Crossover As Transformation — My Testimony by Gaither Stewart

Capitalism isn't working

Image by Charles Hutchins via Flickr

by Gaither Stewart
Writer, Dandelion Salad
Rome, Italy
October 31, 2017

I woke up in the early 1970s. Since such an awakening happened in my life, I believe something similar happens also in the life of others. Though I didn’t realize it I had stood for sometime at a crossroads. I had to take the left. This sounds reductive but in retrospect it feels that my transformation happened more or less like that. Before, I was one person. Afterwards—the interval might have been months long, maybe a couple years—I was another. No need to over-dramatize and claim that the event happened as if it arrived like a thunder bolt. In any case, over a period of time, in the same way revolution happens, I revolted against my own self of the time; against my old life. And I became another. Today, as a result, part of my personal philosophy of life is that people can and do change. Fundamentally.

Historically, street barricades have separated oppressed people in revolt on one side and the forces of oppressive power on the other. Like French revolutionaries raised barricades against the oppressive monarchy in 1789. As they did again in 1830 and 1848 against the counter-revolution as depicted by Victor Hugo in Les Miserables and films based on his epic novel. Barricades were raised in 1919 in Petrograd during the Russian Revolution. I witnessed some of the barricades of fire raised by a furious people in the Iranian Revolution of 1979 against the U.S. backed Pahlavi monarchy. I also witnessed the barricades raised during student revolts in Rome and Paris in 1967-68. Barricades are emblematic of struggle in the name of social justice against oppression. Crossing the barricades to the side of social justice has become emblematic of changing positions in regard to illegitimate power.

My testimony here concerns my personal transformation. A metamorphosis from one being to another. I was one person before my Crossover-Conversion; another, after. My crossover refers to an irreversible socio-political leap forward and over the barricades. I mean the leap across the abyss that has always divided social-political Right from Left, to use these two short but still appropriate words.

My crossover must have begun with hesitant and even diffident steps over the barricades separating a socially negative view of life to a positive position worthy of man; of living, of perceiving, of making sense of one’s own life. In this respect, crossover for everyone is growth—social, political, philosophical and, if you will, spiritual growth. I think for most people real crossover means first the abandonment of a life of ingrained certainties to one of initial skepticism, then confused disorientation, curious exploration and subsequent, at first timid, forms of experimentation. A departure from the shore of a life conditioned by a state of comfort and ease and toward the distant shore of a life of painful questioning and searching and disappointments and disapproval. My own crossover led from the vacuum of the negative socio-political culture inculcated into my butterfly-like psyche by upbringing and environment, by habit and socio-political brainwash to the positive pole of doubts about everything I had been taught in my previous life.

The end result of my completed crossover was metamorphosis. A process like that which produces the beautiful butterfly: I read that in ancient Greece the word psyche—the totality of the mind, both conscious and unconscious—meant also butterfly, in reference to the psyche’s powers of transformation, just as the repulsive caterpillar transforms into a magical butterfly.

No more than the butterfly can again become the caterpillar from which it was born, after authentic and complete transformation there is no going back. In my own life the distance between the two distinct shores of Right and Left has steadily widened, unbridgeable in the reverse direction back toward the old. After my arrival in the unexplored but immediately recognizable territory I sometimes looked back across the chasm and wondered how I could ever have even existed as a human being on the other side. Was that even me, over there?

Such is the power of socio-political transformation. Transformation is not the same as mere change. The compass of socio-political crossover points unwaveringly at metamorphosis. Change, I came to realize, may make us uneasy and anxious and we may continue to hang onto the possibility of eventually changing back to our original state. Even the change from a familiar place to another place may make us feel uneasy because we have lost a point of reference, our sense of belonging. In that case too we can move back to where we started. The resulting sensation of loss—just the fear of loss—triggers our latent nostalgias. That loss can then become a black hole in our existence.

Art illustrates the difference between change and transformation I have in mind. As an expression of man’s dissatisfaction with himself art aims at transformation; the artist transforms reality in the sense that his art enables us to see things in a different light and in this way creates permanent change. The painter transforms his subject, forever; some, like Picasso, even first deconstructing the old before reconstructing it. The theater—traditionally the standard bearer of power and authority—also projects the idea of transformation, even though forever in opposition to crude reality. The film medium is pure metamorphosis. Each actor becomes the glorious person he is not in real life. Even if at the end you know he will become again the person he is in real life, the actor for the spectator remains the transformed one of the film. As a fiction writer I rely heavily on the probability of change and the possibility of metamorphosis—in a sense like spiritual conversion—in every person in order to reflect what happens in each rounded, developed character.

My personal metamorphosis was thus a radical, fundamental change to something else. After metamorphosis, return to the old happens only in the world of myths such as the magical transformation of Tiresias into a woman and then back to a man. To some rare persons crossover might occur in a flash like Saul’s epiphany on the road to Damascus: Saul, suddenly lying on the ground blinded by a heavenly light and then rising transformed into the Apostle Paul. Also accomplishments under extreme circumstances may lead to metamorphosis. Like the Sufi faqir who lies on a bed of needles or the mystical holy man who transcends and resists the pain of fire or Mayan and Olmec shamans who use masks, ritual and magic to transform human beings into their real selves.

