Draft by Jack Langdon & Eli Namay, developed from personal research, and notes from conversations among everyone on the Shred steering committee.
Content & Editorial input by Jessica Aszodi, Ruby Pinto, John Pippen, ellie weinberg, & Davey Anians.
In our current economy, the necessities for a healthy life exist as commodified privileges produced for profit and power, rather than fundamental human rights. We consider cultural activity1 among these human necessities that are distorted and co-opted under capitalism.2 Here, we use a framework called social reproduction theory to contextualize cultural activity in our current world. First, we unpack how we as humans relate to cultural activity, and why it is a human need. We do this by showing that it is a fundamental way we care for ourselves and each other. Then, we show how cultural activity is used by the ruling class to reproduce capitalism, harnessing its power to craft our minds and our relationships with others. We unpack how this process shapes cultural activity for the worse, weakening the connection between culture and care. For us, these observations show that the most ethical and effective organizing strategies we can take as cultural workers will aim to decommodify culture. In other words, just as the commodification of healthcare and education stifles human flourishing by limiting access and placing profit over need, so does the commodification of culture. We feel that, in a very political sense, we must unapologetically place care at the center of all our cultural endeavors. We must struggle for the distribution of space and resources that will allow culture to flourish as a form of care that is accessible to all.
Community, Care, & Culture
What is it about going to a show, concert, or party that feels so good? Why are we drawn to leave our homes, where we could easily spend hours consuming any kind of content our hearts desire on our computers? Why do we go through the trouble of traveling to bars, theaters, concert halls, museums or basements to share in the experience of witnessing art in person and with other people? Why do some cultural experiences move us to tears while others leave us bursting with energy, dancing in massive crowds to a shared rhythm? Why are we so compelled to engage with culture together, as a collective?
Simply put, humans are social and narrative creatures who seek communal experiences in order to know ourselves and feel connected to the world we navigate. As children, we learn what it is to be human from our caretakers and communities, through movement, sound, images, food and so on. We learn who we are from our cultures. And as we grow, we take part in and create culture ourselves. We learn to draw. We find music that resonates with our complex emotions. We experiment with fashion. We pray and meditate in traditions that were passed down to us or find new spiritual paths. We care for, and know ourselves and each other via cultural acts and environments. All of these cultural activities we engage in with our community and loved ones, contribute to our emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.
The Covid-19 pandemic caused a sudden disruption in our ability to safely engage in in-person social activity. The pandemic caused a massive shift in our socialization, depriving folks of the regular kind of social interaction that can be so important for our wellbeing. Unexpectedly running into our friends at the grocery store or spending a few hours drinking beers and lamenting current events over Zoom calls, for many, was hardly enough social interaction to sustain us.3 Although many people may increasingly benefit from using technology to aid in socialization, we still miss the energy of human presence that is felt as fundamental to sharing time and space with others with the persistence of social distancing. Especially for those of us who shaped our lives around shared cultural activity, the impact on our sense of self has reverberated through countless layers of our beings.
In a system that determines one’s right and ability to live based on how much money they have, those who live in poverty and/or have to sell their labor for a wage often struggled to find time and energy to access regular, healthy human presence even before the Covid-19 pandemic. The exhaustion of a full work day, compiled with the stressors of navigating economic hardship and emotional and mental depletion can leave us feeling as if taking a few hours to enjoy a movie or live music is a far-fetched fantasy. Even having the time to adequately care for one’s own self and immediate family can be impossible when so many have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet. This forced prioritization of production and performance for a wage has amplified an ongoing crisis of care, where millions lack the social, emotional, and cultural support to truly find wellbeing, belonging, and peace.4 Those who have managed to make a living by producing cultural products and experiences are no exception.
