Four Way Criticism
James Herod, March 1974
What are the essential elements of dialectical behavior among humans? We can reject two common practices right off. We can reject the hate session in which every one gets everyone else, or more typically, everyone gets a particular person. Likewise, we can reject the love sessions where everyone supports everyone else (or someone) but never criticizes. Nor is it a question of maintaining a proper balance between support and attack, since the dialectical approach to human interaction is not in between these two extremes but outside of and opposed to both of them.
Rather, what is being fought for is a style of life and pattern of behavior which subjects everything to unrelenting examination,(1) including one's own self as well as the selves of others, and where nothing is off limits. In such a regime we would take a critical attitude toward everything, be neutral about nothing, but instead take a stand, on everything, including other people's ideas and behavior.
Looking at it in this way, and taking myself into the picture as well as others, I find that there are four types of criticism: my criticism of you, your criticism of me, my criticism of myself, and your criticism of yourself.(2)
The falseness of the slogan criticism/self-criticism and its authoritarian slant can thus be easily seen. The self-criticism part of the formula refers to my criticism of myself. It has never also implied your criticism of yourself, so this half of the expression is not ambiguous. But on the criticism side, if criticism is taken to mean my criticism of you then the slogan is very one-sided since it calls only for my criticism of you and my criticism of myself. Thus it leaves out your criticism. This, it seems safe to say, is not what is meant by the Maoists. However, even if criticism is taken to mean your criticism of me the slogan is still one-sided. It calls for your criticism of me and my criticism of me but it leaves out my criticism of you as well as your own criticism of you. I believe this is the intended meaning of the vanguardists. They seek a one-way criticism which flows from them and the party (or more generally, from society, or the state) to the individual. This becomes even more evident if we note the stress that vanguardists put on accepting criticism and the deep hostility they feel toward anyone who rejects a criticism as untrue. Anyone who does this is condemned for being individualistic and petty bourgeois. Actually, in a genuinely critical stance, it is only a question of being open to criticism, of being willing to listen to criticism and consider it seriously. If I really believe in an unrelenting examination of everything including myself then I am by definition open to the criticisms other people may have of me. I may even welcome these criticisms. Other people after all speak from a different point of view and thus may see things about me that I have been blind to. Other people can be wrong however. Not all criticism should necessarily be accepted. Some of it might need to be rejected. But if I am open to criticism I will continue to listen and consider criticism no matter how firmly I may seem to hold to my own views. To say that criticism should be accepted, uncritically, is totalitarian. Uncritical acceptance of criticism from others violates both my capacity for criticism of others (and hence of their criticism of me) and my capacity for self-criticism (and hence of my capacity to judge for myself whether what they are saying about me is true or not). The criticizing process in any single individual therefore involves four things: my criticism of others, my criticism of myself, openness to criticism (willingness to listen), and decision or judgment (acceptance and implementation of true criticism and rejection of and defense against false criticism). This last aspect is especially important. Defense is an integral part of the critical outlook.
Real criticism thus parts company with vanguardism since vanguardism has parted ways with the cardinal principle of subjecting everything to relentless scrutiny. This is implicit in the stress that is placed by vanguardists on accepting criticism and in their strident denunciation of any individual who dares defy the group. This is almost a definition of vanguardism. Yet vanguardists exclude themselves from criticism, because they already have the correct view: Marxism-Leninism. Thus while they subject everyone else to criticism they do not examine relentlessly their own beliefs or those of the Party since these have already been codified in the Little Red Books of Official Marxism and only have to be applied. This Truth is even kept forever up to date through periodic revisions by the Central Committee. Thus vanguardists, those religious fanatics hiding under the cloak of Marx, are immune to criticism. They are not open to reciprocal interaction with and mutual influence by other humans. They do not listen. In their opinion the task of the ordinary person is to accept the criticism of the comrades in the Party. I can't imagine anything more out of line with a genuinely critical outlook, as outlined above (four way criticism), or with a genuinely dialectical understanding of human consciousness and human interrelatedness.
Human consciousness, like human life itself, is the result of social interaction. It is only by continuously checking our own opinions of ourselves against the opinions of others that we are able to establish a human self-identity at all. This is the dialectic at work: the working back and forth between the subjective (my own opinions and perceptions) and the objective (the opinions and perceptions of others, as perceived by me). When unrelenting examination of everything and everyone (including one's self) stops, growth stops. Social individuals cease to grow and develop as social individuals when they stop being critical toward themselves and others and become instead closed to criticism, rigid, and ossified. Sometimes this happens very early in life, sometimes late in life, sometimes never.
