An Anarchist Reader …for effective organising

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The reader is a collection of texts that the Zabalaza Books editors found to be essential reading for taking anarchism forward. The reason they are published together in this format is that they all contain valuable ideas for making our struggle more effective and that, because of this, they should be read by as many of our movement’s organisers as possible.  The Reader covers the following topics: what is “Dual Power” and working towards a Dual Power strategy, the role of Anarchists in the popular social movements, Organising Theory and Organising Skills, Activists and Organisers, Anti–Electoral work in the reformist social movements, revolutionary strategy and tactics, and much more…

The reader includes the following texts:

  • Active Revolution   by James Mumm
  • Back to the Roots: Anarchists as Revolutionary Organisers   by Ian Martin
  • From Reform to Revolution   by Ian Martin
  • The Intersections of Anarchism and Community Organising   by Dave

Organisation

Concentric Circles: The Especifsta Concept of Concentric Circles in Anarchist Organisation (web)

Download PDFby the Federação Anarquista do
Rio de Janeiro – FARJ

The specific anarchist organisation uses, both for its internal and external functioning, the logic of what we call “concentric circles” – strongly inspired by the Bakuninist organisational model. The main reason that we adopt this logic of functioning is because, for us, the anarchist organisation needs to preserve different instances of action. These different instances should strengthen its work while at the same time allowing it to bring together prepared militants with a high level of commitment and approximating people sympathetic to the theory or practice of the organisation – who could be more or less prepared and more or less committed. In short, the concentric circles seek to resolve an important paradox: the anarchist organisation needs to be closed enough to have prepared, committed and politically aligned militants, and open enough to draw in new militants.

A large part of the problems that occur in anarchist organisation’s are caused by them not functioning according to the logic of concentric circles and by not implementing these two instances of action. Should a person who says they are an anarchist and is interested in the work of the organisation be in the organisation, despite not knowing the political line in depth?  Should a laymen interested in anarchist ideas be in the organisation? How do you relate to “libertarians” – in the broadest sense of the term – who do not consider themselves anarchists? Should they be in the organisation? And the older members who have already done important work but now want to be close, but not to engage in the permanent activities of the organisation? And those that can only rarely dedicate time for activism? There are many questions. Other problems occur because there are doubts about the implementation of social work. Must the organisation present itself as an anarchist organisation in the social movements? In its social work can it form alliances with other individuals, groups and organisations that are not anarchist? In such a case, what are the common points to advocate? How do you carry out social work in a field with people from different ideologies and maintain an anarchist identity? How do you ensure that anarchism does not lose its identity when in contact with social movements? On this point there are also many questions.

The concentric circles are intended to provide a clear place for each of the militants and sympathisers of the organization. In addition, they seek to facilitate and strengthen the social work of the anarchist organisation, and finally, establish a channel for the capture of new militants.

In practice, the logic of concentric circles is established as follows. Inside the specific anarchist organisation there are only anarchists that, to a greater or lesser extent, are able to elaborate, reproduce and apply the political line of the organisation internally, in the fronts and in public activity. Also, to a greater or lesser extent, militants should be able to assist in the elaboration of the strategic-tactical line of the organisation, as well as having full capacity to reproduce and apply it. Militants assume internal functions in the organisation – be they executive, deliberative or extraordinary – as well as external functions with regards to social work. The functions assumed by the militants within the organisation adhere to self-management and federalism, or to horizontal decisions where all the militants have the same power of voice and of vote and where, in specific cases, there is delegation with imperative mandates. The functions to be performed by the delegates must be very well defined so that they “cannot act on behalf of the association unless the members thereof have explicitly authorised them [to do so]; they should execute only what the members have decided and not dictate the way forward to the association” [Luigi Fabbri. “The Anarchist Organisation”. In: Italian Anarchist Communism. p. 124]. Moreover, the functions should be rotated in order to empower everyone and avoid crystallised positions or functions.

The specific anarchist organisation could have only one circle of militants, all of them being in the same instance, or it could have more than one circle – the criteria being collectively defined. For example, this may be the time that a person has been in the organisation or their ability to elaborate the political or tactical-strategic lines. Thus, the newer militants or those with a lesser ability to elaborate the lines may be in a more external (distant) circle, with the more experienced militants with a greater ability for elaborating the lines in another more internal (closer) one. There is not a hierarchy between the circles, but the idea is that the more “inside”, or the closer the militant, the better are they able to formulate, understand, reproduce and apply the lines of the organisation. The more “inside” the militant, the greater is their level of commitment and activity. The more a militant offers the organisation, the more is demanded of them by it. It is the militants who decide on their level of commitment and they do or do not participate in the instances of deliberation based on this choice. Thus, the militants decide how much they want to commit and the more they commit, the more they will decide. The less they commit, the less they will decide.

This does not mean that the position of the more committed is of more value than that of the less committed. It means that they participate in different decision-making bodies. For example, those more committed participate with voice and vote in the Congresses, which define the political and strategic lines of the organisation; the less committed do not participate in the Congresses, or only participate as observers, and participate in the monthly assemblies where the tactics and practical applications of the lines are defined.

Thus, inside the specific anarchist organisation you may have one or more circles, which should always be defined by the level of commitment of the militants. In the case of more than one level this must be clear to everyone, and the criteria to change a level available to all militants. It is, therefore, the militant who chooses where they want to be.

The next circle, more external and distant from the core of the anarchist organisation is no longer part of the organisation, but has a fundamental importance: the level of supporters. This body, or instance, seeks to group together all people who have ideological affinities with the anarchist organisation. Supporters are responsible for assisting the organisation in its practical work, such as the publishing of pamphlets, periodicals or books; the dissemination of propaganda material; helping in the work of producing theory or of contextual analysis; in the organisation of practical activities for social work: community activities, help in training work, logistical activities, help in organising work, etc. This instance of support is where people who have affinities with the anarchist organisation and its work have contact with other militants, are able to deepen their knowledge of the political line of the organisation, better get to know its activities and deepen their vision of anarchism, etc.

Therefore, the category of support has an important role to help the anarchist organisation put into practice its activities, seeking to bring those interested closer to it. This approximation has as a future objective that some of these supporters will become militants of the organisation. The specific anarchist organisation draws in the greatest possible number of supporters and, through practical work, identifies those interested in joining the organisation and who have an appropriate profile for membership. The proposal for entry into the organisation may be made by the militants of the organisation to the supporter and vice-versa. Although each militant chooses their level of commitment to the organisation and where they want to be, the objective of the anarchist organisation is always to have the greatest number of militants in the more internal circles, with a greater level of commitment.

Let us give a practical example: let’s suppose that an organisation has deliberated to work internally with two levels of commitment – or two circles. When the militants are new they enter at the level of “militant” and, when they have been there six months and are prepared and committed militants, move on to the level of “full militant”. Let us suppose that this organisation has resolved to have a level of supporters. The objective of the organisation will be to draw in the greatest possible number of supporters, based on the affinity of each one with the organisation, transferring them to the level of militant and, after six months – once prepared – to the level of full militant. We illustrate how this can work in practice.

Flow of Militants

SU being the level of supporters, M of militants and FM of full militants, the objective is the flow indicated by the red arrow – to go from SU to M and from M to FM. Those who are interested can follow this flow, and those who are not can stay where they feel better. For example, if a person wants to give sporadic support, and no more than that, they may want to always stay at SU. The issue here is that all a person’s will to work should be utilised by the organisation. This is not because a person has little time, or because they prefer to help at a time when it must be rejected, but because inside a specific anarchist organisation there must be room for all those who wish to contribute. “The criteria for selection that never fails are the accomplishments. The aptitude and efficiency of the militants are, fundamentally, measures for the enthusiasm and the application with which they perform their tasks”. [Juan Mechoso. Acción Directa Anarquista. p.199.]

