“We concluded that the current period is one of “resistance,” not one of “revolution.” We thought that the main work of revolutionaries at such times should be to build resistance fights. These fights would build power and consciousness in oppressed communities. But revolutionaries must design and craft this ‘resistance work’ so as to help lay the foundation for the long-term development of a revolutionary movement. As ‘conscious forces,’ we thought that revolutionaries should work intentionally to help the resistance movement mature into a revolutionary one.”
Reclaiming Revolution, by S.T.O.R.M.
S.T.O.R.M.’s analysis in this case is fundamentally sound, but it offers little insight on what this “resistance work” is. What makes this “resistance work” different from the work of revolutionary movement? Or, as A. Weaver pointed out, since the spark for the Spanish Revolution was defense against the Fascists, does that mean that the Spanish revolution was “resistance work” or, as I call it, a defense movement?
First, we must understand what makes a moment revolutionary or not. It is a fundamental question on analyzing the material conditions of a period in history. The predilection of some crude Marxists to make history the agent of revolution is as problematic as the view that equate the revolutionary process to an explosive voluntarism, with will alone becoming this overwhelming passion that would bring down the State apparatus. Revolution is the convergence of certain material conditions in society and the will of those historical agents who act in that situation.
It would be preposterous to claim an exact formula with which we can determine if the moment we live in is a revolutionary one or not. Much of that analysis is made in hindsight, and tends to be heavily influence by a perceived victory or defeat, for example, the late-sixties were not a revolutionary period because they did bore a revolution. However, a particular factor that we must always take into account is the power of the alternative institutions of the class in a confrontation with the status quo. Without powerful and vibrant institutions that channel the collective power of the class, and rival in power and influence the power of the State, true revolution is impossible. That situation, referred to as dual power, is far away from our reality – which means no matter the material conditions we are not faced with a revolutionary situation but with a reactionary one.
Moreover, the power and the institutions of the class directly influence the material conditions of their time period. If we accept that as part of our analysis, then the question becomes how do we move from this reactionary situation into a revolutionary one; and if we understand the need of building the collective power and the alternative institutions of the class, then our route is clear. We must work to build the consciousness and the institutions of the class. That’s the work of the revolutionary today.
Gramsci’s theory of war of position and war of maneuver refer to how we understand revolution: as a process of change or an explosive moment. As a process of change, as a protracted struggle, the revolutionary process is not a direct, straight line to communism. It is a pained, back-and-forth struggle between the State apparatus and the institutions of the people.
Fair enough. The concept of war of maneuver helps us comprehend the basic dynamics of the process of change; it brings to the fore the question of the role of the ideological field of class-struggle and how, in a very vague way, we move from the ideological state we are in to the ideological state we want to be in.
But for me, many questions, crucial questions, remain unanswered. More importantly for this discussion, what is the practical actions that need to be taken by the active group of revolutionaries to move the historical process forward? It is not a question around the role of social movements or the class, but what is the role of the conscious revolutionaries aiming at a revolutionary reconstruction of society?
Gramsci tried to address that in “The Modern Prince”, but his analysis is a vague reassertion of the Leninist argument for the party of professional revolutionaries. He differs from Lenin on that Gramsci view a bigger role for the organic intellectual of the class in the party than Lenin, who views the socialist consciousness as having to be brought in from outside of the class. Its a very limited and elitist view that has brought us already enough bitter fruits in the past.
Anarchists historically held the view that the role of the conscious revolutionaries, whether they originate inside the class or outside of it, is that of agitators or catalysts. They do not wish to have the people “be forced to be free” as Rousseau would have it, but have “people to free themselves” like Malatesta would say. Not to downplay other differences, bu this may be the seminal difference between the anarchist revolutionary organization and the Leninist party.
Since we do not believe that people need to be led to the revolution by the party, we have been accused of “spontaneism” by Marxists. Yet, anarchists that do not believe in spontaneism and aim at a structured approach to the anarchist involvement in the social movement tend to be derided as Marxists or bolsheviks. One group of anarchist that suffered the most of these kind of accusation were the members of the Dielo Trouda group, and more specifically, Nestor Makhno and Piotr Arshinov.