Generally speaking, under capitalism there are two great obstacles in the path of genuine criticism: tolerance and intolerance. Both are deeply entrenched and both are lethal enemies of the critical outlook. Tolerance fosters not a critical attitude but a neutral one. It accepts everything (except itself, which it regards critically) and admonishes mutual trust in an atmosphere of loving harmony: you do your thing and I'll do mine. Intolerance works differently. Instead of accepting everything it rejects everything (except itself). However, it is easy to see how tolerance and intolerance are actually the same thing, even though they show different faces. Liberals (tolerance) are in fact extremely intolerant toward any threats to their neutral stance, and resist fanatically any pressure forcing them to take a stand on the issues. The only thing they will fight hard for is their absolute right not to fight. They do not want to take sides but prefer to sit on the sidelines, claiming that they have a right to abstain. They even feel that it is their right to be apathetic if they want to. Conservatives (intolerance) on the other hand, are in fact very tolerant of the one position which they do accept: their own. This position is accepted uncritically and set forth dogmatically. Let's all do this together our way, or else.
More concretely however there are, among many possible ones, three main deviations from genuinely dialectical behavior. Some people are very good at criticizing others but not themselves: they can dish it out but they can't take it. They like to lay it on others but what they demand in return is approval. They want everyone to like them and agree with them, no matter what they do. This might be called the spoiled brat syndrome. People like this can't stand being opposed even though they do outrageous things, often on purpose. Curiously enough, this is precisely the stance taken by conservatives and vanguardists, even though we don't ordinarily think of them in this imagery. Nevertheless, right-wingers (and this includes vanguardists) are people who never question themselves, and they are certainly not open to the views of others since they already have the correct way, but yet they are constantly after everyone else to change and reform, proselytizing incessantly.
Other people are very good at criticizing themselves but can't criticize anyone else (perhaps out of fear of making people angry, among other reasons), even though they welcome criticism from others, often as part of a general process of self-denigration (which is sometimes camouflaged as learning). These people demand support from others also since they generally lack self-reliance and self-esteem. They make good followers, and are constantly placing themselves in dependent relations with other people, always seeking help.
Both these pathological types violate the essence of the dialectic, which is that both aspects of the totality (subjective, objective; self, others) are subjected to unremitting scrutiny. In the case of persons who criticize others but can't criticize themselves, one half of the totality (the subjective half, their own selves) is being declared off-limits to examination. In the case of persons who can criticize themselves but not the selves of anyone else, a different half of the totality (the objective half) is placed off limits. In both cases the dialectic is being violated because half of reality is treated in a tolerant way, by not being subjected to criticism, or conversely, is treated in an intolerant way by being taken as a given and by being seen as something not subject to change.
A third and very important deviation from dialectical behavior is when people can criticize themselves but not others, but, in contrast to the second type above, are completely closed to criticism from other people. It is a hands off policy. Stated like this the pattern may be a little hard to picture. It is nevertheless very widespread. It is the classic liberal stance: you do your thing and I'll do mine. You mind your own business (don't criticize me) and I'll mind mine (I won't criticize you but will instead look after only my own affairs). The stance is thus accepting toward others (but closed also to influence by them), but critical toward self (self-development). What is happening here is also a violation of the dialectic since it denies to others both the right to criticize and the right to be criticized. Liberals do not recognize these rights and capacities in others any more than they do in themselves. Self-criticism yes, but outgoing or incoming criticism no. Before dialectical interaction can be established, both (or all) individuals involved must be engaged in the reciprocal criticizing process: criticism of others, criticism of self, openness to criticism from others, and judgment (acceptance or rejection). A liberal outlook is a truly individualistic philosophy because it completely severs the linkages between individual human beings by blocking outgoing and incoming criticism. The individual is thought to be self-sufficient in some strange sense. A liberal interacts critically only with himself or herself. Others are irrelevant since they are simultaneously accepted (not criticized) and ignored (not listened to, not taken seriously). But the totality involves self and others and the working back and forth between these. The dialectic is broken in this case because the self is removed from society (interaction with others), whereas in reality the self is an integral part of society. That is, humans are social beings and can only live and survive in conjunction with others.(3) This is as good a way as any to characterize dialectic in fact. Dialectic is an understanding of the human situation based upon recognition of the social nature of human beings, on the fact that the totality is composed of myself and others in interaction and that both individuals and society are, in the last analysis, mere abstractions. What exists in reality is only the totality, the process, consisting of me, you, others, and our interaction. The interaction is what forms me, you, and others.
