Meet me and Maya Zankoul every Friday for your healthy dose of revolutionary stories!
Link: Rev Series on Iloubnan
Chapter 2 now available, with fab illustration from Maya Zankoul! Hope you enjoy!
As of September 1st, I will be living in… Beirut, Lebanon!
I have many ongoing projects there, so please join me on my Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/pages/Paola-Salwan-Lebanese-Author/194530360576882 (or at the bottom of the blog) for updates on:
– The short movie I wrote the short story-turned-script for! I’m incredibly lucky to have been working on this with amazing photographer Lara Zankoul, https://www.facebook.com/larazankoulphotography, who is our art director on this project, and director Naim Clement Jeanbart.
– My upcoming novel, many sneak peeks of you can find on this blog and on the FB page
– The Revolutionary Series, which will be featured very soon on the Lebanese website www.iloubnan.info with a very very special surprise for readers,
and much, much more! Hope to see you on Facebook, and why not, in Lebanon soon!
Chapter 11: On Ideology (Coming back to Bite The Rev in The Ass)
Essentialism, Definition: Essentialism is a generalization stating that certain properties possessed by a group (e.g. people, things, ideas) are universal, and not dependent on context. Needless to say, Comrade Said and the Revolutionary do not approve.
For those of you who follow the hectic life of the Revolutionary, you already know that it’s difficult keeping up with him. The risks of being contaminated are limitless, and soon enough, you will find yourself talking about essentialism, quoting Comrade Said and Comrade Trotsky right, left and center.
However, beware: this isn’t because you’ve actually cracked under the pressure and gave in and started reading the Bible (last time I explain: by Bible, we here mean the Permanent Revolution by Comrade Trotsky and NOT the religious book). This is merely because the Revolutionary repeats the same concepts and arguments so many times that your poor brain has now integrated them effortlessly, and you now dub anything essentialist, reactionary and/or counter-revolutionary 1) just to shut him up and 2) because now, you can.
The Revolutionary isn’t exactly happy about that.
While his mission is indeed to spread the Gospel of the Revolution (No! Not in a religious way! We are not proselytes! What we’re trying to do here is simply awakening and mobilising the masses!), the Revolutionary would like to see dedicated revolutionaries-to-be using these concepts and gathering people, not his entourage recuperating the much beloved revolutionary discourse to have a good laugh.
No no no, this is absolutely NOT going according to plan! This is simply too much to bear for the revolutionary: on the one hand he has his banker friends using the word “struggle” to explain everything and anything, and on the other hand he’s finding his (working in a bank, Great Apostle of Capitalism) sibling explaining his own version of essentialism. As in:
– Revolutionary: Banks are all looking for their own profits while not giving a damn about people! You can’t talk about ethics in the global financial system! The whole system is corrupt and needs change and reform! See where Money Men like you are driving us!
– Capitalist, remaining calm: Are you generalising on bankers? You can’t do that. This is essentialism.
To which the Revolutionary will choke and suffocate on: is the struggle against essentialism being recuperated and used against the noble quest of equality? But, but this is evil! Damn those reactionary counter-revoltuionary forces! They’ve already recycled the Che for mercantile purposes and now that! Such Utter Disgrace!
Once more, the Rev will find himself struggling.
And it’s not like his hardships and hurdles stop there.
Keen to prove he’s a revolutionary each and every steps of the way, there is no worse insult for the Rev than to imply he might not be. As a feminist, you might point out some patriarchal attitudes that remain in the Rev’s behaviour (after all, he IS a man, and society hasn’t left him out of its share of masculine privilege), to which he’ll object, all indignant: I’m a feminist! I’m a revolutionary! I support all oppressed people in the world! Men, Women, Animal! Gender is a social construct! What else can I say?
You might think that’s nice, but try and endure a whole movie in which the main actress fights against patriarchy with the Rev whispering next to you: See, I’m not like that, I’m there for you, I encourage you, I support you huh? huh? huh?
You however feel for the Revolutionary (well, most of the times): Can you imagine the stress and pressure he’s continuously under?
Beware, people: Ideology kills.
Chapter #10: On the Revolutionary’s murky past
The revolutionary would love to believe that he was born with a copy of Das Kapital in the right hand and a copy of the Bible (aka the Permanent Revolution) in the left (what else?) one. Given the present situation of the revolutionary, as in, him living and breathing and talking the Revolution, you would tend to believe it too.
