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A Response to "Spontaneous Combustion: The Eros Effect and Global Revolution"

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Jason Del Gandio and AK Thompson edited this book, and this article is my response to the insights and criticisms made about the eros effect..
MARCH 19, 2021
A Response to “Spontaneous
Combustion
BY GEORGE KATSIAFICAS
Hillary Lazar and Paul Messersmith-Glavin
provide an introductory framing for this
discussion here.
The publication of
Spontaneous Combustion
is a signi!cant indication that popular
uprisings are increasingly understood as
vital to revolutions. Since the astonishing 1917
seizure of power in Russia by the Bolsheviks, the
role of the “conscious element”—the Party—has
been wildly overemphasized, while “spontaneity”
was debased and ridiculed. Now that 20th century
Soviet Communism is in the past, the time is long
overdue to create social movements that can help
to produce expanded freedoms, greater liberties,
and joyful relationships—as well as to ruthlessly
criticize tendencies within the movement that
contribute to the deformation of freedom
struggles and turn them into their opposite.
In the past century, while Le"ists fetishized
centralized organization, mainstream academia in
the West, which had vili!ed social movements
long before the Russian revolution, slowly moved
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toward rationalistic theories that prioritized
resources in understanding a set of phenomena
previously comprehended as seasonal #uctuations
or short-circuiting electrical components of a
smoothly functioning system. To make matters
worse, copy-cat revolutionaries and tenure-
seeking professors continually pour new wine into
such old bottles, dutifully quoting fashionable
theorists, o"en without bothering to have critically
reviewed the practical implications of previously
conceptualized frameworks.
The Eros e$ect was !rst uncovered in 1983. A"er
!ve years of research on 1968, no academic theory
could help me adequately understand what I was
only beginning to comprehend as a world-
historical wave of insurgencies. The global Sixties
were neither a “moment in the movement of
capital” nor the breakdown of a bene!cent system.
Since very similar movements simultaneously
appeared in the Third World, the Second World
controlled by the Soviet Union, and the
economically developed countries, these popular
revolts were not mainly products of similar
national economic and political conditions. Nor
were they produced predominantly by
urbanization, migrations from countrysides to
cities, concentrations of university students, age
cohorts or generational con#icts—variables o"en
employed to explain them.
I suddenly realized that the energies generated in
many countries were most related to simultaneous
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freedom struggles elsewhere. As I checked
through my research notebooks, my question
became: how are they connected? Despite the best
e$orts of the CIA, FBI, and KGB to invent a New
Le" international, an organization uniting all the
various movements that emerged simultaneously
around the world, there was no such animal. The
heroic sacri!ces and resistance of the people of
Vietnam in the face of barbaric massacres
certainly inspired all of us. Yet the shared
imagination of millions of human beings in 1968
was the dream of a global revolution, a vision
much larger than ending one neocolonial war or
racism in one country. All over the world, as we
sang and danced our dreams in the streets,
su$ered police attacks and celebrated our
resistance, put words on papers and sat through
days and nights of endless meetings, we worked to
actualize a world in which violence was made
obsolete, where consumerism did not de!ne the
pleasures of life, where jobs did not dissolve the
joys of labor, and where women and men could
intertwine our lives in authentic and meaningful
relationships liberated from patriarchal
restrictions. How did such a unifying vision
emerge simultaneously in such disparate places?
As I write today, the image that appears before me
is a symphony orchestra achieving global
harmony and synchronization without a
conductor or concertmaster. Unlike a symphony’s
music score from which each participant receives
the timing and tonality of their contribution, the
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global movement had no structure, no set plan.
There were no “receivers and transmitters.” More
like improvised jazz, we blended with each other,
simultaneously motivating each of us to !nd
within ourselves talents and capability even we
had yet to discover.
At that time, the sexual revolution was central to
the Sixties’ counterculture—as was militant
opposition to a genocidal system daily raining
death on Vietnam. Domestically, as racial
inequality and police murders became
increasingly visible, many activists’ relationships
to each other became experiences with wild sex
and violent resistance.
Despite their synchronous emergence, the Black
liberation struggle and countercultural peace
movement had strikingly di$erent trajectories:
San Franciscos 1967 Summer of Love was also the
Long Hot Summer of riots in Detroit (43 people
killed), Newark (26 dead) and more than 150 other
cities. As the Beatles sang, “All you need is love,
Eros’ inseparable twin Thanatos struggled to gain
the upper hand.[1] In 1969, love at Woodstock
turned into death at Altamont. Intense emotions
engulfed society, mingling life-forces and death
wishes in complicated tapestries of passion.
Hatred of oppression was indistinguishable for
many from love of freedom. An overly rationalistic
orientation weakened Le"ists’ capacity to navigate
the emotional maelstrom. Under unrelenting
attack from the forces of order, the movement
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abruptly imploded.
