13 May 2009

The One Key and Nine Commitments of Chaos Marxism (amended draft)

We can sum up in one word the core of the Chaos Marxist approach. Mindfulness. Or, if you prefer, consciousness, or even Gramsci's good sense. Or Gurdjieff's "Remember yourself". The Sufi tradition, Buddhism and modern cognitive-behavioural therapy agree - being able to step back from compulsive thoughts and the compulsive feelings they evoke, to recognize them as not real, is the essence of psychic health and enlightenment. And Marxist theories of ideology insist that the way our rulers impose their control over us is by reification - mistaking illusion for reality, social relations for concrete things, narratives or memes for actual laws of existence. You can't live without an ego any more than you can live without money, but you must remember that it's not real, it's a convention, it only exists if you and others believe in it, and that it's a great servant but a hideous master.

On the micro-level, Chaos Marxism stands for the ruthless "obedience training" of the ego. Imagine that your ego is a badly trained dog - it barks when not necessary, it requires far more attention than it really needs, it humps your leg or otherwise annoys you when you're trying to do something. But you don't need to take it out and shoot it, you just need to teach it that its perceptions are not reality and it should submit to rationality and discipline. You'll all be happier that way. Indeed, your ego is the way it is because it evolved to help you survive in capitalism as it is; and one of the main ways that capitalism makes money in this day and age (and fosters obedience) is by selling pre-fab ego-identities to people. The ego cannot change "what is" because it has adapted to work with "what is". The "Greater Work" of Chaos Marxism, therefore, consists of the following commitments:

  1. to learn how your ego works, and how it fits in with the broader culture, the media-industrial complex, the "identity industry" and mechanisms of social control;

  2. to discover what your own physical, mental and spiritual needs and joys are, independent of the ego's needs, and to learn to provide for those needs;

  3. to commit yourself to the service of Something Greater than your ego - humanity, the biosphere, God however defined, etc.

  4. to bring the ego to the service of this Something Greater by discipline and rationality, rejecting all irrational beliefs, compulsions and pre-packaged identities as a snare and a delusion for the ego;

  5. to "tune up" the ego so that the needs of Something Greater and your own personal needs can both be served. (If they appear to conflict, then you have misconceived one or both of them.)

On the macro-level, Chaos Marxism acknowledges that capitalism pollutes the cultural/information space, and therefore the psyche of all those subject to it, just as badly as it poisons the ecosphere and thus our physical health. Therefore, we encourage any and all social or political activity which increases consciousness of objective reality and dispels illusions. We suggest that would-be social activists combine their activism with the work of disciplining their own ego. Only that way can you get actual real objective knowledge of the World-As-Is, and what needs to be done, rather than prejudices reflected back off the inside of your skull. And also, only that way can you teach people by example that their own egos are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. This "Lesser Work" consists of a commitment to:

  1. serving the Something Greater, as above, by concrete action for a better world where it will be easier for everyone to live free of illusion and slavery, physical, mental and spiritual;

  2. practicing compassion for all living things, including yourself, by helping whoever wants to be helped in whatever way you can;

  3. putting the lessons learned in the Greater Work into practice, by creating propaganda, art, and magick however defined that calls to awaken the "good sense" of the broad mass of people over the top of the "common sense" of ego and the cultural-ideological apparatus of oppression;

  4. keeping the ego out of this Lesser Work by refusing the role of "guru", "leader", or in any other way trying to submit other wills to your own rather than liberate them on their own path to Something Greater.

I'm no guru or shaikh. I can't claim to be doing any of the above with anything other than fitful success. This is a path that I hope might be useful as a framework to others, but it's something I'm struggling with myself. For example, I will know that I have humbled my own ego when I feel free to use my real name on this blog, i.e. when I am no longer afraid of ridicule or abuse. So please, your comments and criticisms, please. This only becomes real when it's real for someone else but me.


  1. I like this. I think you've outlined the inner and outer struggle (or the greater and lesser jihad, if you will) quite well.