Humans Make Culture…
Culture Makes Humans
Humans make sense of our lives via our capacity for symbolic thought, which co-evolved with languages, social structures, and cultural practices.5 We experience both a physical world of matter and energy, and a virtual world of meaning, narrative, and symbols. The interconnectivity between the two experiences allows for events that take place in the physical world to have impact beyond immediate perception and instinctual reaction. Our symbolic capacity has given us the ability to form complex and diverse social formations, such as cultural groups, states and empires, and intricately coordinated research and engineering projects. These abilities and efforts have at various times supported, interfered with, or violently prevented human flourishing and wellbeing. Our symbolic capacity has made possible the practice of culture as we know it, such as music, art, and other forms of ritual. Emerging from the same capacities, all of these activities (and more) are intertwined.6 Because of our complex beings, these kinds of activities are a necessity for grounding our sense of self and our relationships to others and to society. Cultural activity allows us to access emotional resonance with our material experiences, share and create these experiences with other people in our communities, and care for ourselves emotionally and physically.7 Even small things like getting a beer at a show, seeing a cheesy movie in a theater, or attending a community gathering with food are integral parts of this process.
The labor and resources which support the development of our cultural lives are vital contributions of our emotional, spiritual, physical, and communal well being. For us, this includes the labor of artists, cooks, spiritual practitioners, writers, musicians, photographers, and all other cultural workers. This labor is supported by and intertwined with the labor of educators, custodians, healthcare workers, agricultural workers, factory workers, and every other person who contributes to the functioning of society. Every part of meeting our daily needs is intertwined, with each step facilitated in some way by another human and their labor. The ability to meet our daily social, physical, emotional, and spiritual needs, are a part of a process called social reproduction. Here, reproduction can be understood similar to words like “cleaning,” “maintenance,” and “upkeep,” as well as to the notions of care and sexual reproduction. Even in our exploitative and oppressive society, with its ongoing crisis of care, there is a need for people to be able to “reproduce themselves” in at least a somewhat basic, sustainable way. This includes accessing food, shelter, and psychological stability. These fundamental goods allow people to be efficient parts of the economy day after day. Developed by people like Nancy Fraiser, Susan Ferguson, and Tithi Bhattacharya, these observations are central to a framework called Social Reproduction Theory.8 The ideologies that help maintain the power of the ruling class also need people’s behavior and relationships to be reproduced in very specific ways. For example, our current economic system needs people to be good consumers, to respect authority, and to view themselves as isolated individuals in order to prevent solidarity among the oppressed.9 This is another aspect of social reproduction, as it is specifically shaped and supported by the ruling class.
All cultural activity is a form of social reproduction. We engage in music, art, and ritual because of how these activities make us feel, how they bring us together, how they create meaning, and how they heal us. This is a facet of all societies and is a process that helps individuals find meaning and belonging in their communities. The ruling class appropriates and reshapes the social reproductive labor that humans naturally engage in, reorienting it towards making money, grasping power, and reproducing the beliefs and tastes of the wealthy. Culture is very important to control for the ruling class, because it is a key way in which our minds are shaped and our relationships with others are formed. Capitalists desperately need culture, but culture does not need capitalism.
Capitalism Needs Culture
When we write a song, knit a blanket, create a recipe, or write a poem, our work takes on a life that allows it to travel, embody new meaning, and be shared with other people. This occurs in different ways depending on the community and society in which it exists. In some contexts, the forms of exchange, sharing, and production occur in informal, mutual ways: a hobbyist guitar player privately jams with their friend on the weekends, an amateur painter creates work to give to their family, or a self-taught photographer takes photographs for their own pleasure. But for many, these forms of exchange and production take place within a social and economic system that forcefully shapes the ways in which certain types of labor and cultural products are valued and exchanged.
Under capitalism, cultural workers who wish to subsist on the fruits of their labor will likely have to engage in forms of market exchange. Because the creation of culture is a widely desired and useful form of labor, there is a lot of money to be made in the cultural industries. However, the vast majority of cultural workers are not able to make enough money to fully live on, with a very small group of celebrity artists, musicians, chefs, and other culture workers securing and hoarding the majority of the wealth throughout their industries.10 This forces most cultural workers to compete for limited resources and opportunities, while a small minority enjoy far more compensation and wealth than their peers.
