George Orwell on equality in Spain 1936-37.

George Orwell. Homage to Catalonia.

This was in late December 1936, less than seven months ago as I write, and yet it is a period that has already receded into enormous distance. Later events have obliterated it much more completely than they have obliterated 1935, or 1905, for that matter. I had come to Spain with the notion of writing newspaper articles, but I joined the militia almost immediately, because at the time and in that atmosphere it seemed like the only conceivable thing to do. The Anarchists had virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workmen. Every shop and cafe had been collectivized; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. (8).

. . .

I had dropped more or less by chance into the only community of any size in Western Europe where political consciousness and disbelief in capitalism were more normal than their opposites. Up here in Aragon one was among tens of thousands of people, mainly though not entirely of working-class origin, all living at the same level and mingling on terms of equality. In theory it was perfect equality, and even in practice it was not far from it. There is a sense in which it would be true to say that one was experiencing a foretaste of Socialism, by which I mean that the prevailing mental atmosphere was that of Socialism. Many of the normal motives of civilized life –snobbishness, money-grubbing, fear of the boss, etc. –had ceased to exist. The ordinary class-division of society had disappeared to an extent that is almost unthinkable in the money-tainted air of England; there was no one there except the peasants and ourselves, and no one owned anyone else as his master. Of course such a state of affairs could not last. It was simply a temporary and local phase in an enormous game that is being played over the surface of the earth. But it lasted long enough to have its effect upon anyone who experienced it. However much one cursed at the time, one realized afterwards that one had been in contact with something strange and valuable. One had been in a community where hope was more normal than apathy or cynicism, where the word ‘comrade’ stood for comradeship and not, as in most countries, for humbug. One had breathed the air of equality. I am well aware that it is now the fashion to deny that Socialism has anything to do with equality. In every country in the world a huge tribe of party-hacks and sleek little professors are busy ‘proving’ that Socialism means no more than planned state-capitalism with the grab-motive left intact. But fortunately there also exists a vision of Socialism quite different from this. The thing that attracts ordinary men to Socialism and makes them willing to risk their skins for it, the ‘mystique’ of Socialism, is the idea of equality; to the vast majority of people Socialism means a classless society, or it means nothing at all. And it was here that those few months in the militia were valuable to me. For the Spanish militias, while they lasted, were a sort of microcosm of a classless society. In that community where no one was on the make, where there was a shortage of everything but no privilege and no boot-licking, one got, perhaps a crude forecast of what the opening stages of Socialism might be like. And, after all, instead of disillusioning me it deeply attracted me. The effect was to make my desire to see Socialism established much more actual than before. Partly, perhaps, this was due to the good luck of having been among Spaniards, who, with their innate decency and their ever-present Anarchist tinge, would make even the opening stages of Socialism tolerable if they had the chance. (101-103).



A social networking site could be the internet’s democratic compass.

Imagine a website that could reconfigure the internet –something that could redefine social networking, journalism, democracy, and the internet itself, amongst other things.

Imagine a website designed around allowing anyone to create a portal or page for whatever issue they are concerned about. Attached to each issue portal there could be polls, forums, journalism, and archives of all the statistics and writings which get gathered through this process.

Imagine a website that collected statistics on how many people support or oppose any and all issues. Polling statistics would be gathered from all open sources as well as through the site’s social networking face –which itself serves as a place for people to have their opinions officially registered and archived.

Imagine a website with check-and-balance powers in relation to governments and corporations. The facts of who is fore or opposed to every issue could be contrasted with what governments do in those cases. This site would serve the purpose of giving people a place to go to have their voices heard, archived, and retrievable on any issue.

I am picturing something which can be continuously developed and changed by participants, so it could serve different functions as time progresses and it could be different things to different people. It could be primarily an activism-oriented social network; it could be primarily a new framework for journalism –with stories linked to specific issues which would have discussions and polls ongoing, archived, and accessible for analysis by anyone; it could be primarily about discussions concerning specific issues; it could be primarily about polling; it could be primarily about freedom of information –having the facts of what specific numbers of people think about a vast array of specific issues.  These facts could then be used to petition governments or corporations to change their ways, but just as important would be the use of transparent and freely accessible information as a cornerstone for building new societies. It could also be key to keeping the internet open to such uses as this.

Swarj –no submission and no exploitation.

What does it mean to work together as equals? It involves a shared commitment to resisting the systems of oppression which exist in subtle interactions and glaring power dynamics. It involves resisting the perks of being in a privileged position over others. It also involves refusing to be oppressed by others. In the words of Vinoba Bhave –who carried Gandhi’s torch,

If I am under some other person’s command, where is my own self-government? Self-government means ruling over your own self. It is one mark of swaraj not to allow any outside power in the world to exercise control over oneself. And the second mark of swaraj is not to exercise power over any other. These two things together make swaraj –no submission and no exploitation.    [Domestic values. Quoted in Anarchism Today. The MacMIllian Press. 1971. Edited by B.E Apter and James Joll.]

Transcending gender.

In this short video Judith Butler explains what it means for gender to be performative and how that relates to how gender identities are forced onto people through hetronormative reactions by people who observe others interacting with the world around them.

In the following video the good folks at the PBS idea channel further extrapolate on the performative phenomena of gender.

Next, a blogger going by the name queersocialistdave expresses the need to rebel against hetronormativity.

