If you’ve known me for any decent length of time, you probably know that politically I lean towards the left. If you’ve known me a long time you probably also know that I do nothing about it because none of the political parties in Britain with any power represent me. Those of you that also know me well know that it’s also because I’m quite a bit lazy.
Part of the way through Soderbergh’s Che: The Argentine last night, I wondered why I didn’t know more about Guevara. Then I remembered: I’m an American Studies graduate. I know this stuff from a US perspective so can tell you all kinds of nonsense about the thirteen days worth of missile crisis but very little about Batista, Castro (although I can tell you about some interesting assassination attempts) and Cuba itself and her people. I know less about the rest of Latin America, except that Uruguay hosted the first World Cup in 1930 and that
Madonna Eva Peron was big in Argentina. Very early in the film, after his charisma was clear but before the reality of the revolution was portrayed, I wondered why I don’t know more, why I don’t have The T-Shirt. Then I quickly remembered that I’m (usually) a pacifist and so his methods don’t chime with me. Then I also remembered Cuba today and a documentary from 1967 called Rocky Road to Dublin.
There is one question that all would-be revolutionaries must ask themselves and seem rarely to bother with:
So what is the ideal? Democracy? Capitalism? Communism? Fascism? Corporatocracy? Anarchism? It seems to me that a political revolution isn’t nearly as important as one rooted in human society. We need to change how humans interact, we need to adjust what is expected of other people and ourselves. We need, not to change human nature itself, but the way we all think of it. Humanity lends itself to generosity of spirit and resources, to caring for each other and to the development of ourselves as much, if not more, as it lends itself to destruction. I don’t think any revolution, peaceful or violent, will really succeed until we amend what we expect from humanity. Until we all accept their responsibilities and duties towards ourselves and others, the demands of the power elite will always find a way to grin down those who do not have power. In Cuba, Castro could not have suppressed opposition or the expression thereof without the ultimate permission of everyone else. Here in Britain, the very very few could not control the media (doing essentially the same job then, as Castro) unless we the people allowed them to – and we did. I get why Cubans allowed Castro and his people to stomp on free speech just as as I understand why Britain has got itself into the situation it is now in.
The Argentine is partly responsible for the writing of this (though not the content) and it makes much of Guevara’s demand that the people be able to read and write so that they can learn and inform themselves rather than accept lies. It’s not enough. People, all people need to realise the importance of questioning. It is a skill that has been slowly and carefully eroded for a long time by spin doctors and marketing executives. Nowadays, not even students protest, unless it’s about their own fees (and then not much). People read a newspaper, a website, the Wikipedia and accept what they see. I’m guilty of it too, I know. Until we all question and hold our elected officials and public figures (including the unelected) to account for everything, we cannot say we live in a democratic country – certainly not a free one.
I understand that most people are just trying to live their lives, honestly. I get why having mortgages and loans blunts a person’s capacity to care about other things that might endanger those things. We all are so busy taking care of our own concerns in our fear-mongered lives that we ignore or reject everything else until it directly affects us.
We allow ourselves to be sedated by drink, by drugs, by TV and movies, by soothing tales, by smooth words, by sex. We convince ourselves that it’s all going to be OK and we allow ourselves to become distracted. We all do it. My soma is storytelling, so I get caught up in movies, in music, in TV. We all find ways of passing our time. Gardening. Shopping. Sex. Drugs, illegal and not. Food. Trivia. I’m not saying that these things are bad or evil or to blame: we’re all just treading water until we die. It’s understandable. I do it myself, I am a master of allowing time to pass around me. Diversions themselves are not to blame. We seem to believe that as individuals we can do nothing to effect change, so we do nothing, or we do only just enough. Some of us read controversial/avant garde/revolutionary books, or watch controversial/avant garde/revolutionary things in the belief that it matters, except that I suppose it doesn’t, except to further inform those feelings we already have. I know I do it. People watch ‘indie’ films or listen to ‘indie’ music or download pirated films and music in the belief that they’re sticking it to The Man, but they’re consuming just the same, whether they pay or not. People reject ‘the mainstream’ not realising that they’re filling their lives with distractions the same as the most middle of the road box-ticking demographic.
Even most political or pseudo-political movements appear to be, by their scale and ineffectiveness, distractions. For a revolution to succeed, you need to have the will, the force and the hopes of the people behind you. Then once you have your revolution, what do you do with it? Anything that resembles or accepts the status quo ante is doomed to repeat its mistakes. The people in charge might have different names, might wear different clothes and the mistakes might look different, but it’s all just the same underneath. Without a whole, full scale change in attitudes by we all as well as leaders who will not abandon the ideals for which they say they stand, without change in the way we all think and act, the revolution will always fail.
It isn’t simply about consumerism, capitalism, communism, bagism, shagism… as long as people look only at money or politicians or pop culture for a scapegoat, the answers will be too small to make their difference.
Winning the war is easy. Sustaining the Revolution once you have it seems to be impossible… but I believe that once we all combine our love for ourselves with a greater, deeper love for we all, we all might just get our Revolution and humanity would achieve things together that even science fiction writers have yet to conceive.