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The Post-Totalitarian Greengrocer’s Window

from Vaclav Havel’s
“The Power of the Powerless”

The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: “Workers of the world, unite!” Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment’s thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?

I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life “in harmony with society,” as they say.

Obviously the greengrocer . . . does not put the slogan in his window from any personal desire to acquaint the public with the ideal it expresses. This, of course, does not mean that his action has no motive or significance at all, or that the slogan communicates nothing to anyone. The slogan is really a sign, and as such it contains a subliminal but very definite message.

Verbally, it might be expressed this way: “I, the greengrocer XY, live here and I know what I must do. I behave in the manner expected of me. I can be depended upon and am beyond reproach. I am obedient and therefore I have the right to be left in peace.” This message, of course, has an addressee: it is directed above, to the greengrocer’s superior, and at the same time it is a shield that protects the greengrocer from potential informers. The slogan’s real meaning, therefore, is rooted firmly in the greengrocer’s existence. It reflects his vital interests. But what are those vital interests?

Let us take note: if the greengrocer had been instructed to display the slogan “I am afraid and therefore unquestioningly obedient;’ he would not be nearly as indifferent to its semantics, even though the statement would reflect the truth. The greengrocer would be embarrassed and ashamed to put such an unequivocal statement of his own degradation in the shop window, and quite naturally so, for he is a human being and thus has a sense of his own dignity. To overcome this complication, his expression of loyalty must take the form of a sign which, at least on its textual surface, indicates a level of disinterested conviction. It must allow the greengrocer to say, “What’s wrong with the workers of the world uniting?” Thus the sign helps the greengrocer to conceal from himself the low foundations of his obedience, at the same time concealing the low foundations of power. It hides them behind the facade of something high. And that something is ideology.Ideology is a specious way of relating to the world. It offers human beings the illusion of an identity, of dignity, and of morality while making it easier for them to part with them. As the repository of something suprapersonal and objective, it enables people to deceive their conscience and conceal their true position and their inglorious modus vivendi, both from the world and from themselves. It is a very pragmatic but, at the same time, an apparently dignified way of legitimizing what is above, below, and on either side. It is directed toward people and toward God. It is a veil behind which human beings can hide their own fallen existence, their trivialization, and their adaptation to the status quo. It is an excuse that everyone can use, from the greengrocer, who conceals his fear of losing his job behind an alleged interest in the unification of the workers of the world, to the highest functionary, whose interest in staying in power can be cloaked in phrases about service to the working class.

The primary excusatory function of ideology, therefore, is to provide people, both as victims and pillars of the post-totalitarian system, with the illusion that the system is in harmony with the human order and the order of the universe. . . .

The post-totalitarian system touches people at every step, but it does so with its ideological gloves on. This is why life in the system is so thoroughly permeated with hypocrisy and lies: government by bureaucracy is called popular government; the working class is enslaved in the name of the working class; the complete degradation of the individual is presented as his ultimate liberation; depriving people of information is called making it available; the use of power to manipulate is called the public control of power, and the arbitrary abuse of power is called observing the legal code; the repression of culture is called its development; the expansion of imperial influence is presented as support for the oppressed; the lack of free expression becomes the highest form of freedom; farcical elections become the highest form of democracy; banning independent thought becomes the most scientific of world views; military occupation becomes fraternal assistance.

Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsifies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing.

Individuals need not believe all these mystifications, but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. For this reason, however, they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to have accepted their life with it and in it. For by this very fact, individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, are the system.

Why in fact did our greengrocer have to put his loyalty on display in the shop window? Had he not already displayed it sufficiently in various internal or semipublic ways? At trade union meetings, after all, he had always voted as he should. He had always taken part in various competitions. He voted in elections like a good citizen. He had even signed the “antiCharter.” Why, on top of all that, should he have to declare his loyalty publicly? After all, the people who walk past his window will certainly not stop to read that, in the greengrocer’s opinion, the workers of the world ought to unite. The fact of the matter is, they don’t read the slogan at all, and it can be fairly assumed they don’t even see it. If you were to ask a woman who had stopped in front of his shop what she saw in the window, she could certainly tell whether or not they had tomatoes today, but it is highly unlikely that she noticed the slogan at all, let alone what it said.

