Buck Up, Revolutionary Soldier
This originally appeared in Skewed News.
Last week an alcoholic stood up in a sweltering meeting hall and promised his fellow workers that he’d stop drinking, so he could participate more effectively in the class struggle. He asked them to hold him to account, and they agreed to do so.
The pain of living under capitalism is bad. The eviction notice, the shocking price of food, the backstabbing among so-called friends, the humiliation at work, the pavement-melting heat, sadistic badge-wearers, torn screaming bodies, and so much blood.
For those who take on the battle against it, it can get worse. Revolutionaries always know they’re on borrowed time. Every moment not dead or in prison is to be used wisely, for these may be limited.
Meanwhile there is trouble, heartache, loneliness. We get fired. Our spouses leave us. Our kids go without. Our mothers fret.
We know that numbing our pain is self-destructive, but sometimes the choice feels like self-medication or breakdown. Still, even as we lift the bottle or pop the pill, we can’t help being aware that these temporary escapes help the capitalists disorganize and dominate us. We’re never more thoroughly pacified than when we’re out of our right minds, perceiving reality in a distorted fashion and unable to marshal a coherent response to it.
When we can, we face our fears and sorrows with clarity. Moments of resolve contend with moments of weakness, over and over and over in a constant internal struggle.
Mutual support allows us to make progress, and collective political practice offers transcendence. Like the Coup lyric goes, “power is the most effective anti-drug.”
That’s how it gets better.
A few days ago after discussing the recent decades of setbacks, the degeneration of the left and the absence of an autonomous workers movement, someone asked me: “What keeps you going?” The answer is simple: It’s the hand of a comrade from the distant past, still reaching toward a classless future. It’s the millions of us who are everywhere, getting ready. It’s Fred Hampton saying he’s not going to die by slipping on a piece of ice. It’s the stubborn refusal to submit. It’s that one worker in that meeting hall, suffering dependency, making the decision to emancipate himself in order to better serve the interests of his class as a whole.
Tensions are tightening between what is and what needs to be. Many of us sense it: a period of intense battles is at hand. We need to gather our strength, set aside distractions, wean ourselves from addictions, make ourselves fit to face the coming firestorm.
The worker who cast off his liquid crutch last week doesn’t know me, but perhaps he will read this: Comrade, your example strengthens us all. May we help keep you strong in turn. Our hands are joined in common cause.