Wrong Targets

Consider a radical writer crafting an article that explains how “Move On” isn’t radical, “Our Revolution” isn’t revolutionary, Democrats aren’t Democratic, the anti-Trump resistance overemphasizes Trump, Sanders isn’t seriously socialist, #MeToo is institutionally weak, BLM underplays class, unions underplay race, every demand does less than demand everything, and more.

Suppose this radical writer pinpoints real inadequacies and claims his or her targeted project is insufficiently informed, motivated, courageous, broad, or committed to win a new world and that without winning a new world our future is to melt, drown, starve, get incinerated, exploited, raped, or shot. The writer may even get many dismissive claims about others (partially) correct, but who does it help to disdainfully conclude or even just imply that every effort is about nothing more than turning activists into system supporters, or about winning less than everything we should want? Who does writing that slams but doesn’t uplift help? What does it accomplish?

The only way it makes sense to claim #MeToo only misdirects activists into electoralism is if one believed the huge audiences relating to #MeToo are long-time radical activists who will soon journey back toward system support. But isn’t it obvious that #MeToo involves huge numbers of people who are newly moving in an activist and empowering direction? How can any radical writers not see and prioritize aiding rather than discounting that?

Similarly, radical writers who tell us that huge numbers of awakening people supporting ecological, or anti racist, or electoral, or other campaigns, may move no further and in time may fall back, are correct. They are also correct that some seek to impose that result, that more would like that result, and that many would settle for it without shame or pain. All that is true. But is saying it enough for those radical writers to have made a contribution? Maybe saying it is better than competing for who can bash Trump with the best turn of phrase – but is it enough?

Even if he or she regrettably starts out wanting only to criticize, who should a radical writer usefully investigate as causes of newly active folks falling back away? The Democratic Party? Oprah? Sanders? The people first getting active? Maybe there is a better answer.

Does railing yet again at all the inadequacies of liberalism, limited electoralism, or even less redundantly largely elite-identified narrow dissent, while offering nothing better to take their place, welcome newly roused folks toward more sustained commitment and awareness? Does it supportively offer tools, insights, or hope that they can use for a continued journey? Or does it alienate them, derail them, and drive them back toward a state of inaction they had just now begun escaping?

If we want to find causes of the potential devolution of anti-Trump, anti-sexism, anti-racism, anti-inequality, anti-global warming, anti-war upsurges back into limited electoral quiescence, maybe we should look in the mirror.

Why do we point at liberals, elites, and everyone but the few who actually already have high understanding and commitment and who should be trying to grow, inspire, and enhance activism, when we wonder why so many people moved toward activism by upsurges get sucked back into non-activist life?

Is the radical writer’s task to write mainly to be applauded by people who already agree with what we say even at the cost of avoiding more difficult and controversial issues that might aid those who don’t yet agree? Or is our task to write to constructively and to supportively reach out even when doing so requires tackling trickier issues and tasks then bashing Trump, or, for that matter, bashing everyone but ourselves?

Perhaps we radical writers ought to consider that applying our prodigious wisdom and endless energy to debunking every new step every newly engaged person takes, much less to endlessly lambasting only Trump, instead of celebrating new steps and then modestly and tentatively offering vision, strategy, program, and support, has a share of the fault.

Perhaps constantly attacking whatever seems bigger than ourselves and isn’t yet part of ourselves is part of the problem. Perhaps our not offering a compelling destination and not critically clarifying and celebrating peoples’ tentative initial steps forward is part of why those first taking such steps too often get derailed.


  1. avatar
    James January 28, 2018 9:45 pm 

    If the goal for change isn’t clear, a vision for the future if only modestly or tentatively put up, with associated program and strategy, and constantly reaffirmed, then much activity, newly taken up by many who are becoming more fucked of and aware of the need for change, then it is certainly true that falling back towards less radical program or out of activism all together is likely.

    If it isn’t constantly made clear that there are actual real ways to rearrange economies and polities, in equitable ways, that foster solidarity, diversity and self-management, with well worked and described program and strategies to get there, then the giving up is likely.

    If it isn’t shown that pay disparities within industry is deeply connected to those across industry, and that that conversation is as important if not more so, and that they are deeply connected with racism and sexism and that these are reinforced further by existing institutional structures within all spheres of society and that to tackle one is to tackle the many, and that every effort in one specific area, no matter how small, has its place within and is connected to the wider goal of building a better world and arriving at that place, then it is likely that those new to activism may fall away, disappear or focus on just reforms here and there and then go home after a victory.

    I think Michael is pointing to a lack in the approach of the radical writer, not that of the liberal or not so progressive. There is something they persistently ignore or tackle only occasionally or acknowledge fleetingly or only at the back end of their book in that last chapter out of fifteen, or the last two short paragraphs of an article. The rest focused possible on much of what Albert knowingly says in the above, because he is involved in publishing such stuff and reads more than most ever will.

