The Intermediate Moment (Part One)

by Adelita Kahlo and Tyler Zee

*The perspectives advanced below are those of the authors and do not represent an official “line” of U&S.  U&S, as will be seen below, does not have formal positions.  While many of the ideas will be common starting points for U&S, there will be nuanced differences and perhaps some disagreements according to individuals and locales.

PART ONE

Introduction

This piece is the result of many conversations and has been informed by engagement with a cross section of various nodes of activity.  We, the authors, have learned so much through these conversations; many assumptions we held prior to this effort have now been either thrown out or complicated.  While a number of questions remain, a few starting points have been clarified.

As a consequence of these conversations, the scope of this piece has also changed from one tailored primarily to debates within the solnet milieu, since the two of us have been doing aspects of solnet organizing for a while now, to being fundamentally about the intermediate concept and its strategic merits for revolutionaries in the current moment that takes the solnet (and others) as a kind of case study.  While the scope has shifted we very much want to enter into more systematic exchange with the above folks and others that are grappling with these and parallel questions.

Part one of the piece is geared toward making sense of the current moment and elaborating on concepts the writers have used to do so.  This also means a discussion that might appear as tangential but what for us represent an attempt to have a holistic, systematic, and rigorous approach.  The conclusions drawn here are of necessity temporal and are toward the ends of building the bridge between the present and the medium-term future.  So as “scientific” as we have tried to be, there are limits to this piece both in scope and in the factors entering our analysis.

Furthermore, this isn’t an exhaustive treatment of the possibilities and measures for militants to undertake (and certainly not the limits of the life of revolutionaries as a whole) since it deals more exclusively with the relation of revolutionaries to “advanced” workers that we have tried to understand using the intermediate concept.  Advanced is in quotes because we use it in absence of a more precise term though we try to be as accurate and lucid as possible in our presentation of the intermediate concept. (Though we are familiar with Lenin’s conception of the advanced worker, we do not use it here in the same way.  Hopefully in the comments folks can help flesh out this concept of “advanced” in the contexts in which we use them).  We are hedging our bets, so to speak, on this relation as a primary strategic necessity of the contemporary period.  We hope that whatever needs clarification can be done through further discussion in the comments section and elsewhere. We know that ultimately the conclusions we’ve drawn and have the ability to draw are tentative and partial and that we can only reach toward something more total through conversation, association, and collaboration with others.

Shouts to Nate Hawthorne, IWW-Minneapolis and Recomposition, for the initial inspiration for this piece.

 

The intermediate moment and the (de)composition of capital and labor

We live in a period of stagnation and decline. This stagnation and the barbarism accompanying it has only accelerated since the beginning of the December 2007 crisis.  But essential in a grasp of this crisis is a categorical understanding of the last 40 years.  We can only try to illuminate the broad outlines of this.

This crisis, while ostensibly brought on by the bursting of the housing bubble, is fundamentally like all previous crises: capital not being able to profit at the rate it once did.  This rate is the difference between the total capital invested and the total profit made.  We all know the capitalists are still profiting and that they continuously set new records every quarter, but this tells us only an absolute number: the mass of profits.  The amounts of money that they have to invest in order to make that profit is constantly increasing and the relation of the profits to that amount is contracting.

The reason this happens is because of the increase in the productivity of labor which lessens the labor time on average (and, therefore, value) it takes to produce any given product or means of production.  An increase in productivity comes about through the introduction of labor-saving technology in the process of production which allows capitalists who use this technology to sell their products cheaper than the competition. This becomes problematic for lending institutions who have a claim to money owed that was used on the old means of production that can now be produced more cheaply.  This is what is called “fictitious capital” or paper claims to wealth that isn’t actually being produced in the process of production.

The constant fall in the rate of profit is what the capitalists want to counteract and which, if left to its own devices, would lead to a full-scale deflation of all existing values; deflation requiring the physical destruction of both capital (as plant or means of production) as well as labor (as in human beings) in order to restart the rate of profit.  What the capitalists have been trying to do since the 1970s is to stave off this possibility by a violent transition to a new regime of accumulation, what some have called “neoliberalism” but what is in essence a contraction of social reproduction, or a reduction of the total social labor that reproduces not only our ability to live and work but the system of value production as a whole.  State-directed investment has since been supplanted by vast privatization, turning health care, social services, transportation, and education, what was part of our “social wage,” into new forms of private investment and profit, shifting the cost of social reproduction onto the working class in the form of debt.

This turn has been accompanied by the increase in securitized finance and the pyramiding of debt which has turned cash flows, e.g. mortgage payments, into commodities or assets which can be consolidated with other cash flows and resold.  The growth of securities trading has not overcome the limits of the falling rate of profit but has only multiplied the contradictions of capital creating many more pressure points for the possibility of crisis.  The results of this for the working class has been clear for all: the freezing of credit and loans for a generation whose real wages have remained stagnant, greater unemployment, homelessness and precarity leading to an escalation in the disciplinary role of the State and police, closures of hospitals and clinics, astronomical rise in the cost of public education, reduced benefits, less stability and increased casualization of work.

The relationship of the reproduction of the proletariat to the reproduction of capital, of living labor to dead labor, has been ruptured, and debt has facilitated the class’s ability to reproduce itself even if in a crippled state.  But there’s a concomitant relationship to capital and subsequently the state’s debt, the growth of which is leading to a potential qualitative shift: a drastic collapse of US currency and a default, which could introduce Spain and Greece-style measures.  In Endnotes 3, they have called this trajectory a “holding pattern.”  Taken as a whole this forms the objective moment of what we also see as an intermediate one, one between the more or less contained post-73 accumulation and a US default, between class stasis and class for itself activity as one possibility that could emerge as greater polarization (which equally means a potential for fascism, although that has been so far contained within the official Right, far more reactionary than the European).

 

The working classes

1968 was the high point in the most recent cycle of international revolutionary upheaval.  The struggles of the class were shaking the old division of labor and its racial and gendered composition enshrined by the union form, that great mediation that for decades had been containing workers self-activity and control of production within better terms in the sale of stratified labor powers (white, Black, female, etc.).  These independent “wildcat” efforts–both within and outside the sphere of production and led largely by women and Black and Brown labor–aggravated the already slowed growth and falling profit rates culminating in the recession of 1971, which ended the “golden era” of capitalist expansion that had began at the conclusion of World War II.

Labor has since been in a long process of decomposition, whereby the old social organization of labor at the point of production is being broken down through a combination of increasing the technical composition of capital or simply the ratio of the means of production to the number of workers (and thereby reducing the workforce), disinvestment and relocation of capital to the US and global South, and the introduction of two-tiered labor forces sanctioned by concessionary labor contracts, whereby one set of workers in the same workplace labor under substandard conditions to the rest of the workers as way to lower standards for all.  By the early 1970s, unions, long drawn into the production process and central in the enforcing of factory discipline, henceforth were responsible for legitimizing and carrying out the concessionary trend of austerity and budget cuts up to the current period.

Where before a wedge was formed between Black labor power (reproduced at a lower level and relegated to the hardest, dirtiest, and most dangerous work) and white labor power, and “feminized” labor largely remained unwaged, now there has been a generalization of devaluation, where the formerly devalued are now the precarious workers or surplus populations being warehoused in prisons, state-run and capital-run.  White labor in the public sector and in the unionized industries was pushed down closer toward precarity, what it thought it was preventing in its refusal to join and support independent Black struggle in the 1960s and 70s.  For Black labor, there’s been a catastrophic decomposition into surplus populations backed with unprecedented expansion of prisons, policing, and the deputation of white mob violence through racist “Stand Your Ground” laws.  While most women are part of the waged proletariat, the burden of waged and unwaged reproduction continues to fall unevenly upon them creating greater precarity while sexual violence by the State and legalized rape by men functions as means to discipline the reproductive labor they are largely responsible for.

The wholesale destruction of the welfare state has exacerbated the growth of “poverty pimps” and non-profit organizations filling the shoes of reproduction formerly played by it.  Nonprofits, while performing a needed but limited auxiliary of the reproduction of labor power, take the appearance of independence and neutrality and yet their source of funding is private capital that has not only determined the forms of reproduction but their internal organization which is based, as with any enterprise, on a division of labor.  They have absorbed and perverted independent struggle while some maintain the appearance and aesthetics of social revolution.  They are the first line of defense of capital and the state and work to contain class struggle within the bounds of normality.  Class struggle is a threat to their very existence.

