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Because intellectualism is for everyone and creativity is rebellious


[Contribution to the Reimagining Society Project hosted by ZCommunications]

 

(Venezuela) — Karl Marx lay down on the couch, poured some cheap sherry into a glass jar, and balanced it carefully on his bare chest. A Nigerian oil worker sipped on palm wine as President Yar’Adua spoke of nationalism and country as though blowing through a straw. A young Swiss housewife poured herself a shot of whiskey. A Venezuelan writer and community council representative walked into The Widow, and asked for a beer and pastel. And then they all wondered. Really, really, is it possible to collectively and democratically make a new kind of world?

~

The first essay I wrote at university started off with dialogue. My teacher, an ex communist party member, gave me a distinction for the "thorough research" but told me to refer to the university first year student guide about how to write an essay. Essays do not contain dialogue or narrative. They are clearly structured arguments with a beginning that summarises the …blah blah. I did not put dialogue into an essay again. To do so, was to lose marks. To lose marks was to possibly fail a course and increase the debt I still owe the Australian government.

~

During high school and university, I worked in supermarkets. I wore a big black jumper in winter. I liked big jumpers, and black and white was the "checkout chick" uniform. One day the manager told me I was sloppy, and if I did not professionalise myself, I would lose my job.

~

Capitalism is very limited. It tells us that more money is more happiness and that career paths are the only paths to success and a fulfilling life. Schools train us to be workers, not to think, or explore, discover, to love learning. They also teach us to be competitive, not to work together, in preparation for the future career life. We learn quickly to stay inside the square. To dress how we’re told, to write resumes like this, poetry like that, to wear make up at job interviews if we are women, to get married, to get a mortgage, to work then go home and watch TV. And to write boring essays.

~

If we can’t think outside the squares, how can we think beyond capitalism?

 

For a creative revolution freed from formal non fiction and speeches

 

Where capitalism puts fences around us, guiding where we walk and how, as revolutionaries seeking to create the opposite world, we should not limit ourselves to non fiction and speech oriented forums as our main tools for arguing against capitalism and for revolution. We shouldn’t worship these methods as the most serious, legitimate, disciplined ones and as the highest expression of what we are striving for.

 

These tools are important and I would never argue that they should not be used, but rather we need to also see poetry, song, art, novels, dance, and so on as equally legitimate and strive more to use them. Where capitalism is boringly restrained in its ideas of beauty, life, and humanity, communication, and thought, we need to be more creative.

 

Intellectualism is for everyone

 

Intellectualism, that is- thinking and theorising and understanding the world and society, is for everyone. Currently the left ‘first world’ intellectual world is dominated by, frankly, white, mature aged, university educated men. That is, people who in this unequal world, feel that they have a right to write, a right to be listened to. A right that a lot of blue collar workers, many women, youth, the uneducated, immigrants, and so on, do not feel they have and do not assert, despite their life experience being education enough to have a voice in this future world that we want to construct.

 

Capitalist education institutions and so on create and perpetuate this disparity. From an early age we are taught that politics is academic, that it is done by the Napoleans and Politicians of the world and that it is not for everyday people. It is an abstract theory to write essays about not something lived in our houses and workplaces. They make politics exclusive and most people feel hostile towards and unwelcome to participate in the academic world.

 

The disparity between those who write and comment on politics is equally present between those who read that writing. Therefore, in order to increase participation in revolutionary thought, and to also reach more people, we need to embrace more creative methods with which people feel more comfortable.

 

Australian Aboriginals, to generalise a little, told their history and the history of their land with oral stories and cave drawings. Diego Rivera painted murals depicting Mexico‘s history, its 1910 revolution and its society. He painted his first one in a school in Mexico city armed with a pistol, to defend himself against right wing students. Mafalda, an Argentinian comic series about a 6 year old girl who criticises the world with an acuteness rendered all the more shattering because it is a child saying it, is read by millions still, forty years after its creation. Here I have even seen a version of the Communist Manifesto, written in comic form. Its argument however is still exactly the same.

 

Rather than being abstract, politics is felt, lived, real, and personal. It’s in our psychology, our relationships, our self esteem, our worry, stress, depression, happiness, our daily routine, our expectations. Novels, therefore, are one good medium for making politics real and making the link between the reader’s own personal struggles and the larger historic class struggles. A link the dominant capitalist ideology would rather we didn’t notice. There have been a lot of good novels written about struggles- Marge Piercy’s novel on the early women’s movement, Sembene Ousmane’s novel about the Senegal train strikes, Frank Hardy’s novels about the Australian communist party… These novels bring those battles to life and enable a reader far away by distance or time, to connect to those struggles in a way the BBC news for example, really doesn’t (Those poor bombed people in Iraq, but that has nothing to do with me..).

