It Takes Organizers to Make a Revolution

Fred Hampton Sr. addresses a public meeting.

Published in conjunction with Viewpoint.

I think one should still be a Leninist, at least in the very precise sense that we cannot really look to the spontaneity and creativity of the masses to establish analytical groups in a lasting way – if it still makes sense to speak of Leninism when the objective of the hour is no longer the promotion of a highly centralized party, but a means for the masses to take control of their fate. – Félix Guattari, “La causalité, la subjectivité, l’histoire” (1966/1967)

This article was at one point called “What We Might (Still) Learn from Lenin," and it opened with a disclaimer: “You will be excused for thinking that you have read this text before, but please bear with me.” In the end, I decided that even that was not enough; merely having “Lenin” in the title risked turning some readers off. This little story illustrates how much Lenin’s name can function as a territorial marker signalling belonging and exclusion; but also, given my belief that much of what is said here would be perfectly acceptable to people who identify as “anti-Leninists," it says something about what that territoriality might be making us miss.

Rather than construct another hagiography about how Lenin was always right, or another plea reducing his thought to a single take-home message (“build the party”), this text will propose that we approach him not as a titan, but as an equal. Not the all-conquering revolutionary, the master tactician who always made the right decision, let alone the mighty party- or state-builder, but something more prosaic and relatable, though no less important: an organizer. That is, someone who, in all those different areas, could draw on his experience as an activist in clandestine student and worker circles in the late 19th century and during the years of turmoil that followed the Russian Revolution of 1905, as well as on his work producing and distributing Iskra from 1900 to 1903; who fought tooth and nail from 1908 to 1912 against those in Russian Social Democracy who wished to abandon organizing and concentrate exclusively on interventions in parliament and in the legal press; and who established himself as the “idol of the praktiki [organizers]” in the party, not only for an interest in the “nuts-and-bolts” of underground activity that “showed an appreciation…rare among the intellectual leaders,” but also for providing organizers with a “romantic self-image of leaders that were capable of inspiring boundless confidence. 1

An organizer, then, like many today — albeit a more experienced one, or at least one with a very unique experience. At any rate, someone with a lot of respect for the political work of talking to people, sharing skills and infrastructure, translating abstract ideas into clear messages and action, agitation, education, campaigning, and so on; and with a clear understanding that big results are unlikely to come by without a lot of effort and a disposition for what is often unglamorous drudge. 2

Yet maybe this does not take us very far from a standard picture of Lenin. The focus on political work is perfectly compatible with the idea of him as someone whose vision of politics consisted essentially in organizing others — of building a party of committed activists who would bring consciousness to workers “from the outside,” eventually substituting themselves for those who should be the true protagonists of the revolution; a vision that could lead nowhere else but a dictatorship of the party, and of the party leader, over the people. In that context, “it takes organizers to make a revolution” would appear as shorthand for “it takes organizers to make from above the revolution we want," as opposed to the one people would make left to their own devices. “Organizing," in turn, would figure as the exact opposite of the word that seems to be the bane of What Is to Be Done?: “spontaneity.”

But are “organizing” and “spontaneity” really opposites? Think of how a “spontaneous” action comes to pass. A person talks to another, who talks to another, who talks to another; suddenly, an idea occurs, which will probably be in circulation even before any individual voices it. A meeting is called, the original idea is presented, some people walk out, others point out its flaws, eventually someone proposes a new idea; a short text is prepared, a new meeting is called, and so on. Spontaneity, the example shows, does not mean the same behavior actualizing itself at once across a large number of people: it always starts somewhere; there are always some people who organize it. That does not mean they have to (or should be) always the same people, nor does it make it dependent on the genius of superior individuals. The best way to think it probably still is Gabriel Tarde’s microsociology: it takes “inventions” brought forward by particular individuals for something new to happen, but these inventions are nothing more than the recombination of trends already present around them.

