The Price of Illusions
By Dennis Loo (12/27/12)
Someone whose investigative journalism I admire greatly – especially given the fact that investigative journalism is an endangered species – and with whom I also share things in common, Robert Parry at Consortium News (whose site, by the way, I recommended in my book to many people for its investigative insights, and a site that has published articles of mine) has written an article today entitled The Price of Revolutionary Illusions.
I have to speak to this piece, at least some, even though I’m in a bit of a hurry tonight as I write this. Please, then, forgive me for the relative brevity of this response that really deserves something much lengthier.
The point of Parry’s piece is to argue that both those on the Right and the Left are standing in the way of gun control, based upon their respective “illusions” that guns will come in handy in the confrontation with tyrannical Big Brother (Parry’s characterization of the Rightwing version) or the “the collapse of the world economy, followed by some armed uprising of the dispossessed” (Parry’s view of the Leftwing version). The "price" in his article's title thus refers to the unnecessary deaths of innocents, killed by domestic killers using the guns that both the Right and the Left don't want to stem the flow of.
I write here as someone of the Left who actually supports gun control, as anyone knows who’s read any of my articles on domestic mass murders (e.g., here), so Parry’s broad brush approach does not even fit people like myself.
But beyond that, it’s very important to address the gross caricature that Parry has for the Left. It’s a caricature, unfortunately, that not only very smart, progressive, and informed people like Parry have: the majority of people suffer from it. And they suffer from it primarily because those who have the most to lose from a revolution, the capitalist/imperialist class, censor the truth and lie shamelessly (as they lie about so much else) about their biggest foes: genuine revolutionaries and about socialist revolutions.
Before getting into what is in essence wrong about this popular caricature, I should also say that what is conspicuously missing from Parry’s analysis, at least in this article, is why the horrid spate of mass killings is going on in the first place.
While reducing the number of guns in circulation would help stop some of the carnage, reducing the number of deaths in specific cases, since semi-automatic weapons and guns more generally allow individuals to inflict far more deaths and injuries than other lethal weapons such as knives and swords (which also require more skill to employ than guns), gun control per se isn’t a panacea, or even anything remotely close to a panacea.
What Parry doesn’t do in this article is point to the underlying problem: the fact that leading people in this society, beginning with President Obama, are actively and openly engaged in killing massive numbers of people, including children, thereby setting the example for the whole society, an example which the more unhinged among us are most likely to act out in the most explicit and deadly fashion. When the last spectacular mass killing happened, the Aurora Massacre when James Holmes opened fire in a theatre, Obama, after decrying the “senselessness” of it, refused to do anything about gun control.
Parry doesn’t bring the system into the picture that breeds this contempt for people’s lives and the use of massive and deadly force, both directly with killing machines like drones and rifles wielded by U.S. soldiers on the ground, and indirectly with policies that slash the social safety net and lead to people’s slow deaths and misery when it’s being done by Democrats. He doesn’t do that because he is at bottom a Democrat and as such, isn’t going to call on the carpet Obama for his criminal actions the way he has done so articulately against Republicans. And yet, it is this system and its chief political representatives in the Democratic and Republican Parties, and the corporations (including especially the gun lobby and gun industry, which is one component of the fact that the U.S. is the biggest arms dealer/death dealer in the world), that bear the major responsibility for these mass murders.
And that is where the limitations of his perspective show up most graphically. As we at World Can’t Wait declared in the statement that we circulated and that was signed by many notables such as Cornel West and (former senior CIA analyst) Ray McGovern: “Crimes are Crimes, No Matter Who Does Them.”
This is Parry’s description of the Left: “[T]he romantic notion of armed revolution perhaps has been more insidious on the Left, because it has caused some progressives to essentially remove themselves from practical politics altogether, to wait for some inevitable collapse of the System, followed by a popular insurrection that somehow brings Utopia to the world.”