The logic of concentric circles requires that each militant and the organisation itself have very well defined rights and duties for each level of commitment. This is because it is not just for someone to make decisions about something with which they will not comply. A supporter who frequents activities once a month and makes sporadic contributions, for example, cannot decide on rules or activities that must be met or carried out daily, as they would be deciding something much more for the other militants than for themselves.

It is a very common practice in libertarian groups that people who make sporadic contributions decide on issues which end up being committed to or carried out by the more permanent members. It is very easy for a militant who appears from time to time to want to set the political line of the organisation, for example, since it is not they who will have to follow this line most of the time.

These are disproportionate forms of decision-making in which one ends up deciding something which others enact. In the model of concentric circles we seek a system of rights and duties in which everyone makes decisions about that which they could and should be committed to afterwards. In this way it is normal for supporters to decide only on that in which they will be involved. In the same way it is normal for militants of the organisation to decide on that which they will carry out. Thus we make decisions and their commitments proportionally and this implies that the organisation has clear criteria for entry, well defining who does and does not take part in it, and at what level of commitment the militants are.

An important criterion for entry is that all of the militants who enter the organisation must agree with its political line. For this the anarchist organisation must have theoretical material that expresses this line – in less depth for those who are not yet members of the organisation and in more depth for those who are. When someone is interested in the work of the anarchist organisation, showing interest in approximation, you should make this person a supporter and give them the necessary guidance. As a supporter, knowing the political line in a little more depth and having an affinity for the practical work of the organisation, the person may show interest in joining the organisation or the organisation can express its interest in the supporter becoming a militant. In both cases the supporter should receive permanent guidance from the anarchist organisation, giving to them theoretical material that will deepen their political line. One or more militants who know this line well will discuss doubts, debate and make clarifications with them. Having secured the agreement of the supporter with the political line of the organisation, and with agreement from both parties, the militant is integrated into the organisation. It is important that in the initial period every new militant has the guidance of another older one, who will orient and prepare them for work. In any event, the anarchist organisation always has to concern itself with the training and guidance of the supporters and militants so that this may allow them to change their level of commitment, if they so desire.

This same logic of concentric circles works in social work. Through it, the anarchist organisation is articulated to perform social work in the most appropriate and effective way. As we have seen, the anarchist organisation is divided internally into fronts for the performance of practical work. For this there are organisations that prefer to establish direct relations with the social movements, and there are others that prefer to present themselves through an intermediary social organisation, which we could call a grouping of tendency.

Participation in the grouping of tendency implies acceptance of a set of definitions that can be shared by comrades of diverse ideological origins, but which share certain indispensable exclusions (to the reformists, for example) if seeking a minimum level of real operational coherence. (…) The groupings of tendency, co-ordinated with each other and rooted in the most combative of the people (…) are a higher level than the latter [the level of the masses]. [Ibid. pg. 190, 192.]

The grouping of tendency puts itself between the social movements and the specific anarchist organisation, bringing together militants of distinct ideologies that have affinity in relation to certain practical questions.

As we have emphasised, there are anarchist organisations that prefer to present themselves directly in the social movements, without the necessity of the groupings of tendency, and others preferring to present themselves by means of these. In both cases there are positive and negative points and each organisation must determine the best way to act. As the views that we advocate in the social movements are much more practical than theoretical, it may be interesting to work with a grouping of tendency, incorporating people who agree with some or all of the positions that we advocate in the social movements (strength, classism, autonomy, combativeness, direct action, direct democracy and revolutionary perspective) and that will help us to augment the social force in defence of these positions.

In the same way as in the diagram above, the idea is that the specific anarchist organisation seeks insertion in this intermediate level (grouping of tendency) and through it presents itself, conducting its work in social movements in search of social insertion.  Again we illustrate how this works in practice.

 Anarchist influence / Flow of Militants

SAO being the specific anarchist organisation, GT the grouping of tendency and SM the social movement, there are two flows.

The first – that of the influence of the SAO – seeks to go to the GT and from there to the SM. Let us look at a few practical examples. The anarchist organisation that desires to act in a union may form a grouping of tendency with other activists from the union movement who defend some specific banners (revolutionary perspective, direct action, etc.) and by means of this tendency may influence the union movement, or the union in which it acts. Or the anarchist organisation may choose to work with the landless movement and, for this, brings people who defend similar positions (autonomy, direct democracy, etc.) in the social movement together in a grouping of tendency. By means of this grouping of tendency the specific anarchist organisation acts within the landless movement and, in this way, seeks to influence it.

This form of organisation aims to solve a very common problem that we find in activism. For example, when we know very dedicated activists; revolutionaries that advocate self-management, autonomy, grassroots democracy, direct democracy, etc. and with whom we do not act because they are not anarchists. These activists could work with the anarchists in the groupings of tendency and defend their positions in the social movements together.

The second arrow in the diagram shows the objective of the flow of militants. That is, in this scheme of work, the goal is to bring people in the social movements that have practical affinity with the anarchists into the groupings of tendency and, from there, bring those that have ideological affinity closer to the anarchist organisation. In the same way as in the previous diagram, if a militant has great practical affinity with the anarchists, but is not an anarchist, they must be a member of the grouping of tendency and will be fundamental to the achievement of social work. If they have ideological affinities, they may be closer to or even join the organisation.

The objective of the anarchist organisation is not to turn all activists into anarchists, but to learn to work with each of these activists in the most appropriate way. While having mutual interests the militants may change their positions in the circles (from the social movement to the grouping of tendency or from the grouping of tendency to the anarchist organisation). Without these mutual interests, however, each one acts where they think it more pertinent.


Appendix:

Charter of Principles of the Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro
(Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro – FARJ)

 “We desire the freedom and well-being of all men, all without exception. We want that every human being can develop and live in the happiest way possible. And we believe that this freedom and this well-being cannot be given by a man or by a party, but that everyone should find in themselves their conditions, and conquer them.

We consider that only the most complete application of the principle of solidarity can destroy war, oppression and exploitation, and solidarity can only be born of free agreement, of the spontaneous and desired harmonising of all concerned.”

– Errico Malatesta

Anarchism is a political ideology of social transformation,  which is expressed through an anti-authoritarian mode of reflection, interpretation and intervention on reality. It constitutes a revolutionary theory that struggles against all forms of exploitation and oppression. It has its historical origins in the working class struggles over almost two centuries. Committed to these principles, which are a continuation of the organisationalist current of anarchism, the Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ) proposes to work – now and without intermediations – in order to interfere in the different realities that make up the universe of social movements.

To achieve its intended goals – to move immediately towards a world where all are free and equal – the FARJ will respect the firm ethical precepts that sustain it, promoting the development of a political culture that is based on respect for the plurality of perspectives and affinity of objectives.

The FARJ is an organisation of active minority, made up of militants conscious of their historical responsibility (“a subject who has a libertarian ethic knows why they’re struggling and is able to explain the ideological motives of struggle, [and] has commitment and self-discipline to carry out the tasks undertaken ” – Ideal Peres). It proposes a radical transformation of society having as its starting point everyday popular life. It seeks always to support the development and strengthening of self-organisation, in the construction of independent and combative activities, in order that we all achieve a truly just society, free and equal, within the conception that each of its components is only an interim fighter inserted in the continued pursuit of human beings but for the realisation of the perfect dream, at least for creating the best possible utopias. To this end, the FARJ always seeks to support the training and development of other self-managed organisations, participating combatively in the day-to-day struggles of popular movements in action, first, in Brazil, in Latin America and especially in Rio de Janeiro.

