Philosophy in Practice | Cape Town


QA 59. To be a comrade

QA 59. To be a comrade

  • Posted by Helen Douglas
  • On September 6, 2017
  • communism, comrade, corruption, radical politics, resistance

What did it mean: to join the Party? Brecht says it best. I was not an exploiter, so I could grasp it.

To dedicate oneself to a more human society. For justice and peace, bread and roses. Against exploitation and oppression. Against all odds. To understand the indivisibility of freedom. To adopt José Martí’s willingness to share one’s fate con los pobres de la tierra. To know the world again, differently, in many dimensions, ranged along new coordinates. Eyes open, edgy. To become serious, disciplined, responsible. To get over oneself, forsaking singular, private prides and fears. A kind of loving, of deference.

And in that humbleness, to find oneself bound to the world, taking part. Tapping into the wild energy of resistance, rising up with others in the groundswell of the times. Rounds and rounds of meetings and actions. Rousing chants of ¡Venceremos! Amandla ngawethu! Solidarity forever! The worldly righteousness that Alice Walker has called the secret of joy.

Today, after all that has come to pass, there is still nothing wrong with the force of resistance. The problem of “good” and “evil” in emancipatory political activity is not this power but how we relate with it. The revolution will not be owned. It is not particularly for us, or against our enemy, for all time. To believe that it is marks the onset of delusion and corruption. The revolution does not eat its children. We do. The trick is to not get carried away, to keep hold of the reins, to hold one’s seat. To bear in mind how much is at stake. A sobering thought, that.

The energy of human resistance to injustice, which is generated by suffering, is older and more powerful than any law or rule. Therefore, it can sweep laws and rules away. Where laws and rules are swept away, some new order will come along. How will it be established? By what authority? In whose name? By negotiation? By force? With confidence or suspicion? In sickness or in health, till death do us part?

This is the crucible at the wellspring of emancipatory politics. When laws and rules are swept away, one needs to be able to think for oneself, to account for oneself, to stay true. To stay sober amidst the drunkenness. To remain disciplined, vigilant and patient. To think deeply about our problems, as Amilcar Cabral said, in order to act strongly. Getting this right opens the way for a better future. Getting it wrong makes monsters, brings on the terror and despair. We should be careful and we should be skilful. And because we are all in this together, we should be true with and for each other. Hasn’t this always been the deep meaning and the covenant of being a comrade? So it seems to me. “The simplest thing, so hard to achieve.”

“It’s sensible, anyone can understand it. It’s easy. You’re not an exploiter, so you can grasp it. It’s a good thing for you, find out more about it. The stupid call it stupid and the squalid call it squalid. It is against squalor and against stupidity. The exploiters call it a crime but we know: it is the end of crime. It is not madness, but the end of madness. It is not the riddle but the solution. It is the simplest thing, so hard to achieve.”  ~ Bertolt Brecht, In Praise of Communism (1932)



"The revolution will not be owned." To me, this is the most compelling, provocative, and sane sentence in this entire post. (The rest is pretty good, too …) Thanks for this.
Jane Mqamelo
I was going to say the very same. I like the rest of the thought too: 'It is not particularly for us, or against our enemy, for all time.' That speaks to the issue from a higher perspective than one generally encounters.

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