Friday, December 16, 2011

The Revolutionary and the Family - A Question of Loyalty and Comitment

By Abasi Shomari Baruti
I have been thinking about this subject for a while, and initially had come to understand it because with the direction of one of my brother-comrades. I was finally inspired to write this note after a dear sista-comrade and I had a discussion on what I had been referring to as the hierarchy of loyalty that I try to maintain as a revolutionary. Initially, I thought it was something that needed to be said because it seemed to me that there was and still is some serious confusion about what the difference is between a comrade and a friend. After engaging in this discussion over the course of some years, I was able to sum it up for myself and put out what, in my view, was the correct position on what and who a revolutionary owes their loyalty to and in what order.

Well, the sista-comrade asked a question that immediately made me reconsider this hierarchy: what about family? It was such a critical question but one I had completely left out. In my development as a political force, I have witnessed all kinds’ political relationships and all kinds of subjective (personal) relationships that political forces have. I have seen two revolutionaries live, struggle, and love each other with what appeared to be no breaks or gaps. just as well, I have witnessed to two revolutionaries who made excellent comrades and terrible partners. I have witnessed revolutionary men and women raise children, paying as close attention to the rearing of their babies as they do the wording in a leaflet or the security for an event. On the other hand, I have watched some of the best political forces allow their children to languish and grow up to eventually hate all things political and despise all things revolutionary. Along with all of that, I have witnessed organizations which encourage subjective (personal) relationships and work to support family, marriage and these kinds of things, as a rule and practice. However, I've witnessed organizations tear people apart, and demand that partners act in ways that undermine their commitment to each other; I have watched as the relationship eventually fails, or the couple leaves the organization. In short, I've seen it really good and I've winced as I've watched it get really bad.

The issue here is that in understanding our new found roles in the struggle, we cannot lose sight of the most basic element of our day to day lives: familial relations. Some of us, for various reasons (some malicious and others not-so-malicious) take the stance that revolutionaries, somehow, should not have families or should not respect the institution of family-hood the same way they respect the struggle. They believe that somehow family competes with the commitment to fight tirelessly, that family creates a contradiction which can only be resolved by the revolutionary forgoing the basic human desire to love and procreate. I also know of instances where the unspoken order of the day is to abandon family: the family which we come from and the family we create. I've seen comrades make it a point of honor that they have left their wives and sons, husbands and daughters, in order to pursue the revolution. I have to say, that this is utterly backwards. The revolutionary is just as much, if not twice as much, responsible for building strong, healthy relationships within her or his family unit, as much so as he or she is for advancing the struggle. To neglect the family is to deny that the basis of all human social organization is the family unit, and in the end to undermine their own efforts.

Revolution is about, in part, creating the new woman, the new man. Part and parcel of the struggle for a new, just world is the struggle for people who are fit to inhabit that world and ensure that it can continue to exist and develop. This means that not only are we responsible for tearing down the machinery of oppression in the form of the State, but we are just as responsible for tearing down the horrible, ugly, poisonous social practices which come out of our condition as oppressed people and which feed right back into it. This being the case, if there is one place that the revolutionary is truly exposed, in terms of his or her real ability; it is in the family unit.

On the one hand, there is the family which produced us (mother, father, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, etc.), then there is the family we create (husband, wife, children). Each section of our family unit has its differences, both objective and subjective, but no matter what, it our obligation to understand what makes them tick and then to make unrelenting struggle to win them over. Now, a big part of this discussion has everything to do with influence. One of the main problems which causes the African revolution to be so weak is that we have lost and had destroyed the influence we once held as a movement. After the defeat of the African revolution of the 60's and '70s we were thrust into the corner of political action and were scrambling for our lives in far too many cases. The struggle had been dealt a vicious blow and in the place of righteous leadership and effective organization, our people were fed mis-leadership in the form of sellout-traitors, and given the pipe-dream of wealth and abundance in exchange for unity with our oppressors. Veiled behind these false hopes and false leaders was the threat of violence. When put together and used in the absence of revolutionary leadership and organization, they made for a potent and almost completely effective weapon to lure our people away from the struggle for freedom. A significant part of that was the undermining of the revolutionary as a viable political force and the revolution as a viable political option. So, in short, we have lost our influence to a significant degree, and we struggle to regain it and regain the position as the leading forces in our community. This relates directly to how we interact with our families.

