revolutionary transformation

I was browsing libcom, and saw a comment from Juan Conatz on Nate’s old “Mottos and watchwords” piece

I like the final part of Juan’s comment.

On the revolutionaries should be organizers bit, I of course agree, and as we’ve talked about, one of my issues with current anarchist political organizations is that this was not prioritized. But, along with being able to push people towards the sort of transformative experiences in struggle, such experiences transform revolutionaries, too.

Being a revolutionary is something that can be easily isolating. To the point where you begin to surround yourself only or mainly with other revolutionaries. This holds true for everyone: anarchists, socialists, communists, Wobblies…we’ve all seen this. While understandable (I’m so glad I’m not around meth addicts and people with fucked up domestic abuse relationships), it can be problematic as well. Emphasizing being an organizer challenges revolutionaries in ways isolating oneself among a community of revolutionaries doesn’t.

I like the point who you surround yourself with… sorta relates to problems I have with “cultural” radicalism, but also recognizes how hard it is to be a radical surrounded by non-radicals. At the same time it speaks to how this happens… radicals feel individually isolated in a world of non-radicals (“alienation”), and seek community with other radicals which leads them to form radical cultures that isolate them as a group (“ghettoization”).

I especially like this point, which is led me to want to write this post: “along with being able to push people towards the sort of transformative experiences in struggle, such experiences transform revolutionaries, too.”

I like how open-ended this is. I’m not sure what specifically Juan had in mind when he wrote it, but, it can mean a lot of things… both good and bad. I like the nod to “social forces” (incl conflict and struggle and competition, and also social environment and who and what you are surrounded by) so to speak, and the implicit acknowledgement that revolutionaries don’t know it all or have it all planned out, no matter how much we like to flatter ourselves that we do, and we aren’t all the fearless firebrands we’d like to think we are.

A separate, tangentially point from the same comment:

Militancy is not radicalism

Pretty much agree. Direct action doesn’t always get the goods and the goods are not all we want. However, I find ‘Militancy is not radicalism’ kinda contradicts ‘it’s not about what you say, its about what you do’, which is something you’ve said before.

I’ve been thinking and chatting a lot about this. I made the same point in reverse in the “Small Time Unionism” piece more in the form of “ideological radicalism doesn’t guarantee militancy.” At the same time I’ve been really interested in, and reading a lot about, militant forms of conservative unionism (in particular, Hoffa/Teamsters). I’m interested in general in “non-ideological”/capitalistic forms of class conflict, for a few reasons, but two big ones are that it demolishes a lot of political stereotypes and established theories on the left (which is fun), and that I’m strongly attracted to the militant side of the (non-)equation. I’m more impressed by it than by the radical side, probly partly because I’ve been around plenty of radicalism and found verbal expressions of radicalism (or paper radicalism, like this blog, for one) are a lot easier than “the real thing.”

At the same time, I think radicals have a bad habit of conflating radicalism with militancy in a way that leads them to get sucked into “militant” (in various degrees) organizing as cannon fodder for reformists. The same happens with radicalism, too, sometimes radicals overestimate the radicalism of reformists, either because they take reformist left lip service at face value or because they project radical or even not-so-radical motives on folks (both “leaders” and “masses”) who haven’t necessarily even claimed to hold those motives. And then said radicals feel betrayed later when the non-radicals (who never said they were radical) turn out not to be as radical as the radicals believed. A leader example of this would be Obama. A mass example would be the “radical labor movement of the ’30s.”

(Radicals, like conservatives, are emotional creatures who operate as much or more on “feeling” and bias and prejudice, and like conservatives, radicals make good cannon fodder for politicians…)

Back on the militancy thing, though, part of the explanation for conservative working-class militancy is (non)-ideological: militant tactics can be useful.

But the other part is social/conditional: conservative workers who were militant, were militant partly because the world they lived shaped them to be. If ideology is, partly, an expression of social conditioning, let’s just say there’s different ideological expressions for growing up in a violent working-class environment. Radicalism is one expression; cut-throat, cynical capitalism is another… both of which can be, but aren’t always, militant. Reformist aversion to self-destructive violence and militant romanticism, is another possible response to those conditions… usually less militant, but even the peaceful reformists of the “radical ’30s” did their share of violent and militant deeds.

Which leads back to Juan’s point about “transformative experiences of struggle.” A lot of anarchist, syndicalist, IWW and whatnot comrades, have sayings like “action precedes consciousness” or “struggle changes everything” and the like. Well, it does, just not always in predictable ways. I’d say “it’s complicated.” Among other things, it does transform revolutionaries.


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