To achieve these objectives, the FARJ has well-defined principles and content. The assumption of coherence with these principles is what determines ideological authenticity pertaining to anarchism.

In summary, these principles are:

1. Freedom

Freedom is the founding principle of anarchism. The struggle for freedom precedes anarchy. The desire to be free – from the contingencies of nature, principally, and, in the second instance, from human predators themselves, which by means of instruments of domination suffocate true egalitarian and fraternal dynamics –  is the axis around which, in a permanent process historical, social, political and economic transformations turn. Individual freedom, however, can only find its greatest expression in collective freedom. States, capitalism and their results, class society, false educational principles, authoritarian family practices and ideologies of mass alienation, as well as mistaken theories of social emancipation, which lead to the formation of new tyrannies, currently constitute the greatest obstacles to the full libertarian development of humanity.

2. Ethics and Values

The libertarian ethic is synonymous with anarchism, and is its backbone. It is a non-negotiable militant commitment, and presupposes consistency between life and ideology, that is, living anarchism. We understand that the ends are in the means, just as the tree is in the seed, and that we will only arrive at libertarian ends with political responsibility and through libertarian means. Ethics are exercised in mutual respect, and are responsible for defining the priority of values.

3. Federalism

Federalism is a non-hierarchical method of political organisation of society. It presupposes the decentralisation of the process of decision-making and enables the integration of self-managed nuclei at all levels.

It is based on mutual aid and on free association, with equal rights and duties for all. We consider it essential that the federal units exercise their right to deliberate, through delegations taken in the grassroots assemblies, guided by agreed principles, and having the organisational and militant commitment to abide by the resolutions of the council of delegates, thus respecting the decisions of the federative body.

4. Internationalism

Internationalism is exercised, in practice, through federalism. We understand that internationalism is enriched by respect for diversity of cultural practices and is practiced by the solidarity of struggles and through social self-management.

5. Self-management

An anti-capitalist and anti-statist method of socio-economic management at all levels. It is characterised as the management of the means of production and social organisation for the benefit of the collectivity; it is exercised from the grassroots entities, with equal rights and participation of all responsible.

Self-management, as a process of constructing the new, while still living with the current outdated system, potentiates the transformations that point to an egalitarian society.

6. Direct Action

A method of action based on individual and collective protagonism. It is marked by horizontality and by a minimum of intermediation that, when necessary, does not result in the emergence of decision-making centres separated from those concerned.

Direct action is expressed in multiple variants and at all levels and expression, connecting the workers and oppressed to the centre of political action.

 “Only direct action shakes thrones, threatens tyrannies, convolves worlds; it alone, principally, educates and strengthens the dispossessed people in their millennial struggle. Direct action is the revolution.” (José Oiticica)

7. Class struggle

We affirm our identity as workers. We fight for a classless society in which everyone can work and have the right to a dignified life. To achieve this objective, we consciously face a daily class struggle against the exploitative elites and the state. We believe that the end of class society will only be achieved with the emancipation of the oppressed in the process of the social revolution.

8. Political Practice and Social Insertion

We understand that, as workers, our intervention must be guided by our own social reality, based on the struggles that we face in our daily lives. However, considering that we anarchists believe that political action involves a greater commitment to social causes, we must always seek to relate our own militant practice to the diverse manifestations of popular struggles. Therefore, we believe that any expressions in this direction in the social, cultural, peasant, trade union, student, community, ecological etc. camps – as long as inserted in the context of the struggles for freedom – contemplate our political practice of social insertion.

9. Mutual Aid

We propose to achieve active solidarity in struggle, fraternising with all comrades truly working for a more just and egalitarian world. Thus, we consider that mutual aid is a logical and direct consequence of the set of principles of anarchism, since we can only implement them through effective solidarity between the exploited and oppressed.

*     *     *

Our conception is that anarchism, as social thought, does not allow the separating of theory and practice, ends from means and action from transformation; it does not allow for rigid frameworks wishing to establish, for the attitudes of militants, an abstract model that determines their principles and strategies. Anarchism, by being anti-dogmatic and establishing  freedom as its primary concern, seeks in the evident contradictions of the capitalist system its field of action. Therefore, it is within the class struggle that the anarchists must be, while having a society of oppressed and oppressors, of bosses and workers, owners and dispossessed. However, as anarchists understand that the class struggle is a means and not an ends, they must be on the alert for certain interpretations of authoritarian meaning that conceive of history as the mere result of the struggle between classes. If there really is a factor that transforms history for libertarians, it can only be the result of the struggle continually engendered by revolutionaries against oppression and in search of solidarity. For anarchists, man isn’t, in the new society, a simple result of historical materialism. Men are not forged by the hammer blows levelled by predetermined dialectics nor by some scheme that transcends them to concrete action.

Therefore, direct action is not only a means or methodology of combat, but the only way to materialise, in attitudes, the desire for individual and collective transformation. In this way the anarchists, who never sought a scientistic systematisation of their social thought, affirm that only through concrete actions can the radical process of transformation result.

Without masters or dogmas, libertarian militants proceed advocating social insertion in the most pressing issues of their lives. Such a relationship puts in the hands of the people and other organised groups the task of changing everything to please everyone. We think that anarchic elements were present in the classless societies of yesterday, and continue, in those of today, not because they represent the result of economic contradictions, but to express, in the fullest form, the desire for freedom common to all individuals and communities throughout time. For this anarchism served, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as an important inspiration for the struggle against the bourgeoisie in the same way as it should determine the ethical standards of the future anarchic society.

[Leaflet] What is Direct Action? (web)

Download PDFby Organise! (Ireland)

From the black bloc ‘having a go’ to going on marches, from smashing up a McDonalds’ to attending a picket, from throwing bricks to going to fundraising concerts for single issue campaigns – all of these activities have had the term ‘direct action’ applied to them.

Direct action has been confused with actions that are probably best termed as ‘symbolic’ – and which are, on many occasions, ineffective. A lot of the confusion has been due to the media terming anything that they regard as outside the perimeters of ‘normal protest’ as ‘direct action’ – however some confusion is down to activists themselves confusing the terms. Many activists, for example, regard protests such as the G8 summit as direct action, but these types of protests, even if they are successful in shutting down the event, remain as symbolic.

Continue reading “[Leaflet] What is Direct Action? (web)”

Give Up Activism: A Critique of the Activist Mentality in the direct action Movement (web)

Download PDFby Andrew X

One problem apparent in the June 18th day of action was the adoption of an activist mentality. This problem became particularly obvious with June 18th precisely because the people involved in organising it and the people involved on the day tried to push beyond these limitations. This piece is no criticism of anyone involved – rather an attempt to inspire some thought on the challenges that confront us if we are really serious in our intention of doing away with the capitalist mode of production.

Experts

By ‘an activist mentality’ what I mean is that people think of themselves primarily as activists and as belonging to some wider community of activists. The activist identifies with what they do and thinks of it as their role in life, like a job or career. In the same way some people will identify with their job as a doctor or a teacher, and instead of it being something they just happen to be doing, it becomes an essential part of their self-image.

The activist is a specialist or an expert in social change. To think of yourself as being an activist means to think of yourself as being somehow privileged or more advanced than others in your appreciation of the need for social change, in the knowledge of how to achieve it and as leading or being in the forefront of the practical struggle to create this change.

Activism, like all expert roles, has its basis in the division of labour – it is a specialised separate task. The division of labour is the foundation of class society, the fundamental division being that between mental and manual labour. The division of labour operates, for example, in medicine or education – instead of healing and bringing up kids being common knowledge and tasks that everyone has a hand in, this knowledge becomes the specialised property of doctors and teachers – experts that we must rely on to do these things for us. Experts jealously guard and mystify the skills they have. This keeps people separated and disempowered and reinforces hierarchical class society.

