Anarchist concepts 3: Dual power strategy

As the multitude begin to trust government less and less, and often as the government’s own resources begin to dwindle, alternative associations for the provisions of public goods and services are often created. This is a natural and quite spontaneous process.

It can also be done with revolutionary intent. Making arrangements to provide food, childcare, homes, medical services, even electricity when the state will not provide them achieves a lot of things you might think are desirable. It shows that the people do not need the state, draws attention to the deficiencies of the state’s social provisions, and creates strong communities which may contain the roots of an alternative to state power.

In their ultimate form, sets of interlocking “alternative institutions” start to look like an alternative to the state itself, having the potential to replace it. Indeed if these structures grow as the state contracts in power, a situation of dual power has arisen. Two bodies exist, one based on the people, the other based on the state, both of which claim something like sovereignty over an area. If all goes well the state eventually becomes a figment on official papers and in the minds of a dwindling number of bureaucratic functionaries.

The dual power strategy is the use of concrete measures to pursue such a situation. These measures include peoples’ kitchens, community justice institutions, squatters networks, solidarity economies and the like. Also crucial is the creation of popular assemblies capable of coordinating these provisions, as well as counter-state, counter-corporate activism.

As a praxis it’s far from indisputably correct and there’s no anarchist consensus that it’s the right tactic. Many argue that it lets the state and capitalists “off the hook” by not bringing the fight to them and challenging their right to control the material resources they hold. Insurrectionists criticise it for lacking an immediacy and drive to attack, syndicalists sometimes regard it as leaving untouched the real gears of power. It’s sometimes also criticised as a kind of extra-parliamentary reformism, seeking to improve things under the current regime rather than walking a viable road to revolution.

The supporter of the strategy will argue back that if one isn’t interested in state power, one had best have an alternative ready to go immediately. Further, the contrast between “militant action” and the “soft” alternate provision of resources is often more real than imagined. Alternative institutions can attract new activists for “militant action” and besides, there’s often confrontation aplenty; the state usually finds ways to object to even the most modest alternative institutions. Further, says the supporter of dual power, there is no conflict between syndicalism and the dual power strategy, the movement can benefit from both. Indeed at its strongest, syndicalist unionism can become to management what dual power is to the state.

Who’s right? Fucked if I know. In practice I think the most useful approach is to take things day by day, and to see what tactics are working in what context. Few tactics are entirely valueless, and the important thing is to maintain a profusion of activity, and to deploy a variety of tactics.

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About timothyscriven

I study philosophy at Sydney University. In the grand scheme, I'm not very important.
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