I’ve recently come across a few articles that really sum up my frustrations with the ‘radical movement’ and activism as a lifestyle choice.
Firstly, if you choose to become an ‘activist’ and call yourself that, rather than working to implement social change just being something you do alongside… er, whatever else it is you’re doing, that is likely to lead to several problems. Firstly, it defines activism as a social class, an insular movement that is exclusive and hierarchical, with expectations of thinking and behaviour. Activism becomes a job, fitting neatly into a societal framework so it can be marginalised by politicians and the media; it becomes a specialised field of work, creating divisions and disempowering people as they see world change as something only a certain group of people do. Sepecialisations of labour are essential to a class society, with certain fields being regarded as ‘higher’ than others - eg. doctors, lawyers and teachers, and the formal education and therefore privilege required to get into these fields reinforcing class divisions. ‘Activism’ as a lifestyle choice is the antithesis of the communist ideal of ‘common ownership of the means of production’, restricting the production of a better society to a certain group, and ensuring that only certain people are seen as ‘experts’ on social change, creating heirachy. There is a certain amount of privilege involved in holding ‘radical’ ideals and living the radical lifestyle; in order to reject civilisation, formal education and materialism one must first have had access to them, whereas a person living in, say, an impoverished area is more likely to see education and employment as means to a better lifestyle. The activist community is usually restricted to those who have had certain privileges, again reinforcing class divides and limiting the knowledge of oppression within activist circles.
in the past, revolutions have failed to happen because it is exactly this insular community that attempts to bring them about, which either ends up in the majority of people not siding with the movement, and therefore the revolution being defeated, or the community taking power by force, which leads to Soviet-style totalitarianism - the ruling class crushing dissent and gaining control of the means of production.
Another effect of seeing yourself as an ‘activist’ is the part that ego, all too often, comes to play. People see themselves as ‘enlightened’ compared to the ‘oppressed masses’, an ideology that’s incredibly damaging because of the division it creates. It creates a fetishisation of certain types of ‘glamorous’ actions; spray-painting ‘revolution’ on a government building is easier and much more fun than interacting with people and listening to their ideas. It creates a tendency to see oneself as ‘heroic’, as a leader, or as a martyr, which creates heirachy and division, with the aims of left wing groups such as the Socialist Workers Party being not to create a society built on the ideals of socialism, but to create a society with the Socialist Workers Party in charge. There is a tendency to work towards revolution, but only my sort of revolution - consider modern feminism that excludes sex workers, women who wear make up, transsexual women and stay at home mothers. As Belle De Jour says, ‘I found out the hard way that feminism in this country is like the Ivy League: there’s an application, old school alums think it’s gone downhill, and it’s mostly filled with the sort of people you spent your school years avoiding.’
For more info read this article and this article.