I'm part of a political group called the Black Orchid Collective, and recently we've been doing a study group on revolutionary theory and biographies. For the past few weeks we’ve been reading Black Radical, Nelson Peery’s memoirs from his years in the Communist Party USA (CPUSA) and similar organizations. Peery, a Black working class revolutionary who devoted his life to Black liberation and class struggle, writes a gripping account of the twenty year period between World War II and the Watts Rebellion. Showing the mistakes the Communist Party made, this book provides some crucial insights about what kind of revolutionary organization fosters healthy development of its members, and what kind of organization stifles its members. For more on the book, check out our blog post on it.
One of the most important questions that emerged from our discussion was the question: is discipline a good thing? Peery had been a veteran in World War II, and he carried the discipline he learned in the military into his life as a revolutionary after the war. Over at Black Orchid, we wrote:
Thanks Katie and Scott, your comments are really helpful, and I agree with what you’re arguing. You make Marx’s ideas in the 1844 Manuscripts (Alienated labor) concrete, accessible, and up to date. You also pull the ground out from under the kind of conservative critiques of modernity that I grew up around as a Catholic. Catholic critics are correct when they argue that modern life provides no positive vision of discipline and hence dissipates our energies and saps our creativity. However, they have no solution except for patriarchal, authoritarian, and repressive forms of spirituality and religion that bring us backwards instead of forwards. Your take on Fromm provides the basis for a different type of spirituality, one that unites the struggle for personal wholeness and positive self-discipline with the struggle against alienated capitalist labor. Instead of saying we should work hard and offer it up as a sacrifice, Fromm’s ideas suggest we should abolish alienated work, which then will allow us to abolish undisciplined, dissipated “play” so we can build a new type of human self-activity. This self activity would unite play and work into a creative whole, expressing our social humanity.