The Swarmachine: A Historical Puzzle (Part 1)


The Colors of Revolution

As the Cold War came to an end, undoing the critical strategic worldwide gridlock fueled by the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union, globalization took off, accelerating the flows of capital, technology, and production across a transnational plane. The old structures of statehood underwent a profound reconfiguration as borders became far more flexible than before; ideas, customs, cultures and populations found themselves dynamically uprooted and spread out into the ether, transmitting their messages in electronic code as well as becoming liquid, moving far beyond their territories of origin. The Cold War’s end was the product of many things: systemic crises emanating from the breakdown of the Bretton Woods agreement had sent reverberations through the global economic system, fully destabilizing the old order while prompting the creation of new mechanisms for capital accumulation and a class composition that was no longer strictly national in character and management. Proxy wars had taken their tole, from America’s disasters in Vietnam to the Soviet’s own quagmire in Afghanistan. Popular revolt had also played an essential, yet sometimes overlooked, role in this epochal worldshift.

1968 is often remembered as a time of global dissent; the events of France in that year are the most remembered, alongside the student’s occupation of Columbia University, the radical discontent in both West and East Germany, the Prague Spring and the actions at the Democratic National Convention. 1968 was no less than a revolutionary wave, an incredible event-break in the Keynesian-Fordist system – and all colonial structures that followed in its wake – that had been produced by well over a decade of evolving turbulence amongst the discontented. Twenty years later witnessed yet another revolutionary wave, this time focused in Eastern European countries of the Soviet Bloc. Struggles against Soviet collectivism had found this clearest and most powerful organized expression in Poland’s Solidarity trade union, lead by Lech Walsea; by 1989, a strong opposition led by the union managed to establish the conditions for government coalition independent of Russian control. In a domino effect, Hungary made swift moves towards labor union autonomy, moderate economic liberalization and a rejection of the Soviet-imposed isolationist country model. This opening to the West prompted an exodus, both ideological and physical, from the confines of the Iron Curtain in East Germany; moves to halt this flow of people resulted in a widespread unrest that eventually led to the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. 1989 also saw the “Velvet Revolution” in Czechoslovakia, the culmination of an underground stream that had been whittling away at the bedrocks of state-socialism since the Prague Spring. The liberation of Czechoslovakia was coupled by parallel revolutions in Bulgaria and Romania, which saw both countries moving away from the Soviet sphere of influence.

The integration of the former Soviet bloc into the functional mechanics of the neoliberal world system was not without its own setbacks and cycles of periodic popular revolt. The old power structures still reverberated as Russia and the United States moved in a new era of flexible, geopolitical imperatives; postcommunist authoritarian regimes retained pockets of control that amounted closed systems as the majority of the globe transitioned into an open system built around flexible accumulation of capital and uneven planes of development. This asymmetrical dynamic framed a series of revolutions across the 2000s that, taking their cue and inspiration from Poland’s Solidarity movement and the Czech Velvet Revolution, have been called “color revolutions. These have included Yugoslavia’s Bulldozer Revolution (2000), Georgia’s Rose Revolution (2003), Ukraine’s Orange Revolution (2004-2005), Iran’s Green Revolution (2009-2010), Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution (2010-2011), and Egypt’s Lotus Revolution (2011).

orange-rev 1

There are a series of commonalities that exist between each of these cases. For example, the majority of them have focused on electoral politics, as opposed to the calls for radical restructuring of political systems that marked many of the Cold War-era revolts; this in turn plays into a higher prioritization of civil society as a societal force infused with revolutionary agency. Unlike the vanguardism of Marxist-Leninism and the cell models that revolutionaries frequently organized themselves into, civil society-oriented revolts saw cooperation across economic classes, organizations, and dispersed actors working towards common goals. Likewise, the youth have often been the most vocal mouthpieces of these revolts – high unemployment and lack of proper opportunity, a byproduct of the ebbs and flows of transnational trade and finance-driven capitalism, has acted as a catalyzing agent, while this younger generation’s immersion in an environment dominated by high-speed communication technology has allowed for the transmission of images and information integral to the promotion of solidarity networks and drawing transnational media attention to their struggles. This engagement with the global media is matched by interactions with a slew of international actors, be they NGOs and humanitarian organizations, ‘professional activist’ networks, election monitoring bodies, or organizations affiliated with foreign governments (namely, ones representing the interests of the US and Europe).

In each instance, there have been a succession of further commonalities between these different revolts. The economic upheaval in the aftermath of Solidarity’s successful removal from the Soviet orbit quickly laid the groundwork for Western monetary institutions such as the IMF to impose austerity measures and privatization programs, bringing the newly-liberated country into the emergent neoliberal order. This same tactic was replicated in Czechoslovakia; both of these foreshadowed projects designed around ‘economic modernization’ in the wake of each color revolution. This raises deep questions concerning the motivations of the various constellations of organizations that reappear repeatedly wherever the color revolutions take place. These include organizations directly affiliated with the US government committed to the foreign policy strategy of ‘democracy promotion’, such as USAID, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), Freedom House (subsidized in part by the NED), and others; these are matched by private foundations and non-profits like the Open Society Institute (OSI), the transnational philanthropic network designed by the hedge fund billionaire George Soros, nonviolence theorist Gene Sharp’s Albert Einstein Institution (funded in party by the Ford Foundation, the OSI, and the NED), and the International Center for Nonviolent Conflict (ICNC). USAID and the NED were actors in both the Polish and Czech revolts in 1989, while the OSI rose to prominence in the 1990s.

By the time that Yugoslavia’s Bulldozer Revolution was occurring, each of these organizations were providing training, funding, and assistance to many of the opposition parties, most notably the now-famous youth group Otpor! (Enough!). After Milosevic’s removal, members of Otpor organized themselves as the Centre for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), essentially a ‘revolutionary consulting firm’ to cultivate the tactics deployed in ousting the dictator. Much like the NED, Freedom House, the OSI and their related institutions, CANVAS’s imprint has been in nearly every color revolution following the Bulldozer Revolution, providing hands-on training in methods of non-violent resistance. Unsurprisingly, CANVAS came to maintain interlocking boards with both the Albert Einstein Institution and the ICNC, both of which maintain tangential ties to the NED, Freedom House, and the OSI.i


The presence of these Western interests, however committed they have been to methods of nonviolence resistance to violent regimes, presents a paradoxical situation. The early forerunners of the color revolution schema, the Polish and Czechoslovakian revolts on the 1980s, expressed a clear desire to separate themselves from both the imperial structures of the United States and the Soviet Union, which were understood in their own, monolothic paradigms of their own natures. The Soviet model focused on the supremacy of the party and its underlying ideology; likewise, the Americans were fixated on state-driven politics intertwined with the strong tendency towards militarized expansion and corporatism. The processes of civil society took a distinctively different flavor; the Czech writer Gyorgy Konrad, for example, rendered it as a system of “anti-politics” that would require the “emergence of the eccentric, those who stand-out.”ii Likewise, Vaclav Havel, who became Czechoslovakia’s first independent president following the Velvet Revolution, used the example of a “greengrocer” who, disenfranchised with state socialism, steps out from behind the confines of political power’s illusion to encounter other dissenting bodies, in order to “live within the truth.”iii


The Czech political avant-garde: “The Plastic People of the Universe”

In these depictions, the engagement of forces within civil societies with modes of radical agency is best understood as both an exodus and an event: an exodus, because it marks the creation of a deliberate line of flight from the institutional organizations of power that claim to hold a hegemonic grip on the whole of the population and its everyday life, and an event because it marks a break in the continual linearity and legitimacy that power requires for its reproduction. Both the exodus and the event constitute, in their togetherness, a profound experiment; the emergence of demands and actions within civil society is nothing less than a political avant-garde, Konrad’s “eccentrics.” Brian Holmes has described these struggles as a reconfiguration of dissenting practices following the closure of old routes of possibility – a desire to “open up a myriad of divergent and ultimately uncontrollable micropolitical spaces, in order to succeed where the guerrilla struggles had failed.”iv Similarly, Felix Guattari characterized this approach as a “molecular revolution,” citing explicitly the case of Poland’s Solidarity movement. For him, to drop the level of political interaction and resistance into the fabric of everyday life with the will to transform it meant that to conduct a molecular revolution required “being able to articulate oneself and to allow the process of singularization to assert itself.”v The avant-garde dimensions of these struggles, in these perspectives, mean that at the base of social revolution is the emergence of a ‘new people,’ or ‘the people to come.’

