I am not going to claim to be at peace, nor will I charge myself with being serene. I am neither of those things. I am angry. I am sick and tired. I am a fighter. I can be argumentative.
But I am hopeful.
In just the last year, we–ordinary people–have overthrown dictators. We have sent politicians running. We have changed the direction of discourse, and we now fully intend to change the courses of action. In Egypt, the struggle has taken over everything–from the squares to the factories. Even Western leaders have resigned because they can sense their time has passed, and ours has come. The victories may have been few, but they have been critical. Attacks and repression have not weakened us, but instead tightened our lines and increased our numbers.
So how, in this context, can people say things like “I’m just impotent to fix the suffering around me, like everyone else?” In the same year that workers took over the Wisconsin capitol, how can one say, “I see no struggles of the working class here in America?” That someone can watch a world in revolt and come to these conclusions is astounding enough. That they try to win others to these strange concepts and attempt to discourage activists in the fight and revolutionaries attempting to increase the level of mass political consciousness through agitation is despicable.
Certainly, reforms will not get rid of capitalism, but the struggles to achieve them can be fundamental in forming people’s political consciousness. It is where we learn important lessons that will be used again. And of course, even a reform-oriented movement can evolve into something much greater. After all, who thought when a group of people in New York decided to Occupy Wall Street that it would set the spark on the first mass movement in the US in over a generation? Who thought that the removal of Ben Ali in Tunisia through a massive revolt would lead to a worldwide uprising? To this we received a reply that “I cannot make this movement revolutionary, for men make history, but not as they please.” When Marx said the second half of that sentence, he was not suggesting inaction, but rather perpetual action for the relationship between humans and their conditions is a dialectical one. We are influenced by our conditions but also have the power to alter them through struggle. That is why Frederick Douglass said, “Without struggle, there is no progress.” Progress comes when we are willing to upset the equilibrium of social conditions that capital imposes on us–or when we are ready to dismantle it entirely. But to suggest that Marx was arguing for inaction until the revolutionary moment occurs is a perversion of the materialist method.
How will workers and oppressed people come to understand that not only should the system be overthrown, but that they are the agents of this revolution if they are not educated through the process of struggle to fight and to win? Political consciousness is not spontaneous. To assume it is–and to assume a socialist revolution is inevitable or a foregone conclusion–is hardly scientific. It is a utopian fantasy not supported by the history of struggle and revolution at all.
This is hardly a time to be cynical or nihilistic! More than any other time in my life, and the lives of many others, the world is filled with energy. And it should be our goal to harness that energy and turn it into revolutionary possibility. Marxism is not only the study of theory, but its implementation. As Marx wrote, “Practice without theory is rudderless, and theory without practice merely academics.” But taken together, they are the driving material force of history.
I am so incredibly hopeful, because I believe with all my heart that there is a persistence of song, that struggle is not fruitless, that victory is possible. A coach of mine told me once, “I never started a race I didn’t believe I had a chance of winning.” I didn’t take up this struggle because I thought I would lose. I took it up because every fiber of my being believes that we can win a world without racism, without sexsism, homophobia, transphobia. I believe another world, where people are put first, is not only possible…it’s worth fighting for.