Revolutionary Congregations as a Model of Mass Organization, Part 2

I had a lot of fun writing Part 1 of this piece, in which I talked about 8 things that I thought we could learn from the U.S. evangelical movement (and I think it really does qualify as a movement). However I realized that if I really want to explain my thinking decently, this is going to have to be at least 4 parts. Here, in Part 2, I want to take a little bit of a detour to talk about the gap I see in revolutionary organizational models that are currently discussed amongst anti-authoritarians. In part 3, tomorrow, I’m going to propose an experiment in creating “revolutionary congregations” as a potential mass revolutionary model. Then, eventually, there will be a Part 4 where I will discuss pitfalls and critiques that I anticipate with such an experiment.

The Organizational Gap

One thing that I want to make clear right from the start is that I’m proposing a strategy of building revolutionary congregations not as some kind of lazy copycat maneuver, nor as some cynical ploy that I think could appeal to the masses although I actually dislike it, but rather because I personally thirst for an effective, long term revolutionary organization to put my energy into, and most current models on offer leave me unconvinced. That is, I think there’s a gap in our spectrum of revolutionary organizational options, and it’s one that I think my idea of revolutionary congregations could fill.

As I see it, the following list summarizes the organizational models that anti-authoritarians currently have on our menu. Of course, in practice many of these forms can be fluid and they overlap with each other, and there’s probably some that I’m missing, but I think this gives a pretty good picture of what’s out there:

-Collectives/Affinity Groups
-Study groups
-Non-profits or alternative institutions (including radical healing and therapy groups, collective houses and intentional communities)
-Online communities
-Lone-wolf/security culture phantom organizations (like the Earth Liberation or Animal Liberation front)
-Clandestine militant groups
-Spontaneous and specific groups like Black Blocs or other quickly forming and dissipating formations
-Direct action and campaign groups (including direct action casework groups like Ontario Coalition Against Poverty or Seattle Solidarity Network)
-Various lifestyle groups, craft groups, or practice clubs
-Political parties
-Labor/student/consumer unions
-Cadre organizations
-Revolutionary mass organizations
-Networks or federations of collectives
-Community assemblies or councils

I believe that, depending on the context, all of these forms are potentially useful and can serve specific functions in building a vibrant ecosystem of social movements. However, as anti-authoritarian revolutionaries, it is vitally important that at least some of our organizational forms can answer the question of building mass democratic power. Are our organizations building, in some way or another, the concrete mechanisms for millions of people across the country and the world to directly discuss and decide on the economic, political, and social organization of their own communities and of the society as a whole? If so, what are the sites where this power will reside and how will it be exercised? How will people be supported or prepared to participate dynamically and equally in the exercise of that power? How will that mass democratic power be defended from degeneration and hostile counter-revolution?

Advocates of all the above models have at least partial answers to these questions, but in my view the most interesting and promising debates are currently between the advocates of cadre organizations, advocates of revolutionary unions and community assemblies, and advocates of revolutionary mass organizations.

Those who favor cadre organizations tend to argue for the approach of social insertion, or of being a conscious minority within either existing mass spaces or within new spaces that the masses build out of their own self-activity. That is, they don’t believe its the place of conscious revolutionaries to build organizations for the masses to then “come to them,” but rather that they should work within the masses and argue for their positions within those spaces—while simultaneously maintaining their small, consciously revolutionary side groups.

Those who favor revolutionary unionism or community assemblies tend to argue for building mass organizations of workers–or consumers or the unemployed or community members–who will build enough power as a class/community to shut down or take over the workings of the system and then reorganize it along radical democratic lines…usually with a lot of counter-institution building in there as well.

Those who favor mass revolutionary organizations tend to argue for building explicitly revolutionary organizations that are designed to grow and support the energy and participation of large numbers of people of a wide variety of experience and commitment levels (unlike cadre organizations). They actively recruit and politicize even non political people. However rather than choosing just certain specific sites of mass power like unionists/syndicalists do (the workplace, the community, the schools, etc.) they often maintain a more flexible approach of trying to build and strengthen multiple movements, spaces, and forms of mass democracy, through both confrontational action and counterinstitution building.

Of course, these aren’t necessarily rigid positions and there is some mixing within current discussions—particularly with some recent interesting writings about “intermediate level” organizations by groups like Miami Autonomy and Solidarity.

Yet within these discussions I’m observing that the cadre organization tendency is winning the most adherents among people I know and trust (and I include class struggle “especifismo” or platformist strategies as cadre tendencies), with revolutionary unionism and communal council “unionism” (along the lines of either the Wobblies or libertarian municipalism) running a distant second, and with the mass revolutionary organization tendency somewhere in third.

This is disturbing to me, because I am skeptical of the cadre model as potentially elitist, self-important, and inaccessible to working revolutionaries trying to live balanced lives, and I am skeptical of revolutionary unionist tendencies because of their strategic rigidity in rooting themselves in specific sites of struggle that the current system is capable of rapidly transforming or shifting in response to movement gains (as it did to the labor movement and as it has done to many historically organized neighborhoods and communities). In short, I’m an advocate for mass revolutionary organizations, and I’m frustrated that the tendency is not more popular.

I believe one reason for this is that we are sorely lacking in workable proposals for how such organizations could look. We just don’t have many visions out there for organizations that:

-Are explicitly revolutionary, multi-issue, and multi-identity
-Are capable of supporting memberships of hundreds, or even thousands within an area
-Are capable of providing a democratic and nourishing political home to both hardcore activists and busy, tired working people, without making the hardcore people feel held back or “dumbed down,” or making the busy people feel tied to the vanguardism of a well-studied elite
-Are recruitment friendly, warm, and accessible to non-radicalized people
-Support approaches to movement building that see organizers as whole people with the need for balanced and healthy lives
-Are simultaneously building grassroots funds, infrastructure, and people power for confrontational action; personal growth and internal education; and counterinstitution building
-Are strategically spry and allow for the transience of populations and the quick shifting of social, political, and economic realities

I believe that the evangelicals have things to teach us on this front, and that the building of revolutionary congregations might be one organizational experiment that could help us hit all of those marks.

Tomorrow, finally, I’ll explain what I mean and propose how they might work.

Click here for part 3.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi

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