Old-Fashioned Political Activism Doesn't Work
Date Written: 10/11/2013
Year Published: 2013
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX15310
If you have ever read an article aiming to make you angry at some government or corporation by exposing some vile wrong-doing of it, then you've experienced at least one author's old-fashioned politcal activism. And if you've ever been asked by some organization, that avoids talking about the necessity and possibility of revolution, to attend a demonstration or sign a petition or vote against some particular governmental or corporate wrong-doing, then you've encountered an old-fashioned political activist organization. If you are, yourself, an old-fashioned political activist, as I once was, then this article is for you.
Why does old-fashioned political activism fail? The reason is not hard to see. It fails because it doesn't start by asking the right question: "How can we stop the wrong-doings, for good?" Instead, it asks very different questions, such as, "How can I express my anger at such-and-such a wrong-doing?" or "How can I educate others to know about such-and-such a wrong-doing?" To the extent that old-fashioned activism is at least implicitly based on a theory about how to stop the wrong-doings for good, that theory is wrong.
The wrong theory seems to be the following:
When a sufficiently large number of people are sufficiently knowledgeable about all of the wrong-doings that cause me to be furious at the ruling elite, then and only then will the ruling elite stop committing those wrong-doings.
What's wrong with this theory? The theory is wrong on two counts.
First, there is no reason to believe that there will ever be a sufficiently large number of people sufficiently knowledgeable about all of the wrong-doings that cause you to be furious at the ruling elite. People are concerned about widely varying things. The evils of Zionism in Palestine may be the most important concern for you but considered by others to be something too far away to be of concern to them. The wrongful firing of a worker might be the most important concern for people somewhere and yet be something that you have not even heard about.
Second, even in the unlikely event that a huge number of people were fully informed about all of the wrong-doings that cause you to be furious at the ruling elite, this would not by itself stop the wrong-doings. The ruling elite does what it wants to do, no matter whether "The People" agree or not. There are lots of examples that prove this. One of them is that the American rulers continue to wage their unjust wars long after a majority of Americans oppose them.
For political activism to succeed, it needs to start by asking the right question-- How can we stop the wrong-doings for good?--and have a correct theory on which to base its answer.