I think we need to make a rhetorical push for NEW ways of doing things. Ways to break from our current economic, social, and political arrangements that exploit and oppress us, but also ways to break from the old methods of trying. Obviously we still need to learn from all that we can in the past, but to be relevant, and effective, we have to be NEW.
Look at the Industrial Workers of the World as one example. Its cool that the IWW is over 100 years old, and has such a rich history, and its cool that we have great songs that are to the tune of songs that were popular a hundred years ago, and its cool that we can trace the lines of our current emphasis on solidarity unionism back to the original union movements before there was such a thing as a guaranteed contract or a legal strike, but I think for people who are not us to be excited and want to get involved, we need to seem fresh. Imagine the difference of the impact of a conversation in which you try to explain solidarity unionism a) as a return to original union values, or renewing of the principle of collective action and acting “in union” to better your working conditions, and not focusing on legalistic contractual business mainstream whathave you unions…blah blah blah or b) As a new way of doing unions. One that doesn’t rely on officials and union bosses that don’t know what our job is like. One that is about us, but about ALL of us, who work, and work hard, and are trying to get what we can, but can get more together.
I think the same thing could be said for other social organizing for anarchists and anti-authoritarians, specifically those that aim to see specific concerted organization of anarchists. We can know a lot about Bakunin and Malatesta and Makhno, etc, but no one we give a fuck about gives a fuck about those dead dudes. What people know is that shit sucks, and “communism doesn’t work” and neither does voting, and writing letters to your congresspeople is boring as hell. We need to be like, look, this a new way of doing things, one that’s never been done before. We know it can work because things SIMILAR to it have worked in the past, but here’s why we are better and different and important right now, and here’s how you can make it even better.
In short, I feel that there are lots of self-styled revolutionaries out there who don’t learn from history, in their own lives or through the centuries. There are many others who aim to, and very well might, or maybe only do partially, and quite often their presentation comes off as just a reformulation of some tired old shit. To be truly effective and current in our communities, to popularize our ideas as anarchists, and contribute that leadership of ideas, they need to seem good, and exciting, and new. Not artificially new, but legitimately fresh conceptions drawing on our rich traditions. The newest hit on the radio doesn’t claim to have invented hip-hop, but its sounds, the ways its beats go, is still new. We are not popular. We won’t be overnight, but we need to create the cool that leads the underground political movement, until it is the mainstream.
P.S. This is not meant to be a push for a disingenuous emphasis on newness when our traditions are old. It is meant to urge that we emphasize what is new in our organizing, and create that in the process. Solidarity unionism, as much as it draws on older traditions of organizing before the Wagner act, etc, is legitimately new precisely because it represents a break with the trajectory of the mainstream labor movement for the last century. We are the same Wobs that railed against AFL trade union scabbing a hundred years ago, but we are also NEW Wobs that have a critique of why SEIU’s apparently successful organizing model(s) are not.