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[Previous Europe-specific text moved to Regions/Then/Europe]


Those seeking a way out of the political impasse of the early 2000s pointed to three key notions: The first was “grassroots”, since any new movement would need to establish the largest possible social base, while supporting all the other forces that shared its goals. The second was “communication”, since a new movement would also need to spread its values and policies as broadly as possible, by combining old and new media activism with canvassing and new forms of political engagement. The third was “action,” which meant finding ways to mobilize the grassroots base in practical activity against capitalism and for the reorganization of society on a just and sustainable basis.

In the context of states that still preserved democratic forms of rule, “action” often took the form of participation in elections, which was seen by many as an essential tool for establishing and reversing power relations between social groups. Left-wing electoral vehicles had historically emerged as the culminating point of a long process of self-organization, promoted by social movements that shared the same long-term goals, so it was often argued that the grassroots and the communication should take priority over electoral activity. Proponents of the latter countered with Machiavelli's teaching that political action is nothing but the result of the struggle between the will of political subjects and ever-changing conditions which are not of their own choosing. In such a struggle, timing is essential, even more in times where opportunity windows open and close very rapidly. Thus they called for building electoral vehicles that were tightly connected with broader social and political movements, going well beyond traditional parties.

[by Richard; edited 11/18 by Fred] In the United States, voter suppression had long been a key element in the electoral strategy of the racist right wing, going back to the Federalist era, the tragedy of the post-Civil War Reconstruction in the slave-holding South with the nation-wide triumph of Jim Crow, and again in the 21st century with the the reversal of the Civil Rights era’s victories of the 1960’s. Such voter suppression tactics were revived in the 2010s with renewed gerrymandering, closing of polling places, strict voter ID laws and massive arbitrary purging of voter rolls all aimed at minorities and the poor.

Obviously, the way for the anti-racist left to counter this strategy was to mount a vigorous voter registration campaign. This had been the strategy of Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition in the 1980s, but the official Democratic Party never endorsed it. Dominated by millionaire donors and established politicians, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) feared being challenged by an expanded base and apparently preferred losing elections to the Republicans (who won the presidency twice with a minority of the popular vote). The real scandal of the Democratic defeat of 2016 was not the largely ineffective Russian stealth propaganda campaign, but the illegal suppression of the left-populist challenge by Sen. Bernie Sanders, which left Donald Trump as the only populist in the field.

The amazing success of the grass-roots primary campaign by Sanders, an avowed socialist, as well as several public opinion polls, revealed that millions of Americans preferred socialism to capitalism. Socialism was no longer identified with totalitarian Communism as during the Red scare, and people were eager to learn more about it. And when the racist, misogynist, bully Trump was elected with a minority of the popular vote, many gave up on the official political parties and began looking for alternatives.

Within less that two years, a more-or-less moribund social democratic outfit with the attractive name of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) had 50,000 new members and continued to grow rapidly. The revitalized DSA rapidly broke with its past, resigning from the neoliberal Socialist International (which included France’s François Holland and Greece’s Papandreou) and rejecting subservience to the official Democratic Party, while struggling with the issue of what kind of electoral strategy to pursue without falling into the same trap. [end Richard]

In subsequent US elections, DSA-supported candidates gained ground rapidly. Before long [Bernie Sanders, Michelle Alexander, Rev. William Barber, Barbara Lee…] had won the presidency and DSA loyalists gained a majority in both the US House and Senate. Hopes and fantasies burgeoned among these Utopians and their supporters. But in the daily operations of government, the new DSA regime and its officers were soon confronted by capital flight and other forms of sabotage by the now fearful one percent. The rich and their corporations moved their accounts to offshore banks, sharply cut back on investments and new facilities in the US, and sped up the transfer of portable operations to other countries. State security bodies such as the FBI and NSA leaked information claiming that bots launched and financed by Russia, Iran, and Venezuela had been crucial in DSA's electoral success. President [Sanders…] and the DSA members of Congress spent months defending themselves from these accusations, while trying to entice corporations to return jobs and resources from abroad. Meanwhile, fascists among Trump's supporters sought organize a racist backlash against the new socialist regime.

