avatar
History and Communications


Ted Glick

A

few weeks ago I received a letter from someone who quoted Karl Marx as having

once said, "History moves with the speed of communication." This quote

struck me.

We

are living in a time when communications are both near-instantaneous and

potentially-worldwide for an ever-growing number of people. Something which

happens in one part of the world can be reported on or learned about on the same

day, even at the same time it is happening.

More

significantly, with the advent of the internet, grassroots, labor, progressive,

revolutionary and people’s movements can be in direct, immediate contact, in an

interactive way, with thousands or tens of thousands people involved. The

internet, through email lists and web sites and because it is not controlled by

the ruling corporate elite, is becoming an increasingly powerful tool for the

building of massive movements for progressive change. Without it, it is highly

unlikely that the actions in Seattle last November and Washington, D.C. this

past April would have attracted the numbers and had the immense political impact

that they did.

It

seems to me that this makes it possible for positive change to take place much

more rapidly than many of us might think. If it is true that the year 2000 is

witnessing a rebirth of the kind of popular, activist, multi-issue movement that

we haven’t seen in 30 years in this country, and if history does indeed move

"with the speed of communication," this first decade of the 21st

century could well become a time of great historical significance.

After

all, it is a law of physics that "things in motion tend to stay in

motion." If the new people’s movement of the 21st century can hold together

and keep building and interconnecting, there is no way to forecast how much we

can do in a relatively short period of time.

But

there’s another way to look at Marx’s quote, which is not so hopeful.

"Communication"

is a pretty neutral word. However, the actual practice of communication between

organizations, among the groups, constituencies and movements which make up a

potentially winning alliance for fundamental change, has left much to be desired

over the years. Unless we learn HOW to communicate, genuinely interact and share

with each other in a way which builds trust and confidence, our enemies, as they

have done in the past, will exploit our differences and divisions and keep us

from creating a lasting, united force.

We

need to prioritize the "how" of unity-building.

Immanuel

Wallerstein, in an essay, "Antisystemic Movements," published in the

Monthly Review book, "Transforming the Revolution," has written of the

need for "a conscious effort at empathetic understanding of the other

movements, their histories, their priorities, their social bases, their current

concerns. Correspondingly, increased empathy needs to be accompanied by

restraint in rhetoric. . . Discussion needs to be self-consciously comradely,

based on the recognition of a unifying objective, a relatively democratic,

relatively egalitarian world. . . Movements will have to devote considerably

more energy than has historically been the case to intermovement diplomacy. . .

(This will) make possible the combination of daring leaps and structural

consolidation which could make plausible a progressive transformation of the

world-system."

This

is advice that men, middle-class white men in particular, need to seriously

consider and meditate on. It is such men who still tend to be the leaders of

many of our progressive and people’s organizations. It is these men whose style

of leadership, too often ego-driven and self-absorbed, has held back or made it

more difficult for women, workers, people of color and/or young people to give

leadership.

We

need leaders who work hard, who listen well, who have a sense of humor, who are

able to accept criticism without becoming defensive, who feel good about others

coming forward to move an organization’s work forward, who don’t have to get the

credit all or even most of the time. Such people will be good at the kind of

communication that builds the trust and unity which is the cement of a popular

alliance that can really change the world.

Perhaps

the words of Marx should be re-phrased for our century to read, "History

will move with great speed if communication in all its forms is well-

practiced." Let’s make it so!

 

Ted

Glick is National Coordinator of the Independent Progressive Politics Network

and an organizer in the New York/northern New Jersey area. His first book,

"Future Hope: A Winning Strategy for a Just Society," will be

published this June.

 

Leave a comment