"Hegemony How-To": Rethinking Activism and Embracing Power
A review of Hegemony How-To: a Roadmap for Radicals, by Jonathan Smucker
Date Written: 19/05/2017
Year Published: 2017
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20965
"How many times, I wondered, had I favored a particular action or tactic because I really thought it was likely to change a decision-makers position or win over key allies, as opposed to gravitating toward an action because it expressed my activist identity and self-conception? How concerned were we really, in our practice, with political outcomes?"
Smucker spares nothing and no one -- including himself -- in his passion to achieve political victory. Smucker asks himself: "How many times, I wondered, had I favored a particular action or tactic because I really thought it was likely to change a decision-maker's position or win over key allies, as opposed to gravitating toward an action because it expressed my activist identity and self-conception? How concerned were we really, in our practice, with political outcomes?" Smucker concludes, "We often seemed more preoccupied with the purity of our political expression than with how to move from Point A to Point B. It felt as if having the right line about everything was more important than making measurable progress on anything."
Failed social movements, Smucker tells us, often don't overcome the political identify paradox. Specifically, social movements need to foster a group identify and have a dedicated core willing to put in many hours. But fostering this group identity can lead to isolation and failure to connect with others outside the group. The group that only cares about cohesiveness and maintaining its identity is not going to accomplish anything but just that. Focusing exclusively on creating a strong identify can "create a wall between them and potential allies." Smucker observes, "Building a community, for example, is a worthy pursuit. But these motivations become a problem when they trump our motivation to accomplish our ostensible political goals."
One byproduct of focusing too much on group identity is being dismissive of potential allies because they were not radical enough. For Smucker, "Every time a prominent supporter was snubbed, a message was sent to all potential supporters: 'Your support is not wanted. This thing is ours.'" Successful social movements build a large base of support "outside the choir," and they put great effort into actively courting influential supporters.