To put some things in context: Horras wrote an article in which he is specifically targeting the position of the Bread & Roses DSA caucus of being explicitly “anti-insurrection.” His article is specifically trying to address that particular distinction that B&R make in their “Where We Stand” document.
Maisano then responds in defense of B&R’s position in three ways: 1) claiming that insurrectionary politics will automatically lead to sectarian isolation and repressive violence, 2) claiming that Horras is waiting for the total collapse of capitalism, and 3) by elaborating more on democratic socialism.
Near the end of Maisano’s article, he states that “we will likely find that drawing hard and fast distinctions between ‘reformists’ and ‘revolutionaries’ at this point in our movement’s development does more to cloud our strategic thinking than it does to sharpen it.” But if this is the case, then it is strange that B&R decided to make a specific point of drawing that distinction in their own caucus platform.
With all of this in mind, I’d like to join in this public discussion. Chris Maisano does an excellent job of raising the Democratic Socialist flag. Several other comrades have written articles to raise the Revolutionary Socialist flag, such as Sam Farber, Todd Chretien, and Tyler Zimmer. But none of these comrades take on Maisano specifically. With B&R growing into a large and coherent caucus, and the fact that they are drawing in many of the best members of the DSA, I think it is important to engage B&R directly, in a comradely way, regarding their “anti-insurrectionist” position (as they phrase it).
I’d also like to add that I completely agree with Maisano’s position that we need to engage in electoral politics. I plan on writing more on this topic in the future. But for now, I think it is enough to point out that I was a core member of the Rossana Rodriguez campaign. If you click on this Jacobin story, you’ll see me hugging Rossana in the hero image.
Before going into that, I want to assert one main point: revolutions are inevitable. On a long enough timeline, all societies will experience a revolutionary situation. This is because the contradictions of class society have to periodically explode. What is not inevitable is who wins: the revolutionaries or the counter-revolutionaries. To make sure we win, we need to have an orientation that recognizes this and prepares for it.
A strategy that results in a successful workers’ revolution has to follow a path that includes a combination of class struggle and electoral struggle. For an amazing book covering these inevitable eruptions in the 20th century, please read “Revolutionary Rehearsals.”
1) Insurrectionary politics lead to isolation and repression.
Maisano rightly points out that if the goal of revolutionaries is to simply set up paramilitary groups and try to instigate battles, then we will be crushed. I completely agree. While Horras is focused on discussing paramilitary work, this is not exclusively what he is talking about. Horras is very sober in referencing more practical work that is going on in Jackson, Mississippi via Cooperation Jackson (CJ). He quotes Kali Akuno’s statement on the need to build “self-defense” organizations that tackle a variety of issues like “legal defense formations, childcare cooperatives, food pantries, etc.”
I would take it a step further and say that we are living through a moment that has a desperate need for self-defense due to intense police violence against communities of color, ICE abductions of immigrants, and fascist violence (at places of worship, on college campuses, and in the streets). Thinking through both Horras and Akuno’s points: while we are not at a point in which we need to build up paramilitary groups, we are definitely at a point in which we need to be doing cop-watch, ICE rapid response, and anti-fascist organizing. These should not be armed groups, at least not at this moment in history. But it is easy to imagine how this sort of organizing can help train a layer of activists in ways that could, in the long-term, transition into the paramilitary work of resisting and beating armed groups of men.
Here in Chicago’s 33rd Ward, the office of Rossana Rodriguez has already hosted a canvassing training on “Know Your Rights” for families to be informed and prepared if ICE should show up at their door. We are also working on having a training to do ICE patrols in which local activists will be walking the neighborhood to make sure ICE does not attempt any raids. If they do, we want to have rapid-response networks to stop the raid.
This sort of concrete organizing could also provide opportunities to gain audiences in communities of color, recruit people of color, and prove that socialists are serious about taking practical steps to build multi-racial solidarity.