[Friedman 10/31/18] Millions of working women, working and unemployed Blacks and Latinxs, immigrants, and large parts of the 90% were by now disappointed and pissed off. Their lives were not improving. The environment continued to deteriorate as global warming intensified, bringing on devastating rain and windstorms, coastal flooding, and inland wildfires that ravaged large parts of the country. Working people got poorer and poorer, and the cops continued to run amok in their communities, even as 1/4 of the cops and their families were on food stamps due to cutbacks. As the Utopians had long expected, all hell broke loose.

The movement to create decent lives for ordinary people, to constrain the growing police state, and to prevent climate change disaster, had begun to grow itself a head to go with its heart (an inverse of what happened to the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz). So as they saw their hopes beginning to be betrayed once again, a remarkable thing happened. In a Starbucks on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan, the store manager forced a barista to have sex with him and then described her as a dirty slut to some of the other workers. They walked out and formed a picket line. Other retail workers joined in the picket lines, and also struck their own employers over ways they had been coerced into sex or had their dignity attacked.

And then it spread. Walmarts. Insurance companies. The Federal Reserve Bank. The mass of warehouses and truck-related workers who served New York City.

Then Chicago. Fort Worth. Pocatello, Idaho.

And of course, many of these companies were international. And managerial behavior was too. So it spread to Tokyo, Durban, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, Kampala, Cairo, Kyiv, and beyond. And in all of these places, the workers were talking with each other and thinking.

And they had collectively learned the lessons of the failures of the preceding decades. They formed neighborhood councils, workplace councils, city councils (and, yes, in some places they even called them soviets—but with some understanding of what NOT to do this time.

And they wooed the police and the armies and the air forces enough, in most places, so the armed forces of the States split or, in some cases, went over overwhelmingly to the side of the movement.

And the Councils dismissed the Parliaments, the Presidents and the government bureaus, told them to go home—the people and the workers would fix up what capital and its State had messed up..

And then the real work began as we tried to fix a broken world whose climate was going berserk and whose oceans were dying. And of course, although the revolution had built many solidarities as it took place, the muck of ages in the form of racism, looking down on the peoples of the Global South, and subordination of women still remained as somewhat-weakened problems—problems which we could address better because the need for capitalist profitability and the need for a divided-against-itself working class had been resolved.

But in many ways, our ancestors faced an impossible situation. So much greenhouse gas had been released that utter devastation was unavoidable in many locations. Hundreds of millions would have to re-locate. Humanity would be lucky if the death toll was only in the tens of millions, and if world war could be prevented.

So what did they do?

In explaining how they managed to minimize these disasters and to build the good world we have today, we really need to understand the problems, complexities and hopeful possibilities of the situation “the day after” the working class took power. In retrospect, we were very lucky in how the revolution took place. It could have been so much less favorable! Most important, the revolution was truly global. It only failed to come to power in a few of the smaller countries—and over time, they joined the new society too. Furthermore, although by no means peaceful (in spite of the wishes of the movement), the revolution and ensuing revolts by the old ruling groups and their supporters were not so destructive as to destroy civilization. This good luck let us avoid untold problems that might have destroyed humanity. As it was, our ancestors could concentrate on the contradictions and difficulties implicit in the notion of workers’ revolution per se—that is, what do we could do with our power—rather than on problems of maintaining power in case of a geographically-limited victory or coping with a devastating nuclear war.

