July 13, 2023 – Section 7 on Toward the General Strike and Dual Power

Jackson Rising Redux

Section VII: Toward the General Strike and Dual Power 

Summary by Bethel S. Moges

Los Angeles For All Reading Group

July 13, 2023


Building the Commune

By George Ciccariello-Maher

-the bolivarian process

general description of a commune (as they’re practiced in Venezuela) as a network of councils which practice “direct democratic self-government” and are comprised of social production enterprises which are “either state owned or, more commonly, directly owned by the communes themselves.”  P427 

  • obviously state and local leaders, including those who consider themselves Chavistas despise the communes because this form of grassroots democracy undermines their power and cuts into their resources and legitimacy  
  • Even when the government “supports” or legally mandates communes, they still organize against them
  • Roland Denis on the oxymoron that is “the communal state”/ communist state
    • “The communal state is a non-state, otherwise it’s a bureaucratic-corporative state.” Ideally, “the communes could create a productive capacity that begins to compete with capitalism, with its own internal rules and logic, and this could really progressively generate a non-state.”
  • “Groups of communes are coming together from below to form regional structures known as “communal axes” or “political-territorial corridors.” According to Alex Alayo, a member of the El Maizal commune, the goal is to develop what he calls “free socialist territories” in which communes exchange directly with one another, cutting out the global economy and the domestic capitalists entirely. Through this broader integration, the communes will be able “to communalize or even communize” entire territories not from above, but as an expansive form of self-government from below.” P. 429 
  • Summarize 430
  • The Bolivarian Revolution spearheaded by barrio residents
  • The commune in the barrio
    • Transport collectives
    • Distribution centers 
    • Exchanged between urban and rural communes
    • Taking over control of urban industries (took over beer factory and established a water bottling and distribution center
    • Additionally, “especially amid and against the atomization of urban areas, producing communal culture is a primary and very concrete task” (430). 
  • And, in light of a “sharpening economic crisis” and the almost always inevitable conservativism which emerges as a more popular response, communes are now at risk “with the National Assembly threatening to revoke communal rights to land expropriated under Chávez and Maduro.” (431)
  • Basic general points are even when co-ops receive government support it’s never as radical as cooperative organizing deems necessary and that support is as fickle as a change in government 


Dual Power and Revolution

By Symbiosis Research Collective (John Michael Colon, Mason Herson-Hord, Katie S. Horvath, Dayton Martindale, and Matthew Porges)

