The destruction of the guillotine by the Communards
By Duncan Riley
Most of the essays which I have written over the past few months have grown out of conversations shared with a close friend over dinner. I find that ideas, though they may be interesting when contemplated in solitude, only acquire their true vitality and significance through dialogue with others. Without contact with others, without discussion that refines and clarifies an idea, it becomes a sterile and pointless thing, devoid of any contact with the quotidian struggles of the ordinary workers who every day are making history. However, it is not dialogue alone that breathes life into ideas, but friendship as well. The relationship between close friends is one of deep love and solidarity, one that rejects any selfish instinct and seeks, through mutual support and affection, to propel both friends forward in their social, emotional, and intellectual development. Between friends there can be no inequality or hierarchy, only a complete equality which affirms the liberty and dignity of both, creating a loving and open environment in which both learn from each other. Thus, in friendship the revolutionary finds a small pocket of life where their dreams of a society based upon liberty and equality, in which violence, exploitation, or injustice would be unthinkable, are already a reality. As such, while it may be possible for the revolutionary writer to draw only upon their own mind for their work, I find that my love for humanity and its future can only find a truly meaningful expression through the love that I bear for my friends and that they, in return, bear for me.
There thus exists a fundamental relationship between the love a revolutionary has for their friends and the love they carry for humanity. Camus, touching upon this relationship, explained: “I love a few men, living or dead, with such force and admiration that I am always eager to preserve in others what will someday perhaps make them resemble those I love. Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better, whereas enslavement is a certainty of the worst.” Friendship thus pushes us to assert a dignity which belongs not just to ourselves, but to all humanity. It equally drives us to defend the freedom which is necessary for human dignity to triumph and become the basis of society. Revolutionary friendship is thus one facet of a larger struggle that has been waged across the centuries by the oppressed against the oppressors, the struggle between that which unites humanity in an appeal for our common dignity and that which divides humanity and condemns it to injustice.
This struggle, simply put, is the struggle between Humanity and Inhumanity. Through working and struggling together in complete equality, Humanity ceases to be an abstraction masking the realities of class conflict and oppression, and becomes a vital reality reflecting a human race in harmony both with itself and with nature. Humanity, thus, is that aspect of the human condition that pushes us towards a brighter future, the inclination towards solidarity and love which underlies all social progress and forges a deep social bond which unites our species in a desire for justice and liberty. Inhumanity, on the contrary, can be seen in the systems of imperialism, economic exploitation, racism, and patriarchy that dominate our contemporary society, in all the hierarchies that seek to set one group of humans above another, and the legalized violence which maintains them. Indeed, for any hierarchy, any relation of oppression, “constitutes violence… for it interferes with man’s ontological and historical vocation to become more fully human.” As such, behind the centuries long struggle between the oppressed and the oppressors is the dialectic between Humanity and Inhumanity, the constant tension between the popular masses’ desire to reshape reality and construct a new society through their own efforts, and the need of the ruling classes to dominate, divide, and exploit.
The synthesis of this dialectic will not, however, be found in any notion of a “New Socialist Man,” for such a notion contends that for humans to achieve justice and freedom they must become something other than what they are, and thus is as much a denial and denigration of Humanity as Inhumanity. Certainly, violence and injustice have for centuries been dominating features of the human condition. But human beings have equally demonstrated repeatedly their capacity for profound solidarity, for love, and for self-sacrifice, and it is these values that have guided the masses efforts in every revolution, that underlie the daily practices of mutual aid that combat misery and alienation, and form the very basis of Humanity. Human beings thus already carry within them what is needed for the construction of a just society, all that is necessary is that we affirm all that is good in the human condition and give it an environment in which it can truly flourish. For if, on the other hand, we reject the human species as it is and instead try to force it to become something it is not, we will have rejected the right and ability of the masses to lead the revolution themselves, a negation which can only end in dictatorship and terror.
Consequently, the dialectic between Humanity and Inhumanity must end not in a new humanity but in a new society, one based upon the positive aspects of the human condition rather than the negative. This new society, founded in the active participation of the masses, cannot be built using the institutions of the present society, for states, prisons, and armies serve to transform humans into objects, denying them their agency and turning them into unwilling servants of interests alien to the cause of human emancipation. Social transformation is a task that can only be carried out by subjects, by human beings aware of their collective power and ability to change the world for the better. As such, the new society will be constructed from the bottom up, by ordinary working people who decide to take the revolution into their own hands by forming popular local assemblies, seizing the fields and factories from the bosses, and organizing for the production and distribution of the necessities of life. From this revolutionary action will emerge the new society, held together not by the centralized State but by the free federation of communities across national frontiers. The social revolution, then, seeks not to seize power but rather to give human solidarity the opportunity to rebuild the world on a new foundation. From this we draw one clear lesson — only through action united with love will human dignity finally become the basis of society, and the dialectic between Humanity and Inhumanity be resolved.
Now, it may be useful to return once more to friendship. Friendship alone, of course, is not enough to achieve the revolution. The task that lies before us is too vast, too monumental to be achieved by anything but a broad and dedicated movement of the masses as a whole. Yet, there is still something beautiful in sharing life with another person, in struggling, learning, crying, and laughing together, something that fills my heart with hope for the future. It is this beauty which gives me the strength and the motivation to continue writing, to work together with my friends to make some small contribution to the triumph of Humanity over Inhumanity. Thus, while friendship itself is not the revolution, I still cannot imagine the revolution without my friends beside me, facing the suffering of the world together and shouting into the void, in our rebellion affirming the eventual victory of those few remaining pockets of dignity, love, and hope that refuse to die.
Albert Camus, Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, (New York, NY: A.A. Knopf, 1960), 103.
 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, (New York: Continuum, 1990), 40-41.