modernism combating its old traditionalist rival, but that of a radically fractured unity of the modernist movement itself. The fresh lines of division being carved within the architectural avant-garde did not owe so much to national peculiarities as it did to the radicality of the question now being posed before it: that of the fundamental restructuring of human habitation. For the issues at hand were not simply the reorganization of already-existing cities, but also the construction of entirely new settlements from the ground up. The intransigent tone that the debates subsequently assumed is thus more a testament to the urgency and sincerity of the modernist theories of the city being put forth than it is to some sort of arbitrary disagreement over matters of trivial importance.

Le Corbusier, Sergei Eisenstein, and Andrei Burov (1928)

Members of the forcibly unionized Union of Soviet Architects (1932)

This point is especially important to stress, moreover, in light of some interpretations that have recently dismissed these crucial differences in the avant-garde’s architectural visions of utopia as a quantité négligible. Not long ago, the argument was advanced that these theoretical disputes amounted to little more than quibbling pettiness on the part of the members of the avant-garde. According to this version of events, the modernists merely dressed up their personal animosities, jealousies, and professional rivalries in high-sounding rhetoric and thereby ruined any chance for productive collaboration with one another. Moreover, it asserts that it was this very disunity that led to the modernists’ eventual defeat at the hands of the Stalinists. Weakened by the years of petty bickering, this argument maintains, the two main groups representing the architectural avant-garde (OSA and ASNOVA) were easily undercut by the fledgling, proto-Stalinist organization VOPRA, working in cahoots with the party leadership. Had the members of the avant-garde been willing to set aside their differences, this outlook would have it, they might have prevailed against the combined strength of their opponents.[30]

Plan for the Functional City (1932), for a conference that was to have been held in Moscow

Of course, this account almost completely overlooks the international dimension of the debates, choosing instead to narrowly focus on the faculty politics taking place within the walls of the VKhUTEMAS school of design. While this was doubtless an important stage of the debate, it can scarcely be considered the decisive grounds on which the war over Soviet architecture was waged. It is symptomatic that such an interpretation would leap suddenly from the middle part of the 1920s to the final defeat of the architectural avant-garde in the 1937, ignoring practically everything that transpired in between. As a result, it is able to treat the problem as a merely internal affair, concerning only Soviet architects. This then allows the importance of the tensions within the VKhUTEMAS leadership throughout the early- to mid-1920s to be grossly overstated.[31] Even if the field of inquiry is thus limited, however, the polemics can by no means be reduced to mere cynicism. Such bitterness and resentment could just as easily be an outcome of (rather than a ground for) heated argumentation.

Zinoviev in a motorcade (1929)

Lunacharskii at a congress of Working Artists (1923)

But this notion — that the real differences within the modernists’ debates over Soviet architecture and urbanism were largely exaggerated — is swiftly dispelled once one takes note of the extra-architectural interest surrounding their potential results. For architects were hardly the only ones worried about the form that new Soviet settlements would take. The ideological influence of architecture on society was not lost on non-architects within the Soviet hierarchy. Many thinkers, scattered across a wide range of vocations, were therefore drawn into the discourse on socialist city planning. Quite a few economists participated in the discussion. Besides Leonid Sabsovich, a writer for the state journal Planned Economy and a major figure in the debates, economists like Stanislav Strumilin (one of Planned Economy’s editors) and Leonid Puzis weighed in on the material aspects of the various schemas of town planning. Professional sociologist Mikhail Okhitovich joined OSA in 1928, and went on to become one of its major spokesmen. The celebrated journalist and author Vladimir Giliarovskii reported on some considerations of nervo-psychological health in the socialist city.[32] Even more telling of the perceived centrality of the problem of Soviet urbanism to the five-year plan is the number of high-ranking party members and government officials who wrote on the matter. The Commissar of Enlightenment Anatolii Lunacharskii, Lenin’s widow Nadezhda Krupskaia, the old guard Bolshevik Grigorii Zinov’ev, and the doctor and Commissar of Health Nikolai Semashko all devoted lengthy articles to the consideration of different proposed solutions to the issue of urban planning. So clearly, the detailed differences between the various Soviet urban projects concerned more than solely the architects.

Painting of Stalin atop the Kremlin in Moscow (1935)

Lazar’ Kaganovich, far right, Stalin’s Commissar of Railways and overseer of the rebuilding project for Moscow, including the Moscow metro system (1932)

Another historiographical point that must be made is that what appears to have been “Stalinist” from the outset could not have been recognized as such at the time. The emergent features of what came to be known as Stalinism — its bureaucratic deformities, thuggery, and cultural philistinism — had not yet fully crystallized by the early 1930s. While it is true that these qualities may have been prefigured to some extent by the failure of the German and Hungarian revolutions after the war, the USSR’s consequent isolation, and the cascading effects of the political involutions that followed — none of this could be seen as yet. The betrayed commitment to international revolution, the disastrous (if inevitable) program of “Socialism in One Country,” did not bear their fruits until much later. The residual hope remaining from the original promise of the revolution echoed into the next two decades, before the brutal realities of Stalin’s regime eventually set in. In 1930, there was no “Stalinist” architecture to speak of. Even the eclectic designs of the academicians did not fully anticipate what was to come. The contours of what would later be called “Stalinist” architecture — that grotesque hybrid-creation of monumentalist gigantism and neoclassical arches, façades, and colonnades — only became clear after a long and painful process of struggle and disillusionment. Toward the beginning of the decade, a number of possibilities seemed yet to be decided upon, and so the utopian dream of revolution continued to live on.[33]

Viktor Kalmykov, project “Saturn,” proposal for a levitating city (1930), studio of Nikolai Ladovskii

Soviet utopia: Proposal for Krasnoiarsk, the “red city” (1931)

Whatever latent realm of possibility may have still seemed to exist at the moment the Soviet Union initiated its planning program, however, its actual results admit of no such uncertainties. The defeat of modernist architecture was resounding and unambiguous. And while it would survive and even flourish in the West following the Second World War, the avant-garde left something of its substance behind in Russia. Its external form remained — with its revolutionary use of concrete, glass, and other materials, its austere lines and structural severity — but it had been deprived of its inner core, and now stood devoid of content. For architectural modernism had hitherto expressed an inseparable duality, and deduced its role as both a reflection of contemporary society and an effort to transform it. These two aspects, its attempt to create a universal formal language that corresponded to modern realities and its sociohistorical mission to fundamentally reshape those very realities, were inextricably bound up with one another. When the architectural avant-garde ultimately failed to realize itself by achieving this mission, it became cynical; its moment of opportunity missed, it chose instead to abandon the task of helping remake society. Cast out of the Soviet Union, the modernists let go of their visions of utopia and made their peace with the prevailing order in the West. They pursued traditional avenues like public contracts and individual commissions to accomplish each of their proposals. No longer did they dream of building a new society, but focused on limited projects of reform rather than calling for an all-out revolution. Emptied of its foundational content, however, modernism gradually gave way to post-modernism as architecture became even further untethered from its basis. Reduced to a set of organizational forms, modernist design grew increasingly susceptible to criticisms of its apparently “dull” and “lifeless” qualities. Modernism’s capitulation to the realities of bourgeois society doomed it to obsolescence. The modern itself had become passé.

Georgii Krutikov’s “flying city” (1929)

Georgii Krutikov's proposal for a "city of the future" (1929)

Georgii Krutikov’s proposed “city of the future” (1929)

Shuttlepod for Georgii Krutikov's "flying city" (1929)

Shuttlepod for the “flying city”

Framed in this way, this paper will assert that the outcome of the debates over Soviet urbanism in the 1930s sealed the fate of the international avant-garde. All of its prior commitments to general social change were reneged. Modernism’s longstanding duty to solve the problem of “the minimum dwelling,”[34] which for Marxists was closely tied into Engels’ work on The Housing Question,[35] was relinquished after only the first few CIAM conventions (1929-1931). Its resolution to put an end to wasteful (even criminal[36]) ornamentation and make all building more functional was scaled back to a mere stylistic choice, rather than a general social practice. Likewise, modernism’s call for a uniform, standardized, and industrialized architecture of the home was replaced by a tendency to custom-design each individual dwelling — usually the wealthier ones — as its spare, geometric style became chic among the upper classes. The mass-production of housing, serialized with interchangeable parts, was instead taken up by companies building in a more traditional style, hoping to turn a cheap profit housing students or the poor. Those bleak modernist housing complexes that were created all too often became places to merely stuff away the impoverished classes, cramped and out of sight. (That such places would become areas of high concentration for drug use and petty crime is only fitting). Finally, the quest for a universal architectural language was abandoned. This language was adopted exclusively by those particular architects who identified themselves with the modernist movement, and even then it was pursued on only a piecemeal basis.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s monument to Karl Liebkneckt and Rosa Luxemburg (1926)

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building (1958)

The Soviet Union alone had presented the modernists with the conditions necessary to realize their original vision. Only it possessed the centralized state-planning organs that could implement building on such a vast scale.[37] Only it promised to overcome the clash of personal interests entailed by the “sacred cow” of private property.[38] And only it had the sheer expanse of land necessary to approximate the spatial infinity required by the modernists’ international imagination.[39] The defeat of architectural modernism in Russia left the country a virtual graveyard of the utopian visions of unbuilt worlds that had once been built upon it. It is only after one grasps the magnitude of the avant-garde’s sense of loss in this theater of world history that all the subsequent developments of modernist architecture in the twentieth century become intelligible. For here it becomes clear how an architect like Mies van der Rohe, who early in his career designed the Monument to the communist heroes Karl Liebkneckt and Rosa Luxemburg in 1926, would curry favor with the Nazis in the 1930s,[40] and then later become the man responsible for one of the swankiest monuments to high-Fordist capitalism, the Seagram’s Building of 1958. And here one can see how Le Corbusier, embittered by the Soviet experience, would briefly flirt with Vichy fascism during the war before going on to co-design the United Nations Building in New York. Continue reading

Totality and Total Architecture

Lebbeus Woods' Imaginary Architecture Abstract

By “totality” is understood a unified, homogeneous whole — one which is more or less global in concept.  A totality is unified because it is a single whole to which all of its constituent parts belong.  Phrased differently, it is the universal together with all of its particular instantiations.  Not every whole is a totality.  For example, one can imagine a whole which encompasses fundamentally disparate, heterogeneous elements.  A totality, by contrast, is internally homogeneous, in the sense that all of the parts that belong to its whole are unified according to either a common principle or common set of principles which then governs them absolutely.  As such, these parts would all share a substantial similarity.  Finally, a totality is global or international in its concept in the sense that, even if it is limited empirically at a given historical moment, it nevertheless strives to expand itself outward, to draw that which is not itself into its fold.  It is, at least logically, not localizable.

Miziakin's poster predicting the global annihilation of the contradiction between town and countryside (1923)

Despite all its metaphysical trappings, the concept of “totality” (and its enshrinement as a category of thought by figures like Kant and Fichte) is historically linked to the rise of capitalist society and the widespread rationalization that came with it.  This new form of society, unlike those that came before it, presented itself as “a general whole that is substantially homogeneous — a totality.”[1]  In Kant’s table of categories, this concept of totality belonged to the sphere of quantitative judgments.  “[A]llness (totality) is nothing other than plurality considered as a unity,” explained Kant.[2]  Fichte, who initially saw his own work as merely an extension of Kant’s, characterized totality in much the same way.  He simply substituted the notion of plurality with “the relative” and unity with “the absolute.”[3]  For both thinkers, however, the category was a cautionary one.  In general, it indicated the transgressive application of a pure concept of the understanding beyond the limitations of actual experience, the attempt to dialectically extend its use into the “absolute totality” of all possible experience (which is never given).[4]  Against both of these previous thinkers, however, Hegel upheld the legitimacy of the concept of totality and its rational application with reference to reality:

The particular has one and the same universality as the other particulars to which it is related.  The diversity of these particulars, because of their identity with the universal, is as such at the same time universal; it is totality. — The particular, therefore, does not only contain the universal but exhibits it also through its determinateness; accordingly the universal constitutes a sphere that the particular must exhaust.  This totality, inasmuch as the determinateness of the particular is taken as mere diversity, appears as completeness.[5]

Chartist meeting, Kensington commons

According to Lukács, Marx took up this thread of Hegel’s thought in a polemical fashion, again “turning it on its head,” so to speak.  In so doing, Lukács argued, Marx discovered the rational core that could be salvaged from the Hegelian system of idealism.[6]  Marx understood this novel concept of “totality” as originating not from an ingenious invention that spontaneously took place in the heaven of ideas, but as an ideological reflection of the new material processes that constituted social reality.  That is to say, the category of totality described by philosophers like Kant, Fichte, and Hegel comprehended in thought the new social formation that was emerging all around them.[7]  For this was precisely how Marx conceptualized bourgeois society toward the end of Capital, Volume 3:

[T]he capitalist process of production is a historically specific form of the social production process in general.  This…is both a production process of the material conditions of existence for human life, and a process, proceeding in specific economic and historical relations of production, that produces and reproduces these relations of production themselves, and with them the bearers of this process, their material conditions of existence, and their mutual relationships, i.e. the specific economic form of their society.  For the totality of these relationships which the bearers of this production have towards nature and one another, the relationships in which they produce, is precisely society, viewed according to its economic structure.[8]

The Integral Magnitude of the Capitalist Totality

Marx reproached the vulgar economists specifically for their failure to conceive society as such a historic and material totality.[9]  The exact implications of this totalizing aspect of capitalism have been the subject of much interpretation within the history of Western Marxism.[10]  In Lukács’ account, “[t]he category of totality [indicates] the all-pervasive supremacy of the whole over the parts.”[11]  Unlike the way it was later conceptualized by Adorno,[12] the constituent parts that make up the whole of the social totality were not all identical to one another.[13]  Importantly, for Lukács totality was the ultimate category of analysis for describing capitalist society.  To use his terms, “totality permeates the spatio-temporal character of phenomena.”[14]  With reference to the spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism established earlier, totality might be seen as its overarching principle.

Proposed Sketch for Industrialized Magnitogorsk (1932)

Postone, while accepting Adorno’s assertion that the totality of social relations remains alienated under capitalism, likewise rejected the idea that this totality could ever successfully purged of its contradictory or nonidentical elements.[15]  However it is formulated, however, the totalizing character of capitalist society — its Weberian tendency to integrate and rationalize everything it encompasses — reappeared in the architectural ideology of the modernists.  As Tafuri noted, this mirrored attempts in modern sociology to consciously administrate and reorder social behavior.[16]  The avant-garde thus unconsciously affirmed the social totality:

Salvation lies no longer in “revolt” but in surrender without discretion.  Only a humanity that has absorbed and made its own the ideology of work, that does not persist in considering production and organization something other than itself or simply instruments, that recognizes itself to be part of a comprehensive plan and as such fully accepts that it must function as the cogwheels of a global machine: only this humanity can atone for its “original sin.”  And this sin is not in having created a system of means without knowing how to control the “revolt of the objects” against their inventor, as Löwith and the young Lukács understood Marxist alienation.  This sin consists instead in man’s “diabolical” insistence on remaining man, in taking his place as an “imperfect machine” in a social universe in which the only consistent behavior is that of pure silence.[17]

Georgii Krutikov's proposal for "The Flying City" (1928)

This sentiment, which Tafuri attributes to modernist architecture, clearly carries Taylorist overtones.  It almost seems to have been presaged by the sociologist Georg Simmel in a passage from The Philosophy of Money.  This is perhaps not a coincidence.  Simmel was, after all, a major influence on the young Lukács.  The congruence of Tafuri’s description of the modernists’ position with the following lines from Simmel is uncanny, however:

The organization of the factory and the construction of machinery demonstrates daily to the industrial worker that efficient movements and effects can be accomplished with absolute accuracy and that personal and other internal disturbances must be avoided at all costs.  This attainment of ends by a transparent and controllable mechanism paves the way for a social ideal that seeks to organize the social totality with the supreme rationalism of the machine and the exclusion of all private impulses.[18]

William Craig - City Dialectics of Totality and Infinity (urbanistic project at Columbia University)

We shall accept — at least provisionally — Tafuri’s claim, and proceed to delineate the concept of a “total architecture.”  A “total architecture” here means a system of spatial organization arranged so as to constitute a totality.[19]  Space within it is organized both formally (into different shapes) and materially (through the use of various constructive materials).  It is thus uniformly constructed out of certain standardized parts and materials.  A total architecture is by necessity an artificial system; such arrangements do not arise in nature.  “Nature presents itself to us as a chaos,” recorded Le Corbusier.  “The vault of the heavens, the shapes of lakes and seas, the outlines of hills.  The actual scene which lies before our eyes, with its kaleidoscopic fragments and its vague distances, is a confusion.”[20]

The Socialist City of Moscow (1931)

Construction within the totality is determined by its overarching principles.  So while a totalizing architectural scheme would prefer to build in purely abstract space, a sort of Newtonian grid, it can remain systematic even when it is forced to deal with the messiness of empirical reality.  For example, a totally functional, utilitarian architecture may call for an inland building to be rooted at every point in an earthen foundation to ensure stability, while it might demand for a coastal structure that it be built on stilts to anticipate the rising tide.  Though two physically discrete structures would be produced, they would all the same proceed from a single organizing principle — that of utility.

