Thursday, December 30, 2010

Change Requires a Path

It should be obvious: In order to make a change, we need some way to make it, some path to bring it to reality.

I don't like that dead tree in the middle of my back yard? Well, I need some way to take it down -- a chainsaw, an axe, a helpful ogre who can push it over, something.

Similarly, if you want a world without poverty, a world in which patriarchy and white supremacy are dimly remembered relics of a depressing past, a world in which torture no longer happens in our name, a world in which war over power and resources can no longer be disguised as wars about religion or 'civilization' and in fact no longer happen at all -- in order to get there, or even to make non-trivial steps in that direction, we need a path.

Now, by "path" I don't mean something that has been sketched out in every detail in advance. Wanting that is a trap, I think, and claiming to have it is a lie and a threat. We just need a general sense of how we might get from A to B. Importantly, a path needs to be potentially effective and it also needs to feel plausible to a significant number of people. Efficacy is obvious: I can be super enthused about using a banana peel to cut down the dead maple tree, and maybe even everyone in my neighbourhood is into that idea too, but that still won't make it work. Plausibility is less obvious: Unlike cutting lumber, social change requires not just that the path have a chance of being effective but that lots of people believe that it might be effective, and believe it strongly enough that they get involved. It can be a great path, a beautiful path, a path to great and wondrous things, but if nobody else thinks it will work, it just isn't going to happen.

Our opponents know this. In writing about the history of the U.S. empire, Noam Chomsky has talked about "the threat of the good example," by which he explains the immense effort used by the U.S. at various points to attack and undermine any and every instance of peoples trying to do things differently, trying to carve out a way forward for themselves that involved anything that was not dependent on U.S.-dominated capitalism. U.S. elites often claimed it was in opposition to Communism, but that was only occasionally true, and more often it was some sort of independent, socialist-inflected nationalism that was the target. Grenada or Vietnam or Cuba did not pose even a tiny threat to global capital in and of themselves; the problem was that the example of successful resistance to capital might inspire others, and so the empire's resources had to be employed to undermine them, however many might die in the process. In other words, an example of successful resistance might make a particular path of resistance seem more plausible, and lead others to embark upon it as well.

The same logic has been used in crushing domestic dissent at various points. The field isn't quite as monolithic when it comes to domestic movements on Turtle Island, because for various reasons and at various points in the last seventy years, elites have been unable or unwilling to simply crush movements and so certain kinds of "good examples" managed to take root. Generally these have involved both real victories and co-optation -- the development of welfare states was a victory for (at least some) ordinary people, but was a strategic concession by elites in order to stave off the threat of revolution and to support profits; endorsing a certain kind of institutional strength among the white working class by inviting them to be nominal junior partners not only shaped how that strength would be used, but also bound the white working class into a system that ravenously consumes racialized people (and smaller proportions of poor white people) at home and abroad; and the more elite-palatable slices of some of the movements that became particularly visible in the late '60s and after were funded, institutionalized, and channeled into safe directions and away from more radical roots and allies. Still, there are plenty of examples, even when it comes to dissent by the more privileged layers among oppressed and exploited people, in which a reform that could have been conceded, within the logic and resources of social relations at the time, was instead refused in order not to provide a potentially infectious "good example." And certainly one simple explanation for how struggle circulates during high points, like the late 1960s and early 1970s, is through people seeing that a given path of struggle works for some other group, and then adapting it to their own purposes.

Plausible and Effective?

I think part of the evil genius of neoliberalism is that it has created a situation in which potentially effective paths are rendered implausible and the only plausible paths are ones that are never going to be effective.

For lots of people, I think there are no paths to a better world that they find even remotely plausible. This is tragic and inaccurate, I think, but it has a real material basis and isn't just some kind of intellectual error. "There is no alternative" was not just a Thatcherite slogan, not just a lie to fool people into giving up, but a commitment by elites to create material circumstances in which alternatives became less and less plausible and to push people's judgments about plausibility solely into paths that would provide only minimal threats to established power and privilege.

