cj#1003> Synthesizing a revolutionary analysis – has the wheel already been invented?


Richard Moore

From: "Richard K. Moore" <•••@••.•••>
To: "Social Movements List" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Re: the possibility of mass movement [Laurence]
Date: Thu, 28 Oct 1999 02:35:12 +0000
Reply-to: •••@••.•••

Dear Laurence,

10/27/1999, you wrote:
    if I tend to respond "well, activists know this" it's
    because I have this sense sometimes that you want to get us
    to reinvent the wheel because you aren't very impressed with
    the models we've produced to date - but you also don't seem
    very interested in examining the process of wheel
    development as such ;-)

I can well understand that from your point of view I spend a lot of time
re-inventing wheels.  One reason for this is that I haven't read any of the
things you've read.  I don't even know who EP Thompson or Gramsci are.
The number of books I would need to read in order to 'catch up' would be
immense - social-movement theory being only only a small fraction.  In
pursuing my investigation, I've settled on a particular modality of
learning, and it has been very productive for me.

I initially read a certain set of books, mostly histories and biographies,
and almost no theory.  From there, my method has been to begin theorizing
from first principles, and to publish an analysis to some list which
includes experts in that domain.  For marxist viewpoints, for example, one
can rely on the WSN list.  Fortunately, there are always people who love to
show off their knowledge on these lists, and I chuckle at the way they
patiently, or with disdain, 'set me straight', and explain why I'm totally
off base.   I, gratefully, evolve my  theories.  You might say I'm learning
by the old-fashioned apprentice method.  Or you might say I find on-line
help more useful that the manual.  In this regard, re-inventing wheels is
what's going on.  Your patience is appreciated, and I am _very interested
in the process of wheel development.

But there's another reason I insist on re-visiting each topic from first
principles.  I want my final presentation to be based on only two things:
common-sense and facts.   If the reader has to walk through all the
reasoning, so to speak, then the educational value is greatest.  I'll quote
facts, but not interpretive conclusions.  If I were to say "As Marx
demonstrated...", or even "As Chomsky said...",  thousands of readers
(different ones in each case) would immediately dismiss everything else I
said.  I believe that this kind of presentation would be the most
persuasive for general audiences.

Thus my postings intentionally don't refer to other work, even if I'm aware
of that work.  Here I'm not re-inventing wheels - I'm trying to build a
certain kind of wheel, appropriate to a particular journey.  I do need to
find about what others have learned, and thank you for that, but I want to
incorporate that into my own particular wheel, designed for a particular

    Or, more to the point, that your subtext seems to be
    "nothing of what exists is any good"...it seems to me that activists
    have *already* encountered problems following the kinds of
    strategies you're prescribing for us, and that it might be
    worth while giving more attention to what they've had to say
    on the subject.

It's not that what exists is not good, but that what exists is not working,
and shows no signs of becoming more effective.  In the end, all the
existing activist energy will be crucial to movement success, but something
must happen first.  I want to know what that something is.  I depend on
people like you to tell me what has been learned.  For the time being, I
find it most useful to look at movements that succeeded, such as the
capitalist revolution and the American Revolution, or for that matter
fascist revolutions.  What people have learned from failures is of course
valuable, but the experience of those who have succeeded has an obvious
primary appeal.

    As I say, people have had fairly clear ideas in the past
    about what would be involved in replacing capitalism, and
    relevant movements have at times been pretty large, pretty
    radical and even to some extent successful. So the objective
    problems don't seem to me a convincing explanation of the
    presence or absence of movements.

I've seen no 'clear ideas' expressed which are at all adequate to our
current circumstances.  If you'd care to give a brief outline, no matter
how abbreviated, I'd greatly appreciate it.

    It really doesn't seem to me that contemporary capitalism is
    *so* mysterious, or that there is *such* a silence on what
    future alternatives might be like. Certainly there are
    serious disagreements on particular aspects of the analysis,
    differing views on what the alternative might be and a
    considerable number of people who are more interested in
    "process" than in analysis and ideal. But I really can't go
    along with the argument that there's no analysis to be

There is lots of partial analysis.  Perhaps in your mind there is an
obvious synthesis, but what good is that to me unless you express it?  In
practice, what I see is debate among the proponents of various analyses,
rather than a pooling of insights.

It is the integration and synthesis of what has been learned that I find
challenging, and absent.  And the communication of that synthesis to
ordinary people who have never heard of Gramsci and who would never use the
word 'synthesis'.

    At other points you've talked about the breaking of an
    implicit contract between global capitalism and the American
    middle class, and I can imagine that the latter both has (or
    feels it has) a good reason to buy the official line hook,
    line and sinker

I don't know any Americans, in this day and age, who buy the official line.
They see a rigged, stumbling, hypocritical system, but they say, literally,
"It's the best we've got.  Would you rather live in Russia?"   What we're
dealing with here is provincialism, and narrowness of imagination.
Whether an 'analysis can be found' is entirely irrelevant to their world.

It is not only America where most people assume that capitalism is 'on
their side'.  Ireland is of course an extreme case - the celtic tiger
phenomenon is nothing more than Ireland riding the corporate tiger for its
own perceived benefit.  This is the last place I'd try to start an
anti-capitalist movement, or even an anti-Brussels movement.  You've got it
too good, for the time being. But I've been there and done that.  I know
what it's about...  slowly, slowly, catch the monkey.

How do you communicate to such people that capitalism is hurting them, and
that it is going to get much, much worse?  Where is that wheel?

    what seems to you like "people" seems to me like a very
    particular experience of the world, one shared maybe by a
    couple of hundred million people - but there are 30 times
    that number of people out there.

I know, and I've been gradually increasing my efforts to avoid US-centric
language.  But I do believe that the revolution will be won or lost in the
US.  If the US is part of the revolution, it can hardly fail.  If the US is
actively opposing it, then the going will be rough indeed.  And in the US,
it is still what they call 'liberals' who are in the majority.  Hence the
American liberal is the center-point of my 'assumed reader'.

Until these kind of people agree that capitalism needs to be replaced, it
won't be - that's my working assumption.  I started out as a kid totally
'believing in the system'.  It has been a very long journey to here.  I
know how deep the programming is.


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