Building Alternatives

“To my mind, the so-called ‘socialist society’ is not anything immutable. Like all other social formations, it should be conceived in a state of constant flux and change. Its crucial difference from the present order consists naturally in production organized on the basis of common ownership by the nation… 

To begin this reorganization tomorrow, but performing it gradually, seems to me quite feasible. That our workers are capable of it is borne out by their many producer and consumer cooperatives which, whenever they’re not deliberately ruined by the police, are equally well and far more honestly run than the bourgeois stock companies”  

Engels, Letter to Otto Von Boenigk (1890).

Capital strike is a problem for working class strategy and strength, as Adam Smith, Kalecki & Sweezy keenly observed. It makes sense not just to disrupt or tear down (though certainly that, see Marx, Piven, Domhoff & Zizek), but also to build fortifications around that fundamental vulnerability, as well as to build an answer to conservatives’ play on the fear of loss. See Rudolf Meidner.

…  Jodi Dean cites Chomsky discussing the importance of working class organize-to-rule strategies, including sit down strikes, co-operative takeovers of languishing industries and economic sectors (think green technology), and a build-up of broad working class-conscicous support for such initiatives:

“In one of the suburbs of Boston, about a year ago, a multinational decided to close down a profitable, functioning facility carrying out some high-tech manufacturing. The workforce and the union offered to buy it, take it over, and run it themselves. The multinational decided to close it down instead, probably for reasons of class-consciousness. I don’t think they want things like this to happen. If there had been enough popular support, if there had been something like the Occupy movement that could have gotten involved, they might have succeeded.” 


There is a Time for Asking, and There is a Time for Action: A warning against the fetishization of process. Strategy has to respond to conditions.

The Jacobin Spirit,” by Slavoj Zizek:

We have gone through a long period where the order’s accusation of violence, as served upon challengers, has been unassailable and final. This pacifying hegemony has almost fully infiltrated the Left.

“In the history of radical politics, violence is usually associated with the so-called Jacobin (the partisans of unity and of the struggle against factions) legacy, and, for that reason, dismissed as something that should be abandoned if we are truly to begin again. Even many contemporary (post-)Marxists are embarrassed by the so-called Jacobin legacy of centralized state terror, from which they want to distance Marx himself, proposing an authentic ‘liberal’ Marx whose thought was later obfuscated by Lenin…” (Zizek)

And yet eventually we (Leftists and conservatives, certainly. But even liberals.) have to reconcile with the fact that the order devolves into inescapable violence.

Just as violence is taboo property to us, the (terror) state is regarded as absolutely alienated from us. The logic: the state alone has legitimacy/efficiency in deploying violence, including on us; we never legitimately/efficiently use violence, yet as the order shrinks to the 1% all our (the 99%) actions, our very existences and survival, are felt as, officially declared oppositional and violent–Hence all the conservative law and extreme executive and corporate privileges. Therefore, we are absolutely alienated from the state. Violence is the unbreachable wall between us and the state.

Perhaps Zizek thinks the point of order dissolution is now. Perhaps it is (momentarily) in some places. A vigorous power-taking (surplus appropriating) strategy is thereby structurally required, and it is simply a matter of who claims that strategy, for what ends.

“This bring us to the key political point, difficult to swallow for some liberals: we are clearly dealing here not with blind market processes and reactions, but with an elaborate and well-planned (conservative) strategy — under such conditions, is not the exercise of a kind of ‘terror’ (police raids on warehouses, detention of speculators, etc.) fully justified as a defensive counter-measure? … 

The problem today is that the state is becoming more and more chaotic, failing even in its proper function of ‘servicing the goods.’ Are we still required to remain at a distance from state power when that power is itself disintegrating, and in the process resorting to obscene exercises of violence in order to mask its own impotence? 

…(As a Left response,) Even Badiou’s formula of ‘subtraction from the state’ plus ‘only reactive violence’ seems insufficient in these new conditions” (Zizek)

There comes an historical point when people have to recognize it is anachronistic, absurd, and delegitimizing (giving up legitimate power), to run around asking permission for disrupting and overthrowing the old order and building toward a new utopia (eg. a communist horizon).

“The Revolution has already decided the matter, the very fact of the Revolution means that the king is guilty, hence to put his guilt to the vote would mean casting doubt on the Revolution itself” (Zizek).  

The assumption here accords with the social movements (McAdam, Political Process) conclusion that the fact of social movement means absolute power is no more, a realization that authorizes social movement legitimacy (the social movement is performing a necessary function) and frees social movement momentum, cascade.