More realistic than the epiphany, however, more solid and enduring, is a gradual distancing from the old shore, as happened to me, staggering ahead drunkenly, perhaps like Lot’s wife tempted from time to time to look back over my shoulder and fearing being transformed back into a pillar of salt, before the realization of my total separation from the old. For example, as at the end of a marriage; disaffection, estrangement, and the final divorce, often followed by hostility toward the old, are often necessary steps before finally arriving on the opposite shore, relieved but bewildered as you watch the bridge between your new shore and the old one crumble and collapse and probably wondering what you are to do in this new and lonely territory.

In any case all of mankind today is being changed by the eternal crisis in which we all exist together: economic crisis, fear, hate for the different, war and talk of war have changed us all into toys of the evil surrounding us: serial killers and inhuman weaponry.

In a world truly amok, who can possibly not desire authentic transformation? Metamorphosis for salvation.

Left and Right had a geographical birth, in reference to the seating arrangements in the French Chamber of Deputies after the revolution. They have been used in European parliaments since. The Left/Right classification reflects the fundamental polarity in social-political thought. Though some people consider Left and Right old-fashioned terms, the two simple words distinguish an entire Weltanschauung, a vision of life and social relations among human beings.

After the fall of Soviet Communism some political scientists like the nouveaux philosophes in France I learned to detest claimed that the terms Left and Right no longer made sense. Even Jean-Paul Sartre once spoke of Left and Right as “empty boxes.” Other political thinkers began using in their place terms such as Progressive and Conservative. Though the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States contain a little of this, a little of that, both parties are empty boxes. But they are clearly the demonstration that no political movement with a genuine ideology can be both Left and Right. Some positions and values can be exchanged and integrated in diverse systems, but there is a limit. For example, war cannot be peace.

Clearly, Left and Right are mutually exclusive. Diverse criteria distinguish between the two visions of life. The Right defends the status quo and is self-defined as conservative. Right is reactionary. It defends traditions, the past and the nation, and as a consequence, militarism, selfish individualism and more recently anti-Communism. Obviously war belongs to the Right. Right positions result in clash, war and increased social injustice. Historically war is all-determinant between the two positions. War has already destroyed the foundations of the American republic and undermined American democracy itself.

The Left, reformist or when necessary revolutionary, stands for emancipation from the chains of the past. The transformed person can feel those chains. The Italian political philosopher Norberto Bobbio (1909-2004) determined that the major distinction between Left and Right is the relationship of each with equality. Left tends toward equality; Right toward inequality. Despite Right’s frequent claims that it too is “Socialist” and despite Hitler’s appropriation of the word in National Socialism, and despite a certain Left’s electoral claims that it too is moderate middle of the road, both ideologies, if they are genuine and authentic, are one or the other: Left or Right. Neither Left nor Right can be middle of road.

Clearly the progressive-conservative label does not distinguish satisfactorily between the two categories. The words, again, remind me of Sartre’s empty box. Often Left considers the Center a disguised Right; the Right believes the Center a cover for the Left. And it is true that the Center—the so-called Third Way—is often a cover for one or the other. The Third Way has been labeled a “conservative revolution”, as if an ambivalent, shilly-shallying Third Way could prevail over authentic Left or Right.

In my real life as a journalist in Europe where I have lived my adult life I began seeing that the diluting of Left-Right values is dangerous and disadvantageous to the authentic Left. For me, today, the most glaring example of ignoring the obvious separation of Left and Right is the USA, the world’s most powerful country controlled by a one-party system, where the very significance of Left and Right are shunned. America’s Republican and Democratic parties stand comfortably shoulder to shoulder on the Right, bolstered by religious extremists and myriad secret militias and flag-waving patriots. We of the Left are not blind. We know the two parties are interdependent. They exchange political and social values like merchandise. A two-component one-party system resting on the base of the euphemism, democracy, now a façade, today heads the great American Counter-Revolution forming the base of neo-Fascism.

Until my crossover, I saw none of the realities outlined above. I made no real choices. I floated along on opportunity. Social realities and social classes held little meaning for me. I belonged to the political no-think category. I was geared to a simplistic romantic vision of life. More than I hated authority, I mistrusted it. My crossover is the story of a confused, religiously indoctrinated, brainwashed, naïve, politically retarded young man from the American South, trying to mature during the Cold War, unaccustomed to independent thought and analysis, a young romantic who however had a one dream: a dream of Russia, a forbidden dream in those times. Life was a physical adventure and I was in a state of beatitude.

Yet, I realized later, inside the me on the wrong side of the barricades I nurtured also a rebel. It has been said that all men are born rebels. Precisely because of our potential rebellious natures, governments and society organize to tame us and keep us in line.

In my particular case crossover was at first disillusionment with the real socio-political conditions in which I existed when I was finally able to see them for what they were. My second step was a quantum leap over the barricades from anti-Socialism to Socialism. Though I am now ashamed of my Cold War past in front organizations of secret U.S. activities, I also realize I would not be what and where I am today without it. In the service of a government whose evil operations have subsequently become public, I gradually learned the truth about what had happened before my time in Iran in 1953, in Hungary in 1956, then in Chile and throughout most of Latin America in the 1960s and 1970s. I easily intuited the recent U.S. role in the color revolutions in East Europe and the Arab Spring of 2011. I can read front names for what they are. “American Friends of …” is immediately suspect. Euphemisms will always be only polite terms for lies. In the same way I know the streets of my cities I know today that America’s repeated threats against China and Russia and the tightening encirclement of those nations can only lead to hostilities that will harm mankind.

