We don't need a hurricane; the
time for revolution is now!

by G.S.  <george.salzman@umb.edu>
September 22, 2005

this page is at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Notz/2005-09-22.htm

We don't need a hurricane
Wir brauchen nicht einen Hurrikan
      Brecht and Weill had it right in their opera Mahagonny. After seven years of killing labor as lumberjacks in Alaska, Joe (Alaska-Wolf-Joe) and his three buddies headed for Mahagonny, legendary Gulf Coast city in Alabama where the air was cool and fresh, there was horse-and woman flesh, and whiskey and poker tables, armed with their hard-earned folding money under their shirts and charged with their lust for life. The American city on the Gulf coast where everything was for sale.

      But it didn't turn out so well. A hurricane came across the Gulf, tracking towards Mahagonny, a hurricane that caused the “night of horrors.” They had barely got into their fun when the radio announced, “A hurricane is moving toward Mahagonny!” Then two rowdy locals burst in shouting, “Pensacola is destroyed! And the hurricane is headed straight for Mahagonny.” Leokadja Begbick, the madam of the saloon and whorehouse shouted triumphantly, “Pensacola! Pensacola! The sheriffs have been struck dead and the just perish with the sinners.”

      And Joe sang
We don't need a hurricane;
      Wir brauchen keinen Hurrikan,
we don't need a typhoon,
      wir brauchen keinen Taifun,
because the horrors it can cause,
      denn was er an Schrecken tun kann,
that we can do ourselves.
      das können wir selber tun.

      In this prophetic opera, the full title of which is “The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny”, Mahagonny can be seen as metaphor for what is proclaimed ad nauseum to be “Western civilization”, where everything is for sale. It's first performance, March 9,1930 in the Neue Theater in Leipzig, caused what Lotta Lenya, Kurt Weill's widow, said was described as “the worst theatre riot in history.” Some additional comments on the opera and Germany at that time (and the U.S. at this time) are in “The Gold Rush”, at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Greed/GoldRush.htm .

What good can come from a hurricane?
      The hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans, like the killer earthquake that devastated Mexico City in 1985, left the real work of rescue and relief, of civilian survival and reconstruction, to grassroots efforts, in the face of totally impotent governments unable and unwilling to act effectively when confronted with such catastrophes. In Mexico, that earthquake marked the beginning of civilian organizing outside of (and largely in opposition to) the dominant political structures, an ongoing process of formation of sociedad civil. The inspiring new mobilization of the Zapatistas in the last few weeks, aiming to build in Mexico a society truly based on the ordinary humble people, a new kind of mass “politics” from below, as they term it, is a result, after 20 years, of the changes triggereed by the great Mexico City earthquake. I know of no reports of these Zapatista-organized meetings in Chiapas more inspiring than those of Al Giordano in Narco News, the last of which is at http://narconews.com/Issue39/article1454.html . Read them and take heart. The world doesn't start and end in the United States, despite what the corporate media wants us gringos to believe!

      As happened in Mexico in the immediate aftermath of the great earthquake, also in the United States immediately following Katrina's devastation of New Orleans and much of the Louisiana and Mississippi coastal area, a tremendous surge of grassroots efforts spontaneously rose to meet the most urgent needs of the people. And, just as importantly for the long-term, many within this movement are insisting that we, the ordinary people and not the government's bureaucracies and their wealthy corporate cronies, must determine what is needed and how it is to be done. They are insisting, basically, that we must govern ourselves, and do so in a manner completely contrary to the way the dominant political system functions. It is a demand for true face-to-face democracy, a demand, as the Zapatistas say, for government from below, for governing ourselves without hierarchical power structures.

      One of the many grassroots efforts underway is that of the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Reconstruction Project (PHRF) and Community Labor United (CLU). Becky Belcore <bbelcore@gmail.com> and Curtis Muhammad <muhammadcurtis@bellsouth.net> are first-hand sources for information on this massive drive to seize control of our own lives. Days after Katrina struck, PHRF stated, “the people of New Orleans will not go quietly into the night, scattering across this country to become homeless in countless other cities while federal relief funds are funneled into rebuilding casinos, hotels, chemical plants and the wealthy white districts of New Orleans like the French Quarter and the Garden District.

