Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A quick reminder about revolution

Raúl Zibechi, Dispersing Power: Social Movements as Anti-State Forces:

Revolution is the midwife of history. Marx's phrase sums up a conception of revolution that has been buried by the Marxists. However, Marx was always faithful to this way of looking at social change, in which the revolutionary act of giving birth to a new world is just a short step in a long process of creating that other world.

Revolution helps give birth to the new world, but it does not create it. This new world already exists in a certain stage of development and that is why, in order to continue growing, it needs to be delivered by an act of force: the revolution. I feel that what is happening within the social movements is the formation of "another world," one that is not only new but also different from the present one, based on a different logic of construction. This parallels Marx's reflections on the Paris Commune. "The workers," he said, "have no ready-made utopias to introduce par decret du peuple [by decree of the people]. They have no ideals to realize, but to set free the elements of the new society with which old collapsing bourgeois society itself is pregnant."

Allow me to dwell on "to set free," because I think it points to a pivotal element that runs through Marx's entire theory of production. For Marx, communism exists as a potential within capitalist society. He is very clear about this in the Communist Manifesto when he discusses the transition from feudalism to capitalism and emphasizes how bourgeois society was born in the bowels of the feudal society. The same, he anticipates, will happen in the transition from capitalism to communism. The new society is not a place that one arrives; it is not something to be conquered and therefore is not out there; and it is even less something implanted. The image that Marx offers us of revolutionary change is that of a latent power that lies dormant within the world of the oppressed, and grows out like a flower. This is why he uses the expression "to set free."
I maintain that the idea "to set free," and the concepts of "self-activity" and "self-organization," all derive from the same conception of the world and social change. It is one based on the idea that these processes occur naturally -- a word Marx used himself -- or, by themselves: that is, as a result of their own internal dynamics.

In this vein, I leave you with a few tips for revolution:

Don't get discouraged. You will find your purpose in circumstances as they arise. Back when the Christians were still populated by prophets, they put the expression "Don't be afraid" into their texts over 350 times, anticipating what we all need in the face of power. Keep an open mind about where you will discover meaning.

Purpose means taking yourself seriously in a way that is unlikely to be reflected in the world around you, except to your own eyes. This is the opposite of what power brings: a significance that isn't really yours. We all know what happens to people who go down that road! No: you have to be contented to see your own purpose with clarity even if nobody else can.

Purpose can be discerned by employing the following formula: You can always get more money, but you will never have more time. Time is the one thing we run out of with each passing day, even if the world carries on without comment, preoccupied as it usually is with money. Money has power in the market, but what can you buy in the market? Surely, a good deal. But nothing that will sustain you in the long term; this you have to develop for yourself. If you can feel death in your future, and in all of the relations around you, then your priorities will right themselves against distraction.

If you still don't understand your purpose, you will have to reflect on those areas of your life that make you distressed. They are relationships, they are obligations, they are expectations that aren't correctly aligned with what will sustain you, which is your purpose.

I write about revolution in a personal way because I agree with C.L.R. James, who said that first you develop the individual, then you create the culture. You are the individual, not me -- I have my own problems! We do this for ourselves; nobody does it for us.

We always begin where we are, so take your situation seriously! Bolivian peasants know how to do this, but affluent, middle-class Americans think they have nothing to offer! You really have to start fucking shit up in your own way -- you know what your capabilities are, now honor them even if no one else will. The life you want will never be earned as long as your effort goes toward a purpose you can't respect.

Have your own theme songs, and let their beauty come from valor in your life.


Picador said...

I hate for my first comment here to be this one, but:

Your new blog theme is pretty, but very hard on both my browser (it's deadly slow to scroll in IE7) and my eyes (dense blockquotes, like the one in this post, are illegibly small).

JRB said...

Hey, thanks for mentioning this.

Quin said...

But the writing is beautiful. Thank you, I often gain real clarity and inspiration from your thoughts.

JRB said...

Picador, et al.:

Well, we're back where we started, which can't be all bad!

Let me know if the block quotes are still annoyingly small. I recognize the proportions were never very generous to begin with!


Your well placed comments have always been a big help!

Ethan said...

Thanks for this post. I really needed to hear this.

JRB said...

In that case I'm very glad I wrote it!

Suffering will be with us as long as we live, but it's ours to answer "On behalf of what?" If we can suffer for our beliefs, surely that is better than suffering for someone else's!

Picador said...

Thanks JRB! Keep up the excellent writing, please.

what the Tee Vee taught said...

Yeah baby, create your own nature, find something to live for and live it.

If you're going to suffer — and you are — do it right (Soren K showed me that, you've reminded me of it)

You. Da. Man.