So how do we come to oppose spontaneity to organization? By presupposing an inside/outside distinction — one usually represented, precisely, by the figure of the party. What workers do on their own is “spontaneous," however organized it may be; but if an initiative comes from the party, it cannot be spontaneous, as it comes from “outside.” Ironically, it may well have been the Bolsheviks and their epigones who, in ultimately associating it with excessive party interference and control, gave “organizing” a bad name. Following this association, what is “spontaneous” develops organically, from itself, horizontally, without hierarchy or manipulation, and truly expresses people’s interests and desires; but “to organize” is to come from outside, and thus also to place oneself above, as an expert, a leader, an enlightened vanguard, someone immune to the “indignity of speaking for others.” The wish to “organize” is therefore “Leninist,” something to be shunned and reproached. In the same way that each individual should only represent herself, one can only legitimately organize one’s own immediate social group; but at the limit — seeing as organizing members of one’s own group is still organizing others — one should really only organize oneself. 4

Yet, as is well known, “organizers” are also to be found in what develops organically and horizontally. True, quite often organizers will come from outside a social group, striking up relationships and making proposals as to what could be done. But if their ideas do not chime with those of most members of the group, or if they come across as untrustworthy (too rash, too cautious, manipulative), these ideas will fall flat, and they have no means to enforce them. On the other hand, if someone does not “belong” to a group in the sociological sense, but their proposals are voluntarily taken up by members of that group and become a part of their activity, does that make that activity non-spontaneous? Apart from the fact of that difference in social background, which otherwise does not affect the outcome, how would this be different from a “spontaneous” process as described above?

Admitting then that “spontaneity” and “leadership” may appear intermingled to different degrees, the only place where to safely draw a sharp distinction would be in those cases where the outside organizer, by treachery or force, makes people do something against their will or (what we judge to be) their interest. But that distinction, by contrast, allows us to identify those cases in which the actions of an outside organizer would not be reproachable, and could in fact be taken as part of a “spontaneous” process: when they motivate people to do something they might not have otherwise done, but which they informedly choose to do, and take on as their own action. And once these people communicate that idea to other members of their social group, are they not also being organizers? Understood in this sense, “it takes organizers to make a revolution” would mean little more than “it takes some people to take the initiative.”

The key difference here is obviously between using or not using, having or not having the means to coerce people; in Clastrean terms, it is the difference between strong and weak leadership. Rejection of organizing would thus only seem justified as a rejection of strong leadership, not weak — for who can fault someone for advancing a course of action that others embrace as theirs? And if what moves that rejection is a fear of becoming “like a party," it follows that actually it is of becoming like a powerful party that people are afraid. What is ironic here is that this fear usually crops up not in situations of fair-to-middling power, but of powerlessness — which is a little like refusing to do something at all because you are afraid you would be too good at it. There is, of course, something salutary in worrying about the risks of concentrating too much power, but it should certainly not be a reason not to take an initiative. The thing about starting something is that leadership always starts out weak — so if you turn out to be a bad leader, your (non-)followers will no doubt let you know.

A lot of the dogged confusion surrounding the idea of spontaneity is down to the fact that we use the word in two different meanings that are almost exactly opposed — the Kantian, which refers to freedom from external determination, and the Marxist. For a belligerently orthodox Marxist like Lenin, the word had one important negative association that is lost on our spontaneity-friendly ears. It suggested mechanicism, that is, a non-dialectical understanding of the development of historical forces as described by Marx, and thus a tendency to treat the German philosopher’s words as an objective prophecy that would eventually materialize by itself: come the time, the proletariat will just know what to do and be ready to do it. Not that Lenin did not have an enthusiastic belief in the “spontaneous” [stikhiinyi] awakening of the proletarian masses in Russia and the world. In fact, his emphasis on organization is explicitly stated in terms of being prepared for that upsurge: “the stikhiinost of the mass demands from us … a mass of purposiveness.” Lenin’s polemic was not against “spontaneity” as such, but against those Russian Social-Democracts who used it, as he saw it, as an excuse. He suspected that, by arguing that political work should be restricted to supporting workers’ demands for economic reforms, and dismissing any talk of the workers taking political power as a preoccupation imported into it “from outside,” they were setting the scene for a situation in which the proletariat would confine itself to economic issues while they became permanently entrenched as its political representatives. (As it turns out, he was right; the terrible irony, of course, is that this is what ended up happening anyway.)

