Interview of Ramsey Kanaan ― Resistance Radio

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Hi, I’m Derrick Jensen and this is Resistance Radio on the Progressive Radio Network. My guest today is Ramsey Kanaan. He has been involved in attempting to disseminate the good word for well over three and a half decades now. As a young teenager, he founded AK Press (named after his mother’s initials) from his bedroom in Scotland. He’s co-founder and Publisher with PM Press. You can check out his current efforts at 

I’ve interviewed Ramsey a couple of times before, for this program, and we’ve talked about – actually we’ll just introduce with that. So first off, Ramsey, thank you for all of your work in defense of the world and for social change, and thank you for being on the program.

RK: Always a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

So, we have before discussed the collapse of the publishing industry, the collapse of long-form thinking, and the necessity of long-form thinking and the role of publishing in social change. And today I’d like to talk with you about – I mean, it’s all really depressing stuff and I would like to talk with you a little bit about ways forward, given this reality we face. So if you don’t mind, I’m wondering if you could give people a brief introduction, a several minute to fifteen minute introduction, to the problems we discussed in previous interviews, and then we’ll move from there to the solutions. So first off, can you talk briefly about the collapse of publishing, the collapse of reading, and the relationship between all that, and the collapse of long-form thinking.

RK: Certainly. I’ll do my best to do a somewhat brief recap. I think fundamentally the problem is, as you posited, that people don’t read anymore. Reading, and the written word, is fundamental to any form of change. Certainly any form of change that includes making the world a better place. I think this is somewhat easily illustrated in two ways. One is that you can pretty much trace the rise and fall of social movements – and not even social movements, but the kind of explosive events in the history of the last, certainly two or three hundred years, in terms of modern history. That pretty much parallels the rise and fall of reading, and of literacy, and of the advocacy of both thereof.

To give a couple of examples, which I always give, going back a hundred years – a couple hundred years – that the first great outpouring, certainly in the English language, of literature, was in the English Revolution. The English Revolution gave birth to many things. As your listeners are probably aware, the most famous on the left would be the Diggers, at St. George’s Hill. They took over this hill, in what is now London, and cultivated it for the common good. The earth is a treasury for all, the kind of world turned upside down, rulers should become peasants and peasants should become rulers. In fact, it should be the Commonwealth, so-called; wealth should be for everyone to share equally, the Kingdom of Heaven is actually here within us, etc.

So the English Revolution: the other great thing, of course, was they beheaded the first, that was the first time the King of England had actually been beheaded by the people, so to speak, which is never a bad thing.

The English Revolution was just this fantastic outpouring of literature, both of the revolutionaries and of course of the reactionaries. An insane amount. And that’s why we know that, you know, the Kingdom of God is within us, and that’s why we know that the earth is a treasury for everyone to share, is because those so-called “Digger tracts” actually are still with us. They remain; the writings of Gerrard Winstanley, the writings of Abiezer Coppe, who was a so-called “Ranter,” who was, again, notorious in his lifetime for two reasons: one, he was a vegetarian, and secondly, he attacked Parliament with a sword, all on his own.

So the writings of these kind of plucky characters in history, and the movements of which they were part of, actually still exist today.

The next great outpouring of literature was during the events leading up to the French Revolution of 1789, which again was the first time that “Liberté, égalité, fraternité” were kind of posited to the world. And again, during that time of incredible ferment, again there was this massive outpouring of literature. So Tom Paine, the erstwhile founder of American independence, issued several pamphlets, as they were called then. One was called Common Sense, and in the U.K, which had a population of six million, Common Sense sold 100,000. which as a per capita, especially bearing in mind that most of the populace were illiterate, is pretty phenomenal.

Again, fast forward to 100 years or so ago, to 1906, to Kropotkin, the wonderful Russian anarchist, formerly known as “Prince,” issued a pamphlet called An Appeal To the Young. Again, I think the sales of that pamphlet in the year 1906, again, amounted to hundreds of thousands.

Again, this was a time of revolutionary ferment. The Russian Revolution of 1905 had just happened. So, again, what I’m trying to illustrate is that literacy, reading, writing, thinking about these things, and perhaps even acting upon them kind of go hand and hand with radical ferment.

