The Slow Burning Fuse

an atheisitic anarchistic scorcher

“rigid radicalism”, or “if i can’t dance then it’s not my revolution”, or “disco is halfway to discontent”


About a century ago, the famous anarchist Emma Goldman was at a party, dancing her heart out, when a young man took her aside. “With a grave face, as if he were about to announce the death of a dear comrade,” the man told her that “it did not behoove an agitator to dance.” It made the revolutionary movement look bad, he said. Goldman was pissed, and basically told the guy to fuck off. This encounter is thought to be the source of the now-famous defense of joy and play, often attributed to Goldman: “if I can’t dance, it’s not my revolution.”

This wasn’t just about dancing. Goldman insisted that conformity and policing persisted within radical movements themselves, and radicals were expected to put ‘the Cause’ before their own desires.

A century later, while the rules may have changed, something still circulates in many political spaces, movements, and milieus, sapping their power from within. It is the vigilant apprehension of errors and complicities in oneself and others; the pleasure of feeling more radical than others and the fear of not being radical enough; the anxious posturing on social media with the highs of being liked and the lows of being ignored;  the way curiosity feels naïve and condescension feels right.

We can sense its emergence at certain times, when we feel the need to perform in certain ways, hate the right things, and make the right gestures. Above all, it is hostile to difference, curiosity, openness, and experimentation.

When radicals attack each other in the game of good politics, it is due at least in part to the fact that this is a place where people can exercise some power. Even if one is unable to challenge capitalism and other oppressive structures, even if one is unable to participate in the creation of alternative forms of life, one can always attack others for their complicity, and tell oneself that these attacks are radical in and of themselves. One’s opponents in the game of good politics and rigid radicalism are not capitalists, nor white supremacists, nor police; they are others vying for the correct ways of critiquing and fighting capitalism, white supremacy, and policing.

The newcomer is immediately placed in a position of debt: owing dedication, self-sacrifice, and correct analysis that must be continuously proved. Whether it is the performance of anti-oppressive language, revolutionary fervor, nihilist detachment, or an implicit dress code, those who are unfamiliar with the expectations of the milieu are doomed from the start unless they “catch up” and conform. In subtle and overt ways, they will be attacked, mocked, and excluded for getting it wrong, even though these people are often the ones that “good politics” is supposed to support: those without formal education who have not been exposed much to radical milieus, but who have a stake in fighting.

These tendencies have led many to abandon radical milieus. This is the narrowing of possibilities induced by rigidity: either continue in a stifling and depleting atmosphere, or leave and attempt to live the form of life that is offered up by the dominant order. For many, this is not a choice at all because one’s very survival is connected to the same spaces where rigidity has taken hold. In this sense, rigid radicalism can be lethal.

It can be risky to discuss all this publicly; there is always the chance that one will be cast as a liberal, an oppressor, or a reactionary. For this reason, a lot of conversations about this are happening between people who already trust each other enough to know that they will not be met with immediate suspicion or attack. In these quieter conversations, there is more room for questioning and listening, with space for subtlety, nuance, and care that is so often absent when rigid radicalism takes hold.

rigid radicalism is fueled by a tendency to put initiatives or people on pedestals, converting a lived and changing radicalism into stifling ideals and norms. Examples can be fodder for this conversion. “We did this, and it helped” becomes “that helped, so you should.” Second, if hypervisibility is part of the problem today, there is something to be said for staying under the radar. Quiet experimentation can be a way of evading both pedestals and police.

Ultimately, we think that rigidity is undone by activating, stoking, and intensifying the growth of shared power, and defending it with militancy and gentleness; in other words, figuring out how to transform our own situations, treat each other well, listen to each other, experiment, and fight together.

patched together from here:

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This entry was posted on September 20, 2018 by in anarchy, Uncategorized and tagged .
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