Nadezhda Tolokonnikova of Pussy Riot’s Prison Letters to Slavoj Žižek November 16, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Revolution, Russia.
Tags: anti-capitalism, capitalism, democracy, freedom, nadezhda tolokonnikova, performance art, pussy riot, putin, revolution, roger hollander, slavoj zizek
add a comment
Roger’s note: I hope you find this correspondence as fascinating as I did. The left/progressive blogosphere these days is publishing more anti-capitalism analyses than ever. I am a life-long Marxist Humanist, so the notion of capitalism is something I have been thinking about for years (decades, actually). What I find troubling is that very few writers either attempt or demonstrate a precise understanding of exactly what capitalism is. Capitalism is not simply an ideology, although there are more than enough capitalist ideologues; and capitalism is not primarily about so-called free markets, nor is state ownership anything less than pure genuine capitalism (prime example: China). To understand what a genuine transformation of society will be, it is important to have a historical understanding of how capitalist economic relations developed. More important is the need to understand exactly what capitalist economic relationships ARE, and that has to do with the basic structure under which goods and services are PRODUCED (again, not marketed). Karl Marx discovered an entire new continent of thought that takes us into the heart of notions of human freedom and exploitation via capitalist economic relations. Much too complex for me to go into here; I just want to point out that being anti-capitalist is necessary but not sufficient. The dialogue below is a good example of revolutionary activist thinking, striving to understand in order to transform.
Pussy Riot’s Nadezhda Tolokonnikova is currently in a prison hospital in Siberia; here she and Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek meet in an extraordinary exchange of letters
2 January 2013
I hope you have been able to organise your life in prison around small rituals that make it tolerable, and that you have time to read. Here are my thoughts on your predicament.
John Jay Chapman, an American political essayist, wrote this about radicals in 1900: “They are really always saying the same thing. They don’t change; everybody else changes. They are accused of the most incompatible crimes, of egoism and a mania for power, indifference to the fate of their cause, fanaticism, triviality, lack of humour, buffoonery and irreverence. But they sound a certain note. Hence the great practical power of persistent radicals. To all appearance, nobody follows them, yet everyone believes them. They hold a tuning-fork and sound A, and everybody knows it really is A, though the time-honoured pitch is G flat.” Isn’t this a good description of the effect of Pussy Riot performances? In spite of all accusations, you sound a certain note. It may appear that people do not follow you, but secretly, they believe you, they know you are telling the truth, or, even more, you are standing for truth.
But what is this truth? Why are the reactions to Pussy Riot performances so violent, not only in Russia? All hearts were beating for you as long as you were perceived as just another version of the liberal-democratic protest against the authoritarian state. The moment it became clear that you rejected global capitalism, reporting on Pussy Riot became much more ambiguous. What is so disturbing about Pussy Riot to the liberal gaze is that you make visible the hidden continuity between Stalinism and contemporary global capitalism.
[Žižek then explores what he sees as a global trend towards limiting democracy.] Since the 2008 crisis, this distrust of democracy, once limited to third-world or post-Communist developing economies, is gaining ground in western countries. But what if this distrust is justified? What if only experts can save us?
But the crisis provided proof that it is these experts who don’t know what they are doing, rather than the people. In western Europe, we are seeing that the ruling elite know less and less how to rule. Look at how Europe is dealing with Greece.
No wonder, then, that Pussy Riot make us all uneasy – you know very well what you don’t know, and you don’t pretend to have any quick or easy answers, but you are telling us that those in power don’t know either. Your message is that in Europe today the blind are leading the blind. This is why it is so important that you persist. In the same way that Hegel, after seeing Napoleon riding through Jena, wrote that it was as if he saw the World Spirit riding on a horse, you are nothing less than the critical awareness of us all, sitting in prison.
Comradely greetings, Slavoj
23 February 2013
Once, in the autumn of 2012, when I was still in the pre-trial prison in Moscow with other Pussy Riot activists, I visited you. In a dream, of course.
I see your argument about horses, the World Spirit, and about tomfoolery and disrespect, as well as why and how all these elements are so connected to each other.
Pussy Riot did turn out be a part of this force, the purpose of which is criticism, creativity and co-creation, experimentation and constantly provocative events. Borrowing Nietzsche’s definition, we are the children of Dionysus, sailing in a barrel and not recognising any authority.
We are a part of this force that has no final answers or absolute truths, for our mission is to question. There are architects of apollonian statics and there are (punk) singers of dynamics and transformation. One is not better than the other. But it is only together that we can ensure the world functions in the way Heraclitus defined it: “This world has been and will eternally be living on the rhythm of fire, inflaming according to the measure, and dying away according to the measure. This is the functioning of the eternal world breath.”
We are the rebels asking for the storm, and believing that truth is only to be found in an endless search. If the “World Spirit” touches you, do not expect that it will be painless.
Laurie Anderson sang: “Only an expert can deal with the problem.” It would have been nice if Laurie and I could cut these experts down to size and take care of our own problems. Because expert status by no means grants access to the kingdom of absolute truth.
Two years of prison for Pussy Riot is our tribute to a destiny that gave us sharp ears, allowing us to sound the note A when everyone else is used to hearing G flat.
At the right moment, there will always come a miracle in the lives of those who childishly believe in the triumph of truth over lies, of mutual assistance, of those who live according to the economics of the gift.
4 April 2013
I was so pleasantly surprised when your letter arrived – the delay made me fear that the authorities would prevent our communication. I was deeply honoured, flattered even, by my appearance in your dream.
