This week we bring you a piece from our friends at Unity and Struggle. They’ve written a longer assessment of trying to navigate a revolutionary path in our time. Engaging ideas of some of us in Recomp and others around the country, this strikes us as important conversations to have as things are still up in the air from the events of 2008, 2012, and continuing. The intermediate moment is the first part of a two part series, the second of which is likely to be about their experiences organizing a solidarity network that has worked on housing issues in largely immigrant neighborhoods in Houston. We’re looking forward to it.
by Adelita Kahlo and Tyler Zee
*The perspectives advanced below are those of the authors and do not represent an official “line” of U&S. U&S, as will be seen below, does not have formal positions. While many of the ideas will be common starting points for U&S, there will be nuanced differences and perhaps some disagreements according to individuals and locales.
This piece is the result of many conversations and has been informed by engagement with a cross section of various nodes of activity. We, the authors, have learned so much through these conversations; many assumptions we held prior to this effort have now been either thrown out or complicated. While a number of questions remain, a few starting points have been clarified.
As a consequence of these conversations, the scope of this piece has also changed from one tailored primarily to debates within the solnet milieu, since the two of us have been doing aspects of solnet organizing for a while now, to being fundamentally about the intermediate concept and its strategic merits for revolutionaries in the current moment that takes the solnet (and others) as a kind of case study. While the scope has shifted we very much want to enter into more systematic exchange with the above folks and others that are grappling with these and parallel questions.
Part one of the piece is geared toward making sense of the current moment and elaborating on concepts the writers have used to do so. This also means a discussion that might appear as tangential but what for us represent an attempt to have a holistic, systematic, and rigorous approach. The conclusions drawn here are of necessity temporal and are toward the ends of building the bridge between the present and the medium-term future. So as “scientific” as we have tried to be, there are limits to this piece both in scope and in the factors entering our analysis.
Furthermore, this isn’t an exhaustive treatment of the possibilities and measures for militants to undertake (and certainly not the limits of the life of revolutionaries as a whole) since it deals more exclusively with the relation of revolutionaries to “advanced” workers that we have tried to understand using the intermediate concept. Advanced is in quotes because we use it in absence of a more precise term though we try to be as accurate and lucid as possible in our presentation of the intermediate concept. (Though we are familiar with Lenin’s conception of the advanced worker, we do not use it here in the same way. Hopefully in the comments folks can help flesh out this concept of “advanced” in the contexts in which we use them). We are hedging our bets, so to speak, on this relation as a primary strategic necessity of the contemporary period. We hope that whatever needs clarification can be done through further discussion in the comments section and elsewhere. We know that ultimately the conclusions we’ve drawn and have the ability to draw are tentative and partial and that we can only reach toward something more total through conversation, association, and collaboration with others.
Shouts to Nate Hawthorne, IWW-Minneapolis and Recomposition, for the initial inspiration for this piece.
The intermediate moment and the (de)composition of capital and labor
We live in a period of stagnation and decline. This stagnation and the barbarism accompanying it has only accelerated since the beginning of the December 2007 crisis. But essential in a grasp of this crisis is a categorical understanding of the last 40 years. We can only try to illuminate the broad outlines of this.
This crisis, while ostensibly brought on by the bursting of the housing bubble, is fundamentally like all previous crises: capital not being able to profit at the rate it once did. This rate is the difference between the total capital invested and the total profit made. We all know the capitalists are still profiting and that they continuously set new records every quarter, but this tells us only an absolute number: the mass of profits. The amounts of money that they have to invest in order to make that profit is constantly increasing and the relation of the profits to that amount is contracting.
The reason this happens is because of the increase in the productivity of labor which lessens the labor time on average (and, therefore, value) it takes to produce any given product or means of production. An increase in productivity comes about through the introduction of labor-saving technology in the process of production which allows capitalists who use this technology to sell their products cheaper than the competition. This becomes problematic for lending institutions who have a claim to money owed that was used on the old means of production that can now be produced more cheaply. This is what is called “fictitious capital” or paper claims to wealth that isn’t actually being produced in the process of production.
