Things and People, RevisitedPosted by Gardens of Resistance
The Ninth Letters continue to separate out those who are focused on “things” and those who are focused on people. They call into question just how in touch our characters are with their own desires, and clarify the extremely high costs of some of those desires. If a revolution is supposed to make all desires possible, how is it that some remain beyond the bounds of accepted human morality?
First, Yarostan begins to doubt the re-emergence of liberation that he had earlier thought he was witnessing in the workers’ unrest. In her radio broadcast, Vera had come out in support of the worker actions that had already been taking place, such as striking and abolishing censorship. Yarostan realizes that he had mistaken such tepid support of bureaucrats like Vera for the people’s desire to eradicate these politicians. Instead, many workers remain perfectly willing to accept the bureaucrats, so long as they present the appearance of putting control of production into the hands of the workers.
I met many workers who described reforms as enthusiastically as strikes comparable to the one that broke out at Mirna’s plant, and who praised reformist bureaucrats even while they were describing the possibilities for doing without them. The inability to distinguish the realization of one’s own desires from the “victory” of the representatives of “everyone’s desires” is particularly ominous in view of the disaster you’ve just described.
But he still has hope:
I’m still convinced that the people around me want more than the seizure of power by their “comrades,” their union, their revolutionary tribunes. Maybe I’m nursing an illusion, but I’m convinced that below the enthusiasm for revolutionary demagogues there’s an undercurrent of desires which are seeking gratification, desires which cannot be vicariously satisfied, which cannot be carried by politicians the way programs can be carried.
The other thing that Yarostan is realizing is that when Titus speaks of “liberation” he is really only talking about shifting the control of the means of production, not eliminating it – thus placing Titus well behind the striking workers in terms of revolutionary consciousness. At least the workers wanted to realize their desires, even if they continued to confuse these desires with the continued existence of bureaucrats! Yarostan now admits he had failed to understand the deficiencies in Titus’s politics, reaching all the way back to the carton plant takeover. In challenging Titus and his robotic theorization, Yarostan opens himself to a new conception of revolution and subsequent liberation.
“I had thought the point of the struggle wasn’t the proletariat’s existence but its disappearance, its replacement by a human community,” I objected.
To which Titus responds, in his constant refrain:
“The class struggle for the emancipation of the proletariat will mean the emancipation of all humanity only when the organization of the proletariat is adequate to that task.”
Placing emancipation after organization is the profound flaw in all all revolutionary activity.
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Meanwhile, Yarostan’s ongoing influence on Sabina has enabled her to understand her own confusion between people and things. Her commitment to a scientific project of human liberation was as “inhuman” as those of Titus and Alberts. She confesses that,
“It was Yarostan who made me see the incompatibility of my friendship with Jan with my commitment to Alberts’ project. It was he who helped me understand the contradiction between my rebellion against an inhuman social order and my desire to build an inhuman social order with the lowest strata of society.”
Happily, we also see that Ted – earlier described by Ron as the exemplar of knowing the difference between people and things – seemed like a creepy child molester only because he had no one in the garage (besides Tina) that he could trust, at least until Alec moved to the garage. Ted was opposed to the dope dealing from day one, and didn’t understand why no one else really saw the differences in the activities or the importance of those differences.
Daman may have the oddest relationships with people of anyone in the book. He is able to compartmentalize the various aspects of his life so cleanly so as to not disrupt any of them. He rarely has emotion or desire that play into his activities. Sophia yells at him, trying to shake up his rigid boundaries:
“You have a perfect sense for timing and placing and cataloguing! You have a different mask for every cubby hole you move through: anger for political meetings, condescension for classrooms, courage for strikes, submissiveness for meetings with superiors, kindness for animals and decency only in the privacy of your apartment. You’re not a human being but a filing cabinet!”
Lastly, we see the complicated relationships between Sophia, Luisa and their trail of ruined lovers. Several of Sophia’s lovers died in the wake of trying to fulfill her ideas of political action. Alec and Jose both became obsessed with the ideas that she studied but didn’t act on, and ultimately gave their lives attempting to follow through on the passions awakened by Sophia. It is difficult to hold blame to Sophia for this because, as most things happen in her life, it happened fairly passively around her. She wasn’t all that directly involved other than sharing her books, ideas and experiences with them. But understandably, each new revelation of a dead or broken ex-lover tears her apart.
Luisa, on the other hand, pretty explicitly used her sexuality to recruit men to political groups. Her paradigm, like Titus’s, seems to be that people are simply puzzle pieces that need to be in place for revolution to happen. After so many years, still unable to distinguish Things and People…