You are right to question the idea that the “experts” close to power are competent to make decisions. Experts are, by definition, servants of those in power: they don’t really think, they just apply their knowledge to the problems defined by those in power (how to bring back stability? how to squash protests?). So are today’s capitalists, the so-called financial wizards, really experts? Are they not just stupid babies playing with our money and our fate? I remember a cruel joke from Ernst Lubitsch’s To Be Or Not to Be. When asked about the German concentration camps in occupied Poland, the Nazi officer snaps back: “We do the concentrating, and the Poles do the camping.” Does the same not hold for the Enron bankruptcy in 2002? The thousands of employees who lost their jobs were certainly exposed to risk, but with no true choice – for them the risk was like blind fate. But those who did have insight into the risks, and the ability to intervene (the top managers), minimised their risks by cashing in their stocks before the bankruptcy. So it is true that we live in a society of risky choices, but some people (the managers) do the choosing, while others (the common people) do the risking.
For me, the true task of radical emancipatory movements is not just to shake things out of their complacent inertia, but to change the very co-ordinates of social reality so that, when things return to normal, there will be a new, more satisfying, “apollonian statics”. And, even more crucially, how does today’s global capitalism enter this scheme?
The Deleuzian philosopher Brian Massumi tells how capitalism has already overcome the logic of totalising normality and adopted the logic of erratic excess: “The more varied, and even erratic, the better. Normality starts to lose its hold. The regularities start to loosen. This loosening is part of capitalism’s dynamic.”
But I feel guilty writing this: who am I to explode in such narcissistic theoretical outbursts when you are exposed to very real deprivations? So please, if you can and want, do let me know about your situation in prison: about your daily rhythm, about the little private rituals that make it easier to survive, about how much time you have to read and write, about how other prisoners and guards treat you, about your contact with your child … true heroism resides in these seemingly small ways of organising one’s life in order to survive in crazy times without losing dignity.
With love, respect and admiration, my thoughts are with you!
16 April 2013
Has modern capitalism really overtaken the logic of totalising norms? Or is it willing to make us believe that it has overpassed the logic of hierarchical structures and normalisation?
As a child I wanted to go into advertising. I had a love affair with the advertising industry. And this is why I am in a position to judge its merits. The anti-hierarchical structures and rhizomes of late capitalism are its successful ad campaign. Modern capitalism has to manifest itself as flexible and even eccentric. Everything is geared towards gripping the emotion of the consumer. Modern capitalism seeks to assure us that it operates according to the principles of free creativity, endless development and diversity. It glosses over its other side in order to hide the reality that millions of people are enslaved by an all-powerful and fantastically stable norm of production. We want to reveal this lie.
You should not worry that you are exposing theoretical fabrications while I am supposed to suffer the “real hardship”. I value the strict limits, and the challenge. I am genuinely curious: how will I cope with this? And how can I turn this into a productive experience for me and my comrades? I find sources of inspiration; it contributes to my own development. Not because of, but in spite of the system. And in my struggle, your thoughts, ideas and stories are helpful to me.
I am happy to correspond with you. I await your reply and I wish you good luck in our common cause.
10 June 2013
I felt deeply ashamed after reading your reply. You wrote: “You should not worry about the fact that you are exposing theoretical fabrications while I am supposed to suffer the ‘real hardship’.” This simple sentence made me aware that the final sentiment in my last letter was false: my expression of sympathy with your plight basically meant, “I have the privilege of doing real theory and teaching you about it while you are good for reporting on your experience of hardship …” Your last letter demonstrates that you are much more than that, that you are an equal partner in a theoretical dialogue. So my sincere apologies for this proof of how deeply entrenched is male chauvinism, especially when it is masked as sympathy for the other’s suffering, and let me go on with our dialogue.
It is the crazy dynamics of global capitalism that make effective resistance to it so difficult and frustrating. Recall the great wave of protests that spilled all over Europe in 2011, from Greece and Spain to London and Paris. Even if there was no consistent political platform mobilising the protesters, the protests functioned as part of a large-scale educational process: the protesters’ misery and discontent were transformed into a great collective act of mobilisation – hundreds of thousands gathered in public squares, proclaiming that they had enough, that things could not go on like that. However, what these protests add up to is a purely negative gesture of angry rejection and an equally abstract demand for justice, lacking the ability to translate this demand into a concrete political programme.
What can be done in such a situation, where demonstrations and protests are of no use, where democratic elections are of no use? Can we convince the tired and manipulated crowds that we are not only ready to undermine the existing order, to engage in provocative acts of resistance, but also to offer the prospect of a new order?
The Pussy Riot performances cannot be reduced just to subversive provocations. Beneath the dynamics of their acts, there is the inner stability of a firm ethico-political attitude. In some deeper sense, it is today’s society that is caught in a crazy capitalist dynamic with no inner sense and measure, and it is Pussy Riot that de facto provides a stable ethico-political point. The very existence of Pussy Riot tells thousands that opportunist cynicism is not the only option, that we are not totally disoriented, that there still is a common cause worth fighting for.
So I also wish you good luck in our common cause. To be faithful to our common cause means to be brave, especially now, and, as the old saying goes, luck is on the side of the brave!
13 July 2013
In my last letter, written in haste as I worked in the sewing shop, I was not as clear as I should have been about the distinction between how “global capitalism” functions in Europe and the US on the one hand, and in Russia on the other. However, recent events in Russia – the trial of Alexei Navalny, the passing of unconstitutional, anti-freedom laws – have infuriated me. I feel compelled to speak about the specific political and economic practices of my country. The last time I felt this angry was in 2011 when Putin declared he was running for the presidency for a third time. My anger and resolve led to the birth of Pussy Riot. What will happen now? Time will tell.
Here in Russia I have a strong sense of the cynicism of so-called first-world countries towards poorer nations. In my humble opinion, “developed” countries display an exaggerated loyalty towards governments that oppress their citizens and violate their rights. The European and US governments freely collaborate with Russia as it imposes laws from the middle ages and throws opposition politicians in jail. They collaborate with China, where oppression is so bad that my hair stands on end just to think about it. What are the limits of tolerance? And when does tolerance become collaboration, conformism and complicity?
To think, cynically, “let them do what they want in their own country”, doesn’t work any longer, because Russia and China and countries like them are now part of the global capitalist system.
