Jacobin - November 18, 2019
"Exhaustion of resources includes the exhaustion of human resources. Lots of times people want to do something but they don’t know what to do or how to do it. They may be isolated in nonunionized workplaces, overburdened by multiple flextime positions, stretched thin caring for friends and family. Disciplined organization — the discipline of comrades committed to common struggle for an emancipatory egalitarian future — can help here. Sometimes we want and need someone to tell us what to do because we are too tired and overextended to figure it out for ourselves. Sometimes when we are given a task as a comrade, we feel like our small efforts have larger meaning and purpose, maybe even world-historical significance in the age-old fight of the people against oppression. Sometimes just knowing that we have comrades who share our commitments, our joys, and our efforts to learn from defeats makes political work possible where it was not before."
We’re constantly being told that our problems can be solved by imagination, big ideas, and creativity. It seems that creative new ideas will not only solve the climate crisis but eliminate extreme inequality and even triumph over race hate. Weirdly, this appeal to “think big” and be “imaginative” unites everyone from tech giants to socialist activists, mainstream politicians, and “luxury communists.”
This apparent unity prevents us from seeing how severe the underlying conflicts over capitalism, borders, migration, and resources really are. Division recedes from view, hidden by the fantasy that there could be some idea big enough, creative enough, and imaginative enough to solve all our problems — seemingly instantaneously.
Such is the illusion driving the appeal to imagination. But the reality is that we face fundamental conflicts over the future of our societies and our world. Social change isn’t painless. We need to accept the reality of division, know whose side we are on, and fight to strengthen that side. We don’t need to convince everyone. Rather, we need to convince enough people to carry out the struggle and win.
Big ideas are nothing without cadre to fight for them. Yet too much of the contemporary left, particularly in the UK and US, has failed to develop and sustain strong, committed, organized fighters. The discipline of collective work on behalf of a shared goal has been replaced by an individualist rhetoric of comfort and self-care.
This rhetoric, and the practices it recommends, respond to a real problem — the scarcity of political organizations that are meaningful for their members and supportive of their needs. Absent such organizations, some leftists treat social media as a political outlet. But given the nonstop outrage, going online in order to be a left-winger can be deeply masochistic.
Those supposed to be on our side are the ones who disparage us the most. The same also happens when momentary issue groups form to plan actions or events. Accustomed to the harms and offenses of capitalism’s mobilized bigotries, we are easily offended and slow to trust others. Appealing to self-care addresses the symptom, but not the cause of our political incapacity. It ignores what we are really missing — a political relation built on solidarity.
The history of socialist and communist organization gives us a figure that embodies such a relation — the comrade. As a mode of address, figure of belonging, and carrier of expectations, comrade designates the relation between those who are on the same side of a political struggle. Going beyond a sense of politics as a matter of individual conviction, comrade points to the expectations of solidarity needed in order to build a shared political capacity. Because of our comrades’ expectations we show up to meetings we would otherwise miss, do political work we might avoid, and try to live up to our responsibilities to each other. We experience the joy of committed struggle, of learning through practice. We overcome fears that might overwhelm us were we forced to confront them alone. Our comrades make us better, stronger, than we could ever be alone. ...
Read full article at Jacobin