It seems senseless to require the greengrocer to declare his loyalty publicly. But it makes sense nevertheless. People ignore his slogan, but they do so because such slogans are also found in other shop windows, on lampposts, bulletin boards, in apartment windows, and on buildings; they are everywhere, in fact. They form part of the panorama of everyday life. Of course, while they ignore the details, people are very aware of that panorama as a whole. And what else is the greengrocer’s slogan but a small component in that huge backdrop to daily life?

The greengrocer had to put the slogan in his window, therefore, not in the hope that someone might read it or be persuaded by it, but to contribute, along with thousands of other slogans, to the panorama that everyone is very much aware of. This panorama, of course, has a subliminal meaning as well: it reminds people where they are living and what is expected of them. It tells them what everyone else is doing, and indicates to them what they must do as well, if they don’t want to be excluded, to fall into isolation, alienate themselves from society, break the rules of the game, and risk the loss of their peace and tranquility and security. . . .

Let us now imagine that one day something in our greengrocer snaps and he stops putting up the slogans merely to ingratiate himself. He stops voting in elections he knows are a farce. He begins to say what he really thinks at political meetings. And he even finds the strength in himself to express solidarity with those whom his conscience commands him to support. In this revolt the greengrocer steps out of living within the lie. He rejects the ritual and breaks the rules of the game. He discovers once more his suppressed identity and dignity. He gives his freedom a concrete significance. His revolt is an attempt to live within the truth. . . .

The bill is not long in coming. He will be relieved of his post as manager of the shop and transferred to the warehouse. His pay will be reduced. His hopes for a holiday in Bulgaria will evaporate. His children’s access to higher education will be threatened. His superiors will harass him and his fellow workers will wonder about him. Most of those who apply these sanctions, however, will not do so from any authentic inner conviction but simply under pressure from conditions, the same conditions that once pressured the greengrocer to display the official slogans. They will persecute the greengrocer either because it is expected of them, or to demonstrate their loyalty, or simply as part of the general panorama, to which belongs an awareness that this is how situations of this sort are dealt with, that this, in fact, is how things are always done, particularly if one is not to become suspect oneself. The executors, therefore, behave essentially like everyone else, to a greater or lesser degree: as components of the post-totalitarian system, as agents of its automatism, as petty instruments of the social auto-totality.

Thus the power structure, through the agency of those who carry out the sanctions, those anonymous components of the system, will spew the greengrocer from its mouth.

The system, through its alienating presence in people, will punish him for his rebellion. It must do so because the logic of its automatism and self-defense dictate it. The greengrocer has not committed a simple, individual offense, isolated in its own uniqueness, but something incomparably more serious. By breaking the rules of the game, he has disrupted the game as such. He has exposed it as a mere game. He has shattered the world of appearances, the fundamental pillar of the system. He has upset the power structure by tearing apart what holds it together. He has demonstrated that living a lie is living a lie. He has broken through the exalted facade of the system and exposed the real, base foundations of power. He has said that the emperor is naked. And because the emperor is, in fact, naked, something extremely dangerous has happened: by his action, the greengrocer has addressed the world. He has enabled everyone to peer behind the curtain. He has shown everyone that it is possible to live within the truth. Living within the lie can constitute the system only if it is universal. The principle must embrace and permeate everything. There are no terms whatsoever on which it can co-exist with living within the truth, and therefore everyone who steps out of line denies it in principle and threatens it in its entirety. . . .

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • G6loq January 24, 2019, 12:46 PM

    We’ll be ok if we comply:
    See picture @: http://tinyurl.com/ybsyyees

  • Roy Lofquist January 24, 2019, 12:52 PM

    10% Discount for Black Transgender Rastafarians

  • PA Cat January 24, 2019, 1:01 PM

    10% Discount for Black Transgender Rastafarians
    100% Surcharge for White Roman Catholic Males from Kentucky and All Other Deplorables

  • AbigailAdams January 24, 2019, 4:47 PM

    People put these signs on their businesses and on their homes in order that they may be spared from the wrath of people they know will take it out on them if they ever come to power. Dinesh D’Souza talks specifically about this topic in “Death of a Nation” while describing Germans who displayed the Nazi flag and “heiled” Hitler even though there were no Nazis or der Feurerhoffer anywhere in sight. They draped their balconies and festooned their porches with Nazi flags and gave the one-armed salute so that the Nazi rat-finks who delivered their milk, dry cleaned their clothes, sold them their groceries, or taught their children, wouldn’t turn them in for a thorough going over sometime down the road. These otherwise a-political, or politically ignorant Germans had no idea how they furthered the Nazi cause, they thought they were just going along to get along, currying Nazi brownie points.

