My Resoc Interview
By Patrick Korte at Dec 08, 2009
1. At a public talk someone asks you, "Okay, I understand what you reject, but I wonder what you are for? What institutions do you want that you think will be better than what we have, for the economy, polity, gender, race, ecology, or whatever you think is central to have vision for?"
The social revolution of the 21st century must be total and uphold as its primary objective the progressive transformation of our society's defining values and institutions in all spheres of social life: economics, politics, kinship, community, ecology, and international relations. While we are far from having fully developed the core characteristics of a free society, there are several forms of social organization that I favor in light of the successes and failures of past revolutionary movements.
For production, allocation, and consumption, I believe we should struggle for the creation of a classless, participatory economy. Under such a system, ownership of the means of production will be socialized, jobs will be balanced for a relative level of empowerment among all members of society, remuneration will be according to effort and sacrifice (and in obvious cases, according to need), and allocation will be organized through a system of decentralized participatory planning involving federations of workers' councils and consumers' councils developing, proposing, revising, and implementing a coherent economic plan.
For social legislation, implementation, and adjudication, we should struggle for the creation of a participatory democracy in which political self-management is realized on the neighborhood, municipal, regional, and national level through a system of nested councils. Within the context of adequate time and resources provided for individual participation in the political process, as well as a democratic media offering a diverse range of ideas and opinions (including the views of competing groups), a participatory council democracy will give people the opportunity for face-to-face deliberation and efficient decision-making on a society-wide scale.
For kinship, we should struggle for a system that gurantees full reproductive freedom, egalitarian forms of family planning, and the development of a sexual education and healthcare system that provides people with the information and resources necessary for a healthy and fulfilling life. The creation of new methods of socialization and living that are respectful of an individual's inclinations, nature, and choices will greatly change our society's sexual and interpersonal practices, and experimental forms of parenting, childrearing, and home life (such as collective living units) will be encouraged and begin the process of dismantling oppressive gender roles and sexual norms. A libertarian approach to education and the maturation of the next generation will be developed in which young people will finally have the freedom to explore, experiment, and discover themselves.
For community relations, we should struggle to cultivate a new historical legacy and set of behavioral expectations between cultural communities and provide the means for the preservation and continual development of cultural traditions. Under intercommunalism, people will be free to choose the cultural communities they prefer, and the means for mutual understanding and solidarity between diverse cultural communities will be provided, creating the material conditions for new forms of celebration, art, and spirituality to flourish.
Within our ecological context, our political and economic systems must promote environmental sustainability and accomplish socially necessary tasks without wasting natural resources or causing unnecessary destruction to the natural environment. I believe social ownership of the means of production, political and economic council democracy, and decentralized participatory planning will (and must) result in the rational use of our planet's resources and the prioritization of finding solutions to the ecological crisis.
On the international level, we should struggle for institutions (such as political and economic councils) capable of promoting mutual aid and solidarity between different regions of the world.
2. Next, someone at the same event asks, "Why do you do what you do? That is, you are speaking to us, and I know you write, and maybe you organize, but why do you do it? What do you think it accomplishes? What is your goal for your coming year, or for your next ten years?"
Why do I commit myself to building a movement for social revolution? I organize for several obvious reasons:
Workers who create social wealth are starved materially and intellectually. They are denied control over their workplaces and neighborhoods. They are robbed by the capitalist class, and humiliated and ordered by the coordinator class.
Citizens are told that democracy means the right to choose between two authoritarian political parties who do not hesitate to stab the people in the back when they are elected or when the people challenge the policies of elites. Police, armies, and prisons not withstanding, these elites require a sophisticated network of institutions to manufacture and enforce their rule.
Women are physically and psychologically abused and oppressed by a system of patriarchy. They are exploited, sexualized, advertised, and raped.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people must hide and repress their sexuality because of heterosexism. They are mocked, ridiculed, beaten, and murdered.
Indigenous, ethnic, and cultural communities are denied the autonomy to determine their collective destinies by a system of institutionalized racism and white supremacy. They are exterminated, enslaved, lynched, exploited, and redefined.
Our planet is on the verge of ecological collapse, with the people of the Global South to be the first and most brutally affected by the destructive and imperialist policies of the North.
Put another way, I do what I do because this system unnecessarily squanders human life and human potential. I am a revolutionary because liberty, equity, and solidarity are desirable and possible. Contrary to the opinion of the ruling elites, it is not human nature that obstructs the creation of a new world: it is this system that fails to cultivate rational and egalitarian values through its dominant institutions.
The world does not have to be the way it is. There is every reason for humanity to entrust their hopes with a different form of social organization if they are willing to fight for it, if they are ready to wage a total war against all forms of oppression, exploitation, and injustice, and if they are ready to commit the energy necessary for the difficult task of envisioning and building a free society.
What does organizing accomplish? The most obvious is answer is that it provides immediate improvements in people's lives (such as universal access to healthcare and education, better housing and higher wages, and more democratic forms of decision-making within the institutions we belong to). However, when linked with revolutionary consciousness and vision, organizing can result in the establishment of new institutions and the overthrow of the old social order.
What are my goals for the coming years? I hope to continue building mass movements, and to do my best to instill within these movements a participatory and militant character. I especially hope I can contribute to the creation of a revolutionary organization or party with a shared conceptual framework, analysis, vision, strategy, and program. It is my sincere hope that other participants in the Reimagining Society Project will join me on this long and difficult journey that the Left in the U.S. has put off for far too long.
