TOTW: History and how we tell it
I was reading the introduction to Seven Years Buried Alive and Other Writings and this quote on history stuck out to me:
“With each exciting and ultimately tragic narrative, we learn once more that anarchism is a thing of the past. Without meaning to, our erstwhile attempts to rescue an inspiring history for ourselves have the opposite effect. There is more than sarcasm in the accusation one sometimes overhears, that some anarchists of today are nostalgic for the capitalism of the late nineteenth century, or the States of the time before World and Cold Wars militarized all social space. Our sad comrades have so burdened themselves with anarchist history, fragmented and incomplete though it may be, that it seems they think better in hundred-year old-terms and theories than in anything of the present, let alone the future!”
They present to us dueling concepts of history, one that weakens and one that strengthens. There’s no shortage of examples of how anarchists can be weakened by stories of the past - both the now-distant past as described in the quote and even more recent events. My own coming into anarchism happened among the dying embers of the global justice movement that had as its high water mark the shutdown of the 1999 World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, something which, at least in the US, it continued to yearn for and emulate over the following decade to little effect. So too with personal narratives - achievements never to be lived up to, failed activism that becomes the death of all activity - which can leave us paralyzed or locked in an activist treadmill.
What are some narratives (personal or grand) that anarchists tell themselves about the past? How do they weaken or strengthen us? How do you tell a story about the past that strengthens rather than weakens, and how much of that is on the storyteller versus the audience?