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February 12, 2006

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Nate

hi Jodi,

Thanks for this. I'm pressed for time just now but I really want to respond, so I'm likely to be clumsy here, apologies in advance for any poor wording on my part.. I like your remark that ours is a disagreement enabled by solidarity. That's a nice phrase, and an even better idea. I'll get back to you on the theory/practice bit - I phrased what I said clumsily, I mean something more like 'theoretical reflection applied at the register of techniques rather than foundations of politics' but I need more time to get clearer on that.

On the rest: I didn't mean to say that the party and democratic centralism _can_ instrumentalize and obfuscate their power dynamics. I think it's central to what those organizational forms do, and that the history of them bears this out. I am in a bit of corner here, though, as I'm also committed to the idea that people sometimes do what they shouldn't be able to, overcome the limits of their patterned activities, which means I have to concede that these organizational forms are not reducible to the qualities that motivate my rejections thereof, and that you could probably find examples that bear this out in history. But those negative qualities are still, to my mind, the salient features. I suspect the sticking point between us is the state, which is a longer conversation.

Two more things -
First, I don't mean that solidarity is defensive as such. I meant that the politics I've encountered where the term has come up have been defensive politics, and so this gives me pause when you talk about it. Certainly the term is not reducible to this by any means, I meant more to articulate (in large part to my self, to get clearer in my head) why I was balking when I read your post. Incidentally, this touches on an issue that has come up a few times around people I know in the IWW. That issue is how our organization relates to movements for rank and file democracy in the business unions (Teamster For A Democratic Union, for instance) as well as other projects that tend to be in the millieu that at least some IWW members tend to come out of (progressive business union locals, Worker centers, Jobs With Justice coalitions, Food Not Bombs, Copwatch, Anti-Racist Action, etc). I'm solidly in the camp that while all of those activities are very important they should not be our primary activity. The primary activity should be organizing new collectivities, not defending existing ones. Those defensive fights are important, sometimes unavoidable, but we'll have more power to win them the more organized we are. I suspect we agree on this in some sense.

Second, I meant my remarks on organizing the unorganized to refer to my own activity in the IWW, but that's certainly not the only worthwhile endeavor. (It is one of the best in my view, though, which is why I'm a member.) Membership in the union is not a black and white thing - someone who is active in a shop committee but doesn't pay dues is a member in some sense, but not in others - this something I'll have to relegate to a future reflection as well, as my sense is that there are sort of loose interconnected clouds of memberships that make up the actually existing organization. At a very basic level, by organize the unorganized I meant basically start workplace campaigns. I'm squarely in the 'action in the economic realm instead of the political' camp - the union, not the party. (Also, to be clear, I'm not a reductionist about class, well, not entirely so, but capital and class are my own primary concerns in terms of what politics I get involved in largely because I hate having to have to work.)

Lastly, I'm in complete agreement that the view should be widely put forward that things will not come easily. My friend Chris Carlsson speaks quite eloquently about the need for radical patience alongside our much needed class anger and impatience (these last two are my terms, not his).

And I am all for a certain type of responsibility to the organization, for accountability - for instance, at the very basic level, how should organizational funds be used? What should the standards be for militants who get funds? They should certainly be accountable to the group and should not have carte blanche (sp?) to do as they wish with money given by the organization. But this needs to be a two way flow... I'm not sure how much of that can be solved by formal organization structure, I think regularized organized informal activity is really key (ie, relationships and frequent contacts and conversation) to navigating all of this. Another way to say this is that I think, following Jon, that solidarity is much more a matter of affect than principle/idea (hence, that's the level at which inquiry into solidarity should be addressed - the organization of affect and techniques for that). I hope this makes sense.