Ours are not yet times of an obligatory choice between extremisms such as the choice between official Communism and Anti-communism and/or Fascism once was. I see the available choices available today as vast, multi-faceted and nuanced. Something for everyone. Yet after the fluff is removed, the real choice narrows and the moral person stands before the choice as old as man: the choice between black and white. Between good and evil. Between public good and personal evil. When public good is the supreme criterion, nuances are nullified.

During the Cold War of which I was a part I came to perceive that their enemy was not my enemy. The Vietnam War was the catalyst for a new way of thinking that swept over Europe in the world-wide protest movements and lasting through the 1980’s. That new thinking had also affected me.

In Germany and Italy where I lived, the anti-war mood engendered the “terrorists” of the Red Army Faction or RAF in Germany and the Red Brigades in Italy, Direct Action in France, movements which had millions of supporters. Armed attacks on the state were the order of the day. The early ideologically pure Red Brigade leaders—some of whom I got to know—considered themselves the revolution’s vanguard and that they could strike the heart of the state. Yet those tightly organized groups were eventually infiltrated and exploited by the CIA and their sister agencies in Europe for false flag operations—so that the European governments could crack down on dissent.

Some journalists like my post-crossover self wrote about the CIA/MI6-organized top secret, all-European, anti-Communist Stay Behind army, in Italy nicknamed Operation Gladio, with some 15,000 ex-Nazi soldiers and young fascists in its ranks. It is no longer a secret that Gladio and its various offshoots were responsible for many of the false flag bombings that swept over Italy from 1969 until the early 1980s—such as the bomb in the train station of Bologna, which killed and injured three hundred people.

In that period I too came to realize the immensity of the word, re-vo-lu-tion. In those years I came to wonder if talk of revolution in America, the bastion of capitalism, was only some madman’s dream. Today however, after my crossover and its consolidation I have come to believe that in the long run the Great North American Revolution is inevitable and unstoppable. There will be false starts, dissension, infiltrations and betrayals but history as a rule is on the side of revolution. It has to happen. Maybe not tomorrow but it is coming.

On the other hand one must also pose the question: What then? Will the revolutionary dream then turn totalitarian and then finally imperialistic in a Borgesian cycle of the repetition of all things? For any revolutionary, the final question must be: When and where and how does the revolution end? I do not know the answer.

Later, moreover, I came to appreciate that despite its apparent defeat after 1989 Communism was still a glorious word, an ideal toward which one should strive, while apparently victorious Capitalism-Corporatism-Fascism was and remains an ugly monster that never ceases to show its ugly face growing uglier from day to day.

In comparison, so-called liberals, progressives, reformists in all guises, now appear to me not only silly in their mimesis of reality. But they are also dangerous: not only do they not make the fundamental choice themselves but also mislead the gullible masses. They are content to accept the lesser evil of political choices offered them and convince others of the same. In the long run to choose the lesser evil is to choose evil. Reformism has never served the real interests of the masses.

If, because of my ideas, convictions and sometimes confused thoughts today after the crossover—I am asked if I am Communist, I answer unequivocally, that yes, I am. Since I do not actually belong to a specific Communist party or organization, it has been suggested that perhaps I mean Communitarianism. In the sense of Collectivism in opposition to Libertarianism-Individualism, the idea is attractive; less so to the degree that it refers to a Third Way. What I mean in my affirmative answer is that I feel the spirit of authentic freedom that opens your eyes and reveals reality. I believe I see the world for what it is. This spirit of freedom enables you to see through the gobbledygook, the ignorance, the refusal to know, the darkness of the closed world of no-think. Far from being the “closed system” of which Arthur Koestler wrote, a strong position on the Left—hard, radical, and extreme as it may be — opens your eyes to the reality of the bullshit in which we live.

In any case, one of Koestler’s greatest errors, in my opinion, was his over-estimation of the strength of the indoctrination of the new convert to a closed system such as Freudian thought, Christianity or even Marxism. Koestler confused change and transformation. He forgot the butterfly.

I see the typical American patriot today smiling superciliously and oh so tolerantly at the naiveté of the “close-minded” theologian, psychiatrist or Marxist, and in his general ignorance and disinterest in knowing perhaps cannot even answer the doubter’s charges; but the over-zealous patriot’s entire life, his surroundings, his schools and universities, churches, friends, media, career make up inculcated ideology of the blind, flag-waving patriot; he does not even desire such nonsense as actual thought, doubt and free choice. The patriot is an integral part of a real “closed system”, bourgeois society itself.

The religious part of my background, the Protestant ethic—from which I escaped as early as possible—was possibly a small part of my ultimate attraction to Marxism-Socialism-Communism. On the other hand, the Protestantism ethic and the spirit of Capitalism, though in theory irreconcilable, in the end go hand in hand: acceptance of one’s place and the class division in society in exchange for the final judgment and eternal life. That is a shaky foundation. Yet something intangible, in a sense spiritual, from my politically uncommitted background spurred in me an enduring idealistic desire to turn the world upside down. After I woke from my youthful slumber and the Cold War brainwash, the Left and the existentialist side of Marxism I discovered coupled with my inherent romanticism inspired in me a growing, maturing revolutionary spirit: as both the poet John Keats and the revolutionary Antonio Gramsci, I too came to realize that I want “to do the world some good.”

Yet one wonders. When your immediate world, your personal environment and your times seem to reject change for the better, what are you to do? That is the question. And the answer is cynicism, protest, change and finally transformation.