Lenin was convinced that a definitive proletarian upsurge was on its way. Yet he did not understand it mechanically, as a process at once independent from the actions of individual and collective agents and driving them from above, but dialectically. It would happen and it would lead to the expected outcome because agents would deliberately take the necessary steps for that. There was no contradiction between the immanent unfolding of the process and agents deciding to act: the immanent unfolding was nothing more than the actions of those agents, rather than a transcendent fate governing them as automata. There was no “natural” development of history that would somehow be spoiled by people acting according to what they desired or believed had to be done. The development of history both produced those desires and beliefs and was the outcome of the actions that followed from them, and so it was necessary not only to act upon those desires and beliefs, but to do it in the most effective, consequential way. This might well be the sense in which Lenin would understand the phrase “it takes revolutionaries to make a revolution." It is also why “organization” and “spontaneity” can ultimately not be easily opposed, as one is merely a moment or aspect of the other: it is only by organizing itself that any kind of spontaneous initiative can take place and produce effects; but it is only because there is the spontaneous inclination to do something that there is something to organize. Everyone is organizing others and being organized by them all the time.  

It is this philosophical kernel of Leninism, taken in abstraction from whatever else we might think constitutes it (the party, voluntarism, centralism, etc.), that Félix Guattari alluded to in the passage used as an epigraph to this text. “Leninism," in that context, stands for a politics with the subject in. Not “the Subject," as some abstract, metaphysical entity, but oneself, us, you. This is politics from the point of view of subjective implication; it asks “what do we need to do so that we can get what we want?” rather than a non-committal “what should happen?” Its grammatical case is the vocative; it interpellates. Think that something should exist — an all-Russian party (as for Lenin), lasting “analytical groups” (for Guattari)? 10 You cannot trust it to “naturally” happen; you must go out and do it. Cannot do it on your own? Then you must find the people with whom. Those you found do not agree with your original plan? Work with them to elaborate one with which everyone is satisfied. What you have created is good, but cannot last without support from elsewhere? Find the allies who can support you. They are sympathetic, but not organized? Then you must help them organize. In short, politics with the subject in is a machine for turning “there should be” statements into “we must." Do not sit around talking about what ideally would happen, as if that had nothing to do with you; implicate yourself, your own subjective position and activity, into every “objective” analysis of things.

Obviously, the reason why we often restrict ourselves to talking abstractly about how things should be is that it we lack the means to do what we believe should be done; but this is exactly why the question of organizing the collective capacity to act is the crucial one for Lenin. Apart from exceptional, revolutionary situations, the powerful always have the potestas 11 to ensure that people will, when push comes to shove, do their bidding: the police, the army, the press, the wage relation, the accumulated fear and passive consent of the majority. The weak, on the other hand, have nothing but their potentia, yet each individual’s potentia on its own is not much, and certainly not enough to face potestas down. So it is imperative that they come together, the capacity to act of each multiplying the capacity of all others. Here again, “there should be” becomes “we must”: that we are incapable of doing something now is not an alibi, but a fault; we must find out what to do in order to acquire that capacity, and do it. On this point, Lenin is as tyrannically superegoic as a neoliberal self-help guru: do not accept your present limits; change approach, try harder, expand the capacity to act. “[I]t is our direct guilt that we ‘push’ workers too little onto the road…of an apprenticeship in the trade of revolutionary activity.” 12 Much of the polemical vim in What Is to Be Done? is directed at what he calls “infatuation with [one’s] artisanal limitations”: a self-complacent resignation which, rather than striving to enhance potentia, ends up presenting powerlessness as a virtue. Against this, Lenin’s imperative is: do not give up on your ambition; if you truly believe in your idea of social transformation, go out there and make it happen.