Criticism of their personal acts notwithstanding, the group’s “Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft)” talks about the role of the anarchist revolutionary organization – the wrestle for the “leadership of ideas” inside the popular movements. The idea of leadership of ideas is left vague and has been a place of criticism against the Platform. It is however, a crucial component of an anarchist revolutionary strategy. It is not about imposition of anarchist views on social movements, but about arguing for anarchistic values inside them.
Social movements, to remain healthy and vibrant, must be politically open. They must be a reflection of “the-class-for-itself”, a collective with understanding of their needs and aspirations and ready to fight for it. Movements cannot be monoliths attached to one political ideology or another – even when they subscribe to one political ideology, tend to have different interpretations of said ideology. That is the nature of social movements because they enhance the best in their participants – critical thinking, challenging authority and sense of individual and collective power. Solidarity and discipline are not enemies of democracy, but many times leftists tend to see dissent as a quality to be squashed. I mean, it’s all and good to challenge the boss, but never challenge the party line.
Conformity is the death of any social movement. When it gets stuck between the five “brilliant ideas” of their “glorious leaders”, movements not only reproduce the structure of the State but they also miss out on a plethora of solutions to the problems they face that could come from the active participation of their members.
The question then is what is the relationship between a organization of revolutionaries and these social movements? Lenin’s conception of the vanguard party ascribed to the organization of revolutionaries the role of a tough-love teacher – to bring socialism from without to the social movements and stir them to the path by grace or by might. It assumed an asymmetric relationship of knowledge and aspirations between the working classes and the upper classes and saw it as immutable. Therefore, the ideology of socialism as developed by the enlightened intelligentsia must be followed by the working classes:
Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology, to its development along the lines of the Credo programme; for the spontaneous working-class movement is trade-unionism, is Nur-Gewerkschaftlerei, and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social Democracy. The sentence employed by the authors of the Economist letter published in Iskra, No. 12, that the efforts of the most inspired ideologists fail to divert the working-class movement from the path that is determined by the interaction of the material elements and the material environment is therefore tantamount to renouncing socialism.
V.I. Lenin – What Is To Be Done
The Platform’s concept of the leadership of ideas has been likened to a Leninist vanguard, but if not from malice, the argument seems to come from a place of half-knowledge. Any ideological group seeks a leadership of ideas in its field – be they religious, scientific or political. Those who are passionate about their ideas want to share them. That anarchists should try to have a leadership of ideas – make their ideas prominent, even dominant inside movements. It is however, paramount that anarchists fight for the democratic process and spirit of movements at all times. We, who wish that “the people liberate themselves”, must advocate for and defend the elements of social movements that foster the realization of people as full human beings – critical thinkers, anti-authoritarian, self-confident human beings. This cannot happen without real space for dissent and debate inside the movements, for people to organize themselves in ways that may not be the desired ones by anarchist organizers.
One thing we must be aware is that challenging “what people want” is a fundamental part of organizing, however. The role of the anarchist organizer is to challenge the preconceptions of what is possible, of the one single way of doing things, and shatter the paradigms set on by capitalist society. That is the line that needs to be wlked on all the time – fostering critical thinking and respecting dissent in one hand, and offering critique and challenging attitudes that come from the bourgeois ideology. To expect that people “already know everything” is naive and self-deceptive. People can see only inside the paradigm that have been reared in. But for that to become a excuse to destroy dissent will never bring the liberation of the working-classes.
In that context, we must understand leadership of idea as a struggle for hegemony between authoritarianism and self-actualization – between the values of obedience and critical thought. The left tends to charge at people with what to think, but it is often scared of thought. The leadership of anarchist ideas is the leadership of the ideas of socialism, solidarity and freedom in the broad sense, and the ideas of direct democracy and critical involvement by working people.
We believe that direct democracy and critical thinking are indigenous to every popular movement and that it is obedience and hierarchy that are brought from without. But those seeds are planted in people’s mind way before any particular organization tries to strangle the movement. That being the case, the anarchist organization must seek to raise the questions and to challenge those authoritarian and hierarchical tendencies.
