“Movements” & Radical Limits to Worker Political Activity

Part of the Socialist Strategy in the Trump Era Series

My general uninterest in movements in the post-Trump era is that I feel the time has come that we need something qualitative, not quantitative.  Rather than respond to the obsession with reforming the Democrats with movements as an alternative, we can now begin directly constructing the socialist organizations we’ve been wanting to.

But actually my objection to movement work now goes deeper.

I used to be pretty harsh and dismissive against left-communist and nihilist-communist critiques of movement-building.

Then I grew up and started working full time.

(So what is the organic connection between organization and the masses, if not movements?  Movements are one connection — we just cannot force that connection, as we may have believed.  But the other connection is politicized socializing, detailed in another section.)

It’s one thing to show up for a single demonstration or meeting.  It’s an entirely different thing to put in the volume of work required to actually organize one: the contacting, the doorknocking, the advertising/flyering/leafleting/canvassing, the room-booking, the event prep.

Who has the time?

Not workers.

And labor organizing in present conditions without massive institutional support?  Fucking suicide.  You will lose your job.

This is why there is no middle phase to movements.  It is a myth.

This myth serves a political purposes — it glorifies a culture of hard work, acting to justify the established hierarchies of the socialist sects, preventing the self-initiated democratic participation of the membership from taking over.

Our tiny irrelevant activist circles do not ever have an intermediary phase between marginal and relevant.  It is typically not even our circles that blow up into mass character.

The idea that we can build movements from small to large is a fantasy.  They are either small to the point of being irrelevant, or spontaneously explode into mass character.  The middle phase has no historic precedent.  Socialists talk all the time about building up mass movements, but movements don’t get built up from small to large.  Size just happens.

Movements are either pointless substitutionist exercises in futility sustained entirely by hard leftist cadre and activist circles, or wildly massive spontaneous events that sweep whole nations which no one can take credit for but simply unfold from conditions.

The intermediary between these large and small phases, the mood stabilizer between these up-and-down swings, is organization.  But organization should not see action as its primary role, or even as one of its primary roles.  If it does that, it will fall into the trap of burning itself out trying to make events happen in moments when nothing can, ie most of the time.  In our early stages of small organization, it is capitalism that makes events happen, not us.

Organization’s main role is not to radicalize people, but simply consolidation of the people who are already being radicalized by the spontaneous events of life in capitalism.  Once we consolidate greater and greater numbers, our organization will spontaneously act as a center of event-creation or event-magnification without even having to consciously will it, say it, argue for it, or vote on it.  Once you get enough socialist workers together (the type of person, not the newspaper), they will spontaneously make things happen.  But you have to actually get and keep them together by not burning them out before achieving those genuinely mass numbers.

Next section: Group Dilemmas: Mini-Oligarchies vs. Ineffective Democracies


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