Beyond Mobilizing: Towards A Movement That Builds A Base For Power

| Strategize!

Above Photo: From

This Essay Argues That Anarchists And Autonomous Anti-Capitalists Need To Advance Beyond Simply Mobilizing And Focus On Building A Base Of Popular Support Within Wider Communities In Order To Engage In Mass Organizing As A Means Of Building Capacity And Support For Our Ideas And Action. 

As I wrote not long ago, the North American anarchist movement has reached a crossroads. The movement must decide whether it will continue to remain a relatively isolated subculture or broaden its horizons and reach out to new groups of the oppressed. In short, I argued that the movement must turn its focus to mass organizing or risk becoming a marginal force in the political struggles to come. But what exactly would such a shift look like, and how would an organizing movement operate in practice?

What Is Organizing

To begin, we have to understand what organizing actually is. Much of what has historically been referred to as ‘organizing’ by the American left simply is not. Tapping into an existing network of friends, reaching out to our followers via Twitter and Facebook, and so on is mobilizing, not organizing. Mobilizing is when we marshal those who are already committed to a cause to take some action as part of a larger effort. Mobilization absolutely has a role to play in our struggle. But, over the long run, mobilization fails to build our power because it relies on the same small group of activists.

“Mobilization Absolutely Has A Role To Play In Our Struggle. But, Over The Long Run, Mobilization Fails To Build Our Power Because It Relies On The Same Small Group Of Activists.”

Organizing, by contrast, is deliberately reaching out to and building relationships with the unorganized. Organizing begins when a group of people face a collective problem: their landlord is raising their rent, they are exploited at work, they are being brutalized by prison guards, their planet is being destroyed by capitalism. Some may identify and understand the problem, others may only be partially aware of it. The organizer’s task is to have conversations with many of the other people in this group, showing them how important it is that they come together and fight to change their situation. The organizer must overcome the fact that many of the people they talk to will be afraid of the real consequences that could come with taking action. The organizer helps their comrades-to-be overcome their fear and apathy and choose to fight back. The organizer must then bring these people together to form a collective unit and help move that unit to act against the injustice it is facing.

It should go without saying that organizing the unorganized is more difficult than mobilizing those who are already organized. But this kind of organizing is the only way to deliberately grow our movement, build a mass base, and create the connections with the rest of our class that will allow us to actually transform our society. A movement that does not systematically try to build itself in this fashion will never have the strength to push for revolutionary change. And there is presently no broad section of the American left that systematically focuses its efforts on mass organizing. While this is a serious present deficiency, it also means that there is a large gap to be filled by the first effective and attractive movement that chooses to do so.

How an Organizing Movement Operates

An organizing movement is made up of organizers who dedicate their time to building resistance organizations among the oppressed. The organizing movement recognizes that the only viable path to revolution is to build up the strength and confidence of our class by creating strong networks in workplaces, neighborhoods, prisons, and so on. Therefore, the organizing movement must do two main things if it wishes to grow:

  1. Systematically recruit and train new organizers to expand its capacity to reach new participants.
  2. Systematically identify targets for struggle, build relationships with the unorganized, build new structures, and carry the struggle against our enemies forward.

It follows that an organizing movement needs to be respected by a broad section of the oppressed, not just a small collection of activists. An organizing movement must therefore look like, base itself in, and recruit from the working class and oppressed communities in its area. By basing its activities in the actual social base of a particular area, the organizing movement is able to tap into organic social networks and mobilize much larger numbers of people for struggle. This means that the movement must be welcoming, open, and willing to work with a broad range of people at different levels of political consciousness. Everyone will not come to the movement as a perfect revolutionary – experience with struggle and solidarity will help create the kind of consciousness we hope to spread.

“The Organizing Movement Recognizes That The Only Viable Path To Revolution Is To Build Up The Strength And Confidence Of Our Class By Creating Strong Networks In Workplaces, Neighborhoods, Prisons, And So On.”

To reiterate more bluntly: an organizing movement is not a small group of mostly-white anarchists surrounded by a majority-black and latinx community, or even a small group of middle-class white kids surrounded by a working-class white community. The movement must obviously begin with the resources and people it has at its disposal. But an organizing movement strives to immediately build its connections with the oppressed and turn itself into an extension of that community.

Because an organizing movement is focused on spreading revolutionary power and consciousness as widely as possible, it focuses on fighting battles that can engage as many people as possible. An organizing movement sidelines personal beefs, vendettas, and ego in favor of the interests of the wider cause. An organizing movement likewise realizes that it needs to cultivate alliances where it can and avoids picking unnecessary battles with those who are closer to us than our foes. In short: an organizing movement strives to be the best possible version of the anarchist movement because it recognizes that the time for action is short and growing shorter by the day.

Building an Organizing Organization

To effectively recruit and train new revolutionary organizers, an organizing movement should itself be effectively organized. In our context, this means that there should be a federated structure of organizing groups that shares information and resources, conducts regional and national campaigns, and deliberately expands itself to new areas. The job of the organizing organization is to turn the collected skills and capacity of its members into drives to create organized resistance bodies – radical unions, tenant unions, self-defense groups, etc. – within our class.

If such an organization is to succeed at the aims outlined above, it needs to be made up of the most dedicated and serious activists who are willing to put in the work to do so. An organizing organization thus has to proceed by recruiting the best candidates from the existing movement and from the broad base of the oppressed. Those doing the recruitment need to ask themselves honest questions about prospective recruits: Are they willing to be taught how to organize? Do they really want to fight? Are they emotionally invested in the movement for the right reasons? Are they willing to do whatever it takes? If the answers to these questions are not a clear yes, the candidate is probably not the right fit for the organization.

