Socialism in Minneapolis: thinking about elections

Socialism in Minneapolis: thinking about elections

An analyses of socialist electoralism in Minneapolis, by John O'Reilly.

Having just survived an election season in Minneapolis's 9th Ward, the various arguments about Socialist Alternative's candidate for City Council are fresh in my mind. Here I'm going to weave (or more accurately, stick together) together two separate pieces of thinking about what this stuff represents. The first is more an analysis of what's going on in Minneapolis right now on the left, posing some questions to think about going forward. The second, more wandering bit is about why I think electoralism in America is a false problem radicals to worry about.

The “MK Dialectics” of Ty Moore for City Council

I’ve spent the past few months sitting on the sidelines of the emergent campaign for Ty Moore, a candidate from the Trotskyist political party Socialist Alternative (SA), for City Council of Minneapolis. Socialist Alternative, which has a reasonable base of mostly students and a minority of worker militants, has a good track record of participating in various social struggles in the Twin Cities, moving from their work in the youth anti-war movement of the early 2000s to a variety of causes including school closures, GLBT activism, and most recently, a serious orientation towards working inside Occupy Homes Minnesota (OHMN). I’ve always had good relationships with members of SA and they have supported the IWW in various struggles we have been involved with and we have in turn attempted to turn out to their events. While there are obvious political differences between the two groups, SA has, up to this point, not emphasized electoral politics as part of their practice, outside of “getting out the vote” for Greens or Nader-types come election time. Socialist Alterative is also notable locally for being a party that identifies with the Trotskyist tradition formally, but downplays their revolutionary socialist politics in their publicity, unlike other Trotskyist groups. Since their Seattle section ran an unsuccessful but exciting campaign for a candidate for Washington State Senate, turning out 14,000 votes, SA has around the country started to look more towards electoral possibilities, and this has culminated locally with Moore’s candidate for City Council.

We have a comrade who goes by the name MK. He’s a smart and savvy organizer, and at some point identified a way of analyzing situations that have since been colloquially and partially-jokingly termed “MK dialectics.” MK dialectics consider the political situation by noting that there are often three layers of reality, each a level deeper than the last. Or, to put it differently, each level of analysis sees a more obscure reality hidden behind it, and uncovers it by interrogating the relevant information about the level that is currently visible. It’s also just an amusing way of simplifying political analysis into a pithy refrain. In MK dialectics we ask the questions “what’s going on?” then “what’s really going on?” and then finish with “what’s really, really going on?"

Having tried to keep in touch with what’s happening locally with the Moore campaign, and in discussion with some comrades, I’d like to offer what I think is a way of looking at what’s happened with this campaign, using the framing of MK’s dialectics to understand the situation.

What’s going on: Socialist Alternative ran a campaign for City Council, pushing demands like $15 an hour minimum wage and an end to foreclosures as educational demands that it hopes will inspire people to both vote for Moore and come around the politics of SA.

What’s really going on: A group of “militant reformist” organizations, led by Occupy Homes, came together to support Moore’s campaign. SA has played an important role within Occupy Homes and in supporting these other organizations and there are strong links between SA and the militant reformists.

What’s really, really going on: The left-wing of the NGO-labor-community organization scene in Minneapolis, having struggled with the DFL establishment in the past few years, are attempting to consolidate their organizing successes and political power in a figure in City Hall, using SA as a front group with broad and vague enough politics to fulfill this desire.

I think this analysis effectively flips the appearance of what’s going on its head and I’m fairly confident that I’m correct in what I’m saying here. I don’t say it to be a jerk or to put people down, but I think it’s important to analyze what’s going on in my city, even if I know and have worked with many of the people involved. I think the entire Moore campaign is actually the result of the success of organizations, most clearly Occupy Homes, but also SEIU and the Centro de Trabajadores Unidos en la Lucha (CTUL), which is SEIU and (I believe) non-profit-funded, and the post-ACORN organization Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) becoming a New Left, primarily centered around staff organizers within these and allied organizations. SA serves as a useful vehicle for the campaign because they’re excited about running electoral campaigns, excited about what it could do for their party, and have a public face that can accommodate both reformist and revolutionary supporters. But it’s also important to analyze the material forces that represent the biggest backers and most powerful players in this situation. What’s really, really happening is this campaign is the manifestation on a formal political level of the work that the left wing of the non-profit/labor complex has been able to accomplish with Occupy and beyond it.

