In the course of the last half decade a distinct political consciousness in the youth has heralded a return of an explicitly socialist politics openly hostile to the reigning institutions of the capitalist order in the United States. This mass resurgence has occurred due to the failures, not successes, of the far-left to attain long-lasting gains for posterity and those suffering under the march of capital generally.
The upsurge of anti-establishment action over the past five years, most notably expressed in the historic, nation-wide uprisings following George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, has risen to the fore existential imperatives for revolutionary socialists in this country and should call into question the exigencies of our existing strategies and models, most of which have been maintained in unaltered form despite the vast changes in our social and political landscapes. These outmoded forms of organizing are to this day imposed by old guard activists upon new generations of revolutionaries, a great majority of whom have decidedly rejected this endless circuit of myopic lifestyle activism in favor of practical activity composed of viable means to truly revolutionary ends.
The dissolution of many of the socialist sects established by previous generations of revolutionaries, the liquidation of most of their forces into reformist organizations, and the emergence of Marxist Center in the last two years are direct results of the contradiction between the old manners of ‘organizing’ and the new conditions which face the upcoming generation of revolutionaries today, and which have resulted in the emergence of a new and generationally-divided zeitgeist.
Marxist Center orients itself around the organizing model of “base-building,” and has thrown off the weighty ideological pedigrees of yesteryear which atomized and isolated the U.S. left of last century and which were distinct to the conditions of last century. The organization maintains that we must not hinder and divide our efforts by endless interpretations of obscure ideological conflicts far away in time and space, but base our politics in organizing strategies that work, here and now, and that overcome the deficiencies of past socialist approaches to organizing that have failed to produce widespread, militant opposition to the capitalist order in the United States. This does not mean that we dismiss the importance of history and theory in configuring our organizational approach, but that the minutiae of conflicts between various personalities and countries last century does not define these approaches or our identities as revolutionary socialist organizers.
For decades the revolutionary left in the United States has retreated further and further into obscure, cliquish echo-chambers. It became inwardly-focused, like a house of mirrors only seeing its own reflections. It worried more about its own image among the variegated political subcultures than its outward organizational capacity to engage with and fight alongside its alleged proletarian constituency. It has huddled itself into puritan activist networks that are invisible to the everyday worker, while vying for influence among these powerless cliques, and has cannibalistically consumed itself through infighting in the most base and irresponsible manners. Instead of engaging in difficult, long-term organizing it has repeated the mistakes of its forebears operating in the imperial core, opting for those manners of practical activity that were comfortable and easy (campus organizing, reading circles, charity work, symbolic gesturing, protest circuits, etc.) rather than ever approaching the working class itself in any meaningful, sustained manner.
Base-building is a trend born out of the recognition of our movement’s failures, and while its practitioners do not reject wholesale the long-used methods of radical political organizing enumerated above, they do not make these activities the focus of their organizing efforts—such approaches are ancillary to the aim of our organizing, and do not constitute the primary essence of what or how we organize.
While Marxist Center is not the only national organization within the revolutionary left that espouses and practices base-building, it is the only one that wields this method as its organizational raison d’etre, centering the approach as a requisite first step in the revolutionary left emerging out of its utterly marginalized political status.
What is Base-Building?
A previous dossier on base-building was compiled in 2018, which encapsulated important articles elaborating and defining this trend in the period of 2016-2018. This packet constitutes an addendum to the first dossier that includes the most relevant articles of this organizing theory from mid-2018 to the end of 2020.
Base-building is an organizing concept applied by revolutionary socialists that seeks to engage the working class shoulder-to-shoulder in class warfare, leading to the attainment of class consciousness. Over time and through deep organizing, socialists win the trust of the most oppressed and advanced layers of the working class through this collective and ongoing struggle. The long-term objectives of this organizing strategy is to create worker institutions of dual-power that will undermine the hegemony of the provincial, state, and, eventually, federal institutions through non-reliance, militant opposition, and establishing a meaningful organizational capacity that can actually mobilize itself against the state and the forces of reaction.This radical political method of organizing seeks to obtain immediate, mid-, and long-term objectives that will simultaneously fight for improvements in the material conditions of those with whom we are working, and, through these experiences, increase the working class’s understanding of and rightful hostility to capitalism, preparing the working class for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of an international socialist republic. This approach is deeply rooted in socialist principles, histories, and theories, but represents firstly an organizational orientation, not an ideological one.
The only way in which the energy of revolutionary situations can, in the future, be focused and organized for widespread and long-lasting material and political gains—if not a successful revolutionary rupture with the current polity—is through long-term, deep organizing efforts with those who constitute the vehicle for revolution: the working class itself. Legions of young workers seek a way out of these myriad crisis’ and only through sustained base- building will we have the capacity to create circumstances wherein we can engage offensively against the married forces of capital and the state.