The constant fall in the rate of profit is what the capitalists want to counteract and which, if left to its own devices, would lead to a full-scale deflation of all existing values; deflation requiring the physical destruction of both capital (as plant or means of production) as well as labor (as in human beings) in order to restart the rate of profit. What the capitalists have been trying to do since the 1970s is to stave off this possibility by a violent transition to a new regime of accumulation, what some have called “neoliberalism” but what is in essence a contraction of social reproduction, or a reduction of the total social labor that reproduces not only our ability to live and work but the system of value production as a whole. State-directed investment has since been supplanted by vast privatization, turning health care, social services, transportation, and education, what was part of our “social wage,” into new forms of private investment and profit, shifting the cost of social reproduction onto the working class in the form of debt.
This turn has been accompanied by the increase in securitized finance and the pyramiding of debt which has turned cash flows, e.g. mortgage payments, into commodities or assets which can be consolidated with other cash flows and resold. The growth of securities trading has not overcome the limits of the falling rate of profit but has only multiplied the contradictions of capital creating many more pressure points for the possibility of crisis. The results of this for the working class has been clear for all: the freezing of credit and loans for a generation whose real wages have remained stagnant, greater unemployment, homelessness and precarity leading to an escalation in the disciplinary role of the State and police, closures of hospitals and clinics, astronomical rise in the cost of public education, reduced benefits, less stability and increased casualization of work.
The relationship of the reproduction of the proletariat to the reproduction of capital, of living labor to dead labor, has been ruptured, and debt has facilitated the class’s ability to reproduce itself even if in a crippled state. But there’s a concomitant relationship to capital and subsequently the state’s debt, the growth of which is leading to a potential qualitative shift: a drastic collapse of US currency and a default, which could introduce Spain and Greece-style measures. In Endnotes 3, they have called this trajectory a “holding pattern.” Taken as a whole this forms the objective moment of what we also see as an intermediate one, one between the more or less contained post-73 accumulation and a US default, between class stasis and class for itself activity as one possibility that could emerge as greater polarization (which equally means a potential for fascism, although that has been so far contained within the official Right, far more reactionary than the European).
The working classes
1968 was the high point in the most recent cycle of international revolutionary upheaval. The struggles of the class were shaking the old division of labor and its racial and gendered composition enshrined by the union form, that great mediation that for decades had been containing workers self-activity and control of production within better terms in the sale of stratified labor powers (white, Black, female, etc.). These independent “wildcat” efforts–both within and outside the sphere of production and led largely by women and Black and Brown labor–aggravated the already slowed growth and falling profit rates culminating in the recession of 1971, which ended the “golden era” of capitalist expansion that had began at the conclusion of World War II.
Labor has since been in a long process of decomposition, whereby the old social organization of labor at the point of production is being broken down through a combination of increasing the technical composition of capital or simply the ratio of the means of production to the number of workers (and thereby reducing the workforce), disinvestment and relocation of capital to the US and global South, and the introduction of two-tiered labor forces sanctioned by concessionary labor contracts, whereby one set of workers in the same workplace labor under substandard conditions to the rest of the workers as way to lower standards for all. By the early 1970s, unions, long drawn into the production process and central in the enforcing of factory discipline, henceforth were responsible for legitimizing and carrying out the concessionary trend of austerity and budget cuts up to the current period.