So far, OWS has not lost its power through asking permission, through process-oriented prefigurative politics.

That is because, even though the state is well into tyrannical “disintegration”, social movement is as yet nascent. Too many Americans, adrift, wait for elites to have a change of heart and relaunch the old liberal FDR class compromise, or, especially amongst the most powerful and their lieges, actively labor to re-establish the conservative Southern Jim Crow serfdom settlement. Most don’t imagine what’s politically possible beyond these historical tropes.

OWS still has a nascent role to play in the anticapitalist struggle, the stage after the Seattle breakthrough. That nascent role involves raising consciousness and elaborating the vision of an alternative, desirable order, as well as increasing people’s experience with collective action and socialist organization.

The role of contemporary Jacobins should be to theorize and sell the communist horizon, for the long haul. Revolution, if we’re lucky and not afraid of mobilization, organization, strategy, praxis, disruption, building alternative social structures, and intellectual work, tends to take a century of wins and losses. There will come a point when we are beyond asking permission, not to worry. I would never bother with arguing against the early-going rebels’ strategies. Nor would I dismiss the important intellectual work of setting the long-term agenda.

Direct Pressure on Israel

Noam Sheizaf’s “Ending the occupation: No way around direct pressure on Israel.” Sheizaf argues that progressive Israeli settler occupation of Palestinian land is the optimal strategy for Israel; and it will be unless there is an organized global movement, such as boycott, that puts pressure on Israel.

Such a boycott is global Leftists’ only currently-available strategy for helping Palestinians against apartheid and colonial genocide (in the Canadian sense). It will be interesting to see if a low-volume boycott is possible, and if it has any effect. The sanction against anyone attempting a high-volume boycott of Israel is enforced, and it is severe noncooperation–exclusion/shunning, black balling, job loss–considering the capitalist context, and due to the lack of an organized, alternative community that could serve as a refuge.

The only other foreseeable hope for Palestinian freedom and survival is on the tails of unpredictable shifts in geopolitical opportunity structure–for example as an unintended, secondary outcome of Chinese geopolitics and the implosion of the Anglosphere or the development of an alternative organized community within the West. Or perhaps it’s better to say that social movement strategies, such as boycott, become effective as the shifting opportunity structure aligns.

It’s a slight alteration of Marx’s 18th Brumaire truism:

“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under [the shifting labyrinth of] circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.”

My question is kind of the opposite of Walt & Meerscheim’s: Can any Leftist human community coalesce, present an opposing counterweight to, inter alia, Israeli imperial partisans? 
H1.1. Not if the Leftist community requires organizational leadership from within the Jewish community, which is already, continuously re-bound to Israel.
Q2. This then beggars the question of why there is no Leftist community in at least the Anglosphere that is not dependent upon Jewish organizational leadership or cooperation.
H1.2. Anti-communist immigration / settlement policy + state and workplace repression +  Little King politics + institutional maintenance of elite solidarity.
Q3. Can any other community present an opposing counterweight to Israeli imperial partisans? And if not, why not?
H1.3. We know that Britain managed (tribal? nomadic? low-social organization and low-network connectivity?) Middle East and N. Africa by distributing Saudi family members into autocratic, surplus-monopolizing leadership positions across the new states, a strategy designed precisely so that people in that territory cannot coalesce in opposition to the imperial, oil- and finance-controlling UK-US bloc.

Social movement strategy: An example of the thoroughness of pro-Israeli discipline in the US.

The coincidence of these factors in achieving organization is apparently decisive:

1) Capital (ownership of economic surplus)
2) Strategic alliances with global capitalist hegemons (ie UK, US)
3) Iron-clad socially- and economically-enforced discipline based on an identity legitimate within capitalism: ethnic-religious identity, not Left political identity. Uneven distribution of legitimate strategic repertoires: In the capitalist Anglosphere, Left discipline is attacked, internally and externally, as “communist totalitarianism”; whereas ethno-religious discipline is invisible, regarded as a sacred right. Effectiveness example: Dershowitz et al’s disciplinary force moved Finklestein from a critical to a pro-Zionist political position.
4) Internal-external boundary reinforcement; reliable, targeted incentives.

Micro Neoliberal Diffusion & Adoption

Hypothesis about neoliberal policy diffusion & adoption, receiving end:

Junior professionals a) have got wherever they are because they embody “good boys/girls” rational actor culture, & use the ideology of meritocracy for self-promotion, b) have not developed a hegemony-strategic collective-action repertoire or habitus, and c) have low horizontal social capital. This means junior professionals are not very capable when it comes to engaging in collective action in any capacity independent of the professional hierarchy. It also means that they have been and are being socialized as sharks.

