Thinking again about that “replace yourself” piece reminded me of some more old unfinished notes which I decided to try to take another step further.

We live after shipwreck at sea. We float on makeshift rafts and other craft. We can’t do otherwise. What alternative is there? sink? The sea remains rough, with strong winds, full of sharks, rocks, and maybe worst of all dead calm for days and days. We disagree about much – what sort of craft, how shall it be propelled, which direction to go – and we get little assistance beyond platitudes which often conflict – build a ship! train new sailors! learn to fish! go north! learn to read the stars! get along with the others in other rafts! avoid the others! make war on the others! make the vessel seaworthy! – and which tell us little about how to do what we need to do.

We castaways must build ourselves a ship while on the open sea, never able to dismantle it in dry-dock and to reconstruct it there out of the best materials. If we are to build it, we must do so plank by plank while still staying afloat in it and living together on it. The planks we use are not in fact planks but scraps. We repair and rebuild from what we can salvage from the scraps floating around us and what we can share with each other. Our vessels are makeshift, imperfect, leaking, with some components made entirely from recognizable portions of other ships. Other piece are nearly unidentifiable. Not trained builders, not traveled sailors, not schooled navigators, not strong swimmers, we take what we can, we pull aboard those we find treading water, we share what we can with others on other craft. In the process we are learning all of these things – to swim, to build, to navigate, and to do so together.

Politically speaking, for many people of my age and younger, I think we are sort of orphaned, or perhaps we are political latch-key kids: we have primarily raised ourselves. Maybe all previous political generations were this way as well, I don’t know about that. Many of us identify or have identified strongly with portions of traditions or sub-sub-traditions – revolutionary but not anarchist syndicalism, Situationism in its more marxist and less artistic mode, Italian autonomist marxism prior to but not after 1980, etc. This speaks to the hunger many of us have for practical lessons and for analysis to make our world make sense. It also speaks to the hunger many of us have to be able to place ourselves in a radical family tree of some sort, to have political ancestors.

Of course, if we’re honest, people change their traditions. Some of today’s syndicalists were situationists five years ago; some of today’s autonomists were primitivists five year ago. Past ideas and experiences matter very much but they are only partially a cause of political views in the present. The most serious layers take up past ideas and past vocabularies — Mike Ely at Kasama has called this “fidelity to past fidelity” — because we feel a need for ideas and vocabularies, but we all remake these ideas and words as we take them up. We need to not only learn lessons from the past, we have to pose problems in the present drawing on our experiences and the things we believe are happening around us.

We have grown up in a period of relative defeat and decline for liberatory social movements and radical political organizations. This has still been a period of struggle, however. The working class as a whole has not been on the offensive but there are small pockets of struggle. We have some level of experience to learn from. We are painfully aware of the limits of this experience and of the obstacles that impede or break the circulation of these experiences and the lessons they offer. At the same time, we are proud of this experience – what we have learned, how we have fought, who we have built relationships with. In some respects, this is a lonely condition. We have very few mentors with much more experience who can guide us, and we lack few peers who have similar experiences and quality of experience as we have.

Part of why I have emphasized strategic emphasis on cadre building, and I think this goes for other close comrades of mine as well, is that we feel that we need more peers. We want to create and develop more cadre so that we will have more comrades to teach us, to push us, to inspire us. Lack of fellow cadre limits our abilities now and limits our abilitis to improve together. We also want to develop more cadre for the sake of the future – we know that the masses will move, often fiftully and in small pockets, but the masses will move. Individuals will be radicalized as well. In our political lives we have seen more individuals move than groups. Short of the masses in motion, we make do, trying to prepare ourselves. We want as few others as possible to face the limitations we have faced. We want to accelerate the development of newly radicalized people as much as possible in part so we can accelerate our own development.

We build ourselves what we can to the best of our abilities. I mean this in a double sense. “We build ourselves” in the sense that we make things for ourselves – organizations, institutions, ideas, relationships – and in the sense we make ourselves different. We do both out of what we can draw from past experiences directly and indirectly, largely without generational continuity or much in the way of mentorship. For now and for a long time to come what we make ourselves will have a patchwork quality. We can and should evaluate our work, but we should not take the patchwork quality as too much of a flaw. A seamless garment – or, to use the earlier metaphor, a craft not built from salvage – will probably not be possible and probably not matter until the working class begins to recompose itself on a massive scale. The flaw is an inherited one. The better assessments are not “is it seamless” but “does the seam hold?” and “are we learning better how to stitch?” and “are we learning better how to teach each other how to stitch?”