I can come up with three paths that still have some plausibility beyond tiny slivers of the population: liberal political parties; passive membership organizations, service organizations, and other NGOs; and individual-level activities like ethical consumption, individual anti-racist and anti-sexist practice, and so on.

I won't try to exhaustively demonstrate why I think those three paths are inadequate and/or ineffective, but I'll say a few things about each. And, incidentally, in saying that they are ineffective, I mean something quite specific: They are not capable of creating change that is proportionate to the magnitude of the problems in question, such as those enumerated in the third paragraph of this post. This doesn't necessarily mean they are useless or bad. It doesn't mean that each don't sometimes do positive things. I do at least some things encompassed by these three paths, from time to time.

For instance, take supporting liberal political parties (under which I would include the NDP, given that one outcome of neoliberalism is that social democratic parties no longer have the space to be anything other than moderately more compassionate and honest liberal parties -- that is, when they aren't leading the neoliberal charge themselves.) As I've argued before, voting matters, in a very proscribed and limited way, so we need to do it, though it is important that we do it without illusions. It can make a small but real difference in the lives of some people which party wins, but no liberal or nominally social democratic party is even claiming it will do anything more than take the edge off the hideous violence of our current social relations, though some party faithful manage to delude themselves into thinking otherwise. In the last thirty years, which party wins is more a matter of the rate at which things get worse. I generally do vote NDP, and think, given the particular circumstances in which I am voting and given that it costs me only about thirty minutes of my time once every few years, it is worth doing. So support for these parties has a fairly broad plausibility, but is not and will not be very effective at doing more than blunting some of the worst of the nastiness that surrounds us.

Non-governmental organizations of various stripes -- I'm thinking primarily of social service agencies and passive membership issue-based organizations -- are similarly limited. Agencies meet immediate needs, which is vital, and we should definitely support their ability to do that in the absence of more politically useful alternatives. But meeting needs is not the same thing as addressing root causes. My own time working in that sector taught me that the space that exists for agencies to exert pressure within the system can be important for making the most of sparse welfare state dollars, but that will always be vastly inadequate to the scale of the problems we face. Passive membership organizations that address a specific issue can also accomplish some useful things within particular bounds. For instance, though each has its own political strengths and weaknesses, GreenPeace and EGALE and The Council of Canadians, say, have all done some useful things in the last couple of decades. But the kinds of problems that they can productively take on, given their organizational form and their particular approaches to creating change, are within narrow bounds. Despite their plausibility to a certain segment of the broader public, NGOs can only address the issues we face in particular, limited ways.

And another popular approach is one that focuses on activities that are most often individual in scale, things like ethical consumption and changes to interpersonal practices in terms of race and gender and so on. Again, these are not bad things, and I do some of them myself. Indeed, they can be important elements of building more collective approaches to change, as described below. But when they stay at the level of individual practices, there are serious limits to what they can accomplish. A boycott might get McDonald's to change some of its packaging, say, but it won't ever make it stop being McDonald's. And a guy learning to be anti-sexist in his partnerships and other relationships is an important step, but on its own the challenge it represents to social relations of gender oppression is distinctly limited.


Social movements -- that is, efforts to create change that are overt and collective, and often confrontational -- can be effective. We just need to look at history to see what collective movements that are not afraid to act in oppositional ways can accomplish, whether that is the labour movement, women's movements, anti-racist movements, national liberation movements, or lots of others. They aren't perfect, they rarely accomplish all of what they set out to accomplish, but they can do a great deal.

