The intersection of biography and history
My own project begins with a very simple proposition: millions of ordinary people, acting together, can profoundly change the basic facts of social life. The South Korean Minjung movement of 1987 is a good example. If we look at history, we can find other such moments in every country when the activated population changes governments, economic structures-even the way time and space are measured and understood! In these moments of the eros effect, love ties exist between people that are some of the most exhilarating feelings imaginable. I am not talking simply about sexual ties when I say love ties. Love has many forms-love of parents for their children and vice versa, love for brothers, sisters and other family members, love for a significant other, and most socially love for one's fellow human beings.
In moments of the eros effect, previously dominant values and norms suddenly are replaced. Competition gives way to cooperation; hierarchy to equality; power to truth. During the Vietnam war, for example, many Americans' patriotism was superceded by solidarity with the people of Vietnam; in place of racism, many white Americans insisted a Vietnamese life was worth the same as an American (defying the continual media barrage to the contrary).
Furthermore, in the actions of the activated millions, the aspirations and visions of the movement are revealed in their real lived meaning-more than statements of leaders, organizations, or parties, the actions of millions of people lead the way. In the form that strikes, for example, take-posing communalism in place of individualism, of struggle as opposed to acceptance of less than one's worth-that the inner meaning of collective actions are manifest more than in the official demands of the strikers.
The erotic energy of the movement is a vital life-force in the social cosmos of nuclear waste and weapons, chemical defoliation and forced biological mutation-all of which are contemporary features of our political-economic landscape. People benefit in a variety of ways from involvement in social movements. Years ago during the Gulf War (when the US attacked Iraq) students at MIT occupied the student center and established it as "an organizing center against the war and militarism." A daily newspaper was set up, action-committees reached out to different constituencies, teach-ins were organized and a whole flurry of activity existed. I laughed when I first read one of the signs hung in the central office area. It read "Working in the movement is good for your love life." The ease with which these younger students spoke of dynamics usually taken so seriously undermined part of the serious attitude that makes war so easy to occur.
In my book on the global imagination of 1968, I showed how internationalism and self-management were the twin aspirations that united a global New Left. From Czechoslovakia (invaded by the Soviet Union) to Vietnam (invaded by the US) to Paris, New York and Mexico City, the most was practically and intuitively tied together even though no organization tied us all together. I develop the concept of the eros effect to explain how this unity emerged in the absence of organization and sometimes even extensive personal contact. In my second book (also translated by E-who Publishers), The Subversion of Politics: European Autonomous Social Movements and the Decolonization of Everyday Life, I illustrate how "consciously spontaneous" movements integrate categories of existence previously thought of as mutually exclusive: eros and politics; opposing the government and acting properly; being in solidarity with Black Americans (or Vietnamese) rather than their masters.
It was not easy for me to participate in the movement. My father was a career military man, a highly decorated war hero, who didn't want to see his "only son throw his life away." He would come to demonstrations and physically try to make me leave. I was twenty years old, a senior at MIT, and had more than physical altercation with him. It was very embarrassing and he sometimes hurt me. Nonetheless I persisted. When I was put in jail-the next level of social control!-my mother stood up as I was being sentenced for "disturbing a school" and said in Greek to the Greek -American judge: "My son is not a criminal." The atmosphere in the courtroom was a tense, but I exploded when the judge ordered the bailiffs to "arrest that woman!"