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We Need a New Word for Revolution (Parts 6, 7 and 8)

Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges and political philosopher Sheldon Wolin conclude their eight-part series on American democracy and corporate capitalism with conversations about the consequences of relentless totalitarianism, the nature of participatory democracy and how to think about the possibility of revolution.

On the topic of revolution, Wolin said:

I think the proper emphasis should be on discussing it carefully, that is to say, I mean by carefully not timidly, but carefully in the sense that we would really have to be breaking new ground. And I think it’s because of the nature of the forces we’ve been talking about that constitute a challenge, I think, the like of which hasn’t happened before, and that we’ve got to be very sure, because of the interlocked character of modern society, that we don’t act prematurely and don’t do more damage than are really justifiable, so that I think revolution is one of those words that I’m not so sure we shouldn’t find a synonym that would capture its idea of significant, even radical change, but which somehow manages, I think, to discard the physical notions of overthrow and violence that inevitably it evokes in the modern consciousness. And I don’t have a solution to that, but I think that that’s required. I think the idea of revolution simply carries too much baggage, and the result of that is you’re forced to fight all sorts of rearguard actions to say what you didn’t mean because of the overtones and implications that revolution seems to have to the modern ear. So I think we do have to start striving for a new kind of vocabulary that would help us express what we mean by radical change without simply seeming to tie ourselves to the kind of previous notions of revolution.

I think the contemporary condition–as I’m sure Marx would have been the first to acknowledge–is quite without precedent in terms of the concentration of capitalist power and of the relationship between capitalism and the state. It’s always been there. But now we’re talking about aggregates of power the like of which the world has never seen, and a world that we have now come to see is in the throes of being integrated by those powers.

So I think we really have to know when we’re being trapped by our own language and need to at crucial points hold up that language for scrutiny and say, maybe it needs to be rethought in a different direction or needs to be modified in a serious way, so that we’re really making contact with what the world actually is.

Listen to parts six, seven and eight here, here and here.

— Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly

Alexander Reed Kelly
Associate Editor
In December 2010, Alex was arrested for civil disobedience outside the White House alongside Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges, Pentagon whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg, healthcare activist Margaret Flowers and…
Alexander Reed Kelly

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