What the heck is prefigurative politics?

Yesterday I caught up with two Brazilian friends, talked about Lula's election, and the future of the country. Though they spoke of revolution, I was sad that the idea of prefigurative politics was completely foreign to both of them. It’s hard to imagine any genuine political, social, or economic revolution without it.

Both identify as communist. Both want revolution. They don't want one of those tyrannical “communist” regimes (they wouldn't be my friends if they did), but still some form of “we have to impose communism to build a just and equitable society”. They are wonderful, empathetic human beings, but the only way they can imagine revolution is taking over state power—via elections or otherwise.

I deeply disagreed with the idea that to build a just and equitable society, we need to aim to control the state. But then they described their workplace and it made me 🤯. Their company's CEO is incompetent: he does a poor job at managing people and running the company. He also doesn't understand the technology they build. And yet he takes a salary 20 times higher than some employees.

Everything they described was a deeply hierarchical and toxic workplace. And despite their ideal of revolution at the national level, they have never even considered the possibility of unionizing or organizing their workplace to make it a more just and equitable place.

How are we to make a national revolution and transform a society of 200 million people if we aren't able to make your 50-person workplace more transparent and democratic?

It's fine to be unfamiliar with the concept of prefigurative politics (it’s such a wonky and inaccessible concept, but I don't know a better way of calling it), but thinking that we can go from a deeply hierarchical, hyper capitalist society where political and business leaders are both corrupt and toxic, to an egalitarian, transparent, just, and democratic society overnight is just… delusional.

As I challenged them to take action in their workplace, they mentioned how difficult it would be because some of their friends are in leadership in the company and would be caught in the middle of the conflict.

But if we aren’t able to manage a small-scale conflict like this (where we have a trusted relationship with most people involved), how are we to manage conflict between entire swaths of the population we have no relationship with? How are we going to manage the relationship with family members who aren’t on board with the “revolution” (one of the two’s father is an ardent supporter of Bolsonaro), let alone strangers?

Revolution starts at home. If we are to build a society that is less hierarchical, more just, more egalitarian, we have to start by creating relationships today that are less hierarchical, more just, more egalitarian. We have to learn the skills to do that (nonviolent communication, empathy, mediation, consensus-building, co-governance, accountability, etc) & the culture that goes with them. Otherwise, we’ll just reproduce the same patterns of toxicity, but with different people at the top.