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Nature of our period: looking to an autonomous working class alternative
north america / mexico | the left | opinion / analysis Tuesday January 25, 2011 00:08 by S. Nappalos - Miami Autonomy and Solidarity s.nappalos at gmail dot com
towards theory of political organization for our time part III
The end of the twentieth century was a time of transition. The regime of low-intensity warfare, the dismantling of the welfare state, and neo-liberal privatization schemes ultimately was running its course. The final defeats were to be dolled out across the world in the eventual collapse of finance bubbles, widespread resistance to austerity, and the implosive of the economies of Latin America. Before this was all but said and done, there was the gradual and later meteoric rise and fall of social movements against neo-liberal reforms and the militarism leading to the afghan and Iraq wars. Revolutionaries played an active and disproportionate role in mobilizing the social actors in what would become the largest mobilizations of their kind.
Time has passed, and the limitations and deflation of the early 2000s anti-globalization and anti-war movements are becoming clearer to many revolutionaries. Though massive mobilizations occurred, little lasting organization was built. This means that the militancy we witnessed in the streets had a very short shelf life, and much of the work can reasonably be said to have disappeared. Millions of people engaged in various forms of resistance to the wars, globalization, and the new forms of capital and state; however the left was not able to produce a sustained alternative that was able to engage, nurture, and develop that activity into a lasting movement against capitalism and the state. While seemingly militant direct action was relatively common, this militancy rarely led to further radicalization or the popularization of struggle. Power was built, but dissipated. The left had not developed the ability or perhaps the orientation to build movements, either mass movements or revolutionary ones.
“We believe that our strategic approach should draw from Poulantzas and create political space that neither builds a parallel state that leads to a complete replacement of the old with the new, nor simply elects new people to fill the existing state. By creating new structures and laws we seek to create fissures that increasingly alter the class, race and gender power disposition of the state. Examples of this may include efforts at democratizing the system – same day voter registration or mail in voting, felon voter registration (still an arduous process in Virginia and elsewhere in the south), others might work to eliminate structural obstacles that systematically disempower people of color such as statewide election of senators, non-proportional elections, or participatory budgeting. Others challenges could seek to democratize the economy through taxes on financial transactions or community control over banks or other flows of capital”.In so far as membership is engaged at all politically (beyond high sounding lectures), it is to mobilize with de facto support of capitalist social and political institutions even when under a red banner.
The most naked display of the embrace of playing the “cop within the movement” was shown in leaked emails from NGO staff in the Bay Area during the Oscar Grant trial. Advance the Struggle, a bay area revolutionary organization, published an expose of sorts clearly demonstrating the way in which local NGO bureaucracies embraced a role of trying to work with local city and police authorities in diverting organizing and anger surrounding the police brutality in favor of “voicing one’s opinion” and “making music”. The Urban Peace Movement sent an email in which it revealed that they had “…been in preliminary conversation with some of our partners an allies up to this point including the Ella Baker Center, Youth UpRising, Oakland Rising, BWOPA, The Mayor’s Office and the City of Oakland regarding these suggestions. Let’s continue to be in dialog and hold each other close in the challenging days ahead.” Note that Oakland Rising is one of the groups represented in Organizing Upgrade’s Electoral Organizing article, and the NGO staff proclaims “We don’t believe in struggle, we believe in winning”. The Urban Peace Movement staffer lays out the method that this grouping of state and NGO officials will use to contain coming agitation surrounding the immanent letting loose of Oscar Grant’s murderer. Whatever critiques there are of symbolic protest violence, and I think there are, it is not random that the response of the NGO bureaucracy is to defend the state in this instance and to consciously “inoculate” and “create avenues of expression”. The position of NGOs constitutively within capitalism reinforcing its social relationships, hierarchies, and distribution of power pushes radicals in these directions, often in contradiction to their self-conception and their language.