So, on the day after the revolution, problems and positive possibilities both were plentiful and confusing. On the positive side, the very fact that we were strong enough to win meant that we had gone through enough revolutionary experience, and had set up strong enough and democratic enough organizations, that we had organization, consciousness, and considerable unity as a shared resource. This let us go from being the done-upon and manipulated of history to being the new ruling class. It also was essential that we had not merely conquered state power but also had taken control over most workplaces and many community institutions. Thus, workers’ power and discussions could be implemented in many different parts of the social order. That is, we could figure out what to do—and then make our decisions actually happen and, critically, learn through our own experience where and how to modify our plans.

Of course, workers and other people had many different views on why they made the revolution, whose actions had been key to winning, what structures needed to be set up, what looming disasters to prioritize, and what kind of world we wanted to build. This proved once and for all the folly of one section of the pre-revolutionary left which thought that workers could only come to power through the leadership of a single united party and that they would thus have a unified consciousness when they won. The people who thought that clearly had never understood even the movements they had been part of, with their constant arguments, different views of what should be done, and so forth. They did not realize that a monolithic working class revolution had never happened, nor had revolutionary situations and near-revolutionary situations ever had any semblance of such unity—whether in Russia in 1917-21, Italy, Germany or Hungary in this same period, Catalonia in 1936, Hungary in 1956, France in 1968 [in spite of the presence of a strong Communist Party—which, indeed, did what it could to defeat the revolutionary upsurge], Portugal in 1976, Iran in 1979, Poland in 1980-82, or South Africa in the early 1990s. And they did not realize that out of the arguments and battles of revolutionaries we could build mutual love, mutual respect, and mutual solidarity. As the pre-revolutionary and almost-unknown poet Sam Friedman put it:


(Dedicated to the attendees of the 1995 North American Syringe Exchange Convention)

What I see is love around me
love in action, love in deeds
love among the hundreds of trench-fighters
impatient doers who keep at it,
preventing new infections
while suffering sneers
every day
every week
every year
love in action
love in deeds
love, sometimes twisted
into spiteful words
aspiration for fame,
desire for respect,
twisting love
into griping distrust.

what looks like conflict
is really love,
when two or more people face off
across the faces
of a silent meeting room
to show each the other
why the other is wrong,
why the mistakes can cost hundreds
of new infections.
These words may be bitter
but they embody love
and after the session
these battlers go out for a chat
or to plan new ways
to battle the hated virus
and the powers that support it.

Beneath the honest conflicts
beneath the painful shyness
the envy
and occasional spite
what I see is love around me
total support among the bickerers
when the shit hits the plan
when the friends of the virus
or the care-less careerists
besiege one of the battlers
total support
love in action
love in deeds
love among the trench-fighters
and we need it.

What our ancestors discovered was that the period when workers came to power was indeed a moment of maximum working class unity and solidarity, though not of agreement. But this moment of unity brought the working class and indeed all of humanity face to face both with the problems that needed to be resolved, and also with our structured-in disunity—i.e., that we ourselves were in some ways the Other. We had to produce and distribute myriad necessities —at a time when workers were striving to go beyond necessity. At every workplace, authority was in the hands of workers’ elected delegates and/or a general assembly of the workers. Issues of re-organization had to be confronted at the workplace in terms of improving safety, making jobs less inhuman, pay, fairness, and a host of other issues. This had been shown, for example, in Poland after Solidarity won the strike which established it as an independent union and a large-scale social movement: the workers were able to take action on and win many improvements in their lives (cite Jack Bloom book). Even though they had not won state power–and thus were less able to act than was true after our ancestors took power–they nonetheless were able to begin to construct new housing for the needy, to reduce many safety and health threats in the coal mines and factories, to increase the comfort level of conditions in many workplaces, and to reduce the extent of alcohol abuse on the job. In the process, they also changed the nature of social relationships within the working class. They built self-confidence, a sense of an integral community, a culture of voluntary sharing in order to help each other, and produced patterns of friendly interaction in streets, trams, and queues instead of jostling and snarling.