At their Flint, Michigan “War Council” at the end
of 1969, Weather Underground Organization
leader Bernadine Dohrn embraced the
nightmarish Manson murders by calling for “Fork
Power” and praising the callous killing of Sharon
Tate. A few months later, the group’s leading
bombmakers blew themselves up in a luxurious
New York townhouse where they were assembling
devices designed to kill as many police as possible.
To this day, Bill Ayers continues to celebrate his
belief that “Militancy was the standard by which
we measured our aliveness.[2] Of course, there
were other voices. Audre Lorde beautifully
distanced love from “abuse of feeling.[3] Jessica
Benjamin insisted that mutual recognition
requires intimacy.[4] As Eros and Thanatos
continually co-exist and even strengthen their
opposing partner, many !nd it di%cult to
distinguish them from each other.
For all their faults, the beauty of the movements
that crested from 1968 to 1970 remains their
predominant feature for me. The de!ning
moments of this period in the advanced capitalist
countries were the massive uprisings of May-June
1968 in France and May-September 1970 in the
United States. The emergent imaginations and
daily realities of millions of people during these
general strikes were unmistakably similar:
international and interracial solidarity alongside
grassroots self-management of institutions and
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communities. These moments of the Eros e$ect
de!ne what I called the global imagination of
1968.[5]
Spontaneous Combustion
appeared half a century
a"er the Summer of Love. Published three years
before the largest uprising in the history of the
United States, the 2020 Black Lives Matter
uprising, the book already understood BLM as a
vitally important movement. From its !rst to last
chapter, ten references to Black Lives Matter (and
another ten to the Black Panther Party) are
included. Massive participation in the 2020
uprising (estimates range from 15 to 26 million
participants within a month of George Floyd’s
murder)[6] testi!es to the ongoing relevance of
the Eros e$ect, to global waves building with
increasing numbers of participants with
interracial solidarity at the core of their collective
vision. Of course, no one can predict the exact
timing of uprisings, insurrection and revolts, but
the concept of the Eros e$ect at least gives us the
expectation and foresight that such events will
continue to occur. Indeed, if I am right, such
sudden upheavals will continue to grow in global
synchronicity and involvement of millions of
people.
With each unfolding global wave of insurgencies
a"er 1968, my motivation to clarify the Eros e$ect
intensi!ed. In 1986, People Power was born in the
Philippines uprising that overthrew long
entrenched dictator Ferdinand Marcos. In the
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following 6 years, nine Asian despots were
overthrown. Beginning in 1989, as regime a"er
regime was toppled in Eastern Europe. Around the
world, People Power moved from triumph to
triumph. On January 1, 1994, the Zapatista
insurrection in Chiapas helped to spark an
international uprising against capitalist
globalization that reached its most visible moment
in Seattle in 1999, when thousands of people from
dozens of countries stopped the meetings of the
World Trade Organization. In 2011, the Arab
Spring suddenly broke decades of people’s silence
in 14 countries. Almost overnight, Occupy Wall
Street camps appeared in thousands of cities.
From the very beginning of their endeavor, Jason
Del Gandio and AK Thompson, the editors of
Spontaneous Combustion,
understood that the Eros
e$ect had been “underscrutinized(13)[7] in
comparison to academias “di$usion,” Samuel
Huntingtons “snowballing,” or the Le"’s
fascination with theories of Italian Autonomism.
In Peter Marcuse’s words, this book is a
“systematic attempt to clarify and extend” the Eros
e$ect. Although full of praise, contributors were
not hesitant to point out shortcomings. Jason and
AK criticized me for only grounding the concept in
history and psychology. They felt that I focused on
one speci!c type of phenomenon—when millions
of people go into the streets during brief moments
in time. The collective wisdom of the 14
contributors advances our understanding beyond
my initial e$orts. I thank you all for your critical
insights and for extending the concept of the Eros
e$ect to the domains of the individual body,
everyday life, and social disasters and
emergencies. All of your e$orts have led me to
reexamine my own writing and those of my
teacher, Herbert Marcuse.
The discourse in
Spontaneous Combustion
has
heightened my awareness of the scope of the Eros
e$ect. Contributors’ thinking does not jettison the
original concept nor reject its philosophical
foundations. In the best sense of the Hegelian
dialectic, they use the power of critique to show
the limits of my thinking and to preserve it at a
higher level. For example, Nina Power grounds
Eros in care (238). She treats it as “cause” rather
than “e$ect” (249), and calls for exploration of love
and intimacy. (248) Arnold Farr’s individual
democratic attunement” (88), and Jack Hipps
notion of the “cognitive unconscious” both portray
Eros on the individual level. On a macro level,
Emily Brissette and Mike King’s idea of a
“transtemporal revolutionary consciousness” (172)
and Doug Kellner’s praise of our “collective Eros”
(293) formulate Eros in ways beyond my
con!guration. Gooyong Kim and Anat Schwarz
found usefulness for the Eros e$ect during the
heartbreaking disaster of the Seowol ferry sinking
(197). Courageously emphasizing the perpetual
presence of Thanatos, Sabu Kohso provides
valuable insight into the Japanese movement’s
suicidal termination when it transitioned from
“Decomposing Universities” in 1970 to
“Decomposing the Self” a few years later (224). In
one of the worlds most nationalistic societies, he
calmly portrays “Thanatos-in#ected nationalism”
as one of the main causes preventing Japanese
people from !nding their freedom (219).