You just could not be more wrong. Being the thorough writer that I am (another myth, perhaps?), I did my very own little research and found out that some God-awful, truly counterrevolutionary actions lie in the realms of the revolutionary murky past. But I’m no one to kiss and tell now am I? Ooooooh right okay, then maybe I am. If he asks, you did not get this from me. I’d probably quite literally never ever hear the end of it. “How could you?!!!! I mean, this has ruined my Rev Cred for life! And by the way, you’re just misinformed, this did not happen this way, nothing is black and white and you can explain my actions through the power struggles over the means of production blah blah blah”.
Brother, you won’t ideologise yourself out of that one.
The revolutionary hasn’t always been a real one. Not if you count working for a bank as an utmost counter revolutionary act anyway. Now the revolutionary will most likely tell you he worked – oh ever so briefly- in a bank to study the evil capitalist system up close. See, to counter the awful oppressive system, you need to know it inside out, he’ll argue. Elaborate your strategy based on a thorough study of your enemy and all that. That what he’ll tell you anyway. Clearly explained as it may, you still have some strong doubts regarding the credibility of these assertions. You’re much more leaning towards a much simpler, much straightforward interpretation: He did it (Oh Forgive him, Comrade Trotsky, for he knew not what he did) for the money and the women. Which he’ll deny, naturally. Don’t be fooled, you’ll have the pictures to prove it anyway.
Wanna be banker is not the only suspicious label that revolutionary sported. Once upon a time, the Rev thought he was P-Diddy (or Puff Daddy, as he was called back in the days), the same way he now thinks he’s Comrade Trotsky. He used to sing along to “I need a girl”, dress in bizarre outfits (baggy sweat pants tucked – er, why?- in a sock, yes, just one, for asymmetry or something), make all sorts of weird hip gestures with his hands and refer to women using interesting slang words that my feminist conscience forbids me to use, overally thinking he was IT. Money and bling do occupy the Revolutionary’s past, much to his desolation and despair, and no matter how passionately he will try and make you think all these things never happened, that he’s a feminist and a humanist, do not believe him. Yes people, the Rev used to be a lost cause, but one day, his path crossed Comrade Said’s, and he was Born Again.
So what happened there? How does one turn from banker/lover to Revolutionary? Was the revolutionary struck by Trotsky lightning one night, making him realise J-Lo and P-Diddy bling was utterly oppressive to the people and he had to lose the gold jewellery, spiky hair and pseudo East Coast codes and replace them with the Bible and a Kuffiyeh? We might never know, but we can always thank Comrade Trotsky for making the revolutionary stop thinking he can rap, thus liberating the people from awful sound pollution. Now he just sings l’Internationale, all signs of complicated hands gestures vanished, his fist pointed to the sky, the sickle and hammer shining in his feverish eyes.
You honestly don’t know what you prefer.
Chapter #9: On Fashion and Entertainment
The revolutionary keeps saying it: you need to get to the people. The people! Ah, the revolutionary gets such a rush at this word! It’s almost as if Comrade Trotsky was rising up from his ashes. But not quite, let’s not get carried away.
In order to get to the people, you of course need to go where they are. That could be a mosque, a church, or any other public space where the people are many and, according to what the Revolutionary believes, impatiently waiting to be saved by the Gospel (By Gospel, we mean: The Communist Manifesto, the Permanent Revolution and he would even throw something from Nietzsche if you show enough aptitudes).
This is why, in order to expand his constituency – sorry, silly me, his membership of brave Comrades- the revolutionary will need to get out and visit people in their places of worships, mostly bars and clubs and pubs. The revolutionary would of course rather, in order of preference: 1) be held by secret services while trying to go through the Rafah crossing (Amazing! such close encounter with the conservative oppressive forces! Such proof that the revolution is what we need!), 2) Stand on a picket line with his Comrades by minus 14 in London, occupying some university or other and 3)Stay at home with Comrade Trotsky, Comrade Marx, Comrade Said and Comrade Achkar, a poster of El Hakim hanging in front of him.