If the ‘becoming-revolutionary’ of civil society is marked by emergence, it is the distributed network that forms the aesthetic representation and functional model of this form. Civil society cannot be measured spatially, nor can it be broken down into structural analyses of the institutions that shape social composition. Civil society transcends space, and moves through these institutions; before, but especially after, the rise of information technology we find that civil society is generated through communication: the exchange of words, information, images, signs of all shapes and sizes, allow for a cohesiveness that is both forceful and amorphous. The distributed network eliminates both centralization (where there is a large, fixed center to the network) and decentralization (where there are multiple, smaller network centers) in lieu of a fluid environment where any point is capable – and is compelled – to connect with any other point. There are innumerable examples of the distributed network in action. Alexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker, for instance, have maintained “that in recent decades the processes of globalization have mutated from a system of control housed in a relatively small number of power hubs to a system of control infused into the material fabric of distributed networks.”vi On the flip side, Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri have rendered the distributed network as their model of the “multitude,” the transnational civil society produced by the forces of globalization. In their understanding, the distributed network, particularly in the context of internet-driven information communication technologies, allows for a certain tactical advantage over both the outmoded, decentralized organizations of power leftover from the previous world order, and the new, flexible arrangement of postmodern power. They write:

When a distributed network attacks, it swarms its enemy: innumerable independent forces seem to strike from all directions at a particular point and disappear back into the environment. From an external perspective, the network attack is described as a swarm because it appears formless. Since the network has no center that dictates order, those who can think in terms of traditional models may assume it has no organization whatsoever- they see mere spontaneity and anarchy. The network attack appears as something like a swarm of birds or insects in a horror film, a multitude of mindless assailants, unknown, unseen, and unexpected. If one looks inside a network, however, one can see that it is indeed organized, rational, and creative. It has swarm intelligence.vii


Just as Holmes described these new modes of civil society dissent as a new paradigm for resistance, Hardt and Negri see the relationship between distributed networks and swarming as a replacement for the older, guerilla tactics in warfare. “The guerrilla army,” they write, “is like a pack of wolves”viii – decentralized clusters, each of which is bound up in internal hierarchy and command. The swarm, by contrast, “can strike from any point,” and becomes, essentially, inseparable from the environment; whereas the guerrilla army can be decapitated, a swarm “had no head at all.” Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, in their A Thousand Plateaus, anticipated the shift towards swarming in their discourse on the dichotomy of the game of chess, where “pieces are coded” in way to determine their movements, and Go, where uncoded pieces are capable of moving in any direction and holding any space in a flexible way.ix Following this same example, John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt, military strategists at the RAND Corporation, align the game of Go with swarm-oriented conflicts – warfare and resistance will increasingly become “more diffuse, dispersed, multi-dimensional, nonlinear, and ambiguous than industrial age threats. Metaphorically, then, future conflicts may resemble the Oriental game of Go than the Western game of chess” [emphasis in original.]x

For Arquilla, Ronfeldt, and other RAND-based tacticians, the rise of swarming and other network forms of conflict (dubbed “netwar”), is made possible precisely because of the rise and widespread availability of information technology, which foregrounds the ability for communication and coordination outside the context of both traditional military methodologies of suppression and the media cartels that formerly held a monopoly on information transmission on large geographical scales. Indeed, each of the color revolutions have been marked by the utilization of these technologies to further their cause. In the Bulldozer Revolution, Otpor and other groups made ample use of cellular telephones and the internet; their efforts were aided by electronic warfare waged by national and international actors – hackers both emerging from the various subcultures and from the Pentagon.xi Another key factor in the resistance with Radio B-92, an independent FM radio station located in Belgrade. Launched in 1989, B-92 became an essential mouthpiece for the opposition through its ability to circumvent state censorship. In language reminiscent of Gyorgy Konrad and Vaclav Havel, the managers of the station decided in 1994 to combine radio broadcasts with internet technologies to “create a world parallel to that established by the regime in order to feel that we were living outside the authoritarian, criminal.”xii Importantly, like Otpor, B-92 was funded in part by the OSI, the NED, and USAID.xiii

By the time of Iran’s 2009 Green Revolution, information technologies had evolved to the point where it had become far more integrated in the street-levels aspects of revolt. Twitter was of particular interest, allowing for instantaneous communication to allow near-real coordination of movements in response to the actions of the authorities, and for disseminating information that ran contrary to the state’s censors. David Faggard, a major in the US Air Force, likened this dynamic evolution to Howard Rheingold’s “smart mobs,” where wireless technologies and peer-to-peer networks have the potential to create swarming mobs capable overwhelming the opposition. Faggard likens the actions of the Iranian protestors to these “mob[s] of hyper-connected actors,” noting their capability to deploy “off-the-shelf and widely available data technology” to “maneuver where government forces were not.”xiv A year later, Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution was launched in response to the self-immolation of Mohammed Bouazizi – images captured on hand-held devices and transmitted across the internet long before the mainstream media was capable of picking it up. The Jasmine Revolution, and the transmission of Bouazizi’s act of defiance, was the catalyzing factor for the Arab Spring as a whole; by the time the revolution reached Egypt, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, cell phones, chatrooms, and other communiation mediums had completely reworked the way that radicalized civil societies could swarm, distributed in space, around their opposition.


The democracy promotion agencies that have worked closely with the dissenting parties have played a role – frequently with various large telecommunication and technology firms – in furthering this usage of information technologies and the subsequent swarming capabilities that they provide. During the Green Revolution, Jared Cohen, a member of Hillary Clinton’s Policy Planning Staff, contacted Twitter to arrange for a delay in their planned system upgrade, an act that drew the ire of President Obama’s State Department.xv Cohen would later be a co-founder of, the organizer of the annual Alliance of Youth Movements Summit that brings together activists with leaders from various corporations, government agencies, and trainers in nonviolent tactics and cyber-based resistance. Partners and sponsors of and the Alliance include Google, MTV, YouTube, Facebook, and various news corporations, while representatives from Freedom House, the NED, and the OSI been frequent attendees; importantly, the Alliance was also an important factor in the build-up to Egypt’s Lotus Revolution.xvi The trend is not new: in 2004, Peter Ackerman, the founder of the ICNC (as well as a former chairman of the board of trustees of Freedom House, an adviser and financier of the Albert Einstein Institution, and producer of the documentary Bringing Down a Dictator, detailing Otpor’s fight against Milosevic), gave a speech to Condoleeza Rice’s Policy Planning Staff on civil society resistance, noting in particular the role of technology in these movements. “The International Center for Nonviolent Conflict had a one-day seminar with people from the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories to create and to explore what technologies would actually create advantages for civilian-based movements,” he explained.xvii “There is no question that these technologies are democraticizing. They give an advantage to the — they enable decentralized activity.” Beyond this, they enable the swarm.

The PoMo Coup Factory

In 2005, Jonathan Mowat published an article titled “A New Gladio in Action?”, criticizing the role of Western democracy promotion agencies in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution. Dubbing the color revolution model as a “postmodern coup,” he describes the uprising against Victor Yushchenko as the deployment and “fine-tuning” of the “sophisticated tactics” utilized in the Bulldozer Revolution and Georgia’s Rose Revolution.xviii Mowat further alleges that through these tactics, born from the fusion of the Polish and Czech revolutionary models with the dawn of the internet and related technologies, pro-US interests like the NED, Freedom House, the OSI, etc., have gained the ability

to rapidly steer angry and suggestible “Generation X” youth into and out of mass demonstrations and the like—a capability that only emerged in the mid-1990s. “With the crushing ubiquity of cell phones, satellite phones, PCs, modems and the Internet,” Laura Rosen emphasized in Salon Magazine on February 3, 2001,”the information age is shifting the advantage from authoritarian leaders to civic groups.” She might have mentioned the video games that helped create the deranged mindset of these “civic groups.” The repeatedly emphasized role played by so-called “Discoshaman” and his girlfriend “Tulipgirl,” in assisting the “Orange Revolution” through their aptly named blog, “Le Sabot Post-Modern,” is indicative of the technical and sociological components involved.

