HOW TO TELL WHEN THE REBELS HAVE WON
Talk is territorial. It is as significant and systemic in politics as it is in poetry, in the rhetoric of nation building as in sexual liberation. Talk talking formalizes alliances, and that is what I intend to do here. I am writing between great and radical influences- ‘my one true hero’ Eqbal Ahmad and my experiences in contemporary feminist genderqueer life- to declare the necessity of their coalition. I write to explicitly align this community of readers with the tumultuous potential of my mentor’s 1965 treatise on Revolutionary Warfare. Grounded in this text we will consider ethical aesthetic practices, the “vicious logic of escalation,” struggles for justice, tactics for victory, rebellion for the hell of it, moral alienation, and when to forgo known structures and organize your own.
Most fundamental to Eqbal’s project is to contradict the rhetoric that revolutionary activities are simply ‘destructive and not constructive’. He emphasizes the primacy of politics in assuring popular support for the guerillas and moral isolation of the enemy. He advocates that we “out-administer” instead of outfight and build “parallel hierarchies” to satisfy the needs of the people. This systematic rebuilding of public institutions is the site of my interest and introduction of aesthetics and queer rebellion.
My project here as an interlocutor is based on my desire to make Eqbal’s analysis transferable to additional domains of inquiry. I had the privilege to know and study with Eqbal in what turned out to be the last years of his life. I was overwhelmed with love and admiration for him. Essentially, I had a crush on him. Perhaps this writing is just the classic maneuver of bringing your desired love object closer to you, but truly I think there is more to it. Eqbal believed in justice, rebellion, democracy and education and dedicated his life to the advancement of each. I meet his political convictions and walk them towards my own queer tenets and aesthetic practice. Along this path we find Jean Genet idling below some trees in Palestine. And I begin the transgression to aesthetics that has shadowed this talk of revolution.
Hand in hand as we go, our steps leaving the trace of this triangulation, we create the image of alliance and border crossing that is integral to all our beliefs. Genet, the rageful mythic queer thief playwright beacon, throwing light onto the primacy of image as Eqbal narrates the “primacy of political factors” in assuring popular support for the struggle. I, between them, am listening for the poetry that would elegantly align ‘guerillas’ and ‘genderqueers’ in this demonstration.
Eqbal was informed by personal experience in Algeria, India, and Pakistan and in-depth studies of postcolonial struggles throughout the world. His text is an analysis of the United States’ misdirected polices towards revolutionary fighters in Vietnam. It was written for an American audience at a time when there was not yet a national anti-war movement. I revisit this text, and ask you to do so as well, so that we may inhabit an analysis which could have drastically changed America’s post-war policies toward postcolonial states. For since he wrote this piece America has only continued to maneuver from intellectually defensive, strategically aggressive, ill-informed positions that have disregarded indigenous populations and local logics in favor of crushing neo-colonial global capital.
I also return to this text to read his analysis as a process of history and to address the “vicious logic of escalation” that passes for a dialectic in our anti-intellectual culture. His analysis is a process in which the subjects of history are honored ahead of the needs of the state. It is a positive model that clearly articulates a tactical path to righting persistent wrongs and combating the “myths and methods” of repressive policies. There is room in this philosophy to change your mind, alter course and admit wrongdoing. Eqbal’s analysis does not compromise itself to become more feasible or palatable. In fact, its strength lies in its determination to confront simultaneous injustices.
The real work we walk is done on the level of representation – representation of the image of ourselves and representation of the struggle for the redistribution of wealth and power that we demand. The process of creating these images is where I believe the form of Eqbal’s analysis becomes valuable. It is a rigorous ethical research and experience based procedure that gives precedence to the subjects of history with no capitulation to power, and no place in the analysis that reveals an eventual consolidation of power or image. It is a practice that constantly reexamines the forces acting on people, movements, history, and memory. It advocates porous boundaries and a radical process of becoming.
I mark this as an integral intersection of the alliance. Rebellion is not just territorial — it’s ideological, sexual, political, and perpetual. In this confluence we experience the radical nature of Eqbal’s analysis. But this is also the juncture at which our triangulation grows another thesis. For the relation between queer rebellion and national liberation has its limitations. The non-teleological course of queer rebellion is not equivalent to the dialectical progression that ends in a rebel victory parade. Although nation building has been a strategic trend in the past decades, I submit that many struggles are defined as much by language and tradition as by geography. What I have argued here is that Eqbal’s analysis in “Revolutionary Warfare” is valuable to deconstructing the “myths and methods” of all oppressive institutions. A commitment to this radical analysis that never loses sight of its object — social justice and the right to self-determination — can help us re-imagine herstory.
The gendered guerilla poetry returns in order to juxtapose symbolic and generative language to Eqbal’s call for “alternative hierarchies.” Alternative models of production and display abound in contemporary culture and media – our minds flood with images of drag and ‘the wrong gallery’ – but let’s destabilize ‘alternative hierarchies’ to mean even the units of language through which we must articulate our resistance. For we will know when the rebels have won when the language in which we describe ourselves is not situated in relation to lack or hegemonic morality. Our collectivity is communicability, and this struggle rests in the predominance of inadequate vocabularies to articulate our pleasures and complexities, and in social conditions that punish deviant and poetic identities.
Alongside the constant reexamination of our condition and strategy as Eqbal indicates, there needs to be a constant articulation of the oppositional identities that will never cease to be the thorn of the rose is a rose. We need to escape the insidious logic of escalation! ‘Queer Rebellion’ is the one that never stops. It was the force that drove Genet from Paris, to the Panthers and Palestine. It is a drive with no single object holding court for too long. With simultaneous desires and drives acting through the perverted subjects of this alliance we have the ability to confront the multifaceted war of our generation. We must focus on image and process as relates to the production of our constituencies to gain agency and articulate themselves through rebellion.
1 There is no unfurling of Eisensteinian banners reading, “Long Live the Provisional Government” in this revolutionary narrative.
2 This reminds me of a passage from Genet’s “Prisoner of Love” when he delineates Hitler’s and then Arafat’s “inexorable duty every morning” of becoming the symbol expected, making the effort “in the darkness of the body – in order to look always the same to others and to your self.”
3 There are several contemporary artists whose projects perform this work. Engaging with history and social movements to create a paradigmatic shift in the presentation of images. Notably Walid Raad, Kara Walker, Sharon Hayes, and Harrell Fletcher. Harrell Fletcher’s recent project, “The American War” literally re-photographs a Vietnamese museum and with very little intervention on his part capsizes the American imagination of our “Vietnam War.” Although ‘Vietnam’ was a war in images for the American public, Fletcher’s re-presentation shifts the subject position to the Vietnamese citizen, not the grieving mother or enraged hippy.