So maybe we’ve stopped asking people to dedicate themselves to the hilt. We should still go further. If overtaxing people goes hand-in-hand with authoritarianism, taking care of people goes hand-in-hand with democracy.
If we are going to drop the hyper-specific party line model as the basis for organizational membership (because it precludes democracy), we need something else to take its place. It’s true that groups like Solidarity have no party line but still have members. However their lack of clear, specific theory can give people little reason to stay in the group (in the same way, conversely, that too much specific theory can keep people from joining).
So what is the solution? It is not to abandon specific ideas or theory entirely. Rather instead we can begin basing membership not only on theory, but also on human relationships. We can even tend to our “human infrastructure” rather than overtaxing it.
We need to turn Leftist organizations into, not only political networks, but friend networks and even economic networks. Not as a side-effect, but consciously. Not as a nicety, but as a political strategy. Also these networks must not be exclusive based on current membership, amount of work done, or agreement with specific ideas. Shunning and dropping people after they quit is for cults. We believe in solidarity.
Social networks as political strategy? Yes, intentional community-building is a political strategy, perhaps equally as or more effective than marching around with signs. A study by Doug McAdam of the University of Arizona focused on the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Movement. McAdam looked for different reasons why 75% of the participants stuck with it and 25% of them dropped out. The most important factors turned out to not be their level of political sophistication or their emotional commitment. The critical telling factor was, when participants were asked to write a list of all the people they personally knew in the movement, the dropouts had the shortest lists, and the holdouts had the longest. People stayed because they had a larger amount of real relationships with other people.
Too many ideology-based organizations look like the figure on the left side of the below image. We need to consciously create stronger networks. We need to make it so people don’t only know oneor two other people in the group. We need to intentionally socialize, and we can also break up the divisions of labor in our groups as to form new situations of exposure which lead to relationships.
It’s true that the Left can’t employ itself. If everyone was paid staff and everyone paid dues, that would be a Ponzi scheme with no actual money being made. So that’s not what is being proposed.
Once a Leftist helped me move into a city by finding me an apartment listing. I then returned the favor by directing my landlady toward this Leftist’s freelance editing services. A lot of us are religious deviants, often atheists, who don’t have the traditional network of a church as a social support system, but the fact is churches aren’t just about worship; they are also places where connections are made. And there is nothing dirty or petit-bourgeois about this. People need to find housing, jobs, childcare, who knows what else! This is about having a supportive community that will help you out, not something corrupt like making graft arrangements in smoke-filled backrooms. Movements and organizations are made of human material, and in order to sustain the movements and organizations, we must sustain the human material. It’s like gardening.
Furthermore, having this focus on human material probably makes a group more sensitive to the actual realities and needs of oppressed groups, such as women’s need for an organization to provide childcare to make sure the women members can participate, or the difficulties which low-income people and people of color deal with when asked to meet at certain places, because they may take public transit instead of driving.