Mowat’s essay was later reprinted in Obama: The Postmodern Coup, co-authored by Webster Griffin Tarpley and Bruce Marshall. Here, the Obama campaign, with its usage of information technology, slogans, banners, and the activation of a large, youthful support base, is characterized as following the color revolution formula:

This was a coup d’état with leftist and progressive overtones, carried out not by a junta of elderly reactionary generals, but rather by a slick young demagogue of the center-left who advanced surrounded by swarms of youthful and enthusiastic devotees. It resembled nothing so much as the so-called Orange Revolution which had taken place in Kiev, in the Ukraine, in the late fall and early winter of 2004.xix

“The New Gladio in Action?” also informed much of the analysis of the color revolutions in Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order, F. William Engdahl’s examination of the Revolution in Military Affairs in the context of post-911 renewal of American militarized expansion.xx Engdahl, like many other researchers, have looked at the Eastern European color revolutions in the context of the Western’s geopolitical imperativesxxi In each case, the ousted dictator had maintained close relations with Russia; Milosevic, of course, seemed to be the last holdover from the state-socialism that had ended with the close of the Cold War. The target of the Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, had historically been close to Russia and had maintained an opposition to Ukrainian membership in NATO. During the controversial 2004 presidential elections (which were the catalyst for the Orange Revolution), Yanukovych tapped into a large domestic voting base calling for closer relations to Russia. In the aftermath of the revolt, his opponent, Viktor Yuschenko, claimed the office of presidency; his tenure as leader of the country was marked by close cooperation with NATO, harder stances towards Russia, and a willingness to engage with neoliberal reforms undertaken in cooperation with the IMF. The outlier here is Georgia’s Rose Revolution, which saw large movements rising up against President Eduard Shevardnadze, who had been maintained rather close relations with the US and had been accused by Russia as harboring Chechen rebels. However, his successor Mikhail Saakashvili, having surrounded himself with individuals linked to democracy promoting agencies following the revolt,xxii was found to be far closer to US, EU, and NATO interests than Shevardnadze ever was.


There is ample reason to critique these elements: the NED (and its subsidiary organizations) itself had emerged from a constellation of foreign policy hardliners, establishment intellectuals, moderate labor unionists and former members of the hawkish Social Democrats USA – a socialist faction that had drifted increasingly rightward throughout the 1960s and 70s. Freedom House, a ‘humanitarian watchdog’ agency that had been launched in the 1940s to garner domestic support for NATO, has been consistently criticized for its connections to neoconservative ideologues, “cruise missile leftists,”xxiii and other interventionist policy currents. USAID, historically, has operated in close relationship with the State Department, and its aid programs are best understood in the context of foreign policy demands. The OSI, by contrast, operates independently of the US government, but as the cases of the color revolutions clearly show, it has worked closely with Western quasi-governmental organizations; frequently the philanthropy has maintained interlocking board memberships with democracy promoting bodies.xxiv

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Operating below these networks of organization we find the ‘professional activist’ organizations discussed earlier – CANVAS, the ICNC, the Albert Einstein Institution, and the like. Much debate has taken place to the independence of the organizations. On one hand, they’re intimately affiliated with democracy promotion programs through board interlocks, direct funding, and a repetition of corresponding ‘targets.’ On the other, the extensive training programs and materials they have offered, based largely on the writings of Gene Sharp, do not immediately betray a bias towards US or Western interests. They do, however, betray a bias towards electoral-based revolution and the largely Western paradigm of representative democracy. Alongside this is the strategy of engaging and working with (and in some cases, manipulating) civil society, an entity that we’ve already characterized some thing that can emerge into a process of becoming-revolutionary. By looking at civil society from this perspective, it is recast, not as a fixed entity, but a process, or succession of processes; Deleuze and Guattari’s own understanding of ‘becoming-revolutionary’ is that it concerns itself not with an inevitable utopia, but a series of fluxes and chances and strategies for becomings and flight to be found in the collective and experimental desire to revolution.xxv This is revolution as something without pure structure, where structure – if it exists – is flexible and dynamic; centered on and coming from within civil society, it operates both alongside and beyond the formulas of the state itself, much less representative democracy. Agencies engaged in democracy promotion and the actors they support on the group quickly become intertwined with the revolutionary mass, and they can best be understood as engaging not in the process of pushing for a certain style of democratic politics, but as structuralizing these dynamic and divergent fluxes of social and collective energy.


Mowat, and those that follow him – Tarpley, Marshall, and Engdahl, present a picture much different from this. For them, the entirety of the revolution – and not just the profound subversion – is created from the ground-up in a bid to destabilize Russia by gaining supremacy over its petrol-based territorial concerns. They present an alternative genealogy of these youth-centric, media-optimized and information technology-enhanced movements, finding a precedent long before the cases of Poland and Czechoslovakia in the 1980s and linking them instead to advances made in social psychology at the British Tavistock Institute in the 1960s. “As far back as 1967,” writes Mowat, “Dr. Fred Emery, then director of the Tavistock Institute, and an expert on the ‘hypnotic effects’ of television, specified that the then new phenomenon of ‘swarming adolescents’ found at rock concerts could be effectively used to bring down the nation-state by the end of the 1990s.”xxvi Mowat adds that this swarm behavior was found in practice during in social movements in France of 1967 and 1968, charging that these were aspects of NATO plan to destabilize the government to Charles De Gaulle. Engdahl contributes to this narrative, writing that “A curious tiny group named the Situationist International played an inordinately large role behind the student uprisings in May 1968 leading some researchers to posit that it was backed or steered by US intelligence.”xxvii

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“swarming adolescents”

The genealogy is continued with the figure of Dr. Howard Perlmutter, a leading scholar on globalization issues and the internationalization of corporate structures. Mowat draws particular attention to the fact that Perlmutter had been a longtime “follower of Emery.”xxviii He notes that while participating in a “Program for Social Innovations in Global Management” at Cleveland, Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University, Perlmutter envisioned how a “rock concert in Katmandu” depicted clearly how the forces of globalization were shifting the traditional bedrocks of culture – something Mowat sees not as the inherent deterritorializing tendencies of transnational capitalism, but the hints of a strategy going back to Emery’s own preoccupations ‘swarming adolescents.’ From the rock concerts to ‘global events’ to mediation via mass media, Perlmutter sees the groundwork being laid for a ‘global civilization’; extrapolating, Engdahl writes that these ideas “contained the core blueprint for the ‘new and improved’ US-made regime change, the modern form of US-staged coup d’etat,” and then immediately links this to the interest in swarming emerging from RAND theorists like Arquilla and Ronfeldt.xxix

This genealogy is puzzling for several reasons. For one, the leap from Perlmutter to RAND is conducted without drawing clear the historical linkages between the two; the reader is left to assume that there are indeed associations between the two. With this linkage in question, the importance of Emery and Perlmutter, much less the Tavistock Institute, becomes extremely less clear – as well as the notion that youth-based swarming tactics are generated via suggestibility induced by television, rock concerts, and other forms of mass-media. Engdahl briefly mentions the history of Tavistock, writing how after World War 2 the Rockefeller Foundation subsidized the organization and reconfigured its internal organization; the interest in this social psychology research lab was allegedly to “co-opt legitimate psychological insights into social groups and social dynamics in order to refine techniques of manipulation.”xxx

The case of the color revolutions is not the first time that Tavistock and its affiliation with the Rockefeller Foundation has been linked to countercultural networks. Mark Stahlman, writing on the Nettime mailing list, calls attention to cybernetician Gregory Bateson’s speech at the 1967 Dialectics of Liberation conference,xxxi titled “Conscious Purpose vs. Nature.” This talk used cybernetic models, discovered in the military-industrial labors of the second world war, to depict civilizations as an entity bound up in complex systems; he argues that both traditional structures of power and the forces resistance to them are ultimately flawed due to the inability to articulate the world as an interconnected ecology. Stahlman characterizes these developments as part of a “psy-war sensibility”xxxii – after all, the Dialectics of Liberation’s organizer, anti-psychiatrist R.D. Laing, had been affiliated with Tavistock from 1957 to 1967.xxxiii He further argues that “[countercultural struggles] are at the heart of the ‘Rockefeller’ effort to ‘social engineer’ the world through ‘control by choice’ for more than 60 years.”xxxiv


