Impermanence and Organization

Organizations are not the same as Organization. The difference is one of principle and particular. Organization is essential to revolutionary activity. Particular organizations are not. These change with the terrain of struggle, forming, dissolving, splitting, merging and reforming as needed. From a removed, historical or hypothetical perspective we tend to cling to organizations as the essential vehicles of revolution, perfect and permanent, guiding the movement (and us along with it) towards emancipation. We identify with them. We imbue them with the weight of our hopes and dreams. We burn ourselves out to maintain them. When they inevitably falter and fail, we are devastated and often become disillusioned. Organizations are an important instance of Organization, but if we take them for the whole, we miss something crucial.

This is where Buddhist insights into impermanence can be of help. When we examine a thing, whether a material object, a system, or an idea, we find it to be composed of countless moving, changing parts, each as complex and unstable in itself as the whole. To cling to such an unstable idea is clearly a recipe for dissatisfaction. Things arise, persist, and in time all pass away. Rather than fight this, we should work with it and flow with the changing conditions which cause such arising and passing.

Political organizations and social movements are the same. They are dependent upon a multitude of changing factors for their existence and continuation.

This is not to say that Organization or organizations are the problem, as some would suggest. Both are essential for revolution, just as it is essential to have a functioning heart for the body to live, or yeast for bread to rise. But to cling to them when conditions are unripe might be unwise.

What is needed in this case is a practice of Organization which goes beyond our individual concerns and limitations. Organization, much like wisdom, is not inevitable or permanent, but is dependent upon our efforts to build it in everyday life. Organizations must be maintained and defended, but we also have to know when to let them pass away.

During the pandemic I have had to sit with this lesson. An organization I spent a lot of time and effort building collapsed. It still exists on paper, but engagement is basically nil. Hanging on to its corpse for so long has held me back from moving elsewhere. Wrapping up its affairs and turning out the lights in a necessary step in building something more adequate for current conditions. Rather than focusing on why it failed, I want to understand how things have changed. I want to understand its inherent impermanence so that the spirit of Organization which created and moved it can continue.

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