8. 14. 2021

Scream and Plan

Daniel Sarah Karasik

The anarchists are often the most modest. When they say that revolutionary action is what we do
now: how we show up for each other. This rent strike, this riot. No pretence of being the revolutionary party in waiting, the vanguard, carrying the gospel to the working class. No claim to be the bringers of sense, the synthesizers who knit fragments of social struggle into a whole. Since what right have any of us to make meaning from others’ pain?

More devoted to the revolutionary party as a vehicle of socialist politics, less optimistic about the imminence of a revolutionary now, the radical philosopher and strategist Daniel Bensaïd endorsed what he called a “slow impatience” or an “urgent patience.” Instead of despairing over the thought that you might wait your whole life and never see the upturn in struggle that could transform everything, instead of squinting at the day’s bleak relations of forces and insisting the revolution could be made already in prefigurative ways, Bensaïd urged “an active waiting…an endurance and a perseverance that are the opposite of passive waiting for a miracle.”

It’s elegant advice. But against the voice of revolutionary patience, which tells the indisputable truth that nothing happens in a hurry until it does, we hear again and again the voice of revolutionary need, which says simply: This suffering is too great and I can’t bear it. And sometimes: We refuse to bear it. Not for one moment longer. The need that acts, even if it lacks the numbers, even if its mission is desperate, arrests near-certain: at the blockade, or defending the encampment from murderers with badges. A defiant recognition that this mismatch between the urgency of the crises and the horizon of revolutionary repair, this impossible historical requirement of patience when confronted with present horror, is an injury. And it is intolerable. In the face of it, to scream and to charge is sometimes as honourable as to plan.

Where do those impulses meet? What’s the shape of a revolutionary impatience that has the capacity not only to move swiftly and forcefully to meet an urgent need, but also to build power in a form that’s scalable to the dimensions necessary if we’re to change everything? 

In the Canadian state as elsewhere, often this question gets answered in terms of building or intervening in political organizations. When left social democrats fight to win a foothold in the NDP, for example, one rationale is that the urgency and scale of our moment’s crises mean the left needs access to state power, and as soon as possible. Marxist groups with a cadre model – focused on developing a layer of leaders – educate their militants in revolutionary theory and history, and ask those comrades to dedicate themselves to struggling at the sites of most urgent social need, with a non-transactional wish that this solidarity might grow the revolutionary organization in turn.

It’s a promising means of bridging scream and plan. But not an end in itself; not the only road. On land stolen from Indigenous peoples, as necessity and care compel us to approach each other from the claustrophobic warmth of our divided, traumatized publics, probably the most urgent revolutionary priority is to build solidarities between the communities that capitalism, white supremacy, and settler colonialism have set at odds. To sort out who we are to each other, and what we have in common, and what our differences are, and if and how those can be overcome. The task of building trust between communities is not, of course, the opposite of revolutionary organization or incompatible with it; trust is forged through shared struggle. But to accomplish that task, we may need to embrace the broadest possible vision of what “revolutionary organization” can look like.

That is: to prioritize, above all, a perpetual transformation of our political ideas through the medium of our relationships, which renew the form of our organizations present and to come, and on which we labour as if they were (because they are) the core of any viable revolutionary project: strong and flexible bonds that bridge us, so the we that says We won’t bear it and we won’t wait, the we that says Now!, accrues the power to make the word a deed and remap worlds. Bonds built in every organized apartment tower and mobilized union local; and in each abolitionist group that offers comradely belonging to the criminalized; and in the DMs of trans people coordinating online to keep each other alive; and when Jewish and Palestinian voices demand a free Palestine together.

Not a refusal of organization, then (as if that were possible), nor of socialist organization – but a relinquishing of all messianisms, all prophetic confidences and patient plans made in light of them, all investments in the future that double as inflexible attachments to past organizational forms. A drive instead towards pliable collectivities, modest and exploratory, ready to shape-shift into what’s needed next at a moment’s notice, even if hardly any exoskeleton’s left over.

A patience with those collective experiments that’s necessary precisely because the crises have long since arrived, we need the power to transform everything, and we absolutely cannot wait.

Daniel Sarah Karasik (they/them) is the managing editor of Midnight Sun and a member of the network Artists for Climate & Migrant Justice and Indigenous Sovereignty (ACMJIS).