Régis Debray on the Revolution in the Revolution

Régis Debray is both French philosopher and revolutionary. In the contemporary words of Martin Glaberman in Speak Out, (April 1968):

The importance of Regis Debray in relation to the Latin American revolution stems from several things. He has broken from the rigid confines of European Communism, even to the extent of rejecting the Communist Parties of Latin America as the automatic vanguard of the coming revolutions. He has taken from Che and Fidel and incorporated into his own thinking the fundamental conception of the Latin American revolution as an international revolution, that is, as a continental revolution. He has proven his own courage and devotion in the great risks he has taken to make personal contact with the guerrilla movements, risks which ultimately subjected him to the criminal vengeance of the Bolivian military and the CIA. He has seemed to be the theoretical embodiment of the Cuban Revolution and his writings are an attempt to develop a theory of the Latin American Revolution based on the Cuban Experience.

Andrew Joscelyne with slightly more temporal distance, wrote for an article in Wired in 1995:

Twenty-seven years ago, French radical theoretician Régis Debray was sentenced by a Bolivian military tribunal to 30 years in jail. He had been captured with the guerrilla band led by Ernesto “Che” Guevara, Fidel Castro’s legendary lieutenant. Released after three years, largely because of the intervention of compatriots such as President Charles de Gaulle, André Malraux, and Jean-Paul Sartre, Debray returned to writing. (His 1967 Revolution in the Revolution is considered a primer for guerrilla insurrection.)

I’m not sure it is a primer for guerilla insurrection, or at least not now. It is brilliant as something of its time — and who knows, perhaps its time will come again. But it has a few passages that I loved. Could anything ring truer than this?

Fidel once blamed certain failures of the guerillas on a purely intellectual attitude towards war. The reason is understandable: aside from his physical weakness and lack of adjustment to rural life, the intellectual will try to grasp the present through preconceived ideological constructs and live it through books. He will be less able than others to invent, improvise, make do with available resources, decide instantly on bold moves when he is in a tight spot. Thinking that he already knows, he will learn more slowly, display less flexibility (21).

He may well be right that it is an irony of history that in Latin America it was students and intellectuals ‘had to unleash, or rather initiate, the highest forms of class struggle‘ (21). There has a been a price.

Any line that claims to be revolutionary must give a concrete answer to the question: How to overthrow the power of the capitalist state? In other words, how to break its backbone, the army, continuously reinforced by North American military mission? (25)

He grapples with the issue of peasants, as massive for Latin America as for Russia or China even though people continue to flock to the city. Even today this ongoing somewhat artificial divide of urban and rural is perhaps the deeper and more relevant question. Debray looks to develop dual power between them and factory workers…and what a one-liner.

Today self-defence as a system and as a reality has been liquidated by the march of events (26)…Guerilla warfare is to peasant uprisings what Marx is to Sorel (28).

There is a little here on (neo)colonialism, and related to this my favourite bit was probably the brilliantly damning indictment of Trotskyism, which somehow comes close to nailing my own experience of it here in the UK in many ways:

At bottom Trotskeyism is a metaphysic paved with good intentions…In space–everywhere the same: the same analyses and perspectives serve equally well for Peru and Belgium. In time — immutable: Trotskeyism has nothing to learn from history. It already has the key to it: the proletariat, essentially wholesome and unfailingly socialist… (39) And they come not to participate in a liberation movement nor to serve it, but to lead and control it by using its weaknesses…An abstract metaphysic, a concept with no grasp of history…the Trotskyist ideology can only be applied from outside. Since it is not appropriate anywhere, it must be applied by force everywhere (40)

More on the limitations of the educated:

That an intellectual, especially if he is a bourgeois, should speak of strategy before all else, is normal. Unfortunately, however, the right road, the only feasible one, sets out from tactical data, rising gradually towards the definition of strategy (59)

Just a few other short notes. The key lesson he feels we can take from Bolivar? Tenacity. He notes the politicised used of the Peace Corps to infiltrate and spy. And because of his time in Bolivia, he writes with more detail about its struggle, mining in particular. I’ve been thinking a lot about mining lately, so will end with a rather long extract that few will find as interesting as I did.

