Solecast: Carla Bergman & Nick Montgomery on Joyful Militancy

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This episode of the Solecast I chat with Carla Bergman and Nick Montgomery about their new(ish) book out on AK Press, “Joyful Militancy.” This book is a critical examination of the toxicity that seems to be so common within activist subculture. They talk about the (potential) influences that schooling, religion, hierarchy, and empire has on our lives and how it can even seep into our organizing.

The text is full of nuance and offers many pathways for how we can look at and work through these tendencies within ourselves, our spaces and our communities. They talk about how militant joy, art, and practices that empower us all to thrive can make our movements stronger and healthier. This book is a must read and The Solecast highly recommends this for reading groups to open up conversations on how we can rid ourselves of rigid radicalism, and open up the possibilities for joyful militancy.

Pick up the book on AK Press

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Carla is also a filmmaker, check out the Emma Talks video series she talked about in the interview at

There are 23 Comments

I think this book has good things to say in the right direction, but is also bogged down by some unfortunate trappings.

The type of thing that will (somewhat rightfully) be fodder to fan the flames of the @no_tiqqun_no_communes type. I’m referring to the genuflection to the term “Empire” (Negri & Hardt) and concepts inherited from the Invisible Committe (which what i gather from the interview might be more of Nick’s fault, than Carla’s), the likes of which makes pro-appelistes like Sole salivate.

The authors openly recognize that it’s a tough problem to tackle or circumvert, and say the terms they use, like “joyful militancy” vs “rigid radicalism” and “sad militant”, are merely placeholders. In a way, they admit “joyful militancy” is not wholly appropriate since it retains the word “militancy” which carries much of what they’re trying to avoid or heal. Nothing is lost and much is gained by dropping this term altogether.

They correctly intuit that the way out the propensity for the toxicity within the milieus is to de-stagnate and de-stiffle by somehow curtailing the policing of affections, so to speak, and to encourage being less paranoid, more trusting, more forgiving, more grateful, more playful and more joyful overall. Easier said than done, of course.

They succinctly and politely express commonly circulated criticims of the activisty, lefty, radical and anarcho milieus. While they’re evidently trying hard not rub any particular group the wrong way, they seem to only pay lip-service to empathetic to “rowdier” crowds, so to speak, while unfortunately and unadmittingly, ultimately “throwing them under the bus”. Maybe not so harsh as throwing them under the bus, at least packing bags and leaving on the bus without them.

Their correct intuition has led them to make a critical mistake. In an effort to conciliate the different segregated sub-milieus specialized around rigid affections and morals, they leaned too much on the liberal and hippy feel-good side, understandably, as a reaction to the bitterness, toxicity from the more hardened, combative, hostile and aggressive camp.

By not successfully engaging this resented and resentful side, if left to fester by itself, even greater monsters will arise. The greatest challenge is to create loving spaces where people from this side feel invited and welcome, not judged or looked down upon or trying to be reformed, so that they can heal and share/find/create alongside the rest as well.

Obviously, we can’t “all get along”, and there will always be conflict, some for the better. This book carries sentiments in the right direction, but just because some liberals or communist personality cults have found ways to live and to be that are less toxic and that we can learn from, it does not mean we have to appease appeliste or democratic demands.

10:13 would you consider expanding your critique/review long enough to be a stand along zine? This piece "Joyful Militance" is very popular amongst tiqqunist tabling. A critical review would be useful to this NTNC project.

Yes, I would. I was on my way to write a such a thing, but then decided at the last moment that I’d save myself the hassle and just write a short comparatively low effort comment instead. But now your prompt might serve me as enough encouragement to do it.

Awesome, you have the email addy right? just this name @riseup

Happy couples who gonna make more more more babies... And they dare using the paradigm "joyful militancy". Libertine "couple breaker" Guattari is rolling hard in his grave.

Let him keep rolling in his grave then. Nothing with being happy and i don’t mind the babies if they don’t turn out to be shitty people, but it’s of a gamble, isn’t it.

Beats the hell out of performative negativity, which is an insidious force in some corners of it all. If you are who you are, you’re beating the game, even in places where it’s not cool to be nice

on a pile of millions already gambling. You can otherwise be sure to win, by just NOT playing, you know...

Forced reprod is authoritarian too.

...and if they're happy I neither have anything against that. Just their display of it sucks, it's contemptful, but also exhibitionist. We don't need more spectacles of happiness.

I think a nuance would help, I agree with you, but would call it a spectacle of smugness, cos being spontaneously cheerful in the moment is entirely innocent.

My basement suffering is alleviated.

Is this a sexual relationship, cos if it is, something is seriously wrong here!

No, a sort of essay or zine around the concept of joy that incorporates the critiques of the milieus presented, but goes further in rejecting any semblance of “militancy”, or anything that would resemble an “invisible committee”, a “coming insurrection”, or the “multitudes” or “assembly” of negri and hardt.

I did not use the concept “ressentiment”, but rather the word “resentment” in its ordinary colloquial sense to refer to how some people feel when excluded from some groups due to their perceived “humor”/“mood”/“emotional state”. Specifically, what might seem at first to be what they label and critique as “grumpywarriorcool” among other terms the use to hint at what they mean.

I will include a critique of how what they hint at is a problem within “insurrectionist” mileu and others (like nihilist and anti-civ), but also point to how this characterization can result in isolating these people from groups, leaving these groups to have little or no element to counteract pacifisty liberal and hippy tendencies, while leaving those isolated to become more bitter and missnthropic.

Of course there are individuals from each group that don’t want anything to do with each other for other reasons, some valid and some in “bad faith”. In the essay would focus the aspect that has to do with rigid or engrained affective patterns, roles or identities that impede desegragation of these groupuscules, and make possible more intermingling, without need for assimilating one group to the other, so to speak, much less shun people based on prejudice or stereotype alone.

All this is an oversimplification, I would need to be more specific and expound. With this I only intended to address your question as to what I was referring to.

Thanks, but I'm talking about genuine libidinal joy, not intellectual humor, which is a mask hiding bitter failure. Fake laughter echoes through the corridors of power!

These clarifications are useful, now I understand a bit better how I should phrase it to get the point across. “Libidinal joy” is a very useful concept to convey what we’re getting at, among others.

By “humor” (I used quote marks because i didn’t used it in the colloquial sense) I meant it in the sense of the “four humors” or “four temperaments”; sanguine, choleric, melancholic, and phlegmatic.

I will not be using those terms in the essay, just something that came to mind at that moment. I will be more careful with the choice of words. Thanks for your clarification.

Trouble is, libidinal joy has only two outlets, wild love or wild hatred, so don't try to intellectualize my nihilist limbo, tis neither ressentful nor contentedly happy, but just beautifully nihilimbo!

Fair, agreed!

Wow, I wish everyone was as agreeable as you. I helped an old crippled lady across the road today, I felt good, but not joyful.

I read the excerpt a few months back and I really liked it. Unfortunately the book is just kinda a repetition of the same basic points as that excerpt; the authors remain vague throughout and refuse to get their hands dirty. A post above pointed out how the word "militancy" carries all the baggage they're trying to jettison. They're absolutely right and this is emblematic of the problems with the book.

To be fair, the task at hand is monumental and perhaps insoluble. How do you gesture towards rigid ideologues in a gentle way without that critique becoming just another political position?

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