R.D. Laing

Gregory Bateson, at home in Ben Lomond, California, 1975

Gregory Bateson

Where does this ongoing interest in the Tavistock Institute come from? The source here, presumably, would be the ongoing preoccupation with the institution held by the constellation organizations and journals orbiting Lyndon LaRouche. LaRouche’s own trajectory had begun in the Marxist circles in New York City during the 1950s and 1960s; during the events at Columbia University in 1968, he launched the National Caucus of Labor Committees (NCLC) with the aid of members of the Progressive Labor Party – the latter having been expelled from the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). The NCLC took a hardline stance against the radical counterculture, seeing movements like the SDS as being ‘tainted’ by the influence of Black Nationalism, Third World liberation struggles and the Frankfurt School theories espoused by Herbert Marcuse. By the early 70s this discontent blossomed into a massive conspiracy theories, connecting US intelligent services to a bid for world domination perpetrated by the British government. This increasingly paranoid worldview was reflected by a shift from the far-left, following an abandonment of Marxist ideology, to to the far-right, with ties being formed with the Ku Klux Klan and Liberty Lobby (founded by the staunch anti-Semite Willis Carto). Despite these overtures, LaRouche’s network is large, operating through various organizations (the aforementioned NCLC, the International Caucus of Labor Committees, the Schiller Institute), political parties (the US Labor Party), and publications (New Solidarity, Campaigner Magazine, Fusion, Executive Intelligence Review).

The critics of the color revolution model – Tarpley, Marshall, Engdahl (with the exclusion of Mowat) – have all been affiliated, at one point, with various LaRouche organizations. Stahlman, too, is without exception, having written for Fusion Magazine,xxxv while also having served as the vice-president of Computron Technologies Corporation, an information technologies firm close to the LaRouche network.xxxvi Tarpley, meanwhile, was the editor of The Campaigner, the official organ of the NCLC, a board member of the Executive Intelligence Review, and the president of the Schiller Institute’s US branch; he distanced himself from the network in the mid-90s. Marshall seems to lack direct ties to any of these organizations, in 2003 he organized a talk by LaRouche for the College Democrats organization at Middlebury College.xxxvii Engdahl can be found contributing to the Executive Intelligence Review until the mid-90s, after several decades of being affiliated with the NCLC. A 1974 issue of The Campaigner discusses Engdahl at length, describing him as the victim of a bizarre “brainwashing plot” conducted by the CIA, presumably based on methods perfected at the Tavistock Institute.xxxviii

Furthermore, each idea propagated in their analyses of the color revolutions is based upon precedents found within LaRouche’s expansive conspiracy theories. For example, a 1974 issue of the the NCLC’s New Solidarity attempts to the link, much like Engdahl in Full Spectrum Dominance, the Situationist International and the events of May ’68 to the CIA:

The Makhnist Situationist International pig countergang created by the CIA from scratch in 1957 in France under the slogans “Kill the Vanguards!,” “Workers Councils Now!,” and “Create Situations!,” is the paradigm example of a CIA synthetic all-purpose formation. The loose and programless anarchist “left cover” countergang on the SI model is ideal for the CIA for the recruitment of new agents, the launching of psywar operations…xxxix

Then we have the curious repetition of the theme of rock music, which Mowat and Engdahl both fold into their discussion of the swarming youth movements. Rock music has been a frequent target of LaRouchian critique, ranging from the relationship of the Grateful Dead to the CIA’s MK-ULTRA program to the atmosphere of ‘Dionysian intoxication’ that concerts and festivals generates. An article in The Campaigner in 1978 is even more explicit, and connects several of the strands found in the criticisms of the color revolutions:

…one need trace the origins of today’s standing army of rock musicians and exotic composers no further historically than the post-World War II academic hegemony of the malicious Aristotelian doctrine of “cultural relativism” synthesized in the London Tavistock Institute in the late 1930s and associated with warped, former Office of Strategic Services intelligence associate and “cultural anthropologist” Margaret Mead [the wife of Gregory Bateson]… Mead’s and [Gustave] Reese’s assertion that any manifestation of general cultural retardation, now matter how bestial or degenerate, has its “democratic” right to exist in opposition to policies of cultural, intellectual, and technological development serves not only for the perseverance of long-standing British colonial policy for the developing sector. The same outlook, in the form of the Frankfurt School-Tavistock Institute known popularly as Adorno and Nevitt Sanford’s The Authoritarian Personality has constituted the basis of direct extension of the most bestial aspect of that colonial culture to the advanced sector nations over the last twenty years.xl

Reviewing the innumerable threads of LaRouche’s conspiratorial ideology, one begins to see the emergence of a rich tapestry revolving almost entirely around the concept of “social engineering,” enacted by the British Empire and the Rockefeller Foundations and various ‘front’ organizations, like the CIA and Tavistock. The problem is that not everything that be dismissed entirely out of hand; like all effective propaganda systems, the LaRouche conspiracy blends well-documented historical facts with outright fabrication, collides unfounded conjecture with coincidence, and distills the complexity of events swirling through time down to a very basic linearity – a historical determinism founded on the dialectical opposition of, oddly enough, Platonic universalism with Aristotlian ‘relativism.’

What the LaRouchians concern themselves, with their interest in the Tavistock Institute, is the cultivation of what Philip Mirowski has called the “Cyborg Sciences” and Eugene Thacker the “informatic” paradigm.xli This includes the interrelated domain of post-war sciences that runs the gamut from cybernetics to game theory, communication theory to molecular biology, family therapy to military systems analysis to neoliberal economic systems; it is also true that many of the organizations that the LaRouche network dedicates so many pages too – the Rockefeller and Ford Foundations, the Macy Conferences, Tavistock, etc. – were essential in developing these sciences, and through their relationship to social and material bases have laid the groundwork for much of our contemporary, globalized world.

This fact has been woefully under analyzed, and on a mass-scale, represents a critical blind spot for those attempting to eek out exit-points from the current world system. Misguided ideologues like the LaRouchians only obfuscate these matters further, distorting the actuality of these events and the technological, political, economic, and philosophical filiations that made them possible and likewise have been created by them. The end-point for each of these sciences has been the swarm – the network distribution of disparate forces and their capability for collective movements, self-organization, and self-regulation – and the fact that both opposition figures as well as those who wield instruments of power have been able to latch onto this formulation as a source of agency merits a deeper look.

Sifting through the scattered events, ideas and movements that LaRouche and his followers have so unfortunately parsed together into a cohesive, singular image, can we construct an alternative genealogy, one that is far more equitable to contributing to our understanding of – and hopefully resistance to – the neoliberal society, something than can only be described, as Deleuze once did, as a society of control?

[…to be continued in part 2]

iThese interlocks include Peter Ackerman (Albert Einstein Institution, ICNC, also of Freedom House); Stephen Zunes (ICNC, CANVAS); Janet Cherry (ICNC, CANVAS); John Gould (ICNC, CANVAS); Handy Merriman (ICNC, CANVAS); and Kurt Schock (ICNC, CANVAS). Furthermore, we should consider also that the Albert Einstein Institution’s Col. Robert Helvey traveled to Belgrade in 2000 (with funding from the International Republican Institute, a subsidiary of the NED) to provide training to the Otpor activists; after the success of the Bulldozer Revolution, Otpor’s Ivan Marovic worked with Peter Ackerman and Jack Duvall (also of the ICNC) to design video games to teach nonviolent resistance. See the “A Force More Powerful” website,

iiGyorgy Konrad Anti-Politics: An Essay Harcourt, 1984, pg. 211; cited in Brian Holmes “Transparency and Exodus: On Political Process in the Mediated Democracies” Open 2005/Nr. 8/(In)visibility, pg. 56

iiiVaclav Havel Power of the Powerless: Citizens Against the State in Central-Eastern Europe M.E. Sharp, 1985, pg. 39

ivHolmes “Transparency and Exodus” pg. 56

vFelix Guattari Molecular Revolution in Brazil Semiotext(e), 2007, pg. 76

viAlexander Galloway and Eugene Thacker The Exploit: A Theory of Networks University of Minnesota Press, 2007, pg. 3

viiMichael Hardt and Antonio Negri Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire Penguin Books, 2005, pg. 91

viiiHardt, Negri Multitude, pg. 57

ixGilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia University of Minnesota Press, 1989, pgs. 352-353

xJohn Arquilla and David Ronfeldt “The Advent of Netwar (Revisisted); in Networks and Netwar: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy RAND Corporation, 2001, pg. 2

xiFor national-based hackers involved in the uprising against Milosevic, see David S. Bennahaum “The Internet Revolution” Wired; for the Pentagon’s cyberwar, see Julian Borger “Pentagon kept lid on cyberwar in Kosovo” The Guardian November 8th, 1999

xiiMarcus Franda Launching into Cyberspace: Internet Developments and Politics in Five World Regions Lynne Riener Pub, 2001, pg. 170

xiii Ibid; see also Joan Roelofs Foundations and Public Policy: The Mask of Pluralism State University of New York Press, 2004, pg. 193, and Stefano DellaVigna, Ruben Enikolopov, Vera Mironova, Maria Petrova, Ekaterina