    My only critique concerns this statement:

    We suggest that would-be social activists get their egos in line first, because only that way can you teach people by example that their own egos are part of the problem rather than part of the solution.I think this is somewhat problematic since it implies a certain sequence, i.e. getting your ego in check before embarking on activism. I think this described sequence is too linear and could easily result in a kind of inactivity; "I'm not ready to embark on the 'lesser work' yet, I need more time." It also raises the question of how we know when somebody is spiritually "ready" to step into the realm of activism. Arguably the Greater Work takes an entire lifetime, and if we wait to complete it before embarking on the Lesser Work, it may be too late.

    I see the two jihads as being a mutually reinforcing feedback loop. We have to entwine them into a non-linear simultaneous praxis---performing the "lesser work" is in itself a way of mastering the ego; mastering the ego naturally blossoms into revolutionary practice.

    So rather than saying that one aspect comes before the other, we should strive to simply set up the feedback. If the worldview of CM is correct (and I believe it is) then this feedback should wind up establishing itself once we begin the undertaking.

  2. Your correction is appreciated and I'll made the amendment soon. I suppose I was looking at the big problem I see in my own personal area right now - idiots using politics as an excuse to puff their own egos up and thus rendering themselves and their political movement useless. Of course the opposite problem - quietism - is equally as bad.

    This is great, we're working together. :)

  3. Doloras,
    I think you are on to something important. But I also feel your scope is too limited. (You reminded me a bit of Nechayev's Catechism of the Revolutionary - apparently Lenin was a big fan of this anarchist text. I think it is a waste of time). Endorsing a 'ruthless obedience training' of the ego, submitting it to 'rationality and discipline', without simultaneously endorsing the realization of desire and the affirmation of the self in the subjective sphere (some examples would be uninhibited dancing, a good fuck, taboo breaking for the hell of it [even if it is 'selfish'], or even just vandalism) seems, well, unbalanced and I wouldn't be surprised if it resulted in neurosis. I am all for the training of the will and the elimination of compulsive behaviour. But I also like wild dogs if you get my drift. I get the feeling you are struggling with the dialectic of the subjective and the objective on your own but are missing some key points of reference?

    In an older comment I recommended Vaneigem's "Revolution of Everyday Life" to you as a good text that reconciles radical theory/dialectic thought and psychology - if I remember correctly you replied that you were 'familiar with Vaneigem' which I interpreted as academic-speak for saying that you haven't really read him. It's not a book that necessarily has to be read from beginning to end. The chapter "Creativity, Spontaneity, and Poetry" is one of my favorites, where he explains his concept of "radical subjectivity" very nicely, I am wondering what you would make of it. There's a wonderful quote from Paracelsus towards the end. You could read the chapter on Sacrifice as a critique of some tendencies in your text. (e.g. "The moment revolution calls for self-sacrifice it ceases to exist. The individual cannot give himself up for a revolution, only for a fetish. Revolutionary moments are carnivals in which the individual life celebrates its unification with a regenerated society. The call for sacrifice in such a context is a funeral knell.") The chapter on Roles is also very handy.

    I also think you are moving in the wrong direction if your points of reference in psychology are in modern cognitive-behavioral therapy which while occasionally useful in individual problem solving remains ridiculously reductionist and lacking in broader understanding of the psyche. I would recommend reading Russel Jacoby's Social Amnesia and Marcuse's Eros & Civilization for some very perceptive Marxist readings of Freud and his followers.

    I hope this comment/critique helps. I am curious on your take of the texts I linked up to above. I know how tough it can be to keep it together as an anti-capitalist today, it can get really lonely. Solidarity, a Noisy Sphinx.

  4. Thanks for sticking with us this far, NS. I suppose we have to define what we mean by "the self" in this context. I think I'm being a bit elliptical by not making it clear that the ego (by which I mean, the particular personality that you've grown to face the World-As-Is, the "'Daily Mask" as the Ma'at crowd put it) has to be strong and healthy before you start meddling with it. I'm certainly not interested in "self-sacrifice" - what that means in 99% of cases is sacrificing your own ego for someone else's ego, or collective ego, or religion or Party or whatever. I stand against that 100%.

