I had an interesting, albeit brief conversation with a particularly radical professor of mine who had recommended I read The Jungle by Upton Sinclair. I had found an audio book version, and would listen to it while I was on the bus, getting groceries, or out for a walk. Meanwhile, while I was at home doing proper reading with words on a page, I was reading the book Germinal by Émile Zola. For those who may not know, both of these book share similar themes: depressingly abused working class families under the heel of oppressive capitalist structures eventually coming to realize that there are alternative solutions to the miseries of their existence. They both go into excruciating detail about the horrors these proletarians endure, and consuming both essentially simultaneously was quite a downer.

The conversation we had ended with her suggesting that the importance of these stories is the solidarity that we revolutionaries can embrace with the disenfranchised of the past. Those who fought before us join the ranks of those who fight at our sides, and together we stand with those who will continue to fight once we tire or fall. Like I said, quite radical. I mean I’m paraphrasing what she said, but the gist is there. We are stronger when we are many.

What I found interesting about this conversation was the undercurrent of broad acceptance of varying beliefs, not all of them “politically correct,” let’s say. Germinal was published in 1885, The Jungle in 1906. The views of men toward women were those that existed before women were even allowed to vote, and the portrayals of those relationships, marriage especially, are not particularly progressive by today’s standards. Domestic abuse was deemed somewhat reasonable, wives were expected to tend the home, proprietorship of female relatives was prevalent, etc. Could a revolutionary today stand next to someone like this?

Though certainly not a foundation of comprehensive political clout, Cracked released a video recently that said no, they couldn’t. They use the example of Bernie Sanders campaigning for an anti-abortion Democrat in a mayoral election. Sanders’s view is that progress can only be made with a Democrat majority, regardless of any singular view of one of its members, and thus is criticized for essentially abandoning the purity that is necessary to advance the approved goals of progressive politics. Those who differ on an issue would sideline the entire movement. If enough compromises are made, for example with pro-lifers, then the majority on that one issue would be lost, and progress on women’s health would be lost along with it.

Then again, there are others who condemn revolutionary purists. According to this view, revolutionaries need to chill the fuck out and stop finding literally everything so “problematic” and focus on large issues rather than day to day minutia. Self-righteous shaming serves only to alienate those who might want to learn and grow within progressive movements, and dogmatic zealotry is quite frankly annoying in anyone, regardless of cause.

The Jungle and Germinal become relevant once more because one must ask where the balance lies between solidarity and purity? Could a feminist today stand next to an unapologetic wife beater in the cause of worker’s rights? If she stands with him, could he be expected to stand with her? Reciprocity in compromise ought to be expected, but certainly in this case it seems unlikely. And should it? Are all causes equally valid to the point where we should stand in solidarity with everyone? Alleged feminists attack Islam on the whole because they believe that it is oppressive to women, and justify attacks on the Middle East based on this premise; is that a proper ally within the feminist movement?

This debate has been around for as long as people have been up in arms over social progress. Bakunin and Marx famously disagreed over the theoretical differences of Communism and Anarchism, which differ about as much as Protestantism and Catholicism; which is to say very little. About as much as Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, really. Even within basically the same ideology, humans seem to dismiss solidarity for the sake of indistinguishable purity in almost every instance.

For this reason, traditionalism prevails almost every time. Factions develop almost naturally when change is demanded, and the common denominator among them all is some degree of contentedness with the status quo. Though each aspect may be different (working class males may be content with gender norms; white females may be content with racial disparities, etc.), the bond between every schism is the clenched hold on the way things are. Conservatism wins by default.

Pick your cause. Be specific in your goals, that way you don’t have to be specific with your allies. If your goals are vague, like ending racism, then just about anything can distract from that impossibility. If your goals are to end Stop-And-Frisk, then so long as everyone is on board with that, there are no problems. You might disagree with the person standing next to you on something else, but you’re both there for the same reason which means you’ve already got something in common. That commonality means that conversations will be easier, and conversing could create new allies in other areas, or help reevaluate some of your own beliefs. Purity matters in goals lest the conversation become bogged down by tangents, but it is much less important in ideology. Whatever the reason that someone got to their position is irrelevant, and demanding purity in ideology is characteristic of a cult.

Advancement isn’t going to happen in partisan politics; it will happen in movements driven by people wanting to make change. Sanders is right to an extent that Democrats will achieve more if there are more democrats, and Cracked is right that on a singular issue, diversity may topple that issue. However, letting politicians decide how things ought to be done is a terrible idea. How about we decide what the issues should be, and all we should expect from our politicians is to listen?

Advertisements