Now, revolution means activating the emergency brake

The following pertinent phrase is attributed to Karl Marx: «the only revolutions that are made are those that happen». That is, a revolution does not occur as a subjective and voluntary act. When that happens, it is soon defeated, for being immature and inconsistent.  A revolution takes place when conditions are objectively mature, and the people simultaneously have the subjective desire for it. Then, it bursts forth, with the possibility, not always secure, of triumph and consolidation.

We may presently have all the objective conditions for a revolution. Revolution is thought of here in its classic meaning, as a change in the overall goals of a society, that creates the means necessary to attain them, which implies a change in the social, judicial, economic and spiritual structure of that society.

Today the general degradation of almost every aspect, especially in the natural infrastructure that sustains life, is so profound that, by itself, it requires a radical revolution. Otherwise, we could be too late and witness ecological-social catastrophes of magnitudes never before experienced in human history.

But there does not yet exist in the “holders of power”  a subjective consciousness of this urgency. They do not want it. They prefer to maintain their power, even at the risk that they themselves may succumb to an eventual Armageddon. The Titanic is sinking, but their obsession with profit is so great that they continue buying and selling jewels as if nothing were happening.

The “revolutions” are generally created by the powerful, who act before the oppressed do, saying, as is usually done in Brazil: «let us make a revolution before the people do». Of course it is not a revolution but a coup de class, using the armed forces for this purpose, as in the case of the “revolution of 1964”. The winners have their acolytes who sing their praise, erect monuments, and name streets, bridges and squares after those who led the coup, as it still occurs in Brazil.

The history of the defeated is rarely written. Their memory is erased. But sometimes this memory comes back as a force of dangerous denunciation. Mexican historian Miguel Leon-Portilla has had the merit of narrating The Other Side of the Conquest of Latin America by the Iberians. There he gathers the dramatic and hurtful testimonies of Aztec, Maya and Inca victims. It has been translated into Portuguese as, The Conquest of Latin America as seen by the Indians (Vozes 1987). Let us look at just one Indigenous testimony about the fall of Tlatelolco (near the capital Tenochtitlán, now Mexico City). It simply makes one cry:

«On the roads there are broken arrows, pieces of dispersed heads of hair; roofless houses, walls in flames, worms abound in the streets and in the squares and the walls are spattered with blown-up brains; the waters run red, as if they had been painted; we have chewed on salty herbs, pieces of adobe bricks, lizards, rats and the dusty earth, besides the worms» (Leon-Portilla, p. 41).

Such tragedies pose the never satisfactorily answered question: Does history have meaning? Meaning for whom? There are all types of interpretations, from the most pessimistic, that sees history as a series of wars, murders and genocides, to the more optimistic, such as that of the enlightened, who thought of history as the growth of endless progress, towards ever more civilized societies.

The two World Wars, of 1914 and 1939, and the wars that were came later, killed nearly 200 million people and have pulverized optimism. Now no one can tell us which way we are going: not even the wise and holy Dalai Lama and Pope Francis.  Events happen, in all their ambiguity, some filled with hope, others frightening.

I join in the Judeo-Christian tradition, that holds that history can only be thought of starting from two principles: the principle of the negation of the negative and that of the fulfillment of the promises. The negation of the negative means that the criminal will never triumph over the victim. The weight of the negative in history will not be its definitive meaning. To the contrary, the Creator  “will wipe all the tears from the eyes, death will no longer exist and there will no longer be either mourning or tears, or pain, because all of that has already passed” (Apocalypse 21,4).

The principle of the fulfillment of the promises affirms: “Behold I make all things anew; there will be a new heaven and a new Earth; God will live among us and all the peoples will be peoples of God” (Apocalypse 21, 5; 1 and 3). That is the immortal hope of the Biblical tradition that did not vanish when the Jews were taken to the Nazi death chambers.

Regarding the present situation, I refer to a phrase of Walter Benjamin, quoted by one of his scholars, Michael Löwy: «Marx said that revolutions are the engine of world history. But things perhaps present themselves in a completely different manner now. It is possible that revolutions are, for those of humanity who travel in that train, the act of pulling the emergency brake» (Walter Benjamin: warning of fire, Boitempo 2005, p. 93-94). Our time requires putting on the brakes, before the train explodes at the end of the line.

Free translation from the Spanish sent by
Melina Alfaro,,

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