The elephant that wasn’t there

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A quick response to Scott Napalos’s recent piece What went wrong with the organizing.

Recently, the IWW’s Scott Napalos put out a piece covering revolutionary politics and their relation to our projects, and which – by way of explanation – also touched on broader issues of motivation and obstacles to our organizing.

I don’t know Scott, and I’m also not familiar with the recent activities of the Miami IWW. So I suppose I should start by giving them the benefit of the doubt by saying that they are probably speaking from some experience, and that they honestly intend to move the ball a little further along in our organizing work by putting this piece out.

That being said, I think the article was crap. Apologies. But the piece reinforces an awful trend amongst organizers today – not simply in the IWW, but across many self-described radical organizations – that excuses away our losses as anything but losses.

How many times have we heard it before? Sometimes when we didn’t get our demands met, we didn’t lose because we “raised consciousness.” Other times, we didn’t lose because we “took a stand.” In Scott’s piece, his union’s strike wasn’t really a failure because “[Some] co-workers went on to become active in unions and more committed to working in their industry.” Several Recomposition authors even have a term for it: “winning by losing.”

No. Garbage. Stop it.

We chose to take on the fight. We agreed to the demands. We organized the campaign. If our demands weren’t met, good practice dictates that we move forward as though there were only two reasons why: either we didn’t organize effectively, or we shouldn’t have taken the fight on to begin with. The fact that some people happen to stay after a loss is the consolation prize, not an important facet of our organizing to take into account when thinking about our strategy!

Ok… That’s a bit hyperbolic. Of course we are not masters of the universe – things can and will go bad in our campaigns which are outside of our control. But that doesn’t change the fact that the alternative way to proceed is completely corrosive.

Organizing,” Scott writes, “involves sinking more of one’s life into something that makes you miserable with little prospect for big successes, and more than likely you may end up worse off.” That sounds fucking terrible! If I believed it were the case that organizing would make me worse off, especially in the short-term, I would lock the doors to our meeting space and be done with it, and I should hope for everyone else’s sake that they would do the same. 

Of course organizing isn’t easy. We do often put in long hours. We do face violence from the police, from our bosses and landlords, and we often do risk our livelihoods and safety for the sake of our fights. But the point of organizing, of fighting back, is to find joy in this struggle, and strength in each other. When we win, even small demands, we build that strength and joy – and, more to the point – the people who might have stayed regardless of the victory are now much more likely to be accompanied by others.

This is plainly the political climate we live in – and most people in this climate are routinely (and rightly, in my view) unwilling to stick with organizing that doesn’t show results.

The “political mood” Scott refers to, then, is not the product of some alien “ethic” which has mysteriously infected our coworkers, but is more or less the expression of our real power, here and now.

The problem, in other words, isn’t just that people “think” there’s no option to organize for them  – the problem is there really isn’t any option to organize for them. Any claims to the contrary are entirely speculative.

Our job then is not to imbue people with “revolutionary politics” (whatever that means) by talking about it with them, but to impart that radical dedication to our projects by showing them they work.

The extent to which people today do not share my politics is neither a reflection of their ignorance, “false consciousness,” or “lack of exposure,” but is likely rather due to my politics’ lack of relevancy to their lives, or at least my inability to concretely demonstrate it; and I hold it against no one who honestly thinks they have more pressing issues in their lives to deal with – even the “more pleasant things they could be doing” – than to come to one of my boring meetings.

So by all means, talk to people about your politics – do it to your heart’s content. But for the love of god, lets not “change our expectations” of success – at least not insofar as our expectations today (a lofty assumption, I know) are that we do what we say, and that we try our best to take on only what fights we can win.

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