Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Fred Ho as Revolutionary Theorist

Speech by Quincy Saul from Fred Ho's memorial service at BAM Cafe, October 4, 2014

For the last four years of my life, Fred Ho was my mentor, manager, collaborator, comrade, and friend. Together we organized dozens of events, published three books, and co-produced an album. I studied music and politics with him, and we worked together to build organizations and campaigns toward the creative revolution to which he dedicated his life. A couple months before he passed, Fred planned his own memorial, in which he asked me to speak about “Fred Ho as Revolutionary Theorist.”

Our world has lost a master in the realm of revolutionary theory. In this context, I would like to recall the words of Mao Tse Tung, written for the memorial service of comrade Chang Szu-Teh; “All men must die, but death can vary in its significance. The ancient Chinese writer Szuma Chien said “Though death befalls all men alike, it may be heavier than Mt. Tai or lighter than a feather.” From the perspective of the development of revolutionary theory, Fred's death is heavier than Mt. Tai. 
Fred knew that not only is there no revolutionary practice without revolutionary theory, but that that the victory is won in the mind before it is won on the battlefield. Theory for him was not an armchair pastime or an academic career, but a concrete material practice of changing reality. He proved this to all of us and to the world when he developed a strategy based on Sun Tzu's Art of War and Bruce Lee's Jeet Kune Do to outmaneuver and outsmart the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, getting Russell Maroon Shoatz released from solitary confinement in the time of two years, which many if not most believed was impossible.

But what does it all mean, six months after Fred's death? We live in the matrix, and it's easy to forget the meaning of Fred's life and theory. It's easy to get distracted, by the information age, by the culture industry, and by our cell phones, which Fred rightly insisted, are not tools but dependency crutches for the incompetent. “A leaf before the eye shuts out Mt. Tai.” We're here tonight to keep our eyes on the prize.

Fred gave me this advice for public speaking: Never seek approval of the audience. Throw Molotov cocktails. Niceness is blandness. Show up to a meeting like you would show up to a fight. So in that spirit, rather than a comfortable eulogy of Fred as a scholar/intellectual, I offer some distilled theses from the revolutionary theory of Fred Ho:

  1. Fred was killed by capitalism. Cancer and capitalism are the same accelerative malignant process. The only cure for cancer is the wholesale destruction of the capitalist matrix, and its replacement by a revolutionary luddite confederation of ecosocialist maroon societies. Until we achieve this, cancer will continue to murder the strongest and brightest of us.
  2. Your socialism is obsolete and toxic. The project of socialism premised on the unfettered development of the productive forces; the inevitability of Eurocentrism, industrialism and techno-centrism, is a recapitulation of manifest destiny. We have to shut the door on the 20th century, to open the door to a 21st century indigenous-centric cosmovision and mode of existence, an anti-manifest destiny marxism.
  3. Your art is boring! From the stultifying hegemony of 4/4 time and the diatonic scale, to unimaginative fashion, from the mass manufactured mediocrity of commercial pop to the high brow mediocrity of Jazz at Lincoln Center, boring boring boring.
  4. We live in the reign of the regurgitators, in music and in politics. They must be toppled. Including and especially those who regurgitate Fred Ho. The movement is full of lazies, crazies, and flakies. In the face of this, mediocrity and complacency are as toxic as oppression. Innovation is our responsibility.
  5. Cadrification is the key to everything. All you petite-bourgeois radical intellectuals out there are liberals in practice, unless you are concretely building revolutionary organizations and developing new revolutionary leaders.
  6. We are at war. Don't let the matrix fool you. Not just in Syria, but on the cellular level. If you don't understand that we're at war, then you're faking the funk.
  7. We are at war with patriarchy and national oppression. It's not enough to be anti-racist and anti-sexist! What are you for?! You have to be for national liberation – for the reclamation of land – and for matriarchy – the original communism and the return to the producers of the products of their labor. If you're a man or from an oppressor nation, it's not enough to be an “ally”: you have to become a maroon.
  8. The accumulation of reforms does not take us closer to revolution, but draws us further away from it, deepening our colonization to the matrix of modernity. Don't rebuild the welfare state, dismantle the empire! Put revolution front and center in your life and the impossible will become inevitable.
  9. Play 5 octaves, and beyond! Perform and prefigure beyond conventional limits and standards. Insist on the highest standards, and surpass them.
  10. Music is a political practice, whether in the heights of shamanic contemplation and spirit possession, or in the material practice of building an independent means of cultural production, or in bandleading as an allegory and cross-training for armed struggle.

A friend of mine once asked Fred, “what motivates you?” As always, he was immediately ready with an answer: “2 things,” he responded: “Hatred of the empire, and love for the better world that we hear prefigured in music.”

I once sat in on a rehearsal of Fred's big band as they were preparing to record “The Sweet Science Suite.” When the band struggled with a very difficult section, Fred cut them off. “Stop reading!” he demanded, “This isn't preschool anymore. This is about telepathy.” He counted off again and this time around they made it through. “Much better,” Fred praised the band: “next we'll join the extra-terrestrials.”

I have no doubt that Fred is with them now. If he could send us a message by ansible from whatever aquatic planet he is exploring in a distant solar system, I think this is what he might say:

The whole world is just a hair's breadth from something completely different. The only limits are the limits of your imagination. Free your mind and your ass will follow. It is right to rebel.  

¡Planeta o Muerte, Venceremos!