Stan- you have a lot of interesting thoughts but I still can not hear the response to some of the questions I raised about the difference between community work and movement-making, and the false polarity of bureaucratic model centralized politics and community-making as the only alternatives (it seems you assume) of political change (clarify if I’m wrong). Again my question about how something like sexual slavery would be abolished within the myocelluarl/community-making model??
I’ll just pause on one of your statements: “Our own underground food movement here is germinal”
again- how does food praxis count as a “movement” if it is just going on within small family and community networks? I like the idea of food-praxis as “potential” for building something..
so- a new thread??
Yes, and soon.
In the meantime, I’ll try to take more time to clarify this false polarity (I agree there are false dichotomies that crop up in these conversations).
A little amateur political geneology as preface. My own intro to radical feminism was through MacKinnon’s work. In many respects, this was easiest for me because I had been swimming in Marx’s materialist conception of history (now shorthanded for better or worse as “historical materialism”) for a while; and MacKinnon started out heavily influenced by Marxism (Lukacs, especially, I think). MacKinnon’s grounding in law (she is a law professor to this day, I think) and in the feminist upwave of the late 60s/early 70s, along with her very keenly developed grasp of the deeper epistemological implications of Marxist critique, led to her out-Marxing the Marxists, who had substituted orthodoxy for critique on what they called “the woman question.” She took the method and followed it to its logical conclusions on the question of gender, and the pinned a great big tail on leftist phallocentrism masquerading as solidarity with a (liberal) feminist position called “equality.”
But when this critique was put into practice, the logic of MacKinnon’s critique led to two kinds of campaigns: the civil (as opposed to criminal) anti-porn campaign, and the “wages for housework” campaign (a al Thelma James). In a way, each of these addressed two faces of patriarchy: one, the sexual apsect, and the other, an economic class aspect. They definitely called some major questions, especially on the left, and both campaigns raised a hell of a ruckus among intellectuals and activists.
But neither campaign ever evolved into a mass movement.
At the same time, the class-left remained mired in the trade union movement, which itself began withering away to the extremely low union density we see today in the US.
At one point, the trade union movement was a real mass movement, so much so that it triggered some pretty dramtic social changes, as well as state repression, and even acquired a powerful organizational expression in the CIO. Then Taft-Hartley came along and codified the gains, at the same time limiting them (as clever a cooptation as we are likely to ever see… using the sacrosanct contract as its basis); then outsourcing combined with suburbanization de-concen trated workers in both workplace and living quarters; financialization removed the owning class from the line of fire; and the eft hangs on in the unions, fighting one rearguard action after another…. and blaming “false consciousness” for the abandoment of union-based class struggle.
Yet Historical Materialism 101 taught that material conditions have the more determiniative influnce on social development, compared with the ideological feedback (ideas) that reinforce and reproduce these conditions.
Leftists to this day invest 90% of their capacity and effort into convincing people of the validity of their arguments. That this might be a strategic error does not in any way inivalidate the theoretical arguments. It simply means that we have not found a way to practice what we preach.
We have copped to the notion that bad ideas produce bad practice, and in the process we have implicitly accepted that better ideas will produce better practice. So we lay out all the items we would like to see, then set about making elegant arguments for each of them… programs. The arguments are logically sound for the most part, but they never translate into changed practices in society at large.
So there is a larger question — a strategic one — that operates on a deeper cycle of reality than our logics; and it has to do with the way we do politics.
The logics that explain how class oppression works (which need serious updating), the logics that explain how racism is the stunted consciosuness of a colonial condition, and the logics that explain why sex cannot “dream its innocence” in the presence of actually-existing male dominance… are all sound logics with profound explanatory power.
But logic is a mental realm. And as we see with “wages for housework,” even though it mentally calls the right questions in a very provocative and clear way, it gains no real traction in the realm of social movements.
That is not to pose a false dichotomy that opposed mental phenomena to social phenomena; but to suggest that we are prone to assume that because we can recognize the problem, we have also solved the riddles of how to make movements happen. The evidence tends to refute that.
There are several pieces of this train of thought that I’ll just put out there to do with what you will.
One is the idea that we can make movements happen at all. Can we? What kinds of conditions emerged in past movements that made the social soil fertile enough for the potential in these ideas to actualize themselves into real movements?
Two is the question of tactical agility and organizational structures. I do not suggest that everyone be off on their own to do local stuff without any coordination. What I suggest is the organizational expressions of campaigns in the past and present might carry wihtin them certain strategic assumptions that inhibit their performance, and that mitigate toward preserving power only among the most monolithic organizations. We can all join a campaign to fight sexual trafficking, but does the organizational expression of that campaign have to mirror the centralizations we have seen in the past? I have serious doubts about the strategic efficacy of centralizing control for the purpose of “aiming the main blow.” This is an Old Left article of faith; and I believe it is an anachronism… a dangerous one. And networked coordination does not have to be chaotic voluntarism… what it is, is potentially a way to determine strategic direction by consensus and leave the tactics to tightly-knit, culturally-embedded structures, who can bob and weave quickly in response to local developments.
I will also say for the record that localism can easily be reified into some kind of panacea (there, I just did it by calling it an ism). There are no panaceas. But the stick has been bent so far in the direction of strategic-centralism and all its dodgy assumptions for so long that we can be forgiven if we bend back pretty hard.
Finally, I’ll say that there is no polarity between community-building (we should lose that construction metaphor) and movement-building (ditto) if we understand one to be the material precondition for the development of the other. The relation is phased, temporal, not competitively spatial or even a dynamic polar tension.
The conditions we have now, with the extreme atomization of suburbanizing consumer culture, have dissolved the material bases of social solidarities, leaving us with our logics to be “like a foolish man who built his house on the sand.”
Combine that with the Grasmcian structures so well-encapsulated above, and we need to look pretty deep.
And now more errands call.
Hope this makes a bit of sense.