Le Corbusier's aptly-titled "Cartesian towers" from his Ville Radieuse proposal (1931)

Here the totalizing impulse in modernist architecture is realigned with “the ideology of the plan,” mentioned earlier in connection with the spatial homogeneity of modernist architecture imparted to it by capitalism’s spatiotemporal dialectic.[21]  “A plan demands the most active imagination.  It also demands the most severe discipline,” wrote Le Corbusier.  “The plan is what determines everything; it is the decisive moment.”  In this formulation, the plan assumes the position of the organizing principle (or set of principles) that “determines everything,” from the smallest pieces to the greater whole.  Or as Le Corbusier continued to explain: “The plan carries within it a determined primary rhythm…with consequences extending from the simplest to the most complex on the same law.  Unity of law is the law of a good plan: a simple law that is infinitely modulable.”[22]  Thus, with the modulability of the law, it can be applied to diverse situations while maintaining a unified logic.  Again, this serves to confirm the example of the functional principle mentioned above.

Lebbeus Woods's urbanistic model

Just as a total architecture retains its integral character in spite of modifications that respond to geographical and climatic circumstances, so also does it endure modification over time.  The crucial question here becomes the way that change occurs.  For a total architectural system can possess either a rigid or fluid nature, depending on its principles.  In order to maintain its integrity, however, a fluid architectural totality must include laws that guide its development and dictate the manner in which it incorporates new elements.  Innovation would take place within the totality, but only along preordained lines.  Change within such a system thus resembles a sort of controlled plasticity, instead of a haphazard accumulation of structures from different historical epochs.  The last thing the modernists wanted was another Moscow — “the Moscow blob,” as the architect Vladimir Semenov called it in 1930, “a historically generated conglomeration of factories, buildings, streets, and green spaces.”[23]

Lebbeus Woods' "Fractures"

Viewed from above, a realized total architecture at any stage of its expansion would hence almost appear as some kind of gigantic fractal — that is, a geometric shape whose integral parts reflect the pattern of the whole.  Upon magnification, one would discover this pattern repeated at an ever smaller scale, down to its tiniest details.  Each part would thereby constitute a microcosm, in the strict sense, of the total architectural system.

Ludwig Hilberseimer's terrifying Hochhausstadt proposal (1925)

Total architecture is, finally, global in concept.  From the first it aspires to be world architecture, regardless of whether its practitioners are fully cognizant of this fact.  It is not an architecture for only this or that culture specifically; total architecture excludes no traditional configuration from its laws.  On the contrary, these laws require complete generalization.  “[T]he world of constructive forms knows no native country,” wrote Hannes Meyer in 1928, shortly after succeeding Gropius as the director of Bauhaus.  “It is the expression of an international attitude in architecture.  Internationality is the privilege of the period.”[24]  Within any individual country, a totalizing architecture can therefore never be content with its embodiment in a single building, or any number of buildings in isolation from one another.  Nor can it accept even a whole neighborhood built according to its principles.  It seeks realization at the level of the city, the region, the nation — and will not rest until it wraps the globe.


[1] Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination.  Pg. 72.

Postone further indicates: “[A] peculiar characteristic of capitalism is that it exists as a homogeneous totality that can be unfolded from a single structuring principle [capital].”  Pg. 140.

[2] Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason.  Pg. 215.

[3] Though the terms used are different, we can easily see how the meaning is the same.  The plurality of parts would only be relative components of the whole, while the unity of the whole would be absolute compared with its parts: “[T]he absolute and relative grounds for determination of the totality must be one and the same; the relation must be absolute, and the absolute must be nothing more than a relation.”  Fichte, Johann Gottlieb.  The Science of Knowledge.  Translated by Peter Heath and John Lachs.  (Cambridge University Press.  New York, NY: 1982).  Pg. 181.

[4] Thus is the substance of Kant’s critique of pure reason: “We easily see that pure reason has no other aim than the absolute totality of synthesis on the side of conditions (whether they are conditions of inherence, dependence, or concurrence), and that reason has nothing to do with absolute completeness from the side of the conditioned.”  Kant, The Critique of Pure Reason.  Pg. 407.

[5] Hegel, The Science of Logic.  Pg. 534.

[6] “[Marx] measured Hegel’s philosophy by the yardstick he had himself discovered and systematically elaborated, and he found it wanting…Marx’s critique of Hegel is the direct continuation and extension of the criticism that Hegel himself leveled at Kant and Fichte.  So it came about that Marx’s dialectical method continued what Hegel had striven for but had failed to achieve in a concrete form.”  Lukács, “What is Orthodox Marxism?” Pg. 17.

[7] In this way, Hegel was perhaps not wrong in writing that “philosophy…is its own time comprehended in thought.”  Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right.  Pg. 21.

[8] Marx, Karl.  Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume 3.  Translated by David Fernbach.  (Penguin Books.  New York, NY: 1991).  Pg. 957.  My emphasis.

[9] “In speaking of the social point of view, i.e. in considering the total social product, which includes both the reproduction of the social capital and individual consumption, it is necessary to avoid falling into the habits of bourgeois economics, as imitated by Proudhon, i.e. to avoid looking at things as if a society based on the capitalist mode of production lost its specific historical and economic character when considered en bloc, as a totality.”  Marx, Capital, Volume 2.  Pg. 509.

[10] Jay, Martin.  Marxism and Totality: The Adventures of a Concept from Lukács to Habermas.  (University of California Press.  Los Angeles, CA: 1984).

[11] Lukács, Georg.  “The Marxism of Rosa Luxemburg.”  History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics.  Translated by Rodney Livingstone.  (The MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1972).  Pg. 27.

[12] “Society’s own concept says that men want their relations to be freely established; but no freedom has been realized in their relations to this day, and society remains as rigid as it is defective.  All qualitative moments whose totality might be something like a structure are flattened in the universal barter relationship.”  Adorno, Theodor.  Negative Dialectics.  Translated by E.B. Ashton.  (Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.  New York, NY: 1973).  Pg. 88.

To be fair, Adorno did not believe that bourgeois society eliminated all its internal contradictions by reducing them to abstractly identical parts.  He understood that the social totality appeared to humanity in an alienated and alienating form under capitalism.

[13] “[T]he category of totality does not reduce its various elements to an undifferentiated uniformity, to identity.  The apparent independence and autonomy which they possess in the capitalist system of production is an illusion only in so far as they are involved in a dynamic dialectical relationship with one another and can be thought of as the dynamic dialectical aspects of an equally dynamic and dialectical whole.”  Lukács, “What is Orthodox Marxism?” Pgs. 12-13.

[14] Lukács, “What is Orthodox Marxism?” Pg. 23.

[15] “[T]he alienated social totality is not, as Adorno for example would have it, the identity that incorporates the socially nonidentical in itself so as to make the whole a noncontradictory unity, leading to the universalization of domination.  To establish that the totality is intrinsically contradictory is to show that it remains an essentially contradictory identity of identity and nonidentity, and has not become a unitary identity that has totally assimilated the nonidentical.”  Postone, Time, Labor, and Social Domination.  Pg. 185.

[16] “What the theories of Weber, Max Scheler, or Mannheim sanctioned as a ‘necessary’ shift of method in the structure of intellectual work, what Keynes and later Schumpeter lead back to the terms of an economic plan which presupposes a highly articulated functioning of capital in its totality, and what the ideologies of the avant-garde introduced as a proposal for social behavior, was the transformation of traditional ideology into utopia, as a prefiguration of an abstract final moment of development coincident with a global rationalization, with a positive realization of the dialectic.”  Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia.  Pg. 62.

[17] Ibid., pg. 74.

[18] Simmel, Georg.  The Philosophy of Money.  Translated by Tom Bottomore, David Frisby, and Kaethe Mengelberg.  (Routledge.  New York, NY: 2004).  Pg. 354.  Originally published in 1907.

[19] Our concept of “total architecture” is loosely related to Walter Gropius’ identical phrase: “[A]n architect or planner worth the name must have a very broad and comprehensive vision indeed to achieve a true synthesis of a future community.  This we might call ‘total architecture.’”  Gropius, Walter.  “The Scope of Total Architecture.”  The Scope of Total Architecture.  (Harper & Row.  New York, NY: 1955).  Pg. 184.

[20] Le Corbusier, The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning.  Pgs. 18-19.

[21] See pages 73-76.

[22] Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture.  Pg. 118.

[23] Vladimir Semenov, quoted in Khan-Magomedov, Pioneers of Soviet Architecture.  Pg. 340.

[24] Hannes Meyer.  “Building.” Translated by Michael Bullock.  From Programs and Manifestoes on 20th-Century Architecture.  Edited by Ulrich Conrads.  (MIT Press.  Cambridge, MA: 1970).  Pg. 119.  Originally written in 1928, in bauhaus, Year 2, № 4.

Theodor Adorno’s “Functionalism Today” (1965)

AFE Tower at the University of Frankfurt

I would first like to express my gratitude for the confidence shown me by Adolf Arndt in his invitation to speak here today.  At the same time, I must also express my serious doubts as to whether I really have the right to speak before you.  Métier, expertise in both matters of handicraft and of technique, counts in your circle for a great deal.  And rightly so.  If there is one idea of lasting influence which has developed out of the Werkbund movement, it is precisely this emphasis on concrete competence as opposed to an aesthetics removed and isolated from material questions.  I am familiar with this dictum from my own métier, music.  There it became a fundamental theorem, thanks to a school which cultivated close personal relationships with both Adolf Loos and (the Bauhaus, and which was therefore fully aware of its intellectual tics to objectivity [Sachlichkeit][1]in the arts.  Nevertheless, I can make no claim to competence in matters of architecture.  And yet. I do not resist the temptation, and knowingly face the danger that you may briefly tolerate me as a dilettante and then cast me aside.  I do this firstly because of my pleasure in presenting some of my reflections in public, and to you in particular: and secondly, because of Adolf Loos’ comment that while an artwork need not appeal to anyone, a house is responsible to each and everyone.[2]  I am not yet sure whether this statement is in fact valid, but in the meantime.  I need not be holier than the pope.

I find that the style of German reconstruction fills me with a disturbing discontent, one which many of you may certainly share.  Since I no less than the specialists must constantly face this feeling.  I feel justified in examining its foundations.  Common elements between music and architecture have been discussed repeatedly, almost to the point of ennui.  In uniting that which I see in architecture with that which I understand about the difficulties in music, I may not be transgressing the law of the division of labor as much as it may seem.  But to accomplish this union, I must stand at a greater distance from these subjects than you may justifiably expect.  It seems to me, however, not unrealistic that at times — in latent crisis situations — it may help to remove oneself farther from phenomena than the spirit of technical competence would usually allow.  The principle of “fittingness to the material” [Material-gerechtigkeit][3] rests on the foundation of the division of labor.  Nevertheless, it is advisable even for experts to occasionally take into account the extent to which their expertise may suffer from just that division of labor, as the artistic naïveté underlying it can impose its own limitations.

Let me begin with the fact that the anti-ornamental movement has affected the “purpose-free” arts [zweckfreie Künste][4]as well.  It lies in the nature of artworks to inquire after the essential and necessary in them and to react against all superfluous elements.  After the critical tradition declined to offer the arts a canon of right and wrong, the responsibility to take such considerations into account was placed on each individual work; each had to test itself against its own immanent logic, regardless of whether or not it was motivated by some external purpose.  This was by no means a new position. Mozart, though clearly still standard-bearer and critical representative of the great tradition, responded in the following way to the minor objection of a member of the royal family  — “But so many notes, my dear Mozart” — after the premier of his “Abduction” with “Not one note more, Your Majesty, than was necessary.”  In his Critique of [6] Judgment, Kant grounded this norm philosophically in the formula of “purposiveness without a purpose” [Zweckmässigkeit ohne Zweck]The formula reflects an essential impulse in the judgment of taste.  And yet it does not account for the historical dynamic.  Based on a language stemming from the realm of materials, what this language defines as necessary can later become superfluous, even terribly ornamental, as soon as it can no longer be legitimated in a second kind of language, which is commonly called style.  What was functional yesterday can therefore become the opposite tomorrow.  Loos was thoroughly aware of this historical dynamic contained in the concept of ornament.  Even representative, luxurious, pompous and, in a certain sense, burlesque elements may appear in certain forms of art as necessary, and not at all burlesque.  To criticize the Baroque for this reason would be philistine.  Criticism of ornament means no more than criticism of that which has lost its functional and symbolic signification.  Ornament becomes then a mere decaying and poisonous organic vestige.  The new art is opposed to this, for it represents the fictitiousness of a depraved romanticism, an ornamentation embarrassingly trapped in its own impotence.  Modern music and architecture, by concentrating strictly on expression and construction, both strive together with equal rigor to efface all such ornament.  Schonberg’s compositional innovations, Karl Kraus’ literary struggle against journalistic clichés and Loos’ denunciation of ornament are not vague analogies in intellectual history; they reflect precisely the same intention.  This insight necessitates a correction of Loos’ thesis, which he, in his open-mindedness. would probably not have rejected: the question of functionalism does not coincide with the question of practical function.  The purpose-free [zweckfrei]and the purposeful [zweckgebunden]arts do not form the radical opposition which he imputed.  The difference between the necessary and the superfluous is inherent in a work, and is not defined by the work’s relationship — or the lack of it — to something outside itself.

In Loos’ thought and in the early period of functionalism, purposeful and aesthetically autonomous products were separated from one another by absolute fact. This separation, which is in fact the object of our reflection, arose from the contemporary polemic against the applied arts and crafts (Kunstgewerbe).[5]  Although they determined the period of Loos’ development, he soon escaped from them.  Loos was thus situated historically between Peter Altenberg and Le Corbusier.  The movement of applied art had its beginnings in Ruskin and Morris.  Revolting against the shapelessness of mass-produced, pseudo-individualized forms, it rallied around such new concepts as “will to style,” “stylization,” and ‘shaping,” and around the idea that one should apply art. reintroduce it into life in order to restore life to it.  Their slogans were numerous and had a powerful effect.  Nevertheless.  Loos noticed quite early the implausibility of such endeavors: articles for use lose meaning as soon as they are displaced or disengaged in such a way that their use is no longer required.  Art, with its definitive protest against the dominance of purpose over human life, suffers once it is reduced to that practical level to which it objects, in Hölderlin’s words: “For never from now on/Shall the sacred serve mere use.”  Loos found the artificial art of practical objects repulsive.  Similarly, he felt that the practical reorientation of purpose-free art would eventually subordinate it to the destructive autocracy of profit, which even arts and crafts, at least in their beginnings, had once opposed.  Contrary to these efforts.  Loos preached for the return to an honest handicraft[6] which would place itself in the service of technical innovations without having to borrow forms from art.  His claims suffer from too simple an antithesis.  Their [7] restorative clement, not unlike that of the individualization of crafts, has since become equally clear.  To this day, they are still bound to discussions of objectivity.

In any given product, freedom from purpose and purposefulness can never be absolutely separated from one another.  The two notions are historically interconnected.  The ornaments, after all, which Loos expulsed with a vehemence quite out of character, are often actually vestiges of outmoded means of production.  And conversely, numerous purposes, like sociability, dance and entertainment, have filtered into purpose-free art; they have been generally incorporated into its formal and generic laws.  Purposefulness without purpose is thus really the sublimation of purpose.  Nothing exists as an aesthetic object in itself but only within the field of tension of such sublimation.  Therefore there is no chemically pure purposefulness set up as the opposite of the purpose-free aesthetic.  Even the most pure forms of purpose are nourished by ideas — like formal transparency and graspability — which in fact are derived from artistic experience.  No form can be said to be determined exhaustively by its purpose.  This can be seen even in one of Schönberg’s revolutionary works, the First Chamber Symphony, about which Loos wrote some of his most insightful words, ironically, an ornamental theme appears, with a double beat recalling at once a central motif from Wagner’s “Götterdämmerung” and the theme from the First Movement of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony.  The ornament is the sustaining invention, if you will, objective in its own right.  Precisely this transitional theme becomes the model of a canonical exposition in the fourfold counterpoint, and thereby the model of the first extreme constructivist complex in modern music.  Schönberg’s belief in such material was appropriated from the Kunstgewerbe religion, which worshipped the supposed nobility of matter: it still continues to provide inspiration even in autonomous art.  He combined with this belief the ideas of a construction fitting to the material.  To it corresponds an undialectical concept of beauty, which encompasses autonomous art like a nature preserve.  That art aspires to autonomy does not mean that it unconditionally purges itself of ornamental elements: the very existence of art, judged by the criteria of the practical, is ornamental.  If Loos’ aversion to ornament had been rigidly consistent, he would have had to extend it to all of art.  To his credit he stopped before reaching this conclusion.  In this circumspection, by the way, he is similar to the positivists.  On the one hand, they would expunge from the realm of philosophy anything which they deem poetic.  On the other, they sense no infringement by poetry itself on their kind of positivism.  Thus, they tolerate poetry if it remains in a special realm, neutralized and unchallenged, since they have already relaxed the notion of objective truth.

