Monday, January 10, 2011

The making of the socialists

E.P. Thompson, quoted in From Here to There:

[S]uch a revolution demands the maximum enlargement of positive demands, the deployment of constructive skills within a conscious revolutionary strategy -- or, in William Morris' words, the "making of Socialists." ... Alongside the industrial workers, we should see the teachers who want better schools, scientists who wish to advance research, welfare workers who want hospitals, actors who want a National Theatre, technicians impatient to improve industrial organisation. Such people do not want these things only and always, any more than all industrial workers are always "class conscious" and loyal to their great community values. But these affirmatives coexist, fitfully and incompletely, with the ethos of the Opportunity State. It is the business of socialists to draw the line, not between a staunch but diminishing minority and an unredeemable majority, but between the monopolists and the people -- to foster the "societal instincts" and inhibit the acquisitive. Upon these positives, and not upon the d├ębris of a smashed society, the socialist community must be built.

Personally, I like to promote the maximum enlargement of positive demands. That way, when somebody wants to share their excitement about a promotion, I can say: "That's awesome, you deserve to be recognized for all your hard work" -- because that much is true. If what they are being recognized for happens to contribute to the death of the planet -- and lots of things do, you can't always help it -- you have to find a way to support people on an individual level while "drawing the line, not between a staunch but diminishing minority and an unredeemable majority, but between the monopolists and the people." Do you see that? We have to support each other while drawing the line, not between each other, but between the monopolists and the people. That is fundamental for me.

So if you know someone who is excited to be going into a particular field, you have to zero in on the motivations which are admirable and promote those over and above -- and inevitably against -- the short-sighted motivations which are always pimped out by power, like the fact that they'll make a lot of money, or whatever. People are going to aspire to these things anyway: you have to lend weight to some but not others.

"These affirmatives coexist, fitfully and incompletely, with the ethos of the Opportunity State." This is a brilliant sentence. The affirmatives coexist with the prevailing power structure. In other words, people don't merely chase money -- not even in the cases where they mostly do. That means something else is happening at the same time. We chase money, but we also spend a lot of time telling ourselves that we are basically good people; we aren't engaged in a 100% evil occupation, and so on. We would prefer to take pride in whatever it is we are already doing ... because there it is. For anyone else around us, there is an opportunity to affirm that part of who we are, and encourage us in the more difficult, if ultimately more fulfilling, direction. If we could figure out a way to do this for each other on a lasting basis, that could very well be the start of a better society within the shell of the old.

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