A division of labour implies that one person takes on a role on behalf of many others who relinquish this responsibility. A separation of tasks means that other people will grow your food and make your clothes and supply your electricity while you get on with achieving social change. The activist, being an expert in social change, assumes that other people aren’t doing anything to change their lives and so feels a duty or a responsibility to do it on their behalf. Activists think they are compensating for the lack of activity by others. Defining ourselves as activists means defining our actions as the ones which will bring about social change, thus disregarding the activity of thousands upon thousands of other non-activists. Activism is based on this misconception that it is only activists who do social change – whereas of course class struggle is happening all the time.

Form and Content

The tension between the form of ‘activism’ in which our political activity appears and its increasingly radical content has only been growing over the last few years. The background of a lot of the people involved in June 18th is of being ‘activists’ who ‘campaign’ on an ‘issue’. The political progress that has been made in the activist scene over the last few years has resulted in a situation where many people have moved beyond single issue campaigns against specific companies or developments to a rather ill-defined yet nonetheless promising anti-capitalist perspective. Yet although the content of the campaigning activity has altered, the form of activism has not. So instead of taking on Monsanto and going to their headquarters and occupying it, we have now seen beyond the single facet of capital represented by Monsanto and so develop a ‘campaign’ against capitalism. And where better to go and occupy than what is perceived as being the headquarters of capitalism – the City?

Our methods of operating are still the same as if we were taking on a specific corporation or development, despite the fact that capitalism is not at all the same sort of thing and the ways in which one might bring down a particular company are not at all the same as the ways in which you might bring down capitalism. For example, vigorous campaigning by animal rights activists has succeeded in wrecking both Consort dog breeders and Hillgrove Farm cat breeders. The businesses were ruined and went into receivership. Similarly the campaign waged against arch-vivisectionists Huntingdon Life Sciences succeeded in reducing their share price by 33%, but the company just about managed to survive by running a desperate PR campaign in the City to pick up prices.[2] Activism can very successfully accomplish bringing down a business, yet to bring down capitalism a lot more will be required than to simply extend this sort of activity to every business in every sector. Similarly with the targeting of butcher’s shops by animal rights activists, the net result is probably only to aid the supermarkets in closing down all the small butcher’s shops, thus assisting the process of competition and the ‘natural selection’ of the marketplace. Thus activists often succeed in destroying one small business while strengthening capital overall.

A similar thing applies with anti-roads activism. Wide-scale anti-roads protests have created opportunities for a whole new sector of capitalism – security, surveillance, tunnellers, climbers, experts and consultants. We are now one ‘market risk’ among others to be taken into account when bidding for a roads contract. We may have actually assisted the rule of market forces, by forcing out the companies that are weakest and least able to cope. Protest-bashing consultant Amanda Webster says: “The advent of the protest movement will actually provide market advantages to those contractors who can handle it effectively.” [3] Again activism can bring down a business or stop a road but capitalism carries merrily on, if anything stronger than before.

These things are surely an indication, if one were needed, that tackling capitalism will require not only a quantitative change (more actions, more activists) but a qualitative one (we need to discover some more effective form of operating). It seems we have very little idea of what it might actually require to bring down capitalism. As if all it needed was some sort of critical mass of activists occupying offices to be reached and then we’d have a revolution…

The form of activism has been preserved even while the content of this activity has moved beyond the form that contains it. We still think in terms of being ‘activists’ doing a ‘campaign’ on an ‘issue’, and because we are ‘direct action’ activists we will go and ‘do an action’ against our target. The method of campaigning against specific developments or single companies has been carried over into this new thing of taking on capitalism. We’re attempting to take on capitalism and conceptualising what we’re doing in completely inappropriate terms, utilising a method of operating appropriate to liberal reformism. So we have the bizarre spectacle of ‘doing an action’ against capitalism – an utterly inadequate practice.

Roles

The role of the ‘activist’ is a role we adopt just like that of policeman, parent or priest – a strange psychological form we use to define ourselves and our relation to others. The ‘activist’ is a specialist or an expert in social change – yet the harder we cling to this role and notion of what we are, the more we actually impede the change we desire. A real revolution will involve the breaking out of all preconceived roles and the destruction of all specialism – the reclamation of our lives. The seizing control over our own destinies which is the act of revolution will involve the creation of new selves and new forms of interaction and community. ‘Experts’ in anything can only hinder this.

The Situationist International developed a stringent critique of roles and particularly the role of ‘the militant’. Their criticism was mainly directed against leftist and social-democratic ideologies because that was mainly what they encountered. Although these forms of alienation still exist and are plain to be seen, in our particular milieu it is the liberal activist we encounter more often than the leftist militant. Nevertheless, they share many features in common (which of course is not surprising).

The Situationist Raoul Vaneigem defined roles like this: “Stereotypes are the dominant images of a period… The stereotype is the model of the role; the role is a model form of behaviour. The repetition of an attitude creates a role.” To play a role is to cultivate an appearance to the neglect of everything authentic: “we succumb to the seduction of borrowed attitudes.” As role-players we dwell in inauthenticity – reducing our lives to a string of clichés – “breaking [our] day down into a series of poses chosen more or less unconsciously from the range of dominant stereotypes.” [4] This process has been at work since the early days of the anti-roads movement. At Twyford Down after Yellow Wednesday in December ‘92, press and media coverage focused on the Dongas Tribe and the dreadlocked countercultural aspect of the protests. Initially this was by no means the predominant element – there was a large group of ramblers at the eviction for example. [5] But people attracted to Twyford by the media coverage thought every single person there had dreadlocks. The media coverage had the effect of making ‘ordinary’ people stay away and more dreadlocked countercultural types turned up – decreasing the diversity of the protests. More recently, a similar thing has happened in the way in which people drawn to protest sites by the coverage of Swampy they had seen on TV began to replicate in their own lives the attitudes presented by the media as characteristic of the role of the ‘eco-warrior’. [6]

“Just as the passivity of the consumer is an active passivity, so the passivity of the spectator lies in his ability to assimilate roles and play them according to official norms. The repetition of images and stereotypes offers a set of models from which everyone is supposed to choose a role.” [7] The role of the militant or activist is just one of these roles, and therein, despite all the revolutionary rhetoric that goes with the role, lies its ultimate conservatism.

The supposedly revolutionary activity of the activist is a dull and sterile routine – a constant repetition of a few actions with no potential for change. Activists would probably resist change if it came because it would disrupt the easy certainties of their role and the nice little niche they’ve carved out for themselves. Like union bosses, activists are eternal representatives and mediators. In the same way as union leaders would be against their workers actually succeeding in their struggle because this would put them out of a job, the role of the activist is threatened by change. Indeed revolution, or even any real moves in that direction, would profoundly upset activists by depriving them of their role. If everyone is becoming revolutionary then you’re not so special anymore, are you?

So why do we behave like activists? Simply because it’s the easy cowards’ option? It is easy to fall into playing the activist role because it fits into this society and doesn’t challenge it – activism is an accepted form of dissent. Even if as activists we are doing things which are not accepted and are illegal, the form of activism itself – the way it is like a job – means that it fits in with our psychology and our upbringing. It has a certain attraction precisely because it is not revolutionary.

We Don’t Need Any More Martyrs

The key to understanding both the role of the militant and the activist is self-sacrifice – the sacrifice of the self to ‘the cause’ which is seen as being separate from the self. This of course has nothing to do with real revolutionary activity which is the seizing of the self. Revolutionary martyrdom goes together with the identification of some cause separate from one’s own life – an action against capitalism which identifies capitalism as ‘out there’ in the City is fundamentally mistaken – the real power of capital is right here in our everyday lives – we re-create its power every day because capital is not a thing but a social relation between people (and hence classes) mediated by things.

