By Graham Hughes
Themes: Organizing, Social Justice, Anti-Racism, Education and Learning
Malcolm X once said, “We are not outnumbered. We are out-organized.” In the midst of the multiple, intersecting crises we face today, as well as the mass protests sweeping my home country, the United States, these words have been running through my mind almost constantly. We need to get organized. In this article I will make the case for economic democracy as one of several central strategies that must be simultaneously pursued to do just that – get organized. In order to deal with the multiple intersecting crises of our time, including the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic crisis it has triggered, the impending climate disaster, and the systemic racism underpinning all of this, we need a set of strategies as comprehensive and interdependent as the crises themselves. Making this argument is essential because dealing with these crises requires that we develop and implement strategies that can equal them in scope, and challenge their root causes. No one form of action and change, political, social, environmental, or economic, is enough to deal with the crises at hand. We need multiple, reinforcing, radical strategies for making change. This is exactly what the strategy of Dual Power presents: the political power of the working class standing in opposition to the capitalist state.
The Nature of the Crises
COVID-19 is a severe crisis for the world, and in particular the Western world. The public health crisis it has brought on has already taken hundreds of thousands of lives, and the economic crisis it has triggered has the potential to be the most severe collapse in a century. In addition, climate change is bearing down upon us, threatening to destroy the environments we depend on to survive and displacing billions of people the world over. Underlying these crises, very palpable in Canada and the United States, the long history of racism built into every social system and institution ensures that people of color are the most heavily impacted by these crises.
Today, one of the most powerful combinations of radical and revolutionary anti-capitalist, anti-racist strategies that ... can actually deal with the roots of these crises, is a set of strategies known as Dual Power.
None of these crises can be understood on their own, however. In fact, they are all deeply connected. The root cause of all these crises are the same political, economic, and social systems that have been at the root of every major world crisis of the last 300 years: capitalism and White supremacy. Two interdependent social systems, capitalism and White supremacy depend upon one another to exist. As an economic system, capitalism is designed around private ownership of property to make profits for those that own it. In order for this system to have emerged and consolidated, where a massive amount of private property and wealth are concentrated in the hands of a few, mostly White men, dispossession and oppression needed to occur on a massive scale, specifically to people of color. In order for it to continue to generate wealth for this small and select group, the masses of the population across the world – the 99% -- must only be able to exist by selling their ability to work to those property owners. To ensure that people do not rise up against this system that is designed to exploit them, and to make sure there is always a group of people who can be endlessly extracted from, anti-Black racism is required. Additionally, those property owners must be able to extract as many resources as they desire from the ultimate source of all resources: the earth.
In the last 50 years especially, the neoliberal stage of capitalism has seen welfare states and public health systems defunded and privatized, causing a significant rise in precarious forms of employment and inequality, built on an economy designed to extract as much wealth from its citizens and this planet as possible. This is the root cause of these intersecting crises, and in order to truly deal with the problems they have caused, multiple intersecting strategies that go right to the root of the problem are required.
The Dual Power Solution
Today, one of the most powerful combinations of radical and revolutionary anti-capitalist, anti-racist strategies that does exactly this, which can actually deal with the roots of these crises, is a set of strategies known as Dual Power. Originally, Dual Power was a term used by Russian Revolutionaries like Lenin and Trotsky to describe a political power of the working class which exists in direct competition with the capitalist state for authority over the population (Colón, et. al., 2017). When it was first used it was essentially a descriptive term, but today Dual Power is used by some socialists and leftists to describe the purposeful building of working-class power which can compete with capitalist power in both politics and economics (Colón, et. al., 2017).
In practice, this involves combining models and practices of economic democracy, like cooperatives, community land trusts, and local currencies, with directly democratic structures go local governance, like participatory budgeting and peoples assemblies (Colón, et. al., 2017). The idea behind Dual Power is that in order to have a world capable of meeting everyone’s needs and overcoming racialized capitalism, we need to figure out how to, at the same time, survive within, struggle against, and build beyond that system. We need political and economic organizations that model, or prefigure, the type of just, equitable, and sustainable world we want to live in.
Tom Malleson (2014) describes what a world based on participatory and direct democracy combined with practices of economic democracy could look like once we overcome capitalism, and it is beautiful. Building such models or systems now will not only help us demonstrate to people that our systems work better than capitalism, helping to generate uptake for our program, it will also help us meet the needs of our communities immediately. Additionally, these new models of political and economic organization will enable us to build sustainable, long term organizations capable of fighting against and eventually overcoming the power of the capitalist state. By providing for the basic needs of our communities first, outside of the grip of global capitalism, we are able to escape from the control capitalism has over our ability to reproduce ourselves and our communities. This will enhance our ability to engage in political struggle directly against the capitalist state, a struggle that must necessarily happen in order to overcome capitalism. In many ways, these Dual Power strategies take many of the strongest aspects of a number of leftist revolutionary strategies and theories and combines them in mutually reinforcing ways, and has the potential to unite many forces on the left who now fall into separate political tendencies. In all these ways and more, Dual Power has the potential to be the strategies that finally break capitalism.