Polish workers also organized theaters, cabarets, and lecture series by intellectuals and workers at their workplaces; wrote articles and poems–and read them in public. Many workplaces established lending libraries, and workers used them to get a wide variety of books to feed their newborn hunger for a wide range of knowledge. Finally, they engaged in long and sometimes contentious discussions and meetings to set up ever-more-democratic institutions of workers’ power and action. Thus, even though they lacked decisive power in the economy and the state, the extent of mobilization and power they had built enabled them to show something of what a post-revolutionary society might look like.

After our ancestors took over effective command of the world, they had to address all of these issues, and other issues that touched upon other forms of social reorganization such as education and health care. These issues had to be resolved at every level—the world as a whole, the nation, the city, the workplace, the neighborhood, the family, the friendship group, and the individual, and required learning new skills and ways to think. All stratifications were under challenge as all workers, and humanity generally, saw this as their opportunity for a better, fairer, and more dignified life. But at every step, the need for production and distribution, and the pre-existing means of production, distribution, and communication that were built around relationships of authority and alienation, were the Other to the momentum for immediate change.

As you can imagine, this led to billions of people talking to each other in new ways, with new ideas, with new possibilities—and, literally, with the fate of the world depending on what they did. And, terrifyingly, for once they did not have the freedom just to gripe. They had to act. If they did not, people would starve, and later hurricanes and droughts would devastate the lives of the survivors.

The prior disasters that capitalism had caused—and their lasting effects, as with global climate change—were part of what had precipitated the revolutionary transformation. Such disasters raised the contradictions to matters of life and death—but did so differentially. Many workers and farmers were facing immediate starvation, disease, and/or life-threatening weather or drought—and some lacked housing to provide even a minimum of protection. This level of need was usually greatest in the underdeveloped countries, but was also present in the ghettoes and reservations of the United States, and in similar places in some other developed countries—particularly where the pre-existing crisis, austerity politics of right wing regimes, and/or damage from the revolution itself was most severe. Other workers were much better off, and these were often eager to move onwards to re-organize workplace relations at once even if this reduced production for a while—which, of course, could rebound on the poor and desperate in devastating ways.

All these needs had to be accommodated, since all were backed by the political power of sections of the revolutionary populace. All needs were in competition, and perhaps in conflict. All authority was new. All authority was challenged. Solidarity confronted disunity. There was a world of joy to create—but total collapse and barbarism could also emerge and eclipse the living possibilities of socialism.

We had another magnificent and crucial gain to draw upon, however, as well as our new-won solidarity. The iron necessities of capitalism for profit, for producing value to sell (and ignoring socially-relevant use values), for a divided working class (and thus for racism and patriarchy), and for environmental degradation, had been negated. But the divisions, the lifetimes of superiority of some workers over others and of others' being degraded, and the muck of ages remained, as did the necessity to find ways to maintain adequate access to goods and services while reorganizing production and distribution while avoiding falling back into bureaucratic or exploitative social relationships of production. The specter of what had happened in Russia kept dancing like rotted sugar plums in our ancestors’ heads.

In this situation where workers’ needs stood in stark internal contradiction, there was much to hope for and much to work with. The dissolution of the capitalist state, and the destruction of capitalist power over investment, the media, and, in general, over property, meant that the working class could change social and property relations in many ways. (For example, even in Russia, with all the devastation from the First World War, and with all the demographic weaknesses of a minority working class, the workers’ councils were able to allocate space in the houses of the rich to workers in the first months after taking power–a period in which the councils still retained their nature as democratic workers’ institutions for debate, decision, and action.) The new organizations of workers, the workers’ councils, the mobilized primary work groups at every workplace, the neighborhood committees of various kinds, and the organizations of racial/ethnic minorities, women, and other long-oppressed groups, provided the basis for action to eliminate obstacles and venues for making decisions.

