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Joyful Militancy: Building Thriving Resistance in Toxic Times

4.33  ·  Rating details ·  163 ratings  ·  32 reviews
"Absolutely what we need in these days of spreading gloom." —John Holloway, author of Crack Capitalism

"A guide to a fulfilling militant life." —Michael Hardt, co-author of Assembly

"Rigid radicalism" is the congealed and debilitating practices that suck life and inspiration from the fight for a better world. Joyful Militancy investigates how fear, self-righteousness, and mo
Paperback, 220 pages
Published December 12th 2017 by AK Press (first published October 30th 2017)
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I read this with a book group, and was so compelled by carla and Nick's framework for nurturing leftist organizing cultures. It's no secret that "rigid radicalism" is an energetically-crushing facet of our movement psyches, and that this mindset has emerged based on completely valid realities of trauma, betrayal, exploitation, and harm (within and without our organizing circles). "Joyful militancy" is a way through -- not a prescriptive how-to, but an experimental, open-ended conversation that i ...more
Scott Neigh
I didn't like this one nearly as much as I wanted to. The problem it addresses is real, urgent, and not discussed nearly as much as it needs to be. In fact, many of the ways it describes "rigid radicalism" felt painfully familiar. The anti-authoritarian sensibility underlying the work resonated with me. And scattered throughout are individual insights about the ways that our groups do, don't, and could work and specific ideas about the world that sparked quite useful reflection in me, and that I ...more
Jacob Wren
Sep 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Some passages from Joyful Militancy:

There is something that circulates in many radical movements and spaces, draining away their transformative potential. Anyone who has frequented these spaces has felt it. Many (including us) have actively participated in it, spread it, and been hurt by it. It nurtures rigidity, mistrust, and anxiety precisely where we are supposed to feel most alive. It compels us to search ourselves and others ruthlessly for flaws and inconsistencies. It crushes e
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Another excellent contribution from the Institute for Anarchist Studies/AK Press. An interesting blend of academic research/sourcing and contemporary interviews, Joyful Militancy reminds us of the dangers of "rigid radicalism" and offers ideas and examples for bringing joy into our political work. "Joy is never a duty and never something imposed on other people... We are trying to affirm that joyful transformation is already happening, as an emergent power that undoes moralism and opens up new p ...more
May 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
Sort of feel like I can’t really write anything here without possibility violating the spirit of the

Let me simply say, some parts of it were so very good (in my opinion) and some parts were mundane (in my opinion) and some parts, I could have done without.