A fourth pathology is perhaps worth mention in passing because of the interesting light it sheds on the many ways the dialectic can be violated, even though it is not a widespread pattern. Some people are able to criticize themselves without mercy, and can criticize others endlessly, but are not open to criticism from anyone else. Instead they demand unfaltering support. This is a weird configuration in a sense because you would think that if they could criticize both themselves and others that they would also be open to criticism from others. But it ain't so. They investigate themselves ad nauseam but get mad if anyone else tries to get in on the fun. This pathology thus denies to others the right to an active role. Other people are allowed to be the recipients of criticism but not the givers. In this case therefore we see a nice link between the objective-subjective polarity and the passive-active polarity. Other people are seen as objects (passive recipients of criticism) but not as subjects (active givers of criticism).
Bourgeois life oscillates between two major pathological violations of the totality: recognizing the individual but ignoring society (individualism, liberalism); recognizing society but ignoring the individual (authoritarianism, conservatism). Similarly, vanguardists are blind to the individual half of the social totality, elevating the society (serve the people), while the egoists are blind to the societal half, elevating the individual (do your own thing).
This shows as nothing else could that the only revolutionary course is the democratic egalitarian collective, the network of workers councils united on the basis of direct democracy, where everyone thinks (is critical) and is in on decision-making. Proletarian democracy, thus defined, is the correct road to socialism since it does not succumb to any of the pathological abridgments of the concrete dialectical totality. It is based instead on the reciprocal unity between self and others and on the totality comprised of individuals and other individuals and their interaction.
In light of this discussion let me consider again the question of defense, which I mentioned earlier, and to the charge of defensiveness. This charge (``you're being defensive'') emerges from both sides of the duality, from the pluralist side and from the authoritarian side, although more readily and effectively from the authoritarian side it seems. For the pluralists, who don't like disagreements and are accepting in their stance toward others, when I defend myself it is unpleasant to them both because it leads to conflicts and confrontations (things they seek to avoid at all costs), and also because it is not a passive but an active stance. They would prefer, and are emotionally and philosophically inclined, that I listen to and accept the criticism directed against me. There is a catch of course: listening and acceptance is only a surface thing. The `listening' of liberals (hearing all points of view) is not part of a process of arriving at a decision but is merely a way of practicing tolerance. It's all part of love and harmony. Liberals thus only give the appearance of listening. Real listening obviously involves rejection as well as acceptance: accept the true and reject the false. Before I can judge anything I first of all have to understand it. That's where listening comes in. But for liberals the end phase, judging, is left out, certainly as a collective process. After all points of view have been heard, then, in the liberal scheme of things, each of us takes whatever we like from the sampling offered and continues on our own way, doing our own thing. That is, liberals leave out the whole business about nailing down the truth, together, although this may be done by each person individually in deciding whether to take on or to reject a new belief. But there is never any collective effort, never any group decision, under liberalism, to determine who is right and who is wrong, and whose views are going to become policy. For liberals therefore the defensiveness charge is merely a tactic to fight for the predominance of their own tolerating style, which is to listen to everyone, but then ignore what is said, and go on about their own business.
For machos on the other hand the defensiveness charge is used to shut other people up. That's what they want us to do: shut up, submit, sit there and take it, and accept their criticism. They don't want to have to listen to people they don't agree with. Shutting a person up therefore is a favorite authoritarian tactic. It is used by certain types of domineering parents for example (don't you talk back; don't you sass me) as well as by all hierarchical organizations. We are not allowed to talk back to the sergeant, contradict the boss, or criticize the party. Machos expect and demand passivity and object if anyone talks back. They have a fantastic trick they play on you. They clobber you and when you protest they accuse you of being defensive. It's incredible. If we assert our own perception of the situation – that we are the ones being clobbered and they are the ones doing the clobbering – they say that we are paranoid and that no one is trying to hurt us. For authoritarian types it is evidently okay for them to clobber anyone whenever they feel the urge, but it is not okay for someone to try to put a stop to such malarkey.
