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01 April, 2008

Revolution And A Couple Bucks Will Buy You A Latte

A friend wrote, in a locked post on livejournal, regarding Dharma Bums:

Because that book, he bums around from place to place, and he and his male buddies are crashing in places in California, and they are living with these *women* who hold down crappy jobs, and eating their food and drinking the wine they pay for, and then he goes back home and lives with his mom for a while, and eventually he gets a summer gig watching for forest fires, and I'm like, finally. But if I remember correctly, he goes back to crashing with these women. (It's been a long time; I'm a little fuzzy on the details.)

And, I mean. That's not really "down with The Man!" living. That's still inside society; it's just pushing your labor off onto a group of people who have historically been *even more oppressed than you*. If he went and joined a commune and pulled his weight planting beans or whatever, I'd be right behind that. But I refuse to take "I'm engaged on this great experimental way of living and it requires me not to do anything that the society I live in will reward me with money for, so *you* do it instead and I will live off your labor and not give anything back to you!" as revolutionary. In fact, I find it the *opposite* of revolutionary.

(Quoted with permission.)

What price revolution?

I don't really have my thoughts about this entirely articulate, to be honest, so I'm going to wave my hands around a bit and pretend that I'm coherent.

What price revolution?

I know people who try to live in as self-sustaining manner as possible. Not entirely off the grid, but people who run woodfired furnaces, grow significant portions of their food and focus on buying the rest as locally as they can.

I know people who pool their resources and incomes for greater efficiency in intentional communities and shared households. Hell, my own family does that a little bit, with partially shared grocery bills between the two physical locations in which we reside.

I know people who try to stand for what they believe in, even when it breaks and bleeds. I know people who are out of their closets, in order to push for a world where closets are less necessary, maybe even not necessary at all. I know people who volunteer their time and energy at domestic violence shelters, soup kitchens, a variety of other places.

What price revolution?

Revolutions are bought in blood and sweat, the work of people doing things, giving things up, suffering, working, rejoicing together at each inch won. That is the case when they are violent revolutions, and just as much the case when the struggle has fewer gunshot wounds and broken noses.

What price revolution?

Revolution does not go unbought by somebody. And I see people who want to offload the price of their transformation onto other people, generally invisible, ignorable people, like those women in crappy jobs, so that they can be free.

How much of that organically grown produce owes its status to the labor of migrant farm workers? How about the end of sex work as we know it getting offloaded in its consequences onto sex workers? How many "political lesbians" are crankily expecting straight women to go celibate for the sake of world domination?

If the suffering, effort, privation, or work for your revolution is borne by someone else, check your goddamn work.


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Ravenmn said...

Awesome post. I've become of collector of stories like this. Here are some good sources:

Martin Eden by Jack London. London became a racist asshole during WW II, but before that he wrote interesting class-conscious novels. In this book, Martin Eden decides to read up on revolution while working a shitty job in a laundry room of a hotel. It doesn't take long before he discovers he's too burned out from basic labor to read anything at all.

In The Good Terrorist by Doris Lessing a houseful of squatters in London feel free to leach off the efforts of the main character while saving for themselves the task of thinking about revolution.

Thanks for this!

Daisy said...

Raven makes me think, as usual!

Check out Mary Gordon's THE COMPANY OF WOMEN. One of my all-time favorite novels.

I'd love to hear your opinions, if you have read it already...

alterisego said...

Hell yes.

The Beat Generation men were pretty damn sexist. Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg - they all used the poor women who put up with them, Burroughs even killing his wife by mistake. I would hardly call Kerouac a revolutionary, though; he was easily the most conservative of the bunch.

Err, sorry. That's the Beat Generation nerd in me.

A. J. Luxton said...

I'd have to say it depends. 'Cause, this isn't what you're talking about, but pretty much any change of power in which minority groups gain privilege ends up removing some privileges from the majority groups in the offing. Not ones like food, clothing, shelter; ones like never having to think about a person who doesn't look and act like them. And it always requires work from the majority group in question, too.

But I'll agree with your basic premise, with the caveat: don't foist the hard part off on someone who's less well off than you are in the first place.

belledame222 said...


there's also the question of: -why- do you want "revolution." is it really because one has one's eye on the desired end, a radically transformed world, which one can envision and even begin to practice in specifics? or is it some inchoate admixture of longings for oceanic oneness, utopia, or, worse, justified, sustained rage? Do you want "revolution" because you honestly believe that that is the only possible means to the desired end, a last resort? Or do you want it for its own sake, because it's, well, EXCITING?