My second example of the importance, if you like, of reading and writing to awfully fundamental societal change, is that any liberation movement, across the world, you name it, the first things that they try and do, both in terms of struggling for liberation, and then secondly, if they’re in a position of power where they can implement programs, to kind of further, and help cement and solidify and further those radical changes, is adult literacy. So, again, you name it: any society anywhere in the world at any time in the last several hundred years – the first thing they’ll do is adult literacy – the second thing they’ll do is adult literacy. And these are considered to be integral, fundamental planks of any form of social change.

The capitalist view of education; of literacy, and writing; has been, of course, the history of that has been entirely the opposite. It’s been purely instrumental and purely utilitarian. Education is only useful insofar as it teaches people to know their place, to understand their place in society, and insofar as we need certain people to do certain jobs, you know, to function in that society. Again, of course that society being purely based on the premise that its only existence is to enrich what is now popularly known as the one percent.

So universal adult education was brought in after much struggling, only to a very basic level, and again, only insofar as it was perceived to be useful. What we’ve seen post-second world war, with the decline in profits for capitalists, is that, again, any ideas of universal education, of education being free, at pretty much any and all levels, have gone out the window, and are rapidly being hacked away with this kind of neoliberal imposition of what now passes for education and literacy. Hence, as I’m sure everyone is aware, rates of adult literacy are falling. I believe, and you’d know probably better than me from your work inside prisons, Derrick, but I believe the average literacy age, or reading age, or comprehension age or educational age of someone incarcerated is typically like fifth grade, or something?

So basically, people are being taught not to read and write. So that’s the kind of overall picture of what’s been going on, if you like, over the last few hundred years.

Superimposed, and/or enmeshed within that, is what’s been going on more recently within the publishing industry. And it always has been an industry, the publishing and hence dissemination of ideas of whatever nature, has always been an industry, for the kind of previous 150 years, up until about 30-40 years ago, that industry was largely in the hands of kind of, so-called gentlemen. It was a gentleman’s profession, and, again, whatever one’s views about the world and how to move within it, it was kind of rich people did it as a glorified hobby. To be a publisher meant that you invested large sums of your money into doing just that.

DJ: Okay, can you hold on for a second? Hold on with that thought. I agree with you, and you also said “for 150 years,” so my question might be irrelevant, but who published Thomas Paine? And who published Kropotkin? Were they published by these gentleman publishers? Or did they scrap nickels and dimes together? How did that work?

RK: In the case of both of them, I actually don’t know. In the case of – that’s a very good question. I do know, later if we move into the early 20th century, I do know that much of radical publishing and the wherewithal to do so, was published by wealthy patrons.

DJ: Great. That certainly does happen, too. And Kropotkin wasn’t poor, was he?

RK: Kropotkin wasn’t poor, but he also wasn’t rich. He was, literally, a prince. But the Russian, whatever you want to call it, the system of kings and queens, whatever that’s called – the regal system in Russia – that’s probably the wrong term. But there were hundreds of princes. So to say that Kropotkin was a prince didn’t mean he was, you know, fourth in line to the throne, or he was going to be the next Tsar any time soon. So what it meant was he was part of the nobility. As such, he was a man of some means.

But, again, in the Russian system – I mean, the other famous Russian anarchist, Bakunin was not a prince, but was also part of that nobility. But because the nobility was so vast, what the nobility meant in Russia at the time was kind of like the role the middle class plays in society today. Meaning, you could be middle class, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are financially well off. But it does mean that you are undoubtedly better educated, and that the role in life that is assigned to you, and that you’re expected to fill, and that function, is that of, you know, that kind of middle strata in society, the society of teachers, professors, educators, but also managers – the kind of managerial class, if you like.

DJ: You know, I was feeling bad for interrupting you a moment ago – there was a sense in which this is kind of irrelevant, whether Kropotkin’s actual financial status –

RK: I agree, but I disagree in a sense of it points to the wider picture. Because I think, not only did these, the examples I gave happen at times of kind of social unrest, or radical transformation, or at least potential for that. But basically they came out of social movements. Thomas Paine or Kropotkin weren’t writing in a vacuum. They weren’t just stuck away in a study or, you know, a little garret somewhere, living off their uncle’s whatever, and writing. They were actually part of the kind of ferment and the radical activity that was going on, and so they were both feeding into it and feeding off it.