Contrary to Koestler I do not believe that an epiphany, though it can be a positive occurrence, guarantees the permanency of mere change. As I said above, I, like many of the transformed, am unable to point a finger at my own metamorphosis and say: “There! There is where it happened.” Or: “Then is when it happened.” When my personal metamorphosis got underway, it seemed I went on living in the dark for a while, as if nothing unusual were happening. I was not immediately conscious that I was shedding an old skin and taking on another. Then, later, as my journalistic career developed, in a stretch of perception, the awareness overcame me. I was confused, at first disbelieving the clarity before my eyes. In retrospect—after my crossover—it was easy to perceive that my life had changed in a fundamental way. Though at first I seemed to others the same person, I knew I had become another. I felt lucky; I was another. I began my real, my authentic life.

There can be some agreement that the life of a man does not begin at birth or graduation, or at baptism or bar mitzvah. Sometimes it begins at the end, sometimes, perhaps, ages before birth, or, as some mystics believe, after physical death. But for me, as for most of us, post-metamorphosis life begins, if it begins at all, somewhere in the chronological middle of our lives.

I was living my life of joys and pains, victories and defeats, successes and failures, satisfactions and depressions, between hope and ruin, between belief and desperation, subject to an apparent infinity of occurrences and experiences, when I came to realize that I had become another. The great event had happened –or perhaps was happening. Some catalyst—even perhaps an unrecognized epiphany, probably marked by powerful doses of expiation for my past—had set me off in a new direction. However it is most likely that the transformation came about drop by drop, so progressively and gradually that I at first hardly noticed the alterations in the confusing scenery of my life.

For life in general was going well, until they—the gods, destiny, the flow of events, I myself—pulled the rug from under me. Sand blew into my motor. I stumbled over meaningless obstacles. Successes and failures were no longer the point. Living my life heroically, frenzily, became the point. But I had not even realized transformation was underway. Somewhere, sometime, somehow, everything changed.

Where along the way did things begin to transform?

What changed?

In a life of each person there are many unbelievable coincidences and extraordinary meetings. In the same moment and place occur those unexpected and chance events, renewals, and radical life changes and finally, at some point, metamorphosis. Are such occurrences coincidence or pattern? Though coincidence does not prove the existence of a relationship between the parallel events, still, I tend to believe there usually is or at least often there is a relationship, if only psychic.

Though the signposts of my life cannot hold great interest for others, I feel obligated to explain why I have done things the way I have. On the other hand, even if autobiographical writing can be imaginative and innovative, I mistrust autobiography which can never completely close the gap between the reality and the fictions of one’s own life. For similar reasons I mistrust biographies and historical writings in which one can never attain completeness and which are for that reason less than true. There will always be reasons to doubt the truth in biography as history. Who organized the Cold War? Who really killed John F. Kennedy and Bobby? How did George Bush get elected President of the United States? What really brought down the towers of the World Trade Center? As Virginia Wolfe said, there is no such thing as objective biography. (“Positions have been taken, myths have been made.”) British historian E.H. Carr once said that while no serious scholar makes up the facts, they all choose which facts “to put on stage.” I can digest Emerson’s quote that “there is properly no history; only biography,” only in the sense that he meant the real life lived by men, not the recorded one.

As Tolstoy wrote about the reasons men do the things they do, I too have witnessed in my life that men make history without knowing what they are doing. Something that seems to be a red line running through my life, Tolstoy believed that the force that took God’s place and moved history was nonetheless something great, incomprehensible, inaccessible, arcane.

But autobiography? How can we be transparent to ourselves? We might hope to, but subjective honesty is unattainable; the shock of honesty about ourselves would be too great. Human beings cannot even live by the rule of not betraying themselves, even though as a rule we do think we are loyal to ourselves. Unfortunately, when the autobiographer begins speaking of himself, he is often already on the path pointed toward the lie. You would need the one magical and evasive word you are always searching for to depict yourself. Nonetheless, the attempt to be honest with ourselves is a good exercise; after all we pay psychiatrists in an attempt to see our true selves. Because of my inclination to fictionalize my life and personalize my fiction I have experienced how fine the line between autobiography and fiction. Often I confuse my fiction with reality. The temptation to fictionalize my own life is a power to be constantly reckoned with, especially when I observe my past and wonder about my future.

The real turning points that can pinpoint a life in time and space seldom appear in autobiography. Even more rarely appear the real reasons and concealed causes and occurrences, the sometimes all-determinant absences, the cover-ups, the all-important hamartia that makes us human beings. Outside our public lives there lingers a residue that conceals the inexpressible thing that only you know or want to know: it is the great secret.

Much goes on inside me that I am unable to define in words. And it is precisely that—the dark pit that is my state of mind—that I want to pinpoint and describe. After living a life that might seem adventurous, I sometimes feel for a moment the disillusionment that maybe I am after all still the same person I have always been. No wonder I find astounding the Taoist belief that transformation is the very fabric of the universe. For there arrives a time in life when candor needs a new chance. One thing is certain: the attempt to say what is true is a liberating sensation. In the midst of it I feel freedom rising up from my guts.

I find that I have to deal constantly with the past in order to understand my present and project into the future. Yet my past remains forever elusive. The closest to truth might be my own interpretations of what I think might have happened, which, however, especially after metamorphosis, comes to seem far removed from reality. In that sense my past easily gets out of hand and becomes a fiction. No longer reality.

Memory is both weak and conditioned. I know that if I could be completely honest I would understand more. Understand my relationship with today’s new reality. And with a necessary new ethics. That doesn’t seem like too much to strive for.

