Propaganda, solidarity, education
opinion / analysis
Friday March 04, 2022 02:28 by Carl Eugene Stroud
In this article, I use the framing of the class struggle and the action of revolutionary militancy to reflect on three fundamental concepts: propaganda, solidarity, and education.
Workers, to take but one possible example, are not choosing to be on the opposing side of capitalists. They find themselves on a certain side of a line that is an undeniable feature of our world. Clearly seeing this line dividing the ruling class from the oppressed is not the effect of a belief system; it is not a way of virtue signaling, the proof of a boogieman, or a figment of the imaginations of exploited people. The lines dividing the classes are found in the world, not in people’s heads. This is why class struggle requires consciousness of class lines and awareness of the fact that you are already positioned on a certain side. Still, position in class struggle is different than position in class hierarchy. The former is defined by one’s action; the latter is generalized and systematic, and it does not pre-determine action.
Propaganda should attempt to make these real lines appear starker and more obvious. But this should not be confused with educational work. No one needs to be educated on the reality of these lines, since all of us know intimately the barriers, rules, “necessities”, needs, hopelessness, endlessness, exploitation, and domination of class dynamics. Whether we realize it or not, we’ve already received that education. Propaganda does not teach; it awakens people to knowledge that they already possess. It says, “You have this know-how, and you can use it in ways that the ruling class cannot imagine.” If this idea is empowering, it is because we already have the knowledge to make it true, the conditioning to make it meaningful. Only presumptuous propaganda attempts to educate the oppressed about reality, since revolutionary class politics is supposed to be about taking sides and defending the demands of the oppressed. This requires a propaganda that reveals lines as they exist in reality, not idealistically or philosophically, but contextually, and to people who are already immersed in a world that has been determined by these class lines. Propaganda is a spark for the willing and able, not an instruction or piece of advice, not a tidbit of knowledge or nugget of wisdom.
The problem to be addressed by propaganda is the fact that these already existing class lines remain hidden and obscured. They can be difficult to uncover without resorting to dogmatic methods. For this reason, it is common for propaganda to be instructive, even prescriptive in addressing the masses. For this same reason, militant education, in particular, is reduced to propaganda, full of information but lacking pedagogical rigor. Liberating propaganda must distinguish itself from radical pedagogy, if people who have knowledge of class, gained from lived experience, will be able to learn with and organize with people who have pedagogical, theoretical, and strategic knowledge of class, gained from militant engagement.
For revolutionaries, there is a constant need to ask ourselves whether we are prioritizing communicating and working with other people or whether we are perfecting our ideas and beliefs, irrespective of the current reality of the social level. Since our freedom to overcome oppressive conditions is not a mental faculty, but a way of acting in the world, there is a constant need to understand the present situation, the reality of the world where we find ourselves.
Ethics could be considered the practice of continuing a particular instance of solidarity, an attempt to generalize it. In this way, the work of solidarity, as a form of ethical praxis, is never done. While it is legitimate and expected that the inspiration behind action might be moral, it should not be moralizing. Moral actors should not assume that their particular morality is the only possible motivation for revolutionary militancy. And they should not assume that the motivations of the past, like the strategies and tactics of the past, will continue to serve us in the future, when we will inevitably be faced with the need to take a real position in a present situation (to act in solidarity).
In a moment of crisis, the question “is this in solidarity?” cannot be answered conclusively. In that moment, there is no certainty, only action, and that means risk. Solidarity is committing to being responsible for the effects and consequences of taking that risk. Again, it is an attempt to generalize concrete action, in support of others, projecting this support into the future. Its significance is not as a litmus test or a box to check on a survey, but as a commitment which is neither far-off nor idealistic, not in anticipation, not out of fear, but as lived determination.
Revolutionary solidarity must not only be durable; it must also be enduring. This means: filling moments with concrete action, filling void with relevant dialogue (not dogma), filling the space between us with ethical relationships, and filling the time between moral acts and random incidental action with militant solidarity. If we do not fill this void, others will, passively or otherwise, probably with the logic of profit and the false ethics of authoritarian efficiency. Revolutionaries must strategically fill space with intentionality, of theory and of action. Praxis is the perpetuation of intentionality, both collaboratively and historically, therefore our problem, today, is that we cannot just assume that a moral coalition of “the people who helped last time” will do the ethical work of defending solidarity during moments of peace.
Education and militant formation can help to address the temporal component of solidarity. Activism is only an instance, but militancy is the motor of social movements, of groupings of tendency, and of specific organizations. Militancy is the action which fills the void. But militancy requires that you go deep. Nothing can change that. So, education is about creating a path between militant organization and popular organization, between the political level and the social level. This means bringing people, ideas, and information into an educational space that is organized and defended by militants. But it also means ensuring that people, ideas, and information find their way back to mass movements and popular organizations on the social level.
