Spent a couple of precious and lovely hours with a dear friend, a former and future activist for whom I have enormous love and respect. They are – I think – of the opinion that “at least the activists are doing something, at least they are not sheep.”
I think I disagree.
Because the activists are half-arsed. They want the moral kudos of being aware and concerned and “active” – even if it’s in a chronically ineffective, self-indulgent and self-promoting way. “Remember the war against Franco, that’s the kind where each of us belongs – He may have won all the battles, but we had all the good songs.” (Tom Lehrer, The Folk Song Army)
Look, after World War Two, the mass of Germans had two excuses open to them.
One was the excuse from ignorance; “we didn’t know.” And that’s not unfair. If you chose not to look, if you chose not to know, then you could be ignorant. The Wannsee Conference was an invite-only affair, after all. Please note, I’m not a Holocaust denier (for fuck’s sake, it happened. The culmination of hundreds and hundreds of years of anti-Semitism, it happened. It happened to mentally handicapped, gypsies, trade unionists, communists, homosexuals etc. And it really really happened to the Jews). Nor am I excusing the German people of that time. But the excuse from ignorance is one of the excuses – of variable power and utility – that was used after the war.
Activists, knowing what they know, by (self)-definition can’t claim ignorance.
The other excuse – another one that is not open to the (my kind of) activists – is the excuse from fear. From 1933 (earlier for some) to 1945 you could say “Yes, I knew what was happening was wrong. But I was afraid that my name, and the names of my family members, would be next on the Nazi deathlist.” This, of course, was an extremely plausible and understandable fear. Any rational person would have felt that fear. I reckon I would have been a complete coward and done nowt.
But, crucially, for white middle-class activists in the West, we are not (yet) at that stage. Yes, the State can get extremely unpleasant. You can lose your job, your house, your mental health. You can be sexually exploited. You can be demonised by their tame goons at the Daily Hate Mail. Foul and unpleasant things might happen to you. But you won’t (yet) end up on the one-way helicopter trip. And so the excuse of fear is not, imho, applicable.
And giving up? Giving into the hopelessness of it? Not a moral category. Sorry. Totally understandable; I have sympathy and compassion and I strongly expect to go there myself and perhaps not come out the other side. But if I do go there, and don’t come out the other side, I swear that I will not pretend that I’ve taken a moral decision. It will be an immoral one.