Where before a wedge was formed between Black labor power (reproduced at a lower level and relegated to the hardest, dirtiest, and most dangerous work) and white labor power, and “feminized” labor largely remained unwaged, now there has been a generalization of devaluation, where the formerly devalued are now the precarious workers or surplus populations being warehoused in prisons, state-run and capital-run. White labor in the public sector and in the unionized industries was pushed down closer toward precarity, what it thought it was preventing in its refusal to join and support independent Black struggle in the 1960s and 70s. For Black labor, there’s been a catastrophic decomposition into surplus populations backed with unprecedented expansion of prisons, policing, and the deputation of white mob violence through racist “Stand Your Ground” laws. While most women are part of the waged proletariat, the burden of waged and unwaged reproduction continues to fall unevenly upon them creating greater precarity while sexual violence by the State and legalized rape by men functions as means to discipline the reproductive labor they are largely responsible for.
The wholesale destruction of the welfare state has exacerbated the growth of “poverty pimps” and non-profit organizations filling the shoes of reproduction formerly played by it. Nonprofits, while performing a needed but limited auxiliary of the reproduction of labor power, take the appearance of independence and neutrality and yet their source of funding is private capital that has not only determined the forms of reproduction but their internal organization which is based, as with any enterprise, on a division of labor. They have absorbed and perverted independent struggle while some maintain the appearance and aesthetics of social revolution. They are the first line of defense of capital and the state and work to contain class struggle within the bounds of normality. Class struggle is a threat to their very existence.
Immigration patterns in the US have contributed toward the recomposition of industrial labor in small towns in the US South creating possibilities for mass collective struggle in ways that could possibly mirror those in China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Capitalists consistently rely on wage theft from immigrants, and in fewer cases straight-up slavery, to increase the quantity of surplus labor. More so, the labor they inherit is not reproduced in any capacity by capital which raises question about the role played by primitive accumulation in a contemporary sense. Attempts to reform immigration policy through Comprehensive Immigration Reform has served to legitimize and institutionalize immigrant labor as a hyper exploited rung on the hierarchy of labor powers and has found support among military and prison contractors alike who can use immigrants to police international borders and as relatively free labor in the production of commodities in prisons. CIR and the DREAM Act have been shaped into a wedge to divide the movement of immigrant labor against itself. Both are dead in the water as real struggles.
However, the last ten years is a continuum of struggle beginning with the freedom rides in 2003; the walkouts and mass mobilizations of 2006; the role of immigrants in the Republic Windows and Doors occupation of 2008; another round of mobilizations and walkouts in 2010 with a brief exodus of people to Arizona and a sharp turn toward the tactic of the sit-in, as well as a renewed attempt to revive the DREAM Act. Undocumented youth were “undocumented and unafraid.” But the increasing divisiveness, assimilationism, and jingoism of the Act produced fissures in the movement. The most radical expressions of these today are blockading deportation vehicles, crossing borders defiantly and attempting reentry, and in the process organizing direct actions inside detention centers. As we write a spate of hunger and labor strikes have spread in detention centers and prisons across US states, no doubt built off the cross-pollination of the immigrant movement outside the walls and the prison movement inside.
The qualitative leap that Occupy represents is obvious to all. The Wisconsin capitol occupation six months prior and the anti-austerity movement in education in 2009-11 was no doubt its dress rehearsal, as its tactic of occupying public space or squares was replicated throughout the entire country and even internationally on some level. The most militant encampments toward the conclusion of the Occupy wave saw riots initiated by police violence, collaboration with port workers in port shutdowns, as well as a turn toward home occupations against foreclosures and evictions. These turn of events where not without their own forms of polarization inside specific encampments.
For the fate of the participants of Occupy we can only speculate, but it seems that while a new generation of devalued public workers, “graduates without a future,” “dumpies,” unemployed and homeless youth gained valuable experience organizing in mass settings, a sense of friends and enemies (the police), and the necessity of organizational autonomy, they were constrained politically by the hegemony of left populism and strategically by their confinement to the parks, no doubt due to the lack of a generalized struggle of the class-for-itself. This confinement was simultaneously and contradictorily what allowed Occupy to be an enduring site of struggle as the months wore on. What we have seen in its demise is the birth of new political relationships, formal and informal, and political people that are experimenting with ideas and strategies for sustenance through the potentially short-term ebb as well as in anticipation of future eruptions.
