Sunday, April 7, 2013

A few thoughts, in passing

This is more of a check-in, with perhaps a few not-so-random thoughts tossed in for good measure.

This blog started out as something that perhaps was part of a process of re-awakening. Somewhere in between my student days and the dawn of the 21st century, I sort of zoned out. After all, the "End of History" was beginning its inevitable thousand year reign, bills had to be paid, and all that. The various events occurring at the start of the 21st century (the September 11th attacks, the "War on Terra", the blatant obviousness of the redistribution of wealth from those of us with little to those with the most, and so on) convinced me that remaining with my head in the sand was no longer an option. In the process, I stumbled on to blogs - found a few that turned out to be worth repeated visits, and a host of others that would prove to be toxic. Eventually, I started a blog of my own and over time re-assembled an ideological position that had lain dormant for a long while. Doing so required a sorting out of a lot of eclectic threads that made up my personal history. In a lot of ways I have cycled back to some approximation of where I once was about a quarter of a century ago. I consider that progress of a sort.

It is safe to say that I am something of an autodidact. The topics that largely interest me now are ones in which I am primarily self-taught. There are some obvious pluses and minuses to being self-taught. Perhaps I'll go into that another time. It is equally safe to say that I have probably read considerably more Marx and Engels than the average college student from my age cohort would have (although probably less than a Marx scholar would), as well as a good deal more by the likes of Lenin, Sartre, and other similar thinkers than would the average student. The last few years, I have re-read much of what was once familiar as a student along with books that are entirely new to me. There are things I see now, much more clearly that I missed the first go-around.

I grew up in the shadow of the New Left. Many of my mentors as a student activist were, in fact, once members of the SDS, Peace and Freedom Party, and similar organizations. They had often been mentored by individuals who would have been considered "Old Left." There is a great deal of value in having mentors. I see that much more clearly now than I would have back then. I hope those who have been involved in Occupy and whatever emerges after it can find the mentors they need in order to forge a more stable opposition to the status quo. If you are a student reading this, believe me when I say that you will need all the help you can get. Rebuilding a Left after decades of dormancy will be an arduous task, and you have only begun to do so.

I identify as Marxist. That said, I tend to be allergic to adding other labels, such as Leninist, Trotskyist, Maoist, and so on, as those labels have tended to create barriers to unity, to solidarity. I know the specialists (whether as scholars, activists, party leaders, etc.) will wince when I say this, but the various threads that evolved out of Marx and Engels' writings overlap so much that the differences often matter little - at least to the regular working stiffs like me.

If I had a few words of advice to today's young activist, I'd start out by simply saying that it is important to have a good ideological framework from which to work - sufficiently coherent, yet flexible to handle new info and changing conditions. It has been a truism in Marxist circles that those who try to avoid ideology end up adopting the dominant ideology of the capitalist system (such folks also tend to fall prey to hucksters carrying around pictures of Ron and Rand Paul at Occupy encampments and rallies, etc. for example). I would also suggest - especially to those involved with Occupy and similar endeavors - that it is time to get over the avoidance of leaders. Lenin's "What Is To Be Done" should be required reading. One does not have to necessarily buy into the notion of democratic centralism to grasp that a Left rooted exclusively in spontaneous movements is one that will be doomed to fragmentation and failure. There is something to be said for having an organizational structure that is sufficiently independent of individual protests, movements, and so on that it can survive crackdowns by local authorities, and have the capacity to lay out plans for the future.

I have often been convinced, correctly or incorrectly, that when the torch was passed to those who made up my generation, we managed to drop it. My hope with the Millennials is that they will figure out where that torch was dropped, pick it up, and reignite it. Indeed the events of 2011 and beyond have me hopeful that they have already managed to do so, however tentatively. There is so much to be done.