Chapter Six: Paths Ahead
This is chapter six of the book Occupy Strategy – which is the third and concluding volume of the series titled Fanfare for the Future. In coming weeks we will follow up with more excerpts from this volume, but we hope many readers will order it from our Online Store for yourselves, and then to pass on to others
“At 18 our convictions are hills
from which we look;
At 45 they are caves in which we hide.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
There is a sense in which the heart and soul of strategy is an image we can have in our minds of a broad path from the rejected present to the sought after future. As with everything else about strategy, and contrary to what many think, there is no one right answer–not for all, not even for some. A path that works excellently in one country, or time, may not work at all in another country or at another time. A path that seems excellent at first, could deteriorate later to be replaced by another. Flexibility is paramount to avoid error and to capture opportunity.
Here we mention, very loosely, three broad types of path. Then we point out what seems to us the important insight for favoring any of the three scenarios yet operating with other people who have different views–as long we are all committed to movements and organizations that truly embrace diversity.
An Electoral Path
“There is a tragic flaw in our precious Constitution, and I don’t know what can be done to fix it. This is it: only nut cases want to be president.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
Elections are public tallies of preferences to yield decisions, most typically the choice of some person or persons to occupy official positions conveying authority, up to electing presidents with incredible power.
An electoral path to a new society with new economic, kinship, cultural, political, ecological, and international structures doesn’t just mean a path that includes electoral participation. Rather, it means a path that takes electoral activity and election results as paramount, whatever else may be occurring and pursued.
It is a path where the priority focus is trying to garner more votes than in the past, and eventually enough votes to win offices or plebiscites. Following this path, the accrual of such victories, and the support that they evidence, are the main interim aims and evidentiary signposts of movement achievement and prospects.
This doesn’t mean that nothing but electoral work occurs. There may also be, for example, insurrectionary demonstrations and the creation of alternative institutions. It means, instead, that whatever else does occur it is undertaken in light of positively benefitting and also to manifesting the implications of electoral activities. Winning votes, and particularly winning offices, and then using them on behalf of change, is seen as demonstrating movement support and establishing conditions of further movement victories.
Holding office, and the prerogatives that accompany it, is central to this path. Elections and derivative actions by those who are elected, are the main indicators of gains and losses and the main basis for enabling more gains and losses. In short, the electoral path while it may well aim–and certainly would aim in the case of seeking a participatory society–to utterly revamp political, economic, cultural, and kinship structures, it would also and even as a binding condition, retain respect for voting and for the choices of voters.
Examples of projects that might compose an electoral path are forming a faction within an existing party, or forming a whole movement party and running in elections to increase vote tallies, and, in time, to win offices. Upon winning offices, still within the electoral path’s logic, there is also using the prerogatives of the positions won to legally enact changes on behalf of suffering and supportive constituencies, including, in time, constitutionally altering structural relations in society and welcoming mass activism and initiative.
Consider, as an example of all this, the Bolivarian revolutionary process in Venezuela. No path is pure and pristine, but this example is perhaps the closest one can find to an actual real world electoral revolutionary process with stated aims that, at least in certain domains and respects, approximate those outlined in Occupy Vision, and which has had remarkable success, albeit not yet total victory.
An odd set of historical realities led to a populist military man, Hugo Chavez, taking office as President–who was then polarized and pushed by the opposition to turn left. Winning the presidency, after decades of other types of struggle in Venezuela, including insurrectionary and alternative institutional, up to and including clandestine violence, was critical and pivotal to the new approach. The office, once held, provided cover for, and even enabled instigation of, all manner of official, legal, and to some extent extra-legal activism trying to further transform society, while minimizing actual conflict.
Elections remained central including emphasizing enlarging support, using official channels to abet change, and functioning within laws even while seeking to legally change laws singly and in sum via constitutional rewrites. Instigating popular participation including demonstrations and even insurrection (against an aborted coup), and especially construction of new political structures for grassroots decision making and delivery of social benefits (health care, education, etc.), also become paramount.
