Chelsea Manning keeps on giving and has yet to ask anything in return. A valuable debate has emerged on identity and class in the progressive cloister.
The Chelsea declaration stumped me at first and I’d be a lesser man if I did not put my hand up to a spate of eye-rolling and a rather pedestrian collapse into ‘what the fuck has that got to do with anything’ thinking. Behold, my ever so progressive consciousness had snagged on something.
Now this might be a legacy of being raised as a manful manly man/geezer bloke. Or a counter intuitive backlash against having a strong working class mother and a father who was no less progressive for recalling Grizzly Adams. Perhaps it is due to having been a soldier and all that comes with that fun gig, or having seen the destruction which can emerge from starting and ending your worldview with yourself and screeching tearfully about it in political meetings. Finding out is an on-going process.
But it’s a cast iron fact that for about half an hour I lumped this monumentally courageous coming out with the whiny, dead-end ‘me and my gang’ activism which, partially by neoliberal design, shackles, atomises and frustrates the superior and sorely needed art of rousing great, roaring hordes.
Exercising my near supernatural talent for whimpering regret and hindsight, I recognized I was incorrect and was thus handed a heady dose of self-knowledge by Chelsea Manning. All the better to address a stump of prejudice which, while worn down enough to be forgotten for a time, remains lodged in the brains of chappish chaps under capitalism.
On reflection, and by shameless leeching of the insights of some weightier brained and arguably less belligerent thinkers, I see that this individual, even on the grandest stage on earth that day, simply will not stay down on her knees as instructed and that is what’s important.
To be imprisoned, tortured, slandered and slurred, tried with vindictive bias for being true to your duty (military and moral), then told you will be interned for a ridiculous length of time and to then define yourself upon the very stand you were just damned on takes not only courage but a measure of panache.
Chelsea’s declaration, at that grim, beleaguered juncture, was mad-brave and noble and smacked of the kind of defiance found rarely and at places like Thermopylae – a thumb bitten not just at her enemy, but at our mutual one and to all the vileness and chauvinism and bigotry that foe puts into us. You might be bent on crushing me, she seems to say, but you will know who I am while you attempt it.
Far from exercising a set of politics wherein it all starts and end with the big, fat ‘ME’, Manning, more than any other individual lately, has conquered the micro and the macro.
That said, while individual resistance is very eye-catching and endlessly appealing to any passing liberal who is in a leftish phase that week, it does not resolve the contradictions which give us war, or oppression, or exploitation.
That class continues to take primacy is so clear it ought to be counted as mere good sense. The rest can only be grappled with and resolved under that umbrella… shit bust, that’s it, suck it up, embrace this grind or leave the matted area. But this reality, as hard as it can be for some folks to digest, does nothing to diminish Chelsea Manning’s contribution to, and I say it without irony, world peace.
I will continue to treat those versions of identity politics which are soggy and abstract, middling and liberal, with even-handed fairness (read: un-gently) which I have come to know is just, right and required. As any of a recent hit list of the bristling non-entities who alluded to my supposed ‘white male sexist Marxist colonizer’ attitude will attest. That is, if the authorities ever find where I am keeping them…
But for now I’m off to skim Henri Charriere’s Papillon, a superb prison book which, incidentally, I read in prison during what looks and feels to me today like a custodial sentence spanning entire microseconds. I will leave you, rugged man-brothers, with a final thought now I have finished sieving this piece for misplaced ‘he’s’, which are never to be uttered again. Can there ever be enough anti-war women? I suspect not.