G. S. <firstname.lastname@example.org>
initial posting 21 June 2011 - last update 21 June 2011
Several friends who got each other's e-mail addresses from my e-mails began to correspond directly with one another and CC'd me (some of) their exchange. --George
Dear Mr. Spritzler, I came across some of your writings by way of Professor George Salzman, who has generously included me in his email list and sent me some of your material. I must say I was dumbfounded to read your call to action. I too have long been convinced that a genuine revolution is the only way out of this living hell that the ruling plutocracy has imposed on mankind worldwide. I am sick and tired of reading well-meaning leftist rhetoric about "changing" the system from within. It cannot be done. The system needs to be taken down. Believe it or not you are the first person of note I have come across who voices this view -- and I have been reading everything "progressive" I could find. (Maybe I just didn't look in the right places.)
On the question of whether a revolution is possible: of course it is, as you noted. The question is, how? Well, here is the difficulty. We can see from history that the common people have strength in numbers, while the ruling elites don't. They wield disproportionate power to their numbers of course, but in the end, numbers trump everything else. But there is the rub. The people are complacent. They are lulled into a brainwashed dream-state that is sickening. They gorge themselves on trash TV and tabloid "journalism" that actually manipulates them into taking positions that are damaging to their own interests, even survival. The poorest of the the poor put up Republican campaign signs in front of their tar-paper shacks. They fulminate against organized labor even while their teeth are rotting and livers failing because they lack basic medical and dental care.
Sure, here and there you hear a few disgruntled voices threatening action in the streets, but it never amounts to anything. Everyone is well aware of the massive and ruthless police-state apparatus that crushes citizens' bones with glee. As far as I can see, it will be impossible to mobilize the masses in America or the West, in general. They are too indoctrinated -- zombies really, their movements controlled by telemetry from the massive brainwashing apparatus wielded by the plutocracy. Unless there is some way to break the hold of the brainwashing apparatus on the common folk, I do not see a way to mobilize them. That leaves the activist fringe. I hate to admit it, but the ruling elites are hardly losing any sleep over us. We make a little bit of noise on the internet and that's about it. Sometimes we come out in the streets to protest against the high-level meetings of the WTO and other such instruments of oppression -- and usually get our heads cracked by the Gestapo. So what is the way forward? I think we need to think and talk about this. (I'm sure as a latecomer to this scene, there is already plenty of discussion, ideas and action, so pardon my ignorance).
I don't want to take up too much space, so I will just say that I greatly admire your principled stand -- especially in the corridors of Harvard, where such a stand means great personal sacrifice. I salute you. I will also say that I admire the work you are doing on the Israel question. Jews are a people of deep compassion. Very few are hardened to the point of not caring about fellow human beings. People like Professor Salzman, Judith Weisman, Professor Finkelstein, yourself, and many others are an inspiration to Jew and gentile alike. I will say however, that the Israel situation is merely one manifestation of the plague of capitalist imperialism and colonialism that has ravaged this planet for more than 500 years. It is one tiny speck of a systemic problem -- no different than the marginalization of indigenous peoples in Mexico, Colombia, or even here in Canada where I live. In terms of sheer numbers, the Palestinian suffering is actually just a tiny part of the grinding oppression of colonialism. Let us concentrate our efforts on taking down this criminal, global, capitalist regime. No matter what comes after, it will be better by far.
From: John Spritzler <email@example.com>
To: Gordon Arnaut <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Cc: George Salzman <email@example.com>
Date: Friday, May 1, 2009 7:27:33 PM
Subject: Re: Revolution
Dear Gordon (I trust we can be on a first name basis, all of us), Thank you for your heartfelt words. It is always encouraging to hear from somebody who shares the same outrage at things and who agrees we need a revolution. You raise the key question, "How can we make a revolution?" I assume that the article of mine that you read is "After the Revolution, What?" about "circles of trust" and so forth. In an important sense, that article did not actually address the question of whether a revolution was possible (except to allude to the book We CAN Change the World by my friend David Stratman) which is all about that question.) Instead, my article focuses on the different question of whether a revolution would be desirable, specifically whether a POST-revolutionary economy and society could be one that we would like to actually live in. By revolution here I mean only the relatively brief act of overthrowing the power of the plutocracy and its allies who use violence to attack manifestations of egalitarianism and solidarity.
