Nontraditional Unionism (part 2)

Though we outlined the local stage in great detail in Part 1, let us start with a quick review. First, you have identified, joined, created or coalesced a group of progressives and socialists organized around a particular population (we have assumed these are tenants, the houseless, or incarcerated people). Second, this group has been guided towards “solidarity” organizing, doing mutual aid, advocacy and protests as necessary but has focused on not just incorporating the affected population into your work but in organizing this population for themselves, so they are elevated from tokens and representatives that may be co-opted into leaders of their own communal struggle, with their own “union” organizations. Finally, the solidarity group and the union(s) it has organized have a strong, cooperative relationship based on mutual respect, where the union can begin to lead itself but the more seasoned organizers of the solidarity group still provide guidance and push back against reactionary tendencies that may flare up.

The next stages of the struggle must necessarily be spoken of more broadly. These stages will be shaped by the successes and setbacks of previous stages, the specific organizational decisions made and forms chosen, and on the subjective class and political consciousness of the masses, the unions, the solidarity organizations, and the elements of leadership of each of these.

This is not to say that we can make no plans; indeed, we must make thorough plans if we are to succeed. We merely point out that plans for these stages must be flexible and dynamic, responsive to specific developing conditions and not static or dogmatic, and must be constantly reanalyzed as we approach them to bring them in line with the conditions as they change – and as we change them.

We must also avoid the trap of assuming that these stages are discrete, that each group will pass cleanly from one stage to the next. At all times, local stage activity will be relevant as tenant solidarity groups organize more and more buildings into unions, prison solidarity groups expand their contacts inside or make contacts in other nearby prisons and jails, and houseless solidarity groups continue working to meet the needs of their union and non-union houseless populations and bring the latter into the former.

It may be that some groups see an opportunity to begin connecting stage organizing relatively quickly, perhaps even prematurely by our prescription, while others take longer to enter into the connecting stage. Adapt the plan to your organizational needs and conditions while maintaining the core focus on unionization and solidarity over advocacy.

Continue reading “Nontraditional Unionism (part 2)”

Nontraditional Unionism (part 1)

by Kurt Marlin

The communist movement in the United States faces no shortage of problems, but in recent years the most glaring is a lack of vision. Many left tendencies have big dreams and no qualms articulating them, but then engage in practices wildly insufficient to the world-historic tasks they claim to work toward. The theoretical connection between houseless mutual aid or tenant organizing and the mythical “revolution” or “general strike” is often no more substantive than the link between dream and waking. We cough up short term plans when we need to, for a particular campaign or movement, but long or even medium term plans resemble the get rich quick schemes we shun more than a coherent, practicable strategy that can be carried out to advance the struggle for liberation.

Many communists see this deficiency but, in a classic error of sectarianism, they too often respond with broad criticisms of the tactics or practices being employed rather than concrete criticisms of ways to do it better. Some of these so-called communists stand aloof and criticize mutual aid as “red charity” that will never lead to working class power, which fortunately shields them from ever organizing an event that puts them at risk of speaking to a worker. Others offer up the same criticisms while dutifully doing the work they criticize as not “revolutionary” enough or saying it can only be done by joining their “vanguard” with its very real authentic mass base. This leaves the masses unlucky enough to be in contact with them with the impression that communists are nothing but scolds and haters. At least the anarchists have a utopian dream; all the communists do is whine about how it’ll never work.

If any of these vanguards do truly have a road map for their political practice, they don’t do much to share it beyond the confines of their own group. Some of these are small and local enough that the apparent lack of strategy can almost be excused, but others are big enough that they must either be hiding their strategy’s deficiencies from criticism or, worse, have none, moving forward with whatever they have been doing without attempting to educate their members on the importance of understanding the struggle in its totality and working consciously toward a real goal along a solid path. This latter issue is certainly the problem for smaller formations. The general rule for this kind of organizing has been:

To work half-heartedly without a definite plan or direction; to work perfunctorily and muddle along–“So long as one remains a monk, one goes on tolling the bell.” This is a ninth type.

Mao Tse-Tung, Combat Liberalism

We speak here from a position of guilt: much of our own practical work has involved this vague sort of popular but uncritical mutual aid, or aimlessly pushing forward community organizing projects similar to what we see in other places but largely disconnected from them. We have struggled to “do the work” and we have struggled to promote an anti-revisionist communist theoretical line, but rarely do we manage to combine the two. Far easier, more comfortable, to muddle along, than to truly stare the behemoth of capital in the face and dare to struggle and defeat it, to formulate a clear, concrete, present day plan for victory and subject it to the ordeal of scientific testing in the laboratory of social practice.

Enough! We have seen a million calls for unity with no substance, for action with no thought, and a million more criticisms of the same. Developing a long term strategy for the final victory over global capitalism-imperialism requires a revolutionary vanguard party, a real one and not a cliquish pretender to the name, but we will not develop this vanguard via short term activist campaigns and endless coalitions. Only by concretely organizing among the masses with a clear, successful and articulated strategy for the medium term will we achieve this goal.

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