Of course I am not suggesting that everyone who was involved in June 18th shares in the adoption of this role and the self-sacrifice that goes with it to an equal extent. As I said above, the problem of activism was made particularly apparent by June 18th precisely because it was an attempt to break from these roles and our normal ways of operating. Much of what is outlined here is a ‘worst case scenario’ of what playing the role of an activist can lead to. The extent to which we can recognise this within our own movement will give us an indication of how much work there is still to be done.

The activist makes politics dull and sterile and drives people away from it, but playing the role also fucks up the activist herself. The role of the activist creates a separation between ends and means: self-sacrifice means creating a division between the revolution as love and joy in the future but duty and routine now. The worldview of activism is dominated by guilt and duty because the activist is not fighting for herself but for a separate cause: “All causes are equally inhuman.” [8]

As an activist you have to deny your own desires because your political activity is defined such that these things do not count as ‘politics’. You put ‘politics’ in a separate box to the rest of your life – it’s like a job… you do ‘politics’ 9-5 and then go home and do something else. Because it is in this separate box, ‘politics’ exists unhampered by any real-world practical considerations of effectiveness. The activist feels obliged to keep plugging away at the same old routine unthinkingly, unable to stop or consider, the main thing being that the activist is kept busy and assuages her guilt by banging her head against a brick wall if necessary.

Part of being revolutionary might be knowing when to stop and wait. It might be important to know how and when to strike for maximum effectiveness and also how and when NOT to strike. Activists have this ‘We must do something NOW!’ attitude that seems fuelled by guilt. This is completely untactical.

The self-sacrifice of the militant or the activist is mirrored in their power over others as an expert – like a religion there is a kind of hierarchy of suffering and self-righteousness. The activist assumes power over others by virtue of her greater degree of suffering (‘non-hierarchical’ activist groups in fact form a ‘dictatorship of the most committed’). The activist uses moral coercion and guilt to wield power over others less experienced in the theology of suffering. Their subordination of themselves goes hand in hand with their subordination of others – all enslaved to ‘the cause’. Self-sacrificing politicos stunt their own lives and their own will to live – this generates a bitterness and an antipathy to life which is then turned outwards to wither everything else. They are “great despisers of life… the partisans of absolute self-sacrifice… their lives twisted by their monstrous asceticism.” [9] We can see this in our own movement, for example on site, in the antagonism between the desire to sit around and have a good time versus the guilt-tripping build/fortify/barricade work ethic and in the sometimes excessive passion with which ‘lunch outs’ are denounced. The self-sacrificing martyr is offended and outraged when she sees others that are not sacrificing themselves. Like when the ‘honest worker’ attacks the scrounger or the layabout with such vitriol, we know it is actually because she hates her job and the martyrdom she has made of her life and therefore hates to see anyone escape this fate, hates to see anyone enjoying themselves while she is suffering – she must drag everyone down into the muck with her – an equality of self-sacrifice.

In the old religious cosmology, the successful martyr went to heaven. In the modern worldview, successful martyrs can look forward to going down in history. The greatest self-sacrifice, the greatest success in creating a role (or even better, in devising a whole new one for people to emulate – e.g. the eco-warrior) wins a reward in history – the bourgeois heaven.

The old left was quite open in its call for heroic sacrifice: “Sacrifice yourselves joyfully, brothers and sisters! For the Cause, for the Established Order, for the Party, for Unity, for Meat and Potatoes!” [10] But these days it is much more veiled: Vaneigem accuses “young leftist radicals” of “enter[ing] the service of a Cause – the ‘best’ of all Causes. The time they have for creative activity they squander on handing out leaflets, putting up posters, demonstrating or heckling local politicians. They become militants, fetishising action because others are doing their thinking for them.” [11]

This resounds with us – particularly the thing about the fetishising of action – in left groups the militants are left free to engage in endless busywork because the group leader or guru has the ‘theory’ down pat, which is just accepted and lapped up – the ‘party line’. With direct action activists it’s slightly different – action is fetishised, but more out of an aversion to any theory whatsoever.

Although it is present, that element of the activist role which relies on self-sacrifice and duty was not so significant in June 18th. What is more of an issue for us is the feeling of separateness from ‘ordinary people’ that activism implies. People identify with some weird sub-culture or clique as being ‘us’ as opposed to the ‘them’ of everyone else in the world.

Isolation

The activist role is a self-imposed isolation from all the people we should be connecting to. Taking on the role of an activist separates you from the rest of the human race as someone special and different. People tend to think of their own first person plural (who are you referring to when you say ‘we’?) as referring to some community of activists, rather than a class. For example, for some time now in the activist milieu it has been popular to argue for ‘no more single issues’ and for the importance of ‘making links’. However, many people’s conception of what this involved was to ‘make links’ with other activists and other campaign groups. June 18th demonstrated this quite well, the whole idea being to get all the representatives of all the various different causes or issues in one place at one time, voluntarily relegating ourselves to the ghetto of good causes.

Similarly, the various networking forums that have recently sprung up around the country – the Rebel Alliance in Brighton, NASA in Nottingham, Riotous Assembly in Manchester, the London Underground etc. have a similar goal – to get all the activist groups in the area talking to each other. I’m not knocking this – it is an essential pre-requisite for any further action, but it should be recognised for the extremely limited form of ‘making links’ that it is. It is also interesting in that what the groups attending these meetings have in common is that they are activist groups – what they are actually concerned with seems to be a secondary consideration.

It is not enough merely to seek to link together all the activists in the world, neither is it enough to seek to transform more people into activists. Contrary to what some people may think, we will not be any closer to a revolution if lots and lots of people become activists. Some people seem to have the strange idea that what is needed is for everyone to be somehow persuaded into becoming activists like us and then we’ll have a revolution. Vaneigem says: “Revolution is made everyday despite, and in opposition to, the specialists of revolution.” [12]

The militant or activist is a specialist in social change or revolution. The specialist recruits others to her own tiny area of specialism in order to increase her own power and thus dispel the realisation of her own powerlessness. “The specialist… enrols himself in order to enrol others.” [13] Like a pyramid selling scheme, the hierarchy is self-replicating – you are recruited and in order not to be at the bottom of the pyramid, you have to recruit more people to be under you, who then do exactly the same. The reproduction of the alienated society of roles is accomplished through specialists.

Jacques Camatte in his essay ‘On Organization’ [14] makes the astute point that political groupings often end up as “gangs” defining themselves by exclusion – the group member’s first loyalty becomes to the group rather than to the struggle. His critique applies especially to the myriad of Left sects and groupuscules at which it was directed but it applies also to a lesser extent to the activist mentality.

The political group or party substitutes itself for the proletariat and its own survival and reproduction become paramount – revolutionary activity becomes synonymous with ‘building the party’ and recruiting members. The group takes itself to have a unique grasp on truth and everyone outside the group is treated like an idiot in need of education by this vanguard. Instead of an equal debate between comrades we get instead the separation of theory and propaganda, where the group has its own theory, which is almost kept secret in the belief that the inherently less mentally able punters must be lured in the organisation with some strategy of populism before the politics are sprung on them by surprise. This dishonest method of dealing with those outside of the group is similar to a religious cult – they will never tell you upfront what they are about.

