I have been reading a few articles and academic papers that detail social media bots and their patterns. I ran across a line in one article that described Twitter accounts that are a hybrid of automation and human updating as “cyborg”. Now, as an adult who houses a younger self that once geeked out on Douglas Adams Dr. Who and such science fictions, this particular identification tickled me a bit. I probably fancied my Self more a mind reader of that Professor X lore than a cyborg, yet this reading did inspire me to consider those ways in which our forms of communication media extend our biological forms. This lead me to think of course about George Jackson’s thoughts on weapons as extensions of man, Marshall McCluhan, and without a doubt, Karl Marx. I also thought of some of history’s more influential pamphleteers such as Peter Kropotkin.
A collection of his pamphlets and articles turned into pamphlets during his life have been published in a book entitled and edited by Roger N. Baldwin,”Kropotkin’s Revolutionary Pamphlets: A Collection of Writings By Peter Kropotkin”. Contained within is an essay, “The Spirit Of Revolt”, in which is written:
There are periods in the life of human society when revolution becomes an imperative necessity, when it proclaims itself as inevitable. New ideas germinate everywhere, seeking to force their way into the light, to find an application in life; everywhere they are opposed by the inertia of those whose interest it is to maintain the old order; they suffocate in the stifling atmosphere of prejudice and traditions. The accepted ideas of the constitution of the State, of the laws of social equilibrium, of the political and economic interrelations of citizens, can hold out no longer against the implacable criticism which is daily undermining them whenever occasion arises,–in drawing room as in cabaret, in the writings of philosophers as in daily conversation. Political, economic, and social institutions are crumbling; the social structure, having become uninhabitable is hindering, even preventing the development of the seeds which are being propagated within its damaged walls and being brought forth around them.
…The morality of yesterday is today recognized as revolting immorality.
His writing is fairly poetic. Thankfully for its readers, it is a poetry of that better written variety. However, with poetry comes not only economy of words, but also romanticism. While Kropokin’s romanticism is less dainty, it being borne out of that bossom of a man in exile for much of his life, it does bear that lofty abstraction also known as “inspiration”. Although composed by an obviously read and intellectually trained person, it is also a writing that its writer understands must be consumed in short fashion. Yet, fluid, it is a writing that conjures images in an almost stacatto fashion. Yet, his insights are not reduced by his styling of them.
His explicit highlighting of ideas as what drives dissatisfaction is a keen observation. As well as his treatment of moral obligations. There is an understanding here that society, as much of existence, is a dynamic state, and homeostasis is often a stagnant oppression where discomforts create potential chambers for combustion.
In periods of frenzied haste toward wealth, of feverish speculation and of crisis, of the sudden downfall of great industries and the ephemeral expansion of other branches of production, of scandalous fortunes amassed in a few years and dissipated as quickly, it becomes evident that the economic institutions which control production and exchange are far from giving to society the prosperity which they are supposed to guarantee; they produce precisely the opposite result.
This passage above exposed for me much of that strength within Kropotkin’s composition. We are discussing a piece writting in 1880, that could easily be stated in regards to our present times. Whether this is a mark of those times– or a mark of ours– that his interpretation of his day’s economic structure in industrial Europe bear so much semblance to technocratic USA is brilliant.
Incapable of undertaking reforms, since this would mean paving the way for revolution, and at the same time too impotent to be frankly reactionary, the governing bodies apply themselves to half-measures which can satisfy nobody, and only cause new dissatisfaction. The mediocrities who, in such transition periods, undertake to steer the ship of State, think of but one thing: to enrich themselves against the coming déb?cle. Attacked from all sides they defend themselves awkwardly, they evade, they commit blunder upon blunder, and they soon succeed in cutting the last rope of salvation; they drown the prestige of the government in ridicule, caused by their own incapacity.
Here, I though Kropotkin’s almost complementary use of “reactionary” was noteworthy. In 2017, one typically does not find “reactionary” given honorable status, and yet, here we are. While, not to overlook his employment of characteristic, his ability to note that there is something of power in being reactionary as opposed to reformist. But, given that present state of Critical Theory that not only mutilates Marxism, but castrates it as well, this scale of power positions is refreshing, to say less than what might should be stated.
I suppose living in this age of Donald ‘The Don’ Trump as US President, it would be remiss of me to not mention Kropotkin’s description of incompetence and ineptitude in office. His vision of maladroit statesperson’s at that helm of state authority solely to gather what is left of power is so reflective of my world in 2017, I chuckled against my other sentiments.
When a revolutionary situation arises in a country, before the spirit of revolt is sufficiently awakened in the masses to express itself in violent demonstrations in the streets or by rebellions and uprisings, it is through action that minorities succeed in awakening that feeling of independence and that spirit of audacity without which no revolution can come to a head.
In the midst fo discontent, talk, theoretical discussions, an individual or collective act of revolt supervenes, symbolizing the dominant aspirations.
Whoever has a slight knowledge of history and a fairly clear head knows perfectly well from the beginning that theoretical propaganda for revolution will necessiraly express itself in action long before the theoreticians have decided that the moment to act has come. Nevertheless the cautious theoreticians are angry at these madmen, they excommunicate them, they anathematize them. But the madmen win sympathy, the mass of the people secretly applaud their courage, and they find imitators. In proportion as the pioneers go to fill the jails and the penal colonies, others continue their work; acts of illegal protest, of revolt, of vengeance, multiply.
The direction which the revolution will take depends, no doubt, upon the sum total of the various circumstances that determine the coming of the cataclysm…
One party may have developed more clearly the theories which it defines and the program which it desires to realize; it may have made propaganda actively, by speech and in print. But it may not have sufficiently expressed its aspirations in the open, on the street, by actions which embody the thought it represents; it has done little, or it has done nothing against the institutions which it wants to demolish; its strength has been in theory, not in action; it has contributed little to awaken the spirit of revolt, or it has neglected to direct that spirit against conditions which it particularly desires to attack at the time of the revolution. As a result, this party is less known; its aspirations have not been daily and continuously affirmed by actions, the glamor of which could reach even the remotest hut; they have not sufficiently penetrated into the consciousness of the people; they have not identified themselves with the crowd and the street; they have never found simple expression in a popular slogan.
The most active writers of such a party are known by their readers as thinkers of great merit, but they have neither the reputation nor the capacities of men of action; and on the day when the mobs pour through the streets they will prefer to follow the advice of those who have less precise theoretical ideas and not such great aspirations, but whom they know better because they have seen them act.
It is around these last two paragraphs that I begin to whip out my measuring stick of Black Media Trust and apply certain criticisms. Ferguson, Mo and Mike Mike Brown are never too far from my frontal lobes. I have a difficult time forgetting how often people calling themselves “activists” and “revolutionaries” disguised their self-aggrandizement and “safrice” behind this word,”actions”. If I do not hear or read “doing the work” ever again in my breathing existence, it would still be stated too many times to not be annoying to me. Something that Kropotkin lightly touches here but does not delve deep enough for me is this reality of individual or small group revolutionary success.
One point that I really put a lot of effort in driving home is this reality that change is spearheaded by small pockets of people with their own personal worldviews, paradigms, and weltanschauung. If it is ideas that cause dissatisfaction, it must be noted as well that each of these dissatisfactions are different among swaths of people no matter what identifying factors they share in common. Once power is established by any group of malcontents, their agenda will be enforce their particular visions despite what visions might be held by others with their shared identities. Once a victory is claimed, romantic notions of power transferrence need to be checks; that honeymoon is over.