    Robert Anton Wilson, peace be upon him, seemed to think that when sexual and social taboos were shattered, that would somehow overthrow social hierarchy altogether. Of course, it hasn't, because sex and taboo breaking has been commodified like every other damn thing under capitalism. (Some Situationist-aligned thinkers have realised this trap before me - check out the lyrics on Gang of Four's "Entertainment!" for an example.)

    In this regard, I think we have to listen to the Buddhists and take the middle path - "moderation in all things, including moderation". We have to distinguish between "what you really desire deep down" and "what you want because it boosts your favourite identity", and make sure we indulge the former while purging the latter. I think also that while taboo breaking for the hell of it can be a good personal challenge and discipline, so can taboo adherence. You want to come up against the sharp end of modern prejudice? If you're a woman, try wearing the hijab in a Western country.

    As to CBT, I'm talking from my personal situation, in which I have been wrestling throughout my life with severe self-esteem issues feeding into equally severe social anxiety and allergy to criticism, which you got to face last time you were here. I had to wrestle those into submission before I could even think of transcending the ego. As I say to the Nomad above, I've seen terrible trouble when people use "the struggle" (or "magick") as a way to boost their own self-assumed identity as Che Guevara or Aleister Crowley For The New Millennium, and end up sabotaging everything.

    CBT (the home-brewed kind) worked for me, like no other therapy or magick has in my life - and, I think, it's based on the quite sound magickal theory of "banish often". I'm sure it wouldn't work for everyone, nothing does, so have you got other suggestions for the audience at home? (And are you familiar with "mindfulness-based CBT", which seems to incorporate Sufi/Buddhist insights?)

    As for the Vaneigem text, my previous response was actually Doloras-speak for "read the first chapter, got pissed off by it, never finished", which is probably almost as bad. I will avoid getting into similar trouble by saying that I've heard of the Nechayev text but am not familiar with it at all.

    I can't promise to read anything you've posted here - I am so scary busy that even replying to your very useful comment has knocked a hole in my daily schedule - but I certainly want to. I will give Vaneigem a second chance, for a start.

  5. To clarify a little more - the last thing I want is some kind of "revolutionary priest-warrior", someone who eats, breaths and sleeps revolution/magick. That's just another identity. I am in favour of "separation of church and state" - separating living a fulfilling life as a human being in the World As Is with the Greater and Lesser Works of trying to transform both the self and the World As Is. If one substitutes for the other, that's where trouble starts - either smug "the personal is political" lifestyle politics, or sad stunted people who would have nothing to do if the revolution ever actually happened.

  6. Hi again,
    You asked "I'm sure it wouldn't work for everyone, nothing does, so have you got other suggestions for the audience at home? (And are you familiar with "mindfulness-based CBT", which seems to incorporate Sufi/Buddhist insights?)" I looked over the site you linked to and I got a rough impression of the techniques; in the past I've gone through phases of regularly practicing relaxation, breathing, awareness, mediation and what not (I'm not familiar with "Symmetrical scanning"
    or "sweeping") but I stopped, which I regret. Nothing wrong with those kind of practices at all, they are very helpful.

    My criticism wasn't of CBT's individual exercises but of its theoretical framework, or for that matter of any school of psychology that fails to put into question the root causes of stress and mental disorders... that fails to move on to a deeper understanding of the revolutionary dream of the transformation of the world and the "realization of the total man" that Marx talks about ("the total man" is a kabalistic term too I think) well it would call psychology itself into question as just another management tool of the status quo. This also applies to someone like Timothy Leary who although aiming for complete revolutionary transformation (at least for a while) backed away from anything "unscientific" like libido and poetic-mythic descriptions of the psyche into a more scientific paradigm of schemas, cognitive models and neurology without understanding the necessity for transcending scientific formalism. I don't know if I am explaining it well.