Without going excessively into the details of this current and highly advanced and informative case, we should note that it does reveal the incredible complexities of having a revolutionary process in a society by winning the key electoral office–and thus controlling the executive branch of government–even while old owners remain, old governors and mayors remain, old police remain, old media remains, and these old elements all aggressively obstruct progress. One can see, in Venezuela, the historically specific unfolding of an electoral path approach to seeking revolutionary social change.
Venezuela shows the motivation and benefits of the approach when it has great success–such as having the officials who are elected advancing change while avoiding civil war and violence more generally. But it also shows the debits of the approach, again, even when it has great success–such as a centralizing dynamic that runs the risk, even against popular and even leadership desires, of trumping participatory aims, plus the persistence of great power in the hands of small sectors of prior elites who then use their massive assets to obstruct progress by every means they can muster.
Of course, most electoral approaches have historically had much less success than the Venezuelan case, as in major campaigns that have diverted attention from most other possible pursuits but then lost and dissolved, or major campaigns that won only to have the victory lead to outcomes very different than hoped for. Examples of the former would include, in the U.S., the Citizens Party, Rainbow Coalition, and Green Party efforts. And an example–indeed, perhaps the prime example–of electoral victory bringing about much less than hoped, would be the victory by the Workers Party Candidate Lula in Brazil, with over 60% support, yielding not a government inciting and leading an on-going revolutionary transformation, but a government administering the current system, albeit far more progressively than its predecessor.
At the moment, around the world, the effort by diverse self-defined socialist parties to win growing electoral tallies is, to the extent this is strategically well defined at all, an example of an electoral approach.
An Insurrectionary Path
“God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
No more water, the fire next time!”
– James Baldwin
An insurrection is a public uprising that, when it is revolutionary, seeks to seize control of society’s key institutions, or to move forward on a path toward eventually doing so, and then to employ them, and, even more so, to employ continued mass actions to transform society’s structures.
An insurrectionary path to a new society with economic, kinship, cultural, political, ecological, and international structures like those outlined in Occupy Vision, doesn’t just mean a path that includes an insurrection. Rather, it means a path that takes insurrectionary mass activism and the gains won and held by such activism as primary, whatever else may be occurring and pursued, such as some elections, some building of alternative institutions, etc.
It is a path where the priority focus of those seeking a new society is to wield popular pressure to force elites to enact demanded changes, and, eventually–in part by the accrual of such victories and the benefits and better conditions they bring as well as by the growing support that they evidence and manifest–begin to seize control over society’s institutions and enact defining changes in them. In the insurrections approach, popular demonstrations and displays of power and support are the main interim aims and evidentiary signposts of movement achievement and prospects.
This doesn’t mean that nothing but insurrectionary work occurs. It means, instead, that whatever else does occur–such as, for example, running in an election, or trying to win some plebiscite, or building some new institutions in the interstices of the old–is undertaken in light of positively benefitting and manifesting the implications of insurrectionary activities. Amassing popular power, and particularly using it to retain control over growing aspects of social life, is seen as demonstrating support for and establishing the conditions of further victories. Demonstrating, and the gains that accompany it and are made possible by it, are central. Demonstrations and the derivative changes they compel are the main indicators of gains and losses, and the main basis for enabling more gains and losses. In short, the insurrectionary path has no particular respect for old laws and rules, even for elections, save insofar as they augment insurrection.
Insurrection certainly doesn’t require violence, and may even foreswear it, but could also include or even prioritize it. Without going excessively into the details, perhaps the most recent highly advanced and informative–and by its own terms highly successful case–was Cuba, which revealed the incredible complexities of having a revolutionary process of construction in a society based in large part on trampling all old norms and rules, often by force. One can see, in Cuba, an insurrectionary path to seeking revolutionary social change.
