Why U.S. Christian Socialists Must Embrace Decoloniality

When we say the word “revolution” in the United States, many revolutions might come to mind. There’s the Industrial Revolution. There’s also the Sexual Revolution of the 1960s. But perhaps the most accessible memory of revolution is the American Revolution against Great Britain. It was the time when a small group of scrappy ex-British settler-colonists decided to cast off the oppressive shackles of the biggest empire on Earth. When asked about patriotism, U.S. citizens fondly remember that war as if it was something that occurred in their lifetime. But the American Revolutionary War ended in 1783. It has been 235 years since the last “revolution” happened here. Recall, too, that said revolution was carried out by settler-colonists. Despite the fact that these people were up against the reigning world power of that era, it doesn’t erase the violence already transpiring between the colonists and indigenous peoples of this continent.

So, why bring up the American Revolutionary War in the context of Christians for Socialism (CfS)? Because revolutionary traditions are an important memory for people to draw upon when they need to rise up again. Before I move any further forward, I need to pause to define a term I have already used a few times: revolution. What is revolution? I define “revolution” as the movement of a large group of people who actively participate in the creation of a new society, a new culture, a new way of living in order to ensure that as many people thrive as possible. This struggle is carried out at the level of the general population – the people. In the United States, we already have a concept of this common level of folks – We the People. Democratic solidarity is at the heart of a revolution, especially a revolution that embodies a revolutionary love modeled by Jesus in the texts of the New Testament.

But there is a problem: the United States lacks a revolutionary tradition grounded upon revolutionary love. Using the American Revolutionary War as an example, such a revolution merely reinscribed the power of imperialism and colonialism. Its basis for change was not to cultivate the ground with a revolutionary love, a revolutionary movement-toward-new-thriving.  Socialism is predicated upon the understanding that a fair distribution of wealth leads to the flourishing of life-for-each. This means that if Christian socialists want to take up the mantle of “revolutionary,” they must strategically plan to avoid the violent strands of imperialism and colonialism offered by the American Revolutionary tradition. 

And this can be accomplished by following decolonial thinker-activists.

In CfS’ Manifesto, “The Wind Blows Where It Chooses!”, the writers remind the reader (“Revolutionary Tradition”) that Christian socialists in the U.S. (and elsewhere) have rich, vibrant revolutionary traditions to draw upon as they fight for justice and a more balanced existence for all people to live free from oppression (https://christiansforsocialism.org/manifesto/#my-anchor1). We have a multitude of “witnesses” in the form of Latin American comrades who have gone before us, who have shown us that socialism is something worth living for and also worth dying for. But therein lies a dangerous blind spot for U.S. Christian socialists: Latin American socialism constantly and consistently resisted forms of imperialism and colonialism that are endemic to the United States. The ways in which figures like Oscar Romero lived, worked, and organized against state violence is at once incredible but also immensely distant to most Christians in the U.S. given its current political courtship of conservative forms of Christianity. For most white Christians in the U.S., there isn’t much fear in attending church on Sundays or Wednesdays. Their religion is not an enemy of the State (far from it!). I identify as a leftist Christian, meaning that I am sympathetic and supportive of anarchist, communist, and similar forms of government. As a white cishet man, I don’t fear going to church, organizing, or moving about in this country. This is because there is an imperceptible line between the State and Christianity in the U.S., which means that white Christians enjoy all the benefits of State power – including those benefits wrought by imperialism and colonialism.

To create a revolutionary tradition, a group of people must create a common memory.

And if that common memory does not have any decolonial voices leading the creation of the memory, the resultant revolutionary tradition will merely re-create similar structures of oppression and abuse that mirror the actions of the U.S. State. The new revolutionary tradition, based in revolutionary love, must be as decolonial as it is socialist.

Because of all this, I will offer some brief thoughts on two illustrative decolonial voices as a gift to Christian socialists who want to partner with CfS in the creation of a new revolutionary tradition: Camilo Torres and Enrique Dussel.

