The campaigns of Kshama Sawant and Ty Moore have generated a lot of debate around the role of elections in overcoming capitalism. Both candidates came from Socialist Alternative, a party with roots in the broader social democratic and trotskyist traditions that moved to electoral activity relatively recently. Sawant won her election to Seattle’s city council, and Moore lost by a hair.
A changing social and political landscape is shifting the boundaries of electoral action and the relationships of radicals both to candidates and their own activity. Narrowing in on one aspect of the debate, today we will look at the contributions of three short pieces coming from Minneapolis, where Ty Moore ran his unsuccessful campaign. The authors were responding to the discussion and activity locally as people active in struggles opposed to State power all together, including efforts to capture and reform the existing capitalist State. Though we lack the space, we strongly encourage going through a fourth piece by the Black Orchid Collective in Seattle that explores similar themes in response to their own situation with the candidacy of Sawant. Also the commentary to the pieces that follow and Black Orchid contain replies both from the authors and other people active in the relevant cities, and is worth reading. The articles are listed in chronological order as they reply to one and another.
There are a few themes to focus in on. The authors debate whether or not it matters to oppose attempts to move towards socialism through elections. Within this there is a deeper debate about how close and how likely attempts to make reforms are to impede more radical alternatives. Given that a presidential election season is approaching rapidly, and militant reformism is increasingly becoming a mobile social force, these questions are likely to face us again. (more…)
This week we’re including a piece by Scott Nikolas Nappalos on media and communication where he argues that we need to view them as part of our political process rather than just tools. The IWW has a unique history when it comes to culture, media, and communication in the history of North America. In particular, the IWW experimented with different forms of communication and media as part of its organizing including the famous cartoons, songs, the Industrial Worker newspaper, and the One Big Union Monthly. IWWs used forms of communication as political acts in ways that were innovative for their time such as silent agitators (mass visual propaganda), song and soapboxing tactics, and publications that sustained a working class culture of writers, artists, poets, and working intellectuals. Though good history of this is absent (and indeed of the IWW in general), Salvatore Salerno’s book Red November, Black November explores how culture and community formed a backbone of the IWW. The union went so far as to create a workers university run by IWWs, the Work Peoples College, that addressed a broad range of life under capitalism including basic skills, jobs and home life, as well as training for participating in the IWW, and of course political, artistic, and scientific education. This tradition was picked up by IWWs who started an annual educational and cultural retreat in Minnesota for IWWs by the same name. While focusing on the North American context and the IWW specifically, his points also apply more generally. Nappalos ideas open up a different take on communication that moves away from all the hype and technofetishism of our age, and tries to shift the focus towards understanding our role in sustaining and nurturing political relationships in struggle.
Traditionally many radicals have looked at communication and media as tools for implementing their ideas, programs, and lines on populations. Adopting the same model from capitalist marketing theory and propaganda models, communication is thought of as transmitting information from sender to receiver, with most of the thinking centered around how we can best transmit the information to our receivers, how to achieve the greatest numbers, etc. Different media are debated, and today fascination with the emergence of social media and internet culture has captivated political actors of all stripes. After the development of mass industrialized media around a century ago, the model of media and communication as a megaphone still is dominant in the actions and thinking of our time. (more…)