In any case, if no police brutality or demonstration is in sight, the revolutionary will put on his best attire just up and get out in the glittery bourgeois wilderness. This is how it would usually go: by best attire, the revolutionary will mean his uniform. A pair of jeans and a t-shirt. The t-shirt can not be turquoise or mauve or green. Such bourgeois colors. Only utilitarian colors shall be admitted.: black, white. brown. Even gray is questionable. The revolutionary doesn’t care much about fashion, takes “fashion-impaired” (something you call him quite often) as a compliment, and thinks Anna Wintour is, well, he doesn’t give her much thought anyway, she hasn’t written anything worthy and was Rosa Luxembourg’s companion? No?.
So there he goes, all decked out in his finest stakhanovist clothes, oblivious of your pleading: Let me iron it! No! You don’t have to! I’m not a bourgeois chauvinist pig! Tayb iron it yourself! No! Waste of time! Fashion is the biggest form of oppression anyway! HUGE impacts on body image! Loads of work force that are exploited throughout the world! How can you sleep at night? No need to tell him you don’t really, you hit your head on the corner of the bloody Russian revolution last night and it nearly gave you a concussion.
The revolutionary therefore finds himself in a bar: scenario 1: he’s with Comrades. The evening flows on pleasantly, you know the usual, Trotsky is God, how can you say that, God is dead, Nietszche killed him, and don’t be a reactionary, and everything is imperialism and everyone is an essentialist anyway.
Scenario 2: The revolutionary is among regular people, for whom the Bible is thet history of that old bearded guy (NO! NOT HIM!) and for whom Trotsky is a not particularly liked old remnant of high school. The revolutionary therefore sees the opportunity for sharing the Gospel. He will approach, dancing in a way that resembles your father’s (you KNOW what I mean, arms astretch, hand in fists, pounding the air thinking he’s IT) (the revolutionary only dances well the Dabke, taught to him by Palestinian Comrades somewhere between a refugee camp in Nablus and Gaza). He’ll then start talking: slowly, people will turn green, then grey, then blue. Whispers of “make it stop” and “shut him up” might hit your ears. You think you’ve overheard a guy screaming: Aboussss allah wlak SKOT!!!!! (that might be one of his friend, a Rafeeq perhaps)
At the end of the evening, some might even mention razor blades, to kill themselves or him, you do not know.
The revolutionary will go home, happy to have shared yet a part of the progressive wisdom and imparted positive change on this world. He’ll turn on his music, not the savage music he’s just spent the evening enduring, but normal music, like Comrade Ziad and Comrade Marcel and the Jabha (cha3biyeh) finest.
You’ll just look at him, decked out in your finest late of fashion peg pants and 12 cm heels. Strangely proud of his integrity. Pathetic.
Chapter 8: On Comrades, Concepts and Bad Days
The revolutionary tends to mostly be a happy go lucky kind of person. He has to, for the revolution couldn’t possibly be carried by negative, all-year-round miserable people: there needs to be enthusiasm in the struggle! Fiery passion when singing l’Internationale! Motivation in the picket lines! Not to mention the fact that you need quite the nervous system to bear all the (minor, he’ll tell you) setbacks the global, permanent revolution has had to endure since Comrade Marx published his Manifesto. No, the revolution is a positive person kind of job, no time for whiny bourgeois spoiled brats.
However, and despite contradicting evidence, the revolutionary is human and has sometimes some down days, or less chirpy moments. You see, it sometimes hits the revolutionary that some Great Comrades are no longer with us (please note: it is believed that revolutionaries never die, for their struggle survives them, so we’re only talking here about mere physical absence). The revolutionary will be happily reading the Bible (The Permanent Revolution, of course) or the Sequel to the Bible (The Russian Revolution, what else?) (I hope by now you do realise that both are from Comrade Trotsky), he’ll be nodding in approval of every word, muttering under his beard “See! When you read the Russian Revolution, you find all the features we’re encountering right now in the Arab Spring! This is why Comrade Trotsky is so relevant! This is why he’s so unbelievably great!” And then it hits him. Comrade Trotsky is long gone. The Revolutionary will never be able to shake his hand, talk with him about the permanent revolution, or even organise a little demo with him.
That saddens the revolutionary. Sighing, he’ll go back to his readings, a heaviness to his heart.