“If We Want Riot And Insurrection To Transform Themselves Into Full-Blown Revolution, We Need Organized Strength, A Mass Base, Self-Discipline, And Experience.”

An effective revolutionary organization cannot be willed out of thin air. It has to be created by dedicated revolutionaries who have experience in the movement and are willing to bring the struggle to a higher level. Thankfully, there are plenty of movement veterans (often collected in small groups of friends) scattered throughout North America. The open question is whether we recognize the need for a change in the way we operate, and whether we are willing to come together and start trying something new.

Make no mistake: a revolutionary mass movement is viable, even in the United States. A new cycle of struggle is being inaugurated by insurrections across the world. Capitalism grows more unbearable with each passing year. The movement that fills the present gap by systematically organizing the oppressed stands to have many opportunities to fight for radical change in the coming years. But if we want riot and insurrection to transform themselves into full-blown revolution, we need organized strength, a mass base, self-discipline, and experience. And those things are only possible if today’s anarchist movement decides to become a revolutionary organizing movement.

  • subcomandante Felix

    Hallelujah, an article begins with a definition of the key word being discussed – how novel. A couple more terms, politics and power, however, also need definition. A working definition of power might well be the ability to organize and implement collective action. Historically, the state has been the most effective institution at doing this. Politics on the other hand, is struggle over how power is organized and structured, i.e. hierarchically or horizontally.

    Unfortunately, this otherwise fine article, fails to address the key issue; whether to focus primarily on political or cultural organizing. One more definition: cultural in this context is
    defined in the ecological sense, how a particular species makes a living, i.e. the unique way a society meets its basic needs to survive and reproduce. Ultimately, all political revolutions fail because the cultural (economic) foundations are inadequate to support the political structures (institutions) of governance,i.e. the state.

    With a few notable exceptions, e.g.the Zapatistas, most people and societies exist in a colonial dependence on the capitalist economic system. This dependence severely limits the effectiveness and possibilities for political organizing. Until, organizing can productively address the cultural/economic dependency on capitalism by providing real alternatives, political organizing is little more than rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, or should we say the good ship, Mother Earth.

  • Many salient points in this article.

    “…The open question is whether we recognize the need for a change in the way we operate, and whether we are willing to come together and start trying something new.”

    This questing is an important one in that it prompts the evaluation of the effectiveness of strategies and tactics used in the past and whether those that produced desired outcomes, can be effective in today’s environment. I believe it is important to understand how technological advances have become weaponized by the establishment and what that means to activist organizations. The same goes for the changes in the political environment that has militarized the police force and is implementing laws that criminalize protest activities against certain sectors such as infrastructure.

    A modernized strategic and tactical plan that acknowledges both the perils and the opportunities present today and focuses on avoiding the perils and exploiting the opportunities may realize success. Using old ineffective models as well as ignoring today’s changed environment will not produce a positive outcome.

  • You have addressed some of the most critical and least discussed barriers to a successful mass movement to bring about systemic transformation. Thank you.

  • subcomandante Felix

    You are right on here! One of the biggest reasons that Socialism/Marxism does not have more traction in the U.S. and West is that it has always looked to the past and old ways of organizing and revolution. Capitalism on the other hand, has continually adapted to a changing world and reinvented itself.

    P.S. That and its overwhelming control of the state and mass communications.

  • voza0db

    Main problem… Unawareness of Reality!

    Reality being

    since this is the Global Reality, no matter if you’re in what we call China, Russia, USA, Germany, South Africa, Australia and so on, the current level of complexity and integration and dependence between many sub-systems are a real and powerful deterrent to actually achieve a real alternative.

    Secondary problem… Awareness of Reality!

    When we are aware of the SYSTEM we live in we also become aware of our inability to CHANGE such SYSTEM.

    Individual CHANGE is possible. Collective CHANGE is not.

  • subcomandante Felix

    Regarding awareness of reality, the problem is that most people get most of their information not directly through personal experience but secondarily through the mass disinformation media, including the internet and social media like Fakebook. The other big problem is the way hierarchy and inequality operate. Obedience to and support of the system gives the individual more privilege and more money. And the more privilege and money you have, the more you have to lose.and the less likely you are to buck the system, let alone resist. When enough individuals change however, you have the possibility of collective change – otherwise we are fucked!

  • voza0db

    Hello scFelix.

    Can you quantify what you consider “enough individuals” that can cause CHANGE to our SYSTEM?

    That’s why I’ve made that lovely scheme! Vast majority (in the order of billions) of the world population isn’t aware and simply doesn’t care about any of that because they are having more basic life support problems to address.

    Just looking at it makes one realize that alternating between those sub-systems (republics, monarchies, democracies and so on) won’t change the MAIN SYSTEM.

    Personally we’re fucked beyond return… If only know of one random event capable of causing a global reset.

    But even after the global reset I’m afraid that Uman Thought will do everything he possibly can to rebuild the System he believes to be Safe and Secure… and we’re fucked once again!

    To cut short… you either EVOLVE without Uman Thought or we stand no chance at all.

  • subcomandante Felix

    In sociology, a tipping point is a point in time when a group—or many group members—rapidly and dramatically changes its behavior by widely adopting a previously rare practice. Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechinic Institute have found that when just 10 percent of the population holds an unshakable belief, their belief will always be adopted by the majority of people who simply change their beliefs if their last two social interactions agreed with a new one.

  • voza0db

    That won’t apply!

    The “unshakable belief” that our collective misery is manifested by the MONETARY SYSTEM will never reach 0.01% of the world population much less 10%.

    Even worse if we address the Root Cause of the problem, the degenerated Uman animal and his Thought.