I know I barely said much in this post, but it is enormous as it is, and I’ve been working on it for a long time. I’ll just post this here now and get back to it.
Something is going to happen, it’s going to be large, beautiful and inspiring, but it is not going to be a General Strike; and that’s perfectly fine. A. Weaver from Machete408 in his post “On the Occupy Oakland November 2 General Strike” makes the argument that:
For radicals who have been around the proverbial organizing block I would urge caution to avoid falling into the role of being the left naysayers of the movement. Just as under capitalism “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”, in times of upheaval and crisis events that never seemed possible suddenly become so. People who are unpoliticized or only have nascent consciousness become radicalized and people who are already politicized begin to identify with revolutionary politics. The lack of organic connections to more politically defined political militants leaves these newly radicalized layers to flail in the wind and take many political missteps, grow cynical, or be swept into the first organization that seems to offer a ready baked formula for radical change.
There is a tremendous amount of energy in Oakland right now. Walking downtown, you can feel it in the air: The police walks on a different kind of edge, the suits walk scared, the politicos hide their faces from the camera and sneak from the back of City Hall. There is a flurry of activity, from leftists to unionists to community activists are spreading the word about the strike action and engaging people in conversations about our current situation and capitalism. The energy is building up and the word is on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Unions are, in different levels, trying to get their people out there or at least symbolically supporting the strike.
Something will happen, it will just not be a General Strike.
It will not be a General Strike because, for many people, the occupy movement still something they experience through the television. There is sense of them over there (people camping out and going to rallies every night) , and us here (people going to work every day and being spectators). The argument that “in times of upheaval and crisis events that never seemed possible suddenly become so” fails to take into account that these times of crisis and upheaval are generally escalations. Although build up has been happening, it has still not broken the barrier of alienation – people are still isolated and terrified of their bosses, people are still disconnected.
The call for a General Strike might have be a hasty one (specially since it only gave one week for preparation and build-up), but it has forced the issue of participation in capitalism and the power of working people to change things to the forefront. It has forces radicals inside the unions the examine the work that they are doing and take a stance – either this is revolutionary work, and my job as a revolutionary is to push my union to participate on this, regardless of bureaucracy, or being in the union is just my day job and that’s the end of that. It has forced the union to take a stance in supporting the action or be deemed irrelevant. It has shattered the confidence of many people in the electoral route for change, and it has instilled in people the confidence that they can do things for themselves.
It must however, be more expansive. The General Strike is an action of sharp contrasts: you either strike or you scab. That sharp contrast is good and crucial – but at the level that Oakland is right now, it is paramount that other venues open for people to participate. We must broaden the base of people who participate in the Occupy movement, and use this event as a spark to generate even more organizing and agitation outside Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza. Hearing from a comrade that she was one-upped by a neighbor in door knocking in her street is one of those signs that the sentiment and energy is seeping through the cracks and building up. This is what we need. This is what we should be doing, and what many are doing.
It is really not productive to get caught fantasizing about a anarcho-syndicalist general strike and be tied to the exclusive project of stopping production. It is a lot more relevant and revolutionary to try and break people from the patterns of alienation, even if just a bit more, and have them engage in mass action, be strike mass action or not.
All that being said, I can only ask one thing of my beloved adopted town – prove me wrong, and shut down the town!
Trying to write this as a blog post was a bit reckless of me. Although these ideas have been distilling through my brain for a while now, it is clear now that there is a lot of rewriting that needs to be done to this piece to make it readable and, most importantly, clear and understandable. I will continue to post the rest of it, and than rewrite it, though. There are two reasons for that. One is simple continuity, and secondly I hope to get criticism that can help me improve the final piece. Also, there’s gotta be a sexier name for this piece than the one I have – Huerta Grande is nice and memorable, this name would probably become some ugly acronym like PCBEAPN. Ugh!
So, here’s to part 3:
Tracing Goals and Methods of Achieving Goals.
