So my thinking has changed on the issue since I first sketched it. In studying the modern day organizational dualists I realized there’s more than one way to cash this distinction.
ooooh magic: in reality there’s two things floating around here, and two things I was not pulling apart clearly.
I. There’s the question of how do we understand society (and use that in revolutionary theory)
II. What is necessary or best in building communist society.
On the conceptual level- A political economics distinction seems to me tenuous (this is going to be schematic and sparse). Political forces, far from being epiphenomenal or only being affected by economic forces, affect economic forces. Economics emerges out of power relations between groups, and reproduces political power. Likewise the state and political relationships are imbued with economic content and relations. Rather than being simple casual concepts, I think those concepts are useful for talking about levels where they apply, how they grow and are fostered, and where their weaknesses lie (based on their life cycles, "habitat", etc). Conceptually the distinctions between mass and political organization is (actually, i should say ought to be) fuzzy. Political organizations can be sections of the class which engage in direct struggle, and exist to better organize within the class. Mass organizations can develop ideology in common evolution with struggles and their members, engage in political struggles, etc. At the margins though they are distinct, and useful to talk about. Leninist parties or institutional parties are clearly distinct from say a political watery union though(there is no apolitical union).
So on a conceptual level the political-economic distinction is out, the mass-political distinction is fuzzy, but can be useful in talking about (deviant) creatures.
In terms of practice, which is what is most important anyway, there is a use in making a distinction between mass and political organizations, but not between economic and political forces/fields/organizing/etc. The political-economic distinction I’m going to toss because (a) it’s only been destructive on a practical level (reductionism, ignoring important categories, the whole history of class struggle…), (b) it doesn’t jive with common sense (these things are tied damn tight), and (c) rejecting it fits in with the anarchist praxis of the connectedness of the state and capital as well as other non-economic social forces. So I see few reasons to keep it around, and some good ones to bury it. That’s just a rough list off the top of my head, by no means sufficient.
The mass vs. specific political organization distinction is useful practically in two main ways: (i) in preserving the autonomy of social movements/the proletariat (ii) and in giving space for organizing ourselves in an effective way to collaboratively attack the cooptation, recuperation, and diffusion of revolutionary struggle that exists and pops up.
Taken collaboratively we can have an anarchist theory of organization that avoids the pitfalls of the Leninist conception of the party, the social-democratic Marxist threads, spontaneism of various creeds, narrow economism of syndicalism, etc. Unlike the statists we assert that the working class can make revolution without the intervention of outside parties be it vanguards, parliamentary parties, or whomever. The mass organization is the fundamental organ and vehicle of revolution which should be autonomous and directly democratic.
Yet, power is often able to cope with revolutionary struggle through reforms, through restructuring, through new statist powers emerging, state capitalism, unions, etc. That is, sometimes autonomous (or spontaneous) struggle isn’t enough. The leninist answer to this is the party bringing revolutionary consciousness to the mass, and seeking to direct it in a revolutionary way. The anarchist specificist solution is the political organization within the class that exists to better organize anarchist communists within social movements. It’s an us/them distinction. Leninists organize them (the proletariat) to do what we (leninists) want. The AC organization organizes AC people to organize themselves. The AC organization seeks to make the actions of individuals more fruitful as a collective, but has a different social relation from statist parties (it exists within the class, it exists as a component of mass struggle not outside either in practice or power) and its goals and ideology differ (direct democracy, development through struggle, self-management, decentralism, etc).
Sorry this is all messy. The interesting thing is that this thread has existed since the 20s, but in a crude form. It has never been clearly drawn out, and I think hasn’t been clarified and condensed. Most sexy is that it has spontaneously arisen all over the world up until the present day from totally different historical conditions. So it has come around in Ukraine, Italy, Spain, Uruguay, China, and Japan (it was present in other places but through osmosis, these places developed theory on their own with some interaction, but less than say the cases of argentina, brazil, south africa, the US, etc). I’m going to write an article about this, maybe one that will make more sense.