Also significant but more localized and uneven in the growth of resistance has been the anti-budget cut struggles of 2009-2011, largely in California but with significant developments in NYC, Washington, Georgia, and Texas. Many times in history it has been students who have taken the lead in what later becomes a generalized struggle. While the struggle has not seen a generalization it has seen the spread of similar forms of tactics. The tactic of the mass occupation was no doubt the benchmark of this movement against “austerity,” or contracted social reproduction. The movement grew in militancy and creativeness in its strategy in its two year high-point. While no longer at a high, public education continues to be a critical site of resistance.
Certainly, the Black working class hasn’t been quiet. The Jena 6 mobilizations, the repression of the Troy Davis demonstrations, the movement following the legal lynching of Trayvon Martin resulting in freeway blockades, the “Flatbush Rebellion” where black youth brazenly stormed a police precinct and battled for three solid nights to avenge the murder of Kimani Gray, the on and off Oakland revolts in response to the Oscar Grant killing, etc., the role of the Black proletariat in the prison strikes in recent years (which has ironically offered continuity to the immigrant movement) says everything but Black people are passive or even dormant.
Black struggle like struggle in general has shown more discontinuity rather than qualitative leaps. While it is clear that Blacks’ relationship to the division of labor gives them a militant predisposition and that they periodically rebel against it, they remain stratified on the one hand by demoralization due to increased precarity, police violence, and prison, and on the other hand by the political hegemony of the black middle class which includes left-leaning organizations that often look and sound very radical but whose primary role is in defending the black patronage system and the containment of struggle rather than its advancement. Because of this, the production of Black militants remains profoundly scant. It is obvious to all that perennial revolts in themselves aren’t enough to overcome this contradiction. The revolts cannot, as they generally do, simply sidestep or ignore the Black middle class leaders who claim Black liberation all the while strengthening the assaults on Black workers. On the contrary, it will have to directly and overtly confront it if we are to see a new generation of Black militants and subjects. The Black middle class and its mediating bureaucrats and organizations (and the middle class politics of identity) are the central political obstacle to this happening. We often hear that the leaders of the black movement are dead or in prison, but that is only the tragedy of the story. Its comedy is that those remaining became union, city, and education bureaucrats using the rhetoric of that movement to coopt and repress the struggles of today.
In general, the class has lost its connection to the class struggle organizing traditions of Black Power, Chicanismo and feminism that came before us, traditions that no doubt were wrought with contradiction. In its place we find a multiracial and multigendered middle class composed of neighborhood, school, and city leaders, politicians, and NGOs who claim those traditions (the outcome of that contradiction) and yet encourage us to stay peaceful, get off the streets and vote, while deflecting criticism of their mediating relationship to struggle. We have seen militant opposition to these elements in smaller or greater numbers by working class Black, Brown, women and trans folk, but this has not generalized into a wholesale and class-wide rebuke. This forms part of the subjective dimension (which in one sense is also objective) for the “intermediate moment.”
The revolutionary left
The composition and activity of the revolutionary Left is immanently bound up with where the class is and what it is doing. Just like all the organizations of the class, the Left has been in decay since the early 1970s as it was unable to make sense of and pose a strategic challenge to the contraction of social reproduction, allowing right-wing populism and social conservatism to gain traction within the layers of the working class that the Left had long been isolated from. In general, neither the analyses advanced nor the strategies proposed by the left adequately correlated with the real situation. But while there were subjective mistakes they were not the principal reasons for their failure. It was an objective feature of the transformation of a previous mode of accumulation and not something that could have been overcome voluntarily.
In general, the Trotskyists and Left Communists remained sealed tight in their programmatic cocoons waiting for the historical conditions to ripen by which they can claim the lead in the struggle against capital. They replicate the orthodoxy of programmatic purity, democratic centralism, and the publication of theory journals and newspapers that they hawk at every event. The Maoists abandoned anything remotely independent in their “long march through the institutions” which meant their liquidation into non-profits, education, city, and union bureaucracies. While this not an indictment of Trotskyism, Left Communism, and Maoism per se, traditions from which we take more or less positive influences from, it does represent a general empirically confirmed practice.
