Ghassan Salhab: If only one wall should remain

From lundimatin #389 (27/06/2023) …

To revolutionise ourselves [Révolution sur nous-mêmes]. These three words appeared for the very first time in downtown Beirut, the last two words, about ourselves, had been added to the word revolution, which was already stencilled everywhere, on more than one wall, in more than one neighbourhood, chanted wholeheartedly of course, but very quickly fetishised, frozen in its very action, in a word, impeded.

These two words, added with the help of a black spray can, endeavoured to prolong the initial word (in azure blue), to remind us that the field of revolt was just as much a personal, intimate affair;  they tried to open the field beyond and within all symbolism. They were articulated shortly after by a young man during a rally in the same month of October 2019, in Al-Nour Square (The Square of Light, literally), in northern Lebanon, in Tripoli. To revolutionise ourselves; to start with, the questioning, first and foremost, he emphasised, before someone else took the floor, intoning the famous “the people want the fall of the regime” . Did I hear this young man, a video maybe, or did someone tell me about it? Did I imagine it? Some walls of the capital however are still impregnated with it. A woman had acted the very first time. What had suddenly occurred in our lives had immediately or almost overturned what is and what was of her own existence. It was certainly not a lesson that she wanted to give us; it was what was happening in her, for her, here, now. It was what was really happening, in the present. Grasped. More than one person, especially women, have expressed their rage on more than one wall, more than one facade, even on the asphalt; more than one sentence, more than one song, more than one crack. To our indecencies! We insisted.

On this low wall at the very end of Hamra Street in Beirut, there is a word inscribed just above, in a less bright red, the third letter partly erased, in a less round handwriting, and which one could translate by: permanent, perpetually. To revolutionise ourselves perpetually? Or, rather and more mundanely, it may have to do with the parking hours, since it is a parking lot wall. There are also these three digits: 7 30, with a line between; a very early hour for the Grand Soir [the Great Revolution], unless it refers to the day after the great overthrow, expressed as with slurred speech. The determining tomorrows. Yet, what if more seriously, these three words invited us to finally turn our backs on any attempt to seize power, to reverse the very notion of power, turning it against itself? It was the wager of the Zapatistas in Chiapas; it still is. “We are told that it cannot be done, that it does not exist in any political theory, that it is impossible to plan a political revolution without wanting to seize power”, wrote sub-comandante Marcos. They laughed in his face, of course, called him mischievous, a service comedian, even an impostor. We could have made him retort that it is much less complicated to achieve in a homogeneous society like that of the natives who live in this part of Mexico. Nevertheless, as complex as our modern modes of existence are, it is impossible for us to continue to observe that all the seizures of power have invariably sounded the end of political revolutions, that they have even destroyed them. A funeral repeated many times over. It is unthinkable to persevere on this same path, considering previous failures as errors of strategy, alliances, or the like. It is just as inconceivable for us not to note that the rare counter-examples, since (at least) the sinister industrial revolution, are those where true political horizontality has been practiced, with all responsibilities shared, whatever the scale, but that these counter-examples have never been able to maintain themselves long enough to offer a viable alternative, unless one lives far from any “civilization” and the insatiable appetites that go with it. Our adversaries have always been formidable. Today, they are more so than ever, tirelessly mining all terrain, increasing all kinds of weapons, from the most traditional to the most advanced, monitoring our actions and gestures, decoding the slightest of our temptations, the slightest of our hesitations. However, where our adversaries remain most formidable is in their incessant ability to track down, at the source, any suspicion of the unforeseen, the unforeseeable, wherever it might occur, not to eradicate it, but to divert it and recycle it as quickly as possible in the cogs of this considerable machine that is the society of the spectacle; a machine that is still cuts across all forms of political regimes, which never stops renewing itself technologically, feeding on everything and its opposite, including the most acerbic, the most radical of criticisms, not to mention the latest: all-out political “washing”. And if diversion proves impracticable, if the unexpected persists, becomes resistance, the reaction will simply be implacable.

To revolutionise our ourselves, or, if not, to fail again and again against the same reefs, to again and again count our dead, to again and again swallow our tears, our resentments. And unfortunately it is not enough to oppose horizontality to verticality. Without a strong, clear, political line, nevertheless continuously open, however paradoxical it may be, a stalemate threatens. We constantly experience it, here as everywhere else, and at the same time: every strong political line has this annoying tendency to quickly make us cross the threshold between authority, which advances “naturally” at the beginning, one thinks, allowing the right decisions to be taken, and authoritarianism. Tyranny, we know all too well, is never far away, lurking, and all the more so in urgent situations. Everything goes so fast then, that we barely have time to realise the disastrous crossing.

The heterogeneity of the groups of the rebellion at this famous end of the year 2019 could have proposed a real questioning, jostling and upsetting all certainties. Surely here too the time snatched away was not enough; that in addition to adversaries of all kinds raging everywhere and at all levels, the Covid-19 pandemic curtailed the momentum. Surely the terrible explosion of August 4, 2020 and the swan song that was the vast demonstration of August 8, have finished by sinking us all. The simple truth is that we have not succeeded in transforming a visceral revolt into a political project (except at the “centre”, in the demand for the eternal Rule of Law, as if these two words, supposed to make up One, were an open sesame; as if they were not subject to interpretation and collapsible at will), in a living differently, together to begin with. Very quickly the deplorable question of power took over, limiting any debate.

To revolutionise ourselves, three words on which no one dwells anymore, over which no one has lingered to tell the truth, but which persist, despite everything, suspended. A wall would suffice, one might say. A mere consolation?

In these unprecedented times of devastation of the living, I can only return to Pierre Kropotkin’s major work, Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution, published in 1902, refuting pseudo social Darwinism and the so-called “struggle for existence”: It is not love to my neighbour — whom I often do not know at all — which induces me to seize a pail of water and to rush towards his house when I see it on fire; it is a far wider, even though more vague feeling or instinct of human solidarity and sociability which moves me. So it is also with animals. It is not love, and not even sympathy (understood in its proper sense) which induces a herd of ruminants or of horses to form a ring in order to resist an attack of wolves; not love which induces wolves to form a pack for hunting; not love which induces kittens or lambs to play, or a dozen of species of young birds to spend their days together in the autumn; and it is neither love nor personal sympathy which induces many thousand fallow-deer scattered over a territory as large as France to form into a score of separate herds, all marching towards a given spot, in order to cross there a river. It is a feeling infinitely wider than love or personal sympathy — an instinct that has been slowly developed among animals and men in the course of an extremely long evolution, and which has taught animals and men alike the force they can borrow from the practice of mutual aid and support, and the joys they can find in social life.

Ghassan Salhab is a film maker. From Beirut, he informs us about the situation in Lebanon and beyond.

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