“The question of organization” is essentially the problem of how to coordinate the collective capacity to act. Lenin’s answer was, of course, the party — but it would be a big mistake to confuse the answer and the question, and to think that rejecting the former invalidates the latter.

When he wrote What Is To Be Done?, Lenin had big ambitions, but no means of realizing them. He envisioned the party yet to be built as a “scaffolding” 13 for popular potentia, a sort of deep, underlying structure at the heart of the growing movement against the Tsarist regime: connecting its different parts, injecting it with a cohesive narrative, inoculating it against “opportunists," providing it with the “correct” analysis of the situation and training newcomers into revolutionary practice. It arguably did function in that way in the course of the 1917 Revolution, placing itself at the forefront of a much vaster uprising when the time came to bring down the Provisional Government. Yet it undeniably went on to become a straightjacket of potestas; and while we cannot abstract from this fate all the extreme circumstances that the Bolsheviks faced after taking power, we should not let that preclude us from asking whether a different organization, with a different organizational culture, might not have dealt with those circumstances differently.

Luckily, Lenin helped us in the job of parsing his reasoning by summarizing it in five statements: (1) in order to retain consistency and continuity, a revolutionary movement requires a solid organization of leaders or guides; (2) the more people “spontaneously” join the movement, the more that organization is necessary, and the more solid it must be; (3) that organization “must consist for the most part of people who treat revolutionary activity as a full-time trade," rather than “artisans” or dilettantes who drop in and out; (4) for safety reasons, especially in a police state such as Tsarist Russia, membership of the organization must be as narrow as possible, restricted to experienced and trustworthy activists; (5) but it must work as broadly as possible, connecting with people across the country and the class spectrum in order to bring them into the struggle. 14 The irony that strikes us at once is that (4) and (5) are not too different from the organizational logic behind the uprisings that have taken place around the world since 2011: from the Arab Spring to Black Lives Matter and beyond, we tend to find a combination of small organizing cores advancing messages, tactics and action proposals, and large-scale mobilizations, assemblies and encampments where more people were drawn into the struggle. 15 The main differences seem to be that these organizing cores did not see themselves as mutually exclusive (they did not think there had to be one organization); they did not necessarily see themselves as organizations as such (often preferring to remain informal and having no strategy for recruitment and growth); and, although each of them no doubt believed their analysis to be correct (otherwise, why act on it?), they did not claim for it the status of scientific knowledge. These characteristics helped prevent any of them from taking over the movement; yet the uncertain outcome of those upheavals raises the question of what it was, if anything, that could have made the coordination of collective capacity more effective. What we know for sure is that history has failed to present us with a perfect, failsafe solution. What the comparison between the two moments suggests is that it is possible to accept some of the premises of a position without accepting all of them, and we would therefore do better not to treat labels like “Leninist," “anarchist” and “autonomist” as pre-packaged identities to adopt or reject, but engage with the particulars of their respective arguments on their own merit.

As a matter of fact, Lenin himself was a staunch advocate of tactical flexibility. “Left Wing” Communism, written two decades and two revolutions after What Is To Be Done?, insists on it to the point of repetition. As in politics it is impossible to “know in advance which methods of struggle will be applicable and to our advantage," it is necessary to master all of them; no method, legal or illegal, can be discarded a priori. 16 This older, pragmatic Lenin is not merely attempting to rationalize the retreats that followed the revolution; we will find the same ideas in the younger, ambitious Lenin. Instead, one could read “Left Wing” Communism as making a rather activist-minded point: the targets of his criticism wish to reap the results of revolution before they have sown its seeds; they want to be radical without putting in the slog. 17 Except, Lenin seems to be saying, “radicality” is a relative property: nobody is radical intransitively, in abstract. To be radical is to be radical in relation to a concrete situation, by finding in it the most advanced position that can win over the greatest support. Outside of that, “radicality” is a folly, or a purely aesthetic gesture.