In the end, I would recommend it to a whole lot of people (especially those with experience on the left). I guarantee you will see things discussed that you have thought about.
Dec 27, 2017 added it
this was basically not at all what i expected - heavily philosophy-based and that just isn't my jam, though it did make me reexamine how i define joy. hoping to find a more accessible book that deals with burnout and finding your place.
Sep 19, 2018 added it
Shelves: nonfiction
2018 has been a thrilling and exhausting year to be alive. Joyful Militancy has been helping me make sense of it. Montgomery and bergman describe trends and practices all over the world where people are coming together with a shared devotion to being more actively engaged in the world and with one another. These people are not motivated by rigid and abstract political ideology, but by joy. For the authors, joy isn’t the same as happiness; joy describes the capacity for people to change, grow, an ...more
Feb 19, 2018 added it
Shelves: theory
instructive and articulating a lot of what i've been thinking of lately w/r/t community and cooperative alternative spaces, the erotic as transcendent spiritual connectivity, and receptivity to surprise and ongoing capability for transformation... like good activist texts should do this text made me feel led, like an opening to a conversation, rather than answer, excited to read and talk and be changed by the movements and ppl around me
Dec 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This book puts to paper and crystallizes so many thoughts/feelings I've had, and didn't know how to communicate. I love that it is offered as a starting point of sorts- there is a list of other resources in the back that I'm adding to my to-read list!
C.E. G
Aug 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fun-nonfiction
I had hoped there would be more examples of what this looks like on the ground, but this is a pretty theoretical book (and the middle felt a little too long). However I do really love their concept of "joy," and ended up copying down a bunch of quotes that resonated. Rather than equating joy with pleasure or happiness, the authors use Baruch Spinoza's definition of joy, meaning the ability to affect and be affected. I still feel uncomfortable with how some of these concepts are being used to pus ...more
Mar 13, 2019 rated it liked it
This was an interesting and challenging read for me. I stalled on Chapter 1 for a long time because the book chose to orient the reader by talking about the distinction between joy and happiness. They have a way of writing that feels dragging and recursive. I also was a little put off by their characterization of the non-anarchist left in the discussion of rigid radicalism. I am fixated on the health and sustainability of organizations, and often think about ways to preserve that health and to s ...more
Jan 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Anyone who has ever been involved in any kind of activism/organizing/leftist group can attest to the fact that those spaces can sometimes be incredibly rigid, unwelcoming, paranoid, and just depressing. This book is an attempt to ask why those spaces become that way and if there are better ways of organizing, better ways of trying to make the world better. I very much agree with the problems that they point out and the central ideas - That relationships are more important than ideology. That the ...more
Edie Maas
Apr 11, 2018 rated it liked it
It's extraordinary how much I needed the ideas in this book to be stated to me clearly and in some sense systematically. It's the act of having the thing you're seeing, named. It's more than validating. It reverberates through other spheres of my life, too. Like a bingo number, you know. You have to go back and stamp it on all your cards. It changes all of them. I found these ideas relevant to completely non-activist parts of my life (but I guess resistance to Empire is common to all parts of my ...more
June Amelia Rose
May 01, 2018 rated it liked it
I wanted to like this book more than I did. An interesting study that led me to some new ideas (like "reading paranoid" - thankful to have encountered that) but i can't help but feel the book was bogged down with almost half of the content being criticisms of their own thesis, especially accounting for their privileges as white cis ppl. I understand the need to self-crit, to invite alternate ideas,alternate viewpoints especially in a book like this, but in doing so you haven't really persuaded m ...more
Jan 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Crucial Reading

A book to be read, and then re-read, in conversation with others, stirring questions, grief, joy, insistent desire in oneself, in community, in friendship. Dive deep here.
Charlie Kruse
Jun 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A really really important book for our times. Looking at activism through the lens of Spinoza, Bergman and Montgomery look at how our relations with each other are the ways out of Empire's traumatic and destructive methods of exploiting each other. Some of its' most prescient chapters are about the trauma we can inflict on each other, all as resistors of Empire, and also of solutions to that and ways of behaving that increase our capacity to feel, to connect, to strengthen each other.
Jul 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Joyful Militancy addresses the core problems that exist in radical (and arguably most) movements; a phenomenon known as rigid radicalism. Anyone who has spent considerable time in a movement will recognize the symptoms brought up in this book. It is a significant problem, especially given how difficult it can be to recruit individuals into these movements and or retain them past the first few meetings.

I think the authors do a fantastic job discussing the topic but I would have enjoyed the opp
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I think that for some people this book will be a real eye-opener for reasons other than mine. I really appreciated it, as a person who works in the labor movement, because I feel like it gave me a language for things I've observed but couldn't adequately describe or necessarily know how to describe what I wanted instead. The book made me feel seen, and I know others have described it as perhaps overly academic and I get that. It's not for everyone (not in a judgemental way), but I found it helpf ...more
Rob Smith
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
While the book at times feels patch-worked or repetitive, it's still a valuable read. I'm not sure the authors have a solid cohesive thesis here. After reading through the chapters they seem mostly to be combination of other thinkers' work and some stray observations.