Cuba shows the motivation and benefits of the approach when it has great success–such as to have the heights of society scaled and controlled by movement apparatus and to have the opposition stripped of its massive means of obstruction, its offices, and its property and other institutional powers. And it also shows the debits of the approach, again, even when it has great success–such as a very strongly centralizing, and even coercive, dynamic that in violating all prior notions of law, etc., runs the risk of becoming so instrumentalist that it reduces the public to recipients and bystanders of actions that are, however, undertaken by new–albeit very popular and generally progressive–elites. It may also polarize opponents into violent tactics abetted not by their domestic holdings–which they have lost–but by aid from international allies.
Of course, most insurrectionary approaches have historically had less success than the Cuban, as in major uprisings diverting attention from all other possible pursuits but which are then beaten and dissolved often in massive repression, death, and incarceration, as was Che Guevara’s attempt in Bolivia, say, or as in major campaigns that win power only to have the victory lead to outcomes even more different than those most participants had hoped for than the Cuban case diverted from its hopes. Additional examples of the former would be, for example, various insurrectionary approaches, over the decades, in the U.S., not least the abortive and distractingly destructive Weatherman path of the 1960s and, as perhaps the prime example internationally, the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Soviet Union with the revolutionary party repressing and finally obliterating all vehicles of popular participation and instituting highly repressive and reactionary rule.
At the moment, around the world, the Occupy Movement and Arab Spring are, to the extent they are strategically well defined at all, an example of an insurrectionist approach.
A Constructivist Path
“There is nothing like a
dream to create the future.”
– Victor Hugo
By construction we refer to creating what are sometimes called alternative institutions in the present, to accomplish some important social functions in ways seeking to implement values and structures desired for all of society in the future. The slogan that might best apply is “creating the seeds of the future in the present.” Acts of construction, if they mean to be revolutionary, seek to develop and federate together ever larger and more important structures, providing a model of future aims and incorporating ever more people in their definition and process.
A constructivist path to a new society doesn’t just mean a path that includes creating new institutions. Rather, it means a path that takes the creation of new institutions and the gains and examples constructed and operated in that manner as primary, whatever else may be occurring and pursued, such as some elections, some insurrection, etc.
It is a path where the priority focus of those seeking the new society is to construct instances of new institutions, partly for the immediate benefit of those who will enjoy their dynamics and fruits, and partly for the “showcase effect” that their existence can have on others–inspiring more participation in such efforts–and, finally, for the lessons that can be learned about future relations and structures preparatory to their being implemented more widely. The ultimate aim, however, is for the constructions of the movement to become so widespread and so viable that they compete for allegiance and eventually become the infrastructure of a new society. The construction of alternative institutions and demonstration of their viability and merit to those involved, and to society more broadly, are the main interim aims and evidentiary signposts of movement achievement and prospects.
This doesn’t mean that only creating alternative institutions occurs. It means, instead, that whatever else does occur–such as, for example, running in some election, or trying to win some plebiscite, or engaging in some mass activism and other insurrectionary type activities–is undertaken to manifest the implications of constructivist activities. Amassing new institutions, and particularly using them to attain control over growing aspects of social life, is seen as demonstrating support and establishing conditions of further victories. The constructing, and the gains that accompany it and are made possible by it, are central. Benefits and changes the construction generates and inspires are the main indicators of gains and losses, and the main basis enabling more gains and losses. In short, the constructivist path has no particular respect for old laws and rules, even elections, save insofar as they augment construction, and for the most part, sees them as entirely peripheral.
Perhaps the most recent highly advanced and informative case was, at least to some degree, the Spanish anarchist revolution, which revealed the incredible complexities of having a revolutionary process in a society while trampling all old norms and rules in the process, but without actually operating the old state. The creation of liberated zones in China might stand as another example, however much each would reject the other as a model. One can see in the Spanish case at least a largely constructivist path to seeking revolutionary social change.
Spanish anarchism shows the motivation and benefits of the approach when it has great success–to have the functions of society steadily and increasingly controlled by movement apparatus in turn inspiring activism of all sorts. And it also shows some possible debits of the approach, again, even when it has great success–a very polarizing dynamic that in eventually violating all prior notions of law, etc., runs the risk, even against its desires, of polarizing opponents into violent tactics abetted not only by their domestic holdings, but by aid from international allies, and without having attained a national organization to counter the assaults most efficiently. The Chinese case, again oversimplifying greatly, arguably reveals instead how the constructivist approach, under pressure, can, like others, become centralizing.