 

I went to a small art exhibition in the culture centre, on the 3rd floor. The rooms were empty, an attendant slept in a corner. The paintings talked to no one. In the long term, I think we’d like a world where everyone feels comfortable walking into art galleries and talking with people about the messages of the paintings. In the short term, let’s take those paintings down from the 3rd floor and put them in the street.

 

Let’s destroy the old conception of intellectualism which sees thinking, ideas, theories, stuck in dry day long lectures in stale white halls away from the places where people are meeting and venting and working and struggling.

 

 

Revolution should be a democratic, mass discussion, not centred on individuals

 

According to the largely accepted history, Napoleon did this, Bolivar did that, and Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia. The way history is told reflects the history teller’s values and perpetuates them, as history is used to justify what is done in the present. History is talked about (in the classroom, in most published books, and in newspapers) in terms of single person actors, who are also generally men and people of power. Even history that ventures to recognise that there were strikes and movements, likes to pick out one or two special leaders, who are also 90% of the time, men. And in Australian history, they are usually not immigrants, Aboriginals, or gay people. Likewise, the writers of history – the famous quoted ones, are mostly the same sort of people, and rarely those who were actually involved in the strikes, the movements, affected by the depression or whatever. Imagine the psychological impact this has on working class people or on women or non white people etc. How are we supposed to value ourselves as actors in society if we are not written about as such? And doesn’t all this apply to the way we talk about and do politics as well?

 

History and politics should be ‘written’ by the actors as well as the outside observers.  Besides, the single-actor point of view really obscures the economic classes. Even capitalism doesn’t have single actors- George Bush was more a spokesperson for a whole class rather than an actor on his own, and of course a direct puppet for a range of US business and political interests.

 

Likewise, when (some people) quote Alan Woods as though he is the only person with any ideas, or when we organise forums and one person talks for two hours and then there are 15 minutes for questions (questions, not comments mind you), or when only a small percentage of us (revolutionaries) are writing articles that influence what we do and how we view the current political situation, aren’t we just perpetuating their message that history and politics have a few key actors and that’s it. That isn’t to say that there are not leaders and there are not people with great ideas. But there are some things we can do better and differently. We can make forums more participatory and less passive. We can encourage the most repressed and exploited people to argue in ways that they are comfortable with, and respect those ways.

 

Participatory educational forums, discussions, and meetings simply require the implementation of basic progressive teaching techniques. Minimal Teacher Talking Time (even in a classroom situation where the teacher supposedly knows everything and the students nothing- such as second language teaching) means students are actively participating more and learning more.

 

A student listening for an hour learns a few things. A student somewhat active, by taking notes, learns a little more. A student participating in pair work, group work, standing up and doing interviews and going around a class room asking others what they think, with the teacher quietly organising the discussion, learns the most. Pair and small group discussion before larger group discussion also gives participants a chance to think about what they want to say and bounce it off over people, to organise and develop their ideas, and to get into ‘talking mode’ (as opposed to the passive listening mode we fall into during long lectures), and they are then more likely to contribute to the all in larger group discussion, no matter how much more ‘educated’ or experienced the leading talker or facilitator is. They are also more likely to listen to what the lead speaker has to say. We need to start using such methodology in our forums, making them less ‘teacher’, one-person-knows-all centric, and more participatory.

 

~

 

It was a community day in Los Curos, a town climbing the slopes of the Andes of Venezuela. Children made kites in the newly restored park, others danced in the tennis courts, doctors gave out vaccinations, poetry writers handed out their books and discussed them, artists sold their sculptures, and on the side of the tennis court community members painted a mural. There was a really old man, there were two roughly 19 year old, rather gorgeous young men, there were kids about 12 – and they all painted together. Art, dance, story telling and so on have the advantage that they can be the work and expression and argument of a collective of people, not just one person.

~

 

Or there is that mural in Bellas Artes in Caracas, if you haven’t seen it, I wish you could. It tells Venezuela‘s history in colour and virtually without words. We stopped there for half an hour one day, walking slowing along the wall- starting at the fruit poured into the sea, ending at the man watching Disney, I think it was, on TV.  It was history in colour, in its beauty and injustice, with nameless crowds of people being repressed, and rebelling. They (the dominant class) would have history be black and white, numbers, dates, names, and dryness. They’d have our history of struggle be dusty and forgotten and misunderstood.

 

 

People communicate and learn in different ways

 

Related to education, we also need to acknowledge that a lot of people do not learn by reading large volumes of non fiction. This is not just related to the points mentioned about ‘the right to read’ and so on, but it is also a scientific fact that some people are usually either visual, audio, or movement-based learners and communicators.