Immigration patterns in the US have contributed toward the recomposition of industrial labor in small towns in the US South creating possibilities for mass collective struggle in ways that could possibly mirror those in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Cambodia.  Capitalists consistently rely on wage theft from immigrants, and in fewer cases straight-up slavery, to increase the quantity of surplus labor. More so, the labor they inherit is not reproduced in any capacity by capital which raises question about the role played by primitive accumulation in a contemporary sense.  Attempts to reform immigration policy through Comprehensive Immigration Reform has served to legitimize and institutionalize immigrant labor as a hyper exploited rung on the hierarchy of labor powers and has found support among military and prison contractors alike who can use immigrants to police international borders and as relatively free labor in the production of commodities in prisons.  CIR and the DREAM Act have been shaped into a wedge to divide the movement of immigrant labor against itself.  Both are dead in the water as real struggles.

However, the last ten years is a continuum of struggle beginning with the freedom rides in 2003; the walkouts and mass mobilizations of 2006; the role of immigrants in the Republic Windows and Doors occupation of 2008; another round of mobilizations and walkouts in 2010 with a brief exodus of people to Arizona and a sharp turn toward the tactic of the sit-in, as well as a renewed attempt to revive the DREAM Act.  Undocumented youth were “undocumented and unafraid.”  But the increasing divisiveness, assimilationism, and jingoism of the Act produced fissures in the movement.  The most radical expressions of these today are blockading deportation vehicles, crossing borders defiantly and attempting reentry, and in the process organizing direct actions inside detention centers.  As we write a spate of hunger and labor strikes have spread in detention centers and prisons across US states, no doubt built off the cross-pollination of the immigrant movement outside the walls and the prison movement inside.

The qualitative leap that Occupy represents is obvious to all.  The Wisconsin capitol occupation six months prior and the anti-austerity movement in education in 2009-11 was no doubt its dress rehearsal, as its tactic of occupying public space or squares was replicated throughout the entire country and even internationally on some level.  The most militant encampments toward the conclusion of the Occupy wave saw riots initiated by police violence, collaboration with port workers in port shutdowns, as well as a turn toward home occupations against foreclosures and evictions.  These turn of events where not without their own forms of polarization inside specific encampments.

For the fate of the participants of Occupy we can only speculate, but it seems that while a new generation of devalued public workers, “graduates without a future,” “dumpies,” unemployed and homeless youth gained valuable experience organizing in mass settings, a sense of friends and enemies (the police), and the necessity of organizational autonomy, they were constrained politically by the hegemony of left populism and strategically by their confinement to the parks, no doubt due to the lack of a generalized struggle of the class-for-itself.  This confinement was simultaneously and contradictorily what allowed Occupy to be an enduring site of struggle as the months wore on.  What we have seen in its demise is the birth of new political relationships, formal and informal, and political people that are experimenting with ideas and strategies for sustenance through the potentially short-term ebb as well as in anticipation of future eruptions.

Also significant but more localized and uneven in the growth of resistance has been the anti-budget cut struggles of 2009-2011, largely in California but with significant developments in NYC, Washington, Georgia, and Texas.  Many times in history it has been students who have taken the lead in what later becomes a generalized struggle.  While the struggle has not seen a generalization it has seen the spread of similar forms of tactics.  The tactic of the mass occupation was no doubt the benchmark of this movement against “austerity,” or contracted social reproduction.  The movement grew in militancy and creativeness in its strategy in its two year high-point.  While no longer at a high, public education continues to be a critical site of resistance.

Certainly, the Black working class hasn’t been quiet.  The Jena 6 mobilizations, the repression of the Troy Davis demonstrations, the movement following the legal lynching of Trayvon Martin resulting in freeway blockades, the “Flatbush Rebellion” where black youth brazenly stormed a police precinct and battled for three solid nights to avenge the murder of Kimani Gray, the on and off Oakland revolts in response to the Oscar Grant killing, etc., the role of the Black proletariat in the prison strikes in recent years (which has ironically offered continuity to the immigrant movement) says everything but Black people are passive or even dormant.

Black struggle like struggle in general has shown more discontinuity rather than qualitative leaps.  While it is clear that Blacks’ relationship to the division of labor gives them a militant predisposition and that they periodically rebel against it, they remain stratified on the one hand by demoralization due to increased precarity, police violence, and prison, and on the other hand by the political hegemony of the black middle class which includes left-leaning organizations that often look and sound very radical but whose primary role is in defending the black patronage system and the containment of struggle rather than its advancement.  Because of this, the production of Black militants remains profoundly scant.  It is obvious to all that perennial revolts in themselves aren’t enough to overcome this contradiction.  The revolts cannot, as they generally do, simply sidestep or ignore the Black middle class leaders who claim Black liberation all the while strengthening the assaults on Black workers.  On the contrary, it will have to directly and overtly confront it if we are to see a new generation of Black militants and subjects.  The Black middle class and its mediating bureaucrats and organizations (and the middle class politics of identity) are the central political obstacle to this happening.  We often hear that the leaders of the black movement are dead or in prison, but that is only the tragedy of the story.  Its comedy is that those remaining became union, city, and education bureaucrats using the rhetoric of that movement to coopt and repress the struggles of today.

In general, the class has lost its connection to the class struggle organizing traditions of Black Power, Chicanismo and feminism that came before us, traditions that no doubt were wrought with contradiction.  In its place we find a multiracial and multigendered middle class composed of neighborhood, school, and city leaders, politicians, and NGOs who claim those traditions (the outcome of that contradiction) and yet encourage us to stay peaceful, get off the streets and vote, while deflecting criticism of their mediating relationship to struggle.  We have seen militant opposition to these elements in smaller or greater numbers by working class Black, Brown, women and trans folk, but this has not generalized into a wholesale and class-wide rebuke.  This forms part of the subjective dimension (which in one sense is also objective) for the “intermediate moment.”

 

The revolutionary left

The composition and activity of the revolutionary Left is immanently bound up with where the class is and what it is doing.  Just like all the organizations of the class, the Left has been in decay since the early 1970s as it was unable to make sense of and pose a strategic challenge to the contraction of social reproduction, allowing right-wing populism and social conservatism to gain traction within the layers of the working class that the Left had long been isolated from.  In general, neither the analyses advanced nor the strategies proposed by the left adequately correlated with the real situation.  But while there were subjective mistakes they were not the principal reasons for their failure.  It was an objective feature of the transformation of a previous mode of accumulation and not something that could have been overcome voluntarily.

In general, the Trotskyists and Left Communists remained sealed tight in their programmatic cocoons waiting for the historical conditions to ripen by which they can claim the lead in the struggle against capital.  They replicate the orthodoxy of programmatic purity, democratic centralism, and the publication of theory journals and newspapers that they hawk at every event.   The Maoists abandoned anything remotely independent in their “long march through the institutions” which meant their liquidation into non-profits, education, city, and union bureaucracies.  While this not an indictment of Trotskyism, Left Communism, and Maoism per se, traditions from which we take more or less positive influences from, it does represent a general empirically confirmed practice.

The soft Left believes the dead and decaying institutions that have absorbed and destroyed the independent proletarian movements of yesterday should be infiltrated and pulled to the left.  See Bill Fletcher.  The hard Left wants to build the party at a time when it is historically inappropriate and replicate the Stalinist myth of the Bolshevik micro-sect turned mass revolutionary party.

The hegemony of Stalinism that depicted the proletarian party as springing forth from the micro-sect with the correct analysis and program is what the hard Left have inherited.  The “party” (RSDLP) in its earliest years existed as broadly disparate Marxist ideological centers (such as Iskra), as a space where organizers in the political labor movement would discuss, debate, and publish ideas that aided them in understanding the development of capitalism in Russia and Europe and to generalize the isolated episodes of rebellion through practical forms.  The RSDLP in the 1890s was only a party in the abstract and could only become one in the concrete by the appearance on a wide scale of a proletarian movement (the 1903 mass strike wave) and the ability to carry out a program on some scale.  Here now, a program existed not as an impediment to engagement with the class but as an expression of the party’s actual linkages and diffuseness among the proletariat.

Organizations or parties, in their proper sense, are historically specific, have the possibility to come forth at certain material conjunctures and can’t be willed at any time, no matter how disciplined, how educated, or how skillful of organizers it’s membership are.  Today it is through such forms (in actuality, micro-sects) that communists erect a barrier instead of building a bridge between themselves and sections of the proletariat.  In itself, the program might be superb but the relationship to the class hinges upon the latter’s acceptance of this program.  We see then, such programs are not really programs at all; while they might seem to synthesize with precision the historical movement of the class, that movement is ultimately unfinished and contingent upon future clashes.  Furthermore, the program must not only be rooted firmly in the existing activity of the class at a particular conjuncture, the class must see itself in it.  This is not a question of “conscious” individuals but of a generalized conflagration whereby programs, as syntheses of the logical and historical, of theory and tactics, can be implemented and carried out on a class-wide scale.

