These Streets are Watching is a 50 minute video on police accountability in three communities; Denver, Cincinnati and Berkeley. The video documents incidents of possible police brutality. Independent filmmaker, Jacob Crawford, weaves three cities responses to police brutality into a single tale of community empowerment and direct action. The film conveys basic legal concepts that can provide practical help to groups and individuals seeking an understanding of their rights when dealing with police. The film is divided into sections that explain citizen’s basic rights, tactics for documenting police activity and ideas for further action and organizing.
From the standpoint of one who thinks himself capable of discerning an undeviating route for human progress to pursue, if it is to be progress at all, who, having such a route on his mind’s map, has endeavored to point it out to others; to make them see it as he sees it; who in so doing has chosen what appeared to him clear and simple expressions to convey his thoughts to others, — to such a one it appears matter for regret and confusion of spirit that the phrase “Direct Action” has suddenly acquired in the general mind a circumscribed meaning, not at all implied in the words themselves, and certainly never attached to it by himself or his co-thinkers.
However, this is one of the common jests which Progress plays on those who think themselves able to set metes and bounds for it. Over and over again, names, phrases, mottoes, watchwords, have been turned inside out, and upside down, and hindside before, and sideways, by occurrences out of the control of those who used the expressions in their proper sense; and still, those who sturdily held their ground, and insisted on being heard, have in the end found that the period of misunderstanding and prejudice has been but the prelude to wider inquiry and understanding.
I rather think this will be the case with the present misconception of the term Direct Action, which through the misapprehension, or else the deliberate misrepresentation, of certain journalists in Los Angeles, at the time the McNamaras pleaded guilty, suddenly acquired in the popular mind the interpretation, “Forcible Attacks on Life and Property.” This was either very ignorant or very dishonest of the journalists; but it has had the effect of making a good many people curious to know all about Direct Action.
As a matter of fact, those who are so lustily and so inordinately condemning it, will find on examination that they themselves have on many occasion practised direct action, and will do so again.
Every person who ever thought he had a right to assert, and went boldly and asserted it, himself, or jointly with others that shared his convictions, was a direct actionist. Some thirty years ago I recall that the Salvation Army was vigorously practising direct action in the maintenance of the freedom of its members to speak, assemble, and pray. Over and over they were arrested, fined, and imprisoned; but they kept right on singing, praying, and marching, till they finally compelled their persecutors to let them alone. The Industrial Workers are now conducting the same fight, and have, in a number of cases, compelled the officials to let them alone by the same direct tactics.
Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct action.
Every person who ever in his life had a difference with anyone to settle, and went straight to the other persons involved to settle it, either by a peaceable plan or otherwise, was a direct actionist. Examples of such action are strikes and boycotts; many persons will recall the action of the housewives of New York who boycotted the butchers, and lowered the price of meat; at the present moment a butter boycott seems looming up, as a direct reply to the price-makers for butter.
These actions are generally not due to any one’s reasoning overmuch on the respective merits of directness or indirectness, but are the spontaneous retorts of those who feel oppresses by a situation. In other words, all people are, most of the time, believers in the principle of direct action, and practices of it. However, most people are also indirect or political actionists. And they are both these things at the same time, without making much of an analysis of either. There are only a limited number of persons who eschew political action under any and all circumstances; but there is nobody, nobody at all, who has ever been so “impossible” as to eschew direct action altogether.
The majority of thinking people are really opportunist, leaning, some perhaps more to directness, some more to indirectness as a general thing, but ready to use either means when opportunity calls for it. That is to say, there are those who hold that balloting governors into power is essentially a wrong and foolish thing; but who nevertheless under stress of special circumstances, might consider it the wisest thing to do, to vote some individual into office at that particular time. Or there are those who believe that in general the wisest way for people to get what they want is by the indirect method of voting into power some one who will make what they want legal; yet who all the same will occasionally under exceptional conditions advise a strike; and a strike, as I have said, is direct action. Or they may do as the Socialist Party agitators (who are mostly declaiming now against direct action) did last summer, when the police were holding up their meetings. They went in force to the meeting-places, prepared to speak whether-or-no, and they made the police back down. And while that was not logical on their part, thus to oppose the legal executors of the majority’s will, it was a fine, successful piece of direct action.
Those who, by the essence of their belief, are committed to Direct Action only are — just who? Why, the non-resistants; precisely those who do not believe in violence at all! Now do not make the mistake of inferring that I say direct action means non-resistance; not by any means. Direct action may be the extreme of violence, or it may be as peaceful as the waters of the Brook of Shiloa that go softly. What I say is, that the real non-resistants can believe in direct action only, never in political action. For the basis of all political action is coercion; even when the State does good things, it finally rests on a club, a gun, or a prison, for its power to carry them through.
Now every school child in the United States has had the direct action of certain non-resistants brought to his notice by his school history. The case which everyone instantly recalls is that of the early Quakers who came to Massachusetts. The Puritans had accused the Quakers of “troubling the world by preaching peace to it.” They refused to pay church taxes; they refused to bear arms; they refused to swear allegiance to any government. (In so doing they were direct actionists, what we may call negative direct actionists.) So the Puritans, being political actionists, passed laws to keep them out, to deport, to fine, to imprison, to mutilate, and finally, to hang them. And the Quakers just kept on coming (which was positive direct action); and history records that after the hanging of four Quakers, and the flogging of Margaret Brewster at the cart’s tail through the streets of Boston, “the Puritans gave up trying to silence the new missionaries”; that “Quaker persistence and Quaker non-resistance had won the day.”
Another example of direct action in early colonial history, but this time by no means of the peaceable sort, was the affair known as Bacon’s Rebellion. All our historians certainly defend the action of the rebels in that matter, for they were right. And yet it was a case of violent direct action against lawfully constituted authority. For the benefit of those who have forgotten the details, let me briefly remind them that the Virginia planters were in fear of a general attack by the Indians; with reason. Being political actionists, they asked, or Bacon as their leader asked, that the governor grant him a commission to raise volunteers in their own defense. The governor feared that such a company of armed men would be a threat to him; also with reason. He refused the commission. Whereupon the planters resorted to direct action. They raised volunteers without the commission, and successfully fought off the Indians. Bacon was pronounced a traitor by the governor; but the people being with him, the governor was afraid to proceed against him. In the end, however, it came so far that the rebels burned Jamestown; and but for the untimely death of Bacon, much more might have been done. Of course the reaction was very dreadful, as it usually is where a rebellion collapses or is crushed. Yet even during the brief period of success, it had corrected a good many abuses. I am quite sure that the political-action-at-all-costs advocates of those times, after the reaction came back into power, must have said: “See to what evils direct action brings us! Behold, the progress of the colony has been set back twenty-five years;” forgetting that if the colonists had not resorted to direct action, their scalps would have been taken by the Indians a year sooner, instead of a number of them being hanged by the governor a year later.
In the period of agitation and excitement preceding the revolution, there were all sorts and kinds of direct action from the most peaceable to the most violent; and I believe that almost everybody who studies United States history finds the account of these performances the most interesting part of the story, the part which dents into the memory most easily.
Among the peaceable moves made, were the non-importation agreements, the leagues for wearing homespun clothing and the “committees of correspondence.” As the inevitable growth of hostility progressed, violent direct action developed; e.g., in the matter of destroying the revenue stamps, or the action concerning the tea-ships, either by not permitting the tea to be landed, or by putting it in damp storage, or by throwing it into the harbor, as in Boston, or by compelling a tea-ship owner to set fire to his own ship, as at Annapolis. These are all actions which our commonest textbooks record, certainly not in a condemnatory way, not even in an apologetic way, though they are all cases of direct action against legally constituted authority and property rights. If I draw attention to them, and others of like nature, it is to prove to unreflecting repeaters of words that direct action has always been used, and has the historical sanction of the very people now reprobating it.
