Tuesday, 14 May 2013
The Anatomy of Radical Movements
A movement seeking fundamental change can be visualised as a Mayan pyramid, with each tier comprising a theatre of war, or plane of operation.
At the top of the pyramid are the philosophers, who develop the theoretical bases for the movement. This involves two processes: on the one hand, a radical critique of the intellectual and moral bases of the establishment, or the establishment’s position on a particular issue; on the other hand, the construction of an intellectual apparatus that morally and intellectually justifies the movement, built upon first principles.
These first principles may or may not include those upon which the establishment order is built upon. For example, Marxism was a radical critique of classical liberalism, which it sought to replace, but it shared with the latter a materialist conception of the world, a belief in progress, and a belief in the moral goodness of equality; the difference was that Marxism was the more radically egalitarian. Marxism was eventually defeated in 1989, but not without first having caused a mutation in liberalism, which went from emphasising liberty in its classical form to emphasising equality in its modern form. This mutation was mediated by the Frankfurt School and the New Left in general, and their adepts and collaborators in academia, the media, and various activist movements in the West—such as feminism or the ‘civil rights’ movement in the United States—which relied on Marxian theory.
This top level comprises usually a small group of individuals, though they will often be affiliated to a variety of interlocking or overlapping intellectual circles. Because abstract, the value of their work is not always evident among those with a practical orientation. However, on a practical level, the work of the philosophers is indispensable, because on them hinge all the arguments deployed by the movement, and the effectiveness of those arguments hinge, in turn, on their being supported by a coherent body of theory. Without theory, one is forced to rely on practical arguments. In many cases, these are sufficient, but experience has amply demonstrated that they are never so in cases where the point of view being advanced conflicts with the dominant morality. Even long-time opponents of multiculturalism who are at no risk economically may sometimes feel uncomfortable, and have enormous difficulties articulating their position, when questioned about their views on race in a mainstream public forum, despite having been macerated for years in economic data, crime statistics, and racial science supporting their position. The reason is that they have not been able to articulate their position in moral terms. In other words, they lack of moral theory of inequality that justifies their point of view morally. Without a radical critique of egalitarianism in the area of ethics, and without a moral justification for inequality, no strategy, no group, no argument deployed in conversation will get anywhere.
Below the philosophers are the strategists. It is by means of the strategists that the abstract principles and ideas of the philosophers are politically weaponised. An example that should be familiar to readers would be Antonio Gramsci, the Italian Marxist. Gramsci was interested in the reasons why communist revolutions had triumphed in the East, but failed in the West. He concluded that what was getting in the way of communism in the West were Christianity and tradition. To bring about communism in the West, Westerners had to be cut off from them. His strategy was what we now refer to as ‘the march through the institutions’: the progressive infiltration of institutions by Marxists and their gradually taking control of them over the course of a generation or two as they grew in number and rose through the ranks, hiring and promoting each other. This strategy saw political power as the final step in a long process of acculturation, following which the accession of communism would not be resisted but be embraced by everybody as normal and logical step.
Not all strategies need be so grand. They may sometimes be as simple as choosing to change the way we talk about an issue or a group of individuals, since in public discourse the language that people use and take for granted often has certain psychological and political implications, about which they are seldom aware, but which, because people often reproduce what is said in the media, tends on the whole to legitimate the establishment ideology. We can think, for example, in the way we talk about immigration in the West. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with it: Peter Brimelow, who writes about this topic, is an immigrant himself. The problem is the type of immigrant, and what they do after they have migrated here. Some commentators have noticed that the word ‘migrant’, favoured by the mainstream media, is somewhat euphemistic, and have, accordingly, opted to refer to the same phenomenon as ‘invasion’ or ‘colonisation’. The problem is that neither term is satisfactory, because outside the anti-immigration milieu, they both come across as fear-mongering exaggerations: after all, an invasion is a centrally coordinated act of aggression, whereas the so-called ‘migrants’ act individually; while colonisation implies a metropole organising the effort, whereas the so-called ‘migrants’ come here from everywhere, without a directive and without anything like the Virginia Company of yore. Therefore, a better discursive strategy might be to reconceptualise ‘immigrants’ as ‘settlers’, and refer to them as such, on the basis that an immigrant submits to the indigenous authority, whereas a settler may initially submit to it for tactical reasons (i.e., to obtain residence or nationality) but ultimately does not recognise the indigenous authority and seeks, instead, to overthrow it, as is the case with radical Muslims. By using the word ‘settlers’ we highlight the fundamentally different nature of this class of individuals in relation to mere immigrants, thus forcing attention on the issue while neutralising many of the popular pro-immigration arguments.
Strategists do not necessarily always antedate the philosophers. I place them below because, conceptually, they occupy the second tier in a hierarchy that starts with the theoretical and ends with the practical, but in real life strategists may identify the areas and the types of intellectual activity that are needed strategically for strengthening arguments against the establishment position and exploiting weaknesses or contradictions in the establishment ideology.