Not only in Mexico and New Orleans, but around the world!
      This “wind from below” is blowing hard, and not just in New Orleans but in many parts of the world. As it becomes increasingly evident to more and more people that governments (at many levels) fail to fulfill their supposed functions (while doing exactly what the wealthy governing elites demand, i.e. fulfilling their true functions under global capitalism), strong movements from below have emerged to force actions in support of the majorities of the people or to take direct actions themselves. For example, a Google search for “The Water Wars” brought up approximately 24,800,000 entries.

  ― The article “Winning the Water War”, at http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/rbr/rbr3_water.html, tells of successful mass mobilizations in Dublin and other Irish cities against attempted water tax increases in the 1980's and 1990's.

  ― The book ˇCochabamba! Water War in Bolivia by Oscar Olivera tells of the dramatic mobilization that in 2001 forced the government to cancel its privatization concession of city water and sewer services to Aguas del Tunari, an international consortium headed by a Bechtel subsidiary. Remarkably, the mobilization even crossed class lines in that Bolivian city of a million people.

  ― The group Massachusetts Global Action http://www.massglobalaction.org/, based in Boston, works with local communities that are organizing themselves to oppose governmental and corporate actions contrary to their interests. One of the projects of this group is “Our Communities, Our Water”. Jason Pramas <info@massglobalaction.org> said their approach, as I understood it, is to focus on precisely the problems that concern a particular community, but to do so within the framework of global consciousness.

  ― An article titled “Rights Fight: Townships in rural Pennsylvania take on factory farms ― and corporate rights” in the July/August 2005 issue of Dollars & Sense tells of the ongoing struggle against corporate industrialized hog raising with its concomitant contamination of the townships with massive amounts of stinking pig shit. According to the author, Adam D. Sacks <info@constitution411.org>, “Citizens realized that the issue was not really the factory farm or the sludged field. The issue was who has the right to decide what happens in our communities.” [emphasis added] Sacks founded the Center for Democracy and the Constitution http://www.constitution411.org.

      These four examples, and the grassroots mobilizations of the Zapatistas and of groups and individuals responding to the destruction of New Orleans represent, I'm positive, only a tiny numerical sample of struggles all over the world by people with a rising consciousness of how corporations, governments and all the other agents of giant capitalism are raping the earth and almost all of us.

      Our task, as I see it, ought to be to contribute to this rising global tide of 1) opposition and 2) direct actions focussed on and limited precisely to gaining control of our own lives. I am in the initial stages of forming a network aimed at doing just that. The idea for such a network came as a result of my last e-mail distribution, as described in the following:

      In the e-mail on the damage disrespect does to the “left” in general by undermining mutual trust (now posted at http://site.www.umb.edu/faculty/salzman_g/Strate/Notz/2005-09-14.htm), I mentioned speculations following hurricane Katrina. The response I got was surprisingly large and positive, inspiring the idea that it would be good to begin networking (among those of us who wish to) in order to exchange ideas about what we need to do to help save this world, and how to go about doing it. An interesting exchange with John Spritzler <spritzler@comcast.net> started things, and subsequently I wrote the following.

Asunto: Re: Disrespect hurts the "left" by eroding mutual trust
De: George Salzman <george.salzman@umb.edu>
Fecha: Fri, 16 Sep 2005 15:05:59 -0500
Para: John Spritzler <spritzler@comcast.net>
CC: Chris Herz <cdherz44@yahoo.com>,
        Joe Bageant <bageantjb@netscape.net>,
        Dave Anderson <mexico2@earthlink.net>,
        Saurabh Asthana <rednblack@alum.mit.edu>,
        Peter Werbe ,
        Richard Mandel <rmandel@bu.edu>

Oaxaca, Friday, September 16, 2005

Hi John,
      You and the other folks to whom I'm CC'ing this note each responded to my e-mail about disrespect. I would like to share some parts of what each person said, but so far you're the only one I explicitly asked for permission, which you gave. Another reason why I'm writing you (again) is because I regret the negative tone of my note to you last night, and want to correct it. For the rest of you, here's the exchange between John and me so far, so that my comments that follow will be in context.
Dear George,