The soft Left believes the dead and decaying institutions that have absorbed and destroyed the independent proletarian movements of yesterday should be infiltrated and pulled to the left. See Bill Fletcher. The hard Left wants to build the party at a time when it is historically inappropriate and replicate the Stalinist myth of the Bolshevik micro-sect turned mass revolutionary party.
The hegemony of Stalinism that depicted the proletarian party as springing forth from the micro-sect with the correct analysis and program is what the hard Left have inherited. The “party” (RSDLP) in its earliest years existed as broadly disparate Marxist ideological centers (such as Iskra), as a space where organizers in the political labor movement would discuss, debate, and publish ideas that aided them in understanding the development of capitalism in Russia and Europe and to generalize the isolated episodes of rebellion through practical forms. The RSDLP in the 1890s was only a party in the abstract and could only become one in the concrete by the appearance on a wide scale of a proletarian movement (the 1903 mass strike wave) and the ability to carry out a program on some scale. Here now, a program existed not as an impediment to engagement with the class but as an expression of the party’s actual linkages and diffuseness among the proletariat.
Organizations or parties, in their proper sense, are historically specific, have the possibility to come forth at certain material conjunctures and can’t be willed at any time, no matter how disciplined, how educated, or how skillful of organizers it’s membership are. Today it is through such forms (in actuality, micro-sects) that communists erect a barrier instead of building a bridge between themselves and sections of the proletariat. In itself, the program might be superb but the relationship to the class hinges upon the latter’s acceptance of this program. We see then, such programs are not really programs at all; while they might seem to synthesize with precision the historical movement of the class, that movement is ultimately unfinished and contingent upon future clashes. Furthermore, the program must not only be rooted firmly in the existing activity of the class at a particular conjuncture, the class must see itself in it. This is not a question of “conscious” individuals but of a generalized conflagration whereby programs, as syntheses of the logical and historical, of theory and tactics, can be implemented and carried out on a class-wide scale.
The call to build revolutionary parties and organizations is, when you get down to it, no different than calling for councils and soviets–it is a voluntaristic and subjectivist notion of history. Perhaps the only difference is that parties can be called, but only when the activity of the proletariat has reached a level where a program can be a true expression of a general movement and be executed at the widest levels.
The material party lies not in individuals that we just have to find and train, but in the broadest and leading elements of social struggle. That social struggle is, at best, embryonic. And the left is infinitesimally small and cannot hope to fuse with the material elements of struggle by recruiting people in the ones and twos on the basis of an abstract program. Rather, the left has to think about how to make contact on a material/tactical level with the leading lights of episodic and local struggle. Then, and this precisely where the revolutionaries’ specific contribution can be manifest, connecting and interfacing those leading elements into groups and networks that have an organic relation to the broader class. The task of generalizing the struggle that falls to revolutionary groupings here becomes material and not just theoretical.
Unity and Struggle is essentially a propaganda circle that engages in forms of agitation where possible. We are not bound by a program or a bureaucratic structure but by an organic centralism, taking from Bordiga, around a few key principles and hypotheses; a commitment by its participants animated by those principles to work and struggle together. The goal is not the growth of Unity and Struggle, but rather the practical and intellectual development of the milieus we are in and the linkages between revolutionary and intermediate types. This can happen on a national scale only by association and collaboration with other circles and milieus and by deepening struggles.
But forms give way to new content; not subjectively, not by changing our name or acting like a party or pre-party, but through the interchange of social forces. For us, the “agitprop” circle can become transcended through the collaboration of revolutionaries and intermediate elements. These intermediate organizations, just like any other form, are historically contingent and can’t be willed at any time.