I do think it’s important to be cogent about what’s happening below the surface because of what it means going forward. I attended part of a post-election wrap-up of the campaign where multiple shot-callers pushed people towards working together on social movement projects and the short term, and returning to run candidates in the long term. In what ways would a representative of the “militant reformists” in the Twin Cities sitting on the Minneapolis City Council mean for the way that struggles, both reformist and revolutionary, move forward? What are the limits that taking political power (even if that power is only one seat and a seat replacing a liberal Democrat) puts these organizations vis-à-vis the repressive apparatus of the state and what openings does it create? Will the organizations which constitute this base push for radical demands or will they be content with merely calling for them for educational purposes? How will radicals who see themselves as outside the electoral arena relate to a formally-constituted Left which finds itself for the first time with political representation by both moderates (SEIU-backed candidates all around the state) and radicals and how will these two different forces relate internally? These are questions for us to return to going forward, assuming this current wave of electoralism continues.

Electoralism: A False Dilemma

Just a few days before the City Council election in Minneapolis, a group of comrades from the 1st of May Anarchist Organization put out a statement condemning electoralism and attempting to identify the weaknesses of an approach to politics that includes running candidates for office. A good statement, it sums up the general anarchist approach to the electoral issue. The one place where it is weak is when it tries to show the specific political problems raised in SA's campaign:

“First, movements across the city were already raising the issues of low-paid service work, the foreclosure crisis, and immigrant rights… It will not be City Council resolutions that prevent foreclosures or raise minimum wages, but a mobilized community willing to physically block sheriff’s evictions, and organized workers willing to strike.”

Later M1 says:

“What we notice is that at the core of this coalition are organizations influenced and funded by SEIU leadership, and sharing their top-down, staff driven, reformism with a militant veneer. It seems that SEIU leadership recognizes in Ty’s campaign a similar approach and made the calculation that a break with the DFL here would help solidify the hegemony of this kind of politics over community, labor and social activists in Minneapolis.”

As my analysis above lays out, the people identified in the first paragraph are the same people maligned in the second. It's not that there are malicious reformists attempting to subvert radical movements from above through electioneering, it's that most of the movements in the city in the current moment are reformist movements interested in electioneering and the veneer of militancy that they wear brings radicals to believe they're something that they're not. The specifics of the polemic aside, the critique is shared all around the far left by comrades who see electoral campaigns as distractions from the real work, what M1 calls the "main lesson" of the SA campaign being "[h]ow to participate in this unjust system."

I think though that this traditional anarchist and ultraleft position on elections has the bad fortune of being simultaneously right and wrong. That is to say, the position is correct analytically but incorrect strategically. Yes, running elections is a distraction from radical organizing amongst the working class and teaches people that politicians can save them from their problems. That's true. The first part of the critique has maybe more to it, but arguing that the idea of left electoralism will teach people to be dependent on left politicians serves no purpose.

In a country where we have never had an electoral socialist movement which came anywhere near the reigns of the state, and in which the rules of electioneering have been set by two major capitalist parties for its entire existence, the "threat" that electoralism poses is a false one. There's simply no way, under the current system of gerrymandering, machine politics, and campaign finance rules, for socialists to constitute a serious threat to the capitalist political parties on a wide scale. Ward 9 in Minneapolis is probably the most left ward in the city and certainly the one with the highest density of left activists and organizers per capita. The whole country, indeed the whole city, is not Ward 9. And even there, the campaign lost.

We're living in a fantastically interesting moment of capitalist political power in this country, where the Republican Party, besieged by demographic changes, is rewriting laws in states and in Washington to make sure that they hold their grip on power after they have become truly unrepresentative of the people they claim to govern. The Democratic Party, ascendent demographically if not politically, has its opponent on the ropes but cannot figure out how to land the knockout blow. In this moment, with the capitalist political parties figuring out how to continue their game in a situation that is rapidly changing, there is definitely going to be a left flank that opens on the Democrats side and which allows for people, some socialists and others "progressives" to exist and even to win elections. Indeed SA's campaign in Seattle is achieving a lot of press because of their success in a city-wide race.

