Been doing some reading on women, gender & revolutionary organization. I saw this quote the other day by James Baldwin about how talent is insignificant, that the real content of “talent” is discipline, love, luck and endurance. I was reminded of that quote while reading this piece by Maria Dalla Costa about her reflections on being a militant in the 70s among Italy’s feminist and operaista political currents. She wrote:
“At some point in the dark 80s, when I had to face some life problems – militants also have a life, much as it is repressed – I felt the need to reflect, from other points of view, on the previous period, and subject that period to the unfailing test of emotions. I had to admit that neither in my militancy in Potere operaio, nor in that in the Feminist movement, I ever had a moment, I mean even a single moment, of joy. I only remembered an enormous, immense fatigue.”
That’s real talk. There is a need for “revolutionary cheerleading” at times – any good team, sports or otherwise, needs to feel like a winning team, feel a sense of pride in what it does, feel driven to keep putting in the hard work day after day and develop itself so it can bring home some (or many) victories. But that has to be balanced with an understanding of and a sensitivity to the real costs and consequences of struggle. Sometimes there is a romanticizing of the life of a militant as if it is like walking in a rose garden, singing and skipping along towards revolution, and that every sacrifice along that path is done joyfully and without hesitation. The reality is this work can chew people up, distort personalities, break apart relationships, separate people from loved ones, even steal lives.
Baldwin’s words are helpful for bringing back down to earth a sense of what it takes to be “talented” at what we do – organize, struggle, build up organizations and movements. Dalla Costa’s words highlight the tragedy (for her at least), the contradiction of that “talent.”