  • ghostsniper January 24, 2019, 6:05 PM

    They Live

  • Snakepit Kansas January 25, 2019, 4:30 AM

    I must be old. A few months ago I had to have one of my cousins explain to me what “woke” is.

  • Dan Patterson January 25, 2019, 6:35 AM

    “I am afraid and am therefore unquestioningly obedient”.
    No shit.
    That quote should be tattooed on all the betacuck foreheads so we’d know who to step on.
    And what you are afraid of is women; you seek their approval and fear their reproach so your actions are designed to avoid confrontation and are resonant with the feminine mentality. The destruction of societal fabric has it’s roots with the rise of the communal property philosophy embraced so energetically by hysterical childless females seeking attention, and you gaggle of sycophants just cannot WAIT to lick their thigh-high boots (“Does that please you Ma’am, am I being a good boy My Queen?”). Community property philosophy also known as charity by extortion, or communism via socialism. You are the men who fear independent thought or God forbid independent action and for some reason known but to God the rest of us have become enslaved by your weakness. That women became shrill and irrational as powerful public figures is one thing, but that an entire generation of testosterone deficient men decided en masse to bend to the whims of tyrants of either sex is quite another. And do we really need to visit the list of those tyrants to prove the point?
    We are an insult to our ancestors.
    I recognize many readers will recoil at my spewing. I also don’t care. I am right.

  • ghostsniper January 25, 2019, 9:25 AM

    “…many readers will recoil at my spewing…”

    Not me. And not here. Most here are fairly reasonable and I believe that is because most of us are up there in years and wisdom. We’ve been around the block. A couple times.

    Out there?
    Out there in that man made matrix? All bets are off.
    But you know what? I don’t know for a fact that this matrix perpetrated on the internet and TV is real for I have never encountered it directly, with my own ocular glands. All I know about it is what I have seen on those 2 sources.

    We’re way back here in the sticks and rarely venture out. Why would we? We have a mostly paradise back here so why leave if we don’t have to? From what those 2 sources have taught me, just about everything out there is disappointing, and who needs that?

    The beginning of my own personal matrix, part uno.
    Back about 1983 when my wife and are were still retarded and trying to do the “society” thing we decided we needed some US time so we took our only son to a daycare center for the very first time and dropped him off. My wife was reluctant and I was hesitant. The place was slammed with screaming brats of every color and ran by the same but older. We left and went to the mall a few miles away and strolled around and then chowed down in the food court. The whole time our minds were on our son. It was not enjoyable. Far from it. About 2 hours into it and I couldn’t stand it any more and said we were gonna go pick him up and my wife readily agreed. We laid rubber. Our son was so glad to see us and us him. THAT never happened again. How could we have been so stupid? To place the most valuable thing in our lives in the hands of others. Others that were complete strangers. What in the hell was wrong with us? How had we become so programmed? Neither of us had been raised that way. We both lived at home with our original 2 parents until we flew the nest when approaching adulthood. Up until that time, the early to mid 70’s, our own parents and those of our friends, were the examples we had been taught about how to run a family. So what changed so drastically in the few years between when we both lived at home and the day we decided to abandon our son to strangers?

    Soon our son started going to public school and the whole thing started all over again. The abandoning of our son to strangers and against our gut feeling we did that for 6 years and regretted all of it. But we didn’t know any other way. We had went to public schools and everyone we knew did too. What we didn’t know was how badly the schools had degenerated since the day we graduated in 1972. Actually, the degeneration had been going on all along the way but we just didn’t realize it. For us, the realization came like the big bang on a day in 1992.

