Activists aggressively confront current injustices. Shouldn’t we also advocate revolutionary changes and develop revolutionary vision to inform our acts?
But what is revolutionary? Revolution rejects selfish anti sociality, grotesque income and wealth hierarchies, horrible homogeneity, all war, global burning, wretched starvation, all racial, gender, and sexual oppression, and the authoritarian exclusion of most of humanity from having any say over life determining decisions. More positively, revolution seeks new institutions able to accomplish economic, kinship, cultural, and political functions while also delivering solidarity, equity, diversity, peace, ecological wisdom, and collective self management.
Saying I want the world and I want it now, is poetic but not revolutionary. Saying I want freedom, fairness, and self management is not revolutionary either, though it is very sensible. Saying I want fundamentally different institutions – and seeking them – is revolutionary.
The question I raise is not what institutions should we seek, but why do so few activists even have an image of what those institutions should be.
Suppose lots of revolutionaries agreed about systemic aims. What difference would that make for approaching issues in Greece, the rest of Europe, Latin America, myriad wars, climate catastrophes, rampant racism, immigration hostilities, gender and sexual oppression, and horrifying business as usual? If having shared revolutionary aims would have no effect on activists’ priorities activists would spend little time generating and sharing such aims. However, if having such aims would benefit immediate as well as long term prospects, why wouldn’t folks work at it?
So, would having shared revolutionary commitments make a difference? Yes, in four ways.
- Having shared commitments would engender hope, counter cynicism, and turn us from nay-saying critics of something old into upbeat advocates of something new.
- Having commitments would enrich our ability to evaluate current relations because something is unacceptable now only if there is an alternative that could correct the fault.
- Having shared commitments would provide commonality of understanding and focus that could unify efforts to win disparate struggles in each country and also across borders.
- And mostly, having shared commitments would make our paths of resistance not only fit what current conditions make possible, but also lead toward where we want to arrive rather than someplace horrible.
Let’s briefly consider some specific examples.
Greeks have been trying to escape horrible weakness and vulnerability. Lacking shared revolutionary goals, Greek activist tend to emphasize only current pains and the constellation of forces bolstering those pains or seeking improved immediate results. With shared revolutionary goals, Greek activists would emphasize not only current suffering but also desires to achieve new conditions from which steadily more people will seek full social transformation.
Further, if Greeks knew a reasonable amount about what that transformation would involve, it would alter how they approach current tasks. Greek agendas would seek to create massive militant informed support within Greece against austerity, but would also seek to develop grassroots organization to withstand the assault by Europe, and would finally also very consciously seek to plant organizational, ethical, and ideological seeds of a better future.
Do more Greeks favor long term struggle now than five months ago? Do more Greeks know where that struggle can and should journey? Are more Greeks able to contribute knowledgeably to the trip? Are new institutions welcoming new militant activists to joint efforts?
Or consider a more limited fight over wages in a particular industry or workplace. Whether those battling for more income have shared revolutionary aims or not, the proximate demand is likely the same – we want higher hourly wages. But with no shared revolutionary aims, higher wages is the only priority. In contrast, sharing revolutionary goals, activists would seek higher wages, yes, of course, but by a route that yields lasting organizational power and a steadily enriched allegiance to much deeper long term aims.
On the one hand an activist says more income would alleviate pain, so let’s have it. On the other hand, an activist says the income warranted in a desirable economy would be correlated to duration, intensity, and onerousness of socially valued work. Moving toward that goal by winning our immediate demand is good for the immediate benefit it will convey but also as a means to move still further later. In the former case, we win higher wages and stop struggling. In the latter case, we win higher wages not least to continue struggling from a stronger position and with steadily enlarging insight and commitment.
Or, consider an election. With no revolutionary vision, a campaign overwhelmingly tries to amass votes. With revolutionary vision, a campaign also tries to create lasting infrastructure and move audiences toward fuller commitment while laying a basis for ongoing electoral and also non electoral struggle. A candidate passes through New Hampshire in the U.S. or Caracas in Venezuela. With revolutionary commitments guiding its choices, the criteria of success shifts from how many points in the poll did we gain, to how much lasting understanding and organization did we build.
So why is infinitely more activist and radical energy given to endlessly analyzing what is wrong with society than given to developing shared vision of new institutions?
We need an answer because the simple, ineluctable fact is that without arriving a shared vision we will not have sufficient coherence, longevity, solidarity, and insight to win lasting gains in the short term much less a new society. Whatever obstacles impede arriving at shared vision is, they need to be overcome.