There is a great deal that is incorrect in this statement and it would take a lot of words to untangle them, but let me just single out the most troubling ones. What Parry calls “practical politics” should be translated to mean: make your peace with and defend fiercely the actions of the Democrats, no matter how awful and murderous their policies, no matter if they are doing exactly the same (or even worse) than what the Republicans are doing because the Republicans are by definition worse. If by “practical politics” Parry means (and he does mean this) refusing to stand up with one’s conscience and refuse to legitimate by voting for war crimes, then what person with a working conscience can fail to repudiate such “practical” measures as colluding and apologizing for, let alone, lauding, war crimes?
Second, real revolutionaries are not waiting “for some inevitable collapse of the System.” No system has collapsed of its own weight with revolutionaries merely twiddling their thumbs, entertaining themselves with romantic fantasies. Revolutions don’t happen that way. Revolutions must be struggled for and sacrificed for mightily in the period leading up and including during and after a revolutionary crisis when the system is unable to go on as usual. Indeed, if you want to consider whether revolutionaries content themselves with being uninvolved in politics in the here and now, there are no people anywhere as enmeshed in the nitty gritty of politics in the here and now as revolutionaries. The decisive difference is that genuine revolutionaries recognize and fight for a longer view in addition to what is going on at the moment. They are not content with the mere appearance of change, the kind of thing that sends some misinformed and misguided people into paroxyms of glee when they think that having an articulate black man as president who sounds like he's on the side of the angels is just so neato.
The idea that the real political actors are those who attempt to "change the system from within" (as people have admonished me from the time I was a child) and in particular, see their and anyone's political work as voting pure and simple, and that anyone who acts politically in direct forms (e.g., organizing and participating in protests and direct actions of various kinds) is eschewing real poitical work, is utter nonsense. If you examine the history, both distant and proximal, of what has been accomplished through a) voting versus b) direct action, including in particular those direct actions engaged in through the active participation and frequently the leadership of revolutionaries, you will see that B trumps A everytime. How, for example, did we get the eight hour day? How were unions brought into being? Where did the social safety net come from? Through voting? Not at all: it was through fierce and determined struggle in direct actions, including ones in which people were beaten and killed by authorities. How did the Vietnam War end? Through voting? Or through direct action, not only of the protest movements here and abroad but the national liberation struggle in Vietnam led by communists? How did civil rights come about? How did women's rights come to be more recognized? How were civil liberties won? Through direct action led by revolutionaries. To even get reforms from this system it has been necessary that the system be confronted by the real prospect of revolution. So even if you are of the opinion that you don't want revolution but you see that reforms are absolutely necessary, you would be cutting off your nose to spite your face by refusing to work side by side with revolutionaries. As I said to someone after a forum I participated in recently who was of the opinion that working for change within the system was the answer (by which he meant, getting more for himself and his specific people): "What I want to do is improbable. What you want to do is impossible." Look at what voting for Obama has accomplished: overall a worsening of most of the things that made Bush and Cheney so widely despised.
Third, saying that a revolution will bring on a “Utopia” merely shows that Parry doesn’t really understand and hasn’t apparently really studied the works and activities of genuine revolutionaries. Check out, for example, the writings of Bob Avakian on the nature of revolution and the nature of the contradictions that will be in play after a successful insurrection. If you read even a little of his work you will see that Parry’s stereotyped and jaundiced description of the Left and of revolutionaries is in another universe altogether than the real Left.
The price of illusions is that you are blinded to the crimes, death, and destruction of those who you decide that you will defend, no matter what, regardless of the facts and justice. Being clear eyed, on the other hand, means that you will frankly confront any errors, including grievous ones, committed by those you admire, because the point isn’t partisanship or ego: the point is to change the world for the better and to sum up experiences, good and bad. Those who rule out of hand the idea that one should decide based on history and experience that the system itself is the principle problem, are saying that they can’t imagine something beyond what already exists. And when what already exists is as terrible as the status quo, then that is truly clinging to illusions that mean atrocious things for the world as a whole.