The Long Revolution
By Raymond Williams
Review by Dr. Herbert L. Calhoun
Raymond Williams, a British scholar born in my generation, has written an important book that was well ahead of its time. The book’s title "The Long Revolution" is a concept not a description. It makes the radical claim that revolutions are an organic component of cultural functioning, that they inhere in the deepest social structures of a culture. In short, revolutions are "cultural productions" based on deep feelings within a society.
According to him, the absolute test by which a revolution may be distinguished is the change in the form of activity that gets played out in a given society. The mere incorporation of new wine in old bottles, or new men into existing economic, political and social structures, even when accompanied by calculated improvements (often designed only as palliatives), does not a revolution make. The structures and correlates of power, as well as the relationships between peoples, must also change.
In the end, Williams' concept of a "Long Revolution" is a claim about the "multi-generational cultural project" as it is expressed through committed action to change the existing structures of society. It is about the wholeness of committed actions as an organized social process.
The idea that all revolutions are long-term systemic processes that historically have consumed, and continue to consume our existence, is a difficult notion to get our post-modern minds around. Yet, according to Williams: "we are within the revolution and it is within us." It shapes our every experience. Even the ideas we use to describe revolutions are affected by the ongoing organic revolutionary process.
Arguably, as confusing as his analysis may seem to the post-modern mind, a systemic vantage point of the modernist conception of revolution is very much needed in our times. And for that reason alone, Williams' treatise deserves a place in the annals of great theories of revolution.
As an explanation of a generalized cultural phenomenon, it compares favorably with that of other contemporary theorists of revolutions, such as Herbert Marcuse's concern that capitalist forms of technological entertainment and commodification are just new forms of social control. Marcuse's ideas of course dovetail well with Sheldon Wolin's more recent idea of our democracy being more of a top-down managed counter-revolution under an inverted capitalist-run totalitarian state system.
Together, these ideas in my mind only hark back to Ernest Becker's far-reaching idea that the cultural structures we see today -- especially within capitalist democracies -- have their origins deep inside the longest-running counter-revolution of them all, the system of European Feudalism. And therefore one might logically conclude that the end of Becker's theorizing is that all modern revolutions, ultimately are only either counter-revolutions designed to maintain their respective feudal characteristics in a long-term steady-state, or, are desperate efforts to finally completely destroy the remaining remnants of the feudal structures themselves.
Becker's idea is certainly one that deserves re-visiting in light of post-modern revolutionary thinking.
The activist/scholar, Chris Hedges, has had a lot to say about the possibilities of the "old fashion "short quick revolution," the one with which we all think we are already familiar. However, Hedges' treatment, rather than a full-blown theoretical analysis, is more a post-modern lament, an essay, as it were, on what must be done next to foment a proper post-modern democratic revolution. His analysis presupposes an urgent need for "a more proper" American Revolution and therefore is not to be dismissed.
Together, thoughts by these men, raise an interesting point that lurks unexamined in the background of Raymond Williams' thinking: In the West, while we on the left have been concerned with revolutions, the real controlling powers, at least since the Feudal era, have always been towards counter-revolutionary forces, not towards revolutionary forces.
And if we follow the thinking of another Marxist-trained theorist, Gerald Horne, of the University of Houston, a new picture of America that summarizes all of these ideas, begins to come into focus: America as a nation has been engaged in a long counter-revolution. The U.S. has never been anything but a counter-revolutionary nation!
How do we get from Raymond William's Long Revolution, to Horne's view of America as a "Long Counter-revolutionary nation?
We do so in the following way. If we couple Gerald Horne's treatise in one of his most recent books, "The Counter-revolution of 1776," with John Conolly's U-tube video called "JFK to 911: Everything is a Rich Man's trick," a new picture of America emerges, as a nation engaged in a Long Counter-Revolution.
The reader may recall that Horne makes a convincing case that the "so-called" American Revolution, was little more than a counter-revolution to avoid the tax bill due the colonists as a result of the French-Indian war, where Britain had cleared the continent of all European rivals; and to ignore the prohibition against further western expansion into Indian country imposed by the Treaty of Paris; as well as to avoid the impending prohibition against slavery in all British colonies.
There was nothing particularly revolutionary about welching on one's war debt, violating an international treaty, or going against the grain and retaining men in bondage when the rest of the world was busy freeing them? Each of these was a profoundly counter-revolutionary act.
Compare this to John Conolly's U-Tube video, where he convincingly shows that two hundred years later, a cabal of about twenty powerful reactionary men plotted and skillfully carried out the treasonous assassination of JFK in order to, among other things, continue the Vietnam War, avoid JFK's rapprochement with the USSR and Cuba, and to stop progress on Civil Rights for African Americans.
Again, each of these is a profoundly counter-revolutionary, rather than a revolutionary act.
Like the small group of men who met behind closed doors in Philadelphia to plot the expulsion of Britain from the North American continent, the twenty men who met at Clint Murchinson's Dallas mansion on 21 November 1963, also had only counter-revolutionary thoughts on their minds. And as a challenge, I defy anyone who wishes to connect the dots between 1775 Philadelphia, and 1963 Dallas, to find a single revolutionary act committed by the US government. Five Stars
Editor's note: This review was written by Dr. Herbert L. Calhoun and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.