Below the strategists are the organisers. Their function is to organise activists on the ground, so that political or metapolitical strategies can be put into practice in a manner that is effective. While strategists mostly read and write, organisers mostly read and talk to activists. In this capacity, they may have a triple role, because they are often activists and they have also to strategise, albeit at tactical-practical level. Saul Alinksy, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, is a classic example from the ‘enemy’ camp in the United States: he was active furthering the cause of the Black Americans, and his frequently unorthodox ideas, which focused on the Have-Nots and are contained in his Rules for Radicals, were later adapted by some American university students during the late 1960s, forming part of their strategies for on- and out-of-campus organising
Organising, however, does not occur soleley within the framework of party politics or protests, and it does not even have to involve stomping on tarmac. In Israel, for example, seminars are organised with the aim of teaching internet users how to edit Wikipedia pages and ensure that anything to do with Israel is written in conformity with the Israeli point of view. What is more, areas of organising need not be confined to slogans or information; they can include anything from soup kitchens to cultural activities, high and low. Music festivals or carnivals have been a staple of anti-fa organising since the 1970s, while at our end of politics organising often takes the form of independent publishing, since mainstream publishers are controlled by political liberals, in radical and conservative flavours.
Below the organisers are the activists. From the foregoing it should be obvious by now that activism in a cause or movement is not limited to pushing leaflets through letterboxes or hurling Molotov cocktails. Options are limited only by the imagination, and can be as dangerous or as safe, or as visible or as invisible as one likes. An activist can be an artist, a musician, a journalist, a web administrator or developer, a radio presenter, a printer, a book seller, a publican, a conversationalist—literally anything. It goes without saying that, in many cases, an activist need not work as part of a group; he can operate, so to speak, formally unorganised, yet still informed by strategies and a particular body of theory
Finally, at the base, is the ordinary citizen—anyone who is not a philosopher, a strategist, an organiser, or an activist in the movement. Ordinary citizens are generally uninterested in or have only a very superficial knowledge of politics, which they derive primarily from the mass media of news and entertainment as well as private conversations. Many are quite ignorant, but this does not mean that they lack strong opinions. In fact, as the internet constantly demonstrates, many people out there express strong views on matters they know little or nothing about, reading what they want to read, hearing what they want to hear, and projecting their own biases, fears, and preconceptions onto everybody else. The general tendency for them is to go with the flow, and reproduce the attitudes and opinions of those they like and admire or by whom they want to be liked and admired. Much of this is determined very simply by individual relationships, based on blood, friendship, or power.
The overall direction of opinion, however, is determined by the dominant morality of the society. In our society, the dominant morality of our time is modern liberal morality, which enshrines equality as an absolute moral good. It is, in other words, radically egalitarian. Save for a small group of proud contrarians, outsiders, and extreme intellectuals, the moral goodness of equality is taken for granted and never questioned, being ingrained to the point that it becomes difficult to articulate an opposing position without casting oneself as a monster. It follows, then, that while it is possible to instigate a change of opinion on anything, the ordinary citizen will be most resistant to a change of opinion that challenges the dominant morality. The most radical of movements usually aim to change opinion in this fundamental manner
The relationship between the different tiers is thus clear: the philosophers inform the strategists, who inform the organisers, who inform the activists, who inform the ordinary citizens.
There is a final group that stands outside of this hierarchy, and yet is in a symbiotic relationship with it: the funders
In this group, I do not include individuals who may make small contributions to a cause from time to time, since that is a form of activism, but only individuals who, having excess wealth at their disposal, wish to use it on a large scale to change the world.
Most of who are apolitical or politically illiterate opt these days for philanthropy: in a radically egalitarian moral climate, it becomes imperative in the West for those who are thought to have too much to be seen helping those who are thought to have too little. Many of us remember how, twenty years ago, after being criticised for having too much money and not giving some of it away, Bill Gates eventually picked a cause and went with it, for the sake of public relations.
Some others in this category opt to support activities in their area of interest.
Those who are political, by contrast, opt for funding any number of individuals or organisations that support their views. They may do so visibly, or they may do so quietly, under the guise of ‘philanthropy’. And they may fund individuals or organisations in any of the tiers. Kerry Bolton’s Revolution from Above discusses how some of the most notorious radical social and political movements of our times—from second wave feminism to the colour revolutions of recent years—have been bankrolled by nominally philanthropic organisations.
Some readers of this website will, understandably, be discouraged at the thought of competing with a George Soros. What must be kept in mind, however, is that radical movements do not start out with the support of billionaires; they start out with modest means. The billionaires only come near the end, once the moral and intellectual groundwork has been laid out, once sound strategies have been formulated, and once there is solid organising activity taking place. Their aim is to change the world, remember, so they will put their money where they think it will be effective, and they will give it to those whom they think will realise their vision
The relationship between funders and the radical movement is symbiotic simply because they need each other: a movement cannot realise its objectives without funding anymore than a funder can realise his vision without a movement.
Having said this, and lest some think money is everything, a movement runs on two types of fuel. Money is obviously one of them. The other is words—millions of words that pour forth from every direction, in every area, at every level; words that ultimately rest, however distantly, on a particular body of theory, As I said recently.
A slogan on a placard, a talking point, or even a Molotov cocktail flying through the air en route to a particular window in a particular building, all have a body of theory behind it, and represent a distillation of a complex of concepts and values that originated at the level of abstraction. Millions of words are poured out . . . before that slogan is painted on the placard, that talking point is used in a conversation, or that bottle is filled with . . . petrol. And it may well be that the balaclava’d rioter does not understand a word of the theoretical texts . . . of the movement to which he belongs, but, unless he is engaged in random violence, he will know instinctively, through exposure to the mass of words around him, and through the feelings and attitudes inspired by them, which window to target with his Molotov cocktail and why it must be that window in that particular building and not another.
We can conclude from the above that those wishing to become involved in a movement for fundamental change have an endless array of possibilities. Any individual anywhere can use his particular experience, talents, knowledge, and skills and apply them in their chosen field of operation, in the manner that best suits them and best fits their individual circumstances.