The belief that a substance bears within itself its own adequate form presumes that it is already invested with meaning.  Such a doctrine made the symbolist aesthetic possible.  The resistance to the excesses of the applied arts pertained not just to hidden forms, but also to the cult of materials.  It created an aura of essentiality about them.  Loos expressed precisely this notion in his critique of batik.  Meanwhile, the invention of artificial products — materials originating in industry — no longer permitted the archaic faith in an innate beauty, the foundation of a magic connected with precious elements.  Furthermore, the crisis arising from the latest developments of autonomous art demonstrated how little meaningful organization could depend on the material itself.  Whenever organizational principles rely too heavily on material, the result approaches mere patchwork.  The idea of fittingness to the materials in purposeful art cannot remain indifferent to such criticisms.  Indeed, the illusion of purposefulness as its own purpose cannot stand up to the simplest [8] social reality.  Something would be purposeful here and now only if it were so in terms of the present society.  Yet, certain irrationalities — Marx’s term for them was faux frais — are essential to society: the social process always proceeds, in spite of all particular planning, by its own inner nature, aimlessly and irrationally.  Such irrationality leaves its mark on all ends and purposes, and thereby also on the rationality of the means devised to achieve those ends.  Thus, a self-mocking contradiction emerges in the omnipresence of advertisements: they are intended to be purposeful for profit.  And yet all purposefulness is technically defined by its measure of material appropriateness.  If an advertisement were strictly functional, without ornamental surplus, it would no longer fulfill its purpose as advertisement.  Of course, the fear of technology is largely stuffy and old-fashioned, even reactionary.  And yet it does have its validity, for it reflects the anxiety felt in the face of the violence which an irrational society can impose on its members, indeed on everything which is forced to exist within its confines.  This anxiety reflects a common childhood experience, with which Loos seems unfamiliar, even though he is otherwise strongly influenced by the circumstances of his youth: the longing for castles with long chambers and silk tapestries, the utopia of escapism.  Something of this utopia lives on in the modern aversion to the escalator, to Loos’ celebrated kitchen, to the factory smokestack, to the shabby side of an antagonistic society.  It is heightened by outward appearances.  Deconstruction of these appearances, however, has little power over the completely denigrated sphere, where praxis continues as always.  One might attack the pinnacles of the bogus castles of the moderns (which Thorstein Veblen despised), the ornaments, for example, pasted onto shoes: but where this is possible, it merely aggravates an already horrifying situation The process has implications for the world of pictures as well.  Positivist art, a culture of the existing, has been exchanged for aesthetic truth.  One envisions the prospect of a new Ackerstraße.[7]

The limits of functionalism to date have been the limits of the bourgeoisie in its practical sense.  Even in Loos, the sworn enemy of Viennese kitsch, one finds some remarkably bourgeois traces.  Since the bourgeois structure had already permeated so many feudalistic and absolutist forms in his city, Loos believed he could use its rigorous principles to free himself from traditional formulas.  His writings, for example, contain attacks on awkward Viennese formality.  Furthermore, his polemics are colored by a unique strain of puritanism, which nears obsession.  Loos’ thought, like so much bourgeois criticism of culture, is an intersection of two fundamental directions.  On the one hand, he realized that this culture was actually not at all cultural.  This informed above all his relationship to his native environment.  On the other, he felt a deep animosity toward culture in general, which called for the prohibition not only of superficial veneer, but also of all soft and smooth touches.  In this he disregarded the fact that culture is not the place for untamed nature, nor for a merciless domination over nature.  The future of Sachlichkeit could be a liberating one only if it shed its barbarous traits.  It could no longer inflict on men — whom it supposedly upheld as its only measure — the sadistic blows of sharp edges, bare calculated rooms, stairways, and the like.  Virtually every consumer had probably felt all too painfully the impracticability of the mercilessly practical.  Hence our bitter suspicion is formulated: the absolute rejection of style becomes style.  Loos traces ornament back to erotic symbols.  In turn, his rigid rejection of ornamentation is coupled with his disgust with erotic symbolism.  He finds uncurbed nature both regressive and embarrassing.  The tone of his condemnations of [9] ornament echoes an often openly expressed rage against moral delinquency: “But the man of our time who, out of inner compulsion, smears walls with erotic symbols is a criminal and a degenerate.”[8]  The insult “degenerate” connects Loos to movements of which he certainly would not have approved [i.e., Nazism].  “One can,” he says, “measure the culture of a country by the amount of graffiti on the bathroom walls.”[9]  But in southern countries, in Mediterranean countries in general, one finds a great deal.  In fact, the Surrealists made much use of such unreflected expressions.  Loos would certainly have hesitated before imputing a lack of culture to these areas.  His hatred of ornament can best be understood by examining a psychological argument.[10]  He seems to see in ornament the mimetic impulse, which runs contrary to rational objectification: he sees in it an expression which, even in sadness and lament, is related to the pleasure principle.  Arguing from tins principle, one must accept that there is a factor of expression in even, object.  Any special relegation of this factor to art alone would be an oversimplification.  It cannot be separated from objects of use.  Thus, even when these objects lack expression, they must pay tribute to it by attempting to avoid it.  Hence all obsolete objects of use eventually become an expression, a collective picture of the epoch.  There is barely a practical form which, along with its appropriateness for use, would not therefore also be a symbol.  Psychoanalysis too has demonstrated this principle on the basis of unconscious images, among which the house figures prominently.  According to Freud, symbolic intention quickly allies itself to technical forms, like the airplane, and according to contemporary American research in mass psychology, often to the car.  Thus, purposeful forms are the language of their own purposes.  By means of the mimetic impulse, the living being equates himself with objects in his surroundings.  This occurs long before artists initiate conscious imitation.  What begins as symbol becomes ornament, and finally appears superfluous; it had its origins, nevertheless, in natural shapes, to which men adapted themselves though their artifacts.  The inner image which is expressed in that impulse was once something external, something coercively objective.  This argument explains the fact, known since Loos, that ornament, indeed artistic form in general, cannot be invented.  The achievement of all artists, and not just those interested in specific ends, is reduced to something incomparably more modest than the art-religion of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would have been willing to accept.  The psychological basis of ornament hence undercuts aesthetic principles and aims.  However the question is by no means settled how art would be possible in any form if ornamentation were no longer a substantial element, if art itself could no longer invent any true ornaments.

This last difficulty, which Sachlichkeit unavoidably encounters, is not a mere error.  It cannot be arbitrarily corrected.  It follows directly from the historical character of the subject.  Use — or consumption — is much more closely related to the pleasure principle than an object of artistic representation responsible only to its own formal laws: it means the “using up of,” the denial of the object, that it ought not to be.  Pleasure appears, according to the bourgeois work ethic, as wasted energy.  Loos’ formulation makes clear how much as an early cultural critic he was fundamentally attached to that order whose manifestations he chastised wherever they failed to follow their own principles: “Ornament is wasted work energy and thereby wasted health.  It has always been so.  But today it also means wasted material, and both mean wasted capital.”[11] Two irreconcilable motifs coincide in this statement: economy, for where else, if not in the norms of profitability, is it stated that nothing should be wasted: and the dream of the totally [10] technological world, free from the shame of work.  The second motif points beyond the commercial world.  For Loos it lakes the form of the realization that the widely lamented impotency to create ornament and the so-called extinction of stylizing energy (which he exposed as an invention of art historians) imply an advance in the arts.  He realized in addition that those aspects of an industrialized society, which by bourgeois standards are negative, actually represent its positive side:

Style used to mean ornament.  So I said: don’t lament! Don’t you see? Precisely this makes our age great, that it is incapable of producing new ornament.  We have conquered ornament, we have struggled to the stage of non-ornamentation.  Watch, the time is near.  Fulfillment awaits us.  Soon the streets of the cities will shine like while walls.  Like Zion, the sacred city, heaven’s capital.  Then salvation will be ours.[12]

In this conception, the state free of ornament would be a utopia of concretely fulfilled presence, no longer in need of symbols.  Objective truth, all the belief in things, would cling to this utopia.  This utopia remains hidden for Loos by his crucial experience with Jugendstil:

Individual man is incapable of creating form: therefore, so is the architect.  The architect, however, attempts the impossible again and again — and always in vain.  Form, or ornament, is the result of the unconscious cooperation of men belonging to a whole cultural sphere.  Everything else is art.  Art is the self-imposed will of the genius.  God gave him his mission.[13]

This axiom, that the artist fulfils a divine mission, no longer holds.  A general demystification, which began in the commercial realm, has encroached upon art.  With it, the absolute difference between inflexible purposefulness and autonomous freedom has been reduced as well.  But here we face another contradiction.  On the one hand, the purely purpose-oriented forms have been revealed as insufficient, monotonous, deficient, and narrow-mindedly practical.  At times, of course, individual masterpieces do stand out: until then, one tends to attribute the success to the creator’s “genius,” and not to something objective within the achievement itself.  On the other, the attempt to bring into the work the external clement of imagination as a corrective, to help the mailer out with this element which stems from outside of if is equally pointless: if serves only to mistakenly resurrect decoration, which has been justifiably criticized by modern architecture.  The results are extremely disheartening.  A critical analysis of the mediocre modernity of the style of German reconstruction by a true expert would be extremely relevant.  My suspicion in the Minima Moralia that the world is no longer habitable has already been confirmed, the heavy shadow of instability bears upon built form, the shadow of mass migrations, which had their preludes in the years of Hitler and his war.  This contradiction must be consciously grasped in all its necessity.  But we cannot stop there.  If we do, we give in to a continually threatening catastrophe.  The most recent catastrophe, the air raids, have already led architecture into a condition from winch it cannot escape.


The poles of the contradiction are revealed in two concepts, which seem mutually exclusive: handicraft and imagination.  Loos expressly rejected the latter in the context of the world of use:

Pure and clean construction has had to replace the imaginative forms of past centuries and the flourishing ornamentation of past ages.  Straight lines: sharp, straight edges: the craftsman works only with these.  He has nothing but a purpose in mind and nothing but materials and tools in front of him.[14]

Le Corbusier, however, sanctioned imagination in his theoretical writings, at least in a somewhat general sense: “The task of the architect: knowledge of men, creative imagination, beauty.  Freedom of choice (spiritual man).”[15]  We may safely assume that in general the more advanced architects tend to prefer handicraft, while more backward and unimaginative architects all too gladly praise imagination.  We must be wary, however, of simply accepting the concepts of handicraft and imagination in the loose sense in which they have been tossed back and forth in the ongoing polemic.  Only then can we hope to reach an alternative.  The word “handicraft,” which immediately gains consent, covers something qualitatively different.  Only unreasonable dilettantism and blatant idealism would attempt to deny that each authentic and, in the broadest sense, artistic activity requires a precise understanding of the materials and techniques at the artists disposal, and to be sure, at the most advanced level.

Only the artist who has never subjected himself to the discipline of creating a picture, who believes in the intuitive origins of painting, fears that closeness to materials and technical understanding will destroy his originality.  He has never learned what is historically available, and can never make use of it.  And so he conjures up out of the supposed depths of his own interiority that which is merely the residue of outmoded forms.  The word “handicraft” appeals to such a simple truth.  But quite different chords resonate unavoidably along with it.  The syllable “hand” exposes a past means of production: it recalls a simple economy of wares.  These means of production have since disappeared.  Ever since the proposals of the English precursors of “modern style” they have been reduced to a masquerade.  One associates the notion of handicraft with the apron of a Hans Sachs, or possibly the great world chronicle.  At times, I cannot suppress the suspicion that such an archaic “shirt sleeves” ethos survives even among the younger proponents of “handcraftiness”: they are despisers of art.  If some feel themselves superior to art, then it is only because they have never experienced it as Loos did.  For Loos, appreciation of both art and its applied form led to a bitter emotional conflict.  In the area of music, I know of one advocate of handicraft who spoke with plainly romantic anti-romanticism of the “hut mentality.”  I once caught him thinking of handicrafts as stereotypical formulas, practices as he called them, which were supposed to spare the energies of the composer: it never dawned on him that nowadays the uniqueness of each concrete task excludes such formalization.  Thanks to attitudes such as his, handicraft is transformed into that which it wants to repudiate: the same lifeless, reified repetition which ornament had propagated.  I dare not judge whether a similar kind of perversity is at work in the concept of form-making when viewed as a detached operation, independent from the immanent demands and laws of the object to be formed.  In any [12] case, I would imagine that the retrospective infatuation with the aura of the socially doomed craftsman is quite compatible with the disdainfully trumped-up attitude of his successor, the expert.  Proud of his expertise and as unpolished as his tables and chairs, the expert disregards those reflections needed in this age which no longer possesses anything to grasp on to.  It is impossible to do without the expert; it is impossible in this age of commercial means of production to recreate that state before the division of labour which society has irretrievably obliterated.  But likewise, it is impossible to raise the expert to the measure of all things.  His disillusioned modernity, which claims to have shed all ideologies, is easily appropriated into the mask of the petty bourgeois routine.  Handicraft becomes handcraftiness.  Good handicraft means the fittingness of means to an end.  The ends are certainly not independent of the means.  The means have their own logic, a logic which points beyond them.  If the fittingness of the means becomes an end in itself, it becomes fetishized.  The handworker mentality begins to produce the opposite effect from its original intention, when it was used to fight the silk smoking jacket and the beret.  It hinders the objective reason behind productive forces instead of allowing it to unfold.  Whenever handicraft is established as a norm today, one must closely examine the intention.  The concept of handicraft stands in close relationship to function.  Its functions, however, are by no means necessarily enlightened or advanced.

The concept of imagination, like that of handicraft, must not be adopted without critical analysis.  Psychological triviality — imagination as nothing but the image of something not yet present — is clearly insufficient.  As an interpretation, it explains merely what is determined by imagination in artistic processes, and, I presume, also in the purposeful arts.  Walter Benjamin once defined imagination as the ability to interpolate in minutest detail.  Undeniably, such a definition accomplishes much more than current views which tend cither to elevate the concept into an immaterial heaven or to condemn it on objective grounds.  Imagination in the production of a work of representational art is not pleasure in free invention, in creation ex nihilo.  There is no such thing in any ail, even in autonomous art, the realm to which Loos restricted imagination.  Any penetrating analysis of the autonomous work of art concludes that die additions invented by the artist above and beyond the given state of materials and forms are miniscule and of limited value.  On the other hand, the reduction of imagination to an anticipatory adaptation to material ends is equally inadequate; it transforms imagination into an eternal sameness.  It is impossible to ascribe Le Corbusier’s powerful imaginative feats completely to the relationship between architecture and the human body, as he does in his own writings.  Clearly there exists, perhaps imperceptible in the materials and forms which the artist acquires and develops something more than material and forms.  Imagination means to innervate this something.  This is not as absurd a notion as it may sound.  For the forms, even the materials, are by no means merely given by nature, as an unreflective artist might easily presume.  History has accumulated in them, and spirit permeates them.  What they contain is not a positive law; and yet, their content emerges as a sharply outlined figure of the problem.  Artistic imagination awakens these accumulated elements by becoming aware of the innate problematic of the material.  The minimal progress of imagination responds to the wordless question posed to it by the materials and forms in their quiet and elemental language.  Separate impulses, even purpose and immanent formal laws, are thereby fused together.  An interaction takes place between purpose, space, and material.  None of these facets makes up any one Ur-phenomenon to which all [13] the others can be reduced.  It is here that the insight furnished by philosophy that no thought can lead to an absolute beginning — that such absolutes are the products of abstraction — exerts its influence on aesthetics.  Hence music, which had so long emphasized die supposed primacy of the individual tone, had to discover finally the more complex relationships of its components.  The tone receives meaning only within the functional structure of the system, without which it would be a merely physical entity. Superstition alone can hope to extract from it a latent aesthetic structure.  One speaks, with good reason, of a sense of space [Raumgefühl]in architecture.  But this sense of space is not a pure, abstract essence, not a sense of spatiality itself, since space is only conceivable as concrete space, within specific dimensions.  A sense of space is closely connected with purposes.  Even when architecture attempts to elevate this sense beyond the realm of purposefulness, it is still simultaneously immanent in the purpose.  The success of such a synthesis is the principal criterion for great architecture.  Architecture inquires: how can a certain purpose become space; through which forms, which materials? All factors relate reciprocally to one another.  Architectonic imagination is, according to this conception of it, the ability to articulate space purposefully.  It permits purposes to become space.  It constructs forms according to purposes.  Conversely, space and the sense of space can become more than impoverished purpose only when imagination impregnates them with purposefulness.  Imagination breaks out of the immanent connections of purpose, to which it owes its very existence.

I am fully conscious of the ease with which concepts like a sense of space can degenerate into clichés, in the end even be applied to arts and crafts.  Here I feel the limits of the non-expert who is unable to render these concepts sufficiently precise although they have been so enlightening in modern architecture.  And yet, I permit myself a certain degree of speculation: the sense of space, in contradistinction to the abstract idea of space, corresponds in the visual realm to musicality in the acoustical.  Musicality cannot be reduced to an abstract conception of time — for example.  The ability, however beneficial, to conceive of the time units of a metronome without having to listen to one.  Similarly, the sense of space is not limited to spatial images, even though these are probably a prerequisite for even architect if he is to read his outlines and blueprints the way a musician reads his score.  A sense of space seems to demand more, namely that something can occur to the artist out of space itself; this cannot be something arbitrary in space and indifferent toward space.  Analogously, the musician invents his melodies, indeed all his musical structures, out of time itself, out of the need to organize time.  Mere time relationships do not suffice, since they are indifferent toward the concrete musical event: nor does the invention of individual musical passages or complexes, since their time structures and time relationships are not conceived along with them.  In the productive sense of space, purpose takes over to a large extent the role of content, as opposed to the formal constituents which the architect creates out of space.  The tension between form and content which makes all artistic creation possible communicates itself through purpose especially in the purpose-oriented arts.  The new “objective” asceticism does contain therefore an element of truth: unmediated subjective expression would indeed be inadequate for architecture.  Where only such expression is striven for, the result is not architecture, but filmsets, at times, as in the old Golem film, even good ones.  The position of subjective expression, then, is occupied in architecture by the function for [14] the subject.  Architecture would thus attain a higher standard the more intensely it reciprocally mediated the two extremes — formal construction and function.

