As we go to press, an inspiring explosion has rocked this society. It changes everything. But the our activity still may play a part. We intend this irregular magazine to be a kind of can opener, a tool to decode and break through today's hermetically sealed system of rhetoric.
The stakes have been raised once again. The events in LA show just how fragile America is. Whatever problems the riots had, they moved the dispossessed of the world to a new level of struggle. It is now much easier to imagine a new society. It is harder to imagine anyone could stop us. We expect all the invisible struggles of daily life to become more intense. With the struggle now more in the open, all the repressive systems of this society weigh more heavily on our actions.
A system of rigid and complete control has produced those who will not accept its rule. In America, the LA riots showed that the utterly alienated are much more common than the constant polling claimed.
The world system has become more integrated and more fragile. The total price of good produced on the world economy has grown larger in recent years. But the usefulness of the market has become less and less to more and more people.
ASAN works to show the repression and resistance hidden in "normal life." It is critical to understand the order of daily routine that the poor of South-Central LA repudiated for a short, critical period.
Most of this introduction was written before the events in South Central. Still, they look forward to an extreme break with routine similar to the riots. We don't paint the riots in rosy colors. But the systematic brutality of this society makes a revolt necessary. ASAN will be producing a leaflet on riots. If it is not in the magazine, you can write the PO Box.
The usual facts and issues in the daily paper are like points of snow on a screen of an old black and white TV. They form a fuzzy, uncertain picture of a slowly collapsing social order.
The order of things hides in plain sight. By themselves, all the old news stories of war victories, drug murders, October Surprises, new computer viruses, vast nations collapsing, massive starvation, and celebrity balls tell us nothing about the world.
It's more important to see that everyone just goes home and watches the news. The missing ingredient of news is the total condition of life. Work and stress, TV and desperate hope are the unstated contexts of life in America. The powerlessness of most people allows the unreality of news to continue.
The news is just the first trap in a whole series of walls that stand in the way of our understanding today's world. News commentators can speak as if homelessness, skyrocketing murder rates or AIDS are things that appear with no plan and no explanation. Their quick changes to other topics keep us from questioning this. News thus stops us from thinking about the continuing situation of life today.
"Here's today's facts: You can scream all you want about the emperor having no clothes; doesn't matter anymore. We got naked emperors on every street corner; it's become a lifestyle of choice."[Op Ed Commentator Jon Carroll admits universal corruption in America in the Friday, April 10, 1992 San Francisco Chronicle.]
Information as commodity - all truth as something that is both buyable and changeable - this is only that last wrinkle in the system that begins with work, with us selling our time to buy our survival. (See The Information Age, page 27, this issue)
Universal corruption is just one by-product of making all human activity sellable. But like Jon Carroll, the system today often willing to admit its bankruptcy once it has convinced we have no alternative.
In the movie Dark Star, the crew of a space ship move from star to star. Their mission is to destroy any planets capable of supporting life, since that life might someday threaten earth. The same principle was used by our rulers during the eighties.
Rule by chaos is our phrase for the way this system harnesses its decay and confusion for its own protection.
Yesterday, there seemed to be no enemy at all. Saddam Hussein and Noriega just proved that no real opposition can be allowed to be visible. But there was violence and propaganda meant to destroy an invisible, implied, enemy, an unnamed menace.
For the last twenty years, our decaying capitalist society has managed to seem on top by raising the ante. As the conditions of life in this system become more unbearable, the system focuses its resources on preventing any knowledge of its own existence. AIDS, drugs wars, economic crises and anti-sex hysteria serve to stop any statement of an alternative to the system.
Lies are planted inside each other to keeping any clear view from appearing. Racism and sexism are hidden in just about every message the media puts out. But this underlying message, that whites and men get some great benefits from this society, is a lie in a subtler way. The only "benefit" that most men or most whites might expect today is a dull, repressed suburban existence of slaving for the real rulers of the system.
Martin Luther King is honored in every elementary school for helping black people escape oppression. But statisticians admit that both overall average black incomes and total inequality are worse than when King started.