take care,
Nate

AT

Jodi, great post. No time to respond here -- wish I had done so in my current post -- but suffice it to say I see a convergence in what you say here (e.g., "What I now think is that there are times and places where the specificities of feelings and identities don't matter, where [what?] one [...?] personally wants--or wants to express--is really quite beside the point") and the Levinasian perspective I'm trying to develop. Ultimately I think there are really two levels at issue here which tend to get confused, but which I think are helpful to separate -- the initial, "meta" level that the "solidarity as event" notion tries to speak to, and the subsequent, calculative, "what is the form taken by the organization or relationship that issues from the event?" issue, which you also address here. The virtue of separating them (and prioritizing the initial, "solidarity as event" question, I would add) is that I think it may help diffuse some of the worst tendencies of the subsequent calculation of the organizational form, by injecting an essential note of humility -- no particular organizational form is the one true answer, e.g., every organization has to be vigilant about its own exclusions, prepared for the next "event of solidarity" that will expand its horizons, call its received answers into question, etc. etc. Anyway, more to follow I'm sure --

Jodi

Adam, I like your separation very much. It has been confused in my thinking thus far and your clarification is very helpful. In part, my confusion may have to do with a certain reticience toward considering solidarity affectively (Jon's suggestion). I worry that an affective account fails to allow for the kind of 'subjective destitution' brought about by the Event and that needs to carry through in fidelity to the Event. I also learn from you response that I am confusing the Form of the Party (the necessity of some kind of mediation/formalization of the Event from the standpoint of its Truth) with the Party as a specific organizational form.

AT

Thanks, Jodi. I think your concern with the affective version of solidarity is well-taken, and it's precisely that concern that both Levinas and Agamben address in different ways -- that is, by specifying their own forms of "subjective destitution" without, however, losing the emphatic, "motivational" oomph (scare-quotes remaining necessary until I think of a better word for this) that the affective model speaks to -- i.e., subjective destitution without the de-natured, bloodless, abstract, rationalistic quality of the Kantian model of solidarity that essentially characterizes our modern politics (or at least our modern thinking about politics). Levinas tries to achieve this through the ontologically constituitive ethical priority of the Other, and Agamben tries to achieve it through the notion of "Being as the (shared) event of beings in language." Ultimately for me Levinas's (interpreted via Derrida, etc.) works and Agamben's doesn't, but I find Agamben's fascinating as a point of departure in part because it seems to me the purest and best attempt to articulate the problem of solidarity (or community, as he calls it) from the side of the ultimate, ideal "organizational form" that we have going today. As such, I think it has an enormous amount to recommend it, and even suspect (without yet trying to articulate this) that it adds something fundamental to the Levinasian approach which comes at the problem from the other side, solidarity as "event" and so on. On one hand, I think the Levinasian model is ultimately truer to our finitude, but then again (this is my doubt about my Levinasian preference and suspicion about Agamben's most unassailable contribution), precisely because we are finite, we all need something solid to hold on to, or hold in front of us, and this is what Agamben, I think -- at an incredibly rarefied level, but substantive nonetheless -- may give us . . . .

Jodi

Adam, I look forward to reading more of you on this. I have a hard time at this point working with Agamben's 'shared event of beings in language.' This is likely because my reading of him has been partial and likely influenced by Zizek. Your point about the abstraction of the Kantian version is well-taken--but perhaps mitigated somewhat by attention to the stain (objet a) that makes complete abstraction possible/impossible.

Nate, I think that Adam's version of the different levels can help order our agreements and disagreements somewhat, particularly on the matter of organizational structure. As you say, there are very real issues of resources at stake as well as of organizing, organizing, organizing. To damage or limit these activities through premature theoretical dogmatism is mindless and irresponsible. What I get stuck with is your phrase 'union not party.' This is a real challenge to me to think about. I hate thinking that there should be a choice--but yet, real work and real strategy requires one, or so it would seem. Multiple paths or roads could also work, yet, in some ways this might be counter to the kind of militant, disciplined, solidary movement I have in mind. I need to learn and think more on this point.

Nate

hi Jodi,
Me too. Thanks for saying so. Please share your reading lists!
My sense is that we're having a conversation that's connected to some very old debates in the working class movement. I wish I knew more about all of that (if I had the time and energy I'd really like to just read everything from the First International forward). The vast majority of what I know about that stuff is half-remembered bits of an essay by Sergio Bologna, here:
http://www.geocities.com/cordobakaf/bologna.html

Skimming it again now, the stuff in the beginning of section two looks like what I think is somewhere in the back of my brain.

I don't have any time right now but maybe in a bit if you're interested we could read something together related to this stuff? If not, not a big deal. Hope you're well.

take care,
Nate

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