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What Makes A Revolutionary?


This is something the Left has to tackle and quick.

Ever since I drifted off into the far-Left I have routinely found inarticulate radicals who wax poetic over poly-syllabic words with nothing but profound ignorance and cynicism to show for it.

To destroy or not to destroy, that is the question. No! To create or not create, that is the question, and a revolutionary will note the significance of creation, not destruction.

Anyone can destroy. If all we can do to contribute to revolution is destroy then we are better off sitting down and shutting up.

We know Capitalism is a predator. We know that the dominant economic systems create class divisions, they cater to the affluent while indignant to the indigent, they reduce the quality of life to a quantity; that the very fabric of our lives are reduced to commodities to be sold, bought or traded on a cold, stale, soulless, anti-social market – a system that should be abolished!

We know that racism eats at our commonalities and diverts us from finding solidarity. We know that creating divisions or schisms amongst ourselves hurts us.

We know that, as John Lennon famously sung, women are the niggers of the world. Black men can be oppressed for being black but black women can be oppressed on multiple fronts (i.e. lesbian, atheist, poor, black and female). The early feminist movement was dominated by privileged white women who saw being house wives as oppressive and wanted to fight to have a life outside of their homes while women of color or poor white women felt left out since they needed a fight to have a life in their homes! Anyone who pays close enough attention to how men act or how women are treated can see that while some progress may have been made, we are still a long way off from battling sexism.

We know that Representative Democracy is a sham. Chomsky once noted that so long as economies are not democratic then democracy is just that, a sham. But even a political democracy can be undemocratic. We know politicians lie. We know they can be cut off from who they are supposed to represent. We know that once in office they can turn on us and that the electoral system is structured in such a way that not only do incumbents almost always win but the candidates with the most corporate backing almost always win. Furthermore, we know we don’t want Soviet or Chinese-style Communism.

In other words, I can strike up a conversation with nearly anyone who walks into my office, or that I encounter in my daily life and we can reasonably agree on most things about social life.

But what makes a revolutionary? Is it in knowing these things? Is it in knowing it should be stopped? Hardly.

On places like facebook.com you can find plenty of groups and causes discontent with capitalism. But if you say then be a part of a solution you will hear comments like this from elements of the Left who like to put on a good show about how radical and rebellious they are:

I tend to lean more towards the nihilistic destruction of the existing order. Parecon is just reformism… I consider myself to be an Insurrectionary/anti-civilization anarchist… Cartesian dualism has placed such limits on our thinking that life outside of quantitative logic is, for the most part, inconceivable to us.

These are real quotes from a real person who fits the description above. We need to be addressing these elements of “our side” more. And we should consider doing so by addressing what it means to be a revolutionary.

Being a revolutionary means creating, not destroying; we know some things are wrong so we need to know how to fix them, transcend them and so on.

Being a revolutionary means tapping the “hearts and minds” of society and gaining their support and participation; talking about destruction or the inconceivability of change on the part of “the stupid masses” or that proposing models to experiment with is undesirable (this is a silly paradox where the model being proposed is not really no model, but being unprepared since if we just waited for some unforeseen optimal time to act without having a preconceived model to experiment with our first order of the day would be to rush to the creation of a model to experiment with, thus undermining ourselves; and hasn’t this been one of the chief failures of social revolutions in the past?) is not productive and is a predictable turnoff to potential supporters. There is no better way to win approval than to reach people on their level and to do so in a fun and invigorating way. For example, my mother is somewhat liberal but very cautious of the radical left. When she saw pictures and articles on the carnival type atmosphere of activists protesting George Bush she not only felt their messages reached her but that the event looked fun. For the first time she saw the Left in ways that were not somber or reactionary, but full of humor, hope and insight.

Being a revolutionary means seeking to improve the welfare of society as a whole, to seek improved conditions and relations amongst ourselves while keeping our eye on the goal: social liberation. We shouldn’t fight for livable wages just to have livable wages. We should want livable wages because it is part of a far-reaching goal to have a truly liberated society. The same holds true for various other reforms or programmatic steps. We may want monetary policies to be adjusted to clamp down on capital flight or price controls so that livable wages are not offset by an increase cost of living; we may want to redefine property ownership of productive assets; we may want to institute progressive or more fair taxations; we may want to greatly increase the inheritance tax; we may want to reform campaign finance so that corporate interests don’t dominate; we may want to make health care and higher education free to all; we may want to strengthen labor unions or reform them internally to be more democratic; we may want to provide affordable housing for all; we may want to create participatory budgeting councils so that local communities can have more control over their local economy (we may want to expand that to nationally).

We may want all of these things, and more, to lead to something more transformational, more revolutionary: a participatory society where we have a meaningful say over our lives and take into consideration the impact our decisions have on others (i.e. self-management and solidarity). But we cannot get there unless we build our support base, and we cannot build our support base unless we can be creative in ways to be more inclusive.

If an anarchist on stilts juggling shoes to throw at Bush can reach my mother than surely we can find ways to make revolution and social liberation look as American as apple pie.

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