The supposed victory of women's rights and the sexual revolution have left a world where television enforces sexual roles more and more stereotypically. This is a world where women's sexuality is as repressed as ever, a world of bulemia and skyrocketing plastic surgery.
The distorted viewpoint of television makes it hard to determine whether today's confusion is new or old and whether it is planned or random.
Our position is that the present form of the system is a fairly recent change. It began 40-50 years ago and has accelerated ever since. The spectacle, one technical name for this system, has not changed its methods much since the sixties. The spectacle has merely expanded and intensified its project.
The totalitarian economy is now normal. Its creation lies at the end of the history of the last 200 years or 2000 years. The assassination of JFK is only a small part of this process. Like earlier forms of capitalism, this all-controlling system leads to crisis. As the present system stage-manages more and more, it gets more and more resources to resist different crises. But now, even these resources seem to be wearing thin. Thus it gives us the crisis of everything.
The change in government today is simply that the system is moving into high gear. Change lately is not so much qualitative as quantitative. There is more and more of the same old shit. The war against life is being expanded to every possible front.
The S&L crisis, the environments' destruction, the collapse of the USSR, the Gulf War and permanent recession all come from a world system that has been declining for years. Things have simply now gotten so big that now the decay can no longer be swept under the rug.
Today, despair is the strategy. The shock of misery is expected to stop people from complaining. In 1980, a vast system of control was already in place. The crisis of capital made Ronald Reagan and the entire ruling class hit the control buttons harder and harder. The effects are visible. Vast misery enfolds a quickly increasing amount of people throughout the world. The "carrot" and the "stick" must be used more and more often.
The system has only strengthened itself by destroying all concepts of opposition. It must destroy all concepts of real dissent, all logic, and all apparent ways of people banding together.
The American dream is very fragile. On every level, refusal is common. Till now, it has been invisible. Contempt for authority has been increasing for twenty years. The boss, teacher or cop has never had such little respect. Hatred and resistance to work are nearly constant.
But the ruling class' strategy is not to pacify. Instead they manage a scapegoat section of the working class to feed the fear of the workers slightly above them. Their brutal prison system is a conscious effort to divide us by manufacturing thousands of Willie Hortons. They manipulated crack and poverty in similar ways.
At the same time it decays from within, the ruling class has lost all ability to openly rule, has lost all positive support, and only survives by constantly throwing different groups against each other.
We'll be spiralling outward in the opposite direction to the dominant whirlpool of non-thought. To describe the entire system, we incidentally break the accepted categories of information. This magazine is not news, essays, poetry or art. We talk about the hated generality; everything, the totality, the system. Moreover, we assume that the reader is engaged in struggle in one way or another.
To our detriment, opposition has been forced into a secret and ambiguous language. LA Raiders' jackets now have the connotation of city to city raiders, thus gang toughness. And gang toughness is desired by many non-gang members. This is a whole language of anger and resentment. But this language begins with the dominant society and thus isn't yet able to gain its own coherence.
Our goal is to be at the service of the various strands of coming together into a coherent force of resistance.
Even before the latest riots, the San Francisco Bay Area suffered various bracing disruption of routine in the last years. We have had the earthquake, the riots against the war and the huge fire in the Oakland Hills.
Even simple disruptions could foreshadow a world without capitalism. Contrary to the media's puppets, the time when normal organization stops is not a time of fear but a festival.
Between the time that a disaster happens and it is announced on radio, the world seems transformed. This appeal of disasters is a measure of the alienation of the present landscape.
The difference between the Hills before and after the Oakland fire brings this home. Before the fire, the landscape was closed-in, each house was its own pseudo-environment. It projected a sad myth of property, family and nature. The destruction of the neighborhood freed the hillside. After the fire, a single dramatic vista opened without even a claim to being natural, charming or not to be touched. The ash, broken chimneys and melted glass revealed how a thing is not always a mass-produced commodity. A thing can be just a thing with weight, color and texture but no price, advertising or prestige. The gawkers who flooded the area were inspiring in their curiosity and their ghoulish interest in the misery of the formerly wealthy homes.