The call to build revolutionary parties and organizations is, when you get down to it, no different than calling for councils and soviets–it is a voluntaristic and subjectivist notion of history.  Perhaps the only difference is that parties can be called, but only when the activity of the proletariat has reached a level where a program can be a true expression of a general movement and be executed at the widest levels.

The material party lies not in individuals that we just have to find and train, but in the broadest and leading elements of social struggle.  That social struggle is, at best, embryonic.  And the left is infinitesimally small and cannot hope to fuse with the material elements of struggle by recruiting people in the ones and twos on the basis of an abstract program.  Rather, the left has to think about how to make contact on a material/tactical level with the leading lights of episodic and local struggle.  Then, and this precisely where the revolutionaries’ specific contribution can be manifest, connecting and interfacing those leading elements into groups and networks that have an organic relation to the broader class.  The task of generalizing the struggle that falls to revolutionary groupings here becomes material and not just theoretical.

Unity and Struggle is essentially a propaganda circle that engages in forms of agitation where possible.  We are not bound by a program or a bureaucratic structure but by an organic centralism, taking from Bordiga, around a few key principles and hypotheses; a commitment by its participants animated by those principles to work and struggle together.  The goal is not the growth of Unity and Struggle, but rather the practical and intellectual development of the milieus we are in and the linkages between revolutionary and intermediate types.  This can happen on a national scale only by association and collaboration with other circles and milieus and by deepening struggles.

But forms give way to new content; not subjectively, not by changing our name or acting like a party or pre-party, but through the interchange of social forces.  For us, the “agitprop” circle can become transcended through the collaboration of revolutionaries and intermediate elements.  These intermediate organizations, just like any other form, are historically contingent and can’t be willed at any time.  

Against the sect-building approaches who have relegated themselves to propagandistic efforts, or collaboration in low-level union or school bureaucracies, or organizing in NGOs, we, the authors, are taking inspiration from new elements of creative activity that has emerged in recent years.  The “new syndicalism” that has emerged among the solnet and IWW milieu and found its most articulate expression in the Recomposition blog, the birth of the ULTRA website that is starting from communization, value-form theory, and the appearance on the world stage of the movement of squares and riots, the leftward movement of immigrant activists away from moderate and conservative forces in the immigrant movement toward the most advanced tactics of struggle in recent years, the formation of relatively new communist propaganda circles like ours Advance the Struggle, Kasama, etc. have all been major reference and connection points for us.  The intermediate concept, that we expound upon below is one point of potential convergence or mediation between these nodes and thought and practice.

It is our personal hope that in the next 2-3 years we will see a formal or organizational convergence of these elements and new ones that will no doubt appear.

 

The intermediate concept

We owe a lot to long-time militant and anarchist Scott Nappalos of Recomposition and Miami IWW, who has done a solid amount of the foundational work of fleshing out the concept, drawing specifically upon experiences in workplace and union struggles.  What we have tried to do is think about it both in more general and historical terms, where we have observed similar dynamics outside workplace contexts and where intermediacy might be useful to situations where the classic “revolutionary” and “mass” categories have been too abstract to capture the complicated existence of active social elements in the class.  He writes in Defining Practice,

“The mass level is where people come together based on common interests to take action in some form, with unions being the most obvious and traditional example. A higher level of unity is the revolutionary political level where people take action based on common ideas and practices…There is an additional level though that can help us in this manner, the intermediate level. As opposed to the political level, which is defined by attempted unity of ideas, and the mass level, which is defined by common practices with diversity of ideas, the intermediate level shares some features of both. The intermediate level is where people organize based on some basic level of unity of ideas to develop and coordinate their activity at the mass level.”

The mass level is a where “average” workers come together around a common set of interests, not because they share the same set of politics. The revolutionary or political layer is made up of people who tend to come into politics through subcultural or professional means (infoshops and radical bookstores, leftist spaces and hangouts, universities, NGOs, unions, etc.) and have a higher level of theoretical and practical clarity.

So if the revolutionary layer is a place to develop a common ideology, and the mass layer is a place for common practice without (usually) shared ideas, then in this way intermediate organizations, where possible, are a place for the revolutionary and intermediate types to come together toward developing a common practice with some level of political agreement. This combination of theoretical and practical development are the ingredients for the qualitative growth of political milieus and the training and experience of political militants.

The intermediate represents abstractly a social point between mass and revolutionary levels.  It is distinct from the mass layer insofar as it is not made up of average workers whose relationship to organization is based on interest alone, e.g. “I work here so I’m part of this workplace organization,” or “I live here, I’m a part of this tenants union,” etc.  Nor is the intermediate level oriented primarily around ideological questions.  Articulated in its most ideal, the intermediate level are comprised of tactically militant individuals with deep connections to various layers of the class.  Often these types emerge from mass experiences: a strike, a walkout, an occupation, riots, mass mobilizations, a series or combination of the above, or from broader and more protracted movements such as Occupy. They posit and defend the most militant tactics and struggle for their execution, not externally as propagandists, but internally as coworkers, neighbors, classmates, and cellmates.

These distinct levels are not static but change and change rapidly the more the class moves. The development is also not linear; one does not necessarily move from mass to intermediate to revolutionary. These categories are fluid, ever changing, growing and contracting, developing in contradictory ways, and so on with the ebbs and flows of social struggle.

The intermediate concept is useful for thinking about non-revolutionary, non-activist types who emerge visibly in moments of struggle and whose own organic links to mass elements, that revolutionaries and activists aren’t in touch with, allows their perspectives far more currency.  It is the connections and relationships that they have that we don’t, but they aren’t always active and are often dormant making the opportunities to link with them sparse.

When they do become visible, usually in hot moments such as riots, strikes, blockades, occupations, and sit-ins, they can potentially work in combination in between moments of mass action and maintain continuity by carrying out smaller actions and projects in between them, and, when mass actions materialize, as a way to change the dynamic of the mass action not only toward far more confrontational and hence educational ends, but through mobilization of their networks than can deepen the movement overall.  

Again, Nappalos,

“While we may not be able to sustain radical mass organization at all times, we can bring together the most conscious elements of the mass movements together with the most active and grounded elements of the revolutionary movements to provide continuity, organization, coordination, and education between struggles. The intermediate level organization then is the memory, training ground, and nursery of developing consciousness in struggle, which is not possible within the ebb and flows with the mass movements, and which has different activity and unity from the political level.”

On an enlarged scale there exists the possibility for the formation of a new political subject, as opposed to the often imputed term “working class,” and that transcends the democratic/bourgeois/human and civil rights framework.  Herein lies the material party.

In practice there are real limits and the possibilities aren’t ever present.  Mike Ely wrote in Sites of a Communist Beginning that we can’t presuppose that the most advanced elements always exist and are more or less present everywhere, only in small numbers.  We are more and more convinced that this is the case, even if we have drawn for now different conclusions.

So rather than consider our organizing projects, that are nearly always made up of revolutionary and activist types, as “intermediate layer organizations,” the way we have done sometimes, we see them as potentially intermediate forms that can mobilize and combine organic networks that these advanced nodules are in contact with to change the balance of forces in mass actions and turn them into actions of a new type, and to hasten the forging of a political subject.  What this all means for revolutionaries is that political spaces and centers will no longer be determined by the political type, pushing to the background all the naval gazing, subcultural, and toxic bullshit that insulates us, that the questions we debate will have a concrete and material character based on the fusion of revolutionaries and intermediate types.

 

Intermediate examples and the relationship to existing class struggle nodes

At the University of Washington in Seattle in 2009, the university cleaning crew were being hit with cuts to overtime, breakroom amenities, and enforced “team cleaning” that was really a disguised speed-up.  The janitors responded with work-to-rule and other tactics, but the most important development was their cliquing up with students who were fighting budget cuts and together carried out confrontational actions and occupations.  Among the janitors was a long-time rank and file immigrant militant who revolutionaries organizing on campus were able to engender a close relationship with and strategize together about how to not only sustain the resistance of the janitors but broaden the movement against contracted social reproduction.  He exemplified the intermediate type.  What if he was put into contact with others in other shops like himself?  And what if their energies were combined in a common grouping and in tandem with revolutionary elements?

In late 2013, in an apartment complex in Southwest Houston, an undocumented woman reached out to Southwest Defense Network about rodent and insect infestation that the property management refused to remedy and who exploited the legal status of the majority of its tenants precisely for these purposes.  Most contacts are folks who a short-term relationship is forged based on the immediacy of their issues and who oftentimes defer the bulk of the organizing to the solnet.  However, her initiative in creating relationships with other tenants and her natural leadership qualities translated into a multi-tenant with possibilities for a tenant committee that could have had a semi-permanent quality.