The subject’s function, however, is not determined by some generalized person of an unchanging physical nature but by concrete social norms.  Functional architecture represents the rational character as opposed to the suppressed instincts of empirical subjects, who, in the present society, still seek their fortunes in all conceivable nooks and crannies.  It calls upon a human potential which is grasped in principle by our advanced consciousness, but which is suffocated in most men, who have been kept spiritually impotent.  Architecture worthy of human beings thinks better of men than they actually are.  It views them in the way they could be according to the status of their own productive energies as embodied in technology.  Architecture contradicts the needs of the here and now as soon as it proceeds to serve those needs — without simultaneously representing any absolute or lasting ideology.  Architecture still remains, as Loos’ book title complained seventy years ago, a cry into emptiness.  The fact that the great architects from Loos to Le Corbusier and [Hans] Scharoun were able to realize only a small portion of their work in stone and concrete cannot be explained solely by the reactions of unreasonable contractors and administrators (although that explanation must not be underestimated).  This fact is conditioned by a social antagonism over which the greatest architecture has no power: the same society which developed human productive energies to unimaginable proportions has chained them to conditions of production imposed upon them: thus the people who in reality constitute the productive energies become deformed according to the measure of their working conditions.  This fundamental contradiction is most clearly visible in architecture.  It is just as difficult for architecture to rid itself of the tensions which this contradiction produces as it is for the consumer.  Things are not universally correct in architecture and universally incorrect in men.  Men suffer enough injustice, for their consciousness and unconsciousness are trapped in a state of minority; they have not, so to speak, come of age.  This nonage hinders their identification with their own concerns.  Because architecture is in fact both autonomous and purpose-oriented, it cannot simply negate men as they are.  And yet it must do precisely that if it is to remain autonomous.  If it would bypass mankind tel quel,then it would be accommodating itself to what would be a questionable anthropology and even ontology.  It was not merely by chance that Le Corbusier envisioned human prototypes.  Living men, even the most backward and conventionally naive, have the right to the fulfillment of their needs, even though those needs may be false ones.  Once thought supersedes without consideration the subjective desires for the sake of truly objective needs, it is transformed into brutal oppression.  So it is with the volonté generale against the volonté de tous.  Even in the false needs of a human being there lives a bit of freedom.  It is expressed in what economic theory once called the “use value” as opposed to the “exchange value.”  Hence there are those to whom legitimate architecture appears as an enemy; it withholds from them that which they, by their very nature, want and even need.

Beyond the phenomenon of the “cultural lag,” this antinomy may have its origin in the development of the concept of art.  Art, in order to be art according to its own formal laws, must be crystallized in autonomous form.  This constitutes its truth content; otherwise, it would he subservient to that which it negates by its very existence.  And yet, as a human product, it is never completely removed from humanity.  It contains as a constitutive clement something of that which it necessarily resists.  Where art obliterates [15] its own memory, forgetting that it is only there for others, it becomes a fetish, a self-conscious and thereby relativized absolute.  Such was the dream of Jugendstil beauty.  But art is also compelled to strive for pure self-immanence if it is not to become sacrificed to fraudulence.  The result is a quid pro quo.  An activity which envisions as its subject a liberated, emancipated humanity, possible only in a transformed society, appears in the present stale as an adaptation to a technology which has degenerated into an end in itself, into a self-purpose.  Such an apotheosis of objectification is the irreconcilable opponent of art.  The result, moreover, is not mere appearance.  The more consistently both autonomous and so-called applied art reject their own magical and mythical origins and follow their own formal laws, the greater the danger of such an adaptation becomes.  Art possesses no sure means to counter such a danger.  Thorstein Veblen’s aporia is thus repeated: before 1900, he demanded that men think purely technologically, causally, mechanistically in order to overcome the living deceit of their world of images.  He thereby sanctioned the objective categories of that economy which he criticized: in a free state, men would no longer be subservient to a technology which, in fact, existed only for them; it would be there to serve them.  However in the present epoch men have been absorbed into technology and have left only their empty shells behind, as if they had passed into it their better half.  Their own consciousness has been objectified in the face of technology, as if objective technology had in some sense the right to criticize consciousness.  Technology is there for men: this is a plausible proposition, but it has been degraded to the vulgar ideology of regressionism.  This is evident in the fact that one need only invoke it to be rewarded from all sides with enthusiastic understanding.  The whole situation is somehow false; nothing in it can smooth over the contradiction.  On the one hand, an imagined utopia, free from the binding purposes of the existing order, would become powerless, a detached ornament, since it must take its elements and structure from that very order.  On the other, any attempt to ban the utopian factor, like a prohibition of images, immediately falls victim to the spell of the prevailing order.

The concern of functionalism is a subordination to usefulness.  What is not useful is assailed without question because developments in the arts have brought its inherent aesthetic insufficiency into the open.  The merely useful, however, is interwoven with relationships of guilt, the means to the devastation of the world, a hopelessness which denies all but deceptive consolations to mankind.  But even if this contradiction can never be ultimately eliminated, one must take a first step in trying to grasp it; in bourgeois society, usefulness has its own dialectic.  The useful object would be the highest achievement, an anthropomorphized “thing,” the reconciliation with objects which are no longer closed off from humanity and which no longer suffer humiliation at the hands of men.  Childhood perception of technical things promises such a stale; they appear as images of a near and helpful spirit, cleansed of profit motivation.  Such a conception was not unfamiliar to the theorists of social utopias.  It provides a pleasant refuge from true development, and allows a vision of useful things which have lost their coldness.  Mankind would no longer suffer from the “thingly” character of the world,[16] and likewise “things” would come into their own.  Once redeemed from their own “thingliness,” “things” would find their purpose.  But in present society all usefulness is displaced, bewitched.  Society deceives us when it says that it allows things to appear as if they are there by mankind’s will.  In fact, they are produced for profits sake; they satisfy human needs only incidentally.  They call forth new needs and maintain them according to the profit [16] motive.  Since what is useful and beneficial to man, cleansed of human domination and exploitation, would be correct, nothing is more aesthetically unbearable than the present shape of things, subjugated and internally deformed into their opposite.  The raison d’être of all autonomous art since the dawning of the bourgeois era is that only useless objects testify to that which may have at one point been useful: it represents correct and fortunate use, a contact with things beyond the antithesis between use and uselessness.  This conception implies that men who desire betterment must rise up against practicability.  If they overvalue it and react to it, they join the camp of the enemy.  It is said that work does not defile.  Like most proverbial expressions, this covers up the converse truth: exchange defiles useful work.  The curse of exchange has overtaken autonomous art as well.  In autonomous art, the useless is contained within its limited and particular form: it is thus helplessly exposed to the criticism waged by its opposite, the useful.  Conversely in the useful, that which is now the case is closed off to its possibilities.  The obscure secret of art is the fetishistic character of goods and wares.  Functionalism would like to break out of this entanglement: and yet, it can only rattle its chains in vain as long as it remains trapped in an entangled society.

I have tried to make you aware of certain contradictions whose solution cannot be delineated by a non-expert.  It is indeed doubtful whether they can be solved today at all.  To this extent, I could expect you to criticize me for the uselessness of my argumentation.  My defense is implicit in my thesis that the concepts of useful and useless cannot be accepted without due consideration.  The time is over when we can isolate ourselves in our respective tasks.  The object at hand demands the kind of reflection which objectivity [Sachlichkeit]generally rebuked in a clearly non-objective manner.  By demanding immediate legitimation of a thought, by demanding to know what good that thought is now, tire thought is usually brought to a standstill at a point where it can offer insights which one day might even improve praxis in an unpredictable way.  Thought has its own coercive impulse, like the one you are familiar with in your work with your material.  The work of an artist, whether or not it is directed toward a particular purpose, can no longer proceed naïvely on a prescribed path.  It manifests a crisis which demands that the expert — regardless of his prideful craftsmanship — go beyond his craft in order to satisfy it.  He must do this in two ways.  First, with regard to social things: he must account for the position of his work in society and for the social limits which he encounters on all sides.  This consideration becomes crucial in problems concerning city planning, even beyond the tasks of reconstruction, where architectonic questions collide with social questions such as the existence or non-existence of a collective social subject.  It hardly needs mentioning that city planning is insufficient so long as it centers on particular instead of collective social ends.  The merely immediate, practical principles of city planning do not coincide with those of a truly rational conception free from social irrationalities, they lack that collective social subject which must be the prime concern of city planning.  Herein lies one reason why city planning threatens cither to degenerate into chaos or to hinder the productive architectonic achievement of individuals.

Second, and I would like to emphasize this aspect to you, architecture, indeed every purposeful art, demands constant aesthetic reflection.  I know how suspect the word “aesthetic” must sound to you.  You think perhaps of professors who, with their eyes raised to heaven, spew forth formalistic laws of eternal and everlasting beauty, which are no more than recipes for the production of ephemeral, classicist kitsch.  In fact, the [17] opposite must be the case in true aesthetics.  It must absorb precisely those objections which it once raised in principle against all artists.  Aesthetics would condemn itself if it continued unreflectively, speculatively, without relentless self-criticism.  Aesthetics as an integral facet of philosophy awaits a new impulse which must come from reflective efforts.  Hence recent artistic praxis has tinned to aesthetics.  Aesthetics becomes a practical necessity once it becomes clear that concepts like usefulness and uselessness in art, like the separation of autonomous and purpose-oriented art, imagination and ornament, must once again be discussed before the artist can act positively or negatively according to such categories.  Whether you like it or not you are being pushed daily to considerations, aesthetic considerations, which transcend your immediate tasks.  Your experience calls Molière’s Monsieur Jourdain to mind, who discovers to his amazement in studying rhetoric that he has been speaking prose for his entire life.  Once your activity compels you to aesthetic considerations, yon deliver yourself up to its power.  You can no longer break off and conjure up ideas arbitrarily in the name of pure and thorough expertise.  The artist who does not pursue aesthetic thought energetically tends to lapse into dilettantish hypothesis and groping justifications for the sake of defending his own intellectual construct.  In music, Pierre Boulez, one of the most technically competent contemporary composers, extended constructivism to its extreme in some of his compositions: subsequently, however, he emphatically announced the necessity of aesthetics.  Such an aesthetics would not presume to herald principles which establish the key to beauty or ugliness itself.  This discretion alone would place the problem of ornament in a new light.  Beauty today can have no other measure except the depth to which a work resolves contradictions.  A work must cut through the contradictions and overcome them, not by covering them up, but by pursuing them.  Mere formal beauty, whatever that might be, is empty and meaningless; the beauty of its content is lost in the preartistic sensual pleasure of the observer.  Beauty is cither the resultant of force vectors or it is nothing at all.  A modified aesthetics would outline its own object with increasing clarity as it would begin to feel more intensely the need to investigate it.  Unlike traditional aesthetics, it would not necessarily view the concept of art as its given correlate.  Aesthetic thought today must surpass art by thinking art.  It would thereby surpass the current opposition of purposeful and purpose-free, under which the producer must suffer as much as the observer.


[1] The Neue Sachlichkeit movement, one of the main post-expressionist trends in German art.  Is commonly translated as “New Objectivity.”  The word sachlich, however, carries a series of connotations.  Along with its emphasis on the “thing” [Sache] it implies a frame of mind of being “matter of feet,” “down to earth.”

[2] See Adolf Loos, Sämtliche Schriften, I, Franz Gluck (ed.), Vienna/Munich, 1962, pg. 314 ff.

[3] Gerechtigkeit implies not just “fittingness” or “appropriateness,” but even a stronger legal or moral “justice.”

[4] The word Zweck appears throughout Adorno’s speech, both alone and in various combinations It permeates the tradition of German aesthetics since Kant.  While it basically means “purpose,” it must sometimes be rendered in English as “goal” or “end” (as in “means and end,” Mittel und Zweck)Hence there is a certain consistency in Adorno’s use of the word which cannot always be maintained in English.


[5] Kunstgewerbe carries perhaps more seriousness than “arts and crafts.”  It covers the range of the applied arts.

[6] The word Handwerk in German means both “handwork” and “craftsmanship” or “skill.”  Because Adorno later emphasizes the “hand” aspect, we have decided on “handicraft.”

[7] The reference here is unclear.  It means literally “Field (or Acre) Street.”  Perhaps he is referring to a real street, a movement, or a historical place or event.  We have not been able to trace it.

[8] Adolf Loos, op cit., pg. 277.

[9] Ibid.

[10] It is unclear in the original text to what extent the following argument is Adorno’s or Loos’.  We have tried, to some extent, to maintain the ambiguity.

[11] Adolf Loos, op. cit., pg. 282 ff.

[12] Ibid., pg. 278.

[13] Ibid., pg. 393.

[14] Ibid., pg. 345.

[15] Le Corbusier.  Mein Werk, Stuttgart.  1960, pg. 306.

[16] The word Ding (“thing”) is also attached to numerous traditions in German thought and therefore has a certain philosophical or poetical importance (hence “the thingliness of things”).  Heidegger and Rilke, for example, both tried to elevate the notion of Ding to a new essential and existential status.

An international forum on the CRISIS OF THE LEFT

Chicago | NYC | Philly | Boston | Thessaloniki

Event info here

Crisis: Pathol. The point in the progress of a disease when an important development or change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death.

“…Existing strategies and theories seem inadequate in a bewildering contemporary political scene. Disparate groups have begun to show an interest in rethinking the fundamentals of Left politics…”

@New York: Wednesday, Nov. 16th, 7:00 – 9:30pm
Silver Center, Room 207
31 Washington Place, New York, NY


Paul Berman (nyu)
Carl Dix (rcp-usa)
Doug Henwood (lbo)
Bertell Ollman (nyu)
Marco Roth
and Nikil Saval (n+1)

Many on the Left feel a sense of crisis.

Existing strategies and theories seem inadequate in a bewildering contemporary political scene. Disparate groups have begun to show an interest in rethinking the fundamentals of Left politics. The Platypus Affiliated Society seeks to make the conversation explicit, and to host a series of discussions about the crisis of the contemporary Left: its quality, causes, and significance for future reconstitution and transformation.

Across five cities worldwide, we’ve invited figures from across the Left–academics, political organizers, theorists–to answer and debate six fundamental questions. We also pose these questions to the Left as a whole and invite responses from all quarters. The questions below stem from confusion; taking nothing for granted, we hope that confronting this confusion might open up future possibilities for renewed consciousness and practice on the Left.

How would you define the Left?
Do you think the Left is in crisis? If so, then what constitutes the crisis?
In trying to understand the contemporary Left, what history matters most? What tasks and problems have we inherited from the Old Left and the New Left?
Could the Left have done something to avoid its current impasses? If so, what?
What is the relationship between the Left and anti-capitalism? Between the Left and Marxism? What should it be?
How does the Left need to change? Who is responsible for making the change happen?

“A Vision for an Emancipated Future”

Étienne-Louis Boullée’s Cénotaphe à Newton (1784)

As if anticipating our own historical moment, Guy Debord once offered the following advice to anyone seeking to change the world: “Be realistic,” he insisted.  “Demand the impossible!”

It is perhaps no coincidence that the only politics befitting the dignity of human freedom today seems to us an impossibility.  We stand at the end of a long line of revolutionary defeats — some tragic, others farcical.  The world lies strewn with the detritus of dead epochs.  The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

And yet the past feels unbearably remote and out of reach, uncomprehended; it confronts us as an alien entity.  Yesterday’s grand visions of emancipation appear to us as so many distant, delicate daydreams — untenable, unthinkable.  Still in the background one can hear the faint echoes of La Marseillaise and L’Internationale, the notes all run together.

But these notes have largely been drowned out by the white noise of postmodernity.  The memory of such past struggles has faded, humanity’s deepest wish-fulfillments forgotten.  Instead we remain spellbound and transfixed by the current state of affairs.  We have lost the ability to imagine a society built on principles fundamentally different from our own.

Without an adequate understanding of the past, we have chained ourselves to the dumb reality of the present, abandoning all hope for a better future.  What little political imagination still survives is kept alive only by scavenging the desiccated remains of what once was possible.  We have thus set sail into the open seas of ahistory, and landed promptly in oblivion.  Only now are we beginning to glimpse the first rose-fingered rays of the dawn of a new era.

Despite all the emphasis placed upon “letting voices be heard” or “hearing voices” (one almost begins to feel schizophrenic) we have as yet been unable to voice a single demand.  Every attempt to articulate a unified vision of the world to come has been lost amidst the general cacophony and confusion.

Feelings of futility notwithstanding, we are nonetheless compelled to go back to the old drawing-board — to “give it another go.”  To launch a manifesto one has to want: A, B, & C; and fulminate against: 1, 2, & 3.  One must sign, shout, swear, and organize prose into a form that is absolutely and irrefutably obvious, in order to prove its ne plus ultra.

Section I: Liberty

But rather than just air a laundry-list of social grievances, a kitchen-sink of disconnected single issues divorced from any broader vision of global emancipation, we prefer to rally under the banner of one overarching principle that encompasses them all.  This is at once the most abstract, metaphysical, but for that very reason the most radical of all demands:

Humanity can accept nothing less than the promise of limitless, inalienable liberty — or what is the same, freedom.