The objective of a political program is not victory in a concrete, specific struggle, or even victory per se. We must not believe that a good strategy assures victory – a good strategy simply enhances our chances of victory, but there is much in our work that is unpredictable and untangle, and cannot be made work simply by our clever assumptions.
The work of the revolutionist is much like the work of the farmer. Before planting a seed, a farmer will plow the land, fertilize it and clear aggressive weeds that might kill the seed before it germinates. When the seed does germinate, the farmer must control temperature, soil humidity, pests and a number of different environmental and plant behavior. Yet, through this whole process, even if the farmer does everything right, there’s no guarantee that the plant will survive or bear fruit. The farmer works to improve the plant’s chances of survival and reproduction – the farmer does not control the process but tries to influence it.
It is the same with the revolutionary, Leninist and Guevarist mythologies notwithstanding. Revolutions are acts of collective will exacted at precise material and historic conditions. As Malatesta once put it, we see Anarchy as the ultimate end of history not because history will inevitably end in Anarchy, but because Anarchy is the goal we think history ought to lead too.
All that being said, we then see the goal of the program of the anarchist organization to help ferment the favorable conditions for the revolutionary seeds to germinate. Yet it is quite a grandiose goal, and vague – in other others, useless beyond being a guiding principle. The specific organization of anarchists need specific goals that it wants to accomplish.
Goals of an anarchist organization are different of the goals for a larger movement organization because the function of the anarchist organization is different from the movement organization. The goals of the specific anarchist organization should relate to winning as the members of the the Dielo Trouda group put it, the leadership of ideas in the struggle in which they participate.
Goals should be divided in short, medium and long term. Short term goals refer to goals of a year or so, or that refer to an specific short term campaign. So, short term goals can be about the specific strategy around supporting a strike, or a campaign around a round of budget cuts to school or city services. Here, the objectives for the revolutionary organization should be around proposing solutions to the problem faced by the movement that broaden the realm of the possible and move people towards the realization of their own power, towards direct action.
Medium term goals for the revolutionary organization involve the growth of the sphere of influence of the ideas of the organization. That includes not only creation of a base with which the organization interacts and specific theaters of struggle in which the organization will act, but also internal goals such as growth and recruitment strategies, the kind and level of propaganda activities the organization wishes to engage in, and methods of creating theory and empowering the members of the organization to be both organizers and theoreticians on their own right.
Long-term goals for the anarchist organization refer mainly, I think, about the creation of lasting, effective alliances with social movements and with other anarchist organizations, and the creation of continental or transcontinental federations and strategies.
Two asides must be added to this. First, these goals reflect only the ideas around the practices of the organization regarding itself. Social movements, as the engine and brain of the revolution, subscribe to a different process. Second, this refers to local or regional organizations. Continental and transcontinental organizations are a different kind of monster, and I don’t wish neither have the capacity to tackle it.
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Ok. So I realized two things when I finished writing this. First, there is a lot I need to explain around Clausewitz’s theories on war and how they affect my look on strategy. I think I need to write something that specifically deals with strategy – maybe still as part of this, maybe as a companion piece. Secondly, I think I am done with this line of thought as a line; this outline has been sucked dry and I cannot just pile more things on top of it in without first coming back and really reworking this thing as a whole so it makes sense. Yet, there is still a lot I want to talk about on the subject or related to it, so expect more post coming out on the question of anarchist strategy and program.
Note: This is a work in progress. Many of these ideas have been stewing in my head and the heads of some comrades of mine for quite some time now, but in writing them (specially in a blog) I tend to forget things or downplay others. I’ll probably revisit and re-write this thing when it is all written (The golden rule of good writing – rewrite it!). Much of these ideas are based out of Huerta Grande, the work of Antonio Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks and several years of conversation with my good comrade Adam at Machete 408, plus others. My thoughts on strategy, I must admit, owe much to the analysis of Carl von Clawsewitz’s On War, which I guess is not a very kosher confession for an anti-militarist anarchist. And still further, some ideas of the Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists will make an appearance. If there is a point with which you agree, disagree or would like to see explained further, please say so, it would be very helpful. Ok, here we go again.