Examples of base-building have been extrapolated in past articles and various pieces included within this dossier. Among the most common approaches today are labor and tenant organizing. The intricacies of these approaches are simply too complex to be elaborated within the space of an introduction. The revolutionary base-building approach differs from old school unionism and previous far-left organizing because of its commitment to a scientific analysis of its tactical programme, and the building of alternative working class institutions outside of and adjacent to any Party and strictly outside of the traditional nexus of the state and civil society.
The literature detailing modern worker and tenant organizing toward revolutionary means is still too scarce, and is in need of many additions outlining the theories and experiences behind these primary applications of base-building. Thousands of organizers from coast to coast have applied this organizational model to their revolutionary activity and the refinement of these experiential processes into a reflective literature is still ongoing. We implore all those to whom the above applies to contribute to this developing canon of revolutionary literature so that we might all learn from your successes and failures, and hone the focus of our efforts immediately.
Articles included here
This dossier on base-building constitutes the second iteration on the topic, the first being a compilation titled ‘All About That Base’ published in early 2018. The intervening two and a half years since its compilation and publication has witnessed an acceleration in the publication of relevant articles which seek to expand upon and define the concept of base-building and its viability for far-left political organizers. The following anthology has been compiled in an effort to give shape to the evolutionary volume of literature surrounding this topic.
The first essay of this dossier written by R.K. Upadhya emphasizes the strategic compatibility between base-building and worker’s inquiry. The latter concept is described here as an important supplement to base-building and is meant to be applied in order to clarify a socialist organizer’s conception of the working class by engaging directly with them in our immediate struggles.
The second article describes how “the strategic concern of base-building is rebuilding a direct connection between socialists and the rest of the working-class to help foster the working-class’s political independence.” It is explained how the left is currently detached from its working class base and how electoralism is not a viable means for “regaining political legitimacy within broad sections of the class.”
The next piece is an experiential interview with Malik, an organizer from Paterson, New Jersey and who is a member of Silk City Socialists. During the course of this interview Malik describes the struggles that Silk City Socialists are engaged with, primarily ensuring tenant’s rights, dealing with racially-motived police terrorism, and mutual aid projects. The interviewee describes how a small cadre was built from nothing into an organization respected and trusted by the community. Malik goes on to describe how Marxist Center’s organizational model differs from most of the left in the US, including on matters of bourgeois electoralism, and the experience Silk City Socialists has had in applying the base-building model to the efforts undertaken in their locale.
In this article, Philly Socialists organizers recount the harrowing experience of a multi-day action and the lessons they learned building a coalition to occupy an ICE building in Philadelphia during the nation-wide actions against these federal efforts in the summer of 2019. The conflicts between anarchist and socialist participants is highlighted along with the tactical and ad-hoc democratic approaches applied in this urban setting. This article is a retrospective lesson in direct action and the difficulties that arise out of multi-organizational coordination, and is followed by some basic definitions and takeaways from the experience that can help comrades effectively organize future direct action.
Next is a report on the second Marxist Center conference, which took place in December of 2018 and which the present author organized. In this article, two attendees write about how a score of atomized Marxist organizations from across the country representing some 200 revolutionaries were able to unify into a formal, national network not based on sectarian adherences “but a commitment to a general strategy of base-building.” The authors go on to explain the lessons communist director Boots Riley gave to the auditorium on the first night and how attendees struggled to finalize a Points of Unity document that would unify the network—which was, after a painstaking process, democratically adopted by the congress. Hereafter a proto-organizational structure in the form of a delegate council was approved, with various caucuses later formed to ensure that marginalized comrades would exercise real power within the network. The last day of the conference involved non-stop workshops on tenant/workplace organizing, cooperatives, and internal organization/cultural norms for affiliated groups. The final part of this essay covers criticisms that arose after the conference by other organizations and authors which outlines various theoretical issues regarding the party, the state, AES, etc.
The first of the two excerpts found under the subheading “Critique of the Left” is a lengthy analysis of the U.S. strain of self-described Marxism-Leninism. Although too long to summarize here, it is well worth the read, especially for those new to the socialist left. The benefit of this overview of a major current of socialism within the U.S. is found not-least in the essay’s absolute thoroughness in covering the major organizational, ideological, historical, and theoretical aspects of modern US Marxist-Leninism in its present incarnations. The authors review their experiences within revolutionary parties of the previous generation (WWP, PSL, FRSO). Highlighted is how the raison d’êtres of these groups were restricted to protest circuits, activist networks, and to individual recruitment instead of “building a program with the class through mass struggle.”
The second excerpt from Minnelli and Levin is a scathing critique of the propensity of leftist organizations to engage in tailism on hot-button social and political issues promoted by the media and led by opportunistic establishmentarian NGO’s and front groups while eschewing meaningful organizing. This article is an excellent introduction in how not to organize.