Both Horras and Maisano write at length about how strong the armed wing of the state has become. However, neither of them addresses an important topic: political agitation among layers of the military. To be clear, the military does not cover the entire armed wing of the state. Large sections of the state consist of police and surveillance that are trained to see the masses as a permanent enemy. But a major question in any revolutionary situation is: who will most soldiers side with — the capitalist state or the revolution?
This is a critical question because in each of history’s revolutionary moments, two questions always come up: how do we arm the revolution and how do we disarm the counter-revolution? The primary way of accomplishing both at the same time involves political agitation and organizing by socialists among active duty, and non-active duty, military.
Yes, there is a huge, technologically advanced repressive government capable of crushing us. But human beings still have to operate those repressive tools. Human beings that can be politically won over to revolution (or politically demoralized away from counter-revolution). For anyone new to radical politics, I encourage you to watch the documentary “Sir, No Sir!” about active and non-active US soldiers organizing against the Vietnam war.
Should DSA meetings include weapons training and martial arts? No. But should we actively think through self-defense at the scale of watching the cops, responding against ICE raids, and building anti-fascist networks that can document known fascists and counter-protest them? Absolutely. Additionally, we also need to be thinking through how we begin organizing active and non-active military. These things will help sharpen our members politically as well as steel them for the political and physical fights to come.
2. Total collapse of capitalism or built-in periodic crisis?
Horras brings up the issue of a “revolutionary crisis” in the indefinite future and the need for socialists to prepare for it. Maisano responds by listing a variety of crises that affected capitalism and resulted in neither revolution nor the complete collapse of capitalism. What he fails to note is that any of these crises could have become revolutionary opportunities if a revolutionary organization had been built before-hand and tried to build off of the crisis.
As Maisano helpfully points out, these crisis take on a variety of forms. Sometimes they look like the Great Depression, other times they look like WWI and WWII, while other times they look like the foreclosure crisis of 2008. What all of these crises have in common is that they were all products of the capitalist system.
Capitalism routinely runs into the two issues of a) over-production and b) diminishing rates of profit. The main way for the capitalists to try and alleviate the first two issues is through c) imperialism. But Earth is not infinite. There are limited numbers of people that want, or can afford, to buy things. There is also a limit to how low capitalists can push wages until they are either triggering an uprising and/or killing the workforce through starvation. Additionally, each of these forms of built-in crisis have the potential to trigger other crises, such as waves of refugee immigration or ecological disaster.
However, in the same way that every crisis is an opportunity for the capitalists to squeeze us harder, each crisis is also an opportunity for socialists to win people to fight for socialism. The question is, when a crisis strikes, who is willing and able to promote a political solution? The bourgeois parties and think tanks promote austerity. The fascists promote hate. We have to be prepared to promote internationalism, anti-racism, welfare programs, and socialism.
Meagan Day, a B&R member, has traced the success of Bernie Sanders and the explosion of the DSA back to the Great Recession. This was a crisis that was accidentally, and belatedly, seized by the DSA. The next crisis has to be deliberately seized, which means having an orientation that understands that crises are built into capitalism. We need to prepare for them, and use them to our advantage (i.e. build struggle, recruit to DSA, popularize socialism). Otherwise, crises get used against us (i.e. austerity programs, recruitment to fascism, general disillusionment and demobilization of the working class).
For the record: most of this section of my argument is just a re-phrasing of Rosa Luxemburg’s similar argument about capitalist crisis in “Reform or Revolution.”
3. More on democratic socialism — class struggle and counter-revolution.
Maisano makes a lot of important points that are never addressed by Horras. Some of this seems unfair to me because I think that Horras was only trying to address one specific topic. Regardless, Maisano is right to point out that socialists need a pragmatic orientation on how to work within electoral politics as well as class struggle (whether that is in the workplace, at schools, in neighborhoods, or all of the above). I completely agree.
But if we are going to bring up these topics, we also need to address what it is about class struggle and elections that is so critical: the working class itself.
