Assata: Revolutionary Relatability

(via Dissident Voice / Red Wedge Magazine)

If you are deaf, dumb, and blind to what is happening in the world, you’re under no obligation to do anything. But if you know what’s happening and you don’t do anything but sit on your ass, then you’re nothing but a punk.” — Assata, page 207

Assata Shakur
Assata Shakur

Thirty-four years ago this November 2, in 1980, Black revolutionary Assata Shakur escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in New Jersey, with the help of comrades wielding .45 caliber pistols. Successfully avoiding a national “manhunt,” Shakur ultimately fled to Cuba, resurfacing there in 1984. Condemned by US authorities and mainstream media as a “cop killer” for her alleged role in a 1973 shootout on the New Jersey Turnpike,1 Assata was granted political asylum by the socialist Castro government, in light of extensive evidence that the former Black Panther Party member (like many activists in the age of COINTELPRO) faced unjust and racist persecution in the United States, and was being targeted for her revolutionary politics. Assata remains in Cuba to this day, where she has long maintained her innocence of any crime but that of seeking to overthrow the racist, imperialist, patriarchal capitalist system. For that “crime,” Shakur proudly pleads guilty.2

In May 2013, the FBI, without charging any additional wrong-doing, added “Joanne Chesimard”3 to their top ten “Most Wanted” list of “Terrorists,” placing her alongside the likes of accused World Trade Center and Pan Am flight 103 bombers and Al Queda leaders.4 She is the first woman to make the list — and the only “domestic terrorist” currently listed in the “Top Ten.” Accordingly, the bounty on her head was raised from $1 to $2 million.

Shakur has not set foot in the United States for decades — and has issued only a handful of public statements from Cuba — yet her presence continues to be felt today, in part through the narrative she wrote in exile. Assata: An Autobiography (1987) offers us a vivid, accessible, personal, and yet theoretically astute narrative of one woman’s oppression, exploitation, alienation, and resistance, as well as a relatable account of explicitly revolutionary (anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist) consciousness in the making, and a damning exposure of police terror, courtroom corruption, and state repression. Nearly three decades later, Assata still poses a stark challenge to hegemonic institutions that sustain oppression in the US and across the world. Moreover, Assata does all this in ways that are accessible and emotionally compelling to readers, including those not previously familiar with or inclined toward such perspectives. I believe that contemporary radical educators and organizers have much to learn from this remarkable text, in terms of both its content and its method of presentation.

Teaching Assata

Cover of Assata Shakur's autobiography "Assata"I had the chance to teach Assata: An Autobiography in 2013, in a course on “Memoir and Autobiography,” at a university serving a diverse and largely working-class student population from the Greater Boston area.5 I found the book to be one of the most thought-provoking works that I have ever taught. Most importantly, it engaged students as effectively as any avowedly left-wing work that I have used, winning students to sympathy and opening them to frank and nuanced discussions of advanced social and political issues. Assata is on some level a strikingly didactic, and ‘in your face’ work—as the opening epigraph to this essay suggests — engaging very abstract ideas as well as more immediate and ‘concrete’ situations, even directly exhorting the reader at various points. Yet despite (and perhaps in part because of) this motley mix — Assata: An Autobiography was, hands-down, the class’s favorite work of the semester.6 What was it about Assata that enabled its radical resonance?

For starters, students were just blown away by the history here — that there had ever been such a (bold, revolutionary, popular) organization as the Black Panther Party in the US, that “violent” participants in that movement could be as eloquent and reflective as Shakur, that the US government had rained down such vicious repression on them, right here ‘at home.’ Being confronted with such a spectacular, shared, historical blind-spot helped students begin a sustained discussion of the political and social role that official schooling and dominant history has played in US society, and in their own lives, a topic that Shakur herselfdirectly engages through her narrative.

Students generally were struck by how Assata (and the Black Panther Party as depicted in the text) wasn’t advocating violence or “hate” against white people, as they had been taught to expect, but rather targeted their antagonism much more narrowly — and politically — against the structures and agents of oppression and exploitation. One white working-class student from South Boston expressed pleasure and surprise that he could identify with much of the struggle that Assata relates, as well as with her broader criticism of US social institutions, history, and ideology. Indeed, many students reported that they could relate personally to Assata’s criticisms of workplace, neighborhood, and school struggles, despite their varied historical, cultural vantage points. Her critique of financial exclusions, petty corruptions, and bureaucratic alienation resonated powerfully. One student volunteered that he felt inspired by Assata to return to radical politics, something he had been exposed to and interested in, but not involved in lately.

Students unanimously reported having a much more favorable response to Assata, this work by a “Top Ten Terrorist,” than to the acclaimed memoir of current US President, Barack Obama, whose Dreams from My Father (Three Rivers Press 1995, 2004) most students found to flop by comparison, both politically and stylistically.7 (We read this text immediately after Assata.) It’s an interesting moment when a class comes to the collective realization that they find the life story and the expressed views of an unreconstructed revolutionary socialist — an “anti-Amerikan” activist and accused “terrorist” fugitive — to be more compelling, relatable, truthful, and admirable than those of the current Commander-in-Chief.

But of course, as fascinating and shocking as the content of the book was and is, the text’s form played a crucial role in shaping student responses to that ‘content.’ It was not just the radical ideas to which they responded so positively, but the particular presentation of those ideas in and through Shakur’s text. Several students emphasized how the very structure of Assata functioned as rhetorical strategy, drawing readers into a serious and sympathetic consideration of radical and revolutionary ideas that they might not otherwise have taken to heart.

The structure of the text

In a sense, Assata’s structure juxtaposes a narrative of Incarceration, focusing on the years 1973-1987, with a narrative of Education, focusing on the years 1947-1977 — what we might call a “struggle for freedom” set against a “struggle for consciousness,” though of course the two struggles are deeply interrelated. Opening with the immediate aftermath of her shooting, capture, and brutal hospital interrogation by New Jersey State Police in 1973, the Incarceration narrative follows Shakur’s legal struggles, as well as her confrontation with jail and prison conditions, police terror, and a series of biased “kourt” cases and judges.8 The intervening chapters follow her life, from birth9 through early childhood, elementary and high school, through various jobs and through (sometimes humorous, sometimes death-defying) explorations of the street life of New York City, with a consistent focus on her education, understood in the broadest terms.

The two narratives effectively merge near book’s end, as Shakur’s account of her education turns to an account of increasingly revolutionary activism in and around the Black Panther Party. This then turns to an account of her life underground, after police violence against the Party escalates, bringing us up to the present of her capture, imprisonment, trial(s), and eventual conviction.10 While necessarily leaving undisclosed the details of her escape, the book ends with a moving account of Assata’s daughter (whom Shakur conceived and gave birth to while incarcerated) and her own mother joining her in Cuba, after years of forced separation. In a Postscript, Shakur reflects on her experience in socialist Cuba, and on the current prospects for world revolution from the sober standpoint of the mid-1980s.

