Activism: the buzzword of the left. But how does one begin to get involved in socialist struggle? To paraphrase the Chinese proverb, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single article.
A working person without class consciousness operates on instinct. This individual goes to work, sells their labor power for their boss’ profit, and uses the resultant wage to survive until the next day. The mental and physical energy expended in day-to-day survival is high, and often the only appealing activities at the end of the day are escaping into virtual realms.
Escapism, however, perpetuates this cycle. Escapists, whether they labor under the hope that through hard work and persistence, they will one day be the millionaire, or they have resigned themselves to a run-out-the-clock situation, abandon their yearning for a better life, for another path, and for salvation from the grind. They labor in the twilight until age, disease, or despair takes them.
The idealists among us, whose hearts are stirred by angry lyrics and who boldly post slogans of resistance on social media, are aware, but no less ineffective. It is not enough to wave a digital flag or engage a class enemy through tweets. The struggle must be present in our everyday lives, both as an intellectually processed phenomenon, and as an empirically lived experience. By both internalizing and externalizing class struggle, conscious socialists turn themselves into self-actualized vehicles driving the progress of history forward.
Talking the talk
Attaining class consciousness is the first step to building a democratic society. Conscientious socialists should dedicate a portion of their free time to study and reflection. A combination of news, from a variety of sites across the spectrum of politics is helpful to understand the issues, though it is important to read as many perspectives as possible while recognizing the financial backers of news outlets (e.g., Jeff Bezos’s ownership of the Washington Post does not overtly detract from the reporting, though it at times influences the ideological tone of the content). Understanding and developing the ideological lens through which to interpret the news is the second step, and should consist of familiarizing oneself with the ideological foundations of the movement. Marxists.org is an excellent free resource for this purpose. Additionally, discussion with other socialists is a helpful way to explore and understand ideas and perspectives, while training your ability to articulate and defend your viewpoint through rational, reasoned debate.
Reading articles and discussing with friends need not be a stodgy task that makes you feel shut into a dusty library. Read an article on your morning commute. Listen to an audiobook or a YouTube lecture at the gym. Discuss concepts and ideas over a beer with your friends. Developing political consciousness requires effort, but not as much as you think. Ultimately, it remains at its heart a choice. It requires recognizing your power in this moment as an engine of change and cutting out the distractions, if only for thirty minutes a day. The saying knowledge is power may be hackneyed, but it persists for a reason.
Walking the walk
The self-educated socialist must then strive to externalize the perspective gained from self-study. For many of us, this appears the most daunting part of our journeys from sympathizer to activist. The advent of social distancing and lockdowns in the new reality of COVID has not made this any easier, but it is all the more important. Again, as with self-study, you don’t need to try too much too fast. Activism can start slowly, and in small ways, such as finding alternatives to Amazon when buying a particular product (eBay can be an excellent source and you can support individuals with your purchases). As we socialize with our friends and colleagues, look for ways you can connect ideology to real-life events such as work issues. Encourage people in your social and work circles to work together to solve issues, no matter what they are. By demonstrating the power of collective action, you are demonstrating the righteousness and effectiveness of socialist thinking. The general formula for activism should therefore be, start small, build alliances, and work together.
A journey taken together
Visualizing a future and seeing its absence will encourage defeatism and depression that will ultimately convince the activist of the hopelessness of their cause and the overwhelming odds stacked against them. Faced with this threat, we should remember two things: the road is as important as the destination, and one individual has the power to move mountains. Socialism should not be seen as an end goal, but as a process. Just as we progress through our own stages of development from employee to conscious socialist, so too does society progress from capitalist state to worker’s state through its own fits and starts. We will get there. History is on our side, and socialism is as inevitable a stage of human development as were feudalism and capitalism. Each stage creates the material conditions for the next, and those conditions in turn shape the people who will drive it forward.
The 21st century is the moment of that change. Our grandchildren will live in a worker’s state. To get there, we must remember the second factor, the power of individuals. There is a strong undercurrent in contemporary America that existing political movements fail to represent our beliefs. We find ourselves voting for the lesser of two evils and affiliating with groups that capture some of our cherished beliefs while forcing us to accept policies that are to us anathema. We find ourselves squeezing ourselves into structures designed by other people and trying to make them work for us. You have the power to change that. Through your conversations with those around you, your reading, your writing, and your living the socialist values of cooperation, helping others, and raising others up to live a dignified life, you can forge a new path. Socialism is a mass movement of all people, but it is at its core driven forward by the energy and strength of individuals like you. You are important. You are critical. You write history.