On Revolution and Its Absence

Anselm Kiefer, Star Fall

On Revolution and Its Absence

Revolutions are strange things. There when you least expect it, absent when you do. In this they are a bit like desire and love itself, perhaps the cosmic prime mover of revolutions when you dig deeply enough.

Revolutions have a mixed press, and rightly so. Both conservatives and progressives, albeit from the perspective of radically different assumptions, have a point. Revolutions reveal both the highest- and lowest points of the human spirit, of human evolution, sequentially or simultaneously, as complex, paradoxical and intermingled as the warp and woof of good and evil, life and death, figure and shadow. One moment the reality and hope of human widening and largeness of spirit, the next the despair of petty retributions, herd violence and new, power-hungry leaders. One moment the storming of the Bastille or the forming of the workers’ councils, the next the Terror. One moment the enthusiasm and democratic rationality of the open citizens’ assembly, the next bloody civil war. I miss them, and fear them, desire them like enlightenment and am anxious at the mere thought.

Yet, even if very few would agree at the moment, revolutions are so obviously, dare I say objectively, necessary today in advanced industrial societies if ecocide and the collapse of civilisation is to be averted. The structural incapability of the parliamentary and capitalist system, as much as the authoritarian ‘market communist’ system, to act vis-à-vis survival issues like climate chaos and peak oil is as obvious to the unbiased observer as is its incapability of even mildly reigning in the suicidal excesses of finance capital in particular and neoliberalism in general.

Most progressives do not see it that way however, and place their social democratic/Green hopes on something they call ‘political will’ and ‘good leaders’ and some form of Green New Deal. Yet even a Green New Deal, which would leave the structural power relationships of State and Capital intact while, theoretically, moving towards a lower carbon economy, is not on the cards anywhere. Much less a revolution.

One problem with understanding revolutions is that revolutions are usually seen as merely political events. Change the government, change the leaders, change the constitution. This governmental focus is indeed the legacy of bourgeois revolutions from the English and French to the Russian, Chinese and Cuban (and current Near Eastern) revolutions. Despite some valiant efforts from below, these were mainly changes at the top, new wine in old flasks, new classes in power, same old power. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, as the French wisely say. They morphed into brutal dictatorships run by the irksome likes of Napoleon, Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro. They were merely new political systems, while society and the economy became capitalist or more capitalist, peasants became workers, wage labour became generalised, and all dissent was brutally repressed.

The revolution needed today to avert ecocide and realise humanity’s potential at this point in evolution is not primarily a political one in the above sense, although that is of course one part of it. Given today’s total interdependence of crises, today’s needed revolution is simultaneously political, socio-economic, ecological, cultural and spiritual. It is integral (‘holistic’), or it is nothing.

Perhaps such an integral revolution can, like nature and the cosmos, be conceived as a set of Russian babushka dolls. The most external and perhaps most obvious form is the political, but inside that is the deeper layer (doll) of the socio-economic and within that the ecological and cultural and, at its central core, the layer or doll of spiritual revolution. All these layers or dimensions are of course interlinked and shade off into each other, but let us summarily look at each in the most general terms of their possible definition.

The political revolution is about the need to institutionalise the direct democracy of an active citizenry in order to self-manage society from below and practically realise the political and social human rights merely promised by the bourgeois state, and this at all levels both within and between nations.

The socio-economic revolution is about the need to make all general economic and technological decision-making a matter of the democratically organised workers and citizenry and creating greater material equality, cooperation and mutual aid within and between nations.

The ecological revolution is about the need to democratically implement an ecologically sustainable society of much lower per capita consumption, and thus ecological footprint, one producing and living within the limits and opportunities of local, regional and global ecosystems.

The cultural revolution is about the need to find forms of community, gender and ecological relations that are non-exploitative, cooperative, creative, non-violent and yet incorporating maximum levels of individual freedom, tolerance and diversity.

The spiritual revolution is about fulfilling the nascent next stage of human evolution of consciousness: post-industrial, post-modern, post-national One World Consciousness and what could be called ‘Collective Individualism’: the bottom-up and voluntary collectivism of strong and free individuals living in conscious social and ecological interdependence.

This spiritual revolution would be an integral, albeit eternally temporary and imperfect, resolution of the old splits and dualisms of human consciousness: of science and spirituality, body and soul, materialism and idealism, consciousness and the subconscious, prose and poetry, the active and contemplative life, individualism and collectivism, love of place/culture and internationalism, of humanity and nature, of male and female.

All these layered and interdependent revolutions are not merely theoretical necessities or utopian pie in the sky. They are the conscious generalization and articulation of what is going on already at some level somewhere in larger or smaller groups and within individuals themselves. To become revolutionary, they ‘just’ need to come together by becoming aware of themselves and their own telos or directionality and consciously forming supportive networks of communication and action.

People pursuing single issues or some separate strand of the above revolutions are at some point coming to realise that their issue can no longer be solved without looking at the structure of the whole ball game and changing it. To prevent ecocide and create an ecological society you need to get rid of capitalism and the capitalist state (the non-democracy of parliamentarianism). To get rid of capitalism and parliamentarianism you need a cultural and spiritual revolution within and between great numbers of people. To save your little neck of the woods you need a global revolution.

This is not as scary as it may sound: on one important level we already are One World, One Planet in the most material and literal of terms. This is destructive industrial capitalism’s constructive legacy. Now we ‘merely’ need to socio-economically, ecologically, culturally and spiritually realise this fact, both individually and collectively as a species. The yawning gap between the objective development of One World and subjective consciousness needs to be closed as rapidly as possible. This collective and practical realisation would itself be the integral revolution we need to survive as a civilised species. When we have deeply realised this fact of global interdependence, we shall, almost ‘automatically’, seek to remove all those old institutions and ideologies of capitalism and the corporate state standing in the way of the liberated, finally conscious, One World, One Planet.

Within all the confusion and chaos we can see the faint lineaments of another, better but never perfect, world forming. Now and again its form takes on the ongoing, dense, compressed form of evolution known as revolution. Like the beginnings of a new language, it is present as organic growth and yet still absent as self-conscious movement. Will its self-consciousness arrive soon enough to avert civilizational collapse, the rapidly approaching ecological tipping points of climate chaos and the ecocide of the sixth great extinction in planetary history?

Time is not on its side. The ecological clock is set at five minutes to midnight. The pressures making for this radical shift in human evolution are mounting, as are the countervailing forces of fear, right-wing reaction and regression into siege mentalities, authoritarianism, jingoism, militarism, police states. Global emergency can become global collapse and regression into survivalism, war and totalitarianism or it can become global emergence and progression into the revolutionary self-consciousness of One World living equitably and sustainably on our One Planet. The choice is ours.


~ by Peter Lach-Newinsky on June 11, 2011.

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