Students found that the stark violence and injustice to which Shakur is subjected in the Incarceration sections inclined them towards a more sympathetic and attentive engagement with her life story, including her turn to radical politics, in the Education sections. At the same time, the coming-of-age story, by relating the struggles and development of an inquisitive and strong-willed child coming up against a racist, sexist, and class-stratified America, inclined them to be (even) more sympathetic to the grown rebel woman, as she is subjected to egregious abuse in courtrooms and prison cells. At the same time, we explored how the different sections do not merely contrast but connect on deeper levels; Assata’s struggle against the state echoes her struggles in the streets—just as her education continues behind bars, through conversations with fellow prisoners.11

Conversely, the text reveals how Incarceration in “Amerika” extends well beyond the prison walls; indeed the schools she attends operate in a highly racist and punitive manner, foreshadowing penitentiaries. As Assata’s fellow prisoner, Eva (honored by Shakur in a poem as “the rhinoceros woman”), puts it, for black people in the US, to be on the street is still not to be “free.” Eva tells Shakur: “You’ll be in jail wherever you go” (59), prompting Assata to reflect that she “has a point”:

The only difference between here [the Middlesex county workhouse] and the streets is that one is maximum security and the other is minimum security. The police patrol our communities just like the guards control here. I don’t have the faintest idea what it feels like to be free.… We aren’t free politically, economically, or socially. We have very little power over what happens in our lives. (60)

The split form of the narrative then, while introducing a jarring dramatic effect between the present fixity of incarceration and persecution and the past freedom of education and development, ultimately works to complicate this opposition, towards an enriched, and collective, sense of the meaning of both Imprisonment and Freedom. That is to say, the more the younger Joanne/Assata learns about the world through her (comparatively) free explorations of it, and the more she grows connected to others through her investigations, the more she sees the constraints on both her own freedom and that of so many others, the more she learns about the historical and structural barriers to achieving freedom for these others…and for herself, insofar as she now feels connected to them. Insofar as her sense of self comes to include the situation of others, she realizes that she cannot get free alone, but only through participation in a collective (self) liberation. As she puts it on the cusp of her radical commitment, “I want to help free the ghetto, not run away from it, leaving my people behind” (154).

Poetry and revolution

Students were further moved by the way Assata uses poetry throughout the book, framing or interrupting the movement of her narrative. Significantly, these interruptive texts present Shakur to us as not only a “militant” activist, and not only a victim of state violence, but as a writer, and not just as a critic or polemicist, but as a lyricist: a creature of human emotion, imagination, and love, as well as intellect and organizational commitment. From within a situation where there is often painfully little that she can control, writing gives Shakur a means of imposing her ideas and will on the madness around her, while keeping that madness from wrecking her own mind.12

“Affirmation,” the poem which opens Assata, provides a powerful example of how imaginative writing usefully frames Shakur’s narrative for readers, establishing empathy while foregrounding key themes. I quote the poem here in full:

“Affirmation”

I believe in living.
I believe in the spectrum
Of Beta days and Gamma people.
I believe in sunshine.
In windmills and waterfalls,
Tricycles and rocking chairs.
And i believe that seeds grow into sprouts.
And sprouts grow into trees.
I believe in the magic of the hands.
And in the wisdom of the eyes.
I believe in rain and tears.
And in the blood of infinity.
I believe in life.
And i have seen the death parade
March through the torso of the earth,
Sculpting mud bodies in its path.
I have seen the destruction of the daylight,
And seen bloodthirsty maggots
Prayed to and saluted.

I have seen the kind become the blind
And the blind become the bind
In one easy lesson.
I have walked on cut glass.
I have eaten crow and blunder bread
And breathed the stench of indifference.

I have been locked by the lawless.
Handcuffed by the haters.
Gagged by the greedy.
And, if I know any thing at all,
It’s that a wall is just a wall
And nothing more at all.
It can be broken down.

I believe in living.
I believe in birth.
I believe in the sweat of love
And in the fire of truth.

And I believe that a lost ship,
Steered by tired, seasick sailors,
Can still be guided home
To port.

This moving poem gives us a useful map of some of Assata’s major themes. Indeed, the very fact that Shakur opens with a poem – celebrating a belief in and a love of life – is significant; my students said they felt immediately pulled in by the emotional quality of the poem; it wasn’t what most expected from a “militant black revolutionary” let alone an accused murderer or “terrorist.” “Affirmation” immediately prompted them to read Assata’s radical political trajectory as a product of emotional experience, as well as intellectual argument, an expression of love, hope, and affirmative belief, not only of hate or criticism (though her book, justifiably, contains plenty of both).

“Affirmation” also charts what we could call a dialectics of Oppression and Liberation — a key nexus that lays the basis for Assata’s remarkable revolutionary optimism. As she writes, “I have seen the kind become the blind, and the blind become the bind,” lines which are soon followed by the supplementary statement: “if I know anything at all, // it’s that a wall is just a wall // and nothing more at all. // It can be broken down.” Here, Assata calls attention to the (dialectical) fact that the ultimate basis of what appears to be solid and perhaps immovable “objective reality” (“just the way it is”) is in fact nothing more (and nothing less) than the product of human consciousness and feeling, as embodied in the practices this consciousness and feeling sustains (or disrupts). She asks us to reflect on the way that people give up their own human vision and sympathy, making themselves into—or allowing themselves to be made into—objects, stripped of meaningful will or subjectivity. Not only does she speak of the “bind[s]” that hold people and systems of oppression in place as ultimately constituted by the “blind” — that is, those who are unable to (or who refuse to) “see” — but she marks how many of the “blind” were themselves previously “kind.” Oppressors are not oppressors by fate, by nature, nor by “race,” but by training, through the “lessons” they learn (and fail to unlearn). The flip side of this dialectical insight, of course, is that, given the correct transformation of consciousness and human feeling—a return to kindness from blindness, so to speak—the “binds” and with them the “walls” can be broken down, dissolved, and the people trapped by them, set free. (Shakur’s own life trajectory as a prison escapee speaks powerfully to the concrete possibilities of such freedom.)

Assata’s depiction of the state, including the “kourt” system and the police as well as other ideological state apparatuses, is radically critical and even shockingly blunt — she refers to cops as “pigs” routinely and unapologetically, likening state police to fascists, even outright Nazis in some cases. And yet she also calls attention throughout her narrative to various cracks and openings in the would-be totalitarian “pig” system, highlighting moments where an element of humanity manages to slip through, where the kindness, solidarity, or just plain decency of a person, even one who may technically be working for the “other side,” plays a crucial role in sustaining Assata’s spirit, even saving her life.13 Unredeemable systems of oppression exist, but so do small acts of human kindness, and these small acts matter.