This universal ideal has in recent years been rendered increasingly banal and diluted, robbed of the radicalism it once held.  Yet it is incumbent upon us to rescue this once noble notion from the clutches of its supposed spokesmen, to defend its honor against those who presently claim to act in its name.  For the false “freedom” that has so far been offered up to us under our present system is akin to the cheap sense of freedom one gets from selecting among various brands of the same basic product at the supermarket.  It is the illusory freedom of the slave who merely gets to freely choose his master.

The question of freedom must be posed afresh — in its most profound sense — so that it might be retrieved.  For in the answer to this question alone resides the secret of the Revolution.  The cry of “Liberté, égalité, fraternité!” still rings through the ages, but it has fallen on deaf ears.  Humanity must be awakened from its comatose state, its long ahistorical torpor, so that freedom can at last be realized.

By “freedom” or “liberty” is understood at least the following:

1. Freedom from oppression.
2. Freedom from want.
3. Freedom from fear.
4. Freedom from war (Kant’s “perpetual peace,” fœdus pacificum).
5. Freedom from disease.
6. Freedom from ignorance.
7. Freedom from apathy (the anomie described by Durkheim).
8. Freedom from boredom (the colorless tedium of daily life, Baudelairean ennui).
9. Freedom from imposed necessity.
10. Freedom without borders (liberté sans frontières).

The only limits that can be reasonably placed on freedom are in fact not limits at all: they only limit the false and shallow sense of freedom that has been sold to us under our present society.  Quite obviously, one person’s freedom cannot be had at the expense of another person’s freedom.  One cannot impinge upon the rights of others, and thus the civic freedom granted to every member of society does not grant anyone the license to kill, rape, exploit, or otherwise delimit the freedom of a fellow human being.  As Kant put it, “The definition of freedom would thus be as follows: freedom is the ability to act in ways in which one does no wrong to anyone else in so acting.”

Moreover, the freedom to live as one wants in the present cannot be at exercised at the expense of the freedom to live as one wants in the future.  This, we maintain, is the rational essence of the fashionable notion of “sustainability.”  Of course, this should not imply its converse, its abstract negation: living for tomorrow at the expense of living today.  Living freely should not be conceived as requiring some sort of new asceticism, the austerity measures of eco-scarcity.  Rather, this should challenge us to find ways of cultivating inexhaustible abundance.  Perhaps it is not just some happy accident of etymology that the old Aristotelian notion of εύδαιμονία (eudaimonia), traditionally translated as “the good life,” should at the same time signify an unparalleled “flourishing.”

Finally, the universal nature of this liberty would simultaneously entail the total equality of all society’s individual members, irrespective of their particular race, gender, age, or religious/sexual orientation.  The freedoms guaranteed under an emancipated society would extend to all the peoples of the world.  This would make possible, for the first time, the true “liberty of all” (omnium libertati).

In order to ensure the freedom and equality that such a society would grant to each of its individual members, the wealth of the world must be made equally available to all.  However, this should not be mistaken for some vulgar distributist notion, whereby society would simply “carve up the pie” and apportion the pieces out equally (according to fixed quotas).  Different people have different needs.  The needs of a blind man are not the same as someone who can see.  True freedom would thus require that each person’s individual needs be met.  Only then would they be free to creatively develop and express their individuality as they wish.

To illustrate this idea, we may take as an example the commodity pepper — a spice once so rare and valuable that entire wars were fought over its possession.  Today, however, if one goes and sits down in a restaurant, she will typically notice that there is a well-stocked peppershaker at every table.  The question of whether each person has the exact same quantity of pepper as her neighbor never even arises.  It exists in such abundance that one simply takes as much as she needs.  In a truly emancipated society, this concept would be generalized to include all the needs of society.

Section II: History

All this said, let us briefly take stock of our present situation and how we came to this point.  Once this has been achieved, we might be better able to discern the practical exigencies that face us in our time, and from there ascertain the possibilities for an emancipated future moving forward.  A glance into the past drives us on toward the future, inflames our courage to go on living, and kindles the hope that justice will someday come, that happiness is waiting just on the other side of the mountain we are approaching.

From Nature we have built up our own “second nature” — society — which still presently compels us and presses us into its service.  To this day we treat its every blind caprice and passing fancy if it were the outcome of some natural law, eternal and unchanging.  Its periodic crises appear to us as accidental, a result of human error.  In reality, however, the entire rotten system is founded upon a perpetual crisis occurring at the core of production.  International capital is as the insatiable god Baal, into whose bloody maw millions upon millions of steaming human sacrifices are thrown.

Though this “second nature” that surrounds us is a product of our own making, it has acquired a phantom objectivity all its own.  It appears to us in an estranged form, as something that operates independently of our will.  Unconscious — and seemingly devoid of agency — we remain entrapped within a prison we ourselves have built.  At the same time, society has further alienated itself from the original Nature from whence it sprang.  We have endured the disenchantment of the world; Nature presents itself to us only in a mediated and obscure fashion.  As helpless spectators we are forced to look on as modern society, driven by its fathomless hunger to extract surplus-value, devours the whole Earth.

This overwhelming feeling of helplessness owes to a severe frustration with the faculty of action in the modern world.  That is, it indicates an underlying despair with regard to the real efficacy of political will, of political agency.  In a historical situation of heightened helplessness, gestures of “resistance” against the dominant order have both served to express the rage of helplessness while at the same time helping to suppress the feeling of disquietude that comes along with this helplessness.  The idea of fundamentally transforming society has for the most part been bracketed and, instead, replaced by the more ambiguous notion of “resistance.”

In the absence of effective leadership and long-term goals, campaigns of activism-for-its-own-sake amount to a politics of acting out, an unreflective and compulsive desire for theatrical “agitation,” “consciousness-raising,” and “resistance.”  Unwilling to acknowledge this looming sense of lost agency, participants in such blind actions refuse to reflect on their own impotence.  By stubbornly denying the inconsequence of their own actions, however, they only perpetuate their helpless, disenfranchised state.

But what can conquer this feeling of helplessness is the force of life itself; historical consciousness and activity can annul it.  In the final analysis, this feeling is simply the product of tradition, an instinctual vestige of millennia of terror and illiteracy.  More recently, it has been the result of humanity’s repeated failures to resolve its historical dilemma.  Its origin can be traced, however.  To make it the object of history is to recognize its emptiness and overcome it.  By bringing feeling, as well as fact, into the sphere of history, one is finally able to see that it is in history alone that the explanation of our present situation lies.

For we feel an enormous, irresistible force from our human past.  We recognize the good things it has brought us, in the knowledge that what once was possible might someday be possible again.  But we also recognize the bad, in the many living fossils — anachronistic remnants and outmoded states of mind — that persist into the present.  And this is why we must call ourselves modern.  Because, though we feel the past fueling our struggle, it is a past that we have tamed — our servant, not our master — a past which illuminates and does not overshadow us.

Until we gain self-conscious mastery over this social world we have created, however, humanity will remain unfree.  To date, men have made their own history, but have not made it as they please; they have not made it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.  Once we are able to finally take command of the vast forces of production we have released into the world, humanity’s own social organization — hitherto confronting it as a necessity imposed by history — will now become the result of its own free action.  The heteronomous forces that have up to this point governed history now pass under the control of humanity itself.

Only from that time forth will humanity make its own history, rather than be made by history.  It will signal humanity’s ascent from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom.

Behold what quiet now settles upon the Earth.  Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.  In hours like these, one rises to address history, the ages, and all creation.

This, then, is the task that confronts us.

Section III: Democracy

So it is with this vision that we claim our rightful inheritance to the legacy handed down to us by the great radical thinkers of the past.  And thus do we also take up the mantle of democracy once again in opposition to those who would deny it to us.  With Jefferson, we swear “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”  And with the firebrand Paine, we unflinchingly proclaim that

Every age and generation must be as free to act for itself, in all cases, as the ages and generations that preceded it.  The vanity and presumption of governing from beyond the grave is the most ridiculous and insolent of all despotisms.

And if this vision of human emancipation seems too unimaginable, too wildly utopian, I have merely to reply that the only more utopian idea is the naïve belief that things will ever change under the present system — that the prevailing order could somehow be reformed through piecemeal legislation within the framework of the existing state.

A word about the philosophy of reform.  The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to its august claims have been born of earnest struggle.  The conflict has been exciting, agitating, and all-absorbing.  For the time being, it puts all other tumults to silence.  Humanity must do this or effectively do nothing at all.  If there is no struggle, there is no progress.

For “democracy” is nothing but the proclaiming and exercising of “rights” that are very little and very conventionally exercised under the present order.  But unless these rights are proclaimed and a struggle for their immediate realization waged — and unless the masses are educated in the spirit of such a struggle — emancipation is impossible.  This brings into sharpest possible relief the relationship between reform and revolution.

Every freshly drafted legal constitution is but the product of a revolution.  Throughout history, revolution has been the act of political creation, while legislation is the political expression of the life of a society that has already been established.  In other words, the work of reform does not contain its own force independent from revolution.  During each historic period, work for reforms is carried on only by the impetus of the last revolution.  Or, to put it more concretely, reforms can only come by way of the institutional scaffolding and state apparatus set in place by the last revolutionary struggle.

These, in turn, invariably reflect the underlying structure of society that sparked this struggle in the first place.  From this real basis there arises a legal and political superstructure, along with definite corresponding forms of social consciousness.  After reaching a certain level of development, the material productive forces of society come into contradiction with the already existing relations of production.  An epoch of social revolution commences.

Only after this has taken place can reforms become both lasting and meaningful.  Democracy cannot be achieved through cosmetic, incremental alterations to the existing state.  Real reform thus presupposes that the basis of society has already been radically transformed.  Along with it, this would require a simultaneous reconfiguration of the state.

But all this begs the question: Can a state ever exist without state repression? Or is the state inconceivable apart from servitude and subjection?

History teaches us that the state has always served as an instrument of the domination of the ruling class over the rest of society.  It would be folly to think it could act otherwise.  So long as the state exists there will be violence.  Indeed, it even lays claim to a monopoly on violence (or the use of “legitimate” force).  A transitional state may be necessary until society learns to freely govern itself, without recourse to some external body.  But the aim of such a state would be its own self-abolition, as its functions become increasingly redundant.  After a certain point, this state would simply “wither away” of its own accord — leaving society to democratically pursue its own ends.

The chief object of politics must therefore ultimately be freedom from the necessity of politics; this alone is what makes politics so indispensable today.

Dies Iræ

Let it be remembered, however, that this journey through history has hardly been a one-way street.  The triumph of the human spirit and democracy is by no means guaranteed.  For humanity has not just blithely wandered on from victory to victory, along a linear path toward progress.  Condorcet wrote his Future Progress of the Human Mind while awaiting the guillotine.  History has been made subject to any number of regressions and cycles of recurrence.  At best, history can be said to proceed in a cyclolinear fashion, charting a spiral course across the annals of time.

This should serve as both an admonition and a call to arms.  For until humanity chooses to transcend the tyranny of the present, unless it seizes the destiny that history has afforded it — we will be doomed to relive all the injustices of the past.  If humanity fails to take advantage of the opportunity that lies before it, the same relations of inequality and unfreedom will be reproduced yet again.  It will be just as Zarathustra warned:

[We] will return, with this sun, with this earth, with this eagle, with this snake — not to a new life or a better life or a similar life, but to this same and selfsame life…to once again teach the eternal recurrence of all things — to once again speak the word about the great earth of noon and human beings.

Mais tout cela sera balayé [But all this will be swept away],” André Gide once remarked, unless the cyclical return of the wrong triumphs after all.  Humanity’s survival is presently threatened by the very forms of its social constitution, unless humanity’s own global subject becomes sufficiently self-aware to save itself from catastrophe.  The possibility of progress, of averting the most extreme calamity, has migrated to this global subject alone.

This idea of historical progress must not, however, be conceived as a movement through homogeneous, empty time, but as a revolutionary chance to fight for the oppressed past — to blast open the continuum of history.  For our image of happiness is indissolubly bound up with the image of redemption.  Not only for the sake of our liberated grandchildren, but for the sake of our enslaved ancestors as well, must we carry out this mission.  The dead task us.  Those yet unborn beseech us.  And this is to say nothing of the many who to this day continue to suffer in squalor and destitution.  All humanity yearns to be lifted out from under the yoke of oppression.

The fate of the entire world thus hinges upon humanity’s decision.  The tired, the hungry, and the impoverished all await the final outcome of our deliberation with bated breath.  What will our decision be?

The Vision & Goals group’s much-vaunted Blueprint: An annotated guide to the half-literate blob assembled by the self-appointed anarchoid vanguard of OWS (an annotated guide)

Interior blueprint to the 1936 Volkshalle (People's Hall), the brainchild of Albert Speer: A monument to the eternal imbecility of grassroots populism

OVERVIEW: So again, here is a very funny excerpt from a public e-mail thread regarding the Vision & Goals Liberty Plaza Blueprint, from the noted activist and commentator Doug Henwood:

lbo-talk at lbo-talk.orgSubject: Re: [lbo-talk] The “Liberty Square Blueprint”

On Oct 21, 2011, at 10:49 AM, Chris Maisano wrote:

So the anarchist types who have been running the show behind the scenes and actively disrupting the meetings of the working group crafting the jobs for all demand (so much for leaderlessness and self-organization) have finally unveiled their Liberty Square Blueprint — and it is utter rubbish. Not a single word about the tens of millions of unemployed and underemployed, the tens of millions without health insurance, and the tens of millions in poverty. Instead, we read about bartering, urban farming, and charities. Amazing.

The only good thing about this is that its obvious limitations could create an opening for socialists to contend for a greater degree of political and ideological influence within the movement and raise demands that might actually resonate with a broadly-based constituency.

Holy shit, that’s awful. Among many things, they seem poisoned by the belief that open source software can save the world. (Apparently their open-source software doesn’t have a spell checker, unless they think there’s something revolutionary about spelling it “Correlary”).

The wish list  which they weirdly refer to as bullet-point visions  is incredibly vague. How do we “Empower marginalized people to express themselves, build community, and engage systemic/cultural discrimination”? Who are the “we” that grant “them” this power?

The economic planks:

• Create an economy in harmony with nature — by
• Researching, developing and implementing economic models that pursue thriving, abundant and prosperous outcomes for humanity and life — growing beyond the dichotomy of unsustainable and sustainable development. These economic models must be based on sound ethical assumptions and observed individual and market behavior through behavioral economics and econometrics
• Implementing and improving community currencies, barter, sharing, and trade systems
• Building the support and precedence for local and large scale production of renewable energy and food resources
• Eliminating financial/resource speculation that supports the current economy at the expense of future generations
• Learning from and empowering indigenous people in the transition to an economy in harmony with nature — as we
• Make NYC a pioneer of urban farming, renewable energy, grass roots urban/rural exchange, quantitative economic policy and indigenous leadership

are close to meaningless. Who are the “we” that would eliminate speculation, and how? Presumably not state bodies, so who then? What the fuck kind of econometrics do they have in mind? Vector autoregressions will set us free? Community currencies and barter are ludicrous — evidently they never consulted [renowned anarchist anthropologist David] Graeber on the nonexistence of barter societies.

Did “Ketchup” have anything to do with this?

— Doug

Though I would probably not be as insulting as Doug Henwood, he is right about the economic “planks.” As someone who is thoroughly versed in economic theory (from classical liberal-bourgeois to Keynesian to Marxist), I can safely say that the vast majority of the proposals about urban agriculture and so on are half-baked to ludicrous.

All of this is external to the actual contents of the Blueprint, however. I almost feel that I can’t begin addressing its problems. I don’t mean to demean the contributions of anyone who has helped to compose it; there are doubtless some valuable points and ideas in there, though they are few and far between. But even these tend to get lost amidst the general gobbledygook and feel-good nonsense that constitutes most of the document (e.g. “Facilitate the peaceful harmony of humanity’s religious, spiritual and existential traditions” — I can almost guarantee whoever wrote that doesn’t know what “existential” means).

I don’t know how to characterize the Blueprint other than as a shapeless blob. It’s unwieldy and hopelessly confused. Even within the space of a single sentence the thoughts utterly lose their coherence.  Contradictions, incompatible propositions, and baffling non sequiturs abound throughout the text.  Reading through it is like a ticking cognitive dissonance time-bomb.

At any moment the text threatens to unravel of its own entropy.

Rather than establish solid, universal, and overarching first principles from which they could rigorously derive a coherent argument, they just hastily stitched together a bunch of single-issue positions disconnected from one another or any broader vision of social emancipation.  This mindless process of aggregation ends up just producing a haphazard, convoluted hodgepodge of random ideas with no apparent relation to one another.  Undiluted duncery and numbskullery, all of it.

It truly is a miserable text.  Eidetic diarrhea, nothing more.

In my mind, the whole document is so fundamentally misconceived, poorly written, and riddled with politically-correct clichés that I dare say it is unsalvageable (if not unforgivable).  To even try to “process,” to attempt to make any sort of sense out of the accumulated nonsense that constitutes this Blueprint, is an exercise in mind-numbing futility.

I’ve read Nijinsky’s diary — the mad scribblings of a schizophrenic — and even that possessed more logic and coherence.

I almost lost count of how many times I read the words “paradigm-shift” and “empowering” (popular postmodern tropes long since rendered banal and meaningless, like “sustainability”).