But this attention remains, on the long term, insignificant. The realignment of the capitalist political class and its current internal crises, will not lead to a reconfiguring of how electoral politics works at a fundamental level because these dynamics are centuries-old juridical frameworks of U.S. politics. The only thing that could possibly open up electoralism as a viable, widely-spread avenue for the far left in the U.S. would be a revolution of some mixed-class type. 300 years of capitalist legal control with no widespread electoral opposition have solidified a system under which left electoralism cannot win. The only thing that has terrified the capitalist class and their lackies in government in this country's history has been mass, widespread uprisings of working people, and before them, slaves. Left electoralism has never challenged U.S. capitalism in a meaningful way even when millions of people self-consciously saw themselves as anti-capitalist radicals, why would it suddenly do so now, over a hundred years since socialism's highest electoral turn out of 6% for Eugene Debs in 1912's presidential election? (And one hundred years through which the two major parties have used even more sophisticated maneuvers to disenfranchise working people.)

Urging people to fear and oppose the specter of an electoral turn of the left in this country is simply not worth one's time. Furthermore, it invites reformist forces to marginalize and dismiss anti-electoral radicals as out of touch with reality. Of course, it is those self-same reformist forces who delude themselves by thinking that despite the international failure of the Second International, Eurocommunism, and more recently Bolivarianism (in its varied forms) to bring about anything resembling a cooperative commonwealth of labor, they will somehow do things differently. The far left should heed the lessons of the Socialist Party, forerunners of SA and various political party's sojourns into electoralism. The party never again regained the strength it had after it forced the IWW and other syndicalist and direct actionist forces out of the party and lost much of its electoral strength as a result. The lesson for radicals should be clear: the choice between electoralist utopianism and actionist puritanism is a false one and obscures more than it clarifies. In a moment where some of the most militant forces are the most conservative and bureaucratic on the left, the idea that who our allies and opponents are can be seen clearly through which field of action they mythologize most is difficult to maintain. The question should be what tactics, strategies, and organizational methods move our class closer to a communist future and how can we work towards those ends? It's not that electoralism is wrong, though it is, it's that its unimportant.

Originally posted: November 19, 2013 at Better Problems

Comments

Shorty
Nov 20 2013 09:20

DFL=Democratic Farmer Labor Party?

Juan Conatz
Nov 20 2013 11:07
Shorty wrote:
DFL=Democratic Farmer Labor Party?

Yep. That's what the Democrats are called here.

Entdinglichung
Nov 20 2013 12:17
Juan Conatz wrote:
Shorty wrote:
DFL=Democratic Farmer Labor Party?

Yep. That's what the Democrats are called here.

the name reflects that they were able to incorporate the social democratic Minnesota Farmer–Labor Party in 1944 which was a non-negligible political force there during the twenties and thirties which finally went the way of most (all?) progressive third parties ... similar in North Dakota with the North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party

Spikymike
Nov 20 2013 15:20

Certainly if the main difference between organisations such as SA and anarchist/libertarians such as '1st of May' is reduced to the issue of 'electoralism' then that would suggest the later have more in common as part of the reformist left of capital than being an organised minority opposition to the fundamental social relationships of capitalism, that is genuine libertarian communists. I find this text confusing in it's mixing up of terminology such as 'left' 'new left' 'ultra-left' 'radical' 'socialist' and 'communist' etc and the relationships between those described this way - seems to imply a common leftist identity despite it's criticism of both SA and 1st of May?

Black Badger
Nov 20 2013 16:43

Welcome to the world of American left anarchism!

Pennoid
Nov 20 2013 17:18

I think it's clear: The anarchist critique is correct, but it hasn't changed in 100 years so learn it, apply it, engage with it when others might want, but pick your batles.

If voting really doesn't change anything, thatn why do we care so much if people do it or not?

ZING!

OliverTwister
Nov 20 2013 17:39

MK Dialectics are of course Marvin Gaye dialectics as updated with MK thought.

backspace
Nov 21 2013 00:36
John O'Reilly wrote:
In a moment where some of the most militant forces are the most conservative and bureaucratic on the left, the idea that who our allies and opponents are can be seen clearly through which field of action they mythologize most is difficult to maintain. The question should be what tactics, strategies, and organizational methods move our class closer to a communist future and how can we work towards those ends? It's not that electoralism is wrong, though it is, it's that its unimportant.

