Ten Seldom Posed Progressive Demands for the Propertyless

And now for something completely different… The global economic crisis is into its sixth year. Every few months a new report details the continued growth in inequality between the haves and have-nots. There seems to be no stopping the voracious 1% as they rampage across the globe dispossessing and accumulating wealth and power. But we, the 99%, are fighting back; organizing to reclaim what is rightfully ours. Two steps forward, one step back, historic struggles are being waged worldwide for freedom and justice. In the following lively ten-point ‘rant-ifesto’ that draws on lessons offered by, among other things, Game of Thrones, Scarface, and Bertolt Brecht, the German novelist and critic Dietmar Dath offers some unconventional insights and advice on what is, and what is not to be done.

For Those to Whom the World Does Not Belong

(Terminology: ‘property,’ does not mean that someone owns a pair of trousers, a car, a dildo or a frozen pizza. Property is meant only in the politically relevant sense of the word, where I have something at my disposal that compels others to bend over, to be pushed around, or to buck and bow, so that I can live as I do. If I own land, houses or apartments where someone wants to live or cultivate land, then they must surrender a portion of their wages, salary or something similar to me. If I own capital, I let it work for me; that is to say, I appropriate the labour of others for myself. Whoever does not like the use of such language should take it up with Karl Marx; he’s resting in peace and has time for such trifles.)

First: Please do not always appoint the Property-owners, that is, the opposing party in the struggle to end exploitation, oppression, marginalization, discrimination and human brutishness, as the arbitrating authority to determine whether and how a round in the struggle is won or not!

[Drawing by Fernando Vicente]
Explanation: In the first season of the excellent television fantasy series Game of Thrones, based on the eponymous novels by George R.R. Marin, the rebels succeed in capturing a son from the rich and powerful family of oppressors, the Lannisters. The captured man appeals to the honour of the insurgents and demands that one of their ringleaders engage him in a duel. The rebels know that the money, the leisure time and work schedule of a rich son allows him to afford superb training as a swordsman. The rebels are not daft and graciously reject the testosterone infused proposal. The lad remains a prisoner for future strategic use.

Second: The pathetically bogus argument that bold and progressive social projects, such as gender equality, the dissolution of hetero-normativity, the smashing of racism, a socialism not surrounded by threatening enemies, world peace, or soccer nights without hooligans, are not feasible because such things have never existed before, must be thoroughly ridiculed!

Explanation: Just who are these imbeciles who come up with these notions? It is only in regard to the most drab, the most uninteresting shit that one can say: it already existed. Every fabulous painting or song, every minimally interesting text, every horizon broadening scientific discovery had previously never existed. And every human being that enters into this world is born for the very first time. There is no precedence for beauty, justice and truth.

Third: Please never forget that the Property-owners and their propaganda apparatuses in principle have no understanding of history, and only act as if they do so when they fear their own disappearance in the course of historical transformation!

Explanation: Whenever, bit by bit, the thumbscrews get too tight on the Propertyless, and for instance, the elimination of healthcare, the destruction of egalitarian and public education, or related dirty tricks lead to discontent, the newspapers, radio, television, internet and all the other institutions of propaganda dissemination of the Property-owners explain to us how appalling Stalin, the GDR, the RAF, the Weather Underground, and the Maoist and Trotskyist groups were. But the newspaper, radio, television and all the other institutions of propaganda dissemination of the Property-owners have no clue what or who Stalin, the GDR, the RAF, the Weather Underground, and the Maoists and Trotskyist groups were, because they lack all interest in learning about them. Only we ourselves can find out about all of that; the Property-owners are not concerned about what is to be learned from all that.

Fourth: Be absolutely careful that your own frustrations and shortcomings do not mislead you into hating the other Propertyless or those who are otherwise lacking in influence!

