The Grey Book

09.13.2004 | Harry Siegel | Cultural Affairs | 12 Comments


MIX EQUAL PARTS a vague Star Wars daydream (“Only you can save America, Luke”) and a paranoid Matrix fantasy (“There is no America, Neo, only the System”). Add a dash of old-style political manifesto, a pinch of new-age mysticism, and just a touch of J.S. Mill’s On Liberty, and you’ve got that part of the American left called the Organization—also known as the Resistance, the Movement, and the Struggle.

If you’re ready to join, repeat these words: I pledge allegiance to no authority beyond my individualism. I have taken the burden of the masses upon my shoulders and will suffer and die if necessary in bringing the greatest amount of good to the greatest number… . I declare myself a member of The Organization and a sister/brother to the Resistance.

This comes from the Grey Book, the official dogma of the Organization, a conglomeration of “communists, anarchists, students, artists, rebels, idealists, free minds, brothers off the block and sisters from the struggle” joining together to form “a freedom fighting band of badass revolutionaries [with] goals no longer limited to late night sessions of intellectual bull[—]… . For once, all their struggles became one.”

These are the protesters who were arrested by the hundreds in New York during the Republican convention. They have their own code, which includes Four Tenets (“Know yourself and be in constant pursuit of social-individualism,” is a sufficient example). There’s a Five Point Platform (“Educate, Consolidate, Retaliate, Revolt, and Reconstruct”) and also a Ten Point Program (which begins by calling for “An end to self-interested war, conquest, and imperialism” and ends with “the establishment of a social system in which every individual is continuously empowered to improve their society”).

Then there are the Eleven Divisions (including “Defense, Culture, and Community Survival”). And on top of all this is slathered the necessity of doing it with style: “There are three qualities that an Organization member must possess: dedication, candor, and panache.”

These heroic new-age utilitarians, fighting for the greatest good for the greatest number—or are they followers of William Blake, each aligned only with his own individualism?—unite to stand against the System, also known as Pax-Americana which, conveniently, resembles Darth Vader’s Death Star in its all-encompassing evil. This System’s power “is not a physical one; instead of fighting a tyrannous opponent who would kill us to preserve power, we face one that will buy us not to.”

I first encountered the Organization at Manhattan’s Union Square, ground zero for the local protest scene. A young man was arguing vociferously with the park police, who’d asked him to move his table. I’d been collecting protest literature all day, so while he was so engaged, I picked up his copy of a palm-sized mimeographed manifesto that I presumed was meant for distribution. This was the Grey Book—and not just any Grey Book, but Version 0.775, as it said near the top of the first page—adding, gnomically, “The present is prologue.”

ON MY TRAIN RIDE HOME, I read all thirty-five pages of the tiny print that asked the tough questions:

What if humans started off as driven slaves with a whip-master behind them, progressed to a stage at which they were only driven but not whipped, and then to a stage at which they could stand enchained on their own? Perhaps modern society is one in which we all wear really shiny chains? Should we be satisfied with this stage of resistance? Or should we resist?

This vague paranoia, in which less oppression is more, is fundamentally middle class in its bias, bourgeoisie in the most pejorative sense. Ennui is no less an evil in this model than true suffering:

“Our society has created subjective suffering. There is as much oppression for the black father in Harlem working three jobs to feed his family, as there is for teenage girl who has been taught that she must look like a Barbie doll.”

And in a world where young girls are taught to look pretty, can there be any alternative to revolution?…

“Our movement is based upon necessity. When we wake up we are blessed and cursed with the profound understanding that the very nature of this system is what keeps us its slave.”

The Organization seems confused about its relation to the people, repeatedly castigating the “95 percent of society in the bottom half, blind and uncaring” and comparing them unfavorably to “the Permanent Adversarial Culture, advocates of truth and Freedom.” Still the freedom fighters must act on behalf of the drooling masses: “Unfortunately, we cannot know what the cumulative will of all people is at all times—but in order to best approximate this, we accept the participation of anyone willing to commit themselves to ideals of the revolution.”

