Selected Opinions On The Bureau Of Public Secrets


One of the most striking things about this hefty volume, Ken Knabb’s magnum opus, is how firmly it is stuck in the past. Intelligent and articulate, Knabb is, above all, a card-carrying Situationist. And time has evidently stood still for him since the Situationist International disbanded in 1972. The ten-page index to Public Secrets contains close to 800 names and subjects; I didn’t find even one entry that could not have been written in the ’70s, mainly the early ’70s at that. Knabb’s collected flyers and pamphlets, which constitute half the book, were in fact mostly written during that decade.
The rest of Secrets is largely a temperate, jargon-free outline for a political revolution that would usher in universal self-management based on the model of classic workers’ councils. In an argument reminiscent of Murray Bookchin’s Post-Scarcity Anarchism (1971), Knabb holds that we now have the “material development” necessary for an egalitarian, ecology-enhancing revolution. He overlooks the fact that the course of this technological development has been the material embodiment of inequality and the destruction of nature, inseparable from social and political domination and division.
In common with other prescriptions for self-management, Knabb’s puts the emphasis on democratic process while overlooking what it is that’s being managed. It really adds up to self-managed alienation, because it is worker control of essentially the same basic system we now endure, minus, it is hoped, excesses like war, famine, and Kathie Lee Gifford.
The social landscape Knabb outlines would employ “credits” instead of money, but otherwise it wouldn’t be qualitatively different from what exists now, including specialized expertise and computerized “coordination of global production.”
If one compares Public Secrets with Bookchin’s 1995 rant, Social Anarchism vs. Lifestyle Anarchism, the two seem glaringly different. Employing a calm, carefully modest, non-argumentative approach to his councilism, Knabb avoids any substantial discussion of critical thought in the 25 years since the S.I. signed off. In contrast to this self-proclaimed “mild-mannered enemy of the state,” Bookchin rages and orates, naming names and delivering detailed denunciations of the degeneracies he sees afflicting the anti-authoritarian milieu. Beneath the stylistic surface, however, the two are as one, holding up a leftist lamp of the past to light the way to their vision (sic) of the future.
Neither really analyzes the present — its magnitude of psychic immiseration, the incredible poverty of an all-pervasive postmodern culture, the reasons why leftism is all but extinct, the truly pathological imperative of contemporary techno-capital. Nor do they even acknowledge the foundational elements of our present nightmarish situation, including division of labor, symbolic culture, domestication, Progress, and industrialism, among others. Knabb’s book, like Bookchin’s, has something of the swan song about it, an ode to a limited and dying contestation in direst need of superseding itself.
Public Secrets is clear and reasonable-sounding, pitched in an effective, self-effacing mode. But I find it disappointing that manifest reason and sensitivity are not open to the urgent needs of current reality. As things worsen demonstrably and dramatically, what seems more to the point than a quiet, not ineloquent, recipe from the ideological past, is a deepening of our understanding of how much further we need to go than we thought in the 1970s.

—John Zerzan, in Anarchy: A Journal of Desire Armed #43
(Missouri, Spring-Summer 1997)

Rest of this can be found at

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License