In truth — and these are just my own suspicions — I doubt that this text was “worked on by over 200 people,” despite repeated reassurances that is was.  If it truly was, I would like to know who these people are, because they are very confused.  My guess, however, is that the document was mostly written up by Ted, Abe, Luke, Ketchup, and that guy Tim who compose part of the unofficial anarchist hierarchy at OWS.  Of course, they will insist that the document was assembled according to their dogmatic program of “horizontality.”  Just from having engaged in (more like “endured”) conversation with them, it reads like all the general pseudo-radical nonsense that they tend to subscribe to.  I’d characterize its position (which is, incidentally, identical to their own position) as the old ideology of “anti-ideology,” the oldest ideology in the books.  “We’re neither Right nor Left, anarchist nor Marxist, etc. nor etc.”  It’s all too predictable.

Seeing as they unveiled this document as soon as they officially announced the group’s existence, with decision already made that this was going to be the only document they would work with, it seems highly fishy.  So far every attempt to offer (better) alternative documents for consideration has been ignored or shoved aside in order to keep the Blueprint monstrosity front-and-center.  They stress the fact that it alone has received the feedback of the GA, or that by sheer dint of its priority (and hence its “venerable” status) it deserves honor above all others.

The most they (the anarchoid vanguard) will ever entertain is to include new contributions according to their usual logic: just indiscriminately tacking them onto the ever-growing mass of the Blueprint.  Only “fusion,” “melding,” or “integration” is possible.  Even if objectively better texts emerge (better written, better argued, better etc.), they will never be taken as a real alternative to the almighty Blueprint.

In conversation with Zocera, a member of the People of Color caucus and Vision & Goals, she revealed to me that they repeatedly emphasized that the Blueprint represented “a draft of a document that has been worked on for almost a month, contributed to by over 200 people.” She said that from what she could gather, that was their way of pre-ratifying the basic form and muddled content of the document before anyone could vote on it. Zocera continued to explain that they only seemed interested in gathering the additional input of marginalized persons (women and people of color) as a way of adding “multicultural cred” to the document, in what struck her (as a person of color) as rather shameless tokenism and toadying to political correctness.

So without further ado, here it is:

[My own notes will appear in brackets and in gold, aside from the headings]

Vision & Goals’ Liberty Square Blueprint

Full version on an editable (wiki) website. Please note that this is a starting point document and this is a living breathing document!:


Visions and Goals

Purpose of Blueprint

Through this document we explain our visions, goals to manifest those visions, and leave room for the corresponding concrete action to achieve those goals for ourselves and humanity.  We hope other regional people’s assemblies can create their own blueprints, centered on the future they envision, and structured around the most effective actions to achieve these visions.

Vision Blueprint — note (this is a work in progress that excludes certain details such as goals and actions, so you can focus on the basic visions we have amassed thus far)

1. Effectively connect our occupation with the Global Movement — by
2. Facilitating the growth of local movements for direct, organic [once a central concept of Romantic philosophy, now a meaningless buzzword], participatory consensus-based [perish the thought] democracy [James Madison on this nonsense: “In all very numerous assemblies, of whatever characters composed, passion never fails to wrest the sceptre from reason. Had every Athenian citizen been a Socrates, every Athenian assembly would still have been a mob.”]
3. Studying ourselves and other local occupations to find more ideal models of consensus building, decision making and coordination through transparent, iterative design
4. Finding points of harmony of visions/goals/actions across local and regional people’s assemblies for deeper impact.
5. Creating the emotional and actual physical spaces for this process for the organic discussion of the future to unfold
6. Encouraging each occupation to focus on their local economic, cultural and political assets as a specialization of the movement [the primitive division of labor] (our specialization is the following) — as we
1. Make NYC a functioning focal point for other people’s assemblies to dissolve and overcome the unaccountable private entities rooted in Manhattan, our specialization
1. Implement non-proprietary (FLO) solutions for everything [PLEASE NOTE THAT THERE WAS A FORMATTING ERROR IN THE ORIGINAL PRINTOUT ON THIS LINE.]
2. Create an economy in harmony with nature [whatever the fuck this means — NOTE: Nature is not some sort of self-harmonious, delicate equilibrium with negative feedback loops and all that Romantic nonsense; it is incredibly cruel, catastrophic, continuously destroying and reconstituting itself]
3. Emancipate the world’s communities from centralized financial systems [again the misrecognition of finance capital as the root of society’s woes; finance capital is merely the logical extension of industrial capital]
4. Create paradigm-shifting [ugh…Kuhn is rolling in his grave] education that emancipates global citizens from exploitative, community-destroying consumer culture and empowers [there has to be a less obnoxious word for this] all people with their own voice
5. Re-appropriate our business structures and culture, putting people and our Earth before profit [the latest cliché in pseudo-Left activism]
6. Re-appropriate our media culture, putting truth and dialogue over advertising and sensationalism
7. Define and defend humanity’s inalienable liberties from the bottom up
8. ​Create peace on Earth [uh-huh] with total dedication to non-violencee [sic — NOTE: to what extent can one “defend humanity’s inalienable liberties” “with total dedication to non-violence]
9. Eliminate all discrimination, prejudice, and judgments based on socially constructed group labels in the past
10. Facilitate the peaceful harmony of humanity’s religious, spiritual and existential [I can almost guarantee that whoever wrote this has no idea what “existential” actually means] traditions

Issues — nothing about governance Algonquin principles of peace [what??] — Basis of American Constitution

1. How can we build an empowered global society based on direct democracy?
1. Fix local governing body and empower decentralized people’s assemblies to coordinate actions and goals
2. How will we emancipate ourselves from centralized financial systems?
3. How will we create an economy in harmony with nature? What will it look like?
4. How will we create free paradigm-shifting education the whole human family?
5. How will we change our business structures and culture to place people and our Earth before profit?
6. How will we free our media to place truth before advertising?
7. How will we eliminate all discrimination and prejudice?
8. How will we define the human family’s liberties from the grass roots up?
9. How will we harmonize the human family’s religious and existential traditions?
10. How can we answer these questions with solutions owned by all?

1. What future could we make with a global, decentralized, and self-organized movement governed through direct democracy?
2. What could we build if freed from the banks that own us?
3. What dignity could we enjoy if we placed people before profit?
4. What could an economy in harmony with nature produce?
5. What ills could we cure by caring for our whole human family?
6. What could free and universal education teach our children?
7. What dialogue could we foster if our media placed truth before advertising?
8. What communities could we build if we freed ourselves from discrimination and prejudice?
9. What freedom could we discover if we established liberties from the bottom up?
10. What depth of understanding could we share by harmonizing our spiritual traditions [why not overcoming/superseding our spiritual traditions altogether]?
11. What could heal if we ended all war?
12. How can we answer these questions with solutions owned by all?

Adbusters idea — “McSmoothy” “McSmoothy made of McFlurry, McPepperming Mocha and McRib” mmmmm delicious [this is the requisite pithy commentary on consumer culture]

Dialogue and Collection Process

Spend 5 minutes discussion to invent an ideal forums for input on the Visions and Goals Blueprint.  This presentation at the GA is one (with Facilitation).  Another is to create an online forum with a reddit-like set up (with the Open Source Working Group) [here begins the Vision & Goals group’s weird fetishization of open-source technology].  Another is to speak directly to the Occupiers themselves that are often too busy running day to day kitchen, medical, security, and sanitation duties to have their voices heard in the very movement they are building (with the Think Tank working group).

FLO means Free Libre Open-Source, as one term that describes the non-proprietary practice for developing various technologies and methods as broad as computer operating systems to tractor design.

ORIGINAL: (please note that this version of the document does not have ideal formatting.  The corrected original document and a link will be added ASAP)

Revision as of 20:59, 21 October 2011 by TedwardHall (Talk | contribs)

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1 Hello World!
2 Purpose of Blueprint
3 Vision Blueprint
4 List of Goals and Correlary [sic, “corollary”] Actions
5 Amendment Process
6 Archiving Process
7 Further Reading

1.) Hello World!

Hello world! — We of Liberty Plaza would like to thank the global population for the amazing outpouring of support and inspiration. Our original demand [wait…what demand?] has been already met beyond our greatest hopes. We occupied Wall Street with the intent of bringing attention to an economic system that is detached from real human needs. In less than one month global solidarity and a global dialog has emerged — never in the history of the world [wait, what about 1917? 1968?] have all of the worlds [sic, world’s] citizations [sic, civilizations?] and cultures come together in an unidealogial [sic, non-ideological — you know a movement can’t be ideological if it can’t even spell the word; pre-ideological is more accurate] movement like this.

We present the following living vision of our movement. It is one document among many that work together in focusing our occupation for the public and ourselves. The vision has ten focii with practical goals for New York City. Our goals are aimed to effectively dissolve the shadow government [this is where #OWS converges with popular conspiracy theories, from the New World Order to the Illuminati to International Jewry; what’s more interesting is the “shadow government” within #OWS, i.e. the invisible anarchoid hierarchy] of corporations and banks, literally surrounding Liberty Plaza, that are destroying the American dream, and our planet Earth. We will not fight the shadow government [again]. We will invent new ways of living — that will overcome our constructed dependence upon the shadow government [again]. We will invent the new economy, culture, and technology fitting of the Information Age. We will make New York City a metropolis built for the future.

A few things must be said. Corporations do not make jobs — people make jobs [what does this even mean? have you ever studied economics of any kind, or are you just sloganeering?]. Money does not support livelihood — our Earth supports livelihood [Marx’s basic value/wealth distinction; this is schoolboy shit, really]. The proprietary technology used to hijack and manipulate the human spirit into thinking otherwise no longer belongs to the shadow government — the technology belongs to us. Thus the following ten visions are more than feasible. Only one question remains: When will each goal be achieved? The answer to that depends depends [sic] on YOU [cue Smoky the Bear].

2.) Purpose of Blueprint

Through this document we will explain our vision and corresponding concrete action for ourselves and for humanity.  We hope other regional people’s assemblies can create their own blueprints, centered around the future they envision, and structured around the most effective actions to achieve these visions.

3.) Vision Blueprint

Coordinate our occupation with the global movement — by

Facilitating the growth of local movements for direct, organic, participatory consensus-based democracy through transparent, iterative design.

Studying ourselves [γνῶθι σεαυτόν] and other local occupations to find more ideal models of consensus building, decision making and coordinating

Coordinating across local and regional people’s assemblies for deeper impact [in the same sense that the Chicxulub asteroid made a “deep impact”].

Encouraging each occupation to focus on their local economic, cultural and political assets — as we

Make NYC a functioning focal point for other people’s assemblies to dissolve and overcome the shadow government*** rooted in Manhattan

Implement FLO (free libre open-source) solutions for everything [yes, boys and girls, the road to paradise and the solution of all humanity’s problems comes by way of open-source technology] — by

Every bullet point vision described herein shall be supported and implemented through non proprietary technology and methods

Expand people’s knowledge of open-source beyond computers to all technology from tractors to currencies — as we

Make NYC the Open Source Silicon Alley [sic, valley? unless they are trying to be clever]

Create an economy in harmony with nature [again meaningless] — by

Researching, developing and implementing economic models that pursue thriving, abundant and prosperous outcomes for humanity and life — growing beyond the dichotomy of unsustainable and sustainable development [I can guarantee that Ted wrote this little bit; it’s one of his favorite talking-points].  These economic models must be based on sound ethical assumptions and observed  individual and market behavior [isn’t rational choice theory what led to the 2008-2011 economic collapse in the first place?] through behavioral economics and econometrics

Implementing and improving community currencies, barter, sharing, and trade systems [I defer to Doug Henwood’s appropriately scathing remarks: “What the fuck kind of econometrics do they have in mind? Vector autoregressions will set us free? Community currencies and barter are ludicrous — evidently they never consulted [renowned anarchist anthropologist David] Graeber on the nonexistence of barter societies. Did “Ketchup” have anything to do with this?]

Building the support and precedence for local and large scale production [industrialized agriculture isn’t going away anytime soon, nor should it] of renewable energy and food resources

Eliminating financial/resource speculation that supports the current economy at the expense of future generations [again, vague sentiments back by virtually no understanding of finance capital; let Hilferding enlighten them: “The specific activity of the stock exchange is really speculation. At first sight, speculation looks like any other purchase and sale. What is purchased, however, is not commodities but titles to interest. A productive capitalist must convert his commodity capital into money — that is, sell it — before he can realize a profit. If another capitalist assumes the task of selling, the industrialist must assign him part of the profit.”]

Learning from and empowering [ugh] indigenous people [I respect Native American and other “indigenous” cultures well enough, but the obsequious obsession of modern white culture with their “ancient, homespun wisdom” is frankly insulting, almost neo-colonialist in its perverse fascination] in the transition to an economy in harmony with nature — as we

Make NYC a pioneer of urban farming [one of the most elitist, inefficient agricultural practices to date], renewable energy, grass roots urban/rural exchange [grassroots populist horseshit], quantitative economic policy [for a pseudo-Keynesian administrative society] and indigenous leadership [with all due respect, why should indigenous people be the leaders? why should any particular people, outside of qualification?]

Create paradigm-shifting [again, poor Kuhn] education (emancipating global citizens from exploitative, community-destroying consumer culture) — by

Empowering [refusal to reflect on their own impotence] community values, engagement, and critical autonomous thought [all this means is being able to recite all the “counterintuitive” anti-consumerist observations, rather than develop a critical and dialectical understanding of the world]

Empowering [whoever wrote this should really be ashamed of him/herself] our local people’s assemblies working groups with free educational materials for apprenticeship and skill-sharing — as we

Make NYC a top supporter of public space for community action.

Re-appropriate our business structures and culture, putting people and our Earth before profit [“people before profit,” blah blah] — by

Supporting and organizing with entities [assorted cosmic entia working for the public good, i.e. Nyarlathotep, Cthulhu; some unexpected OWS metaphysics] that serve community

Coordinating demands of local, national and global people’s asseblies to eliminate outdated corporate systems that are out of line with people and nature — the most egregious exploiters of human and natural capitol [most people these days don’t understand what “capital” really is, but at least they can spell it correctly] — as we

Make NYC the mecca [require that every citizen pray five times a day in its direction] for innovative community based organizational entities like L3C, not-for profit, NGO, charities etc. [charities? really?]

Re-appropriate our media culture, putting truth over advertizing [sic, advertising] and sensation — by

Ensure diversity of perspectives and entertainment through promoting diverse community media [celebrate diversity, kids! facile multiculturalism] as an alternative to conglomerate-corporate media — as we

Make NYC a thriving ecosystem of community news [NYC a “thriving ecosystem”?] and entertainment supported by the people [das Volk]

Define and defend humanity’s inalienable rights from the bottom up

Defending the commonly discussed rights to clean water, healthy food, safe shelter, health care

Pioneering the emerging right to free network communication technology (the People’s Internets) [Народный комиссариат интернета: the People’s Commissariat of the Internet]

Make NYC the most progressive city for the chronically homeless.

Make NYC a leader of the People’s Internets** [again]

​End all war — by

Stopping the false War on Terror at home and abroad, used to support the military industrial complex [this old rag] and citizen surveillance/control

Stopping the false War on Drugs, used to support the prison/pharmaceutical industrial complex

Stopping the age of oil, which is really a disguised War on Life [wow, I had no idea…I wonder what they made of the Age of Coal and Whale Oil] that toxifies our land, water and bodies — as we

Make NYC a stronghold of peace [yes, a “stronghold”… a veritable Fortress of Pacifism]

Eliminate all discrimination and prejudice — by

Empowering [god damn it all] marginalized people to express themselves, build community, and engage systemic/cultural discrimination

Educating people with privilege about how they can overcome overt and unconscious discrimination/prejudice.

4.) Balancing

Protect the human rights of anyone living or working in America, independent of their legal status — as we

Make NYC a more celebrated place of diversity [in practice, this amounts to little more than tokenism] that lives up to its Melting Pot reputation [tepid, condescending inclusionism]

Harmonize humanity’s religious, spiritual and existential traditions [whatever that means] — by

Creating the space for all people to respectfully and collaboratively worship, discuss, and explore religious and nonreligious topics [what happened to “freedom from religion”?] — as we

Make NYC a hub for harmonious religious, spiritual and non-religious practice [ok we get it]

Emancipate the world’s communities from centralized banking systems

Transitioning the IMF and World Bank into transparent, publically [sic, publicly] owned and operated entities [yes, this will solve the problem of capitalism *crickets*]

Ending the Federal Reserve Bank and replacing it with an accountable, decentralized, transparent and publically [sic, again it’s “publicly”] owned financial system

Freezing all home forclosures until new financial systems are established and operating

Cop brutality, women’s issues, accountability [three separate issues without any apparent unifying theme]

5.) List of Goals and Correlary Actions

Make NYC a functioning focal point for other people’s assemblies to dissolve and overcome the shadow government [conspiracy theory bullshit] of big banks and corporations that is embedded here

Develop an open source DIY Occupation kit [be sure to include nitroglycerine] for other occupations to reference and build upon.

Build the independent communications technology to coordinate occupations throughout the US and globe

Make NYC the Open Source Silicon Alley

Host an open source developers hackathon in a secret location to find the most intelligent and driven technologists most capable of dissolving the shadow govt and building the new community development structures.  [wow, I had no idea just how delusional this document really was until reading this line]

Make NYC a pioneer of urban farming, renewable energy, grass roots urban/rural exchange, ethical and evidenced-based economics and indigenous leadership

Develop strong resource flows between upstate farms and the occupation [the age-old nostalgia for the good, honest local farming family, replete with a bucolic setting and all their quaint rural idiosyncrasies/idiocies]

Use Occupy Wall Street as a platform to launch community-based green economy solutions [ah yes, the ideology of “green”] that lift people out of poverty and restore our Earth

Pilot community currencies, barter, sharing, and local trade systems [again, this is total nonsense to anyone who knows economics]

Make Liberty Square carbon neutral [fashionable eco-friendliness]

Make NYC a thriving ecosystem of community news, entertainment, and information-sharing supported by the people [das Volk]

Broadcast the first Occupy Wall Street TV channel with news, live stream, shows, Q&A and entertainment [I motion that the first livestreaming entertainment piece be footage of the ongoing guillotining that has been going on at Zuccotti park]

Make NYC a leader of the People’s Internets

Make NYC a top supporter of public space for community action

Support the independent occupations of every borough in NYC.