George Washington is said to have been the leader of the Virginia planters’ non-importation league; he would now be “enjoined,” probably by a court, from forming any such league; and if he persisted, he would be fined for contempt.
When the great quarrel between the North and the South was waxing hot and hotter, it was again direct action which preceded and precipitated political action. And I may remark here that political action is never taken, nor even contemplated, until slumbering minds have first been aroused by direct acts of protest against existing conditions.
The history of the anti-slavery movement and the Civil War is one of the greatest of paradoxes, although history is a chain of paradoxes. Politically speaking, it was the slave-holding States that stood for greater political freedom, for the autonomy of the single State against the interference of the United States; politically speaking, it was the non-slave-holding States that stood for a strong centralized government, which, Secessionists said and said truly, was bound progressively to develop into more and more tyrannical forms. Which happened. From the close of the Civil War one, there has been continual encroachment of the federal power upon what was formerly the concern of the States individually. The wage-slavers, in their struggles of today, are continually thrown into conflict with that centralized power against which the slave-holder protested (with liberty on his lips by tyranny in his heart). Ethically speaking, it was the non-slave-holding States that in a general way stood for greater human liberty, while the Secessionists stood for race-slavery. In a general way only; that is, the majority of northerners, not being accustomed to the actual presence of negro slavery about them, thought it was probably a mistake; yet they were in no great ferment of anxiety to have it abolished. The Abolitionists only, and they were relatively few, were the genuine ethicals, to whom slavery itself — not secession or union — was the main question. In fact, so paramount was it with them, that a considerable number of them were themselves for the dissolution of the union, advocating that the North take the initiative in the matter of dissolving, in order that the northern people might shake off the blame of holding negroes in chains.
Of course, there were all sorts of people with all sorts of temperaments among those who advocated the abolition of slavery. There were Quakers like Whittier (indeed it was the peace-at-all-costs Quakers who had advocated abolition even in early colonial days); there were moderate political actionists, who were for buying off the slaves, as the cheapest way; and there were extremely violent people, who believed and did all sorts of violent things.
As to what the politicians did, it is one long record of “hoe-not-to-to-it,” a record of thirty years of compromising, and dickering, and trying to keep what was as it was, and to hand sops to both sides when new conditions demanded that something be done, or be pretended to be done. But “the stars in their courses fought against Sisera;” the system was breaking down from within, and the direct actionists from without as well were widening the cracks remorselessly.
Among the various expressions of direct rebellion was the organization of the “underground railroad.” Most of the people who belonged to it believed in both sorts of action; but however much they theoretically subscribed to the right of the majority to enact and enforce laws, they didn’t believe in it on that point. My grandfather was a member of the “underground;” many a fugitive slave he helped on his way to Canada. He was a very patient, law-abiding man in most respects, though I have often thought that he respected it because he didn’t have much to do with it; always leading a pioneer life, law was generally far from him, and direct action imperative. Be that as it may, and law-respecting as he was, he had no respect whatever for slave laws, no matter if made by ten times of a majority; and he conscientiously broke every one that came in his way to be broken.
There were times when in the operation of the “underground” that violence was required, and was used. I recollect one old friend relating to me how she and her mother kept watch all night at the door, while a slave for whom a posse was searching hid in the cellar; and though they were of Quaker descent and sympathies, there was a shotgun on the table. Fortunately it did not have to be used that night.
When the fugitive slave law was passed with the help of the political actionists of the North who wanted to offer a new sop to the slave-holders, the direct actionists took to rescuing recaptured fugitives. There was the “rescue of Shadrach,” and the “rescue of Jerry,” the latter rescuers being led by the famous Gerrit Smith; and a good many more successful and unsuccessful attempts. Still the politicals kept on pottering and trying to smooth things over, and the Abolitionists were denounced and decried by the ultra-law-abiding pacificators, pretty much as Wm. D. Haywood and Frank Bohn are being denounced by their own party now.
The other day I read a communication in the Chicago Daily Socialist from the secretary of the Louisville local Socialist Party to the national secretary, requesting that some safe and sane speaker be substituted for Bohn, who had been announced to speak there. In explaining why, Mr. Dobbs makes this quotation from Bohn’s lecture: “Had the McNamaras been successful in defending the interests of the working class, they would have been right, just as John Brown would have been right, had he been successful in freeing the slaves. Ignorance was the only crime of John Brown, and ignorance was the only crime of the McNamaras.”
Upon this Mr. Dobbs comments as follows: “We dispute emphatically the statements here made. The attempt to draw a parallel between the open — if mistaken — revolt of John Brown on the one hand, and the secret and murderous methods of the McNamaras on the other, is not only indicative of shallow reasoning, but highly mischievous in the logical conclusions which may be drawn from such statements.”
Evidently Mr.Dobbs is very ignorant of the life and work of John Brown. John Brown was a man of violence; he would have scorned anybody’s attempt to make him out anything else. And once a person is a believer in violence, it is with him only a question of the most effective way of applying it, which can be determined only by a knowledge of conditions and means at his disposal. John Brown did not shrink at all from conspiratorial methods. Those who have read the autobiography of Frederick Douglas and the Reminiscences of Lucy Colman, will recall that one of the plans laid by John Brown was to organize a chain of armed camps in the mountains of West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee, send secret emissaries among the slaves inciting them to flee to these camps, and there concert such measures as times and conditions made possible for further arousing revolt among the negroes. That this plan failed was due to the weakness of the desire for liberty among the slaves themselves, more than anything else.
Later on, when the politicians in their infinite deviousness contrived a fresh proposition of how-not-to-do-it, known as the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which left the question of slavery to be determined by the settlers, the direct actionists on both sides sent bogus settlers into the territory, who proceeded to fight it out. The pro-slavery men, who got in first, made a constitution recognizing slavery and a law punishing with death any one who aided a slave to escape; but the Free Soilers, who were a little longer in arriving since they came from more distant States, made a second constitution, and refused to recognize the other party’s laws at all. And John Brown was there, mixing in all the violence, conspiratorial or open; he was “a horse-thief and a murderer,” in the eyes of decent, peaceable, political actionists. And there is no doubt that he stole horses, sending no notice in advance of his intention to steal them, and that he killed pro-slavery men. He struck and got away a good many times before his final attempt on Harper’s Ferry. If he did not use dynamite, it was because dynamite had not yet appeared as a practical weapon. He made a great many more intentional attacks on life than the two brothers Secretary Dobbs condemns for their “murderous methods.” And yet history has not failed to understand John Brown. Mankind knows that though he was a violent man, with human blood upon his hands, who was guilty of high treason and hanged for it, yet his soul was a great, strong, unselfish soul, unable to bear the frightful crime which kept 4,000,000 people like dumb beasts, and thought that making war against it was a sacred, a God-called duty, (for John Brown was a very religious man — a Presbyterian).
It is by and because of the direct acts of the forerunners of social change, whether they be of peaceful or warlike nature, that the Human Conscience, the conscience of the mass, becomes aroused to the need for change. It would be very stupid to say that no good results are ever brought about by political action; sometimes good things do come about that way. But never until individual rebellion, followed by mass rebellion, has forced it. Direct action is always the clamorer, the initiator, through which the great sum of indifferentists become aware that oppression is getting intolerable.
