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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Riccio

Bernie was one possibility. There are more.

Capitalism has been temporarily suspended. Despite efforts to keep capitalism on a life-line of corporate bailouts and meager disbursements of emergency income to individual citizens,* the neoliberal state, through years of gutting its own social institutions, is not able to govern its way out of the crisis posed by the current pandemic. We are in a moment of rupture.

The final epoch of capitalism is likely being witnessed. But it is not guaranteed that what replaces this brutal societal order will be less hostile to human dignity and the interdependent web of life. We are at the interregnum of what Rosa Luxemburg framed as the choice between "socialism or barbarism." It is up to us to shape a future other than barbarism. A central challenge during rupture moments is possessing the capacity to sustain the revolutionary energies of people practicing alternative modes of living. How do movement groups reproduce themselves and their efforts?

Adding to the depressing features of an already cruel and unbearable system, Bernie Sanders has decided to end his campaign for the Democratic nominee for the office of president. Common to hear among leftists is how election campaigns are "the graveyard of social movements." One salient likelihood is for millions of people inspired by the Sanders campaign, and for hundreds of thousands of people participating in small and large ways to try to elect him, to become demoralized and disillusioned with Sanders' defeat. Such phenomena is merely one manifestation of digging the grave.

No one should be judged harshly or chastised for giving way to despair, now or really at any point in the history of the capitalist nightmare. But, it is possible to hold space for mourning our losses while also maintaining an obstinate position of hope. Amid an increasingly severe global pandemic, the force of which will plunge the US nation-state into an economic collapse beyond repair if current trajectories continue, there are myriad forces of militancy bubbling to the surface.

Chronicled by Sarah Jones in New York Magazine, workers across the country are being radicalized. Workplace stoppages and strikes are happening at Amazon and Instacart, and likely thousands of grocery stores and other worksites are seeing the formation of new unions.

Additionally, as reported in The Washington Examiner, a third of renters in the US did not pay their rent for the month of April. Tracking how many of these renters chose to participate in popular calls for a rent strike is not possible at this juncture, but the fact is that April rent failures are only a fraction of how many tenants will be withholding rent, by choice or circumstance, in May. Circumstance has brought these "contradictions," as Marxists often say, into being. Organizers need to recruit victims of such circumstance into a force that leverages their circumstance into a political assertion of power.

Where militant actions against the prevailing order are spreading everywhere, this crisis is doing a level of ideological work for us as well. Multiple socialist truisms are now being irrefutably exposed as fact rather than idealistic premises. A short list, by no means exhaustive, includes:

  • socialized medicine is the only option;

  • four-hour work days and a 20-hour work week are possible;

  • care and service work are the foundation of social and economic life;

  • following the above, management is a functionally useless tier of the workplace;

  • capitalist production is the cause of the climate catastrophe;

  • a universal basic income is necessary.

When having for so long to engage in an ideological war over these premises it is at least one source of sustenance to see how the capitalist class, and the instruments of the state, are now having to concede to all of these arguments. Whether they do that in a honest way or not is beside the point, the vast majority now understands, in a material way, these basic truths and, once learned, these lessons cannot be unlearned.

To bring this back to the question posed earlier, the way movements reproduce themselves is by building a material infrastructure and utilizing such infrastructure toward its own organic reproduction. Bringing care intentionally into the fabric of the infrastructure we build is the only way to ensure such bases of power are maintained, expanded, and nurtured for the long-term. Elsewhere I've described this as a strategy of "seizing space for revolutionary (re)production," and I've had the good fortune of witnessing a partial realization of this strategy in the emergence of a tremendous number of mutual aid networks sprouting up nearly everywhere one can look. I am confident in asserting that the success of these networks, where they are successful, is a product of the prior mode of organizing which took place in their local areas.

During a recent phone conversation, a comrade and fellow labor organizer wondered aloud why a mutual aid network had not taken root among the active leaders in the union that employs him. A call had been initiated, a ragtag group of individuals put together a community effort, but nothing much materialized. As a contrast, the union which employs me has scaled up a highly effective mutual aid network which, for a town not too large in the first place, has more than two hundred willing volunteers to pitch in and is successfully responding to requests for aid every day.

Here's the difference: practicing mutual aid has been a consistent project of my union employer for the past two years. One decision made by our union leadership was to create, in house, its own hardship fund where a percentage of dues dollars are distributed into a fund that provides grants for members in moments of financial need. The language framing the fund, and its operations and purpose, has consistently been "mutual aid, not charity." The success of the hardship fund led to the emergence of an internal union caucus, which named itself the "Mutual Aid Caucus." All of this had taken place prior to the pandemic, and so when the crisis hit it was an immediate and organic maneuver for union leaders to take the initiative in creating a network for coordinating mutual aid efforts. They have scaled up to the point where the network effectively and efficiently coordinates aid for the entire surrounding town, and even neighboring areas.

Here is just one preview of how, even during a crisis, effective organizing can be accomplished. But it requires a prior orientation to the work that needs to be done. While crises have a way of increasing the feeling of urgency around needing to quickly move toward a different world, a better world, and the sense that barbarism is not just at the door but already in the house is well warranted, paraphrasing adrienee maree brown 'there is always time to do the right work.'

I regularly provide the following advice for newer organizers and activists that want to know how to best position themselves to be effective: pick your priority, know your boundaries, and learn how to say no.** The options for where to plug in right now are numerous, labor and rent strikes being merely two of many, so decide for yourself which one is your priority and start building spaces for revolutionary reproduction.

Natasha Lennard beautifully captured my current sentiment by writing, "It’s a political imperative to believe (impossibly) that another world is possible, while necessarily being unable to explain that world from the confines of this one."

Bernie was one possibility, there are more.

*"Citizen" is used intentionally. The "right to have rights," as Hannah Arendt put it, has surfaced in citizenship being a requirement for government bailout aid.

**Learning to say no is crucial, because, as I've explained to many newer activists, as soon as you display yourself as someone who cares and is willing to do the work a thousand and one different people, non-profits, electoral campaigns, and more will ask you to do a million things for them and distract you from your priorities in organizing. It's not possible to bring your best organizing into this fight when you're spread across a thousand different projects, so know your priority and fend off all these requests that will inevitably come your way.


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