Russia under Putin, with its dependence on raw materials, would have been massively weakened if those nations that import Russian oil and gas had shown the courage of their convictions and stopped buying. Even if Europe were to take as modest a step as passing a “Magnitsky law” [the Magnitsky Act in the US allows it to place sanctions on Russian officials believed to have taken part in human-rights violations], morally it would speak volumes. A boycott of the Sochi Winter Olympics in 2014 would be another ethical gesture. But the continued trade in raw materials constitutes a tacit approval of the Russian regime – not through words, but through money. It betrays the desire to protect the political and economic status quo and the division of labour that lies at the heart of the world economic system.
You quote Marx: “A social system that seizes up and rusts … cannot survive.” But here I am, working out my prison sentence in a country where the 10 people who control the biggest sectors of the economy are Vladimir Putin’s oldest friends. He studied or played sports with some, and served in the KGB with others. Isn’t this a social system that has seized up? Isn’t this a feudal system?
I thank you sincerely, Slavoj, for our correspondence and can hardly wait for your reply.
• The correspondence was organised by Philosophie magazine in cooperation with New Times. Longer versions can be found in German at philomag.de or in French at philomag.com. Tolokonnikova’s letters were translated from Russian by Galia Ackerman
Class War??? Elect “Progressive” Democrats??? November 7, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary, Revolution, Democracy.
Tags: roger hollander, democrats, revolution, ideology, tom hayden, marxism, democratic party, karl marx, elections, progressives, new york city, class war, richard goldin, Gramsci, Foucault, de blasio, new york government, new york politics, 2013 election
add a comment
THE FIRS WEB SITE I GO TO EVERY DAY IS COMMON DREAMS. I DON’T READ EVERYTHING BECAUSE I HAVE OTHER WEB SITES TO CHECK OUT, BUT I TRY TO FIND WHAT SPEAKS TO THE CRISES IN OUR WORLD TODAY AND WILL HAVE A UNIVERSAL AND HUMANISTIC APPEAL TO THE READERS OF MY BLOG. AS HAPPENED TODAY, SOMETIMES I READ WHAT I HAVE A FEELING WILL BE SOMETHING I CANNOT AGREE WITH. AS WITH THESE KINDS OF ARTICLES, AS WELL AS THOSE WHICH FOR ME ARE RIGHT ON, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT THE COMMENTS AT THE END OF THE ARTICLE FOR THE MOST PART CONTAIN AS MUCH OR MORE WISDOM AS THE ARTICLE ITSELF. THIS GIVES ME LOTS OF HOPE BECAUSE THESE ARE NOT OPINIONS OF THE SO-CALLED EXPERTS, BUT RATHER ORDINARY JANES AND JOES LIKE YOU AND ME.
I AM NOT GOING TO POST THESE TWO ARTICLES, RATHER GIVE YOU THE LINKS AND SUGGEST YOU DO AS I DID AND TAKE THE TIME TO READ ALL THE COMMENTS. JUST READING THE TITLES OF THESE TWO ARTICLES GOT MY DANDER UP: “Bill de Blasio: Harbinger of a New Populist Left in America” AND “Class War is a Bad Strategy for Progressive Politics.”
JUST CLICK ON THESE TITLES TO READ THE ARTICLES AND I PROMISE YOU IT WILL BE WORTH YOUR WHILE TO READ ALL THE COMMENTS (THE GREAT PERCENTAGE OF WHICH I CONSIDER TO BE WELL STATED). THERE IS A QUOTE IN THE COMMENTS OF THE SECOND ARTICLE BY FREDERICK DOUGLAS, WHICH I GIVE YOU HERE AS AN APPETIZER:
“The whole history of the progress of human liberty shows that all concessions yet made to her august claims have been born of earnest struggle. … If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.” – Fredrick Douglas – 1857
Students Leave the Zapatistas’ First School With Homework August 25, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in First Nations, Latin America, Mexico, Revolution.
Tags: comandante marcos, ezln, marta molina, Mexico, mexico ezln, mexico indigenous, mexico pri, non violence, popular education, revolutiion, roger hollander, zapatista school, Zapatistas
1 comment so far
The 1700 students who travelled from across Mexico and the world to attend the Zapatistas’first school last week are leaving with an important homework assignment: to transfer what they learned to their respective collectives and movements.
Some left with blisters on their hands from working in the fields with a machete for the first time. Others told stories of waking before the sun rose to prepare tortillas and beans and pozol (water with corn flour added) for their companions who were going to work in the milpa (cornfields) and to chop and carry wood. As the students prepared these meals, often for the first time, they listened to the sounds of indigenous languages like Tojobal, Chol, Tzeltal, and Tzotzil. As they ate, they shared experiences and began understanding that their sense of resistance came from their own families, from the very beginning of their childhoods.
The focus of the five-day school’s curriculum was liberty according to the Zapatistas, and students grew to understand how the home stays in Zapatista territories were an integral part of the lesson. “They care for Mother Earth because it’s what brings them food,” explained Marcos, a student from Argentina. “In the cities we buy everything in containers, and we don’t even know where it comes from. That [growing one’s own food] is also part of liberty.”
Others said that liberty lies in exercising autonomy without government help. It is the hard daily work that allows the Zapatistas to survive without the government and be free, said the students. Coherence, resistance and responsibility were words they repeated often in describing the Zapatista way of life.
“To be free is to be able to decide for themselves what lives they want to have,” said Marcos.
“What education they want. How they want to raise their children. How they want to organize. We have to go to the supermarket, go to the school that the system offers us to then reproduce that system — at university as well. We have to take the healthcare system that the system offers us and that we don’t understand,” he said.
During the school, Toño from Brazil stayed in the Rosario de Río Blanco in the Caracol La Realidad, close to the city of Las Margaritas. “It was the best school I’ve been to in all my life,” he said. Toño and other students learned how a Zapatista family can live peacefully in communities where the majority of people support the PRI, the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, and receive money from government projects. “But if one day they lose their government financial support, they won’t know what to do,” said Toño.
