Burnout:The Emotional Experience of Political Defeat

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How activists and revolutionaries have navigated the emotional dimension of political experience.

Those who have committed themselves to the fight for a better world invariably face defeat. Even the most successful struggles will be met with setbacks and failures along the way. Meditating on trauma, anxiety, mourning, and rage, Proctor draws from the diverse ways that activists and revolutionaries have confronted the emotional impacts of their political experiences to offer an alternative that asks, 'should we have to choose between Freud's couch or a march in the streets?'

Burnout deftly situates self-care and wellness in a long historical perspective, visiting former Communards who fought on the Parisian barricades as they gaze in anguish at the Pacific Ocean; a young Bolshevik who leaves the city to seek treatment for despair; an ex-militant who lies on a psychoanalyst's couch describing dreams of ruined landscapes; a trade union organizer calling on a spiritual healer; and a group of young feminists padding a room in a squat with mattresses so that they can scream together about the patriarchy. Jettisoning 'therapy talk' and its stranglehold on our language and visions of the good life, Proctor offers a different way forward. Her cogent exploration of the ways militants make sense of their own burnout demonstrates that it is possible to mourn and organize, altogether and at once.