Change of Plans: Dual Power and Personal Autonomy

 

As a response to a recent article by Comrade Powell, “Entryism and the Politics of Cowardice,” I would like to talk about the alternative power that the left can build across our geographies. This means political organs of power that are not tied to the state, instead creating a duality to work from. From anarchist forms of mutual aid to Marxist-Leninist-Maoist political organs built community by community to serve the working class, these structures should exist in order to challenge the bourgeois state’s authority and legitimacy. The current political climate is ripe for change from the two-party system, one devoted to capital and its owners, into an egalitarian system focused on human wellbeing. The driving force, in the form of an exodus, would be a large-scale alternative – visible, publicized, and welcoming.

This plan of action does not mean a complete abstention from electoralism or municipalism, but instead that those actions do not become the left’s primary strategy. The penultimate issue within reformism starts at complacency with social reform and ends at a dilute, non-revolutionary societal change. By using a framework focused on counterculture and removing bourgeois power, we avoid the pitfalls of dilution and complacency.

Dual power is the notion of rivaling an existing state by acting within said state to provide an alternative societal structure. Similar to how leftist disaster relief functions, societies can be built in accordance with these principles. A modern example would be Rojava, the eastern portion of Kurdistan existing within Syria. Rojava is self-governed by principles of Democratic Confederalism, an ideological framework developed by Abdullah Ocalan, a Kurdish leader who helped found the Kurdistan Workers Party, the PKK. It was built into a democratic government with its own constitution detailing the organizational structure. This dual power creates the material conditions needed to overthrow (or disengage from) the bourgeois state and allows for a proletarian society to spring forth under the newly minted power structures created during its formative stages. This is vastly different from reformist thought, where the bourgeois class “allows” the majority to vote their power away; instead, this is a forceful reclamation of power back into the hands of the people.

Throughout history, dual power has been accomplished by individual communes, often environmentalist in nature, but several of which were explicitly socialist structures built to avoid the bourgeois state’s influence and alienation. The Paris Commune of 1871, harshly stomped out by the state, now echoes on in la zones à défendre (la ZAD). The Paris Commune’s existence was short lived due to lack of widespread support stemming from inadequate groundwork; however, la ZAD has continued to struggle for autonomy and freedom. The defense was especially heated earlier in 2017 after police attempted to bulldoze the community in order to build an airport. The residents banded together, along with outside activists, to stop state incursion on their homes.

Building these structures requires substantial amounts of manpower and education devoted to the defense of the commons; focusing on building a movement with these characteristics – instead of building support for elected officials – is key in our advancement.

The creation of structures that threaten absolute state power and promote human autonomy have been historically proven to be an effective strategy against power imbalances. Unions and worker co-ops exist as a powerful duality from corporations, providing a semblance of balance while promoting workers’ rights. Similarly, with the amount of alienation an average citizen faces under bourgeois democracy, autonomous organs of community power and mutual aid serve to rebalance power to the proletariat from the ruling class. Examples on how these more radical power structures work can be found in situations like Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017, or through Maoist guerrillas in warzones like the jungles of India and the Philippines.

Community aid and homeless assistance are often criminalized in areas of poverty and crime – the dichotomy of “law abiding” citizen versus “criminal” homeless is used to uphold capitalist society. This functions both as a deterrent for “criminal activity” (economic consequences) and to further social stratification. The divide-and-conquer strategy has been in place for centuries within the continent, starting with the exploitation of Indigenous peoples, complemented by slavery, followed with segregation – all of which come collectively to the fore through widespread distrust and division along geographic, sexist, and classist lines. By exposing capitalism as the driving force of the problems it creates, we can begin to light the path for others. Sometimes it is worthwhile to work backwards through the systems of oppression to show how the theory describes it. It is possible to teach others of leftism and through doing so, learn how their struggles relate to our own, building from our recruiting.

Using this framework to develop our strategies for achieving an egalitarian society is crucial. Class reductionism will fail to accurately describe the material conditions that we face. Therefore, we push towards creating a power duality that understands this to achieve these goals.

Developing areas of influence and political power as a force to rival the capitalist state in municipalities, better known as municipalism, was often referred to by Murray Bookchin. This can be neighborhood solidarity, built with tenant unions and neighborhood assemblies or communalization, built with comrades into sustainable existences, or worker cooperatives – a prime example of individual autonomy over the work-life. Furthering this concept requires federation and communication between these organs. In addition to the basic elements, we should look to avoid further potholes down the road. Kropotkin, in his work “Communism and Anarchy” described a federated network of communes to prevent social burnout and to provide the ability for people to relocate: this works to both alleviate social strain intra-communally, as well as to improve logistics between communes/cooperatives that haven’t yet achieved self-sufficiency. Creating the network needed to sustain a movement is paramount, as without continuous elements, it will crumble.

Finally, I will break down the major stages discussed into the following four elements. Development, creation, connection, and defense – each of which describes the beginning of a new set of goals in a dual power movement. These benchmarks should be used as rough guidelines within our path – not as strict rules. It is important to remember that expansion should always be followed with some form of political education. As Thomas Sankara said, “without patriotic political education, a soldier is only a potential criminal.” Put differently, without a strong theoretical backing, praxis is only potentially harmful.

Develop bonds and reinforce community power

In this stage, organizers should reach out into communities, into their own especially, to find individuals with a desire to do better. It will often be necessary to assist them in building their own community’s power. This is where political education would occur. The divisions within society allow for total domination of the acceptable political sphere, which further manifests in the psychology of most people. This is the first barrier to break in our political education, as well as the first bonds to develop.

Create structures of solidarity and aid

This keystone is the defining characteristic of a dual power movement. Instead of negotiating politically, create a system to provide for the needs of the community. This includes shelter, food, and other basic needs.  Potentially comrades could come together to make self-sustaining communities elsewhere and federate into a network to unify across geographical disparity. Aid should include things from childcare and tutoring to food and shelter. By allowing for easy access to basic needs, individuals can attain self-actualization through their own interests.

Connect communities – communication and logistics

To truly achieve a structure that can outperform a bourgeois state, we must have international networks of solidarity and aid. This must be ideologically indifferent – from Maoists to anarchists, we must support leftist movements and communities to the fullest of our ability. Proving ourselves to be dedicated to our ideals of people over property is paramount. Our solidarity must be constantly offered; joining and networking with comrades across our reach is critical to building a movement that cannot be toppled. Similarly, those same bonds allow for more effective logistics to communities in need.

Defend our ideals and progress

A revolutionary movement is nothing without a strong focus on community self-defense. Opposition from outright reactionaries or from capitalist opportunists will occur, and it is critical to fight against attempts as it develops. By protecting ourselves from intervention and creating this secondary power, our movement will become a shining beacon.

I hope this article reinvigorates organizing efforts into focusing on community benefit, rather that reformist politics doomed to fail. Reject opportunism – we must find our base with the people we claim to represent.

 

Elliott Glover is a writer and undergraduate engineering student from Alabama. Starting to be involved with socialist activism from college, he assisted in founding the second SPUSA local in the state and currently serves as the Chair of the East Alabama local. He is an assignment editor on protests for The Socialist.

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Elliott Glover

is a writer and undergraduate engineering student from Alabama. Starting to be involved with socialist activism from college, he assisted in founding the second SPUSA local in the state and currently serves as the Chair of the East Alabama local. He is an assignment editor on protests for The Socialist.

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