Dialectically composing his thoughts, AK
Thompson begins by maintaining that the Eros
e$ect is “one of the most vital recent intellectual
contributions to the Marcusean legacy” (269)
before he resolutely criticizes my work (as I
discuss below).
Re#ecting upon my intellectual work over the past
30 years, I see two reasons that led me to ground
the Eros e$ect in history, rather than more fully in
analytical theory. First, my own activist
orientation means that I refuse to bifurcate theory
from practice. For me, the praxis of thousands of
people contains analysis within itself. Actions
speak louder than words. By theorizing peoples’
actions, I facilitate their speaking for themselves.
History is made and freedom is de!ned in the
streets by hundreds of thousands of people—and
in the case of the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprising
—by tens of millions. As Richard Gilman-Opalsky
insists in his contribution to this volume, revolt is
“philosophical work.” He understands “revolt
as
reason and reason
as
revolt.” (120) It is not by
accident that every one of the books I have written
(
The Imagination of the New Le!
in 1987,
The
Subversion of Politics
in 1997, and
Asia’s Unknown
Uprisings
in 2012) have theoretical chapters at the
end of the books, not at the beginning as is
normally the case.
The second reason why I sought to prove the Eros
e$ect through historical studies was precisely
because the concept was initially rejected by
distinguished sociologists. Professor Lewis Killian
wrote to me that “you impose your theory on your
examples rather than deriving it from empirical
evidence.[8] Anthony Oberschall mused that “if
you linked it up with a case study, it would be
better and more likely to be published.[9] Charles
Tilly opined, “You’ll have to specify and document
how the ‘Eros e$ect’ operates far more
carefully.[10] These reactions stood in sharp
contrast to those of fellow activists. When I ran
into Murray Bookchin at St. Mark’s bookstore in
Manhattan, he praised my book. Insisting it had
good “buzz,” he told me not to worry about the
cold reception of academia. Very o"en when I met
activists for the !rst time, they immediately
mentioned how much they resonated with the
Eros e$ect. In 1999, I !rst visited Gwangju, South
Korea. Shortly therea"er, I went to the unveiling of
a statue for poet-revolutionary Kim Nam-ju. A"er
the ceremony, I walked alone in Biennale Park,
when an older man stopped me. “Katsia!cas” he
said, “Eros e$ect.” That was the extent of his
English.
Facing this combination of professorial disdain
and movement praise, I devoted eleven years of
my life to writing
Asia‘s Unknown Uprisings
in
order to “prove” the existence of the Eros e$ect.
Before I began my project, I was aware of the
astonishing synchronicity of the Asian wave of
uprisings from 1986 to 1992 that overthrew nine
dictatorships in six years in a region divided by
!ve in#uential religions and seven major
languages. So eager was I to !nd ways in which
individual activists were connected to each other,
I interviewed over 200 individuals in eight
countries. For many of those years of research and
writing, I lived in Gwangju, South Korea. In other
Korean venues, I was o"en invited to give talks
about my ongoing research. In Busan, a"er I had
spent considerable time and e$ort developing
statistical evidence to show that factors such as
in#ation, GDP growth, harshness of repression,
and “middle-class threshold” were not useful
explanatory variables, the professor who had
invited me proclaimed that only the Eros e$ect
appeared to explain the unity of actions amid such
diversity.
As I was !nishing my book, a new global eruption
suddenly occurred—the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall
Street, and occupations of squares in Spain and
Greece. I was both elated and chagrined, the latter
because I had devoted so many years of my life to
proving the existence of the Eros e$ect, and the
simultaneity of insurgencies in 2011 would make it
obvious to all but the most stubborn academics
and recalcitrant Marxist dogmatists.
At the dawn of the 21st century, while Herbert
Marcuse was being neglected (thankfully, a
phenomenon that is no longer the case), mundane
neo-Marxian theories of Negri and Zizek were
fashionable, despite their being similar to those
espoused by the likes of Progressive Labor and
other sects that contributed to the New Le"’s
distance from freedom and demise a"er 1968.[11]
Sadly, much of the Le" continues to operate as
though the world has not changed since the 19th
century. They characterize the 1960s as an
aberrant student movement while they
uncritically praise insurgencies of the 1930s. They
know nothing of Gwangju, yet glorify pre-20th
century French revolutions.
The remainder of my response to
Spontaneous
Combustion
falls into !ve broad themes: individual
and collective Eros, nature and history, the
relationship of the Eros e$ect to sociological
theory, the collective unconscious, and lack and
love.