What if these two folks in the above examples lived in the same city?  What if they were put into contact with each other where their respective centers of influence could be mobilized for a common action?  What if another upsurge of immigrant activity happens?  These intermediate types connected through an intermediate organization can serve as nodes to translate a working class quality to this upsurge as well as carry back its tactical militancy into their places work and places of reproduction and rest.  In some cases, an organization will emerge out of it.  In Seattle, it was International Workers and Students for Justice.  In other cases, a pre-existing form that contains the potentiality, through its flexibility, to express the content of the intermediate forces will do it.  In Arizona in 2010, it was the Repeal Coalition.

Again, the intermediate moment is one where intermediate types are far and few between and dispersed unevenly across the landscape, dependent on the composition of capital and labor and the experiences of sectors in the class.  Even where forming intermediate groupings is possible, in the present it will always be hamstrung by a profound discontinuity in struggle.  Yet, paradoxically, they are also one of the contingent social factors in the possibility for continuity.  This is a line we will have to find comfort in walking.

We said above that this concept is a potential point of intersection between the different nodes of activity we are in conversation with.  We realize not everyone uses the term “intermediate,” or, where they may have heard of it, differ from our interpretation.  Now we want to say just a few things about what is implicit in these various nodes’ activities that offer an overlap in perspective and practice.

For the new syndicalists, of which we consider ourselves a part, the relation is much more apparent as it is loosely where the concept originates.  Some in the solnet and IWW milieu, including us, are using the concept to think about intermediacy in workplace and neighborhood contexts.  Rather than an emphasis on organizing the average type (or the class), how can we think about a prioritization of certain social and historical types, and how can they be soldered together?  How can we transcend linear “base-building” conceptions of the growth of struggle, one worker at a time, one workplace at a time, that is generally accepted in this milieu?  Struggle has never and will never proceed this way.  What then, if any, is the role of organizing on a smaller or micro level if we reject this approach?

It seems this has been a similar starting point for our comrades in the Pacific Northwest centered around the ULTRA blog and the Generation Zero facebook page.  There’s both an implicit rejection of base-building and mass organizing and an affirmation of the role of spontaneity as part of the communist project that has been deemphasized by various revolutionary currents.  At the same time there’s a sense that insurrectionism as the plaything of leftists is offbase.  How, then, do revolutionaries appraise the proliferation of street rebellion that has been taking place with or without the efforts of insurrectionaries proper?  Who are these folks and how do we build with them?  Here, we ask with our ULTRA comrades, can the intermediate concept offer utility in thinking about the growth of an insurrectionist spirit among certain layers of the proletariat and how revolutionaries can orient to them that doesn’t imply waiting for the next insurrection?  We know they are diligently thinking about this which is why ULTRA exists.  In fact, the authors are also collaborating in this project and are anxious to engage these questions further over a longer period of time.

In Houston, we have been cultivating over the last year or more an affinity with activists that were involved with union and immigration non-profits and who maintained a critical opposition to them.  The relationship has evolved around the limits of non-profits, unions, and the immigration movement’s and business union’s alliance with the Democratic Party who are the vanguard of deportation and austerity.  This was not a propagandistic relationship but grounded concretely through our work in the solnet that has prioritized the immigrant narrative, individuals and actions of a quality type, and tactical militancy.  Our opposition to the above forms were rooted in our own methods of organizing and intervention.  While there has been less conversation about the intermediate concept in the abstract, the emphasis on fostering relationships with specific types, for more quality than quantity among other deviations we have from the NGOs, continues to be the foundation of our relationships.

Finally, we have had a relationship on some level with Bay Area communist group Advance the Struggle going on five years now.  It could be argued that our respective groups’ development are due in some measure to our relationship to each other.  The intermediate and many other organizational concepts have been in mutual usage for some time.  In fact, AS created a more concentrated syllabus on organization derived from one U&S drew up and that have been used in our respective milieus.  This has facilitated a lot of continuity between us and we hope that this piece produces a line of engagement that has been missing for a while now.  Historically, AS has tried to navigate the line tactically between adventurism of insurrectionists and the tailism of centrist elements, has strived to socialize the struggle against the multiracial city and educational elite who tried to coopt the Oscar Grant and budget cuts struggles in the Bay, and who has argued for a synthesis of End Notes emphasis on the value form with Trotskyist strategy and tactics.

Here again, these elements are a product of the intermediate moment between the era of either closed, theoretically pure, micro-sects and socialist reformer organizations who tie their influence to how many explicitly liberal and reformist organizations that they form alliances with, versus a formal association of some practical nature between serious class struggle elements that have formed in the face of the above pre-2008 decay.

In Part Two we will delve deeper into the organizational dynamics of intermediate and potentially intermediate spaces and the extant strategic and tactical questions they face.

14 thoughts on “The Intermediate Moment (Part One)”

  1. Mass, intermediate, and revolutionary (or political). Three different levels, or types, within a theoretical model.

    The mass level being the largest, most practical and reformist type; the
    revolutionary level being the most theoretical, political, and confrontational
    type; and the intermediate being a dialectical “synthesis” of the
    two. These three categories–“political,” “mass,” and “intermediate,”–
    do not have any intrinsic structure, nor do they reflect a coherent reality in the world, but are instead ideological abstractions, which attempt to squeeze a profound spectrum of social and political difference into neat, logical
    categories.

    Although the authors attempt to
    anticipate this kind of critique by emphasizing that these categories
    are not “linear,” but are instead “fluid,” interacting and
    overlapping with each other, the fact of the matter is that the
    authors are still using these categories in a linear model, which
    abstracts the world into higher and lower, more “advanced” and
    “average,” levels of development, as well as an intermediate
    level in-between. Abstracting the class struggle into a model of
    higher and lower stages, or levels, does not reflect the current
    period at all. It is arguable whether such a conceptualization of
    reality ever accurately reflected the highly complex dynamics of
    class struggle. Such an approach attempts to organize a very
    disorderly and unstable reality, and the potentials contained with
    it, into a coherent, well-defined object, or set of objects.

    In this present period of crisis and ideological disorder, people are desperately looking for coherence. However, while coherence is a necessary component of theoretical knowledge, coherence alone
    is not enough. There needs to be a rigorous and comprehensive method
    for thinking about the profound spectrum of difference and
    incoherence which constitutes modern class struggle, and the
    chaotic ways in which different levels of political development grow
    and relate in particular circumstances.

    The mass-intermediate-political model
    does not express a concrete process in the world. Different forms of
    struggle and methods of organization, especially under capitalism,
    relate to each other in a highly contradictory, paradoxical, and complex way.

    Class struggle looks more like disorder than a stable, centralized object. While there might be given moments in which the revolutionary-intermediate-mass schema accurately reflects a specific reality, more often than not, such a schema is merely an imposed abstraction. The “revolutionary level,” apparently made up of the Militants and Revolutionaries, is often the most theoretically
    backwards, and practically reformist, not the most politically
    advanced or unified. The “intermediate level,” conceptualized as the most “advanced” social elements (“workers”)–this layer
    does not reflect a solid human material that exists in the world, but
    rather, represents an interpretation, a potential, a what-if, an
    ideal, halfway between the real and the fictive. The “mass level,”
    conceptualized as the raw practice, or content, of social
    struggle and movement, deformed by reformist and conformist ideology—this level
    is actually the spearhead of theoretical and strategic innovations
    and leaps, which unfold in the context of mass events, such as
    strikes, street rebellions, blockades, insurrections, etc.

    The intermediary model is accepted as
    real prior to its actualization. Revolutionaries perceive the
    categories of “mass,” “intermediate,” and “political,”
    like clouds in the sky, high above the earth, influencing each
    other, lightly floating between the real and the possible. But these
    categories are an interpretation of the terrain, not the terrain
    itself. The “intermediate” concept attempts to express a reality
    and practice, but with an analytic tool that is reductive of that
    emerging reality, which was designed for earlier periods. Modern social struggle is not rational or coherent, but appears as highly differential. It astonishes us with its complexity, which surpasses our current theoretical tools. New tools must be forged; tools which emphasize and grasp the disruptive, contradictory,
    incomplete, and inconsistent nature of all the different elements of
    the class struggle, and which rejects their reification into a
    hierarchal, dualistic model—the revolutionaries in one hand, the
    mass struggle in the other, and the intermediate elements emerging
    somewhere in between.