What is reality anyway? How long it took me to understand that I once existed in a world of shit where the mere idea of ideals and ethics was ignored or distorted. So it’s … how can I say it? It’s all so abstract. For you cannot gild real reality. Past reality is what it is. But it is also so deceitful that I honestly do not know what I was about before. No wonder then that my hold on the past is tenuous, my projection into the future often theoretical, while the present is the real reality.

My past: Black schools and white schools in my Asheville in North Carolina, black restaurants and white restaurants, blacks at the back of buses, in separate train cars and in the balconies of movie theatres, water fountains with COLORED and WHITE written vertically on each. Separation of the races was total in the Asheville of my childhood. As a rebellious youth I resisted. I rode in the back of buses, tried to sit in the theater balconies and to frequent black restaurants. Authority censored my behavior. I resisted that authority. My gaunt figure, shoulder length hair, covered in a handed down black topcoat was more comical than a threat to public order. My motivation was unclear. I honestly do not know why I did it. However, for right or wrong reasons my behavior was one of resistance. And when I began reading, it was Jack London and stories of Emiliano Zapata and the Mexican Revolution. Another world.

With passing time however my pitiful resistance collapsed. Not under pressure, but under the allure of society as it existed. A desire to be like others, which I was not. To dress like others. I was also somewhat of an athletic success in high school and did two years of college on a football scholarship. In those formative years I was uninterested in politics. The world around me was what it was.

There in my mountain aerie I did not even know Socialism existed. Nor had I ever thought of the concept of anti-Communism. The world I knew was anti-Communist by nature. Unspoken. That was just the way of my microcosmic world.

When during the Cold War I did my obligatory military service, I had the good fortune to learn foreign languages. Fifteen months of intensive Russian and then in Germany I discovered a natural bent for the German language. I ended up later living in Germany and attending Munich University.

But that was not all I did in Munich.

After military intelligence in Germany I got involved in the Cold War. And there in Germany also occurred the first stirrings of political awakening. Only the stirrings, but the start.

My part in the Cold War was in the culture sphere. I experienced names such as Bertrand Russell, Raymond Aron, Isaiah Berlin, Nicola Chiaromonte, none of whom I had read before. Chiaromonte’s lifetime theme was the relationship between man and the event, between his beliefs and his actions. At Princeton he presented for the Christian Gauss Seminars on Literary Criticism some of the essays included in his book To Believe and Not To Believe (Credere e Non Credere). He wrote essays that offer a prescient definition of today’s American-style Fascism: “Ours is an epoch of useful lies: fictions of whose fictitious character the person who produces them is aware as well as is the one who accepts them, and which take the place of truth simply because they are useful, easily utilized and universally used.” People most fervently dedicated to the cause of justice and universal freedom, he noted, are the same ones who destroy faith in progress with their “reason of State”: revolutionaries from Saint-Just to the Bolsheviks, who opted for happiness at any cost; that is, at the cost of cutting off heads without end. His conclusions were those of my epoch; confusing and off-putting. At the time I did not understand the dangers inherent in his theme. His theme was that of the epoch.

But then Left ideology—of which Sartre was a prime example in that formative era for me—morphed not into philosophy or politics but into morality: in my nascent new world one was not a moral man without a political ideology, and the one most acceptable for me gradually became anti-bourgeois, anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist Marxism. The European writers I interviewed for newspapers and magazines as a rule were of the Left. Such was also the ideology of the Left absolutism that Chiaromonte, Silone, Gide, Wright, Koestler, Orwell, et al had at first embraced, then rejected and abandoned: a faith of all or nothing.

At that same point in time, in the 1970ss, I began to resist the religion of progress, the new universal God: Happiness and Paradise on earth. The progressive God could be satisfied only by economic growth and progress pushed to the extreme limit: Capitalist totalitarianism.

With few exceptions, the more frequent shift in life is from Left to Right. In my opinion that is retrocession, not maturity. It is a social and intellectual retreat. A loathsome and degrading personal development, the results of which are disastrous. Like ex-Communists denouncing former friends and colleagues in a fervor of fanatic relativism.

However if Revolution is a frightening specter to most people and though it is marked by brutality and blood, Revolution often also brings out the better part of its adherents: the search for social justice, dedication, ideals, rejection of evil. Revolution is also contagious. During the revolution, Crossover is from Right to Left. It is soldiers deserting, officers turning against power, masses crossing the barricades.

In my personal post-metamorphosis state I came to believe that one should aspire toward social progress … and Left. It was a gut feeling from the start. For you have to be able to say, no. I will always love Mayakovsky’s poem Left March (Levy Marsh) with which he greeted the Russian Revolution … as Shelley did the French Revolution. “Rally the ranks into a march …Left! Left! Left! … Who is marching there with the Right? Left! Left! Left!”

Class Consciousness And Social Metamorphosis

As individuals, so also society can crossover and transform. Therefore political power and its secret arms stand ready to crush attempts of society to transform. Though the exercise of secret power applies to many organizations hidden behind terrifying initials like MOSSAD or STASI, each bearing worlds of meanings, no other has had the corrupting influence of CIA on the lives of now three generations of Americans first of all, but on many peoples of the world, an influence justified first by the so-called Communist menace, which in turn was the official justification of the advent of official state immorality-amorality in a once virgin America that considered itself pristine. In the Cold War any subterfuge was considered licit: the lie was good, the secret lie the best; the only bad lie was the uncovered one.

