Hey, everyone. So I'm returning to the blog as a place to store my old monologue scripts for Radical Democrats Radio in a single publicly accessible place. My blog served as a place where I could examine ideas and pass through them again, refining them and better understanding their implications and relationships.
When I started the podcast, these scripts tended to vanish into the ether. So I'm throwing them up here now, for my reference, and your perusal.
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|Lenin on the Rostrum, by Aleksandr Gerasimov, 1929|
I'm doing some interesting philosophy reading at the moment. Downloaded a pdf of Vladimir Lenin’s What Is To Be Done?, and it has me thinking about methods of social change.
Democratic revolutions are always anti-elitist in some genuine sense. Unfortunately at the moment, Western nationalist messaging has gotten a tight hold on the word. So it’s difficult to talk about “the elites” without people hearing you say “liberals” or “the Jews” anymore.
I MANIFESTLY DO NOT INTEND THIS, BY THE WAY.
When I say “elites” and “elitism,” I’m literally talking about the hyper-wealthy class – individuals and families whose personal wealth numbers in the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, and whose properties and businesses have revenues of billions. Plus the groups of politicians and bureaucrats who govern states and international organizations, who do the bidding of this hyper-wealthy class.
Oligarchy is the word.
Basically, the modern left is about organizing against oligarchy. The open question is how you do it.
Over the next few episodes of Radical Democrats Radio, I’ll explore a theoretical approach to the practical work of organizing that aligns itself to our contemporary technology and communications media. This will be a walk through some of the concepts in the latest book by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, Assembly.
If this segment is mostly about Negri, why did I bring up Lenin at the beginning? Because What Is To Be Done? is a classic work of radical socialist activism that unites theory and practice in an analysis of what methods work for which goals, and which of those goals are genuinely the best means of ending oligarchy in our economy and society.
In some ways, Lenin is a productive complement to be reading while I’m writing monologues for the show about Negri. Among many of the traditional communists I’ve interacted with over the years, Lenin’s theoretical works – in particular, What Is To Be Done? – have been important touchstones for their own activism.
And a lot of that activism has failed.
What Is To Be Done? was written, in part, as an instruction manual – arguing for what to do and what not to do. You can adapt the conceptual arguments about that to the present, very different, world of communication we live in today. But the manual itself is a study in historical irrelevance.
That’s why my turn to Negri as I read Lenin works in a pretty trippy way. Negri and Hardt, in their collaborations, have developed a complex set of concepts to understand how social movements develop without leaders. Assembly tackles the problem of leaderless activism directly.
Lenin makes such a great contrast because, despite his emphasis on empowering and educating the entire population of workers to join the anti-oligarchy movement, he still emphasizes the necessity of leaders. Guerillas. The hardest of the hard core.
An elite within an anti-elitist movement. Can you overcome the viciousness of this paradox? That’s what Assembly tackles.
For a political movement to succeed, it needs to institutionalize itself. It has to change governance and economic institutions, or straight-up destroy them and replace them with new ones. But leaderless movements have a really hard time building institutions. Horizontal organizing creates swarms in protest, mobilizes a population to destroy institutions.
Horizontal organizing most easily organizes an explosion. When that political explosion is powerful enough to topple a government, a regime, an entire institution, we have a revolution. When it falls short of that energy . . . well, as a Syrian or an Egyptian what happens.
Creating institutions requires channelling the energy of a successful revolution to build new institutions. New ways of running society. Institutions that can encourage, enforce, educate, and accustom people to new norms. New moralities of thinking about and interacting with government, with political leaders, with those very institutions.
Here’s the paradox of democracy. Pure democracy is a revolution that constantly rebels against established order in the name of more freedom. Yet we need institutions to teach us that if we shout for freedom, we’re shouting for more than its name. Quite often, a shout for freedom is a shout to be enslaved.
Democracy always stands against sovereignty. It stands against violence and coercion that expects its authority to be accepted universally. But building and maintaining institutions requires leadership – requires authority, coercion, keeping membership in line. Even a virtuous institution is an authority.
Is pure democracy possible if it permits no authorities? If not, then is it best to give up on democracy entirely?
Resignation or revolution.