Of course, the revolutionary doesn’t only miss Comrade Trotsky. Comrade Habash for example is another much loved comrade, one that the revolutionary only thinks highly of. Oh! To have shared, if only briefly, an escape from a Syrian prison with al Hakim!
Alas, this will never be. *More sighing*
Thankfully, the revolutionary finds solace in toying with Concepts and badgering you all day long with them, waiting for you at the corner of politically and revolutionary correct, so much so that you’ll weigh every word carefully before you let them go out of your mouth (as if). For examples, you’re not allowed to generalise some people under “The Arabs blah blah blah”. That’s orientalism. Comrade Said said so. And you’re not allowed to compare people “The Arabs” vs “Westerners”. That’s orientalism in reverse. Comrade Said said so too. Even if it’s only to say “The Arabs put more spices in their dishes than Westerners”. How do you know? How can you generalise, stigmatise, reduce peoples like that? And then he starts its rant, where you’re usually featured as an evil product of bourgeois narrow-mindedness, when really you were just cooking, making your life a living hell.
You’re not living with a revolutionary for nothing. You do remember the slogan “one solution, revolution!”. You hence rebel. You’ll have to. Survival Skills. Just tell him he’s oppressing you by correcting every word you say, violating your basic rights, being uttely machist and conservative, all of which SUPREMELY COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY.
No bigger insult than being called counter-revolutionary. That ought to send him back to his readings, sulking, while you can go back to being your orientalist, reverse-orientalist, conservative self.
Now don’t tell me I ain’t doing anything to help you cope with living with a revolutionary!
Chapter 7: On Housework
As most progressive people, the revolutionary is a firm believer in gender equality: abolition of all kinds of inequalities and all that, how could he not?
Therefore, the revolutionary will be committed to do his share of the Housework. After all, if you’re living together, it’s only fair right? Right.
To your utter dismay, you’ll soon realise the revolutionary has quite a different take on housework than yours (you personnally blame your mother, a woman for whom cleaning vegetables involved bleach:What? I don’t see the problem! What, it’s not good for your health? It’s really good! Kills all bacteria! All those doctors are just a bunch of liars! One drop I tell you, only one drop!).
You see, let us not forget the ULTIMATE aim of the revolutionary, which is, well, the Revolution. Everything is seen as the good old superstructure, some unnecessary decorative materials with no influence whatsoever on their surroundings.
Sadly for you, that includes housework. The revolutionary will therefore happily throw his clothes on the floor without further ado. Fold them? But why? Why would I fold things when I could use this precious time to re-read the Russian Revolution by Comrade Trotsky, my Beloved? (Trotsky, not you).
Making beds in every way possible except the most widely admitted way is a national sport for the revolutionary, who will tell you the bundle of sheets in the middle of the room is “contemporary art”. Until this day, you curse the hour you took him to that museum: he may have detested it (Such bourgeois concept! such uselessness”Art for art’s sake! what utter decadent bullshit!) but he sure remembered a thing or two. Thanks for nothing, Marcel Duchamp.
Same goes for cooking: do not, at any point, trust the Revolutionary when he tells you he cooks. To him, cooking is just plonking a chicken in a Teflon pan and putting it in the oven. Yes. The Teflon pan. With the plastic handles. Yes. Those which melt in the oven. Don’t even bother to start asking questions: I don’t get you! What’s wrong? Isn’t the chicken cooked? It is, isn’t it? Isn’t that the whole point?
Such desarming logic, you’ll be at a loss to find a proper answer to that.
The issue will become even greater as your home will grow into the HQ of the Global Revolution, filled with bearded, bespectacled Comrades eager to get food for the spirit discussing the United Front vs the Popular Front tactics, and food for their stomachs, which would not even go anywhere near Teflon Chicken.
You might not have read the whole Permanent Revolution, but Miss Beauvoir’s your pal and it will have to be stated quite clearly that male chauvinistic pig is not a good label for a revolutionary. People, pay attention, for this is important: when hitting a sticky patch with the revolutionary, resort to ideology, The power it’llgive you will be infinite, bless those oblivious righteous GodFathers Marx, Engels and Trotsky.