Zhuravskaya “Unintended media effects in a conflict environment: Serbian radio and Croatian nationalism” April, 2011, pg. 12,

xivMajor David Faggard “Social Swarming: Asymmetric Effects on Public Discourse in Future Conflict” Military Review, March-April 2013, pg. 80

xvRick Richman “Leading from Behind 2.0” Commentary April 27th, 2011

xvi For more information on this, see my “Egypt and International Capital: Is this what democracy looks life?” in Rebecca Fisher (ed.) Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Organization of Consent Corporate Watch, 2013

xvii Peter Ackerman “Between Hard and Soft Power: The Rise of Civilian-based Struggle and Democratic Change” June 29th, 2004

xviii Jonathan Mowat “The New Gladio in Action? Ukrainian Postmodern Coup Completes Testing of New Template”

xixWebster Tarpley, Bruce Marshall, and Jonathan Mowat Obama: The Postmodern Coup Progressive Press, 2008, pg. 15

xxF. William Engdahl Full Spectrum Dominance: Totalitarian Democracy in the New World Order 2009

xxi An essential text here would be Mark A. McKinnon The New Cold War: Revolutions, Rigged Elections, and Pipeline Politics in the Former Soviet Union Basic Books, 2007

xxii These individuals include Randy Scheumann, who he tapped as lobbyist, and Daniel Kunin, who he selected for an advisory position. Scheumann had previously been a member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (a lobbying organization for the Iraq War), a board member of the US Committee on NATO, the treasurer for the Project on Transitional Democracies, a board member of the NED’s International Republican Institute, and an adviser to the Open Society Institute. Kunin, on the other hand, has been an affiliate of USAID and an analyst at the NED’s National Democratic Institute.

xxiii The “cruise missile left” is a term utilized by Edward Herman to describe political liberals and progressives who support militarized intervention on the basis of a humanitarian responsibility to protect. For a look at these individuals and their role in the NATO intervention against Milosevic, see Edward Herman “The Cruise Missile Left, Part 4: The Nation Magazine‘s Forum on ‘Humanitarian Intervention’ Swans Commentary September 1st, 2003

xxiv An excellent example here would be Morton I. Abramowitz, a director for both the NED and Freedom House, who became linked to the OSI in the early 2000s. Unsurprisingly, he also played a supporting role in the drive towards the intervention in Kosovo: “Abramowitz continued to act from behind the scenes as an eminence grise for [US Secretary of State] Albright. He helped found the high-level International Crisis Group, a chief policy designer fro Bosnia and Kosovo. He was omnipresent behind the scenes of the Kosovo drama, both in making policy and in shaping elite business, government, and media opinion. He acted as an advisor to the Kosovo Albanian delegation at the Rambouillet talks, whose programmed breakdown provided the pretext for NATO bombing.” Diana Johnstone Fool’s Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Delusions Monthly Review Press, 2003, pg. 9

xxv “The victory of revolution is a work of art; it is immanent and consists in the new vibrations, clinches, and openings it gives to men and women in the moment of its making, the new bonds it installs between people.” Philip Goodchild Deleuze and Guattari: An Introduction to the Politics of Desire SAGE Publications, 1996, pg. 71

xxvi Mowat “The New Gladio in Action?”

xxvii Engdahl Full Spectrum Dominance pg. 69, note 23

xxviii Mowat “The New Gladio in Action?”

xxix Engdahl Full Spectrum Dominance pg. 41

xxx Ibid, pg. 40

xxxi The Dialectics of Liberation conference was initially organized by Joseph Berke, a family psychotherapist and member of R.D. Laing’s Philadelphia Association. Participants in the conference included the SNCC’s Stockley Carmichael, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, Paul Goodman, the aforementioned Gregory Bateson and R.D. Laing, the Frankfurt School’s Herbert Marcuse, and a host of other radicals, therapists, and artists.

xxxii Mark Stahlman “dark days” Nettime June 14th, 2013

xxxiii Andrew Pickering The Cybernetic Brain: Sketches of Another Future University of Chicago Press, 2010, pg. 184

xxxiv Stahlman “dark days”

xxxv Mark Stahlman “The Next Decade: Will the Supercomputer Arrive?” Fusion Vol. 3, No. 9, July 1980

xxxvi Lou Bertin “The Bizarre Story of Computron Technologies: How Radical Political Ties Led a Systems House to Bankruptcy Court” Computer Systems News, May 4th, 1981

xxxvii Caroline Stauffer “LaRouche Visit Sparks Political Dialogue” The Middlebury Campus November 20th, 2003

xxxviii L. Marcus “Rockefeller’s 1984 Plot” The Campaigner February-March, 1974, pgs. 8-23

xxxix Cited at “Blind Men and the Elephant (Selected Opinions on the Situationists)” Bureau of Public Secrets

xlPeter Wyer “A Hienrich Schenker Musical Science Vol. 2 No. 6, 1978 pgs. 24-25

xliPhilip Mirowski Machine Dreams: Economics Becomes a Cyborg Science Cambridge University Press, 2002; Eugene Thacker The Global Genome: Biotechnology, Politics, and Culture MIT Press, 2005

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16 Responses to The Swarmachine: A Historical Puzzle (Part 1)

  1. dmfant says:

    Reblogged this on synthetic_zero.

  2. dmf says:
    This paper argues that neoliberalism offers a highly productive site to excavate the ways in which Cold War power/knowledge formations have shaped, and continue to shape, sociological thinking, and suggest that post-socialism can make similar critical intervention into sociological thought as postcolonial and feminist scholarship, since it challenges us to rethink some key epistemological and ontological issues in sociological knowledge production.

  3. noir-realism says:

    Reblogged this on noir realism and commented:
    Edmund has another fine post up on Deterritorial Investigations Unit. This time on the Color Revolutions after the fall of the Soviet Union. Showing how differing views of these times and how certain official governments, think-tanks, academic and private institutions, foundations, banks, etc. all had their part to play. As he states it in talking about the anomalies that never fit the official story:
    “Mowat, and those that follow him – Tarpley, Marshall, and Engdahl, present a picture much different from this. For them, the entirety of the revolution – and not just the profound subversion – is created from the ground-up in a bid to destabilize Russia by gaining supremacy over its petrol-based territorial concerns. They present an alternative genealogy of these youth-centric, media-optimized and information technology-enhanced movements, finding a precedent long before the cases of Poland and Czechoslovakia in the 1980s and linking them instead to advances made in social psychology at the British Tavistock Institute in the 1960s.”

    A must read!

  4. Dave the Brave says:

    Amazing! Beautiful! Razor-sharp! Can’t wait for Part 2!

  5. noir-realism says:

    Yea, I remember reading Gene Sharp’s books a few years back (From Dictatorship to Democracy, and Sharp’s Dictionary of Power and Struggle: Language of Civil Resistance in Conflicts(2011)). Funny that Engdahl and Mowat align the non-violent color revolutions with the larger oil agendas. One wonders if Sharp has been duped, or is complicit? I’ve always agreed with a lot he had to say, so now it all makes me wonder…

    It seems there is such a fine line been truth and conspiracy in all this scholarship. I even wonder who is backing Engdahl who seems to be such an enemy of American Institutions: is this a Russian backed inititiative? A counter-propaganda initiative from the opposing side? I am now wary of all this spurious scholarship which on the surface seems to present such a thinkable picture of the facts, but which like what it opposes could in itself be another propaganda fiction to sway minds toward another path.

    That makes me want to return to the critical matrix of both philosophical and literary thinkers first, to sort out what is truly valid in respect to thought itself. Facts can be modulated just like anything else, and have been for short term gain on the part of both sides of the equation. I sometimes want to know who is manipulating whom in all this on the surface scholarly work. How to sort the wheat from the chaff is probably the toughest thing we have before us.

