Theory corner – topple the pedestal mentality

By Charna Fon

There are no great revolutionaries. There are no soaring heroes whose heights we cannot ourselves attain. There is no infallible freedom fighter, no ubermensch whose perfect example we can follow and end up at collective liberation. When a revolutionary makes the right decision there is no guarantee of any particular outcome resulting, let alone the desired outcome. Sometimes intelligent decisions and effective organizing along with well-planned action bear the fruit of victory; most of the time they do not. Our victories are the products of learning from failure.

We must have a method for capturing the important lessons from our defeats. We must have the will to endlessly regroup, reorganize, and re-engage. Revolutionism is the art of perseverance and the science of historical materialism. Perseverance must be our guiding moral away from decadence and nihilism; it is not an idealist conception of a supposed predestiny to overthrow capitalism. Historical materialism must be our lens for viewing past epochs of struggle for the sake of understanding our own; it is not a predictive method in which our fate is sealed by a linear orthodoxy.

The objective economic and social conditions are not what makes revolutionary class struggle, only we ourselves can meet that task. And it is not by the virtue of any exceptional individual that such a task is met but by ongoing collective activity. When the forces at play (most of which we cannot control) are aligned in our favor we must seize the moment as it corresponds to our own available forces. Whether the decisive moment yields a success or a defeat is not determined by any individual’s maneuvers but by the totality of all of those maneuvers within the relationship of forces.

The so-called greatness of the individual revolutionary is a product only of historical discourse. The ones hailed as heroes of proletarian revolution throughout history were extremely effective political organizers who knew how to go about agitating. Yet there have been, and are, many of the like who strive earnestly toward social revolution whom history will never acknowledge as heroic or even having existed. The efforts and contributions of these countless unknown are vital to the viability of our side in the class struggle.

What is needed is a large volume of struggle, spontaneous fight back and organized resistance toward Total Liberation. Revolutionaries of the past have never created a revolutionary situation out of sheer strategic brilliance; they have acted decisively in an already in motion situation which was created through years of continuous struggle on the part of courageous people whose names and deeds we will never know. This is true of all of the biggest names in all the most esteemed revolutionary periods from Durruti to Mother Jones. This is not to say that we ought to ignore the achievements and lessons of such individuals. We ought to take them sincerely into account while refraining from emulating them. The struggles of past eras and distant places should be studied, supported, borrowed from, but never equated with what we face here and now, wherever or whenever that may be.