The Power of Alternative Institutions

By Evan Carlson

It should come as no surprise that capitalism pits our short-term needs against our long-term revolutionary goals. Want to go on strike for a living wage? Too risky. Better to have shitty pay than be out of a job. Want to confront your landlord about that black mold problem they’ve been ignoring? Again, too risky. Better to breathe tainted air than to get an eviction notice.

We’re often forced to pick temporary survival over lasting change because the consequences of fighting for the latter are so dire. Moreover, given how individualistic and alienating our society is, we often feel alone when making this choice. It seems unlikely that anyone will catch us if we fall. It is for this reason that alternative institutions are necessary for producing revolutionary change.

When we offer each other the support and resources needed during desperate times, we empower one another to take bold action. This means creating food distribution programs, tenants unions, communal emergency funds, and emotional support networks. These projects ensure that no one gets kicked to the curb, alone in their fight for survival. There is no fear of an empty fridge, or changed locks on the apartment door, or having no one to grieve and laugh and dream with.

When capitalist institutions deny us of these necessities, alternative institutions provide them. That is where revolutionary power comes from — strong communities gradually making capitalist institutions obsolete. The less we depend on these institutions, the bolder our defiance toward them can become while the consequences of doing so become less and less severe.

Imagine again the living wage strike scenario. Alone we are vulnerable, and it is easy for the boss to bend our will; but with a community backing us, we would have the power to feed ourselves, pay our bills, and support one another through the strike’s duration. This support would give us the boldness and strength needed to win. Alternative institutions are the key to not only short-term survival, but also lasting revolutionary change.

We don’t have to choose between the two — working together as community, both are within our grasp.

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