Power has always been the real issue. Power holds the ultimate secret. Power is the lie. And the lie, Power. America’s Power is still diffused among a maze of countless state secret and private organizations, behind many of which stands real Power, instruments of evil Power. Decades of the great lie sufficed to generate a contagious immorality of evil in America that has filtered down into society. The evil emblem of immorality-amorality is diffused daily in film and literature. CIA and its counterparts worldwide are emblematic of a view of the world: amoral and immoral at the same time. This evil power has become a Capitalist American spirit. This evil spirit has always lurked in America. From a distance I now see clearly that America was never innocent, perhaps only naive. Evil lurked in the Blue Ridge Mountains of my boyhood. The same evil still lurks in fundamentalist America. Evil exploded in the contagious school shootings since 1966 in Austin, Texas, followed by the countless explosions of madness and rage since. The guileless American nation has been duped, wanted to be duped by the great lie, and, by reflex, the whole world has been duped. Yet if they choose to Americans can learn what its diplomats and military are really doing around the world. If they choose to people can act to change things. Or they can continue to condone the criminal wars of aggression and ignore human rights. I see the sad direction on much of Facebook. Many are only talking about championship games and Disneyland and their own petty lives.

I want to return to the Russian example here because just as the intelligentsia in pre-revolutionary Russia set its stamp on the development of the idea of Socialism there—in the end making the greatest revolution of modern times—when the propitious moment arrives, when what has been inexpressible becomes expressible, when events have created a universal mood of revolutionary discontent with the existing system, when tensions reach the boiling point, the American intelligentsia, together with the American wage earners and the growing, multiplying, ever angrier and, one hopes, awakening middle class, will cross over the bridge, transform and rise against the capitalist system, salvage the positive parts of America and bring about radical change.

Though Liberals may of course join the movement, Liberals alone will never bring about radical social change: societal metamorphosis … revolution. Liberals can be intolerant and extremist and sanctimonious in their limited views. Liberals take strong stands on community improvements; they work themselves into a fury and campaign relentlessly and join sit-ins and carry placards concerning how the local school yard is to be used on weekends or about alternate days for trash pick-up, and still vote for war administrations and ignore the concept of social justice. Viewed from my distance, I am dubious about so-called grassroots activities; naturally they are welcome but I suspect in the long run harmless. As a rule Power lets them sit-in, march and carry their placards. As if the military-industrial complex, of which President Eisenhower himself warned America, gave one hoot in hell about their marches and placards.

What kind of change do the intelligentsia and intellectuals of America mean in their discussions? Intellectuals/Liberals mean one thing: usually reform (and not enough of that).

The real radical Left aims at radical change. Transformation. Metamorphosis. It is an unfortunate paradox that the left intelligentsia does not always know what to do with pure intelligence. The radical Left knows that the necessary change is not the change promised in electoral campaigns. The goal has to be the radical transformation of the entire society; above all, the abandonment of capitalism.

The American radical left intelligentsia has one consolation: of major world countries today perhaps only America is still economically self-contained and self-sufficient enough to support and survive the upheavals of a social revolution. The great historical contradiction, the antithesis, is that in no other country is capitalism so strong and the positive idea of Socialism as weak as in the United States of America, which in turn has made Socialism so difficult to achieve elsewhere.

So my quandary, the quandary of the American intelligentsia is: What is to be done? For to our great misfortune—even if the American intelligentsia-radical Left had the means to address the emergent wage earner-middle class coalition—what message would it send to them, the new masses?

A brutal truth is that there is precious little to admire, little to address, in that growing class of the amorphous, structureless neo-proletariat marked by drabness and mediocrity, physical obesity, monotony, mental laziness, inculcated and cultivated ignorance and its anti-historical cult of non-memory, a class waiting to be entertained. Did American people go crazy to even consider the theatrical vulgarity of the ridiculous candidacy of a redneck racist warmonger like Sarah Palin as Vice President and possible President of the USA, recalling Roman Emperor Caligula’s mad idea of naming his favorite horse, Incitatus as Consul of the empire? Has everyone gone mad? As an American I am offended by the idea. Have Americans morphed into the peoples of ancient Rome? Peoples who for distraction relied on the blood and sand of the arenas of the coliseums across the empire. Where are we to find a model of a political and cultural ideal that could appeal to such a trampled-on lot who have been trained to despise the other, anyone or anything different from them and their “values” and the Exceptionalism of the “American-way-of-life”? With the reality in mind that it is precisely that ragged, disinterested American proletariat-middle class that must execute the radical socio-political change, the American intelligentsia, just as in pre-revolutionary Russia, truly has just cause to wonder: What is to be done?

I am not totally satisfied with the originally Russian word intelligentsia which I have used here almost synonymously with Radical Left. There must be better words, modern English words that describe that dynamic but minute, unhappy, isolated and lonely part of American society today to which I also belong, which so desires dramatic, drastic, radical, revolutionary change.

Crossover And Loyalty

The Right’s condemnation of dissent and demand for radical change as anti-American is calumny, slander and dishonest two-faced hypocrisy. The strutting, wildly-crazed Right has not only deformed a nation but also the very idea of morality. The line between loyalty and betrayal is called into question.

Also duty and loyalty are similar in some situations but they are not the same thing. I learned that though at certain critical moments in the life of any one person or of a nation loyalty is a positive quality, too much of it can become a curse. For example, I am personally infected with a powerful sense of loyalty—that quality, at times in my life a perversion, includes discipline and severity and also love. You cannot live a decent life without a modicum of loyalty.