Of course, most constructivist approaches have historically had less success. Major alternative institutions have in some cases diverted attention from other critically important pursuits. Then, later, they often atrophy and even collapse under external pressure or due to internal failings. Separatist stability often compromises internal intentions and, in any event, largely foreswears the broad political stage. An example of the former would be various constructivist approaches, over the decades, in the U.S. such as the distractingly self oriented food and other coop efforts of the sixties and since, and as perhaps the prime example of the latter, the successes ironically, again, in Spain of the Mondragon movement, with almost no effect on the broad character of Spanish society, or even its contemporary mass political struggles.
Three Phases of Revolutionary Struggle
I prayed for twenty years but received no
answer until I prayed with my legs.
– Frederick Douglas
If you read through the above summaries of three approaches, something striking begins to emerge. That is, they are not, in fact, totally at odds. While each prioritizes its way of thinking and evaluating–either elections, insurrectionary activity, or creating alternative institutions–in fact, instances of each have also included aspects of the two others. The real difference is only what is put in a kind of central position for the other parts to augment and aid. But what happens if each admits that this choice is not a matter of principle or inviolable necessity, but, instead, based on what works, and what doesn’t, in different times and places.
Once that kind of insight is admitted, all three are, in fact, mixed paths, with different mixes distinguishing them. But, in truth, one could easily imagine each moving from one prioritization to another, as circumstances alter. The Chinese revolution, albeit never seeking a participatory society as we have envisioned it, certainly did have phases that were primarily constructivist but also primarily insurrectionary. The Bolivarian revolution has had primarily electoral phases, but, arguably, is very nearly, now, primarily constructivist.
“Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. …Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. …Find out just what people will submit to, and you have found the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”
– Frederick Douglas
As we have repeatedly noted, all efforts to transform society, winning significant gains against elite opposition, or, even more so, attaining new social institutions such as those advocated in Fanfare, require wide and informed participation. This means associated organizations and movements–the ideas and practices themselves–must be advocated in ways that attract support while creating informed involvement.
This indicates one aspect of any revolutionary effort. There must be great attention given to (more so at the outset, but continuing for the duration) recruiting additional participants and, as well, ensuring that many or even most become not mere supporters or even “foot soldiers” but highly informed participants able to assess events, aims, and choices themselves, adding their own inputs to the mix.
We call this phase or moment of revolutionary activity consciousness raising. It involves outreach and the continuing development of confidence and awareness once people are on board. We must find ways to communicate with people who are not in our movement, conveying its purpose, logic, morality, and prospects in ways that cause them to become interested, supportive, and involved. We must also, once folks become involved, have sufficient engagement so all members’ awareness of movement ideas and aims climbs steadily, and so does their ability to relate those to others, and, even more so, to assess them, to assess strategy, and to participate in conceiving and re-conceiving movement agendas. They move from opponents, to supporters who are actively involved, informed, and capable participants.
At the outset of organizing, consciousness raising is paramount. Nothing else can proceed far without advocates and participants. As time passes, and movements become ever larger, outreach to new recruits must continue, and also the steady development of the commitment and skills and knowledge of those who are recruited, but other activities begin to become even more central.
“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things
which escape those who dream only by night.”
– Edgar Allan Poe
Winning social change involves pressuring elites to make changes. What constitutes pressuring? We want x. Elites don’t want to institute x. You can think of x as winning a neighborhood stoplight, ending a war, changing educational policies, cleaning a local dumpsite, instituting reparations for the racist policies of the past, enacting free medical care for all, changing election rules and procedures, or anything else you wish.
We want x because it will benefit people who need change. Because winning x will put us in position to win more–especially if we seek x in a manner that raises new awareness and desires and develops new means of outreach and organization. Elites, don’t want x not because they are sadists, but because they feel x will diminish their rewards and, even worse, perhaps be part of a process leading to more losses for them.