It's an easy read. The segments on call out culture and the ways it describes the politics of emotions are incredibly valuable. It's somewhere beyond popular political book and somewhere below academic book. Many of the
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
An inspiring read about the tendencies contributing to and problems arising from 'rigid radicalism', and the opportunities offered by joyful militancy. The authors suggest relationship building, trust, curiosity and stances of openness can offer space for social transformation and that paranoia, binary thinking and moralism close these down. A little repetitive at times, but ultimately left me with a lots to reflect on and excited to talk about it with everyone I know.
This book will stay with me for a while.
"Joyful militancy is not a way of dividing the world into 'positive' and 'negative' ways of being or asking that we all get along or be happy together. Freedom always needs to retain the potential of refusal, negation, and resistance. To turn friendship into a solution or a goal is to erase the form of freedom we are getting at, which is the freedom to work at relationships - to participate more actively in the shaping of our worlds."
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book! As someone who has worked in social justice movements for some time now, this books call to being more joyful, connected, intimate, and loving in our work deeply resonated. I honestly went from page to page nodding my head and being super grateful that the book had crossed my desk. I am so excited to read similar books and, perhaps more importantly, to try to implement some of these amazing and transformative lessons in my life and work!
Mar 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
in general I found this accessible text to be a compassionate challenge to the ridgid notions that can pervade our best intentions and lead to harmful perpetuation of empire/opression in change making circles. specifically i was really called in by the sections on friendship and intimacies of all kinds being a foundation for radical resistance. a lovely book that incorporates many perspectives on the topic that opens up space for self and collective examination in a kind, yet challenging way.
Mar 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a great book that really raises more questions than answers. It is anti-capitalist but warns against the tendency to become rigidly radical. In order to create a different world, we have to allow for space to create, transform, and explore new ways of being. A little on the theoretical side but also some great interviews with a wide variety of folks.
Zeina Ammar
Mar 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Everything discussed in this book would probably resonate with anyone who has tried political organizing. I hadn't realized how universal some of our experiences were. I appreciate the humility in the authors' tone and their constant self-questioning. I think it could've benefited from more methodological rigor in order to lead to some sort of conclusion. It is so strangely empty of arguments.
Nov 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
really cogent and helpful analysis of how movements get bogged down in orthodoxy, and become as rigid as the empire they are fighting against, and how to let joy and life grow up in the cracks of empire. A crucial read for any activist.
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: education, organizing
appreciate the framework
Kate Klein
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
i didnt agree with all the answers set out here but I really enjoyed exploring the questions and appreciated the rigour of their exploration.
Ryan Hartman
Jan 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An anarchist self-help book, in a good way!
Jan 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for activists who feel burnt out, depressed, sad, or powerless. This is not a book about how to feel happy ("In these times, feeling of despair rage, and hatred make sense..."); it is about being joyful in the sense of being active through an increase in one's power to affect and be affected. The transformation into joyfulness rarely feels comfortable, which is where the militancy factor sets in, ie. being combative and willing to fight especially in support of a cause.

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“The promise of happiness through consumption can make us chase after experiences or objects that deplete us even though they are pleasurable, closing of our capacity to be affected otherwise. in a different way, social media trains its subjects into perpetual performance of an online identity, and the anxious management of our profiles closes us of from other forms of connection. rigid radicalism induces a hypervigilant search for mistakes and flaws, stifling the capacity for experimentation. none of these modes of subjection dictate how exactly subjects will behave; instead they generate tendencies or attractor points which pull subjects into predictable, stultifying orbits. resisting or transforming these systems is never straightforward, because it means resisting and transforming one’s own habits and desires. it means surprising both the structure and oneself with something unexpected, new, and enabling.” 1 likes
“Gaslighting can be subtle and unintentional, but as feminist writer Nora Samaran explains, it is particularly insidious because it undermines people's trust in their own capacities:
"If you think of the power, the strength, the capacity to effect change that women who trust themselves are capable of, what we are losing when we doubt ourselves is an indomitable force for social change that is significant and therefore, to some, frightening. In other words, our capacity to know ourselves is immensely powerful."
All forms of oppression seem to have this tendency: racism, heteropatriarchy, ableism, ageism, colonization, and other systems of oppression contort people's insights, experiences, and differences into weaknesses or deny them outright. For this reason, the emergence of trust can be a powerful weapon, which is being recovered all the time through struggle.”
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