The Individual and Collective Action

The standard definition of the radical Leftist is a person who recognizes that oppression and exploitation are based upon class.  One is not exploited or oppressed by a capitalist, sexist or racist system because of any individual achievement or lack thereof.  It’s not something that happens because an individual chooses it, and it’s not something that ends because an individual desires it to end.  Instead, that exploitation and oppression are based upon the very fact that a group of individuals are separated into a class considered appropriate for exploitation or oppression.  Individuals within the given exploitable class are viewed as “naturally” deserving of their lot, while those in the exploiting class are likewise considered deserving of their position based upon nothing more than class membership.  One can not by sheer force of will decide not to be oppressed or exploited so long as one continues to be a member of the class assigned the lesser status. In order to end exploitation and oppression, it is necessary for collective action, action that fully dismantles the very system that allows this to exist and to continue.

Fine, so we have that out of the way.  Where does that leave the individual?  Simply believing in the necessity of collective action and the community does not mean we give up our status and responsibilities as individuals, does it?  I flat-out reject any suggestion that it does, although some seem to argue in that direction.  Collective action doesn’t spring up out of the ground like Athena from the head of Zeus.  It comes about because of individuals who collectivize.  Individuals who dissent through action, organization and speech (written or otherwise)–all of which are important in any movement building.  Within a collective movement, it is just as important to dissent through action, organization and speech when an individual member of or group within the movement sees things going off the rails.  We don’t march forward into the darkness as a group, simply because to do otherwise might take an individual act to stop it–especially when we know that the darkness leads off the edge of a cliff.  Sadly, I’ve found that many who call themselves radical are willing to go to any ends to be seen as one of the collective.  This is the appointed leader, you say?  Okay, then let’s follow him wherever he goes.  If his path leads to destruction, let’s continue to defend him as infallible.

The reason I became radicalized was that I saw a moral failing in the world of capitalism and patriarchy, where people are expected to do the bootstrap dance no matter how the deck is stacked against them.  I realized this selfishness and lack of concern for other human beings was in and of itself an atrocity.  That wasn’t a collective conclusion; it was one of an individual human being.  That moral stand led me to movements that believe in the common good, in the collective, in the community.  I refuse to engage in the cult of personality, where the Great Leader is honored over the common good and the end goal.  That’s not radical.  That’s not Leftist.  That’s not anything I would ever want to be a part of.  The responsibility to remain committed to that morality doesn’t end when one becomes radicalized.  In fact, I believe it becomes more important.

When we see a Leftist movement become supportive of rapists and rape culture, what do we do?  We speak out against it.  We organize with others within the group to stop it.  We dissent.  We try to expose this betrayal within our own movement so it can be rectified.  That is but one example of how we can never let our moral centers get lost, but it is hardly the only one.  We must never become so beholden to the specter of the dreaded Individualism that we forget that.  It takes strong individuals within any collective organization to keep that organization moving in the right direction.  Failing to step up and do that is cowardly.  It is also the ultimate betrayal of the exploited and oppressed classes.

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