Martin Droll, Theorist and Revolutionary

By Sachio Ko-yin

This article was written in 2015, as part of Praxis Autonomist Research in Philadelphia, re-posted today from the archives in honor of Martin’s Birthday. He will always be remembered.

As I look over our past correspondence, memories of conversations come up. Of Philadelphia radicals, and radicals around the world he theorized with, talks with Marty will be missed.

Martin Droll, (1989 -2014) a young friend and fellow theorist, passed away tragically last year. His whole adult life, he was an anti-capitalist organizer and a working class intellectual.

Some years before I met him, he had left his hometown of Rural Ohio to find work in Philadelphia. I worked with him through several anti racist projects, but it wasn’t till an Occupy working group that we started to talk radical theory. We discovered a mutual interest in the Situationist International, and spent some nights at Dilworth Plaza thinking about autonomist marxism and anarchism.

After Occupy, he was involved in several intellectual projects in the city, and was in and around the early conversations of Praxis. He identified as a Situationist, and we had a vague plan of starting a Society of the Spectacle reading group. But after talking with Lucid Strike about the Praxis formation, the project felt like continuations of earlier ideas. Strike’s early Urban maps inspired us, and he loved the idea of an anti-capitalist research group, and critical geography. I think he saw Praxis as potentially another Situationist International. Or at least that’s what he would bring to the project. He was full of ideas, planned to do original investigation, write about urban class analysis, and theorize the way to build working class resistance in the global North.

I have to say up front, I had major political differences with him, but there were few theorists I liked as much as Marty. In the last year of his life, our disagreement was a recurring topic, but he was always disarmingly friendly, transparent and intelligent.

His ideology was complex, and syncretic. It could be difficult to grasp at times. Already as a high school student he was a member of the Young Communist League, and wrote articles for the Daily Worker. On arriving in Philadelphia, he seemed to transition from the Communist Party into anarchism and libertarian marxism. But he never quite left Leninism, and in his last years he was reunited with the Communist Party.

In regards to his apparent contradictions, its helpful to remember he took a position of historical relativism. Those of us who joined him in autonomist discussions, were puzzled as his interest grew in North Korean Juche ideology, and he even became National Secretary of the North Korean Friendship Association. I couldn’t grasp how he could be both an autonomist marxist, an anarchist, and also be part of the KFA, but in Marty’s view, historical necessity works differently in different parts of the globe.

While his historical relativism was something I couldn’t resonate with, his ideas for North American social revolution were very interesting, at times outright unique.

It wasn’t long after Occupy that he published an article which got my attention, as something I hadn’t really seen before. It was about his vision of starting a Philadelphia Communist Christian Church. It would be community based, and respectful of the individual civil freedoms, translating communist values into a language understandable by everyday people, such as family stability and local power.

He wrote, “The kind of Communism that would succeed in America would have to favor individual initiative, promote personal responsibility, elaborate spirituality in a liberating way and foster family values and entrepreneurship. It could not narrowly oppose all wage-labor or abstractly critique all aspects of Bourgeois society; radical critiques are necessary components of a practical political program but ultra-leftism is alienating and isolating.”

Its not that I particularly agreed with all of it, but it struck me as unique, to think about building a New Testament church of communism! I’m not sure I’d heard of such a thing before. His idea seemed to be that the process of building true community participation, and a stable infrastructure, is part of building a revolutionary movement.

“We must remember to meet the people where they are, not where we wish they were, so we can unite with and encourage them to come with us to the future. There is no other path to victory.”

As always, his enthusiasm was infectious, “I’m getting a revolutionary church of Jesus’ Communism started with my sisters, Kaylajo O’Lone Hahn and Natasha Danielle, with the blessing and love and support of the many good brothers and sisters around the city. The infrastructure is being erected so we can get ourselves elected, family!”

He added, “In the first analysis, there are quantitative steps that lead to qualitative changes. In the final analysis, promoting order and stability is not inherently reactionary so long as this progress is brooked by demonstrably revolutionary thinking. As we prove the superiority of our social vision in a way that is both palpable and realizable by the senses of the people, the existing state machinery will be powerless to expel us (as it will) and resume control. A centralized authority can be sabotaged, a single leader can be killed, but ideas are impervious to bans, bullets or jail sentences.”

This paragraph represents all I most loved in Marty’s thinking. He was thinking of a long term plan for building infrastructure for the social revolution, envisioning the involvement of all people.

I wish so much he were here with us at Praxis now, that he could have done the radical social research he wanted to do, with all the color of his personality. His research into urban class analysis would have been interesting to say the least, and I have no doubt at all, it would have always been full of his personality.

‘The process is a slow one’ he used to say, ‘but we have to speak the truth one-to-one. After all, ain’t it everybody’s sun to share? Just wait ’til in the morning when we rise!’


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