If “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” then, as long as classes exist, there has to be one class in control of society. As socialists, it should be our position that the working class should be the one in control.
Many comrades in the DSA have rightly pointed out that class struggle is an important way to fight for reforms that can alleviate some of the pressures of capitalism. They have also rightly pointed out that participating in electoral politics can also be a complementary way of winning beneficial reforms. What is missing from the conversation is how this benefits the class at the level of mass consciousness.
When groups of people band together to fight for something in their school, workplace, or community, they learn things. They learn how to organize other people, how to build demands and fight for them. How to confront the people in power. Win or lose, these lessons persist and can be built upon in future struggles.
When people do win, there is a major emboldening. The larger the struggles, the wider the scope of people that learn the power of collective struggle and the ways in which to organize that struggle. While some struggles are purely localized to (for example) a single workplace, the experience of withholding labor and winning can be incredibly empowering for those workers. At a larger scale example, like Seattle in 1919, these struggles can engulf an entire city and escalate from workers withholding labor to workers running the city through their own worker’s council (The General Strike Council — creating a situation of dual power).
For socialists, the goal should be the empowerment of the working class to take society into it’s own hands. This is in contrast to Maisano’s two positions:
Our task is to win as many rights and freedoms as we can to build our movement’s strength to the point that the establishment cannot defeat us on the terrain of democratic politics.
…election of a left government (likely over multiple contested elections) mandated to carry out a fundamental transformation of the political economy, coordinated with a movement from below to build new institutions and organizations of popular power in society.
The first point is too mechanical and stagist. In what world would the bourgeoisie allow the working class to become unbeatable on the terrain of democratic politics? They would engage in sabotage and violence long before ever allowing that. Or they would simply launch a right-wing coup and remove democracy all together.
The second point is promoting a benevolent government that is aided by the working class. But a working class that has organized and mobilized enough to even get a Left government is also ready to start thinking about going the next step. They are ready to develop beyond a benevolent government that coexists with capitalists and move to the overthrow of the capitalists while also forming a worker’s government rooted in workplace and community councils (i.e. socialism).
Maisano closes his article by referencing Poulantzas:
…democratic socialism contains ‘the obvious risk — and everyone is aware of it — that the great majority of the repressive state apparatuses will polarize to the right, and therefore crush the popular movement.’
That’s a bummer. It is also a recognition that as long as the capitalist class exists, they are a threat. The flip side is that socialist politics offer a situation in which the working class can be trained to organize ourselves, fight the bourgeoisie, overthrow the existing order (revolution), and build a new society based on political and economic democracy.
The DSA is in an amazing position. We are the largest socialist organization to exist in decades. With about 60,000 members, we have the potential to truly turn US politics to the Left. We are in a position to build successful electoral campaigns and to engage in different forms of class struggle around race, sex, gender, war, healthcare, and housing.
But if we only imagine our strategy and tactics within the framework of a relatively stable capitalist economy and an end goal of electing a Left government that is aided by the working class, then we are doomed. We won’t be prepared for the economic and political crises that periodically erupt. We won’t be prepared to resist the reactionary violence when we do succeed at our tasks. We won’t be prepared when a revolutionary situation presents itself and poses the question of “socialism or barbarism.”
Our organization needs to strategize with all of these things in mind and train our comrades with this in mind as well.
I am neither a member of Regeneration nor Bread & Roses (B&R). However, I was an active member of the International Socialist Organization (ISO) from 2006–2010, and I was in their periphery all the way up until their dissolution in 2019.
During my time as an activist, I was a part of the Campus Anti-war Network (CAN) from 2006–2008. I was also a part of the Immigrant Youth Justice League (IYJL) in Chicago from 2009–2010. Most recently, I was one of two lead volunteer organizers for the Rossana Rodriguez campaign in Chicago’s 33rd Ward from 2018–2019.
I joined the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) in 2018.