We are some members of Advance the Struggle, a New York revolutionary collective, and Black Orchid Collective who have been travelling together and discussing during the lead up to the Everything for Everyone Conference in Seattle. Through these conversations, we have been brainstorming ideas for how we can build together over the long term. The following is the results of these brainstorms. To be clear, this is a discussion document, NOT a formal position representing our groups. It is also not something we aim to push as an immediate outcome of the Everything for Everyone conference. Instead, we hope it will prompt discussion about how to move forward during 2012 into 2013. We also acknowledge that not everyone involved in E4E will agree with or be interested in this project, but we hope that those who are contact us so we can discuss further.
- Tensions of building a national formation
- Character of Occupy
- Rupture versus base building? Towards a new Revolutionary Organization
- Towards a working class insurrection
2012-2013 can be a year of unifying revolutionary militants from around the US. In order for this to happen we need to take the necessary preparatory steps in 2013 to develop a common political analysis and perspective on revolutionary work. Our strength will come from unifying all of the militants that come out of left communism, anarcho-communism, Johnson-Forrest Tendency/Sojourner Truth, and like-minded revolutionary forces close to this constellation.
Tensions of building a national formation
To begin with, many of us are hesitant to pull militants from the ground to build (inter)national organization when our forces are few. Some of us had experience with revolutionary organization that focused on the national work in a way that undercut local work. We are aware of this problem.
We’ve seen the creation of national committees, pulling many militants out of local organizing work to manage national work. This top-heavy structure created an unhealthy balance and led to the implosion of these revolutionary groups. We also recognize that a heavy-handed national group can undermine and hold back dynamic local groups. Despite these problems, we still recognize the need for national revolutionary organization. We also recognize that some revolutionary groups have become too focused on local political work, for example Advance the Struggle in the Bay Area and Black Orchid Collective in Seattle.
Although we want to unify our forces, we’re not for ignoring the differences between marxism and anarchism, or using only unity of action as the basis for revolutionary organization. But we still recognize and appreciate the spectrum of shared political perspectives between anarchism and marxism. This is seen in our friendly orientation towards First of May Alliance, an anarchist class struggle grouping that takes race, gender, and sexuality seriously, who also do Occupy and housing work; Miami Autonomy and Solidarity (MAS) has a similar outlook, organizing immigrants, taxi drivers, and hospital workers in Miami. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) are organizing non-union workers with sophisticated salting operations moving beyond the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) and legalistic unionism. Left Party, a Latin American Trotskyist group in the Bay Area, does serious organizing of immigrant workers, but the mainstream left ignores them. Struggles United/Luchas Unidas (SULU) another Latin American Trotskyist group in Los Angeles, engages in militant action in the streets and fights the trade union bureaucracy through direct action. We seek united fronts and/or serious collaboration to advance class struggle with these tendencies.
We recognize the difficulty in forming effective revolutionary organization solely on the basis of the Russia question, views on Spain or other major revolutions which have historically been the basis for revolutionary organization. While these historical revolutions are important to understand, the reality is that forming revolutionary organization on the basis of total historical unity does not automatically lead to unity in action. Likewise, those who are about action independently of revolutionary history, end up reproducing common mistakes of the past, and implementing contradictory organizational practices and interventions in class struggle.
We want to fight for a new way of organizing which actually brings together militants ready to collectively intervene, while still engaging in comradely debate around long term strategy and revolutionary theory/history. This engagement can ultimately guide long-term political practice – if done in the right way. On the other hand, we all know dogmatic left groups who seek unity based solely on ideology/programme and have not been able to act as a unit during ruptures, nor organize any serious intervention in class struggles, demonstrating the hollowness of their own political formations.
While Occupy forces across the country have demonstrated the capacity to intervene in and shape ruptures, the revolutionary formation should not be solely composed of or dominated by Occupy forces. We believe there is a sizable milieu (1-2,000) of anti-capitalist and Occupy militants in the USA. However, this does not mean they share a similar organizational perspective: the need for (inter)national organization based on revolutionary politics/theory. While militants may act a certain way in struggle, this does not mean that the majority of Occupy militants are won over to the perspective of building revolutionary organization. Although Occupy forces celebrate protest as an anti-capitalist movement in itself this ended up hitting limits that contributed to the demise of their own forces.
Character of Occupy
Is Occupy the new revolutionary force? While we recognize Occupy’s refusal of legalistic union baggage, this conflicted with its use of the Health and Safety code written into the ILWU contracts during the Dec 12th port shutdown. Occupy also declared itself the new labor movement.
