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SHANTZ, Jeff. "Re-Building Infrastructures of Resistance"
Article published on 29 June 2013
last modification on 26 June 2013

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Title: Re-Building Infrastructures of Resistance

Author(s): Jeff Shantz

Date: 2009

Topics: anarchism anti-poverty economic alternatives organization resistance socialism theory unions

Source: Socialism and Democracy

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Jeff Shantz
Re-Building Infrastructures of Resistance

Possibilities

Reflections

Bibliography

It is sometimes said that while anti-capitalist and alternative globalization movements are clear on what we do not want, we are less clear on what we do want (socialism, anarchism, specifics). Certainly, recent movements have not been as effective as their predecessors (labor in the 1910s and ‘30s; the social movements of the ‘60s and ‘70s) in sustaining the sorts of practices – intellectual and material – that put into effect aspects of the alternative world we seek. My colleague Alan Sears attributes this current inability to a decline in what he calls “infrastructures of dissent” or what I prefer to call “infrastructures of resistance.” As anti-capitalist movements face possibilities of growth, as happened after Seattle in 1999, questions of organization and the relation of various activities to each other and to broader movements for social change can only become more urgent. Yet, the absence of durable organizations or institutions, formal or informal, rooted in working-class organizations and communities, makes for demoralization or a retreat into subculturalism, as has happened to many of the alternative globalization groups. We now face a pressing need to rebuild “infrastructures of resistance” that might sustain not only activists and organizers, but especially the poor and working-class people who are being disastrously impacted by the current crisis.

The notion of “infrastructures of dissent” is drawn from the literature on social movements as developed by resource mobilization theorists such as Mayer Zald and John McCarthy (1990); it refers to the accumulated resources available to social movements in going beyond spontaneous expressions of protest to build sustained mobilization and dissent. Infrastructures of dissent often include the resources of mainstream or reformist groups, like NGOs or unions, which can be used by more radical groups for their own purposes. Writers coming from anarchist and socialist movements, such as Howard Ehrlich and Alan Sears, have developed this notion in a more accessible fashion. Sears (2007) adapts it to refer to a variety of practices by which movements develop their capacities to sustain common memories, build collective visions, voice alternatives, and engage in debate and analysis. As examples, he mentions left caucuses within unions and socialist party organizations. As he notes: “The projects of rebuilding the infrastructure of dissent and revitalizing socialism are integrally connected.” These are clearly limited and problematic.

While such an approach emphasizes formal political organizations, I would argue that more priority should be given to social institutions, informal as well as formal, based on addressing the needs of poor and working-class communities. These contemporary infrastructures of resistance might include community centers, housing and shelter, food shares, transportation, community media, free schools, bookstores, cafes, taverns and clubs.


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