“The Look of Silence” and Antonio Gramsci


Watching the stunning documentary “The Look of Silence” by Joshua Oppenheimer is a moving experience. Of almost enlightening nature.
The titles at the end, full of “Anonymous” references, are a powerful reminder that the grim events of  Indonesian genocide of the year 1965-1966 keep resonating today, almost 50 years hence.
In “Objectivity and Liberal Scholarship“, Chomsky advances the following point:

“The Spanish Civil War is one of the crucial events of modern history, and one of the most extensively studied as well. In it, we find the interplay of forces and ideas that have dominated European history since the industrial revolution. What is more, the relationship of Spain to the great powers was in many respects like that of the countries of what is now called the Third World. In some ways, then, the events of the Spanish Civil War give a foretaste of what the future may hold, as Third World revolutions uproot traditional societies, threaten imperial dominance, exacerbate great-power rivalries, and bring the world perilously close to a war which, if not averted, will surely be the final catastrophe of modern history.

In the 1960s in Indonesia you had a powerful left-wing party which wanted to redress the balance of power in an essentially agrarian society, whose economy was entirely subservient to the Western dominated colonial logics. The whole social contract was at stake.
Listening to the Indonesians talking in the documentary, one hears constantly the equivalent of words like “Ideology”, “Revolution”, “Party”. Their sound is almost the same as in any other Western language, as a testimony to the fact that they were entirely foreign concepts, superimposed on an agrarian society by the Western inspired Third World revolutions leaders (here the Communist Party).  But words are like stones, and they contain world views which cannot simply be translated from a society to another.

Palmiro Togliatti, head of Italian Communist Party, was in Spain during the Civil War. He knew what it means to confront deep-seated ideas – like the religious ones – heads on. The Spanish democratically elected government started doing that in 1936.  They ended up with Francisco Franco. That is why, sitting in the Italian Constitutional Assembly, he did not want the Communist Party to confront the Catholic Church and Article 7 incorporated Mussolini’s Lateran Treaty into the Republican Constitution.

Franco LoPiparo analyzed the mechanisms of Cultural Hegemony and their root in language (pgg. 19ff.) in the philosophy of Antonio Gramsci. Words are powerful collectors of images, society debris, thoughts. Uprooting the vocabulary top-down cannot work.
It seems fair to say that the Indonesian Communist Party leaders would have done better reading Gramsci first.

See also this post.

Categories: Chomsky, Society

2 replies

  1. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this post and the rest of the website is really good.



  1. Burleigh: Small wars, Far away places | rtraba

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