Chen was offering practical wisdom important for the personal development of understanding and knowledge in the fields of common sense and music. His insights parallel what I have tried to formulate for the field of historical social science, which also could be called historical political economy. The field attained its highest stage of scientific development in the West with the work of Marx, but since the time of Marx, it has become fragmented in the universities, and the separated disciplines of philosophy, history, economics, political science, sociology, and anthropology have emerged. As a result of its fragmentation in the universities, the evolution of the field of historical political economy has occurred in the domain of political struggles for social justice, formulated by charismatic leaders, of whom Lenin, Mao, Ho, and Fidel are the most exemplary. (See various posts in this category of Knowledge).
I have maintained that, with respect to the development of the understanding of social justice issues, especially important is listening to voices of the social movement leaders of the colonized and neocolonized peoples of the planet, inasmuch as they have a vantage point “from below.” However, as I have observed, such encounter with the movements of the colonized is overlooked systemically in the cultures of the North, or at least not developed beyond superficiality. This limitation affects even the understanding and the political discourse of the Left.
What would we learn if we were to listen carefully to the voices of the Third World revolutionary leaders? We would arrive to important insights in two areas. First, we would arrive to much greater understanding with respect to global political and social dynamics. We would learn that the world-system and world-economy have been constructed on a colonial foundation of peripheralization of the economies of the world, thus converting the world’s economies into providers of cheap raw materials and purchasers of surplus manufactured goods, resulting in underdevelopment and poverty in vast regions of the world and in the economic growth of the colonizing nations. We would learn that the colonized peoples of the world, with variation in particularities and in degrees of advancement, forged anti-colonial revolutions that sought national sovereignty and social transformation; they attained political independence but not true sovereignty, thus establishing the foundations of the neocolonial world-system. We would learn that as the neocolonial world-system entered a sustained crisis, as a result of its having reached the geographical limits of the earth, its elites launched economic and military attacks against the peoples and nations of the earth, in violation of the imperialist rules of neocolonial domination, for which the fiction of a democratic world was necessary. We would learn that the elite attack on the peoples in the context of systemic crisis have given rise to two serious problems, namely, a new form of terrorism that indiscriminately targets civilians, and an uncontrolled international migration to core zones. And we would learn that some anti-colonial and anti-neocolonial revolutions, notably those in China, Vietnam, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Bolivia, have forged stable political systems and growing economies and are cooperating with one another in developing new international guidelines that could serve as the foundation of an alternative more just and sustainable world-system. We would learn these things if we were to learn to listen, because a host of Third World political and social movement leaders, academics, intellectuals, and journalists understands them.
Secondly, we would arrive to appreciate the importance of the art of politics, a quality that has been exhibited by social movement leaders of the Third World. The revolutionary leaders that were successful obtaining the support of their peoples invariably demonstrated a high capacity for appreciating the issues, slogans, and discourses that would provoke a responsive chord among the people. In addition, they understood that the people, outraged by abuses and social injustices, possess a revolutionary spontaneity, but that the people must be led toward the necessary road.
Cultural factors influence our capacity to listen. The culture of the United States, for example, with its historic economic development forged by commerce, the conquest of new territories, and individual dreams of upward mobility, listening to others has not been a quality of high priority. In contrast, for the colonized peoples of the Third World, the experience of colonialism made apparent the different ways of viewing the world among the peoples of the planet as well as the necessity for cooperation and mutual listening among humans. Now, as the multifaceted economic, political, ecological, and cultural crisis of the world-system deepens, the need for profound listening increasingly is necessary for political stability and ecologically sustainable economic growth.