DJ: Absolutely. And then the other point I want to make is that the fact that I can ask you what is the relationship between wealthy patrons and publishing radical material, or anything else, and the fact that you can respond with information and say “I don’t know about Kropotkin but I do know about in the 1920’s,” is a testament to the power of reading, because one of the points of – one of the differences between science, for example, and literary criticism is that quite often in science you’re actually working with physical reality that you can check against. The same can be true for history, of “we actually know this.” So the point is, you can talk – you can have the conversation we are having right now, because you have read that material. And so you’re actually manifesting exactly what we’re talking about, because if you don’t know the history, you, as they say, are condemned to repeat it.

RK: Absolutely.

DJ: So I was feeling bad about the digression and now I’m not feeling so bad, because you’re showing the importance of data points for analysis.

RK: Well, I think in more than one sense. I was going to say “one sense” but I think in many, many senses, that’s vital. Because, again, we’re talking about the death of discourse and the death of ideas. I mean, the whole logic of reading and writing is to stimulate your brain, and it’s to stimulate thought, and that’s why, as I said, any revolutionary movement wants that basic level of literacy, in the broader sense of the term, because without that you can’t actually have any discourse.

So, the only level of literacy that people had, say at the time of the English Revolution, in the 1640’s, the only discourse that they had, the only points of reference, the only data, the only history, the only so-called facts that they had, was a religious discourse, and was the Bible.

So the early struggles over literacy, as you and your listeners may recall, was over getting the Bible – that was the Reformation, was getting the Bible out of Latin and getting it into English, the so-called King James Bible. Because once it was in English, that actually expanded the discourse.

So when I said the Diggers, you know, these revolutionaries in the 1640’s, their whole discourse was couched in religious terms. “The Kingdom of God is not in Heaven, it’s within you, and each and every one of us.” Or they want “the world turned upside-down.” These are all religious imagery, because that’s their only frames of reference. That’s the only data they have to deal with. Yet, nevertheless, despite reading this horribly hierarchical, oppressive, you know, horrendous theory and practice, if you like, of religion; the very fact that they’re able to have a discourse around that, think around it, and be able to engage and interrogate with that – that’s where they get the radicalism from.

So, if I’m making sense, it’s – once we get the brain to interact with anything, that’s the danger. Which is of course why modern society is all based on censorship, it’s all based on making us illiterate, because they don’t want us engaging with anything. And the same with, modern society doesn’t want us to come together. Modern society is set up so we’re all isolated, atomized individuals. Because they don’t want people to come together, to congregate, and actually have discourse. Because that, historically, has always proved incredibly dangerous, threatening, and upending to the powers that be.

DJ: So … this would be a really good jumping off point to what we do to counter the decline of reading, in terms of – and what we really care about is social change, I believe. And reading is one of the ways to get there.

But before we make that transition, can you talk for a moment – I love the interview you did before, about long-form thinking, and can you give a literally three or four minute discourse on the importance of it – (laughs) check that out. Long-form thinking, cut it down to three minutes. A discussion of the importance of long-form thinking and its decline, and what that decline means.

RK: So if we take as accurate my premise that it’s the engagement with ideas that has produced social change, and that you need some engagement to actually even have any discourse or any frame of reference. So of course, the first book that any people read for hundreds of years was the Bible. That’s pretty long-form. And hence, similarly, most of the ways people engaged with ideas was what’s called long-form. Admittedly, there was also, y’know, pamphlets. And Kropotkin’s Appeal To the Young and Tom Paine’s Common Sense were only 30 or 40 or 50 pages, but nevertheless, that’s a substantial body of work, not quite as long as the Bible, that one is engaging with. And it’s packed full of ideas, and it’s to be discussed, and again, as I said before; when Common Sense was published, it was often – there would be the one person that could read, would read it out to his – whatever, his fellows, who would be these, like, book clubs, in effect, where the one person who could read would read out to the assembled, whatever, his fellows, and of course in those days it typically was fellows and not their spouses or whatever. But nevertheless, they were actually reading and then discussing these long-form ideas. What we’ve seen probably in the last twenty years has been, in effect, the slow death, and now the increasingly accelerated death, of that long-form thinking, and reading, and interaction.