Against the sect-building approaches who have relegated themselves to propagandistic efforts, or collaboration in low-level union or school bureaucracies, or organizing in NGOs, we, the authors, are taking inspiration from new elements of creative activity that has emerged in recent years. The “new syndicalism” that has emerged among the solnet and IWW milieu and found its most articulate expression in the Recomposition blog, the birth of the ULTRA website that is starting from communization, value-form theory, and the appearance on the world stage of the movement of squares and riots, the leftward movement of immigrant activists away from moderate and conservative forces in the immigrant movement toward the most advanced tactics of struggle in recent years, the formation of relatively new communist propaganda circles like ours Advance the Struggle, Kasama, etc. have all been major reference and connection points for us. The intermediate concept, that we expound upon below is one point of potential convergence or mediation between these nodes and thought and practice.
It is our personal hope that in the next 2-3 years we will see a formal or organizational convergence of these elements and new ones that will no doubt appear.
The intermediate concept
We owe a lot to long-time militant and anarchist Scott Nappalos of Recomposition and Miami IWW, who has done a solid amount of the foundational work of fleshing out the concept, drawing specifically upon experiences in workplace and union struggles. What we have tried to do is think about it both in more general and historical terms, where we have observed similar dynamics outside workplace contexts and where intermediacy might be useful to situations where the classic “revolutionary” and “mass” categories have been too abstract to capture the complicated existence of active social elements in the class. He writes in Defining Practice,
“The mass level is where people come together based on common interests to take action in some form, with unions being the most obvious and traditional example. A higher level of unity is the revolutionary political level where people take action based on common ideas and practices…There is an additional level though that can help us in this manner, the intermediate level. As opposed to the political level, which is defined by attempted unity of ideas, and the mass level, which is defined by common practices with diversity of ideas, the intermediate level shares some features of both. The intermediate level is where people organize based on some basic level of unity of ideas to develop and coordinate their activity at the mass level.”
The mass level is a where “average” workers come together around a common set of interests, not because they share the same set of politics. The revolutionary or political layer is made up of people who tend to come into politics through subcultural or professional means (infoshops and radical bookstores, leftist spaces and hangouts, universities, NGOs, unions, etc.) and have a higher level of theoretical and practical clarity.
So if the revolutionary layer is a place to develop a common ideology, and the mass layer is a place for common practice without (usually) shared ideas, then in this way intermediate organizations, where possible, are a place for the revolutionary and intermediate types to come together toward developing a common practice with some level of political agreement. This combination of theoretical and practical development are the ingredients for the qualitative growth of political milieus and the training and experience of political militants.
The intermediate represents abstractly a social point between mass and revolutionary levels. It is distinct from the mass layer insofar as it is not made up of average workers whose relationship to organization is based on interest alone, e.g. “I work here so I’m part of this workplace organization,” or “I live here, I’m a part of this tenants union,” etc. Nor is the intermediate level oriented primarily around ideological questions. Articulated in its most ideal, the intermediate level are comprised of tactically militant individuals with deep connections to various layers of the class. Often these types emerge from mass experiences: a strike, a walkout, an occupation, riots, mass mobilizations, a series or combination of the above, or from broader and more protracted movements such as Occupy. They posit and defend the most militant tactics and struggle for their execution, not externally as propagandists, but internally as coworkers, neighbors, classmates, and cellmates.
These distinct levels are not static but change and change rapidly the more the class moves. The development is also not linear; one does not necessarily move from mass to intermediate to revolutionary. These categories are fluid, ever changing, growing and contracting, developing in contradictory ways, and so on with the ebbs and flows of social struggle.
The intermediate concept is useful for thinking about non-revolutionary, non-activist types who emerge visibly in moments of struggle and whose own organic links to mass elements, that revolutionaries and activists aren’t in touch with, allows their perspectives far more currency. It is the connections and relationships that they have that we don’t, but they aren’t always active and are often dormant making the opportunities to link with them sparse.