Explanation: I know one critical academic – horrendously bloated and squishy from junk food – who the other day, during a break for reflection between the academic day shift and the academic night shift, bickered bitterly for half an hour to a spiteful and haggard female marketing expert friend from the art world, that at academic conferences on the question of jurisprudence, modern marriage, love and sexuality, all the talk is increasingly about homosexuals; but lately also, and with more vehemence, about people who call themselves ‘transgendered.’ “They’ve had operations and what not,” the academic railed and could hardly contain himself, for he was so disturbed by the supposed “quibbling over some peculiarities of sexual orientation or unusualness.” Unfortunately, I coincidently know that the spouse of this critical academic – who as a sports journalist knows bodies quite well – occasionally complains to his colleagues in confidence that he is frightfully letting himself go and should visit a gym every now and then. Some things are as horrible as they are easy to explain.

Fifth: Never, nowhere, and under absolutely no circumstances should the Propertyless accept the criteria for productivity of the Property-owners!

Explanation: The world has known since Marx’s time that under the rule of the Property-owners the most destructive nonsense is considered to be productive activity as long as it yields a profit. The world already suspected as much even before Marx. Since then the game has only gotten worse and more perverse. Capitalism necessitates the performance of ever more jobs and activities – you can see it daily on the street, in offices and even on the Web – that are not rational even by its standards. And conversely, the only reason a residue of the commonwealth remains is because there are still enough people for the time being, who dedicate themselves to the unprofitable arts that are vital for its preservation. It’s time that this nonsense stops.

Sixth: In case Property-owners demand, as it occasionally occurs to them for the most varied of reasons and occasions, some kind of information from the Propertyless – instead of mere subservience, toil and contentment – this should be strictly answered only with the most devious, contradictory and incomprehensible lies! Because they particularly like to believe these.

Explanation: Brecht tells of his Herr Keuner who was asked to renounce violence. In the face of violence Herr Keuner naturally spoke out in favour of violence and later explained this prudent choice with the comment that his backbone did not exist to be broken. The great feminist poet Joanna Russ put it more simply: “Don’t break your cover.”

Seventh: As much as is humanly possible should be learned about those who, in the struggle to end exploitation, oppression, marginalization, discrimination and human brutishness, have lost all manner of comforts, prospects, happiness, health or their lives. This is the only possibility for the Propertyless to respect those individuals and hence simultaneously themselves.

Explanation: Who was the British composer who fought against racism, but on one winter night was run down by a car? Who was the German journalist who tried to help orphanage children and was found hanging in her prison cell? Who was the North African refugee who drowned in a sea illuminated by the searchlights of the coast guard? Who is to blame?

Eighth: Whomever struggles with other exploited, oppressed, marginalized, discriminated and repugnantly treated persons, against the common enemy, should respect the diversity of aims and means and not insist on the supremacy of their own, unless the struggle is going to be thus lost.

Explanation: It is neuroanatomically quite difficult to tickle oneself. When we tickle our own foot with our own hand, our brain already knows the score and does not find it amusing. The drug dealer Scarface put it much simpler: “Don’t get high on your own supply.”

Nine: Programmes, strategies and tactics for the radical transformation of the corrupt existing order, which need to be completely finalized before the revolution is a success, belong in the recycling bin, not on the order of business.

Explanation: The end products of a metabolism make poor ingredients for a recipe.

Ten: The Propertyless should regard envy as a severe mental disturbance that strengthens instead of weakens the system in which people are sorted as Property-owners and the Propertyless. What should be struggled against is not the existing material wealth of the Property-owners, but control over the potential wealth of all by the few.

Explanation: The actress Kristen Steward earned $34.5-million between May 2011 and May 2012; Cameron Diaz earned $34-million and Sandra Bullock $25-million in the same time period. Taking this money away from them doesn’t bring humanity any closer to freedom and justice. •

Dietmar Dath was born in 1970 in Rheinfelden, Germany. He studied physics and literature in Freiburg. He was editor of the music magazine Spex and from 2001 until 2007 was culture editor of the newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. He has published several novels, plays, a biography of Rosa Luxemburg, as well as the theoretical tract: Maschinenwinter (Machine Winter: Knowledge, Technology, Socialism). His novel, The Abolition of Species, will be published this spring by Seagull Books.

This article originally appeared in Prager Frühling (Prague Spring: Magazine for Freedom and Socialism). Translation by Sam Putinja.