Anarchy 85/Utopian means they don't want to do it!

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Utopian means they don’t
want to do it!

rb:  Most people seem to con­ceive of you as an “utopian thinker”, and indeed one of your books is called Utopian Essays and Prac­tical Pro­po­sals. Yet from what I know, I think that you’ve referred to your­self more than once as a “prag­ma­tist”. Is this a contra­dic­tion, or don’t you see it this way?

pg:  Well, I’m not a utopian in any con­ven­tion­al sense of the term. Anyway, the people who use the word utopian ge­ne­ral­ly use it as a curse word, don’t they? Utopian means that they don’t want to do it! You know, they’re not fun­damen­tally inte­res­ted, they’ve got some other line. If by utopian we mean that some­body has some large pre­con­ceived notion of how the world in a big way would look, and he wants to impose that on other people as their scene, I think that’s fascism. I’m not inte­res­ted. That seems to me to be a com­plete bur­den­ing.

  There are in fact very many things which could be done far better in the present situ­ation, far cheaper, and much more simply. Ge­ne­ral­ly that requires an act of will or poli­ti­cal power. Now, how to get the poli­ti­cal power to do even small things, like taking the money that is used for the New York public school system and divi­ding it up between a thou­sand little inde­pen­dent schools? Because that would be far better than what we’ve got right now. It wouldn’t cost more, it wouldn’t require more teach­ers, and so on. You see, there’s nothing “utopian” about this kind of scheme, except that they aren’t going to do it!

  It’s a power ques­tion. Of course, it’s a ques­tion of poli­ti­cal action too. Now, I happen to be ter­rible at poli­tics. So instead, you say to the pro­fes­sion­al: Look, this is the way to do it, now go do it. Then he says: But that re­quires power. Of course it does. So go get the power!

  There’s some­thing else that I do as well. It’s a kind of trick. The Ameri­cans—and I’m pretty sure that it must be true in all high tech­nolo­gies—are abso­lute­ly deluded by the notion that the way things
are done today is inevi­table, and that nothing can be done, because of the com­plex­ity of modern tech­no­logy, the gallo­ping urba­nisa­tion, the popu­la­tion ex­plo­sion, the rising Third World, and so on. These are delu­sions. There­fore, in order just to loosen the Ameri­cans psy­cho­logi­cally a little bit, I’m quite prepared to think up half a dozen crack-brained schemes on any issue. It’s like saying: You think that’s the ony way to do this? Not so. You can do it this way, look, or you can do it that way, see. Now, I don’t care about any of these schemes as such, you know, except poli­ti­cal­ly: I like to make ones which are inte­res­ting. But psy­cho­logi­cally, the point is to let them see, for in­stance, that this ex­ces­sive cen­tra­lisa­tion is not neces­sary. I doesn’t even measure up to its own claim, namey that it’s effi­cient. So you make up little models out of your head. That doesn’t mean that you’re neces­sa­rily sug­ges­ting these models for appli­ca­tion. What you’re doing is saying: Look—think a little bit.

  Of course, this sometimes has con­se­quen­ces. Take, for example, Stu­dents for a Demo­cra­tic Society. Their founding manifesto, the Port Huron Statement, was almost en­tire­ly taken from a couple of books of mine. But then there come in as well some decen­tra­list ideas. And they’re not my ideas that they’re thin­king of. Their ideas are spe­ci­fic to the situ­ation, as they have to be. If you want to know how to do social welfare in some small Ame­ri­can town, you don’t read theory and you don’t think about it a priori. You look at the people. And you know, you look at what’s needed. But the fact that you can do it de­cen­tral­ly, I appa­rent­ly taught them. Now if you take many of my schemes li­teral­ly, seriously, as some­thing actu­ally to do and make, then it would be “utopian”. But I’ve got no inte­rest in that. In fact, I think it would be wicked to try to spell them out. to inflict them on people. Is that clear?

rb:  Yes. In fact, it’s true then that you see your­self more as a kind of acti­va­ting cata­lyst?

