“Despite the force and unquestionably positive character of anarchist ideas, despite the clarity and completeness of anarchist positions with regard to the social revolution, and despite the heroism and countless sacrifices of anarchists in the struggle for Anarchist Communism, it is very telling that in spite of all this, the anarchist movement has always remained weak and has most often featured in the history of working-class struggles, not as a determining factor but rather as a fringe phenomenon.
This contrast between the positive substance and incontestable validity of anarchist ideas and the miserable state of the anarchist movement can be explained by a number of factors, the chief one being the absence in the anarchist world of organizational principles and organizational relations.
Dispersion spells ruination; cohesion guarantees life and development. This law of social struggle is equally applicable to classes and parties.”
These words were first read 82 years ago, as the Dyelo Truda (Workers’ Cause) journal published the Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft). It is worth considering that these words ring just as true today as they did when first written and that anarchist-communism, despite its clarity and insight on the causes, nature and solutions to oppression, is still no more than a ‘fringe phenomenon’ within the class struggle.
To start a definition of the role of revolutionaries and the revolutionary organization within the struggle for communism, we should start from some basic principles on how we see the world. This is taken from our agreed statement of politics.
In capitalist society, human life is subordinated to the production of profit for the ruling minority, whose control is protected by the State. We are struggling for a world in which human activity is collectively self-controlled and directed towards human happiness and creativity. We call this society communism.
Communism can only be created by the class struggle of the property-less majority, the working class, against the minority who control property (i.e. the means of producing social wealth), the capitalist class. This is the collective struggle of the working class to take control of their lives, which necessitates the abolition of private control of property and thus the creation of a classless and stateless society.
I see anarchism as a political theory which has arisen out of the class struggle, which expresses the experiences and insights of revolutionaries throughout history. As the Dyelo Truda group put it:
“The class struggle, born in violence out of the age-old desire of working people for freedom, gave rise among the oppressed to the idea of anarchism – the idea of the complete negation of the social system based on classes and the State, and of the replacement of this by a free, stateless society of self-governing workers.”
The ideas of anarchism emerged from the class struggle and they principally aim to clarify the nature of capitalism, the method by which it can be abolished and the role of revolutionaries in this task. But although these ideas and theories have emerged out of the class struggle, they have not adequately returned to this struggle; they have not been argued and pushed within the struggles of the working class in any coherent fashion and so have been limited in their ability to affect and influence the fight for a better world. This is a problem of organization.
The constructive section of the Platform calls for the founding of a General Union of Anarchists, which in contemporary anarchist discourse is known as the specific organization. This organization is made up of conscious anarchist-communist militants, recruited around a common political programme. The anarchist organization aims at making anarchist ideas the leading ideas within the working class through consistent propaganda and active involvement in the class struggle.
Of course, the term General Union of Anarchists can be misunderstood, and there are many self-titled anarchists who we would not like to be in an organization with. This is why the Platform emphasizes 4 particular features of the organization which are necessary for it to function as a cohesive force:
o Theoretical Unity
o Tactical Unity
o Collective Discipline
I think the members of Black Cat who have had experience within Autonomous are best placed to appreciate the necessity of Theoretical Unity within organising. Simply put, it means that an organisation should have broad political agreement within it. There is no point being in the same organisation as a primitivist, individualist, or anarcho-capitalist, as there is little to no common ground with these people. This sounds like common sense, but it has been resisted by the anarchist movement for many years. On the other hand, it does not mean that each member of the organisation needs to have exhaustive agreement with every position that the organisation has. These positions should be seen as products of a particular time/understanding, and are thus liable to change over time. As Aufheben put it, “theory which stands till is no longer living theory but ideology. Living theory is by its nature bound up with practice”. So, we should have a certain hierarchy of theoretical unity; a basic level that is necessary, which can be a basic statement of anarchist-communism, and a higher level, which is more precise and specific, but is subject to change by the organisation.
Tactical Unity refers to the implementation of the organisation’s politics at the practical level, which indicates that discussions on strategy should occur on the highes level of the organisation, with participation from all. An example of Tactical Unity would be Black Cat arguing on agreed lines within the Sussex Not 4 Sale campaign. If we were a large organisation, with groups in several universities, we could push an agreed line, e.g. for direct democratic control by the mass meeting, at a national level, assuming there were similar conditions in all the universities.
Collective Discipline is simple. There is no point in agreeing to do something and failing to do it and that members of an organisation should be responsible to that organisation for their political activity.
Federalism simply implies that local branches/collectives have a certain amount of autonomy within the organisation, but the Platform specifies that this should not be abused by individualists in the name of anarchist principles.
So with this brief sketch of the specific organisation or General Union of Anarchists, let’s look at its actual functioning, that is, how it relates to the class struggle in practice.
In the terminology I am using, the main arena where the specific organization interacts with the class is in the Mass Organisation, which is an apolitical organization composed of working class people pursuing their economic interests. It is primarily used to refer to labour unions, but could also be used to denote some community organizations or other working class organizations which are based on economic goals.
The members of the Anarchist organization are those whose political orientation has been shaped by their experiences, and who find this orientation shared with others. When this group of people derive from different backgrounds, their experiences will differ sharply, and argument can serve to develop both the generalizations and the specific insights of the group. The sharing and shared development of these ideas is intended to be accomplished through the Anarchist organization, which therefore aims to represent the collective experience, reflection, and programmatic intention of militant members of the working class. The organization therefore strives to embody a generalized viewpoint from the militant members of this class, which becomes more coherent and developed as more people come together within the organization and share their experiences. This is how the theory of the organization develops.
