“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, make violent revolution inevitable.”
— John F. Kennedy.
“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution.”
— Emma Goldman
The meaning of Revolutions are almost always confined by binary narratives that seek to dominate the substance of those tensions that produce revolutions. As a result the sham or mock discussions of the commanteriat are dominated by mile wide inch deep considerations of good vs bad. In this version of events, to cite one example, Pol Pot is bad and Ben Franklin is good.
While it is true that Pol Pot was bad, and the Killing Fields an example of the lengths to which human depravity can reach, and that it is also true that Franklin is generally good, these things, like a dive into some subatomic realm, break apart upon examination, and reveal a nearly infinite number of variations and alternative narratives that exist within and alongside each other.
For example, while logic and a moral honesty requires one to maintain the narrative that has Pol Pot as one of history’s great malignant trolls, the same honesty and intellectual rigor requires that one also say, that under Pol Pot, the ocean of Kissinger and the jagged reef called Nixon; the majestic paradox of Mao as ruthless god king and engine of change and so on. As a result the narrative in which Pol Pot is bad, begins to wobble and stutter.
In the case of Franklin one need not jettison the idea of the man’s essential righteousness by considering that The Bill of Rights, as originally conceived, came with an asterisk and small print that said: offer void where prohibited by political expediency, skin color and gender.
History is funny that way.
Of course it is not in the interest of any part of the ruling class – a spectrum that runs from the reactionary fascists to the aristocratic liberals – to allow such a nuanced discussion. They will from time to time pretend to indulge in such speculations but the general and consistent tone and method is to control and narrow the narrative so that it follows proscribed paths.
That novels, playwrights, assorted artists, and a handful of academics offer a nuanced alternative narrative goes without saying, but what does need to be said even at the risk of stating a banal truth, is that such people are generally confined to virtual ghettos.
The Europeans – by which we mean generally, the French, the Italians, Spanish, and sometimes the Germans* – due in no small part to a series of violent revolutions and cataclysmic wars – have carved out a space for such discussions. As a result it is not surprising to hear the president of France talk about Rimbaud or Foucault, while at the same time extolling the virtues of the market. This is similar to an American president weaving a quote from Hemingway or a reference to Faulkner into a speech – albeit a speech that was about sin and redemption – after all, no one with any sense is going to mistake French sangfroid for American religiosity.
And so, the famous slogan from May of ’68.
Beneath the pavement, the beach.
The idea, needless to say, was that one must first breakdown the chains in one’s mind and that the first and truest revolution, is the revolution of the individual against the tyranny of the self.
The individual precedes the system though it is, paradoxically the system that creates and seeks to define the individual, who in this scenario, is in fact not an individual at all, but a tool within the engine of the machine that is the state.
This point of friction between the slave who wishes to become free, and the machinery of the system, finds expression everywhere. This is Whitman saying, I celebrate myself and it is Rimbaud saying, I, is another, and it is a brush stroke by Picasso, a saxophone calling Coltrane and a man who stands in front of a tank and says, I will not move even if it means death.
As always, feel free to make your own list.
We were thinking about all of this because of a thousand other things but more specifically because of the Post Bernie wave racing towards the shore of contemporary American politics. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is of course the flashing neon sign for a moment in history, but the wave is rising and the tide will carry many others. Make no mistake, others still will drown and the hastily constructed dams and the older vast breakwaters are being repaired at a furious pace. Power never surrenders willingly.
But the point here, as we have said elsewhere, is that the Democratic Socialists, are essentially New Deal democrats; liberals with a new coat of paint.
As we have said previously, that does not mean we disagree with them per se, or wish them ill. They are without a doubt, more honest, more passionate, and more emotionally generous than our least favorite corporate liberals, Nancy we’re capitalists get used to it Pelosi or Chuck has anyone seen my spine Schumer.
But, despite the Progressive’s mantra that the Clintons were and are evil incarnate, offering only a republican lite, the harder more nuanced truth is that Clintonian triangulation and neoliberalism were not only a product of mendacity, and ego-driven ambition, but were a response to the failure of the old liberal order as it collapsed in the face of the Reaganite counter revolution. And make no mistake, the essence of Reaganism was the 60s – a product of the Wall Street and atavistic pushback against ’68. The Reagan of the 80s was essentially the Reagan of the 60s and that was no accident. In other words it is easy (and a convenient corporate ploy) to define the 60s by showing banal stock images of Haight Ashbury, Woodstock, and helicopters in Vietnam but while those are legitimate talismans of the era, don’t be fooled – it was also Reagan, and J. Edgar Hoover and the revolution was crushed and Nixon won in a landslide.*
While there are any number of reasons to be critical of the Clintons the fact remains that after Carter, Mondale, Dukakis and Gary Hart, the democrats were faced with a stark choice – be noble and loose or win ugly.