In both cases the defensiveness charge serves the important function of shifting the fight away from the arena of disagreement onto the stage of psycho-drama. It shifts the focus of the battle away from the contents of the issue over to questions of character, personality, credentials, stability, motivation, or commitment. Obviously, to the extent that anyone succeeds in doing this they win with hands down, since it is always the other person's sanity or courage that comes under the light. To succeed in directing the spotlight at the soundness of your opponent's psyche rather than have it bear down on the soundness of your own judgment is obviously no mean victory. It is no wonder then that the tactic is so widely used, and by virtually everyone, but especially by the Marxists-Leninists. If I question the soundness of the vanguard's belief that I should go get a job in a factory, for example, they say it is because I am ``still unable to accept factory work,'' usually adding that this is because ``you are unwilling to give up your petty bourgeois privileges.'' If I disagree with what they see as the radical position on any given issue it is because I ``resist'' the correct analysis. If, in addition, I put a little passion into my arguments against their stupid views they will chuckle knowingly among themselves and then point out to me that it is obvious that I feel very ``threatened.''
I am indeed threatened since if they win it means the defeat of my struggle for freedom. It might even mean that I will be murdered by them for being someone they think is an ``enemy of the revolution'' and a ``petty bourgeois intellectual.'' Vanguardists seek to ``united the many and defeat the few.'' If I insist however that I disagree with them and that therefore we couldn't possibly be in the same camp because there are serious differences between us they will still seek nevertheless to be comrades and include me within the many – until they themselves, that is, decide to classify me among the few, at which point their real intentions toward me become unmistakably clear. Vanguardists reserve to themselves the right to decide who is among the many and who is among the few. Thus Mao's dictum that it takes ten years to make a revolutionary out of an intellectual becomes in the hands of his secret police, perhaps even in his own hands, the equivalent of a death sentence. Sometimes they don't even give you ten years.
All this however is not what Marxists-Leninists mainly mean when they accuse me of being threatened. What they mean is that I am afraid I am going to lose my privileges, and privileges are usually defined by them in economic terms. They imply that I am only seeking to defend these material advantages.
This assinine and obnoxious outlook actually only reveals the deeply rooted dualism of the Marxists-Leninists. For them my opposition is never because I might disagree with the merits of their position. They do not recognize disagreements on merits, nor would it make any sense for them to do so since they believe they already have the Truth. Instead they insinuate that my rejection of their judgment is rooted in some defect in my own character. They accuse me of being threatened, petty bourgeois, an intellectual, bought off, unwilling to work in a factory, afraid of fighting, and so forth, ad nauseum. This shifts the dispute to a question of my strength of character and my commitment to the revolution and enables them to avoid having to answer my reasoned arguments against their position or coming to terms with the issues in dispute. More importantly, they don't have to recognize the disagreement that exists but can continue hiding behind the myth of their own objective correctness. Thus rather than pick a position and then defend it in terms of the issues and attempt to persuade others of the validity of that position on the basis of its merits, vanguardists usually prefer to attack their opponents by slandering their characters.
It is important to note however that it is not merely my psychological defects they cite, since the interesting intermingling here of voluntaristic terms like unwilling, unable, and threatened, with deterministic terms like petty bourgeois (a class term though to refer to objective factors) exposes the incessant oscillation between objectivism and subjectivism, often right in the same sentence, characteristic of all bourgeois thought, and especially of vanguardism. Vanguardists simultaneously accuse me both of a failure of will and of merely reflecting the class position they have imputed to me (mistakenly as it turns out). This dualism can come out in many different ways. I once had an argument with a Maoist who, in the same breath almost, perceived an item of my behavior as stemming from my paranoia, and an item of his behavior as due to circumstances. In explaining my behavior he ignored the forces acting on me from the outside, while in explaining his behavior he ignored the decisions that he had made along the way. My bad fortune, as it happened, was explained by voluntaristic reasons (failure of will) while his good fortune was because of objective conditions. This was because he was, being a good Old Lefter, somewhat embarrassed by his comfortable position and didn't want to take credit for it. Usually the terms are reversed. The bad guys lose because of the inevitable laws of history while the good guys win because of their own heroic efforts. Marxists-Leninists-Maoists have never grasped the meaning of Marx's comment that human beings make their own history but not under circumstances of their own choosing.
When a separation is made between consciousness and behavior this is the quagmire you bog down in. Marxists-Leninists simultaneously claim: (1) that the consciousness of capitalists merely reflects their objective class position; (2) that the consciousness of radicals however is determined primarily by their own intelligence and courage since they have somehow escaped the determining force of objective class position which shapes ruling class thought, except, of course, for those radicals within the movement who do not accept the correct strategy (Marxism-Leninism, obviously), in which case this consciousness is because these people are petty bourgeois (thus the objective class position is evoked once again); and (3) that the consciousness of nonradical workers is false but this is because they have been brainwashed by the bourgeoisie (that is, it is not due to their objective class position; on the contrary, the objective position is supposedly what will give rise to a radical consciousness one of these days). Such is the state of vanguard thinking. A real bastion of clarity.