Bolivia: an analogous situation in a workers’ milieu, takes on the aspects of tragedy. Twenty-six thousand miners in the big nationalized tin mines are spread over the entire altiplano, but the principal mining stronghold is concentrated in a belt of land some 91/2 miles long by 6 wide, where the “Siglo Veinte,” “Huanuni,” and “Catavi” mines are located. In 1952 the miners destroyed the oligarchy’s army, established a liberal government, received arms and a semblance of power. The revolution turned bourgeois; the miners gradually severed connections. They had arms, militias, radios, a strong union, dynamite and detonators – their everyday work tools-plus control of the country’s basic wealth, tin – “the devil’s metal.” In retreat, semi-impotent, apathetic, they allowed the national bourgeoisie to reconstitute an army, and they interrupted their reign of strikes, skirmishes, and battles: in short, they were surviving.Then, as is natural, the army swallowed up the national bourgeoisie which had created it; and the order arrived from the United States to crush the workers’ movement.The military junta provoked the workers in cold blood, arresting their old union leader Lechin. The unlimited general strike proposed by the Trotskyists was decreed in May, 1965. The army’s elite corps, the Rangers, special parachute troops, and the classic infantry surrounded the mines and unleashed a frontal attack against the miners’ militia. Its aviation bombed amine near La Paz and machine-gunned another. Result: hundreds of dead on the miners’ side and dozens among the soldiers; occupation of the mines by the army; doors broken down by soldiers, and families machine-gunned indiscriminately; union leaders and the more militant miners outlawed, jailed, killed. (33-34)

The mines are also cities, immense grey windowless barracks, located at some distance from the pits, where the families live. On a freezing high land plateau, with not a tree or a shrub, an expanse of red earth as far as the eye can see, an intense glare. The houses are laid out in rows, an easy and conspicuous target for the bombers. Bombardments threaten not production but population, since the mines are underground and surface installations few. The smelters are in England and the United States. Another weakness: the mines are ten or twenty or more miles apart.It is easy for the army to isolate them one by one, and difficult for the miners to get together to coordinate resistance: without a plan, without a centralized military command, without military training, without means of transport. Furthermore, the militia units can only move at night. (34)

Gorton Constitutional

These are such extraordinary times, these covid-19 times. For a week now working from home, Mark here. Going out once a day for a walk while we still can, hands in pockets, giving others wide berth. But the streets are eerily empty. As they should be. Worrying about toilet paper, because that is something I never have too much of, until M headed down to Asda before it opened to make sure of it. I’m reading The Decameron. A few friends with mild symptoms so far, but worried for others and especially family in the US. Signed up for volunteering but nothing to do so far — for the first time I wish I had a car. There is little to be done on foot. A neighbourhood terribly limited for walks, but I suppose that makes it easy to keep distance from others. Today felt more apocalyptic perhaps, freezing wind, mostly cloudy, landscapes of ruin that have nothing to do with the virus except in the ways they have been created by a rapacious kind of capitalism and lack of investment. And someone who likes to set rubbish on fire.

Work has been diabolical, but I hope this week will be calmer. Time to work on the blog even. It has been so long.

Dickens, Boris Johnson, down with the Aristocracy

Finding it hard to focus. Election day today, having such high hopes and no hopes all at the same time. I may be a dual citizen but never feel I will be particularly effective here canvassing or phone banking with this accent, but I give talks you know, play the ghost of Britain’s future, write impassioned things like

Vote today! Vote for the party that will transform Britain. I am interviewing people starving themselves for days, freezing because they cannot afford heat, abandoning all social contact because they can’t afford bus fare or the cost of a coffee, facing and fearing and enduring homelessness, worrying about the suicides of people they work with or people they love, looking forward to a bleak precarious future without an end to it and contemplating suicide themselves…This is Tory Britain. We can do better.

I have never had to wait in line to vote at my current polling station here in Longsight, but today they’d moved everything to the big hall and there I was with around 30 of the most diverse group of people I have shared a space with in some time (unless it was the 192 bus), and a number of kids getting to post the votes for their parents into the box…it was pretty beautiful. I listened to those conversations around me, that was one hall full of labour voters. I know we’re a safe seat but still. It’s the community side of it that always gets me, though the bread and roses is pretty good too. 🌹🌹🌹

The other side? I was looking at my hundred blogs unposted in a flighty fretful unable-to-settle mood and found this from Nicholas Nickleby. It sums up Johnson perfectly in our worst of times, Dickensian times:

‘There’s something in his appearance quite—dear, dear, what’s that word again?’

