- Category: Revolutionary Strategy
- Created on Thursday, 22 March 2012 10:28
- Written by Mike Ely
"Our self-presentation (as a movement, and even as individual people) is part of the symbolism by which our cause is judged. Because people are wise enough not to judge political forces simply by what they say they are about!"
"We should act as if people can listen and transform, and as if we too have things to learn from the each other, and from the oppressed, but even from opponents). This should be like breathing for us."
"No one minds protest movements stamped by anger -- they are trying to pressure for change. But no one wants movements taking power that are governed by anger -- because power requires vision and thought, it has to do more than just negate, it also has to construct."
"In a American society that lives in a permanent infantile present, we should stand out in our long-sighted view -- our sense of history and our focus on the future -- our patient urging that people look at horizons for what is needed and arising.
"We should come across as intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable in a prepared kind of way -- yet that should be marshaled toward shockingly militant and scathing criticism toward everything that surrounds (and oppresses) the people."
by Mike Ely
Chegitz writes in our parallel discussion around "Communist foreshocks: Words, ritual and symbols":
For example: Telling is involved in the important practice of "speaking bitterness" by the oppressed, but also involved in the development of common campaigns with legitimized and accountable new systems of political command and control.
We need a new written program (eventually, after much new thought and practice). We need a new basis of unity (both provisional now, and consolidated later). We need slogans and refined raps that can both connect and illuminate -- really: We need words that blow minds.
But politics is both symbolic and conjunctural -- and so movements also "represent" (and communicate) in ways beyond their words.
People broadly (including "non-political" people) think about power and change in many ways. They rally to specific "poles" of struggle and power based (in large part) on what they come to believe that pole "represents" and what other opposing choices represent.
And representation is conveyed in many simultaneous ways (program matters, agitational exposure conveys what you are against and for, how your people conduct themselves matters (the symbolic vibe of both collective presentation and personal conduct), and there are many things handled on the level of art and culture (what symbols you adopt, what dialect your spokespeople use, how your graphics connect to culture and artistic power, how you interact with the sensibilities and climate among youth (including emergent, divergent subcultures).
If I belong.... what will that mean?
For example: What does it mean to "belong"? It means (in many cases) embracing a common articulated basis of unity. It also involves spoken and unspoken commitments (of time, discipline, obedience sometimes, obligation to speak candidly about problems and beliefs and disagreements, etc.)
Often oppressed people have seen models of cadre life that seems alien to them and impossible: Our political life has seemed over-intellectualized (in graduate student kind of way the non-educated feel inherently excluded from).
Often cadre organizations have represented a kind of moralistic hyperactivity that many working people can't hope to be part of -- Just for example: What kind of revolution is possible if young women with children can't participate (or become leaders)? And what does it mean for a movement to make that possible?
Among oppressed people thinking of "belonging" to a revolutionary movement, there is often the question "Will we have each other's back? If I step out and meet attack, will you be there? How exactly?"
Emerging revolutionaries among the people also want to understand how a revolutionary movement will be 'heard" in their communities -- will it connect? Will it know how to speak to people? (The example of Malcolm X was raised, precisely because he was brilliant at this -- representing and connecting the advanced while he was sharply leading and criticizing.)
Revolutionary presentation and a question of anger
Our self-presentation (as a movement, and even as individual people) is part of the symbolism by which our cause is judged. Because people are wise enough not to judge political forces by what they say they are about!
Some people are willing to join movements that project a permanent state of anger, but few people would want to be governed by people defined by such anger.
Militancy, yes. Relentless partisan opposition to oppression, yes. Indignant passion when people are mistreated, yes.
But who wants a movement, a gang, a party, an army run by the Sonny Corleones of this world? Who thinks that this contains a sensibility that can encourage justice?
Put another way: No one minds protest movements stamped by anger -- they are trying to pressure for change. But no one wants movements taking power that are governed by anger -- because power requires vision and thought, it has to do more than just negate, it has to construct.
"Serve the people" is a watchword of the new society -- especially and particularly for those with responsibility. (The people themselves need to focus on somewhat different watchwords in the new society including "It is right to rebel.")
The vibes of past movements
The Young Lords Party (a remarkable Puerto Rican revolutionary and semi-communist organization in the late 60s) radiated a kind of soft love of the people, and a hard determination to risk all for their liberation. It was highly attractive when you met them (or at least the best of them).
