Rules of the road


On the Shelf

« You may be a communist! | Main | Lebanon, Palestine and a War Against the World: RESIST »

July 29, 2006



This whole concept of putting the movement in the highest tier of importance, as opposed to the final goals, is something I find to be both short-sighted and lazy.

That might be a bit harsh, but from what I understand, if you're not objectively working towards a goal and simply "living for the movement/present state-of-things" can you have a trully and totally revolutionary standing point? What ARE you working towards? What IS the movement for?

This reminds me of something Chairman Avakian once said in a speech, speaking of anarchists, speaking to how anarchists tend to live as if there is no state. As if "living" as if there is no state makes it so.


To be fair, these two writers are not living under the illusion that you can imagine a state away, but it does make activism and "activist communities" the social base for their ideology. This is true even, and maybe especially because they don't want it to be the case.

The autodiagnosis of anti-authoritarianism's symptoms is ongoing... but it remains symptomatic.

friend of a friend

Autonomy and Solidarity has a related piece up about the Other campaign in Mexico:

the burningman

This piece has been posted at MR Zine as a featured story:

Naxal Revolution

Red Greetings

This is a good blog

In Solidarity


Christopher Day

I'd be interested in seeing some more extended and thoughtful critiques of these politics that treat the people who hold them with the respect that their work in the face of present circumstances earns them.

A very good example of this is Atilio Boron's "La selva y la polis" ("The Jungle and the Polis"), a critical but comradely look at the politics of the EZLN and their sympathizers. Unfortunately I can't find an English language version online. For those who read Spanish however:


i agree, chris.

I have been trying to find a moment to dig into this piece -- to compare and contrast.

I have to say, on first read, i am stunned by its superficiality, its subjective idealism (i.e. that it treats ideas and programs divorced from much real analysis of objective conditions, as dueling narratives).

I think this article concentrates methods and approaches that are held by others. And I think these questions need to be treated seriously (including because, despite criticial things I would say, we also need to look for insights and observations raised in this piece that might be true!)

Anyway, if I get the chance, i will come back.


I think that part of the trouble with the people who express the politics in this document is that they are not looking at the role they're actually playing. I'm probably going to anger some folks but for the most part the left, particularly the left of this written piece, consists of academics, employees at nonprofits, folks who can afford to work less and other odds an ends. Maybe that's unfair in terms of the rest of the US but it seems true here in the NYC area. What role do these groupings really play? Even the most progressive nonprofit exists primarily because of grant money. The grant money represents capitalists hedging their bets. Looking at it like an investment, it might pay off, or not. I don't think it's so simple as people being "bought off" or "co-opted." Rather by experimenting with different approaches to various social phenomena, AIDS, drug addiction, housing etc. nonprofits are advance research laboratories for capitalists. From the capitalist's point of view many of these experiments may fail but if it wasn't worth it the money would stop. Similarly with academia.
I think the 'buffer' role of nonprofits is kind of overstated.

Christopher Day

There is little question in my mind that the "non-profitization" of social struggles in the U.S. has been profoundly corrupting and that the perspectives advanced in this article deeply reflect this influence.

A good article for everyone to check out on this is James Petras' "Imperialism and NGOs in Latin America" that appeared in MR in the 90s:

While the focus is on Latin America the analysis is highly suggestive in considering the roles of non-profits in the U.S..

Bartleby's suggestions that non-profits function as labs for social experiments within capitalism is provocative, and its worth distinguishing here between different kinds of non-profits, but I would emphasize their ideological hegemonic function of domesticating resistance and revolt.

Its easy enough to understand why the ruling class would put the legal structure for non-profits into place. The real question that radicals and revolutionaries need to be able to answer is why they have been so successful in dominating social movement activity.

It seems to me that it is a reflection of the deeper problem of the absence of a genuine revolutionary party in this country. In the absence of a party, radical or even revolutionary-minded intellectuals need to find work and generally gravitate to academia, the non-profit sector, or the staffs of labor unions. Within these settings they attempt with varry degrees of success to "do something useful" while on the whole they (we) are absorbed into the ideological reproduction of capitalism.

Its easy to criticize these individual decisions, but in the absence of a revolutionary movement with sufficiently robust organizational alternatives, it will remain a major problem. The point here is not that the movement needs to be able to employ on a paid basis the entire left intelligentsia (heaven forbid), but rather that it needs truly independent structures with sufficient gravity that it can cohere, coordinate and lead the left intelligentsia in carrying out its responsibilities within a broader revolutionary strategy.

The problem isn't that radicals and revolutionaries are taking jobs in non-profits, colleges and labor unions. The problem is that they are doing so without being part of a revolutionary organization capable of counteracting the profound bourgeois influences within such settings and of directing their activities in a manner that effectively subverts the recuperative functions of these institutions.