So now, typically; again, even 20-30 years ago, typically your average household got a newspaper. Irrespective of the quality of the newspaper, or its political perspective, your average person read a newspaper, and were engaged in some form of longer-form thinking or interacting. These days, with the Internet, whether it’s the New York Times or whatever the hell, most people, even if they subscribe to a newspaper, are going to do it online, and they’re going to scan the headlines, or scan a couple of articles. That’s fundamentally very different from even reading a whole article, let alone reading a book.

That has all kinds of ramifications. It actually apparently has a genuine physiological ramification, meaning, for the last 500 years, since literacy first came in, human brains have actually developed in ways which, or have developed accordingly because we are actually engaged with this longer form of reading, and hence contemplation and discourse.

DJ: And I want to say; before that, in story-telling. For God’s sake, Homer – that’s long.

RK: Absolutely.

DJ: Story-telling was also a long-form thinking.

RK: Exactly. That whole oral tradition. Again, all of these, all the classics, of these stories, it’s not a two-minute bedtime story. These are, you know, they’re called odysseys for a reason. You know, they go on forever. Not literally, but … We’re now seeing, for the first time, several, perhaps a generation or two now, where that whole paradigm, of the way that we interact with ideas, has completely shifted. And that means not just the rise of so-called ADD or short attention spans, but apparently this is having actual physiological effects on our brain and brain development. That the kind of constant jumping to and fro, instead of curling up with a good book for several hours, the fact that if one is online, even if you’re actually trying to read an article but you’re following the hyperlink, so you’re checking up on this data, or you’re going to the online dictionary – that form of reading, and that form of thinking, and that form of interaction, actually has a deleterious effect on our brain and our brain development.

In the shorter term, or in the more immediate term, it literally means, of course, that there isn’t that kind of long-term discourse and contemplation. And as I say, it’s all part of that, without sounding too Machiavellian, or without sounding too, kind of, the “powers that be” conspiracy theory, because it’s not like one person deciding this, or even one group of people deciding this – but nevertheless, what the short attention span means is the opposite of people coming together and having discourse.

I mean, you could look at the history of the Internet, right? The Internet was first mooted – I mean, let’s forget its original military purposes. But when it became open to the public, so to speak, the Internet – I don’t mean, again, the pioneers, who were these radical, libertarians, often left-wing libertarian types who were into prima information and that kind of, you know, early bulletin boards and that kind of thing, that often was done by anarchists or their ilk, their comrades. But as it was first touted as a kind of mainstream thing.

The Internet, if you remember, Al Gore said, was the “information superhighway.” It was actually meant to be about ideas, supposedly. You know, that lasted for about a year, and then it very quickly got turned into shopping, online shopping. It got turned from the information superhighway into online consumption. And by its very nature, that turns us into, say, the kind of isolated atomized consumers. Not thinkers anymore, and certainly not thinkers who may engage with their neighbors, or with anyone else, but into atomized stay-home shop, and shop. And that has huge ramifications for everything.

DJ: So, before we go to solutions, I want to say two things. And this is all great, by the way. Thank you for saying all that.

And one of them is, one of the things – and this may drive some readers crazy, but one of the things I love about my books is that I will take an idea, and I’ll throw it out, and then I’ll sit on it for – I’ll throw it out over pages 47-53, and then I’ll talk about something else, and then at pages 73-82, I’ll go “Y’know? That idea I had before is not such a great idea. I think it’s kind of crap.”

And that, for me, comes through long-form thinking. That’s what you ruminate. That’s what cows do. You swallow something, and then you bring it back up and you chew on it and you swallow again. And that’s what long-form thinking is, for me, is; throw out an idea, see how it works and then “I like this part. I don’t like this part.” And you can’t do that in ten minutes. That takes days, weeks, months, years.

So that’s one thing. Do you have a response to that, at all?

RK: Yes, absolutely. The only caveat I would put to that is, as a publisher, I’m always very cognizant and aware of the instrumentality of why I’m publishing certain things. Meaning, I think you have to be aware, given that we can’t publish everything, and we can’t all follow every idea wherever it may take us. I think there is a necessity, as well as a practicality, of “where do we want to go with these ideas?”

And so, again, “instrumentality” makes it sound too –

DJ: No, I’m totally with you. And I should have put a warning of –

RK: How do you explore ideas? And to what end are we exploring ideas?

