Reading Hari Kunzru’s novel ‘My Revolutions’ and hearing him at Migrating University at Goldsmiths this weekend, tempts me to try and work out how I want to talk about struggles today (its not the 60s anymore). This is with the aim to offer a critique of how armed struggle in various theatres of the world is currently represented in the media, in the press, in books (like Hari’s, but assessing other novelistic imaginings as well) and in academic discussion, which so often seems to lose its way. Some first steps here might open up something, but I am not sure. More when I get back from the Maoism in India soiree in Preston no doubt.
Or maybe I shouldn’t even try. I see clearly that the trouble with academic discussions about revolutionary politics (aside from promoting the Open Book project insufficiently well) is not so much that any comment can only be part of a discussion, a talking shop, a glorified coffee chat, but rather that there is a necessary level of abstraction to anything that might be said by anyone at all. Involvement would suggest a certain reticence to discuss, discussion would suggest a requisite lack of involvement, or a recklessness from which everyone should steer well clear.
The first step of this is not some twisted version of William James’ problems of getting at the idea of a mystical state, but it is close to that where he says: ‘One must have musical ears to know the value of a symphony; one must have been in love one’s self to understand a lover’s state of mind. Lacking the heart or ear, we cannot interpret the musician or the lover justly’ (‘Varieties of Rel Exp’ Vol 16). I remember Marx swapping bibles for brandy (the word of the spirit for the spirit of life) such that I think its not too mischievous to think of the Angry Brigade type of provocation in these terms – a mystical violence which is strangely silent. Caught in a propaganda war of spin and censorship. If you can’t do, you can chit chat away to no avail. If you do, then I do not know you. This is the abstraction bound and gagged.
But I think there is another way to open up the question of armed struggle and that is in terms of adequacy, since without being able to discuss the practical requirements of violence we cannot comprehend the struggles in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, or even Ireland in any relevant way. Sure, there are so many cautions and prevarications to be routinised first. Yes, its terrible, or no its not. Its all good, its all bad – positions that Mao already demolished in ‘”It’s Terrible!” or “It’s Fine”‘ (Selected Works Vol 1 p 26). But I want to find a way to restart a discussion in terms of adequacy of opposition to state power (tanks, helicopter gunships, cluster bombs, nuclear arsenals) and the question of what would be required to defeat an organised violence that might mean enacting a counter violence that is anathema to many – anathema to those caught in exactly that comfort zone that allows, even requires, complicity with state violence unleashed elsewhere and denied.
OK, that’s a tangle already, and so far I’ve said nothing – but I have just seen the section on ‘Riff Raff’ in Selected Works and so have decided I better reread all that first. Thus yet again the televised bit is delayed…