I found your comments here about respect for people very refreshing. I think there is a theoretical basis in Marxism for the disrespectfulness characteristic of so many on the Left. Marxist theory sees hope for a communist society in the workings of impersonal laws of society, laws which operate independently of the subjective aims and desires of individual human beings. Thus Marx often expressed contempt for working class people in the concrete (arguing that they were de-humanized by capitalism and driven only by self-interest) while viewing the working class abstractly as the historical force for progress. In contrast, I believe that the basis for hope in achieving a society based on the values of equality and solidarity and democracy is precisely the fact that most ordinary people want just such a society and indeed they try to shape the little corner of the world over which they have any control with these anti-capitalist values, which is the only reason why there are positive human relations of mutual support and trust and love in our capitalist society despite the attacks on these values by the ruling elites whose values are the opposite ones of competition, inequality and top-down control. The Marxist framework logically implies disrespect for ordinary people. The latter framework implies profound respect. If you would like to see how I and others have been trying to apply this latter framework to building a revolutionary movement, please see our web site at http://www.newdemocracyworld.org. My article The Communist Manifesto Is Wrong is one in particular that develops this point about respect in connection with Marxism.

All the best.

--John Spritzler
Thanks John for your good note. I will go to your website and look forward to reading your article. My faith, which you also evidently share, in the basic decency of ordinary, humble (but proud) people is the rock bottom on which my anarchist beliefs rest. I would like to use what you just wrote at some point. Would that be OK? It's really so well put together.
All the best,
Hi George,

Yes, you may certainly use what I wrote as you wish.

And yes, we share the same faith in the basic decency of ordinary people. I look forward to staying in touch.


Hi John,

      I read a bit of the website, which seems pretty well done and thoughtful. I did not find your article, "The Communist Manifesto Is Wrong", which interests me very much. My belief is that Marx was indeed very elitist and that he may have given too little credit to the impulses of individuals to shape a better society, and too much weight to the "machinery of economics" to shape everything. But it strikes me at first glance that David Stratman is probably overstating the logical necessity of Marx being contemptuous of ordinary working folks. In any case, I think that theoretical debates between Marxists and anti-Marxists are not what is needed to stir the chords of discontent among the oppressed and to motivate them to act. We middle-class intellectuals are probably marginal as long as we stay outside of the actual struggles. Of course I include myself in this group. Painful but I believe true.

Sincerely, --George
      Clearly there's a lot on your group's website that I haven't read, and my reactions were only immediate and tentative. The last thing I want to do is disparage the efforts of anyone who is sincerely working to make the world better, as you and the others in your group certainly are. Truthfully, I am plagued by doubts about my own effectiveness, which is why the messages of support and encouragement I get are so important to me. They give me hope that my efforts are not futile -- that we can build a network of mutual support and that all together we will be able to find ways -- not only to understand -- but to act to change the world into what we want, or at least to begin moving it in that direction.
      It is the gulf between trying to understand and trying to act to effect change that seems to me critically important to bridge. My youngest daughter-out-law (Nancy's daughter Sara <sellyndavies@hotmail.com> once remarked "enlightenment is not a worthy goal." I loved it, thinking she meant that enlightenment alone, unaccompanied by action, is an unworthy goal. Nancy's <nmsdavies@yahoo.com> understanding of what Sara meant is different. In any case, for me it means we ought not only to seek understanding, but to act.
      I want to go a lot further with this, but first I want to ask each of the CC-recipients if it's OK to circulate parts of what you've written. I believe each of you have a lot to offer the rest of us. My own immediate priority is to break down the isolation that can make us lose hope, by building a network (more accurately, contributing to building the growing network) for communicating and working together on many different levels. I think we need to do it on the personal level, within neighborhoods, larger communities, and also globally, but the basic building blocks must be our individual trust in each other, each pair of people who come to have absolute confidence in one another. Obviously each of us can be in contact with anyone among us, which is why I'm including the e-mail addresses, unlike in my mass mailings.
      After writing the above I found in my e-mail the following from you, John:
Hi George,

The article about the Communist Manifesto is at http://newdemocracyworld.org/manifesto.htm and a page with links to other articles by myself on a variety of topics (not Marxism) is at http://newdemocracyworld.org/john-other-articles.htm. I agree that debating Marxism is not key -- building a revolutionary movement is. But Marxism is so pervasive among so many who wish to build a revolutionary movement, even influencing people who do not think of themselves as Marxists, that some theoretical understanding of the question we have been discussing often helps people relate much more positively to their friends, co-workers and neighbors.

Best to you.
      I'm glad that you did not feel my remarks were too negative. Of course I agree with you about needing to be as clear as we can theoretically. So, for the moment that's it.
All best wishes,

All comments and criticisms are welcome.    <george.salzman@umb.edu>

If you want me to add or remove your name from my e-mail
distribution list, please let me know.

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Last update of this page: September 24, 2005