Armed with his good will (I am a Feminist! He’ll say proudly), he will go out of his way to make a point in doing his share, acknowledging you do more, pledging to increase the amount of tasks. Unfortunately, you’ve learnt the hard way good will, Teflon pans and Comrade Trotsky were not a good match. You will outline a to do list of manageable things that’ll prevent the house for burning down and, your mind rested, will settle yourself behind your own books and computer, blissfully oblivious of any weird noise, curses and swears emanating from the disaster area.
You sometimes wonder where would communism be if Karl had changed the diapers of the six children and Jenny had sat down and wrote Das Kapital.
Chapter 6: The Bookshelf
The revolutionary is a tricky specie.
I mean, you’d think that if you scratched a bit the whole If-God-Existed-He-Would-Be-Trotsky varnish, you’d find a regular human being beneath.
How odd that you can still fall for this even after all my teachings on living with a Revolutionary.
When most people these days care about cars and mortgages and flashy watches and Kim Kardashian’s bum, the revolutionary will not even be aware that these things exist (except maybe for KK’s derriere, after all he IS human, even though you have doubts sometimes, no one could read that much without giving themselves a huge headache but anyway). The revolutionary will still wear the same watch he has worn since he was 12, nevermind that it’s a Flik Flak, Pah Comrade Marx did not even have enough money to eat, let alone have a watch, he’ll barely notice what car he drives, you know as long as the brakes work, who cares really? and he’ll definitely look at you with blank eyes if you tell him about the latest gossip you’ve just read in Hello magazine!
Furthermore, he might be as rude as telling you what you’re reading is utter crap and a violation of people’s rights and a mere product of a derelict society that’s trying to numb people senseless into buying things they don’t need. Won’t even partake in the last test you’ll found: Are your thighs too big? (The answer will always be yes and you”ll always finish it feeling inadequate and wanting to buy useless serums and this is why it’s an exploitation of the female’s body….Aaaaaaarrrrgh Sorry the Revolutionary had momentarily taken possession of my body and spirit)
To which you’ll buy Cosmo just to prove a point. The revolutionary is extremely hard headed and you’ll need to pick your battles. Don’t ever let go of your magazines, even though you agree with him. Develop your survival skills, and not only for the undercover struggle and dangerous situations.
The revolutionary is not adapted to the world we live in: he therefore wants to change it. Whether he’s right or not is not the question: the real issue is how you bring him out in public outside of the Comrade Comfort zone, for the revolutionary considers each second away from his beloved Comrades an utter waste of time that is probably impeding the revolution of going forward. All of this because you wanted to get food! Food! I ask you! While the whole world is waiting! While we have everything we need at home! (Note: while the Revolutionary is perfectly capable of setting up a picket line in under 5 minutes or to rustle up a demo (he loves this word, such a rush!) in just about 5 seconds, the revolutionary is at a complete loss when it’s time for social obligations: tie? what tie? leave me alone! another bourgeois diktat!)
And by “everything at home”, please understand not meat or vegetables but food for the spirit, as in, The Permanent Revolution, Contemporary Arab Thought, the COMPLETE works of Edward Said (a Much Loved Comrade that you’ll soon curse: What you’re saying is PURE orientalism, just go and Read Comrade Said! he’ll say more often than you care to mention). Indeed, as much as the revolutionary loves to eat (ah, to each man his weakness), he’s not interested in the process to get food. It’s the company that counts:the more the Comrades, the Merrier and all that. No, the Revolutionary is a man of (too?) many words, and he’ll love to be surrounded by them.
ENTERS: THE BOOKSHELF.
Listen very carefully. The revolutionary is perfectly comfortable taking off his shirt and throwing it on the floor, after all it’s just a SHIRT and is not relevant to the revolution, however, he will be nothing short of erecting an electric fence to protect his precious bookshelf. The bookshelf will of course only comprise revolutionary and in-depth authors, carefully ordered by political currents, so if you were looking for something light (you’re thinking Confessions of a Shopaholic) , the revolutionary will simply hand you The Communist Manifesto. What? It’s not long! And it’s the basis! It makes for light reading! And look it’s even funny!
You still don’t get how exactly it’s funny. You strongly suspect he only said that to lure you into reading it (which of course you did, but will never admit. Let’s not encourage such behaviours)
The Bookshelf is divided between: Already Read Books (usually under two days for about 800 pages) and Books to Read. There are obscure sub categories that only he understands, and he’d be more than happy to explain them to you except that you’ve threatened to slash your wrists with a rusty tuna can if he tried.
