From Theory To Practice

A policy adopted by Solidarity Winnipeg in Feb. 2020

Our ultimate goal is replacing capitalism with ecosocialism. We understand that it would take titanic struggles by very powerful mass social movements to break with capitalism and start a transition towards ecosocialism. What does this mean for how we participate in the low level kinds of community and workplace action against attacks or for reforms that we can be involved with today?

We can put our politics into practice with a strategy of “independent mass action.” This involves “trying to build movements which reach out and bring masses into motion on issues where they are willing to struggle against policies of the ruling class, and through their involvement in action, deepen their understanding of those issues… This is the concept of getting people into motion, into action. Not talking down to them, but organizing actions which are able to give expression to the mass opposition to the policies of the ruling class, at the level of understanding that people have reached about what’s happening in this society. It’s the concept of bringing masses into motion, but at all times keeping the movement independent of the ruling class.”[1]

This strategy is connected to a key insight of Karl Marx (frequently ignored by would-be Marxists): the key to changing people on a large scale is for them to change themselves, and this can only happen through their own experiences.

This strategy is different from a liberal approach. Liberalism assumes that the system basically works and the solution to problems is to find responsive politicians. The liberal strategy often relies on lobbying. When liberals call demonstrations, the goal is still to persuade sympathetic politicians, who are seen as the key players.

This strategy is different from a social democratic strategy. Its way to make change is to elect left candidates into government office while unions engage in routine collective bargaining for the workers they represent and advocacy groups lobby on behalf of other people.

A mass action strategy also differs from an ultra-left strategy that substitutes the militant actions of small numbers of people for mass organizing. This either assumes that mass social movements of ordinary people are impossible or undesirable, or wrongly thinks small-scale militant actions can be a short cut to a mass movement.

In pursuing an independent mass action approach, we should promote democratic self-organization. Participating in democratically planning and carrying out activity develops people’s skills and reduces reliance on politicians, union officials, NGO staff, and experienced organizers.

We should argue for solidarity, encouraging people to understand that “An injury to one is an injury to all.”

It’s also important to foster militancy. This means taking steps towards the kinds of mass direct action tactics that have the most power, such as strikes, occupations and blockades. Taking steps means organizing escalation.


A staircase ascending from bottom left to top right. Each Step is an escalation of pressure. On the bottom step is "Popular Education: Teach-ins, workshops, etc"'; the next step is "Petition"; the next step is "Symbolic actions: Banner drops, Flash mobs, etc"; the next step is "Local Actions"; the next step is "Small Demonstrations"; the next step is "Large demonstrations"; the next step is "One-day strike"; the next step is "Direct actions"; the next step is "Few-days to one-week strike"; the next step is "General unlimited strike" at the top of the staircase is "STRIKE";
Image from 2015 article by Rushdia Mehreen and David Gray-Donald “Movement in Quebec: A Critical Retrospective of the Organizing”

In practicing a mass action strategy, the most effective way to work is through what Jane McAlevey calls “organizing.” This “places the agency for success with a continually expanding base of ordinary people, a mass of people never previous involved, who don’t consider themselves activists at all,” and “whose power is derived from their ability to withdraw labour or other cooperation from those who rely on them.” This is different from “mobilizing,” which “brings large numbers of people to the fight” [2] but ends up relying on people who support a cause instead of building a base in workplaces and/or communities.

[1] Peter Camejo, “Liberalism, Ultraleftism or Mass Action” (1970). One doesn’t have to agree with this article’s “single issue” approach to movement-building to appreciate the argument quoted here.

[2] Jane McAlevey, No Shortcuts (2016). This book’s politics aren’t our social-struggle ecosocialism, but it’s worth reading critically.

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