We can see here some similarities with activism, in the way that the activist milieu acts like a leftist sect. Activism as a whole has some of the characteristics of a “gang”. Activist gangs can often end up being cross-class alliances, including all sorts of liberal reformists because they too are ‘activists’. People think of themselves primarily as activists and their primary loyalty becomes to the community of activists and not to the struggle as such. The “gang” is illusory community, distracting us from creating a wider community of resistance. The essence of Camatte’s critique is an attack on the creation of an interior/exterior division between the group and the class. We come to think of ourselves as being activists and therefore as being separate from and having different interests from the mass of working class people.

Our activity should be the immediate expression of a real struggle, not the affirmation of the separateness and distinctness of a particular group. In Marxist groups the possession of ‘theory’ is the all-important thing determining power – it’s different in the activist milieu, but not that different – the possession of the relevant ‘social capital’ – knowledge, experience, contacts, equipment etc. is the primary thing determining power.

Activism reproduces the structure of this society in its operations: “When the rebel begins to believe that he is fighting for a higher good, the authoritarian principle gets a fillip.” [15] This is no trivial matter, but is at the basis of capitalist social relations. Capital is a social relation between people mediated by things – the basic principle of alienation is that we live our lives in the service of some thing that we ourselves have created. If we reproduce this structure in the name of politics that declares itself anti-capitalist, we have lost before we have begun. You cannot fight alienation by alienated means.

A Modest Proposal

This is a modest proposal that we should develop ways of operating that are adequate to our radical ideas. This task will not be easy and the writer of this short piece has no clearer insight into how we should go about this than anyone else. I am not arguing that June 18th should have been abandoned or attacked; indeed it was a valiant attempt to get beyond our limitations and to create something better than what we have at present. However, in its attempts to break with antique and formulaic ways of doing things it has made clear the ties that still bind us to the past. The criticisms of activism that I have expressed above do not all apply to June 18th. However there is a certain paradigm of activism which at its worst includes all that I have outlined above and June 18th shared in this paradigm to a certain extent. To exactly what extent is for you to decide.

Activism is a form partly forced upon us by weakness. Like the joint action taken by Reclaim the Streets and the Liverpool dockers – we find ourselves in times in which radical politics is often the product of mutual weakness and isolation. If this is the case, it may not even be within our power to break out of the role of activists. It may be that in times of a downturn in struggle, those who continue to work for social revolution become marginalised and come to be seen (and to see themselves) as a special separate group of people. It may be that this is only capable of being corrected by a general upsurge in struggle when we won’t be weirdo’s and freaks any more but will seem simply to be stating what is on everybody’s minds. However, to work to escalate the struggle it will be necessary to break with the role of activists to whatever extent is possible – to constantly try to push at the boundaries of our limitations and constraints.

Historically, those movements that have come the closest to de-stabilising or removing or going beyond capitalism have not at all taken the form of activism. Activism is essentially a political form and a method of operating suited to liberal reformism that is being pushed beyond its own limits and used for revolutionary purposes. The activist role in itself must be problematic for those who desire social revolution…

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Give Up Activism – Postscript

Many of the articles printed in the Reflections on June 18th pamphlet repeated almost to the onset of tedium that capitalism is a social relation and isn’t just to do with big banks, corporations or international financial institutions. It’s an important point and worth making, but ‘Give up Activism’ had other fish to fry.

Therefore the conclusion reached by these other articles was the point of departure for this one – if it is true that capitalism is a social relation based in production and in the relations between classes then what implications does this have for our activity and for our method of attacking it? The basic kernel of the piece and the initial idea that inspired the writing of it is the ‘Form and Content’ section. It had occurred to many people that there was something a little odd about a ‘day of action against capitalism’. The original inspiration behind the article was an attempt to pin down what it was that made the idea appear a little odd, incongruous, contradictory.

It seemed there was a similarity between the way we were carrying on acting like liberal activists campaigning against capitalism as if it was another single issue, another ‘cause’, and Vaneigem’s critique of the leftist militant, whose politics consist of a set of duties carried out on behalf of an external ‘cause’. It is true that the activist and the militant share this common factor, but it is about all they have in common. I made the mistake of carrying over all the other characteristics attributed by Vaneigem to ‘the militant’ and assigning them also to the activist, when they largely weren’t appropriate. As a result, large sections of ‘Give up Activism’ come across as far too harsh and as an inaccurate representation of the direct action movement. The Situationists’ characteristic bile was perhaps more appropriate when directed at leftist party hacks than as a description of the sort of politics involved around June 18th. The self-sacrifice, the martyrdom and guilt that Vaneigem identified as central to the politics of ‘the militant’ is much less a feature of direct action politics, which to the contrary is more usually criticised for the opposite failing of lifestylism.

As has been very neatly drawn out by an excellent critique in the American publication The Bad Days Will End!, [16] the original idea that motivated the writing of the article and this rehashing of Vaneigem, translating the critique of the leftist ‘militant’ into that of the liberal ‘activist’, are incongruously roped together to produce an article which is an unwieldy amalgam of the objective (What social situation are we in? What forms of action are appropriate?) and the subjective (Why do we feel like activists? Why do we have this mentality? Can we change the way we feel about ourselves?). It is not so much that the subjective aspect of activism is emphasised over the objective, but rather more that the very real problems that are identified with acting as activists come to be seen to be mere products of having this ‘activist mentality’. ‘Give up Activism’ can then be read such that it seems to reverse cause and effect and to imply that if we simply ‘give up’ this mental role then the objective conditions will change too:

“[Give up Activism’s] greatest weakness is this one-sided emphasis on the ‘subjective’ side of the social phenomenon of activism. The emphasis points to an obvious conclusion implicit throughout [the] argument: If activism is a mental attitude or ‘role’, it may be changed, as one changes one’s mind, or thrown off, like a mask or a costume… The implication is clear: cease to cling, let go of the role, ‘give up activism’, and a significant impediment to the desired change will be removed.” [17]

The article was of course never proposing that we could simply think ourselves out of the problem. It was intended merely to suggest that we might be able to remove an impediment and an illusion about our situation as one step towards challenging that situation, and from that point that we might start to discover a more effective and more appropriate way of acting.

It is now clear that the slipshod hitching of Vaneigem to a enquiry into what it was that was incongruous and odd in having a one-day action against capitalism was an error, prompted by an over-hasty appropriation of Situationist ideas, without considering how much of a connection there really was between them and the original idea behind the piece. The theory of roles is perhaps the weakest part of Vaneigem’s ideas and in his ‘Critique of the Situationist International’, Gilles Dauvé even goes so far as to say: “Vaneigem was the weakest side of the SI, the one which reveals all its weaknesses”. [18] This is probably a little harsh. But nevertheless, the sort of degeneration that Situationist ideas underwent after the post-1968 disintegration of the SI took the worst elements of Vaneigem’s “radical subjectivity” as their starting point, in the poorest examples effectively degenerating into bourgeois individualism.[19] That it is this element of Situationist thought that has proven the most easily recuperable should give us pause for thought before too-readily taking it on board.

Revolution in Your Head

This over-emphasis in ‘Give up Activism’ on the theory of roles and on the subjective side of things has led some people to fail to recognise the original impetus behind the piece. This starting point and presupposition was perhaps not made clear enough, because some people seem to have assumed that the purpose of the article was to make some kind of point concerning individual psychological health. ‘Give up Activism’ was not intended to be an article about or an exercise in radical therapy. The main intention of the article, however inexpertly executed, was always to think about our collective activity – what we are doing and how we might do it better.

However, there was a point to the ‘subjectivism’ of the main part of the article. The reason why ‘Give up Activism’ was so concerned with our ideas and our mental image of ourselves is not because I thought that if we change our ideas then everything will be alright, but because I had nothing to say about our activity. This was very clearly a critique written from the inside and thus also a self-critique and I am still very much involved in ‘activist’ politics. As I made plain, I have not necessarily got any clearer idea than anyone else of how to go about developing new forms of action more appropriate to an ‘anti-capitalist’ perspective. June 18th was a valiant attempt to do just this, and ‘Give up Activism’ was not a criticism of the action on June 18th as such. I certainly couldn’t have come up with anything much better myself.

