Overcommitment Destroys Democracy

part of Post-ISO Reflections: Essays and proposals on democracy and organization

The left stands for fighting exploitation but doesn’t seem to be above working its own membership to the bone.  Apparently it’s not just communes and cooperatives where workers manage themselves like capitalists, but socialist groups too.

During Occupy Philly, there were at least 30 people who quit their jobs to be full-time Occupiers and 5-10 people who dropped out of college.  This is ridiculous.  The Left does not have to be about disadvantaging yourself any further than capitalism already has; ideally it should be about fighting for a better life for yourself, too.

The real damage these people did was hard to measure.  Their sheer sacrifice did not assist the movement.  It destroyed it.  Their full-time participation led them to dominate the movement so hard that ordinary people who were not constantly at the encampment were dismissed, and had no real say in decision-making.

Obviously the super-campers, probably influenced by anarchism, are an extreme example.  However a more everyday example is the typical Leftist activist who puts so much time into building their organization that they start slipping up when it comes to practical things like work, school, career, money.  For many people the system is rigged to be sure, and any “shortcomings” are to be blamed on the system, not on the activist.  But a lot of activists are just entirely one-track-mind people who will talk endlessly about applying Marxist materialist pragmatism to politics but utterly forget to apply it to their own personal lives.

Is this good for the movement?  Sometimes.  But again – it’s often really bad.

It’s not just that these people end up as self-disadvantaged wrecks who start burning out or become ever-more hardline and sectarian in their need to justify their manic behavior to themselves.

It’s also that they scare away normal people with jobs/kids/lives, also known as The Actual Working Class, who are neither willing nor able to match that level of commitment.

(1)    People who are too committed come off as crazy and scare away the normal people.

(2)    People who are too committed destroy organizational democracy by creating a culture where only the opinion of The Most Dedicated ends up mattering in discussion and debate.

(3)    The level of fanatical emotional investment by The Most Dedicated makes it really difficult to have any kind of removed, objective assessment of activity in which someone might say something critical.  This is all the worse when someone suggests something critical which is not immediately obvious, or already half-suspected.  Criticism of current activities becomes seen as an egotistical, petty distraction.


One thought on “Overcommitment Destroys Democracy

  1. Pingback: Post-ISO Reflections: Essays and proposals on democracy and organization | spreadtheinfestation

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