YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION?
by nels roningen
In the good old U.S.A., a revolution as the top priority of the left is a recipe for disaster. It's way
too much too expect, at least for right now. Let me tell you why. America is undoubtedly the most
stratified society on the globe. Class, gender, sexual preference, religious preference, patriotism,
native language, and recreational interests (hunting, sports, computer games, films) all work to
divide us. In order for a real revolution to take place, people need to not only compromise some of
their values and goals - they need to feel and express solidarity across all the dividing lines of
culture. They need to be ready to stand in long lines, to go to meetings in poor communities, to
ride bikes instead of burning oil. In some wretchedly poor third world country, this is not as much of a problem. In Haiti, for instance, so many people live in poverty that it is possible for them to formulate a democratic vision and act upon it - because their experience is shared. The more oppressed a society is economically, the more homogenous the citizens are, the more likely that people will work together for a social revolution. Haitians understand who their enemy is - the Duvalier regime aided and abetted by that big evil empire to the north, the United States. In the United States, the means and methods of social control have been perfected to such a degree that most of its citizens think that welfare mothers suck up 50% of the budget. That's quite an accomplishment. In the United States, someone like Newt Gingrich can call himself a revolutionary and the media nods soberly. Most working stiffs haven't heard of Eugene Debs. In 1993, when Congress was about to vote to see if the Vietnam embargo should be continued, both Democrats and Republicans got up on pulpits and demanded that Vietnam APOLOGIZE for the awful things it did to US. Right before the United States bombed Iraq back to the stone age during the Gulf War, George Bush invoked International Law as a justification for war - and the intellectual classes and the media applaud, without batting an eyelash. What a great principle! Never mind that Bush was condemned twice before the World Court (for invading Panama and aiding the Contras). Thus, in America, it is hard to see what is happening in the real world. The public relations industry, the entertainment industry, and most intellectuals talk in such a way as to isolate people. There are no resources available for people to voice their concerns, aside from the margins. Thus people are drawn to Rush Limbaugh - the big fat tyrant on talk radio who refuses to debate anyone - who disseminates disinformation which is spoon-fed to him from the Heritage Foundation and the Republican party. If you go to a society like Haiti, any illiterate peasant can tell you what is wrong. Because they all know. The means of repression there are obvious. But in the Evil Empire, which is controlled by (practically invisible) corporations, people aren't nearly that aware of what's happening. In the Evil Empire, those who really understand what is happening are mainly part of the establishment left - at the universities, The Nation, The Progressive Policy Institute, etc. But unlike the organizers in a place like Haiti or El Salvador, who end up mutilated in ditches at the road side, the establishment left folks are paid handsome salaries while they fight over the meaning of truth. The danger ISN'T at their throats. For the most part, scholars and professors and columnists are isolated from those they are trying to help -- union members, poor people, battered women, etc. Don't get me wrong. I don't want to entirely dismiss all the work the left academia is doing. The multicultural debate is essential. You can tell this is threatening to the mainstream establishment (both politicians and conservative professors) because of the way to react to it. "The left is bashing Columbus!," "They're knocking Theodore Roosevelt, calling him a racist, etc." The multiculturalists are feared because they are helping to determine official history, which is what social and cultural institutions internalize. There is still much room for criticism and inquiry. However, if the academic left spent as much time in the trenches as they did inside their classrooms, you'd have quite a change. But that's not going to happen, which is partially due to careerism. Which means that it's impossible to organize an effective social revolution if many of the intellectuals sympathetic to the movement are more interested in talking about post-modernism than they are in marching with Janitors For Justice. A revolution can't occur -- or at least won't change anything -- if the movement is organized hierarchically, with professors at the top, then organizers fresh out of college, and then the working stiffs they are supposed to be helping. Solidarity can only spread and catch fire if a movement is democratic, involves people, and tries to erase many lines. But first things first. Before we talk about anything, we need more than a few alternative publications. We need a progressive newspaper, an information revolution if you will. People need to know what's happening. Only THEN can we talk about revolution.
The Pacifist Approach
In America, a future revolution needs to be peaceful. This is not because violence is instrically wrong. In many cases, violence is an appropriate means to achieving a certain end. However, in America, there is something called the MILITARY. It is foolish to think that we can infiltrate its ranks and win the troops over. The military trains people to kill - it dehumanizes them. The National Guard will have no trouble shooting protesters in the inner cities, especially if the people are of a different skin color. As of today, the L.A. police have no problems beating people without cause. The way we can win is NOT to go shopping for a semi-automatic at Wall Mart. The way we win is to lie on the train tracks together. If only one person lies down, the train will run them over. But if enough people lie down, the train won't be able to budge. Like Michael Albert says, major change is only possible if we raise the social costs of instituting a certain policy. Yes, there will be violence - mostly carried out by their side. But the spectacle of the U.S. military shooting protesting citizens in a democratic society is too much. It is bad public-relations, for one. Secondly, direct violence and repression will further alienate people from their elected officials and other institutions. The way F.D.R. dealt with the Depression was NOT to lock homeless people up. The way he dealt with it was to establish a social safety net, to curtail FURTHER protest. A parallel thing happened with the Vietnam War - where the cost of aggression was raised by domestic and civil disobedience. In this relatively democratic society, it is possible to push for major reforms as part of a social revolution. The power lies with the consumers - who can (in solidarity) shut the oil companies down by refusing to drive for a week. The establishment (corporations mainly) only has the power if people act and think a certain way. Capitalism (or what passes for it) cannot function in a militarized society which is tearing itself to shreds - with blood and bullets. It is helpful to them if people feel economically insecure (and thus lose their bargaining power). It is NOT helpful to them if people start doing something about their insecurity.
Let me disprove postmodernism in two sentences:
1) There is no such thing as truth.
2) That in itself IS a truth.
by nels roningen
What happened yesterday
bleeds from the dark ink of today's newspapers
before it incinerates.
What will happen tomorrow
is determined in retrospect.
The present moment
is reduced to a droplet of blood
falling from a bursting scab
causing no ripples in the waters.
The toll taken by the pacification of memory
the holograms of virtual reality
the celluloid glamorization of stars and stripes
the patriotic killers and lone stars
the ideological heroine peddled by latex newscasters
gloss over the burns, lacerations, and scars.
There is no time but show time.
Nothing can be measured any more
except for the weight of the ashes
swept from the incinerator.
Tomorrow is past.
Power sucks from the udders of an unblinking mass of flesh
Drained victims leech off each other
Bumped around by cow prods.
As the guillotine drops with scarcely a whisper
As Ronald smiles in the gas chamber
the sunlight soaks complexions with sweat.
Dollops of snow melt like warm blood drops in mud brown coffee
Eyes are pealed
Everyone is suspected as a wolf in sheep's clothing
tearing at each others' throats.
Struggling to stay on top of the heap.
Shaved heads, round like bowling balls
Digital souls, sapped of energy like batteries.
Forget the past.
Forget plain english.
Genocide and Tacos.
Breath once more.
The Future is History.
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