Although the piece is called ‘Give up Activism’, I did not want to suggest at all that people stop trashing GM crops, smashing up the City and disrupting the gatherings of the rich and powerful, or any of the other myriad acts of resistance that ‘activists’ engage in. It was more the way we do these things and what we think we are doing when we do them that I was seeking to question. Because ‘Give up Activism’ had little or nothing to recommend in terms of objective practical activity, the emphasis on the subjective made it seem like I thought these problems existed only in our heads.

Of course, thinking of ourselves as activists and as belonging to a community of activists is no more than a recognition of the truth, and there is nothing pathological in that. The problem I was trying to make clear was the identification with the activist role – being happy as a radical minority. I intended to question the role, to make people dissatisfied with the role, even while they remained within it. It is only in this way that we stand a chance of escaping it.

Obviously we are constrained within our specific circumstances. During an ebb in the class struggle, revolutionaries are in even more of a minority than they are in any case. We probably don’t have any choice about appearing as a strange subculture. But we do have a choice about our attitude to this situation, and if we come to ditch the mental identification with the role then we may discover that there is actually some room for manoeuvre within our activist role so that we can try and break from activist practice as far as we are able. The point is that challenging the ‘subjective’ element – our activist self-image – will at least be a step towards moving beyond the role in its ‘objective’ element also. As I said in ‘Give up Activism’, only with a general escalation of the class struggle will activists be able to completely ditch their role, but in the meantime: “to work to escalate the struggle it will be necessary to break with the role of activists to whatever extent is possible – to constantly try to push at the boundaries of our limitations and constraints.” Which was precisely the point of the article.

For if we cannot even think beyond the role now, then what hope have we of ever escaping it? We should at the very least be dissatisfied with our position as a radical minority and be trying to generalise the struggle and make the necessary upturn happen. Doing away with the activist mentality is necessary but not sufficient for doing away with the role in practice.

Up the Workers!

Although ‘Give up Activism’ neglected to recommend any actual change in behaviour outside of saying that we needed one, perhaps now it would be appropriate to say something about this. How can we bring ‘politics’ out of its separate box, as an external cause to which we dedicate ourselves?

Many of the criticisms of the direct action movement revolve around similar points. Capitalism is based on work; our struggles against it are not based on our work but quite the opposite, they are something we do outside whatever work we may do. Our struggles are not based on our direct needs (as for example, going on strike for higher wages); they seem disconnected, arbitrary. Our ‘days of action’ and so forth have no connection to any wider on-going struggle in society. We treat capitalism as if it was something external, ignoring our own relation to it. These points are repeated again and again in criticisms of the direct action movement (including ‘Give up Activism’ but also in many other places).

The problem is not necessarily that people don’t understand that capital is a social relation and that it’s to do with production as well as just banks and stock exchanges, here as well as in the Third World or that capital is a relation between classes. The point is that even when all of this is understood our attitude to this is still as outsiders looking in, deciding at what point to attack this system. Our struggle against capitalism is not based on our relation to value-creation, to work. On the whole the people who make up the direct action movement occupy marginal positions within society as the unemployed, as students or working in various temporary and transitory jobs. We do not really inhabit the world of production, but exist largely in the realm of consumption and circulation. What unity the direct action movement possesses does not come from all working in the same occupation or living in the same area. It is a unity based on intellectual commitment to a set of ideas.

To a certain extent ‘Give up Activism’ was being disingenuous (as were many of the other critiques making similar points) in providing all these hints but never spelling out exactly where they led, which left the door open for them to be misunderstood. The author of the critique in The Bad Days Will End! was right to point out what the article was indicating but shied away from actually mentioning: the basic thing that’s wrong with activism is that it isn’t collective mass struggle by the working class at the point of production, which is the way that revolutions are supposed to happen.

The sort of activity that meets the criteria of all the criticisms – that is based on immediate needs, in a mass on-going struggle, in direct connection to our everyday lives and that does not treat capital as something external to us, is this working class struggle. It seems a little unfair to criticise the direct action movement for not being something that it cannot be and has never claimed to be, but nevertheless, if we want to move forward we’ve got to know what we’re lacking.

The reason that this sort of working class struggle is the obvious answer to what we are lacking is that this is THE model of revolution that the last hundred years or so has handed down to us that we have to draw upon. However, the shadow of the failure of the workers’ movement still hangs over us. And if this is not the model of how a revolution might happen, then what is? And no one has any very convincing answers to that question.

A Vociferous Minority

So we are stuck with the question – what do we do as a radical minority that wants to create revolution in non-revolutionary times? The way I see it at the moment, we basically have two options. The first is to recognise that as a small scene of radicals we can have relatively little influence on the overall picture and that if and when an upsurge in the class struggle occurs it probably won’t have much to do with us. Therefore until the mythical day arrives the best thing we can do is to continue to take radical action, to pursue politics that push things in the right direction and to try and drag along as many other people as possible, but basically to resign ourselves to that fact that we are going to continue to be a minority. So until the point when some sort of upturn in the class struggle occurs it’s basically a holding operation. We can try and stop things getting worse, have a finger in the dam, try and strategically target weak points in the system where we think we can hit and have some effect, develop our theory, live our lives in as radical a way as possible, build a sustainable counter culture that can carry on doing these things in the long term… and hopefully when one day, events out of our control lead to a general radicalisation of society and an upturn in the class struggle we will be there ready to play some part and to contribute what things we have learnt and what skills we have developed as a radical subculture.

The flaw in this sort of approach is that it appears almost like another sort of ‘automatic Marxism’ – a term used to poke fun at those Marxists who thought that a revolution would happen when the contradictions between the forces and the relations of production had matured sufficiently, when the objective conditions were right, so that revolution almost seemed to be a process that happened without the need for any human involvement and you could just sit back and wait for it to happen. This sort of idea is a flaw carried over into ultra-left thinking. As is explained in The Bad Days Will End!, many ultra-left groups have recognised that in periods of downturn, they are necessarily going to be minorities and have argued against compensating for this with any kind of party-building or attempts to substitute their group for the struggle of the proletariat as a whole. Some ultra-left groups have taken this line of thinking to its logical conclusion and have ended up turning doing nothing into a political principle. Of course our response would not be to do nothing, but nevertheless, the point remains that if everyone similarly just waited for an upsurge to happen then it certainly never would. Effectively by just waiting for it to happen we are assuming that someone else will do it for us and maintaining a division between us and the ‘ordinary’ workers who will make this happen.

The alternative to this scenario is to stop thinking of the ebb and flow of the class struggle as like some force of nature that just comes and goes without us being able to effect it at all, and to start thinking about how to build class power and how to end the current disorganised and atomised state of workers in this country. The problem is that over the last twenty or so years, the social landscape of the country has changed so fast and so rapidly that it has caught us on the hop. Restructuring and relocation have fractured and divided people. We could try and help re-compose a new unity, instead of just being content with doing our bit and waiting for the upturn, to try and make this upturn happen. We will probably still be acting as activists, but to a lesser extent, and at least we will be making it more possible for us to abolish activism altogether in the future.