The issue is not whether these institutions do some good. Humanistically they do improve humanity and this should be supported. The problem is that these institutions consistently rally behind ruling class interests, often against the working class, and are organized against the building self-activity of the class. Noticeably off the table are fighting mass organizations whose basis and activity are founded on the collective interest and activity of a class working autonomously. There is a glaring absence of organizations working to build up a class alternative of workers acting directly and collectively to build independent class power capable of breaking with capitalism.
Whatever struggles can emerge outside of these institutions find themselves facing significant repression, cooptation, and difficulty taking an organized and sustained path. The left is generally isolated both in practice and ideologically from the oppressed classes. Whatever exceptions there are remain localized, cordoned off, and contained at this time. This is not to dismiss out of hand the crucial work occurring in various NGOs, unions, academic circles, and revolutionary organizations. It is not difficult to see what would occur without a positive social force fighting back. Still it is important to ask harder questions about why the good work has systematically been retarded, and why the bureaucratized movements are so dominant.
This situation has meant that whatever solutions and responses the revolutionary left is developing at this time is largely internal to the left, and without sufficient practice to clarify our attempts. In the recent history of North America, this has generally been the case. This severing of theory from practice has contributed to our problems moving forward, building organized revolutionary forces capable of contributing to mass movements, and developing revolutionary consciousness, practice, and catalysts.
With the unions, the social democratic trends, and NGOs lining up behind an increasingly desperate attempt to save capitalism through populist-electoralism and state-interventionist measures, the necessity of an autonomous working class alternative is pressing. There is broadly speaking a crisis in the institutionalized left and its allied radical currents. The path to an autonomous working class alternative is not merely a matter of organizing, or being proficient. There are objective forces that necessitate a strategy, and one that meets the reality of our time. The method for this is intermediate organizing, which I explore in my companion article Towards Political Organization for Our Time: trajectories of struggle, the intermediate level, and political rapprochement.
 Midnight Notes Collective. Work, Energy, War: 1973-1992. Autonomedia, 2001.
 Wallerstein, Immanuel. Structural Crises. Originally published in New Left Review #62 March-April 2010. http://www.khukuritheory.net/what-does-the-present-cris...sent/
 Federici, Silvia & Montano, Mario. Theses on the Mass Worker and Social Capital. http://libcom.org/library/theses-on-the-mass-worker-and...ntano
 There are too many places to look to here. For a start see Don Hammerquist’s Thinking and Acting in Real Time and a Real World. http://threewayfight.blogspot.com/2009/01/thinking-and-....html and Karl Heinz Roth’s Global Crisis – Global Proletarianisation – Counterperspectives http://www.wildcat-www.de/en/actual/e068roth_crisis.html
 See an interview with Stan Weir by Insane Dialectical Posse here http://www.flyingpicket.org/?q=node/42 as well as Weir’s article on the Reuther-Meaney split at the Marxist Internet Archive http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/newspape/isj/1967/...r.htm
 Weaver, Adam. On Van Jones Resignation. http://machete408.wordpress.com/2009/09/12/on-van-jones...tion/
 Davidson, Carl. Mondragon Diaries. http://zcommunications.org/mondragon-diaries-5-days-on-...idson
 That is by one of Freedom Road’s predecessor organizations. See Jamala Roger’s A Rainbow Coalition a Second Time Around. http://freedomroad.org/index.php?option=com_content&vie...ng=en
 Freedom Road. The 2008 Electoral Dilemma. http://www.freedomroad.org/index.php?option=com_content...ng=en
 Freedom Road. Savor the Victory, Get Right to Work. http://www.freedomroad.org/index.php?option=com_content...ng=en
 From Aufheben #18 2010. Reclaim the ‘State Debate’. http://libcom.org/library/reclaim-%E2%80%98state-debate...80%99
 Organizing Upgrade. New Kids on the Historic Block. http://www.organizingupgrade.com/2010/04/new-kids-on-th...bloc/
 Nappalos, Scott. http://miamiautonomyandsolidarity.wordpress.com/2011/01...ment/
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