We have now and oppression in the land — and not only in this land, but throughout all those parts of the world which enjoy the very mixed blessings of Civilization. And just as in the question of chattel slavery, so this form of slavery has been begetting both direct action and political action. A certain percent of our population (probably a much smaller percent than politicians are in the habit of assigning at mass meetings) is producing the material wealth upon which all the rest of us live; just as it was 4,000,000 chattel Blacks who supported all the crowd of parasites above them. These are the land workers and the industrial workers.
Through the unprophesied and unprophesiable operation of institutions which no individual of us created, but found in existence when he came here, these workers, the most absolutely necessary part of the whole social structure, without whose services none can either eat, or clothe, or shelter himself, are just the ones who get the least to eat, to wear, and to be housed withal — to say nothing of their share of the other social benefits which the rest of us are supposed to furnish, such as education and artistic gratification.
These workers have, in one form or another, mutually joined their forces to see what betterment of their condition they could get; primarily by direct action, secondarily by political action. We have had the Grange, the Farmer’s Alliance, Co-operative Associations, Colonization Experiments, Knights of Labor, Trade Unions, and Industrial Workers of the World. All of them have been organized for the purpose of wringing from the masters in the economic field a little better price, a little better conditions, a little shorter hours; or on the other hand to resist a reduction in price, worse conditions, or longer hours. None of them has attempted a final solution of the social war. None of them, except the Industrial Workers, has recognized that there is a social war, inevitable so long as present legal-social conditions endure. They accepted property institutions as they found them. They were made up of average men, with average desires, and they undertook to do what appeared to them possible and very reasonable things. They were not committed to any particular political policy when they were organized, but were associated for direct action of their own initiation, either positive or defensive.
Undoubtably there were and are among all these organizations, members who looked beyond immediate demands; who did see that the continuous development of forces now in operation was bound to bring about conditions to which it is impossible that life continue to submit, and against which, therefore, it will protest, and violently protest; that it will have no choice but to do so; that it must do so or tamely die; and since it is not the nature of life to surrender without struggle, it will not tamely die. Twenty-two years ago I met Farmer’s Alliance people who said so, Knights of Labor who said so, Trade Unionists who said so. They wanted larger aims than those to which their organizations were looking; but they had to accept their fellow members as they were, and try to stir them to work for such things as it was possible to make them see. And what they could see was better prices, better wages, less dangerous or tyrannical conditions, shorter hours. At the stage of development when these movements were initiated, the land workers could not see that their struggle had anything to do with the struggle of those engaged in the manufacturing or transporting service; nor could these latter see that theirs had anything to do with the movement of the farmers. For that matter very few of them see it yet. They have yet to learn that there is one common struggle against those who have appropriated the earth, the money, and the machines.
Unfortunately the great organizations of the farmers frittered itself away in a stupid chase after political power. It was quite successful in getting the power in certain States; but the courts pronounced its laws unconstitutional, and there was the burial hole of all its political conquests. Its original program was to build its own elevators, and store the products therein, holding these from the market till they could escape the speculator. Also, to organize labor exchanges, issuing credit notes upon products deposited for exchange. Had it adhered to this program of direct mutual aid, it would, to some extent, for a time at least, have afforded an illustration of how mankind may free itself from the parasitism of the bankers and the middlemen. Of course, it would have been overthrown in the end, unless it had so revolutionized men’s minds by the example as to force the overthrow of the legal monopoly of land and money; but at least it would have served a great educational purpose. As it was, it “went after the red herring” and disintegrated merely from its futility.
The Knights of Labor subsided into comparative insignificance, not because of failure to use direct action, nor because of its tampering with politics, which was small, but chiefly because it was a heterogenous mass of workers who could not associate their efforts effectively.
The Trade Unions grew strong as the Knights of Labor subsided, and have continued slowly but persistently to increase in power. It is true the increase has fluctuated; that there have been set-backs; that great single organizations have been formed and again dispersed. But on the whole trade unions have been a growing power. They have been so because, poor as they are, they have been a means whereby a certain section of the workers have been able to bring their united force to bear directly upon their masters, and so get for themselves some portion of what they wanted — of what their conditions dictated to them they must try to get. The strike is their natural weapon, that which they themselves have forged. It is the direct blow of the strike which nine times out of ten the boss is afraid of. (Of course there are occasions when he is glad of one, but that’s unusual.) And the reason he dreads a strike is not so much because he thinks he cannot win out against it, but simply and solely because he does not want an interruption of his business. The ordinary boss isn’t in much dread of a “class-conscious vote;” there are plenty of shops where you can talk Socialism or any other political program all day long; but if you begin to talk Unionism you may forthwith expect to be discharged or at best warned to shut up. Why? Not because the boss is so wise as to know that political action is a swamp in which the workingman gets mired, or because he understands that political Socialism is fast becoming a middle-class movement; not at all. He thinks Socialism is a very bad thing; but it’s a good way off! But he knows that if his shop is unionized, he will have trouble right away. His hands will be rebellious, he will be put to expense to improve his factory conditions, he will have to keep workingmen that he doesn’t like, and in case of strike he may expect injury to his machinery or his buildings.
It is often said, and parrot-like repeated, that the bosses are “class-conscious,” that they stick together for their class interest, and are willing to undergo any sort of personal loss rather than be false to those interests. It isn’t so at all. The majority of business people are just like the majority of workingmen; they care a whole lot more about their individual loss or gain than about the gain or loss of their class. And it is his individual loss the boss sees, when threatened by a union.
Now everybody knows that a strike of any size means violence. No matter what any one’s ethical preference for peace may be, he knows it will not be peaceful. If it’s a telegraph strike, it means cutting wires and poles, and getting fake scabs in to spoil the instruments. If it is a steel rolling mill strike, it means beating up the scabs, breaking the windows, setting the gauges wrong, and ruining the expensive rollers together with tons and tons of material. IF it’s a miners’ strike, it means destroying tracks and bridges, and blowing up mills. If it is a garment workers’ strike, it means having an unaccountable fire, getting a volley of stones through an apparently inaccessible window, or possibly a brickbat on the manufacturer’s own head. If it’s a street-car strike, it means tracks torn up or barricaded with the contents of ash-carts and slop-carts, with overturned wagons or stolen fences, it means smashed or incinerated cars and turned switches. If it is a system federation strike, it means “dead” engines, wild engines, derailed freights, and stalled trains. If it is a building trades strike, it means dynamited structures. And always, everywhere, all the time, fights between strike-breakers and scabs against strikers and strike-sympathizers, between People and Police.
On the side of the bosses, it means search-lights, electric wires, stockades, bull-pens, detectives and provocative agents, violent kidnapping and deportation, and every device they can conceive for direct protection, besides the ultimate invocation of police, militia, State constabulary, and federal troops.
Everybody knows this; everybody smiles when union officials protest their organizations to be peaceable and law-abiding, because everybody knows they are lying. They know that violence is used, both secretly and openly; and they know it is used because the strikers cannot do any other way, without giving up the fight at once. Nor to they mistake those who thus resort to violence under stress for destructive miscreants who do what they do out of innate cussedness. The people in general understand that they do these things through the harsh logic of a situation which they did not create, but which forces them to these attacks in order to make good in their struggle to live or else go down the bottomless descent into poverty, that lets Death find them in the poorhouse hospital, the city street, or the river-slime. This is the awful alternative that the workers are facing; and this is what makes the most kindly disposed human beings — men who would go out of their way to help a wounded dog, or bring home a stray kitten and nurse it, or step aside to avoid walking on a worm — resort to violence against their fellow men. They know, for the facts have taught them, that this is the only way to win, if they can win at all. And it has always appeared to me one of the most utterly ludicrous, absolutely irrelevant things that a person can do or say, when approached for relief or assistance by a striker who is dealing with an immediate situation, to respond with “Vote yourself into power!” when the next election is six months, a year, or two years away.