Social movements, because of how they are socially organized, are less likely to be limited in the ways that the paths above are. At their best, the standpoints of movements are grounded in the everyday experiences of the ordinary people that create them. At their best, they refuse to accept the constraints that limit the political imaginations embodied in electoral parties, NGOs, and change work that occurs exclusively at the individual level. Because movements can grow and in a certain sense create their own space of possibility, even movements that start out being about limited and local reforms can -- not necessarily will, but can -- lead to much broader social transformation. And because (at their best) they are participatory, they can change not just policies or organizations 'out there' but can transform those of us who are involved and can be a crucible for generating new ways of living much more fundamentally than tinkering with this law or that policy. That doesn't mean they always do these things, but there are definitely historical precedents, and GreenPeace or the NDP simply do not offer that potential.

Despite that history and that possibility, movements aren't very plausible vehicles for change in North America right now. I think there are lots of reasons for this. For one thing, the plausibility of movement participation as a path to a better world depends to a certain extent on the strength of movements. A whole host of circumstances mean movements are, by and large, quite weak, so it makes sense that lots of people don't see movements as a useful path, which makes movements even weaker.

This implausibility of movements as a path is also connected to the kinds of changes that have come along with neoliberalism in the last few decades. Between the end of the Second World War and, say, the mid '90s, there was a kind of social democratic safety valve, such that if there was a certain amount of momentum building up in a particular movement, elites were somewhat open to certain kinds of concessions even if those concessions were counter to the general logic of (classical) liberalism and/or the market. This safety valve is, if not completely broken, at least fastened much more tightly, as a deliberate part of the neoliberal agenda of clawing back past gains. More generally, there is a climate that is less open to concessions and more interested in rolling back past gains made by ordinary people. This is true not only of the state and employers, but in more dispersed areas like gender justice and anti-racism as well. Accompanying all of this has been a shift towards increasingly repressive approaches to policing dissident movements and protests in the last fifteen years.

All of which is to say that there is a material basis for people finding movements less plausible than at earlier moments: movements are weaker and elites have demonstrated greater willingness to refuse and repress. This means that achieving a given goal through social movement activity today requires greater effort, greater risk, and probably exploring new ways of doing things such that inaccurate but longstanding ideas of what "social movement" and "protest" have to mean are no longer enough. All of this makes movements much less plausible as a path for a lot of people.

What do we do?

Rebuilding movements will require lots of things, but one is working to make movements a more plausible path towards change in the minds of more people in North America. I can see three things that will contribute to that.

  1. Focus on movement building that seeks to build from what people are already doing. All of us have moments of resistance in our everyday lives, moments in which we refuse to act according to the oppressive logics that organize our social relations, in which we refuse our own dehumanization or we refuse to be complicit in the dehumanization and violence experienced by others. It is connecting to those moments that is the most basic antidote to the implausibility of movements: "You're doing that and I'm doing this, so why don't we get together and talk about it and do something together?" I'm not sure that those of us with radical politics and considerable privilege are always very good at doing this, but it has to be the basis of moving forward, because that connection with everyday experience and everyday resistance is, I think, central to piercing the "there is no alternative" paralysis that keeps all effective paths towards change from seeming plausible.

  2. Those of us with energy that is not totally consumed with struggles for our own survival and liberation need to make decisions about expending that energy such that active local struggles actually win. Arguing that movements are the only way forward might be useful, but demonstrating that they can actually achieve gains for ordinary people is much more likely to be convincing. So put a high priority on actively supporting the strike going on in your city, the struggle against the city council decision to pave over a meadow, the anti-poverty and immigration-related direct action casework -- whatever it is, use your energy and your resources and your privilege to contribute to victories, because victories create plausibility for movements.

  3. Work to create a culture of social justice, a culture of resistance. By that I mean we should model ways of living which assume that working to create movements for social justice is important, useful, and entirely ordinary. Build community with this idea in mind. Talk and write blogs and 'zines and other media with this as a built-in assumption. And resist the urge to do it in insular, disconnected ways (a la, for example, certain big-A Anarchist communities) -- rather, seek to inject this sense wherever possible into ordinary life.