Clinton won ugly.
NAFTA may be the political equivalent of the child that killed its parents and then demands to be treated as an aggrieved orphan, but what is left out of the equation is that Mexico had defaulted on its predatory IMF, World Bank and Wall Street loans and was hemorrhaging national cohesion.
Think the current immigration debate is vile and full of heat and little light? Well, imagine it in an era before smartphones when the world was defined by what CNN could see, and the horizon of your political consciousness was a question of how big your platform was which of course was a question of money.
Many of those issues remain but the idea that the Clintons are only heartless political dinosaurs is not helpful.
That in turn does not mean change is not both inevitable and worthwhile.
What it does mean is that a more nuanced examination of Progressive platforms and Democratic Socialism should not scare anyone.
The democratic center, the corporate center, is beholden to Wall Street and as a result does not want universal healthcare, and a proper and just tax system which would allow for “free college tuition” which of course is not free but is derived from the equitable taxation of the ruling class who for decades have avoided paying their fair share.
But that of course, is essentially The New Deal. The Four Freedoms that FDR promulgated were food, housing, healthcare and education, as human rights and not for profit systems, that in being for profit would by necessity, create a permanent underclass of wage slaves.
As we have said previously, the not so secret sauce of the market is the artificial scarcity of goods and services. By controlling access, the value of services and products is driven up and down, with a ripple effect that impacts everything from crime and police budgets, to mass surveillance, addiction, war, poverty, divorce, legal fees, infrastructure, and political flashpoints between divergent demographics that are forced into a thunderdome of all against all, which in turn creates a political echochamber in which political discourse is reduced to the lowest common denominators. That in turn gives rise to desperation and violence, and that takes on a human form as some malignant troll who stumbles from one rage and catastrophe to another – who is a criminal, and a crass gangster full of vile impulses that give voice to the greater devils of our national soul – bigotry, misogyny, imperialism, gangsterism, the greasy slithering depravity of pimps and expensive whores, and the torch lit evil of fascism.
The Progressives are quick to point out that conservative and establishment liberal attempts to paint them as Trotskyist radicals, are both laughable and a rhetorical dog that no longer hunts. They respond that their “radical” agenda is essentially basic liberalism and a pushback against the centrism of the Clintonian democrats. They rightly point out that a majority of Americans are in favor of their talking points – better and more access to higher education, universal healthcare, environmental sustainability, freedom of choice, marriage equality and all of it paid for by an equitable taxation, of the insanely wealthy who, as noted, have avoided paying their taxes for years to the tune of trillions in lost revenue.
Thus when the conservatives and the aristocratic liberals respond with snark and disdain and the smug assurance of people for whom details are irrelevant, that these “entitlement” programs will bankrupt the nation, the Progressives are right to laugh and say – the country’s already gone bust, and the out of control military budget and the morbidly obese offshore tax-free accounts used by the ruling class, are where we will find the cash to pay for what we want to do.
But it’s there that the Progressives come full circle.
They won’t admit it but it’s at that point that they find, having exited through the back door of righteous superiority, they return through the front door of embarrassed self-awareness, to be greeted by the Clintons.
Consider The Young Turks explaining their appreciation and defense of AOC et al by saying they are not against capitalism. They like iphones and clothes that are not designed by a committee of grey Borg drones, while they believe that healthcare, defense and prisons should be run by the government.
And to a certain extent, they are not wrong.
The glaring problem is of course the fact – the iron glad irrefutable fact – that smartphones and clothes and everything else are all ultimately a product of the Borg Capitalist Collective.
The Clintons knew that and know it still. And the question then becomes how are you going to solve the problem so long as you keep the market?
The answer is that The Market by which we specifically mean The Stock Market, is the alpha and omega of the power of the ruling class. It is the cause and beneficiary of the permanent underclass of wage slaves.
The true engine of revolutionary change is the seizing of the power to change the narrative. That it can be achieved peacefully, but will be met with violence is a point to which we shall return.
