I’ve been having a kind of existential crisis about my mass work recently—a real, deep crisis, like getting beat up over and over again by a question you can’t shake. Eight years into my movement work, whole possible lives that weren’t lived in service and commitment and unity of this struggle I find myself asking my comrade: how is what we’re doing going to get us from here to there, to revolution? I confess that I’m in the kind of hard times when I more plainly see the end of the world as we know it than the beginning of the world we’re fighting for, the world we want. So I’m doing a lot of thinking and asking questions about the mass work, how we do it, what we’re doing even, and that really fundamental and existential question: why do we do this at all? Why fight?
It turns out I’m not alone — many comrades share the same question or variations on it. We’re stumped a little, maybe in a little bit of shock about the shared lack of clarity and certainly in contemplation on that most basic question. We know we’re surely not the first to ask it, but can’t remember an answer ever being given to us. We want to be strategic, and so we’re afraid that we find ourselves doing this kind of thing out of the powerful forces of habit and history instead of a shared and unified vision for how we make revolution out of—prepare yourself for scare quotes—”reform” work we’re doing together. We’ve spent a lot of time pooh-poohing the kind of revolutionaries who have convinced themselves that the masses aren’t worth struggling alongside, and that the enlightenment of their communist ideas need only be pushed and carried and shoved in by way of paper and polemic. We have no patience for bloggers, for those who you see at every conference but have never seen do a task, for those whose failure to engage with any segment of the literally billions of oppressed people in this world has resulted in their commitment to “theoretical work” from isolation behind a computer screen. No love for the tourist-activists—those moving and hopping from one place to the next. We have held up the tireless and dogged social movement fighters next to those who have really helped lead a people to make revolution. But here we are, asking ourselves: Why?
Here’s an outlay of some of our ideas about “why we fight”:
- We do this work to find one another, which is unquestionably and without doubt foundationally necessary for what we are trying to do. We need to connect with those who are like us, to develop unity from personal and political struggle together, to learn together. And then we need to move forward together in higher and more developed ways, even as we continue to search for and be searched for in our movements.
- We do this work to make the sea in which revolutionaries can swim. We are unconvinced that revolution is the spontaneous organization and then struggle of a class to overthrow its oppressors; rather, those liberatory moments in the history of people when we have taken such action have come in the context of a society that is already being shaken by the friction of movements and struggles. We cannot swim in an ocean without water; we cannot make revolution in a society that lacks struggle. We need the greatest possible amount of agitation and antagonism between our class and the one we seek to overthrow and take power from before forces exist that can do just that.
- We do this work to serve the people. Mao’s precious slogan is not lost on us, and in the absence of a force that is moving forward with making revolution in our lifetimes, it is only the ideologically bankrupt that don’t, and can’t, fight alongside and win victories and changes in the lives of the people. We think that our ideas will be taken up not just by the rightness and wrongness of our line, but by the trust we have earned, the knowledge we have gotten together, and the shared experience of fighting next to one another. We think we need to earn our leadership, and not substitute our own belief in the righteousness of our ideology with the belief that other people will have in it. Communists are justifiably scary people: we talk openly and with desire about overthrowing the government, of changing everything about the existing social order. We fight because it makes other people scary with us, and makes us less scary to them.
We want to conclude by saying that we’re trying to answer, here, a “why” question, not a “how” or a “where” or “when” question, but we think those are critically and deeply important. We don’t just need a communist commitment to mass work, but a communist method of mass work—and we’re not convinced that we have that yet. We’ve heard people talk about mass work before in ways that are already figured out; “we don’t need to reinvent the wheel.” Of course, the reason the wheel never needed to be reinvented is because it worked; it moved us from here to there. What we’re saying is that we know we need a wheel—we need mass work—but we need a wheel that moves us. We’re trying to ask and answer questions toward such an end, and we urge and invite others to do the same.
The Tennessee District of Freedom Road is an all young people collective of rank-and-file, former student, and labor activists. We roll deep.Download this piece as a PDF