At a minimum, extra organization must be undertaken to move junior professionals to action independence from the professional hierarchy in which they are embedded and receive their incentives.

Left Hegemonic Strategy vis-a-vis the Right

This long discussion may provide some clues as to how some members of the non-elite Right can be won over by the Left.

Left Gramscian considerations for a reorienting organization of non-elite conservatives
Generally: Understand that most non-elites, especially in Anglosphere societies, have been socialized (in the workplace, in the church, in the patriarchal family) primarily as feudal serfs, not ideal liberal workers. To organize them Left requires a Freirean approach.

The conservative ideological system–narrow boundaries of moral exclusion, aversion to democratic politicization (qua change), god-affirmed feudalism–is self-reinforcing in its parts and founded in institutionalized solidaristic incentives.

Tactical consideration 1:
a) Well-educated Left can make alliances with non-elite conservative intellectuals, focus on broadening their circle of moral inclusion
b) Left organizers create organizations with solidarity incentives to engage non-elites, focus on broadening their circle of moral inclusion

I consider that one opportunity lies in understanding and addressing the non-elite Right’s struggle to come to terms with their boundaries of moral exclusion. Conservatives seem to feel overwhelmed at the extent of humanity. The Right reflex seems to be to see the human world as very small, with a big old throng of sub-humans outside the boundaries–so, broadly, the conservative’s relationship to that sub-human throng is properly, reflexively, simply to use/exploit that sub-human mass, like you might eat vegetables.

Yet in the context of modernity (which the Right labors to destroy), and with Left critical mass delegitimizing this cognitive ordering, perhaps the non-elite Right can be convinced to broaden their boundaries of moral exclusion. The very well educated Left might best be situated to move well-educated, non-elite conservatives, who probably believe in intelligence hierarchy.

…But moral boundary expansion will be hard to accomplish when elites with control over the surplus can just pay non-elites to keep the boundaries narrow. Still, it helps to increase the cost of repression and, in organizing, the Left can work solidarity incentives. Existing resource: Easing young people through broadening boundaries of moral exclusion is what many liberal arts scholars do as educators; so liberal arts scholars can have a role to play in social movement.

Tactical consideration 2:
a) Model not getting overwhelmed by politicization, understanding politicization structurally, not taking politicization too personally. Train conservatives into politicization desensitization, not abjection.
b) Prioritize and rationalize your organization’s politicization agenda, in anticipation of coalition building. This can be different for different groups, and can change over time with collective consideration. But affinity groups with solidarity incentives should reduce anarchic politicization, by for example, using the same people who craft group principles to execute principle-based agendas.

Business Insider’s Dougherty points out that non-elite conservatives become exhausted with and abject the Left tendency to recognize “all” areas of life as subject to political debate between equal humanities. Although they may enjoy political warfare, conservatives yearn for social settlement, social contract settlement, containment of politics-qua-change (but on high-inequality, feudalistic terms that at least somewhat privilege themselves).

Would rationalizing politicization help move conservatives, if they were simultaneously helped to widen their moral exclusion boundaries? I think there is potential for Leftists to help non-elite conservatives, rather than disengage, either learn to relax in the face of politicization aimed at decreasing socio-economic, health, and political inequalities and increasing freedoms. Though such learning is probably more feasible with stronger Left institutions to socialize people. Or Leftists can collectively prioritize and order politicization in time and space.

This is an interesting question, and a point of co-optation vulnerability for the Left, because just about everybody, conservatives, liberals and Leftists included, is exhausted by and hates anarchic politicization–it can be a social capital / trust destroyer. Humans are limited, not gods, and do not have the capacity to live in absolute aporia. But under favorable conditions, we can live with more freedoms-broadening politicization than conservatives are willing to allow. Existing resource: Easing young people through politicization is what many social scientists do as educators; so social scientists can have a role to play in social movement.

Tactical consideration 3:
a) Demonstrate to non-elites that order is not secured by a god-principle, but by fallible humans.
b) Build organizations and institutions that value and can develop democratic order, in order to short-circuit conservative loss passion.