But at heart this is a spiritual quest for the disaffected, those who feel they weren’t made for these times—those who feel disoriented and angered by the vast, dangerous, and confusing world we are all forced to navigate:

At some point we woke up and the world was scary because we weren’t going to grow up to be astronauts and cowboys. We thought we were special, we thought we were unique, and then the one day came when life seemed to make less sense… . We clung to something, anything that would restore meaning to our shattered existence… . We watched some of the best minds of our generation stumble toward adulthood dazed and confused, their talents squandered, and their hopes crushed. They turned to drugs, alcohol, and escapism so as to never face the growing problems reality presented.

The Grey Book’s scarcely specified struggle against a vaguely evil system reminds me of the graffiti that covered New York while I was growing up. It was at the same time a protest against corporate style logos, and a replication of them, its own form of branding. The Organization’s battle is not really against America or capitalism. What they hate is reality:

If society dictates the human condition and the human condition dictates reality, then our rebellion is against the present reality… . We must accept there is no guiding reason for events within our life outside of the self and that to get free we must be in constant pursuit of our dreams.

Protests and manifestos, of course, are easy targets for those who disagree with their politics. But the Grey Book is worth a look, if only because it expresses perfectly the mixture of mental incoherence and emotional unity that infects much of the left these days. The Organization’s slogans fit easily with the signs, shirts, and slogans that lined Seventh Avenue during the big march against the Republican convention. It’s not too much to ask for more from our internal opposition than such vague and solipsistic cant.

The authors of the Grey Book complain they are simultaneously “blessed and cursed.” That is, one might point out, a definition of the human condition. But unlike the rest of us, they plan to do something about it—break the System, create salvation by their own merit, build a new Eden of permanent protest, and eliminate the messiness of the human, all too human.

If my only choices are the Movement, the Standard set or your gnomic pronouncements, I'm moving to to Iran, where at least the people have sense even if the government don't.

Or at least Canada, where there's little common sense, but less people too. And that ought to count for something.
09.13.2004 | Eric B for President
Eric B-

First, where is Rakim?

Second, are you typically in the habit of slurring entire countries like Canada while at the same time pronouncing that "the people" in Iran have sense? How do you know? Have you been there? Or are you going off neocon propaganda that assures us all that everyone in Iran loves America?
09.13.2004 | David Watts
I enjoyed this article, but I have an urgent message for "Eric B for President"

Dear Mr. B,

I would frankly avoid Iran, since it is near the top of the Wrecking ball's nuclear hit list, and if he is elected he'll probably want to celebrate by displaying his prodigious manliness once again (no permission slips, war crimes tribunals, or even old-fashioned scruples for this real life honest to God Terminator), but having spread the conventional troops to a thin porous patina, he'll have to reach for some of the other more wondrous weapons in his holster.
09.13.2004 | GA
I would just like to comment briefly on your article, and perhaps make some corrections.

I understand that the word "revolution," might scare you in a political context. But you must rember this is a word you see everyday, on billboards and on cheap car advertisements... It is a word that simply means (according to websters dictionary), a complete change. In the Grey Book, above the ten point program, you will find a paragraph stating if these changes are adopted by our current system then we would consider that a revolution. Do you remember that part?
I feel your article paints this grotesque picture of these angstful children striking out at a random phantom evil that doesn't exist. This rises a question.... Do you read?

This is a very relevent question, seeing as the majority of your article seems to be filled with sytematic bantor. Im not trying to offend you, but it seems that you turn a blind eye to history my friend. You have to remember that we live in a country that has waged illegal wars (Guatamala, Iraq among others..), funded genocides (East Timor, Cambodia...among others), and continually protected corperations above human life, (Haiti, Venezuela, Brazil, Iaq, Nicarauga, El Salvador, India, Iran, China, Indonesia.... Do you really want me to continue?). Do some homework, learn about the country that you are protecting. My point is: turning a blind eye to history, especially as a journalist, is shameful. This is not a phantom that we fight, but a creature with many heads. As American's the only face we are exposed to is well manicured white man with hypnotic eyes. Apathy and injustice among the people is what we fight against, and truth and global justice is what we fight for.

I would like to ask you; do you disagree with anything that is stated in the ten point program? Would you be ooposed to free education and medical care? Or perhaps it's the end of exploited labor that you don't like. What I'm saying is, if you truley know what you are protecting and are not speaking as a blind or apathetic citizen- then more power to you. But if you do not stand for international empire and tyranny- then perhaps you are critisizing the wrong side.