This is a really interesting article, I've been thinking about this a lot lately, and I picked out the above quote to say that I think I agree. Generally in the US and the UK, we are dealing with a baseline of voter apathy anyway, rather than the past popular support for leftism, which continues to thrive in nations with different political pasts and class compositions. In the latter case I think it fair for organisations to argue against it in a fairly strong fashion, but in nations where possible, it makes more sense to cash in on the existing electoral apathy and attempt to develop a distaste toward electoral socialism, based on the premise that it muddles the dynamics of social movements and reduces their independence.

This I think is preferable, when speaking to those that don't possess an existing deep interest in communist strategy, to announcing it to be incapable of achieving anything, because all it takes is for a pro-electoral political rival to point to a socialist politician somewhere who raised wages, and the argument is seriously undermined in the eyes of someone concerned primarily with their material condition, which I think it is fair to say is the initial basis around which to organise.

EdmontonWobbly
Nov 21 2013 19:19

Hahaha, marginal sectarians criticise the article for not using their marginal sectarian definition of leftist.

Spikymike
Nov 22 2013 14:15

E-W,

So a mild criticism (qualified with an 'if' and a '?') now gets us accused of being ''marginal sectarians'' - not even an upgrade to mainstream sectarians! As to 'definitions', any at all would be better than a general mish-mash which potentially lumps everyone outside the mainstream capitalist parties together. A request for some precision is not the same as requiring this, or other authors of material on this site, to confirm to my or other libertarian communists definitions. It is clear to me at least that neither political support for, nor opposition to 'electoralism', is in itself a sufficient marker of either support for, or opposition to, 'reformism' or 'capitalism' - this seems to be addressed in this article but in a very confused way which leaves open some doubt as to what the author really does consider to be the significant political differences between the groups mentioned though they are it seems ''various''.

Kdog
Dec 8 2013 06:57

Thanks for this, John. I think that it is good for comrades to grapple with these developments (SA's electoral success) and for conversation and debate to continue. I support the First of May statement from early November that is quoted (and criticized) here but not linked to. It can be found here: http://m1aa.org/?p=797

As for the particulars of your piece - while I disagreed with several of the ancillary arguments (and some of the tone), I want to concentrate on the central argument as I understand it (in a strictly personal capacity).

"Thinking about elections" asserts:

- Electoralism is "a False Dilemma"
- " arguing that the idea of left electoralism will teach people to be dependent on left politicians serves no purpose."
- the anarchist position is "incorrect strategically"
- "Urging people to fear and oppose . . . an electoral turn . . . is simply not worth one's time. Furthermore, it invites reformist forces to marginalize and dismiss anti-electoral radicals as out of touch with reality."
- The lesson for radicals should be clear: the choice between electoralist utopianism and actionist puritanism is a false one and obscures more than it clarifies."
- "the idea that . . . allies and opponents . . . can be seen clearly through which field of action they mythologize most is difficult to maintain."

The thrust of all this seems clear enough, even with the head scratching punchline: "It's not that electoralism is wrong, though it is, it's that its unimportant."

Unimportant enough to craft a couple thousand word blog post on!

This argument is full of contradictions and reversals but mainly it is saying don't criticize Left electoralism, that to do so is purist and will be used to marginalize us, instead we should continue to discuss how to relate to these electoral projects assuming they will continue (while striking an unimpressed pose).

To the extent that this is a coherent argument, it is that anarchists, wobblies, direct actionists should stand aside and say nothing (even if we are correct) about this strategy.

This is very bad advice, I'm afraid. Lets leave aside the "traditional anarchist and ultraleft position" around elections, and concentrate on our actual lived experience over the last few years.

First there was the Obama electoral phenomonon which managed to corral millions of oppressed people into "hope" and "change we can believe in" through a new face on the U.S Empire. This included many folks who are likely to be the base for any possible revolutionary movement in the U.S. Is it really possible that revolutionary militants could simultaneously also have hope in change coming from/thru the regime?

Second was the really illustrative example of Wisconsin, where the momentum of events, the apparent lack of an "official" solution, and the efforts of a small group of revolutionary activists and trade-union militants put the call/concept of a General Strike on the agenda for the first time in decades. Eventually this was swamped and diverted into the Recall Walker campaign. What is so important about this example is that the IWW mainly responded to the Recall in the way that you advocate - by doing nothing. We sort of hoped the question of recall vs general strike could be finessed - that they weren't necessarily opposed.