Individual and Collective Eros
As many of the contributors to
Spontaneous
Combustion
mention, I only consider the Eros
e$ect as a real-time group phenomenon. Nina
Power asks why “given the immense amount of
feminist work done on love, Eros, care and the exit
from repression,” I do not discuss feminist debates
on these issues. Her point is well taken, although
not entirely accurate. In
Subversion of Politics
, I
spent considerable time analyzing feminist
movements in Italy and Germany from the 1960s
to the 1990s. Yet I concerned myself more with
Germans’ motherhood question and the in#uence
of Italian feminism within the autonomous
workers’ movement than I did with more
individually constructed problems. Power is right
that I do not delve deeply into issues of personal
development. She makes a very striking case that
existing forms of emotional labor, care, and love
help to condition erotic connections that
continually reappear during popular uprisings. In
that sense, I agree with her that the Eros e$ect
needs to be extended through better
understanding of its origins in the individual
development of the capacity to love. At the end of
Subversion of Politics
, I share with her such insights
as the need to value reproductive labor and
housework.
Arnold Farr portrays his individual Eros e$ect by
sharing intimate autobiographical experiences,
vividly portraying what he names “democratic
attunement.” Far more than I have yet been
capable of doing, he opens his family problems to
our vision. In so doing, he is able to demonstrate
dynamics of transformation and growth. His point
that one-dimensional thinking reduces struggles
for radical change into desire for inclusion in the
existing system merits discussion. Recently,
Le"ists orientated around “class politics” seek to
classify Black Live Matter as belonging to the
progressive fringe of neoliberalism insofar as
slogans like defund the police would reduce state
services. Insofar as it is impossible to abolish
police in a society based upon systemic robbery of
labor and empowerment of a few billionaires
alongside tens of millions of impoverished people,
calls to defund the police should be considered
what Andre Gorz named “revolutionary reforms.
For a long time now, I have felt that the latent
universal within identity politics has o"en been
ignored.[12] I acknowledge that the strident self-
righteousness of impassioned opposition to
sexism and racism can be quite isolating, if not
destructive of unity, Le"ists’ failure to recognize
and oppose patriarchal and racial forms of
oppression has been no less divisive and
alienating. The universal resides in the particular
or else it is nowhere to be found. Speaking
personally, soul music was my music as I came up
in public schools in Baltimore. Black music was—
and is today more than ever—universal music.
BLM spokesperson, Alicia Garza, quoted by Doug
Kellner (293), observed: “When Black people get
free, everybody gets free.” Womens liberation
means freedom for all of us from the straitjacket
of patriarchal gender relationships.
Gooyong Kim and Anat Schwarz surprised me by
showing how Missy USA chat space was able to
mobilize e$ectively during the Seowol crisis in
South Korea (202). A decade before the Seowol
tragedy, teenage Korean girls used musicians’ fan
pages to lead the whole nation in a massive
movement that overturned a KORUS trade
agreement that had permitted massive imports of
low quality US “mad cow” beef. In one of the
worlds most patriarchal societies, decades of
massive uprisings helped galvanize young women
and formerly downtrodden workers into
preeminent leadership roles. By extending the
Eros e$ect to moments of emergencies, Kim and
Schwarz refuse to accede control of such moments
to government o%cials and instead emphasize the
role of popular agency and mutual aid.
Jack Hipp goes beyond the con!nes of Cartesian
dualities and arrives at the intersection of the
George Lako$s “embodied mind” and the Eros
e$ect, which he considers as a form of “sensual
collective reason.” (163) He insists that human
reason is emotionally engaged, that rationality has
a moral dimension. (152) Indeed, he believes that
reason is largely unconscious. Following Herbert
Marcuse’s admonition that unless liberatory
movements’ impact reaches into our “second
Nature” (“natural” behavior patterns, habits and
customs), they will remain incomplete, “even self-
defeating.(156) For Hipp, moments of the Eros
e$ect neurologically restructure the cognitive
unconscious. He points to May 1968 in France and
May 1980 in Gwangju, South Korea to talk
speci!cally about how entrenched patterns of
behavior were smashed as participants created
new values and norms. (157-159) Without
transformation of our everyday lives, Hipp
observes that instinctual erotic drives will
continue to be channeled into “false needs and
desires”—libidinal energy into commerce and
pornography, solidarity into xenophobic
nationalism, and ecological communion into
“manicured suburban lawns and day trips to the
zoo.” (160)
Sabu Kohso builds upon the individual psychology
of
Anti-Oedipus
to extend Eros from the
“microscopic“ view of “desiring-machine” to a
“spectrum of collective emotions and actions”
(212-213). Although he prefers to name “hatred”
rather than Eros as motivation for activism, AK
Thompson similarly grounds motivation for action
on the individual level, quoting e.e. cummings to
the e$ect that individuals act a"er they reach
limits of oppression.
