Archives for posts with tag: Revolution

I had an interesting, albeit brief conversation with a particularly radical professor of mine who had recommended I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I had found an audio book version, and would listen to it while I was on the bus, getting groceries, or out for a walk. Meanwhile, while I was at home doing proper reading with words on a page, I was reading the book Germinal by Émile Zola. For those who may not know, both of these book share similar themes: depressingly abused working class families under the heel of oppressive capitalist structures eventually coming to realize that there are alternative solutions to the miseries of their existence. They both go into excruciating detail about the horrors these proletarians endure, and consuming both essentially simultaneously was quite a downer.

The conversation we had ended with her suggesting that the importance of these stories is the solidarity that we revolutionaries can embrace with the disenfranchised of the past. Those who fought before us join the ranks of those who fight at our sides, and together we stand with those who will continue to fight once we tire or fall. Like I said, quite radical. I mean I’m paraphrasing what she said, but the gist is there. We are stronger when we are many.

What I found interesting about this conversation was the undercurrent of broad acceptance of varying beliefs, not all of them “politically correct,” let’s say. Germinal was published in 1885, The Jungle in 1906. The views of men toward women were those that existed before women were even allowed to vote, and the portrayals of those relationships, marriage especially, are not particularly progressive by today’s standards. Domestic abuse was deemed somewhat reasonable, wives were expected to tend the home, proprietorship of female relatives was prevalent, etc. Could a revolutionary today stand next to someone like this?

Though certainly not a foundation of comprehensive political clout, Cracked released a video recently that said no, they couldn’t. They use the example of Bernie Sanders campaigning for an anti-abortion Democrat in a mayoral election. Sanders’s view is that progress can only be made with a Democrat majority, regardless of any singular view of one of its members, and thus is criticized for essentially abandoning the purity that is necessary to advance the approved goals of progressive politics. Those who differ on an issue would sideline the entire movement. If enough compromises are made, for example with pro-lifers, then the majority on that one issue would be lost, and progress on women’s health would be lost along with it.

Then again, there are others who condemn revolutionary purists. According to this view, revolutionaries need to chill the fuck out and stop finding literally everything so “problematic” and focus on large issues rather than day to day minutia. Self-righteous shaming serves only to alienate those who might want to learn and grow within progressive movements, and dogmatic zealotry is quite frankly annoying in anyone, regardless of cause.

The Jungle and Germinal become relevant once more because one must ask where the balance lies between solidarity and purity? Could a feminist today stand next to an unapologetic wife beater in the cause of worker’s rights? If she stands with him, could he be expected to stand with her? Reciprocity in compromise ought to be expected, but certainly in this case it seems unlikely. And should it? Are all causes equally valid to the point where we should stand in solidarity with everyone? Alleged feminists attack Islam on the whole because they believe that it is oppressive to women, and justify attacks on the Middle East based on this premise; is that a proper ally within the feminist movement?

This debate has been around for as long as people have been up in arms over social progress. Bakunin and Marx famously disagreed over the theoretical differences of Communism and Anarchism, which differ about as much as Protestantism and Catholicism; which is to say very little. About as much as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, really. Even within basically the same ideology, humans seem to dismiss solidarity for the sake of indistinguishable purity in almost every instance.

For this reason, traditionalism prevails almost every time. Factions develop almost naturally when change is demanded, and the common denominator among them all is some degree of contentedness with the status quo. Though each aspect may be different (working class males may be content with gender norms; white females may be content with racial disparities, etc.), the bond between every schism is the clenched hold on the way things are. Conservatism wins by default.

Pick your cause. Be specific in your goals, that way you don’t have to be specific with your allies. If your goals are vague, like ending racism, then just about anything can distract from that impossibility. If your goals are to end Stop-And-Frisk, then so long as everyone is on board with that, there are no problems. You might disagree with the person standing next to you on something else, but you’re both there for the same reason which means you’ve already got something in common. That commonality means that conversations will be easier, and conversing could create new allies in other areas, or help reevaluate some of your own beliefs. Purity matters in goals lest the conversation become bogged down by tangents, but it is much less important in ideology. Whatever the reason that someone got to their position is irrelevant, and demanding purity in ideology is characteristic of a cult.

Advancement isn’t going to happen in partisan politics; it will happen in movements driven by people wanting to make change. Sanders is right to an extent that Democrats will achieve more if there are more democrats, and Cracked is right that on a singular issue, diversity may topple that issue. However, letting politicians decide how things ought to be done is a terrible idea. How about we decide what the issues should be, and all we should expect from our politicians is to listen?

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No one likes despotism. Well, I suppose those who derive auxiliary power to enforce the despot’s will might think it’s okay, but if we look at a dictatorship from behind Rawls’s veil of ignorance, then it is certainly not an optimal form of government. Generally authoritarianism, as the imposition of one person or group’s will onto the rest of society, is frowned upon with swathes of historical evidence showing why it might be politically gauche.

In Western culture today, the common authoritarian bogeyman is Donald Trump, who speaks of cracking down with full state authority on dissenters, journalists, and satirists in a picture-perfect representation of tyrannical authoritarianism. What about those attempting to resist Trump’s foreboding ascension? Progressive movements today have a complete disdain for authority, often avoiding leadership of any kind, as they attempt to revolutionize the practices of their country.