But in fact it was the Recall that the Business Unions and Democrats used to rally working people back into avenues that they controlled and that were within the framework (if out of the ordinary) of capitalist "democracy". In retrospect what was needed was an opposite attitude of the one you advocate. We needed to sharply counterpose the General Strike to the Recall effort, and in doing so point out the ways in which each represented the kind of society being fought over. This wasn't all that was needed in order to pull off a General Strike - far from it. But to even keep the General Strike concept alive as living proposal for agit-prop - we needed to take on the Recall - not treat it as unimportant.

Finally, lets look at the way that Occupy Homes and the Ty Moore campaign treated a police raid on one of the key defended homes on the morning of the election. Frantic texts, emails, and facebook posts went out from organizers and campaigners that this raid represented an attack on . . . the TY MOORE CAMPAIGN! Electoralism obscured reality, so that a foreclosed home in a working-class community - supposedly the center-piece of Ty's campaign, became secondary to that campaign itself. In fact, the far more likely scenario is that police timed the raid in order to take advantage of the diversion of time and energy towards the get-out-the-vote efforts.

My Closing argument:
- Electoralism presents a real problem that we cannot wish away.
- Opposing Electoral strategies is not being "purist", but practical. - In order to defend anti-sytem strategies of direct action and direct democracy it will be necessary to take on other strategies being presented by the authoritarians and reformists.
- While our arguments will be criticized as unrealistic (as will our anti-capitalism), they are necessary to defend and clarify our decision to prioritize organizing along revolutionary, direct action and directly democratic lines.

Solidarity,

K

Juan Conatz
Dec 9 2013 02:26
Kdog wrote:
Thanks for this, John. I think that it is good for comrades to grapple with these developments (SA's electoral success) and for conversation and debate to continue. I support the First of May statement from early November that is quoted (and criticized) here but not linked to. It can be found here: http://m1aa.org/?p=797

I just added a link to the M1 statement, I usually add links in article, but sometimes I miss that.

I pretty much agree with you on the issue of anti-electoralism and it being important to voice that. However, I think you're waaaay off base on this:

Quote:
Second was the really illustrative example of Wisconsin, where the momentum of events, the apparent lack of an "official" solution, and the efforts of a small group of revolutionary activists and trade-union militants put the call/concept of a General Strike on the agenda for the first time in decades. Eventually this was swamped and diverted into the Recall Walker campaign. What is so important about this example is that the IWW mainly responded to the Recall in the way that you advocate - by doing nothing. We sort of hoped the question of recall vs general strike could be finessed - that they weren't necessarily opposed.

To say the Madison IWW was 'doing nothing' about the issue of the recall is just divorced from reality. In Wisconsin, doing was more important than saying and the fact that we got a pro-general strike resolution passed through the local labor federation, argued for a general strike on the streets, in workplaces, on the radio, in newspapers and in forums was more important than merely writing boilerplate anti-electoral statements, which anarchists often do.

In any case, we mass distributed at least 2 different pamphlets, one of which says this:

Quote:
The Recall
As soon as Walker’s bill passed, debate has centered around a recall effort. Scott Walker could be recalled in January 2012 if enough signatures are raised, and there are 8 Republican senators who are threatened with a recall as soon as June 20th. There is some hope that if enough Republican state senators are removed from office, they will be replaced with a Democrat majority.

The problem is that a recall takes our new-found energy and channels it into a drawn-out process in which we rely on politicians to act in our best interest. It is dis-empowering. A recall is telling people, “You can go home now, we’ll take care of it.” All that a recall can hope to achieve is to slow down the trend of constant cuts. What have to reverse the entire direction of things.

If workers act together, no matter what party is in office, our representatives will have to respond to our demands. Child labor laws, Medicaid, and civil rights legislation were not gifts given by politicians - they were a response to working-class mobilization. Richard Nixon, a far-right republican, greatly expanded Medicare in a bid for public support after massive protests against his administration. Change results from our collective action, not from electing a particular candidate.

