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A Few Words of Advice to Aspiring Revolutionaries

Monday 13 July 2020, by siawi3


A Few Words of Advice to Aspiring Revolutionaries

Ralph Leonard

May 11 · 2020

Current times aren’t exactly favourable to revolutionary politics, whatever banner it may be. Revolution is a term of reproach, a supposedly ‘discredited’ idea that always leads to more disastrous results than before. Among stolid liberal wiseacres, it is convention to excommunicate Thomas Paine and embrace the grandiloquent Edmund Burke. After all, drastic, large scale social and political change inevitably fail, with misery, bloodshed and needless chaos being its only result.

At best, as per Burke, a society is permitted a maximum of one revolution in its history (the example he gave was the 1688 ‘Glorious Revolution’ in England). Any change or reform that occurs, if it can’t be avoided, must be incremental and strictly within the bounds of the existing structures, so as to maintain ‘continuity’ and ‘harmony’. A proposition that is absurd on its face, as well as, dare I say, ‘utopian’ for the modern world. Forgetting that sometimes one has to change the system (revolution), to erect a genuinely long lasting reform.

Notice the contemporary critique of revolution isn’t simply slammed on the heads of the revolutionary left, as is par of the course, but in the past decade has been directed at The Arab Spring, recycling the standard Burkean chastisement of revolution, and neo-conservatives (and their liberal interventionist allies) and neoliberals for their respective delusional ‘experiments’ in ‘exporting’ democracy and globalisation with all of its destructive consequences. Many liberals are now even hesitant about revolutions in far away lands done in the name of their own values. Oh how senile and stodgy liberalism has long become!

Now, the contemporary fog of scepticism and instinctive rejectionism surrounding the mere utterance of the word revolution isn’t without reason. One must be frank and avoid cocksureness: there doesn’t exist a serious (I triple underline serious here) left wing, class based, internationalist, future oriented revolutionary politics dedicated to transcending existing social relations. What passes for ‘revolutionary’ is either a zombie iteration of long defunct forms, a motley crew of unserious clowns, pseudo religious cults, cosplay Jacobins and LARPing Bolsheviks, or bourgeois careerists for whom ‘revolution’ is a mere step on the ladder.

Nevertheless, without being callow, reconstructing revolutionary politics is still a worthwhile enterprise. For those who like to think of themselves as truly revolutionary, in the most honourable sense one can use that term, and wish to do their bit, however little it is, on this path on reconstitution, here are few words of advice:

1 You don’t have to join anything — set your own terms of engagement with the milieu.
2 Only give that which you feel comfortable with and are able to.
3 Whatever you do, avoid Maoists like Covid-19. Seriously, they are a plague! They contaminate everything they touch. A bunch of clownish shrill red puritans with a ‘more radical than thou’ complex, who don’t know how to think, only how to aggressively belch out whatever arid script they’ve rehearsed. They’re even worse than Stalinists — and that is saying something!
4 Have a life! Don’t adopt an extremist personality; don’t look down at the allegedly servile masses manipulated by ‘false consciousness’. No need to turn yourself into an ascetic in some petulant ‘resistance’ to consumer capitalism — you’re not a monk! You’re allowed to have a job (even one that pays well), shop, drink, socialise, dance, fuck, read, watch TV, play sports, travel, and in general have your own unique pleasures, and not affect your revolutionary ‘credentials’. If you try and ‘live’ your politics you will separate yourself further from other people, thereby limiting shared experiences and perspectives. Lifestylism is a dead end!
5 Never ever surrender the independence of your mind and the ability to think for yourself. Your mind belongs to you and you are the only one who is sovereign over it. Do your own reading, learning and questioning as much as you can. The mutual collaboration of independent minds is the desired ideal, not the indoctrinated shepherded by the doctrinaire. Allowing others to do your thinking for you is slavish and will hurt you in the long run. If someone can lead you to the promised land, they can lead you straight out of it, and I can’t guarantee it will be to a nice place.
6 Try and commit yourself for the long term but at a low intensity. Understand that the early high of enthusiastic energy will come down to an equilibrium. You will see bad days, witness many defeats and disappointments, even experience the crippling doubts and second thoughts that you are bound to have (not necessarily a bad thing in itself). Get ready for it!
7 Just because you will feel disillusionment, it does not follow that revolutionary politics is hopeless. Fear not! You will experience a few victories too, even if it isn’t a result of “The Revolution™”. Perhaps this consolation from Thomas Paine will help: “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered;…the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”
8 If you wish, and if it matters to you, then participate in a ‘reformist’ cause or campaign. Nothing wrong with ‘branching out’. But don’t accept it for what it is: a reform. Don’t delude yourself into gassing it up to be more ‘revolutionary’ than it actually is.
9 Ideological purity doesn’t exist, so don’t even go there.
10 Revolutionaries should be amateurs, not professionals. Remember, revolutions are meant to make revolutionaries redundant, not canonise them.

Ralph Leonard is a Nigerian British. Secular Humanist. Unaffiliated Radical. Internationalist. Red Devil. ’I drink your milkshake!’ Writer for @NOTA_Network