A Brief Note on the Spontaneist Case for a Turn to Organizing

Recent events, namely, the wave of mass struggles spearheaded by the grassroots movement for Black lives, have fully vindicated the ‘spontaneist’ argument that the Left mainly advances through self-activating protest upsurges and the political dynamism and social ferment they generate, not through recruiting people one-by-one into steadily growing membership organizations.

Minneapolis, 2020, protesting the police murder of George Floyd.

Nevertheless, it has always been part of the spontaneist argument to insist that, once spontaneity has done its work of activating masses of people and generating waves of oppositional enthusiasm, it is crucial for organized parts of the Left to consolidate these advances and draw newly activated people into forms of sustained commitment to longer-term organizing projects. Only in this way, spontaneists insist, can we prevent the dissipation of the movement’s energies under the pressures of ‘everyday’ social integration and the reassertion of capitalist ‘normality.’

Massive surge in popular support for movement aims

The spontaneity of the militant popular struggles of 2020 has already had a transformative impact on popular consciousness and in this way lent core aims of the anti-systemic Far Left, like police-abolition and anti-capitalist revolution, a relevance to broad publics that they have lacked for generations. It’s now time, though, to shift from an overriding emphasis on agitation — activating people by creating entry points into struggle — to a new, more focussed emphasis on organization — drawing people into long-term collaborative projects and an ongoing engagement as regular participants in the work of the activist Left.

In the present conjucture, therefore, the dispute between those who insist on the primacy of organizing and those, like me, who insist on the primacy of agitation and spontaneity, is temporarily suspended: we should all agree, right now, about the urgency of the task of consolidating and integrating large numbers of newly activated and politicized people into the organized activism of the anti-systemic Left.

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