pg:  That’s right. But then there are many other things that are really ter­ribly simple, and you just do them. For in­stance, take our Off-Broadway Theatre in New York. You know, for a time, when the Becks were there, that was the best damn theatre there was. But we made all that up out of our heads. You know, Julian and I got to­ge­ther and said: OK, we can’t get a theatre, we’ll use some­thing else. Julian’s very enter­pri­sing, and he found an old de­part­ment store. OK, we’ll convert it. So we all went down there, and we laid the bricks and worked at it our­selves, and it got to be the Living Theatre. What’s “utopian” about that? Now, many people would have said: That’s impos­sible, you know, because of all the com­mer­cial pres­sures on the Broadway stage, and so forth. But that’s a lot of bull­shit. It’s not the least bit impos­sible. If you talk about it, it’s Utopian. If you go and do it, it’s cer­tain­ly not Utopian.

rb:  What do you think of the idea that this kind of do-it-your­self project is, in its own small way, one way of under­mi­ning power struc­tures?

pg:  Well, I think that if you use that as your purpose, it’s wicked.
We should do every­thing for its own sake. Like Law­rence said: Make a revo­lu­tion for fun, that’s all. That is to say, I don’t want to use the dis­ad­van­taged kids on the Lower East Side in order to under­mine the system. I want to educate them, period. Now, if the process of edu­ca­ting them happens to under­mine the system, so much the better. But I think any other way is a very spurious way of pro­cee­ding. That is, to sacri­fice people’s time and brains and talent and energies, and children and all that, for your own purposes, or indeed for any damn purpose other than that of the actual people, is wicked. However, let me say that it is the case that if you do any­thing sen­sible in Ame­rica today, it’s revo­lu­tio­nary. Any­thing! It had to be!

  But there’s another side to this. If you take some­thing like the Vietnam war, for in­stance, where we’re actu­ally going out there, tor­men­ting and de­men­ting people, then you have to devote your­self to stop­ping it. Which is a bore, but never­the­less it has to be done. We can’t just go on letting airmen drop bombs on some poor people’s heads. There’s abso­lute­ly nothing enter­tain­ing what­ever about burning your draft card, or sitting in a jail, or getting your head busted on the picket line, or what­ever. But you have no choice. You under­stand? These are dif­fer­ent issues. That is, if you’re doing some enter­prise, you do it for its own sake, and if it’s a good enter­prise it will ne­ces­sa­rily help lead to a better world. On the other hand, when some­thing hellish is going on, like the Vietnam war, you’ve got to stop it. This is Mala­tes­ta’s great point. If only they’d let us alone, then we’re fine. But they won’t let us alone! By the way, Mala­testa saw clearly this very fine balance where vio­lence is con­cerned: if they’d let us alone, we’re not violent. But they won’t get off our backs. They insist on using our taxes, etc., for bombs. But we don’t want that. There­fore, don’t pay the taxes. I’m a tax refuser, but there’s not enough of us.

  Power should always be very closely scaled to func­tion. Where it gets very bad is when you have some ab­stract seat of power which then exer­cises itself in carry­ing on func­tions. The power should be very closely related to what is ne­ces­sary to do the func­tion. That is to say, if I want some space to carry on a theatre, acti­vity, or a school meeting or some­thing like that, I want as much power as allows me free access to that space when I’m using it, and no more. And when I’m not using it, then I should­n’t have the power over it at all. I don’t think I can say it better than that.

cw:  How about eroding the power of those who hold it?

pg:  If they prevent natural func­tion from going on, which in fact they do all the time, then you have to erode it. You have no choice. If they won’t let life go on, you have to stop them. But of course, this does not mean that you replace their power. It means getting rid of their power so that every­body has as little power as pos­sible.

rb:  This is the same as making inroads into their power with your own freedom, is it not, and ex­ten­ding spheres of free action till, hope­fully, they make up the most of social life?

pg:  Yes, that’s another way to look at it, but really I couldn’t give a damn, as long as they aren’t killing pea­sants.