Androgyny or genderqueerness is about the liberation of the body and mind from the constraints of heteronormative patriarchal capitalist society. It is a way of rebelling against the norms laid down by this oppressive social order and refusing to live one’s life in conformity with them. It is about being a more balanced, whole person, able to draw upon all aspects of one’s character, whether these be labeled masculine, feminine or otherwise. It is about not limiting oneself to an artificially fixed role. It is about not living in a role that is a socially constructed straight-jacket. It is about fulfilling one’s potential as a sexual being. Patriarchy oppresses both women and men in different ways, heternormativity oppresses both “straights” and queers in different ways, and capitalism oppresses the vast majority of us on every level. We all should feel free to dare to break out of this bourgeois-hegemonistic view of gender and sexuality that controls us, just as we should all dare to break free of every aspect of the hegemony imposed upon us by the ruling class. As well as class warriors, we should dare to be gender rebels, transgressors, subversives – in short, revolutionaries. When we dare to do this we will see there isn’t one among of us who isn’t a little bit queer.  queersocialistdave, from the post, Androgyny and Gender Performativity in Queer Identity Politics

I will add to all this that the responsibility to rebel against patriarchal order lies not just with those who identify as queer, bisexual, transgender or any other norm-diverging gender, but with everyone who cares about being part of the solution rather than part of the problem, with everyone who wants to be free of the illusion-creating matrix of systematic oppression. Being free of patriarchal conceptions of gender is key to spiritual liberty as well. What gender is detachment? What gender is Buddha-nature? In Transmission of Light, Keizan (1268-1325) wrote, “If you are not detached from appearances of maleness and femaleness, whatever you do is mundane activity, not buddha work.”

In an interview with Liz Kotz, Judith Butler states, “I don’t believe that gender, race, or sexuality have to be identities, I think that they’re vectors of power.” This image of gender and race as vectors of power visualizes the mechanics for a matrix visualization of systematic oppression. These vectors of power function through groups and individuals projecting identity stereo-types onto other groups and individuals and in the process pushing people into positions of having to counter stereo-types with their own version of their sense of identity. This process divides people, fracturing all sense of unity, and puts people unwittingly in collaboration with systems of oppression. Perhaps  steps towards de-powering the vectors of power which reinforce systematic oppression are to not identify with patriarchal conceptions of gender or race and to view gender as variable, multiple, and as unique as each human.

How systematic oppression hurts everyone involved.

James Baldwin aptly sums up the point I want to bring out in this post, which supports what was said in another post.

It is a terrible, an inexorable, law that one cannot deny the humanity of another without diminishing one’s own: in the face of one’s victim one sees oneself. (Nobody knows my name, 78)

In this post I have a few more quotes to share which shed further light on how systematic oppression hurts everyone involved. Even if, in a clear example, slave owners believe they are profiting from owning slaves, they are doing harm to their own humanity. Frederick Douglass gives a stirring account of this happening through his own experience of being sent as a slave child to live with a young couple who had never owned slaves before.

My mistress was, as I have said, a kind tenderhearted woman; and in the simplicity of her soul she commenced, when I first went to live with her, to treat me as she supposed one human being ought to treat another. In entering upon the duties of a slaveholder, she did not seem to perceive that I sustained to her the relation of mere chattel, and that for her to treat me as a human being was not only wrong, but dangerously so. Slavery proved as injurious to her as it did to me. When I went there, she was a pious, warm, and tender-hearted woman. There was no sorrow or suffering for which she had not a tear. She had bread for the hungry, clothes for the naked, and comfort for every mourner that came within her reach. Slavery soon proved its ability to divest her of those heavenly qualities. Under its influence, the tender heart became stone, and the lamblike disposition gave way to one of tiger-like fierceness. The first step in her downward course was in her ceasing to instruct me [to read]. She now commenced to practice her husband’s precepts. She finally became even more violent in her opposition than her husband himself. She was not satisfied with simply doing as well as he had commanded; she seemed anxious to do better. Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper. She seemed to think that here lay the danger. I have had her rush at me with a face made up of fury, and snatch from me a newspaper, in a manner that fully revealed her apprehension.  (Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. 81-82)

While traveling in Africa in 1965 Malcolm X arrived at a new insight about the way in which a racist atmosphere sinks into the psychology of individuals.

I told him, “What you are telling me is that it isn’t the American white man who is a racist, but it’s the American political, economic, and social atmosphere that automatically nourishes a racist psychology in the white man.” He agreed.

We both agreed that American society makes it impossible for humans to meet in America and not be conscious of their color differences. And we both agreed that if racism could be removed, America could offer a society where rich and poor could truly live like human beings.

That discussion with the ambassador gave me a new insight –one which I like: that the white man is not inherently evil, but America’s racist society influences him to act evilly. The society has produced and nourishes a psychology which brings out the lowest, most base part of human beings. (The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 371)

The last quote I want to relate to these others is from Michel Foucault.

Do not regard power as a phenomenon of homogenous domination –the domination of one individual over others, of one group over others, or of one class over others: keep it clearly in mind that unless we are looking at it from a great height and from a very great distance, power is not something that is divided between those who have it and hold it exclusively, and those who do not have it and are subject to it. Power must, I think, be analyzed as something that circulates, or rather as something that functions only when it is part of a chain. It is never localized here or there, it is never in the hands of some, and it is never appropriated in the way that wealth or a commodity can be appropriated. Power functions. Power is exercised through networks, and individuals do not simply circulate in those networks; they are in a position to both submit to and exercise this power. They are never the inert or consenting targets of power; they are always its relays. In other words, power passes through individuals. It is not applied to them. (Society must be defended, lectures, 14 January 1976)

In all of this I see the importance of forming new networks so that power can circulate in liberating ways rather than oppressive ways. The problem with systematic oppression is that the oppressive system is within –and functions through –each individual. It is not just the 1% who are to blame for perpetuating this system. Each person relays power through everyday interactions. How can this situation be changed? In my opinion an important change happens when individuals choose to give power to each other –share power through solidarity –rather than exercise power over each other.