Revolutionary organizing: Challenges of spontaneity, identity politics and attacks upon theory, with a focus on lessons from Latin America, and the struggle for black liberation
All of these discussions lead to the pressing task that we face today, what do we learn about revolutionary organizing? The many spontaneous mass protests in the country and in the world have been some of the most exciting events for the left in recent times. Yet, there is a constant feeling of frustration and a clear attempt to move beyond these protests to translate into building power in concrete ways.
Many of the forms of left activism, which are mired in identity politics will have to change to meet people where they are, with all the contradictions they may have. At the same time, we cannot externally come and try to organize people into fixed frameworks and ideologies. We should always be looking at organic revolutionaries and intellectuals for guidance. We look up to intellectuals like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X, and their ability to speak the truth and while always being in sync with the people. Such organizing needs to focus on concrete questions of healthcare, education and jobs, with a constant attempt to build collective power, not to provide service. It also needs to consistently work with the imagination of transcending capitalism. Political education is of paramount importance to make available the tools for people to explain, and eventually attempt to overcome their material conditions. For the black struggle, political education is the key to exposing the black misleadership class, who we see as the primary obstacle to a large scale movement of the black community.
An approach to mass organising is exemplified by mainstream labor movement, by the various NGOs and labor alliances. This model puts emphasis on achieving specific objectives, ‘getting out the vote’, ‘getting a collective bargaining agreement’ etc. and on achieving them with an ‘organizing model’. We believe several of these ideas are useful and relevant, and there is much that younger activists can learn from community and labor organizers. Historically, this form of organizing developed in a climate where it was very difficult to be openly communist and challenge the state, but easier to address concerns on a local level. Since then, the idea of such ‘organizing’ has slowly been subsumed and made compatible with capitalism, and by extension, imperialism. This is why such organizing often becomes a service model, where organizers who are divorced from the community, try and find out individual concerns and promise the bigger organization will address them. This is very different from building collective power and is a consistent compromise with capitalism. In today’s situation, we believe that national labour unions will have to change radically for them to be serious part of peoples’ movements.
This is not to completely undermine the importance of service. It can be both a tactical decision and a temporary necessity for any left organization. We look to the Free Breakfast Program and free healthcare programs of the Black Panthers, for whom service programs were a way to directly address the needs of the community, which they coupled to political education. Indeed, fulfilling the direct material needs of people is necessary if we want to work for a world based on compassion and empathy.
The black radical tradition shows us how to be in solidarity with peoples of the third world, while being situated in the US. We have to consistently challenge imperialism and look for principled unity with struggles around the world, and within the US. The idea of unity within and sometimes despite structures of oppression is difficult one, and requires us to think deeply about what practices and logic such unity could be based on. Globally, this can take the form of ‘inter-civilizational unity,’ with radical organizations of peoples from different communities in unity around shared principles. In the context of the United States, we believe that black struggle will be at the forefront of revolutionary change. This is not to say that other communities should not be engaged. On the contrary, it is of paramount importance that the white poor be engaged politically around concrete needs, to enable them to give up their whiteness and stand in solidarity with the black and brown masses.
What kind of radical organizations can we build locally and globally? How do we work to increase solidarity and principled unity of organizations? One can think of battles for gains that can be won at the workplace, as well as the gains that can be won at the level of consumption for the working class in terms of healthcare, education, housing, etc. There can be a lot of creative and critical thought around the question of a united opposition to capitalism. In this respect, we think the Latin American example, critically examined, is an important place to learn from.