Erwin, a student from Cuetzalan, a small town in the Mexican state of Puebla, works to build autonomy for the community where he lives, and he understands how the Zapatistas navigate relationships with their non-Zapatista neighbors.
“They have differences with their neighbors, but they don’t treat them as enemies,” he said. “The system is negatively affecting the everyday life of all, partisan, non-partisan. Even the army has indigenous people in it. And that’s what capitalism wants: for brothers to fight each other.”
Many felt that learning how the Zapatistas live alongside, and assume a non-confrontational attitude toward, people who don’t think like them was an indispensable lesson. Non-Zapatistas can even come to the autonomous clinic when they are sick, and they will be attended to rather than rejected. “In this same community we greet all people who are not Zapatistas with affection, because we are all affected by the system…The real enemy is the same, the system,” said Erwin.
The fact that oftentimes students did not speak the same language as their host families, teachers and guardians, called votanes, was not necessarily a problem. “We wound up understanding each other,” said 17-year-old Camila, who is a student at the College of Sciences and Humanities at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. The texts provided by the Zapatista school were very different than those she was familiar with from college. “They explain through anecdotes, which are reflections of practice.” Camila said she hopes that a second grade will be added to the escuelita, and that, if one is, she will be allowed to attend. She said she learned over the course of those five days that autonomy exists and is possible.
The lesson that most impacted Uruguayan Mónica Olaso was when she asked her teacher why they were summoned and what the Zapatistas expected of the students. The response, Mónica recounted, was, “You know, Mónica, a bullet is not going to reach Uruguay. But our word will.” She is returning to her country, she said, with the mission to insist on organizing with the patience required to realize the commitments they make with people in her communities. She also feels the responsibility to pass along the lessons both in the books she was given by the Zapatistas and those already within her — her experiences.
“The Zapatistas wanted us to hear them, to see them, to share with them their experiences of struggle. Now, we have a mission: that every one of us, in accordance with our ways and places, continue organizing according to our context,” said Mónica from Uruguay. Toño, who is part of the Passe Livre Movement in Brazil, which helped organize the mass protests against the fare hikes earlier this summer, agreed. “Rural movements, urban movements, no matter which. But we have to learn how to be more autonomous, and therefore we will be more free. We will even live alongside the enemy itself, because if you are autonomous and free, then you can live with them,” he said.
Alex, a student from San Francisco, Calif., stayed at the Caracol La Realidad with Toño during the school. He says that he learned discipline, listening and the importance of having a long-term strategic vision. In his opinion, these are three things that are missing from social movements in the United States. “There are two main lessons,” he said. “First, is the discipline to accomplish what you say you’re going to do. The second is being self-critic and evaluating our mistakes and victories.” He quoted the Zapatista saying — “we walk slowly because we are going far” — as he explained the longevity of the movement: the Zapatistas have already celebrated 30 years since founding the EZLN, 20 years since establishing the municipalities and starting to build their autonomy, and ten years since the creation of the autonomous governing structure, the Councils of Good Government. This long-term view, Alex said, is lacking in the United States.
In addition to organizing the escuelita, the EZLN also brought together representatives of indigenous peoples from all over Mexico to inaugurate the first Tata Juan Chávez Alonso Traveling Seminar. Held directly after the escuelita at the Centro Indigena de capacitación Integral,
The University of the Earth, in San Cristóbal de Las Casas in Chiapas, the seminar was a gathering of members of indigenous communities from around the world. The location for the inaugural seminar was significant because the Zapatistas are organizing — like so many other indigenous communities in resistance — to defend their territories from threats by transnational corporations, narco-trafficking and governments. Some students who attended the escuelita to listen and learn with Zapatista families about the meanings of liberty and autonomy also attended the Tata Juan Chávez Alonso Seminar. Indigenous participants shared their victories and organizational missteps as a way to measure of the strength of the indigenous communities that conform the National Indigenous Congress, and those who still do not belong to it.
The ongoing seminar will continue to re-convene in different regions of the Americas and is intended to create a traveling forum for indigenous voices, while the Zapatistas have announced that they will hold a second escuelita this coming winter.
The Zapatistas’ First School Opens for Session August 13, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Education, First Nations, Latin America, Mexico, Revolution.
Tags: chiapas, indigenous, marta molina, Mexico, popular education, revolution, roger hollander, subcomandante marcos, zapatista movement, Zapatistas
add a comment
Roger’s note: The Zapatistas are perhaps the most important revolutionary movement of our times. The figure known as Subcomandante Marcos was a Mexico City academic who went to Chiapas to teach revolution to the Indigenous population. Instead, he himself got his world view flipped 180 degrees, coming to realize that the true revolutionary spirit is indigenous to the Indigenous. What the Zapatistas have taught us is the prime importance of the notion of “dignity,” self-governance, and that genuine revolution at a given time does not necessarily imply the necessity of winning state power. I recommend that anyone interested in revolutionary theory and practice look into the Zapatista experience. I also recommend a work greatly inspired by the Zapatista movement, John Holloway’s “Change the World Without Taking Power.”
Last December, tens of thousands of indigenous Zapatistas mobilized, peacefully and in complete silence, to occupy five municipal government office buildings in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. That same day, which coincided with the end of one cycle on the Maya calendar, Zapatistas released a communiqué, asking, “Did you hear it?”
It appears that the answer was yes, because this week thousands of people from around the world are descending on Chiapas for the Zapatistas’ first organizing school, called la escuelita de libertad, which means the little school of liberty. Originally the group allotted for only 500 students. But so many people wished to enroll that they opened an additional 1,200 slots for the weeklong school, which begins on August 12.
Just as the Zapatistas have, for two decades, rejected hierarchical systems, the escuelita will also eschew traditional teaching models. Instead, it will be an open space for the community to learn together.
“There isn’t one teacher,” wrote Subcomandante Marcos, the spokesperson for the Zapatista movement. “Rather, it is the collective that teaches, that shows, that forms, and in it and through it the person learns, and also teaches.”