The playing field of the cultural labor sector is not set equally and is determined to a large extent by generational wealth. Many cultural workers enter the field with forms of inherited wealth, allowing them to easily secure access to instruments and tools, working space, free time, connections, and other social and material goods. Cultural workers who are not born with inherited wealth must spend their time and energy working to attain the requisite amount of wealth for them to secure these goods, allowing them to only then undertake their cultural work. Generationally wealthy cultural workers gentrify cultural scenes by accelerating the competition between cultural workers. They are able to undercut less wealthy competition by investing in productive resources with less risk, charging lower fees, and purchasing opportunities through various pay-to-play schemes. The elite convince the working class that they are not active participants in culture, but rather passive consumers. This is particularly ironic when most of the commercially and academically successful cultural products developed during the 20th & 21st centuries came from poor and working class cultural activity.11
For the ruling class, the structural division of wealth is very important in maintaining the status quo in the culture industry. It mimics and legitimizes the way in which wealth is unequally distributed in society generally. The overinvestment in a small minority of cultural workers acts as a form of structural propaganda that influences all cultural workers, rewarding competitive and individualistic behavior. This pattern supports the narrative that those who are able to become most successful as cultural workers deserve the wealth they gain. It also obscures the fact that people with generational wealth and connections are often able to purchase a place in professional hierarchies. You can see these forces play out in the narrow field of actors who get chosen for roles in movies, which artists have their work acquired by major museums, which thinkers are hired for prestigious positions, which musicians headline festivals, and which chefs win international awards. The people in charge of deciding who deserves these opportunities are compelled to prioritize the same cultural figures over and over again, while thousands of other talented and qualified cultural workers languish.12 Due to both the profit motive and the contradictions of so called “non-profit” philanthropy, those who control resources in the arts are incentivized to make their choices in favor of individuals who will be able to make their institution more profit (in symbolic or economic forms), rather than investing in the general wellbeing of all cultural participants and audiences. The demand to generate profit encourages professional hierarchy, rather than supporting the fundamental need for all people to be able to secure the means of subsistence and cultural flourishing. This is a fundamental dynamic of capitalism that can be seen across the board.13
These dynamics not only mirror the extreme inequality in the rest of society, they actively produce culture that recreates ideologies that benefit the maintenance of the oppressive status quo and the tastes of the wealthy. White-supremacy in music & art scenes (especially “classical” / institutionally funded scenes),14 patriarchal and objectifying narratives about gender and sexuality in popular media,15 and the influence of the military industrial complex on television, film, and video games (the “military-entertainment complex”)16 all uphold the racial, class, and gender hierarchies within capitalist society. The people who are chosen over and over again to produce the most far reaching cultural commodities are expected in varying degrees to reproduce these ideologies.17 These dynamics and tendencies are blatantly evident in elite and commercial popular culture, yet they also exist in academic, alternative, and indie subcultures. People who find themselves in positions of power within these often “radical” communities can wield the same oppressive ideologies that are found in elite spaces. White supremacy, classism, and identity discrimination can be found in our local indie scenes, art school seminars, and pottery classes just as much as they can be found in professional orchestras and recording industry spaces.
All of these dynamics corrupt the inherent interconnection between care and culture. When we as artists view ourselves as isolated, self-sufficient individuals competing with each other for limited resources, we become alienated from the communities and bigger socioeconomic ecologies that we depend on for artistic support and life sustenance. It becomes increasingly difficult to see ourselves as interconnected with communities and society. This promotes action which is not equitable, healthy, or mutually-supporting. Other artists become competitors and not collaborators. Audiences become sources of income and prestige, not individuals with emotional, social, and spiritual needs.
Culture Doesn’t Need Capitalism
Fighting against this system is often a confusing and difficult path to navigate. With such varying perspectives on what cultural workers are fighting for, who is on their side, and what actions can be taken immediately, it is no surprise that many find themselves feeling alienated, cynical, and powerless. But, there are many ways forward.
Building collective power is incredibly important for cultural workers who wish to enact change. Forming workers unions within cultural workplaces allows for the leveraging of collective bargaining to gain higher wages, better working conditions, and greater workplace democracy. Forming cultural cooperatives helps build sites of cultural activity that are grounded in ethical power sharing and care for people and their needs, rather than extraction and authoritarian control. Participation in political parties, activist groups, and mutual aid networks encourages positive changes in our communities that can create the conditions for justice and abundance. These, among many others, are steps towards a more just and healthy society. Yet, each of these have pitfalls.