    The presumed order of this model does not correspond to the situation.
    The current stage of struggle, particularly in the U.S., is characterized
    by a perplexing situation in which we are unable to identify with
    certainty any definite revolutionary subject or process. At best, the
    intermediary concept is a potential object,
    not an actual object that exists in reality. It could be an
    object in the process of formation, which outlines and
    engages a whole range of problems: What happens between revolutionary
    periods? Where is this intermediate period leading to? What new or
    partial practices does it imply? How should we understand the process
    of struggle among increasingly disparate elements—insurrectionary, activist, mundane, academic, etc? How best to participate within this highly differential and contradictory process?

    The mass-intermediate-political model represents one of the most
    comprehensive strategies for participation in movements and struggles. But I am not convinced that it provides the most useful answers to these
    questions. The mass-intermediate-revolutionary model is an attempt to construct a formal model of different stages of class struggle. More than the distinct categories of “mass” “political” intermediate,” what I take away most from this is that we are most definitely living thru an “intermediate” period, with profound organizational and strategic implications. I’ve taken a lot out of this document in that sense. But there is no “intermediate” layer or form. The “intermediate” moment, points more towards a path, or an orientation, not a model. This path has by no means been realized.

  2. What up, Arturo!

    Okay, first, yes, those social/political
    categories are abstract. You’ve said that social reality is far more
    complex. I agree. Of course, I could say that the bulk of Capital, for
    instance, is filled with abstractions or concepts that lay out the
    movement of capital in pure form, but those concepts or ideal forms are
    useful to most of us because they seem to correspond to reality. It
    seems you think these categories don’t correspond at all but I’m going
    to assume that you are okay with abstractions–just not these ones.

    Again,
    totally agree that reality is far more complex, but then we’re faced
    with the need to have some useful and workable categories that help us
    develop forms of mediation, forms of practical orientation that can
    anticipate new social situations and new categories.
    Revolutionary/political-intermediate-mass for me do not represent the
    sum total of social categories by any stretch. Within the mass there
    are any number of contradictions and particularities, skilled and
    unskilled, race, nation, gender, age, geography, etc. and these only
    touch the surface. Each of those categories are limited and uneven as
    well (and hopefully we spoke to some of those limitations and unevenness
    when describing the working classes, though not exhaustively). But are there not unifying
    social/political categories that we can subsume these under, not as
    determinant of everything but of aspects of activity? If I say, for
    instance, the revolutionary left is largely isolated from the class,
    would you agree that this an abstraction that has some concrete merits?
    And couldn’t you still say, then, that the reality is much more complex
    and that there are exceptions?

    There are exceptions to this,
    indeed. The intermediate moment is a moment of discontinuity. The
    better elements of the Left make sporadic contacts with the class in
    struggle and then that struggle peaks and the contact is largely
    ruptured and followed again by more discontinuity.

    “In this present period of crisis and ideological disorder, people are
    desperately looking for coherence. However, while coherence is a
    necessary component of theoretical knowledge, coherence alone
    is not enough. There needs to be a rigorous and comprehensive method
    for thinking about the profound spectrum of difference and
    incoherence which constitutes modern class struggle, and the
    chaotic ways in which different levels of political development grow
    and relate in particular circumstances.”

    This
    is sharp! I emphatically agree with this. And in trying to make sense
    of the intermediate concept (if it proves itself to be useful) I’m not
    for dispensing with such a method–in fact, we’re trying to develop this
    method towards existences and phenomena that have not been seriously
    grappled with.

    Really,
    we’re just trying to grapple with the organizational implications of
    these categories and not make them much bigger than that. As we
    mentioned, we’re consistently presented with the dualism of
    revolutionary and mass organizations. There’s been plenty written on
    the distinction and the relationship between the two, some useful, some
    not. But, for our time, this isn’t a particularly helpful schema and
    we’re trying to think of some ways that we’ve seen through our own
    experience or through others that allows us to anticipate a moment where
    revolutionary-mass dynamic is rooted practically.

    On the linear
    versus fluid tip, if it seems we understand the intermediate concept as a
    static concept and the pol-intermediate-mass as a linear movement, then
    that is not because we believe them to be so but because we failed to
    present them as such. We don’t see the task as moving the mass to the
    intermediate and the intermediate to the revolutionary. That is indeed
    linear as well as ahistoric (not to mention hella voluntaristic). We’re
    not trying to strategize how to make revolutions which are always made
    up sharp conjunctural shifts and political ruptures that place sections
    of the proletariat ahead of everyone (including the left). It does not
    happen by winning people over to rev’y groups (or intermediate ones).

    Hopefully,
    that takes care of some of the “hierarchy” stuff. When we say
    “average” we don’t mean that in terms of intelligence or some other kind
    of value judgment (and it’s easy for it to be seen this way, I
    understand). The solnet experience is instructive: most folks who come
    into contact with solnets win their demands (or lose) and dip out when
    it’s over with. That is because at this moment when most of the class
    isn’t collectively fighting the political implications of what solnets
    do remain abstract (they anticipate some future moment). What really
    mediates the relationship is social service, not class struggle.

    There’s

    really just a basic strategic hypothesis predicated on this moment:
    instead of recruiting politicos into prop circles who propagandize the
    class or creating mass organizations that struggle over immediate needs
    which can’t be done (short of mass struggles/experiences, anyway),
    forge, where possible, selective relationships with social elements that
    have organic contacts with sectors of the proletariat that can
    potentially 1) qualitatively shift the dynamic of a grouping or milieu
    where the political layer/activist/rev’y left is not the determinant and
    dominant force 2) overcome the dynamic of revolutionaries forming
    short-lived relationships with “average” types that don’t go beyond
    social service and where there is no political/org’l continuity 3) and,
    more long term, hasten a new stage in the development of class struggle
    through the coherence of various nodes of activity (instead of just
    revolutionary/activist groups).

    Again,
    this isn’t always possible. The intermediate elements are sparse and
    episodic and we believe there will have to deeper struggles for organic
    leaders to emerge on a broader scale. For now it will mean developing a
    keen eye for these types and cohering formal relationships with them
    when they appear.

    Okay, that’s it for now. I’m all ears to hear what you’re thinking about as an alternative to any of this stuff.

    1. Hey Tyler,

      Yes i agree with much of the document and what you are writing. i am just not convinced anymore that the “intermediate” level, or form, as it has been outlined, expresses a human material, or level of struggle, that actually exists; especially if we define it as one which anticipates a revolutionary period. Are we really accelerating the development of a revolution with the “intermediate” model?

      Of course, i do agree that there is an intermediate situation, or moment, out of which a revolutionary movement or period develops. This is the strongest part of your argument. As we prepare for the future in the present, the organizational and strategic implications of this intermediary moment are what really matter.

      It goes without saying that the revolutionary left is deeply isolated from the class struggle and the people that are struggling, and that there are exceptions here and there. My critique is not a critique of theoretical abstraction and categories in general, but of categorizing the class struggle into higher and lower levels of development, which is what the “intermediate” concept is ultimately based on– as emerging between the category of “revolutionaries” and “the mass,” or between the “advanced” elements and the “average” ones. I don’t think these kinds of categories are useful anymore, and would argue that they are based in prior realities, not the present one in the U.S. Of course, i do not think that this is the essence of your argument, i am just weary of such categorization.

      Now, i don’t have any cohesive alternative to the “intermediate” strategy or model. There is none. I think the first step is to accept that the current period of struggle is still unknown to us; we dont have the words to fully express it; we dont even see it. Thats why i would say that, no, currently there are no unifying political/social categories that can subsume the unevenness of the class struggle. Maybe i am being overly cynical. But the few examples are exceptions, and i dont want to downplay exceptions, as they contain invaluable insights and lessons, such as those that you all have touched on when it comes to building political relationships with other revolutionary minded people. But a strategic model cannot be built on exceptions. Its basis is too provisional. The intermediate concept would instead have to be emphasized more as a path, an orientation, that opens up a horizon towards a potential reality–revolutionary struggle.

      1. I largely agree with what Arturo is putting out. I do not find any of the arguments for the ‘Intermediate Layer/Org’ concept convincing. I do not think that it is a particularly well thought out or useful abstraction. I find it to be predicated on the assumption that ‘revolutionaries’ exist outside of certain conjunctures within which insurrection/civil war are real imminent potentials. I do not think that this is a useful premiss. Communist partisans exist within the class of those free and doubly free to sell our labor. Some of us have experience in past moments when power was collectively exercised and negotiated in the streets. Some of us are training ourselves to think, act, and coordinate. We will see when ‘the balloon goes up’ who shows up and in what state of readiness to take communizing measures. At that point one can speak of being a ‘Revolutionary’. Until then, any talk of ‘revolutionaries’ increasingly strikes me as warmed over leftovers from the dead weight of the past conjunctures.

