Friday, 14 October 2011

Fuck Yeah Revolution

The crisis is deepening and in places here and there people are taking to the streets. At the forefront in the US is the Occupy Wall Street movement. There is an excitement among groups on the far left that here is a movement from the grass roots that could acquire historical dimensions. The movement at the moment is a loose association lacking any clear leadership. You can see people from the far left, though, elbowing their way forward clutching the blueprint that would transform the motley crowd into a spearhead for a genuine revolution.

I want to find out more about the budding leaders. I find snippets of statements excitedly posted here and there on the web. One I find on a website with the title “Fuck Yeah Marxism-Leninism”. Every page on that site repeats at the top the following quote from Chairman Mao.
A Communist should have largeness of mind and he should be staunch and active, looking upon the interests of the revolution as his very life and subordinating his personal interests to those of the revolution; always and everywhere he should adhere to principle and wage a tireless struggle against all incorrect ideas and actions, so as to consolidate the collective life of the Party and strengthen the ties between the Party and the masses; he should be more concerned about the Party and the masses than about any private person, and more concerned about others than about himself. Only thus can he be considered a Communist.

Mao Zedong

Perhaps it is a coincidence but the colour scheme of the website is black and white – a stark and dramatic contrast. Appropriate since for Fuck Yeah Marxism-Leninism everything is black and white. The Party is good. The private person (at least insofar as she might insist on a life that is independent of the Party) is bad. The masses are good, so anyone who is not with the masses must be bad. Communists are good; the rest are bad. A life of principle is good; a life shaped by attachments to things and people and places is bad. The future is good; the past is bad.

The philosopher Theodor Adorno said something about the philosophy of history – about the sort of thing also known to those of us conversant with the post-modernist lingo as the grand narrative – the sort of sweeping summary of history that any movement needs in order to have an idea about where it has come from and where it is heading. He said that grand narratives need to be construed and denied. It strikes me that the same needs to be said of the political party that might help us move forward: it, too, must be construed and denied.

The problem is that that idea of construing and denying something at the same time finds no place in a black and white, fuck-yeah view of the world.

I left a comment to this effect on the Facebook page of Jay Rothermel. I don’t think Jay has any direct connection with the Fuck Yeah website, it was just that his FB page included a link to that site, which was how I found it. Jay replied to my initial comment thus:
Adorno spent most of his career writing off the working class in the imperialist countries as bought-off and stupefied by consumer culture. And no one today needs to affirm the party mentality that I or Fuck Yeah Marxism-Leninism have expressed in our blogs. A united front means striking together against the common enemy, not being in programmatic agreement on everything, or even most things.
Jay clearly has a more nuanced view of the Party, but still the mentality is the same. There are the good guys (the working class) and there are the bad guys (the enemy). Of course, if we are to fight for something better, we will have to have a view of who or what we are fighting against (let's call that the enemy), and inevitably it will be a simplification of a situation whose complexity we cannot do justice to without becoming paralysed – a paralysis that would simply allow the false status quo to perpetuate itself. But we need to be careful because some kinds of simplification have lead in the past to people with good intentions being sent to the gulag.

Being of the left and having grown up reading enthusiastically about things like the Solidarity movement in Poland and having gone from door to door in Birmingham helping to raise money for the striking miners, my sympathies are definitely with the workers. Jay’s reference to the working class prompted me to add the following comment:
I once worked as a porter in the British NHS before it was torn to pieces, and I worked with a bunch of guys who were the most stereotypically red-necked, fuck-yeah, working-class people I have ever met. I wouldn't say they were stupefied, but I would say they were damaged. I am also damaged. Adorno was aware of how damaging it is for people to be confined to the role of worker or to the role of intellectual. I would fight for a world less damaging. It wouldn't be a fuck-yeah world, though.
One of the difficult things we need to do is to see and admit the way in which we are damaged. Only then will it be possible to glimpse the vague outlines of a better life – a life that is less at war with itself – more reconciled. If we insist that the only problem is with the enemy who are over there on the other side of the barricade, the chances are that after all the enemies have been shot we will find that we have just replaced one kind of damaged life with another.


David Warr said...

Black and green is better.

Torn Halves said...

Einstein thought that a shade of red would be preferable to black. See his article in the Monthly Review. I am sure he would have found the whole Fuck Yeah Marxism-Leninism discourse utterly offensive, but he would have continued to insist that we must find a way to find a way to go beyond contemporary egoism and a one-sided insistence upon the rights of the individual.