Building cultural worker unions under narrow, conservative trade union models risks excluding workers who do not fit the ideal criteria of their membership. That has historically often included both implicit and explicit racial segregation. This is what is sometimes called “craft unionism.” It excludes those outside of the cultural economy that might not be considered cultural “workers.” Or worse, it values cultural labor based on white-supremicist assumptions. Unions that aim to only benefit the narrow trade interests of their members do not build power toward addressing systemic exploitation and oppression. This approach risks undermining itself because its strategies do not fundamentally challenge the power relations between workers and employers, and between the industry and broader economic structures. These unions are often characterized by a lack of solidarity with other workers’ struggles, exclusivity (often along racial lines), and narrowness of focus.18 Even with seemingly radical ideas in place and carried out with the best of intentions, weak organizational strategy, lack of political education and/or inadequate power mapping can cause union activity to be idealistic and ineffective at best, or conservative, racist, and reactionary at worst.19 These types of organizations are easily guided by the actions of individuals who wish to forward their own interests and priorities rather than the will of the collective.
Alliances with “art-washed”20 institutions, who pay lip service to political struggle but continue to actively reproduce structural inequalities are a hindrance to doing meaningful cultural-political work. “Art-washing” happens when ruling class figures try to clean up their reputations through philanthropic funding of any cultural institution or initiative. Allying with the power structures of these institutions limits the ability for cultural workers to act in good faith in the path towards justice, and often incentivizes inadequate, moderate actions. The desire to “change institutions from within” as an individual without working to build collective power risks subsuming good intentions into frustration and cynicism, leading us astray from truly challenging inequality and unethical power. Workers in these institutions must organize with each other to democratize the resources of these institutions.21
Creating cooperative workspaces that serve only to benefit a small group of cultural workers rather than the whole community creates animosity and distrust between cultural workers, other workers, and community members.22 Nothing radical is accomplished if the cooperative only seeks to compete on the market, selling a commodified cultural product, rather than building solidarity and community power. If a cooperative does not actively work to build solidarity and democratic political power, their efforts will inevitably be consumed within the prevailing dynamics of capitalism, rather than contributing to its dismantling.23 Be it a conservative or ill-organized type of unionism, or a narrowly focused form of cooperative development, our organizing falls short if it does not deal with the exclusivity and domination that is inherent in the commodification of human necessities.
The path to creating the conditions for cultural workers to flourish is not a path separate from the liberation of all people: they are interwoven entirely. Along this path are many temptations designed by the ruling class to encourage us to choose individual competition over collective power. There are also many strategic and organizational pitfalls that arise due to the complexity of our situation. A healthy ecology of strategy will be required to create a world where everyone has the time, energy, and opportunity to make and enjoy culture. We must work together, coordinating between organizations on different fronts, to avoid these pitfalls and truly transform all of society.24
It’s Not Enough
to Get Paid for Your Art
In this time of overlapping crises, it is absolutely vital that all who make up our cultural ecology participate in struggle to address the many injustices we are living under. Fighting against the conditions that reproduce the economic precarity of working people; fighting against the imperialist military industrial complex that subjugates other peoples and nations; fighting to abolish the racist policing and prison system that enslaves and abuses; and building the conditions for all forms of cultural, identity, and community expression to flourish are the responsibilities that we as a global community have before us.
These are massive undertakings that require a broad ecology of organizations and movements that are composed of individuals from many backgrounds, professions, and experiences. In a world that seeks to keep our political body divided and powerless, organizing that only stands to serve cultural workers who already have access to market, institutional, and generational resources falls short. The development of collectively owned and operated cooperatives, unionism that seeks to intervene in the market, struggle within and outside of the state, and more will be needed. But in every case, we must always ask ourselves 1) how does this improve people’s lives right now? 2) How does this bring people into the movement, build connections across organizations, and increase organizational strength and democracy? And most importantly 3) how does this build power toward the redistribution of resources currently being hoarded, and move us toward the safety needed to build an ethical society based on consent, care, and human flourishing?