Nature and History
Jason del Gandio analogizes the Eros e$ect with
the growth of plants toward the sun, “…like trees
growing through fences, #owers blooming in
cracked sidewalks and seeds outsmarting genetic
engineering…” (104) He extends the concept of the
Eros e$ect to include vibrations and the body,
explicitly going beyond my psychological
understanding. By integrating the body into our
understanding of the Eros e$ect, he grounds the
concept even more in Marcuse’s work and helps to
explain why we get goosebumps, or become
electrically charged” from a “global vibe” during
moments of collective awakening. (111)
Nina Power (241) discusses “already existing
family bonds as a powerful social model.” I would
be careful using such a term universally, since for
many of us, existing family bonds denote ways in
which our freedom is constricted by blood ties and
family obligations. I grew up in a US Army family
with a great deal of domestic violence long before
there were shelters for battered children and
women. Cowering in basements or clandestinely
ducking into neighbors’ houses were the only
means of escape from experiences I wish on no
other member of the human race. In my view, and
I think Power would agree, patriarchal bonds
cannot be subsumed under other categories of
oppression. They are as much a dimension of the
problem we face as are global capitalism and
militarized nation-states armed with weapons of
mass destruction.
In my understanding, family bonds are part of the
process referred to as
Naturwuchs
. We are born
into families we have not autonomously chosen,
blood groups which are increasingly fragmented
by capitalist relations. Our species has chosen
neither to live under patriarchal rule not to accept
the speci!c form of the economic organization of
the whole society. Rather global capitalism and
male violence bolster and expand a system
inherited from the past, which has marginalized
women and disenfranchised billions of people
whose ancestors’ labor created the wealth today
hoarded by billionaires and giant corporations. So
long as it is not our consciousness but conditions
beyond our control that perpetuate capitalist
patriarchy, the human species cannot yet be said
to have gone beyond “pre-history.” For me, the
Eros E$ect is the concrete embodiment of Nature
becoming history through the dynamic process of
human beings lovingly transforming society
according to their own free will. When the actions
of millions of people change the course of social
evolution, freedom is indeed the right word to use.
AK Thompson questions my comparison of human
behavior to that of caribou, birds, bees and ants.
Don’t humans and other animals share similar
unconscious drives guiding us? AK faithfully
quotes Karl Marx on the di$erence between the
!nest bees and the worst architect without
considering the possibility that Marx may have
been unable to escape from the human
chauvinism of the 19th century. The intelligence of
whales and dolphins has only begun to be
understood in the latter part of the 20th century.
Recent studies have found that dolphins have a
more complex language than humans. We now
understand that animals have feelings. The recent
Net#ix !lm,
My Octopus Teacher
, is mind
expanding in this regard.
AK continually creates either-or situations, ones in
which Manichean dichotomies abound. One is a
Marxist or not, dialectical or not, faithful to
Benjamin or not. By counterposing human history
to natural history, he fails to see that human
history is part of natural history. We ourselves are
products of nature as is our intelligence, our
reason, and our Eros.
Incidentally AK writes of my “professed
intellectual allegiance to Herbert Marcuse and to
the Marxist tradition more broadly.” (270). If he
includes in that broad tradition the Stalinist
variety that ravaged the Soviet Union, he is sadly
mistaken. Throughout my adult life, I have
studiously avoided labels. Others have applied
them without much thought. In 1970, the FBI
described me as a “New Le" extremist—anarchist.
That same year, when I was sentenced to a brief
stint in prison, the guards, warden and right-wing
prisoners called me a “Communist.
The Eros E!ect and Social Movement Theory
My !rst book on 1968 concluded with criticisms of
sociological analysis of social movements and
their relationship to administrative social research
that serves the control center.[13] For that critical
endeavor, I earned the enmity of several
academics. There were notable exceptions, such
as Joseph Gus!eld and Robert Ross’ favorable
reviews as well as Eric Hobsbawms history of the
20th century, which twice praised my book.
Lesley Wood notes my “dismissal” of social
movement theory (252). I am grateful to her for
comprehending that my work is closer to the
understanding of First Nation people and to the
civil rights movement (264) than to sociologists
who speak of social movements having
relationships of “adopters” and “transmitters”
(258), terms used by Dieter Rucht and Douglas
McAdam to explain what they call “di$usion.[14]
Their understanding resembles that of police
during the civil rights movement, who proclaimed
that they never had a problem before the arrival of
Martin Luther King and “outside agitators.
Operation Phoenix, a massive CIA program that
killed at least 20,000 Vietnamese civilians,
speci!cally targeted middle-level cadre in
southern Vietnam (“Viet Cong”) to disrupt alleged
lines of transmission from Hanoi to the frontlines
in the South.
Several of you quote speci!cally how I distanced
myself from mainstream theories by using the
distinction between geometry and calculus. That
metaphor was meant to contrast research useful to
the control center with movement building
theoretical endeavors. I cannot help but wonder
whether terms like “transmitter and adopter” or
attempts to provide insight into “how waves of
protest unfold“ might be useful to those seeking to
blunt the impact of insurgencies. Indeed, I have
sometimes worried that the US government might
have found my research useful, a fear I suspect I
am not alone in harboring.
