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Thinking About Organization: Between Mass and Revolutionary Activity

Continuing from two recent essays we have reposted in the last month or so, we are reproducing here an essay from the Bedtime Theory blog. The author is a member of Miami Autonomy and Solidarity.


Defining Practice: the intermediate level of organization and struggle

by S. Nappalos

There is a left tradition of thinking about and taking action within two realms of activity: the mass level and the revolutionary political level. There are different ways to cash out these concepts, but they are distinguished basically by levels of unity and content. 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. These concepts are tools or instruments that can help us make sense of the world, and better act to change it. In so far as they do that, they work. If they don’t, we get new ones. At the level of reality, this division is not so clear and in fact we see mixtures of unity and action everywhere. That being said, these concepts help us parse out how as revolutionaries we can relate to social groupings, and how we can intervene.

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.

Taking the example of the workers movement, we see unions at the mass level grouped together by common workplace issues, and a political level of revolutionary militants with unified ideology acting within the unions in some way or another. Within the unions there can be a plurality of political organizations, and even of individual militants who lack organizations. An intermediate level organization could come to unite class conscious workers around a strategy within their industry, workplace, etc. The intermediate level organization would not have the unity of a political organization, since its basis is bringing together militants for a common practice that doesn’t require everyone having the same ideology and political program. Likewise, if we required every member in a mass organization to share a high level of class consciousness and militancy (independently of the ebb and flow of struggles), we would be doomed either to fractions or paper tigers.

There is also a distinction between levels and organizations. That is there’s a mass level before the mass organization. The mass organization is made up of people who come together around common interests. That means there are people with common interests who exist before they come together in the mass organization. Often there is mass level activity and organizing (like spontaneous struggles, informal work groups, etc), before there is mass organization. There’s also a revolutionary (or at least leftist) level before the revolutionary organization – there are people with ideas and actions who exist before they come together into a conscious revolutionary body.

Likewise with the intermediate level, there are individuals and activities that precede organization. Presently there are organizations that sometimes play the role of intermediate organization (unconsciously), and there is prefigurative organizing and tendencies of potential future intermediate organizations. I want to hazard a thesis; in the United States today the intermediate level is the most important site for revolutionaries. In fact, I think this is true beyond the United States, but I lack the space here to prove it, and will leave it up to others in other places.

The intermediate level is strategic at this time is due to the state of political and mass organizations. The revolutionary left has been isolated from the working class (as well as other oppressed classes) for at least decades. The left is largely derived from the student and sub-cultural movements which serve as a training ground for the various institutional left bureaucracies (NGOs, unions, lobbying groups, political parties, sections of academia, etc), or at the least these institutions remain dominant within the left. The left reflects a particular section of society, one that sets it apart from the working class in its activity, vision, and makeup. There’s an inertia of dyspraxia; the ideas the left espouses do not reflect the activity of the left. Whether this is from the black block to the so-revolutionaries working to elect the left wing of capital, the left is characterized at this time by an alienation from the working class rather than an ability to “act in its interest”.
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