Now that I write them, these three suggestions seem woefully inadequate. I suppose it is important to read them in light of broader discussions of revitalizing movements and doing all of the things that come out of those discussions in order to make our movements more vibrant and effective, because efficacy and plausibility reinforce each other. In any case, though they seem like tiny steps compared to what we face, I still think that grounding our work in everyday experience, pushing for small victories, and living an ordinary, non-insular, but integrated-into-life culture of social justice and liberation are at least small parts of what it will take to breath new life into social movements in North America.


Anonymous said...

wonderful analysis Scott. Really insightful. Thanks for posting this. Jackie.

Toronto Action for Social Change said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Randy said...

Thanks for putting this out there Scott! I couldn't agree more with the ideas you suggest, and think that the sense that they are "inadequate" is merely due to the fact that there are no guarantees
- I like the way Howard Zinn described that aspect of it - something like "If you try, great things may happen, but if you don't try, I know, great things won't happen."
I think the local, the small, and the living example are beautiful ways to build and create the possibilities for change (another discussion would be the media, who have accepted the neoliberal agenda and either don't report on grassroots issues, or marginalize them when they do - thus depriving growing movements a larger audience)

Good work!
p.s. typo in the subheading "Plausible and Effetive?"

Scott Neigh said...

Thanks Jackie!

And thanks to you too, Randy. I'm not sure that's the entire reason they feel inadequate, but it is certainly a part of it. I've never been well suited by temperment to the necessary activist practice of starting something open-ended and seeing what happens, though I know it's often the best way to proceed. But I think it has to do with scale as well...the scale of the problems versus the scale on which movements in North America are currently able to act. Movements are so decomposed in most contexts in North America right now it is hard to even imagine being back in a situation in which elites are (to caricature for a moment) sipping their single malt and smoking their smuggled Cuban cigars and plotting how to turn the screws a little tighter and them feeling forced to sit back and say in worried tones, "But what would the movements do if we did this?" I know that can turn around quickly, but it is still discouraging.

Anyway...thanks. And thanks for catching the typo!

ansel said...

Excellent post laying out the things a lot of us have tied up in our heads. Thanks! I'm sure I'll be looking back at this post to remind myself of what I need to be doing...

Scott Neigh said...

Thanks, ansel!

thwap said...


I have to stop reading and play with the little boy now, but I need to comment:

I've read up to the end of the part about social movements, and I hate to say it, but there's nothing in there that says anything concrete about what they did and how they did it.

Some historical examples and a description of how they achieved whatever it was they achieved would help that section.

Scott Neigh said...

Hi thwap...good point. I made a tactical choice given the length of the piece, the probably target audience, and the central point that I was trying to get across, but it may not have been the right choice. That is, it was already pretty long; the target audience was people who already think movements are important; and the point was to convince that group that it isn't enough for us to know there is this history of movements doing great things, but we also have to wrestle with how to turn that history into a sense of movements as a plausible option for larger numbers of people today.

That said, you're quite right that a big part of building that sense of plausibility, beyond doing things to help concrete struggles for immediate gains win in the present, is deploying exactly those sorts of historical examples in ways that resonate with people today.

thwap said...

Well, I finished it. That didn't take long.

Couple of things:

1. How do you get your ordinary, CTV-watching neighbours and relatives to participate in anti-poverty direct action?

2. How can zines and pamphlets be anything but directed at our insular, already converted communities? (Should we put 'em in our neighbours' mail-boxes? That actually sounds plausible.)

3. I have never believed that political parties can do everything on their own. But working in conjunction with a vibrant movement that doesn't write-off formal political activism, is crucial to the success of any transformative process.

Scott Neigh said...

1. Not everything is going to be able to engage everybody. However, in my experience, both participating and watching grassroots anti-poverty work of various flavours in Ontario in the last fifteen years, grassroots anti-poverty work that is getting things done will attract people living in poverty. Not everyone living in poverty, of course, but not insignificant numbers, either.