For example, in the first narrative chapter, while Assata lies handcuffed to a hospital bed, shot through the chest and the shoulder by police, without access to a lawyer, yet subject to interrogation and outright torture, a man whom she initially identifies as a “black pig” turns out to be “not a cop but a hospital security guard…not at all hostile. His face breaks into a kind of reserved smile and, very discreetly, he clenches his fist and gives me the power sign.” Assata adds, “That man will never know how much better he made me feel at that moment” (6). Later in that same opening scene, at a moment of deep desperation, Shakur is able to persuade a nurse—again a state employee—to disobey her superiors and get word out to Shakur’s lawyer and family, an act that may have saved her life. Assata is peppered with such small and often surprising acts of human solidarity.14

To underline the point: Insofar as the “walls” and “binds” are constituted by human beings (who are often facing some sort of oppression and exploitation of their own), Assata reminds us, there remains the potential for “kindness” and thus for solidarity to burst the binds, to bring down the walls.15 Thus, though Assata ultimately affirms the necessity for serious revolutionaries to take a sharp and unsentimental view of the enemy, cultivating the social, political, and, yes, the military basis foran (anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist) Liberation Army, and thus points clearly to her belief that the repressive apparatus in the United States cannot ultimately be defeated by peaceful means alone, her sharp antagonism towards the systems of oppression, and towards those “pigs” who actively operate positions of power within those systems, does not rule out the continued possibility (and perhaps even necessity) for the “un-binding” of those who constitute that system, through the clearing of vision and the rekindling of kindness. Assata’s assertion of the need for violent revolution does not bar but rather necessitates her openness to the potential of human transformation.

In this spirit, the wall-breaking, bar-bursting “violent” actions of a guerrilla insurgency, such as the Black Liberation Army aspired to ignite, may be seen as not primarily military, aiming at impairing the enemy apparatus and liberating particular forces or territories (though that is one important aspect), but as deeply symbolic, signaling and reminding those looking on that, in fact, “a wall is just a wall, nothing more at all. It can be broken down.” The goal of “violent” action would ultimately be to anchor, amplify, and sustain symbolic resonance among the people, which then may provoke and inspire proliferating thought and action, of various kinds. The function of revolutionary violence here—as opposed to what we might call ‘terrorist violence’—is thus not to render the world more polarized and fixed, but more porous, partisan, and change-able, precisely by shaking the ideological “walls” that act as a barrier to human thought and solidarity. Such “violence” ought not to aim to simply divide the world into “us” (the People and the Revolutionaries) and “them” (the “Pigs” and Reactionaries), but to divide the “them, opening up new fronts within the repressive apparatus, as the previously inert “binds” are summoned back to conscious life (to sight and to kindness). In this sense, at least in theory, revolutionary violence can, when sharply focused against enemy institutions as embodiments of oppressive ideologies, open rather than close down space for human subjectivity, for thought and freedom, on both sides of the walls.

Revolutionary hopefulness…and humility

Alongside this striking revolutionary optimism — some might call it voluntarism16Assata’s opening “Affirmation” frames for readers another key theme that impressed my students: Shakur’s humility, her willingness to engage in self-criticism and to dramatize her own moments of ignorance, insensitivity, embarrassment, and shame as she struggles toward a revolutionary road. “I have eaten crow and blunder bread, and breathed the stench of indifference,” she writes, lines which admit that she has not only been the victim or the virtuous antagonist of systems of oppression, but has been subject to their influence as well. “Breathing the stench of indifference” goes in both directions here. It is not that Shakur has been able—through luck, enlightened leadership, the proper reading, or a superior nature—to avoid social contradiction, human failing, or toxic ideology (from internalized racism, to worker false consciousness, from historical ignorance and naïve patriotism, to consumerism, knee-jerk anti-communism, and, later, what she will call “revolutionary romanticism”). Rather, what distinguishes Assata’s revolutionary trajectory, and part of what made her so approachable for students, I think, is her willingness to admit mistakes, to recognize her own human ignorance and “blundering,” admittedly often only after others force it into her consciousness, and then to work to overcome these socially imbibed, inherited weaknesses, in theory and in practice. The starting point for revolutionary practice here is not a matter of achieving a standpoint of purity or perfection, a blueprint of what is to be done, or some Archimedean point above the fray, but a willingness to admit and to work through contradictions, with others, in light of a growing, if uneven awareness of a common history, a common goal, and a common enemy. It is an expression of critical love that begins with a deep belief that one is not fundamentally better or different (or separate) from the people one sets out to organize and to liberate.

Several students were moved by this depiction of Shakur’s own learning process, how her account is as much about the process of learning and self-transformation as it is about the particular content of lessons that result from it. Assata depicts revolutionary consciousness not just as a set of properly radical verdicts, but as an endlessly critical and self-critical advance in awareness, a matter of experimentation and experience, and of reflection on that experience, a matter of listening to others and learning lessons, negative and positive, from failure as well as success.

In a final paper, one student discussed eloquently how Assata models for readers this often- difficult process of working through the shame and “cognitive dissonance” that radical critique can provoke in those who ‘ought’ to be open to it. When confronted with a radically new and paradigm-shifting idea about the world—even an idea that seems intellectually convincing and ethically compelling—many people will suppress rather than respond positively to that idea, paralyzed by a sense of shame that they remain at some level attached to the very practices, institutions, and notions that they would now have to denounce.17 Without an avenue to work through this shame and dissonance — feeling in a sense judged rather than liberated by the new notion — the subject may lapse into paralysis and cynical resignation, failing to pursue the opening into new theory and practice.

Students attested that they found Assata’s approach to resonate with what they themselves have experienced when they have been confronted with radical criticism of dominant ideologies and institutions — ideologies and institutions which they have spent much of their lives being taught to identify with. They found that Assata, rather than preaching at them, was working through these ideologies and attitudes with them. The difference was crucial.

Arguably, the paralyzing effect of such shame-inducing cognitive dissonance may reach its pinnacle in a country like today’s USA, where capitalist penetration of public and private life — politics, culture, consciousness, intimate relations — has reached unprecedented levels, only dreamed of in the 1960s. Mental prisons have proliferated alongside the literal ones. Who among us today can claim to be beyond the psychological reach of myriad fantasies constructed by capital, though we aspire to the mantle of ‘anti-capitalism’? To what extent have most young people (or for that matter, their would-be teachers) incorporated capitalist commodity culture into their very identities and life-goals? How could people not? Assata confronts and yet transcends the often-paralyzing discourse of ‘complicity’ with the dominant culture by at once acknowledging — and dramatizing — Shakur’s own embeddedness in various backward ideologies and destructive practices, but also foregrounding her self-transformative efforts to overcome them, as part of a larger working through of a contradictory historical inheritance. Shakur’s emphasis on her own self-activity—both her mistakes and her breakthroughs — played an important role in getting students to see this revolutionary neither as a “victim,” nor as some “hero-saint” to be put on a pedestal, but as a complex human being, not fundamentally different from themselves. This point further helped discussion of the text to move beyond an identity-politics frame, allowing students to connect personally with the types of “Amerikan” problems that Shakur parses across her own life, while acknowledging important differences in historical experience as well.