During the protests in Madison, total strangers have talked and worked with each other as if they’ve been life-long friends. We begin to see changes in ourselves and others when we realize that we are not alone and that we will not remain isolated. Are we ready to abandon this unity? Should we just forget what we’ve done in the last several weeks and return to business as usual? Or should we see our shared actions and struggles as something that should not only continue, but spread?

Workplace-centered collective action is the strongest way to move forward, and would be far more effective than simply switching one group of politicians for another.

Also, we actively sought out individuals and groups who were either against or suspicious of a recall, and attempted a failed blockade around the capitol (which I mention here).

Rather than 'doing nothing', I think what we did was a good example of a response to electoralism, plain language disagreement with it and mass distribution of this perspective, while pushing heavily for an alternative, both rhetorically and on the ground, with whatever capacity we have.

Entdinglichung
Dec 9 2013 09:52

in a way more interesting than the electoral success of socialist candidates in some local areas in the US is the recent electoral breakthrough a coalition of three trotskyist groups experienced in Argentine: the FIT (Workers' Left Front) achieved a bit more than 5% of the votes nationally (3 seats in the chamber, probably a fourth one pending a recount in one province), a dozen new state assembly members, the FIT's three components, the PO, the PTS (very much involved in the Zanon project) and the IS are more on the other end of the Trotskyist spectrum than the CWI/Militant/Socialist Alternative and have e.g. used the recent oath taking ceremonies of their elected members of to stage demonstrations, to my perception, especially the PO uses a pretty "orthodox" but also revolutionist vocabulary. The highest results did the FIT (there basically only the PO) in the impoverished northern region of Salta (with a strong indigenous influence), where they became with 29% of the votes and 9 out of 21 seats the strongest party in the province's capital (there was btw. a kind of revolt in Salta in 2000 out of which for a couple of months a coordination evolved which some labelled "embryonic Soviets" where the PO was involved) leading to a grand coalition of all other parties in the town assembly

backspace
Dec 9 2013 16:12

With regard to Kdog’s post, I don’t think anyone is arguing that the anarchist critique is purist, it is that it is about the approach to the principles concerned, and that it is important to show that you have thought openly about the situation concerned and drawn a conclusion based on the available facts. This is far more likely to achieve a springboard by which to begin ingraining a critique of electoralism into the class than approaching it in the sense of ‘this is our ideology, and this is its application to the circumstances’.

Putting the fully fledged critique into practice by a group of workers broader than just the existing milieu, requires some social basis from which it can be constructed, and I’d hazard a guess this is likely to flow more easily by going easy on the fear-mongering and attempting to develop a distaste drawing on and validated by the worker’s own experiences.

Should a kind of widespread distaste with validation be developed, then you have a context in which encouraging widespread adoption of the full critique actually might be possible to achieve.

Kdog
Dec 10 2013 03:24

Juan:
1. My response was written to John's initial blog post, Better Problems, which didn't contain the link. No big deal. It was easily searchable anyways.

2. When you say that "in Wisconsin doing was more important than saying . . . " and then site the many heroic activities of the IWW, I think you are missing my point, or more probably I was unclear. I didn't mean to say that the IWW did nothing in Madison. I said the opposite: "the efforts of a small group of revolutionary activists and trade-union militants put the call/concept of a General Strike on the agenda for the first time in decades." I was part of these efforts. I know all about it. What I did say was that we did nothing (I should have said next to nothing) to explicitly counter the Recall momentum. It was good that one of the pamphlets took on the Recall - and in strikingly similar language to the recent M1 flyer, I might add. In fact the logic of John's piece could easily be read as a critique of this section of the IWW pamphlet as well.

But I had several conversations with Wobblies that were pretty key to the organizing in Madison, people from Wisconsin and people visiting, that were generally reluctant to take on the Recall. The attitude I describe ("We sort of hoped the question of recall vs general strike could be finessed - that they weren't necessarily opposed") was one I experienced and tried to argue/nudge against several times. I think it was not clear to everyone at the time that it would be THE vehicle for kicking the General Strike to the curb - but it ended up being exactly that.

3. The "merely writing boilerplate anti-electoral statements, which anarchists often do" line is a bit annoying, since M1 militants write far too little compared to our activity and when we do its hardly "boiler-plate". While definitely not "mass distributed", our article was written in plain language and had an impact, stimulating discussion beyond the usual suspects . . . and in my humble opinion challenging SAers more than the other Libcom pieces have.