    And your reading of Bretton Woods is central to what is happening now as well: the latest phase being the battle over currency between China, Russian, and Euro-America over the next few years. I think James Rikkard’s among others spells it out best (see:

    Over and over it comes back to the notions of Sovereignty, Land, Rights, etc. As you’ve been searching through the historical and economic games, I’ve concentrated more on the propaganda systems over the past hundred years are so that have manipulated groups, crowds, individuals, etc. Also that fine line between public and private faces of government and the intelligence communities, along with the great crime syndicates around the planet: the underworld economies that are hardly ever measured in any of these philosophical constructions. Let’s face it we know absolutely the alliance between certain historical abuses of the NSA and CIA in collusion with this micropolitics of crime over the years. The CIA and those NGO’s that have sponsored these non-violent color revolutions have also used their drug cartels (protecting them for tribute, etc.) to finance these youthful revolutions, even to the point of as Chomsky shows manufacturing consent for the blind lie of sponsoring democracy when in fact it is control over food, oil, gold, etc. that they seek rather than any sense of democratic legitimation.

    thanks again… you’re doing the job… I’m almost over my pneumonia so should be back up and running full steam next week…

    • edmundberger says:

      Hi Steve, good to her you’re feeling better! I’m just now getting to feeling better myself, which is good because I’ve been pretty set back in my research – writing up my notes and finishing up this “swarmachine” series.

      I find the interrelations between the color revolutions, Western democracy promoting bodies, “professional activism,” the geopolitical imperatives and their relationship to forces of neoliberalism to be an extremely volatile mix, where no easy answers can be given and even the questions that need to be asked are difficult to eek out. Gene Sharp is pertinent in this regard – I too read his works, and found them to be extremely enlightening… we can’t dismiss the tactics that he has discussed out of hand; they have found – and continue to find – extremely useful applications in times periods of dissent. What we know of his biography is that he began his career at Harvard’s Center for International Affairs, founded by none other than Robert Bowie (a pretty standard fixture in the liberal internationalist scene) and Henry Kissinger, and it was in this place (fully subsidized by the same academic, philanthropic, and military resources that we are forever encountering in this time period) that his work on nonviolent theory began. With a pretty careful reading of Sharp’s approach, I think that a pretty good case for an intellectual hegemony can be crafted. What made his theories attract so much attention, from the get go, from the foreign policy establish? Sharp doesn’t teach us how to overturn neoliberal capitalism – beyond discussions on strikes, the economic angles of the social are not elaborated upon. Furthermore, Sharp’s theories push electoral, representative democracy to the foreground – civil society is activated in a radical sense for a temporary period of time, before is bundled back into the form of the state as the medium through which it can be ‘expressed.’ In Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy, this would be the capture of the warmachine by the state apparatus. This indicates to me that while there are legitimate practices to be found within Sharp, it is distilled in a way that is equitable for utilization for the implementation of soft power. To what extent organizations like the Albert Einstein Institution, CANVAS, and the ICNC are fully in congruence with Imperial agencies and forces is the big question, though I suspect (based on some interviews of members of these orgs I conducted several years ago) that the people within these organizations are mixed… some looking to promote neoliberalism, others moved more by idealism.

      The same can be said of the color revolutions themselves. Against researchers like Mowat and Engdahl, I would argue that there is a legitimate, revolutionary force that has emerged from within the civil societies of these oppressed people – and, controversially, I would say that this becoming-revolutionary was activated in part (but not wholly) by encounters on the margins with the globalized flows of Empire. Because a population reacts to dictatorships and authoritarianism that may pose a different symbolic order from the West’s own order doesn’t mean that these revolutions are aberrations or “seeded” by the West… true, there may have been guiding hands presents at the “birth” of these revolutionary kernels but we can’t dismiss them outright and in full. Its more what happens immediately post-revolution that thing begin to get really interesting. One could go through a book like Naomi Klein’s “Shock Doctrine” and write a prologue of sorts to a great deal of chapters detailing the work of democracy promoters and professional activists in so many of the countries (Poland, Russia, and South Africa spring immediately to mind). Engdahl, Mowat, and Tarpley, by contrast, unfortunately resurrect the Cold War dialectic and seem to see Russia as something that can hold America and Europe at bay – as if Russia itself is not a key part of the global neoliberal system, fully invested in the reproduction of capitalism via the heavy hand of the state. With what is happening in the Crimea is sadly adding to this dialogue, as we see so many on the left excusing Russia’s intervention. Heck, when I was working on my pieces for the “Managing Democracy, Managing Dissent” volume, Edward Herman had a few cross words to say with a single sentence of criticism I made towards Russia – even if this existed inside some 30 pages of criticisms of the West! Personally, I quite like the Polish revolutionaries in Solidarity’s early protest cry – “Neither Moscow nor Washington” – even if in the end, sadly, the reality was far more Washington.

      I think the large problem with Engdahl, et. al., is that they continue to hold on to ideas and theoretical approaches to history present from their LaRouche days – the fascination with Tavistock, the strange reflections on rock music and youth culture, the correlation between television, hypnosis, and swarming, etc, can all be found in LaRouche journals from the 1970s. Using these ideas as a launching pad creates a sort of ‘fun house mirror’ of the cartography here. So many elements are correct, but the interpretation collapses.They look to Bateson and Mead, but connect it directly to Laing, Fred Emery, and Tavistock, ignoring that Bateson’s relationship with Laing didn’t come until after Laing left Tavistock, that Bateson and Mead were separated by this point, or that Laing wasn’t really associated in any way with Emery, Lewin, or their brand of group dynamics in general. Bateson and Mead did contribute though, in some way, through their interest in the “democratic personality” as an antidote to “authoritarian personality,” and how this aided the US to start promoting a multicultural, avant-garde image of the West (ie, the promotion of “democracy). Weaponizing modernism, at the dawn of postmodernism. But I’ll save all that for part 2!

      “As you’ve been searching through the historical and economic games, I’ve concentrated more on the propaganda systems over the past hundred years are so that have manipulated groups, crowds, individuals, etc. Also that fine line between public and private faces of government and the intelligence communities, along with the great crime syndicates around the planet: the underworld economies that are hardly ever measured in any of these philosophical constructions. Let’s face it we know absolutely the alliance between certain historical abuses of the NSA and CIA in collusion with this micropolitics of crime over the years.”

      I agree, and I wonder why this is. Large left-wing figures like Chomsky, Zinn, etc, always seemed to avoid, in large part, talking about this sort of thing. Got any thoughts on the reason this discourse had been seen as so illegitimate?

      • noir-realism says:

        My own feeling is that even though both seem radical on the surface, their writings have had little actual impact. Both worked in the neoliberal world academic system so in that sense were controlled as well. As you see some subjects can be approached, and used by the neoliberal machine just as much as by those opposing it. That’s key to any discovery of how the money flows. Follow the money trail and you see who is in charge. Obviously all the money in black ops operations over the years that have been uncovered have been documented by fringe scholars. If your part of the system you leave it unsaid, untouched. And if your outside the system your unread or debunked as a conspiracy theorist etc. Kind of goes back to Foucault’s notions of power and knowledge: who is situated in legitimate discourse and who is not. If you have the right pedigree people listen, if not, not. Think tanks are for one audience only: the elite in whatever field. Just the way it is. If you ever did really get close to the truth of it I’m sure red flags would be sent up and you would be investigated, etc. Hell, trying to decipher the truth from disinformation is getting tougher and tougher…

  6. Pingback: Swarm Intermezzo: Meditations on the Ether | Deterritorial Investigations Unit

  7. Hylozoic Hedgehog says:

    For anyone interested in the LaRouche group’s origins in the New Left and it subsequent history up until the late 1970s, please see my two e-books How It All Began: The Origins and History of the National Caucus of Labor Committees in New York and Philadelphia (1966-1971) available at and Smiling Man from a Dead Planet: The Mystery of Lyndon LaRouche at .

  8. Brian Holmes says:

    Whoah, this is such a pleasure to read! So searching and precise! Let’s have part two! (and sorry I have been out of touch for so long, too many things going on in my worlds).