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Strategical program of action based on the political analysis
Class warfare is nothing if not a war. It is the “act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.” The will is the political objective of the different parties who engage in the war. The will of the bourgeoisie is the maintain its dominant class status – our will is the elimination of class society and social hierarchy.
We are forced here to expand our idea of war to include the ideological groundwork for the actual event itself. The Iraq war was not started on March 20, 2003, with the bombing of the Al-Dora farms. In fact, the war had already started on February 5th, when Colin Powell made his now infamous presentation to the UN security council, because the White House had already decide to go to war.
The class warfare between the bourgeoisie and the different exploited classes (peasants, proletariat, the dispossessed or lumpen proletariat, etc.) has been going on for at least two centuries, sometimes as open physical warfare, and sometimes as an ideological warfare. Antonio Gramsci defined these two situations as a war of maneuver and a war of position.
Yet the idea of war of position is too broad and vague to be of any practical use to us. It can refer to any moment from the reactionary times we live in to the eve of the “storming of the Winter Palace,” but these two situations have very little in common and we cannot fathom to use the same strategy in both cases. To be more precise, we must first decide if we are in the offensive or the defensive. It is not a question of actions being offensive or defensive, but if the overall movement of working people (be it local, national or transnational) is winning new ground or trying to defend the ground already won. The sentiment expressed by the “we are winning” tag in Seattle reflects the first analysis, while S.T.O.R.M. based its strategy on the defensive mode of the people’s movement.
The question of the movement being defensive or offensive is a crucial one, and should be analyzed in depth by the organization seeking to create a program. It is also important to understand that each situation carries a difference in outlook and a different set of problems.
If you assume an offensive view of popular movements, the primary analysis should be to detect what are the defenses of the State and which weaknesses they present. The defenses of the State may be physical (arsenal, police, army, etc.,) or ideological (the law, “deterrents” like prisons or torture, the media and the formation of public opinion). More likely, it can be a combination of all of them in different degrees.
After detecting the weaknesses of the defenses of the State, we must proceed into using our analysis of our own power and that of allies willing to join, and create an assault plan with the possible allocation of that power to the weak point of the State machinery.
I put this forward because I am trying to create a broad how-to manual on creating a political program. I have yet to be presented with any slightly convincing argument for this view, and I find it quite dangerous to the overall health of popular movements.
Defense is the strongest form of struggle. This might conflate with some people’s romanticizing the periods in which social movements were in the offensive, such as the thirties and the sixties.Yet it is worthwhile to notice that decades after these movements were crushed by the State, their legacy remains, if a little eroded. The reason for this is that once that ideological ground is won, it is hard to be lost. It has been chipped away, perverted and attacked constantly, but the ideas that racism and sexism are bad are still a big part of the general discourse. (Clearly things are much different in practice, and the idea of racism has been stripped of all its systemic value and made into a individualistic relationship, but my point is that the need for racial equality wasn’t part of the discourse of this country until very recently.)
The aim of defense is preservation, while the aim of offense is conquest. A defensive outlook for social movements would aim first at defending the terrain won on previous struggles, such as the great labor unrests from the thirties and the civil rights struggle from the sixties and seventies. From a defensive perspective, the lack of activity is a gain.
It is also important to say that while defense aims at preservation, it cannot be its endgame. Defense aims at amassing ones forces to the point that one can then engage on a offensive. And it is paramount to find the breaches that might open in the ideological battlefield against the ruling classes, attack at those points and win them over, and then hold them.
Keeping all that in mind, the defensive or “war of position” strategy should first analyze what are the areas attacked by the State that must be defended. Priorities should be assigned based on:
- the organization’s proximity and prior level of engagement with the struggle,
- the prevalence of popular directive and organization against top-down bureaucratic control,
- ability of the ruling-class of sustaining the attack and the ability of the people to defend against it,
- The sphere of influence of the organization and the ability of it to affect change.
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Ok. Again I didn’t get to all I wanted to say. Next, I’ll talk about tracing goals, and methods of achieving goals. Also, will take about the particular difficulties that anarchist organizations face when creating a program.