While attending the escuelita, students will live with a family in a rebel zapatista community and participate both in the school and in the daily life of the community. Participants will cut wood, work in the cornfields and cook and eat with their host families.
Subcomandante Marcos acknowledged that attending this type of school requires shifting one’s way of thinking about learning and indigenous communities. As he asked in a communiqué:
Would you attend a school taught by indigenous teachers, whose mother tongue is typified as “dialect”?
Could you overcome the temptation to study them as anthropological subjects, psychological subjects, subjects of law or esoterism, or history?
Would you overcome the urge to write a report, interview them, tell them your opinion, give them advice, orders?
Would you see them, that is to say, would you listen to them?
Leading up to the school, the Zapatistas published a series of seven communiqués entitled “Them and Us.” These essays illustrated the absurdities of “those from above” — those who hold coercive and repressive power — trampling the freedoms of “those from below.” The writings also spoke to the need to learn by observing and listening in order to build an alternative world. But more than abstractions, the seven publications were a collection of lessons about how everyday life in the Zapatista communities, including how people resolve problems and how they organize themselves into an autonomous networks in which the people rule and the government obeys.
The last installation of this manual, published on March 27, also announced the upcoming escuelita and outlined three requirements necessary for any applicant: “an indisposition to speaking and judging, a disposition to listening and seeing, and a well-placed heart.”
The Zapatistas are unique not only for challenging power or maintaining their resistance for nearly 20 years. What sets them apart is their ever-evolving definition of liberty, and this topic — liberty according to the Zapatistas — will be the central focus of the school. According to Subcomandante Marcos, liberty is “to govern and govern ourselves according to our ways, in our geography and in this calendar.” But the definition also shifts from generation to generation, and Marcos explains that new generations must find their own paths through rebellion and dignity.
The experience of living with Zapatistas and other indigenous families will be another central part of the school. Some students will stay with families living in autonomous rebel communities, while others will be with nearby non-Zapatistas, or even anti-Zapatistas families. These hundreds of families have all agreed on a votán, a person who, in the Zapatista movement, represents a guardian and the heart of the community. The votáns will translate for the families and the foreign students, although Marcos acknowledges that translation itself is an imperfect process.
“In legal cases, do cultures translate?” he questions. “In that sense, one understands that what they call ‘equality under the law’ is one of the greatest travesties of justice in our world.”
As for final evaluations, the school won’t, unsurprisingly, have an exam, a thesis, or a multiple-choice test. Rather, as Marcos explained, the school “will make its own reality,” and the results will be “a mirror.”
The school began after three days of festivals in rebel communities to celebrate the 10-year anniversary of the councils of good governance, the Zapatistas’ autonomous governing system in which the community makes decisions and the government carries them out. During the celebrations, one could see empty buses and vans parked along the streets to Ocosingo and Palenque, waiting to transport the 1,700 students from San Cristobal de Las Casas into the rebel communities the following morning.
Earlier this summer, the Zapatistas announced that future escuelitas in the Zapatista communities will be held this coming winter.
Tags: arab spring, egypt capitalism, egypt military, egypt revolution, frantz fanon, morsi deposed, mubarak deposed, muslim brotherhood, roger hollander, tamarod, U.S. imperialism, war on libya, war on syria
add a comment
by Ajamu Baraka
In the two-and-a-half years between the ouster of Mubarak by the Egyptian military and the ouster of President Morsi by that same military, no revolutionary process occurred. Yet, “the emotional response to seeing hundreds of thousands of people on the streets seems to have created a case of temporary insanity,” an imagined revolution in which the “military and the people are one.”
by Ajamu Baraka
“Sometimes people hold a core belief that is very strong. When they are presented with evidence that works against that belief, the new evidence cannot be accepted. It would create a feeling that is extremely uncomfortable, called cognitive dissonance. And because it is so important to protect the core belief, they will rationalize, ignore and even deny anything that doesn’t fit in with the core belief.” – Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
As the military in Egypt consolidates its putsch against the leadership and political structures of the Muslim Brotherhood, it should be obvious that the initial narrative rationalizing intervention by the military as a necessary corrective to a “revolutionary process” has lost all credibility. Yet many liberals and radicals appear united in a fanciful reading of the events in Egypt that not only legitimizes the coup but characterizes the collection of small-minded state-capitalists thugs who make up the top officer corps of the military as part of the people and the revolutionary process.
From bourgeois intellectual hacks like Isabel Coleman to venerable Marxist materialists like Samir Amin, who implied that the Egyptian army was a neutral class force, the emotional response to seeing hundreds of thousands of people on the streets seems to have created a case of temporary insanity, or as Frantz Fanon refers to it as – cognitive dissonance. This can be the only explanation for the theoretical and rhetorical acrobatics many are engaged in to reconcile their beliefs in democratic rights and revolutionary transformation with what is occurring right before their eyes in Egypt.
A revolution in name only
The popular use and acceptance of the term revolution to describe the events in Egypt over the last two years demonstrates the effectiveness of global liberal discourse to “de-radicalize,” with the collusion of some radicals, even the term “revolution.”
Eschewing the romanticism associated with revolution and the sentimentality connected to seeing the “masses in motion,” it has to be concluded that between February 2011, when Mubarak was ousted, and July 3, 2013, when the military officially reassumed power, there was no revolutionary process at all, in the sense that there was no transfer of power away from the class forces that dominated Egyptian society. No restructuring of the state; no new democratic institutions and structures created to represent the will and interests of the new progressive social bloc of students, workers, farmers, women’s organizations etc.; and no deep social transformation. In fact, the rapes and sexual assaults that occurred during the recent mobilizations were a graphic reminder that sexist and patriarchal ideas still ruled, untouched by this so-called revolutionary process.