Sometimes, you’ll find the revolutionary gazing dreamily at the collection, his head cocked on one side as if to lovingly watch a child sleep except they’re BOOKS, and mutter to himself: so many books to read, I can’t wait. Picture Golum and his precious. Yep, you’re not far.
You think he’ll wait to read them before getting new ones? You’re sad. Soon enough, between History of Hezbollah and George Habash: A True Comrade, you’ll see Che Guevara: The Early Years, the Awakening of the Revolutionary Conscience in Three Easy Steps and Evil Capitalist Plots: Down with Everything. You’re developing quite the relationship with your postman.
Soon enough, there might be, esconded behind the Bible, the Centerpiece of the Bookshelf, aka The Permanent Revolution By Comrade Trotsky, well, How To Live With A Revolutionay Withour Losing Your Head.
Chapter 5: On conferences and public speaking
The revolutionary absolutely loves public speaking, for where else would he get the training for his opening speech when the revolution is finally victorious and the Proletariat has finally taken over? Hence the revolutionary thrives to be ready for such instances at all times.
The training starts in front of his mirror, while getting ready in the morning: After singing himself hoarse l’Internationale (for more on that, please see here) the revolutionary will really get into business and start drafting (loudly) his first address to whatever people he has chosen on that particular day (Not that it matters, really, we are just one big people, united by the STRUGGLE). Be prepared to be in extremely close acquaintance with this word, for you will hear it. Quite a lot. As in “The struggle is at the core of our struggle against evil bourgeois domination and controle of production means, we have to struggle to win the struggle for controls over our resources, while struggling all the more for the struggle”. Okay then.
The revolutionary will take all these good practices to the various events he’s invited to speak at. Rule n°1: the event needs to be organised by Comrades and like minded people, for the revolutionary doesn’t care much about normalisation, be it with the Zionist enemy or with the Bourgeois entities. You’ll soon find yourself in Union retreats (where nobody, and I say that with love but still, absolutely nobody will refer to you as something else than a Comrade, which will cause minor personality disorders to you, such as running to get your AK-47 and not finding it, but anyway). You’ll also develop a thorough knowledge of Popular Universities, bookshop basements, remote conference rooms in remote locations, in any case, far from the plush cosiness of a proper conference room of a proper hotel. Pah, you should get rid of your extravagant bourgeois taste. The revolutionary will start his speech with words of thanks, and then literally launch himself into the subject, full of fiery passion, getting all worked up, waving his hands in all directions to enhance his point, annontated papers flying about, a pen in his hand: “It IS imperialism! We shall REFUSE it! WE shall STRUGGLE together to reach our ultimate aim! And when the struggle is over we should struggle even more!”,the whole thing punctuated with theoretical quotes to build is rev-cred.
The revolutionary will slowly start growing his (well earned)reputation as a public speaker and will therefore be invited to participate and speak in other countries, his enthusiasm once more hardly understandable to you: How impossibly great! I’m invited to go speak at the Workers’ University of Tadjikistan! Amazing! I shall start translating the Bible (i.e. The Permanent Revolution from Comrade Trotsky) right away! Should you decide to accompany the revolutionary, you will do so at your own risk, meaning: you will first and foremost remind him of all the countries he’s banned from entering (remember all those articles? Well they WERE widely shared), you will then stress at borders (you never know when he might get banned again), you will run from Istanbul to London to watch him be part of a panel, in a word, you’ll be exhausted, while the revolutionary will be happily humming all along, deeply engrossed in the arguments he’s going to present, oblivious of all the menacing stares and questions of the officers eyeing his passport as if it were a particularly dangerous nuclear artefact. Ah, don’t worry, they’re oppressed too and need to come to our side, they’ll see sense. Errrr. No.
The revolutionary is also a keen follower of conferences, where he usually scares panelists with remarks ranging from “you’re a collaborator and a traitor to the cause” to “your argument could be good but is sadly flawed”. The terrifying effect of the revolutionary’s comments usually strike everyone except him: What? What did I say? Look, he’s grateful, he gave me his card and told me I should contact him, we’re going to work together for the struggle.
We never said living with a revolutionary was an easy task now did we? Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to look up those two men who attented the last conference, to check from what secret services they were. Let’s get banned again!