To be sure, there will be many occasions in which nothing stands to be gained from engaging with parliamentary activity, state power, even trade unions and left-of-center parties. But in politics there is no “always,” no “never.” Anyone who holds on to a “correct” position in abstract, regardless of circumstances, is likely to be right only about as often as a stopped clock; anyone who wishes “to think up for the workers some kind of recipe that will provide them with cut-and-dried solutions for all contingencies…is simply a charlatan.” 18 One cannot choose to disregard institutions completely and in all situations, as if by virtue of that they would simply cease to exist. For as long as they do exist, they continue to have effects over our lives, threatening with their potestas and limiting our potentia, and so it would be an elementary blunder if we mistook our “subjective ‘rejection’ of a certain reactionary institution for its actual destruction by the combined operation of a number of objective factors.” 19 If one does not want to, or cannot, be involved in parliamentary politics or the state directly, one must still find ways to interfere indirectly in them for as long as they exist — either by cultivating interlocutors, or by building enough collective capacity to act so as to limit their power and impose decisions on them.

The same goes for alliances. “The only ones who fear temporary alliances even with unreliable people are those with no confidence in themselves” 20 — that is, who are unsure of having the strength to hold their allies to account and to determine how things might go. This does not mean that any alliance or compromise is good or even acceptable. The point is rather that this is not a question of abstract “right” or “wrong," “always” or “never," but of gauging the concrete situation and, above all, of having the necessary potentia to influence the course of events. In any case, if one is operating in a situation of social heterogeneity, where there is an ecology of different actors, and striving to go from less potentia to more, alliances are inevitable. It is “[o]ne of the biggest mistakes” to think “that a revolution can be made by revolutionaries alone”; without alliances “in the most diverse spheres of activity there can be no question of any successful communist construction.” 21 A common future is built “not with abstract human material, nor with human material specially prepared by us, but with the human material bequeathed to us by capitalism," and therefore demands of those attempting to build it all the flexibility they can afford. 22

As for reforms, it is clear that they are often equivocal and could lead in opposing directions: either paving the way for broader transformations or dulling more radical impulses. Yet again, the issue is not what they are “in themselves,” but the direction in which they can be steered, and the collective capacity to do the steering. “A genuine broadening of scope for the workers — even a miniature one — can only mean a genuine step forward,” provided one has the means to exploit that opening and use it as a stepping stone for something else. 23

Ultimately, Lenin’s boundless optimism and assuredness flowed from a source of self-confidence to which we no longer have access: a firm belief in the scientific correctness of the worldview on which he based his analyses and forecasts. (“The Marxist doctrine is omnipotent," he wrote, “because it is true.” 24) The failed predictions and nasty blunders of those such as him have taught us to be much more cautious with our certainties, and to see the future as essentially open, contingent, undetermined. Yet here we find one final irony: it is in times as thoroughly anti-deterministic as ours that a politics with the subject in, with its imperative to build agency and the collective capacity to act, makes the most sense. It is precisely because the outcome is uncertain either way that we should see things as being up to us, and commit to doing (whatever we believe to be) our very best. Evidently, that might not be much at any given time. Yet the point of asking “what is to be done?” for Lenin was that in any situation, however constrained, there is always something to be done. If political life is “an infinite chain of an infinite number of links," there will always be a link that we can find and hold on to “as tightly as possible” which affords us the possibility of changing our constraints, overcoming our present limitations and expanding our collective capacity to act. 25 It may as yet be far from being the link that “can best guarantee that he who controls the link controls the whole chain”; it is still somewhere to start and to build on. 26