The thing about grassroots anti-poverty organizing, including its direct action variant, is that it is hard to sustain. So, according to the logic of this piece, one useful task for people who aren't necessarily living in poverty themselves but who see movements as important is to support grassroots anti-poverty organizing, in whatever role seems appropriate -- putting resources, time, energy, money, whatever towards keeping the group in question stable, functioning, and effective. The more stable, functioning, and effective it is, the more people will be drawn to it. Again, not everyone will be drawn to it, but judging by OCAP's experience, people living in poverty and middle-class radicalized youth who are seeking ways to live their politics will be. And that combination can be pretty powerful. If such a group were to stably exist in Sudbury, it could have an immense impact on lots of lives and on the politics in the community.

In turn, if such a thing exists and grows and is effective, it creates more space for people situated in other ways to see movement activity as a plausible path. It makes it more likely that they will take up the same or related approaches when they see or experience something that just isn't right.

2. I think there are a few different approaches. Even just circulating them in insular, already-converted communities can have some value, in that there need to be ways to communicate and disseminate information even in those contexts, and material produced with that purpose in mind will tend to creep out beyond the boundaries a little bit and have the potential to draw new people in. But I think that's a pretty limited strategy. I think putting things in people's mail boxes, handing out leaflets on the street, having information tables at local community events, and so on, are all plausible approaches. I think they are more likely to feel effective and satisfying when they are in the context of some practical campaign, but they don't have to be.

3. I'm not sure I agree in the details, exactly, but I basically agree that generally speaking one way in which the energy of vibrant movements becomes practical impacts on lives is through the formal political process. I'm not sure that necessarily implies that there is value to movement-oriented people also applying energy to parties, or shifting energy to parties after things reach a certain point, or whatever. I think there is value to keeping a certain amount of distance between movements and parties, even when there is tactical collaboration. But that conversation in the abstract is kind of moot at the moment, because at the moment what we most urgently need is movements with energy to change the shape of possibility (for parties as well as people) in ways that no organization with the form of a political party ever will.

thwap said...


"what we most urgently need is movements with energy to change the shape of possibility (for parties as well as people) in ways that no organization with the form of a political party ever will."

Just what the heck does "change the shape of possibility" mean?

It's vaguely reminiscent of "the audacity of hope."

I don't reject doing any of the things you mention, but I remain frustrated by your desire to stand aloof from the law-making process.

Organizing at the margins and pleading with people with actual power to help us isn't going to change anything on the necessary scale that we need.

Sorry for the harsh words, but i had a rough day and i wanted to comment upon reading, so as not to forget about it in an alcoholic stupor later.

Scott Neigh said...

Hi again thwap.

No worries about the harshness...I've driven for five hours since typing last, so I'm feeling a little rough around the edges myself.

So first to explain what I mean by "change the shape of possibility."

I see what can be accomplished via electoral politics as being a fairly constrained range of things -- a fairly constrained set of possibilities. Exactly what is in this spectrum varies over time. And I would say it is more limited now than it has been since before the Second World War, in that there was a period in which non-trivial social democratic reforms could be accomplished through purely Parliamentary politics, but that is no longer true.

This narrow range is related to the practical limits of how Parliamentary politics must be done. The organizational form of the party is limiting in some ways. The orientation towards the state is limiting in other ways. The role of big money, of media gatekeeping, and blah blah blah I'm sure you could name a bunch too. That means that, by going into a party and trying to push a particular agenda, you are limited in what you can actually achieve, and I would argue that even fairly rudimentary social democratic reforms can't be achieved by such mechanisms alone any more.



Scott Neigh said...