I take no offense in your critical eye towards the grey book. However I do take offense to your distortion of the left. If you want to talk about the left, then I think the facts speak for themselves. Lets look at the disribution of wealth, the bottom 50 percent have...2.8 percent of the wealth, and the top 1 percent have 32.7. Furthermore, we currently have a president who wasn't legally elected - waging an illegal war with the support of our lovely corperations like Halliburton and the Carlyle Group... While we are busy bringing them democracy wearen't allowing their capital, as well as two other large areasto vote in elections...ammounting to over 30 percent of their population.(NPR) Democracy? Meanwhile the CIA is being funded to "influence elections," in anyway possible, (MSNBC). Do you know who Noam Chompsky is? He is concidered, (New York Times), the most important intellectual alive and is responsible for over 100 books speaking true to the left. Read one, it couldn't hurt. My point is, if you are going to talk about the left- then lets talk about Haiti, lets talk about Iraq, and Latin America, lets talk about our past and our present... Lets talk about the what we are fighting for, the respect of human life, and what we are fighting against- not just some phantom enemy, but a regime sitting on top of a blood soaked pile of money.
thank you for your time,
The Organization
10.12.2004 | Hali- Org Member
Harry. In the time it took you to write your little diatribe and find all sorts of cute ways to devalue a movement that for all intents and purposes is doing good things for the world, our chapter set up a free mentoring program for kids. You're right. We're not intellectuals. We're bad revolutionarires and when it comes down to it I agree with everything you said, snide as it was, but at the end of the day I'll still be fightin for a better world, while you'll still be some tired ass pundit posting under handed jibes at a group of people that are actually doing something. There's a new copy out. Version 0.78. Drop me a line and I'll email you the new version. Your commmentary will always be apprecited.

Zachariah Artstien
The O
SUNY Purchase Chapter
01.27.2005 | Zachariah
Yeah, yeah... here's another member of the organization who's gonna throw his two shits in.

I'm not spiteful toward you, and I'm not really sure why my pals above were, at least to a degree - my dominant reaction while reading through your lighthearted critique was a pretty continuous chuckle. That wasn't just because the article was well-written and simply funny, but because it contained the real essence of all the best humor in the world today - truth.

Many, if not most of the people in the org share your same cringe-tastic reaction to a lot of the language in the Grey Book, and I'm certainly one of them. That was tremendously apparent during our most recent overhaul of its contents (which occurred in just the past couple weeks), the exhausting ejaculation of which has taken the form of the above-mentioned Version 0.78 .

As news of your piece has spread among people in our group (and without resentment, I should add, despite what some of these comments may seem to express - at least in how I've been told), we mostly laugh about it, for a lot of reasons.

The most significant reason is that virtually all of the passages you cite are those same ones which we removed or dismembered completely within the past month - and the ones that we had your same reaction to. Sizable chunks of the earliest versions of the Grey Book were written, well, many years ago by a bunch of kids who didn't know shit about shit, myself included.

The revisions that have occurred since then, over a long time and with indescribably agonizing effort (all edits made must be agreed upon by all, so you can imagine...) have slowly but surely crept up on those ridiculous passages and transformed the book from less of a trailer for Fight Club into more of a real, meaningful political manifesto. One which I now confidently (previously doubtfully) believe has the potential to change the world for the better.

In other words, since the version you obtained, the Grey Book has finally become something I wouldn't mind showing my mom, or perhaps that poli-sci professor that I liked so much. And not only is the text improved - the whole aesthetic has been revamped (no longer will we joke about handing out a magnifying glass with each copy to make it readable, or be mocked for our table of contents which used a string of periods to haphazardly correspond sections to their page numbers).

The Version is described as <1.0 with thoughtful reason - and although recently diminished, that reasoning still stands. Strongly.

But the beauty of the Grey Book, and indeed, of our entire organization, is its power of self-transformation. The Grey Book as it once was, long ago, has now assumed the role of a cruel joke at our expense. The Organization at its founding, long ago, was a mockery of the very principles that made the progressive movement of this country's past and present great - and even those of today's incarnation of our own group.

But somehow, from that absurd and stinking heap, something actually meaningful has emerged - and that is in no small part due to the amazing quality of the people who make up our group. The dedication, candor, and panache of our people (and yes, that's gone as well now) really has been our greatest asset - and this group has somehow managed to keep those people with us, apparently showing them something in this organization that we all have seen - potential.

