Reflections on RevolutionPosted: June 25, 2012
Athens, June 25
In Spain the summer marches are getting under way, like last year. Only this time there are just three marches confirmed. The Northwest column from Galicia, the Northeast column from Barcelona and the Southern column from Málaga.
A few weeks ago Mami told me that this spring, leading up to May 15, there have also been various Catalan marches directed to Barcelona. I believe there were four. They entered the city along the river valleys and over the ancient trade routes.
Some of us have left Athens to join the Barcelona column going to Madrid. Again like last year, the columns are expected to arrive at Puerta del Sol on July 23.
Me, I’m still in Athens. You can find me on my rock, growing a beard and contemplating the fact that I know so little. Yet as a longtime revolutionary and veteran of many campaigns, people come to me sometimes and they say: “Oscar, what do you think of all this?” The marches, they mean.
Usually I scratch my beard in a very wise and meaningful manner and I respond something like: “Things are not what they seem…” Or: “Fire, walk with me!” But that is just because I used to watch a lot of Twin Peaks.
In fact, I don’t know. On the one hand, it has been done, and it’s never going to be the way it was the first time. On the other hand, by all means let there be marches. Any initiative is better than no initiative at all, especially now that Spain is in the situation that Greece experienced last year.
Also, a recurrence is a good reason to reflect. When you return to the same places after a year, and you continue to return there, you will be able to see changes. You can detect what’s improving and what isn’t. Most of all you can share your experiences by speaking about what’s happening in other towns, regions and villages.
It’s important to keep making revolution every day, all year round. But if the revolution doesn’t advance to the next level, the popular impulse will fade away. It’s what happened in Greece last year. During the occupation of Syntagma and the massive daily protests outside parliament, the Greeks came very close to toppling the government. They could have done so. But they knew that even if the popular revolt succeeded, the outside world would intervene to reestablish order in one way or another.
If there is still any hope left in Greece now, it’s hope for some kind of divine providence to turn things around sooner or later. But people here don’t seem to believe that they can make a difference themselves any more.
In thinking about the concept of revolution, I’m convinced I’m starting to understand some things. Not yet on a rational level, but more intuitively. Both about people themselves, and about the system that keeps society together.
Sometimes, while contemplating modern society my greatest worry is that this is us. All this mindless exploitation and senseless consumerism is simply what we are. In that case, there is no such thing as revolution. It’s a fairy tale like the ones religions are made of.
Fortunately, there is often someone who reminds me that this isn’t true, not completely. The variety in human forms of organisation is huge, just like the variety of values on which humans have founded their societies in the past.
If modern society is what we are, it’s because it’s us who hold it together, but it hasn’t got anything to do with human nature. It works both ways. We give shape to the system, and in turn it’s the system that shapes our mindset.
The same goes for the crisis. It wasn’t caused only by the banks. It was caused by every one of us. A bank shouldn’t give easy credit to people who can’t afford to pay it back and then sell off that debt to someone else. That’s not fair. But as a client, if you can’t afford it, you have no business taking a loan in the first place!
With this I don’t mean to say that there isn’t something inherently wicked in our current banking system. There is. First because money is created out of debt by private enterprises for the sole purpose of private gain. And secondly because of the phenomenon of interest and inflation.
These two are obviously linked. They serve as an incentive to invest, to make sure money keeps roling. You have little choice, because if you put your money in an old sock, it will lose its value. Interest and inflation are at the core of the Gospel of Economic Growth. In certain societies – most notably in the muslim world – interest is forbidden by law, and money is first of all a public asset.
But the economy is only a part of the story. On a wider scale, before we even start to think about change, let alone revolution, we have to be aware of the fact that we have only recently entered a completely new era. In the last fifty years human society has been subject to change in a way which can only be compared to the agricultural revolution at the basis of civilization, and the industrial revolution, of which it represents the final stage.
What I mean to say is that all throughout known history human society was rooted in the land. City life was only made possible because the majority of people were working the soil, producing more than enough for city dwellers to be sustained.
With the advent of industrial agriculture the ancient link between people and the land was broken. Machines had taken over, life in the city had become the heart of society and the country side was reduced to an appendix of the city itself. Rural life as people had known it throughout the centuries, had ceased to exist.
Today, in a world where population keeps growing exponentially while precious resources are being depleted at ever increasing rates and the climate shows signs of a potentially devastating change, the most important problems are not economical.
A revolution will have to be a change towards sustainability. And as such it will have to include a reevaluation of rural life. Not that people should go back to being farmers, or live together in hippie comunes. I don’t believe in all those things. I see it more like an evolution towards a hybrid of country- and city life. Or, in other words, a redistribution of space.
In general, we all have our own very small private space in the city. We work most of our lives to be able to pay for it and call it our own. This space, and often the furniture, is similar to that of other people. Hardly anyone lives in a space that is authentically his own.
All around our little home, life is dictated by the fast pace of the outside world. The thin layer of neighbours, friends and collegues is not enough to divide the two.
A redistribution of space would mean first of all amplifying and personalising the private space and establishing contact with the outdoors. Second of all it would mean the creation of an intermediate community space, where you can be part of a society on a human scale. Then all around this community space, there is the world.
It’s going to take a long time, people. And it’s not going to start here in Greece. Tomorrow morning, at daybreak, I will make another attempt to escape from Athens.
If I’ll make it, you’ll know.