 


This article was first published at Red Wedge Magazine, this is the first part of a longer essay that will appear in full in the November issue of the journal Socialism and Democracy, an issue devoted to the topic of Mass Incarceration.

 

  1. The gunfight left Assata’s comrade, Zayd Shakur, as well as State Trooper Werner Foerster dead. Assata herself was seriously wounded during the attack, having been shot in the back. []
  2. Assata has made several public statements from exile in Cuba, including a 1997 Letter to Pope John Paul II, issued following reports that the FBI had pressured the church leader to petition Fidel Castro to expedite Shakur to the US. This letter can be found online, including at Democracy Now, where it was first broadcast. []
  3. This is Shakur’s legal name—she refers to it as her “slave name.” []
  4. See the FBI’s “Most Wanted Terrorist” list. []
  5. The class met once per week, for three hours in the evenings 6-9pm—many of the students having put in full days at work before attending. []
  6. I base this assessment on the quality and enthusiasm of class discussions (lecture-guided and spontaneous peer-to-peer responses), on the quality and content of the students’ writing on the text (both weekly response papers and final, formal essays), and on an end-of-semester poll. Of the ten students in the class, half picked Assata as their “favorite” of the semester, while the other half all placed Assata in the top two or three works (of ten) that we read together. Fully half of the students elected to do their final critical essay on Assata. []
  7. Unlike my students, mainstream critics have lavished praise on Obama’s Dreams from My Father. For a serious radical critique of Dreams, see Barbara Foley’s essay “Rhetoric and Silence in Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father” in Cultural Logic: an electronic journal of theory and practice. The 2014 convention of the Modern Language Association featured an entire panel focused on the literary legacies of Obama’s book. []
  8. Shakur spells the word always with a “k,” as in “kangaroo kourt.” []
  9. As Shakur writes at the start of her second chapter: “The FBI cannot find any evidence that I was born…. Anyway, I was born” (Assata, 18). []
  10. It’s worth underscoring here that all the charges that ostensibly justified Shakur being pursued by New Jersey police on the Turnpike either ended in acquittal or were dropped. The sole charge for which she was ever convicted—a conviction that remains dubious—concerned actions which allegedly transpired following, and were prompted by, this aggressive police pursuit. Shakur maintains her innocence and there was no physical evidence to establish that she fired a shot. []
  11. Similarly, Shakur’s only child is conceived inside a courthouse cell, where she and her lover/co-defendant Kamau are locked alone for verbally protesting abuses in the courtroom to the point that the judge orders them excluded from the scene of their own trial. She gives birth in prison as well, after a protracted struggle to get access to decent medical care. []
  12. Indeed, reading Assata drove home to me how important it could be today, in this age of mass incarceration, to use writing as a means to help imprisoned brothers and sisters keep their minds and hearts alive, through letter writing and inmate book programs… pending a more radical abolition of this “New Jim Crow” system. []
  13. Lest we lapse into romantic fantasy, it’s important to note that such acts, in Assata, are not carried out by any actual police officer, but by personnel such as hospital security guards, nurses, doctors, and others who, though they may be employed and instructed by the systems’ rulers, are not themselves sheer agents of repression. []
  14. These acts of course are in addition to the countless acts of conscious solidarity that constitute the sustained legal and political campaign to free Assata, the efforts of which are discussed at length in the “Incarceration” chapters. The present essay, with my focus on radical pedagogy, will tend to focus on the “Education” chapters. []
  15. Again, the word here is potential, not inevitability. The openness of revolutionary potentiality is not an occasion for confidence, passivity, or spectatorship, but for renewed activism, outreach, and an all-sided seizing of contingent opportunities. []
  16. For a compelling philosophical reconsideration — and defense — of the much derided term voluntarism, see the work Peter Hallward, e.g. his essay. “The Will of the People: Notes Towards a Dialectical Voluntarism,” Radical Philosophy 155, May/June 2009. []
  17. To refer back to Shakur’s opening poem: it can be not only radicalizing, but traumatizing and embarrassing to recognize that what you have been “saluting” for most of your life, are little but “maggots.” []

John Trudell, Thanksgiving address (1980): “They deal in violence and repression, we are power”

“I’d like to thank all of you for coming here tonight and sharing this evening with us. And tonight I’d like to talk in honor of the water and the earth and our brother Leonard Peltier.

We’re faced with a very serious situation in this generation. There are insane people who wish to rule the world. They wish to continue to rule the world on violence and repression, and we are all the victims of that violence and repression. We as the indigenous people of the western hemisphere have been resisting this oppression for 500 years. We know that the black people have been resisting it for at least that long. And we know that the white people have had to endure it thousands of years. And now it’s come full swing to this generation that we live in: the nuclearization of the world.

You see, this cannot be. We cannot allow this to go on. We cannot do it. We cannot expect that the pro-nuclear oppressor, that other side, we cannot expect that they’re going to change for us. They are going to become more brutal. They are going to become more repressive because it’s a matter of dollars and their illusionary concepts of power.

We have to re-establish our identity. We have to understand who we are and where we fit in the natural order of the world, because our oppressor deals in illusions. They tell us that it is power, but it is not power. They may have all the guns, and they may have all the racist laws and judges, and they may control all the money, but that is not power. These are only imitations of power, and they are only power because in our minds we allow it to be power. But it’s all an imitation. Racism and violence, racism and guns, economics- the brutality of the American Corporate State way of life is nothing more than violence and oppression and it doesn’t have anything to do with power. It is brutality. It’s a lack of a sane balance. The people who have created this system, and who perpetuate this system, they are out of balance. They have made us out of balance. They have come into our minds and they have come into our hearts and they’ve programmed us. Because we live in this society, and it has put us out of balance. And because we are out of balance we no longer have the power to deal with them. They have conquered us as a natural power.

See, we are power. They deal in violence and repression, we are power. We are a part of the natural world. All of the things in the natural world are a natural part of the creation and feed off the energy of our sacred mother, Earth. We are power. But they have separated us from our spiritual connection to the Earth, so people feel powerless. We look at the oppressor and we look at the enemy because they have the most guns and the most lies and the most money. People start to feel powerless.

