One of the projects that capital is putting into effect is the reduction of language. By language we mean all forms of expression, particularly those that allow us to articulate complex concepts about feelings and things.
Power needs this reduction because it is replacing straightforward repression with control, where consensus plays a fundamental part. And uniform consensus is impossible in the presence of multi-form creativity.
The old revolutionary problem of propaganda has also changed considerably in recent years, showing up the limitations of a realism that claimed to show the distortions of the world to the exploited clearly, putting them in the condition to become aware of their situation.
Still in the historical sphere of anarchism, we have the quite exceptional example of Malatesta’s literary capacity based on a language that was essentialised to the maximum degree, constituting a model unique for its time. Malatesta did not use rhetoric or shock effects. He used elementary deductive logic, starting off from simple points based on common sense and ending up with complex conclusions that were easily understood by the reader.
Galleani worked at quite a different linguistic level. He used vast rhetorical constructions, attaching a great deal of importance to the musicality of the phrase and to the use of outdated words chosen to create an atmosphere that in his opinion would move spirits to action.
Neither of the above examples can be proposed as models of a revolutionary language fit for the present time. Not Malatesta, because there is less to demonstrate today, nor Galleani, because there are fewer and fewer spirits to be moved.
Perhaps a wider range of revolutionary literature can be found in France due to that country’s great tradition that has no equal in Italy, Spain or Britain, and due to the particular French spirit of language and culture. At about the same time as the Italian examples mentioned above, we have Faure, Grave and Armand for clarity and exposition, while for research and in some aspects rhetoric, there are Libertad and Zo d’Axa.
We should not forget that France already had the example of Proudhon whose style even surprised the Academy, then Faure who was considered to be a continuation of this great school along with the methodical, asphyxiating Grave. Self-taught, he was an enthusiastic pupil of Kropotkin. The latter’s French was good and basic precisely because, like Bakunin’s, it was the French of a Russian.
One could go on forever, from the linguistic, literary and journalistic experiments of Libertad, Zo d’Axa and others, as well as their predecessor Coeurderoy. But although they represent some of the best examples of revolutionary journalism, none of these models is valid today.
The fact is that reality has changed, while revolutionaries continue to produce language in the same way, or rather worse. To see this it would suffice to compare a leaflet such as the Endehors by Zo d’Axa with its huge Daurnier drawing on one side and his writing on the other, to some of the lapidary leaflets we produce today — looking at our own situation — such as the one we did for the meeting with the comrades from Eastern Europe in Trieste.
But the problem has gone beyond that. Not only are our privileged interlocutors losing their language, we are losing ours too. And because we must necessarily meet on common ground if we want to communicate, the loss is turning out to be irreversible.
This process of diffused flattening is striking all languages, lowering the heterogeneity of expression to the uniformity of the means. The mechanism is more or less the following, and could be compared to television. The increase in quantity (of new items) reduces the time available for the transmission of each one of them. This is leading to a progressive, spontaneous selection of image and word, so on the one hand these elements are being essentialised, while on the other the amount of transmittable data is increasing.
The much desired clarity bemoaned by so many generations of revolutionaries desirous to explain reality to the people, has finally been reached in the only way possible: by not making reality clear (something that is impossible in any case), but making clarity real, i.e. showing the reality that has been built by technology.
This is happening to all linguistic expression including desperate attempts to save human activity through art, which is also letting past fewer and fewer possibilities. Moreover, this endeavour is finding itself having to struggle on two fronts: first, against being swallowed up by the flattening that is turning creativity into uniformity, and second, against the opposite problem, but which has the same roots, that of the market and its prices.
My old theses on poor art and art as destruction are still close to my heart.
Let us give an example: all language, in that it is an instrument, can be used in many ways. It can be used to transmit a code aimed at maintaining or perfecting consensus, or it can be used to stimulate transgression. Music is no exception here, although because of its particular characteristics the road to transgression is even more difficult. Although it seems more direct, it is actually further from it. Rock is a music of recuperation and contributed to extinguishing much of the revolutionary energy of the Seventies. According to Nietzsche’s intuition, the same thing happened with the innovation of Wagnerian music in his time. Think of the great thematic and cultural differences that exist between these two kinds of musical production. Wagner had to build a vast cultural edifice and completely discompose the linguistic instrument in order to captivate the revolutionary youth of his time. Today rock has done the same thing on a much wider scale with a cultural effort that is ridiculous in comparison. The massification of music has favoured the work of recuperation.
So we could say revolutionary action operates in two ways, first according to the instrument, which is undergoing a process of simplification and stripping down, then in the sense of its use, which has become standardised, producing effects that cannot always be reduced to a common denominator that is acceptable to all or nearly all. That happens in so-called literature (poetry, narrative, theatre, etc.) as well as in that restricted microcosm, the revolutionary activity of examining social problems. Whether this takes the form of articles in anarchist papers, or leaflets, pamphlets, books, etc., the risks are fairly similar. The revolutionary is a product of his time and uses the instruments and occasions it produces.
The chances of reading about the actual conditions of society and production have been reduced, because there is far less to be brought to the surface, and because interpretative instruments have undergone a recession. In a society that was polarised in two clearly opposing classes the task of counter-information was to bring the reality of the exploitation that the power structure had every interest in hiding, out into the open. The latter included the mechanisms for extracting surplus value, repressive stratagems, authoritarian regressions of the State and so on. Now, in a society that is moving further and further towards a democratic form of management and production based on information technology, capital is becoming more and more comprehensible. This is precisely because it is more important for it to be seen, and less important for it to discover new methods of exploitation.