The whole enormous confusion surrounding the base/superstructure formula stems from the single error of thinking that there is an objective way to determine what `radical' is. Knowing already what radical is Marxists-Leninists can check to see who is and who isn't. Noting this they are then naturally puzzled by it, more so it seems by why someone isn't than by why someone is. This means that one term in the equation is known and fixed in advance, as a given, namely, the radical superstructure. With this radical superstructure as an a priori starting point Marxists-Leninists then examine nonradical superstructures and try to relate these to various kinds of economic bases. It is an exercise in confusion.
The base/superstructure error stems from taking an outside stance, which transforms a disagreement into a fact, to be explained objectively, by economic interests in the case of the so-called ideology of the bourgeoisie and by brainwashing (or by some other outside factor) in the case of the imputed false consciousness of the proletariat. Marxists-Leninists elevate their own definition of radical into the status of Objective Truth and then proceed to compare and characterize the views of others using this Truth as the measure. They then attempt to account for the discrepancies between the beliefs of others and their own Truth by discounting the inherent capacity (a capacity that can't be gotten rid of) of other people to think and formulate plans and projects. Their opponents' views, but not their own, are explained away objectively. In their bourgeois opponents, and in false conscious proletarians as well, consciousness is thought to be a determined quality, flowing from forces outside these persons. But for themselves, consciousness is felt to be a voluntaristic quality, flowing from the inside, from their own good sense. Simultaneously of course this voluntaristic consciousness of theirs is, since they elevate it into Objective Truth, also seen by them as something detached from themselves and coming from the outside since it exists independently of themselves, in nature and history, and has only to be discovered. Their good sense consists in not having resisted this Truth, and in having given themselves over to it. That's why they get upset when other people don't do the same. Thus dualism reigns on all fronts. The desirous, cogitating, ambitious, fighting, scheming, pipe-dreaming, fucking, rambunctious human being is not in the picture anywhere, not even for themselves, although they do not take note of this. In their own eyes they are just giving a little boost to the March of History. They never see themselves as animals, with needs and desires. Thus instead of thinking in strategic terms in order to win the fight, vanguardists (like liberals) too often think in explanatory terms. They have an explanation for bourgeois ideology and an explanation for proletarian false consciousness but no explanation for their own Marxism-Leninism, naturally.(4)
Marxists-Leninists, like good bourgeois everywhere, lose sight of the fact that the course of human history is the result of struggles between real live human beings pursuing concrete goals and projects and that there is no separation at all in real life between something called consciousness and something called behavior, between something called ideology and something called class position, or between a so-called base and a superstructure. There is only concrete human endeavor in pursuit of and defense of some aim or other. All behavior includes both activity and thought. Capitalists have the goal of making profit and this is how they meet their needs and continue living. Long ago concrete men and women fought real battles to establish a situation where they could live by making profit. This situation certainly didn't come about all by itself. They have won a lot of victories since that time and are today very strong. Wage-slaves live by showing up at the job every day and selling a few hours of labor-power. They have won a few fights, but have lost even more, and aren't so strong right now. In fact they are in the tight spot they are in precisely because they have lost the very same battles that the capitalists have won. Since these are real live struggles between real people with conflicting intentions and projects the outcome is not predetermined. If it were it wouldn't be a real fight. But it is a real fight. Victory or defeat are possibilities for both sides, with the result depending in general on the relative strengths and weaknesses of the contestants. There can be no talk therefore of any inevitable collapse of capitalism or of any victory because of being correct. We win because we are strong, not because we are correct. And heaven knows the two are not synonymous. Stalin and his henchmen were strong but they certainly weren't right. A reversal of the victories stemming from their strength is urgently needed but nowhere in sight. Hitler was strong and he nearly won but he wasn't right. The outcome of that titanic fight was in no way predetermined. The world would be very different today if he had won, and he very well might have.