Social movements, on the other hand, face different constraints. They have less immediate legitimacy for many folks, often less mainstream media access than a mainstream political party, generally far fewer resources. But their scope for action is not limited by the organizational form of the party, by a predetermined way in which they must relate to the state, or a number of other factors that constrain parties. This means that, for instance, movements can generate major, unexpected momentum. They don't necessarily, and it is hard to imagine them doing so in Canada at this moment, but it does happen. Just think of what has happened in the Arab world this year. Movements allow greater space than parties for coming up with new ways of doing things. Movements are also sites for shaping radically new subjectivities, new selves -- look at the early years of women's lib or gay lib, for instance. All of these things, plus the possibility for momentum and the relatively fewer constraints related to 'respectability' means that things that are impossible if you just look at the narrow range of what electoral politics can accomplish in a given era become possible because of the activities of social movements. They can push the electoral range in positive directions, or they can expand it, or they can destabilize it altogether. It's that scope to go beyond, sometimes far beyond, what narrowly electoralist politics allow that I'm talking about when I talk about social movements and possibility.

Second. I'm not talking about "standing aloof from the law-making process." I'm saying that definitely right now what is needed to challenge neoblieralism is greater energy from movements. I would also be likely to be inclined to stay rooted in movements in many other contexts as well, rather than in parties. However, saying that is much, much differeng from "standing aloof." It's just relating to it from a differeng place, in different ways.

Movements like what's going on in Egypt, say, or in Spain, can't be dismissed as "organizing at the margins" or "pleading." Strong movements exert power themselves in a way that politicians and elites have to reckon with.

Scott Neigh said...

Even just looking at the rather desolate conditions in Canada at the moment, I can still see the utility of being rooted in movements and wary of parties but still engaging with the system as is tactically appropriate. I'm involved in a group that is most immediately about seeking justice for a wrongfully convicted Native man named John Moore. There has been some progress on his case in the last year or two, much of which wouldn't have happened without a supportive NDP MP in our riding. But by the same token, much of it wouldn't have happened without people organizing outside of parties and creating the conditions in which it seemed advantageous for the MP to act. As well, it is important to John and to us to connect his struggle to larger issues such as racism and the justice system. The scope for doing much about that particular issue within the NDP is, I think, quite minimal, given Layton has more or less accepted every law-and-order initiative that Harper has proposed. But having an independent formation that is trying to do some public education work around that in Sudbury is, while still too small, at least something.

Or, for instance, a group I was very peripherally and briefly involved with when I lived in Los Angeles had a particular analysis of engaging with the electoral process in ways that was independent of but criitcally supportive some aspects of the Democratic Party, out of a recognition of its importance for some working-class communities of colour exerting power over their local circumstances in some places. I'm not sure I agreed with every detail of that analysis, but I have nothing against that kind of strategic engagement.

Anyway. A focus on movements is not "standing aloof." It is doing the only thing that has even a hope of generating the social power to force elites to make changes. And, yes, it can involve strategic engagement with parties and with electoral politics, though I'm wary of that.

Scott Neigh said...

(And as a final aside...I think sometimes when we're having these discussions you have the impression that I'm far more puritanical about relating to parties and to the state than I actually am. I definitely think we're better off rooted in movements, and I think we're fools if we don't insist on being highly skeptical of the state, but I'm no purist. Reform struggles are super important...the trick is figuring out how to win them without being trapped by them.)

thwap said...

What I mean by "standing aloof" is, "Well, yeah, some parties are worse for us than others, so we'll vote for the least bad alternative. And some individual politicians can be okay and we'll work with them from time to time. Whatever."

Just the other day I was reading about some column in the BBC or the CBC [and that's why I thought about responding here] about all these new social movements in the world, arising outside of the formal blah, blah, blah, ... and I thought: Big Fucking Deal.

Yeah, it's been exciting, all these groups with no structure, no resources, no permanence, no traditions, and practically no impact, forming, merging, morphing, in all sorts of exciting ways, while:

Imperialism has gotten a new lease on life.

Incomes and dignity for the working classes have stagnated.

Social democratic programs have crumbled.

The environment groans under the weight of our apparently suicidal species.