Expand the occupation beyond outdoor spaces to indoor ones.

Make NYC the mecca for innovative community based organizational entities like L3C, not-for profit, NGO, charities etc

Make NYC the most progressive city for the chronically homeless

Make NYC a stronghold of pacifism

Support neighborhood peace and safe community initiatives

Make NYC a place that celebrates and respects diversity and lives up to its Melting Pot reputation

Make NYC a hub for harmonious religious, spiritual and non-religious practice [ok so all this is literally copied word-for-word from before]

6.) Amendment Process

We will create a reddit-based forum online to elicit ideas for amendments and to vote on those ideas for adoption.  In order to propose an amendment, a forum user must first vote on at least one popular and two random ideas from the forum. Users may post and vote with a public identity, masked identity, or anonymously.  A small fraction of the most popular posts, based on votes, will be presented to the General Assembly, where they will be officially considered as amendments or edits to the current version [my own friendly edit or amendment would be to throw this garbage onto the trash-heap of history, where it belongs, and start anew].

7. Archiving Process

The Blueprint will live [??] in two online version [sic, versions].  The first is the Official Non-Editable Wiki, which will have previous versions archived for the public.  The second is an Unofficial Sandbox Wiki for the public to freely engage, edit, and experiment with.  We predict that the Unofficial Sandbox version will yield very interesting [missing noun] and possibly sourced for amendments.

Further Reading

Origins of the Blueprint for Liberty Square

The Vision & Goals working group from #Occupy Wall Street: Its wretched prehistory, followed by an insider’s harrowing account

Photo taken during a meeting of the #OWS Vision & Goals working group

This is a continuation of an earlier post on some of the internal divisions within OWS.

I circulated the following e-mail concerning some of the internal divisions that have taken place primarily between the “Facilitators” (who for all intents and purposes run the General Assembly) and members of the Demands working group, one of the largest and most serious working groups out there.  I admit that it was based mostly on rumors and hearsay about what was going on at the time, which was incredibly confusing:

There is some major shit going down behind the scenes at OWS.  It’s become a gigantic fucking mess…though they vigorously deny that there is any sort of vertical structure of authority within the General Assembly, this weird unspoken hierarchy exists within the GA and has been systematically obstructing a bunch of the different working groups.

The Demands working group, which consists mostly of (sectarian) Marxists, has been pretty much bullied and marginalized completely by the anarchist clique that controls the General Assembly.

Some of the more militant within the Demands group (mostly Trotskyists of various groups; ISO, DSA, Sparts, IMT, ILN, and others) who have gotten sick of the anarchists rejecting every proposal for demands or vision are planning to basically stage a coup by having all their major union contacts get their members to march on Liberty Plaza.

As things stand right now, the club of anarchists who run the General Assembly and have been stifling every sort of attempt at structured organizations have (paradoxically) established a bizarre authoritarian regime under the banner of anti-authoritarianism.  The anarchists who control the GA have been going around to every single working group, in numbers.  And because there are fewer people in any given working group, it becomes basically impossible for the working groups to get “modified consensus” (9/10ths) if the Facilitators from the GA all “block” any proposal at the committee level.

Things have just gotten incredibly tense and fucked up these last few days.  The anarchists in the GA and the sectarian Marxists in the “Demands” group have been going at each other’s throats.

Here’s some of the actual documentation of the strife that went on during two of the Demands working group’s meetings.  These are excerpts from the minutes of the meetings in question.  First, from 10/16/11:

16 October 2011
Demands Working Group meeting minutes
Moderators: Cecily & Chris

Ketchup then opened by telling our working group that we shouldn’t exist and that it is doing something awful to this movement by trying to inject demands.


Then Tim took the floor. He said that there were other working groups doing essentially the same thing as this working group, that demands had been voted down at GA “over and over again”, that they allow “appeasement”, and that they will push people away from the movement.

Laura stated that the corporate media was untrustworthy and that we shoudn’t go to the media. We ought not succomb to he media’s “demand for demands”.


The vote was held to move on, which produced blocks from Tim, Ketchup, James, and Walter, put passed with a vote of 23/6. The photographer had took the picture of the working group from a distance, and the material reason to continue with the discussion was gone. Those who blocked the vote protested the abuse of the process. Ketchup stormed away and Tim began filming all of us in as overtly as he could as a means to intimidate the group.

Once the commotion ended (other than Tim’s recording, which continued for more than 10 minutes with him getting up in people’s faces with his camera), Chris moved to move on to the agenda.


"Ketchup" & "Sprite" - Two of the fearless leaders (and yes, they are leaders) of OWS and its offshoots

“Ketchup” is actually the (puerile) nom de guerre of Grayson Vreeland, a student at Northwestern University in Chicago.

And then there was the next Demands meeting, from October 18th, when members from Facilitation (basically the same ones who wrote the Blueprint) again began to intervene:

18 October 2011
Demands Working Group meeting minutes
Moderators: Cecily & Lily
Stack: Andrew
Minutes: Shawn

Meeting opens: Nicole from ‘Facilitation’ goes over the “feeling good”, “feeling bad” hand signals.

Ketchup asks Cecily where the Demands group voting procedures and protocols. A man calling himself ‘A’ [I suspect this might have been Abe from Vision & Goals, but I’m not 100% sure] stated that the DWG cannot rule out or challenge the current rules of the GA.

Erik says that we’ve always used 75% modified consensus, but that it hasn’t been necessary since all votes have been unanimous. [RW: The Demands working group had also unanimously consented at the outset that their own internal standard for modified consensus would be 75%, rather than the standard 90% used by the GA]

[Cecily and Lily call for Announcements]

Ketchup says there is a group called ‘Visions and Goals’ that addresses the best approach for the movement’s vision and goals in an open and unilateral way. That group feels that demands are not productive.


‘A’ [possibly Abe from Vision & Goals, unclear]: Speakers before the GA on Sunday (16 October) and Monday (17 October) re-affirmed that the GA has not come to any consensus on any demands that have gone out to media on behalf of the GA of any kind.


Ketchup: Should have been a 90% threshold (rather than the 80% it received)

Stephanie: It’s important to have credibility in the process.

Nicole: We can’t compromise on 90% because we want 100%, and 75% gets us dangerously close to 50% [SR: wow!].

[Facilitators put it to a vote, using the 75% threshold: 33-8 (80.5%)]


Dave says we need 90% consensus and no demands.


Luke: Combine the Demands group with others and scrap this agenda.

Cecily: This, making Demands, is our focus. If you don’t like it, there are many other groups.

Tim (with the camera): This (point of process hand signal) is not a vagina in sign language.

[SR: This was actually said. Loudly. With accompanying hand gestures.]


Shawn: Saboteurs abound at this meeting ensuring that we don’t get through a relatively simple, basic agenda to anyone who has done political work before. None of this matters, anyway, since the wreckers here are the same people who determine the agenda at GA. The Leaders are the facilitators, and the facilitators are wreckers. But they can’t control the agenda forever. With patient explanation, the Demand for Demands will override the hypnotic stranglehold they have over GA when it consists of people like our union brothers and sisters and members of the poor and oppressed communities who NEED demands desperately. 2 weeks is fine for a timeline.  [Though it is somewhat amusing to see the Stalinist language of “saboteurs” and “wreckers” and recognize their problematic origin, the description really isn’t all that far off]

Nicole: Speaking as a facilitator, we’re not wreckers. And this is dangerous, divisive language. It doesn’t respect the process or the GA and reflects poorly on this group to be saying such things. Moreover, the threat of stacking the GA with union workers is anathema to the purpose of OWS.


Tim: How do you join the demands group if you have your own demands to propose and they’re not considered?

Lili: Our group has been made ‘invisible’, which is part of the reason that so few people knows we exist. We’re doing everything by the book and being smashed down at every step.


Craig: These demands are too aggressive.

Matt [technical/open source/internet]: Chants about bailouts are popular; jobs, not so much. People don’t like demands. Demands = Obama.

Ketchup: Demands make us fight rather than work with. This “scary scary dialogue” about modifying consensus and going over the GA with working people is bad.

Tim (with the camera): There is an open source group and a group devoted to Visions & Goals. You should dissolve yourselves and merge with them.

But here are some more of the important documents pertaining to it.  Beyond the disruption they caused at the Demands group’s meetings, here is their official denunciation of the Demands working group on the website from Friday, October 21, which heaped scorn and calumny upon them: “The so-called Demands working group.”  It reads:

A group claiming to be affiliated with the General Assembly of Liberty Square and #OWS has been speaking to the media on behalf of our movement.

This group is not empowered by the NYC General Assembly.

This group is not open-source and does not act by consensus.

This group only represents themselves.

While we encourage the participation of autonomous working groups, no single person or group has the authority to make demands on behalf of general assemblies around the world.

We are our demands. This #OWS movement is about empowering communities to form their own general assemblies, to fight back against the tyranny of the 1%. Our collective struggles cannot be co-opted.

Having been to several meetings of the Demands working group, I can safely say that these charges are complete bullshit.  Beyond this initial list of accusations, the Demands working group was deleted from the NYC GA’s official site, and many of its members banned.  This decision was never put to a vote, and seems to have been performed unilaterally.  Here was Jay Arena’s testimony of his treatment at the GA that same night, October 21st:

To All Demands Working Group/OWS supporters,

I attended last night’s General Assembly (GA) meeting of Occupy Wall Street (OWS)/Liberty Plaza  that was discussing the new spokespersons council organizational structure that the self-appointed GA leadership was presenting.

I spoke out  against adopting the new organizational structure before the movement addressed the gross violation of democratic norms that have occurred under the present system. I then ATTEMPTED to explain how the treatment of the Demands Working group was a prime example of anti-Democratic behavior meted out by the GA leadership. I was cut off before I could elaborate by the ‘facilitators’, including one, Nicole,  who had been sent to ‘assist’ us at our last Demands Working Group meeting on Tuesday, October 18.

If I had been allowed to express myself, I would have refuted the false statement made against the Demands working group, namely that 1.) We claimed, to the New York Times and other news-outlets that the ‘Jobs for All, through Public Works’ demand was the demand of the entire OWS; and 2.) That we expelled people from a Demands WG meeting.

Based on these false accusations, the self-appointed leadership, without any vote — consensus, majority-based, or otherwise — took coercive actions  against the Demands Working group and its members without giving an opportunity to the Demands working group or individual members to respond to the baseless charges. These sanctions have included: 1.)  A broadside on the front page of the OWS web site repeating lies 1 and 2 above, 2.) eliminating the demands working group discussion forum from the OWS website — which was one of the most popular, 3.)  removing several demands working group members registration accounts from the web site.

I agree with Chavisa that we should use the accountability forum page of OWS to register our opposition to this gross violation of Democratic norms. The Demands Working group will be discussing further on how to respond to these anti-Democratic attacks and violations, ones that present a serious threat to this important movement. I encourage everyone who cares about Democracy and  this movement to attend the next meeting of the Demands Working Group — Sunday, 6 PM, Tompkins Square Park (meet at the circular area, right off E. 7th street, between avenues B and C).

— Jay Arena

The matter became somewhat elucidated by an exchange on the Transparency and Accountability forum on the General Assembly’s main webpage.  The firstsecondthirdfourth, and now fifth page of discussion can be found there.

One of the more interesting exchanges occurred between Chavisa Woods and the website administrator, Drew:

This [whole deletion of the Demands working group from NYC GA’s fora] goes against the process. I joined this group last week, as did hundreds of others, two days ago. This group exists to discuss issues around DEMANDS; the history of demands in revolutionary movements, methods of and approaches to demands; and to collect data on possible demands (a subgroup of this group is trying to form to gear up to begin working with media and conducting outreach; and to formulate demand proposals to be brought before the G.A.

Again, this group has every right to exist. A Demands group does not discourage people from joining other groups.

I am very interested in understanding the COLLECTIVE process that went into deciding this group cannot exist, or be visible. Since it is not on the website, we cannot list the date and time of our meeting, which more than 100 people wanted to know. That is not transparecy.

If you disagree that there should be demands, that’s fine, and it may consistently be voted against in the G.A.

BUT THIS DELETION IS PROBLEMATIC. It points to the possibility that a small number of people have the final and autonomous decision about what sorts of groups get to exist in OWS.  That goes completely against the structure and process of OWS.

— Chavisa Woods

Drew, who is the head of the Internet working group, took responsibility for the action and explained his reasons, though he did end up restoring the Demands working group:

Hello everyone, I understand the concerns about the Demands group disappearing from the site and I apologize for being unable to read through and respond to all the forum posts in detail.

I was the one who removed the Demands Group from the site. I take full responsibility. Before I explain why I would like to note a few things. First off, communication inside (and out) of the park is really hard. Also, getting correct information is difficult and figuring out what is going on at any given time is also a struggle. That’s why we are working so hard on creating the site.

A few days ago I was contacted by a number of people saying that there was a demands group that was giving out false information. There was some fuss, and I wasn’t sure how to take it. Information working group did not have any concrete information about the status or contact info for the group. Then on Friday put out a “burn” notice on a demands group. Editors from that site called me explaining that we have to take the demands group off line.

I am only getting secondhand information. I am a website administrator and I don’t know about the group or about the controversy surrounding it. I did what I was asked.

This brings up the issue: There is currently no official procedure for determining when to add or remove a working group. There is no good definition about what a working group even IS. Perhaps the Accountability and Transparency working group can devise a solution.

Again, I apologize. I will try and make it to the next Demands Working group meeting and discuss this in person.


— Drew

Drew’s candor and responsibility are refreshing, but some troubling questions remain.  Who were these people that were telling him to take the Demands working group off the website? And why would he listen to them? This needs to be remedied properly.

Anyway, as alluded to in the minutes cited above, the same people from Facilitation who were so disruptive at the meetings of the Demands working group (I think Abe, Ted, Tim, and “Ketchup”) had as their pet project this whole “Vision & Goals” working group.  I think this is attested to by the fact that it came up as a pointless non sequitur in the minutes to their first official meeting, from 10-20-2011:

The demands working group is oppressive to the people who attends their meetings.  They will meet Sunday at 6pm at the Cube.

When they finally announced the group officially, they almost simultaneously unveiled their Liberty Plaza Blueprint, which they claimed had been amassed from the input of numerous individuals over a long period of time.  (As someone who studies architecture, it’s almost offensive that they would deign to call it a “blueprint”).

Of course, it’s kind of strange that they would only officially announce the group with a document already decided upon. No one ever decided whether we should work within the framework (if one can even say it has a framework) of this document in the first place.  This, in turn, is obviated by an exchange recorded in the minutes from 10-21-2011:

Are there printed documents that we would use to search for the themes?

No, only the document we read yesterday that was compiled by 200 people, that could be a part of it

In conversation with Zocera, a member of the People of Color caucus and Vision & Goals, she revealed to me that they repeatedly emphasized that the Blueprint represented “a draft of a document that has been worked on for almost a month, contributed to by over 200 people.” She said that from what she could gather, that was their way of pre-ratifying the basic form and muddled content of the document before anyone could vote on it. Zocera continued to explain that they only seemed interested in gathering the additional input of marginalized persons (women and people of color) as a way of adding “multicultural cred” to the document, in what struck her (as a person of color) as rather shameless tokenism and toadying to political correctness.

Here is some more of the behind-the-scenes story regarding the document’s background, taken from some public correspondence between noted activist and commentator Doug Henwood and the organizer Chris Maisano, from all the way back on October 21st:

From: Doug Henwood

Sent: Friday, October 21, 2011 11:25 AM

To: lbo-talk at lbo-talk.orgSubject: Re: [lbo-talk] The “Liberty Square Blueprint”

On Oct 21, 2011, at 10:49 AM, Chris Maisano wrote:

So the anarchist types who have been running the show behind the scenes and actively disrupting the meetings of the working group crafting the jobs for all demand (so much for leaderlessness and self-organization) have finally unveiled their Liberty Square Blueprint — and it is utter rubbish. Not a single word about the tens of millions of unemployed and underemployed, the tens of millions without health insurance, and the tens of millions in poverty. Instead, we read about bartering, urban farming, and charities. Amazing.

The only good thing about this is that its obvious limitations could create an opening for socialists to contend for a greater degree of political and ideological influence within the movement and raise demands that might actually resonate with a broadly-based constituency.

Holy shit, that’s awful. Among many things, they seem poisoned by the belief that open source software can save the world. (Apparently their open-source software doesn’t have a spell checker, unless they think there’s something revolutionary about spelling it “Correlary”).

The wish list — which they weirdly refer to as bullet-point visions — is incredibly vague. How do we “Empower marginalized people to express themselves, build community, and engage systemic/cultural discrimination”? Who are the “we” that grant “them” this power?

