Many people who dislike current political and economic institutions have a tendency to decide they know the solution to the problem. In the past I have also tried to work out the real way to bring change, the essence of true radicalism.
The alternative to ‘real radicalism’ seemed to me to be the ‘pragmatism’ of people whose politics appeared terminally compromised by, for instance, their acceptance of roles within certain institutions.
Here I want to make a plea for neither ‘idealism’ nor ‘pragmatism’, but for something different. We should recognise that there exists no ‘real radicalism’, or if it does exist we can’t know it for sure until after the fact of radical change. But once we accept that we don’t know all the answers we shouldn’t jump towards ‘pragmatism’: the pragmatists also think they know the real route to change. They don’t really know either.
I understand the argument that once the structure of society is understood it seems necessary to break it entirely. And I understand the argument that working within acceptable political paths brings certain types of change more quickly. I try to bracket both these lines of thinking, accepting both and not mistaking either for ‘truth’.
Instead of choosing one or the other we should live on our feet. Rather than resolving contradictions between different methods we should actively seek to keep the tensions alive – because at this point who really knows from which direction change will come? Rather than plotting the ‘true’ path to change we should accept diversity of efforts and reject the idea that we – or anyone else – have found the ‘right’ way forward.
There are always moments when people commit to one particular method of change in order to create the critical mass necessary. But when that moment comes it will likely emerge organically, not because it is the ‘right’ way. In the meantime, even if feels a bit uncomfortable sometimes, let’s try to sustain tensions:
1. Between positive or negative politics. Should we unite around what we hate or what we agree on? Yes.
2. Between working inside or outside institutions. Should we use existing institutions to bring change or ignore them in favour of building our own social models? Yes.
3. Between voting or not voting, engaging in current political games or not. Should we take part in a discredited political system or try to bring about its downfall? Yes.
4. Between confrontation and building bridges. Should we seek to bring conflicts in society out into the open or try to unite people of disparate interests? Yes.
5. Between revolution or reform. Should we try to change everything or try to create incremental improvements in people’s lives? Yes.
The difficulty of adopting this kind of thinking is that you can be attacked from both sides. The moderates will pick on your ‘radicalism’, the radicals will pick on your ‘reformism’. Since none of them have – in my lifetime at least – brought about a better world, I try not to take any of the critics too seriously.