2.23.2011

ted rall, tunisia, egypt, wisconsin and revolution

I've been meaning to post this interview with cartoonist and activist Ted Rall ever since Allan said, "You must read this - he sounds exactly like us."

Rall's new book is The Anti-American Manifesto; this interview is in the CUNY [City University of New York] Graduate School Advocate.
Reluctant Revolutionary: An Interview With Ted Rall

Advo­cate: . . . In your new book you explic­itly advo­cate the use of rev­o­lu­tion­ary vio­lence. It’s hard to get any more rad­i­cal than that and I can’t imag­ine the deci­sion to write such a book was an easy one to make. Indeed, in con­ver­sa­tions with friends about the book I’ve found that even the men­tion of rev­o­lu­tion­ary vio­lence is almost uni­ver­sally greeted with dis­dain, shock, or dis­be­lief. I am really inter­ested in how you came to this deci­sion to write the book, the events or ideas that led you to this argu­ment, and why you felt com­pelled to write this book now?

Ted Rall: Well, it was a very dif­fi­cult deci­sion, from a career stand­point as well as from the stand­point of being a sim­ple Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. As a stu­dent of his­tory I am well aware of the fact that rev­o­lu­tion is dan­ger­ous and vio­lent and bru­tal and can make things worse before they make things bet­ter, so it’s not a deci­sion to be taken lightly. I want to be very clear that even though the book is a call to arms and a call to get rid of the cur­rent gov­ern­ment, and it does def­i­nitely defend the use of vio­lence (I would say that there is no such thing as non-violent rev­o­lu­tion; no rad­i­cal change has ever taken place with­out vio­lence or the cred­i­ble threat of vio­lence), but I think there is a ten­dency to sen­sa­tion­al­ize the vio­lent aspect of the book. Most rev­o­lu­tion­ary activ­ity is inher­ently non-violent actu­ally. It’s just that vio­lence is part of the revolutionist’s tool­box; it has to be, oth­er­wise there is no way to cred­i­bly remove the state. The rich and the pow­er­ful don’t give up wealth and power vol­un­tar­ily so you can’t fight it non­vi­o­lently with­out effec­tively tying one hand behind your back.

In terms of the deci­sion to write the book I kind of fol­lowed a sim­ple, log­i­cal process, which is to ask myself and many other peo­ple whether there was any pos­si­bil­ity that this sys­tem, the Democ­rats and the Repub­li­cans and the cor­po­ratist cap­i­tal­ist sys­tem that they sup­port, could or would address any of the really seri­ous press­ing prob­lems that are faced by the Unites States today  —  whether those are income inequal­ity or the envi­ron­ment and cli­mate change, or sky­rock­et­ing deficits, or war and mil­i­tarism, or health­care  —  and I don’t think so.

. . . When Obama refused to be the new FDR I knew that, Obama being about the best most pro­gres­sive, smartest pres­i­dent we were gonna get out of this sys­tem, I knew that the time had arrived to call for rev­o­lu­tion. Now I wish that other peo­ple were doing it, I wish that I could join some­one else’s move­ment. I don’t want to stick my neck out; it’s not fun to attract all of this heat, but no one else is doing it. There’s no Left what­so­ever in the United States. All there is is wimpy lib­er­als. So, I wrote this book in order to start a con­ver­sa­tion. This is not rev­o­lu­tion for dum­mies, this is not a how-to guide, this is not the anar­chists’ cook­book. If you are pick­ing this up look­ing for how to over­throw the US gov­ern­ment buy another book; this is not that book. This is a book that cre­ates the space to have a dis­cus­sion that is just not even part of Amer­i­can pol­i­tics. Amer­i­can pol­i­tics occurs strictly between the Ds and the Rs. We don’t even talk about the Greens and the Lib­er­tar­i­ans, much less the pos­si­bil­ity of get­ting rid of the sys­tem entirely.

Advo­cate: Along those same lines, how has your life changed since the pub­li­ca­tion of the book? What’s the last month been like for Ted Rall? What have you learned about Amer­ica, par­tic­u­larly con­cern­ing the sub­ject of this book?

TR: I guess many things did not come as a sur­prise. The fact that the media and the polit­i­cal sys­tem are so deeply entrenched and unwill­ing to con­sider actual change came as no sur­prise. The fact that there are many very reac­tionary, hate­ful peo­ple who defend the sta­tus quo no mat­ter what came as no sur­prise either. But what did come as a sur­prise were the huge crowds that came out to my book sign­ings, which indi­cated to me that there is a thirst for talk­ing about these sorts of options. Many, many peo­ple have been over the sys­tem for a long time, but that con­ver­sa­tion doesn’t take place, so I pro­vided a forum for that kind of dia­logue to hap­pen. What I’ve learned, and it’s kind of what I sus­pected, is that there are a lot of peo­ple out there like me. I wouldn’t have writ­ten the book if I thought I was alone. I don’t think I’m such a unique thinker. A lot of peo­ple can look at the same set of cir­cum­stances and draw sim­i­lar con­clu­sions, and they have. So in terms of how my life has changed, I mean, it hasn’t really, except for being very, very busy doing inter­views, but that’s about it.

I've always said that, despite the persistent, ignorant and usually imaginary fear of socialism and communism that runs through US history, the real danger to US democracy has always been from forces on the right. I've blathered about this ad nauseum on wmtc, no need to flog the "fascist shift" theme here. Now, events in the Middle East, the successful leftist movements transforming South America, and the sudden spark of progressive engagement emanating from Wisconsin and rippling through other states, are combining to give me new hope. These events are reminders that none of us can predict the future.

No people's movement, no matter how successful, has ever known the outcome of their struggle in advance. All we can do is keep on keepin' on.

4 comments:

thwap said...

i agree with Rall on a lot of things.

Entrenched power doesn't give up anything without a fight, and so far, the left has promised that it won't fight.

Capitalist elites are engaged in a war, a world war against anyone and everyone who is not them. They'll make temporary alliances, but weaker allies have a way of getting betrayed.

The rebellions against the system in Latin America and the Arab World are important manifestations of the unravelling (temporary or permanent) of this world system.

laura k said...

Thanks for your thoughts, thwap. I agree.

allan said...

Ted Rall:

"You've got to get out ahead of change," President Obama lectured a week ago. "You can't be behind the curve." He was, of course, referring to the Middle East. During the last few weeks there has been a new popular uprising every few days: Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Jordan, Bahrain, Libya.

And now, Wisconsin. ...

Revolutionary foment is on the march around the globe, but Mr. Hopey Changey is nowhere to be found now that it's here in the U.S. ...

The U.S. relies on a whopping chasm between soaring rhetoric (freedom, democracy, individual rights) and brutish reality (preemptive war, supporting dictators, torture, spying on citizens) -- a gap that is so wide and so glaring that it is amazing anyone ever takes the propaganda seriously.

***

Rall references a recent Times article that reported the Obama Administration had asked the CIA to prepare a secret memo about the Middle East revolutions, analyzing "how to balance American strategic interests and the desire to avert broader instability against the democratic demands of the protesters".

Rall concludes: "Democracy -- real democracy -- the kind people are fighting for in Bahrain and Madison, is incompatible with free-market capitalism."

laura k said...

Rall concludes: "Democracy -- real democracy -- the kind people are fighting for in Bahrain and Madison, is incompatible with free-market capitalism."

The older I get, the more I understand that.