  • “Both concrete and comprehensive, our proposal is to organize practical community institutions of participatory democracy and mutual aid that can take root, grow, and gradually supplant the institutions that now rule ordinary people’s lives.”
    • Hannah Arendt in On Violence 
      • “defines “power” as people’s ability to act in concert—the capacity for collective action, and thus a property of groups, not individuals” 
        • Offers four modifications to Arendt’s theory of power as it applies to a revolutionary political strategy
          • “First, without preexisting mass organization, the public has no way to collectively withdraw its support.”
          • “Second, most people will never even consider retracting support for governing institutions if they don’t see viable alternatives.”
          • “Retracting support without engaging in such oppositional institutions is hardly distinguishable from apathy.”
          • “Fourth, we cannot neglect the preformation of the postrevolutionary society—the need to actively create institutions to replace the ones we have now.”
    • From 444
    • Pg 448: “the community knows what it needs better than anyone else does. Building directly democratic, cooperative institutions creates buy-in at an early stage and ensures that a community can make decisions in its own best interest. Direct democracy is also a form of popular education. Through it, people can develop political consciousness and practice living the ethic of horizontal collaborative democracy.”
    • “The traditional industrial proletariat is no longer well defined or large enough to be the single revolutionary agent, and perhaps never was.
    • Now, though, there is an opportunity to situate the industrial proletariat as a prominent wing within a broader democratic struggle, not just against wage labor but against racial and sexual oppression, hierarchy, ecological destruction, the state, and perhaps even work itself. A better socioeconomic system can only be won by a cross-class international coalition among peasants, proletarians, social movements beyond labor, and progressive elements of the middle classes. The labor movement should be conceptualized as a central pillar of that struggle but not equated with the struggle itself.” P 449
    • Studies have shown co-ops to be even more competitive than oligarchic capitalist firms of the same scale once they get started—but “once they get started” is the key phrase. The major weakness of co-ops, and the reason for their scarcity, is the enormous difficulty of financing them. Unlike wealthy entrepreneurs, typical workers at median wage have very little capital to proffer, making whatever small initial investment they can raise essentially an all-or-nothing risk for them.”
      • As a result, many co-ops end up turning to banks for start-up capital. Because banks are wary of “goals besides maximized profits, such as the livelihood of workers or the common good” they often insist on constraints (like a large amount of capital or inclusion in the decision-making process) which either hamstring or fundamentally compromise the co-ops vision. As a result, many co-ops either fail or are “limited to relatively small-scale activities (supermarkets, restaurants, bike shares, etc.).” 450
    • Uses Mondragon as an example of a network of co-ops which was able to successfully expand but cites that they fell victim to other problems
      • a) “worker-owners became concerned primarily with their own prosperity and neglected participation in the broader anti-Franco struggle”
      • b) reforms aimed at keeping the co-ops industries competitive with capitalist reforms slowly eroded their internal democracy which was eventually replaced by the Mondragon Cooperative Corporation which now makes a majority of their decisions and is large unaccountable to the worker-shareholders
      • c) the cooperative began hiring wage workers at about the same time and by 2014 only 40 percent of employees were actually worker-owners  
    • “an institution beyond the worker-owned firm is needed to provide an incentive against self-exploitation as co-ops come under pressure to adapt to survive within capitalism” p451
    • Cooperatives can achieve their potential only as parts of a more comprehensive struggle to remake the entire capitalist economy.” P 451
    • The Working World “uses [its] mixed capital stream to offer zero-interest loans and educational support to newly founded worker co-ops or existing firms transferring ownership to workers. Uniquely, the fund accepts no loan repayment until the co-op begins to turn a profit, and even then, it gets paid back strictly as a percentage of profits. (In months without profit, the firm pays nothing.) ” P 452
    • “the union movement of the past developed institutions primarily to leverage their collective action within capitalism. Now these proletarian institutions must replace capitalism.” P 452 
    • “Institution-based organizing relies on two premises that we question, however. One is that community institutions already exist, ripe for organizing. The other is that representative democracy can still be made to work for the people if only they are engaged enough and apply enough pressure.” P 453
    • “Alinsky’s own “iron rule of organizing”—never do for others what they can do for themselves. In institution-based organizing, the iron rule means that professional organizers should emphasize training and leadership development in the community, rather than running campaigns on behalf of the community. The former method builds power and grows the organization or movement; the latter stifles it.” P453
    • The Black Panther Party: “Survival programs proved to the community that the Black Panthers were serious about improving Black people’s lives. This approach let the Panthers build power where revolutionary rhetoric alone would have failed, and membership swelled.” P. 455
    • “By meeting basic community needs, such institutions rupture capitalism’s control over people’s lives, allowing oppressed people to carve out space within capitalism, defend it, and thus transform the world around them. This relationship between “survival work” and “liberation work” is a core theme of the political vision developed here.” P 455
      • Impact of the labor, student and women’s organizing movements in Palestine during the First Intifada p. 458
        • The national women’s committees: “Such activities served multiple purposes. They made the conditions of military occupation more livable, sustaining Palestinian families in the face of relentless colonization. They provided individual women with greater economic independence, allowing them to slowly stretch the boundaries of patriarchal control and participate more actively in public life and the national movement. They laid the early foundations of the “home economy,” which fostered Palestinian self-sufficiency and later provided the sustaining material support for economic resistance against the Israeli occupation, in forms such as boycotts and strikes. Finally, these women built up the community’s organizational capacity to wage a broad-based social struggle drawing on all segments of Palestinian society.” P. 458
        • The labor, student and women’s movements coalesced into “popular committees,” which then sent delegates to area/municipal committees, these committees then elected representatives to represent them at district committees and district committees sent representatives to the eventually formed, secret, Unified National Leadership of the Uprising (UNLU). 
          • “This structure acted as a democratic confederalist shadow state, parallel and in opposition to the repressive and undemocratic military government, with enthusiastic nationalist legitimacy and organizational effectiveness to make up for its lack of monopoly on violence. It carried out a three-part strategy of resistance to the occupation: undermining the hegemony exercised by the occupation and its institutions, out-administering the occupation with parallel institutions to meet human needs, and creating a new nationalist hegemony to supplant the occupation.” P. 459
      • Housing Equity: “the institution best suited to creating an anti-gentrification bulwark of socialized housing run by the community is the community land trust (CLT). A CLT is a nonprofit legal entity entrusted with property management in the community’s interest—ensuring affordable housing, preserving environmental assets, and driving cooperative neighborhood development.” P. 462
      • Food and Environmental Justice: “Developing a cooperative, sustainable local food system is of utmost importance for both urban communities and the biosphere.” P. 464
        • “Just as parent-run childcare co-ops both empower working-class women and challenge patriarchal norms, and just as restorative justice practices both reduce the power of police and prisons and challenge the dehumanizing and often racist beliefs underlying those institutions, so too would sustainable community gardens both feed people and challenge the rapacious logic of conventional agriculture.” P. 465
      • Energy Democracy: “Without taking steps to meaningfully improve people’s lives, Soulardarity would have no credible platform from which to raise ecological consciousness. But by grounding its education work in a concrete program in which community members are invested, Soulardarity can communicate effectively about climate change and environmental justice.” P. 467
      • Neighborhood Councils: “A confederation of neighborhood councils would oversee the management of community cooperatives and mutual aid networks.” P. 468
        • “In Detroit, recent amendments to the city charter allow residents of a city council district to form a community advisory council (CAC); their city councilperson must then regularly confer and host public meetings with these councils.” P. 468
      • “these goals are best accomplished by international or even global decision-making bodies. From our point of view, these decision-making structures ought to consist of a global representative body with fairly limited power held accountable to regional bodies that in turn answer to more powerful local bodies run via participatory democracy.” P. 473


