<span style="color: #ff0000;">Change is a word that both intellectuals and the intelligentsia of America are discussing in these times. But one should wonder what kind of change they mean. As a rule intellectuals/liberals usually mean reform (and not enough of it at that). The intelligentsia means another: transformation/radical change. However, it’s an unfortunate paradox that no more than liberals the intelligentsia doesn’t always know what to do with pure and independent intelligence.
History is marked by change but by precious few transformations. Contemporary liberals are eternally concerned with change/reforms. Liberals however have never known exactly who they are or what they mean by liberalism: economic or social reformism. Liberals do not know what they want to create and leave for mankind. Since Spinoza’s creation of economic liberalism in the socially liberal city of Amsterdam in the 17th century, the very term “liberalism” has remained so nebulous that even left-thinking persons like Einstein claimed he believed in Spinoza’s god. And today Russians who follow the U.S. line in East Europe and are rabidly anti-Putin call themselves liberals.
The changes we so need are not the changes promised in each and every electoral campaign. In my opinion, the goal of socially aware people must be the radical transformation of the entire society. I will repeat here what I have written before: The American intelligentsia might keep in mind the comforting thought that of major world countries today perhaps only America is still economically self-contained and self-sufficient enough to support and survive the upheavals of a new socio-political revolution. Despite the statistic I read today according to which nearly half of young Americans are curious about Socialism, the great historical contradiction remains that in no other country is real capitalism so strong and the idea of Socialism so weak as in the United States of America, which in turn has made Socialism so difficult to achieve elsewhere.
“In no other country is real capitalism so strong and the positive idea of Socialism so weak as in the United States of America, which in turn has made Socialism so difficult to achieve elsewhere…”
Scientists tell us that in the universe nothing is ever lost, although nothing remains the same. Everything is constantly undergoing change, one form replacing another. Each birth and rebirth are the beginnings of something new. Death is the end of an earlier form. Meanwhile, the substance of the universe and of being remains the same.
The creative individual who does not accept the world as it is is Godlike in that like genuine revolutionaries he attempts to not only change it—that is, reform it—but to transform it. The ideological leadership of rebellious 18th century France saw in the collapse of the monarchy a unique opportunity to transform society and realize the ideals of the Enlightenment—ideals that went far beyond the limited political scope of the preceding English and American revolutions. French revolutionaries aspired to the creation of a new social order and a new breed of human beings.
“Revolution” then began to refer to grandiose and ambitious plans to transform the world. Revolutionaries no longer limited their goals to mere changes that just somehow happened but to changes brought about by men. Radical communist revolutionaries of late nineteenth century Russia imagined the coming revolution as a thorough transformation not only of every political and socioeconomic order previously known, but of human existence itself. Revolution’s aim, in the words of Leon Trotsky, was “overturning the world”.
Nonetheless, within our universe the figure of rebellious Adam has shown that nothing new is created, nothing is destroyed; minor changes come about too often for the wrong reasons, while at the very most things can be transformed. First there were forests, then arrived man, and then the desert. Those are transformations. In the same way, centuries ago Westerners abandoned the feudal system and transformed into capitalists—to the same degree that Pinocchio transformed into a real boy.
Moreover, also the world society that capitalists have created testifies to the power and durability of the phenomenon of transformation. Although many changes in capitalism’s nature (as a rule and ultimately for the worse) have occurred, those changes have not affected the essence of capitalism, which, though it goes by different names, its substance remains the same: this is mine and that is yours.
You return to your old hometown to take a look and you might say, “it’s not what it once was.” Something unsettling has changed in your life. That change makes you anxious. Reality is not what you once thought it was. Life in flux and constantly changing is not for many of us. That is why conservatives who resist change are in the majority.
Many Lenin statues were destroyed or symbolically “overthrown” by anticommunists after the fall of the Soviet Union. This one rests in a Romanian field. (C.Tulcan, flickr)
But if you are uncomfortable with change, as most people are, you might as well forget about transformation. For transformation, as I have intimated above, means something essentially different from change which as a rule means simply reforms. Transformation on the other hand is not just a change of clothing, home, or even life style, any of which can be abandoned or changed back to the former.
Transformation implies radical change and more, a transmutation into something else altogether. After genuine transformation there is no going back. Only in myth and fables can the prince be transformed into a donkey and then back again into a human being. Or a man be turned into a woman and then back to a man again. After transformation a new, radically different model emerges. You can twist and manipulate the clay but never again can you recreate the previous model that had seemed permanent.