We are power, we are a natural part of the creation, we were put here on the sacred mother Earth to serve a purpose. And somewhere in the history of people we’re forgetting what the purpose is. The purpose is to honor the earth, the purpose is to protect the earth, the purpose is to live in balance with the earth, the earth is our mother. And we will never free ourselves as human people, we will never free ourselves as sexual people, we will never free ourselves until we address the issue of how we live in balance with the earth. Because all our resistance and all of our struggle is hollow, it’s false, it’s another one of the oppressor’s hypocrisies. If we do not look out for the welfare of the Earth first, because I don’t care who it is, any child who turns on their mother is living in a terrible, terrible confusion. The Earth is our mother, we must take care of the Earth.

They pollute- this oppressor, this machine that has gone mad and run amok, it is beserk. They keep telling us, “progress.” They keep telling us “face reality.” Well, let’s deal with reality. Reality is the Earth can no longer take this attack. We can no longer allow this Thing to continue when it’s polluting the air, it’s polluting the water, polluting our food. They pollute the air, they pollute the water, they pollute our food, they pollute our minds. They put us out of balance.

They have made us be insecure with ourselves. They have put us into a situation where we have to play many roles. You know, we gotta be chauvinist, or we’ve got to be on some kind of a class trip, or some kind of illusionary power trip. We’ve gotta play a role, see? We’ve gotta play a role to communicate with other people. We’ve got to go through this charade because they have attacked our self confidence. They have attacked our self confidence and they have made us to listen to *them.* They have made us to believe that they are power. But they are not- they are violent and they are brutal, but they are not power.

We are a natural part of the earth. As a natural part of the Earth, we have the energy and the power that IS the Earth. The Earth will take care of us if we will remember the Earth- in more than just our words. If we will remember the Earth in our way of life; we are all here to play a role. And all of the animals, and all of the life on the earth is playing it’s proper role except the human people. Somehow we are betraying, we are betraying our purpose here and that is why we live in the confusion that we live in. They tell us, they want us to believe, that we are powerless.

We are a natural part of the earth, we are an extension of that natural energy. The natural energy which is Spirit, and which is power. Power. A blizzard is power. An earthquake is power. A tornado is power. These are all things of power that no oppressor, no machine age, can put these things of power in a prison. No machine age can make these things of power submit to the machine age. That is natural power. And just as it takes millions and billions of elements to make a blizzard to happen, or to make the earthquake, to make the earth to move, then it’s going to take millions and billions of us. We are power. We have that power. We have the potential for that power.

I remember in the 60s and 70s I heard all these things about “power to the people” and I never really understood because everyone was saying “power to the people” when they were talking about demonstrating, they were talking about votes, they were talking about dealing on the terms of the oppressor. Our power will come back to us, our sense of balance will come back to us, when we go back to the natural way of protecting and honoring the earth. If we have forgotten how to do it, or we think that it looks overwhelming, or think that we can never accomplish it, all we have to do, each one of us, an individual, is to go and find one spot on the Earth that we can relate to. Feel that energy, feel that power. That’s where our safety will come.

The Earth will take care of us. We have to understand that the American Corporate State will not take care of us. They do not care about us. Maximize their profit, that is where their whole life’s balance is placed upon- maximizing the profit. They will turn us against each other to maximize the profit, because they have done it in the past.

Nuclear energy. It’s the final assault. Nuclear energy should tell each and every one of us that they have gone beyond the reasons of sanity. That they are no longer sane. That they no longer deal with the real, natural world. Because they want to create a radioactivity that is going to make it impossible for the mother earth to take care of our life. We will not destroy the world. We are arrogant and we are stupid and we are foolish if we believe that we will destroy the world. Man has the ability to destroy all of the people’s ability to live on the Earth, but we do not have the power to destroy the earth. The earth will heal itself. The earth will purify itself of us. If it takes a billion years to get rid of the radiation the Earth will do it, because the Earth has that kind of time. We do not.

Our obligations and our loyalty have to be to the earth, and they have to be to our sense of community and to our people and our relations. Our obligations and loyalty should not be to a government that will not take care of our needs. Our obligations and loyalty should not be to a government that has proven time and time again that it is the enemy of the people unless the people are rich in dollars. That has been the consistent history of Western civilization and the American Corporate State Government- that’s reality. They are not our friends, they do not care about us. We have to face the reality that we have an enemy.

We all want to talk about nuclear war, everyone’s afraid of nuclear war, and it’s going to come between the Americans and the Russians or the Chinese or whoever. But are they not waging nuclear war on us now when the miners die from cancer from mining that Uranium? Are they not waging nuclear war with Three Mile Island? When they release that stuff into the air? Are they not waging nuclear war when they build these nuclear reactors and it’s not safe? Are they not waging nuclear war when they attack the Indian people on their land, militarily attack the Indian people, racistly attack the Indian people, so they can get at the natural resources to feed their radioactive machines? That is war, and they are waging it against us. They bribe congress, they bribe your elected officials, they terrorize and intimidate your elected officials by getting the FBI to blackmail them. Those are acts of war. We have to come to a time in our lifetime, and it will come in our lifetime, where we are going to have to deal with the fact that the enemy has taken over your government. The government is not your ally. The government will use you, chew you up and spit you out.

You think that we are wrong? You think that we are talking unrealistically? Then go look at your elders and see what has happened to your elders in your machine age society. See what kind of respect that they get. See what kind of a voice they are allowed into your society, what kind of input they have. See what their final reward of happiness is after working for this slave state for 30 or 40 years and allowing someone to exploit their labors.

What is racism? Racism is an act of war. What is sexism? Sexism is an act of war. It’s a war against our human dignity and our rights to self respect. This is the war that they wage there. War! They are war-like. And we have to understand that the American Corporate State got to where it’s at through the act of war. The next war… you wanna worry, you wanna think about a war? The next war that you better be concerned about is the one that they’re gonna fight here. Here in the continental United States. They have fought many wars here. They fought us all along, see, because we said ‘it’s ours and you haven’t got a right to it.’ They fought us. Now you all are claiming that it’s yours under this illusionary concept of private ownership of property and they’re gonna fight you. But they’re going to call it “national security” and “national energy crisis.” They’re going to call it “constitutional rights” and they’re gonna call it “judicial proceedings.” They’re going to nationalize… you know, your military coupe is going to come there. They’re going to nationalize the police departments, there’s your military coupe. In the name of “violence.” “Rising crime.” But all we must do is look in the corporate office and see the rising crime that is taking place there and nobody’s going to jail for it. So we’ve got to understand that they are arming themselves to wage a war against us and it’s going to be called the war of “law and order.” Because they’re twisting it around.

For 500 years my people have resisted. For 500 years we will resist again if it becomes necessary. We want to be able to relate and communicate with all of the people who are living on this land, but we want to be able to relate and communicate from a position of truth. You all gotta face the truth. We have had to face it through 500 years of genocide, we have had to face the truth, we have had to live the truth. We have had to die the truth. Before we’re gonna ever see our evolutionary liberation, the people that call themselves Americans are gonna have to face the truth also.