So many of us, have had to go through the rough and tumble of making known our revolutionary positions to our families and the consequent ridicule, disdain, dismissing, and general rejection that comes with it. Most of us grew up in families that were nowhere near revolutionary or who had at best been on the fringes of the Black Power movement and fell away. Very few of us have had the opportunity to be a part of a family unit which has been consistently attached, in some way, to the struggle. As a result of this, we tend to develop a rebellious, fuck-you (excuse my Swahili) attitude towards our family because of the pain of rejection. That rejection mixed with our unswerving faith and commitment to revolutionary struggle, when left unchecked, too often leads to extremely unhealthy family relations with the families which produced us. On the other hand, because of our experiences with our family, and other things, we develop relationships with the families we produce that are also unhealthy. By unhealthy, I mean a relationship which does not improve the people in it. The most extreme version of this is the abandonment of our children, and this abandonment is not always physical, it is also spiritual and that is just as heinous as if we would up and leave, and never come back.

What must be made clear is this, as committed to our ideologies, organizations, and comrades as we are, we must be just as committed to our families. We must learn to use our families for our own good. One reason I love the family which produced me so much, other than the fact that they made it possible for me to be here, is that all of their rejection, ridicule, and so on made me a better revolutionary. Instead of becoming emotionally unhinged and losing myself in an argument, I learned to respond. It made me have to study my ideology more, get better at expressing my position, learn to see the errors in theirs, and to make good struggle. They forced me to learn diplomacy, and how to maintain a warm relationship with people in spite of our disagreements. It made me a better organizer in that I had to learn how to approach people, how to disagree with people and still be able to win them to some level of unity and work for our people. It made me learn how to deal with African people from all walks of life, which in turn, gave me the capacity to go out and win total strangers to our work. On the other hand, when we create families, we must understand that that kind of family is partly our creation and our responsibility. Again, it is here that we learn to win people and how to develop people. Whether our mates are revolutionaries or not, we must learn to relate to them in a way that is good for the struggle. Constant discord, bitter feuds, and unending arguments don't contribute to anything, and in fact sap our energy and strength to fight. Furthermore, as with the families which produce us, it pushes our people away from struggle. When we are antagonistic with our families, especially the ones we create, we continue to undermine our own influence.

The key thing is to win the trust of our families develop influence with them on the basis of that trust. The only way to develop trust and influence is by acting. Instead of looking to win an argument with words, we must win with actions. We must use our understanding of the world to PROVE to our families that what we believe and do is worth paying attention to and supporting. Our work has to be seen to benefit our families by our families if we are going to ever win them. Our children will follow us at first out of instinct. They can't help it, they have an instinctive need for protection and care, so they follow us without thinking about it (that's why they end up in the bathroom with you when they are toddlers). However, at some point, their natural intelligence will begin to override that instinct and they will question everything you do. It is at this point that our work with them will tell off. If we have been working to imbue in them revolutionary principles from the beginning, when they get to the point where they begin to think for themselves, they will see the world through the lens we have given them. However, if what they see is that the revolution makes life unbearable, they will associate pain and discord with revolution and will be forever lost to the struggle. Again, what I am saying is that we must develop influence, even with our children. We must, inch-by-inch, day-by-bloody-day, show and prove, and we must win the trust of and then influence in our families which will then translate into their unity with the struggle. What better recruiter is there than the family member who is a shining example of what Africa's best sons and daughters look and act like? Where is there a better testament to the correctness of revolutionary struggle than the father, sister, aunt who lives in a principled way and who's actions benefit the family, unselfishly, in the true spirit of socialism? There are none.

In the end, the key thing is this: we must treat our families like we should be treating the people, because they are the people. If you don't believe the people are the ones who will make the revolution, with the revolutionary guiding the way, then you should go back to the drawing board. However, if you know and understand that to be the case, then you can only fail when you refuse to apply that to your family. Regardless of how they perceive it, we should never stop being good African people to our people. We should never stop being good socialist to our people. We should never stop defending our people, and that means our families too. It has long been noted that the hardest people to win to struggle is our family, and I find this to be somewhat accurate, however, this can only mean that at the point where we have developed the ability to do so, we have become some of the best organizers there are. If you love African people, but not your family, you have fallen short and must rectify that error. As it pertains to the families we create, it is part of your primary duty to ensure that the family you produce is given what they need not only to survive but to unite whit the work to be free.

If you build the revolutionary family, you build the revolution.

I am and always will be,
Abasi Shomari Baruti

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