“Ambition” and “pragmatism”, the two attitudes that bookend Lenin’s trajectory as a thinker of organization, are possibly the two most tainted words in politics. “Ambition”, “keeping one’s eye on the prize”, smacks of bloody-mindedness, inflexibility, lack of dialogical openness, imposing your views upon others by force or deceit. “Pragmatism”, on the other hand, suggests spinelessness, opportunism, lack of commitment, an excessive readiness for compromise. The problem might be that we have seen the two deployed separately so often that we have come to think them in isolation, instead of both together at once. Ambition without pragmatism is empty; pragmatism without ambition is blind. The point is rather to face every situation with the maximum of ambition that is compatible with a maximum of pragmatism. You may have an entirely different idea from Lenin’s of what “winning” might be; but whatever your idea is, and whatever cards you happen to be holding at any given time, if you really believe your own ideas, you must play to win. That does not mean doing what you want, nor does it mean settling for a poor version of whatever works; it means thinking strategically. That is, taking into account the broader context of a complex ecology of struggles and agents in order to find the most transformative thing possible in that concrete situation: what can best exploit the political potentials opened up by the conjuncture so as to transform its present constraints the most, what will take it the farthest from what it is and the closest to where you want it to be. Sometimes a little targeted effort might produce large-scale effects; sometimes it will just seem like slog. Either way, as we have seen, acting in this way may be the only exact meaning we can give to the idea of “being radical."


1. Lars Lih, Lenin (London: Reaktion Books, 2011), 71. The quip about Lenin as an idol is from Menshevik leader Pavel Axelrod.

2. Celebrating the out-of-the-blue success of 1905, Lenin wrote: “In the spring of 1905 our Party was a league of underground circles; in the autumn it became the party of the millions of the proletariat. Did this happen ‘all at once’, gentlemen, or did it take ten years of slow, steady, unobtrusive and quiet work to prepare and ensure such a result?." V.I. Lenin, “Some Features of the Present Collapse," Collected Works, vol. 15 (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1977), 154. (Italics in the original.) All Lenin texts are taken from this edition, unless otherwise noted.

3. Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault, “Intellectuals and Power,” in Foucault, Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. Donald F. Bouchard, trans. Donald F. Bouchard and Sherry Smith (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977), 209.

4. The corollary of that reasoning would be: we believe that everyone should get organized but, apart from organizing ourselves, there is nothing we can do about that.

5. See Pierre Clastres, Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology, trans. Robert Hurley and Abe Stein (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987); Rodrigo Nunes, “The Network Prince: Leadership between Clastres and Machiavelli,” International Journal of Communication, 9 (2015): 3662-79.

6. Curiously, this is a complaint that Lenin directs at those who criticized him for advancing, in 1901’s “Where to Begin?," a plan for how to structure a party out of the galaxy of existing Marxist organisations in Russia: “was it really possible not to understand that if the comrades accept the plan presented to their attention, then they will carry it out not because of ‘subordination’ but from a conviction of its necessity to our common cause, and if they do not accept it, then the ‘sketch’…will simply remain no more than a sketch?." V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, in Lars Lih, Lenin Rediscovered. What Is to Be Done? in Context (Chicago: Haymarket, 2006), 815. I am using the Lih translation throughout.

7. Lars Lih has several interesting remarks on the etymology of the noun stikhiinost and its adjective form, stikhiinyi, as well as on its uses in the historical context in which Lenin wrote, by which he argues that their translation as “spontaneity” and “spontaneous” is misleading. See Lars Lih, Lenin Rediscovered, 616-28.

8. V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, 721. Later in the book, an exasperated Lenin writes: “Our basic sin in organisational matters is that due to our artisanal limitations, we have injured the prestige of revolutionaries in Rus’.… I hope no praktiki will be angry at me for these sharp words since, insofar as we are talking about lack of preparation, I apply them first of all to myself." Ibid., 788. (Italics in the original.)

9. This a play on Ingold's well-known quip that anthropology is "philosophy with the people in." Tim Ingold, "Editorial", Man 27(4) (1992):695-6.

