Maintaining a positive outlook on life was something that I detested. I found it to be the refuge of the weak-minded and the conformist. Now I am at a point where I have filled my mind with so much criticism that I need to clear it out as much as possible in order to achieve anything.
I have been a revolutionist since I was around 17 years of age. Never an active revolutionary who engages with weapons and actual warfare but of the propagandist kind that deals with the written and spoken word. This was largely I believe, due to where I found myself in the world. When in Srilanka there was a chance that I would be caught up in the southern student insurrection and the bloody crackdown in the late 80s but I was whisked away to the USA and went to live with my brother. That landed me in the mire of immigrant poverty, having no legal working papers, having to work illegally in the worst most exploitative of conditions to support myself and pay my tuition. This didn’t do much to squelch the fire of revolutionary zeal burning within my heart. I went from third world crisis to first world crisis and the whole world revealed itself to me to be a battlefield between exploiters and exploited, between rulers and ruled, between capitalists and workers.
Ah, but there was love. Lest I make myself out to be something I am not. I loved people, I had love for the downtrodden, for the marginalized, for those deemed inferior and less-than. I had love for animals and for nature, I longed for happiness and unity in the place of division and hatred. I was just not willing to accept platitudes and the deception and propaganda meted out by the ruling class to keep us all asleep.
I threw myself enthusiastically into reading and writing full-time to know more , to understand what made the economy tick, what made up culture, what made up social groups, what made the world what it is. The urban, the city, had a particularly calling for me since it showed up all the contradictions of modern capitalist society in its sharpest relief – unparalleled wealth, homelessness, art and culture , accessible to the rich, made by the poor.
I threw myself into struggle against corrupt administrators , acting like mindless bureaucrats, slavishly carrying out the will of the capitalist politicians and their corporate capitalist bosses to squeeze working class kids out of public education , out of a college education. I threw myself into struggle to defend working class institutions like unions that were coming under attack by the same forces assembled against working class students.
Social class became a central operating concept for me in how I saw the world. Of course the class divide was such in America that it allowed for a certain amount of mobility for the true believers in the system with a dash of intelligence and a pound of luck.
It was not an easy time to be a class struggle activist , to be a partisan for the working class , but it’s likely never been an easy task at any period in history. Revolution and class struggle has always had a focus on youth .
When I was in my twenties I thought the focus on youth had to do with the uncompromising nature of the young person – passionate about what is true and what is just and unwilling to accept anything less than truth and justice .
As I’ve aged and not let go and repented for my beliefs I’ve paid a higher and higher price . The income that one can earn becomes limited and the ability to support a family becomes painfully difficult often resulting in marital difficulties . The pressures of securing income to feed, house and provide health and education for oneself and family mitigate against the possibilities of working towards the social transformation that the majority of people need to actually solve those problems in a meaningful way .
My politics have also become more “practical” which is often a euphemism for compromising . I’m supporting Bernie Sanders campaign for President , running within the capitalist Democratic Party. He speaks openly of Democratic Socialism in public fora which for me, growing up at the end of the Cold War in the 1990s, in the era of capitalist End of History triumphalism, is quite amazing . I openly argued for socialism but the sparse forces that spoke out openly and organized for socialist politics were far and few in between when I was in my twenties .
It was my exposure to socialist struggle in Srilanka for a brief period in the late 80s that made the concept substantial and relevant for me . For most American workers and youth they would’ve grown up in a barren wasteland of capitalist politics of so called liberalism and conservatism which is naught else but a fig leaf for the dictatorship of capital , for the dictatorship of the billionaires .
The ploy is the tried and true – divide and conquer – inherited from empires old. In the US , with its founding drenched in the blood of Native American peoples and the brutal enslavement of stolen Africans – racism plays a central role in pitting different groups of workers and oppressed against each other based on skin color , national origin and the like .