DJ: And I just want to say, in defense of myself, that I don’t just throw any crap on the page. I mean, I’m crafting a process, I’m showing a process, really. That’s what I’m really getting at. I’m showing a process when I write my books. Of how we – if I come up with a really, really bad idea, of course it doesn’t stay on the page. But I’ll explore something, and then I will intentionally undercut it, because that’s how we think and how we move, in this long-form thinking.

RK: Right.

DJ: Let me get to the other story now, which is just yesterday I had lunch with a family of intellectuals. And there was a mother, father, and two children. And we sat at the Thai restaurant for three hours. And the children were eleven and thirteen, and I can’t tell you how many times this happened when I was a kid. The children attended to the conversation, but they were old enough that they listened. And at one point Burning Man was brought up, and this was the eleven-year-old’s only contribution to the conversation – he turned to his mother and said “What is “‘Burning Man?’”

And they were attentive, and they were – I was so impressed with these children – with these eleven and thirteen-year-olds, these adolescents, who were – and also, I said to the parents; “Your children are delightful. What’s the story?” And they said a couple of things. One of them is “We treat them like human beings and don’t allow them to be terrorists,” and the other is “We don’t – we very much limit or eliminate their screen time.”

RK: Yup.

DJ: So, my point is, that was an absolutely common experience when I was a kid. You know I was raised a fundamentalist Christian, and I would sit there through Bible discussion meetings when I was seven years old, and I’m sitting there with the adults, and occasionally I might say something. And if I did, it was on topic. My point is, from childhood, not from two years old, but from, at a certain age, children can be taught and assisted into this long-form thinking.

RK: Absolutely. I think even more than that, as a crucial component of thinking, particularly long-form, is the whole process of any education pretty much is actually to batter away at children’s natural creativity and imagination. Because without creativity and imagination, you’re just becoming a rote robot, right? Repeating – you’re actually not interacting with the information you’re getting, whether long-form or otherwise.

And what school is designed to do, of course, is to tell you to sit down and shut up, do as you’re told and know your place. Which you learn from the day you go to school. And that’s the opposite of nurturing, let alone encouraging that natural, for want of a better term, state all kids have. Which is, you know, your imagination. Take it where you want it to go.

It’s kind of like what you say with your, when you’re literally putting your thinking processes onto the page. And without that, we’re all doomed. We just become mindless automatons that just repeat what we’re told. Big Brother knows best, okay. (Regarding) Your imagination and creativity, that’s where you’re always going to end up with, with “Big Brother Knows Best.”

DJ: So, given the current state of discourse – we have, like 15-20 minutes left. We’re halfway through, a little bit more. Given the social and – given what we live in, what do we do? What are some ways that we can revivify long-form thinking, revivify community, stop this – You know, this makes me think of what Lewis Mumford talked about, how only the most sort of half-baked authoritarian systems will just shoot all the dissidents. That’s kind of a desperate and not very sophisticated means, that it’s much better if you can use more advanced technologies to do it. 1984 – we’ve seen this everywhere.

So, given those realities we face, and Brave New World, all those – notice, again, that I go back to literary references. That’s how I learned political theory.

But anyway, so, given all that, and given declining reading, what do those of us who care about social change, care about long-form thinking, care about the word – what do we do?

RK: Well, I think in the most banal terms – and I’ll preface this by saying if I had the kind of, the easy quick answer and solutions, we’d be discussing this in the past tense, because we’d have won. We’d be in the process of already living in and helping to make that better world. Whereas it’s a pity that’s not the case yet.

Alas, even I, and all my accumulated wisdom and long-form reading, don’t have the kind of, the easy, three-point magic solution which will transform us and our world. But I really do think that the – like most organizing, like most successful – again, I really hate the term “activism” so I won’t use it – but in terms of organizing, whether it’s organizing our lives and whatever aspects of our lives, the most successful organizing is done through building real community and real bonds and real ties with whomever. And again, I think community’s a really loaded term, and I really don’t like using it, because typically it’s used by people who have their own agenda and want to represent something which is actually not real. You know, “I speak for the X community.” Well, if you can define actually what the X community is, then maybe you can speak for them. But again, putting all of those caveats aside, I think that real transformative change has always come through struggle, and has always been effected by people coming together.

So what can we do, to be more effective in getting people to come together, and then when they come together, how can we be more effective in having the kind of discourse and the kind of dissemination and circulation of ideas which are needed, and then how can we be more effective in putting those ideas into a suitable practice which actually produces results?

