Open, Power, and the Organized Masses

“Power can only come from the organized masses. All of our power to bring change in this country comes from mass struggle. That’s clear. So, if the power comes from mass struggle, it is clear, to change things, political power can come from the organized masses to ensure those changes. And since the mass of our people are not organized, we can have no power at all. None whatsoever.” – Kwame Ture on PBS


It’s been a while since I last posted on here, so this post is more of a scattering of thoughts and analysis of developments in the last year, literature I’ve been chewing on, and significant conclusions worth revisiting and refining. When I formulate these posts, I’m asking myself: what’s the most true thing I can share at this moment?

I’ve also been studying dialectics in the past year. I’ve always been a dialectical thinker, but I’m developing a deeper understanding of it so that I can employ it as “an instrument of war.”[1] I refer people to the links at the top of my study guide to learn more. Three intentional practices include:

  • Attempting to identify relations between parts (which are usually treated in isolation or independent of each other)
  • Beginning with observations of the Whole and then drilling down to its significant constituents
  • Studying objective conditions; not how we wish things should be


I’m going to start and end with Kwame Ture’s insight: “Power can only come from the organized masses.” He was talking about the fact that Black representation in the elected government (“Black faces in high places” a.k.a. the Black Misleadership Class) does not translate into power for everyday Black people. His clear statement about regular folk building power through organized struggle has been on my mind a lot recently.


I found a term used in Sam Popowich’s excellent book Confronting the Democratic Discourse of Librarianship applicable to the state of open access (OA) and scholarly communication (scholcomm): recuperation—“a process whereby a radical social or political movement or idea is assimilated into mainstream culture, thus diminishing its subversive force.” (Oxford). To be clear, only a subset of OA’s proponents has ever considered it be part of a radical social project. But, if we can pull back from narrow slices of scholcomm we occupy, it’s clear that OA has been captured by commercial publishers. It’s been assimilated into for-profit, hierarchical, exploitative publishing models that perpetuate the status quo. There is a greater quantity of OA literature than any time before, but are we any freer? How much of a qualitative difference has been made?

In an act of self-criticism, I looked through the wrong end of the telescope for too long. Taking a liberal, maybe even libertarian, and idealist approach to all things open led me to support forms of scholcomm that served the Establishment. I mistook open access things as the object of primary importance rather than labor, our relations, our freedom, and our power (or lack thereof). This was an act of reifying or fetishizing OA. Narrowly focusing on the open thing for so long led to “mistaking the relations between people for the relations between things. Because we are alienated from the products of our own labor, from each other, and from ourselves, it is impossible for us to see the commodities that we use, work on, produce, purchase, or consume as products of an almost infinitely complex web of labor relationships.”[2]

I try to move with some humility, so I recognize others have been problematizing OA along these lines for many years. I plan to respond to a subset of that criticism in a future post, focusing specifically on Golumbia’s and Bacevic’s articles.


“How can the slavemaster and the slave be right?” – Amiri Baraka

When capitalists and academic laborers, many who struggle to make ends meet, are on the same side of an issue such as OA it looks like a flashing red light warranting further investigation. The capitalist publishing oligopoly has integrated OA into for-profit models. Popularity for “transformative agreements” continues to increase, and (surprise!) springer nature’s president for research loves them. Subscribe-to-open is gaining ground as a for-profit model as well. Hybrid journals are ubiquitous! Another set of capitalists (self-described philanthropists) are increasingly demanding OA as conditions of their grants. A group of extremely powerful billionaires support the latest OSTP memo. The slavemaster and the slave can’t both be right. OA shouldn’t be a class collaboration. This is more reason to shift emphasis beyond OA, so that we’re not reifying certain scholarly objects. Instead, we can focus our collective well-being, autonomy, power, etc.


The exploitation trifecta refers to the way in which academic labor resulting in publication is exploited in up to three ways at once:

  1. By one’s direct employer
  2. By publishers that extract surplus value (unpaid wages)
  3. By “funders” that demand an OA deposit as a grant requirement

The academic laborer can only overcome these overlapping forms of exploitation with the correct ideology and a protracted, collective struggle. I plan on fleshing this out in greater detail.


Why is diamond OA (no author or reader fees) not more popular than it currently is? I turn back to Kwame Ture for the major aspect of the answer, “Power can only come from the organized masses. All of our power to bring change in this country comes from mass struggle. That’s clear.” The OSTP Memo, for example, did not come from mass struggle. It is a “gift” given to us from above with the support of billionaires[3]. Capital is organized. The elites are organized. We must be too. The more I analyze, study, and discuss, the more I think that we’re further behind. But I’d rather know that than not. Nah mean?


I revised and updated my Study Guide and Independent Media Recommendations pages. I also added a page with links to some of my previous writing and presentations. These will continue to be living webpages.

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[2] Popowich, Confronting the Democratic Discourse of Librarianship, 136.

[3] Freire calls this “false generosity” in Pedagogy of the Oppressed

CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 Open, Power, and the Organized Masses by Dave Ghamandi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.