And we had the experience of the revolution itself. Billions, of workers had individually and collectively learned how to struggle for power and had as a result discovered new needs for knowledge and new opportunities to use what they had learned—and thus our ancestors knew how to build coalitions, how to run meetings, how to resolve differences, how to postpone decisions that could be postponed, how to recognize decisions that could not be postponed, and how to mobilize goodwill and solidarity. Such learning was needed for successfully taking power—but such learning would of course be put to use in behalf of conflicting desires, conflicting needs, conflicting agendas.

Our billions of ancestors were collectively were in charge—but they discovered that they needed to invent new ways of doing things and new values and ethics, in the face of crises, disagreements, and internal battles. This was not a question of “overcoming false consciousness,” but rather of building a world anew without any pre-existing sources of the “right” answers. Marxism provided some useful guides, particularly in its critiques of past revolutionary failures, but different parts of our movements had different needs, different conceptions of their (and our) interests, and different ideas about how to proceed. Sometimes, these differences were embodied in political parties or other organizations, but sometimes they just took form in the spectral atmosphere of the internet, television, or printed media.

The Immediate Tasks They Faced

Depending on how you think about it, they faced three or four immediate tasks once they took power. Each took decades to resolve, and they went through many struggles over which took priority in different concrete situations. One common theme in these struggles was disagreements over localism versus centralism of decision-making. This theme was not so much an “immediate task,” however, as a central part of the dialectical process that structured and at times energized the resolution of these tasks.

Three tasks were: (1) resolving the divisions that history had created among humanity; (2) resolving the ecological crisis and the alienation of humanity and nature; and (3) reorganizing production and distribution of physical and mental goods and ending the Law of Value. A fourth task, of a somewhat different kind, was doing all this while maintaining the massively democratic and participatory nature of decision making and of working together. These are discussed in the following sections of this history.


From Improvisation to ‘Planning Factories'

Once peace was re-established on the planet, the Internet revealed itself as a horizontal networking and sharing tool as useful now as during the period of revolutionary emergence. The first order of the day was to make a rapid assessment of the state of the planet and its population so as to address the most urgent needs, the first wounds to treat.The Net facilitated first the gathering of information and then the matching up of needs and resources around the planet.

During the period of capitalist collapse and revolutionary emergence, networks of anti-capitalist scientists and other specialists formed in every country to exchange data on agriculture, ecology, migration, refugees, famine, drought. Global data bases were established. Statistics brought together in the data bases permitted specialists working with the popular assemblies to simplify choices by permitting discussion of alternatives, their advantages and disadvantages. This whole system, if you want to call it that, was improvised in haste. There was a planet to heal, with its human, animal and vegetable inhabitants.

As reconstruction progressed, the network system was refined and elaborated. Research Centers were created on the regional, national and planetary levels to bring together all the economic data transmitted by collectives of producers and consumers and by the local assemblies. These centers also had the task of classifying and analyzing this data, then transmitting the results to the regional and local Assemblies in a form readily accessible to ordinary workers.

The researchers were also responsible for producing a range of alternative plans in every domain: different plans each with their own forecasts about the costs in human effort, the time it would take to complete, its environmental impact and the benefits it would bring to individuals and collectivities. These ‘Planning Factories’1) as the centers were commonly called, provided the kind of information about alternatives which made possible truly democratic and popular debates all on essential questions of social and economic life.

The Internet also permitted great planetary debates and referendums on certain fundamental questions: ecology, health, human rights. There were competing global plans for limiting the extraction and use of fuels emitting CO2 and other gases dangerous to the ozone and the atmosphere. There were proposals for the creation and coordination of sources of alternative energy. There were also plans for saving plants, animals, seas. The different choices proposed by the ‘planning factories’ and their likely consequences were clear and comprehensible to every voter.

The researchers were also responsible for producing a range of alternative plans in every domain: different plans each with their own forecasts about the costs in human effort, the time it would take to complete, its environmental impact and the benefits it would bring to individuals and collectivities. These ‘Planning Factories’1) as the centers were commonly called, provided the kind of information about alternatives which made possible truly democratic and popular debates all on essential questions of social and economic life.