Much of my time today is spent advocating for the need of an objective and functional program for anarchists in the United States. This is an ever present and paramount need, yet there’s very little out there about what an anarchist program ought to look like, what it is composed of and what exactly are its practical applications.
There are prerequisites to creating an political program, and attaining these prerequisites will shape our program and subsequently our strategy as anarchists. It is also important to note that, most likely, there will be not single, unified program and strategy to all anarchists in the U.S., but many different yet similar and complementary strategies.
The Political Analysis
The analysis of the current situation – its different forces and the relationship of power they share now – is the first and perhaps the most important step in creating a strategy.
Much of what we see being called political analysis today tends to focus on the other, particularly the other of the activities of the ruling class (the most recent war or attack on working people) or the other of movements outside our immediate range (Bolívia, Palestine, Argentina or Korea, for example.) While all these factors are important, the political analysis should be primarily focused on the situation in the United States; it should tally up the forces of reaction and the ones for revolution, it should try to understand what those forces aim at and consider how they might act to reach their goals.
To be a practical tool, political analysis must be precise. It cannot be optimistic (the Oscar Grant protests are the beginning of the uprising of the black youth!) , nor pessimistic (Fascism is here!), no matter what our feelings may be. It should not be one-sided, but it must take in consideration that every social act requires at leas two protagonists, even if one is just passive. We should be brutally honest with ourselves as the Left in considering our strengths – yes we are tiny, but how tiny? Where is our sphere influence? Where can we affect change?
We should use words and concepts carefully and specifically to mean what they mean – we are not living in a fascist society, nor in the Great Depression of the thirties. While comparison can be an useful tool, it is only so when we are clear about the difference as well as the similarities between the two or more situations.
Political analysis should also be clear about the motivations and needs of social forces, and separate possible consequences from what those needs are. Glenn Beck’s bosses are not keen on fascism, but did not disparage at whipping up fascistoid elements in the American right in order to reach their goals, specially because they think they can control those elements. If we keep a historical perspective, which a good political analysis should do, it is debatable if they can.
The best political analysis will be still incomplete, but it should give a clear picture of the historical elements and forces at play in at a determined moment.
The Analysis of Our Own Power
This is a refining of the previous exercise, but focused entirely specifically on anarchists. Sometimes it can be even more focused, and be entirely focused on one particular organization or region of the country. The more focused it gets, the more helpful it will be.
I particularly think that, given the current situation of anarchists and anti-authoritarian left forces in the in the U.S., there can be no real national strategy except building local power. Strong local organizations can later on get together to try and formulate a national strategy. There are some that disagree with that, and that is fine. The question to be answered is where and how can you affect the most change? That includes not only different social struggles, but different groups in that social struggle, different situations (material, geographic, etc.) and different angles of the same struggle.
Again, precision is everything. We must not let our aspirations and politics blur our vision when categorizing these aspects of a social struggle. There isn’t just the revolutionaries and the masses; there is the conscious revolutionary (libertarian or authoritarian), the movement activist (normally espousing a uncoalesced vision of “social justice”), the active participant (those participating in the movement for particular gains such as housing, better working conditions or an end to police brutality against a specific community). There are movements of the lower-middle classes and upper-working classes (such as the movement around foreclosures), the movement of the working poor (such as movements of the unemployed) and movements of the most economically brutalized (such as movements of homeless people). I could go on giving examples of other different categorizations, but what I am trying to say is that these different categories are affected is different ways by our ideological propaganda, by our actions and by our proposals (both practical, on the ground proposal and proposal for a future, re-organized society).
Well, that’s all for now folks, I’m not trying to write a book in this post. Next time I’ll be looking at the intersection between the political analysis and analysis of our own power, and the hurdles around creating an anarchist political program.
The Black Panther Party “survival programs” instilled terror in the U.S. national ruling class all the way to the head – at the time, Johnson and Nixon, and the fierce hand of J. Edgar Hoover. While many in the Left like to sensationalize the armed and bellicose aspect of the Black Panthers, it is really telling that their survival programs ranked so high in the threat scale in the minds of the ruling elite.