        In commradly warmth 😉

      2. Comradely greetings, Arturo.

        Both here and your initial comment, you challenge the OPs on their classification of class struggles into higher and lower development, and I think you’re missing the core of what’s being obscured. As militants we identify particular rifts and qualitative leaps between activity when compared, compounded, and contrasted; It is with insight to these that they make sense of these categories, but they are indeed abstractions, albeit (for the OPs) practical abstractions for the purpose of analyzing struggle. If they are not of use to you, then I would not be bothered by it. Consider them someone else’s abstraction of a concept that could easily be given another name with different categorizations, but nonetheless reflects a common and genuine practice amongst ourselves, which is the identification of motion of the class. They are more or less trying to identify the context of these “rifts” and qualitative leaps in practice and activity.

        This is still not what is being talked about with the intermediate concept. This is about a specific context, one I think the OPs have particular experience with at the current moment. At times in which no “mass movement” is viable, with what method do we navigate an alienated class (as well as an alienated Left, therefore, despite dubious conjectures we can go on about it’s class composition at the present moment – I hold no special love for it) and make sense and use of our encounters? There is certainly no shortage of struggle, there is a shortage of space for interaction with the tasks that produce themselves from struggle.

        The intermediate concept is about opening and creating space based on these tasks, where the class and militants (even from different milleaus) can converge on them, and identify the elements from which a qualitative leap may occur. It is not about setting winnable demands, it is not about the demands themselves at all. We also are looking for rifts created by these leaps; we can identify even the smallest of rifts between a task one week, and the activity from the week prior. This is how we derive content from the rather small direct-action settings. This is not about making a large tactical sketching of long term “programmatic” and organizational concepts. I would scale this down a bit, into very small scale direct-action settings. I think there is human material to the intermediate concept, it entails the relationships we often build one-by-one, and involves careful consideration of consciousness. I think it is nothing but their abstraction of a project that tries to build a pole of “encounter”.

        I do not think you are overly-cynical, I think you are being too contemplative here, and possibly reading into the concept in-and-of itself without remembering it is being presented as a “concept”, one which emerged from practical activity. We do not think it is enough to simply acknowledge the rifts and leaps are there, we need an intermediate concept with which to harness and nurture them.

  3. Greetings all! I enjoyed this piece quite a bit, here are some thoughts I jotted down in regards to it.

    I appreciate the concise and clear summary of the conditions of both labor and class and the left, I think this is really on point. One thing I would add to the description of the revolutionary left is how the white working class was largely retreated from by the revolutionary left in recent decades as well, corresponding directly of course with the retreat from class politics in favor of instititions and subcultures, and that this is directly related to how reactionary right wing politics now holds dominant sway over large portions of the white working class, manifesting in such expressions as the racist xenophobia and sanctioned murders of Black folks we see recently, among others. This is talked about in a piece, I think from 2011, a friend was interviewed on here (though I’d quibble with some of the terms used, I agree with what Dave says here, fromhttp://multi.lectical.net/content/rednecks_guns_and_other_anti_racist_stories_and_strategies):

    “…the white working class has been completely abandoned to the right wing. The left has pushed white working class folks aside. Most liberals and progressives have very little activity with any sort of working class organizing, let alone white working class organizing.

    Working class whites are more often the topic of jokes or ridicule than the target of any organizing efforts from our quarters. And I don’t mean to say that the white working class hasn’t earned a lot of that derision from the left. They have historically sided with the capitalists and the state and turned on non-white working people at nearly every opportunity.

    But we also can’t ignore the internal classism prevalent amongst many members of the Left, especially the institutional Left (non-profits, NGOs, etc). The folks in leadership positions are almost always white upper class liberals, and they have done much to cement their class leadership at the expense of working class people of all colors who may or may not be the perfectly educated political machines that the leaders of the liberal left yearn to be.”

    Back to the U&S piece, I totally love this part here:

    “So rather than consider our organizing projects, that are nearly always made up of revolutionary and activist types, as “intermediate layer organizations,” the way we have done sometimes, we see them as potentially intermediate forms that can mobilize and combine organic networks that these advanced nodules are in contact with to change the balance of forces in mass actions and turn them into actions of a new type, and to hasten the forging of a political subject. What this all means for revolutionaries is that political spaces and centers will no longer be determined by the political type, pushing to the background all the naval gazing, subcultural, and toxic bullshit that insulates us, that the questions we debate will have a concrete and material character based on the fusion of revolutionaries and intermediate types.”

    This points to one of the real benefits of an intermediate level strategy, breaking out of all the toxic bullshit of an ultra/rev left that exists for its own sake. I do think there’s a danger in simply relabeling the things we always do with “intermediate” and that we need to actively build those networks described as inroads to the mass level.

    “the intermediate moment is one where intermediate types are far and few between and dispersed unevenly across the landscape, dependent on the composition of capital and labor and the experiences of sectors in the class. Even where forming intermediate groupings is possible, in the present it will always be hamstrung by a profound discontinuity in struggle. Yet, paradoxically, they are also one of the contingent social factors in the possibility for continuity. This is a line we will have to find comfort in walking.”

    This strikes me as extremely insightful, and I definitely think it is a key contradiction to be grappled with right now. Funny enough, “continuity of struggle” is a phrase I use and think about when discussing the utility of the political organization itself, as hit upon in some pieces and discussions among IWW and class struggle anarchist org. member comrades (mostly the now BR/RN) over the last 2 yrs or so (Juan Conatz, Nate Hawthorne, Adam Weaver, Scott Nappalos). Whether or not the specific political organization offers us the tools we need right now, the building of the “intermediate level” is I think unquestionably useful in carrying us forward, and the need for building from the moments of the recent past.

    In general terms, the description of being in an “intermediate moment” seems quite apt, and this is something I think Nappalos’ Defining Practice also points to, where he says:

    “During low points of struggle then, the intermediate level presents an alternative. While we may not be able to sustain radical mass organization at all times, we can bring together the most conscious elements of the mass movements together with the most active and grounded elements of the revolutionary movements to provide continuity, organization, coordination, and education between struggles. The intermediate level organization then is the memory, training ground, and nursery of developing consciousness in struggle, which is not possible within the ebb and flows with the mass movements, and which has different activity and unity from the political level. Unlike the mass movements, the intermediate level does not seek to become the vehicle for mediation between capital and the working class, and because of this it has space for activity and development that the mass movement can not.”

    I think the U&S comrades point to another interesting contradiction in here:

    “intermediate types [individual worker/tenant militants described in preceding paragraphs] connected through an intermediate organization can serve as nodes to translate a working class quality to this upsurge as well as carry back its tactical militancy into their places work and places of reproduction and rest. In some cases, an organization will emerge out of it.”

    and later

    “How can we transcend linear “base-building” conceptions of the growth of struggle, one worker at a time, one workplace at a time, that is generally accepted in this milieu? Struggle has never and will never proceed this way. What then, if any, is the role of organizing on a smaller or micro level if we reject this approach?”

    I agree that the winning over of people in the ones and twos are never going to transform the class itself, and I think that a huge strength of what this piece does is to join the idea of the intermediate level itself with the practice of recent examples of struggle that the authors experienced or are familiar with. This contradiction ties in to the issue of the general lack of the mass level in action here in the US, and it’s something I talk a bit about in an article I wrote in late 2012 reflecting on the last two years of activity (http://wildrosecollective.org/2012/12/01/a-view-from-the-plains-on-organizing-in-smaller-areas-of-the-midwest/)… Though I use the term “social insertion,” this is largely including the intermediate level, and this was manifested in big ways for our local participation in area Occupy organizing, but it preceded that in our own solnet and followed it later as we attempted to re-engage housing organizing. What I actually think of now is partly a lack of class consciousness, partly (relatedly) a lack of the living history of struggle, and the institutional forms of the left so clearly described by Zee and Kahlo. I think in the long view building a revolutionary praxis really amounts to lots of stinging defeats, and which no magic bullet of organizational form is going to solve. I tend to think now that in a lot of ways I think experimentation is more key than ideology or organizational form.From Nappolos again, in

    What went wrong with the organizing: the elephant in the room of political will (https://libcom.org/library/what-went-wrong-organizing-elephant-room-political-will)

    “When people hit a brick wall organizing today they are very quick to look at big picture aspects to explain their failures. For many of the tiniest fights we see calls for large revisions of structure of social organizations, committees, and demographics in countless versions. Ideology is also popular with a deep drive towards critique and adopting new ideologies as technical fixes for hurdles in organizing; forms of born-again ideology. The worst of this is relying on large-scale analyses of the economic environment to explain away concrete daily problems that seek to persuade people not to fight in vast sections of society and the globe because of often amateurish crystal gazing and doit- yourself political economy. The focus is generally on us, likely because of how demobilized society is, which shifts the view away from the people struggling.”