The economic planks:

• Create an economy in harmony with nature — by
• Researching, developing and implementing economic models that pursue thriving, abundant and prosperous outcomes for humanity and life — growing beyond the dichotomy of unsustainable and sustainable development. These economic models must be based on sound ethical assumptions and observed individual and market behavior through behavioral economics and econometrics
• Implementing and improving community currencies, barter, sharing, and trade systems
• Building the support and precedence for local and large scale production of renewable energy and food resources
• Eliminating financial/resource speculation that supports the current economy at the expense of future generations
• Learning from and empowering indigenous people in the transition to an economy in harmony with nature — as we
• Make NYC a pioneer of urban farming, renewable energy, grass roots urban/rural exchange, quantitative economic policy and indigenous leadership

are close to meaningless. Who are the “we” that would eliminate speculation, and how? Presumably not state bodies, so who then? What the fuck kind of econometrics do they have in mind? Vector autoregressions will set us free? Community currencies and barter are ludicrous — evidently they never consulted Graeber on the nonexistence of barter societies.

Did “Ketchup” have anything to do with this?

— Doug

Though I would probably not be as insulting as Doug Henwood, he is right about the economic “planks.” As someone who is thoroughly versed in economic theory (from classical liberal-bourgeois to Keynesian to Marxist), I can safely say that the vast majority of the proposals about urban agriculture and so on are half-baked to nonsensical.

All of this is external to the actual contents of the document. I almost feel that I can’t begin addressing its problems. I don’t mean to demean the contributions of anyone who has helped to compose it; there are doubtless some valuable points and ideas in there, though they are few and far between. But even these tend to get lost amidst the general gobbledygook and feel-good nonsense that constitutes most of the document (e.g. “Facilitate the peaceful harmony of humanity’s religious, spiritual and existential traditions” — I can almost guarantee whoever wrote that doesn’t know what “existential” means).

I don’t know how to characterize the document other than as a shapeless blob. It’s unwieldy and hopelessly confused. Even within the space of a single sentence the thoughts utterly lose their coherence.  Contradictions, incompatible propositions, and baffling non sequiturs abound throughout the text. Reading through it is like a ticking cognitive dissonance time-bomb.

I’ve read Nijinsky’s diary — the mad scribblings of a schizophrenic — and even that possessed more logic and coherence.

I almost lost count of how many times I read the words “paradigm-shift” and “empowering” (popular postmodern tropes long since rendered banal).

The disorder and dysfunctionality of the Vision & Goals Blueprint is mirrored by the group meetings to this point.  Besides the horror stories I myself could tell, here is the account offered Dustin Brown, a bright activist from Chicago who made the mistake of trying to rationally engage with the Vision & Goals “vanguard” of Ted, Abe, and Ketchup:

Essentially, the two ’leaders’ within the group with whom I was resonating with most in the latter part of that week were Zocera and Ryan. By Saturday, I was feeling resonance with Jayson, Jim (I don’t think you’ve met yet, he was out of town all last week but was relatively prominent the prior week), and multiple other folks who were in attendance at that Saturday meeting but whose names I do not recall in some cases, and in others I never knew. A few approached me introducing themselves, simply saying they appreciated my input to the Group that meeting, but were deciding to likely not return because of the Group dysfunction (i.e. ”Abe”)

Overall, I’d say the Sat. mtg was a relatively constructive one, but for Abe who was/is, as you know, disruptive, dogmatic, socially-/interpersonally-inept, distracting, etc. He also strikes me as having a relatively shallow perspective, while being ’quick-with-the-tongue’ and, obviously, loud/obtrusive, all of which is a precarious combination for constructive group-processing/-development.

That said, I could have actually dealt with all that, because everyone seemed to be on the relatively same page with respect to him, and I felt we all were poised to address the issue, somehow, that could ultimately prove constructive, Group-wise. Several individuals approached me after the meeting to offer their perspective on him, which was unanimously unfavorable. This Leia gal seems to be one in his corner, Patrick’s corner, Ted’s corner, etc., and I honestly don’t even know who she is. She was clearly at meetings I attended but I didn’t begin noticing the name until Saturday night, the night before I ultimately chose to leave

Actually I left Sat.’s meeting planning to extent my stay until mid-November. In the early evening Patrick sent an email to me [i.e. Cc-ing the Group] offering considerably unfavorable feedback to/about me, which I felt was not simply poor taste and counterproductive, but simply off-the-mark in his assertions/characterizations/etc. He and I essentially went back & forth a few times, with everyone else observing from the sidelines.

Incidentally, Patrick did not even attend the Saturday meeting, hwvr, he was at the Friday meeting which I was also at, a mtg in which I decided to walk out on due [what I felt was] obscene dysfunction to the degree of ’comedy’.

In the midst of my email exchange with Patrick which was totally unnecessary, a distraction, a wasteful diversion/allocation of energy, etc., there was a mildly off-putting/off-center exchange with Ed(Ted?) which I felt was also unnecessary, distracting, wasteful, etc. Both he & Patrick are peculiar one’s, in my opinion, and relatively precarious because they’re take-charge types of personalities with, in my opinion, lack of clarity, direction and depth of meaningful understanding. Hence, I often found/find them exerting much energy ’leading’ Group members into aimless, exploratory-terrain in which they, themselves, were choosing to wallow/wander, all-the-while characterizing such wallowing/wandering as ”constructive”, ”progress”, ”momentum”, etc.

As I contemplated extending my stay into the early-hour evening……i.e., the required investment, opportunity costs, the potential [though by no means guaranteed] benefits, I thought to myself…

”how many Patricks/Teds/Abes might there be out there, potentially…?”

”Is the present ’consensus-process’ really the optimal way to go, Group-wise/Movement-wise…?”

”who are the ’leaders’ in this Group/Movement, and what have they demonstrated thus far…?”

”if I stay, what will we likely accomplish over the upcoming week, and upcoming two weeks…?”

There were a few more reflective questions, hwvr, those were the main ones I recall.

Obviously, I decided the optimal decision was to return home, attend to my responsibilities, here [Chicago], which are plentiful, and do my best to continue contributing to the Group/Movement, remotely, as much as Group/Movement members would welcome/receive

Overall, I feel good/clear about my decision given all that was known/experienced at that time, although I am also wiling to come back if/when I feel such an investment makes sense from all angles. I’m not going to drop my life/responsibilities, again, obviously, to come to NY and engage in meetings/exchanges of the nature/lack-of-direction/-substance I did on my last trip. I’d have to sense something very constructive percolating there or, at least the promise of something constructive percolating.

I further received an e-mail from someone (whose name I will omit) who describes him/herself as one of the “high elders” of the Vision & Goals working group.  Apparently s/he had been involved in the group all the way from early October, and confirms my suspicion that the Blueprint was originally the product of one or two individuals and was simply workshopped by several others thereafter.

I still have no idea where the authors got the number of contributors to the Blueprint as “over 200 people,” as there are well fewer than 200 points (the nature of each individual’s “contribution” is unclear — did they just read over it once?) and I’m not sure how they kept count, anyway.  Anyway, here is the e-mail:


 I don’t know if we’ve met or not.  I’m terrible with names, and haven’t been to a meeting in around a week.  But I consider myself a dedicated member of the V&G working group, and might be considered a “high elder” (i.e. I’ve been involved since a couple of meetings prior to our move to 60 Wall, way back when we didn’t have meetings in the evenings — the pre-historic times known as early-October).

Firstly, I’m in love with your document.  In one of the first meetings I attended, I talked about wanting to craft some sort of “Declaration of Human Liberation,” and it seems you have done just that.  I’m incredibly excited to start thinking about/editing/adding-to/etc. you’re well-crafted and forward-thinking piece of prose.


My understanding of The Blueprint‘s history is that it was written before I joined, mostly by one person, and then workshopped by a group[!!] By the time I got involved, the task at hand was to condense the document, so it could be brought to the GA.  That new document was discussed in a break-out session at the GA, and since then, we’ve been incorporating the feedback we got, as well as our own ideas, into the document currently at hand.


As I mentioned, I haven’t been to a meeting in a while.  But someone told me that we’re [the Vision & Goals working group] getting close to bringing something to the GA.  (I don’t know whether it is a proposal to be consensed upon, or just something to be workshopped.  Ether way, I’m excited).  I assume that document is “the blueprint.”

I don’t know when I’ll next make a meeting, so here’s what I have to say.  For now:

If we’re close to being happy enough with a/any document to bringing it to the GA (for whatever reason), than please god, lets do so.  To have something to show the world on Friday the 11th would be amazing.  Not necessary, but pretty damn cool.

Meanwhile, let’s remember that our WG is pluralized: it’s not Vision and Goal. We can/should/must have multiple documents. We already do (Dec. of Occ. of NYC, Principals of Solidarity, et. al.).  Let this Blueprint be another.

As your doccument is much closer (than the Blueprint) to the types of documents I want to be working on, I see a much more epoch process ahead. A process where, after we compose it, and give it to the GA, and then re-work it, and than give it to the GA again, and then re-work it, and then put it in a Wiki for other occupations to edit, and then re-work it, and then translate it into hundreds of languages and put it in a wiki for the world (!!!) to edit, and then re-work it, maybe then we’ll have the founding document(s) of a global, utopian, brave, new, world.

Of course, in the meantime, Ketchup has appeared on the national comedy show, The Colbert Report.  The irony is that she had been so militant against talking to the media.  This irony was not lost on members of the Demands group:

Jay Arena wrote:

Even Ketchup, who berated us for talking with the press in the past, but who now seems to have become a darling of the mainstream media, would be hard pressed to object to your proposal.

Susan wrote:

Watch both parts one and two of the Colbert piece.  Priceless.  And these idiots think they had a triumph.  Unprecedented levels of cluelessness!

Ketchup, one of the brave protestors behind the Vision & Goals faction

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not like I am fully supportive of everything the Demands working group suggests.  I think that concrete demands are problematic (this doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be discussed, however).  The legacy of dogmatic, sectarian Marxism is in some sense just as pernicious as the persistence of weirdly authoritarian anarchoid tendencies.  Still, the Demands working group has been treated incredibly unfairly.

Concerning “Greed” and Romantic Anti-Capitalist Nostalgia for a “Kinder,” “Gentler” Capitalism Past

Public outrage at "corporate greed" is hardly a new thing


If you ask protestors what the root of capitalist society is, one common response you will hear is “greed” or “corporate greed.” Greed, however, is hardly unique to the capitalist mode of production. Capitalism is not simply founded on greed. Max Weber made this abundantly clear in his outstanding introduction to The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism:

Unlimited greed for gain is not in the least identical with capitalism, and is still less its spirit. Capitalism may even be identical with the restraint, or at least a rational tempering, of this irrational impulse. But capitalism is identical with the pursuit of profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational, capitalistic enterprise. For it must be so: in a wholly capitalistic order of society, an individual capitalistic enterprise which did not take advantage of its opportunities for profit-making would be doomed to extinction. (Max Weber, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Pgs. xxxi-xxxii).

Beyond this basic point, the problem with seeing “greed” as the root of all society’s evils is that it mistakes an epiphenomenal characteristic of capitalism for something more fundamental. It is remarkable the way that capitalism tames the traits of greed and competitiveness into our everyday patterns of behavior. Capitalism exists in such a manner that it normalizes these personality traits throughout the whole of society.

Another consequence of blaming the gross disparity of wealth that exists between the highest echelons of the capitalist social order and the rest on a mere personality flaw (the poor moral constitution of the top 1%) is that it ignores the way that the capitalists themselves are implicated by the intrinsic logic of capital. This misunderstanding ultimately amounts to what might be called the “diabolical” view of society — the idea that all of society’s ills can be traced back to some scheming cabal of businessmen conspiring over how to best fuck over the general public.

(The “diabolical” view of society is not all that far removed from conspiracy theories about the “New World Order,” the Illuminati, or “International Jewry.” Indeed, it is not surprising to see that shades of anti-capitalism misrecognized as anti-semitism have cropped up amongst some pockets of Occupy Wall Street).

Capitalism is not a moral but rather a structural problem. Though he obviously enjoys the benefits that his great wealth affords him, it is not as if the capitalist acts independently of the (reified) laws of bourgeois economics. He is constantly compelled to reinvest his capital back into production in order to stay afloat. In this way, even the capitalist is made subject to forces beyond his control.

The critical theorist Max Horkheimer picked up on this in a fragment from one of his early essays on “The Little Man and the Philosophy of Freedom”:

The businessman is subject to laws which neither he nor anyone else nor any power with such a mandate created with purpose and deliberation. They are laws which the big capitalists, and perhaps he himself skillfully make use of, but whose existence must be accepted as a fact. Boom, bust, inflation, wars, and even the qualities of things and human beings the present society demands are a function of such laws, of the anonymous social reality, just as the rotation of the earth expresses the laws of dead nature. No single individual can do anything about them. (Max Horkheimer, Dämmerung. Pg. 50).

These laws of the capitalist mode of production are regarded by bourgeois economists as natural and thus transhistorical, operative in every society past and present. This misrecognition of dynamics peculiar to capitalism as eternal laws of nature has been termed by Marx as “commodity fetishism,” and conceptualized by later Marxist theorists like Lukács as “reification.”

Such mistakes bear some relation to the old notion that wealth is acquired through the older (precapitalist) tactic of simple money-hoarding. Marx himself pointed out the difference between the premodern miser and the modern capitalist, stressing the compulsive character of the logic of capital:

Only as a personification of capital is the capitalist respectable. As such, he shares with the [precapitalist] miser an absolute drive towards self-enrichment. But what appears in the miser as the mania of an individual is in the capitalist the effect of a social mechanism in which he is merely a cog. Moreover, the development of capitalist production makes it necessary constantly to increase the amount of capital laid out in a given industrial undertaking, and competition subordinates every individual capitalist to the immanent laws of capitalist production, as external and coercive laws. It compels him to keep extending his capital, so as to preserve it, and he can only extend it by means of progressive accumulation. (Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1. Pg. 739).

The logic of capitalist accumulation demands that value be ceaselessly thrown back into the circuit, the perpetuum mobile, of production and circulation. Not even the highest 1% can afford to act outside this logic. If they try to defy it, they go under, and swiftly rejoin the so-called “99%.”


The widespread antipathy for corporations and big banks today underwrites an unfortunate nostalgia for the supposedly “kinder,” “gentler” capitalism of small businesses. Proponents of this view imagine that this earlier form of capitalism was somehow less capitalist, or at least less ruthless, than neoliberalism. Another symptom of this romantic anti-capitalism is the longing for a return to smaller family farms, instead of today’s heavily industrialized agriculture. This parallels the recent enthusiasm for “localism” or “locavorism.” The account provided by the brilliant American journalist, Nietzschean, and atheist H.L. Mencken swiftly dispels this saccharine memory of the “good,” “honest” family farmer:

…Let the farmer, so far as I am concerned, be damned forevermore. To Hell with him, and bad luck to him. He is a tedious fraud and ignoramus, a cheap rogue and hypocrite, the eternal Jack of the human pack. He deserves all that he ever suffers under our economic system, and more. Any city man, not insane, who sheds tears for him is shedding tears of the crocodile.

No more grasping, selfish and dishonest mammal, indeed, is known to students of the Anthropoidea. When the going is good for him he robs the rest of us up to the extreme limit of our endurance; when the going is bad be comes bawling for help out of the public till. Has anyone ever heard of a farmer making any sacrifice of his own interests, however slight, to the common good? Has anyone ever heard of a farmer practicing or advocating any political idea that was not absolutely self-seeking — that was not, in fact, deliberately designed to loot the rest of us to his gain? Greenbackism, free silver, the government guarantee of prices, bonuses, all the complex fiscal imbecilities of the cow State John Baptists — these are the contributions of the virtuous husbandmen to American political theory. There has never been a time, in good seasons or bad, when his hands were not itching for more; there has never been a time when he was not ready to support any charlatan, however grotesque, who promised to get it for him. Only one issue ever fetches him, and that is the issue of his own profit. He must be promised something definite and valuable, to be paid to him alone, or he is off after some other mountebank. He simply cannot imagine himself as a citizen of a commonwealth, in duty bound to give as well as take…

Yet we are asked to venerate this prehensile moron as the Ur-burgher, the citizen par excellence, the foundation-stone of the state! And why? Because he produces something that all of us must have — that we must get somehow on penalty of death. And how do we get it from him? By submitting helplessly to his unconscionable blackmailing by paying him, not under any rule of reason, but in proportion to his roguery and incompetence, and hence to the direness of our need. I doubt that the human race, as a whole, would submit to that sort of high-jacking, year in and year out, from any other necessary class of men. But the farmers carry it on incessantly, without challenge or reprisal, and the only thing that keeps them from reducing us, at intervals, to actual famine is their own imbecile knavery. They are all willing and eager to pillage us by starving us, but they can’t do it because they can’t resist attempts to swindle each other. Recall, for example, the case of the cotton-growers in the South. Back in the 1920’s they agreed among themselves to cut down the cotton acreage in order to inflate the price — and instantly every party to the agreement began planting more cotton in order to profit by the abstinence of his neighbors. That abstinence being wholly imaginary, the price of cotton fell instead of going up — and then the entire pack of scoundrels began demanding assistance from the national treasury — in brief, began demanding that the rest of us indemnify them for the failure of their plot to blackmail us. (H.L. Mencken, “The Farmer.” American Mercury: March, 1924. Pgs. 293-96).

Let us remember these words before imagining that a return to the era of smaller, family-owned businesses or farms would be in any way preferable to our present system. Let us also not forget that the small, local family farm was traditionally the locus of gross patriarchy, the domestic slavery of women, ignorance, illiteracy, and superstition (religion). We should not allow ourselves to be taken in by quaint rustic illusions of the past.