So how do we get them to enact x? We act in ways that raise social costs for them that are so great that they decide giving in on x, to get us to relent in our efforts, is better than not giving in on x and having us continue our efforts. What can achieve that?
If you consider their perspective, it becomes obvious. X benefits them. To give in to your demand and deliver x, reduces those benefits. Worse, delivering x may auger still more demands and losses they must endure. Why will they do this? It will not be because they are convinced by moral arguments. What can work is if elites come to believe that by withholding x they are provoking a reaction which is more dangerous to them than relenting on x. They have to believe that it is in their interests to give in, because not giving in has even worse prospects. In essence, we make them an offer they cannot refuse. Give in, or we persist.
Of course, we intend to persist in any event, but they believe that we won’t be able to persevere once they not only give in on x, but claim to have done so out of their own ethical goodness despite our moronic actions. They try to turn their defeat into a victory by spinning like crazy.
So by contestation, referring to the second phase of all variants of revolutionary strategy and program, we mean engaging in acts that convey to elites the threat we represent and why, therefore, they must succumb to our agendas. It can involve all manner of activity, depending on context, on issues sought, and on the characteristics of movements involved.
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
– Malcolm X
A new society is not designed by elites who give in to our demand for a new world. There is no such thing, for two reasons. First, they are utterly incapable, mentally and morally, of such an undertaking, given their life histories and experiences and the attitudes, habits, and values these have conveyed. Second, they (with rare exceptions) will not come around to such a stance. There is no threat great enough to get them to give in and build a new society in which they no longer rule.
The construction phase of revolutionary process involves conceiving new institutional relations, but, even more so, beginning to enact them in the present. This is planting the seeds of the future now. It is creating what we seek, in embryo, and, as time passes, in greater degree and larger scale. This is done partly for those involved to benefit from the virtues of the new way of operating, partly as a showcase to help convince others of the efficacy of movement aims, and partly to learn about the practical realities of visionary aims, so as to continually improve and otherwise refine them. It is everything from having our movements embody values and ways of operating we favor for a future society, to literally constructing institutions of the future standing alongside those of today.
Three Phases As One Process
In thinking about a revolutionary process spanning years or decades as a mix of consciousness raising, contestation, and construction, we don’t want to become confused about the relation of each phase to the other two phases.
First, they overlap in that we do them all, all the time, and it is only the emphasis of our activity that tends to shift, first most of our attention and effort on consciousness raising, then on contestation, then on construction, even though we are always doing all three, though in varying degrees.
Second, even an activity primarily aimed at one of the priorities will be relevant to the other two. For example, when raising social costs, we are communicating to those who see our activity–which, at the extremes, either recruits or repels them. Our approaches, at the extremes, either cause those involved to become steadily more committed and informed, or to become estranged and alienated. We are also either constructively paving the way toward new institutions by the methods we incorporate in our effort, or we are repeating and even ratifying the ills of the past. Similarly, when constructing, we are either abetting and perhaps engaging in raising social costs for elites and in outreach and membership development, or not. And when reaching out and developing member participants, we are either abetting and perhaps engaging in raising social costs and enhancing creation of alternatives, or not.
If we think of consciousness raising, contestation, and construction as three entwined and overlapping moments of all revolutionary process, enacted differently in different times and places, we have an approach that can actually incorporate, respect, and yield all three of the paths discussed last chapter, and any mix of the three, as appropriate. Indeed, it can even incorporate people favoring different options.
It isn’t that differences between people about the efficacy of electoral, insurrectionary, or constructivist approaches simply disappear. It is that, if there is shared vision and shared understanding of the logic of struggle, the differences are not a matter of principle, morality, or aim, but of how we read a situation. A movement that favors diversity and is self-managing can opt for the approach with the best mix of emphases, even as those with each different slant can pursue activities consistent with their beliefs. Even a movement that has a large majority of members who are, for example, highly doubtful of the efficacy of electoral work–in some country and time–should be able to see that having some folks energetically engaged in it, in a manner in accord with the rest of the movement’s priorities, is better than having them barred from it and doing other things less energetically and against their inclinations. It is a hedge against the majority being wrong in its estimates. It is a means of learning. It keeps all movement members respectfully and passionately involved, and so on.
