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Daniel Jakopovich’s Revolutionary Peacemaking is a fine collection of writings exploring how we can achieve a society of peace and social justice, finds Ellena Plumb-Javed

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Daniel Jakopovich, Revolutionary Peacemaking: Writings for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence (Democratic Thought 2019), 528pp.

Revolutionary Peacemaking: Writings for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence is a brilliant collection of mind-expanding intellectual and academic essays, and beautiful poems, which point the way to liberation from structural and cultural violence.

The book’s author, Daniel Jakopovich, is a sociologist, philosopher, peace poet, and progressive organiser with a long record as a campaigner for peace, social justice, human and animal rights. His radical opposition to oppression and injustice has included years of campaigning against war, militarist and capitalist oppression, Islamophobia, antisemitism and other forms of racism, the oppression of the Palestinian people, the brutal and exploitative treatment of animals, and many other forms of violence and injustice.

One of the opening quotations in Jakopovich’s book is Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement that the creation of a peaceful society ‘will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as quantitative change in our lives.’ As Jakopovich explains, the struggle for change requires a joint emphasis on deep structural change and the simultaneous transformation of people’s consciousness.

Of course, we cannot overcome the world’s problems simply by becoming aware of how our lives are subjected to authoritarian control under the ‘veil of democracy’ (Noam Chomsky). This book helps us to look more broadly, beyond our individual lives and beyond just the West. It draws from the experiences of struggles for a better world from Italy to India, and from South Africa to the UK. It reveals and honours the various aspects of social life that ‘weave a web of bonds across our orb’, as one of his poems puts it. Several of the writings movingly describe the inhumane treatment of the world’s poor and dispossessed, of migrants and refugees, prisoners and other marginalised populations, including the Palestinian people.

War, racism, and authoritarianism

The writings powerfully reveal the viciousness of militarist, neoliberal, and neocolonial violence and exploitation, the crimes of imperialism and capitalism around the world, particularly looking at their horrible and deadly consequences against the people of Africa, the Middle East (including in the article ‘Children as the “Collateral Damage” of the War in Iraq’) and elsewhere as well. The articles also highlight the need to foster global solidarity, compassion, and unity as the crucial antidotes to the forces of brutality and division. These analyses cut through the webs of deceit and confusion which serve to protect the existing state of affairs. For example, writing on anti-Muslim racism, Jakopovich observes:

‘Anti-Muslim racism has largely been stoked by successive governments, right-wing mass media and other elite actors in order to create an ideological climate conducive to the continuation of military interventions in Muslim-majority countries, as well as to support the strengthening of domestic surveillance and state repression, in addition to its more general utility as a vital tool in the repertoire of conservative divide and rule strategies and tactics … The basis of anti-Muslim racism in Britain is the notion that Muslims are both “enemies within” and “enemies from without”, which is an indication that racist violence at home and imperialist violence abroad are inextricably linked. The rise of anti-Muslim racism has also played a major role in generating the mass-scale hostile reactions to the victims of capitalism, violent fundamentalism, authoritarian regimes and imperialist wars - especially against those who have been seeking refuge in Europe and the UK’ (pp. 495-6).

Jakopovich’s humane, paradigm-shifting book can help us to awaken ourselves from this entrenchment of contemporary capitalism that afflicts many aspects of global society. The book explores both the sources and character of systemic violence under contemporary capitalism, as well as the required strategies for transformative progressive change.

In their analysis of contemporary social violence, the writings in the book explore a number of interrelated themes, including the obstacles to the creation of genuine democracy, our various restrictive living and relationship dynamics, conformist education focused on the creation of obedient workers and subjects, manipulative mass media and consumer culture, exploitative economics, and anti-democratic economic and state institutions. Jakopovich shows that these problems connect to many issues such as militarist, imperialist, and racist oppression, as well as the climate crisis, violence against animals, and other alienating and brutal social patterns and structures. In his review of the book in the newsletter of Uniting for Peace Rev. Brian Cooper, Vice President of Uniting for Peace, described it as follows:

‘Manifest compassion for all humanity suffering oppression and exploitation, deeply informed zeal for global socio-economic justice and transformative people power, illuminating discussion of theory and practice of peace-building and great concern for humane treatment of animals – such are key themes of Revolutionary Peacemaking.’

The book is certainly worth reading cover to cover to complete one’s political and philosophical journey as a reader, but it also works well as an excellent reference point once the reader has a general idea of its contents.

The need for a revolutionary movement and organisation

The book lucidly interlinks the above-mentioned themes, and it helps us to conceive of ways of living more peacefully and non-violently in the process of building a revolutionary democratic socialist society. In other words, Jakopovich’s essays go beyond diagnosing the structural and cultural problems that prevent the creation of a just and peaceful society. They also formulate the theoretical and strategic foundations of the progressive struggle for a new, advanced social system.

He emphasises the importance of the revolutionary movement and its organisations being highly organised, better prepared to seize the historical opportunities for radical change, involved in constant education, and focused on empowering its grassroots members. In a series of insightful and learned articles, the book discusses ways in which this can be done by increasing the political capabilities of the progressive grassroots, increasing their level of organisation and independence from attempts to indoctrinate and subjugate them to capitalist, bureaucratic, and other anti-progressive forces.

There are a few key pieces in the book which explore these themes in depth. There is a penetrating study of Gramsci’s theory of democratic social transformation, for example. There is also a 100-page long study of the fascinating and instructive, but ultimately failed attempt to build participatory democratic socialism in the former Yugoslavia. The final article in the book analyses the resurgence of authoritarianism, and paths toward the building of a very different, peaceful, and democratic ecosocialist society.

United fronts for mass action

For Jakopovich, ‘revolutionary peacemaking’ encompasses:

‘the construction of a system of rebellious alliances, broad-based popular non-cooperation with oppressive structures through a wide range of activities culminating in mass and general strikes, through transformative election campaigns and other forms of mass nonviolent intervention, including the construction of a network of (territorially- and work-based) participatory democratic councils and assemblies. Organisations and communities of resistance could thereby overpower the forces of violence and begin to foreshadow and develop the non-oppressive social relationships, resources, structures, processes and systems of the future’ (p.438).

The author also emphasises the major impact of the way the armed forces respond to revolutionary change, and of the way the revolutionaries interact with them, on chances for the revolution’s success.

One of the strengths of the book is that it demonstrates under what circumstances people are able to rediscover their own power and build mass movements that can effectively challenge the power of the ruling system. Jakopovich dedicates a poem to Rosa Luxemburg, perfectly expressing her – and his – views on the need for broad popular self-activity in the process of overcoming the existing oppressive system:

‘Rosa taught that as a young eagle learns to fly by spreading her wings and gathering the sinews in flight, so the people soar only through concentrated efforts at enlightened self-government …’ (p.264).

One of the lasting realisations one is left with from reading Revolutionary Peacemaking is that the transformative journey we must embark upon in order to contribute effectively to the movement as socialists is all encompassing. The paradigm shift that the creation of a stronger revolutionary movement requires needs to encompass both the raising of people’s levels of education and consciousness, as well as engaging in enlightened and skilful action at the grassroots level. There needs to be development of a system of rebellious alliances on which the creation of a peaceful new society depends. Self-governance by the people begins with empowering ourselves as activists, and bravely taking responsibility for our own contribution to achieving a just and peaceful society.

This is a powerful and illuminating book for all those interested in the theory and practice of revolutionary peacemaking.

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