Since we've had our first discussions in the early 1990s, things have gone from bad to worse, and it's not like me and my misguided ideas are to blame.

Perhaps you think that I'm asking for more out of you than I am.

I'm saying that what social movements have to do is articulate a realistic but transformative agenda and then insist that a political party endorse it if they want the movements' votes.

Don't just be a passive observer of the arena where actual power is, or can be employed.

And the difference between us and Tunisia or Egypt is that the amount of material affluence is strong enough that, combined with media brainwashing, the 60% of the population that is electorally active can split their vote amongtst all sorts of delusions and half-truths.

Things got so shitty in the Arab world (massive poverty, hunger, daily police brutality against almost everyone, massive corruption, dictatorship) that the majority of people were united in what they rejected.

Scott Neigh said...

Hi again!

I think you are seriously over-stating some aspects of your case. You can't honestly be claiming that social movements from the New Left era to today have had "practically no impact." And you seem to be claiming that a large portion of the blame for the state of the world, or at least a large portion of the blame for why various flavours of elite nastiness and oppression are in the ascendant, can be laid at the feet of social movements because of snobbish and impractical reluctance to sully ourselves in electoral politics...if only they would overcome that barrier, you seem to be saying, then these things wouldn't be happening to us, or we'd be resisting them successfully, or whatever. I just don't think there is evidence for that. I think would be a very hard case to prove, especially given that the example of the more mainstream tendencies that have emerged from most movements in the United States prove just the opposite -- there, many movements have engaged in exactly that sort of electoral deal-making at the expense of creating and maintaining their own power through maintaining bases that are autonomous of the Democratic Party, and it has been disastrous.

I think you lump a lot of things together that aren't necessarily connected. I agree, for instance, that a knee-jerk resistance to more enduring forms of organization has been a problem for certain kinds of movements in the last few decades. I just think there is ample evidence that making some sort of electorally-focused party our main instance of an enduring organizational form is not going to get us where we want to go. I also agree that there has been a general failure to focus on proposing pragmatic intermediate goals as part of a longer-term transformative agenda. Again, doing that can be consistent with a wide range of ways of relating to political parties and electoral politics.

Scott Neigh said...

The electoral arena is one way to exert power, but it sounds like you are saying it is the only way, and I just don't think that's true. The streets and the workplace and the community can also be sites of exerting power that elites cannot ignore. There are plenty of example where the presence of people engaging in broad-based, autonomous social movement activities of diverse sorts have pushed electoral politics to respond to our concerns precisely because such activities represent a different form of power that elites can't ignore. Just because we aren't in a position to do that here and now doesn't mean it isn't possible. The fact is, we aren't in a position to force political parties to pay us any attention either.

I think what it comes down to is a sober assessment of where we are at. I think that if movements in North America had enough of an autonomous base of power to make your suggestion plausible, then there would be formations within those movements that would try to do exactly that. We could have debates, based on the conditions in that moment, about whether that was a good choice or not, and I suspect you and I would still differ at least some of the time. But that moment is not this moment. Today, we don't have movements that have enough autonomous power that parties would pay us any attention. And what I'm saying is that what we need to do, right now, in this moment, is invest energy into building movements that have enough autonomous power that it is even worth having the debate about whether to align ourselves with a particular party. We can't build that power by working inside parties, or encouraging people to have (unfounded) faith in what parties can achieve. The Democratic Party of the 1930s courted the labour movement and the revolutionary left precisely because those formations had movement-based power that was autonomous of the Democrats. We could argue about the choices that labour and the Left made, but they only had those choices to make because of movement-building done with autonomy from electoral parties.

So either way, we need to build movements, and to do that we need to find ways to demonstrate to people that they are plausible. And it isn't directly relevant to a discussion of what we should be doing now, but I also happen to think that extra-electoral ways of exerting power become more conceivable as movements get stronger, so the terms of our debate about how to relate to parties and elections would also shift.