Camilo Torres Restrepo was a Columbian socialist, a Roman Catholic priest, an academic, and a member of the National Liberation Army (ELN). Camilo Torres joined the ELN after facing opposition from the Columbian government and the church for his radical politics. He died in combat when the ELN fought with the Colombian Military. He lived and died for what he believed in. Here are three critically important quotes that I offer as gifts to Christian socialists and to CfS to carry forward:

  • The first quote is rather simple but incredibly powerful: “The fight is long – let’s start now.” This is something that CfS has already embodied, both in its first iterations in Latin America and in the U.S./Canada but also now in 2018, and it is the cry that I hope never leaves the lips of those concerned for justice.
  • The second quote is: “But when the people decide to fight to the end there will be no power that can be superior to the power of that people who want their freedom.” When the people decide that they will rise up to create change, to make a new revolutionary tradition, no power structure can destroy that revolutionary spirit. Even as I write this piece, I am reading about and watching the student survivors of the Parkland massacre who are marching, protesting, and demanding changes to the gun legislation in this country. Their movement sparks of a revolutionary love for their comrades they lost to gun violence. Their revolutionary love aims to disrupt prevailing systems of thought that led to the death of their friends. When the people say “enough,” that is the moment of revolution.
  • The third and final quote, however, contains one of Torres’ most important ideas: “The duty of every Christian is to be revolutionary, and that of the revolutionary to make the revolution.” The revolution is never out there. The revolution starts with me. And you. The spirit of revolution begins in each of us and moves us together to create change.

Enrique Domingo Dussel Ambrosini (hereafter Enrique Dussel) is an Argentine and Mexican academic, philosopher, historian, and theologian. The author of over 50 books, Dussel is someone that everyone should read, but he’s especially important for a movement like CfS.

Even though I have just recently begun reading about decoloniality and its history/scholarship, it is abundantly clear that the critical importance of decoloniality for socialism in the United States is that it combines both analysis and praxis. Decolonial thinkers blur the line between idea and material, between theory and practice, between ethics and politics. In Philosophy of Liberation, Dussel writes that “Politics introduces ethics, which in turn introduces philosophy.” I understand this process as a spectrum – that the political is what gives way to ethical consideration which, in turn, produces and introduces philosophy. The process works in reverse, too, since the asking of questions (philosophy) brings us to think about what is ethical, which forces us to organize and mobilize around political realities to bring about that ethical reality.

For socialists in the U.S., in order to avoid the memories given to us by an empire, we must embrace the radically anti-imperialist, decolonial comrades who have given their minds and their lives to this task.

What does a decolonial socialism look like?

With broad strokes, a decolonial socialism responds to and resists the political, social, and cultural forms of domination inherited from Europe. It resists the ideas of exceptionalism and white supremacy to the point of actively dismantling them. A decolonial socialism is one that foregrounds the voices of people of color, folks who identify as LGBTQ+, folks whose oppression is intersectional. Perhaps most importantly, a decolonial socialism that creates a new revolutionary tradition is one that participates in what Walter Mignolo calls “epistemic disobedience.” Our Christian faith has been colonized by European forms of thought. So many theologies center on control, on obedience, on standards, on patriarchal ideas of sexuality and visibility. The language of most U.S. Christianity is still unashamedly ableist (e.g., “taste and see that the Lord is good”). These insidious forms of colonial rule plague what could be a vibrant ground for revolutionary change. Revolutionary love is at the heart of the good news to the poor. It is a love that lives and dies for what it believes in regardless of the cost. It is a love that embraces both analysis and praxis, theory and practice, as it strives to create a world in which justice-for-each is the standard. That love forms the basis of a revolutionary tradition that understands it must fight both against the current forms of neoliberal capitalism as well as inherited norms/benefits of imperialism and colonialism.

It is within that type of revolutionary tradition where a decolonial socialism can flourish.

Moving forward, I have a question for myself, for CfS, and for the future of Christian socialism in the United States: what material steps should we (both individually and collectively) take to cultivate a new memory that leads to a new revolutionary-love-tradition in the U.S.? Change always begins at the bottom, on the ground level, in whatever contexts a person moves and lives. A particular future becomes possible when the memory is created that supports both the ideality and materiality of that future.

Maybe the first material steps do begin in small conversations and bible studies and protests and local support – but only if the change is firmly planted upon a memory that can imagine and work toward a new world and new structures of justice. It is this challenge to not only think but also to work with our hands and feet toward a new revolutionary tradition in the United States that gives me a hope for what seems impossible.

I look forward to partnering with Christians for Socialism in the coming weeks and years.

Solidarity to each of you, comrades.