The Black Panthers survival programs started from the premise that, in order to be able to wage a struggle, people should first be able to live. As my Comrade Ian Martin puts it:
“The BPP’s Ten Point Program was indeed a simple statement of desired reforms to strive towards. But again, the situation of African-Americans then (and now) was extreme, with extraordinary levels of violence, police brutality, infant mortality, poor health, and poverty common. As the Black Panthers conceived it, the Ten Point Program was a program for survival, to keep the community alive long enough to form some kind of revolutionary movement. Perhaps some may scoff at demands such as affordable housing that is not squalid, crowded, decaying, and in horrible condition, or not having to be at the whim of capricious, uncaring, and greedy landlords, but to the poor, these things are essential. It is difficult for any human being to pay attention to and fight against relatively nebulous concepts like militarism and the State when they are forced to fight concretely for the very necessities of life everyday.”
Ian Martin – From Reforms to Revolution
A strategy of building a long-lasting movement able to wage a protracted struggle against the State must encompass both a element of destruction as well as an element of construction. Not only must we bring out the contradictions of capitalism to the forefront, we must also show that those contradictions and problems that capitalism cannot resolve are not unavoidable but can be resolved through collective means and an non-capitalist framework.
Institutions are based on needs, real or perceived. Institutions like the State, police and “the free market” are perverted creations that satisfy needs like the organization of things, safety and delivery of goods and services. Our argument should not be that those things are not important, or that capitalism does not address those issues, but that they can be addressed better under a different system, in a more equitable manner so all will have those things, without sacrificing our freedoms and forgoing a fulfilling life. That we cannot have “pursue of happiness” under capitalism.
Constructive and destructive – our program must be both. Not in some future communist society, but presenting an inkling of what this future might look like and building today the capacity for self-organization and self-defense of the working-classes.
The BPP’s “survival programs” had a two-pronged aim – to deliver where the State and capitalism was lacking, and as a extremely successful propaganda tool. The first aim we must put in the forefront, the second aim is a consequence.
These acts must be, however, built on the premise of collective action, not on revolutionary charity. People must be engaged not just on receiving the services but also in delivering it. As anarchists, we must built on people the idea for self-sufficiency and expose the waste of capitalism and the superfluousness of the State apparatus.
What does that mean? Programs like Copwatch and Food not Bombs are not revolutionary or reformists in nature. Neither is a strike, a riot or a a march. Who is engage in it, and the proccess in which they are engaged is what makes an act revolutionary or reformist.
What we must be for, then, is the expansion of the creative capacity of those inside the movement – to create a space for reflection and analytical development for those that in general do not have such space or that are led to believe that they do not have such capacity. We must be destructive towards the outside, constructive towards the inside. It is not the victory in and of itself that matters (although that is also very important) but that the participants have ownership of such victories.
It has been fashionable for a while, for example, to praise SEIU as a paragon of defending workers, because they engaged in highly successful organizing drives. They were giving the union movement something it had lacked for a long time – victories. Yet many never looked at how those victories were achieved and the price that the labor movement payed for those victories to be achieved. The SEIU model of corporate unionism spread like a wildfire in the minds of many “progressive” elements of the union movement. If now the monster is being unmasked to many, it has to do a lot more with Stern’s own statements and power-grabbing than with a clear analysis of the situation.
I’ll be visiting this subject again later. This text is long enough for now; but the situation of working people in the U.S. is dire – much more now due to the “crisis”. Much like when the BPP create its survival programs, the need for programs that address the open spaces left by the State is ever present. While we must be in the defensive stage of the revolutionary struggle, any ground left open must be taken and held on to.
I was listening to NPR they were talking about this picture they have of a room full of lobbyists waiting to take a bite out of the new health care bill. People started calling in and identifying the lobbyists or just disparaging at the lack of representation for ordinary people and the sense of powerlessness that arose form that.
I started thinking about the common understanding of what “the government” represents and what it means for anarchist practice to be “anti-government” or “anti-State.”
While I don’t like using words that are basically synonyms and assigning them different meanings based on my political leaning, I think that there is an interesting distinction to be made between government an State.
