Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Excerpts on Revolution, Authority, Freedom

World Cup rantings & vague Marxist ruminations on cinema--I am sure that lately Elusive Lucidity has been more fun than a barrel of monkeys!! Here are some excerpts that I thought had a nice confluence of 'talking points' ...

From the Preface to "Political Position of Surrealism" (1935):

From Marx to Lenin, this period of gestation which lasted more than half a century [1848-1917] sustained such a great effervescence of ideas, the problem of its outcome gave rise to so many debates, the points of view relating to it clashed with one another on all occasions with such violence, and, finally, the view that was to carry the day did prevail so forcefully that I cannot help but consider the constituion--both through men and events--of scientific socialism as a model school. As a school of an ever more profound understanding of human need which must aim, in all areas and on the largest possible scale, at finding satisfaction, but also as a school of independence where each person must be free to express in any and every circumstance his way of seeing things, and must be ready to justify endlessly the domestication of his spirit.

For years now, however, a great deal of time and effort has gone into telling us that times have changed on five-sixths of the globe (since a catchword prompts us to subtract) the revolutionary has no longer basically to look to himself for the re-creation of the reasons which militate in favor of social transformation, and to try to accelerate, from the point where he now finds himself, this transformation by every possible means. He is invited to leave that up to other men--men who have "made the Revolution" in the U.S.S.R. and who, some day or other, will presumably be called upon to fill a providential role everywhere else. The unbridled exaltation over whatever these men undertake, be it great or small, takes the place of judgment with respect to the possibilities which are theirs. We are witnessing the formation of a taboo, of the deplorable crystallization of what may be the most moving and most protean in the essence of human demands. Can we be asked to toss onto the dunghill this unlimited capacity to say no which is the whole secret of human progress in order to watch and wonder unreservedly at what is going on without us at the other end of the world? No, this contemplative, ecstatic attitude is totally irreconcilable with the revolutionary movement.

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From Slavoj Žižek's "Can Lenin Tell Us About Freedom Today?":

This Leninist freedom of choice--not "Life or money!" but "Life or critique!"--combined with Lenin's dismissive attitude towards the "liberal" notion of freedom, accounts for his bad reputation among liberals. Their case largely rests upon their rejection of the standard Marxist-Leninist opposition of "formal" and "actual" freedom: as even Leftist liberals like Claude Lefort emphasize again and again, freedom is in its very notion "formal," so that "actual freedom" equals the lack of freedom. That is to say, with regard to freedom, Lenin is best remembered for his famous retort "Freedom--yes, but for WHOM? To do WHAT?"--for him, in the above-quoted case of the Mensheviks, their "freedom" to criticize the Bolshevik government effectively amounted to "freedom" to undermine the workers' and peasants' government on behalf of the counterrevolution.

... and, earlier in the essay ...

In contrast to this false radical Leftist's position (who want true democracy for the people, but without the secret police to fight counterrevolution, without their academic privileges being threatened), a Leninist, like a Conservative, is authentic in the sense of fully assuming the consequences of his choice, i.e., of being fully aware of what it actually means to take power and to exert it.

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In a prefatory segment to Michael Chanan's Cuban Cinema, there is an interview between Robert Scheer and Francis Ford Coppola from 1975, after the latter's visit to Cuba. One question & answer follow:

Did you ask questions about the problem of artistic freedom?

Yes. No one is permitted to criticize the government, other than through the channels that are provided for them. If you're a worker or if you're a writer, you can do it in your various workers' groups. In a factory they get together a couple of nights a week and discuss problems--how to make things better, what's unfair, and stuff like that. So, in other words, there are channels that allow you not to criticize the idea of the society but to figure out how to make it better. I like the honesty of it. They say no, you cannot criticize the government--that freedom, no, you don't have.

Here in America you can write or say anything you want, and many people in Cuba are very impressed when you tell them this. They are surprised when they see something like Godfather II. They wonder, "How can you make a film that says nice things about our Revolution?" But the truth is, I believe, that the freedoms we have here are possible because they do not even come close to jeopardizing the real interests that govern our country. If there were someone who really came close to jeopardizing those interests, I believe our freedoms would vanish, one way or the other. If there were a man, a political candidate, who was elected to office and began implementing real programs that were counter to the big interests, there would be a coup or a murder or whatever was necessary.

In Cuba they don't even have the illusion of that kind of political freedom. It's as though they're saying, "Our Revolution is too fragile, it has too many enemies, it is too difficult to pull off to allow forces inside or outside to work to counter it." I understand the implications of what I'm saying, the dangers. But I put it to you: if they are right--if their society is truly beautiful and honest and worthwhile--then it is worth protecting, even with this suspension of freedom. In Chile, the newborn, elected society was not protected in this way, and so it was destroyed. Ironically, the government that replaced it is not taking any chances and is controlling the press and opposition in a way that Allende did not."

(...at which point Ruiz fled his homeland and became one of our greatest transnational filmmakers...)

2 comments:

Brian said...

You know, it really depends on the kind of monkeys you're talking about.

I liked this post.

Zach Campbell said...

Thanks, Brian. (They're rainbow-colored rhesus monkeys, by the way.)