10. To understand what Guattari means by this, the best place to start might be Deleuze’s preface to Psychanalyse et Transversalité, also published as Gilles Deleuze, “Three Group-Related Problems,” in Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974, ed. David Lapoujade, trans. Michael Taormina (New York: Semiotexte, 2004), 193-203.

11. As with “spontaneity," the problem with the English word “power” is that two meanings coexist in it; luckily, they can be differentiated in Latin and Latin languages in general. Following Spinoza, we can identify potentia (puissance, potencia) with the capacity to act that every individual has, whereas potestas (pouvoir, poder) refers to a capacity to act that is actualised in institutions (the army, the police, the judiciary etc.). Potestas is an extension and expansion of potentia, but by that very token it can be used by those who detain it in order to limit the potentia of those who do not; as John Holloway would put it, it is power over others. In this way, we could say that potestas is to potentia (and strong leadership to weak leadership) in the same way that dead labour is to living labour: the same thing in origin, but externalised, ossified, and turned against itself. 

12. V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, 794. (Italics in the original.)

13. Ibid., 828. The metaphor of the scaffolding first occurs in “Where To Begin?," where it is used in reference to the role that an all-Russian Social-Democratic newspaper (Iskra) could play in terms of structuring the party out of existing networks. See V.I. Lenin, “Where To Begin?," Collected Works, vol.5, 23-4. The newspaper, incidentally, is also described by Lenin as a “collective organiser."

14. V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, 786.

15. See Paolo Gerbaudo, Tweets and the Streets. Social Media and Contemporary Activism (London: Pluto Press, 2012); Anna Feigenbaum, Fabian Frenzel and Patrick McCurdy, Protest Camps (London: Zed Book, 2013); Rodrigo Nunes, Organisation of the Organisationless. Collective Action After Networks (London: Mute/Post-Media Lab, 2014); Zeynep Tufekci, Twitter and Tear Gas. The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017).

16. V. I. Lenin, “Left Wing” Communism, an Infantile Disorder, Collected Works, vol. 31, 96.

17. “It is not difficult to be a revolutionary when revolution has already broken out…. It is far more difficult — and far more precious — to be a revolutionary when the conditions for direct, open, really mass and really revolutionary struggle do not yet exist, to be able to champion the interests of the revolution (by propaganda, agitation and organisation) in non-revolutionary bodies, and quite often in downright reactionary bodies, in a non-revolutionary situation, among the masses who are incapable of immediately appreciating the need for revolutionary methods of action.” Ibid., 97. “[Y]ou are ‘terribly revolutionary’, but in reality you are frightened by the comparatively minor difficulties of the struggle against bourgeois influences within the working-class movement." Ibid., 115.

18. Ibid., 38. 

19. Ibid., 62. 

20. V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, 690. 

21. V.I. Lenin, “On the Significance of Militant Materialism," Collected Works, vol. 33, 229. The point about social heterogeneity can be explicitly presented in class analysis terms: “Capitalism would not be capitalism if the proletariat pur sang were not surrounded by a large number of exceedingly motley types…. From all this follows...the absolute necessity…to resort to changes of tack, to conciliation and compromises with the various groups of proletarians, with the various parties of the workers and small masters.” V.I. Lenin, “Left Wing” Communism, 74.

22. Ibid., 50

23. “Revolutionary Social Democracy has always included and still includes in its activity the struggle for reforms. But it uses ‘economic’ agitation to present to the government not only the demand for this or that measure but also (first of all) the demand to cease being an autocratic government." V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, 778.

24. V.I. Lenin, “The Three Sources and Three Component Parts of Marxism," Collected Works, vol. 19, 21.

25. V.I. Lenin, What Is To Be Done?, 822.

26. Ibid. 

Rodrigo Nunes teaches modern and contemporary philosophy at the Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC-Rio). His book Beyond the Horizontal: Rethinking the Question of Organisation is forthcoming with Verso.