    I follow everything in both the text and the comments about the relative weights of influence, who is manipulating who, where one can or cannot identify the exercise of a specific kind of power, or (at a different level) the constitution of a specific kind of hegemony. The careful, precise genealogy on exactly those questions is what makes the text so valuable. But additionally, there is a more synthetic argument that is building in the text and probably calling for its part II. I’d like to hear more about that level.

    It seems to me that the particular brand of Larouch-style conspiracy theory you are dealing with here is all motivated by an inability to come to grips with an epocal shift, whereby the rational subject (either liberal individual or technocratic bureaucracy) is overcome by forms of organization operating on the basis of a cybernetic epistemology. By the latter I mean a form of perceiving, modeling and calculating both the world and the other which is no longer structured according to a subject/object divide, but instead always apprehends reality as a continuous permutation, a transformational loop of which the observer is a part and one whose dynamics can at best be inflected or steered, never stopped, reversed or annihilated. This sweeping epistemological shift from the subject-object divide to the cybernetic epistemology drew on physiology, neurology, computational theory, feedback engineering, early computer design, etc. But its elevation in the immediate postwar period to the status of a social-science paradigm, and subsequent integration to countless disciplines, was motivated by the difficulties and dead-ends of instrumental rationality in very practical matters of warfare and governance, specifically within complex societies where individuals had gained higher levels of relative autonomy. The point was to take the other into the process, to take multiple agencies into a process which could no longerr be conceived as “one’s own” but whose unfolding could still be calculated in a probabilisitic way, and guided at best into some more-desireable range of outcomes. In other words, the shift beyond a strict subject-object divide, and therefore, beyond simple instrumental rationality, is a *result* of the development of liberal individualism and of multiple and competing forms of collective agency, and not of their suppression by some concentrated force of manipulation.

    This shift has had serious ontological consequences: the enlightened subject and its forms of agency are dissolved, or subsumed within a different kind of order (or better, a different kind of patterning). That subsumption is vastly threatening to those who try to retain the old model of self and agency. Therefore the conspiracy theorists turn obsessively to the historical genealogy of cybernetics and related fields, attempting to prove that it is the instrumental tool of intentional subjects who are successfully manipulating their objects, the fools, the dupes. If they could only identify the dark plot of a malignant adversary, then they would not have to deal with the new terrain of struggle that renders them impotent and insignificant. Instead, they can identify themselves as potential adversarial forces, or they can identify with some perceived or imagined collective agent, often a Communist one (the Soviet Union, Maoist China), but sometimes it can also be an idealized Republic where individual and bureaucratic agency supposedly merge into an effective democracy. This is a potent trend, it affects many many people, I can’t say I have been untouched by it in my own life. It’s not merely psychological, though (is there anything that really is?). It unfolds at the meeting point between the sense of a self and the consistency of an epistemology.

    OK, so much for the conspiracy theorists. The problem for everyone is that a simple move from the old to the new epistemology is not in itself liberating. It opens up a whole new field of struggle, and a wildly problematic one, where new kinds of agency (or purposiveness, as the cyberneticians might have said) engage in new kinds of conflicts. In the simplest case, people in the former Eastern Europe may have believed that they would be liberated by embracing a “civil society” outside of bureaucratic control and autocratic power politics. But instead, they now have to contend with the forces that have long been engaged in controlling this new terrain. Similarly, many of our peers today thought in the 1990s that by adopting networked technologies one could overcome state and corporate power and create a new society. Yet very quickly they, like the Eastern Europeans, found that a great many techniques and technologies for exerting influence over relatively autonomous subjects had already been laid in place, even by some of the same actors who had contributed to producing the networked technologies.

    The control is exercised not by “brainwashing” or any form of direct coercion, but instead by inflecting and guiding the transformational loops of social dynamics. And yes, obviously the State Department tries to do this, and so do PR agencies and corporations. But grassroots activists do too, by creating protest movements, critical trend in culture, dissident and alternative behaviors, non-standardized machines, etc. The nature of the struggle (involving one’s own implication in self-transformative feedback loops) means that one is constantly exposed to compromise, contradiction, “recuperation” etc. And this means that withdrawal and refresh becomes a periodic necessity, basically at the moments when you lose the ability to bring about anny positive inflection. The movement of implication, inflection, recuperation and withdrawal is what I was describing in the text you quote, “Transparency & Exodus” – which was written at the very moment when I had decided to withdraw, in order to study this whole epistemology more carefully and try to cook up some new strategies for operating within it.

    There’s nothing glorious about withdrawal – it’s basically what you do when it’s not working anymore, when you are losing. But it’s a lot better than ending up largely subsumed by a State Department/Freedom House agenda, as Otpor clear did. And it is infinitely preferrable to imagining that the entire structure of present-day society, along with that of its social sciences, is attributable to the machinations of some hidden actor. I mean, there are lots of hidden actors. But none so strong as those imagined by people who fear social complexity itself, and their own participation in it.

    What do you think?

    best, Brian

    • edmundberger says:

      Hi Brian, its great to hear from you! My worlds have been overloaded as of late as well, in many ways that take time from the stuff I want to be working on… but we make do! I hope all is well.

      There’s certainly a part 2 in the works, but the immediate logistics of it have prevented me from putting it up on the blog as of yet. With the wealth of information and multiple genealogies required, such a project could very quickly spiral into a small book, but your comments have gotten me looking back at my notes. I think I can pull it off in a series of maybe four lengthy posts… I did continue, in a slightly different register, in a post titled “Swarm Intermezzo” (, which is elaborated on with the “Bomb, Money, Ether” diagram in the downloads section.

      I agree with what you say about the conspiracy theorists like the LaRouchians – the shift itself that occurred within the time period in question is immense, unimaginable even. It is nothing less than a movement away from smaller, linear scales of understanding to one that is non-linear, teeming with complexity, fast-paced and without clear-cut boundaries. LaRouche is, above all else, completely dedicated to the traditional modes of agency and individuation – hence his commitment to extremely dogmatic readings of Marx (before the rightward drift, of course), classical culture (particularly in regards to music and lifestyle), and repudiation of contemporary philosophy and theory, returning instead to Plato, Aristotle, and Hegel. In doing so, the hyper-complexities of the new world are traded for the well-worn roads of the past, with one perpetually attempting to pose traditional counterpoints and resistance to something that has moved far past it. At the same time, LaRouche was fascinated by Norbert Weiner; “God and Golem” seems to have been a seminal text for its rejection of mapping cybernetics onto the social field. This is why so often followers of LaRouche draw a sort of dichotomy between the “Good Cybernetician,” Norbert Weiner,” and the “Bad Cybernetician,” Gregory Bateson – this extends to their distorted historical model, with its physical ‘dark other’ that can be confronted as the primary terrain of struggle. This also means that they miss out on possibilities for grappling with today’s complexity and the potentialities for new means of ethics and values (I’m thinking of Bateson’s “Steps Towards an Ecology of the Mind).

      The whole thing reminds me a lot of the shift right of the Social Democrats USA which has concerned me for so long – particularly with its incredibly long-ranging consequences (LaRouche, incidentally, was very fond of the Shatchmanite tendency, but the love wasn’t returned in the slightest). Both are extremely similar in that they retained the old modes of struggle and rejected the nuances of the New Left – both the anarchic spirit of the allegedly non-political hippie segments of the population and those inspired by the Frankfurt School. I think that those groups spoke far more to the realities of their time than the moderates in the AFL-CIO and the League for Industrial Democracy. Normally I wouldn’t concern myself so much with groups and people like LaRouche, but I find that it veers into an extremely problematic place in that so much of their Manichean way of thinking is being transplanted into so much popular left-wing discourse.

      This opens it up to a much wider plateau, which is the domination of critical thought by Cold War dialectics and earlier tendencies which reduce the actual complexity of the world and the necessity for attempts to change it. You mention that the worldshift that occurred “opens up a whole new field of struggle, and a wildly problematic one, where new kinds of agency (or purposiveness, as the cyberneticians might have said) engage in new kinds of conflicts.” Indeed, but one has to acknowledge first that the shift took place, and that new ways of thinking are required to approach it. On a particular level, it is one thing to say that the National Endowment for Democracy steered Arab Spring, or that tried to co-opt Occupy, or that capitalist philanthropies hold too big a sway over environmental struggles. It is necessary to know these things, to approach them critically. But we can’t produce knee-jerk reactions, denouncing Arab Spring as a CIA plot or defend the Russian state’s treatment of Pussy Riot and other dissidents (to draw on two common things I’ve often been confronted with in various correspondences). By the same token, its not enough to focus debates on the actions of a certain corporation or whose money is going to which politician – even those these things must be acknowldged. We have to work through complexity, approach the wild variables of our time, and begin building there. Its not the time to lose potentials for solidarity when the actual mechanisms of the system are not even fully understood.