Unfortunately the people who know best how violence is used in union warfare cannot come forward and say: “On such a day, at such a place, such and such specific action was done, and as a result such and such concession was made, or such and such boss capitulated.” To do so would imperil their liberty and their power to go on fighting. Therefore those that know best must keep silent and sneer in their sleeves, while those that know little prate. Events, not tongues, must make their position clear.
And there has been a very great deal of prating these last few weeks. Speakers and writers, honestly convinced I believe that political action and political action only can win the workers’ battle, have been denouncing what they are pleased to call “direct action” (what they really mean is conspiratorial violence) as the author of mischief incalculable. One Oscar Ameringer, as an example, recently said at a meeting in Chicago that the Haymarket bomb of ’86 had set back the eight-hour movement twenty-five years, arguing that the movement would have succeeded but for the bomb. It’s a great mistake. No one can exactly measure in years or months the effect of a forward push or a reaction. No one can demonstrate that the eight-hour movement could have been won twenty-five years ago. We know that the eight-hour day was put on the statute books of Illinois in 1871 by political action, and has remained a dead letter. That the direct action of the workers could have won it, then, cannot be proved; but it can be shown that many more potent factors than the Haymarket bomb worked against it. On the other hand, if the reactive influence of the bomb was really so powerful, we should naturally expect labor and union conditions to be worse in Chicago than in the cities where no such thing happened. On the contrary, bad as they are, the general conditions of labor are better in Chicago than in most other large cities, and the power of the unions is more developed there than in any other American city except San Francisco. So if we are to conclude anything for the influence of the Haymarket bomb, keep these facts in mind. Personally I do not think its influence on the labor movement, as such, was so very great.
It will be the same with the present furore about violence. Nothing fundamental has been altered. Two men have been imprisoned for what they did (twenty-four years ago they were hanged for what they did not do); some few more may yet be imprisoned. But the forces of life will continue to revolt against their economic chains. There will be no cessation in that revolt, no matter what ticket men vote or fail to vote, until the chains are broken.
How will the chains be broken?
Political actionists tell us it will be only by means of working-class party action at the polls; by voting themselves into possession of the sources of life and the tools; by voting that those who now command forests, mines, ranches, waterways, mills, and factories, and likewise command the military power to defend them, shall hand over their dominion to the people.
Meanwhile, be peaceable, industrious, law-abiding, patient, and frugal (as Madero told the Mexican peons to be, after he sold them to Wall Street)! Even if some of you are disenfranchised, don’t rise up even against that, for it might “set back the party.”
Well, I have already stated that some good is occasionally accomplished by political action — not necessarily working-class party action either. But I am abundantly convinced that the occasional good accomplished is more than counterbalanced by the evil; just as I am convinced that though there are occasional evils resulting through direct action, they are more than counterbalanced by the good.
Nearly all the laws which were originally framed with the intention of benefitting the workers, have either turned into weapons in their enemies’ hands, or become dead letters unless the workers through their organizations have directly enforced their observance. So that in the end, it is direct action that has to be relied on anyway. As an example of getting the tarred end of a law, glance at the anti-trust law, which was supposed to benefit the people in general and the working class in particular. About two weeks since, some 250 union leaders were cited to answer to the charge of being trust formers, as the answer of the Illinois Central to its strikers.
But the evil of pinning faith to indirect action is far greater than any such minor results. The main evil is that it destroys initiative, quenches the individual rebellious spirit, teaches people to rely on someone else to do for them what they should do for themselves; finally renders organic the anomalous idea that by massing supineness together until a majority is acquired, then through the peculiar magic of that majority, this supineness is to be transformed into energy. That is, people who have lost the habit of striking for themselves as individuals, who have submitted to every injustice while waiting for the majority to grow, are going to become metamorphosed into human high-explosives by a mere process of packing!
I quite agree that the sources of life, and all the natural wealth of the earth, and the tools necessary to co-operative production, must become freely accessible to all. It is a positive certainty to me that unionism must widen and deepen its purposes, or it will go under; and I feel sure that the logic of the situation will gradually force them to see it. They must learn that the workers’ problem can never be solved by beating up scabs, so long as their own policy of limiting their membership by high initiation fees and other restrictions helps to make scabs. They must learn that the course of growth is not so much along the line of higher wages, but shorter hours, which will enable them to increase membership, to take in everybody who is willing to come into the union. They must learn that if they want to win battles, all allied workers must act together, act quickly (serving no notice on bosses), and retain their freedom to do so at all times. And finally they must learn that even then (when they have a complete organization) they can win nothing permanent unless they strike for everything — not for a wage, not for a minor improvement, but for the whole natural wealth of the earth. And proceed to the direct expropriation of it all!
They must learn that their power does not lie in their voting strength, that their power lies in their ability to stop production. It is a great mistake to suppose that the wage-earners constitute a majority of the voters. Wage-earners are here today and there tomorrow, and that hinders a large number from voting; a great percentage of them in this country are foreigners without a voting right. The most patent proof that Socialist leaders know this is so, is that they are compromising their propaganda at every point to win the support of the business class, the small investor. Their campaign papers proclaimed that their interviewers had been assured by Wall Street bond purchasers that they would be just as ready to buy Los Angeles bonds from a socialist as a capitalist administrator; that the present Milwaukee administration has been a boon to the small investor; their reading notices assure their readers in this city that we need not go to the great department stores to buy — buy rather of So-and-so on Milwaukee Avenue, who will satisfy us quite as well as a “big business” institution. In short, they are making every desperate effort to win the support and to prolong the life of that middle-class which socialist economy says must be ground to pieces, because they know they cannot get a majority without them.
The most that a working-class party could do, even if its politicians remained honest, would be to form a strong faction in the legislatures which might, by combining its vote with one side or another, win certain political or economic palliatives.
But what the working-class can do, when once they grow into a solidified organization, is to show the possessing class, through a sudden cessation of all work, that the whole social structure rests on them; that the possessions of the others are absolutely worthless to them without the workers’ activity; that such protests, such strikes, are inherent in the system of property and will continually recur until the whole thing is abolished — and having shown that effectively, proceed to expropriate.
“But the military power,” says the political actionist; “we must get political power, or the military will be used against us!”
Against a real General Strike, the military can do nothing. Oh, true, if you have a Socialist Briand in power, he may declare the workers “public officials” and try to make them serve against themselves! But against the solid wall of an immobile working-mass, even a Briand would be broken.
Meanwhile, until this international awakening, the war will go on as it had been going, in spite of all the hysteria which well-meaning people who do not understand life and its necessities may manifest; in spite of all the shivering that timid leaders have done; in spite of all the reactionary revenges that may be taken; in spite of all the capital that politicians make out of the situation. It will go on because Life cries to live, and Property denies its freedom to live; and Life will not submit.
And should not submit.
It will go on until that day when a self-freed Humanity is able to chant Swinburne’s Hymn of Man:
“Glory to Man in the highest,
For Man is the master of Things.”
The great task of grassroots dual power is to seek out and create social spaces and fill them with liberatory institutions and relationships. Where there is room for us to act for ourselves, we form institutions conducive not only to catalyzing revolution, but also to the present conditions of a fulfilling life, including economic and political self-management to the greatest degree achievable. We seek not to seize power, but to seize opportunity vis a vis the exercise of our power.
“The proletariat needs state power, a centralized organization of force, an organization of violence … to lead the enormous mass of the population … in the work of organizing a socialist society.”
“We wish not to seize power, but to exercise it.”