    As for recommending texts I tend to get more out of thinking over more theoretical texts rather than how-to manuals and the ones I recommended above are all top-notch. For ideas about more extroverted forms of self-realization techniques (as opposed to the more introverted meditation or Gurjieff exercises etc) I guess the most important would be the tradition of experimental behavior going from Dada and the Surrealists into the more revolutionary coherent form formulated by the situationists as 'the construction of situations'. There's plenty of info here.

    Don't worry about the 'allergy to criticism' I wasn't too friendly myself. Take care.

  7. We're an extreme lifestylist/individualist discordian sect (influenced as much by Emile Armand as Mal2), but we like to think we remain socially aware and have found a lot of value in your 'Commitments'. Hope you don't mind but we've reprinted it on our site. Let us know if this is a problem and we'll remove it. Keep up the good work :-)

  8. Please use anything I write freely, given that you include a link back here. I must say that I'm surprised you find them useful, given I spend 90% of my time here being very sarcastic about lifestylism and individualism, but pleased all the same.

  9. I've been reading through this blog a bit since "Psychic Nomad" referenced it in an ongoing conversation. I'm impressed with some of the insight into the mechanics of contemporary western culture, but (in regard to point number seven particularly) I must say that I'm always distressed to find somewhat insightful people who sight compassion as the ideal rudder of behavior.

    Life is full of a variety of emotions and emotional responses to people and situations; often these responses are conflicting in the very moment. One might feel compassion at the same time one feels anger or disgust.

    I'm just not sure where the assumption that compassion should be the primary mover of behavior comes from, or how it is justified. All of my observations of life seem to indicate that life flourishes and grows and evolves not only when it acts compassionately, but when it acts out of anger, disgust and other emotions as well. It seems that any response to a situation, taken to an extreme, results in an absurd and ultimately untenable thrust of life.

  10. Thanks for your contribution, Christopher.

    The question of compassion is inseparable from the basic axiom that Chaos Marxism is collectivist, rather than individualist. Therefore, learning to share the feelings of one's friends is a first necessary step to collective work that means anything; learning to share the feelings of one's enemies, as Jesus of Nazareth suggested, is probably the only way to build a new world and a new humanity in the long term, even though that really comes under the heading of Tricks For Advanced Players.

    I think maybe we quibble over terms. Certainly I don't see compassion as different in kind from anger or disgust - it's just that our culture-as-is will happily teach you to express all the Two Minutes Hate you can possibly handle (directed at the accepted enemy of the day), but compassion is contrary to the nature of the system. So, it's about building a multi-purposed ego. And of course feeling compassion, anger and disgust at the same time towards the same object is perfectly possible. The question then becomes one of which will have the desired outcome.

  11. Hey there, Dolores

    It does seem like we're having, in part, a semantic issue. If you define compassion as sharing the emotions of other people, then it's not really an emotional response in and of itself; when I think of compassion, I think of a sympathetic emotion that often leads to a justification of the behavior of the person for whom you feel compassion.

    That being said, it would be particularly individualist, and individualist in an untenable way, to pretend to a detachment from the situation, emotions, and thoughts of those around them.

    I'm not entirely sure that this culture banks most of its appeasement on a "Two Minutes Hate" concept, though. Certainly the sort of scapegoatism inherent in Orwell's vision was used to a very large extent as we lead up to the Iraq war, and other wars in American history; and certainly it's in play as a means of distracting certain portions of the American population that feed on an aggressive instinct.

    But it seems to me that the great majority of people in this country are distracted by a sense of vague fear, and a consumerist escapism from that fear wherever possible, which is not at all the same thing as fostering hate.

    Finally, you say:

    And of course feeling compassion, anger and disgust at the same time towards the same object is perfectly possible. The question then becomes one of which will have the desired outcome.And earlier:

    ...learning to share the feelings of one's enemies, as Jesus of Nazareth suggested, is probably the only way to build a new world and a new humanity in the long term...But what is this desired outcome? I don't want to assume, but I suppose it isn't clear to me from the manifesto. I suppose that the "service of Something Greater" is not, in and of itself, clear enough to me.