In Vladimir Lenin’s The State and Revolution, he says:

The anti-authoritarians demand that the political state be abolished at one stroke, even before the social conditions that gave birth to it have been destroyed. They demand that the first act of the social revolution shall be the abolition of authority. Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.

When looking at the Russian communist revolution with this quotation (and many others from that book, holy) in mind, it is of little wonder that Joseph Stalin’s subsequent regime was so brutal. However, Lenin raises an important point. The very act of revolution is by its nature authoritarian. Even if your future utopia is a stateless one, as Lenin’s indeed was (though he did not consider it utopian), then achieving it will require the annexation of conflicting beliefs through some means or another, and then further displays of authority to maintain that foothold. One cannot be wholly anti-authoritarian and expect to make social change.

Considering how extreme the early communist rhetoric was, it is fairly simple to challenge it even in revolutionary terms. The more educated may cite ‘power-with’ as their response to the traditional, authoritarian ‘power-over’, where one utilizes whatever social authority they possess to work with those who hold less social power to ameliorate their position instead of simply demanding they follow certain criteria in order to conform to societal norms. However, if we consider this practice in the terms of social change, working with someone until they conform to the new paradigm sounds more like 1984 indoctrination rather than its touted anti-oppressive modality; an option not much improved over violent enforcement.

Slavoj Žižek chastises left wing practice in this capacity as a worse form of totalitarianism than its traditional counterpart. The example he uses is of a child not wanting to visit their grandmother. The traditional approach would be to force the child to visit their grandmother without regard for their feelings, but this new approach is different; Žižek dramatizes, “You know how much your grandmother loves you, but nonetheless I’m not forcing you to visit her; you should only visit her if you freely decide to do it.” Couched in this approach is the underlying pressure that not only must this child conform to the action that is demanded of them, but they must also want to conform. They must become the person who would willingly perform their social role.

Consider Kim Davis, the woman who refused to license same-sex couples. She was punished in the traditional sense, but the real vitriol was reserved for her characteristics as a person. Her failure was not so much in purposefully breaking this new law, but in her values. In order for her to truly belong within the new societal paradigm, she must not only license same-sex couples, she must want to do it as well. One may claim that these social movements are based on unalterable truths to which anyone could become enlightened should they receive the prerequisite education, but purporting a divine truth merely turns the process into a crusade rather than a simple revolution. There may no longer be rifles, bayonets, and cannons, but the authoritarianism is still present, with much bolder goals in mind.

Though it may sound like it due to the negative connotations of authoritarianism, this is not a condemnation of contemporary progressive movements. As Lenin says, change will always require some degree of authoritarianism. The condemnation occurs when the authoritarianism is obscured, dismissed, or ignored with the results being hypocrisy, delusion, or ineffectual soapboxing respectively. If we wish to avoid the devastation of Leninism, then rather than pretend it doesn’t exist, authoritarianism must be acknowledged and driven along a path that does not lead to a destructive state.

The biggest mistake of Leninism was the us-versus-them dichotomy from which a “proletarian dictatorship” (his words) was the outcome. Separating society into enemies and allies can only lead to oppression and bloodshed. This divisive dyad is still prevalent in the black versus white attitudes of the Black Lives Matter movement, or the women versus men attitudes of popular feminism. Even the term ally is indicative of this mentality; an ally against whom? The faceless Other who must be defeated. If we understand the intrinsic nature of authoritarianism within social change, the presence of this dichotomy is a serious concern. Inclusivity within social change is therefore paramount.

In addition, focusing on policies and practices would alleviate many of the dangers of authoritarianism. Most movements today prefer to prioritize personal identity and expression, again making the paradigm about the values and characteristics of the individual more so than the actual structures of society. The ostracization and shaming of a county clerk only becomes an arm of oppression after the structural foundation of the paradigm shift has been cemented in place. Of note: though Trump has declared gay marriage to be safe, it is important to bring up the potential damage he might cause against Planned Parenthood. Perhaps you might wonder if society had done more to silence pro-lifers when it had the chance, this structure would not be in jeopardy. This is true, but what kind of society would that be? If abortion is good for society, this can be shown through data on women’s health and autonomy, poverty and crime rates, and myriads of other information that could be attributed to the legality and availability of abortions. If it is not, perhaps on the grounds of morality or family cohesion, then there would need to be a weighing of the variables. In none of these instances is a shutting down of dissent necessary.

Alternatively, a path might be available that I will call skeptical authoritarianism. In it, I might recognize that in trying to create change I am imposing my will on others, just as those who seek to maintain the status quo or implement other forms of change are trying to impose their wills on me. If I maintain skeptical attitudes about the infallibility of my position, I may be able to, through dialogue, compromise with the Other. At best (from my perspective), I may make incremental change toward my ideal, but I may also in turn realize other truths that would be unavailable to me if I remained within my own echo chamber.