They tell us to “be realistic,” that “progress” means that all these things have to happen. They tell us that we can’t go back to the old way. They tell us “be realistic.” But there is no old way, no new way, there is a way of life. We must live in balance with the earth. We MUST do it. We have no choice. If we allow ourselves to be apathetic, or we allow ourselves to be lied to, or tolerate their lies about what they’re doing to the earth, then we are betraying our intention. We are betraying our purpose here. We cannot protect that 7th generation if we do not protect the earth. We cannot protect ourselves if we do not protect the earth. The Earth gives us life, not the American government. The earth gives us life, not the multi-national corporate government. The Earth gives us life, we need to have the Earth. We must have it, otherwise our life will be no more. So we must resist what they do.

They want to break our spirit. They will do everything and anything to break our spirit, our will to live. We must learn to resist, we much learn to see, we must learn to look. We must learn to step out of this reactionary-ism. All of our lives they’ve had control of us through their schools, their tv, their electronic media.  They’ve had control of us all of our lives. They have programmed us, they have made us become reactionary. We don’t think, we react to what they do. We don’t think, we react. To everything that they do- we react to it. They’re setting us up in the 80’s because they know consistently throughout the past the people have always reacted to their manipulations of circumstance. They know that the people always react. They’re counting on it in the 80’s.

See, and they outnumber us with guns, They outnumber us with money. They outnumber us with votes. They control all the machines that count the votes. They’ve got it all stacked in their favor. Except there’s a key. The key is we must start thinking, and stop reacting. The oppressor has no thinkers, they have no philosophers, it’s all scientific, it’s all economic, it’s all manipulative. They have no thinkers. You go look and you deal with the enemy and what the enemy does is: the enemy will send somebody out on the street to hit you in the head and the guy says “I’m only taking my orders.” And if you can come from a position of strength to this guy whose hitting you in the head and say “Hey, you’ve got to stop hitting me in the head, we want to talk.” then he says “Well I have to go to my superior to see.” They have no thinkers, either.

If we will start to think we will learn to see, to see what reality really is, and we will outnumber them through the thinking process. We will take our minds away from them. Because through their manipulation of our minds they control our spirit, and they know this is true. They tell us, see, they want us to believe that we are powerless. They want us to believe that we are becoming overwhelmed, that they can overwhelm us. You see, but they are paranoid. They are more paranoid than any of us are, no matter what happens to us. You see, because they have to put people in here to come and listen to what we’re saying, so they can go back and tell.

See, so they’re afraid! They’re afraid because they know we’re talking about reality! Now why are they afraid? They are afraid because they know they are dealing with the illusions of power which are based on the realities of violence and brutality. They’re afraid! See, they don’t want people to think, they don’t want people to be talking, and they don’t want people to think about what they talk about.

Because they know. They’ve known it all along, that they built their whole Thing on illusions. And because they have drawn us in to giving this illusionary world all this power, they have taken our power away from us. Because we believe in the illusions.”

In Defense of Leaderless Revolutions

(by Peter Gelderloos via CounterPunch/Infoshop.org)

Cihan Tugal (“The End of the “Leaderless” Revolution” July 10, 2013) effectively picks apart the populist and premature claims of a successful revolution in Egypt. Yet he goes further to use the evident flaws in the leaderless revolutions that have been a hallmark of the early 21st century to discredit the very concept of leaderless revolution. In doing so, he opens the way for an amnesiac backslide to the much more flawed authoritarian revolutions of the 20th century, in the process committing some of the same errors that must be criticized in the ongoing revolts.

In order to build up a continuity of critique that benefits from awareness of all our past failures—a rich history indeed—we need to compare the failings of the leaderless revolutions with the much greater failings of the authoritarian revolutions of the past, rather than cover up those failings with the facile neologism of “leaderful” revolutions.

Ajamu Baraka, in “Requiem for a Revolution That Never Was” (July 18, 2013), is correct in challenging the pretensions of the Egyptian revolt to being a revolution. He sets the bar necessarily higher, stating: “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.”

I would differ sharply with the idea that simply changing the structure and the role of the State is compatible with eliminating oppression, as every State in history has advanced the exclusive interests of the ruling class it unfailingly creates, necessarily blocking the full freedom of action and self-organization of its subjects. In fact no one has advanced a convincing argument about how a State could possibly do anything else, and the proponents of such apologia have most often been the ones to actively disprove the proposition of a benign State.

Nonetheless, we can take this as a starting point: a revolution seeks to profoundly transform social organization and eliminate oppression. If we acknowledge that populists were premature in declaring a revolutionary victory in Egypt, we should also accept that Tugal is premature in declaring a failure.

What revolution that ran its course was not preceded by insurrections that were crushed? In Russia there was the failed 1905 revolution. In China there was the Autumn Harvest Uprising, and in Spain the insurrections at Casas Viejas in 1933 and Asturias in 1934. The Cuban Revolution was preceded by the attack on the Moncada barracks. And the American Revolution owes much more to the thwarted Conspiracy of 1741 in New York than most historians are willing to acknowledge (given that the eventual leaders of that revolution were looking to avoid, rather than realize, the dreams of early insurgents).

Revolutions are not an event, but a process, and a major part of that process involves learning from our failures, developing more adequate theories and analysis, and building up the capacity to defend the spaces we seize and the germinal social relations we create.

In Egypt, the forces that obstructed this learning process were the revolt’s would-be leaders, populists hoping to mobilize the masses with empty slogans. These leaders were unwittingly complemented by direct democracy activists who thought it was enough for people to take to the streets and participate in assemblies. They were happy to have created a vessel, no matter how superficial the content that filled it, no matter how undeveloped their new structure’s capacity for self-defense.

In the plaza occupation movement in Spain, directly influenced by the Arab Spring, hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets chanting, “the revolution begins here.” Most of them were sincere, but they also held a media-corrupted view of what revolution actually means. The experience with a leaderless revolution forced many of them to question their assumptions and deepen their analysis.

Behind the façade of popular unity that the many commentators helped to create, these movements contained important conflicts. In Spain as elsewhere, there were the authoritarians and the movement politicians who parroted horizontal, anti-party rhetoric so as not to scare away their potential constituency. And there were the activists who believed in an ideology of horizontality and direct democracy in and of themselves. Both of these groups coincided in their desire to hide and suppress the internal divisions in the movement. They spoke of unity and hoped that everyone would rally around lowest common denominator positions. But there were also the marginalized, who were not content with any movement that would sate itself with mere reform. Many of them kept coming back to the streets because of what they found there, a spontaneous, self-organizing collectivity that promised a future community based on everything that is lacking under capitalism. And among the marginalized were the radicals, who specifically and unceasingly criticized the false unity, the democratic populism, and the at best superficial analysis of capitalism.