Cultural activity should be understood as a form of care, and we should organize with this as a foundational truth. Under capitalism, the transformative & healing nature of cultural activity is distorted. The social reproductive power of cultural activity is co-opted in service of profit and ruling class power. Funding is preferentially given to cultural labor that recreates ideologies which maintain the status quo. Just as we see many inspiring struggles to fight for forms of universal care—like healthcare, childcare, and education—we believe the fight should be the same for cultural workers alongside all who make up our cultural and care ecologies. Freedom from violence and domination, and universal access to the space and resources necessary for a thriving cultural life should be a human right. This should be a foundation of the world we’re building together. We need to fight for these conditions in coalition with our fellow care workers. We must look to build organizations that can unite in strategic, not merely verbal or emotional, solidarity with people outside our field. We must do this not just to liberate ourselves, but also to liberate culture from the corruption of capitalism for all of humanity.
It is important to get paid and struggle for better wages as artists, especially if we are relying on our artistic labor for survival. Bread and butter demands not only help feed us right now, they can also bring new people into our organizations. But, getting paid is not enough. Ensuring that our struggles as cultural workers are successful will mean ensuring that all people have the means to enjoy and participate in the creation of culture. We have to dismantle the structures that shape cultural activity to serve the interests of the powerful and the systems of oppression and exploitation they rely on. We deserve a world where children have access to any form of expression that peaks their interest, and where they can explore without inhibitions or limitations enforced by an extractive economy; where intergenerational, community-led cultural spaces are abundant and facilitate healing, self-exploration, and experimentation; and where resources that were once dedicated to upholding violent structures and ideologies (like prisons, police, and the military) are instead poured into deep sustenance of people and planet. Again, this will require a coordinated ecology of struggle, with people working to secure ethical distribution of power and resources on many fronts.
In this piece we established that cultural activity is a form of care, how it is shaped for the worse under capitalism, and how this analysis should inform our organizing efforts. In our forthcoming collaborations, Shred will further explore strategies for organizing from this perspective. We will be drawing from the many organizations and individuals currently working on these issues.25 Our priority will be to contribute actionable coordinating strategies for the development of a strong ecology of struggle. One which centers the recognition of cultural activity as care and, along with all other forms of necessary care, organizes for these to be decommodified, universally accessible human rights.
Notes & Resources:
1. In this piece, we are using the word “culture” or sometimes “cultural activity” in a similar way that Terrence Deacon uses the word in Role of Symbolic Capacity in the Origin of Religion. See the Emma Marsano & Eli Namay’s *forthcoming* piece, Overcoming Imaginary Silos, for a more detailed unpacking of the words “Culture” along with “Science” and “Politics.”
2. We recognize that terminology and definition for the current global socio-economic system of exploitation/oppression/production is sometimes hotly contested by thinkers that we equally appreciate. We will be unpacking these debates and weighing in with our own perspectives in forthcoming pieces. In this piece we are using the term capitalism with no other adjectives. In other pieces we use the term racial capitalism (a term specifically attributed to Cedric Robinson from his book Black Marxism). Another term we use in this piece is “Market Society” which Yanis Varoufakis uses in his book Talking to My Daughter About the Economy. In any case, it should be noted that we don’t take any single thinker or activist’s definition to be exclusive or exclusionary. Regardless of the terminology used, for now, what is important for us is that our current global socio-economic system of oppression/exploitation/production is viewed as an ever changing process and totality, with all aspects of it developing together, totally enmeshed and intertwined, and with the understanding that each aspect—for example: colonialism, imperialism, wage labor, slavery, etc.—is unintelligible without invocation of the others. Conversely, as we use terms to indicate to a specific aspect in our content, we are simultaneously invoking the whole. Visualizing Capital by David Harvey is a favorite audio / visual run-down of capitalism, it’s dynamics and contradictions, and the various ways its different aspects interact. From this lecture, notice how “production and reproduction of human nature” and “production and reproduction of nature” include everything from environmental degradation, to advertising, to white-supremacy, to police violence, to imperialist and colonial violence.