So the question you raise is whether it is possible for this revolutionary act to occur. And I agree with you that the only basis for believing it is possible is the one you cite: numbers--we outnumber them. But then you go on to wonder if our numbers can be mobilized to make a revolution, given that so many people are "lulled into a brainwashed dream state" and so forth. This is the central--the key--question that confronts any revolutionary. If ordinary people are not a force that can reasonably be expected to make a revolution, then there is no hope for revolution and we may as well stop talking about it. The book I link to above (it is online as well as available the regular way) is all about exactly this question. Were it not for that book, I would not have written a single political article, because I would have thought it pointless. What that book does is make a compelling argument for the case that most ordinary people, in their everyday lives, act to shape the world by values that are implicitly revolutionary, whether they appreciate that fact (as most don't) or not. The significance of this is that there is already an implicitly revolutionary movement that revolutionaries can nurture and provide with the self-awareness and self-confidence that will enable it to make a revolution on the large scale that we have in mind. I encourage you to take a look at this book and see if it gives you the same sense of hope that it gave me.
Keep in mind that the most important propaganda theme that the elite use to stay in power is not that they are making the world better in this or that way. And it is not that they are more fit to rule. Yes, they tell us these lies, but these are not the most persuasive or effective themes of their propaganda. Their most powerful propaganda theme is this: "You who want a better world are all alone. Resistance is futile." They use the media especially to reinforce this sense of hopelessness in those like us (and millions of others) who want a better world, and they have been all too successful in this effort. But I don't buy it. I do not think we are alone. Not by a long shot. One tiny little example of this is what happened in two towns near me, Cambridge and Somerville Massachusetts. Read about it here. I look forward to continuing this good conversation. In solidarity --John
Hi John, Thanks for your reply and the link to "We Can Change the World." I have just started reading the intro and already love what I'm hearing -- a debunking of the "Founding Fathers Myth," as some sort of demigods of virtue. I look forward to reading this book carefully. That is an interesting point you make about the propaganda theme of hopelessness, and discouraging those who seek a better world. I think you are more of an optimist than I. I often do feel like it is futile, and that we are indeed alone. All around me I see people who are completely indifferent. They go through life on autopilot, or remote control is probably more accurate. Most people do not even care about simple courtesy or decency, whether at the workplace, in public spaces, at school or in the home. The prevailing culture is one of grotesque vulgarity, pounded home by an endless stream of dreck from the so-called media and entertainment industry.
I moved to the countryside a few years ago to escape the city zoo, but even here the gentle, old way of life is long gone. I like to visit with some of the older folks around here and they are appalled at the state of the world in general, and even our little corner here in rural Ontario. One friend in his sixties who is still on the family farm listens to the truckers radio show from the southern US at night, and tells me that they often talk about an uprising --- they are squeezed to poverty by the greedy elite. I am encouraged to hear that, but it seems like it is only a few of the older folks who are fed up and ready to raise hell. Also a certain sector of students, thanks to people in academia like yourself, George and many others. Everyone else seems to be enjoying the ride to hell. Perhaps my take is too pessimistic. By way of introduction, I am 50 years old and an aerospace engineer. I live on a 50 acre farm here in Central Ontario, where I keep a few chickens for eggs and grow wholesome vegetables and fruit for my family and friends. With Best Regards
From: John Spritzler <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Gordon Arnaut <email@example.com>
Date: Friday, May 1, 2009 9:31:31 PM
Subject: Re: Revolution
Hi Gordon, I'm glad you found the book's intro interesting. Would you like a physical book to read (easier than online)? Dave Stratman will send you one for $3 if you'd like. If so, tell me your postal address and one will be in the mail. By way of reciprocal introduction, I am 62, live in Boston, have three adult sons and an ex-wife, and am a biostatistician who works on AIDS clinical trials at the Harvard School of Public Health (where classes were cancelled today because of a "probable swine flu" case at the adjacent dental school.) I also work with the Somerville Divestment Project that sponsored the ballot questions discussed in the link in my earlier email. I am a child of the anti-war (Vietnam) movement, and draw much of my hopefulness from things I experienced then. In my former residence (also in Boston) I once had a large (for the city) vegetable farm and greenhouse and almost started raising tilapia fish. I miss those days; now I'm an apartment dweller. I tell my children to stay on good terms with their friend who is a farmer in Maine because when the economy goes to hell such friends will be extremely important. You seem to be well situated on a nice farm if the economy does collapse. It sounds like you have found people who are decent folks in your neck of the woods, despite your negative assessment of the typical person. I view the task of building a revolutionary movement as one of finding and encouraging such people, not converting bad people to be good people. I think there are enough good people to prevail, in spite of the fact that there are also some jerks. All the best --John
Hi John, Yes, I would like a copy of the book. I will include my address below. Are you sure $3 is even going to cover the cost of postage to Canada? I will gladly pay whatever it costs. I hate to sound so negative about the typical person -- I certainly do not want to veer off into elitism. But I do think ordinary people have been corrupted by this vile system -- corporatism -- which is completely unnatural and corrodes our humanity. Corporatism cuts the natural bonds that bind people into a community and replaces them with a master-slave relationship between the consumer and the corporation, which is both employer and provides the very means of survival -- wages -- and the goods and services that we need and must purchase from them. Even food production and distribution has been completely corporatized in the last 50 years, to the great detriment of our health and pocketbook.