    There's a sense in which Frederick the Great of Prussia, Bismark, Lenin and Gandhi all served something greater than themselves. Should we really assume that "Something Greater" is either rationally or intuitively a unity between all people? There are many things that might be greater than ourselves-- we must describe those things and evaluate them, no?

  12. I find the last paragraph of La Luna's comment most useful.Any notion of something "greater than ourselves" must necessarily be a projection of some part of our "self".Ideals are descriptions of states of being extracted from reality in capitalist society , the case of Lenin, or in the case of Gandhi -colonial society or in the case of Bismarck, semi-feudal German society.The ideal 'unity of human spirit' which may have existed in the effort to realise the above ideals, the superseding of sel-serving EGO, evaporated and the new political states achieved took on the character of the rest of the self formed by the societies from which they came -repressive, greedy and murderous in the pursuit of power with the exception of Gandhi who did not live to see the destruction of his ideal.
    I assume the names of the contibutors to this blog are using nom de plumes ,projections if you will , of some part of their 'self'.I hope I am wrong. My name is Steve Smith

  13. Well, of course, I can't speak for anyone else, but I use a pseudonym because my thoughts on this blog are extremely half-baked at present and I don't particularly want my employers or my political enemies to know about them. But of course I'm the only person with my real name on Google. You, Steve, are perhaps less at risk in that regard.

  14. No, no, my name is Christopher Michael Luna, and I usually sign written work as "Luna," but anyone who clicks on my blogger profile can probably find out anything they'd like to know about me, including, if they were resourceful and even a little clever, my address.

    I think the anonymity of the internet can be a great soft spot in its otherwise marvelous potential. There's a sense of fear about "what might happen" if someone knew that we thought something, visited some website, emailed some thought or commentary. Folks in China may be right to be worried-- especially if they're into Christianity or social activism, but I think it's clear that the American government is sloppy enough, lazy enough, and to be quite frank secure enough not to bother with people on the internet looking up information about drugs, talking about radical socialism, or whatever.

    As for ideas being half baked-- again, that's part of the power of the internet. Again, we have this notion that you find the solution and then express it, but if we allow our half baked ideas to take their form quickly, through involvement in a larger community, through feedback and commentary, and even more we stand by those ideas even while they are only just forming, with our real names and a complete lack of anonymity, I think we have the potential to look at expression in a manner as different from the printed book or newspaper as the printed book or newspaper was from the hand-written manuscript.

    And to be clear, my question about "Something Greater" wasn't meant to be an asinine and oblique attempt to throw subjectivity into the wrench of God or whatever your "Something Greater" is, but only to imply that perhaps there really are many somethings greater, certainly communicable, but still very different, each with their own possible outcomes for humanity.

  15. Thanks again for playing, Christopher. Of course there's probably almost an infinitude of Somethings Greater. I suppose the way I personally use to describe it is quite similar to the Ma'at Magick idea - "God"/Allah/N'Aton/The Pot of Gold At The End of the Rainbow is what we will become if we fulfil our essential nature as human beings, the "good ending" to use video-game terminology. And S/He is reaching backwards in time from the end of the game to make sure S/He comes into existence properly, and that's what CM serves.

    Of course there are a truckload of other endpoints that people can serve, and we could of course be dead wrong - but both reason and intuition must be our guides. If we are right the whole thing will snowball and become real, and if we are wrong we will have trained ourselves to be man and woman enough to admit it and od something else.

  16. Fear eats the soul, Doloras. I have risked life ,livlihood and liberty for the ideal of democracy in ireland and I know any Internet traffic that uses the word "jihad " will be picked up by the supervisors of this ex-military network,but if you could see my face , it wouldn't look bothered. I found your analysis of small left groups painfully stimulating ,that's why I commented.
    Thanks for that,
    Steve Smith