    Most say, “we need a mass movement, we need vision, we need a new economy, we need a new polity, real democracy…etc..We need someone to come up with all this stuff, eco-socialism”, but then, nothing. I look for the next chapter, the next instalment, yet find nothing. I have to look myself elsewhere and that is difficult and time consuming and many a person new to activism via a specific focus or issue, more than likely won’t make that effort, mainly because they don’t know about the existence of other things beyond their specific focus, mainly because the people they read, some of whom may be radical writers are not informing them of these things, and are not helping them go further, dig deeper, and look larger and towards vision that is possible and can be attained through associated program and strategy.

    Many are not made aware that Lakey’s call to vision and Albert’s put them in the same room together. That Wallerstein’s call for it puts him in that room also, along with Alperovitz, Schwieckart, Hahnel, Olin-Wright, Trainer, Kovel, Bauwens, Siefkes, Fotopoulos and other’s. Many are not made aware that working backwards from coherent, clear vision helps connect the reform dots, the specific single issue dots, the electoral dots and the inter connectedness of them all, not in a mystical airy fairy way, but in an institutional structural way, a material way that enables newbies to see that fighting for that pedestrian crossing for their kids is a step towards fighting against police oppression, state oppression and repression, and alternately a better polity and economy and world.

    Most radical writers know of the Spanish revolution, it’s successes and its failures. I see them written often. But I rarely read or hear of de Santillan and his effort to clarify institutionally an economic vision for an anarchist society. Rarely do radical writers talk of Castoriadis and his efforts, or Fotopoulos, or Albert and Hahnel or even right now, even among those writing of the need for vision. Rarely do I read of the NSP and it’s efforts and it’s attempt at “meta-analysis” of the plethora of published visionary ideas (yes, apparently something like this is being done but I only know because I emailed them), that to me all appear to be much the same apart from the writing style and a few words here and there.

    Murray Bookchin felt he failed in his attempts for libertarian municapalism or social ecology, towards the end of his life. Janet Biehl, his partner and biography, in the bio wrote that she has jumped the radical activist ship, over to the electoral one of social democracy. Why? Perhaps the reason is exactly what Michael is suggesting, a lack of support for those out there offering vision, program and strategy. A lack of material offering the insights and tools needed to sustain a push for actual societal change and not just incremental shifts disconnected from the larger picture or system and Trump bashing.

    If radicals of Bookchin’s stature and experience, a lifetime of hardcore activism from the age of nine, and Biehl, feel failure or fall away, what hope is there for newbies placing their toe into activist waters for the first time?

    Radical writers so often stop right where they are meant to pick up the baton and keep going, and it appears to me, perhaps wrongly, who knows, they don’t much like to talk to one another and cannot hang in the same room for very long. Paul Street, in a personal email, felt most of the hardcore left leadership needed therapy to deal with the ego tripping, but even that, at least to me wasn’t helpful at all. It was just acknowledging what Michael in a different way is suggesting above. There is a lack among radical writers that needs to be addressed and soon.

  2. avatar
    Paul D January 28, 2018 6:56 pm 


    Sadly, I think all this destructive lefter-than-thou one-upmanship criticism among leftist writers (“Counterpunch” having the best examples of this) largely come from the fact that the US left has declined to the point that it is largely limited to what the British once called the “chattering classes” – the class of left-leaning comfortable bourgeois for whom their passionately held views are, nonetheless, essentially just hobbies. They can afford to engage in these parlour games because, in the end, are not affected by the tragic totally unorganized disarray of the left in the USA.

    Meanwhile, the great masses of low-wage, non-union service workers and “Form 1099 so-called “independent contractors” remain totally unorganized and unaware – they don’t even know the leftists writers OR the targets of their criticism even exist!

    We can still only dream of the kind or organizing they seem to have “across the pond” which brought the working-class left back into the leadership of their Labour Party. Have activists on the US left ever considered sending a study group over there to meet with them and see how they accomplished this?

  3. avatar
    David Jones January 28, 2018 4:22 pm 

    I am curious why you continue with this straw-man form of critique? If there is a specific article we could refer to, so that we might check your references, it would be more fair, not just assuming we take your word concerning the tone and content of a critique you may have misread.
    Too often those on the left-Left take a condescending attitude towards liberals, believing they can’t handle a little critique, that they are so fragile a criticism will stop them from participating at all.
    If I see an article in YES magazine supporting nuclear power as the way to solve the climate crisis I will be critical to their face. And not worry that I have somehow “lost” them.

    • avatar
      Paul D January 28, 2018 7:03 pm 

      I’m well to the left of the liberal “Yes” magazine. But as an engineer with experience dealing with the safety records various kinds of power generation. I believe, with objective scientific basis, that nuclear power has a place in addressing global warming.

      Nonetheless, we must still organize and work together on issues of much greater importance to the working class.

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