Lukacs wrote “for the proletariat the truth is a weapon that brings victory, and the more ruthless, the greater the victory.”
Pretty brutal soundbite, and for the most part my political thinking is informed by this idea.
We run into a problem, though, when radicals think that the most important truths to be telling, to infinite ruthlessness, are the flaws of other radicals.
Do clarifications and differentiations need to be made? Of course. There is certainly a danger of vagueness being used as an excuse for inappropriate moderation and centrism. In many European parties, “socialism” has been watered down to mean a welfare state, or a more humane administration of capitalism, or abandoning any systemic change in hopes that capitalism will gradually transform itself into socialism. It always seems that, if a party starts out as vaguely socialist, there will always be some wing of it – whether they’re bribed by the system or just naïve – that tries to drag the movement in this direction. It may be a result of trying to “broaden the audience,” though in my opinion there’s enough damage in the world to give radical change a broad audience. Regardless, for this reason the socialist movement will always need a radical, revolutionist wing dragging the movement in the opposite direction.
However, this criticism does not need to be raised all the time. It’s more appropriate to Europe where Social-Democratic parties actually exist but is not remotely relevant in the US context. It is something that can be discussed, of course, but occasionally, tactfully, and among people you’re sure are actually interested, rather than hapless audiences to whom it will only sound like more needless negativity at this time.
Movements are not made of abstract robots with infinite time, infinite patience, infinite reasonability, and infinite emotional tolerance. Movements are made of a rather delicate bio-psychological infrastructure: human beings. We have to be nice to the substance that our movement is made out of, and consider its needs, if we want the movement to grow.
No, people are not logic machines. People have to squeeze political meetings and activity in between their eight-hour slave shift, their commute, their grocery shopping, potentially the horrors of childrearing under capitalism, and whatever ways they very understandably want to blow off steam. In fact we should make activism so pleasant for people that it is a way of blowing off steam! Instead what we often create is a poisonous atmosphere of hurling condemnations back and forth across rooms like a food fight.
Sometimes, even if a criticism is technically correct, it is actually incorrect – that is, making that criticism is the incorrect thing to do, because all it does is hinder the movement by pissing everyone off to the point of burning out, giving up, drifting off.
Some say that theory is paramount. Alright, I’m pro-theory. But theory is supposed to be a guide to action – a tool for action. If you think anyone with any theoretical deviation from you is an evil traitor fake socialist etc., doesn’t your theory actually suck, because it clearly destroys your ability to work with others, and therefore precludes you from any meaningful action?
Can you step outside yourself and admit a few things? Even if you have criticisms of other political views, let’s keep something in mind. The people you’re talking to are at least socialists, right? They at least imagine themselves to be such? Or they are at least activists? That is, people who take time out of their day to fix some social problem that hurts many people? Can you admit that, the existing people and groups are not obstacles to the movement? That, even if they are flawed, they assist the revolutionary process by even existing in the first place, spreading whatever education they spread? Gathering and maintaining whatever network of people they consolidate by even existing? That they are, ultimately, one of the human building blocks of the revolutionary process?
Unless of course they really are one of those groups or people that does nothing but criticize and drive people away from the Left, in which case I say drive them the fuck out.
As my usual practice, though, if someone is a radical, I have no criticisms to make. I’m glad they’re rolling with me, I’m glad they’re a radical, I’ll try to find whatever common ground I can, emphasize the task at hand, and save my verbal condemnations for the system we both hate.