  9. Brian Holmes says:

    Well, upon reading the “Swarm Intermezzo,” I find (surprise, surprise) that you have put it all extremely well:

    “With notions of civil society and creative destruction, the x-y democratic/oligopolistic axis of Empire becomes more of a cybernetic feedback loop in and of itself: resistance and deterritorialization, establishing lines of flight from power, shift power into more flexible and complex dimensions (not to mention new spaces to capitalize upon and new innovations to feedback into the marketplace), while these new formation urge further modes of resistance and deterritorialization. Democratic aspirations and oligopoly launch into a movement of co-evolution, but even this has its limits. The heavy hand of hard power, emerging from the repression of social movements – particularly those revolving around digital rights – show that the humanitarian face of Empire will fold under circumstances where its central nerves are revealed and hit. The problematic arises then, when considering the optimal strategies for outmaneuvering both flanks of global neoliberal governance.”

    The above situation is exactly why people are so easily confused about the operations of power in the contemporary world. On the one hand, any simple release invites a more elaborate form of capture (decoding prompts overcoding), therefore the system feeds on freedom. That’s highly confusing in itself. But worse, this ambiguous dynamic coexists with, and is underwritten by, the traditional violence of sovereign power: censorship, police, secret services, military force, etc. Any new onslaught of sovereign power makes people think, “Oh, yeah, duh, the whole subtle control thing is irrelevant, it’s really about state coercion and violence” — which is only partially true. The modulation of patterns of relations between quasi-autonomous actors really is important in neoliberal societies, even if it does not entirely replace coercion.

    The question, then, is what kind of emancipation can we expect from a distributed network whose participants begin communicating simultaneously and acting together? When I was reflecting on that kind of action, in the text “Swarmachine: Activist Media Tomorrow,” I came to the conclusion that the social phenomenon of a purposive distributed network – a swarm – is not just dependent on the real-time transmission of a single idea, such as “occupy the square.” When the real-time transmission of such single ideas actually does cause a swarm to cohere, it is because the single idea resonates within a shared cultural horizon: “temporal coordination itself depends on a second factor, which is the existence of a common horizon – aesthetic, ethical, philosophical and/or metaphysical – that is deliberately built up over longer periods of time, and that allows the scattered members of a network to recognize each other as existing within a shared referential and imaginary universe.” This means that the mere existence of a communicational protocol (email, Twitter, or even TCP/IP itself) is not enough to explain the social phenomenon of swarming. Instead, people need to act within a world, which includes an aesthetic style, an ethics, and very often a philosophical outlook, a metaphysics or some kind of eschatology. Surely this is why LaRouche hated rock music: because it was part of a horizon that made a new emancipatory force possible, one that was entirely outside his own mode of thinking and organizing. By the same token, the control and channeling of popular music has been fundamental to the maintenance of the capitalist system since the 60s.

    When Heidegger said, “Only a God can save us now,” he wasn’t entirely wrong. Clearly the simple desire for “freedom” cannot constitute a dissident or countercultural horizon in (neo)liberal societies. Those societies thrive on the oscillation between managed freedom and brutal sovereign power. But traditional religion is not going to do it either: because traditional religions only become political through an antogonism with unbelievers. Revolution, in our time, can only happen within a non-capitalist, non-industrial value horizon, which has to be knit together from below, through continuous resistance and creation. Liberation theology, in its time, did this pretty well, because it mingled the strong force of religion with Christian socialism. I think our contemporary revolts tend to fail because they depend too much on a residual left/communist horizon mingled with a contradictory anarchist urge. The two cannot be strongly articulated and so the movement rapidly collapses into a simple liberal demand for fairness, rule of law, etc.

    To say “another world is possible” is not enough. It’s too liberal, too close to liberal ambiguity. You have to make the other world come into view, you have to make it tangible for many people. Can an ecological world-view become a revolutionary horizon? It looks to me as though many actors within the capitalist state think that it could. That’s why they are trying so hard to produce a green simulacrum…

    yours in the struggle, Brian

    • edmundberger says:

      “When the real-time transmission of such single ideas actually does cause a swarm to cohere, it is because the single idea resonates within a shared cultural horizon: “‘temporal coordination itself depends on a second factor, which is the existence of a common horizon – aesthetic, ethical, philosophical and/or metaphysical – that is deliberately built up over longer periods of time, and that allows the scattered members of a network to recognize each other as existing within a shared referential and imaginary universe.'”

      What you’re describing here would be your fourfold matrix of the Eventwork, no? The concept is alluded to in the piece above, through the image of the emergence from civil society as an exodus and an event. When I read Guattari’s references his own matrix, to the “existential territories” and “incorporeal universes,” “flows” and the “machinic phyla,” I see an excellent image of the civil society proper in the depth of its contours – the physical spaces of everyday life and its institutions, the rhythmic openings contained therein, the movement that charges them, and the technology, conceptual registers, and symbolic orders that underlies them. At the same time, I always seem to find that his dimensions sort of get ‘stuck,’ so to speak – but I guess the real meat of the issue is that our environment unfolds in an autopoietic processes, with the question then becoming how to intervene and create potentials for transformation, and mutation. I like your point that these interventions are “deliberately built up over longer periods of time.” Too often have I found that talking in these terms, of emergence and autopoiesis and even swarming, it seems that people jump to the image of self-organization in the ways that we find in De Landa’s writings, for example. This approach is also a route that triggers a loss of agency in the participants, not to mention ascribing a rather holistic approach to dissent. Yet revelation has played its role in revolutionary ambitions for some time… but the fact remains that self-organization is more an affair of planning with a particular mentality that moves in the opposite direction of the neoliberal state (which declares self-organization as its own). Self organization becomes its own imaginary horizon.

      On the flip side of the equation, I strongly suspect that those involved in democracy promotion activities caught onto the zeitgeist the way that the tacticians over at RAND did, with their books from the Santa Fe Institute and Kevin Kelly. There are points of convergence, for sure, but nothing definitive aside from a general haze and a profound lack of information. This has been something that has been boiling in my mind and something that I want to pursue: the intellectual evolution of these people across the 1990s and 2000s, their influences and their policymakers. Who are the laborers that make democracy promoting agencies tick, and where are the reports and journals and internal debate? Such things seem to be under lock and key; FOIA proves difficult and after six months I’ve yet to hear back from the Library of Congress on whether or not I’ll be given access to view the NED’s papers collection (they’re classified). This compounded with the fact that its pretty difficult for me to do the travel necessary to see archives around the country and really dig into the issue. But as always, we persevere!

  10. Brian Holmes says:

    Definitely go for the NED archives if it’s possible! I guess they will have somehow caught the zeitgeist all right. But the thing is, they don’t need to have gone deeply into theory, because at a certain point all that complex stuff resolves into the common sense of liberal pluralist management of populations. As you say” “Too often have I found that talking in these terms, of emergence and autopoiesis and even swarming, it seems that people jump to the image of self-organization in the ways that we find in De Landa’s writings, for example.” The thing is that “spontaneous” self-organization (maybe with a little help from the invisible hand of price signals) is just the creedo of capitalist civil society, which is flat and homogenous and can always be channeled into something tolerable by the corporate state. When you go into the existential dimensions, as Guattari does, you get to something different: singular processes of emergent subjectivation, which are not reducible to anything standardized or normative, not initially at least. I am just suggesting that Guattari didn’t go far enough, he remained largely structuralist, he described the dynamics those singularizing process without asking which singularity, where do we go, how does one “tip” the assemblage in a given direction, or lend it a particular tonality, etc. Maybe that’s why the four dimensions seem to you to get “stuck”: because one always returns to the level of definition, “what” they are. Whereas the important thing is the particular becoming, what’s happening, the event. How does it surge up, out of what existential depth, against what horizon? Without any way to intervene, to shape that kind of emergence, one will always be drawn back into the default patterning of liberal capitalist civil society.

  11. Pingback: The Uses and Abuses of Global Civil Society | Deterritorial Investigations Unit

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