The Collective Unconscious
Whether or not the collective unconscious exists
remains an unresolved question. Among the many
di$erences between Freud and Jung, chief among
them was Jung’s notion of a “collective
unconscious,” a force of Nature produced over
millions of years in which humanity accumulated
wisdom from past experiences. Freud had
disingenuously compared himself to Columbus as
discover of a new continent, the unconscious,
which for him existed on an individual level. For
Jung, the collective unconscious became
understood as the principal feature of our being,
and as such was a form of wisdom that
undermined Freuds elaborations of infantile
sexuality, the Oedipus complex, the superego and
other essential dimensions of his scienti!c theory.
As is well known, Jung edited the Nazi!ed
Zentralblatt für Psychotherapie
. He believed masses
are blind and call for a demagogue to lead them.
For some, his a%liation with Nazism and Eastern
mysticism[15] is su%ciently egregious to
completely dismiss him. Nonetheless, to simply
relegate all of Jung’s work to the garbage heap
because of his faults would be short-sighted.
There remain pieces of valuable insight in his
work. AK Thompson (274) criticizes me for having
gone so far “as to invoke the mythopoetic
foundations of Jungian archetypes to buttress his
arguments despite the fact—as Benjamin noted—
such archetypes were the bread-and-butter of
fascism.” Yet if we simply dismiss Jung and fail to
engage with the notion of the collective
unconscious because of its links to authoritarian
and totalitarian tendencies, we remain imprisoned
in the very form of binary rationality that has
made Western civilization the scourge of planet
Earth. Until Marcuse’s
Reason and Revolution
,
Hegels work had largely been regarded as proto-
fascist, yet Marcuse was able to show Hegel’s
usefulness to revolution. Shouldn’t we attempt to
salvage what is useful in Jung?
Marcuse regarded the collective unconscious as
related to totalitarian tendencies in which
individual consciousness is overwhelmed.[16] The
contemporary imprint of mass media on our
personalities and unconscious is pervasive and
powerful—and o"en quite harmful. Given that we
all are subjected to media in varying degrees, a
case can be made that we share symbols
propagated by Hollywood and advertisers, that our
desires are formed by media imprints. Does the
end of individuality” and the rise of the “social
superego[17]also indicate the greater signi!cance
of a collective unconscious? Time may not exist in
the unconscious, but it is shaped by history,
whether archaic or contemporary. Are there ways
in which we can understand moments of the Eros
e$ect as arising from within the collective
unconscious?
With our growing understanding in the 21st
century, can we speak of a liberatory collective
unconscious? Freud was convinced that memory
traces of traumas su$ered by previous generations
a$ected their progeny. The “return of the
repressed” in phylogenetic fragments meant that
“mental residues of primeval times” could be
reawakened.[18] Richard Gilman-Opalsky (126)
notes that new revolts begin where other
insurrections le" o$ in a process of “un!nished
questioning.” In
Imagination of the New Le!
, I
noted such a transmission process but could not
determine whether it was accomplished through
intuition, direct inter-generational contact, or
through the study of history that revolutionary
consciousness from previous epochs reappears
time and again. This is not simply a question of
slogans and costumes, rather it involves deeply
rooted human aspirations for freedom. Emily
Brisette and Mike King observe the “transmission
of an emergent transtemporal revolutionary
consciousness” during their participation in
Occupy and the birth of the Oakland Commune
(172).
Many of us have recognized ways in which
previous waves of struggle leave an indelible mark
on social development, so much so that waves in
the future, without seemingly connected to
previous ones, reinvigorate needs and desires that
were apparently le" forgotten. In Korea, the thirst
for national unity and independence prior to the
1950-1953 Korean War re-emerged in its a"ermath
of the war despite the whole country having been
divided and obliterated by total war in which over
four million people were killed out of a total
population of 30 million. The fervent need for
democratic freedoms expressed in the 1960
movement (that won power in South Korea, only
to be overturned by a US-backed military coup in
1961), reemerged in 1980 with the Gwangju
People’s Uprising.
Lack and Love
AK Thompson writes that “revolution begins not
with the Eros e$ect but with biological hatred.
(282) He believes that “human ontology is
historical, not natural, and that the motive force in
human development is lack…” (278). For him,
only with ‘gut-hatred…does partisanship become
clear” (279). AK is not alone in what may be called
“bad nihilism” in the movement. Disgust with the
tragedy of human actions is certainly not
unwarranted but to position hatred at the center of
our movement’s motivation will only lead to
undesirable outcomes.
A brilliant theorist, he argues persuasively that his
analysis “reveals that revolutionary aspirations are
stimulated not so much by a normative a priori
content but rather by something like a universal
experience of lack”—which means that our
strategy must be changed.[19] Granting his
extension of Lacanian discourse to revolutionary
strategy without delving into the worthiness
thereof, I must ask: if we base our strategy on lack
of ful!lment of frustrated needs and desires, isn’t
it apparent that new needs and new desires will
not thereby be created? Doesn’t lack always refer
to needs that have already emerged? Isn’t our
“biological hatred,” at least in part, a product of
our natural evolution?