The claim that people `resist' radicalization is merely another expression of the base/superstructure error and all that is associated with it – the belief that ideas merely reflect one's class position, the treatment of consciousness as if it were an object to be imported or instilled from the outside, the constant oscillation between deterministic and voluntaristic explanations, the presumed split between ideas and behavior, and so forth. Since a correct consciousness is thought to exist already – and it is the function of the Party to act as a carrier and preserver of this consciousness – and since consciousness is seen as something that exists outside a person, any refusal or failure by someone to adopt this correct consciousness can only be because he or she resists the obvious truth, being either unable or unwilling to recognize its validity. The whole thing is dumb. And like I say, to the extent that anyone succeeds in this tactic of shifting the fight away from the issues to a dissection of your own psyche it is no small victory for your opponent.
This popular tactic also shows that in the bourgeois mode winning is synonymous with dominating because victories like this perpetuate various regimes of one-sided, abridged criticism and defeat the emergence of full-fledged, four-way criticism. It shows further how deep and widespread the psychologizing tendency is: bourgeois thought transcribes everything out of social terms into personal, psychological, and individualistic terms. It shows too how culturally ill equipped we are to behave dialectically. Everything tends to be skewed. We have no solid tradition of self-defense, for example, except perhaps in special circumstances like formal trials or in certain group situations where it is instinctively felt that the accused deserves a hearing. This does not tend to be so much the case in everyday life however where self-defense does not tend to be seen as a right, or as normal, and where the quality of disagreement in a dispute tends to be swamped by some self-serving pathology, like the defensiveness charge, the widespread use of which is a good indicator of the prevailing authoritarian outlooks (liberalism is of course an authoritarian outlook).(5) What we lack is a tradition of examining all sides of a dispute (we have a noncollective version of this in liberalism) in order to nail down the truth (the nailing down part is what we don't have), collectively (nor this), especially as such a practice would work itself out in the personal relations of everyday life. Such a practice would obviously involve very different attitudes toward heretics than now exist.
It has become very clear to me over the past few years that the charge of defensiveness is very often illegitimate, more often than not in light of the near total absence of four way criticism in our society. What is needed at this juncture is more defense, not less. Far too many people stand passively by while someone tramples them into the dirt. Social relations based on four way criticism would look very different from the ones we now have. Confrontation would be the norm rather than the exception but it would become easy and natural. There would be no need for the tactic of smoothing over the differences and no possibility of the strident imposition of one's own views on others through force, since policy would be set by majority rule, and dissidents, even heretics, would be seriously listened to as a matter of course in the process of discussion, formulation of policy alternatives, and decision-making.
Just as with the base/superstructure formula, the key to a proper understanding of the defensiveness charge is the recognition that there is no objective way to determine who is and who isn't defensive. The whole problem is to reach a judgment about who the aggressor is and who the defender is. Whose anger is legitimate? Who is oppressing whom? This is as true on the level of everyday life as it is on the level of society as a whole (and these two are in reality synonymous). The bourgeoisie rejects as ridiculous the claims of proletarians that they are being held in slavery. Similarly, aggressive people rarely perceive their own behavior as being harmful to others. Machos do not see themselves as machos. They think they are merely exercising their rights. Domineering, self-serving, do-it-my-way-or-else'ers only feel free when they are getting their own way. They naturally perceive any accusation that they are macho as flowing out of the accuser's own paranoia since they do not feel that their behavior is threatening anyone. So the dispute over whether any specific act by someone is aggressive, and hence a threat to another person, is exactly the same as the dispute over whether wage-laborers are slaves or over what the correct road to socialism is: it's my word against yours.
It is also clear however that this dispute is linked to the relative strengths of the two parties. Very strong people are not easily frightened: weak people are. What is perceived by one person as a threat may not be by another (which is not to deny that some weak people are fearless – the fearless child, slave, prisoner, invalid). We must be very careful here however to separate genuine strength from other ways, pathological ways, of handling aggressive threats, and especially from toleration. Toleration is a way of simply not engaging the aggression, of not confronting it, but rather of letting it roll off the back by ignoring it, that is, by accepting it. This amounts to submission, but it is usually perceived as being cool, and is esteemed.
This whole approach to criticism in interpersonal relations provides yet another dimension to the critique of the politics of support, which I discussed earlier. What would happen to supportiveness under a regime of four way criticism? It would wither away. Let us look at the supportiveness problem first of all from the angle of withholding criticism. To refrain from criticizing someone is, or can be, a very condescending thing to do (when such refraining is not based on fear). It presumes that the person not being criticized can't take it, and therefore must be protected and shielded from criticism which might inflict damage. Thus, even if support is entirely passive and merely shows itself in the withholding of criticism that would otherwise be rendered, it is a way of treating other people like infants rather than like mature adults who can take care of themselves and who don't need anyone's protection.
