OP: Looking Back, Moving Forward
by Vincent Kelley on August 14, 2017
I remember something shifting inside me when I first scrolled through the pages of Orchestrated Pulse some three years back. I was in a place of increasing certainty about what kind of political mistakes the left kept making. This certainty was gained both by observing and contributing to fatal flaws in “movements” I had been a part of, as well as by stepping back from my activist mentality and doing some careful reading and reflection.
Just as soon as Occupy’s rallying cry against the 1% begin to accelerate my existing politicization in high school, I witnessed the mass mobilization fizzle out as much from unresolved internal differences as from a state crackdown perpetrated by my hometown’s purportedly liberal city government. My membership in the first organization I joined after Occupy only lasted a little over a year, when I was compelled to leave after it was nearly torn apart from inside due to unresolvable tension between the people of color and women’s caucuses and their respective supporters and detractors.
Around this time, I discovered a number of isolated radicals and groups talking about the need for worker’s struggle and revolution. I began reading and discussing Marxist texts intensively with these newfound comrades. This concerted study and constant self-criticism combined with new organizing experiences began to exponentially increase the clarity of my politics. What I was much less clear about was how to articulate my greater yet still fledgling political insights to others.
OP helped me begin to articulate. Whether it was writing on race, music, education, cultural appropriation, labor, gentrification, police, prisons, or past and present social movement politics, the way in which stories were told and arguments crafted in OP’s timely articles consistently stretched my political imagination. This was not just another site filled with vapid think pieces. This was serious (but not too serious) political thinking.
What I liked most was how OP managed to use storytelling in service of its politics. This politics was an answer to the narcissistic, self-congratulatory “social justice outrage machine” that OP identified so clearly and that was so familiar to those of us who cut our (a)political teeth in the petite bourgeois space of American college campuses. Why must narrative be the private property of a dead-end politics? OP proved that we could tell stories to build the foundation for a much more promising politics.
While most of the self-proclaimed socialist and revolutionary left was busy trying to tell people what it was with texts like “The ABCs of Socialism” and “The ABCs of Marxism,” OP was showing them. Indeed, it was the way that contributors used real, daily-life stories to produce powerful theory that made me return to the site time and time again.
From R.L. Stephens explaining how his experience of racism at a minimum wage job turned him away from the politics of privilege-checking and toward labor organizing, to Drew Franklin exposing how Teach for America disguises its destruction of poor Black students’ futures in the language of social justice, OP always seemed to have a hot take ready to dish up that connected the individual lives of flesh and blood people to the social systems that exploited them.
Indeed, reading OP was like taking a crash course in practical dialectical materialism without even knowing it. The way that the articles were able to connect the minute details of daily life to seemingly abstract phenomena like property ownership, global capital flows, and mass media made me want to take this method of analysis and apply it to many more political questions.
OP now has an international readership and many of its articles have become fodder for critical and thoughtful political discussion and debate on the internet and off, feeding into movement building from Chicago to Palestine. I myself cannot fathom counting the number of times an article on OP has drawn me into a discussion of a level of depth hard to come by on the left these days.
OP’s old editing crew has moved on, but OP will live on. It is impossible to say exactly what form its new incarnation will take, as it will have to adapt to the always changing political landscape around us. That said, as the limits of the political culture we have inherited become clearer and clearer, my hope is that OP will be able to complement its emphasis on critique of this existing political culture with one on how the insights and practices that emerge from this critique are playing out in peoples’ collective lives and in their efforts to change them. Without the ability to provide an alternative vision for the future that has its roots deep in the lives of poor and working class people of the present, the left is doomed.
This will not be easy, but at this historical juncture, we can no longer afford to partake in the shallow complacency that passes for progressive politics. With the international rise of right-wing populism and the utter failure of the left to provide a tenable theoretical or practical alternative, there is a dire need for poor and working class people to find an analytical method, political vocabulary, and organizational practice not only to critique but also to provide a material alternative to a left bogged down by allegiance to electoral politics, lack of ideological clarity, identity chauvinism, and a fear of power.
It is in this spirit that I have looked back at the impact of OP in hopes of laying the foundation on which a new OP can be built. Here’s to an Orchestrated Pulse that can continue helping us challenge the politics of guilt and attachment to losing that stand in the way of us transforming ourselves into human beings beyond the constraints of our immediate identities.