Sophia Burns’ article ‘Revolution Is Not a Metaphor: A Response to Critics’ clarifies some common misconceptions about base-building as a 21st century ‘Going to the People’ that rejects theory and the idea of revolutionary leadership or as a depoliticized form of mutualism that ignores the necessity of party building. Instead, Burns asserts, base-builders “synthesize organizing for tangible gains with the long-game commitment to literal revolution” and that these institutions of dual-power are created “outside the state, against the state, and in order to displace the state.” Our approach then is not one of sloganeering and protest culture, of vapid moral posturing, or of bourgeois electoral gradualism and class collaboration, but of engaging in the most difficult, long-term processes of class warfare locally through tenant and labor organizing buffered with community self-defense programs.
In its ‘Mission Statement’ Marxist Center representatives explain how it has unified under the principles that revolutionary socialists in the US must “Reject the sectarianism of the past and the reformism of the present.” The article then elaborates on how a sober consideration of the advanced capitalist conditions facing us today must inform our present organizing and the trajectory of our collective work toward revolution.
Tim Horras’ ‘Goodbye Revolution?’ confronts head-on the assertions put forward by many on the left (and even former figures within the revolutionary-left) that the capitalist state and its attendant institutions are invincible, and that revolution is off the table—at least for now. He attempts to deconstruct the naive and ahistorical approaches put forward by democratic socialists who wish to focus the entirety of their energy on ephemeral reforms within “the narrow framework of bourgeois legality” due to a cynical perspective that the US working class is capable of no more than begging for piecemeal concessions.
In ‘Rethinking Reforms’ the key differences between ‘reformist reforms’ and ‘non-reformist reforms’ are explained in detail by Teresa Kalisz. The main difference, allegedly, is that the former are “reconciled with the needs of the capitalist class” while the latter “directly attack capitalism with the goal of destroying it.” The capitalist state and various contradictions in our approach to pushing reforms through that state (esp. ones that might expand the state and its power) constitute imperative matters in any thorough evaluation of the strategic viability of reforms. The piece is concluded by the creation of a framework composed of four essential questions that will allow revolutionaries to orient their work regarding reforms and connect these struggles to our ultimate goal without our analysis being plagued by rigid, false dichotomies and over-simplifications.
‘The Road to Power and the Beach Beneath’ assesses current debates on the socialist left between those espousing a gradualist transition to socialism and those who still think that a revolutionary rupture is possible within our lifetimes. Minnelli and Levin, the authors of this article, center the possibility of transcending capitalism in short, medium, and long-term frameworks while stating that current discourse surrounding the age-old idea of ‘reform vs. revolution’ focuses mainly on the prospect of seizing state power, in which both sides of these seemingly opposed camps are actually united in their end goals. The disagreements, the authors assert, lie in various strategic perspectives regarding the short and mid-term trajectories that the socialist left should take in pursuit of this end. The main strategic disagreement is on the matter of electoralism and its potential utility in building working class power. Whereas the gradualists espouse the necessity of an intensive participation in bourgeois democracy, the revolutionary camp only suggests minor, strategic engagements in the charade, while maintaining explicit independence from the Democratic Party and from class collaboration more broadly—a perspective rejected by the reformist camp, represented by leaders of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Importantly, the authors emphasize in their concluding remarks that the left cannot simply focus itself around correct organizing strategies and correct ideas, but must turn its focus to the dynamic motions of the working class presently, with all its many contradictions and disunities arising from the variegated racial, gendered, and national backgrounds.
It must be emphasized that although the scientific consensus is that we have less than a decade to literally save the planet from the potentially-irreversible failures of past generations and from those currently presiding over the complete devastation of the human and natural worlds, we must have a long-term plan. Base-building is that long-term plan.
It is not enough to build strong networks among trusted cadre- we must vastly expand those networks beyond those already on the far-left by engaging side-by-side, year-by-year, with our class against our class enemies. It is not enough to make personal preparations for survival—we must organize toward seizing state power on continental scales through winning the trust of the most oppressed—of those who have the strongest class interest in overthrowing the existing order.
While this can seem a lofty impossibility, never forget the incredible feats of revolutionaries past. Remember that a relatively small organization composed mainly of 20-30 year olds were able to win the trust and support of the Russian people and seize 1/6th of the world’s landmass within a few years. Remember that 50 revolutionaries landed on an island nation, immediately were slaughtered down to a few dozen comrades, and were still able to succeed victorious in their unlikely journey to wrest away Cuba from its expropriators. We must transpose the lessons of the victories of our predecessors so that we can lay the foundations for the victories of our successors.
For the first time in human history, the overthrow of capitalism and its rapid transformation into an equitable and sustainable socialist world order is no longer simply a matter of the betterment of society, but the survival of humanity. It is imperative that we proceed with direction, and do not simply engage in the work we find personally comfortable.
Forward now, while we still can.