And I think that involves a whole myriad of things. I think it fundamentally involves goals, strategy, and vision. And I think it means understanding what those things are, how they relate, and, for want of a better term, or better terms; the differences between organizing and mobilizing. Because I think, again, to bring it to the kind of “where we’re at” in the movement, I think over the last, say, 20-30 years, certainly since I’ve been around, been politically active, there’ve been many, many successful, phenomenally successful examples of people mobilizing. There have been pitifully few successful examples of folks coming together and actually organizing. And I’ll give two very quick, very obvious examples of successful “mobilizing.”

Probably the most successful mobilization around the world was in, again, we discussed earlier our favorite memories, because we’re not getting any younger, but again, the mobilizing against the second Gulf War, which would be, what? 2003? Against George Bush, and if you and your listeners recall, on 2/15, the fifteenth of February, the entire world was mobilized and marched in the streets against the impending second Gulf War. Millions of people. Not only millions of people within America, but millions of people in pretty much every country in the world mobilized. Literally millions of people. I mean, there were a million people just in San Francisco, I was there.

It achieved absolutely bugger-all. It was a phenomenally successful mobilization, but again, it achieved nothing.

A few years later, in 2006 I believe, there was a fantastically successful mobilization of immigrants here in America. It was on May Day and basically, literally millions of immigrants went on strike. It was actually a genuine, probably the last time America actually had a genuine general strike. It was a fantastic mobilization. Millions of people didn’t show up for work, they marched in the streets, etc., on May Day.

Again, it achieved nothing. Actually that’s not true. What it achieved was, again, after the fact, hundreds of thousands of immigrants were retaliated against by their employers, were deported, were sanctioned, etc., etc.

I think they were phenomenally successful on their own terms, in terms of turning out people, mobilizations. They are the complete antithesis of organizing. Because in neither case did they effect any actual change whatsoever.

So I say that the challenge is: How do we actually organize? And as I posited earlier, that involves what we’ve been talking about for the last half hour, going back to the basics, of how do we nurture, how do we encourage, how do we further those forms of reflection, of discourse? Of reading and writing. And then how do we further doing that as a group activity? So how do we further that as a collective action? Or a collective series of actions?

And then, how do we take those thoughts, those discourses, I would take that theory, if you like, and put it into practice. Which again, to me means how do we build collective power? And how do we build collective institutions which are able to mount a serious and realistic and lasting challenge to the system, to the powers, to the authorities, that we actually can effect those changes?

DJ: A great example of this that I think about a lot, was I was so excited hearing of Arab Spring. And I was thrilled that people were rising up against these dictatorships. And that ended up in my mind being a great example of mobilization. Because who won round one in Egypt, of Arab Spring was the Muslim Brotherhood. Why? Because they were more well organized and they’d been organizing for 70 years. And then who won round two, was the US-backed military dictatorship, because they were even more organized and had even more power.

RK: Absolutely. I think that’s a fantastic example. And I think, to me, it points to the necessity of organization. Because, as with the Arab Spring, stuff – which is a phenomenally inarticulate term for a publisher and somebody who pretends to be involved in long-form reading – nevertheless, stuff happens all the time. The history of the world is one of revolts, uprisings, rebellions. It happens constantly, on small scale and very often on a large scale, such as the Arab Spring, such as Occupy, in recent history. All over the place, all the time.

As you pointed out, who actually wins – and I must stress again, I’m only interested in organizing because actually I want to win. That’s partly selfishly, of course. I want a better life for me, thank you very much. But it’s also understanding that me winning is by necessity a collective process, I can’t be purely selfish about it.

But more importantly, winning is better than – no one likes a loser. But losing is dispiriting, it’s kind of self-defeating in that sense. So when we struggle, where we have our goals, our goals don’t have to be huge. You know, the goal might not be “Let’s climb Mount Everest.” That might be your vision, but that’s not your goal. Your strategy, to get that vision of climbing Mt Everest, your first strategy is “Well, I’d better figure out what I need to know about mountain climbing.” That might be your first goal. Your second goal is “I better team up with some people who know better than me what they’re doing, and we can do it together.” And then your third goal might be “Let’s see what it would take to get us to the base camp at the bottom, first.”

Whereas if the first goal is “Let’s nip off up the mountain,” we’re going to be defeated immediately, of course, and we’ll probably never try to do that again, we’ll be so crushed by the experience.