‘What word?’ inquired Mr. Lillyvick.

‘Why—dear me, how stupid I am,’ replied Miss Petowker, hesitating. ‘What do you call it, when Lords break off door-knockers and beat policemen, and play at coaches with other people’s money, and all that sort of thing?’

‘Aristocratic?’ suggested the collector.

‘Ah! aristocratic,’ replied Miss Petowker; ‘something very aristocratic about him, isn’t there?’

Romanesque Splendour: Norwich Cathedral

From Glasgow to Manchester late for a few hours at home then next morning to Norwich. Four apprentices to get through their final EPAs, anxiety bubbling as I wandered this town. Found it most beautiful. Even more beautiful after they had all passed, two with distinction.

This cathedral is calm, wondrous. Romanesque arches stacked one upon the other. I love the curious weight of them yet still they soar upwards. This miraculous ribbed vaults of the nave in contrast to the simple (just as beautiful) vaulting of the aisles and the glimpse of wood roofing the second story. More traces of paint and decoration than I have seen elsewhere, all medieval, pre-reformation. Time’s passage and architecture’s technological development visible in the size of the enormous round columns with their simple spiral decorations giving way to incised flutes emerging from walls to stretch up and up alive to vault the precise stone of the ceiling.

A cat.

Beauty through the train window almost made me forget anxiety. Everything remained covered with frost in the Pennines. Melting away as we reached the flats with their thick dark silt and water logged fields filled with birds.

Norwich itself it seemed I barely had time to see, I hope I come back. It too feels a bit lost in time, cobbled streets and a beautiful flint church on every stretch. Old crooked streets and crooked houses. A working class court left standing after the clearances. Spontaneous City art for insects and birds. Old stone towers and the ferry, factories along the water now mellowed brick and almost silent.

Frost Magic

In Glasgow giving a book talk to students at the School of Art. They were amazing, bright, full of questions and the need to talk about cities and justice and architecture and language, I loved them. Eight of them bought books. They. Bought. Books. My beautiful nephew Reuben’s second birthday, all too short and wonderful time with T and Laura, the science museum.

The world frozen, beautiful from their Hamilton window.

A quick run up to Chatelherault Country Park where I remembered again how much I love winter. I love this place. The ancient Cadzow oaks and the earthworks dating back to at least the 12th century. the Cadzow castle ruins looking over the river. Frost. Mist. Bare branches against the sky.

reading buildings like tea leaves

Magush reads the future in a vacant building opposite the charcoal yard where he lives. The six huge picture windows and the twelve little windows of the adjacent building are like cards for him. Magush never thought of associating windows and cards: that was my idea. His methods are mysterious and can be explained only in part. He tells me that during the day he has trouble drawing conclusions, because the light disturbs the images. The most propitious moment to carry out his task is at sunset, when certain slanting rays of light filter through the side windows of the building and are reflected onto the glass of the windows in front. That is why he always makes appointments with his clients for that hour of the day. I know, having learned from careful research, that the upper part of the building has to do with matters of the heart, the lower part with money and work, and the middle with problems of family and health.

— ‘Magush’ by Silvina Ocampo in Thus Were Their Faces, p 126

Making Home on Mars

The Design Museum’s Moving to Mars exhibition was brilliant, fascinating. Yet it moves from simple wonder at a new world to the beauty that can be built as we flee the earth having destroyed it.

The tag line: should we stay or should we go.

But oh the wonder. It allows you to stand (or perhaps you are lucky enough to sit) in front of three enormous screens with high resolution images from rover. Like these, but without the jagged edges. See a world no human being has seen with their own eyes.

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/images/index.html

It starts, though, with the ancient Sumerians and Greeks tracing the path of mars across the sky.

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

It has a telescope along the lines of Caroline and William Herschel, the notebooks of Kepler and Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli of course described a phenomenon of canali, wrongly transcribed as canals and thereby the life obsessions of Percival Lawrence Lowell who built the beautiful telescope of in Flagstaff. It allows you to see scale models of these miracles of engineering humans have created to move across this terrain to capture these images. I loved each room had an engineer asking us to enter into the excitement of solving the many questions that continue to lie before us. My dad always said they should teach school not so much about all that we know but about what we don’t, and I think he was right.