The status quo is at an advantage because the already-powerful do not depend on militancy. Since mass passivity serves as the sustaining motor of the dominant social structure, there is no need for an “active minority” to defend it. In an oppressive social system, elites do not have to organize as a political unity; both the atomization and the disorganization of the masses of oppressed people guarantee a minority hold on power. So, the status quo is oriented around a strategy of pacifying and dividing the masses, as opposed to the strategy of especifismo, which relies on an active minority of anarchist militants. Elites are not an “active” minority precisely because it is “action” that they are freed from having to do. It is the dominated and exploited classes that do the action, in the form of their labor. Their passivity, in relation to class struggle, makes them inadvertently complicit in a system that alienates them from their own action.
Organizing an active minority is a move toward continuous commitment, outside of the system. Especifismo informs this active minority strategically, by insisting on re-inserting the unity of this minority back onto the social level, in a way that encourages mass movements to act in their own interests and against their conditioning to be passive in relation to their own consent and commitment. The active minority of especifismo does not try to transfer or emit anything to the oppressed classes, like a kind of benevolent charity. Rather, through its own militant action, it reveals the unintended effects of mass passivity and presents a viable alternative. The active minority is a practice in collective intentionality, in the face of popular indifference. It isn’t a political coalition; it’s a political concentration. And if they are to survive, social movements and popular organizations will need political concentrations, of unified militants, to make up parts of their ranks. What they don’t need are marketable political “brands” that use big-tent, umbrella labels and aim to serve as hyper-efficient decision-making centers, outside of the movements themselves.
Many political tendencies attempt to grow their ranks and spread their influence on the social level. This is a political tactic, and as a tactic, is not a problem whatsoever. Political influence only becomes a problem when it threatens popular organizing and social movements. Unlike the organizational dualism of especifismo, which distinguishes between the political and social levels in order to encourage the revolutionary potential of the latter, some leftist tendencies have ideological reasons for prioritizing their own organizational objectives over the demands of popular movements. Especifismo argues for the organization of both levels, without any hierarchical dynamics between them.
Ideologically, especifismo is an anarchist current which emphasizes strategic action. Its strategy is aimed at bringing about a social revolution. This means building power on the social level because it is the mass movements, not the ideologically specific movements, which have revolutionary potential. Even on the political level, especifismo is concerned with organizing anarchist militants, as a way of strengthening popular organizations, never threatening the social force of a revolutionary movement by using political force in antagonistic ways.
A question is often posed when considering education from an anarchist perspective: are anarchist educators obliged to teach anarchism, or should they let students arrive at these conclusions on their own? In the context of militant formation, that of the specific education of militants, this dilemma is irrelevant.
First of all, the militants themselves are already radicalized, and anyone else educating themselves by freely participating in militant formation is intentionally engaging in a radicalizing process. These people need training that provides them with concrete learning tools and methods that can be shared, reproduced, and modified, with other people, in other spaces. These tools must have an ideological bias; they must be revolutionary.
Secondly, militant formation is not about being indoctrinated or internalizing dogma. Too often, it is assumed that anarchist militants “believe” the most in revolution, or libertarian socialism, or freedom. This falsity is perpetuated in learning spaces, political spaces, and social spaces, obscuring an applicable understanding of what militancy is and why it is important. Probably, this comes from a confusion between militant commitment and extremism, which in the domain of education is the difference between determination and indoctrination. If education is to be liberating, it must acknowledge the free and present role of the people learning, of their subjecthood, of their agency and perspectives. This is not so that political education can be more effectively targeted to specific individuals but, rather, to accept the reality that individuals are free to do what they want with what they learn. Militant formation is always an ethical endeavor.
A militant positioned in a learning space is right up against a political line. Similarly, someone recently discovering militancy and continuing down a radicalizing path is positioned on the edge of the social level, with new questions about militant engagement just beginning to form, understanding more and more the purpose behind a unified organization of militants. What do we do with this knowledge? It could be ignored, omitted, hoarded, or toyed with, but no teacher gets to decide how a student takes their learning back into the world.
Capital accumulates power. It stores value, labor, memory, all sorts of things, and the logic of profit attempts to tap into this store. In order to combat capitalism, we must learn to develop our own revolutionary store, in the form of militant organization. In this way, our militancy can accumulate revolutionary value, in the form of communicable knowledge about class struggle, in the past, present, and future. The logic of a specific organization of anarchist militants opposes the logic of profit by strategically directing committed action to the struggles of the people, to whom it rightfully belongs. Through propaganda, solidarity, and education, we have to continue to make our militants more radical and to make class struggle more popular, otherwise our efforts will not accumulate revolutionary power.