Leo:

1. You say that no one "is arguing that the anarchist critique is purist", but that's exactly what I read here from John: "The lesson for radicals should be clear: the choice between electoralist utopianism and actionist puritanism is a false one and obscures more than it clarifies." Who else does the actionist puritanism refer to?

2. I don't agree that putting a fully fledged critique out harms the possibilities of developing a revolutionary working-class social base. I mean, where do you think our critique came from? Are revolutionaries supposed to forget the few hard lessons we have learned?

3. The likelihood that more workers will develop a distaste for electoralism (most already have that by the way) and more - develop a taste for fighting for something else - is greatly increased by the articulation of a solid critique by other workers. Similarly with other issues. The anti-sexist sentiments that exist within the class are more likely strengthened by folks articulating those stands. Of course there are always better and worse ways to go about arguing perspective, but a simple statement articulating an anarchist position is hardly "fear-mongering".

Solidarity,

K

backspace
Dec 11 2013 03:47

Hey Kdog, I can see where you are coming from, but I guess what I was specifically trying to avoid is getting caught up in a 'pragmatism is shit!' - 'no purism is shit!' discussion that leads nowhere and used to happen on this forum when Liberty & Solidarity members used to post here, because I think this leads to a polarisation whereby each side of the argument becomes obsessed with not being associated with their respective boogeyman, leading to tactical stagnation on both sides as the 'pragmatists' all go off and engage in competition with each other to see who can abandon their principles the most, and the 'purists' become terrified not to suggest adjustment of strategy according to circumstance lest it deviate from what is acceptable within their milieu.

I feel as though it is a shame if discussion gets sidetracked toward this, and yes I think it is a mistake that the article makes a flippant reference to 'actionist puritanism' (I'm not particularly sure what that means). However, I still think the content of the argument isn't directly hostile to anarchism, only the approach anarchists often adopt, and I find it largely inline with my own views as described below.

Quote:
I don't agree that putting a fully fledged critique out harms the possibilities of developing a revolutionary working-class social base. I mean, where do you think our critique came from? Are revolutionaries supposed to forget the few hard lessons we have learned?

To be accurate, the critique largely came from us reading a bunch of books in an attempt to revive a political movement that learned its lessons over one hundred years ago, and had largely disappeared by the fifties. This isn't to say it is not still relevant, but the problem is that the way in which it is largely learned today is not through struggle, but is instead previously accrued knowledge superimposed upon a situation with a pretence of critical thinking. It may be possible for a trickle of growth of revolutionary ranks to continue from this, but my own personal view is that we are failing to win large groups of workers toward them precisely because the way in which people are won to ideas is through formulating the idea themselves, and anarchists and syndicalists should see it as a process of reconstructing and rebuilding the critique of electoralism etc. every time within the campaigns, bringing a wider fold of people into this reconstruction process than just ourselves. This as opposed to an approach in which the idea is set and formulated within our own circles and then rolled out as a line that we must tap away at, in the hope people recognise its inherent right-ness and adopt it fully formed.

Apathy/indifference toward electoralism exists, but i'm not sure an active distaste does yet, which I think is why the full critique is lost on many people. I wouldn't say the full critique harms anything, just that people don't pay it much attention because they see it as something constructed off the back of a bunch of politics they don't share. The critique needs to grow from the workers themselves, and its our task to develop that, and this is to not see the battle of ideas as a static moment of rivalry between fully formulated A&Ps.

This is a good discussion, and I appreciate having my post challenged.

Kdog
Dec 10 2013 17:51

Leo:

1. While my politics are very much guided by my ideas, values, and experiences - I favor framing arguments around pragmatism as much as possible. Pragmatically speaking, I don't think refomism and electoralism can deliver what we need - but I sense we agree on this point. The debate is over how to engage with the class with this assessment, yes?

2. M1's anti-electoralism definitely has been influenced by books - anarchist, Malcolm X, and others - but maybe less than you think. In any case the lessons of electoralism are reinforced so often that I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog's Day. My points of reference in this argument are the struggles I've participated in, plus Obama, Wisconsin, etc. While it is generally true that each movement must develop its own perspectives from within, it is also true that each movement depends on veterans of previous struggles and the (hopefully constructive) lessons they have learned and bring with them.