So, it is incremental, sure. But I think we have to be strategic. And strategic means a succession of small victories. And a small victory is building our knowledge, building our power, and then finally building organizations and institutions, if you like; or a better term, that when stuff happens, as it does all the time – as you pointed out, those that benefit from the Arab Spring were both reactionary institutions. I mean, it’s kind of ironic that the even more reactionary institution took out the not-so-reactionary institution. Meaning the state went after the Muslim Brotherhood. Of course the Egyptian state went after the Muslim Brotherhood, because the Muslim Brotherhood were the perceived threat. Whereas a bunch of people frolicking in Tahrir Square, however well intentioned, were actually not really a threat; whereas the Muslim Brotherhood were organized and hence they were a threat to the state.

We have to be, the collective we have to position where, when that happens again, on the small level, and along the kind of major level – that not only are we able to take advantage and win, but when the time comes, we’re able to win big.

DJ: And this reminds me of a saying that was on the locker room wall when I was in college. And it was – you know, all those cliches they put up. “Winners never quit, quitters never win,” etc. There was one that was great, which was “Luck is where preparation meets opportunity.” And, as you were saying, these opportunities come up all the time, and the question is whether you have prepared for them, so that you can have the luck when the time comes.

RK: Exactly. Us radicals, revolutionaries, people like myself, point to, you know, the kind of high point, if you like, of anarchist success – it came twice, in the 20th century. One was in the Ukraine, during the Russian Revolution, where Nestor Makhno and his compadres basically, in effect, took over large swathes of Russia, of what was to become the Soviet Union. And it was basically then that they kind of successfully defeated the Whites, you know, the reactionary forces that were fighting against the Revolution.

Second, of course, is the Spanish Revolution, and Spain in 1936. What is typically not talked about, or forgotten about, or never mentioned, is that in both cases the Ukrainian anarchists and the Spanish anarchists had been organizing, had been fighting, and had been, you know, having these small victories and small defeats and whatever, but they’d been working up to that big, to big events, for literally decades. The Spanish Revolution, the successful revolution insofar as a success in year 1936, was preceded by failed revolutions in 1934, in 1932, in 1930. They’d been going at it, and organizing, for the big one, for decades. Same in the Ukraine. It’s not like these people suddenly popped up, fully formed, and well organized. They succeeded, insofar as they succeeded, because they were prepared, they were organized, they knew what they were going to do. So when the opportunity happened, they could actually – they out-organized the forces of reaction, if you like.

DJ: And to bring this back to – we’ve got three or four minutes left. And to bring this back to discourse, part of that – there’s a sentence I heard many years ago, that really stuck with me, was “it takes somebody ten years to change their mind.” And what he meant is that he was very pro – he was very anti-choice, and then about ten years later, with no discernible transition, he found himself just as much pro-choice. And I’ve noticed that in my own life too, that a lot of times my transitions in how I think will take a long time, and they happen through discourse. They happen through somebody presenting a challenging idea, and then me perhaps disagreeing with it strongly, but then, like I was saying earlier about ruminating, I go away, and I think about it, and then I forget about it, and then I think about it, and forget about it; and several years later, I have learned. That’s how you metabolize a position.

And so I just want to mention that one of the things I love about PM Press, and your work in general, is that you provide a platform for all sorts of ideas, many of which, and this was kind of the point I wanted to make about my own writing, too – many of which are contradictory.

RK: Sure.

DJ: And that seems to me to be an absolutely essential part of this organizing, is to present lots of pieces of information and lots of analyses for people to sift through, and to take literally years to cogitate upon, so that when the time comes, they can, they are ready to move into some sort of action.

I’m sorry that was so long-winded, but I’m sure you have someplace to go with that.

RK: No, no. I think that’s absolutely vital. And I think even more than that is providing the wherewithal, the platform if you like, or the space to be able to do that. One of the myriad of problems of the Internet, and particularly of social media, say like Facebook being the obvious example, is they actually don’t provide a space for discourse. They actually provide a self-enclosed bubble and an echo chamber. The only news you get on your news feed of Facebook. is what your friends have sent you. So the chances of getting an alternate opinion, let alone a radically different opinion, are (slim).

Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen
No Responses — Written on September 24th — Filed in Interviews by Derrick Jensen

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