3. For example (as if you need any), see UN Warns of Mental Health Crisis Due to Covid-19, …a Long Term Impact on Mental Health, Acceleration of Anxiety, Depression, & Suicide: Secondary effects of economic disruption related to Covid-19, or Covid’s Mental Health Toll.
4. See Crisis of Care? On the Social-Reproductive Contradictions of Contemporary Capitalism by Nancy Fraser for an overview of how the crisis of care manifested under various periods of capitalism. For immediate reference see also Contradictions of Capital and Care & Capitalism’s Crisis of Care. This is, of course, in addition to the more active forms of violence — imperialist war, colonial conquest, genocide, etc. — that characterize the current global socio-economic order.
5. See Symbolic Species (Terrence Deacon) for an account of the co-evolution of language, the brain, and human culture. Deacon’s argument centers the role of ritual (i.e. cultural activity) in the development of language and the human brain. See The Emotional Mind (Rami Gabriel & Stephen T. Asma) for an account of how culture and society (and sociality) emerged along with our emotional capacities. See Shred’s *forthcoming* piece, Overcoming Imaginary Silos for a brief statement on the way in which we use the word “evolution.”
6. See the *forthcoming* piece Overcoming Imaginary Silos (E. Marsano & Eli N.) for a detailed unpacking of this claim.
7. See Role of Symbolic Capacities in the Origin of Religion (T. Deacon) for both points on the intertwined nature of various activities via “emergent emotions,” as well as the healing/transformative nature of these phenomena in and of themselves (i.e. for a critique of reductionist biological explanations of religion, art, ritual, etc.). The Emotional Mind (R. Gabriel & S. T. Asma), also draws connections between emotional needs, social needs, and cultural activity. See work on expressive art therapy, music therapy, for evidence based study of the healing/transformative power of music.
8. See Tithi Bhattacharya on Social Reproduction Theory for a brief video rundown. See Social Reproduction: What’s the big idea? by Susan Ferguson for a more detailed intro to the history of social reproduction theory.
9. David Harvey talks about the production of ideology, as a part of social reproduction under capitalism, in his lecture Visualizing Capital, including it along with other processes under the heading “the production and reproduction of human nature.” Many other folks talk about the necessity for the ruling class to produce ideology (see forthcoming work) – we choose Harvey’s lecture here, because we feel he does a good job clearly locating it within the dynamics of the capitalist system as a whole.
10. See Art Worlds by Howard S. Becker for a study on all the labor necessary for making an artist well known — i.e. for creating and supporting their celebrity status. See Unfree Masters by Matt Stahl for a study of the lack of freedom that pervades cultural industries, even at the so-called “top.”
11. David Harvey uses the appropriation of folk music to sell as commercial music as an example of the concept “accumulation by dispossession” (i.e. theft by capital for profit) in Neoliberalism as Creative Destruction. Also see David Graeber discuss this at his talk for Culture is Not Your Friend.
12. …95 percent of artists have lost income because of Covid-19 (Daria Harper); Strike with the Band: The Meritocratic Failures of Classical Music (Kate Wagner); Musicians Can and Should Organize (Joey Le Neve Defrancesco) – see figures under the heading “Thriving at the Top.”
13. For a critique of philanthropy see Generous Billionaires are the Problem (Luke Savage) and The Ultra Rich Don’t Deserve our Gratitude for Small Acts of Philanthropy (Adam Szetela). Again, see David Harvey’s lecture Visualizing Capital for a rundown of capitalism and its contradictions.
14. See current and forthcoming work in our section Classical Traitor. See The Possessive Investment in Classical Music: Legacies of White Supremacy in US Schools and Departments of Music by Loren Kajikawa, and Composing Capital: Classical Music in the Neoliberal Era by Mariana Ritchey. These dynamics can also be seen in Jazz music as it is turned into an “American Classical Music” music. For this see The Jazz Bubble: Neoclassical Jazz in Neoliberal Culture by Dale Chapman. They can also be seen in “Indie” music scenes. For this see What It’s Like to be Black in Indie Music by Matthew James-Wilson. For more brief critiques, see It’s Time to Let Classical Music Die (Nebal Maysaud) and Black Scholars Confront White Supremacy in Classical Music (Alex Ross). This is not necessarily an endorsement of the political conclusions / implications of Maysaud or Ross’ pieces. We selected them because of their clear and concise criticism.
