This paper by Luis J. Rodriguez was presented at the Second California Network for Revolutionary Change Conference at the XL Public House in Salinas CA to two dozen revolutionaries, community leaders, activists, writers, artists, and more from throughout the state.
The Story of Our Day: Moving Our Imaginations to the Immense Revolutionary Potential in America
“The earth is not a mere fragment of dead history, stratum upon stratum like the leaves of a book, to be studied by geologists and antiquaries chiefly, but living poetry like the leaves of a tree.”
—Henry David Thoreau
“To be radical is to grasp the root of the matter. But, for man, the root is man himself.”
“You can cut all the flowers, but you cannot keep spring from coming”—Pablo Neruda
Every age has its story, the mythology of the day if you will, that actually corresponds to real processes, real motive forces, and can typify where we need to go. This paper is trying to get at revolution from another angle, one that maintains the content of our science, based on intense study and experiences, and utilizes the powerful means of the imagination and the arts.
Let me say plainly, the arts are not a peripheral or nice thing to do as we endeavor to shape and bring about a truly just and encompassing world. In fact as society moves toward a more creative/inventive stage in history—based on the digital modes of production among other things—the arts become key to our core, enlivened by this statement: To become a complete human being is to become a complete artist.
We need a society that aligns all its resources, technology and wealth to this aim, where every human being is healthy in body, mind and spirit, and is able to draw on their gifts, passions and propensities to contribute and make their mark in this world.
Governance streamlined to the full and comprehensive benefit of everyone.
For now let’s summarize where we’re at today: We are living in uncertain times. Everything is in crisis—economies, politics, families, work, structures, ideologies, and even religions. The past is tearing apart the present. The present appears to be on skates, speeding downhill with no brakes. And the future looms with a challenge—can we make the adequate societal choices, move from a scarcity world into one of abundance, bringing harmony to crucial relationships that can regenerate life, relationships key to nature, our personal natures, and each other?
Can we have healthy and strong people in a healthy and strong earth?
The Left in today’s shifting realities
It’s evident to me that the global “Left,” whatever arose from progressive, revolutionary thought and organization in the last century, is also floundering. If everything is in crisis, so are organizations that claim the mantle of revolution. This makes sense and is quite necessary. Much of the Left acts as if they are immune to this fact.
Revolutionary organizations must change or die—change the form to save the content. The content, however, is shifting as the economic base of society shifts. The revolutionaries and activists that are succeeding know where we’re going, and then how to invigorate a new way of getting there.
The next phase of human development is integrality, the conscious structural transformations that integrate truth, beauty, and whatever is decent in this world (call this the proper unity of science, art and morality). This can only be unleashed when the foundations of society are no longer based on class-rule, private property, exploitation.
This level of wellness must include that everyone have their own authority, their own minds and hearts, and be allowed to tap into their own inexhaustible capacities.
All of this is unequivocally incompatible with global capitalism. Therefore the predicament we face is this—can humanity continue to progress while under the stranglehold of the current economic and political system whose driving force is maximum profits?
The simple answer: We can’t.
The juncture in human development
For the first time, humanity is faced with the evolutionary growth of our planet that is not just contingent on organic biological changes (following Darwin’s Law of Natural Selection), where external pressures force corresponding internal alterations so that life can persist. Today the conscious human participation of aligned ideas, plans, technologies, and governance must be brought to bear, or we fail to continue as a species.
We are in a time of a true awakening, a time to know, instead of believe; to think, instead of react; to imagine greater instead of staying caught in the outmoded class-based matrix that includes such illusions as borders, mortgages, the wage system, hierarchical power, and even money.
Certainly this is a weighty proposition, full of risks, with seemingly insurmountable obstacles and no evident guideposts. This is largely because we are entering a “pathless path.” We’ve been here before, but at the same time we have never been at this exact point as human beings. What we’ve learned over the millenniums about social interaction, natural and cosmic alignments, the primacy of objective/material life, the powerful impact of a connected spiritual life, and our own bodies and brains, will definitely help. Social knowledge up to the present, including any sophisticated revolutionary theories, can be our guide.