The Internet also permitted great planetary debates and referendums on certain fundamental questions: ecology, health, human rights. There were competing global plans for limiting the extraction and use of fuels emitting CO2 and other gases dangerous to the ozone and the atmosphere. There were proposals for the creation and coordination of sources of alternative energy. There were also plans for saving plants, animals, seas. The different choices proposed by the ‘planning factories’ and their likely consequences were clear and comprehensible to every voter.


Ironically, thanks to the technology inherited from capitalist barbarism, reconstruction was less difficult than had been feared. The dismantling of the armaments industry freed immense industrial resources that could now be put to the service of the people and the planet. As in the ancient prophecies, people literally “beat their swords into plowshares.” The enormous bulldozers that had once served to demolish Palestinian houses now served to make water available to the Palestinians. Factories for war planes were being transformed into factories for agro-economic transport. Near Hartford, Connecticut (USA) a former tank factory was now producing mini-tractors and trams.

How had theses transformations come about? At the end of the global general strike, the strikers occupying factories, mines and refineries had taken stock and begun little by little to restart production of goods and materials needed for immediate consumption and to keep other industries supplied. The practice of making decisions democratically acquired during the strikes and occupations now carried over into an improvised forms of cooperative self-management by assemblies and workers’ councils. Internet links enabled these cooperatives to ‘advertise’ for the materials they needed and trade them for finished goods they produced. Thanks to this global ‘E-Bay’ system, goods were exchanged through an intricate system of barter.

These forms of economic self government operated smoothly. They had evolved quite naturally out of the various types of organisation that had been thrown up to meet the needs of the strikers during the struggle. The common principles among them were these. Leaders were elected and subject to recall by their constituents. Terms of office were kept short to prevent the creation of a professional political class and to keep representatives in touch with their base. ‘Officials’ were paid normal workers’ wages, and members of a collective more or less rotated in office. There was no firewall between the executive and legislative functions of self-government. Those who voted measures were also responsible for carrying them out. Thus the ecotopians had revived the ancient Greek ideal of participatory democracy – but no longer restricted to free native-born males.

Development vs Simplicity

As various projects were discussed in neighborhood assemblies and collectives, the debates generally turned around the choice between plans considered “productivist” and more conservative plans that put the emphasis on the reduction of work time and minimal environmental impact. Some Utopians argued in favor of a greater immediate effort to construct infrastructures that would make life easier or safer in the future. For example a crash program using carbon-based production methods to rapidly construct wind, solar and other sustainable energy sources that would replace them permanently. Others opted for a slower rate of accumulation, a simpler life, the least impact on nature, the liberty to dispose of their own time.

Groups of citizens with projects to propose could also ask the 'plan factories' to prepare estimates and technically feasible plans. By this process, each consumer, each worker, each local community could clearly see the choices that suited them best. In practice, the great diversity of societies simplified things. Certain regions opted for greater productivity, others for greater simplicity. As long as the basic needs of the environment and the rights of neighbors were respected, there was no problem. The dissatisfied always had the option joining other communities better suited to their ideals and their lifestyles.

Participatory democracy was not limited to geographical conscriptions. People were also associated in networks and assemblies as consumers, parents, workers, and in all aspect of their multiple identities. Assemblies tried to come to conclusions by consensus, but if a consensus could not be reached, a majority decision might be called for. Even then, if the minority were large and resolute, the decision might be put off or imposed for a limited period only. In any case, all decisions were periodically reviewed. If a plan caused negative or unforeseen results, it could be changed or even withdrawn.

1) Foreshadowed by Cornelius Castoriadis in On the Content of Socialism, published in Socialisme ou Barbarie in 1957 and in English as a Solidarity pamphlet.
organization.txt · Last modified: 2018/11/18 13:35 by admin