A shift in social standing is part of the dangerous game of life but a radically changed situation like a conversion to another faith—or a loss of faith all together—create the risk of no longer understanding who, where and what you are.
Many traits of the Soviet man remain implanted in contemporary Russians. To him the true essence of capitalism remains foreign and extraneous, irrelevant and inappropriate—if not vulgar.
Communist Russia set out to transform man as he was and create the Soviet man. The undertaking was only partially successful. However, when the Soviet state system collapsed under the firepower of its enemies, the then halfway Soviet man, was caught up in the nets of an imported form of savage capitalism. He struggled and thrashed around unsuccessfully against what he himself had become. He traveled around the world and is still trying to adjust to capitalism. But, I believe, many traits of the Soviet man remain implanted in contemporary Russians. To him the true essence of capitalism remains foreign and extraneous, irrelevant and inappropriate—if not vulgar. America aspires to domination of the entire world; according to Russian philosophers Russia’s mission is to save the world.
Stories and literature are also temples of transformation. For Nobel Prize winner Elias Canetti, the writer is the priest of change and the custodian of metamorphosis. Narrative fiction, he says—he too sometimes confusing change and transformation—are spheres where man can experiment his desire to metamorphose, change and transform. He calls this alteration the “passion of metamorphosis”. According to Canetti, the true task of the writer is to keep alive the ability to transform, to direct his energies at a passion that exists not for personal gain but for its own sake: the metamorphosis passion.
Marx pointed out that the anarchy of the market itself was sufficient to understand that capitalism cannot work in the long run and was doomed to eventually transform. For the market is anarchy itself. It is evident that when corporations become people—but remain free of accountability and are therefore irresponsible—the result is necessarily anarchy and inhuman totalitarianism.
In Kafka’s The Trial, the law and the trial itself are transformed into life. (For Kafka, the law, empty of content, is indistinguishable from life while the body of Joseph K. becomes the trial.) This transformation however is marked by something of the beyond. I think that genuine transformation lies there in the beyond. In the minds of some people that is progress.
I return again and again to the Russian example because just as the intelligentsia in pre-revolutionary Russia set its stamp on the development of the idea of Socialism there (in the end making the greatest revolution of modern times), when the propitious moment arrives, when what was inexpressible becomes expressible, when events have created a universal mood of revolutionary discontent with the existing system, when tensions reach the boiling point, the American intelligentsia, together with the American wage earners and the growing, multiplying, ever angrier and, one hopes, awakening middle class, will rise against the capitalist system, salvage the positive parts of America and bring about that transformation I am speaking of.
Liberals could of course join in the movement but contemporary liberals alone will never, never bring about real radical social change; at the most they want reforms of the existing system. Liberals never learn. They never change. Most of them are still on the Obama bandwagon, even after their President has condoned torture, formalized the doctrine of American Exceptionalism and American world hegemony, started more wars than George Bush, instituted new controls over Americans at home, and gave up early the struggle even for reforms to align the USA with the rest of the world (health, education, finance, etc.) Liberals can be intolerant and extremist –and also sanctimonious—in their limited views and mindset. Liberals can take strong stands on minor community improvements; they work themselves into a fury and campaign relentlessly and join sit-ins and carry placards concerning, let’s say, how the local school yard is to be used on weekends and still vote for war and ignore the concept of social justice for all. Viewed from the distance, I am dubious about so-called grassroots activities: naturally they are welcome but I suspect in the long run harmless. As a rule Power lets them sit-in, march and carry their placards. As if the military-industrial complex (It really does exist!) of which President Eisenhower warned America, gave one hoot in hell about their protests. And it cares even less about the liberals themselves
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
[box] Senior Editor Gaither Stewart serves as TGP’s European Correspondent. Besides being a veteran journalist, Stewart is a noted novelist and non-fiction essayist. Among other works he’s the author of The Europe Trilogy (whose volumes 1 (The Trojan Spy) and 2 (Lily Pad Roll) have been published by Punto Press), with a third and final volume in preparation. In 2014 Punto Press also brought out his primer on the history of socialism, Recollection of Things Learned, Remembering Socialism. [/box]
1. Lenin statue, Herning, Denmark. August 2009. Mads Eg Damgaard, a Danish entrepreneur, bought this Lenin monument from the Russians after the fall of the Berlin wall. (Via Peter Rosbjerg, flickr)
2. Lenin statue in Romanian field. (Camil Tulcan, flickr)
3. One of the countless demonstrations that punctuate life under capitalism. (Philippa Willitts, via flickr)