When they do become visible, usually in hot moments such as riots, strikes, blockades, occupations, and sit-ins, they can potentially work in combination in between moments of mass action and maintain continuity by carrying out smaller actions and projects in between them, and, when mass actions materialize, as a way to change the dynamic of the mass action not only toward far more confrontational and hence educational ends, but through mobilization of their networks than can deepen the movement overall.
“While we may not be able to sustain radical mass organization at all times, we can bring together the most conscious elements of the mass movements together with the most active and grounded elements of the revolutionary movements to provide continuity, organization, coordination, and education between struggles. The intermediate level organization then is the memory, training ground, and nursery of developing consciousness in struggle, which is not possible within the ebb and flows with the mass movements, and which has different activity and unity from the political level.”
On an enlarged scale there exists the possibility for the formation of a new political subject, as opposed to the often imputed term “working class,” and that transcends the democratic/bourgeois/human and civil rights framework. Herein lies the material party.
In practice there are real limits and the possibilities aren’t ever present. Mike Ely wrote in Sites of a Communist Beginning that we can’t presuppose that the most advanced elements always exist and are more or less present everywhere, only in small numbers. We are more and more convinced that this is the case, even if we have drawn for now different conclusions.
So rather than consider our organizing projects, that are nearly always made up of revolutionary and activist types, as “intermediate layer organizations,” the way we have done sometimes, we see them as potentially intermediate forms that can mobilize and combine organic networks that these advanced nodules are in contact with to change the balance of forces in mass actions and turn them into actions of a new type, and to hasten the forging of a political subject. What this all means for revolutionaries is that political spaces and centers will no longer be determined by the political type, pushing to the background all the naval gazing, subcultural, and toxic bullshit that insulates us, that the questions we debate will have a concrete and material character based on the fusion of revolutionaries and intermediate types.
Intermediate examples and the relationship to existing class struggle nodes
At the University of Washington in Seattle in 2009, the university cleaning crew were being hit with cuts to overtime, breakroom amenities, and enforced “team cleaning” that was really a disguised speed-up. The janitors responded with work-to-rule and other tactics, but the most important development was their cliquing up with students who were fighting budget cuts and together carried out confrontational actions and occupations. Among the janitors was a long-time rank and file immigrant militant who revolutionaries organizing on campus were able to engender a close relationship with and strategize together about how to not only sustain the resistance of the janitors but broaden the movement against contracted social reproduction. He exemplified the intermediate type. What if he was put into contact with others in other shops like himself? And what if their energies were combined in a common grouping and in tandem with revolutionary elements?
In late 2013, in an apartment complex in Southwest Houston, an undocumented woman reached out to Southwest Defense Network about rodent and insect infestation that the property management refused to remedy and who exploited the legal status of the majority of its tenants precisely for these purposes. Most contacts are folks who a short-term relationship is forged based on the immediacy of their issues and who oftentimes defer the bulk of the organizing to the solnet. However, her initiative in creating relationships with other tenants and her natural leadership qualities translated into a multi-tenant with possibilities for a tenant committee that could have had a semi-permanent quality.
What if these two folks in the above examples lived in the same city? What if they were put into contact with each other where their respective centers of influence could be mobilized for a common action? What if another upsurge of immigrant activity happens? These intermediate types connected through an intermediate organization can serve as nodes to translate a working class quality to this upsurge as well as carry back its tactical militancy into their places work and places of reproduction and rest. In some cases, an organization will emerge out of it. In Seattle, it was International Workers and Students for Justice. In other cases, a pre-existing form that contains the potentiality, through its flexibility, to express the content of the intermediate forces will do it. In Arizona in 2010, it was the Repeal Coalition.
Again, the intermediate moment is one where intermediate types are far and few between and dispersed unevenly across the landscape, dependent on the composition of capital and labor and the experiences of sectors in the class. Even where forming intermediate groupings is possible, in the present it will always be hamstrung by a profound discontinuity in struggle. Yet, paradoxically, they are also one of the contingent social factors in the possibility for continuity. This is a line we will have to find comfort in walking.