15. Lol, does this one really need a reference? Turn on the radio, go to the grocery store, watch a TV commercial, and before long you will most certainly hear some pretty objectifying / patriarchal / possessive stuff being sold as cute…. Like this, or this, or this (“a [a highly priced, rare, inanimate object], that’s what you are… pretty girl, pretty girl, pretty girl, you should be smiling” – lmfao, you can’t make this shit up…). See bell hooks for cultural criticism on this front. For example, her panels from her 2014 residency at the New School are great.
16. See Military Entertainment Complex; Also see Shall We Play a Game?
17. For instance, see A brief History of John Krasinski’s Transformation into a Guy who Absolutely loves the CIA.
18. Eugene Debs’ transformation from a craft unionist to a socialist among the violent Railroad labor struggles of the early 20th century, contrasted with the conservative craft unionism of Samuel Gompers and the American Federation of Labor around the same era is a famous example of the inadequacy of craft unionism. See Eugene Debs’ Anti War Speech, The Young Eugene V. Debs, & The Corporatization of Unions. Michael James Roberts wrote a book relating broader union organizing trends to the American Federation of Musicians more in depth. See Tell Tchaikovsky the News: Rock ’n’ Roll, the Labor Question, and the Musicians’ Union, 1942–1968.
19. For a critique of loose organizational strategy see The Tyranny of Structurelessness; For power mapping see No Shortcuts (Jane McAlevey); also see Labor Notes for great resources and articles on organizing and power mapping like this one, or this one.
20. For an example of this phenomena, see Art & Gentrification.
21. The Museum of Contemporary Art Accountability campaign illustrates a positive example of workers organizing within such an institution – i.e. one that postures as radical, but in the end answers primarily to the agenda of its billionaire funders.
22. See The Boundaries of ‘Boundarylessness’: Revelry, Struggle, and Labour in Three American New Music Ensembles by John Pippen, publishedin Boundaries of the New: American Classical Music at the Turn of the Millennium.
23. These several articles talk about some pitfalls of cooperatives: Cooperatives on the Path to Socialism, Neoliberal Co-Optation of Leading Coops, & The Contradictions and Limitations of Localism. In short, there are structural constraints that cooperatives will butt up against as long as capitalism dominates the globe. This is due to the hyper-detailed hoarding of resources and control of people, enforced by violence, that characterizes capitalist class domination. The creation of cooperatives — even when connected on large scales, but especially when only focused on very local scales — in and of itself does not equate to power to change the status quo dynamics of capitalism. If only focused on building a separate economy, and not actively strategizing to disempower capitalist structures and redistribute resources, the separate economy will be crushed by capitalist state violence. While the 1919 Seattle General Strike offers inspiration in the positive for us, it also shows how the ruling class will not stand by while meaningful dual power is built. Even though of a different political character, the unification of capitalist nations on the side of the White Army against the Red Army during the Russian Civil War, shows the violent lengths to which the ruling class will go to crush the creation of something new. So, the question becomes, how to utilize and grow the consent based ethics of cooperatives at their best, while also adequately building power to redistribute resources that are actively being kept from people? That is, we do not have all that we need to build a liberated society, because it is being kept from us by the ruling class. We have to take it back. These authors believe we have to, one way or another, struggle to take and transform the power of the state alongside taking economic power directly through unionism and cooperative development. Again, a broad ecology of strategies is needed.
24. This is a concept borrowed from the Ayni Institute. They break down movement ecology into three broad categories: changing dominant institutions, building alternatives, and personal / communal transformation.
25. Some of these organizations and individuals include Liz Pelly (Socialized Streaming: A case for universal music access), MCA Accountable, Union of Musicians and Allied Workers, Karen Lewis & CORE’s work in the Chicago Teachers Union, National Nurses United and the Medicare for All movement, and the democratized / cooperative economy advocacy of Democracy at Work & Black Socialists in America, among others. For a big picture theoretical look at this, see David Graeber’s talk titled From Managerial Feudalism to the Revolt of the Caring Classes.