Why do we need political organizations?

David Camfield

What’s a “political organization”?

A “political organization” is simply a group that promotes a broad vision of what society as a whole should be like and has at least some ideas about how to work towards that goal.

This is different from organizations that are focused on one or two issues, such as community groups that mobilize or organize around housing, public transit or climate change, for example. It’s also different from unions, and from social movements that arise around an issue or struggle (genuine movements are typically made up of a variety of organizations).

There are many different kinds of political organizations, such as

  • parties that exist only or mostly to win elections within capitalist democracies, like the NDP and Quebec Solidaire
  • parties that organize extensively outside official politics and also take part in elections, like the Party of Socialism and Freedom in Brazil
  • groups that exist to exert pressure on government through official political channels, like LeadNow and the Council of Canadians
  • large or small political groups of the left or right (which sometimes misleadingly call themselves parties) – Momentum (in the UK) and the Democratic Socialists of America are large ones, while Solidarity Halifax is a small one
  • religious groups with a political vision, like the right-wing Muslim fundamentalist Hizb ut-Tahrir

Are political organizations needed?

Solidarity Winnipeg believes that powerful mass social movements are the key to transforming society to achieve social and ecological justice, including uprooting colonialism.

But we recognize that political organizations committed to that long-term goal and that perspective on how to achieve it are also needed.

We’re a very small group working to lay the basis for a specific kind of radical political organization: one with a vision of mass struggle to replace capitalism with a more democratic kind of society and uproot all forms of oppression, an organization that works in and with other groups to organize for social change.

Why do we need that kind of organization today?

Because there hasn’t been a small but serious and non-sectarian (sectarian groups treat their own particular interests as more important than advancing struggles and organizing) radical political organization in Winnipeg for a long time, few people realize what one could do.

The kind of small political organization we want to lay the basis for could do things that unions and broader groups devoted to community and campus organizing can’t do – and that individuals can’t do by themselves either.

It could unite people who share a common vision so we can

  • educate ourselves in a common politics and analyze what’s going on around us
  • promote those ideas to other people, arguing for an understanding of how society works and how it could be transformed
  • train ourselves and other people to be radical organizers for change
  • cooperate so we can learn from others and be more effective builders of the other groups and campaigns in which we’re active.

Groups that organize around specific issues often rise and fall along with the level of struggle. A political organization can provide continuity, sharing the lessons of past experiences with people today, to help make organizing and struggles stronger. As US socialist Chris Maisano notes, “While organizers can’t bring a mass movement into existence on their own, organized groups of radicals have played a key role in guiding and supporting these upsurges whenever they’ve occurred.”

Why isn’t there a group like that already?

In Canada today, the radical left is weak (if you want to understand why, Alan Sears’ book The Next New Left is a good place to start). There’s no multi-city political organization committed to the vision we support, only an assortment of very small radical left groups (including a couple with a vision similar to ours).

It’s not easy to build a radical political organization from scratch. That’s especially true for people like us who reject the dogmatic certainties of some anti-capitalists and who’re humbly aware of the limits of small political groups including our own. But we want to give it a try. Will you join or support us?

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