The inequality built into this system leads to nihilism. People see the massive discrepancy between the value of their productive input, and the compensation which they receive. They then must spend that pittance of remuneration on vastly overpriced and under-quality goods and services from the same corporations. They soon realize that they are like cattle in a feedlot -- there is nowhere to go, no way to escape this bondage. They are like farm animals, simply being used to extract the only thing they have of value, their labor. This process has been made highly efficient by utilizing industrial methods. For example, the layout of contemporary retail spaces resembles nothing so much as an assembly line. Consumers are herded into one entrance and they must leave by another, as if on conveyor belt -- just like herding cattle into the slaughterhouse. This is not how people expect to live. It is their humanity that suffers and is eventually pushed into the background, or ground up into dust altogether. Another very detrimental influence is the culture of violence and supremacism that permeates the political leadership and rhetoric of the West. People watch the news and they see their leaders solving disputes by gratuitous force and unprovoked aggression. Monkey see, monkey do. People then behave the same way in their daily lives. Belligerence, rudeness, aggression and high-handedness -- that is what I see on a daily basis with "typical" people.
It didn't used to be like this even 20 years ago. In fact I have noticed this trend really begin only after the major political turning point in the late 20'th century -- the collapse of the Soviet Union, which was a counterbalance to the aggressive nature of colonialism and imperialism. This event marked a huge shift in the behavior and rhetoric of the US and Western leadership, in tone and substance both. The tone of political discourse instantly became one of domineering arrogance, completely unmoderated diktat, ultimatums and threats. At the same time, the propaganda intensified its blaring about the supposed supremacy of the Western system -- other nations are constantly villified and demonized, particularly if the West has geopolitical designs on their territory. An example of this is what I call human rights supremacism. Only the glorious, capitalist West has real human rights and is the only entity entitled to chastise others. We have seen this for years with regard to China. Every president and diplomat has seized every opportunity to stand in front of cameras and wag their finger at China. Never mind that the US has more people behind bars than China, a country with five times as many people. Never mind that the US has ten times as many extrajudicial killings of citizens by its police than China.
I remember watching a presentation a couple of years ago by a prominent Toronto architect who had worked in China for many years, putting up the modern skyline that has mushroomed there. The audience noticed a curious feature on many of these skyscrapers -- they would often have at their base, what appeared to be an intact, tiny older building. The architect pointed this out and said these little buildings were in fact apartment houses, whose residents did not want to move. The authorities let them stay and the builders simply had to build their skyscrapers on top of them. This was incredible to me -- and still is. Where in the US, Canada or the West would the rights of ordinary people to stay in their homes be given precedence over the dictates of big developers? That is real, tangible human rights that we will never experience in the West. It means that people's voices carry actual weight in real life -- not just high-sounding documents kept in glass cases in museums. This one little revelation from China turned my whole perception upside down. It showed the "human rights" posturing of our odious politicians to be the big stinking pile of horse manure that it really is. It is the same with the supremacist tone taken with Russia, only here it is about the supposed lack of democracy. Never mind that nowhere in the world is the political process more tightly controlled than in the so-called democratic West.
