The history of the radical left is often told through a focus on ‘big names’: Marx, Bakunin, Lenin, Luxemburg, Trotsky. Yet these figures do not make movements alone. Indeed, movements ‘move’ solely because they are driven to do so by innumerable unseen actors, who have often been hidden from history.
Radical Lives aims to recover some of these histories, to emphasise the role of individuals within broader collective struggles, and to situate activist biographies within the context of the historic movements of which they were a part. The purpose is two-fold. Firstly, Radical Lives seeks to collect together histories from movements that have preceded our own. Secondly, the series will aim to present ideas and revive characters from the past so that we can collectively learn from them.
It is not the purpose of Radical Lives to shelter the biographies that it excavates from criticism, nor to provide settled and complete accounts of the lives of radical figures. Rather, it is to enable the activists of today to reflect upon movements past, and to encourage a sense of our own history as only the latest of a long tradition of people struggling, agitating and hoping for a better world.
The building of alternative futures requires strong foundations. The aim of Radical Lives is to aid the development of an historical sensibility capable of recognising the lessons – both positive and negative – to be drawn from the political struggles that came before us.
Radical Lives will run as a series of bi-weekly instalments on Novara Wire. If you have an idea for a figure you would like to contribute to the series, email firstname.lastname@example.org.