No social or revolutionary movement succeeds without a core of people who will not betray their vision and their principles. They are the building blocks of social change. They are our only hope for a viable socialism. They are willing to spend their lives as political outcasts. They are willing to endure repression. They will not sell out the oppressed and the poor. They know that you stand with all of the oppressed—people of color in our prisons and marginal communities, the poor, unemployed workers, our GBLT community, undocumented workers, the mentally ill and the Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghans whom we terrorize and murder—or you stand with none of the oppressed. They know when you fight for the oppressed you get treated like the oppressed. They know this is the cost of the moral life, a life that is not abandoned even if means you are destined to spend generations wandering in the wilderness, even if you are destined to fail.
I was in East Germany, Czechoslovakia and Romania in 1989 during the revolutions, or in the case of Romania an interparty putsch. These revolutions were spontaneous outbursts by an enraged population that had had enough of communist repression, mismanagement and corruption. No one, from the dissidents themselves to the ruling communist parties, anticipated these revolts. They erupted, as all revolutions do, from tinder that had been waiting years for a spark.
These revolutions were led by a handful of dissidents who until the fall of 1989 were marginal and dismissed by the state as inconsequential until it was too late. The state periodically sent state security to harass them. It often ignored them. I am not even sure you could call these dissidents an opposition. They were profoundly isolated within their own societies. The state media denied them a voice. They had no legal status and were locked out of the political system. They were blacklisted. They struggled to make a living. But when the breaking point in Eastern Europe came, when the ruling communist ideology lost all credibility, there was no question in the minds of the public about whom they could trust. The demonstrators that poured into the streets of East Berlin and Prague were aware of who would sell them out and who would not. They trusted those, such as Václav Havel, who had dedicated their lives to fighting for open society, those who had been willing to be condemned as nonpersons and go to jail for their defiance.