Zapatista Army of National Liberation
There are two dualities at work in the modern strategic concept known as dual power. First, there is the classical notion of the relationship between (1) the current establishment and (2) the second social infrastructure pitted in opposition to it.
Here the status quo consists of a market capitalist economy, an authoritarian republic, patriarchy, adultarchy, judeo-christian eurocentricity, white supremacy, etc. These are the ideologies and institutions which make up the oppressive system according to which our society operates. By necessity, then, our oppositional dual power, our alternative infrastructure, must be based on decentralized socialist economics, a participatory democratic polity, feminist and youthist kinship, and a secular yet spiritual, intercommunal culture. Those will be the building blocks of our new society, and the masonry has already begun.
The second duality is between (1) the creative force of forming new social institutions and transforming oppressive ones into liberatory, and (2) resisting or destroying what is useless and oppressive to us in the current establishment. In other words, we need to approach revolutionary social change with constructive and a destructive tactics in our toolbox. We cannot build until we make space, but our alternative social infrastructure will not make itself, so we must establish it on the ruins of the old order, in the shadow of that order.
Dual power is a relatively generic strategy, as we have seen. Not only is there great contention between the leninist version of the strategy and the contemporary, grassroots approach, but there are also a number of tendencies within the latter framework. Essentially, the most popular alternative to the strategic outlook detailed in this book is known as libertarian municipalism. To differentiate, without coming up with a snazzy name like that, we’ll call this version holistic dual power because a main tenet of the approach is that we need to form alternative and resistance infrastructure in all spheres of social life (where libertarian municipalism only focuses on political dual power).
Contemporary marxists insist that the objective conditions necessary for social revolution exist today in North American societies, and throughout the industrialized world. These conditions, they assert, are the technologically advanced forms of production which place the ability, just not the authority, to meet all people’s material needs in the hands of the workers. In other words, if only the workers were to rise up and seize control of the means of production, revolution would be at hand, as they could reorganize allocation and finally do away with a contrived scarcity of material goods and services. The missing element today, marxists assert, is the subjective condition of revolutionary consciousness. That is, the people need to become revolutionary in mind.
Marxist ideology, as disseminated by modern “communist” parties (self-proclaimed vanguards in a premature state), is the vehicle allegedly capable of instilling this revolutionary consciousness among “the masses.” Such belief is why contemporary marxists tend to organize ideologically, spreading propaganda, instead of practically, as in establishing the grassroots organizations necessary for fulfilling the immediate and future needs of the people, including popularized political and economic self-management. For them, dual power comes about when their party establishes the strength and wherewithall to reorganize and run society from the top down.
Marxists generally deny the necessity of popular, grassroots organization, precisely because they believe the vanguard method is the path to follow, despite its historical record. At least, they claim, vanguardism has accomplished something, whereas the spontaneous methods attributed to anarchism have gotten us nowhere. Regardless of this claim’s in/accuracy, it can be easily exposed as a product of marxists’ basic fear of empowering “the masses” with more than ideological allegiance to marxism and the vanguard party of their choosing. The party will “provide the necessary leadership” to guide the revolution and rebuild society in the wake of insurrection. It is not imperative, then, to build grassroots institutions and form a democratic framework in the pre-insurrectionary period. Nor is it important that the people, seen as “masses,” develop the skills required to self-manage even one’s own life, much less an entire society. For marxists, dual power structures are limited to the Party itself. Everyone else should go about their normal business, while supporting the party and awaiting further orders.*
Also, we should recognize that present day projects intended to disseminate information, popularize social critiques or raise consciousness are limited. This is especially true when their thrust is biased towards offering the oversimplified (not to mention dangerous) solution of mass alignment with political parties or vanguards. Revolutionary media and propaganda must be intrinsically tied to struggle. Without the practical, day-to-day projects which build toward revolution, in the meantime providing essential living space and protection from the effects of oppression, our propaganda is baseless. It is simply false to claim the solution to our collective woes can be found in turning to elites and leaders as our “activism,” whatever their ideological persuasion or their power.
The essence of a grassroots dual power strategy is captured in the above quotation from EZLN leader Marcos. It illustrates the very different concept of revolution professed by the Zapatistas, and beginning to be understood by radicals in various movements throughout the world.
As we discussed in the last chapter, the social power of “the masses” is currently on loan — rented by elites. We forfeit our prerogative to manage our own political and economic lives, defaulting to the role of passively accepting the established manner of social functioning. The limited access to politics afforded by the status quo, such as voting and petitioning, amount to nothing more than reaffirmations of our consent to be ruled, to have our political power handled by elites in our steads.
Nothing short of refusal to participate, in any way, in the dominant society, by everyone from workers to bureaucrats to police officers, will result in the overturning of the status quo. Indeed, even passive acceptance of the status quo, when coupled with participation in everyday social functions as defined by that same status quo, is still active support of it. Even in the case when a new, alternative political force seizes power at the top, the relationship of authority and subordination persists. Only when people actually participate in an alternative social arrangement does the old paradigm become dissolved.
This essay is about basic democracy. I am not introducing a radical new ideology, I am talking about building a social framework, or infrastructure, which is responsive to the actual will of the people. I will say nothing herein about morality, nor will I share my opinions on the issues of the day. What I am proposing is a system whereby decisions of social policy and economic relations are made by those affected by them: citizens and workers. This strategic idea is still a threat, of course. It does take a stance against the inordinate amounts of authority presently reserved for politicians and their private backers. It does call to task the hierarchical arrangements of the workplace, the family, the school, the church, and so forth, which directly contradict and resist the exercise of power by common people. But it makes no claims as to how those people ought to use their power, once acquired. I make few specific suggestions regarding what issues need to be decided, much less which conclusions should be favored, in a democratic society, or a society aspiring toward real democracy.
Such is the essence of grassroots dual power. It is foremost a revolutionary strategy, the procedure by which we can sustain radical social change during and after insurrectionary upheavals — even to manage those upheavals; but dual power is also a situation we create for ourselves as communities. Whether the insurrection happens in the next decade or takes 3 more generations to occur, we can create revolutionary circumstances now, and we can exercise power to the greatest possible extent. Dual power recognizes that waiting until after the insurrection to participate in liberatory political and economic relationships means postponing our liberation; it is as senseless as waiting until after the insurrection to begin reorganizing society. We do not require that the state and capitalism collapse before we can begin living relatively free lives.
The great task of grassroots dual power is to seek out and create social spaces and fill them with liberatory institutions and relationships. Where there is room for us to act for ourselves, we form institutions conducive not only to catalyzing revolution, but also to the present conditions of a fulfilling life, including economic and political self-management to the greatest degree achievable. We seek not to seize power, but to seize opportunity vis a vis the exercise of our power.
Thus, grassroots dual power is a situation wherein a self-defined community has created for itself a political/economic system which is an operating alternative to the dominant state/capitalist establishment. The dual power consists of alternative institutions which provide for the needs of the community, both material and social, including food, clothing, housing, health care, communication, energy, transportation, educational opportunities and political organization. The dual power is necessarily autonomous from, and competitive with, the dominant system, seeking to encroach upon the latter’s domain, and, eventually, to replace it.
The creation and implementation of this second power marks the first stage of revolution, that during which there exist two social systems struggling for the support of the people; one for their blind, uncritical allegiance; the second for their active, conscious participation.
Aside from revolutionary upheaval, the very formation of a dual power system in the present is in fact one of the aims of the dual power strategy — we seek to create a situation of dual power by building alternative political, economic and other social institutions, to fulfill the needs of our communities in an essentially self-sufficient manner. Autonomy and relative independence from the state and capital are primary goals of dual power, as is interdependence among community members.