My understanding that love is a transhistorical
human need does not mean it is simply universal
and unchanging. Eros is historically conditioned
and changes character over time. The current
society’s repressive channeling of Eros into
depersonalized sex and consumerism is one
example of the historical molding of instincts. Our
species is sometimes consumed by hate and
xenophobia. Thanatos found expression in the
imposition of African slavery, genocide of
indigenous First Nation peoples, the Civil War, and
massive neo-colonial slaughters from the
Philippines at the end of the 19th century to
Afghanistan today. Recent history appears to have
enormously strengthened Thanatos.[20]
Positing lack as a negative, transhistorical
ontology, AK believes that hatred, not love, is at
the core of action. He continually bifurcates
reality rather than simultaneously grasping its
contradictory elements. In the practice of the
Black Panther Party, anti-police patrols coexisted
with survival programs.[21] In Ocean Beach, we
developed a network of counterinstitutions[22] as
well as a number of anti-system initiatives.[23]
These two seemingly contradictory aspects of
struggle complemented each other. Marcuse
synthesized apparently unreconcilable
dimensions, calling the Great Refusal “the protest
against unnecessary repression, the struggle for
the ultimate form of freedom—’to live without
anxiety.’”[24]
In contrast to AK, Nina Power concludes her
chapter with the point that it might be better to
think of Eros as a cause rather than e$ect, as the
point of origin of the seeds of revolution. (249).
Emily Brisette and Mike King believe:
“Consciousness is transformed; the impossible
becomes possible. The Eros e$ect is built upon
that conviction. It is fueled by the moments in
which we open a crack in the existing order
enough to catch a glimpse of the beauty and the
power that could be ours. Through such moments,
our desire for a new world is stoked and—even
a"er the !re is tampered down—we emerge like
primed tinder for the next spark.“ (186).
Marcuse linked
Ananke
(necessity) and
Lebensnot
(scarcity) to the repressive reality principle, not to
the struggle for liberation. Revolutionary
moments in the self-creation of the human
species-being, like labor, art, and communication
create new dimensions of freedom. In our recent
history, the uprisings of May-June 1968 in France,
May-September 1970 in the USA, and May 1980 in
Gwangju, were “moments of the actualization of
the species as a species-being, moments when
new goals for the whole organization of society
were conceived (and temporarily actualized) in the
lives of millions of people. The emergence of
values like internationalism, new forms of social
organization like self-management, and new goals
opposed to pro!t making make clear that the
global movement was more than spontaneous
opposition to perceived injustices derived from
the unplanned goals of the system as it has
evolved.[25] For AK, the “discrepancy between
imagination and reality is nothing other than
lack.” (277)
In
Eros and Civilization
, Marcuse quotes one of
Andre Bretons
Surrealist Manifestos
: “To reduce
imagination to slavery—even if one’s so-called
happiness is at stake—needs to violate all that one
!nds in one’s inner most self of ultimate Justice.
Imagination alone tells me what
can be.
[26] He
went on to complain that “The utopian claims of
imagination have become saturated with historical
reality.” If we allow the dead weight of the past and
de!ne our hatred of oppression as our motivation
for action, how can we become capable of
freedom?
-Chicago, October 11, 2020
George Katsiacas explains that his “own project
begins with a very simple proposition: millions of
ordinary people, acting together, can profoundly
change the basic facts of social life. The South
Korean
Minjung
movement of 1987 is a good
example. If we look at history, we can nd other such
moments in every country when the activated
population changes governments, economic
structures-even the way time and space are measured
and understood!” He is the author of numerous books,
including,
The Imagination of the New Le": A
Global Analysis of 1968
(Boston: South End Press,
1987); with Kathleen Cleaver, eds.
Liberation,
Imagination, and the Black Panther Party
(New
York: Routledge, 2001)
; The Subversion of Politics:
European Autonomous Social Movements and the
Decolonization of Everyday Life
(Oakland: AK
Press, 2006)
;
and the two volume
Asia’s Unknown
Uprisings
(Oakland: PM Press, 2012, 2013)
, among
others.
Katsia!cas’
The Global Imagination of 1968:
Revolution and Counterrevolution
is available
from PM Press here.
Asia’s Unknown Uprisings Volume 1: South Korean
Social Movements in the 20th Century
is
available here
Asia’s Unknown Uprisings Volume 2: People Power in
the Philippines, Burma, Tibet, China, Taiwan,
Bangladesh, Nepal, Thailand, and Indonesia, 1947-
2009
is here.
Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social
Movements And The Decolonization Of Everyday Life
is available from AK Press here.
Notes.
[1] Eros’ twin Thanatos (o"en referred to as the
death instinct”) simultaneously appears with
Eros, sometimes in the background, o"en in the
foreground. Analogous to monotheists’ belief in
god and the devil, Eros and Thanatos and their
never-ending struggle were at the center of Freud’s
!nal formulation of instincts. The death instinct is
a compulsion inherent in animate beings to dash
to the inanimate state that awaits all life. As Eros
and Thanatos co-exist and even strengthen their
opposing partner, many people !nd it di%cult to
distinguish them from each other.
