Joyful Militancy - some key concepts...

Nick Montgomery and carla bergman have written a book that talks to us about a rigid radicalism that is seeping through our movements in the very air of the cultures of our groups and our inner worlds as activists and organisers. It is within us, doing the work of Empire, constraining, limiting and punishing us. They talk about how spaces for collective transformation are already emerging and operating - 'We are already otherwise'! The otherwise is a feeling of joyful militancy - a process of movement itself, of growth, creativity, struggle and experimentation, of collective power. They are not trying to offer a new template (which can then be rigidly applied) but a series of questions and concepts for movement organisers to explore and play with. I just want to briefly introduce a couple of the concepts they work with as they are informing my work and thinking and I think are useful!


Rigid Radicalism: In this form, radicalism is an ideal that is sought. Everything else fails to live up to it, perpetuating a constant critique and policing of behaviour and thought. It crushes the transformative potential of radical spaces by creating a series of 'shoulds', morals, orders, rules where one is never radical enough. It is important to note that rigid radicalism isn't just something done over there by those people - we all participate in it - it is like a gas in the air that permeates everything.

Joyful Militancy: Joy - the first part of this concept, emerges from Spinozean understanding - 'it is not an emotion bet an increase in one's power to affect and be affected'. The authors are also keen to stress that joy and happiness are not synonymous - joy can involve happiness but also a range of other emotions too. Militancy is also presented as a possibly complicated concept with associations of machismo / militarism. In the sense the authors use it here, militancy means 'combativeness and a willingness to fight, but fighting might look like a lot of different things'. This can include struggle against internalised shame, fierce care and support of a friend, courage to sit with trauma, a quiet act of sabotage, the willingness to take a risk.

Empire: This term is used to describe 'the organised destruction under which we live'. It encompasses the systems and structures that make everything up for sale, backed by violence, monopolising all fields of life. The goal of movement work is to undo Empire in all its forms whether it is within ourselves, in our groups, in the world. Something I like about these authors' approach is that this work of 'undoing' is already in motion - they argue that there are cracks everywhere in which people are already emerging new ways of being, of transforming, of challenging. We don't have to start over, its already glimmering in the margins and cracks... A Leonard Cohen quote coming to mind: 'There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in'.

Common Notions: Part of the analysis offered by these authors is that rigid radicalism tends to universalise, demand ideology and moral codes and sets rules about what is right and wrong in many arenas. An alternative to these rules and codes and orders is offered in the form of 'common notions'. 'To have a common notion is to be able to participate more fully in the web of relations and affections in which we are enmeshed. They are not about controlling things but about response-ability, capacities to remain responsive to changing situations'. Common notions seem to be much more about values that orientate our response to inevitable changing and emergent surroundings.

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