Why is it so hard for justice to prevail in the world? Why have the unceasing struggles of people around the world to overcome the violent, repressive, exploitative, irrational, bullying rule of capitalism not yet succeeded? Why has this cruel system not yet been superseded in our world by just, inclusive and compassionate social relations, given the millions of movements for justice and liberation demanding–and trying them out from neighborhood to nation—since and which so clearly pursue the desires of the vast majority—caring, fairness, a cent life for all?
To put it in scientific terms: We get slammed.
All historic systems of inequality are violent, simply because people do not naturally submit to unfair, unkind treatment and must be forced to do so. Capitalism, however, takes violence to a new level, and incorporates all earlier types of control and coercion in order to keeping itself going.
There is no reasoning with it. Its only motivation is keeping itself in power, continually enriching itself, engulfing the world, always rewarding the most violent and rapacious. Hence the metaphor of the Beast—keeping in mind, however, that this system is not a living thing though humans run it (and are run by it).
So, this is a given, a fact of life for activists, revolutionaries, all folks who fight the Beast in any of its myriad forms (including the Beast’s colonization of our own minds). We will be attacked, in any of many, many ways.
Some of these are ways we are very familiar with, for whatever that may be worth, including some practice in protecting ourselves and confronting them. Other forms of attack are more insidious.
In general, movements for justice, liberation and new social relations get slammed, and within these, the most active and visible individuals are especially targeted.
[Protect Our Activists looks at OA focuses in on how and why this (social movements not succeeding) happens, and on ways people around the world have found and are finding to understand and counter the relentless attacks against us. ]
POA feels it is vital to pool our understanding about the ways the Beast attacks and the most effective ways to expose and counter it. Concrete situations differ, of course, but the Beast is actually working from a narrow, limited playbook, emloying the same basic tactics with endless variations. And, of course, a death grip on the world’s resources plus infinite ruthlessness.
That’s a lot to contend with, but contend we must. We already are, of course, and have been. We just need to do it better, protecting ourselves more effectively from the Beast’s onslaughts. Earth and all her inhabitants depend upon it.
We have made a lot of progress. People understand, for example, that equality within social movements is important, practicing what is preached. People understand that activists need care themselves to be able to care for the world. There is much to be learned still in these spheres, but we’ve advanced.
Other threats are as yet in need of much attention. These include:
– Division. We all recognize our vulnerability to this ever-present danger—everyone knows the adage “divide and conquer.” We have definitely progressed here, in understanding how race, nationality, and other oppressive categorizations are deployed to divide movements. And, in fact, the Beast can exploit virtually any internal diversity or difference for this purpose. Yet we do not have nearly enough effective, proactive ways to prevent and counter it, and so continue to be plagued and weakened as it is wielded against us in many modalities by the Beast.
– Resource deprivation. What resources do we need to do our work of mobilizing for justice and a way of life based in equality, compassion, dignity and community-based control over life and resources? Time, people, space, money, skill, energy, knowledge, promotion/dissemination, useful material items. There is something of a seesaw among these things, and figuring out how they interrelate and how to obtain and distribute them is a major undertaking.
And a major point of dangerous, irresolvable internal contradiction, a determinant contradiction, if you will, because the need for material sustenance (in the materialist sense) is what ties us most directly, materially, into the capitalist system we are working to overcome and transform. This point of vulnerability is used most effectively by the Beast, to starve us out, co-opt, bribe and corrupt us, and induce us to squabble over crumbs as well as buy some of us outright to infiltrate and otherwise betray us (and betray themselves, of course).
– Internally reproducing systemic oppression. This is something many have spoken and written about—sexism, racism, ableism, classism and other oppressions that uphold the system. We have all been conditioned to them, they have colonized our minds to the point where default to them, reproducing them even in organizations that are explicitly against them.
We must have conscious means for noticing and countering these behaviors and mindsets in ways that raise consciousness and hold people accountable yet do not blame them or make them feel bad about themselves, since this plays into the divisive and weakening intentions behind the constant instilling of such oppressive behavior.
This is not just wrong and hypocritical and against our principles. It is dangerous. Discrimination, leaving people out—because of gender, class, race, religion, culture or any other division that is in our very air, woven so tightly all around us—is capitalized by the hypocritical Beast. We know the Beast has no ideology other than its own perpetuation and expansion, and will happily stir up feelings of being unjustly treated in some circumstances—in Cuba, for example—when it is completely on the side of those who do these things much more egregiously elsewhere, as long as they are not challenging the Beast.
– the vital importance of principles, but the dangers of rigidity
There is quite a bit of understanding about this; yet more is needed to figure out how to guard against it, as it is one of the favorite modes by which the Beast penetrates, confuses, poisons, and divides our ranks.
-Becoming discouraged, dismayed, giving in to despndency and despair.
– Being outlasted, distracted, tired out, starved out, because of lack of time and resources
– being undialectical
– eschewing the anchor of materialism
– not applying a dialectical materialist analysis
– letting distress dictate our thinking
– believing our own colonized minds and not distinguishing the colonized bits from ourselves
– single issuism. This is more than the danger of narrowness of focus, or ignoring related issues. Single-issue people not anchored in a broader movement for a just society for all can be easily manipulated into supporting pro-imperialist, capitalist forces and initiatives that appear to embrace them but often merely use them to give themselves a nice face. Witness greenwashing. Use of folks who supposedly want freedom of expression in Cuba, for instance. Regardless of their intent, they are materially used to further imperialist aggression.
– Manipulation of our natural inclinations and vulnerabilities. The study of human nature, whether the physical, sociological or psychological aspects, has been to a large extent in service of the ruling class. Anthropology (my own field of university study) has been used to perpetuate colonialism and racism. Psychology has been used to manipulate people into submission and allowing themselves to be mobilized in the cause of war, imperialism, genocide, as well as for increasing their exploitation (aka productivity). Sociology has been used to understand and predict human movements, migrations, habits and weaknesses in service of maintaining and reinforcing the status quo.
