History, Alienation, and Self: Reflections for the New YearPosted: January 3, 2011
There are many reasons why I am drawn to Marxism and see the agency and empowerment within it. An important aspect of Marxism is the role of human beings in history. Marxism reveals the ways that history and different historical epochs are the result of the movement and development of the people. In the Communist Manifesto he writes,
“The history of all hitherto existing society(2) is the history of class struggles. Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master(3) and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”
Marx is demonstrating that the history of the world is a history of human interaction. It is the struggle and actions between people that propels societies forward; destroys and reconstructs and destroys again. A revolutionary’s purpose is to make history by participating, as a part of the oppressed, in the shaping of a new society that will emancipate humanity. Like the famous slogan from the Manifesto, “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.” A huge part of the road to that struggle is effecting people’s consciousness so that they see their role in struggle, and identify with the social fabric that connects revolutionaries throughout history from different places and time periods. Demonstrating that through out time there is this tradition of radicals sharing the same principles and goals of liberation and revolutionary struggle.
A huge barrier to that process of connecting with people is the alienation (another important Marxist concept) that disconnects us from our collectivity (our species), and ourselves. Our existence under capital is reduced to individualistic acts of survival. Capitalism relies on coerced labor; it forces us to work, because we need a wage to survive and pay for all the things the people don’t own or control (food, shelter, clothing, ect.). Instead of spending our time building relationships and community and working together for the common survival of our communities it is spent working for a wage that barely pays the bills and puts food on the table, meanwhile the rich get richer off of this exploitation. Not that there aren’t healthy, supportive communities that exist out there, but I believe that the individualistic and exploitative nature of capital makes it very difficult to build with each other. One, of many things, that stood out to me in Assata Shakur’s biography, Assata, is when she speaks to the difficulties and messiness of her parents marriage in a very humanizing way that puts it in the context of the de-humanizing system we live in. She asserts that it is a wonder that any Black couple can stay together happy and healthy, when your life and mind is constantly consumed in work and survival. It is true. How can we build emotionally healthy, sane, loving relationships when we are so disconnected from ourselves and each other due to this alienating system.
The importance of history and sense of self, despite the tremendous amount of societal alienation was very present on my mind throughout my new years celebrating and reflections of 2010. My New Years Eve was spent with my close friend Mai, with lovely sprinklings of other close friends and comrades throughout the night. Mai is a never ending source of inspiration, strength and sisterhood for me. I often find myself relating to her and her own journey of self-discovery and empowerment. Before we went out to usher in the new year at El Rio, we sat in her kitchen, as we often do, sharing delicious chai tea hot n totty’s (yes chai tea with whiskey!), and reflections and stories of our lives. It is in these moments where I feel the alienation is dissolving, and I am able to freely connect with myself through my connection with others. Mai shared with me her beautiful altar that she has been continually working on. She showed me pictures of her grandparents on both her parents sides, and shared with me her efforts to connect with these historical lineages that she had been disconnected from growing up. I can completely relate to the desire to discover a history that you are a part of, which is greater than you. Understanding your past, and having a community to connect to is incredibly empowering, and helps fight the alienation that rips communities apart and isolates us from each other.
Growing up in an unstable home, as most of us have, I learned that both of my parents came from unstable and abusive homes as well. This prevented large family gatherings from happening, which shrouded my family history in mystery for me. I had no regular contact with grandparents, who could pass down stories and traditions that gave me a sense of my own history. I think that is why I was so obsessed with my musician great grandfather, even though I never met him. He played a role in the development of Black society in Kansas City, as well as Black music. I saw myself in that; I wanted to play a role in society as well. At first I decided to follow in his footsteps and play alto saxophone, but after failing I realized I didn’t have to copy him to share his history. I was already doing it In my own way through art and struggle.
Besides the importance of identifying and connecting with a history, whether it be your families, or revolutionaries, women, ect., I think it is also important to be active in building community with people who also identify with these histories so you feel collectively empowered. It also helps maintain a stronger sense of self that you see represented in the relationships you have around you. I thought about this during the second half of my evening on New Years when Mai and I met up with friends at Mango, a queer women party at El Rio in SF. This past year has marked a huge step in me embracing my queerness and becoming more grounded in general. A huge part of that has been identifying with other queer women of color and sharing a community and history that demonstrates we have been here throughout the ages fighting for a truly free sexuality; one that doesn’t have built in power relations that reflect the division of labor within society. That said, it felt good to be surrounded by queer women of all shapes, colors, gender expressions, and ages.
This past year has been a very difficult process of healing, reflecting, and transforming. It has been painful, but has resulted in amazing growth. I feel like I have been able to connect with myself to do positive internal work that has allowed me connect with people in a healthier way. I feel eager to continue down this path of intellectual and emotional development; I want to build healthy, strong, loving revolutionary communities; and I want to continue to go through healing with my family. I also feel much more open to the possibilities of healthy, earth shattering, love and partnership. As I reflect on this past year and its long, sometimes messy, journey of emotional growth, I enter 2011 with a strong sense of excitement for the changes the new year brings. Here’s to you 2010…you served your purpose, made your points, and now its time to move on. 2011 I welcome you with open arms and positivity. ❤