Re: Autonomous Politics and its Problems

In my view, Ezequiel Adamovsky’s essay “Autonomous Politics and its Problems” is an important contribution to discussions about left strategy and vision. In particular, I think Adamovsky raises some key questions for those of us engaged in autonomist politics, whether we name these “abolitionist,” “anarchist,” “anti-authoritarian,” “horizontalist,” “libertarian socialist,” or something else.

The “two opposite situations” that Adamovsky highlights – organizing in broad ways that get trapped by heteronomous politics, or rejecting heteronomous politics in self-marginalizing ways – get at what I think is one of the greatest tensions for autonomist politics. This is the issue of how to hold together, on the one hand, organizing that engages ordinary people and, on the other hand, visionary radical politics aimed at social transformation. Too often this gets framed as an either/or question, but it doesn’t need to be.

Avoiding this either/or frame requires recognizing our tendency, as Adamovsky describes it, to “live in the future and despise the present.” The present, infused as it is with social relations of exploitation and oppression, is nonetheless where most people live and struggle. Any strategy that refuses to relate to this present – or relates to it only through a politics of rejection – is a non-starter. Instead, we need strategies that are grounded in the present while pointing to a new society.

Certainly part of this is combining struggles, often defensive in character, with building new social relations and structures. Adamovsky puts this well: “While struggling against the current order, we need to create and develop, at the same time, institutions of a new type that are able to deal with the complexity of society’s common tasks in the appropriate scale.”

I think we can learn a tremendous amount about how to develop such strategies from the growing prison abolitionist movement in the U.S. I’m thinking here especially of the organization Critical Resistance, but also other related organizations and projects. What’s striking about their work is that they’ve anchored their organizing in the very real present of cops and cages while holding onto a vision of something seemingly unimaginable: the complete elimination of the prison system.

Many abolitionists also have begun to explore alternatives to state-based strategies for dealing with violence in communities and interpersonal relationships. These kinds of projects, tentative and experimental, are an important practical illustration of Adamovsky’s point about developing new institutions for the autonomous management of social life. For racialized communities in the U.S., some of the most consistent forms of heteronomous politics are police and prisons. Efforts to push back against these forms and create alternatives are very promising, indeed.

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