Of course, this theory will be useless if it is not applied to practical struggles. The primary method that this should happen is within the mass organizations. The members of the organization, as members of the working class, will generally be active within the mass organizations that can help them to improve their immediate condition. The specific organisation’s primary strategy is to encourage the self-organisation of the working class via mass organizations of popular power, which is to say organization organization organization. Now backwards. Anyway, anarchist involvement within trade unions, community groups etc. should always be to encourage the libertarian and horizontal tendencies of the class. This is not in any way authoritarian, simply a reflection of the participation of the militants within the class. As the Dyelo Truda group put it in The Supplement to the Organisational Platform:
The question of the ideological piloting is not a matter of socialist construction, but rather of a theoretical and political influence brought to bear upon the revolutionary march of political events. We would be neither revolutionaries nor fighters were we not to take an interest in the character and tenor of the masses' revolutionary struggle. And since the character and tenor of that struggle are determined not just by objective factors, but also by subjective factors, that is to say by the influence of a variety of political groups, we have a duty to do all in our power to see that anarchism's ideological influence upon the march of revolution is maximised...We have to orchestrate the force of anarchism’s theoretical influence upon the march of events. Instead of being an intermittent influence felt through disparate petty actions, it has to be made a powerful, ongoing factor. That, as we see it, can scarcely be possible unless anarchism’s finest militants, in matters theoretical and practical alike, organise themselves into a body capable of vigorous action and well-grounded in terms of theory and tactics: a General Union of Anarchists.
So what we are seeing here is the specific organisation as embodying a reflexive articulation of the most useful ideas to emerge from the class struggle. These ideas, born from struggle, are abstracted, developed and refined within the theoretical work of the organisation and then invested within this struggle to assist it in its goals. The organisation can and should give these ideas and insights a general tenor and particular application. There are however a number of problems which should be drawn out.
The composition of the organization
I have for now been speaking of the ideal character of the organization. This however, is not something which is matched in reality. The specific organisation is unable to develop a general theory or indeed a general praxis if its membership is skewed towards one or other section of the working class, or is bereft of the input of important particular experience. For instance, it is difficult to develop a cohesive understanding of racism in a particular society if the organization is drawn entirely from the dominant people. This not only leads to an imbalance in skills, but also an imbalance in activity. For instance, the Workers Solidarity Movement consists primarily of well-educated young men, which leads to proficiency in propaganda work, with members who are highly skilled at writing, internet work and so on, but a deficiency in workplace activity, as members are generally too young to have permanent employment. It should also be noted that this sort of imbalance is a self-perpetuating problem, as people are more likely to join an organization of people who are similar to them. So organizations need to be pro-active in addressing these issues and recruiting from the wider working class.
This is accompanied by the problem of discussion. The process by which the experience and insights of members are shared to develop the organisation’s theory and practice is discussion. But this is useless if discussion is not democratic and participatory. On the higher level, discussion contributes to forming the organisation’s positions and theory, which will be the basis of its actions on a topic. On the day-to-day level, it is necessary for smaller issues, such as particular tactics. So, the organization needs to be aware of problems that can jeopardize its discussion. It needs to be aware of power dynamics in meetings, overcoming members’ lack of confidence and so on. In short, it needs to be sure that all of its members can participate in its activity.
Social Movements vs Mass Organisations
I think most of us here will have more experience being involved in the ‘social movements’ than in what I’ve termed mass organizations. The response to these movements among much of the anarchist left has been to condemn ‘activism’ and repudiate ‘activists’ for not being active in their workplaces. However, the fact that such a large amount of people choose to articulate their political frustrations in such a way indicates that there is a fundamental disconnect from the traditional forms of class struggle that my arguments have been based on. However, this does not necessarily validate them as paths of social change.
There are, however, a number of issues here that are too big to be dealt with in one small appendix, so I’ll be brief. The anti-globalisation movements, which I think we would all consider to be past their peak, revealed a strong sense of dissatisfaction for the existing political system. However, despite their repeated attempts to do so, they were not able to articulate a model of popular power which could serve as a base of working class strength. This was, of course, due to their basis on a) periodic and geographically dispersed summit protests and b) political sentiment rather than economic power. With this limited basis, their ability to interact with the rest of the working class was limited to say the best. They did offer the opportunity for anarchist-communists to make their arguments in a much wider forum than previously possible, as well as serving to radicalize many new and generally young people. These are not to be taken lightly, and many anarchist organizations were able to grow from this movement.
The residue of this movement is a dispersion of activists and social centres throughout the country. That is another big topic which can be discussed later.
Single Issue Campaigns & Social Movements
There are many individual issues which can benefit from the efforts and attention of anarchist-communists. We should not be dogmatic about the importance of mass organizations. In general, the aim of the revolutionary organization is to encourage the self-organisation of the working class and the development of working class power. These can both be done fruitfully in single issue campaigns. The struggle of people to liberate themselves is not limited to the workplace, we should be open to other spaces wherein the libertarian message and horizontal tendencies can be developed. As the Dyelo Truda Group wrote:
The idea of the General Union of Anarchists raises the issue of the coordination of the activities of all the forces of the anarchist movement…Born out of the mass of the workers, the General Union of Anarchists must take part in all aspects of their life, always and everywhere bringing the spirit of organization, perseverance, militancy and the will to go on the offensive
People do not being stop being working class once they’re out of work, and the desire to achieve control over our lives is articulated in many ways. The revolutionary organization should be active in all spaces where it can benefit this struggle, and its existence allows for a fusion of these disparate struggles into a collective critique.