Much has been written over the last few years about a dual power approach to communist strategy. I have written extensively about it at The Forge
I previously argued that a crucial advantage to dual power strategy is that it gives the masses an infrastructure of socialist institutions which can directly provide for material needs in times of capitalist crisis. Socialist agricultural and food distribution programs can take ground that the capitalist state cedes by simultaneously meeting the needs of the masses while proving that socialist self-management and political institutions can function independently of capitalism. This approach is not only capable of literally saving lives in the case of crisis, but of demonstrating the possibility of a revolutionary project which seeks to destroy rather than reform capitalism.
One of the most pressing of the various crises which humanity faces today is climate change. Capitalist production has devastated the planet, and everyday we discover that the small window of time for avoiding its most disastrous effects is shorter than previously understood. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that we have twelve years to limit (not even prevent) the more catastrophic effects of climate change. The simple, and horrific, fact that we all must face is that climate change has reached a point where many of its effects are inevitable, and we are now in a post-brink world, where damage control is the primary concern. The question is not whether we can escape a future of climate change, but whether we can survive it. Socialist strategy must adapt accordingly.
In the face of this crisis, the democratic socialists and social democrats in the United States have largely settled on market-based reforms. The Green New Deal, championed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the left-wing of the Democratic Party, remains a thoroughly capitalist solution to a capitalist problem. The proposal does nothing to challenge capitalism itself but rather seeks to subsidize market solutions to reorient the US energy infrastructure towards renewable energy production, to develop less energy consuming transportation, and the development of public investment towards these ends.
The plan does nothing to call into question the profit incentives and endless resource consumption of capitalism which led us to this point. Rather, it seeks to reorient the relentless market forces of capitalism towards slightly less destructive technological developments. While the plan would lead to a massive investment in the manufacturing and deployment of solar energy infrastructure, National Geographic reports that “Fabricating [solar] panels requires caustic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid, and the process uses water as well as electricity, the production of which emits greenhouse gases.” Technology alone cannot sufficiently combat this crisis, as the production of such technology through capitalist manufacturing infrastructure only perpetuates environmental harm. Furthermore, subsidizing and incentivizing renewable energy stops far short of actually combating the fossil fuel industry driving the current climate crisis.
The technocratic market solutions offered in the Green New Deal fail to adequately combat the driving factors of climate change. What is worse, they rely on a violent imperialist global system in order to produce their technological solutions. The development of high-tech energy infrastructure and the development of low or zero emission transportation requires the import of raw material and rare earth minerals which the US can only access because of the imperial division of the Global South. This imperial division of the world requires constant militarism from the imperial core nations, and as Lenin demonstrates in Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, facilitates constant warfare as imperial states compete for spheres of influence in order to facilitate cheap resource extraction. The US military, one of many imperialist forces, is the single largest user of petroleum, and one of its main functions is to ensure oil access for the US. Without challenging this imperialist division of the world and the role of the US military in upholding it, the Green New Deal fails even further to challenge the underlying causes of climate change.
Even with the failed promises of the Green New Deal itself, it is unlikely that this tepid market proposal will pass at all. Nancy Pelosi and other lead Democrats have largely condemned it and consider it “impractical” and “unfeasible.” This dismissal is crucial because it reveals the total inability of capitalism to resolve this crisis. If the center-left party in the heart of the imperial core sees even milquetoast capitalist reforms as a step too far, we ought to have very little hope that a reformist solution will present itself within the ever-shrinking twelve-year time frame.
There are times for delicacy and there are times for bluntness, and we are in the latter. To put things bluntly: the capitalists are not going to save us, and if we don’t find a way to save ourselves, the collapse of human civilization is a real possibility. The pressing question we now face is: how are we going to save ourselves?
Revolution and Dual Power
If capitalism will not be able to resolve the current encroaching climate crisis, we must find a way to organize outside the confines of capitalist institutions, towards the end of overthrowing capitalism. If the Democratic Socialists of America-backed candidates cannot offer real anti-capitalist solutions through the capitalist state, we should be skeptical of the possibility for any socialist organization doing so. The DSA is far larger and far more well-funded than any of the other socialist organizations in the US, and they have failed to produce anything more revolutionary than the Green New Deal. We have to abandon the idea that electoral strategy will be sufficient to resolve the underlying causes of this crisis within twelve years.
While many radicals call for revolution instead of reform, the reformists often raise the same response: revolution is well and good, but what are you going to do in the meantime? In many ways this question is fair. The socialist left in the US today is not ready for revolutionary action, and a mass base does not exist to back the various organizations which might undertake such a struggle. Revolutionaries must concede that we have much work to be done before a revolutionary strategy can be enacted. This is a harsh truth, but it is true.
Much of the left has sought to ignore this truth by embracing adventurism and violent protest theatrics, in the vain hope of sparking revolutionary momentum which does not currently exist. If this is the core strategy of the socialist left, we will accomplish nothing in the next twelve years. Such approaches are as useless as the opportunist reforms pushed by the social democrats. Our task in these twelve years is not simply to arm ourselves and hope that magically the masses will wake up prepared for revolution and willing to put their trust in our small ideological cadres. We must instead, build a movement, and with it we must build infrastructure which can survive revolution and provide a framework for socialist development.
Dual power is tooled towards this project best. The Marxist Center network has done an impressive amount of work developing socialist institutions across the US, largely through tenants organizing and serve the people programs. The left wing factions within the DSA itself have also begun to develop mutual aid programs that could be useful for dual power strategy. At the same time, mutual aid is not enough. We cannot simply build these institutions as a reform to make capitalism more survivable. Rather, we must make these institutions part of a broader revolutionary movement and they ought to function as a material prefiguration to a socialist society and economy. The institutions we build as dual power outside the capitalist state today ought to be structured towards revolutionary ends, such that they will someday function as the early institutions of a revolutionary socialist society.
