Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Crying on the Train

I've read two books so far this year (three if you count Aaron McGruder's Boondocks collection Public Enemy #2), and I doubt if I shall read any better.

Jonathan Schell's The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence and the Will of the People argues that military force has become an increasingly useless tool for solving what are essentially political problems. Looking back at the Russian revolution, India's struggle for independence, the Solidarity movement in Poland, and the liberation of Eastern Europe, he shows that mass mobilization was the essential weapon in democratization and liberation and that, for a revolution to succeed, it was necessary to build alternative civil societies within the existing society but separate from the organs of the repressing power. He doesn't oppose military intervention entirely, but does suggest that it only offers short-term solutions, solutions that are undermined if the collective cooperation of the population as a whole is not forthcoming. He also takes a sideswipe at those who believe in the necessity of bloody revolution and of "building the party" in order to take over the organs of the state. What's going on in Mexico is a far better exemplar of how to make a revolution: Look to solve problems in the here and now by constructing an alternative civil society. When the old regime ceases to have any purchase on the people's loyalty or fear, it will collapse like a house of cards. (Serendipitously, or perhaps not, this argument links back to Harry Cleaver's essay on Kropotkin below and his comments on the strategy of the Zapatistas).

I'm a huge fan of Kurt Vonnegut, so I was delighted to receive A Man without a Country for Christmas from my wonderful and gorgeous better half. It's a slight book in terms of pages, but it nevertheless contains all the usual insights into the human condition that you might expect from Mr. V. It offers a concise summing up of his philosophy, a melancholy that approaches despair without ever quite tipping over into outright cynicism, and tempered by his dry, dark wit.

One of the dangers of reading humourous books on the train is that, when you get to a funny passage, rather than laugh out loud, you're inclined to try to stifle the ejaculation, not a smart thing to do under any circumstance. My weeping and convulsions were met with much bemusement by the other passengers; better half was more indulgent.

This was all it took:

"I am, incidentally, Honorary President of the American Humanist Association, having succeeded the late, great science fiction writer Isaac Asimov in that totally functionless capacity. We had a memorial service for Isaac a few years back, and I spoke and said at one point, "Isaac is up in heaven now." It was the funniest thing I could have said to an audience of humanists. I rolled them in the aisles."

Well, it made this humanist laugh.


Reidski said...

"the liberation of Eastern Europe" - i.e. the forward march of capitalism,imperialism and the hegemonic global power of the US and its Western allies.

"the Solidarity movement in Poland" - that wouldn't be the one funded by the CIA and given huge political backing by the Vatican would it?

The above notwithstanding, by the 1980s I will admit that eastern Europe was a fucking mess, socially, politically and, the one which probably led to these, economically.

And I do take the point that it was mass mobilisation which brought about change - but what encouraged this mobilisation should also come under the microscope.

I cannot say I would recommend Kropotkin, because I wouldn't, but the Zapatista stuff, much like elsewhere in central and southern America, provides a fuck of a lot to consider for progressives elsewhere.

As for Vonnegut, I cannot believe I've still not read any of his stuff - this will be rectified in the near future.

John said...

Ah Reidski, those red-tinted glasses.

I think it was the fact that eastern Europe was a fucking mess socially, politically, and economically that led to its downfall, not any CIA funding of grassroots organizations or a Reaganite arms race, regardless of any bloviating claims made by Republicans and the Catholic Chruch. That said, by 'liberation' I clearly do NOT mean the selling off of the nations' assets to oligarchs and gangsters, but the removal of restrictions on movement, free speech, etc., demands for which were being made by the people there.

Can't imagine what you'd find objectionable in Kropotkin other than that he was born a prince. Other than that, he was a principled antiauthoritarian revolutionary who walked the walk and called an opportunist hijacker of revolution an opportunist hijacker of revolution.

Reidski said...

Oooooohhhh, loook at you, you prince lover you!
And, of course, your right about why eastern europe fell, but, hey, I enjoyed winding you up, you plonker!

John said...

Damn your dry Caledonian wit!