 

Education under socialism, and our methods for arguing for socialism in the struggle for that society, should cater for the different ways people learn and shouldn’t elevate reading large volumes as the most serious, some people simply do not learn that way, and there is nothing wrong with that.

 

Remember making spelling lists in primary school? Writing the words over and over again.  Or I think of my comrade BR, who had a brain seizure (sorry I forget the medical term) and she had to learn to read all over again. Or deaf people. Or people who don’t speak the local language. Or people who for whatever reason, have short attention spans. The world we’re fighting for is a more inclusive world, lets see that reflected in the ways we argue for that world.

 

Creative methods of communication are powerful and rebellious

 

That song ‘I was only 19′ about the Vietnam war and how…"The ANZAC legend

neglected to mention

the mud

the fear

the blood

the tears

the tension…"

… gives me throat lumps even though I wasn’t born yet when the Vietnam war happened. It makes me hate imperialism and nationalism and see that soldiers are nothing but unprepared tools in Their war.

~

The new military government in Chile in 1973 understood the powerfulness of song and art. They tortured and killed Victor Jara. They banned many traditional Andean instruments. Jara himself said:

US imperialism understands very well the magic of communication through music and persists in filling our young people with all sorts of commercial tripe. With professional expertise they have taken certain measures: first, the commercialization of the so-called ‘protest music'; second, the creation of ‘idols’ of protest music who obey the same rules and suffer from the same constraints as the other idols of the consumer music industry – they last a little while and then disappear. Meanwhile they are useful in neutralizing the innate spirit of rebellion of young people. The term ‘protest song’ is no longer valid because it is ambiguous and has been misused. I prefer the term ‘revolutionary song’.

~

The innate spirit of rebellion of young people.

Funnelled into university

Essays

Funnelled into suit jobs

Assembly line jobs

House mortgages

 

Or

Into street art, rock revolution, history rap, rhythmic rebellion, general strikes, and a whole new world..

~

 

Powerful. Threatening. I’m talking about the Subversive songs of the South African anti-apartheid movement. The poetry of Pakistani women who are not even listened to by other revolutionaries, let alone seen in the street.  The bible or the Koran or the Torah, one long creative and poetic novel you might say, which combined with that organised and powerful institution of religion, has been extremely powerful. The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, that argued for socialism but is remembered for the disgust it caused over meat industry practices, and at least saw reform in that area. Catcher in the Rye was banned from schools for a while in the US, for the influence it was having on children and teenagers. But noone’s banning our academic journals. (At least not now). Because that’s just theory (apparently).

 

 

Creative forms bring us together and negate the borders and alienation of capitalism

 

My boyfriend is a young Venezuelan with dark black eyes who does not speak English. We argue about Cuba and Denmark and the role of the individual in revolution and if there is a managerial class and if parties and power are inevitably bad. He says yes, I say no.

~

We sat on warm but wet university grass, him and I, and he read out poetry by a local Meridenian, about the earth and global warming, about beauty.  And I melted.  We were born on opposite sides of the world, we are different colours, different genders, and from different revolutionary backgrounds. But poetry brings us together.

~

Poetry reminds us that we want the same thing, despite all that.

 

A new blue world.

~

After we won the referendum in February this year, people spontaneously gathered in the main plaza to celebrate. There were red flags everywhere. Some young guys played drums to the rhythm of Caribbean passion. People danced. Strangers danced to strangers’ music, danced together.

~

Capitalism makes us strangers. Art helps negate that. Together with solidarity in long struggle.

 

And creative forms are humanising

 

There are statistics about the number of homeless people in the United States. There are photos, of tents, and of grey people in grey clothing, expressionless. Then, police and bored youth beat up homeless people and get away with it. They are following a similar psychology to that which sustains racism and maltreatment of others. The one that says Iraqis are evil, are not human, are all the same. That homeless people are evil, are not human, are all the same. 1 billion starving people are starved, thinned black people with long faces, are all the same, are not us, are not our problem.

 

And then there was a youtube video. A homeless man, an ex prisoner, sang a song and played his guitar.

 

There was a drawing, of more expressionalistic value than any high priced gallery-ed art: An Iraqi child had drawn fences around his house and his family broken on the lawn.

An African woman wrote a novel about lesbianism and love.

And suddenly that kind of dehumanizing ideology that turns Capitalism’s victims into a powerless insignificant mass, is broken.

 

We are intelligent, we are creative, we are hurting and human and varied.

 

We are worth fighting for.

~

 

We pick up pen or paintbrush or puppets and we unravel the tangle and we start to understand what is going on and we tell other people about it. Our revolution should be done with reason and humanity. With emotion, passion, and seriousness and commitment. Creativity can express that.

