Why I write words
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We talk a lot, and should talk a lot, about improving the material conditions of the oppressed classes and groups. This is one of the most important parts of our shared struggle: that while it happens, we hold back the tide of suffering and destitution from the most vulnerable. We do this not because of our morality, nor because it improves our standing in society; but to allow for these marginalized people to have partnership in that struggle. For they are as powerful as those who can wave a red flag in the streets, and as communists it is our duty to allow them to exercise that power; whether they are also communists or not. Never to speak for them, but to march with them. Not to shroud all struggles with one big one, but to exist in solidarity as a vast interdependent force.
But there is another condition we should work to improve. A condition we have neglected since the end of the 20th century.
Living under the multifaceted oppression that exists today does not simply throw up material blockades to a free life. It also constantly erects barriers for the mind. We are familiar with many of them. The sowing of discord between comrades with antique yet eternally renewed nonsense: “This black man who works with you? He may be a worker, but he is other than you. He will put his own interests first. Shouldn't you as well?”, “Women do not even have to work, how could they be allies? How do they understand the plight of the worker?”, “Black women hate you as a white woman first and foremost, how could you possible work with them? The suffragettes didn't either”, “This immigrant will come to take your job, do not concern yourself with them”. You've heard all these things before, and it is in our best interest to stamp them out. But there is a less easily-noticed force imprisoning us.
The idea that we can’t do any more than hold back this tide.
This is a very important idea to the ruling classes, and one that they have spent the entirety of the 20th century perfecting. That century, and the one before it, showed the oppressed clearer than ever before that all of the objections to their freedom were just air.
The Paris Commune, born from the besieged capital of yet another bourgeois republic turned empire; showed that the working class could govern itself, that it was in no way dependent on the bourgeois ‘revolutionaries’ who were in tight control of a supposedly revolutionary moment.
The October Revolution, which European socialists did not think could actually occur, ended a monstrous state of tyranny and oppression.
Many revolutions expelled colonial oppressors. While they had always known that this would one day happen, the revolutions of Vietnam, Burkina Faso and Indonesia showed what would actually come to be. How what white men from a tiny corner of Eurasia said was the natural and most developed state of society could be wiped away as easily as dirt from a mirror.
All that was once inconceivable had revealed itself to be possible. The 20th century had spoken. It said that indeed, no one had anything to lose but their chains.
Though the west would not see freedom, these victories emboldened its people. They were able to agitate for better conditions, their leaders spooked by the possibility that they might do what they now knew could be done.
This situation is of course unacceptable to a bourgeois ruling class. They, after all, were the guarantors of liberty. It was only the nobility who could possibly oppress. No, the bourgeoisie believed in inalienable rights. It is they who were the heirs of the French Revolution. They who benefited all society with a peaceful and productive order. They were NECESSARY. By no means could the working class determine its own destiny.
This idea is of course ridiculous. To make it seem even remotely likely, western governments would need to find every possible thing that could be wrong in these enemy civilizations. They would have to tear them from context, invent new ones even. They would need to claim famines happened a full decade later than they did, that actual nazi war crimes were in fact the doing of the Soviet Union. That China, on which all other nations now depend, is not even truly Communist. They would need to create an idea of freedom which somehow existed here but not there, where the blessed peace of capitalism did not rule.
It is now 2015. When I wrote against the idea that This Is How It Is, I showed it to a long-time friend of mine. He is well-travelled and learned (he studied to be a monk but did not become one). But even he, when discussing the article with me, repeated only empty slogans which he had heard about the matter of communism his entire life (Since he was born in 1945, he got to enjoy the full spectrum of Cold War nonsense). “Human nature,” he said, “would not tolerate something like communism”. Things which people naturally wanted, he said, would not be accessible under such a system. Even though much of what he was saying was already discussed in the article he had read, he could simply not conceive that they might not in any way argue against communism.
This then is the prison. That the great victories which showed us a free world are now so obscured by a specifically crafted pessimistic narrative that many can no longer look to them for inspiration. The songs of revolution that kept us upright and fighting are now only muttered. Oh, a revolution! Those are bad news. UNLESS they happen in the Correct Way, which strangely always results in a western-friendly coup.