However, I contend we also have to figure out new ways through this.
In 2011, some forty activists, thinkers and artists established the Network for Revolutionary Change in Chicago to draw out, teach and engender another generation of visionary and practical leaders to respond powerfully to the unraveling economic and political realities. We also needed to take part in and push forward a growing revolutionary tide in the United States. At the time, up to 250,000 people marched regularly in Madison, Wisconsin, and the Occupy movement was establishing itself on Wall Street and beyond. Our goal was to unite the scattered movements, regardless of their ideologies or political bents, into a powerful conscious social force to realign the prevailing system of production, distribution and rule.
In other words, against capitalism itself, while at the same time not fall into the traps of the old Left. As we can see, this is quite a dance, one with many missteps and stumbling.
To reiterate, the once heroic and amazingly responsive Left in the United States is in shambles. This is characterized by destructive infighting, big egos, self-sabotage (even if we take into account agents and disrupters). The result is a deepening disconnection. In relation to this, the majority of the Left has fallen into two major pitfalls: Sectarianism or “tailism.” Many on the Left are so “correct” they can’t muddy themselves in real practical activity OR they get lured and caught up in rudderless activities, forgetting to lend strategic direction from within.
Huge gaps now exist between the ideological thinkers and those leaders flowering organically from the social struggles. Despite our best efforts, the Network is also caught in this dilemma. Still I’m convinced we can—with creative thinking and appropriate actions—move forward through the opportunity the crisis presents.
The stories to guide us
How to proceed? What stories can possibly carry the vigor and character of what must be done?
First, it’s evident the “racial” story cannot hold as firmly as before. Neither can the “there-are-no-classes” story or the concept of the trickle-down “generosity” of the capitalist class. I can go on and on. Even if many of these narratives still gather steam that train is largely coming to a halt.
Second, it’s important to note that churches, unions, community organizations, nonprofits, trailer parks, and other similar “spaces,” often not considered part of the revolutionary process, also have the potential for new ways of thinking, organizing and winning. As a Network we have to go beyond preconceptions and consider the very real, although hard to fathom, possibilities that our participants may also come from the NRA, militias, evangelicals, and more.
For sure we’ll have to influence and win over millions of Christians. Even with deep indoctrination (not the case for all, mind you) they are also being pushed into the crossroads with the rest of us. You cannot have revolution in this country without Christians at the heart of it.
Nonetheless we can start with the currently pissed off and moving—the undeterred women, youth, immigrants, LGBT communities, communities of color, the artists, the unemployed, students, and more who are in some way the least vested in keeping capitalism going. They run the gamut from class conscious to variably socially conscious. They number in the millions.
What story, strategies or plans can possibly pull together such a diverse spectrum of the U.S. population? We can start by clarifying the unity-in-diversity needed for real revolution. This requires we reach out beyond the obvious differences to the common issues connecting these people—poverty, peace, environmental health, and social justice.
And we must clarify how inseparable these issues are—we cannot have environmental and social justice as long as there is poverty, and no peace without environmental and social justice.
This is why our stories can also draw from the long-held U.S. ideals of fairness, equity, common good, and more—by making sure our future is aligned to Nature and its laws, and by being class conscious, philosophically mature, global in content, and unable to be taken off track.
The learning process
How do we learn? For sure, we can’t be afraid of mistakes. We are following a historical trajectory, but also standing on new ground. Fear of mistakes is tantamount to fear of growth. Yet, learn and learn we must. Doing the same thing over and over again with little or no results only places us among the insane. The point is to make mistakes in the right direction, toward more inclusive and widening nets, instead of mistakes in the direction of subterfuge, disguise, not being “found out” to avoid scrutiny by the state at any costs, essentially being “safe” at the expense of making history.