[2] Ayers quoted in Jeremy Varon,
Bringing the War
Home
(Berkeley: UC Press, 2004) 87.
[3] Lorde, “Uses of the Erotic” in
Sister Outsider
(New York: Crossing Press, 1984) 59.
[4] Benjamin,
The Bonds of Love: Psychoanalysis,
Feminism and the Problem of Domination
(New
York: Pantheon, 2013) 41.
[5] See
The Global Imagination of 1968: Revolution
and Counterrevolution
(Oakland: PM Press, 2019).
[6] Larry Buchanan, Quoctrung Bui and Jugal K.
Patel, “Black Lives Matter May Be the Largest
Movement in U.S. History,
New York Times
, July 3,
2020.
[7] Numbers in parenthesis in the text refer to
page numbers in
Spontaneous Combustion
.
[8] Personal correspondence, January 12, 1989.
[9] Personal correspondence, March 7, 1990.
[10] Personal correspondence, September 24,
1991.
[11] The popularity of Antonio Negri overlooked
his mimicking the conservative “end of history”
thesis when he wrote that, “The history of
imperialist, interimperialist, and anti-imperialist
war is over. The end of that history has ushered in
the reign of peace.” See Michael Hardt and
Antonio Negri,
Empire
(Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 2000) 189. Zizek’s fawning
adoration of Stalin is scarcely mentioned in public
—and then only in whispers. The German Le"
Party refuses to acknowledge that the DDR was a
dictatorship.
[12] “The Latent Universal Within Identity Politics”
in
The Promise of Multiculturalism
(New York:
Routledge, 1998).
[13] When I revised the 1987 edition of
The
Imagination of the New Le!
and produced
The
Global Imagination of 1968,
I did not include
theoretical chapters 5 and 6 from the original
book, but they are available on my website,
www.erose$ect.com
[14] When I met him in Berlin, Dieter Rucht
sheepishly confessed to me that he and Doug
McAdam had used my understanding of the
international connections among movements
without acknowledging my contribution to their
work.
[15] As someone who matured in Ocean Beach
(San Diego) in the 1970s, spirituality and radical
politics coexisted harmoniously for many of
us.Without planning, about a dozen OB activists
converged on the Rainbow gathering in 1975 in
Utah, where we shared metaphysical experiences
that defy rational explanation. Andre Gorz visited
OB in the mid-1970s and recounted his
experiences there in
Les Tempes Modernes
and later
translated as the !nal chapters of
Ecology as
Politics
(Montreal: Black Rose Books, 1980).
[16] Marcuse,
Counterrevolution and Revolt
(Boston:
Beacon Press, 1972) 115.
[17] Marcuse,
Five Lectures
(Boston: Beacon Press,
1970) 46-7.
[18] Edward Glover,
Freud or Jung
(London: George
Allen and Unwin, 1950) 40-41.
[19] I’m not sure what he means by “our strategy.
We do not have a single organizational form that
elaborate long-term goals and means of achieving
them. Nor is the Le" even remotely close to unity.
A talk by Adolf Reed to New York DSA was recently
cancelled because Reed’s of criticisms of Black
Lives Matter as a form of identity politics that
minimizes class. Regardless of one’s position on
this issue, it is an important point of di$erence
that merits discussion, not censorship.
[20] Osha Neumann, “Who’s Winning: Eros or
Thanatos?”
Radical Philosophy Review,
16:1 (2013)
91-98.
[21] Breakfast for children programs, prison buses
for families, Sickle cell anemia testing, clothing
drives and more.
[22] Le" Bank bookstore, the OB Free School, OB
Rag community newspaper, the People’s Food
Store (which continues to serve the people), the
childcare project and others.
[23] Women Against Rape, the Human Rights
Committee (which in alliance with African-
Americans and Latinos helped to get the police
chief !red), the anti-CIA Coalition at UCSD, and
the San Diego Convention Coalition.
[24]
Eros and Civilization
, 149-150.
[25]
The Imagination of the New Le!
, 224-225.
[26]
Eros and Civilization
, 149, emphasis in the
original.
George KatsiacasGeorge Katsiacas is the author of The Subversion of
Politics.
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ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
The history of imperialist, interimperialist, and anti-imperialist war is over. The end of that history has ushered in the reign of peace
The popularity of Antonio Negri overlooked his mimicking the conservative "end of history" thesis when he wrote that, "The history of imperialist, interimperialist, and anti-imperialist war is over. The end of that history has ushered in the reign of peace." See Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000) 189. Zizek's fawning adoration of Stalin is scarcely mentioned in public -and then only in whispers. The German Le" Party refuses to acknowledge that the DDR was a dictatorship.
  • Marcuse
Marcuse, Counterrevolution and Revolt (Boston: Beacon Press, 1972) 115.
Bank bookstore, the OB Free School, OB Rag community newspaper, the People's Food Store (which continues to serve the people), the childcare project and others
  • Le
Le" Bank bookstore, the OB Free School, OB Rag community newspaper, the People's Food Store (which continues to serve the people), the childcare project and others.