“If you tremble with indignation at every injustice, then you are a comrade of mine.” – Che
As a member of a socialist organization in Central Alabama, I’m no stranger to alienation and persecution – local liberals like to degrade our organization for its refusal to support the capitalist vision of the Democratic Party, not to mention the very revolutionary and radical ideals which make up the central planks of our mission, and find our unbending dedication to the cause of ultimate liberation foolish; conservatives despise us for much more obvious reasons, as they are opposed to anyone who doesn’t think public hangings should be reinstated. But what is surprising is the backlash we’ve received over our use of revolutionary language, specifically the use of the word “comrade” as a term of respect for our brothers and sisters within the struggle.
The word comrade, as defined in the dictionary, means the following: “a companion who shares one’s activities or is a fellow member of an organization; a fellow soldier or member of the armed forces; a fellow socialist or communist.” As those of us who use the term regularly when speaking with our fellow party members know, this is a term of respect – it is an acknowledgment that we are fellow brothers and sisters in the fight against capitalism, imperialism, neo-colonialism and oppression of all kinds; it is an acknowledgment that, should the government begin ransacking houses in search of anti-government agitators, we will be the first victims; it is an acknowledgment that those who carry that moniker are fellow soldiers in a fight against the very system which has placed our brothers and sisters in invisible economic and cultural cells to suffer and rot.
“To disbelieve in marriage is easy; to love a married woman is easy; but to betray a comrade, to be disloyal to a host, to break the covenant of bread and salt, is impossible.” – G.B. Shaw
I do not use the word comrade lightly – it’s not a whimsical nickname for a close friend, or a joke passed between drunken buddies – I use it as a term of high respect for those who, like me, are willing to put their lives on the line for their convictions. Our allies in this battle – those fighting against the exploitation and disenfranchisement of women, people of color, the LGBT community, the workers and the poor and so many more – are as valuable to our struggle as any individual comrade can be. However, unlike socialist fighters, these allies continue to fight the symptoms while ignoring the disease. The symptoms of this malignant cancer manifest in many ways – through sick, desperate and starving families; through underpaid and overworked laborers; through police brutality; through income inequality and more – and though we might root out one tumor after the next, the cancer will remain. Until we commit ourselves to the full removal of that poisoning cancer, we will never know justice and we will never know peace and equality.
In an age where our language has been broken down into letters rather than words, where sentences have been replaced by alphabetical jumbles, it seems almost riotous that one would take offense over a word properly used between two people authorized to indulge its use. When I look into the eyes of a fellow party member, I do not see a friend or an ally or a companion, I see a comrade – one who would happy lay down his life for the cause of worldwide socialism and all of those who fight for it. A comrade is a person unsatisfied with the condition of the current world; one who refuses to compromise his laurels in order to sustain some base, momentary relief; one who acknowledges that the problems this world faces go much deeper than legislation and the politicians who interact it; one who acknowledges that, until we have new politics, no new politician is going to make a substantial change in the life of the sufferer.
“When we are in partnership and have stopped clutching each other’s throats, when we have stopped enslaving each other, we will stand together, hands clasped, and be friends. We will be comrades, we will be brothers, and we will begin the march to the grandest civilization the human race has ever known.” – E.V. Debs
So, by all means, mock those of us whose lips are stained with the word comrade. And, by all means, continue to ignore the very real butchering of your own language, a massacre you likely contribute to daily, and opt for the easier target – the wide-eyed socialists committed to their cause and their comrades who fight so valiantly within it. If so calling my brothers and sisters in the struggle for universal liberation and equality makes me “dumb,” so be it – I have in my conscience the knowledge that my fight is justified and the language I use to denote those who fight by my side is right as well.
I’ve made many friends during my life, and many enemies as well. I surmise that both will continue to appear, though perhaps the latter in higher numbers these days. But of all of these friends, I count my comrades ahead of all others, for they will be the ones to carry my flag into battle when I am no longer fit to wield it.