All too often we have a self serving definition of diversity. That which we like is accepted, that which we don’t isn’t, and somehow we label the result diverse. In a movement consistent with Fanfare’s formulations, certainly diversity doesn’t extend all the way to including folks who reject the underlying tools of analysis, vision, or general strategic insights and commitments. But differing about the balance of how they are implemented, about tactics and even paths forward, should not be a matter of hostility much less separation. Instead, once there is a shared perspective, such differences should be seen as perfectly reasonable matters of open exploration, with as much effort to keep alive dissident preferences as possible, even while vigorously pursuing more widely supported preferences.
Organization For All Cases?
“Hardly a day goes by when I do not hear appeals – often laments – from people deeply concerned about the travails of human existence and the fate of the world, desperately eager to do something about what they rightly perceive to be intolerable and ominous, feeling helpless because each individual effort, however dedicated, seems to merely chip away at a mountain, placing band-aids on a cancer, never reaching to the sources of needless suffering and the threats of much worse… We all know the only answer, driven home by experience and history, and by simple reflection on the realities of the world: join together to construct and clarify long-term visions and goals, along with direct engagement and activism shaped by these guidelines and contributing to a deepening our understanding of what we hope to achieve.”
– Noam Chomsky, U.S.
Given that the “three phases” way of conceiving revolutionary process can contain and help guide those whose local conditions call for an electoral path, an insurrectionary path, or a constructivist path, or even a combination in any ratio and pattern, it would seem it could help to define a revolutionary organization consistent with all three approaches and their variants. Indeed, if we combine it, then, with the concepts for understanding society and history of Occupy Theory, with the values and institutional models defining the goals of Occupy Vision, and with the broad strategic insights of this volume, we have, says the logic of Fanfare, something that ought to be able to sustain and guide such a viable and worthy revolutionary organization.
And, indeed, in April 2012 a project of trying to slowly but steadily create such an organization begin to gather some steam. It is called the International Organization for a Participatory Society (IOPS)–or, perhaps, for Participatory Socialism (using the same initials)–a determination, like many others, that will only be finally settled at a founding convention, presumably in 2013 or perhaps 2014, if all goes well.
There is a sense, indeed, that the three volumes of Fanfare have been written not only in the glow of the Occupy movements of 2011 and 2012, as testified by our choice of titles, but also to assist this organizational project, as evidenced by the content throughout and especially in chapter two on Strategy and Organization, and by this final section of our chapter on “roads ahead,” in which we now urge you to visit: http://www.iopsociety.org/
IOPS is at the time of writing this third volume of Fanfare, an organizational idea trying to become an actual organization able to contribute to winning a new world. Its interim features and aims are widely consistent with contemporary critics of capitalism, patriarchy, racism, authoritarianism, ecological nightmare, and imperialism. It is a place for seekers of solidarity, diversity, equity, self-management, sustainability, and internationalism. Flexible, growth oriented, embodying the seeds of a better future in the present, IOPS means to grow out of the best of the past and present and aims for a much better future. It seeks to be a place for revolutionary activists and thinkers to share lessons, organize together, enjoy one another, and, most of all, win changes in a trajectory of growth and struggle leading to a better world. The aim is that it grows from being interim to being actual via a founding convention of a growing membership. This can happen, assuming those with compatible views set aside skepticism and despair and collectively energetically act on hope and desire.
The three volumes of Fanfare have been written, it should now be clear, explicitly to ratify, apply, and hopefully to some small extent contribute to the unfolding of the IOPS effort. In a sense the authors of the three volumes hope that the books can usefully serve as an introduction to thinking through IOPS aims and methods and applying them as a basis for all its participants becoming adept in contributing to its activities. We include more about IOPS in an appendix to this volume.