On the motivation for a soldier in the class war

tell me, tell me what it was to live and then die in the people’s war in 1946.

tell me. tell me what it is to live and die and not see communism.

the rest of us vicious souls want to know more about what it is to live and die
and get somewhere close.

do you know, lenin?
do you know how we love you?

you burnt everything you were, and we love you for it.

malcolm x, you burnt everything you were, and we love you for it.

there are tens if not hundreds of millions of you setting matches to yourselves, and it speeds us along.
who will praise you? who will love you?

i have no idea, but i myself who am living, who am setting a match to myself, i swear to god i will make it count for you.

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In Marxism we say that the working class struggles for liberation not out of some idea of moral superiority or because it is the right thing to do, but because it has no choice. Everyone who is in the working class is there because of a denial of options, a denial of any other choice in life. They won’t even let us eat unless we work.

So the working class is a group of people who struggle to bring about a new world, to liberate itself and thereby everyone else, for purely “selfish” motivations: to have a materially better life.

But then there’s this open question:

It’s one thing for the working class to struggle because there is a material gain to be had in it, whether it is better food and shelter or good medicine or whatever. But it is another thing to lay down one’s life for the class struggle. The logic of “the working class struggles because they want a better life” doesn’t quite hold up for those individuals who risk or even willingly give up their lives–they will see none of that material gain. So what is the motivation for a soldier in the class war?

Obviously not nothing. There have been so many brave people to do it that it probably doesn’t make sense to abandon material analysis when it comes to this question.

I think it makes sense to instead recognize that non-objects can still have value–in fact that much of the value that seems to inhere in an item (such as a status symbol) is actually in the social relationships (such as esteem) that that item grants us. The working class doesn’t want medicine because we value the aesthetic beauty of the arrangement of atoms that make up the medicinal molecule–we like it because it feels good, it alleviates pain, it helps us. We want better relationships, to ourselves and to those around us. We want to be better people, among better people.

So it is that sort of “material benefit” I  think a soldier in the class war enjoys, and that is why they are willing to risk everything to do it. Amilcar Cabral really makes most of the point that I would like to make:

Consider these features inherent in an armed liberation struggle: the practice of democracy, of criticism and self criticism, the increasing responsibility of populations for the direction of their lives, literacy work, creation of schools and health services, training of cadres from peasant and worker backgrounds—and many other achievements. When we consider these features, we see that the armed liberation struggle is not only a product of culture but also a determinant of culture. This is without doubt for the people the prime recompense for the efforts and sacrifices which war demands. In this perspective it behooves the liberation malovement to define clearly the objectives of cultural resistance as an integral and determining part of the struggle. (source)

And on that same note, a really good comrade of mine pointed out something similar recently: to some extent, we are communism. We are communism as it emerges into history, onto this earth. We in our hearts and among comrades are already the liberated base areas where a new world is being made.

Being among comrades who are consciously seeking to constantly re-make and improve ourselves through self-criticism, who are constantly seeking to be as good as we can to each other and to the masses, to become as brave and radical as we possibly can, and that we are actively helping each other to do this through loving criticism–well, that is a very real compensation.

And finally..

I fully expect to be swallowed up whole by history, to live and die and not see the new society I’m working to bring about. But I feel good about doing the work. I look back and see how long and hard so many people have worked in the past to get us closer. There are so many heartbreakingly brave and hard-working people who went through so much just to get us where we are, people whose names I know and so many more I will never know. I am honored I have the chance to make their sacrifice worth something. I am honored knowing that I am doing my humanly best to make them proud.

I read this recently in a document put out by the collective I’m a part of:

There is no greater act of love than picking up the rifle of a fallen comrade and continuing their battle. (source)

And maybe this is even stranger to say, but I think about all the peasants who rose up over the past few thousands of years, before communism was possible, these people buried in history whose struggle nonetheless slowly but surely built up a consciousness for the toiling people as a class. I look back at them, and realize that I am one of them. And when I look back at them, I want to pump my fist and shout and cheer them on. Yes! That is what I hope I would have done in their shoes! And because I am trying to be one of them, I feel cheered on alongside them by something that is bigger than me, by those ahead of me, in the better world, looking back at me along with everyone else who fought, and I am proud and grateful to be among them, to have had a chance to serve, to have run as hard and as fast as I could while I was on this earth.

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