A revolutionary process is a process by which structures of power are created by a broad mass of people that allow them to eventually transform every aspect of their society – from the structure and role of the State and the organization of the economy to inter-personal relations – all with a view to eliminating all forms of oppression. There were some important organizational advances made by some elements of the labor movement in Egypt, including the creation of independent trade unions. However, the organizational imperative for revolutionary change that requires the building of popular structures to sustain mass struggle and represent dual power, was not as strong as it should have been in Egypt.
“The liberal appropriation of the term ‘revolution’ to describe everything from the events in Libya and Syria to the Green movement in Iran not only distorts social reality but also advances a dangerous narrative.”
Early 2011 in Egypt saw mass agitation for social change and a mass rebellion against a dictatorship that galvanized previously disparate social forces and classes – Westernized secular liberals, labor rights activists, radical students, women’s rights activists and Islamic fundamentalists – into one oppositional social bloc. The initial demand was for the end of the Mubarak dictatorship and the creation of a democratic system that respected democratic rights – the essential component of an authentic national democratic revolutionary process. However, the maturation of this process was arrested due to three factors: (i) the seizure of power by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) on February 11, (ii) the channeling of mass dissent primarily into the electoral process, and (iii) the failure of the oppositional forces to organize sustainable mass structures to safeguard and consolidate the developing revolutionary situation.
The concern with characterizing the nature of mass struggle in Egypt and in Tunisia that eventually was branded as the “Arab spring,” is not driven by a desire for some kind of neat, categorical purity that abstracts complex social phenomenon from its historical context. But instead the concern is the need to differentiate politically and programmatically the specific political challenges and tasks between an insurrectionary phase of struggle and one that has entered a pre-revolutionary or revolutionary phase.
This is important because the liberal appropriation of the term “revolution” to describe everything from the events in Libya and Syria to the Green movement in Iran not only distorts social reality but also advances a dangerous narrative. That narrative suggests that revolutionary change takes place as a result of spectacle. It devalues organizing and building structures from the bottom up as unnecessary because it is the theater that is important; the episodic show; the display that refutes Gil Scott Heron’s admonition that “the revolution will not be televised!”
The perverted logic of this approach is reflected in both the failure of the opposition to organize itself beyond the spontaneous mobilizations of 2011 and the knowledge of Morsi’s opponents, the Tamarod – thanks to signals from their patrons in the U.S. – that if they demonstrated significant street opposition to President Morsi the U.S. would have the cover to support intervention by the military.
The military’s pre-emptive strike against revolution
To have a clearer view of the current situation in Egypt, we must debunk the nonsensical, a-historical gibberish that suggests that the Egyptian military is a neutral, grand mediator of contending social and political forces, and stepped into the political scene in January 2011 and again July 2nd as a national patriotic force allied with the interests of the “people.”
The reality is that what we have witnessed in Egypt is a lateral transfer of power, in class terms, from the civilians in the Mubarak government, representing capitalist interests tied to the State, to the military, which has similar economic interests, with their enterprises and retired officer corps populating companies connected to the State sector. In fact, under President Morsi, the military never really went away. It maintained an independent space in the Egyptian state and economy. Critical ministerial positions in the Morsi cabinet, such as the Interior Ministry, Defense and Suez Canal Authority, were given to individuals associated with the Mubarak regime that were allied with the military. And the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, populated by Mubarak-era appointees, was the main instrument used by the military to limit and control any efforts to restructure the state or expand Morsi’s power.
For U.S. policy-makers, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Morsi government were never seen as an alternative to Hosni Mubarak. Despite the repression meted out to members of the Muslim Brotherhood by the Mubarak regime, it was well understood that the Brotherhood was part of the Egyptian economic elite and open to doing business with the West. Therefore, Morsi was seen as an acceptable and safe civilian face to replace Mubarak while the U.S. continued its influence behind the scenes through the military.
“We must debunk the nonsensical, a-historical gibberish that suggests that the Egyptian military is a neutral, grand mediator of contending social and political forces.”
Both the U.S. government and the Egyptian military had objective interests in making sure that the power of the Morsi Presidency remained more symbolic than real. The military, working through the Constitutional Court and the bureaucracy, made sure that President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood only had nominal control of the State. Morsi did not control the intelligence or security apparatus, the police, the diplomatic corps, or the bureaucracy, which was still staffed with Mubarak holdovers.
In fact, one of the major sources of tension between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood was the threat – and real moves – made by the Morsi government to use their nominal state power to curtail the economic activity of the military, which holds interests controlling anything from 15 to 40 percent of the economy, in favor of the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood itself, representing sectors of the competitive capitalist class.
One way of looking at the assault on the Muslim Brotherhood is that it was nothing more than a militarized solution to an intra-bourgeois class struggle within the context of Egyptian society, and had nothing to do with the interests of the fragmented and institutionally-weak opposition.
So the idea that the military, as a neutral force, allied itself with “the people” and only stepped in to resolve a political crisis is nothing more than a petit-bourgeois fantasy.
The class-based, social and economic interests of the military mean that it will oppose any fundamental transformation of the Egyptian economy and society, the ostensible aim of the “revolution.” Significantly, this means that the power of the military is going to have to be broken if there is to be any prospect of revolutionary change in Egypt.
A National Democratic Revolution: One step forward, three steps back
This analysis, however, should not be read to suggest that the people were just bit-players in a drama directed by powers they had no control over. The mass rebellion in Egypt created a crisis of governance for the corrupt elite that were in power and their U.S. patron. The demand for the end of the dictatorship was an awesome demonstration of people-power that created the potential for revolutionary change. The problem was that the dictatorship had severely undermined the ability of alternative popular forces to develop and acquire the political experience and institutional foundations that would have positioned them to better push for progressive change and curtail the power of the military. Unfortunately for Egypt, the force that had the longest experience in political opposition and organizational development was the Muslim Brotherhood.