How do the ruptures of Occupy splash into the employed working-class for a greater offensive against capitalism? How can it develop struggle within key workplaces that uphold the capitalist system?
Our strongest case for the existence of a working class rests on the massive productive capacities of the US; it is still the 2nd largest manufacturer of goods in the world, and only recently did it fall behind China. Due to our/their strategic location at economic points crucial for capital’s reproduction, employed workers maintain a powerful leverage with our/their ability to shut the system down. The West Coast Occupy movement attracted surplus populations, i.e. workers thrown out of stable employment, giving it a political space for anti-capitalist and anti-statist street militancy.
Yet West Coast Occupy movements on December 12th overestimated this section of the working class. These radical actions brought to light the limitations of surplus populations against capitalism. A small current of unionized workers entered Occupy, attempting to politicize unionized rank-and-file workers and organize with non-union and surplus populations in Occupy committees. These two currents, surplus populations and unionized workers, merged in key moments like December 12th, which were important political ruptures but still fell short of defeating EGT-Bunge.
A West Coast Occupy street insurgent force able to blockade key workplaces from the outside, along with unionized rank-and-file in strategic workplaces, and non-union workers connected to both, need to come together as a unified revolutionary force. In isolation, each of these three sections of the working class cannot successfully challenge capitalism. What we need is fighting, political organization of workers inside the port and other workforces to meet the insurrection from outside and unify in a broader multi-sectoral fighting committee.
The ruptures of Occupy should be acknowledged and advanced into a full fledged revolutionary offensive by keeping in mind the limits of its composition. The capitalist state will adapt to economic blockades done by surplus populations. When attempted, only a small number of workers supported the actions, who were then tokenized by some activists in the movement as representatives of all workers. We do not take seriously the claim that large numbers of port workers were involved.
The ports, transportation and the schools, have unionized workers, non-union workers, and unemployed populations who relate in different ways to these institutions. Unified, these three groups of the working class could take over these large unionized workplaces and run them to stage a total offensive against the system, while supporting each other in the way that Occupy did. Occupy did much better in mobilizing surplus populations and the working class in the streets, but still has a long way to go towards politically organizing workers central to the running of these key areas of working-class power.
We face a fork in the road for our orientation towards employed workers in the coming ruptures. Occupy’s method of inspiration from the outside has not worked. If, for example, port workers are not integrated into ruptures and we attempt to run the ports from the outside it could devolve into human chains against their attempts to work, or even worse, beating them up as scabs in the name of the movement.
Instead we believe workers themselves must produce the ruptures inside their workplaces and Occupy failed to demonstrate the ability to make that link. Again, the ideological blinders different currents wear obscure the deep limitations of the recent port shutdowns and do not get at the central strategic and political problems facing Occupy.
Every tendency exaggerates the role of their own tendency and its impact in the port shutdowns. These ideological blinders prevent a deeper analysis for a new revolutionary movement. We are open to hearing criticisms of our own ideological blinders.
Rupture versus base building? Towards a new Revolutionary Organization
The left has been polarized between base building and rupture-centric strategies. The debate on the hard revolutionary left has devolved into fights between these two categories. This is a problematic dichotomy and is a polemical tool which does not reflect the actual divisions, nuances and on the ground organizing. It is a failure of revolutionaries if we let polemics mask reality. We need a dialectical relation between these “two categories” to have a successful assault on capitalism. We want to build off of the working class bases we have and push them to intervene in ruptures, as well as have the ruptures permeate the bases of workers we relate to.
The Portland Hella 503 grouping appears to not be focused on ruptures or base building as fixed political practices, but a dynamic synthesis of both in relation to anti-police brutality organizing. This is what we are for. We appreciate Hella 503’s emphasis on ruptures, and the political practice which organizes working class communities, as a form of base building, into anti-state struggles. We ask all serious revolutionaries to see the nuanced relationship and not create unhealthy debates by re-polarizing these two categories as frozen and inherently antithetical. To the extent we create unhealthy polarizations ourselves, we want to be challenged.
For instance, when we discuss strategy with some militants in Portland they only emphasize ruptures; this masks the fact that Portland is actually doing base building. Revolutionaries should have taken the correct aspects of the brilliant insights of the Portland crew and helped develop a more dynamic understanding. Organizationally, revolutionaries have consistently failed to do this in the US. Organizations must help refine debates to share their sharpest insights across the country. A national network composed of strong locals focused on intervening in their respective cities can help facilitate dialog between militants across the country to critique and reflect on each other’s work.