To accomplish this goal, we cannot simply declare these institutions to be revolutionary. Rather they have to be linked together through an actual revolutionary movement working towards revolutionary ends. This means that dual power institutions cannot exist as ends in and of themselves, nor can abstract notions of mutual aid cannot be conceptualized as an end in itself. The explicit purpose of these institutions has to be to radicalize the masses through meeting their needs, and providing an infrastructure for a socialist movement to meet the needs of its members and the communities in which it operates. Revolutionary institutions that can provide food, housing, and other needs for a revolutionary movement will be crucial for building a base among the masses and for constructing the beginnings of a socialist infrastructure for when we eventually engage in revolutionary struggle.
What I want to suggest here is that the production of food through dual power institutions should be a central project for this revolutionary movement. There are several reasons why I think this is the case. First, food production allows us to meet the most immanent needs of the masses. The US is plagued by food deserts which deprive huge portions of the population access to fresh food. Poverty exacerbates this further, and the devastating effects of lack of access of healthy food due to poverty are well documented. This is an urgent need that socialists can meet in order to demonstrate to the masses that it is socialists who can serve them where the capitalist state has failed. Second, food production is a major contributor to climate change. Large-scale meat production produces massive amounts of greenhouse gas, and the transportation of food from rule agricultural areas to urban populations centers is a major contributor as well. Urban agricultural projects and the development of sustainable permaculture are not sufficient to fix these problems, as they are not able to overthrow the capitalist system of agricultural production. However, paired with a broader revolutionary movement, these projects allow us to undertake scientific experimentation with meeting food needs, in order to test and demonstrate the effectiveness of alternative food production methods that can eventually replace the current unsustainable capitalist model. After all, if our revolution cannot replace unsustainable production models, we will not be able to resolve climate change any better than the capitalists.
Given these considerations, I think it is crucial that the revolutionary socialist movement begin to investigate and develop food production strategies that are part of a broader dual power project. If we hold that revolution is the only way to resolve climate crisis within the next twelve years, we need to have tested, demonstrably superior methods of food production ready to go. A revolutionary movement which cannot demonstrate an ability to meet the needs of the masses does not deserve their support, and food production is a crucial need. I am incapable of providing a comprehensive strategy here, I want to look at the ongoing organopónicos in Cuba, in order to demonstrate that the successes of Cuban urban agriculture can be of great a source of insight and strategy for our dual power projects.
Learning from Cuba: Organopónicos
Thankfully, we do not have to start from scratch when developing food production strategies. The development of urban agriculture in Cuba provides some important insights that can inform our own projects.
In the 1990s, the collapse of the Soviet Union had a devastating effect on Cuba. The loss of a major trade partner paired with an ongoing imperialist embargo forced the Cuban state to pursue experimental solutions to food shortages. The loss of trade not only produced a food shortage but also ended
By 2003, Havana produced 90% of the fresh produce within the city because of the success of the organopónicos, largely without pesticides and with minimal fossil fuel expenditure for transportation. That same year, the Cuban Ministry of Agriculture reported a 50% decrease in fossil fuel usage. The system is made up of a variety of institutions, from
We must now ask: how might the development of the organopónico system inform dual power projects today? First, it is worth noting that the system cannot be directly copied and pasted into urban centers within the US. Subsidies from the Cuban state are crucial to maintaining the system at such a large-scale. Any projects undertaken in a dual power context will necessarily be smaller, due purely to funding for land acquisition. One other complication is that the population of US urban centers is largely unfamiliar with agriculture, a problem that was not so serious in Cuba. As such, application of lessons learned from the organopónico system will require socialist organizations in the US to develop agricultural education alongside actual food production.
Despite these differences, the organopónico system proves that socialist approaches to food production are viable, and more importantly, environmentally sustainable. Not only has the socialist Cuban state found a way for its urban centers to collectively produce much of their food, it has done so without using environmentally destructive pesticides, and while driving down fuel consumption by a huge margin. There is more learning and experimenting to be done, as organopónicos do not yet provide complete self-sustenance for the cities in which they exist, but they demonstrate that socialist solutions can move us in that direction.
For socialists in the US who are invested in dual power, the organopónico system ought to inspire us to begin our own collective production of food. For those who can acquire access to land in urban areas, it is possible to begin to develop small-scale projects integrating the lessons learned from the organopónico system. This not only allows us to combat the effects of food deserts by producing fresh produce within those deserts themselves but allows us to begin to further investigate and experiment with agricultural models that can be scaled up in a revolutionary socialist society to meet the needs of the populace. For those who cannot access sizable plots of land, small-scale permaculture can still be developed in yards, with windowsill gardens, and with public gardening spaces. The development of permaculture skills should be prioritized even if it can only occur at a small-scale. We must take a scientific, not a utopian, approach to socialism, and that means beginning to experiment and develop socialist infrastructure here and now.
A climate catastrophe is on the
I have not offered a particularly thorough investigation into the organopónico system in this article. For that, I really do recommend the Monthly Review piece linked above. Regardless, I hope that I have demonstrated that climate change poses a serious challenge for socialist organizing. It creates an intense urgency and requires us to develop strategies which can respond to horrific instances of crisis. I truly believe that dual power remains the best strategy for responding climate change, but it must be scientifically informed, and capable of actually providing sustainable socialist alternatives. We should be grateful for the Cuba’s experiments with organopónicos, and should commit to investigation and study of their experiments in order to inform our own projects. We are running out of time to act, and the stakes have never been higher.