The call by a sector of the “people” for the Morsi government to step down was a legitimate demand that expressed the position of a portion of the population that was dissatisfied with the policies and direction of the country. Yet, when the Egyptian military – a military that has not demonstrated any propensity for supporting democratic reforms – intimated that it would step in, the mass position should have been “no to military intervention, change only by democratic means” – a position that a more mature and authentically independent movement might have assumed if it was not being manipulated by powerful elite forces internally and externally.
“The mass position should have been ‘no to military intervention, change only by democratic means.’”
It was wishful thinking that bordered on the psychotic for liberal and radical forces in the country and their allies outside to believe that a democratic process could be developed that reflected the interests of the broad sectors of Egyptian society while disenfranchising the Muslim Brotherhood, a social force that many conservatively suggest still commands the support of at least a third of the Egyptian population, and is the largest political organization in the country. Liberals and some radicals that supported the coup did not understand that the construction of the “people” is a social/historical process that requires both struggle and engagement. Not understanding this basic principle has resulted in the killing of the national democratic revolution in its infancy.
The powerful national elites that bankrolled the anti-Morsi campaign and their external allies, including Saudi Arabia and the U.S., have successfully set in motion a counter-revolutionary process that will fragment the opposition and marginalize any radical elements. The Egyptian elite understood much more clearly than the Tamarod or the National Salvation Front that a revolutionary process would entail the development of a political program that has as its objectives the subordination of the military to the people, the public appropriation of state capitalist sector and the rejection of neoliberal capitalist development. Because of that understanding, they moved with textbook precision over the last year and a half to protect their interests.
Sadly, the liberal and radical collusion with the anti-democratic forces of the Egyptian military and economic elite has provided legitimacy for the same retrograde forces that dominated Egyptian society under Mubarak to continue that domination, but this time in the name of “revolution.”
Ajamu Baraka is a human rights activist and veteran of the Black Liberation Movement. He is currently a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. Baraka can be reached at www. Ajamubaraka.com.
Homeland Security Prepares for Civil War August 28, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Revolution.
Tags: civil revolt, civil unrest, civil war, dhs, doug haggman, hollow point bullets, Homeland Security, jack swint, madison ruppert, revolution, roger hollander, tea party
add a comment
Roger’s note: I have no idea how reliable is the author of this article. If the facts are correct, then we have good reason to fear massive repression of civil unrest. The article suggests that it is more likely to come from the right (tea party) than the left. In either case the notion of economic disaster leading to civilian rioting being confronted by agencies armed with lethal weapons is truly frightening.
Orwell’s 1984 Solution to Criminalize War: “If There was Hope, it must Lie in the Proles” August 28, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Art, Literature and Culture, Revolution, War.
Tags: 1984, howard zinn, james tracey, mass media, orwell, public opinion, roger hollander, war
add a comment
Roger’s note: It is no dramatic discovery that the vast majority of Americans (and people everywhere around the globe) hate and oppose not only warfare, but the legalized theft of human rights and human labor and the destruction of the biosphere that is perpetuated by every government of every capitalist state and largely bolstered by the mass media and the political culture. Change (the accomplished dissimulator Obama notwithstanding) will not come via electing leaders in contests where the option for peace and justice are never represented. From the Paris Commune to the Russian Revolution to the successful overturning of oligarchic capital rule in places like Cuba and Nicaragua, it was the common people who took things into their own hands. Although in each of the cases the humanistic revolutionary goals were corrupted by a combination of internal and external pressures, nevertheless, our guide for future humanistic revolution lies with these historic victories. Today’s Arab Spring and the Occupation movement are the heirs of the previous popular uprisings.
“The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance-it is the illusion of knowledge.”-Daniel Boorstin
Mystified by its own credentials, surrounded by peers who conceive of reality along similar lines, and underscored by the corporate media’s overwhelming tide of disinformation, much of today’s professional class is impervious to “rumors” and “conspiracy theories” that all too often captivate the sordid masses—from unreasonable suspicion over mysterious terrorist attacks to the poorly-informed questions surrounding their leader’s hidden background. Much like the expert officials and agenda setting outlets they look to for prepared interpretations of the world, the opinion leading class’ constituents understand themselves as above all well informed, similarly disinterested and unmoved by groundless passion.
In fact, the programming necessary to attain such a degree of self-assuredness often tends to distance one from reality. For example, revulsion towards war in the United States has historically tended to run strongest among those who have escaped the heavy indoctrination of the professional class—those members of the non-or semi-skilled, working class majority. As historian Howard Zinn observes,
Recent public opinion indicators point to the enduring nature of antiwar sentiment. For example, a recent poll by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press shows that on March 19, 2011, one week before President Obama announced the NATO bombing of Libya, 77% of the US public opposed the destruction of the country’s air defenses. Polling one year later revealed a 62% majority against NATO “bombing Syrian military forces to protect anti-government groups in Syria,” even though almost the same percentage (64%) admitted to having heard “little” or “nothing at all” on “recent political violence in Syria.”
May we thus safely conclude that a majority of the population despite ceaseless propaganda still recognizes how war remains the supreme crime and the greatest demarcation between master and slave? “If there was hope, it must lie in the Proles,” Orwell wrote, “because only there, in those swarming disregarded masses, eighty-five percent of the population of Oceania, could the force to destroy the Party ever be generated.”
James Tracy is Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University. He blogs at memorygap.org.
|James F. Tracy is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by James F. Tracy|
Egypt, women and permanent revolution July 19, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Egypt, Revolution, Women.
Tags: arab spring, arab women, egypt, egypt revolution, genital mutilation, Marxist Humanism, Middle East, misogyny, mona eltahawy, revolution, roger hollander, sexism, terry moon, women
add a comment
NEWS & LETTERS, July – August 2012
by Terry Moon
Mona Eltahawy, an American-Egyptian journalist, wrote an eloquent essay published in the May/June edition of Foreign Policy titled “Why Do They Hate Us? The real war on women is in the Middle East.” The myriad negative responses to it reveal serious examples of counter-revolution from within the revolution in the wake of Arab Spring.