In short, the collapse of the Soviet Union has loosed the worst instincts of rapacious colonialism and imperialism that have been the political way of the West for five centuries. Nothing was standing in the way of the plutocrats any longer. They could act with full arrogance and aggression, in both tone and action. This political attitude and behavior has been assimilated into the public ethos. That is why we have people behaving badly as they do -- and not caring about basic human decency. They are simply following the lead that is given. Btw, I find it very interesting that you make the connection between farm food and survival in case of an economic collapse. I believe very strongly that such a economic collapse is inevitable. It may not happen this time around, but it will happen. Where does the food come from when this sham financial system finally goes under for good? The entire food production and distribution system has been corporatized. Corporations cannot operate without credit. What happens when there is a credit collapse? How can food production and distribution happen without the financial system? I don't think it is possible. That is the ultimate danger of corporatism. Man has sustained himself for thousands of years with a system of localized food production, by small producers. But that proven system has been cast aside by the geniuses who run this circus. In its place a house of cards that could collapse at any time has been erected. Best Regards, Gordon Arnaut, 2508 Town Line, RR5 Coldwater, ON, Canada L0K 1E0
Hi Gordon, Dave is mailing you his book, and yes the postage is extra--he'll let you know what it comes to. I agree with your very profound critique of capitalism and its dehumanizing effect. You write very powerfully on this subject. The question, however, is not whether capitalism is a dehumanizing force, but whether it has succeeded in dehumanizing so many people that resistance is now futile. In trying to answer this question it is important to bear in mind that--to use a metaphor--if one is standing on the bank of a rapidly flowing river and one sees many things on the surface being swept along by the current and one single thing going in the opposite direction upstream, the one thing going upstream is far more significant than the many going downstream, because it indicates that there is indeed a force in the river (possibly mainly beneath the surface and invisible) that opposes the current; and if there is such a force, it can be nurtured and developed. I think there is a countervailing revolutionary force against capitalism that is not visible to the untrained eye, so to speak; it is the everyday behavior of many people, which is different from their stated opinions on "mass media-framed" issues. I ride the subway to and from work every day. I see people acting kindly towards fellow passengers all the time, for example offering to give up their seat to older people (even as young as yours truly!) This same kindness is essentially what led a majority of Americans to say they opposed the Iraq war, once they realized it wasn't about WMD and that it was killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis. Capitalism tells us, "Abandon hope, all ye who have entered the modern world"; the first act of our resistance must be to focus our attention on the evidence, no matter how undramatic or mundane it may be, that we do not need to abandon all hope.
Gordon, what kind of reaction to you get when you raise your critique of capitalism with other people that you work or live with? By the way, I said I had a "vegetable farm" but I meant to say "vegetable garden". I heard a talk where I work, back around 1994, by a public health professional who had just returned from Russia, where the economy had completely collapsed. He had been to many hospitals, and reported to us that the hospital employees were showing up for work even though they were not being paid at all. He said they did so for two reasons, out of concern for patients, and to maintain their ties with people who knew people who grew food on farms, which was their source of food (as barter I presume.) Another article I read online a while back made the point that people in Russia were better able to deal with the economic collapse than Americans would be, because they were used to less to begin with and already had coping skills. I don't know what the future holds, but a total economic collapse would be a real catastrophe unless we quickly create a new world based on circles of trust. Take care --John
(3765 words) Subject: Re: Fw: Revolution
Gordon Hi! Nice talking to you. Interesting reading your thoughts on Corporatism and Globalization. Your subject email and mine on the same subject seemed to have crossed. Call it telepathy...S'more articles...hope i'm not getting too carried away and imposing my views...but it is great to find out you are in mutual company. I have copied George Salzman too on this one.
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 Circles of Trust - 1 <firstname.lastname@example.org> 24.824Kb 2009-05-03. The above exchange was the start of my effort to assemble a small group of people in whom I would have trust and who would contribute to my understanding of the contemporary social reality. That was a little over two years ago -- I'm still at it.
George Salzman is a former American Jew living in Oaxaca, Mexico, an Emeritus Prof of Physics, Univ of Massachusetts-Boston.