The problem in my life however, as I believe in most lives, is that important objects of loyalty in my life—the persons, ideas, nations to which I’ve felt loyal—have changed and become disloyal. Still, the abstract quality of loyalty remains. Yet you have to be aware and prepared to abandon effigies and false idols when you recognize them. For in the quotidian when life might seem humdrum things can undergo either sudden or gradual changes. Then—if you are lucky—suddenly you are jolted awake to discover that either you are out of joint with a person or a society or that the person or society is out of joint with you.

So what has happened? What has happened is that the objects, persons, faiths, ideas, nations, all of those things in which you once thought you believed and to which you had been loyal, have indeed become disloyal; but still, once the quality of loyalty inheres in you, it does not change equally as easily. Loyalty too is out of joint. Maybe you are loyal to a person you love and you try not to betray that love—although you often do, which however can be betrayal of yourself.

Similarly, friends, peoples, nations, ideals. Democracy in practice is not what I once believed it was. Europe and the USA are not the places I believed in back when I understood nothing. Maybe things were always rotten while my uninformed and unfounded sense of loyalty blurred my vision. Now, experience and the availability of information have changed my views and my relationship with the former objects of my loyalty.

Once people did not have the possibility of knowing what was really happening. Now, if you put your mind to it you can get an inkling of the true nature of the object of your loyalty. But people in these times of nearly unlimited information do not seem to want to know. They do not even care enough to search. Some people cannot bear the truth. They prefer not to know. Look the other way. Ignore reality. Live your own little life in ignorance. Still, it is possible to know details, causes, background of the lies and cover-ups, of the cheating and corruption at all levels of society, of murder and assassination and of the wars for the benefit of a few. You can learn that under certain conditions and in a certain environment man is capable of almost any act, as America’s armed forces demonstrate over and over again around the world. Man can be peace loving and warlike at the same time. Depending on his culture and ethic and environment and nature, each characteristic is both possible and probable.

On the other side of the scales, I find that blind loyalty is negative and defeatist, a block to the unraveling of the truth of history. The truth necessary to live a decent life and be at peace with the world. The problem is that truth, like loyalty, is an immense commitment … greater than the flag-waver’s capacity to manage.

Modern people shudder in horror about the artificial “flower wars” of the Aztecs, those farcical wars conducted not to kill in the fighting but to gather prisoners-victims for human sacrifice on the killing stones atop the pyramids in order to intimidate and to demonstrate Aztec power. Yet it is easy to feel the close parallel between what happened to the Aztec empire at its apex—which coincided with the beginning of its decline—and the warlike nature of American imperialism-capitalism willing to drone the innocent to death.

Post-Crossover Feelings And Sensations

A half lifetime ago I had the good fortune of experiencing—and also feeling—a crisis and break in my life, separation from one life and the conjoining with a new one. Long gone is that ignorant old life. Now I know that my self of then was my worst self. I have long thought that at certain stages of life we all need to situate ourselves. We need to reclaim our true selves. It is no small achievement to embrace the positive aspects of your Self and abandon the negative ones. To reacquire oneself. In my case at least I am now free to realize my own potential. I feel lucky that I can recognize the right path. I try to cultivate the concealed powers of my unconscious without letting go the reins of self-control; just the discovery of the existence of those creative powers is more rewarding than anything that occurred in my former life.

Yet I cannot claim that I am completely free; I am still not satisfied with my situation. Perhaps I will never be. But I crossed the barricades. To the other side. So I proceed quietly, stealthily, observing both the realities of life as well as my former actions. Though from time to time I resurrect it and examine it, my caterpillar life of before I transformed into a butterfly appears to me distorted and ugly as seen through a dark veil. Now I know that my life on the other side was a sad and dark marionette theater, and I, for a while, a puppet operated with strings. Because of that past, I believe, I am susceptible to instant mood transformations and to a general sense of insecurity. Bursts of enthusiasm and fits of hallucination and whimsy and doubt often overcome me as I totter along the lip of the precipice that I cannot see but which I know is there alongside me in the darkness. I might read one single word or hear the lyrics of a popular song—faint as an echo in the night—and I am startled; I realize it belongs to a distant former life; separate and apart, just as two continents are separated by an ocean. My life has changed character and course. Still, the perception, the repetition of those precise moments of metamorphosis is what I sometimes long for. My great moments. The high points of my life. I also want to experience again that one specific moment when I completed the crossover in order to re-live the exhilaration of transformation, the secret elation that I am conscious of reality.

I review and rehash my own life, trying to get to the bottom of things. Much goes on in me that seems irreducible to words. While too many of the people around me appear as denizens of a human cesspool, I seem to live in a dream, in a both stimulating and a stifling house of images and compulsions and manias and obsessions and forgotten things still lodged there deep in the dark well that is me. I have lived with the hope of experiencing everything; of touching everything; believing that contact with everything is accessible. Yet I also feel the perplexity, the despondency, the hopelessness of waking from a dream and returning to reality only to wonder: who in the hell am I? After wandering here and there in search of something puzzlingly complex, I realize that I cannot find the words to describe what it is I want to describe. Sometimes, I am afraid. fear for a brief moment the disillusionment that maybe I am after all still the same person I always was. Everything has its own dimension. Everything is one and everything is separate.

