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Lecture 27

Sociology 621
April 27, 2017

Strategic Logics of Transformation: Ruptural, Interstitial, Symbiotic

I. The Problem

Early in the course I described emancipatory social science as facing four primary tasks:
(1) elaborating normative foundations.
(2) the diagnosis and critique of existing society;
(3) envisioning viable alternatives;
(4) a theory of transformation.

Within the theory of transformation we have seen how the state and ideology contribute to
reproducing capitalism and its class relations. The problem of strategies of transformation is to
think about how our strategies can contribute to overcoming these mechanisms of reproduction and
thus make possible the transformation of capitalism.

There are three broad logics of transformation that have dominated the history of anticapitalist
politics and action. I refer to these as ruptural, interstitial and symbiotic logics of transformation.
These logics of transformation differ both in what we can call their visions of the trajectory of
systemic transformation and in their understanding of the nature of the strategies needed to move
along that trajectory. These differences are summarized in this chart:

Vision of trajectory Strategic logic Strategic logic Metaphors of Political Tradition

of systemic with respect to the with respect to the success most closely
transformations state capitalist class associated with logic
beyond capitalism of transformation

Confront the War (victories Revolutionary

Ruptural Attack the state
bourgeoisie and defeats) socialist/communist

Interstitial Build alternatives Ignore the Ecological

metamorphosis outside of the state bourgeoisie competition

Use the state:

Symbiotic Collaborate with Evolutionary
struggle on the Social democratic
metamorphosis the bourgeoisie adaptations
terrain of the state
Lecture 27. Transformation 2

1. Vision of trajectory of systemic transformation. The central distinction among visions of the
trajectory of system-transformation is between those who believe that any trajectory beyond
capitalism will necessarily involve a decisive rupture and those views which envision a trajectory
of sustained metamorphosis without any system-wide moment of discontinuity. Within the
metamorphosis conception of trajectory, there are two types: interstitial metamorphosis, which
imagines institutions within which social power is dominant being built up within the niches and
spaces of the dominant system, and symbiotic metamorphosis, which imagines a process of gradual
modification of dominant institutions and structures as they include more contexts in which social
power plays an important role. These three visions correspond broadly to the revolutionary
socialist, anarchist and social democratic traditions of anticapitalism.

2. Strategic logic with respect to the state. Ruptural strategies envision a political process that
culminates in a frontal attack on the state. This is the characteristic idea of revolutionary political
strategies. State power is essential for transcending capitalism, and state power can only be stably
secured by anti-system forces through the destruction of the core institutions of the capitalist state.
Interstitial strategies in contrast operate outside the state and try as much as possible to avoid
confrontations with state power. The core idea is to build counterhegemonic institutions in society.
There might be contexts in which struggles against the state could be needed to create these spaces,
but the core of the strategy is to work around the state. Finally symbiotic strategies see the state
itself as a terrain of struggle in which there exists a possibility of using the state to build social
power both within the state itself and in other sites of power.

3. Strategic logic with respect to the capitalist class. Ruptural strategies envision class struggles
with the capitalist class taking the form of sharp confrontations: capitalists must be forced to make
concessions, and the only way such concessions can be sustained is through the continual capacity
to threaten the use of force. Only through a confrontation class struggle is it possible to move along
the trajectory of transformation to the point where ruptural break become historically possible.
Interstitial strategies try to avoid confrontation. Ignore the bourgeoisie is the strategic goal:
challenge capitalism through building the alternative, not by directly confronting it. Symbiotic
strategies seek to create the conditions for positive collaboration – what I call positive class
compromise. This may require confrontations, but they are in the service of creating conditions for
positive cooperation by closing off certain alternatives for capitalists.

4. Metaphors of movement in the right direction. The central metaphor of ruptural strategies is
war. Movement occurs through the uneven process of victories and defeats in the confrontations
with capital and the attacks on the state. This is not a linear and cumulative process – there are
reversals and stalemates. Still, successful movement along the trajectory depends upon victories in
these struggles and building the capacity for more comprehensive victory. Interstitial success is
more like a complex ecological system in which one kind of organism gains a foothold initially in a
niche and eventually out-competes rivals for food sources and comes to dominate the environment.
Symbiotic success is more like a process of evolution, in which structural properties are modified
through adaptations which progressively enhance social power and make the system function
Lecture 27. Transformation 3

My general view is that none of these are plausible by themselves. The problem of transformation
is the problem of thinking through the interactions and interdependencies among the three
transformational logics.

Let’s look a little more closely at each of these.

II. Models of the Three Transformative logics

Ruptural transformation

fantasy path
Beginning of
ruptural Beginning of
transition to Socialism: Socialism:
Material ruptural transition
socialism optimistic path optimistic path
welfare of to socialism some
Material time in the future
person Capitalism welfare of

pessimistic path
past future Transition trough
past future
Observable trajectory
Hypothetical trajectories Historical time

The future

Figure 5
Figure 2 Socialist Rupture and Trajectories of Material Interests
Socialist Rupture and Trajectories of Material Interests under assumption of long term intensification of capitalist crisis

Interstitial transformation

III. Trajectory
II. Socialism following interstitially Dissolution
Beginning beyond
Hitting limits transformed capitalism of capitalist limits
ruptural Encountering capitalism
of interstitial to interstitial
transition to new limits to
transforma- IV. transformations
socialism interstitial
tion within Transition within capitalism
capitalism trough hitting transforma-.
Beginning initial limits tion within Period of
Quality capitalism gradual
Quality to interstitial
transformation of life of transforma- eroding of
of life of Capitalism with systematic
median median tion within Period of limits
interstitial transformations
person person capitalism gradual
eroding of Trajectory of social
Capitalism without Beginning limits empowerment through
interstitial transformation Interstitial interstitial transformation

Attempt at Socialism without prior

interstitial transformation
Capitalism without
Historical time interstitial transformation

Capitalism without interstitial transformation

Capitalism with systematic interstitial transformations
Socialism following interstitially transformed capitalism
Historical time
Attempt at Socialism without prior interstitial transformation

Figure 7
Figure 6 Interstitial transformations eroding the
Interstitial transformations paving the way to rupture
binding limits of capitalism
Lecture 27. Transformation 4

Region of “positive
Symbiotic transformation class compromise”