We said above that this concept is a potential point of intersection between the different nodes of activity we are in conversation with. We realize not everyone uses the term “intermediate,” or, where they may have heard of it, differ from our interpretation. Now we want to say just a few things about what is implicit in these various nodes’ activities that offer an overlap in perspective and practice.
For the new syndicalists, of which we consider ourselves a part, the relation is much more apparent as it is loosely where the concept originates. Some in the solnet and IWW milieu, including us, are using the concept to think about intermediacy in workplace and neighborhood contexts. Rather than an emphasis on organizing the average type (or the class), how can we think about a prioritization of certain social and historical types, and how can they be soldered together? How can we transcend linear “base-building” conceptions of the growth of struggle, one worker at a time, one workplace at a time, that is generally accepted in this milieu? Struggle has never and will never proceed this way. What then, if any, is the role of organizing on a smaller or micro level if we reject this approach?
It seems this has been a similar starting point for our comrades in the Pacific Northwest centered around the ULTRA blog and the Generation Zero facebook page. There’s both an implicit rejection of base-building and mass organizing and an affirmation of the role of spontaneity as part of the communist project that has been deemphasized by various revolutionary currents. At the same time there’s a sense that insurrectionism as the plaything of leftists is offbase. How, then, do revolutionaries appraise the proliferation of street rebellion that has been taking place with or without the efforts of insurrectionaries proper? Who are these folks and how do we build with them? Here, we ask with our ULTRA comrades, can the intermediate concept offer utility in thinking about the growth of an insurrectionist spirit among certain layers of the proletariat and how revolutionaries can orient to them that doesn’t imply waiting for the next insurrection? We know they are diligently thinking about this which is why ULTRA exists. In fact, the authors are also collaborating in this project and are anxious to engage these questions further over a longer period of time.
In Houston, we have been cultivating over the last year or more an affinity with activists that were involved with union and immigration non-profits and who maintained a critical opposition to them. The relationship has evolved around the limits of non-profits, unions, and the immigration movement’s and business union’s alliance with the Democratic Party who are the vanguard of deportation and austerity. This was not a propagandistic relationship but grounded concretely through our work in the solnet that has prioritized the immigrant narrative, individuals and actions of a quality type, and tactical militancy. Our opposition to the above forms were rooted in our own methods of organizing and intervention. While there has been less conversation about the intermediate concept in the abstract, the emphasis on fostering relationships with specific types, for more quality than quantity among other deviations we have from the NGOs, continues to be the foundation of our relationships.
Finally, we have had a relationship on some level with Bay Area communist group Advance the Struggle going on five years now. It could be argued that our respective groups’ development are due in some measure to our relationship to each other. The intermediate and many other organizational concepts have been in mutual usage for some time. In fact, AS created a more concentrated syllabus on organization derived from one U&S drew up and that have been used in our respective milieus. This has facilitated a lot of continuity between us and we hope that this piece produces a line of engagement that has been missing for a while now. Historically, AS has tried to navigate the line tactically between adventurism of insurrectionists and the tailism of centrist elements, has strived to socialize the struggle against the multiracial city and educational elite who tried to coopt the Oscar Grant and budget cuts struggles in the Bay, and who has argued for a synthesis of End Notes emphasis on the value form with Trotskyist strategy and tactics.
Here again, these elements are a product of the intermediate moment between the era of either closed, theoretically pure, micro-sects and socialist reformer organizations who tie their influence to how many explicitly liberal and reformist organizations that they form alliances with, versus a formal association of some practical nature between serious class struggle elements that have formed in the face of the above pre-2008 decay.
In Part Two we will delve deeper into the organizational dynamics of intermediate and potentially intermediate spaces and the extant strategic and tactical questions they face.