Valerio Arcary is the author of several books including O Martelo de História (History’s Hammer) and a leader in the Resistência current of the Party for Socialism and Freedom. Here he discusses some of the qualities necessary for training activists and building socialist organizations. Translated by No Borders News.
1. We need to talk about militancy and political patience. We haven’t reflected on the strategic importance of patience nearly enough. In the socialist movement, we place a high value on honesty of character, on courageous personalities, on the brilliance of intelligence, and the erudition of our scholars. Socialist orators arouse our enthusiasm because they state what we would like to be able to say and our agitators represent us in public. Propagandists are admired because they explain our programmatic ideas and educate us. But patience is the most important quality for organizers. Organizers are the ones who have the skills to keep us together. They facilitate collective actions that protect us from our own excesses, they help us avoid fighting with each other over every tactical difference, they defend the mutual trust that is indispensable for a community of fighters. Whoever thinks he or she is always right, does not have the necessary patience to try to understand other people’s arguments. Such comrades may have extraordinary qualities, but they have difficulty conducting their organizing work in a collective. Political patience is emotional intelligence.
2. Political patience does not mean resignation. Patience means resilience, serenity, and balance. Patience is not indifference, nor coldness, nor meekness. Political patience is self-control, discipline, restraint. It is self-control, discretion, and selflessness. It means accepting that we are all, each of us, different from each other, and we are all imperfect, each in our own way. Revolutionary patience means coming to grips with our immature and intemperate youthful illusions, and with our equally imperfect organizations. To be patient means understanding that the dynamics of the class struggle are conditioned by factors far beyond our control or our willpower, and that the urgency of the times can wear us down. And, unfortunately, we may have to wait a long time to see our hopes realized. Patience means opening your heart to the idea that the revolutionary project is a bet, a wager that is constantly renewed in each struggle, struggles in which we place strategic our hopes. Organizers are revolutionary marathon runners.
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3. It is not possible to avoid personal frustration over the course of our political activism. There is no way to avoid disappointments. We must each reflect on our place, and the quality of our organizations’ experience. This means defining the role of individuality within a collective. There is room for everyone in the fight against capitalism, but finding our place is not so simple. When we are young we do not yet know ourselves. We don’t know what we’re capable of. It is activism and experience itself that help us discover our own nature. But nobody creates their own political personality on their own. We learn from others. We can never forget that honest organizing must to be an act of giving. Valuing cooperation, and being grateful to those who fight alongside us does not diminish anyone, on the contrary, it magnifies each of our roles. The collective is always greater than the sum of its parts and political patience is the cement that binds an organization together.
4. In any human collective there are, to a greater or lesser degree, personal conflicts. Some people are especially contentious and there is nothing wrong with having personal ambition. It is understandable and to be expected that activists and organizers have aspirations, projects, goals, and even pretensions. As long as they are regulated by a clear code of conduct that values honesty, solidarity, and kindness in place of rivalry, competition, intrigue, or pride then they are not automatically harmful. Within this framework, nothing is more important than keeping your word. No one should ever have a “secret agenda.” Everything is a matter of degree. But, as with everything in life, the degree, the intensity of what we feel and what we want makes a difference. Our passions should be moderated and mediated by the needs and wants of others. Otherwise, it is impossible to work together. Nobody wants to be manipulated, deceived, or used by others. Nobody wants to be simply be rungs on a ladder for others to climb up. Idealizing socialist organizations is naive. They are not immune to the hostile social pressures of a society that rewards opportunism and careerism and climbing to the top. Rather, they are like cities under siege by enemy forces and their walls are not impregnable. They are vulnerable to pressure. Pressures of all kinds, including economic and social, financial and status. Therefore, every serious organization has a duty to protect itself, and to separate from those who do not honor their commitments. It takes a lot of patience to build healthy organizations.
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5. Everyone’s behaviors are conditioned by many pressures so it’s important to discuss the incentives that drive our activism. We shouldn’t discount immaturity as we assess what moves people. The selective criteria any given organization employs can either favor people of good character, or attract swindlers, crooks, and cheats. Not everyone is cool. We shouldn’t tolerate crooked or dishonest people. At the same time, each and every one of us is constantly undergoing a process of change. For better or for worse. Consistent and serious activism is not painless, and it requires some sacrifice, but developing a balance is key because everything must have limits. Socialist activity is not a penance, it is not martyrdom. It must be based on altruism, selflessness, commitment, and it must long term. Our organizations must be, first of all, educational centers in which we find encouragement and recognition. The best organizing practice is that which is centered around the defending a political program and what must unite socialists is a project aiming for the transformation of society. None of this is possible without patience.
[For international news and analysis from working-class and socialist points of view, read No Borders News.]
Categories: Debates, Socialist organization