And the one thing that our organization has a great deal of is potential - and the ability to achieve it. Does that mean we'll have to swallow our pride from time to time? Most certainly; and as I've described, we have. A lot. But what it also means is that when it's finally something good, and right, it will be a thousand times stronger than it would've been otherwise. Just as the mud of today becomes the brick house of tomorrow, our organization has DEMANDED strength and improvement from its very beginning, in everything it is - and we have risen to the call.

We're not quite ready for revolution just yet, but we're getting closer every day - and with every new person that joins us, our arguments and literature are only made stronger. This is a trend that I am now confident will continue for some time.

You're a fantastic writer. You deserve a better outlet than the one you have, and I appreciate your (hugely) forgiving article, considering its subject. Your own ideals, though not explicit, are tacitly clear throughout this piece - we might seem downright silly to you, but we've made you grin for all the right reasons as well as the wrong ones.

I look forward to reading some of your other work (yep, you've got yourself a new fan), and maybe meeting up with you at some point to try to bring you to the Light Side - or at least, our version of it.

With friendly regards and a thinly-veiled request for a much-warranted followup (considering the vast revision of our document since the last revision of yours),

David Z.
01.30.2005 | David Z.
Hi, it's David Z. once again.

I just happened to notice that this article is in fact reproduced from The Weekly Standard.

Oh my.

I do wish that the folks in our group who told me about this piece had included that very significant detail. Well, perhaps it's not TERRIBLY significant, but it is to me, as TWS is one of my favorite periodicals (curb your astonishment, please. I have always been a great fan of true balance - the kind you get from nobody telling you how balanced they are). The Standard's monstrous circulation (relative to the type of outlet that I'd EXPECT a report about us from) doesn't do much to ease my nerves. After all, I was wondering what such a wordsmith was doing at a small-time political blog.

Well, I suppose I should be thankful that the piece wasn't as bad as it could've been.

I must confess, though, that now I'd REALLY like to see that followup. *Cough*. Don't feel obliged by any means, of course; not to mention that finding a real angle on such a piece would be difficult (except perhaps as "the revisionist left" - oh my again). Regardless of the outcome, I'm glad that we're actually appearing on some radar screens, somewhere - "there's no such thing as bad press," right?

Anyway, take care in all you do, though it's apparent that you don't need reminding (at least in matters professional), and once again, I look forward to exploring some more of your commentary in the future.
01.30.2005 | David Z.
Adler (or, "Zachariah Artstien?")... you're an idiot.

end of story.
02.24.2005 | The Voice of Reality
I've always been very hesistant to even consider joining The Organization, mostly because I believed that it preached empty rhetoric. I've watched The Organization grow from afar for many years, since long before it was anything resembling what it is today, but my reasons for not wanting to join it remain the same. Maybe if one day someone could give me a realistic, achievable and intelligent goal for the organization I'd be swayed. I'm impressed that The Organization is still alive and kicking, "But somehow, from that absurd and stinking heap, something actually meaningful has emerged -...Potential" I agree 100% Dave, but like a through-bred, potential is useless if no one has a firm grip on the reigns.

A. Y.
11.29.2005 | Andrew Y.
First off i am not a member of the organisation.
thank for writing about such things in such a manner. your fears shine through like light through a faded old flag.
when people substitute their fears for logic we get nonsense like this. when you speak with bias like this we see the truth shining through. after a lifetime of being spoon-fed your lies, i can see the truth clearer when you lie. your propoganda tells me that you fear the change such an organisation represents. its change itself you fear, you have so much to loose, so little to gain as another greedy little consumer. those seeking change are the ones who care more for the good of all than the selfish incantations of consumerism; those who would gladly die for the chance to make a difference and make the world better. i have not read the grey book, nor ever heard of it. but after sensing your fears wrapped up in that little blanket, i think i need to read it.
12.21.2008 | dk october
"to my beautiful individual anarchist brother-"zachariah artstien
i google your name hoping ill find a way to reach you over the seas & i find this page im writhing with hope this message will find its way to you if you reading this please write back to my i gut so much i want to tell you
take care
with endless love
mali the fairy
06.21.2009 | mali the fairy

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