By Edward Ongweso Jr.
The Black Socialists of America (BSA), a coalition of "anticapitalist, internationalist Black Americans," just launched its Dual Power Map. The map promises to plot every single worker cooperative, small business development center, community land trust, and dual power project in America so "you can support them right now."
But what are any of these things? What is dual power? Why should you care?
At its heart, dual power is a socialist strategy concerned with helping people who are unable to have their needs met by capitalism. The strategy calls for “counter-institutions” that not only meet the needs of those left behind but are run by those very people. It also calls for people to protect and develop these institutions into forms of social, economic, and political “counter-power” through social movements or organizing efforts.
Simply put, counter-institutions try to help realize a just world, while counter-power aims to fight against an unjust one.
Worker cooperatives are typically businesses that are owned and self-managed by workers, instead of bosses and CEOs. Small business development centers are essentially spaces for businesses to receive advice and support that will help them thrive in their specific locale. Community land trusts are local nonprofits that permanently maintain ownership of land for the good of the community, such as building affordable housing.
All of these are counter-institutions, but none are explicitly anticapitalist. They may be better equipped to meet the needs of people who want dignified work, safer working conditions, or affordable housing, but these are also things that some self-professed capitalists like Andrew Yang or Elizabeth Warren are currently calling for. The crux is whether or not the counter-institutions are utilized in a way that challenges capitalism while supporting and expanding anticapitalist alternatives.
Enter Cooperation Jackson, a socialist cooperative in Jackson, Mississippi that seeks to develop an alternative economy that is explicitly anticapitalist. The cooperative's ambition is to build a project based on a network of counter-institutions concerned with “organizing and empowering the structurally under and unemployed sectors of the working class, particularly from Black and Latino communities."
Cooperation Jackson wants to create a new economy as the basis for a new society that can sustain itself without relying on the politics that dominate the world around them. The organization aims to use community trusts to "decommodify as much land as possible" by making housing a guaranteed right instead of something you rent or buy on the market. It wants to create an alternative manufacturing base that responds to the needs of the community as opposed to the needs of the market, valuing sustainability over waste and endless growth. Cooperation Jackson plans on using its community center as a space for political education and developing an economy where collective decisions are made by workers and communities, as opposed to investors and executives. The organization’s small business development center will work as an incubator that supports and expands anticapitalist alternatives to an economy that doesn’t meet the needs of everyone.
Z, one of the BSA’s co-founders, explained how the purpose of the map is to help inform people of counter-institutions so that they can help develop local efforts and make their own dual power projects. “Most left organizations are focused on electoral politics or reactive activism or mutual aid,” Z told Motherboard in a phone call. “All those things are important, but if we want to dismantle capitalism, then we have to build institutions and we have to deal with the economy.”
Co-ops might be a great place to work, and your local community land trust might give a good price for rent, but at the end of the day, they are still institutions that have to be utilized a certain way to build anticapitalist alternatives like Cooperation Jackson.
On their website, the BSA points out that the goal is to infuse these alternatives with "political ideologies that will lead us to a fully democratic society and world where the workers themselves control the means of production in a democratic and decentralized fashion." That means the map should serve as a tool for activists who hate capitalism and want to see their communities’ needs met, but aren’t sure how it all fits together. To that end, building dual power is a great place to start.
“If we are talking about revolution, we have to be about revolutionary system change,” Z said. “We can’t just do things within the limits of the capitalist framework. We have to build to transcend it.”