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Splitting elites

Splitting elites

... or, "We can play divide & conquer too!"

Case study: death & taxes

Jane McAlevey's case study (which began this podcast):

policy capitalist teamwork result
repealing Obamacare split we won
evil tax bill solidarity we failed

Then she analyzed one of her previous battles — Bush vs Medicaid:

We had the most unusual bedfellows: basically the same corporations that I spent my life teaching workers how to fight — in every single contract negotiation we were doing — these were the companies that came to our side. So, we did it & we won.

She explained that working w/ such monsters is a double-edged sword — but won victories that made enormous differences in people's lives. (After all, never needing to cooperate with elites implies we're at the threshold of abolishing them...)

And if we zoom back a bit, McAlevey's whole SEIU career exploited momentary divisions between capitalists & the state. (Divisions which shrunk as capitalists rolled back the New Deal)

Exploiting elites' antagonisms in workplace organizing

Harder to exploit such divisions in a stable small company. In my experience, the closer elites work together — like 2 cofounders — the more likely they're just playing goodcop/badcop. Only pretending to be split.

So if you're used to tech startup culture (like me), the whole idea of "splitting elites" feels a bit mystical. This means I've probably missed exploitable rifts, especially as companies grow & departmental boundaries form

Fortunately, businesspeople are always trying to fuck each other. IIRC, Y Combinator claims boss infighting ("founder incompatibilities") is the biggest cause of startup failure. And certainly, different departments of the same company are frequently at war. Such rifts can be deepened & exploited

Case study: alt-right vs feminists online

A funnier case study is alt-right trolls exploiting ideological rifts in online feminist forums. (It's funny b/c I've been on the receiving end, to my chagrin.) Defending against this taught many lessons like:

  • having other's backs & tracking their mental health
  • maybe having significant internal disagreements, but displaying no exploitable public cracks
  • imagining how I'd attack our team, to discover weakspots
  • intervening effectively & humanely

People (like McAlevey) caution against overestimating online activism. But at least it's a great crucible to practice some organizing lessons. (Like poker players can play way more hands online than offline, gaining experience faster.) Brett Scott explained:

Let's put it this way - the Internet actually most closely approximates the mythical 'war of all against all' - anonymous strangers with no social ties interacting. Designing systems in that environment requires distrust as basic design principle

Organizing in such an environment is no small feat. You get to try many tactics; observe many traps & personality types

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