3. You are at home and you get an email that says a new organization is trying to form, internationally, federating national chapters, etc. It asks you to join the effort. Can you imagine plausible conditions under which you would say, "Yes, I will give my energies to making it happen along with the rest of you who are already involved"? If so, what are those conditions? Or - do you think instead that regardless of the content of the agenda and make up of the participants, the idea can't be worthy, now, or perhaps ever. If so, why?
If I were to receive such an email, I would absolutely dedicate my energies to such a project, assuming it met certain criteria:
I. Political Unity
On an ideological level, such an organization should be unified around:
1. A conceptual framework that attempts to understand society as a complex whole with multiple component parts that interrelate with one another through the processes of accommodation and co-definition. This conceptual framework should aim to address the totality of oppressions and highlight agents for social change.
2. A vision of a participatory, democratic, and egalitarian society to provide hope and inspiration for revolutionaries, to directly inform mass organizing work in the present (such as the creation of prefigurative institutions or the restructuring of existing institutions), and to give direction to social revolutionary forces when power is within their reach. The core elements of this vision have already been broadly elaborated in the course of more than 200 years of social struggles. It is now a matter of synthesizing and revising these ideas and experiences.
II. Strategic Unity
On a more practical level, such an organization should be unified around:
1. Promoting the concept of Autonomy Within Solidarity. This means recognizing the autonomy of various social movements (for example, the women's liberation movement), while promoting cross-movement solidarity in an effort to solidify a Revolutionary Bloc.
2. Making a home within the communities of the oppressed. This means establishing roots within working class communities in general, and working class communities of color in particular.
3. Working towards the creation and consolidation of a dual power situation. This should include the process of:
a. Building militant and participatory mass organizations (such as tenants' unions, neighborhood assemblies, and workers' councils) capable of struggling for reforms in the present, as well as providing the "skeleton" of the new social order.
b. Constructing prefigurative institutions to provide services for the people and provide practical examples of how life will improve following the process of social revolution.
4. Providing political education and training for organizers. At first, this may take the form of study circles and providing opportunities for people to get involved in popular struggles, though it may eventually include a network of movement schools and training centers.
5. Remaining flexible regarding the question of political power. It is an unfortunate reality that electoral politics is a central component for Americans' political life. Therefore, a revolutionary organization must be capable of relating to people's alienation from and participation in the electoral system. While the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela has certainly raised many questions, a revolutionary organization's relationship with state power and the process of de-centering that power is unclear at the present (though obvious lessons from the failures of social-democratic electoralism and Bolshevik dictatorship, as well as problems raised by the CNT-FAI during the Spanish Civil War should help illuminate the path forward).
6. A rejection of substitutionalism. A revolutionary organization should reject the idea that it could ever substitute itself for the self-activity and self-organization of the people themselves. A revolutionary organization can assist popular struggles, launch initiatives and campaigns, and advance the revolutionary program in numerous ways, but it can never replace the grassroots efforts of the people themselves.
7. Recognize the importance of organizing within the military and police forces. We don't know what the future will hold, though it will be crucial for the success of any revolution that, at the very least, a significant segment of the military and police are organized on the side of the revolutionaries. Otherwise, any general uprising will be unsuccessful. This has been shown by the successes and failures of revolutionary movements in the past (France 1871, Russia 1917, Germany 1918, Italy 1920, Spain 1936, Hungary 1956, France 1968, Chile 1973, etc.).
I'm sure there are many other points to be added to the list above, though these are the ones that, based on my views and experiences, I believe are important.
In addition to political and strategic unity, a revolutionary organization must have several prerequisites before launching: a draft of the organization's political platform to distribute to potential members, a core of organizers active in building mass movements and capable of taking the initiative and responsibility to lay the foundations of the organization (outlining criteria for membership and norms for internal decision-making, setting the date and preparing the agenda for the organization's first National Congress, etc.), and a significant pool of funds to draw from while the organization is getting off the ground.
4. Do you think efforts to organize movements, projects, and our own organizations should embody the seeds of the future in the present? If not, why? If yes, can you say what, very roughly, you think some of the implications would be for an organization you would favor?
I believe it should go without saying that the values and institutional forms of the future society should be embodied within our movements, projects, and organizations. This is not a new idea, and has historically found expression within the libertarian socialist tradition. The implication of this idea is that our movements, projects, and organizations will not only improve people's lives materially; they will also reveal the viability of our vision. However, as crucial as this point may be, I also believe that we must remain flexible on the strategic and tactical level. Different material conditions and historical circumstances require different means, and we must try our best to determine the appropriate plan of action at a given moment.
5. Why did you answer this interview? Why do you think others did not answer it?
To be honest, I needed a kick in the ass to get involved in the Reimagining Society Project. Between school, work, and numerous political projects, as well as a number of personal hang-ups, it was very difficult to find the energy to commit to this project. However, I did it and my reasoning is this: it is extremely important for visionary revolutionaries to begin writing and reflecting upon their efforts at grassroots organizing and to synthesize lessons from these experiences.
I'm not sure why others did not answer this interview. I think one reason is that reimagining society is a massive undertaking that requires much effort and a bit of audacity.