Democrats and Republicans are both institutions rooted in the capitalist class but they ably play with identity in order to pit “white” workers against non-white workers . The designation of white and black itself is a political ploy having nothing to do with biology. But it raises connotations of fundamental difference , harking back to early 20th century ideological anthropology and biology that served empire by classifying humans into separate “races”. Importantly it divided humans into a racial hierarchy with the “white” being the most human and the “black” being the most animal.
It was a convenient way to commit mass murder since if a people are less than human it is easier to exterminate them. This may have been particularly easy for the animal herding and slaughtering cultures of the west.
If the landless farmworkers , indentured laborers , enslaved laborers and dispossessed native people saw that they formed a common class that is exploited for the benefit of the landowners and wealthy it would of course have meant a very quick end to the rule of this tiny oligarchy . So from the outset , the play of racial ideology , of white supremacy, has been a crucial glue that has kept the American State of capitalists and landowners intact .
This racist glue that keeps the American working class divided is quite toxic. I never got used to it. I was repulsed by it, terrified by it , enraged by it, bitterly disappointed by it. Why should I be judged on such stupid superficial grounds? Going to high school and community college in uber racist Staten Island further alienated me from the mainstream. I aspired like anyone else, to be normal , to be accepted, to be just like the good people , the beautiful people of society. I deeply wanted it.
Most immigrant families don’t come here identifying with the poor and oppressed. They come here having drunk from the global American imperialist Kool-Aid. The mindset that we will make it and live the good life. My family’s ideology was no different than this typical Asian immigrant trope.
I did not take rejection well. It hurt and it hurt and it hurt. The dismissive looks, the invisibility, the contempt , the scorn, the rudeness, the threats, repeated over and over again was too much. I was not of the type to bend into a pretzel to accommodate this toxic glue. On second thought I’m sure I gave it one heck of a try. In my pain I sought out allies in groups that I had seen earlier as alien to me – African American youth – whom my brother and I took some beatings from growing up in Queens. Of other marginalized groups – Latinos, other immigrant groups, Native Americans. My pain pushed me to learn about the histories of other marginalized peoples, their pain, recognize my pain in their own.
With my exposure to Marxism as a teenager in Sri Lanka, I had some inkling of social class and class analysis, which prevented me from going down the rabbit hole of identity politics. I saw that workers of all backgrounds were exploited and oppressed to one degree or another , so while I hated racism, and white supremacy I never hated “whites”. After all in America – the “white” working class was probably the most deceived and cheated by the toxic glue of racism. The European working class had been able to achieve a much higher standard of living being relatively free of the toxic glue of racism. Whites were victims just like the so called blacks, browns, yellows and reds. What a stupid and infantile cacophany of screaming colors that make up Amerca’s ruling class ideology.
I started to organize with all the assorted M&M colors along class lines, to dissolve the toxic glue, to forge new bonds based on solidarity and a program for a democratic and socialist future based on love and cooperation, on high technology and science.
It was not a depressive state of mind I had. It was a negation of a negation, a coming to a higher level of consciousness as a result of a rejection of an ideology that ought to enslave me. It was not a taking refuge in religious fantasy, it was not a retreat to uber capitalist get rich at any cost nihilism , it was not hatred and racialism , it was not a sniffing of the toxic glue from opposite end of the glue stick, it was not a hopeless and broken state. It was becoming better , becoming stronger and smarter and arming my love – of self and other – with a scientific program.
So what happened?
So I’ve digressed down multiple back alleys.
Why, I did start this blog entry with a sense of shame and self criticism for being super critical , for my criticism having ruined me. Reduced me to bankruptcy and ill health and personal turmoil.
As I write I seem to have hunkered down in my rebelliousness. Have provided a semi-eloquent defense of it.
Yes, it is not that rebelling against a system that puts profits above all else is wrong. It is completely correct! It is how I must pick myself up from the state of destitution that I mean to write about. How yoga has provided the language for the missing spaces to my world view that I meant to write about. I get carried away.
To be continued in Part 2