And, again, while a post-insurrectionary society which has generally surpassed the contradictions indicated by the term “dual power” is the eventual goal of this strategy, the creation of alternative social infrastructure is a desirable end in itself. Since we have no way of predicting the insurrection, it is important for our own peace of mind and empowerment as activists that we create situations in the present which reflect the principles of our eventual visions. We must make for ourselves now the kinds of institutions and relationships, to the greatest extent possible, on which we’ll base further activism. We should liberate space, for us and future generations, in the shadow of the dominant system, not only from which to build a new society, but within which to live freer and more peaceful lives today.
But where does the role of resistance fall among all this construction? During the dual power phase, it is not only important to build the foundation of the new society, but also to diminish the strength and capacity of the old system. We must first make space within the still-dominant system in order to have room in which to build society anew. Therefore, not only must we form alternative institutions, but also counter institutions (XIs) to resist and assault the status quo. Counter activity includes everything from protest to direct action, but is defined as activity which actively opposes the status quo. The intricacy of analysis demanded by the kinds of activity counter institutions engage in forces us to deeply reassess what have become common, almost default, practices among radical activist groups. Successfully melding the counter activity of XIs with the proactivity of AIs requires a new level of strategic and tactical comprehension and coordination.
For our purposes, community refers to a self-defined group of consciously active individuals located in local or regional proximity (that too self-defined). The main tasks of community development are (1) the internal development of alternative and counter institutional structures within the community; (2) the expansion and diversification of the community itself (popularly, not geographically); (3) the subjective (personal) enhancement and education of community members; (4) constitution of a sovereign municipality (having reached a “critical mass” of stable, participatory support); (5) the identification of the community within the context of a world-wide revolution.
We’ll handle the last directive first. Once we have generally identified and defined our community (and this is an ongoing, unending process), we must recognize it, and have it recognized from without, as part of a larger, essentially global revolutionary struggle. Communities revolting in isolation will fail. And while dual power will develop at different rates in different societies, regions and localities, all dual power projects must be autonomously affiliated.
We are trying to revolutionize society, but to do so on a scale with which we can grapple. Direct democracy, at this stage, lends itself best to the community or smaller unit. A single city may have to be divided into several dual power municipalities, depending on its size and the wishes of its residential members. It’s generally inconceivable that a unit larger than a city (ie, state, region, etc) could function as a directly democratic dual power community, where face-to-face interaction and the potency of an individual’s impact on pertinent decisions is imperative — at least at any early stage.
The problem of scale is a simple one, but one without easy solutions: we want to radically reorganize all of society, but in a decentralized manner. This means there can be no central committee on the national or continental or global level which dictates or directs the development of individual communities. The revolution must come about from the bottom up, from the outside in. If there are to be institutions and associations which extend beyond the neighborhood and community, they must be put together after the autonomous units (ie, neighborhoods, municipalities, etc) are defined.
Should we decide to set up an elaborate system of strata (eg, neighborhood, municipality, county, state, region, nation, etc), each unit must come about, from smallest and most intimate, first. And then we can affiliate with other so-developed units to form networks. For example, we organize our neighborhood into a dual power network, and that neighborhood association seeks out nearby neighborhoods and develops another network to form a municipal network, which networks with other local municipalities to form a city or county dual power, and on up the list.
Realistically, we have to expect that dual power networks will first form at the community/municipal level, at least in most urban zones, and will then break up into neighborhoods, or however the strata will be defined by those involved. This approach still lends itself to direct democracy. However, we cannot form a Continental Dual Power Network, for instance, and then divide it down. We would be spending too much time traveling to meetings to develop our own communities!
In any case, scales will be experimented with, and communities will define themselves variously. This will cause a lack of uniformity between various communities, even among communities which “border” each other as defined; it will even cause confusion and conflict, or so it can be assumed. But if the alternative is centralization and loss of democratic control, we will have to go it the hard way, which is after all the grassroots way.
The question when it comes to scale and association is not whether the revolution should be world-wide vs. community-wide. Of course it must be global, as critics of most grassroots organizing projects constantly insist. The real question is how we are going to develop the elaborate social system(s) necessary for ground-up, popular self-management of revolutionary struggle. Therefore, without precluding — indeed recognizing! — the need for over-arching, inter-networking organization of the revolution, we insist on an organic, grassroots process by which “umbrella” structures can come about, forming holarchies in place of hierarchies.
Here we run into an unusual but very simple concept. A holarchy is a model of organizational structure which provides various levels of social strata for administrative purposes, but not various levels of authority. Abstractly speaking, it is a hierarchy without differentials in the amount of decision-making power the various levels of the “pyramid” have at their disposal. In the current, republican model of federal government used by the United States, there are several levels of authority. The president, at the top of the pyramidal hierarchy, obviously has inordinant amount of power compared to everyday citizens. And there are various levels of power in between.
In a holarchy, which is still shaped as a pyramid with fewer “officers” manning the top “ranks,” as you go up model from citizen to the higher levels, decision-making power (ie, authority) decreases as administrative function increases. That is, those at the “top” are charged with merely implementing, not choosing, the desired course on any given issue. Voters at the bottom (in their neighborhoods or workplaces, for instance) make the decisions, and at some levels (eg, regional, industry-wide, etc) “representatives” are mandated to vote again, proportionately representative of their “constituents'” wishes.
We will see more examples of holarchical organization when we discuss the specifics of economic and political dual power. For now, the abstract concept is important to introduce a fresh way of looking at large scale democratic action.
The most obvious reason to network local dual power institutions and define our dual power communities (thus forming a second power) is so they can form community-wide institutions, the second stage of internal development (the first being the formation of alternative institutions and counter institutions). Community-wide institutions such as an alternative economy and political forums, and programs like policing and sanitation, are an enormous step, but a vital one if our communities are to become anything more than loose amalgamations of collectives and co-ops.
The dual power community must grow. It must accumulate more and more members and form more institutions to serve the expansion. The community can only grow, however, as a result of individuals and organizations willingly deciding to participate in the community. We cannot, like traditional union organizers, approach an organization and ask it to vote on whether to join us or not. We must use a far more organic approach, and participation must be based on consensus. Unenthusiastic members are valuable only as numbers, at best as means to an end, and this is simply not how to go about making revolution.
Furthermore, the openness of the community must be limited. There should be a clearly-defined mission, and structures which ensure the community’s consistency with the mission. The mission should be explicit about it’s desire to change society structurally, and not just to provide a comfortable alternative to the dominant system. This will certainly limit the number of people enthusiastic about joining. Most of the yuppie types now affiliating with food co-ops will shy away or even be opposed. This is where class divisions will become more obvious, and those content with leftist lip-service will duck out. Those less interested in rhetoric but eager for practical change and action will take their places, hopefully several-to-one.
This obviously implies that existing AIs and XIs which consider becoming official member institutions of the new dual power community will often undergo internal strife themselves. But this is a necessary stage in the development of revolutionary organization. Those members which would opt not to become members of the new community, or would not have their organization become part of it, are choosing either a different revolution, or no revolution at all. Unfortunately, not every alternative or counter institution will be at the appropriate point in its development to embrace the dual power and become an integral aspect of it. Some institutions will split, certain factions opting to move on to the dual power, others maintaining the current direction.
When we talk about forming dual power institutions, we don’t simply mean organizing them from scratch, or radicalizing existing AIs. Especially where economic institutions are concerned, we are talking in many cases about transforming existing firms and entire industries. Labor organizations are good, general examples of XIs. Their job, when they carry it out properly, is to represent labor in opposition to management/ownership. A radical union seeks not only cosmetic and quality-of-life gains for workers, but also more power structurally. As bosses’ control of the workplace decreases, workers’ power increase. And when this can be done structurally, such as through the formation of various kinds of workers’ councils, a radical change has occured. A firm undergoing such structural alteration may be well on its way to becoming a workers’ cooperative, collectively managed and thus eligible for membership in the dual power community.