At times we all look backwards in search of the good. Perhaps obsessed with the elastic memories of childhood. Whether or not childhood is a pleasant memory, to most of us it is a tourbillon of dimensionless and endless blurry time while we live it, often a void, a limitless space when time seemed static—then, later, everything, life itself, suddenly and surprisingly accelerates while perceptions of childhood warp and change and form false images and impressions of what really happened. I have been tormented by my inability to remember my own voice as a child: I wonder what and how I thought then, or if I thought at all. If not, then my earliest years were wasted time. I despair that I am powerless to break down the barriers and impediments between myself today and my earliest years in Asheville; it was only what it was. Then I end up fashioning much of my past to resemble what I like to imagine it was. Still, subconsciously—and aware that my fantasy is false—I also try to alter my past in order to give it more meaning and intelligibility and to make it dovetail with my present needs.

I puzzle over my life and what happened or what I believe or hope happened, but instead of becoming clearer, the past, distant or recent, appears at times ever more incomprehensible and blurry, thus creating in my recall those vast, almost limitless spaces in which one part of my memory tells me also that things could not have happened as I would prefer.

You cannot trust memory; it plays its lurid tricks, diabolical, underrated. Remembrance is at best problematic. You think you remember. But you do not. Or you remember events in ways diametrically opposed to what really happened … or did not happen at all. Even when you want to believe in the redemptive sweetness of things past, you might simultaneously recall their inexplicable mysteries, the frustrations and pain they caused. Those are the insuperable obstacles of our dreams. The dark invaders. The shadows of ourselves. The old times, the good old times one likes to recall, were most likely not good times at all. Yet it seems that there were always good men who wanted to do the world some good. Now the rogues reign supreme. Does that mean the good men struggling against evil have re-transformed back to some previous evil state? The unreliability of my powers of recollection causes no end to the problems and the hurdles that plague me, that bedevil me, that condition my progress through life, obstructing the development of my self-awareness and my self-identity and inhibiting my capacity to pinpoint life’s earlier turning points.

When I examine my early adult years searching for explanations of the me of today, I see so much absurdity and self-deceit that I sometimes wonder if it was worth being young. Today instead I seek above all my own authenticity, a recognition of and participation in the struggle for social justice in the here and now.

So, admittedly still only partially redeemed, I at least have a hold, slippery and tenuous, on the keys to my own life. Like the magical butterfly, I no longer identify with my larval origins. Maybe that is a new form of arrogance but I confess that it makes me feel noble.

“I woke up this morning … ” and felt blue, depression, a familiar feeling. Something was not right. I try to console myself that since the major turning point in my life, since I found my direction in life, I have tried to do the right thing and at least in writing have tried to express the reasons why. But I realize that the things I do, the things I have done, are not enough. I can’t put my finger on all my many errors but the chief one, I suppose, the one I regret most is that I am old and have not yet gone jusque au bout, fino in fondo, I have not gone far enough. I don’t know where that goal lies. But clearly I have not realized my potential. There must be other steps to be taken. And I hope I have the time to accomplish it.

Gaither Stewart is a Writer on Dandelion Salad and Senior Editor and Rome-based European correspondent of The Greanville Post. A veteran journalist and essayist on a broad palette of topics from culture to history and politics, he is also the author of the Europe Trilogy, celebrated spy thrillers whose latest volume, Time of Exile, was recently published by Punto Press.

from the archives:

War by Gaither Stewart

Loyalty by Gaither Stewart

Transformation by Gaither Stewart

Indifference by Gaither Stewart

Innocence by Gaither Stewart

Russian Intellectuals and the Intelligentsia by Gaither Stewart

3 thoughts on “Crossover As Transformation — My Testimony by Gaither Stewart

  1. Pingback: Rebellion in Munich by Gaither Stewart – Dandelion Salad

  2. Stewart has asked, what is to be done. I don’t have an answer to that. But perhaps a first step is to improve our terminology, and then talk about the terminology. I would draw a distinction between “the centrist left” and “the radical left.” I am proud to be in the latter, though the USA’s present culture makes the word “radical” something of an insult. I would talk about the distinction.

    The “centrist left” could also be described as “the lukewarm left” or “the reformist left.” These people greatly outnumber us radicals. I see them all the time at protest rallies. I join them in protesting — and they are very sincere about this — against injustice, poverty, ecocide. Also war, though actually we’ve had very few antiwar rallies ever since O’bomber the Peace Prize recipient became president. Somehow, foreign policy seems to be forgotten by everyone, perhaps because corporate television rarely mentions it.

    I would say that the “centrist left” really is a left, in a fashion: These people really do care about their fellow human beings. They really do have empathy for those less fortunate than themselves. They really, sincerely do have good intentions. But we all know which road is paved with good intentions.

    What they lack is insight. They have been fooled by too much of the propaganda of the capitalists. They believe it is possible to end injustice, poverty, ecocide, and perhaps even war, without changing our economic system. They believe we can act in an unselfish fashion, even while continuing to base our economic system on selfishness.

    When I word things that way, I’m making things more obvious. But most of the “centrist left” have never heard things worded that way. They’ve never heard someone ask “do you think it is possible to behave in an unselfish fashion while continuing to base our economic system on selfishness?” That question is not part of our mainstream culture. That question is never mentioned on corporate television.

    What is to be done, then? I think we need to ask those unasked questions aloud, as often as we can. We need to try to see the world more clearly, and describe it more clearly. When enough people find a new way of seeing the world, then together we will change it.

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