Monday, July 12, 2010

The Last Letters of Ché Guevara

Click the image to embiggen it and go to the Realist site.

While researching Abbie Hoffman, I came across Ethan Persoff's site, which includes The Realist Archive Project, the purpose of which is to scan every issue of The Realist magazine/pamphlet (each issue was four pages, one fold) and post it online.

What fun.

Some of the ephemera of the 1960s is still around, particularly the psychedelic posters from the various concert venues, but most of it is just gone.

I haven't seen a copy of The Realist in decades, and I haven't thought about it either, having passed on to more substantial fare: Harpers, Salon and dKos, for example. It's fascinating to look at issues of The Realist online, and to recognize what Paul Krassner, et al, were doing back in the day, and see the striking parallels between this olde tyme underground publication that was relatively widely available if you knew where to look and how to get it -- and were interested in that kind of thing -- and today's Lefty Blogosphere. They're not the same, to be sure, because The Realist and other efforts like it came out of an atmosphere of rebellion and activism. There may be the abstract thought of rebellion in today's Lefty Blogosphere, but there is essentially no activism outside a very narrow range of approved political "action" -- phoning, faxing, writing the White House and your representatives in Congress assembled, sending money to approved candidates for office, writing for the blogs -- most of which is very private and individualized "action" that appears oddly coordinated and homogenized when it is seen by the public.

And there is all that jockeying for seats at the Big Table. To be taken seriously in other words by people who matter.

It's hard to imagine that was ever a goal or objective to those who came up with and persisted in publishing the underground samizdat in days gone by. In those days, the Underground was... well, Underground. There was a public face to it, sure, and there were characters like Abbie Hoffman and Krassner himself who were literally Underground stars, but they were agitators and monkeywrenchers par excellence, and that was risky. Very risky.

Arrests and political trials were relatively common. These days, you'd be hard pressed to find members of the Lefty Blogosphere putting themselves at that kind of risk under any circumstances, nor are they likely to defend people who do. They are far more likely to denounce and disparage any sort of Leftist "activism" that includes anything outside the approved norm.

That's partly due to a fairly standard petite bourgeois individualized shopkeeper mentality that pervades the blogosphere in general. This is how some blog proprietors make their living or want to make their living, and that is as serious as a heart attack to them. They are not going to put their livelihood or potential livelihood at risk in any way, certainly not in this economy. So they will adopt standard formulae that have proved themselves over the years, they will stick to the norms of the field, and they will discourage anything off that relatively known and narrow road. It is the nature of shopkeeping.

I've got my own little place here on blogtopia, but I'm not doing it to make a living. Blogging is not how I expect to make any income at all, it is -- for me -- a way to record and if anyone is interested, share some of my commentary on history and what's in the news, the various interests I have, travel notes, and what have you. In other words, Ché(What You Call Your)Pasa is a personal... weblog. What a concept.

I'm convinced my days as an activist are mostly over. Been there, done that. Which certainly doesn't mean that anything that needs doing is finished or completed. But there comes a time when you realize there is only so much you can do, and you only have so much time left on this Earth. Priorities. And there comes a time when you realize that your own small contribution to the Whole can probably be done better by someone else. That's a key realization that many Old Farts never make in any field.

There's a tendency in today's activist community to want to endlessly proliferate organizations, to endlessly reorganize existing ones, and to "professionalize" activism. In other words, turn movements into lobbying. As a way to make a living.

You have to constantly recruit. Induce new members to participate, donate, what have you. And divide and subdivide over and over again, to restart the process endlessly. Those who have never done it before, of course, are gratified to finally find something that will "make a difference"; those who have been down this road before are... tired. Well, many are, not all.

I was ruminating on the US Social Forum the other day, for example, and while I genuinely cheer it on, I realized that nearly everything they were set up for -- ie: information sharing and seminars on how to "do" activism itself -- were things I've already done, on a wide range of projects, and while I might be able to contribute some experiential anecdotes and provide some insight into how a Power Structure actually functions, where its weaknesses are, and what the risks are for activists going against it, I realized that I wasn't really keen to do it anymore.

If somebody wants to ask questions or hear me out on some aspect of "making a difference", fine. But otherwise, have at it, kids! Go forth and change the world! You can do it!

Yes, you can.


  1. Dear Che,

    I "discovered" The Realist online archives about a year ago when I was trying to find more information on Mae Brussell's work and found that The Realist had printed some of it.

    I find that when reading at places like The Realist or Shorpy's or the I.F. Stone archives, it's easy to sink into the past for hours at a time. :)

  2. Gwen,

    it's easy to sink into the past for hours at a time. :)

    Absolutely. They are wonderful time sinks.

    One of my favorite guilty pleasures along those lines are the Popular Science and Popular Mechanics archives on Google. I know, it's probably a Guy Thing like the steam-driven farm implements at the fair, but I can spend hours practically devouring the issues from the '20s and '30s.

    Having just discovered The Realist archives, I know I'll be spending way too much time there... ;-)

  3. Oh Che!

    So cruel! I've bookmarked both. I randomly opened one (Feb 1937) and became engrossed in the "all electric" household (reading aloud to husband).

    Thanks for sharing those gems!