Finally, as has been suggested, the implementation of dual power is not merely a method of arranging objective social conditions such as institutions and the political/economic system in general, but also serves to facilitate the subjective, or personal, growth of the very individuals who will make the revolution. This is handled not only by economic and political institutions, but also by new conceptions and relationships of kinship and culture as well. A hybrid kind of institution, both political and economic in its nature, is required for this type of activism.
Outreach and Education
The cure for vanguardism is strengthened individuality. Grassroots strategy must provide education and skills development via several methods. The more formal forms of instruction and booklearning will probably not be done away with anytime soon, but we now have at our disposal a plethora of tactics more applicable to liberatory education. And, as has been mentioned repeatedly here, practice and the application of skills is the best course for their development. Activist skills can be applied in activism, in the family setting, in radical workplaces, even in cultural and leisure activities. Most truly radical activism itself is empowering and enlightening, but managerial and leadership roles are even more so.
Another major aspect of developing subjective change among people involves reaching out to the population existing outside the dual power, in the throes of the dominant system. For this reason, any dual power community must maintain its own media. Propaganda involves public critique and ideological dismantlement of the dominant social notions and institutions, as well as promotion of revolutionary alternatives. That is, the propagandist’s twofold goal includes destroying the perceived legitimacy of mainstream thought and structure, plus advertisement of the benefits of membership in the dual power community. Propaganda must reintroduce the idea of revolution, this time as a desirable possibility, not a frightening, ominous ideal or a commodified buzzword.
One of the most important kinds of dual power institution is the alternative media. Parts counter institution and alternative institution, the radical media is more than just propaganda. It operates as another form of education. Dual power media must be explicit about it’s bias, its intentions to foster new forms of community, etc. It must facilitate communication and help those who’ve become accustomed to silence find new voices. The alternative media is not about negating the status quo, but about decyphering it and demystifying the alternatives.
The Structure of Revolution
In the spirit of participatory democracy, the dual power strategy places a strong emphasis on collectivism, the application of non-authoritarian principles and practices in everyday social situations, from home and family to workplace and economy. Collectivism demands, beyond the distribution of power equally among individuals, an emphasis on participation and diversity of ideas. Therefore, not only are actors given equal weight in the making of decisions, but the options themselves are given attention. The greatest defining factors of well-organized collective institutions are: (1) the valuing (not merely tolerance) of dissent; (2) emphasis on democratic process; (3) elicitation of maximum participation from all members; (4) sense of unity and common purpose; (5) encouragement of interpersonal familiarity among members; and (6) the development and sharing of skills among members.
So the individual is the primary unit of social change, and the collective is the secondary unit. But just as the individual cannot self-actualize in a void, the collective must recognize the larger movement context and its place therein. It is for this reason that individual institutions, collectively organized if revolutionary, must affiliate with other like institutions. Toward this end, networks connect alternative institutions for purposes of communication, planning and mutual aid. At the same time, federations unite counter institutions around common tactics and objectives. Coalitions are essentially temporary federations which focus on a given issue or goal. Unlike collectives, which typically rely on limited scale for face-to-face encounters, networks and federations, while always emphasizing communication and relativity, can be based on a range of scales, from neighborhood to intercontinental — as long as their purpose is to connect collectives which share similar intents. In the interest of remaining consistent with the principles of collectivism (and therefor of individual member collectives), networks and federations must value decentralized, democratic processes, encourage participation and dissent, and so forth.
Developing alternative social infrastructure is the ultimate goal of networking alternative institutions. When political organizations such as community forums, mediation councils and municipal structures, themselves based on collectivist principles, are joined with interconnected economic institutions such as worker and community cooperatives, alternative social infrastructure is on its way to fruition, at least at the community level.
There is considerable argument with regard to just how explicitly “revolutionary” the dual power project should be. First, we recognize it as a community-based program. However, it is not expected that any community will adopt a formal dual power structure, as such. For instance, there will probably never be a Syracuse Dual Power Association, or anything of that nature. And this is likely best. Dual power is not an ideology, and as a theory or strategy, it is not even a program. It may become a program if it is popularized within a given community. But by the very notion of dual power as an idea, or a set of suggestions, or a context for smaller programs, etc, instead of a blueprint or dogma, we see dual power as informal and relatively amorphous, always yielding to the demands and pressures of actual circumstance. As a general guiding idea, dual power has been relevant, in various forms, for some time now. In order for it to stay relevant, it must remain non-specific.
So far I have defined dual power generally, as I see it to be most relevant in North America at this time. Others from other societies or other points in history may find it necessary to radically alter even these basic assumptions, and in the interest of human liberation I offer my fondest wishes.
In the following chapters we will finally get down to the nitty-gritty of organizing dual power institutions, including workplaces, families, neighborhoods, media, and so forth. We will also deal with networks such as municipalities and beyond, as well as economic systems, federations of counter-institutions, and the like. Just as should be the case in real life, we will start with the smallest in each category and move outward to increasing scales. Hopefully, in the coming chapters, we will develop a more concrete, stable vision of the kind of society we are trying to achieve, at a much more intimate level.
Conflict and Insurrection
Twisting the words of Alexander Berkman, who said “revolution is the boiling point of evolution,” it can be said that insurrection is the boiling point of revolution. It is a period more likely to be brought about by the state, its agents acting on behalf of all manner of oppressive ideologies, trying once and for all to reassert the old order which the dual power has wrested from its grasp. Putting the violent aspects of the insurrectionary ordeal into perspective, Berkman also wrote, “the fighting phase of [revolution] is the smallest and least significant part.” Which is to say, even where the object is destruction, most of what is to be destroyed is ideological — it is our understandings, our intentions, and so forth. Eliminating prisons and garrisons, while necessary targets of insurrectionary acts, are not what insurrection is about. Instead, the primary destruction will be that of outlived ideas and oppressive ways.
In order for any proposal for a revolutionary strategy to be convincing, it must contain a component detailing how revolutionary movements will handle conflict and, if they are sustainable, insurrection. I intend to deal with these issues much later in far more detail. For now, so that the strategy I’ve just described will be more believable, I am offering a cursory discussion of how a holistic dual power movement can hope to deal with conflict and insurrection.
The establishment of dual power is offensive in a very subversive sense: it seeks to encroach slowly yet fully the domain of those in authority, the status quo. And thus assaults on dual power institutions can be seen as defensive manuevers on the part of the state and its cohorts. Typically in any struggle, if defenders are well established, they have a decided advantage over their attackers. So obviously the key is to become well established.
Part of that preparation for the insurrectionary moment is weakening the enemy well in advance. This means agitating and organizing among the ranks of the agents of the old order. It means demoralizing the police and the military, encouraging them to make changes in their institutions as we are in various others. Indeed, it means encouraging them to become us. More often than not, because of the rigidity of hierarchy in such institutions, transformation will mean abandonment more than conversion. But make no mistake about it, when the violence heats up because the once-comfortable authorities recognize the threat to their status, and to the very social framework which gives rise to that status, we will not be able to beat an army that is at full strength, or police forces which are functioning smoothly. Resistance, refusal, sabotage, desertion — these will all need to be commonplace within the armed forces, or we will have no hope of success in the insurrection.