We should consider this narrative an unacceptable burden on the oppressed. We should consider it as harmful as racist rhetoric, reactionary populism or the rational self-interest right-liberal ideology espouses. This narrative does not merely beat down and depress minds, but also makes them incapable of seeing the future they could fight for. Maybe, dimly, we might see a chance to advance ourselves. To step on the backs of some others, who are of no consequence, and perhaps obtain a better life.
But this is not how it has to be.
We should not see ourselves as cut off from the revolutionary generations. They were not unique to their time, and they did not see themselves in that way. They were themselves inspired by those who came before them. As Paris once sang La Marseillaise, so it would later sing the Internationale (which was originally intended to be sung to the tune of the former). Both these songs have been translated into every tongue that has ever yearned to speak freely.
The revolutionaries understood the kind of unity that would lead them to victory. Not the unity of the common denominator, the oppression shared by all; but solidarity with those struggles you do not have to experience. As each comrade aids the other in the small breathing space their relative privilege allows, together they can open the sky. Together they can see the sun rise again.
When we think of revolutions past, we should not think of them as imperfect experiments not to be repeated. We must be inspired by them. If a nation of mostly illiterate peasants can sail into the void of space, imagine what we can do. Imagine what possibilities now lie obscured by the order of capitalism.
The Communist Manifesto, by today’s standards, asks for fairly little (though many of the demands that we once saw realized are now vanishing). But consider that once, they were inconceivable. They were absent from the world, and and what was in their place was said to be our lot.
You should consider what actually happened when a factory worker was exposed to such a document. It would not be so that previously, he was content or at least resigned to his fate. He already wanted better pay, better hours, the dignities of humankind. But how would he fight for them? If bourgeois society would come to the aid of a capitalist afflicted by a strike, how would he win? Where had such an inconceivable victory ever occurred?
The Manifesto would have told him that he and his fellow workers are not isolated from history. That history, in fact, is full of occasions where the oppressed class overthrew the entire structure which kept them in his position. That the capitalists, glorified as the enablers of labor, were but a dead weight on it; gorging themselves with the fruit of their works.
After it had said this, the worker would see a new world. Yet not all he could see would have been described in the little pamphlet given to him by a friend. It is likely that most of what he could see was inconceivable to its authors. With this knowledge, his experiences, his heart and his soul would reveal hidden things in the world. And as he revealed these things to his comrades, they too would begin to see what was previously simply not there. And together, they would imagine a new world.
That is why I write words. Because I know that the power of the oppressed united in solidarity is that they are all so very different from each other. That each could see some aspect of a better tomorrow that the other could not. And that, all having faith in their comrades, they would share these visions; and fight for them.
If anything I have ever written has done something for you, this is the only thing I ask: write down how your world looks through its lens. Because as much as you may suspect I have seen it, your mind can grasp things I never could. If you write them down, you would do for others what I had done for you.
We are under no obligation to disown revolutions of which capitalist society speaks only ills. These revolutionaries did not simply sacrifice for their own kin, but also for the future. For you.
The Paris Commune is not considered a failed worker’s revolt despite it ending in a sea of blood, as the cowardly French Republican government turned its guns on those people who had lived through the siege of Paris by the German army. The Communards opened a door that could never be closed. The oppressed could stand against the most vicious foe, and be victorious. This is the victory of the Paris Commune:
74 years later, those who had walked through the door would march into Europe and drive a stake into the heart of the old order. This is how we should see the progression of revolutionary history. And when we have seen it in this way, we can begin to wonder what door the Soviets opened for us. What bridges were built by the revolutionaries of Latin America. Which paths were cleared for us by the People’s Republic of China.
And when we see them, we must recognize them for what they are: roads that lead to the impossible. Daunting as that may be, is it any less so than what used to be unimaginable? Is it any less daunting than a road one might take so that one’s child might some day be able to read? That one’s parents would not starve because they were now too old to work? A road that lead to all these things, for everyone who took it?