ARAB SPRING FACES COUNTER-REVOLUTION
Eltahawy takes up “the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East.” It is crucial that her essay is about the need for the revolutions of Arab Spring to continue and deepen. So important is this to her that she begins and ends with that point. On the first page she declares:
“An entire political and economic system–one that treats half of humanity like animals–must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.”
And on the last page she writes:
“The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man–Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation–but they will be finished by Arab women…. Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought–social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.”
Not one of the critiques I read mentions that this is what her essay is about. Rather than speaking to her essay’s content–the unbearable sexism that women experience in the Middle East–they try to discredit her. Where she talks of how “more than 90% of ever-married women in Egypt–including my mother and all but one of her six sisters–have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty,” she is chided for using the “wrong” word, genital mutilation instead of circumcision. Another critic attacks her by reminding the reader that genital mutilation of women did not originate with Islam or in the Middle East. But none speak to the actuality of genital mutilation, under whatever name.
FORM ATTACKED, CONTENT IGNORED
She was also widely criticized for publishing the essay in Foreign Policy, as if that somehow silenced other Arab women’s voices, even though Foreign Policy invited four responses from Arab women. Or, critics say, it was wrong to publish in Foreign Policy because her audience was presumed to be Americans, but no publications or websites the critiques were in would have printed her essay, and it is crystal clear from the responses that her essay was widely read by an Arab audience.
Then there was this age-old shibboleth, used whenever someone wants to shut up a woman who dares to bring up the fact that we live–all of us–in a deeply misogynist world: Eltahaway “blames and hates all men.”
Any who doubt the importance of what Eltahawy raises need only remember the Iranian women who, in the midst of revolution in 1979, came out by the thousands against Khomeini’s order to wear the chador. They cried out: “At the dawn of freedom we have no freedom.” They were calling for the Iranian revolution to continue. Had their demands been taken seriously by the Left, Iran might be in a very different place today.
NEED FOR PERMANENT REVOLUTION
In an interview given several weeks after her essay was published, Eltahawy reiterated that she is talking about deepening revolution:
“So what my essay is trying to do, is to say that the women…now have two revolutions that need to be completed: The revolution against the regime, which oppresses all of us; but also a second revolution against a society that oppresses us as women.”
While Eltahawy is not talking directly of Marx’s concept of revolution in permanence, that is what she is calling for. As Arab Spring faces counter-revolution from within and without–and is now facing an election where both candidates may well worsen women’s oppression–we call for the greatest possible solidarity with what Eltahawy is raising.
a few “pre-revolutionary” thoughts I had November 21, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, India, Occupy Wall Street Movement, Revolution.
Tags: #occupy movement, Afghanistan War, Arundhati Roy, drone missiles, Economic Crisis, economic inequality, India poverty, Iraq war, occupy wall street, ows, revolution, roger hollander, U.S. imperialism
add a comment
Tuesday morning, the police cleared Zuccotti Park, but today the people are back. The police should know that this protest is not a battle for territory. We’re not fighting for the right to occupy a park here or there. We are fighting for justice. Justice, not just for the people of the US, but for everybody.
What you have achieved since September 17th, when the Occupy movement began in the United States, is to introduce a new imagination, a new political language into the heart of empire. You have reintroduced the right to dream into a system that tried to turn everybody into zombies, mesmerized into equating mindless consumerism with happiness and fulfillment.
As a writer, let me tell you, this is an immense achievement. And I cannot thank you enough.
Ever since the Great Depression, the manufacture of weapons and the export of war have been key ways in which the United States has stimulated its economy. Just recently, under President Obama, the US made a $60 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia – moderate Muslims, right? It hopes to sell thousands of bunker busters to the UAE. It has sold $5 billion-worth of military aircraft to my country, India, which has more poor people than all the poorest countries of Africa put together. All these wars, from the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Vietnam, Korea, Latin America, have claimed millions of lives — all of them fought to secure the “American way of life”.
Today, we know that the “American way of life” — the model that the rest of the world is meant to aspire towards — has resulted in 400 people owning the wealth of half of the population of the United States. It has meant thousands of people being turned out of their homes and their jobs while the US government bailed out banks and corporations — American International Group (AIG) alone was given $182 billion.
The Indian government worships US economic policy. As a result of 20 years of the free market economy, today, 100 of India’s richest people own assets worth one-quarter of the country’s GDP while more than 80% of the people live on less than 50 cents a day. Two hundred and fifty thousand farmers, driven into a spiral of debt death, have committed suicide. We call this progress, and now think of ourselves as a superpower. Like you, we are well-qualified. We have nuclear bombs and obscene inequality.
The good news is that people have had enough and are not going to take it any more. The Occupy movement has joined thousands of other resistance movements all over the world in which the poorest of people are standing up and stopping the richest corporations in their tracks. Few of us dreamed that we would see you, the people of the United States on our side, trying to do this in the heart of Empire. I don’t know how to communicate the enormity of what this means.
They, the one percent, say that we don’t have demands” perhaps they don’t know, that our anger alone would be enough to destroy them. But here are some things — a few “pre-revolutionary” thoughts I had — for us to think about together:
We want to put a lid on this system that manufactures inequality. We want to put a cap on the unfettered accumulation of wealth and property by individuals as well as corporations. As “cap-ists” and “lid-ites”, we demand:
One, an end to cross-ownership in businesses. For example, weapons manufacturers cannot own TV stations; mining corporations cannot run newspapers; business houses cannot fund universities; drug companies cannot control public health funds.
Two, natural resources and essential infrastructure — water supply, electricity, health, and education — cannot be privatized.
Three, everybody must have the right to shelter, education and healthcare
Four, the children of the rich cannot inherit their parents’ wealth.
This struggle has re-awakened our imagination. Somewhere along the way, capitalism reduced the idea of justice to mean just “human rights”, and the idea of dreaming of equality became blasphemous. We are not fighting to just tinker with reforming a system that needs to be replaced.
As a cap-ist and a lid-ite, I salute your struggle.
Salaam and Zindabad.