Another major element of insurrectionary victory will be stealth. That is, since the insurrection will begin around the time elites discover they are about to lose the rug from beneath their feet, we must dispose of as much of that rug as possible, and replace it with our new foundation, the dual power, before they recognize a significant threat. Yes, I am saying we must actually postpone the insurrection until we are most prepared to fight, and most prepared to fill those voids left behind by our toppling of society’s oppressive apparatuses. This doesn’t mean pretending our new institutions are not in competition with their oppressive counterparts. No, we can make no secret of our intentions lest we forget them ourselves! Instead, we need to be careful to attack only those targets which are ready to fall, which we can replace without petitioning for permission or relying on state and capitalist hand-outs.
Reappropriation, of both wealth and political power, must be done carefully, without exposing our weaknesses. A simple example: rather than having 15% of community fully dependent upon politicized, cooperative grocery providers for all its food and such needs; it is better to have a vast majority rely on dual power institutions for a smaller fraction of its needs. Because then we could start taking more drastic steps to shut down commercial grocers, or force them to yield ownership and management to workers and the community. We will have bided our strength well, and staged a mini-insurrection in the local grocery industry. If we cause too much of a fuss by attacking an institution while we are still weak, we will be crushed.
Another key to insurrectionary success is the ability to use the attacker’s strength against itself. This happens on the small scale of actual physical confrontation, and also on the larger range of the ideological battlefield. When a better-armed attacker advances on a weak opponent, the latter must somehow make use of the former’s power, to turn the tide of advantage. On the ground, in street confrontations, we will use Aikido and other martial arts which rely on this concept. We will also sabotage the machinery on which the agents of order depend. When their computers and their helicopters do not function, they lose their edge over us, and in fact they begin to decay from within. When those not yet aroused to rise up see others resist nonviolently as the latter are brutally attacked by their fabled “protectors,” victory for us is snatched from the jaws of defeat.
I don’t know how many times I have been asked that dreadful question: “Can we win?” It’s a useless thing to ponder. Most people, activists and authorities alike, think they know the answer. Most think No, a few optimists say Yes. I insist the question is without value. As Noam Chomsky always implores, “by doing nothing, we only guarantee that we will lose.” The real question, then, is by what methods do we stand the best chance of winning?
That’s really what we should be looking for, what we should be trying to accomplish: and the answer is in strategic and tactical outlook. If we are struggling against a weakened, demoralized enemy; if our movement size, strength and discipline are at peak levels; if our goals our clear; if we are unified in our resistance efforts; if we are massive and foreboding; then I say we stand a chance. So we ask how to achieve these conditions as our preparation for the main event. We will not win without violence, but neither will we win with violence. We will be attacked, brutally and viciously, and we will have no choice but to withstand, recover and fight back. But fighting cannot be our primary tactic in achieving any of the strategic goals discussed in this chapter. Without preparation, the fight is lost before it begins.
If you need to know you’re going to win before you get involved, we won’t be seeing you around anyway. However, it does make sense to know how you’re going to try to win. Insurrection is the greatest wildcard. More can be said of it when we have a better idea of what it will look like. It is not coming tomorrow, but perhaps in a decade or a generation. Let us only hope we will have warning, and some reasonably better prediction of how it can be dealt with. Later on in this book we will discuss at some length the more applied elements of resistance and conflict, including how to organize for (mostly nonviolent) offensive and defensive manuevers without resorting to traditional military methods of organization or combat.
*There are several problems with these notions and the projects they breed. First of all, they repeat the obvious flaws of classical revolutionary theory. Marxists refuse to learn the primary lesson of historical revolutionary failures, instead blaming the downfall of leninist communism (and other formalized brands) on outside intervention and counterrevolution. The fact is that a population must be not only intellectually but organizationally prepared for revolution. Not only must the capacity for economic stability be in existence (not a tall order for a species which once hunted and gathered to provide for its survival needs!), but also necessary is political and economic organization capable of managing the complexities of mass scale social relations, including the allocation of resources and products equitably among entire populations.
The general malaise which seems to grip America these days is often characterized as a “crisis of leadership.”
The implication is that our problem lies in the personalities of our leaders; that if only the right person could be elevated to the Presidency, our problems would be solved, our days brightened and our loads lightened.
Prudence, however, suggests an alternative view of our crisis, for even a cursory look at recent history appears to undercut conventional wisdom. Over the last two generations, surely, the American Presidency has been occupied by remarkably disparate personalities.
Obviously, the problem with America does not derive from personality at all. We’ve had experience with too many different types to seriously believe that. Our trouble is more basic.
The American crisis is one of structure and scale. Our great leaders have not failed, but our great – and huge – institutions are failing, at this very moment. New characters in the same old roles will not solve our problem, for the roles themselves, not the players, are at fault.
Whether one approved or abhorred the war in Indochina, it is clear that the federal establishment, manned by “the best and the brightest” miserably misled the citizenry in conducting that war.
Everybody knows that the federal government promises a lot and delivers damn little, and pays for most of what it does deliver out of the earnings of individuals rather than the profits of great corporations.
Scale is not just a problem of the federal government. Indeed, a classic example of structural failure with which we are all familiar is the contemporary American city. In fact there is no major U.S. city which can point to an increase in governmental scale as ushering in a better life for its citizens.
If big is indeed better, it follows that New York or Los Angeles should be as problem-free as any city in the world. Theoretically, the citizens of both cities should choose to live in the largest, most densely populated areas, rather than in the smaller scale environs of ethnic neighborhoods, as in New York, and the suburban cities-within-the-city, as in Los Angeles.
People do not choose such environments, however, because ordinary common sense provides an intuitive understanding that scale is crucial in social organization; that at every level of enterprise and government in America the advantages of increase sale have long since been passed.
What, then, should be the new focus of social scale? In my view, the tightest and best unit is the neighborhood, the place where people know one another – or at least have the geographical opportunity to know one another – and where most of one’s life is spent.
My own neighborhood, in a so-called ghetto area of Washington, D.C., exemplifies the benefits to be gained by redirecting attention from the largest to the smallest of social organizational units.
For approximately 3,500 of the 31,000 people in the Morgan Adams neighborhood, the most appropriate formal organization for making decisions has turned out to be an unofficial town meeting. This voluntary government by assembly requires each person to participate. No one can dodge responsibility by electing someone to do the job.
Without legal status, this town meeting has organized neighborhoodwide street cleaning; established forums to deal with tenant-landlord disputes; started work on a neighborhood health clinic; taken over the maintenance of some public spaces, and even now is addressing the crucial problem of street crime (with first efforts focused on establishing a shared anticrime culture rather than calls for more police). Indeed, Spanish-speaking residents of our triracial neighborhood have already instituted volunteer escort service and street patrols.
The worker-managed grocery stores we have established not only provide good, cheap food but also show how we can move toward industrial democracy, just as the town meeting points toward real political democracy. Worker-managed bookshops, record stores, alternative schools (including one at high school level), construction “collectives” and even an institute of science, with which I am closely involved – all these have emerged as well in our neighborhood. (Our science institute has successfully developed a way to produce significant crops of vegetables on urban rooftops, and to utilize a network of basement water tanks to produce tons of rainbow trout.)
So with government, which can be treated in much the same way. It too can operate on a human scale, with local interests represented in regional and national federations or forums called for particular purpose.
To do this, Americans might have to sacrifice the office and institution of “The Great Leader.” But since “Great Leaders” seem to be as much a part of the problem as the solution, that would be a small price to pay.
Americans are misguided in their continuing search for new leaders. Rather, they should seek rewarding social institutions to ensure a better life.
In this quest, the first thing to throw out is the old yardstick that measured quality by size and growth.
From the Tri-City Herald May 25, 1975(Originally appeared in the Washington Post)