The movement politicians tried their best to ignore these radicals. The media suggested they were outside provocateurs, even though they were there from the beginning. But an increasing number of people began to listen to them, and collectively the movement as a whole deepened its analysis and sharpened its practice. This is why the largely middle-class, populist “indignados” of the spring of 2011 gave way to the anticapitalist, diverse, and numerically superior strikers and rioters of the general strike one year later.

In Egypt as well, anarchists and other radicals were in the heart of the recent uprising, opposing the Morsi government as well as a military government, and spreading critiques of the power structures that underpin both. For now, the military has prevailed, but this gives people in Egypt a chance to learn lessons and strengthen their practice. A population that has been subdued by military dictatorship for decades has little chance to develop the analysis and the tools of self-defense they need to overcome one of the most heavily funded militaries in the world in just two years, but in such a short time, they have come a very long way.

The leaderless revolution must overcome centuries of conditioning that teaches us that we need to be ruled. This is its central conflict. Setbacks in Egypt and elsewhere should underscore this conflict, not justify running away from the greatest struggle we will ever take up.

What becomes clear with experience is that it is not enough to take to the streets and protest, no matter how many figureheads we topple, because power runs deeper than that. It is not enough to implement democratic debate, because the right answers have already been precluded by the very way our lives have been structured.

Tugal is dead wrong when he writes about “the fallacy that the people can take power without an agenda, an alternative platform, an ideology, and leaders.” That someone can still talk about taking power as a liberatory proposition without getting laughed off stage, in the face of so many historical examples that show what taking power actually means, shows how deep our collective amnesia runs.

It is no surprise, however, that some people keep sounding the call for unifying behind leaders and a platform in order to take power. In an authoritarian revolution, academics and other intellectual and cultural producers often move from their middling rung in the capitalist hierarchy to the top tier. It is in their class interest to advocate for authoritarian revolution. The rest of us just need to learn to tune them out.

The idea that we can address the economic alienation of capitalism without addressing the political alienation of the State is absurd. It is no coincidence that all the authoritarian revolutions that billed themselves as “anticapitalist” proved to be nothing more than shortcuts back to capitalism. The greatest promise of the leaderless revolutions is their ability to create a synthesis between economic and political liberation, but only if they also reject the democratic populism that Tugal and many others have criticized. But an analysis critical of both capitalism and populism already exists in the heart of the Egyptian revolt, as it also did in the Spanish plaza occupation movement and even Occupy.

These leaderless revolts do not need to be rejected. We just need to cut through the veil of unity, hollow discourses like that of the “99%” or “people power”, acknowledge the conflicts that exist within these movements, and take sides. Not to advance the correct platform, the correct agenda, and the correct set of leaders, inevitably setting off a carnival of sectarianism, but in a spirit of pluralistic debate.

Bowing down to the need for leaders, “an” (read, one) ideology, and a common platform would obstruct the most important line of growth for these revolutions, which is self-organization. A prerequisite for self-organization is that the outcomes cannot be predetermined as they are when we all have to toe a party line. Once most people know how to take the initiative in their own lives and put their plans into action, once the practice of self-organization intensifies to move beyond making abstract decisions, people will be able to create new social relations and collectively organize the material aspects of their lives—how to feed, clothe, house, heal, and generally provide for themselves. If this happens, leaders will be obsolete and we can begin to earnestly talk about revolution.

The worst problem with authoritarian revolutions is not that they produce “a cult of the leader,” the only glitch Tugal finds to criticize, but that their existence requires them to obstruct the self-organization of the people by any means necessary, a dynamic that Voline documented in the Russian Revolution and that has proven to be the case in every authoritarian revolution since.

The revolts in Egypt, Turkey, Brazil, Spain, and elsewhere are an important start. But wherever we participate in leaderless movements we need to argue passionately against reformism, for a radical critique of capitalism, and for a committed rejection of leaders. Eschewing leadership provisionally, rejecting only the current leaders, will only lead to a takeover by populists, opportunists, or seemingly neutral structures like the military, as happened in Egypt. But if the rejection of leadership solidifies, Tamarod or any other group will not be able to rally people behind a leadership that appears to be neutral, or convince them to stuff their dreams into a ballot box.

If these revolutionary movements grow and successfully resist co-optation, they will come into greater conflict with the State. Leaderless insurrections in recent years in Egypt, Brazil, and Greece quickly overcame the ability of the police to contain them, raising the specter of a clash with the military. How can a leaderless revolt adapt to such a conflict? Fortunately we have historical precedents.

The most important historical lesson warns against the militarization of the conflict. Many revolutionary movements have had to overcome the military force of the State, but they ended up defeating themselves when they subordinated social questions to matters of military organization. In combat, large groups of people often need to arrive at unified decisions in the shortest time possible, meaning that assemblies don’t cut it. The forms of organization and leadership that develop in the sphere of martial conflict must therefore never take precedence over the social character of the ongoing revolution.

In recent times, the Zapatistas have taken great pains to avoid a militarization of the conflict or subordinate their social activities to the military leadership. The results of their efforts remain to be seen.

In the Spanish Civil War, anarchist and some socialist militias organized with elected and recallable officers, and these militias had no authority in socio-economic matters. The revolution was lost when it was subordinated to the military question (“win the war first, then make the revolution later”) and the militias were forced to join the regular armies.

In the Russian Revolution, the anarchist Makhno led a highly effective partisan detachment comprised entirely of peasant volunteers that wreaked havoc on the authoritarian White and Red Armies. For his part, Makhno refused leadership in the revolutionary assemblies that were established in the liberated territory. He stuck to military matters, and told workers or peasants looking for guidance to organize themselves.

Kim Jwa-Jin was a similar figure in the Chinese Civil War: leader of the Shinmin Commune’s army, he left all political decisions to the federation and the local assemblies, where an anti-authoritarian spirit were the order of the day.

Nanny led the maroons in Jamaica in the battle against slavery. And in their victorious wars against Spanish attempts at colonization, the Mapuche of South America chose tokis to lead them in battle. But Nanny and the tokis had no power on the community or household levels, beyond their own household and their own community, nor were they integrated into any power structure that governed those other social levels, as are military leaders in a compartmentalized state structure.

For most of us, the eventuality of military conflict is still a long way off. Even in Egypt, where a civil war is an imminent possibility, the movement still has so much work to do to get to a point where it could hope to survive such a conflict. Ultimately, we will cross that bridge when we get there. But it is good to know that we won’t be the first ones to carry the dream of an egalitarian revolution and a world without hierarchy or oppression.

We have no need to listen to those who sound the call to retreat, back to the hopelessly flawed model of authoritarian revolution that marred the 20th century. The leaderless revolution is an ongoing experiment, an endeavor that challenges us to abandon our authoritarian baggage, to convince those who are new to struggle that a simple reform is not enough, to spread an understanding of how power actually functions and to see the connection between every form of oppression.

