Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Idolatry of Struggle

I have had some "radical" friends, usually of a radical Marxist bent, tell me that life is one of constant struggle against the Power (usually, but I suppose not necessarily, "capitalism," which I have a hard time at any rate defining) . They say that ideally, all our actions should be directed to realizing "social justice." The art we patronize should advance "the cause," the poetry we write must have political purpose, the songs we listen too must not be reactionary, but "progressive."

Along with this frame of mind is an interpretive school of thought, epitomized, for example, by historians Tera Hunter, George Lipsitz, and Robin D. G. Kelley, that celebrates "working-class culture" as a continual act of resistance against the strictures of capitalism. I do not say here and now that such scholars claim that all aspects of working-class culture involve a struggle against the power, although some of their works , at the very least, imply that.

This insistence on life as a perpetual struggle (for "social justice" or, what is also a popular term, "survival" because "survival itself is a political act), whether it comes from the "gramsci-ite" scholars, Trotskyites, or even early 20th century anarcho-syndicalists, suffers from at least one major flaw. Most people, or at least many people, don't want to have to constantly struggle. They don't want to be on guard all the time. They want space and they want leisure. (True, scholars like Hunter claim that "leisure" time, because it's out of reach of the bosses' work time, is a "space" of resistance, whether the resistors see it that way or not. But isn't this stretching the issue a bit?)

True, the social justice radical might tell me, but in our present, oppressive system, people don't have that choice. Maybe, although I have my doubts; still, I think they want the choice.

The anarcho-syndicalists of the Industrial Workers of the World inveighed against the practice of unions establishing collective bargaining contracts because the contractual obligations, if observed, hindered workers from engaging in class-solidarity through general strikes and sympathy strikes. Still, a contract, if observed by both sides, provides some breathing space to relax.

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