Of course, many scholars have taken contestatory positions which have been fundamental to opposing the status quo, especially in the areas of political economy. I think it is fair to say that with all the diversity and differences in outlook among activists of the world, we have come to recognize some basic facts about human beings, namely, that all have the same fundamental rights, equal value despite differences, and that difference does not, and must not, mean that any person or group has a right to exploit or oppress another, or to have privilege over any other.
This is a big step, as in the not-too-distant past many of these truths were not recognized as such. Even today they are far from universally held, but in our worldwide activist community, they are–at least, as principles to live up to!
The threat from human nature that we need to focus more attention on has two sides. First, we need to understand more practically how the Beast in all its manifestations plays and preys on our very nature as humans. It does no good to bemoan or berate, we must recognize and explore dispassionately exactly how this occurs. And, second, through understanding, we need to adjust our organizing to more carefully, effectively and compassionately go with our own flow, our own nature. Both because it is morally right and because it is simply more likely to succeed.
At present there appears to be little work on this topic—searching hardly brings up any results–but to me it seems essential.
Even proposing, let alone doing, such work brings up its own risks. Activists are often accused of being manipulative and of using people for their causes, and disregarding people’s individual needs. In fact, such an accusation points up an aspect of human nature that works well for the Beast.
B: Yeah: Accuse people of doing the very thing you do. Of course, for this to work I need to deploy another way I have figured out to weaponize human nature: keep hammering at people’s minds until they agree or think they do, because that’s all that’s in there. (Of course, to do that effectively I have to make sure other stuff, such as (whisper-gasp) the truth, doesn’t get in, by suppressing those who tell it. Such a lot to do!!
Indeed. But if we can get our colonized minds out from under this stereotype (to which our work on full and fair portrayal of activist in fiction strives to contribute) we can see that understanding ourselves as human beings, individually and collectively, particularly how we act and react to the very real and specific pressures associated with activism, the better we will be able to do our work and face the threats that inevitably come our way.
A big aspect of manipulation is coopting and watering down our language, using it to hollow out our ideas, as well as to confuse people about what we actually mean.
Language and ideas are such a core aspect of our work, so this is a key vulnerability, and it is not clear that we have yet evolved effective strategies to counter it. Simply denouncing doesn’t work, even explaining what we mean over and over doesn’t work entirely, though it helps. Propagandization is always a big thing, but there are certain formulas the Beast uses repeatedly, perfecting and honing them until they become harder and harder to counter, and hence more effective. We need to spend time figuring out how to innoculate ourselves against this very common type of attack.
Anti-dialectical idealism. A mouthful, yes. Basically, it means the vulnerability we face by being rigid in our thinking and not giving attention to the dialectical, complex, multifaceted, contradictory aspects of the realities we deal with, but instead focusing on some things to the exclusion of others. That is simpler, of course, but dangerous. That’s the dialectical aspect. The idealism refers to giving more credence to what is said and what we feel about it than we do to reality in all its complexity. Reality comes first, our thoughts, beliefs and feelings follow from it, are related to it, but they are secondary. They do not control reality but are subordinate to it. This is easy to see when it pertains to beliefs you don’t share, but much harder when you are dealing with your own core beliefs and emotions.
The above has to do with methodology, our approach to ascertaining how the world works, including our own activity in it. We don’t spend enough time thinking about how we think, and how that process might be influencing what we think about and what the results are. Yet it is key to keep this in mind.
Among other things, leftist idealism leads us into underestimating, even ignoring, structural constraints. This is related to material conditions, but a bit more precise. I refer to the ways that social conditions of a certain time color and channel our thinking, even offering/denying certain terminologies. How does this happen? How do we recognize and guard against it, or go with the flow, ride the wave, as it were? We like to rebel against our time, not conform, but what does that mean? We need to understand what is happeneing in any case, even if we can’t necessarily avoid it.
I will be going further into all of the vulnerabilities noted above. But for now, it’s enough to stress the need to recognize that these are systemic threats we all face as revolutionaries, social justice activists, militants for social transformation and planetary rescue from the Beast. We deal with them, react to and perpetuate them as individuals, because activism takes place in the realm of human interaction among individuals (who each stand at our own particular intersection of multiple cohorts, groups, institutions, cultures and much more). Nonetheless, they are existential threats, like climate change or coronavirus. In other words, even though human beings are fundamentally the cause of these issues, these threats come at us in the same way, as occupational, existential hazards we must deal with. Not matters of individual blame that we can deal with individually.
What does this mean? That punitive measures, divisive reactions, only play into the problem. Like yelling at a hurt child to stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about, like punishing someone for being an addict or for stealing in response to their poverty. Such measures miss the point entirely, making the situation worse for the individuals, and simply play into the system regardless of personal intentions.
We need to do things differently, and for that we need to understand the mechanisms, in detail, of what happens in the case of all these basic threats we face.
This understanding is urgent! In order for us to effectively mobilize people to face the many imminent existential threats to our only planet by orchestrating transformation to just social structures in order to overcome the structures built on and for greed—and the planet is clearly depending on us to do this—we must effectively handle the existential threats to ourselves as activists and organizers.
We’re by no means at zero regarding this understanding, theoretical and practical, but there is much to be done. The costs of misunderstanding the nature of our own experience and culture, and that of our merciless adversary, the Beast (as in “belly of…), can be very high, certainly very painful.
My hope is that the more we understand about the details and dilemmas, as well as the delights and dangers, of our diverse yet connected experience as social justice activists, the better we can protect ourselves and our movements.