The widespread mistrust of leaders is one of the few things we have gained from our long history of revolutionary failure. Let’s not give that up just because our struggles are not immediately successful. Rather, we need to turn that mistrust into a principled position. A hundred years ago, millions of people cried out, “The liberation of the workers is a task for the workers themselves.” This is true of everyone who is exploited and oppressed, whether their oppression plays out on lines of class, race, gender, sexuality, or ethnicity. They will know better than anyone else how to liberate themselves.

Peter Gelderloos is the author of several books, including Anarchy Works and the newly published The Failure of Nonviolence: from the Arab Spring to Occupy. He lives in Barcelona.

On this day in history (December 21, 1919): Mass deportation of leftist radicals from United States

Following a year of massive strikes and political unrest at the end of World War I, the U.S. government deports 249 anarchists (including Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman), communists, anti-war activists, and “labor agitators.”
Emma Goldman -- deportation photo(Photo: Emma Goldman’s deportation photo, 1919)
Here are is an excerpt from Emma Goldman’s “My Disillusionment with Russia” (1923):
“The STATE IDEA, the authoritarian principle, has been proven bankrupt by the experience of the Russian Revolution. If I were to sum up my whole argument in one sentence I should say: The inherent tendency of the State is to concentrate, to narrow, and monopolize all social activities; the nature of revolution is, on the contrary, to grow, to broaden, and disseminate itself in ever-wider circles. In other words, the State is institutional and static; revolution is fluent, dynamic. These two tendencies are incompatible and mutually destructive. The State idea killed the Russian Revolution and it must have the same result in all other revolutions, unless the libertarian idea prevail.

The dominant, almost general, idea of revolution — particularly the Socialist idea — is that revolution is a violent change of social conditions through which one social class, the working class, becomes dominant over another class, the capitalist class. It is the conception of a purely physical change, and as such it involves only political scene shifting and institutional rearrangements. Bourgeois dictatorship is replaced by the “dictatorship of the proletariat” — or by that of its “advance guard,” the Communist Party. Lenin takes the seat of the Romanovs, the Imperial Cabinet is rechristened Soviet of People’s Commissars, Trotsky is appointed Minister of War, and a labourer becomes the Military Governor General of Moscow. That is, in essence, the Bolshevik conception of revolution, as translated into actual practice.

Revolution is indeed a violent process. But if it is to result only in a change of dictatorship, in a shifting of names and political personalities, then it is hardly worth while. It is surely not worth all the struggle and sacrifice, the stupendous loss in human life and cultural values that result from every revolution. If such a revolution were even to bring greater social well being (which has not been the case in Russia) then it would also not be worth the terrific price paid: mere improvement can be brought about without bloody revolution.

Our institutions and conditions rest upon deep-seated ideas. To change those conditions and at the same time leave the underlying ideas and values intact means only a superficial transformation, one that cannot be permanent or bring real betterment. It is a change of form only, not of substance, as so tragically proven by Russia. […]

There is no greater fallacy than the belief that aims and purposes are one thing, while methods and tactics are another, This conception is a potent menace to social regeneration. All human experience teaches that methods and means cannot be separated from the ultimate aim. The means employed become, through individual habit and social practice, part and parcel of the final purpose; they influence it, modify it, and presently the aims and means become identical.

The great and inspiring aims of the Revolution became so clouded with and obscured by the methods used by the ruling political power that it was hard to distinguish what was temporary means and what final purpose. Psychologically and socially the means necessarily influence and alter the aims. The whole history of man is continuous proof of the maxim that to divest one’s methods of ethical concepts means to sink into the depths of utter demoralization. In that lies the real tragedy of the Bolshevik philosophy as applied to the Russian Revolution. May this lesson not be in vain.

No revolution can ever succeed as a factor of liberation unless the MEANS used to further it be identical in spirit and tendency with the PURPOSES to be achieved. Revolution is the negation of the existing, a violent protest against man’s inhumanity to man with all the thousand and one slaveries it involves. It is the destroyer of dominant values upon which a complex system of injustice, oppression, and wrong has been built up by ignorance and brutality. It is the herald of NEW VALUES, ushering in a transformation of the basic relations of man to man, and of man to society.

Its first ethical precept is the identity of means used and aims sought. The ultimate end of all revolutionary social change is to establish the sanctity of human life, the dignity of man, the right of every human being to liberty and wellbeing. Unless this be the essential aim of revolution, violent social changes would have no justification. For external social alterations can be, and have been, accomplished by the normal processes of evolution. Revolution, on the contrary, signifies not mere external change, but internal, basic, fundamental change. That internal change of concepts and ideas, permeating ever-larger social strata, finally culminates in the violent upheaval known as revolution.

The period of the actual revolution, the so-called transitory stage, must be the introduction, the prelude to the new social conditions. It is the threshold to the NEW LIFE, the new HOUSE OF MAN AND HUMANITY. As such it must be of the spirit of the new life, harmonious with the construction of the new edifice.

To-day is the parent of to-morrow. The present casts its shadow far into the future. That is the law of life, individual and social. Revolution that divests itself of ethical values thereby lays the foundation of injustice, deceit, and oppression for the future society. The means used to prepare the future become its cornerstone.

Witness the tragic condition of Russia. The methods of State centralization have paralysed individual initiative and effort; the tyranny of the dictatorship has cowed the people into slavish submission and all but extinguished the fires of liberty; organized terrorism has depraved and brutalized the masses and stifled every idealistic aspiration; institutionalized murder has cheapened human life, and all sense of the dignity of man and the value of life has been eliminated; coercion at every step has made effort bitter, labour a punishment, has turned the whole of existence into a scheme of mutual deceit, and has revived the lowest and most brutal instincts of man. A sorry heritage to begin a new life of freedom and brotherhood.

It cannot be sufficiently emphasized that revolution is in vain unless inspired by its ultimate ideal. Revolutionary methods must be in tune with revolutionary aims. The means used to further the revolution must harmonize with its purposes. In short, the ethical values which the revolution is to establish in the new society must be initiated with the revolutionary activities of the so-called transitional period. The latter can serve as a real and dependable bridge to the better life only if built of the same material as the life to be achieved.”
And here’s one from “Living My Life” (1931):
“America had declared war with Spain…. It did not require much political wisdom to see that America’s concern was a matter of sugar and had nothing to do with humanitarian feelings. Of course there were plenty of credulous people, not only in the country at large, but even in liberal ranks, who believed in America’s claim. I could not join them. I was sure that no one, be it individual or government, engaged in enslaving and exploiting at home, could have the integrity or the desire to free people in other lands.”

Arundhati Roy: Confront empire, lay siege to it … new world breathing

Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness – and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe.

The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling – their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability.

Remember this: We be many and they be few. They need us more than we need them.

Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.

–Arundhati Roy, War Talk