Trees, Forests and the Future

Today’s news: widespread war, generalized austerity, global warming, energy depletion, cyber snooping, drones…

Today’s response: many commentators and protestors making a compelling, convincing, comprehensive case, in words and deeds, for getting beyond the trees of the details to the forest of the causes.

Of course the commentators and protestors describe national hysteria and imperial agendas, the public commons made commercial, fare hikes, festering massive unemployment, huge cutbacks crippling education, health, even provision of water, vicious redistribution upwards, unrelenting thermo records fueling storm chaos, databases that coerce as much or more than truncheons, and the machines and winds of war – plus ubiquitous government intransigence about it all, corporate celebrations of it all, and police violence defending it all.

But the commentators and protestors also transcend those detailed “trees” to rightly insist that their rejection of current policies is based on deeper phenomena – “the forest of causes” – including profit seeking, racism, authoritarianism, sexism, and specific institutions.

The unmistakable point is that people are angry, chanting, marching, and also hugging for support. People are fighting and also making community. Not just Parisians are tearing up paving stones to find the beach beneath. Spreading and multiplying, widespread dissent is enough to bring back memories of my Sixties youth – but please, take that as a warning, not as a silly lusting for glory days.

The anger we knew in the Sixties is emerging anew. The desires prevalant then, are reanimating now. The sudden enunciation of deep causes we stumbled into perceiving then, is being wisely perceived now. Then we had “we want the world and we want it now.” Perhaps we haven’t gotten quite to that slogan, yet, at least today, but it appears imminent.

In what may be the biggest reversal of recent years, it is also conceivable that we will soon have another earlier element. We used to chant “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is Going to Win.” We were referring to the Vietnamese liberation movement. The operative word to notice, however, is “win.” Back then, we were angry, we had a crash course in comprehension of injustices which led us to understand that the persistent problem wasn’t just bad people but bad institutions. We therefore wanted a new world, and, finally, at least for a time, we believed in winning and not just in fighting the good fight. All of this is needed. Much of it is already percolating within new generations who are now finding the streets all over the world. The rest of it may arrive any day now.

Hooray for all that. Amidst the horror, hope. Amidst the pain, joy. However, the fact is, back in the Sixties, so long ago, we didn’t win.

We had major effects – just as Occupy and the Arab Spring, the Greek and Spanish resistance, the massive uprisings in Turkey and Brazil, and the Palestinian Resistance are having major effects. But the underlying structures that were in place in the Sixties, which we did broadly and sometimes even quite precisely identity and abominate, we did not eliminate.

The juggernaut of injustice that trundled along all around us was blocked a bit, it was stalled a bit, it even buckled a bit – to the point where we could see fear in the orchestrator’s eyes – but it was never entirely broken. As a result, decades more decay have been suffered. And here we are, confronting it all, again.

So what was missing back then that might have led to a different now? And can we have that extra feature, much needed, this time around?

Here is my best guess at what was missing, basically, at why we did not win. And, in response to that, here is my best suggestion at what is needed, now.

What we didn’t have back then was persistence built upon knowing where we wanted to go and how we might get there. We didn’t have a compelling and shared mindset that allowed us to be seriously strategic and not merely episodic. We didn’t have informed patience and we often even suffered from what, in hindsight, I would have to admit was juvenile impatience. What was missing from our minds then was shared and insightful vision and strategy. But there was another thing also missing, part and parcel of the missing shared visionary and strategic ideas and views, that would have arisen from those views and also made them implementable – and that was viable and worthy organization.

When a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand, or a million people – and more – passionately protest and even make smart demands – if along with that there is no lasting trajectory of struggle enunciated for carrying the demands through, and if there is no organizational mechanism to nurture and to sustain shared vision, strategy, and activity, to enshrine and defend its gains – passion grows tired and then diminishes, and even dies. Passion matters. But alone, passion has limits.

If this is so, and I truly believe it is, then we need to share a conception not only of what is wrong, but of what we want in its place. We need to have passionate anger and opposition, but also passionate desire and intent. And to give even that positive aspiration and insight real weight, we need organization that not only provides a venue for developing and for continually refining, improving, and utilizing shared vision and strategy, but also for marshaling our energies to support the emerging agendas.

The task we face is for passionate movements to fight and win changes that improve people’s lives but, in doing so, to also self consciously prepare the way for further victories that move closer to what is ultimately sought. This is the difference between passion that is temporarily mucking up the treads of the juggernaut while the juggernaut slows but keeps on rolling – so that when the dust clears, the worst outcomes may have been temporarily put off, but not eliminated – and bashing the juggernaut in ways that continually diminish its power, reduce its impact, and, in time, simply eliminate it from existence, having developed liberating institutions in its place. The litany of ills all around us is the juggernaut still trampling justice. It is time to prioritize putting a full stop to it by attaining new institutions. Sure, this sounds like rhetoric. But be that as it may, it is a real, and informed, observation, built on the experiences of decades. Moreover, I believe this sentiment is now widespread – though not yet yielding clear results.

In the streets of Istanbul and Sao Paolo, Athens and Barcelona, Paris and Mumbai, Johannesburg and London, Belfast and Mexico City, New York and Washington and more so Ferguson – and every square mile of Gaza – and, even more important, in many smaller cities, towns, and hamlets – passion is certainly needed and now evident. Anger is needed and now evident, too. But the mental and emotional glue that can turn passion and anger into constructive achievements is informed desire that collectively seeks a new world. That is needed too. It is not yet evident. And the operational mechanism that can give constructive desire longevity and power is organization – not the old, moribund kind, but also not something so amorphous as to dissipate in any strong wind.

Okay, that much it seems to me so transparently evident from so much experience, from such obvious common sense, from all careful thought, that I find it hard to even imagine reasons to doubt the claims. My own take on the implication of the claims has been to promote with many other people a particular set of visionary and strategic commitments, and of organizational logic. So far, interestingly, while the support for these efforts is growing, familiar organs of communication have been pretty much oblivious to it all. Hopefully that will change. Hopefully Participatory Economics and Participatory Society as vision and associated broad strategic ideas will soon get a serious and very broad hearing. Hopefully IOPS – the International Organization for a Participatory Society – will get serious assessment.

But even if that particular scenario does not happen, a more general presentation and debate about vision, strategy, and organizational plans in left forums, in left periodicals, in left organizations will and must now hopefully occur, leading to support and progress for shared ideas. If not the particular participatory ideas mentioned above, then perhaps something else that arises and does lead to visionary and organizational progress. What is abundantly clear, in either event, is that there needs to be very substantial solidarity and mutual aid from Istanbul to London, New York to Mumbai, Sao Paolo to Cairo, Barcelona to Athens, Caracas to Sydney, Johannesburg to Ferguson, and everywhere to Gaza, all based on having shared societal vision and at least broadly shared methods, as well as on overarching international, national, and local organization to actualize our desires.

These are issues that must be creatively addressed and accomplished for today’s passion to congeal into a sustained struggle able to usher in a truly new world. So by all means, folks need to keep pushing to address the trees of each specific injustice. And we of course also need to move from the trees of details to the forest of structural causes of all in justice. But we must also, now, this time, finally, move from the forest of structural causes to envisioning and seeking and finally winning a future of new institutions.

Leave a comment