    I’m less enthused about the insurrectionary tendency, as cited referencing the ULTRA blog and the Generation Zero facebook page. In my formative political years in the early 00s, insurrectionary politics were important to me, I was pretty influenced by the zine Killing King Abacus, and the writings of Wolfi Landstreicher and the reprints of Bonnano that went around in that time. While I still think that insurrectionaries can offer really incisive critiques of the wider left and push for much needed militancy on the part of movements, part of my turn toward class struggle anarchism was seeing the utter failure of the positions of militancy at all costs and in all scenarios and complete rejection of formal organization in any form to break out of essentially youth subculture. While I see some smart analysis from these folks, and I consider them comrades in the struggle, I don’t see these or the other tiqqunistas of that ilk in recent years to be offering anything really different than what was being talked about 10-15 years ago (besides politically being oriented on class politics over often primitivist politics in that time, which is overall good).

    I also think there’s a tendency to over-hype the role of spontaneity to engage in class conflict and street militancy on the part of the class, or that where it does emerge that communist politics flow naturally from it. The “voluntarist wing” of the communisateurs would seem to be under the same delusion that is cited earlier in the piece, that historical conditions will lead to an inevitable throwing over of capitalism and the state, and communist politics will develop of their own accord in the process. While I think there’s much to be said for a politic that emerges organically from the process of revolution, politics still need to be argued for and represented. Militancy in street tactics does not translate to remaking social relationships in the here and now, and the examples are many and varied of where simple bourgeois legal reforms were fought with bloody struggle. If the last year’s events in Ukraine and Venezuela should teach us anything, it’s that militant street demos against the dominant social order can go right-wing as well. It’s hard not to see how this would be all the more possible in US, especially given much of the white working class has that earlier mentioned right-wing orientation.

    While I know this tendency is only briefly cited at the end, I actually think these approaches directly relate to our orienting to movement upsurges, and what role, if any, organizations can play and the political/mass/intermdiate levels that exist in relationship to. If struggle has never proceeded from one worker, one workplace at a time, it’s also surely never gone from struggle to social revolution without some organizational forms. I fear only repping “ani-politics/anti-mass” will only cede huge terrain to the old leftist forms of musty ML groups and reformist institutions, be they the big unions or NGOs. I think in turn this means a real danger in redirecting mass level momentum toward the project of militant reformism, effectively propping up and maintaining the capitalist social order.

    Following from that I think it’s useful to look at one of the texts from the FARJ, on the matter of social insertion. The intermediate level analysis/strategy is an adaptation of these ideas from the Especifista anarchist milieu of South America. In Chapter 8 The Specific Anarchist Organization, of the FARJ’s Social Revolution and Organization (http://zabalazabooks.net/2012/03/20/social-anarchism-and-organisation/), they describe the “grouping of tendency” and the kind of middling layer between the specific anarchist organization and the mass organization.

    I’ll just close by quoting at some length from this text, which is useful on all these questions, and particularly this chapter with regards to the intermediate level. This diagram and quote in particular strikes me as relevant with regards to an ultraleft approach to movement work, and how engaging strategically and developing the intermediate level/grouping of tendency works to influence the mass level (http://anarkismo.net/article/21934):

    [see diagram in above link]

    “SAO being the specific anarchist organisation, GT the grouping of tendency and SM the social movement, there are two flows.

    “The first – that of the influence of the SAO – seeks to go through the GT and from there to the SM. Let us look at a few practical examples. The anarchist organisation that desires to act in a union may form a grouping of tendency with other activists from the union movement who defend some specific banners (revolutionary perspective, direct action, etc.) and by means of this tendency may influence the union movement, or the union in which it acts. Or the anarchist organisation may choose to work with the landless movement and, for this, brings people who defend similar positions (autonomy, direct democracy, etc.) in the social movement together in a grouping of tendency. By means of this grouping of tendency the specific anarchist organisation acts within the landless movement and, in this way, seeks to influence it.

    “This form of organisation aims to solve a very common problem that we find in activism. For example, when we know very dedicated activists; revolutionaries that advocate self-management, autonomy, grassroots democracy, direct democracy, etc. and with whom we do not act because they are not anarchists. These activists could work with the anarchists in the groupings of tendency and defend their positions in the social movements together.

    “The second arrow in the diagram shows the objective of the flow of militants. That is, in this scheme of work the goal is to bring people in the social movements that have practical affinity with the anarchists into the groupings of tendency and, from there, bring those that have ideological affinity closer to the anarchist organisation. In the same way as in the previous diagram, if a militant has great practical affinity with the anarchists, but is not an anarchist, they must be a member of the grouping of tendency and will be fundamental to the performance of social work. If they have ideological affinities they may be closer to or even join the organisation.

    “The objective of the anarchist organisation is not to turn all activists into anarchists, but to learn to work with each of these activists in the most appropriate way. While having mutual interests the militants may change their positions in the circles (from the social movement to the grouping of tendency or from the grouping of tendency to the anarchist organisation). Without these mutual interests, however, each one acts where they think it more pertinent.

    “The decision-making process used in the anarchist organisation is an attempt at consensus, using the vote when consensus is not possible. Unlike some libertarian groups and organisations we believe that consensus should not be mandatory. As we mentioned earlier, besides consensus being a very inefficient form of decision-making, becoming unfeasible the more the number of people involved in the decisions increases, it offers the serious problem of giving great power to isolated agents. In an organisation of 20 militants one could block consensus, or even if 19 were in favour of one position and one another, you would have to have a “middle ground” that would consider, in a very disproportionate way, the only dissenter. To give proper efficiency to the decision-making process and not to give too much power to isolated agents, we chose this model of an attempt at consensus, and when this is not possible, the vote. “If it were in the very bosom of the organisation that the disagreement arose, that the division between majority and minority appeared around minor issues, over practical modalities or over special cases […], then it may occur more or less easily that the minority are inclined to do as the majority.” [122] In the case of voting all the militants of the organisation, even those who are outvoted, have an obligation to follow the winning position. This decision-making process is used to establish theoretical and ideological unity and also for strategic and tactical unity. We will return to these later. At this point it is enough to emphasise that for the struggle we want to pursue, we must put an end to dispersion and disorganisation and “the way to overcome this is to create an organisation that [… is based] on the basis of specific theoretical and tactical positions, and that leads us to a firm understanding of how these should be applied in practice” [123].”

  4. thanks for the thoughtful post comrades. I have a few random thoughts.

    Could you say more on this please? “recruiting people in the ones and twos” vs “contact on a material/tactical level with the leading lights of episodic and local struggle.” I’d like to hear more on the second because I think I disagree with this a lot, as stated. I’m not sure, though, because what you describe you all as doing in Houston sounds to me like the way I understand the first and not like the way I understand the second, so this could be a we-use-words-differently problem. I also think the first is equally compatible with “the practical and intellectual development of the milieus we are in and the linkages between revolutionary and intermediate types”

    Could you also say more on how the beginning relates to the arguments in the rest? You start by setting out a lot of big picture context. I like that and appreciate it. I take your point about an ‘intermediate moment’ to be that this is a particularly good time for using the idea of intermediate level analysis, because of the conditions of the present. Is that right? If so, can you say more about why? I think I’m having a hard time seeing the direct connection between what you say about the really big picture context and our activity/what you say about our activity, in part because (as your piece argues, I think) our activity is so very small and localized — the far left’s not really a big picture actor at the present, so to speak.

    I’m especially interested in what the role is of the analysis of capitalism – crisis, contracted reproduction etc. Like what changes in our politics and in this piece if we agree with that or if we disagree with that? I can’t tell. I ask in part because I think I disagree with that analysis at the start (I need to think more about it) but I feel like I agree with most of the rest of the piece, so I’m not sure what to make of that. I also ask because I think some people on the far left use arguments like the one you lay out to make claims like capitalism is decadent and reform is impossible. I disagree with those claims and if that’s what y’all think then I’d like to talk about it, but I don’t want to disagree w/ you about stuff you don’t actually think and aren’t actually saying.

    Two things Ryan brought up in his reply jumped out at me too.
    First, “bourgeois legal reforms were fought with bloody struggle.” I think that’s well put. In my opinion that’s really important in the present. I think for instance that events in Madison a few years ago amounted to basically a militant defense of public sector collective bargaining, so maybe not even a reform but trying to stop structural adjustment. That’s important in lots of ways, but also really limited. I think how we understand those limits is really important. (There’s a connection here to whether or not we think capitalism is decadent/whether we think reform is impossible — if capitalism’s only option is to make people’s lives worse vs if capitalism is capable of important reforms then that matters for how we understand the potential of reformist movements/struggles.)

