Long-term strategy: The world as it is and as we want it to be

Political and economic theory: why?

A recent Jacobin article outlines how the Sunrise Movement’s Green New Deal organizing model has been successful at drawing in large numbers of people quickly, but has come up against clear limits.  Sunrise’s model, known as the “Momentum model,” is based on the premise that successful social movements, largely irrespective of their core political orientations, all follow a similar structure, a cycle in which new participants are “absorbed” into a structure that works towards staging increasingly dramatic protests, which draw in further people and eventually enable large-scale acts of non-cooperation. The Momentum model might be “correct,” but by itself has little to say about how specific movement work in specific places reaches people at specific moments in history.

As a result, Sunrise lacks a clear and unifying ideological direction, necessary “not just because it articulates a political vision, but because it provides an idea of how the world presently works — and, by extension, how we might successfully intervene in it.” In this theme, we were working with the core question: how do we lay the groundwork for “deep” organizing–a core takeaway from our first theme’s readings (you can read our theme 1 recap, focused on case studies of past and current organizing, here!)

This part of the preparation stage focused on laying in foundations that would help us clarify and deepen understanding of some of the conclusions we started to come to in our reading of organizing histories. These readings helped us understand how the power structures in our lives form and persist, therefore where we can interrupt and challenge them. In particular, we were thinking about how we should be engaging with the state, and on recognizing the ways in which internalized power structures harms our organizing and our ability to imagine futures. 

We continue to meet weekly for facilitated discussions, and you can also check out our syllabus and follow along with us!

Week One: Political Economy

  • Federici, Silvia, Caliban and the Witch (2004)
    • Chapter 4, “The Great Witch Hunt In Europe” p. 163-200
  • Luxemburg, Rosa, The Accumulation of Capital (1917)
    • Chapter 32, “Militarism As A Province of Accumulation”

Big ideas: 

  • The state under capitalism is a way of organizing other forms of oppression and funneling them into the interests of the ruling class; capitalism, therefore, needs other forms of oppression to function
  • Federici challenges the idea that class relations are the absolute basis, over other forms of hierarchy, looking at how capitalism and patriarchy are inherently intertwined. 
  • She further challenges the idea that capitalism was a necessary stage in history. She looks at the world of knowledges it destroyed (for example, through the witch hunts), arguing against progressive theories of history that disenchant our lives and relations
  • Luxemburg identifies the role of the state as the piggy bank funding the imperial exploits of the ruling class, looking at how it uses militarism to justify re-capturing wealth “lost” to wages

Week 2 – Colonial and Race Theory

  • Pulido, Laura, “Geographies of Race and Ethnicity I: White Supremacy vs. White Privilege in Environmental Racism Research” (2015) AND “Geographies of Race and Ethnicity II: Environmental Racism, Racial Capitalism, and State-Sanctioned Violence” (2017)
    • Part I – p. 809-815 
    • Part II – p. 524-530
  • Coultard, Glen, Red Skin, White Masks: Rejecting the Colonial Politics of Recognition (2014)
    • Introduction – p. 1-24

Big ideas: 

  • The importance of land-based analysis beyond simple class analysis, understanding land dispossession as the foundation of both the settler-colonial and capitalist state
  • Recognition as “reconciliation” is empty if it is not also tied to land
  • Racial capitalism: in the context of settler colonialism and white supremacy, the state dispossesses Indigenous land and makes certain bodies–racialized bodies–disposable as “sinks” for the pollutants/waste/harms that capitalism produces

Week 3 – Disability Justice

Big ideas: 

  • Weeks 1 and 2 looked at how things are organized under capitalism. Here we started to shift the focus to how we go about building a different world 
  • Reframing environmental justice as how we make the world our home and be at home in our bodies, rather than as finding a “cure” or “fix” that will return us to a “normal.” The “normal” was always oppressive–we need to learn how to live here
  • creating a space where the intimate relationships people do form will be characterized by deeply understanding each other’s access needs–Mingus calls this “access intimacy”

Week 4 – Recap 

Big ideas: 

  • A combination of centralization and a lack of ideological depth can lead to political drift and the adoption of tactics that lack direction or sense
  • We also discussed questions raised around the organization of the strategy committee itself, how its current basis in a reading group reflects the current demographics of CJTO, and how, when designing our strategy, we have to be very cognizant of how we are structuring our operations to attract/repel various demographics

Week 5 – Political Alternatives

  • Bookchin, Murray, The Murray Bookchin Reader  (1999)
    • Chapter 8 – “Libertarian Municipalism” p. 173-196
  • Weil, Simone, “Human Personality” (1942)

Big ideas: 

  • Political/ideological direction as emerging from personal relationships with other people and radiating outward from roots in immediate community relations
  • Reinforcing the importance of deeply local organizing–in this case, in order to restructure power so that it exists with the people who live on the land/in community together
  • Importance of having a tangible vision to move towards and  agreement on specific political principles

Week 6 – Alternatives in Practice: Lessons from the ‘Global South’

  • Lopes de Souza, Marcelo, “Together with the state, despite the state, against the state: Social movements as ‘critical urban planning agents’” (2016)
    • p. 321-339
  • Singh, N.M., “Environmental justice, degrowth, and post-capitalist futures”  (2019)
    • p. 138-142

Big ideas: 

  • There are real dangers of co-optation whenever a leftist group tries to engage with the state/other ruling class institutions. Despite this, it is obviously unavoidable, and is often necessary, to use the state towards certain purposes and in certain ways, so long as we remain always vigilant about co-optation
  • If we see the state for what it is–as a barrier that often gets in the way of our work, but that we can exploit for our own purposes–we can develop a strategy that we can be working towards regardless of what the state is doing (i.e. that doesn’t rely on going through the state), a strategy that recognizes where we can use the state (carefully) without surrendering everything to the state  
  • This involves remaining confrontational, for example by employing methods of direct action to “trick” institutions to redistribute resources

Main Takeaways & How to Get Involved!

Deep organizing necessitates a combination of the practical and the performative in order to build strong relationships and embed ourselves in our communities. Deep organizing also necessitates a strong focus on the local; i.e. municipal or neighbourhood-based organizing. Being anti-capitalist/anti-statist in principle does not mean that we cannot strategically engage with the state, but it does imply the importance of building bottom-up political and economic structures outside of the state.

We always welcome new or old CJTO members to join the strategy committee at any time. To get involved, join #strategycommittee on our Slack channel or email us at climatejusticeto.on@gmail.com!