During the San Francisco Earthquake, when the Bay Bridge was down and TV was barely transmitting, the symbols of commodity society were transformed. The shock of seeing economy stop gives one an inkling of what an uprising could become. At the time of the earthquake, I sat with some friends who worked at a movie theater. For a few moments, it stopped functioning as a commercial enterprise. Freed from its function in the economy, this theater broke down into a collection of boards, metal, tools and food.
You realize that, like muzak, all pieces of merchandise have their special qualities piped in from the outside. Fur coats, BMWs and credit cards mean nothing when the framework of society is drained away.
Our present system has gone further in showing how the normalcy of daily routine comes from meaning telegraphed in from afar. Daily Life seems normal only because everyone thinks work, prestige, and property will continue tomorrow and the day after. We cannot and do not reduce change to individual rational decisions; the myth of democracy.
Panic is natural when things seem to change from nothing. Riots get their explosive force from a simultaneous change in everyone's expectations. As we've seen, this easily erases scientifically formulated happy consensus of the media.
All these things are fragments of a new life trying to come into existence. It exists already as potential, not matter how much effort they spend trying to crush it. It exists in any project where a group of the dispossessed directly and collectively realizes their desires.
As a short hand, we sometimes call this new way of life communism. This risks confusion with the recently disintegrated Stalinist nations and exposes us to the ridicule of TV commentators. Beyond a desire to describe exactly, we are trying to speak to those who feel instinctively that everything the media says is a lie. [See Background, pg. 2, for a little more on this.]
The anti-war movement showed what kind of social control the present system has. In San Francisco, more than 200,000 people marched for peace in two demonstrations coming two weeks apart. They were mostly spontaneous and were far more than the official left could control. Even television news wound up calling on people to volunteer as monitors for the official peace groups. But people's impulses wound up easily controlled.
The system has people utterly outflanked in the realm of ideas. Most people called for peace and were rewarded only a few weeks later.
The system however, has only a limited ability to police the urges of the people today. With all the TV boosting of the war, the amount of active support for the war was small. With propaganda and organized illiteracy cutting off all rational objections to the present world, spontaneous explosions are becoming more and more common.
The Gulf War itself show how the devices that create reality are more and more tightly managed today. It was not just a matter of TV. Polls were constantly used to herd passive viewers to one position or another. The war itself had to be quick enough not to disrupt general resignation.
The only large pro-war rally that the ruling class held during the Gulf War was the superbowl. The spectators were a captive audience whipped into a murderous frenzy. But no one noticed the irony of such a set-up. This proved the point well. If no one cares that everyone at a demonstration has been bought, then the demonstration still has legitimacy. In fact, the rally demonstrated both support for the war and a generic willingness to be manipulated.
If the Gulf War had gone on for more than a year, you could have seen this country explode with more force than America in the sixties. But this wasn't expected since the war was planned to be short.
Even if the majority still supported the war, the danger of people beginning to think was real for this system - thus the war had to stop almost as soon as it began.
Fortunately, the shine of the victory of Operation Desert Storm last as long in people's memories as a an average coke commercial. This isn't surprising. The war was simply a point on the iceberg of social peace. The amnesia require by social peace must also apply to the victories of the system.
Some secrets must be kept from even those holding them. College professors, the CIA and corporate presidents have no more of an idea of a total capitalist system than the average person. So no intelligence expert understood how many people were stretched to breaking in South Central LA.
The U.S. lost much more in LA than it won in the Persian Gulf. The U.S. strategy since the sixties has been to destroy all memory of opposition. Thus LA destroyed everything the U.S. achieved since the sixties.
Our present system must control everything just to keep the daily routine going. It goes further in making the normalcy of daily life come from a nation-wide and world-wide balance of resignation.
Suddenly the state of the world caught up with this nation, the largest fortress of the world's rulers. So far the enemy doesn't have any new strategy at all. So its all up for grabs for now.
No one sits and calculates their response to today's world. More and more, each person processes the inputs and lives within the general expectations. An event, such as the Gulf War, can go from unthinkability to apparent universal acceptance in a few months. Now, few traces of the war remain in the average American's memory. The LA riots seemed to appear from nowhere also. We can prepare for interesting times ahead.