But supportiveness usually involves more than just passively withholding criticism. It is often an active extension of sympathy, usually accompanied by advice and counseling. It is a practice of smoothing over the differences, ignoring conflicts, and tolerating objectionable behavior in order to help someone. Support, as traditionally practiced in this country, is thus very uncritical. It represents an abandonment of the dialectic, which subjects everything and everyone to unrelenting examination. To the extent that anyone succeeds in extending this kind of `help,' the person on the receiving end is cast, ipso facto, into a dependent role. Supportiveness is thus one of the major forces perpetuating dependency. It is an interpersonal stance that has received an enormous boost from the massive and cancerous spread of supportive, protective, nurturing professions – teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists, nurses, preachers, policemen, professors, doctors, firemen, social workers, soldiers, consultants, and armies of counselors.
Generally speaking, we do not need support. We need to achieve self-reliance, in the socialist meaning of the term. People are handicapped in achieving real maturity (socialist self-reliance) as long as others protect them, give them support, and hold them up, rather than withdrawing support so that they can learn to stand on their own feet. The proper relationship toward a dependent person is one of calculated and determined withdrawal of support in order to allow (or force) the dependent person to become self-reliant. We should confront and criticize dependence and lack of self-reliance in others, not support it. Unfortunately, weaning is not a widely practiced art in this country. Consequently the number of people who have never really grown up is staggering. Need I point out again however that there is no objective definition of notions like maturity or dependency. What is missing now is any collective effort to define them, and the vote, where necessary, to establish policy. What is missing also, under capitalism, is the opportunity of ever achieving genuine self-reliance and independence, socially defined, since even the most ostensibly self-reliant worker is dependent on the support and good will of the capitalist for a job, while the capitalist is dependent on his wage-slaves.
Such a critique of supportiveness also holds interesting implications for the question of alliances. If each person in the group (or society) were treated like an adult (including, especially, children, but also sick people, the handicapped, and the senile)(6) by every other person in the group, this would obviously mean that no person would be supported in dependent behavior instead of criticized. Thus there could be no alliances formed between a dependent person and a supportive person. This is an enormously powerful and significant argument and knocks the wind right out of vanguardism and leadership, providing a devastating critique of it.
Take the right hand man phenomenon. Many factions within groups in our culture are formed around strongly supportive persons, a support-giving person joined by a support-seeking person or persons. If four-way criticism were at work this pattern would be impossible because support-giving heavies would not be able to shield others from criticism. As it is, dependent persons, when backed up by a strong supportive person, often get away with all kinds of tomfoolery in a group, which they would never get away with if they were on their own and were not being protected by the other stronger person. The supporting person, by warding off attacks, declares in effect that the behavior of the protected person is beyond the pale of critical examination and is to be tolerated. If others criticize the person the protector may defend the dependent person's behavior even though it is obviously indefensible in everyone else's eyes, and even though the stronger person does not personally engage in such behavior. This cements an alliance between the two people, a dominant-passive alliance, which can have an enormously destructive impact on a group, as it does on the revolution in general.
It is important to note however that the right hand man or woman is not thereby shielded from the boss's own criticism. Machos protect their lieutenants from outside attack all right, but then they severely criticize these lieutenants themselves. This is what domination is all about, overruling the ideas and inclinations of another in order to get one's own way. On the one hand, for the lieutenant's part, to simultaneously accept both protection and scolding is a veritable definition of dependency. If the lieutenant talked back he or she wouldn't be a lieutenant, at least not for very long. A lieutenant accepts the dressing down in exchange for the protection (and other benefits). Similarly, for the macho's part, to both support and criticize, simultaneously, is the mark of domination and leadership. The widespread tactic used by many parents and encounter group leaders of insisting that any criticism of another person be accompanied by an assurance that that person is still loved is thus revealed as the condescending, paternalistic, manipulative, two-faced practice it really is. For an egalitarian person criticism is criticism. It is straightforward, honest, to the point, and on the level. It involves an oppositional stance toward the person being criticized, and is not sugar-coated. Nor is it fake, or two-faced. The difference is taken seriously and may even lead to a break in relations. Egalitarians are not afraid of splitting. For authoritarian types however, the favorite tactic is to clobber you and then embrace, pretending that nothing ever happened and that they never beat you up. That keeps the relationship in tact and sets the stage for them to clobber you again. I had a friend once who applied this tactic, as a matter of principle, in raising his child. He would whip the boy and then systematically, by the clock, go into the boy's room after exactly five minutes to kiss and make up. The father reasoned that this behavior would reassure the boy that the whipping didn't mean that he was no longer loved. Sometimes I think, honest to god, that there is no real love anywhere in our society but only this two-faced monster masquerading about.
