Radical Sinks and Radical Praxis
Action expands into the possibility space available to it. Let’s call a “social sink”, a possibility space that absorbs the “energies” (metaphorically speaking) of social action without returning them.
Let’s further define “radicalism” by the effort to intentionally transform social systems. The radical left works to intentionally transform systems like capitalism, patriarchy, racism, colonialism, and so on: not just redistribute resources within those systems, but abolish them and replace them with something else.
Radical sinks draw energies from unequal social relations without changing those relations. They give rise to extrinsic motivations for radical action. Radical praxis draws energies from unequal social relations and uses it transformatively. It involves motivations intrinsic to radical projects.
We can perceive this on multiple levels of scale.
Micro – Individual Subjectivity
Intrinsic — Individuals can find radical praxis a rationally and intuitively plausible way of making sense of their world. This plausibility is relative, of course, and increases the more that radical praxis can demonstrably achieve goals in the short to medium term while moving closer to achieving its ultimate goal of systemic transformation.
Individuals can also perceive and pursue the meso- and macro-level goods described below.
Extrinsic — Individuals can be drawn into radical praxis as a way of processing personal trauma or, alternatively, as a personal rebellion against the social authorities they find irksome. These motives are complementary to radical praxis in the short to medium term, but in the medium to long term they can, and can only, be fulfilled by means other than egalitarian social transformation.
Meso — Groups and Institutions
Intrinsic — Radical praxis fosters solidarity, community, mutual aid among the oppressed, thereby reproducing itself through the formation of social groups, networks, movements. It also provides an overall direction for collective action, reproducing itself as a mode of practice.
Extrinsic — First, radical praxis offers a convenient means of making in-group vs. out-group distinctions. When this boundary work becomes the basis of movement identification, the movement becomes oppressive and/or self-marginalizing.
Second, radical praxis resonates with local cultural (secular and religious) traditions that promise a transcendence of all social constraint. Radical praxis as such aims not to transcend the social but to transform it.
Third, radical praxis offers cultural, social, and political capital to its participants, which they can then use for non-transformative goals.
Macro — Global Humanity
Intrinsic — Radical movements emerge as dialectical antitheses to certain systemic relations. It’s this antithesis that enables us to call a system “oppressive” at all.Multiple such dialectics operate in mutually entangled, mutually irreducible complex processes. Each dialectic produces the subjects (e.g. capitalist and worker) who struggle with one another. Each dialectic tends towards its own overcoming, hence its own abolition and the abolition of the subjects who struggle within it.
The relationships among different dialectics (e.g. capitalism vs socialism, patriarchy vs feminism, etc.) are contingent. Sometimes forms of oppression combine to reinforce each other, sometimes they undermine each other, sometimes they have neutral or ambivalent effects on each other.
Extrinsic — All radical struggles are fundamentally conditioned by the dialectic of state power, the contradictory relation between sovereign and subject. The sovereign-subject relation is a relation of physical and symbolic violence. Counter-cultural or counter-hegemonic struggles try to build a counter-sovereign in the symbolism and practice of their movement, one that reverses the vector of symbolic and ultimately physical violence to overthrow the power of the oppressor. This reversal is itself symptomatic of the very system one is trying to overcome.
Social revolution will require a revolution in the conduct of politics, in the means by which differences are resolved.