Prefigurative politics

Fleeting thoughts often return to my consciousness. One of my life’s goals has been to catch those thoughts or prayers before they disappear. Because when they reappear, they are significant. Perhaps that gap is needed for the thought to incubate. For me to become ready to accept the thought.

In the early days of being in my Mutual Aid community, a fleeting thought was “this reminds me of the way Quakers used to be”. And “I wish Quakers today were like this”.

What about Quakers changed? Why are we no longer the way we used to be? In part it is because we have become too invested in the status quo.

Quakers have always believed we should let our lives speak. How we live should reflect our spirituality. What is the way we live now saying?

But my fleeting thoughts reveal our methods of resistance and social change are no longer effective. The society we (White Quakers) grew up in, the State, is itself unjust.

As my friend and Mutual Aid mentor, Ronnie James, wrote:

I’m of the firm opinion that a system that was built by stolen bodies on stolen land for the benefit of a few is a system that is not repairable. It is operating as designed, and small changes (which are the result of huge efforts) to lessen the blow on those it was not designed for are merely half measures that can’t ever fully succeed.

So the question is now, where do we go from here? Do we continue to make incremental changes while the wealthy hoard more wealth and the climate crisis deepens, or do we do something drastic that has never been done before? Can we envision and create a world where a class war from above isn’t a reality anymore?”

Ronnie James

Prefigurative politics

Yesterday I learned of a new (to me) concept, prefigurative politics. Returning to fleeting thoughts, my Mutual Aid community is an example of prefigurative politics. When my thought was “I wish Quakers today were like this”, I’m realizing I mean embracing the concepts of prefigurative politics, for example, Mutual Aid.

Something new is happening – something new in content, depth, breadth and global consistency. Societies around the world are in movement. Since the early 1990s millions of people have been organizing similarly, and in ways that defy definitions and former ways of understanding social movements, protest and resistance. There is a growing global movement of refusal – and simultaneously, in that refusal is a creative movement. Millions are shouting No!, as they manifest alternatives in its wake.

Prefigurative Societies in movement by Marina Sitrin, Popular Resistance, December 21, 2022

Prefigurative politics are the modes of organization and social relationships that strive to reflect the future society being sought by the group. According to Carl Boggs, who coined the term, the desire is to embody “within the ongoing political practice of a movement […] those forms of social relations, decision-making, culture, and human experience that are the ultimate goal”.[1] Besides this definition, Leach also gave light to the definition of the concept stating that the term “refers to a political orientation based on the premise that the ends a social movement achieves are fundamentally shaped by the means it employs, and that movement should therefore do their best to choose means that embody or prefigure the kind of society they want to bring about”. [2]

Prefigurative politics, Wikipedia
  1.  Boggs, Carl. 1977. Marxism, Prefigurative Communism, and the Problem of Workers’ Control. Radical America 11 (November), 100; cf. Boggs Jr., Carl. Revolutionary Process, Political Strategy, and the Dilemma of Power. Theory & Society 4,No. 3 (Fall), 359-93.
  2. Leach, D. K. (2013). Prefigurative politics. The Wiley-Blackwell encyclopedia of social and political movements, 1004-1006.

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