The Russian communist movement (from say 1915 to 1930) projected a kind of militant modernism mixed with working class identity -- they saw themselves as the future embodied, and presented themselves as the hard-core stormers of enemy strongholds, sweeping aside obstacles by force and will.
The Chinese communists answered a corrupt, crumbling society of great injustices with a startling and welcome radiance of empowerment -- they were incorruptible and armed. They were seen as assimilating world knowledge (concentrated in science and Marxism) but remaining deeply (militantly) Chinese (at a time when a pride-filled China was being crudely chopped up and humiliated). They had an earthiness about them that came from the peasant villages -- and they were obviously unimpressed with the ultra-refinement and decadence of the Confucian gentry. They were practical, competent and goal oriented in a society of glaring incompetence and weakness.
And they stood for rapid development with radical equality -- against a feudalism that embodied stagnation with profound inequality.
Red, their color, stood for happiness in the culture.
Style of work: How we embody a cause
I think we should think through what our coming communist pole needs to project and represent -- in this society and this moment.
Certainly we should be a startling mix of the profoundly multinational/multiracial and the die-hard antiracist. Malcolm said that when you put cream in your coffee it becomes weaker -- we must prove him wrong. We need a multinationalism that is visibly uncompromising in its anti-racism (meaning its opposition to historic, ongoing and structural oppression of diverse peoples in the U.S. -- African Americans, Mexican and Chicano, Native People, immigrants from the whole world, Asian American people, Puerto Rican people on and off the island, and more). We need to show both an intent to end this, and real insights into its depth and complexity (how racist oppression is entwined with the very fabric of American life and identity.)
Such a multinational mix gives great hope, when it is done right.
Our movement cannot be a bickering bucket of mutually hostile and jealous crabs -- permanently divided by gender and nationality.
But we need to become a gathering of people who have worked out methods of trust and solidarity -- on the basis of (again) truly militant and common opposition to the oppression of people. A common cause producing a rare and exciting form of unity and collaboration.
And we should represent (in our movement) a model of how oppression of subgroups can be overcome through a consciously developed diversity (not through forced assimilation into a generic rootlessness).
Our sense of identity (and we have one, and need to project one) is a universal one -- not the "jealous and demanding Self writ large" that marks much identity politics .
Meaning, we need speak for the whole within the part.
We speak for common interests and common long range goals within the mobilization of diverse forces. We seek to encourage (and model) new forms of ongoing self-criticism and mutual critcism among people and of transformation through practice and common goals.
We should be seen as standing for the world, for the humanity of the whole world and also for the diverse life that is endangered. And against reactionary forms of nationalism -- certainly American chauvinism first of all-- but also forms of narrow nationalism that crop up among the oppressed (like the hatred of immigrants in some ghettos).
We should be thoughtfully secular and tolerant in a world of religious fanaticism.
Not hostile to religious community and social justice concerns, but obviously undistracted by mystical fantasy thinking (of prayer, and fatalistic belief in the inherent justice "God's will.")
I think we should be respectful toward people (even toward the foibles and backwardness among the people we serve) but ferociously unrepentent toward their oppression and their all-too common abuse of each other. We shold call (as Malcolm did) for people to break with their own chains -- and we should not be afraid to speak shocking truths that no one else dares to mention.
Listening and learning constantly!
We should act as if people can listen and transform, and as if we too have things to learn (certainly from the each other, and from the oppressed, but even from opponents, or those who are wrong on many things).
This should be like breathing for us.
And, in a American society that lives in a permanent infantile present, we should stand out in our long-sighted view -- our sense of history and our focus on the future -- our patient urging that people look at horizons for what is needed and arising.
We should come across as intelligent, thoughtful, reasonable in a prepared kind of way -- yet that should be marshaled toward shockingly militant and scathing criticism toward everything that surrounds (and oppresses) the people.
Meaning: Reasonable but shockingly radical. That mix is powerful among the alienated, because it gives them hope that change is practical and possible.
Holistic, not parochial. Generous and insightful, not petty and spiteful. We should be known for forthrightness, not petty intrigues and snarky backbiting. And gawd, how many have constructed a mean snarkiness on the back of their own pessimism. If you intend to "unite the many, oppose the few" you can't afford to be a petty asshole.
If we are governed by anything, at core, it should be our thoughtful militancy, our love of the people, our sense of long-term vision and our deeply internationalist (global, holistic, solidarity based) approach to the problems of humanity.
And I'm sure there are many other things we could list here -- and that we can embed in a common emerging style of work.