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

I love robots, these are so splendid. Robots much like them feature most heavily in the construction of the worlds humans would have to create in the deserts of mars. Look at them building these great hollow mounds to protect human beings from the radiation of the skies above them.

Mars Exhibition Design Museum
Mars Exhibition Design Museum

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

They write:

This scheme for Mars housing proposes sending robot-builders in advance of the astronauts.

These robots pose a big challenge for programming and artificial intelligence, since they will need to be semi-autonomous and smart. They cannot follow a rigid routine, since much about the Mars surface and subsoil where they will be working is unknown.

The habitats are based on inflatable modules for up to four astronauts, which need to be built on Earth and then shipped to Mars. The first stage is to dig foundation pits for them, 1.5 metres deep. The inflated pods are then covered and reinforced with regolith (Martian topsoil) bound together by a 3D-printing process using microwave energy.
Mars Habitat Foster + Partners, 2015

A stunning short film can be seen here: https://www.fosterandpartners.com/projects/mars-habitat/

A similar model comes from Hassell architects working with engineers Eckersley O’Callaghan

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

An experience of the inside:

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

Another Hassell design from Xavier De Kestelier (building on the transhab design by the marvellous Constance Adams)

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

I loved these interior schematics:

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

Their videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIrH01N9AsE; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrIunc-FR5Y (these are so fund to watch),

All of these proposed models used 3d printers to spin Martian regololith topsoil into structure.

They are used here too:

MARSHA is a first principles rethinking of what a Martian habitat could be – not another low-lying dome or confined, half-buried structure but a bright, multi-level, corridor-free home that stands upright on the surface of Mars. Where structures on Earth are designed primarily for gravity and wind, Martian conditions require a structure optimized to handle internal atmospheric pressure and thermal stresses. Marsha’s unique vertically oriented, egg-like shape maintains a small footprint, minimizing mechanical stresses at the base and top which increase with diameter. Standing tall on the surface grants the human crew a superior vantage point to observe a dynamic landscape with weather patterns, clouds, and shifting hues – their new home and object of study both. The tall, narrow structure reduces the need for a construction machine to continuously rove on the surface, reducing risk and increasing speed and accuracy.

These innovations challenge the conventional image of “space age” domes by focusing on the creation of spaces tuned to both known and anticipated physical and psychological demands of a Mars mission.

https://www.aispacefactory.com/marsha
Mars Exhibition Design Museum

Her video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWJ-sE08ASg.

Also 3D printed are these Alpha 2.0 models from Vera Mulyani of Mars City Design.

Mars Exhibition Design Museum
Mars Exhibition Design Museum

They are working to create and test a new city in the Mojave, have created some really stunning visual glimpses of what a radically reimagined architecture for Mars — and Earth — might look like. Visuals are undoubtedly their strong point, there is this glorious visual of a truly massive city spreading across the new planet.

https://www.marscitydesign.com/marsresearchcenter

More internal schematics!

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

The aesthetics clearly dominate all of these, but thought did go into the lived experience of space, the need to create home. It is hard to see, however, quite what personal mark individuals might make on these pristine printed environments. Where the posters and bluetac might go, the strings of lights, the shawls and hangings, the knickknacks. There was an occasional view of a book, a toy. For that the Soviet designer Galina Balashova seemed to be in a league of her own — she painted landscapes herself for soviet astronauts to have something of home:

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

So much in this exhibition was streamlined and beautiful. I am still not entirely convinced it is a great idea.

Part of me embraces so much this thought of reaching for the stars and yet…Elon Musk, how can his SpaceX fill you with confidence? Though it too is beautiful as it spreads in self-contained domes across the deep red ground.

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

There is the film near the end in which they describe a scenario in which the planet needs us to come, return it to its former glories when it ran with water, to act as stewards. As if our experience on Earth gave any indication that this would be our role and purpose.

Also missing were serious SF thinking about space travel — Stan Robinson’s Mars trilogy impossible not to feel as an absence here. But even more so the biosphere, the actual attempt of human beings to live in such a dome. Their own experiments of growing plants in space. A reminder of why Mars makes me feel a little bit like home.

Biosphere 2

So this left me with mixed feelings.

I will end it on returning to the joy of space exploration, the mad SF covers and wild imaginings. Maybe my favourite aspect of space when you come down to it.

Mars Exhibition Design Museum
Mars Exhibition Design Museum
Mars Exhibition Design Museum
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