“Repeat after me. I am a revolutionary.”
These words shot from Fred Hampton shortly before he was assassinated by the Chicago police on the morning of December 4th, 1969. He was part of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense, a revolutionary organization which was repressed and then co-opted by forces of reaction. Since then, members organizations such as the Revolutionary Anti-Imperialist Movement have taken up the same motto.
But what does it mean to genuinely say today, “I am a revolutionary.” Consider the following points:
Being a revolutionary means believing a fundamentally new, better world is possible and taking active steps in contributing to its creation. It means not taking this possibility for granted or the responsibility lightly.
Being a revolutionary means having great affinity for the people. Being a revolutionary means wanting to replace human relationships based on exploitation, oppression and alienation with ones based on mutuality and caring.
Being a revolutionary means sacrifice and dedication. Being a revolutionary is not a trend or a phase, but something worth a lifetime’s commitment. Such sacrifice and commitment may come in many forms. Revolutionaries must not only accept them but embrace them, often over long periods.
Revolutionaries must study. This study can come in a number of forms, whether the history of previous revolutionary struggles, wider concepts of modern phenomena or investigations into existing social problems and solutions. This study must not be rote or dogmatic or all abstract, but applicable in some sense and based to a degree on practice.
Revolutionaries must be a model for tomorrow. Revolutionaries should not be lax in their personal behavior, coming to a point where they act little differently than those they rally against. Rather, revolutionaries must serve as an all round model and inspiration to others, realizing this is a important part of building an anti-imperialist movement.
Revolutionaries must be prepared for class warfare. Class struggle is happening always. As the oppressed make gains, especially when independent of the capitalist-imperialist system, reactionaries will always respond with vigor. Revolutionaries must be prepared for this inevitability and plan accordingly. Again, this can take different forms, but can be as simple as having a passport, a local community of support, using a false name for political work and being in good physical condition.
While this is a short list of what a revolutionary is, there are also many things a revolutionary is not.
A revolutionary does not have all the answers at any given time. A revolutionary is effective as a teacher only so long as they are effective as a student. Listening and understanding takes time and effort
A revolutionary is not someone with a fetish for violence. Revolutionaries desire a world without violence. Unfortunately, those in power prevent this from happening. Violence, for revolutionaries, is an unfortunate but necessary aspects of revolutionary struggle, one initiated by the oppressor against the oppressed.
Being a revolutionary does not mean attempting to create a ‘new world’ separate from the global struggle against oppression and exploitation. Revolutionaries consider their actions in the context of global implications. Revolutionaries are internationalists.
Revolutionaries are not egotists. We are revolutionaries for the people, not for ourselves.
Revolutionaries are not hasty or lazy. Revolutionaries must make a proper commitment to work effectively.
Revolutionaries are not liberal. Revolutionaries must raise proper criticisms when the need is present.
Being a revolutionary is commitment, so much so that Fred Hampton gave his life for it. Today, we must take this commitment no less seriously but more so. We must make the struggle for revolution, in all its various aspects, a central part of our lives.