      “A Deeper Understanding of What We’re Trying to Accomplish”

      A People’s Strike Dialogue with Kali Akuno, Sacajawea “Saki” Hall, Rose Brewer, Wende Marshall, and Matt Meyer


      • “we must be careful that the practice of mutual aid doesn’t end up shifting into charity. ” P. 484
      • “That was a beautiful thing, that folks built collective power [by organizing strikes in response to unsafe and unjust working conditions during the pandemic]. But then, unfortunately, that energy and collective power was surrendered to electoral politics aims.” P. 485
      • The general strike as an example of unarmed non-violent revolutionary process
        • Self-defense/violence as a limited response and nonviolent tactics (like the general strike and organizing toward more just structures) as a collective (and presumable more effectively long term) response. P. 487


      Let’s Discuss!

      1. How do we balance building truly impactful alternatives to neoliberal capitalism without recreating hegemony and just imposing different mono-cultural standards?
      2. In the process of electing representatives to represent co-ops and committees, how do we avoid falling into the traps of hoarding power, overly-valuing fast-talking, charming intellectuals among us? How do we ensure that power remains “bottom-up” and avoid falling into that same trap which governmental politics so often does- deciding the masses are far too busy or over-worked or just too stupid to understand political complexities and thereby creating professionalized political classes among us?
      3. If we are focused on responding to or creating alternatives to capitalism, how do we keep ourselves from getting caught up in the urgency of emergency which so often doesn’t allow the degree of slowness often necessary to carry out a truly care-based model of relating and organizing?


      Round: Bethel, Dan, Richard, Yvonne, Dillon, Ilana, Robert


      First Round:

      1. Dan: Wants to hear about Bethel’s experience in Jackson. Idea of coops to shift fundamental relations in economic base. Venezuelan communes – at the heart is production. Where is caregiving in this industrial model? Appreciated critique of Symbiosis. Written like a manifesto, see China Mieville’s Spectre Haunting book. Connections to Alinsky was interesting – new book on Occupation Organizer by French dude. 
      2. Richard: This section was a good one in the book. Appreciated the critique of Alinsky and Arendt. Kind of lofty academic view (Symbiosis chapter). Reading book by Catalonian historian about revolution, in Catalonia (industrial city) and Aragorn (rural). Transition to worker’s control by CNT (syndicalist union), who built neighborhood infoshops and mutual aid systems. Book by Chris Ealham, Anarchism in the City (working class neighborhoods in Barcelona). Groundwork prepared in advance of the revolutionary outbreak. These are recommendations and not a paradigm we should follow. We can review and go back to. Question of delegates – example of IWW delegates at national convention. People learn democracy by doing. Catalonia had a lot of immigrants. Mujeres Libres – free women of Spain, involved in repro justice. 
      3. Yvonne: happy to see discussion on Venezuelan communes – complications around relationship to the state. City-level experiments with workers co-ops eg Cleveland. Questions with the more managed models. IWW suspicions, issues with history of Mondragon, worker layoffs. “Myth of Mondragon” book. Surprised by the celebration of Alinsky. “This is an Uprising” book. Building an organization vs giving control over to movements. Ayni institute – movement building. Symbiosis – critiques and concrete work, and growth.
      4. Dillon: I’ve been wondering if there are worker co-ops that help the “village”, or those who don’t or can’t work? That can give undocumented folks in the co-op a pension, health insurance, a 401k, worker’s comp, and their parents’ some sort of retirement, caretakers, disability benefits (an alternative cooperative structure because they can’t access social security benefits)? My mom is also undocumented and I’ve been thinking about how I’m basically her only social safety net. California recently extended Medi-cal coverage to undocus, so thankfully, my mom can have more accessible healthcare. She’s fine now but if she happens to fall ill as she gets older, but has no access to disability or caretaker benefits.. re: academics, I have thought about this a lot, ever since I started in a phd program and re-navigating space where I was used to having no resources–undocu, no college degree. i could go on, but basically, I’ve found academics usually hinder than help and are pretty useless in radical, rev, or otherwise community – oriented anything. the knowledge they produce is literally community knowledge that they collect as “data” which they synthesize and put into “discourse”. i have managed to keep the phd research and organizing work pretty separate.
        1. Robert: Yeah, the system still tends to eject radicals.  I’d love to get an academic job to use my PhD, but i cpuld never again support the American model of clinical paychology.  It would have to be overtly Marxian, influenced by Franz Fanon, Erich From, and Vygotsky.
      5. Ilana: Liked Bethel’s commentary. Part of COIL collective that is influenced by a combo of anarchist, Marxist-Leninist, Black feminist intersectional organizing. All of this is very familiar, likes Bethel’s questions. Not an academic, but academic work can be impactful and guiding, even though they’re not the ones doing the organizing. How do these ideas get put into practice? What is the organizing strategy to do the big lofty goal? Appreciate adrienne marie brown and scale. Most of us don’t have basic organizing skills: how to have a 1:1 convo with someone, where you’re not telling people what they should believe. Inspired more by mind-body-spirit, healing and transformative justice. How do we balance and not recreate hegemony? And, not get caught up in fake urgency, which pulls people apart. Build leadership in Frierian style. How do you acknowledge everyone’s humanity? How is Jackson attempting to navigate all of that?
      6. Robert: Good synthesis.  All Power Books sent a squad to Venezuela a few months ago to live at one of the communes, report back, and build revolutionary intercommunalism.  We all read Building the Commune together. 


      Second Round:

      1. Bethel: Ilana spoke to a lot of things that Bethel was thinking about. Speaking truth to power. So many movements have been brought down because people don’t like each other. So many things that we’re fighting, I won’t see in my lifetime. Alinsky and Arendt – skipped some of that section. Cooperation Jackson – arrived Thursday and has been sick in hotel room. CJ is in a period of transition. Fab lab is cool, it’s massive, art gallery with a show. They have a lot of houses that still need finishing. Garden is growing. Messy like organizing is. Jackson, MS is a world away from Los Angeles. Being a Black woman here – racism is virulent. Capital is fucking white, the seat of power. Not a lot of prime real estate, blocks of vacant lots. Church near the capital is all white people. There are no urgent care in Jackson. 
      2. Dillon: Academic culture is a beast. It’s wild that there can even be radical scholars who manage to keep committed to their  principles amidst such an epistemically violent culture.
      3. Robert: We need to take more empty buildings to house folks with direct action.
      4. Richard: Housing not bombs was an outfit that we had for awhile.
      5. Ilana: There’s no silver bullet. We’re just experimenting. Yes, we need theory and analysis. But there’s no one size fits all. Appreciate Dillon’s comment – build cultures of care and interdependence. Otherwise, it falls into bread and butter individualism. 
      6. Robert: People’s Struggle in San Fernando Valley is looking to do some housing action soon. 



      1. LA Anarchist Bookfair – https://docs.google.com/document/d/1VvB_3yjc1wlzL79CF7RrF-XhXEVmp0Q6Wqdb-ywbFzc/edit 
        1. Richard and Robert will be tabling at @ bookfair for IWW.
      2. Open poetry reading at All Power books. 
      3. Summer Picnic – https://losangelesforall.org/event/summer-picnic/ 
      4. Fill out this survey, if you haven’t already: https://forms.gle/xXRTHGVTVJiZ5ZJG8