Fear of authoritarianism within a social movement is nonsensical. Leadership is not an inherent evil, nor is relativism an inherent good. Understanding the nature of change will lead to improved methods of implementing it. Failing to do so, or remaining purposefully oblivious, will either lead to further cycles of traditional revolution, totalitarianism, or annihilation.

There is a Marxist belief that if something is inaccessible to the poor, then it can be neither radical nor revolutionary. Following the trend of ironic tragedy that history sardonically and incessantly throws in our face, the decrease in book reading, both in adults and teenagers, points to a culture that would struggle to read The Communist Manifesto, let alone Das Kapital. As one would expect, the impoverished and the uneducated are those who are reading the least. There are neither sparkly vampires, teenage wizards, nor BDSM-enthused misogynists to incite mass interest in Marx’s seminal works, so I suppose they too must be discarded into the dustbin of irrelevancy to revolutionary thought.

The internet has opened up social dialogue to include everyone with internet access, seemingly giving the unheard voice of the proletariat unprecedented access to be speak out, yet in reality has only allowed the opinions of troglodytes to swarm rational discussion, turning it into a cesspool of vomit and bile, defiling the very notion that a reasonable outcome is possible. Unfortunately, the Pandora’s Box of the internet cannot be closed, and this is now the discourse to which one must adhere.

Donald Trump has capitalized on this phenomenon by devising his most successful populist propaganda within the 140 character limit of the Twitter universe. Hilary Clinton, not one to be outdone, shines brilliantly in her campaign slogan: I’m With Her. The “I’m” captures the essence of social media narcissism, letting everyone know what this campaign is really about; me! The “With Her” is, of course, reminiscent of the purposefully vague and noncommittal identity feminism of the Tumblr era. Both of these demagogues are pandering to their respective demographics with their own promises of revolution, yet I do not believe either of them represent what Marx had in mind.

Philosophy is notoriously relegated to the ivory tower, despite Diogenes and his abandoned cup. And while some might claim that the greatest philosophical question is why there are essents rather than nothing, the original Greek schools, including Diogenes’s Cynics, utilized philosophy as a means to discover how to live the good life. Aristotle’s Aretê or Zeno’s Stoicism both offer methods to live virtuously. Without the dogmatism associated with the religious side of this conversation, philosophy allows us to seek with constant refinement how to live; a critical necessity in this tumultuous time.

Slavoj Žižek, Slovenian philosopher and possibly rabid communist, belabours the point, saying that despite the impending global consequences, we need theory now more than ever. The instinct to act is strong but must be overcome, as postmodernism has deconstructed everything without creating substitutes to put in its place. To act now would be to seek anarchy. End racism. End sexism. End capitalism, but how? And replace it with what? Ideologies cannot be eradicated, only changed, unless our revolution is to end in genocide.

How do we conduct the dialogue of this contemporary philosophy? I mean, analogies to the Greeks these days might not reach as large an audience, but I can predict with the inevitable alienation of Cassandra that referencing the feud between Taylor Swift and Kanye West will not carry the same lasting weight. The trials of Odysseus are eternal, and thus possess a portion of truth to which humanity will forever have access, whereas Famous will be out-of-date within the year.

The intellectualism associated with philosophy and social theory by its very nature divorces itself from the reach of the bulk of the people. Do we wade into the depths of thoughtless memes and Youtube comments to wage our revolution with the masses, only to discover that we too have become thoughtless in the process? Or do we stand above it, confident on our pillar, helping up those who have recognized the shadows on the cave wall? The disenfranchised need to be acknowledged, certainly, and their voices heard to the extent that we are aware of the depths of their circumstances, but acknowledging this does not require fetishising it. Educated progressives gnash their teeth over the large swathes of people who vote against their own interest, yet this is most often due to demagogues like those mentioned earlier who are savvy in the ways of exploiting those demographics, and know exactly how to pander to their base nature. If something is accessible to the poor, who is to say it is in their best interest?

We do not begrudge climate scientists as elitist when they claim their knowledge gives them more insight on the subject. We cynically laugh at those who do, as they are the obstacle to the required change climate science demands. Granted, philosophy and sociology are softer sciences, yet there can still be an accumulation of wisdom gained from the relevant reading and research.

Those who come up with a new economic system should know the theories of Marx, Smith, Keynes, and Friedman among others if only to know what works and what doesn’t. They should be aware of the history and context surrounding those successes and failures. A fruitful discussion of social order would require knowledge of Republic, On Liberty, Leviathan, and more: books that have shaped Western society as proper change requires an understanding of what has come before. The discussion should not burdened by a responsibility to be accessible to everyone, as not everyone has the time, inclination, or resources to pursue the knowledge necessary for that discussion. To demand that from the poor is indeed insulting to the circumstances of their existence.

I will not abide a system of thought that decries Marx as neither being radical nor revolutionary, even his own Marxism. Contrary to my condemnation of capitalism and my communist allegories throughout this blog, I do not embrace communism. Like I said, the importance of historical context is shown when we see that centralized power is no different from any other fascist government. I do recognize, however, that a knowledge of Marxist thought will be necessary for whatever economic and social utopia the future may produce. Philosophy is necessary for the future of our species; let’s not hobble it with undue limitations to its content.