Government is a concrete reality, the day-to-day operations of the apparatus of the ruling-class,
The modern bourgeois State is part of a superstructure, a construct and a reflection a bourgeois-dominated relationship of production. While that is absolutely true and succinct, this way of presenting the State hides the actual nature of the State and actually contributes to the enhancing of a critically skewed perception of what the State is as a relationship of power.
However, that explanation can hardly account for the different structures we see forming different States worldwide. What the United States government, the Chavez goverment of Venezuela and the Brazilian goverment have in common is that they are built around a particular mythos, based on a different interpretation of the relationship of power between the State and the civil society. It is paramount to understand the mythos in which the national State operates in order to learn how to be better prepared to wage a war of position for society’s cultural hegemony.
The Brazilian government, for example, is built under a perverse Comte’s positivism, and based on that, a belief that a “scietifically” structure society can guarantee individual rights and collective harmony. A rough sketch of the particular Mythos of the Brazilian government is that it is that scientific society, that it is based on the rights of the individual and in collective harmony, and that its laws are the fruit of such scientific methods. In reality what we see is an extremely manichaeist system of government, in which those that do not conform to the “scientific society” are seen as cancerous to the general harmony and to individual freedoms – and the State as the guardian of that harmony and those freedoms.
Understanding the root mythos of a given State can help us understand deeper the attitudes and the discouse of the government and also of the population of a given country for, as Marx said it, “the ruling ideas of each age have ever been the ideas of its ruling class.” It can also help us develop social movements that can resonate with the true aspirations of people often ebbed inside the oppressive mythos of Statism.
By the way, Upping the Anti #8 ran an delicious editorial on the political implications and opportunities of State mythos. You should check it out.
See Part 1 here
See Part 2 here
The Political Practice and the knowledge of reality
An efficient political practice demands, therefore, the knowledge of reality (theory), the harmonious postulation of it with the objective values of transformation (ideology) and concrete political means for attaining such transformation (political practice). The three elements are fused in a dialectical unit that constitutes the effort for transformation that the party aims at.
One may ask: Should we wait for a finished theoretical development in order to start acting? No. Theoretical development is not a academic problem, it doesn’t start from zero. Its foundations, its motivations and its development are premised by the existence of ideological values, of a political practice, More or less correct, more or less incorrect, these elements exist historically before theory and motivate its development.
Class war had existed way before its theoretical conceptualization. The struggle of the exploited did not wait for the elaboration of a theoretical work that justified its realization. Its being, its existence precedes knowledge about it, the theoretical analysis of its existence.
Therefore starting from this basic assumption, it becomes fundamental and a priority to act, to have a political practice. Only through it, through its concrete existence, in the tested conditions of its development can we elaborate a useful theoretical frame. One that is not a gratuitous accumulation of abstract postulations with some coherence in its internal logic, but without any coherence with the development of the real processes, To create theory with efficiency in necessary to act.
Can we do away with theory with the excuse of practical urgency? No. There may exist, shall we say, a political practice founded solely in ideological criteria, that is, unfounded or founded insufficiently in adequate theoretical analysis. That is common in our environment.
Nobody can argue that, in our reality or the reality of our region of America, an adequate theoretical analysis, a sufficient conceptual comprehension, not even close. This is also applicable to the rest of our reality also. However, for decades and decades there has been a combat, a struggle. This understanding should not lead us to disdain the fundamental importance of the theoretical work.
To the question previously asked we must then answer: What has priority is the practice, but how effective this practice will be depends on the most rigorous knowledge of reality.
In a reality like ours, in the social formation of our country, theoretical development must start, as in everywhere, from a group of efficient theoretical concepts, working over an as ample as possible mass of data, that will constitute the raw material for the theoretical practice.
Data on its own, examined in isolation, without a adequate theoretical conceptual treatment, do not shed light on reality. They simply decorate and dissimulate the ideologies in which service these data are implemented.
The abstract concepts, in and of themselves, without cross-checking with a adequate information, do not give further knowledge of reality either.
The work on the theoretical field that exist in our country normally fluctuates between these two incorrect extremes.