Organising Versus Activism

organizing work

JS Richard describes the difference between activism and organizing, arguing that activism is politically ineffective and should be abandoned for an organizing approach.

This is further afield than our usual workplace organizing pieces, but is relevant to debates within the IWW about what kinds of activity the union should engage in.  –Ed.

Activism has become the main political approach for the radical left in North America. It has been used without much consideration of its strategic validity for at least 30 years, and the results it has brought about are thin. Several elements condemn activism to political sterility. An “organizing” approach to political activity would be far more effective.

What is activism?

Activism can be identified as political activity that sets up short-term actions and statements on variety of causes and social problems. It moves from one issue to the next, once a sufficient expression of dissent has been voiced. It is based on an abstract opposition in principle rather than an attempt to obtain concrete concessions from the people in power, be they bosses, state officials, landlords, etc.. Activism is usually scattered politically, reactive and unfocused. For example, Google sets up shop in a city, and pushes the local government to destroy cheaper housing to make room for luxury condos; activists answer this by parachuting themselves, as militants, into the neighborhood, postering and leafleting for a bit, organizing one or two demos… and then move on when a policeman shoots a teen in the back, dropping the “old” issue for the new one, and so on.

There are, of course, organisations that fight in relation to these issues in a sustained and meaningful way. The issues are not in question. The point is that activism is often, if not always, futile in addressing social problems.

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