Since we can’t totally avoid dangers in this work, let’s be in the right “danger.” Yet this isn’t a call for provocative, heavy-handed or cage-rattling tactics, or to be naïve about the power of the state. This is a call to be bold, think big, while maintaining vision and artfulness.
Proper adaptations come from having firm and deep roots. And adapt we must. Our gauge should be the revolutionizing practice of the working class—the more developed and united they become the better we know our influence and strength. Any self-respecting revolutionary has no other measure. Either our ideas are grasped by a significant number of people, prepared to carry out corresponding organizing and actions, or we have not done what we set out to do.
No more disconnections, no more schizophrenic divisions between “leaders” and “followers,” teachings and practice, authoritative people and so-called non-authoritative people, theory and reality, a “mass” medium and a “class-conscious” one.
To repeat, the value of arts in revolution is more paramount than ever. Again we need stories, which are also schools, but also other sense-and-spirit activating mediums. Stealth is how to do battle “under the radar,” so to speak, without drawing unwanted attention, yet effectively spreading ideas through the powers of the pen, the paintbrush, the drum, the dance… as well as the Internet, smart phones, on apps and podcasts.
Subtlety is the art of refinement: How to draw on flowing language, aesthetic qualities, and resonating concepts. This is battle without doing battle.
Still the war is upon us
Of course, we should prepare for actual battles. We can’t doubt the ruling class will respond as they always have—with violence, fear and deflection. They are doing so as we speak. The growing militarization of the police, where the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have come home, is their answer to increasing poverty and growing discontent.
The police juggernaut strikes hardest at the Achilles heel of U.S capitalism, the African American people, who are disproportionately targeted by police and mass incarceration. But the long-range aim is all of us. That’s why “Black Lives Matter.” No argument there. But the move is for us is declare all lives are sacred, uniting with the African American mass response as well as connecting the dots. That’s one crucial reason why the Salinas police murders need more widespread attention and support. Not one more death at the hands of police, regardless of race, sexual orientation or mental state. The fractured responses in the long run will hurt us.
Tapping into the rhythms of revolution
Reaching people by stories means they plug into revolutionary politics and activities by connecting to their own stories, regardless of ideologies or beliefs. This is different than using ideology as the main way to plug in people since this requires that they only do so by accepting one major “idea.” One way. One connection. Extremely limiting.
Monotony is rooted in the concept “one tone,” which is tiresome and repetitive. We need to speak, write, and move in many “tones,” reaching through a spectrum of ideas, sentiments, hopes, to move in many rhythms.
To expand on this we need to master the “art” of revolution—how we speak, write, teach, and organize is all driven by the artful competence in each of us. It has to be complex, pleasing, and able to delve into deep emotions. Use aesthetic arrest enough to get people to stop and think. Yet authentic and heart-felt enough to reach millions.
Art is the nexus of science and imagination.
Let’s carry forth the rich and invaluable knowledge, concepts, history and content of revolutionaries everywhere, but do this with new forms, new language, new means of participation.
As others have said better than me, we need to reframe the dialogue, fully challenge the official stories as well as the scarcity thinking and living framed by the fear-driven precepts of this ruling class, its political parties and mass media.
This is not an attempt to move toward “the middle,” which Democrats and Republicans are always doing, not changing positions but their “message” so they can attract the majority of U.S. voters. Or to be “populist,” sacrificing the long-range for short-range acceptance. We must be generative, far-reaching, cutting edge while not straying from the foundations of this greatest of all causes—removing the last shackles on human minds, labor, sexuality, visions, and capacities.
For us reforms push forward revolution and revolution completes all reforms.
To borrow from John Lennon: Imagine a world free of banks, corporations, landed aristocrats, wars and poverty; imagine a world free of injustice, hunger, homelessness, and despair. And envision what kind of world is truly possible, already being born as we gather, already pulsing beneath the skin of its workers, the poor, the pushed out; already seeded in their hearts, in their songs, in their best dreams for America and the world.
And then imagine the Network for Revolutionary Change as indispensable for this to happen—from dream to vision to reality.