We do not believe that we should form national cadre organization in the immediate future. We do believe local level cadre formations are necessary, as well as larger, looser networks. But the local cadres need to be communicating, learning from each other, and debating theory and practice. Our hope for this period is the creation and expansion of a collection of local cadre groups unified around their local struggles, respective blogs, and common discussion of key political actions and documents. We propose some of the key documents below which can be points of debate and dialogue leading to possible unification or splits based on the political reality of 2012 in the upcoming years.
Towards a working class insurrection
We see certain currents of the insurrectionist scene as advocating communist/anti-capitalist actions from the outside of the self-activity of workers. At the same time we are 100% against the NGO and anti-communist critiques of the outside agitator. This devolves into identity, privilege politics and conservatism.
The idea that the unionized working class at the point of production is tied to and bought off by capitalism and thus no longer revolutionary appears to be true due to the inactivity of the last 30-40 years in the US. But just as in 1932 the unemployed marches laid the groundwork for the 1934 general strikes, the Occupy movement of surplus populations and some employed workers could lay the groundwork for a contemporary multi-sectoral offensive against capitalism. Occupy was not able to do this and didn’t have the coherence and strategy to do so.
The insurgency of surplus populations, coupled with non-union and some union workers, created a radical social movement that developed important ruptures. In order to move through and beyond the Occupy rupture, it is necessary to link these three important sections of the working class against capitalism. The unfolding of revolutionary organization can catalyze that. It’s not enough to simply continue believing that from-outside surplus population insurgency will automatically catalyze rank-and-file action.
The capitalist system is in deep crisis and it is unclear where the next ruptures will emerge – the next uprising might not look like Occupy. We need to think bigger, act bolder, and be prepared. Sporadic sequences of riots are not enough. Revolt of unionized, non unionized workers and surplus population columns, must shutdown key institutions and re-start society on a totally different basis. If this is not taken into account, it diminishes the most communistic and insurrectionary aspects of the word “rupture”. We are not adventurists who believe this will happen today, but all serious revolutionaries must build the fighting organizations necessary to accomplish this sooner than later. This task starts today.
What we are for, concretely:
- We are for a national conference meet-up in 2013.
- The basis for this meet-up is collaboration on the writing and discussion of a series of key documents that can prompt crucial discussions and strategizing in the political work we’re doing on the ground. This common activity can be the basis for the emerging tendency we are building.
- Our respective blogs are the best spaces for such discussion.
- In the meantime, we are for intervening together in upcoming ruptures and reflecting on these together.
- These discussions are important because the highest point of revolutionary politics is the formation of militants who are in the streets or workplaces fighting.
We know that things have gotten bad between some of us, but we want to squash personal beef and come together over politics.
Here are some topics we could cover; we welcome folks suggestions for other topics as well:
Members of Advance the Struggle Collective and a NYC Revolutionary, written in consultation with a few members of BOC
This is an exciting post. Really quick, can you explain what you mean by, “The idea that the unionized working class at the point of production is tied to and bought off by capitalism and thus no longer revolutionary appears to be true due to the inactivity of the last 30-40 years in the US”?
Yeah that was an awkward formulation…the idea is to acknowledge that at first glance it can appear that the unionized working class is structurally conservative in a permanent way. This is not just crazy, there’s a certain truth that is begin referred to, so we can’t just ignore this line as disconnected from reality. BUT this is not true, and misses the cross-sector importance of organizing unemployed (surplus populations), precarious non-union and unionized workers together. Point is that it’s a hasty conclusion that misses the strength of possible upsurges of unionized workers in connection with other sectors of the class. If we don’t build those connections though, the unionized working class will probably be sectoralist.
I like this document/effort very much. Would it be alright if we republish it in full at The North Star?
Of related interest is the Black Orchid Collective’s article on Leninism and Clowns:
Here’s something I wrote up on the question of Marxism “versus” anarchism and the ISM problem generally:
Please add email@example.com to whatever email list you have or to initiate further contact/discussion. There are probably other collectives or collectives waiting to be developed on the East Coast that would want to participate in this initiative.
Binh, feel free to repost. Thanks for the links, well get to them soon.
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One thought: Using the capitalist viewpoint term “surplus population” can be offensive and not so useful when trying to build the people’s confidence to fight power. Wouldn’t want to re-work that term would you?
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So is this get together going on?
Ben, please email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch about this. In short, there is a TON of political discussions and debates between many of the groups involved in the production of this document, as well as many of the formations referred to in the document. This is great, in the sense that this is exactly what the document calls for. No concrete plans have been made public about any type of conference at this time, but there are lot of discussions happening about its possibility. Again, shoot us an email with your thoughts so we can be in more direct communication.