3. The context for this whole debate has been SA's achievement of rallying a significant amount of leftists, community activists, and pissed-off folks to their electoral efforts. This base of people is certainly capable of engaging with M1's arguments - and some of them have. I just had a short discussion with the VP of my union Local about this debate! What's more, we sensed that these election campaigns would have the appearance of success and could become poles of attraction to wider groups of activists and some radical-minded workers and community folks, and that would serve to cement the top-down "militant" reformism of SA, SEIU, Occupy Homes over larger sections of "the movement". Just to be clear - the leadership of these forces are not any more rooted than revolutionaries are in Minneapolis. What they have is access to a tremendorus amount of resources (the preponderence of paid staff is overwhelming) and a program that is less of a break from mainstream/conventional ideas about change.

What M1 did was say "Hey, wait a minute!" and try and lay out what was going on and what the problems with SA's approach would be. It was done in a principled manner in fairly straight-forward language. We also tried to explain, in brief, concepts like "the State" from an anarchist point of view. While this may be "bolierplate" to many Libcom readers, it is not for the broader group of activists and politically interested workers and community folks we hoped to reach - many who may have never had a discussion about "the State" or even considered it as an entity that could be questioned.

Juan:
1. I am regreting my tone in my previous post about Wisconsin. The IWW's work promoting the General Strike in Wisconsin is still underappreciated in the Labor Movement and on the Left. Some people have denigrated our efforts. I do not in any way want to contribute toward that. I do wish that we had, collectively, figured out ways to better take on the Recall, but given our size resources, and experience it would have been very, very, very hard to have resisted that pull. The statement about the Recall in the IWW pamphlet was good and right. I am proud of the small bit I did in the effort in Wisconsin and am grateful to yourself, John, and many others who did much more.

I think the important point (that we agree on?) is that the Recall WAS a problem and that it had to be taken on by the advocates of the General Strike.

Solidarity, K

PS I hope my numbering of arguments/points is not too annoying - it makes it easier for me to keep up with it all.

backspace
Dec 11 2013 13:41

Hey, not at all, i'm barely keeping up with my own points, I suppose the reality is my arguments can only go so far with respect to this particular struggle, due to being so far removed from the ground and basing my information entirely on what I can investigate using the internet. So I appreciate your sharing of information, and I think in response i'll have to bow out from the debate on this specific Occupy Homes etc. campaign purely on the basis that it would be arrogant for me to argue my points any further - i've put them forward as far as I think it is possible for me to do with the information available to me without social involvement in the relevant struggles. Just to be clear, I suppose whilst my argument in some way relates to the M1 statement, I should point out I do not intend to single it out above everything else, since I know very little about the group or its tactical orientation. I suppose my final question - and this a question I ask in a fashion unrelated to the previous discussion - would be to what extent there is still a lively base involved in the Occupy Homes campaign that remains to some degree autonomous from staff or electoral influence - with the failure of the Ty Moore election, is the energy still there to continue the work being carried out prior to the electoral adventure?

As to the M1 statement being considered boilerplate by many libcom readers - well i'm not so sure. I think it would be accepted wholely by most, which I suppose is one of the reasons I feel it is worth discussing (and challenging).

With regard to pragmatism, as a concept guiding political strategy, it has gained a somewhat sullied reputation in the UK due to some well-meaning but very embarrassing / highly fantasist articles associated with a few short lived apolitical platformist-influenced projects, one of which later turned toward getting its positions adopted in the UK IWW in a rather unscrupulous way, which unfortunately coincided with key periods of long-awaited successful union activity thanks to the mass defection from a mainstream union of what I suppose had been a 'venture syndicalist' experimental organising campaign that got a little too hot for the mainstream union to handle. An internal split developed amongst wobs and remained for over a year, things didn't end too well, and that campaign since left to form its own base union. So framing strategy through pragmatism is not viewed too kindly amongst the militants I am good friends with, although as a concept I think it is still important, if tempered by the fact that the wider and longer-term concerns have to be taken into account - which as you point out includes recognising reformism and electoralism as a block to the development of composing the class into militant formations independent of state and capital (ie. a pragmatism in the longer term, not just a pragmatism considered only in the context of each moment).