 

Creativity is the ability to imagine that this world is wrong, despite the propaganda. And it is the ability to imagine that another world is possible.

~

We are responsible for this delicate world

for its midnight migraines, its thrashing fevers, its fallen trees,

its fallen masses of thirdworld,

their voices stolen and put in a box somewhere,

One day that box will explode and a rainbow of confettied sounds will pour out and paint the planet a different colour,

a colour we don’t know yet.

~

We all know it takes a good argument to convince people that socialism is possible. The historical arguments, the class and materialist arguments. But to really know that socialism is possible and to dedicate our lives to fighting for it, we must be able to imagine it- like any goal, we need to know its real and reachable.

Struggles and systems like those in Cuba, Venezuela, Nepal, etc- show us that. They make it all concrete. Solidarity in the workplace, or multitudes marching, show us that. But so does art, in all its forms. Marge Piercy’s ‘Woman on the edge of time’ enabled me to really imagine a new world. A photo of happy, young, female doctors in Cuba, enabled me to imagine that.

~

Art is full of questions. And questioning, we stop seeing capitalism as natural.

 

And because it’s a war of ideas and against our cultural domination

 

Zafra Miriam is teaching dance in a few of the steep hillside barrios of Caracas. She told me,

"Up in Los Frailes there’s this girl. She’s about 12 I think but she looks 15. She dresses hot. Of course she has no idea what she’s doing, she’s just following industry standards. Anyway, the community up there is quite organised and they were putting something together for Mothers’ Day. She does this dance with a couple of girls, one who was 8- don’t get me started…It was pure child porn to the worst possible regaeton… and I talked to the girl. I said, "Dance is a form of communication, you know that. What is it you’re trying to say?" No answer. "What is it you want them to say back to you?" No answer. I told her to think about it, told her she has so much more to offer the world than ass wiggling."

 

Zafra said, "it’s about treating them with respect, about supporting street art, not being a slave to the industry produced stuff…any learning situation where people confront a challenge in a supportive group is a form of community building…and we’re exploring music that’s not reggaeton, it’s a kind of cultural revolution."

 

Fidel Castro said, ‘Lies affect knowledge, conditioned reflection affects the capacity to think’.

~

Capitalism’s hegemony affects our spirituality- not religion, I mean our heart, our desire to struggle, our humanity, our attitude towards our fellow beings, our curiosity.

~

On the capitalist assembly line of human beings there are a few key machines: Education, Media, and the Need to Survive. This assembly line makes human beings who *want* to work for rich, who *want* to buy their products, who look up to them and aspire to be like them. Who basically want to be exploited over and over again in so many different ways.

 

Our education of ourselves is one of our biggest weapons against one of their biggest weapons. They have a whole set of machinery set up to convince us to have THEIR values. We have to fight that machine with all the weapons we’ve got. Bring it on.

~

 "Have you read my latest book of poetry?" Endes asks me in the artists’ plaza where there is cheap coffee and people painting portraits. Another time, watching a pre-election car parade I saw Omar. "Ah Tamara, good to see you, how are you? What have you been doing?" Etc. And he left me with a copy of his book of short stories.


Thanks to the government’s publishing program the number of *out and proud* local poets has multiplied massively. Then there are all the murals, the free books (children’s books, history, theory, classic novels) handed out from the backs of trucks, at fairs, at protests, at youth camps and from tents in the plaza. There are the children in the barrios learning to play the violin. There is dance, theatre, choir, poetry reading in the plaza and in the pub, TV and filming collectives and Community radio. Not to mention the literacy programs and the Bolivarian University.

 

I think there is a lot of room for improvement in the cultural revolution here (for want of a better phrase), but now I think people here are better armed with their own real history, with tools to communicate, with the ability to express themselves and to be creative. And like that, they will be harder to repress.

 

It will be harder to convince them that work is not exploitation and that buying is liberating and that the world is free when it is not.

~

Let’s rap against imperialism standing on milk crates in pedestrian tunnels. Let’s put struggle poetry on stickers and put those stickers on ATMS, in public toilets, on vending machines and parking meters. Let’s print more stories, write more novels, paint more murals, put comics in our newspapers and dance at our social events. Our arguments, our messages belong in meetings, in schools, in protests, in the memories of warn out repressed people about to sleep. In late night pub conversations, in park and plaza conversations, as shared conversations between strangers watching a play. Let’s take the war of classes, of media, of ideas, into what ever spaces we can, involving more and more people. Take the abstraction out of politics and put it into the street and the living world.

 

This is a call for the left and for revolutionaries to break with old paradigms of education and argument and to take art, or culture, seriously. To use it to wake people up, to communicate, to argue, to show people how beautiful that other world we are proposing, is.

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