Leadership is inherently two-faced, simultaneously protecting and scolding. It also bases itself on a double standard – one for the outside (the enemy) and another for the inside (its own troops). When facing the enemy, leaders have criticism for the enemy but praise for the troops. When facing the troops however, it is discipline for the troops and respect for the enemy. What a farce. I used to believe that outside the revolution, war, but inside, criticism. Aside from the fact that the very reason for the revolution is to abolish the outside (which is a sham anyway) and include everyone inside, the trouble with this is that in the vanguard revolutions that have so far occurred it is always the leaders who decide who is inside and who is outside the revolution. This is what is really behind all the `petty bourgeois intellectual' nonsense heaped upon so many critics of the party in state-capitalist countries. The so-called petty bourgeois intellectual must submit to the party's definition of what is admissible criticism within the revolution, and if they do not they are defined by the leadership as being outside the revolution, an enemy rather than a trooper. Thus the person (`intellectual') is required to accept criticism but is not allowed to give it, while the party can dish it out but can't take it. What the party likes is a comrade who doesn't talk back, and who shuts up when told to. If you talk back you are a petty bourgeois intellectual. It's just like being in the army. Talking back thus becomes one more synonym for revolutionary. I would think that anyone with any sense could see that this is so. Some of our greatest revolutionaries were people who died rather than be silenced. For the life of me I can't understand how any radical can be duped by this discipline business. That so many are is certainly a pathetic comment on where we're at. I can even imagine that right now, seeing the hatred I feel for this `petty bourgeois intellectual' runaround, vanguardists are nodding to themselves and saying that this in itself proves that I am a petty bourgeois intellectual since otherwise I wouldn't be upset. What nonsense. Am I therefore a petty bourgeois intellectual because I also hate the prospect of being murdered by some fanatic. Is intensity of feeling the hallmark of class? I hate Marxists-Leninists like I hate capitalists, sometimes even more intensely, I think, because here are people parading as revolutionaries. In reality of course Marxists-Leninists are capitalists, and capitalists of an even more horrible breed to boot. These capitalists not only steal our labor-power, they want our souls as well. They are not content merely with exploiting us in order to enrich themselves. They demand that we love them too. Slavery and torture are hard enough to bear when inflicted by the enemy who hates your guts. They become absolutely and intolerably outrageous when administered by someone who `loves' you.
(1) The term `examine' as used here is not the neutral, objective, value-free style of examining (which is an illusion anyway) claimed by philosophers of the established order. It is thus not merely an examination for the purpose of knowing, but also for the purpose of judging. This kind of examination is critical, not passive and accepting. It enables one to form an opinion about something, decide whether one is for or against it, and whether it is good or bad. It enables one to take sides on the issues and vote to establish policy.
(2) We could just as easily speak of two way, six way, or eight way criticism. What we really have is my criticism, your criticism, and his or her criticism. My criticism includes my self-criticism and my criticism of others, including you, him or her, and them. My criticism of any given other includes my criticism of the other's self-relation, the other's relation to him or her, and the other's relation to me. The same with your criticism, his or her criticism, and their criticism.
(3) It would not be necessary to repeat such commonplaces at this late date except for the continuing predominance of individualistic and authoritarian views.
(4) This is a pretty good way of exposing the general fallacy of objectivism in fact. If I explain everything objectively then how do I account for myself? It obviously can't be done. This is why bourgeois thinkers always quietly exclude themselves from purview. They set themselves apart as neutral, value-free, and outside the scope of the investigation. And this outlook still continues in spite of the widely recognized fact, among natural scientists at least, that the experimenter is an integral part of the experiment, and that the observer inevitably influences the observation, and that there is no way for this not to be so.
(5) The same reasoning can of course be applied to an apparent act of aggression, since what seems to be an attack at first may turn out to be a defense once the total picture is grasped.
(6) These groups are best perceived as weak rather than as dependent. Healthy adults obviously occupy a position of strength vis-à-vis children, old people, and sick people. This does not mean that adults have to condescend, however, or that relations cannot be egalitarian.