    I got a call at my office from our sons school telling me he was out processed and ready to be picked up. Not knowing what that meant, but understanding it was serious, I dropped the phone, said not a word to anyone else, and laid rubber to the school. I pulled up front, went inside and against the rules and wishes of the front desk employees there, I stormed right into the administers office. Even that had changed. In our day the top of the ladder was a principal and he had a male assistant – a vice principal. Now, the principal was an administrator was still a male but he had several assistants. I caught him off guard and stormed right up to his desk. He started to stand but I leaned over his desk and got right in his mug and demanded to know what was going on with our son, and he sat back down. Terrified. Pretty sure he soiled his thong. He blubbered and almost cried, his orbits were definitely welling up. I told him in as few of words as possible what happened and he stammered that he would find out immediately. He flew. I expected to get arrested. Insignificant price for our sons safety. The administrator came back in minutes with our son with him. He asked, “Dad, what’s going on?” “They told me to grab all my stuff and come on.” I told him it was OK then I turned to the administrator. He was shaking, eyes darting. He told me that all he knows is that a woman representing herself as my wife had called the school that morning and required that our son be discharged from the school because we were moving our residence to another area of the county. They out processed our son from an anonymous phone call. I glared at this person then asked, “Is that legal?”, and he said, “No.”, and looked down at his feet. I should have done “society” a big favor and wrung that sorry cucks neck right on the spot but I did not. Disgust and anger overwhelmed me and I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

    My son and I went back to my office and the receptionist told me I had 9 messages from the school and 2 faxes. Long story short. In ALL facets of the gov’t there is unbelievable incompetency and irresponsibility and its victims are innumerable. This was not the first time I personally had been victimized by this crime circuit and it wasn’t the last. But it was the last time I would give it access to our son. What in the hell were we thinking?

    We didn’t know where to go at that point, but we knew our son was not going back to hell. That’s not why we’re here. We are first and foremost his parents in all ways and that is the unsaid responsibility we took on when we birthed him. We have no right to delegate that responsibility to others, and if we do we have no right to complain when it goes awry. We also have the natural right to be his parents in all ways and no gov’t or anyone else gets to say otherwise. It was at that point that we took the responsibility and exercised our natural right to educate our son as we see fit.

    That was about 27 years ago. We self educated our son and completed the states requirments 2 years early and then he went on to get a 4 year degree in 3 years at a local community college while living at our home and working part time at a variety of jobs the whole time. Upon graduation he had received more than 200 invitations from companies across the country like Microsoft and Intel but chose to work in our own town at a much smaller company. He worked there 5 years and started his own business that now, 15 years later, has organizations in 4 countries and more than 75 employees at his local office.

    Gov’t is for cucks, and always has been, and it will violate your natural rights if you allow it to.

  • Hangtown Bob January 26, 2019, 7:40 AM

    The car with the MAGA sticker MUST be vandalized.

  • Lance Colvard January 26, 2019, 10:19 AM

    The number one best thing to do is to subscribe to John Marks web site at:
    This web site will change the world, I hope.

  • pdxr13 January 26, 2019, 2:05 PM

    International Workers of the World!
    I. W. W.
    I Won`t Work.
    Now, that was a Union, who would shoot it out with the Fed`s and Pinkertons.
    Not any more, having been paid off, like all alleged labor unions.

  • Aesop January 26, 2019, 5:04 PM

    War Is Peace
    Freedom Is Slavery
    Ignorance Is Strength

  • Skorpion January 27, 2019, 12:30 PM

    @AbigailAdams: Those signs seem to be especially popular with low-T Caucasians dwelling in college towns and trendy suburbs on the edges of big cities — the first places that would be hit by roaming mobs during an all-out civil insurrection. They’re like mezuzahs for people who don’t believe in the Hebrew G-d… pleading entreaties that attempt to communicate, “Please, Mister Scary Person of Color — don’t ransack my home and rape my daughter! I’m one of the *Good White People*!”

  • mtntopforge January 28, 2019, 1:10 AM

    Diversity is dress rehearsal for class war

    Deus Vult(!)

  • ghostsniper January 28, 2019, 6:53 AM

    “All politics now are dress rehearsal for civil war.”
    –b, beck, 2004 as quoted by b, clinton, 2005