3. 23. 2024

Built to Last

Daniel Sarah Karasik

On October 7, 2023, the most recent post on the Facebook page for IfNotNow Toronto – a group of Jews organizing against Israeli apartheid – dated from December 2021. As it became clear that Israel was launching a genocidal attack on Gaza, DMs crossed the ether: Are any anti-zionist Jews in Toronto organizing right now? Group chats developed; organizers organized. Five months and many mass mobilizations later, the primary IfNotNow Toronto digital organizing space, dormant before October, is populated by around 200 people – just a fraction of those engaged in the Jews Say No to Genocide coalition, of which IfNotNow Toronto is but one member organization.

A similar rapid surge has animated community collectives such as Davenport For Ceasefire, whose main digital organizing channel now hosts hundreds of residents of Toronto’s Davenport neighbourhood and allies. And of course, both locally and globally, Palestinian Youth Movement has become perhaps more visible than ever as a leader in the struggle for Palestinian liberation. Where I live, the group Toronto 4 Palestine has also emerged as a central mobilizing force. And Queers for Palestine groups have led important political education and mobilization in Winnipeg, Toronto, and elsewhere.

In the days right after October 7, the writer Richard Seymour suggested that the Palestine solidarity movement must manufacture our own species of inflationary pressure from below: ratcheting up the political price of Israel’s violence and our governments’ support for it. Today that feels as true as ever. And if the political price is to be pressed skywards in a sustained way, those organizations of resistance that have resurged or emerged during this period will be key levers. To raise the political price of state violence demands that we build an effective mass opposition that can not only flood into the streets to meet a moment of crisis, but also survive between upturns in struggle.


Sustainable awakenings

Organizers who have been focusing on absorption – bringing newly radicalizing comrades into structured forms of community with like-minded others – are doing critical work to create organizations that can endure. Such organizers recognize that people join social movements from a huge diversity of backgrounds, with wildly different levels of prior political education and experience, and need to be patiently, carefully engaged. In the absence of such relationship-building efforts, the powerful undertow of the status quo will tend to drag most people back into more or less depoliticized, atomized forms of social life once the most acute flare of emergency has passed.

Movement absorption’s necessary complement is movement defence. The capitalist state and its police know that a left with well-established organizational infrastructure will be increasingly able to challenge the state and capital’s legitimacy. During moments of uprising, the ruling authorities might use repression inconsistently, or appear to, but the logic of that repression tends to be not just generalized intimidation but especially the tactical defanging of organizations and organizers who might pose a credible threat to the established state power.

Those arrested in November for wheatpasting posters and splashing paint on an Indigo bookstore’s windows in Toronto, for example, were experienced, knowledgeable organizers. Release conditions can mean such individuals are unable to be in dialogue with comrades while they’re awaiting trial. Some people snared in repressive roundups may have little or nothing to do with the actions of which they’re accused, so the lesson to be drawn from that repression can’t be simply “avoid direct action” or “don’t take risks”: the state might come for us anyway. The question is which risks? And how do those risks relate to the fundamental task of building durable power for the forces of anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism?

Our assessment of risk as organizers or mobilizers in the Canadian state can’t be based on a confidence that the state will exercise restraint, unless we assume the agents of repression in Canada operate with fundamentally different motives and incentives compared to police elsewhere. From Minneapolis to Santiago, Greece to Nigeria, cops have brutalized people simply for marching. In 2019, Chilean police exploded hundreds of protesters’ eyes through the use of “less-lethal” munitions. Athenian cops seem to find an excuse to deploy tear gas, an agent banned in warfare under the Chemical Weapons Convention, at nearly every march in the Greek capital. And the police apply outsize criminal charges with equal impunity, as we see in the case of draconian racketeering charges – alongside apparent assassination – wielded against #StopCopCity protesters in Atlanta.

The state is formidable. The conflict between anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist forces and the capitalist, imperialist state will almost certainly remain asymmetrical in the short to medium term; our understanding of it should therefore be informed by examples of asymmetric conflict between the repressive state and its opposition in all parts of the world, while accounting for local specifics, including the fact that the state’s violent authoritarian tendencies can tend to be (but are by no means always) more disguised in Canada. The important caveat that there are more of us than there are of them runs into the problem that in countries of the Global North, many people’s material interests are entangled with those of the ruling class – interests in the value of land, resource extraction, and stock markets in which pension funds and other retirement savings are invested, for example. These are structural complicities that shape consciousness, and perhaps only a structural crisis of capitalism will be able to unravel them altogether.

Still, even amidst those complicities, it’s not impossible that a movement of the left could build enough power to change everything – if, as much as we can, we create the conditions for it to grow.


Institutions of politicized joyful communion

How do we forge left infrastructure with maximum resilience, in a context where the risk of repression is always well above zero? Part of the puzzle seems to involve building robust anti-capitalist organizations, ad hoc or formal, that can nurture a mass culture – able to support militancy, but of which militancy is only one part.

One famous example of this dynamic is the Black Panther Party’s approach to base-building. The Panthers created social programs able to root that organization deeply in its communities, a foundation on which the party’s militancy rested. In Sudan, neighbourhood resistance committees have played a critical part in that country’s revolutionary transformations, serving not only as incubators and coordinators of militancy but also as providers of local sanitation services and presenters of Sudanese films. Across the Global South especially, there are abundant examples of such “solidarity infrastructure,” as Cooperative Journal Media puts it. Here in Canada, the moment of the Communist Party’s peak popularity was also the time during which it existed not only as an electoral and mobilizing organization, but also as a generator of anti-capitalist cultural institutions such as theatres

At a New Year’s Eve gathering for Palestine, a chant rose up: No celebration before liberation! It was a beautiful contradiction: the gathering was itself a celebration, revellers leaping together into the air in rhythm with the bounding voices. In fact we must have celebration before liberation – not because a depoliticized joy can replace militancy, but because institutions of politicized joyful communion stoke militancy’s soul and form a layer of its defence.

Militancy can be fragile. While we may or may not need hundreds of comrades at the high-risk direct action, we definitely need thousands of comrades to protect, legitimize, and celebrate the comparative few who, with maximum care, take such risks. We need millions of comrades organized to go on strike when capital and the state, like mobsters, use lurid violence to make an example of militants. And we need organizations resilient enough to provide lasting political homes for those comrades, a resilience measured by the tensile strength of the networks those organizations build together: pooling resources, mobilizing in broad coalitions, advancing ideas through meetings and publications, and helping us find each other.

In the days after a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, a crucial measure of social movement success will be whether we have a stronger movement ecology than we did before October, its organizations more numerous, more connected, and more ready. Solidarity with all who are doing the careful, often invisible work to build towards that horizon.

Daniel Sarah Karasik (they/them) is the managing editor of Midnight Sun. They’ve organized with the network Artists for Climate & Migrant Justice and Indigenous Sovereignty (ACMJIS) and IfNotNow Toronto, among other groups. Their most recent book is the poetry collection Plenitude.