The Opportunities of Crises
In the United States today there are already a number of Dual Power projects underway. One of the most notable projects is Cooperation Jackson, an organization based in Jackson, Mississippi dedicated to building a comprehensive solidarity economy for and by the Black community, with alliances with other solidarity groups, in concert with directly democratic community governance in the form of people’s assemblies (Akuno & Nangwaya, 2017). Cooperation Jackson has combined this work with electoral politics, having successfully elected representatives to the city government of Jackson. Cooperation Jackson is still young, having existed for less than ten years, and the building of a comprehensive solidarity economy based on revolutionary politics takes a lot of time given how deeply entrenched capitalism is, even contemporary practices of economic democracy. However, the possibilities and lessons from Cooperation Jackson are already many, and the potential for its growth is clear, especially given the current political moment in the United States
Not only are we in the midst of a global pandemic that has killed more than a hundred thousand people in North America and triggered one of the most severe economic collapses in modern history, the past weeks have also seen the largest and most explosive social movement in recent memory. The George Floyd Rebellion/Black Lives Matter movement has demonstrated that despite, and in many ways because of, the severely precarious lives and daily struggles of many people around the country, there is an incredible amount of energy and desire for change. The protests have been ignited by the brutal murders of Black people by police in the United States, but they are built on decades of oppression and exploitation. The demands of the current movement reflect this understanding, as many have connected the calls to defund the police with calls for an expansion of social services and the welfare state, and for placing economic resources under community control.
What We Must Do
The energy, desire, and need for building and carrying out Dual Power is clearly here now. The major challenge that remains in its way, other than the overwhelming power of racial capitalism of course, is the absence of unified organizations capable of carrying it out. Cooperation Jackson stands out as a golden example, and there are other projects of Dual Power to be sure, but in order for this strategy to truly challenge neoliberal capitalism in the United States organizations like Cooperation Jackson need to exist in pretty much every city. Perhaps a network of similar organizations can link up with other radical sites of economic democracy emerging in cities the country-over, such as Seattle’s Capital Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ). Additionally, there should be national and international organizations that can help organize and coordinate the work on larger scales, and provide spaces for local leaders to share knowledge and resources. Such organizations could include the newly formed Progressive International, the World Social Forum, sympathetic unions, and other similar network of networks on the radical left. Building up these organizations and strengthening the solidarity and connections between them would be hard work, but in many places there are already groups and organizations that can be built upon and transformed into vehicles of Dual Power. This is the challenge that should and must be taken up by anyone who believes in the potential of these strategies. We must build the types of organizations capable of carrying these strategies.
The significance and opportunity of our current political and historical moment truly cannot be overstated. Multiple, intersecting crises in public health, the economy, and systemic racism have brought to a head the decades of oppression and exploitation communities have experienced under neoliberal capitalism in America, as climate change looms just beyond the horizon. In order to overcome these challenges and build the type of just and equitable world we all deserve, we need a set of strategies equal to the task. We need Dual Power, a set of strategies that combines solidarity economics with direct, participatory democracy to build anti-capitalist, anti-racist power capable of challenge neoliberal capitalism. Following the lead of organizers in Jackson, Mississippi, every community around the United States and Canada – and, indeed, across the world – can and must begin to build the type of organizations capable of carrying out the Dual Power strategy. It is well past time to build a democratic economy and society that truly works for all of us and the planet, but we may be facing the greatest opportunity to realize that vision in a generation. We just have to seize it. As Assata Shakur once said, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
Akuno, K., & Nangwaya, A. (Eds.). (2017). Jackson Rising: The Struggle for Economic Democracy and Black Self-Determination inJackson, Mississippi. Montreal, Quebec: Daraja Press.
• This text is a collection of essays surrounding the work of Cooperation Jackson, The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and the radical work going on in Jackson, MI. It is very useful for engaging with both the theories and a current application of the Dual Power strategy for marginalized, racialized, and oppressed communities, for mapping out a solidarity economics, and for learning about how economic democracy is being taken up by Black communities in the city of Jackson, Mississippi.
Colón, J. M., Herson-Hord, M., Horvath, K. S., Martindale, D., & Porges, M. (2017). Community, Democracy, & Mutual Aid: Toward Dual Power and Beyond. The Next System Project.
• This text makes the case for using practices of Dual Power and economic democracy to fight against, survive within, and build beyond the capitalist world we live in today. It illustrates what Dual Power is, how it relates to practices of economic democracy, and describe the revolutionary potential of this set of strategies, especially in the face of crisis.
Malleson, Tom. (2014). Conclusion, Toward a Feasible Socialism for the 21st Century. In After Occupy: Economic Democracy for the 21st Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press (pp. 198-217).
• This text describes the possibilities for building economic democracy and market socialism on a large scale in the world today. It can help define and describe economic democracy, as well explore the possibilities for its realization on a large scale.
Vieta, Marcelo. (2020). The Emergence of the Social and Solidarity Economy. In Workers’ Self-Management in Argentina: Contesting Neo-liberalism by Occupying Companies, Creating Cooperatives, and Recuperating Autogestión. Leiden: Brill (pp. 339-347).
• This text discusses the theoretical and practical aspects of the emergence of economic democracy emerging from the worker-recuperated enterprises (empresas recuperadas por sust trabajadores) in Argentina. It is helpful in illustrating the possibilities for building economic democracy that comes from out of crises.