    Second, “If struggle has never proceeded from one worker, one workplace at a time, it’s also surely never gone from struggle to social revolution without some organizational forms.”

    It’s my understanding that the unions in the US have basically always been shrinking except for short moments of really intense growth during or after times of major social struggle. There’s lots of reasons to see the unions as effects of and as containers for struggle (Black Orchid uses the term ‘shock absorbers’ which I like quite a bit) but that’s not all they are. They also help generate and coordinate struggle some of the time. (Madison’s a recent example.) These struggles may be limited and reformist, but they’re still struggles. Between moments of struggle they’ve proceeded (or maintained) via the kinds of small scale recruiting efforts that your piece criticizes. I’m tempted to say there’s a kind of dialectic between one-worker-at-a-time and major upheaval and a need to integrate the two or something, rather than to just pick one and only one.

    My two cents. Like I said, I like the piece. If you have time, I’d love to hear any further thoughts y’all have on this stuff.

    cheers,
    Nate

    1. What up Crash,

      I didn’t forget you.

      1) I don’t think there’s disagreement here just confusion. We explicitly mean ones and twos in the form of mass organization. This mostly cannot be done now outside of a social service context that typifies the NGO model and a concept of linear growth. The question is why does the solnet largely orient to the broad working class but is often unable to retain the folks it builds campaigns around (excluding the Bay and the PNW). Of course, ones and twos is how we mainly bring people into political groupings (revolutionary or intermediate). Mass forms will not be the result of linear, social service organizing, whether direct action-based or not. I’m gonna assume agreement on this. For the independent point on milieus, I agree, I would just say that this “ones and twos” dynamic (which isn’t quite like that, but whatevs) is not about a schematic recruitment into a unitary grouping but just that, developing a milieu. I hope this clears up your last point about this too.

      2) AK was also critical of this. Her thinking, and I think I agree
      now, is that this should have been either streamlined or worked out as
      independent points relating to specific practical ideas. But noooo, had
      to sound all smart and shit. The basic point, outlined elsewhere,
      is to avoid crude empiricism and to root strategies in material
      analyses.

      Here’s my point: capital is attempting to overcome its own
      immanent contradictions by driving down the cost of reproduction of
      labor power and forcing it onto labor itself. A result of this is the
      decomposition of the old Keynesian productivity-wage link upon which
      mass production was largely organized. What’s left as we know is both
      outsourced and decentralized production further atomizing labor, both in
      the sense of small isolated workplaces and in the sense of individual bargaining of labor. The class is trying to understand this and is fighting back in sparse and discontinuous ways without the existence of large fighting institutions. The nature of the crisis hasn’t resulted in mass
      organizations that in specific times revolutionaries could have a more
      tangible connection to. This is the material basis for the intermediate
      concept as strategy. You could argue that intermediate elements are
      timeless in one sense, but perhaps they don’t occupy the same strategic
      location or urgency as they do now (assuming they exist in the first
      place).

      3) What changes? Good question.

      I don’t think we should stick with empirical strategies and apply them universally based on their effectiveness in one context and in one period. The intermediate concept so far used is too abstract, it assumes three
      distinct layers in a timeless sense. This is where I agree with
      Arturo. Strategies are synthesis of theory and tactics, where ideas and
      practice meet. If we have no material analysis, we wind up just
      eclectically applying strategies with ahistoric criteria. This is why
      the piece is oriented toward revolutionaries and political types as
      well. Our analysis assumes a tremendous unevenness and underdeveloped political situation, like Texas. We’re thinking of the specificity of the intermediate concept.

      I think it’s fine if you don’t agree with the analysis laid out which is
      underdeveloped anyway. They are supposed to serve as some basic
      categories informing the analysis however badly formulated. I guess I
      would just ask, what is/should be the analysis of the intermediate
      concept in our specific period? But I’m glad this is a sticking point
      because its not something we in U&S or in any one group are equipped
      to answer in isolation of other tendencies and groupings. We need more engagement and, most importantly, deeper struggles within the class.
      I’m not sure I understand you in the last couple of paragraphs. Are you
      saying that unions can always win reforms as long as they fight
      militantly? If so, I think my take on the crisis is that traditional
      reforms are completely off the table. I think a labor resurgence can
      assume the form of unions but I think they will run into objective
      limits immediately by capital’s inability to reproduce labor.
      So…having said that I don’t share the ultraleft rejection of unions
      either. I guess you already know that though. Maybe you can just
      explain some more.

      1. Thanks Tyler. The parts of the bigger picture/larger context analysis that I disagree with are mostly around the stuff where the piece draws on Loren Goldner’s work. (No disrespect to Loren, he’s a serious thinker for sure, I just don’t agree with some of his points on social reproduction.) That feels to me like a less important issue for this piece because I don’t think the rest of the piece or the intermediate level stuff requires that. Beyond that, after you clarified I think we’re on the same page on everything except the reform stuff. I have to think more about it but off the top of my head I guess I’d say no, reforms are not always winnable, but the issue to my mind is why or why not. I think reforms are social control. I think if the capitalist class is able to fund social control measures, it can fund reform just as much as repression. It may well be that for political reasons within the capitalist class the capitalists and governments won’t opt for reform. But won’t is different than can’t, I think, though I guess you could say that if the capitalist class is too caught up in deals between different class fractions etc to actually use reforms then that’s the same as saying “they can’t use reforms as a social control measure.” I dunno. This doesn’t feel clear to me, I apologize.

        I guess part of my hang up here is that in my opinion the things that the capitalist class and capitalist states opt for as they wage their class struggle against all of us (and I think this is true for smaller scale actors too like specific capitalists etc), those things are only secondarily the result of real economic necessity, they’re political rather than economic. (Economic necessity is just politics obfuscated. I want to say the same thing about objective limits, though I’m not totally sure.) That’s super abstract and also not clearer so I’m gonna stop there. Final point, I guess I’m just saying if reform actually will happen or not is an open question and we should be careful to rule it out. Historically in the US reforms come in moments of crisis. The biggest example is the New Deal linked to the Great Depression but that’s not the only example. This is in part because reforms secure the reproduction of labor power in a new way, in part because reforms tamp down or channel social conflict, and in part because reforms create new organization of the capitalist class, all of which is useful to people trying to get around crisis and renew capitalism.

        take care,
        Nate

        1. Hey Crash,

          Great engagement here. Just a quick question. You say you’re skeptical of Goldner’s work (I’m inferring you have a critique of his theory of contracted social reproduction). Have you been drawing on any alternative understandings of the crisis that you could point us toward or discuss here?

          Appreciate your thoughts!

          1. hey Eve, I apologize for the long delay. No disrespect intended by the silence.Llife got real intense and I forgot to check back here. On the Goldner thing, I think calling it a critique probly overestimates my responses, I’d say I have a lot of nitpicks that I want to write down someday to see if there’s anything substantial to them. I don’t have a coherent understanding of the crisis either empirically or theoretically and don’t have any real alternatives. I’ve been very interested in the work I’ve read by people in the Social Structures of Accumulations school of economics (there’s some decent summaries in papers on David Kotz’s web site) and I like the bits of Giovanni Arrhighi (sp?) and Midnight Notes that I’ve read about shifts toward new rounds of dispossession/so-called primitive accumulation. I also think v1 of Capital, ch10 sec 5 to the end of the chapter is something everyone should (re)read as a standalone piece, regardless of whether they’ve read the rest of the book, because of how it gets into the relationships between working class mobilization against worsening lives, state efforts to stabilize society, and the creation of new opportunities for capitalists and capitalism despite the opposition of many capitalists.

            That said I think I’ve read more historical work on crisis than theoretical work, and really more on state/government responses to crisis in the US, particularly around the New Deal and also stuff in the 1910s. I keep meaning to read much more seriously on crisis theory and on the current situation empirically. Unfortunately I’m not sure when I’ll be able to do that.

            I’d be very interested to hear what you think, in terms of different accounts of the crisis and of crisis in general that you’re aware for, in addition to Goldner’s.

            take care,
            Nate

          2. Thanks, crash. Most of what I’ve read about the crisis is similar to Goldner’s theory – communization currents like Blaumachen, End Notes, TC, Sic Journal, etc. I was talking with a comrade recently who argued for cyclical crisis theory, which I don’t know much about. Basically, I don’t have a sense of alternative theories of the crisis and was hoping to learn more. I will check out the texts you list above. Thanks for your comment and no worries about the delay! :)

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