Gramsci's theory of the War of Position and the New Left's "Long March through the Institutions" represent so far failed attempts (theoretical in Gramsci's case and practical in that of the New Left) to develop a revolutionary strategy able to deal with the particular environment of advanced capitalist countries. IMHO the New Left's failure must be analyzed in terms of its failure to establish a revolutionary party with the resulting atomization of most of a whole generation of revolutionaryies.

The failure to establish a genuine revolutionary party in the U.S. (despite very serious efforts to do so) in turn demands the development of a critique of the form(s) of party organization inherited from the Russian Revolution and Third World liberation struggles of the early and mid 20th century.

Plain Old Daniel

Beyond some of the stuff that I think is a bit loaded toward what is wrong with movementism from the perspective of the party, I'd also like to contribute a bit of critique of what is wrong with movementism for the movement itself:

The idea of a "movement" is that it is something beyond a discrete set of mass groups or organizations - that it is more than the sum of its parts.

From the minute one enters a non-profit, union, etc. one becomes acutely aware of what the funding apparatus does -- it pits natural allies against one another, not ideologically or even strategically, but over the petty bullshit of putting an organization underneath the money spigot. Unions raid one another and/or cut each other off at the knees, non-profits stab each other in the back en route to the big foundation payoffs, NGOs combat cut their own necks to attract pools of ex-officials who can bring their rolodex in the hopes of the big high society robbery. Et cetera, et cetera.

The movement then not only fails to become more than the sum of its parts -- with all the backbiting and cannibalism it becomes less than the sum of its parts. It is self-defeating, a stone rolled up a hill by a collective Sisyphus that can only repeatedly watch the stone come back and repeat the task over.

In the task of building the Party in parallel with building movements, there will be those elements with a leg in mass organizations that move closer to capitalists with every grant, and one leg in a revolutionary politics that requires a shift away from those capitalists.

The questions of party building in this kind of environment (in which capitalists exercise co-optation in greater quantity than outright repression), is how can we 1) conquer petty, parochial interests of activists in the movementist malaise, and 2) how do we effectively unite this group on ideological (rather than stone pragmatic) grounds? This is the question of party unity with the most advanced fighters, and in this unity the achievement of "high" rather than simply broad unity.

Of the things that are to be preserved at all costs from the Marx, Lenin, Mao, etc. are those sections dealing with these topics. Marx understood the need for proletarian unity; Lenin understood the necessity of "high" unity rather than just "broad" unity; Mao understood the exercise of such high unity not just in science of politics and revolution but in the art of politics and revolution.

Much of the rest deals with concrete conditions that have changed, in which it will be worth just as much understanding the shift in those concrete conditions - in its speed, its contradictions - as it is worth having the understanding of the explicit message.


I was kind of shooting from the hip with my characterization of nonprofits. I snuck a peek at the statute a few minutes ago. It was last revised in 1984. My sneaking supsicion is that nonprofits as the legal classification they are today first came into being in the 30s.
Finding what the expicit motivations of the proponents of the legislation is largely a matter of rocking the microfilm. Otherwise what the motivation, regadless of the effect, was for creating the 501 (c) 3 category can only be speculated upon.
I think people have gravitated toward the nonprofit appproach at least partly because of neoliberalism. It is harder today for people to suppport their comrades who are full time organizers today than it was in the 70s or before. Most people weren't prepared for Reagan. Also there is a complacency masquerading as anti-authoritarianism/anti-sectarianism.

j to the oseph

for my own personal, emotional, and idealistic reasons i wish there was a rev party out there that was relevant in the US. The problem i see is that there isnt one. Who builds it? Especially in the wake of the atomization of the New Left, the prevelence of anti-communist anarchism and the rise of right-wing anti-imperialism? Is the idea of a rev party even relevent?

dear j

Maybe there is such a party, maybe it's not where it needs to be... but...

Wondering if the idea of a revolutionary party is relevent, think of whatever activist work you do now. Think how the character of it would be different if it were relating directly to a political vanguard, seeking to build and develop such a revolutionary party.

Then, if you haven't already, think how you can work towards that now. It doesn't happen on its own. That was the breakthrough of Lenin. Revolutionary class consciousness is anything but spontaneous, even when it's felt. It takes a scientific approach.

I can only think of one party even trying. But you won't come to see that taking the temperature of non-revolutionary, non-communist activists - a fractious and compartmentalized bunch. No offense intended.


very good , this site is very useful for all.

cfnm pics

I like your design! Wery good!

The comments to this entry are closed.

Hot Shots