Today we need to interpret society with cultural instruments that are not merely capable of interpreting facts that are unknown or treated superficially. We also need to identify an unconscious conflictuality that is far from the old extremely visible class conflict, to avoid being drawn into a simplistic refusal that is incapable of evaluating the mechanisms of recuperation, consensus and globalisation. More than documentation we need active participation, including writing, in what must be a comprehensive project. We cannot limit ourselves to denouncing exploitation but must bring our analyses to within a precise project which will become comprehensible during the course of the analysis itself. Documentation and denunciation are no longer enough. We need something more, so long as we still have tongues to speak with, so long as we have not had them all cut off.
It is this new interaction between ways of expressing oneself and one’s project that is the strength of this way of using linguistic instruments, but also leads to the discovery of its limitations. If language has been allowed to become impoverished, adapting to the tendency to its reduction that has been studied and applied by power then this is inevitable.
I have always fought against a kind of detached objectivity in writing that looks at revolutionary questions. Precisely because it is an instrument, linguistic expression always has a social dimension that is summed up in its style. It is not just ‘the man’ as Buffon says, but is ‘man in a given society’. And it is the style that solves the problem, certainly a difficult one, of supplying the so-called deeds of the event along with the indispensable content, their insertion within a project. If this project is alive and up to the conditions of the conflict, the style could be livened up, whereas if the latter is not suitable or is lost in the illusion of objectivity, even the best project will run the risk of losing itself in a ghostlike forest of impressions.
Our language must therefore take a form that is capable of supporting our revolutionary content and have a provocatory thrust that is capable of violating and upsetting normal ways of communicating. It must be able to represent the reality we feel in our hearts without letting ourselves get wrapped up in a shroud of logic and only understood with great difficulty. The project and the language used to illustrate it must meet and recognise each other in the style used. Without wanting to take things to the logical extreme of this well-worn thesis, we know today that the instrument constitutes a considerable part of the message.
We need to look out for these processes, not let a new pragmatic ideology submerge us in throwaway phrases where there is no relationship between the project and the way of saying it.
So, advancing linguistic impoverishment is also reflected in the instruments of communication that we use as revolutionaries. First of all because we are men and women of our time, participants in the reductive cultural processes that characterise it. We are losing instruments like everyone else. This is normal. But we need to make more of an effort to get better results and acquire the capacity to resist these reductive projects.
This reduction in stylistic ability is a consequence of the lowering of content. It is also capable of producing further impoverishment, leading to the inability to express the essential part of the project that necessarily remains tied to the means of expression. It is therefore not the genre that saves the content, but above all the way this content takes form. Some people make out a schema and never manage to free themselves from it. They filter everything they come to know through this schema, believing it to be ‘their way of expressing themselves’, like having a limp or brown eyes. But it is not like that. One must free oneself from this prison sooner or later, if one wants to make what one is communicating come alive.
There are those who choose irony to transmit the urgency they feel, for example. Very well, but irony has its own peculiarities, i.e. it is pleasant, light, a dance, a joke, an allusive metaphor. It cannot become a system without turning out to be repetitive or pathetic like the satirical inserts in the daily papers, or comic strips where we know beforehand how the story is going to end otherwise we wouldn’t be able to understand it, like barrack-room jokes. In the same way, for opposite reasons, the call of reality the attempt to make reality visible and palpable through communication, starting from the supposition that there can be no immediate fruition from anything that does not seem real — ends up becoming tedious, is unrealisable. We get lost in the constant need to insist, losing the conceptuality that is at the basis of true communication.
One of the hackneyed phrases in the museum of everyday stupidity is that we do not know how to say something, whereas the problem really is that we do not know what to say. This is not necessarily so. The communication flux is not uni-dimensional, but multi-dimensional: we do not only communicate, we also receive communications. And we have the same problem in communicating with others as we have in receiving from others. There is also a problem of style in reception. Identical difficulties, identical illusions. Again, limiting ourselves to written language, we find that when we read newspaper articles we can reconstruct the way the writer of the article receives communications from the outside. The style is the same, we can see it in the same articles, the same mistakes, the same shortcuts. And that is because these incidents and limits are not just questions of style but are essential Components of the writer’s project, of his very life.
We can see that the less the revolutionary’s capacity to grasp the meaning of incoming communication, even when it reaches us directly from events, the poorer and more repetitive the interpretation of the latter. The result is, in word and unfortunately also in deed, approximation, uncertainty, a low level of ideas that does justice neither to the complexities of the enemy’s capacity; or to our own revolutionary intentions.
If things were otherwise, socialist realism, with its good working class always ready to mobilise itself, would have been the only possible solution. The latest aberration dictated by such ignorance and refusal to consider reality differently was the intervention of the good Rumanian miners to re-establish Illiescu’s new order.
Power’s attempts to generalise the flattening of linguistic expression is one of the essential components of the insurmountable wall that is being built between the included and the excluded. If we have identified direct, immediate attack as one instrument in the struggle, parallel to it we must also develop an optimal use of the other instrument at our disposal and take, whatever the cost, what we do not possess. The two are inseparable