For conservatives, the good society engages people in a romantic / mystified struggle for what they  were already socially-given. Conservatives’ elite ideal is the feudal warlord; their subordinate ideal is the feudal serf. Conservatives yearn for people to earn / demonstrate the assets / virtue that they have been assigned / ascribed. Conservatives ache for order confirmation, to see the face of God, necessity behind power, its lack, and order. In their view, rulers need to be provided the opportunity to demonstrate their vigor to rule.

…But this demonstration is always underdetermined–What does the face of God look like?; and so elites can be shown to be undeserving of their privilege.

With aforethought, and in system contradiction and crisis, I think Left critical mass can use this particular conservative psychology of desire to divide non-elite conservatives from elite conservatives. It’s a potential wedge.

But obviously, non-elites then need to be weaned from the psychological compulsion for unassailable order confirmation.

Failure example:
Such weaning was one of postmodernists’ projects, I think; though they failed at it because they took the liberal view of automatic progress (even though they were cynical about it) at its word, and they tried to wean before anyone had managed to divide serfs from their feudal lords. (Consider feudal workplace law.)

(I think that’s why postmodernist language became so insular; they had to just keep on chastising the Left “modernist” academics–the only people sort of capable of hearing the demand to wean, though they didn’t need it very much because they didn’t have much of the conservative compulsion for divine confirmation. Again, we settle for the path of least resistance and fail to get stuff done.
…And now, with that, I will quit blogging today.)

Tactical consideration 4:
a) Build humanist “churches” (communities)

One of the strongest themes that emerges from the conversation with Dougherty is the cementing role of an institution in Dougherty’s management of his own psychology of order-confirmation compulsion and his compulsion to contain freedoms-expanding politicization, and in providing solidarity incentives. For Dougherty that institution is the authoritarian Catholic church of his father. The Left needs to be able to design and offer sufficient (modified) replacement for many of the mobilizing, social, and coordinating functions of religious churches.

To support broadening moral inclusion, politicization navigation, and critical thinking, the Left needs to build new solidarity institutions that can provide sacred solidarity incentives (where unions have been effectively legislated out of existence, where universities have lost the capacity to provide solidarity incentives, and where universities are too exclusive).

In essence the Left could build humanist community churches that provide many of the same cohering, intergenerational social functions religious churches provide: social interaction; collective opportunities such as supportive social networking, solidarity incentives, collective coordination and action, a cohering discourse about working for a higher good, a collective, sacred experience of the sublime via culture–including creating a beautiful building together to house the humanist church, singing, music, dancing, raising food and cooking and eating together, collective public-oriented actions, and collective retreats to sacred, sublime, semi-natural environments (absent from most people’s lives).

The current state of the Anglosphere Left is woefully undersocialized, and so far more ineffective than it needs to be or has been in the past or elsewhere. We sit and watch AIPAC with our mouths open in disbelief–How does 2% of the US population accomplish all that?, when we should be analyzing AIPAC’s political, economic, networking and cultural tactics, and adapting them to a Left (low capital) initiative. Part of what we should be learning is that everybody, including the Left, can be moved to cooperation by a combination of solidarity incentives, the sublime (culture, nature), the sacred community, and collectively fashioning a greater good. This combination needs to be rigorously designed because the Left lacks the most important “solidarity” incentive in capitalism: ownership of the surplus, and the prestige it confers.

Existing resource: Apprehending, learning from and appreciating (regarding as sacred) the sublime natural world is what some biologists do as researchers and educators; some artists, craftspeople and women tend to attend to aesthetics and collective creation and appreciation; so biologists, artists, and women can have a role to play in social movement.

Tactical consideration 5:
Cultivate external support, especially where domestic elites will not support the Left.

AIPAC has Israel. The North American Left needs external allies as well.

Tactical consideration 6:
Oppose austerity culture.

James Livingston argues that tactically, the US needs a pro-libidinal, anti-austerity cultural revolution, starting with affirming consumerism and environmental exploitation.

Sigh. OK, I understand it’s not within Anglosphere culture to understand Epicureanism. Let’s just try to get there, OK? The most direct route starts with Elaine Scarry (The Body in Pain). Also, I think that where it might appeal to anti-intellectual suburbanites and marketeers, Livingston’s cultural revolution is going to clash unstrategically with environmentalism.  Can pro-libidinal culture be modified to jibe with environmentalism? (See Magdoff’s modest proposal.)

Livingston’s argument is a little like the suggestion that social democracy was reinforced by Scandinavians’ 20th-century bonobo-style feminist free love culture, whereas chimp-like, ascetic, violent, authoritarian, militaristic cultures involve the concentrated accumulation of sexual access and withholding sexual libidinal release from the majority of young men.