BY MICHAEL VENTURA
IMAGINE. You can't have a revolution if you can't imagine one. Or if you won't imagine one. We are force-fed a million trivial dreams on big and small screens so that we won't discover in ourselves a great dream, a dream of justice and community. The odds are always lousy, the situation always desperate. That's been true for every revolution, no matter what its nature (economic, social, political, cultural). The powerful always have seemingly endless resources, the powerless often have nothing but their dreams and resolve. Sometimes that's not enough; sometimes the timing is bad, the luck is bad, and the effort dies. But nothing is ever won, nothing is even begun, without audacity and imagination.
TALK. Revolutions don't happen unless people talk about them. The importance of this simple fact is impossible to overestimate. Talk has always been the single most essential revolutionary tool, whether the revolution was Jefferson's, Lenin's, Ghandi's or Castro's. People conversing, arguing, even fantasizing with each other about what can be done and what they are willing to do -- this is the breeding ground of fundamental shifts in society. It's simple: if you're not willing to talk with each other about revolution, it's not going to happen.
INDEPENDENCE. Don't wait for leaders. It's your revolution or it isn't anybody's. If you and your friends and your workmates won't address what's unjust in your lives and take whatever first basic steps you can think of, then forget it. A great American radical, Eugene V. Debs (1855-1926), was once speaking at a rally of Southern sharecroppers. Someone yelled, "Brother Debs, stay here and lead us into the Promised Land!" Debs said, "Brothers and sisters, if I could lead you in, somebody else could lead you out."
In the Koran it says that if you take one step toward Allah, Allah will take two toward you. Many things in life unfold like this. Every heartfelt and committed step taken will awaken and draw like-minded people in unpredictable ways. You don't need to wait for a leader if you become your own leaders.
STUDY. Revolutions don't happen without self-education. As you begin to imagine revolution, and as you speak to your friends about it, you'll discover enormous holes in your knowledge. Those holes aren't there by accident. State-supported schools will teach you little about the economic mechanisms that keep you in your place, or about the history of how others have confronted similar systems in the past. (And if you think Marxism is a threat to these mechanisms, then ask yourself why so many Marxists are teaching in our universities). There are still a lot of books in libraries and bookstores that can give you a handle on what you need to know. How do you find the books? Not trusting anybody else's list. As you talk, examine the holes in your knowledge and search for what can fill them. It's not as daunting as it sounds. A study group of four people, each reading different books and meeting once a week to talk about them, can cover a lot of ground in a short time. And the people who can read can talk to the people who can't.
Sounds like dull work, I know. But you've got to dig to build a foundation. There's no other way. (The poet Ezra Pound taught that knowing a half-dozen books well will put you far ahead of those who know a little about a hundred books.) Tolerating ignorance in yourself or in your community is just another way of surrendering to powerlessness. And expecting your oppressors to educate you is really stupid. Have you noticed that you receive only enough education for the work you are slotted to do? And when the unemployment of certain segments of society is desired, you don't receive enough education to be employed?
This syndrome, by the way, isn't confined to the poor. I can't tell you how many "name" writers I know -- children of the middle class and affluent, mostly -- who've never read the Constitution, know virtually nothing about the labor struggles that gave them most of their economic benefits, know little about how corporations are depleting our resources, and know less about the Bible and the Koran, which are still the two most potent, volatile political and spiritual books ever written. Yet, somewhere in their closets, these writers have one or more college degrees. Their ignorance rather confines their subject matter, wouldn't you agree? So it's no wonder that their writing usually doesn't increase your knowledge much.
In every revolutionary movement of any consequence, ordinary people have taken it upon themselves to study -- and to teach their neighbors both what they've learned and, more importantly, how to learn. In the 60's, for instance, the Black Panthers organized neighborhood study groups for children, which had a major impact on the community. This method isn't confined to economic and political revolutions; the extraordinary skills of jazz musicians -- cultural revolutionaries every one -- were learned in this way before there ever were jazz courses in schools. My only caution, if you get this far, is not to fall in love with any particular theory too quickly. Find an opposing theory, learn it too, and discuss both. This method can protect you from opportunists who would lead you for their own ego-driven ends.
ACTION. Study is necessary, or a revolution will neither be thorough nor have a future. But study is not enough. The other great school of revolution is direct action. It is through action, not living near one another or having a common culture, that a sense of community is forged. It is through action, not being of the same race or class, that solidarity is attained. It is through action that people learn their capabilities, their limits, and how to transcend their limits.
Action can take many forms: small or large; private or public; noisy or quiet; legal or illegal; violent or nonviolent. (I have written elsewhere about why I believe violence is a dead end). But essentially, action in a revolutionary struggle boils down to three types: political, direct, and indirect. Political action usually takes the form of asking or pressuring politicians to do things for you. But what politicians can give, they can also take back. Even a casual look at this year's news will teach you that, though you could have learned it by delving into the political history of this or any country, But history also teaches that if your movement gains enough momentum, politicians will follow you -- not because they agree with you, but because they suck up to anybody who has the power of the moment. Thus you can't trust them when you're winning any more than you can now -- so what do you need them for?
But the worst thing about political action is that it distracts you from direct action. Direct action is just that: doing something yourself about the problems that confront you and your community. The people taking advantage of you -- at work, in your community, and in what is supposed to be your government -- are frightened of you. They live in as much fear as you do, and that's what all their manipulation is about. They're frightened that you'll learn how fragile their setup really is (beneath its formidable surface), and how easily it can be disrupted. More than anything else, they're frightened of that moment when you cease to be frightened.
The boss is frightened of how easily his/her authority can be challenged by organization and courage. The CEO is frightened that if you learn the real cost of the products made by his/her corporation, you won't buy them. (A corporation that can't sell its stuff is a paper tiger indeed.) The governor is frightened that he'll wake up and see 100,000 parents sitting with locked arms on his front lawn demanding that the schools teach, and insisting on a say in what and how they do it. The cops are frightened that you'll stop taking drugs, stop giving them a reason to occupy your neighborhoods. The authorities are frightened that they'll pick up the phone and give an order, but nobody on the other end of the line will follow it. (This isn't a pipe dream; that's how the Soviet bloc finally fell.) They're all frightened that their threats of imprisonment, low wages, and/or unemployment won't frighten you anymore (since that's what you're getting anyway).
Finally, there's what could be called indirect action -- which consists of being who you really feel yourself to be, rather than who others would like you to be. Being it, and insisting upon it -- from this one step all others proceed.
All these steps are within the power of anyone with enough basic skills to read this article. The power is the power to begin.
The End -- For Now!
(Reprinted in the World Wide Free Press from the Austin
Chronicle by permission of Michael Ventura).