The Ideology Must Also Free You, Research Time, 24/07/2014

Some more thoughts on the nature of revolution. Reading through Bakunin’s essays is quite interesting precisely because he never actually developed a systematic philosophy, though his thoughts were shaped by a profound engagement with the philosophy of his time. I’m sure there are plenty of interesting and hideously boring texts comparing the Hegelian influence of both Marx and Bakunin. I’ll ask B about them one day, as his work is must more directly focussed on Hegel. 

George W Bush, unknown prophet of his own end.
One of the recurring ideas in revolutionary political philosophy and the real concerns of activists is that, after a revolutionary government is established, the new rulers will be little better than the previous one. I know what The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is about; it’s really quite obvious. One of my favourite Bushisms was his, “Fool me once, shame on me; fool me twice . . . well, we won’t get fooled again.” And not just because The Who is totally fucking awesome. 

In that one moment, he embodied the entire future of failed radical political change that he tried to inculcate in Iraq through his government’s incompetent, abusive, and destructive invasion. The goal of Bush and his advisors from Project for a New American Century* was to turn Iraq into a democracy through military invasion, under their belief that merely the opportunity for a free vote would let the natural light of liberated reason shine upon the people of Iraq and they would elect enlightened leaders, Iraqi equivalents to Jefferson, Franklin, and John Jay. 

* This was a think tank formed in the 1990s that essentially incubated all the international political philosophies of the W government, particularly the notion that a military invasion could introduce democracy into a region, and that Iraq was the best candidate to begin this democratic domino effect. Of course, this domino effect was no more effective for democratic culture than communism. Prominent members of PNAC included Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, and William Kristol.

Seriously. They actually believed this. They did the same in Israel when they brushed aside the concerns of Ehud Olmert and Mahmoud Abbas that Hamas would win the Palestinian national election of 2006 and their brand of radical Islamic fundamentalism would gain a streak of democratic legitimacy.

I think because too many in the West no longer confront
racism on a daily basis, we've lost our ability to accept its
existence and how pervasive such ideologies still are.
The secular left-wing democratic defenders of Hamas** that I have spoken with over the last few weeks since the Gaza offensive kicked into gear have defended that organization’s legitimacy on this ground. This was yet another unfortunate legacy of the Bush Administration and PNAC, in addition to creating the conditions for the incompetent Shi’a despotism of modern Iraq’s Nouri al-Maliki regime.

** I can’t believe I actually wrote that phrase and it refers to an existing set of people.

But there is a deeper reason why many folks on the secular left of Western democracies treat a political organization whose central constitutional goal is to replace the state of Israel with a Muslim fundamentalist state run according to traditional Shari’a principles on the model of the Muslim Brotherhood as an ally and comrade. No one who looks at the disenfranchisement of the ordinary people of the Palestinian Territories can ignore that there are great injustices in their political and social situation. 

There are many factors in this injustice: they include Israeli laws about who can legitimately hold real estate in the Territories, Fatah corruption, a culture that is increasingly tolerant of racist extremism on all sides and intolerant of the conciliatory gestures and friendships forged by idealists working toward an integrated community, the long cultural neglect of their former rulers in Jordan and Egypt who conceived the Territories’ peasantry as no more than political tools. I make no claim that this is a complete list.

Shortly before the current Gaza offensive, legendary Israeli
author Amos Oz spoke out to denounce the price tag wave
of violence: extremist Jews who vandalize and destroy the
property of Arabs, Christians, and Jews who do not support
an ethnically pure and fundamentalist Israel.
In such a situation of injustice, any form of resistance is legitimized because resistance to such an intractable political and social situation is legitimate. But while resistance itself is legitimate, there are many concrete forms of resistance that are ultimately counter-productive. The resistance strategy of Hamas and their Iranian military sponsors is ultimately nihilistic because the practical ideology of Hamas does not itself enable human freedom.

Say Hamas were to succeed in its revolution. While Article 31 of Hamas’ Charter gives lip service to religious pluralism, stating that Muslims, Jews, and Christians are hypothetically capable of living together in an Islamist state, the amount of anti-Jewish hatred Hamas has inculcated among Palestinian people to encourage militant action against Israel has poisoned any cultural possibility of genuine pluralism in a Hamas-governed Palestine that covers the entire modern state of Israel. 

Besides, in all of the surrounding Arab states, children’s television encourages the hatred and murder of Jews, and elementary education still teaches such genocidal slander as the blood libel and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion as basic facts about Jews and Judaism. Add to this, all the standard Islamic fundamentalist political norms of heavy restrictions on freedom of thought, hostility to secularism and science, and the institutionalization of the abuse and commodification of women.

Frantz Fanon, one of the original leaders of the anti-colonialist struggle in the Muslim world, is often cited as one of the thinkers who argued that violent revolution against colonial oppressors was a legitimate and appropriate expression of the people’s work for freedom and emancipation. That’s the textbook version of Fanon that everybody knows and cites. But there’s a lot more in Fanon’s ideas than this, and he provides the clearest rebuke to anyone, especially anyone who was raised in a democratic culture, who would use this concept to justify whatever acts of terror, violence, racism, and murder organizations like Hamas would commit in the name of freedom from oppressors.

Leader of Algeria's liberation, Frantz Fanon.
Fanon doesn’t stop with the legitimacy of resistance. The most unfortunate forms of political resistance are those that, while legitimate in the abstract sense, will only bring further material destruction on their people in eventual victory. If the political and social vision of a revolutionary army does not include the inculcation of a democratic culture, it will only result in further oppression. In The Wretched of the Earth, Fanon wrote of two ways a revolutionary movement can fail in this sense. 1) They become so defined by the struggle against the enemy that, even when in power, their politics remain defined by the hunt for enemies, so they continue a war against their former masters and paranoiacally hunt down any form of dissent in their own culture as if mere refusal to obey were an existential threat. 2) The revolutionary ideology is merely a different kind of oppressive social and political structure. 

Revolutionaries are not simply warriors; they must also be nation builders. They themselves, their actions, and their philosophical thoughts provide the role models and templates for the citizens of their revolutionary new public. The true revolutionaries of the Middle East are the activists and artists who denounce racism in all its forms. Hamas are not true revolutionaries because they are just one more actor in the Middle East who seek to impose their vision on the world through violence. They are no exception to the region’s political order. 

The closest thing to an exception in the Middle East is the democratic culture of Israel, where despite the vehement denunciations that some members of the public fling at those who advocate an end to war, peace demonstrations and criticism of the government is accepted as a natural expression of social and political freedom. The utopian democratic movement of the kibbutzim was an essential element of the original Zionist movement, building alliances among oppressed peoples (Jews from around the world, the Sephardic communities that had lived in the region for thousands of years, in solidarity with local peasant populations who were similarly oppressed through feudalist hierarchy and monarchial despots; today, this population identifies as Palestinian) through communal agricultural production. In a society riven with hatred, fear, and violence, the most truly revolutionary act is to lay down arms and eat together as friends and neighbours in the face of armies.

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