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Title: Shooting the arrow/stroking the arrow : post-sixties Maoism in the United States
Author: Morgan, David
ISNI:       0000 0004 2692 0059
Awarding Body: Newcastle University
Current Institution: University of Newcastle upon Tyne
Date of Award: 2010
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Shooting the Arrow/Stroking the Arrow is a fictional documentary made up of two parts. The first part, Shooting the Arrow, is an autobiographical novel based on the author’s experience as a Maoist activist in Seattle in the 1970s and early 1980s. The story begins at the end, in 1981, when Fred, who has by now dropped out of the Party to become a writer, travels down to Los Angeles to investigate the police murder of Damian Garcia, a local Maoist activist. Los Angeles is a city of danger and diversity. Twenty percent of the population is foreign born, and much of the city is broken up into barrios and ghettos, where the police presence has the flavor of an army of occupation in a country like Vietnam. The interviews that Fred conducts show the high stakes and set an international context for the rest of the novel. The narrative then returns to the beginning of the story in 1971, when Fred first joins the Party. It follows Fred’s personal and family life, his life inside the Party and the Party’s political work in the shipyards, factories and on the streets. The narrative is episodic, similar in form to Brecht’s epic theatre, leaping to key personal and political conjunctures in Fred’s life, only this being a novel rather than a play, the conjunctures are not presented as single events, but as narrative units. The novel tells the story of what happened to an influential section of the Sixties movement that has largely been written out of the historical accounts, especially in the United States. Neither flower children nor mad bombers, these were activists who became hard core revolutionaries and tried to bring their revolutionary ideas back into the working class from which many of them had come. Stroking the Arrow is a study of the Maoist conception of dialectical materialism that forms the core philosophy of the main characters in the novel. I argue that Maoist dialectics is simply the further development of the process – begun by Marx and Engels and continued by Lenin – of stripping Hegelian dialectics of its teleological framework. The only universal law of Maoist dialectics is the unity and struggle of opposites: the contradiction in all things between the new and arising versus the old and dying away. As such, dialectics is a working tool, and its only ontological implication is that everything changes. Mao is the first in the tradition of Scientific Marxism to explicitly reject the universality of the law of negation of the negation with its teleological implications. History is a process without an absolute subject, but it is not a process without subjects of any kind. Rather, there is a unity of opposites between determinism and agency. Freedom does not lie in the suspension of causality, but in understanding and being able to consciously manipulate causal relations. The individual – or group – becomes a subject to the extent that it is able to consciously step outside the situation that created it. No matter how big the situation, there is always an outside. The object of Marxist political activism is to enable the working class to step outside the process that created it and become the subject of history, rather than its victim.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available