The Problem With Chris Hedges's Talk (in Jamaica Plain [Boston] June 5, 2015)
June 6, 2015
I wrote about Chris Hedges in 2013: "Chris Hedges: Half Right and Half Dangerously Wrong." He has been changing over the years, and getting better actually. He no longer says, for example, that it's wrong for people to think about taking power, as he did in 2012 when he wrote:
"All we have, as Vaclav Havel writes, is our own powerlessness. And that powerlessness is our strength. The survival of the movement depends on embracing this powerlessness. It depends on two of our most important assets—utter and complete transparency and a rigid adherence to nonviolence, including respect for private property. This permits us, as Havel puts it in his 1978 essay “The Power of the Powerless,” to live in truth. And by living in truth we expose a corrupt corporate state that perpetrates lies and lives in deceit."
Last night, instead of saying how important it was to ensure that there would not be a violent revolution (as he did in 2013), he argued that revolutions are not violent. He defended this view by citing the same examples I often cite of the Russian Czar and the Shah of Iran having had to give up power because their military forces went over to the other side. (My point in citing these events, however, is to show that revolution is possible, not that revolutions are totally non-violent.) Hedges is a bit disingenuous here, because while it's true that the Czar was forced to give up power when the Cossack soldiers went over to the side of the workers, that didn't happen without any violence at all. The Czar's police attacked the workers and the Cossack soldiers defended the workers from the police by attacking the police with violence, until the police gave up and deserted their police forces. THEN the Czar gave up.
Hedges spoke mainly about the need for heroism, i.e., the "moral imperative of revolt." He described a sit-down strike of American prisoners whom he knew from being a teacher in the prison, and his point was that they were right to rebel even though they knew they would be crushed. Whatever one thinks of this point, in the absence of confidence that one is part of a large majority in wanting a revolution, the point adds to hopelessness. What we need is the courage that comes from knowing one is not alone. I don't think saintly martyrdom is going to remove the rich from power.
Unfortunately, Chris Hedges didn't say anything about how we're not alone in wanting to remove the rich from power; he focused entirely on how evil the ruling elite are (and hence the moral imperative of revolt.) His message was similar to what we hear on Democracy Now! and other "alternative" media: "The rich do very bad things." The ruling class funds Democracy Now! and the "alternative media" because these media don't tell their audience that most Americans want to remove the rich from power and want (when they hear what it is) an egalitarian revolution; these media don't give people the knowledge about themselves that leads to the confidence that is required to build a revolutionary movement. The rich know that people don't like them. The rich aren't trying to make us love them. They ARE trying to make us feel hopeless about the prospect of ever removing the rich from power. The rich want Democracy Now! to say how bad the rich are because that's how it gets its audience to listen to it; but once they are tuned into Democracy Now! they get only information that makes them feel hopeless. This way they are neutralized as a threat to the rulers. I don't think the audience for Chris Hedges's talk last night left feeling more hopeful. Maybe they felt more guilty for not revolting, but what good does that do?
Hedges spoke of the need for a vision. But he provided no vision of what a better society would entail. Why not? I think it is because Hedges is very much influenced by Marxism. He devoted a great deal of this speech last night to saying how important it was for everybody to read Marx's Das Kapital (vol. 1) and that they can't understand our capitalist society until they do. I totally disagree. In fact, I think Das Kapital is wrong! It is the chief element in Marx's supposed "science" of social development, which posits--wrongly!--that everybody acts in their self-interest and this will lead eventually to a crisis of capitalism and then socialism and then a classless society (communism) NOT because ordinary flesh and blood people want a classless society but IN SPITE OF THE FACT THAT THEY DO NOT (because they are dehumanized by capitalism [and, according to contemporary Marxists, they are "racist" and "homophobic" and "complicit" and "sheeple," etc.] and think only of their self-interest.)
In this wrongheaded Marxist paradigm (which I discuss in detail here), there is no need for a vision. It doesn't matter what actual people think. Things happen for reasons that have little if anything to do with what people want to happen. The impersonal laws of Marx's "materialist science" will make society be communist one day. And the Marxist regimes, based on this contempt for ordinary people, have created such an ugly anti-democratic reality in the name of revolution that Marxists, who have no other vision than a strong central government that controls the entire economy and acts in the name of the working class, are embarrassed to talk about it. So they talk about the "need for a vision" without ever offering a vision.
Egalitarianism (briefly introduced here) is the vision that can inspire a movement to do what it takes to remove the rich from power. I gave Hedges our button and told him his talk would be on our YouTube channel. I hope he visits our website and reads my books. He's moving in the right direction, but still has a way to go.