Consider the legalization of marijuana. A thing is a crime until it it is not. It is a medicine unless it is not. The facts are not relevant until they are.
It depends upon what the meaning of is, is.
Consider this: Anyone who knowingly turns a profit from slave labor shall be considered guilty of crimes against humanity.
Step right this way Mr.Gates, your cell is right here.
There are those among us who believe that slavery is immoral. That it is a sin. There are those among us who believe that slavery is so repugnant to our sense of right and wrong that it was, and remains worth it to sacrifice upon the altar of freedom, hundreds of thousands of lives in the cause of justice.
Unless you’re Chinese, or Mexican, or Palestinian, or running from violence in Central and South America or the devastation in Africa caused by the Invisible Hand of the Market, or unlucky enough to be the wrong gender, in the wrong place at the wrong time.
In that sense American foreign policy is revealed to be at its core – someone has to pick the cotton. And there’s a lot of people in China.
To be fair, the more enlightened American pols would respond that while the above is true, the fact is that however awful it is less awful then a civil war in China, or the complete collapse of Mexico and instead of several thousand people trying to cross the Rio Grande, try several million and people demanding the 101st Airborne be sent to Veracruz and the marines at the border.
But, the counter argument is equally if not more valid: Instead of American investment opening China to Western Pluralism, it has had exactly the opposite effect and given rise to a noxious, decadent and depraved Orwellian monstrosity that is on an accelerated trajectory towards a high-tech gulag of epic proportions.
And it has sapped the soul of America by eating away at its already fragile ideals. It has given an opportunity to fascists like Steve Bannon, to wield it as a gudgel against decency and freedom, while rightly pointing out that the Clintons, the establishment liberals and monstrous pirates of Wall Street, are responsible for whoring the nation to China.
It has gutted the infrastructure, given rise to atavistic neo-fascist mayhem, placed a lunatic psychopathic Lady MacBeth in The White House, turned the already feckless republicans into a party of Quislings, who don’t view 1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale as warnings, but as how to manuals, and sent the nation’s bureaucratic institutions into a tailspin of chaos, which in turn is destabilizing the precarious international order and threatens to destabilize the few thin lines that remain between a semi-stable future, and a return to the apocalyptic nihilism of the last century.
It took a civil war to end slavery and then outsource it.
It took a second phase of the civil war, riots, rebellions, and the executions of multiple martyrs in a series of rolling coup d’etats, in order to achieve even a modicum of what we now charitably define as a just society.
While it is essential that the midterm results in a non-Trump landslide – defined as anyone who is not pro-Trump including Pelosi-ite establishment democrats as well as Sanders/AOC Progressives – the long term dilemma will never be resolved until and unless The Stock Market is outlawed, the assets of its largest members are seized, and used to redress the crimes committed by the ruling class.
Obviously any attempt to seize control of the system and the ability to redefine The Stock Market as Organized Crime, will be met with the most lethal force imaginable. While the revolution can be peaceful, the counter-revolution will declare it violent, and respond with violent subversion, infiltration, and the blunt end of state terror.
Behind every fascism, said Walter Benjamin, is a failed revolution of the left.
Beneath the pavement, the beach.
*By listing those Europeans we do not mean to elide others but refer to a general discourse. Feel free to make your own list.
*Regarding the Nixon victories in 1968 and 1972. The police, both state and federal arrested roughly 300,000 to 400,000 people for anti-war activities – ranging from “disturbing the peace” to breaking and entering. This statistic is often used to highlight the relative lack of force used to break-up the anti-war movement because those people were not sent away for long prison terms.
Buried within that however is another detail. Of that larger number approximately 2,000 to 4,000 people were sentenced to several years in prison and when released were subjected to lengthy paroles and of course, were ex-cons with little to no prospects for reentering the system.
That of course was the plan. Those few thousand were the leaders of the anti-war movement. Cut off the head, as the saying goes, and the body dies. It is a truism of both left and right wing nostalgia to pretend the anti-war movement simply ran out of steam and faded away as the foot soldiers sold out and became successful Silicon Valley stock-holders, and premium weed smoking suburban soccer moms.
The truth is that for every one of them who did sell out, or as the case may be, burned out,* there were thousands of others who were beaten into submission and broken.
*For a nuanced look at the one’s who burned out, take a listen to Bruce Springsteen’s induction speech to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for Jackson Browne. While the entire speech is worth listening to, pay specific attention to his comments on Browne’s Late for the Sky.