One way of doing this is suggested in the critique in The Bad Days Will End!:

“Perhaps, then, the first steps towards a genuine anti-activism would be to turn towards these specific, everyday, ongoing struggles. How are the so-called ‘ordinary’ workers resisting capitalism at this time? What opportunities are already there in their ongoing struggles? What networks are already being built through their own efforts?” [20]

A current example of exactly this sort of thing is the investigation into call centres initiated by the German group Kolinko, which is mentioned in The Bad Days Will End! and was also contributed to in the recent Undercurrents No. 8. [21] The idea of this project is that call centres represent the ‘new sweatshops’ of the information economy and that if a new cycle of workers’ resistance is to emerge anywhere then this might just be the place.

It is perhaps also worth considering that changing circumstances might work to our advantage – the restructuring of the welfare state is forcing more and more activists into work. For example the call centre enquiry project mentioned above could represent a good opportunity for us as call centres are exactly the sort of places where people forced off the dole end up working and exactly the sort of temporary and transient jobs in which those involved in the direct action movement end up working also. This certainly could help make the connection between capitalism and our own immediate needs, and perhaps might allow us to better participate in developing new fronts in the class struggle. Or the increased imposition of work could just end up with us even more fucked over than we are at present, which is obviously what the government are hoping. They are attempting to both have their cake and eat it – trying to turn the clock back and return to days of austerity and privation while gambling that the working class is so atomised and divided by twenty years of attacks that this will not provoke a return of the struggle that originally brought about the introduction of these amelioration measures in the first place. Only time will tell whether they are to be successful in their endeavour or whether we are to be successful in ours.

In conclusion, perhaps the best thing would be to try and adopt both of the above methods. We need to maintain our radicalism and commitment to direct action, not being afraid to take action as a minority. But equally, we can’t just resign ourselves to remaining a small radical subculture and treading water while we wait for everyone else to make the revolutionary wave for us. We should also perhaps look at the potential for making our direct action complement whatever practical contribution to current workers’ struggles we may feel able to make. In both the possible scenarios outlined above we continue to act more or less within the activist role. But hopefully in both of these different scenarios we would be able to reject the mental identification with the role of activism and actively try to go beyond our status as activists to whatever extent is possible.


Footnotes:

  1. To my knowledge the article has been translated into French and published in Je sais tout (Association des 26-Cantons, 8, rue Lissignol CH-1201 Genève, Suisse) and in Éxchanges No. 93 (BP 241, 75866 Paris Cedex 18, France). It has been translated into Spanish and published in Ekintza Zuzena (Ediciones E.Z., Apdo. 235, 48080 Bilbo (Bizkaia), Spanish State). It has been republished in America in Collective Action Notes No. 16-17 (CAN, POB 22962, Baltimore, MD 21203, USA) and in the UK in Organise! No. 54 (AF, c/o 84b Whitechapel High Street, London E1 7QX, UK). It is also available online at: www.infoshop.org/octo/j18_rts1.html#give_up and http://tierra.ucsd.edu/~acf/online/j18/reflec1.html#GIVE If anyone knows of any other places it has been reproduced or critiqued, I would be grateful to hear of them, via Do or Die.
  2. Squaring up to the Square Mile: A Rough Guide to the City of London (J18 Publications (UK), 1999) p.8
  3. ‘Direct Action: Six Years Down the Road’ in Do or Die No. 7, p.3
  4. Raoul Vaneigem – The Revolution of Everyday Life, (Left Bank Books/Rebel Press, 1994) – first published 1967, pp.131-3
  5. ‘The Day they Drove Twyford Down’ in Do or Die No. 1, p.11
  6. ‘Personality Politics: The Spectacularisation of Fairmile’ in Do or Die No. 7, p.35
  7. Op. Cit. 4, p.128
  8. Op. Cit. 4, p.107
  9. Op. Cit. 4, p.109
  10. Op. Cit. 4, p.108
  11. Op. Cit. 4, p.109
  12. Op. Cit. 4, p.111
  13. Op. Cit. 4, p.143
  14. Jacques Camatte – ‘On Organisation’ (1969) in This World We Must Leave and Other Essays (New York, Autonomedia, 1995)
  15. Op. Cit. 4, p.110
  16. ‘The Necessity and Impossibility of Anti-Activism’, The Bad Days Will End!, No. 3. p. 4. I highly recommend this article, and the magazine contains some other good stuff too. Send $3 to: Merrymount Publications, PO Box 441597, Somerville, MA 02144, USA. Email: bronterre[at]earthlink[dot]net    http://libcom.org/library/anti-activism
  17. The Bad Days Will End!, p. 5
  18. Gilles Dauvé (Jean Barrot) – ‘Critique of the Situationist International’ http://libcom.org/library/critique-situationist-international-gilles-dauve
  19. See ‘Whatever happened to the Situationists?’, Aufheben No. 6, p. 45 http://libcom.org/library/whatever-happened-to-the-situationists-review-aufheben-6
  20. The Bad Days Will End!, p. 6
  21. The Kolinko proposal was recently published in Collective Action Notes No. 16-17.

From: zinelibrary.info

[Leaflet] The Need of Our Own Project: On the Importance of a Program in the Libertarian Political Organisation (web)

Download PDFby Organisación Socialista Libertaria (Argentina)

We that believe in the construction of a libertarian political organisation, of an anarchism that as a revolutionary project have real impact in the class struggle, see the need of adopting a clear program of action that is the fruit of collective discussion and express our principles and revolutionary objectives and that determine the tasks to be realized in each step taken. The importance of anarchists having such a program is expressed by Bakunin when he stated that “one should never renounce the clear established revolutionary program, not in what concerns to its form, not in what concerns its substance”.[1] In our understanding, its fundamental importance comes from the fact that the said program expresses the ideological, theoretical and practical unity of the revolutionary organisation.

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[Leaflet] Less Talk, More Regroupment: A Piece on Revolutionary Strategy and getting organised (web)

Download PDFby Jasper Conner

An Opening Admonishment

There’s been a lot of debate throughout the internet, and I’d assume it continues in person (I live in the country, so I wouldn’t really know) about anarchists and organisation. The basic point of this piece is to say, enough hollering at each other, just fucking get to it.

I think debate is important for strengthening revolutionaries, but I think there’s also a point where it becomes masturbatory, and I think we crossed the line a while back. Some seem to be convinced, whether pro or anti organisation, that what we most need to do, is to win over more anarchists (and questioning commies) to our position. Perhaps this isn’t really an expressed idea, but its clear that many tendencies within anarchism believe it. One group recirculates 100 year old pamphlets retracing the same tired arguments on the need for an explicitly anarchist organisation, the other mocks the article and publishes another incomprehensible article against organisations. Regardless of our stance in the debate, we spend most of our time discussing organisation within the left, rather than implementing them and developing a praxis. Certainly we’ll get more out of practical work with the people who are daily fighting oppression than we will discussing ideas on websites. We should also be aware that we’ll never perfect this or that strategy as our approach should always be adjusted for new historical developments. So the question is, when are we gonna shut the hell up and get to it? With all this bickering, and little to show for it, are we any better than Trotskyists who continue to publish newspapers with nothing but attacks on Stalin?

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[Leaflet] Moving to Action: Workplace Organising beyond Recipes (web)

Download PDFby Scott Nappalos

When a revolutionary begins organising in a shop, the first step is typically to agitate one’s co-workers. In our minds we see a step-by-step process wherein our agitation leads to other opportunities, recruitment, committee building, until we have power and an organisation. The problem is that for most workplaces, this way of thinking gives the wrong impression. In some workplaces, particularly in production, there’s a state of constant agitation and actions burst out before committees ever get built. In other workplaces agitation just never seems to take hold. What do we do in these situations? What do we do when agitation takes years without much visible result, or in places where workers are clearly in the retreat or a passive state?

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Towards Theory of Political Organisation for Our Time (web)

Download PDFby S. Nappalos

Political organisation is a collective answer to common problems. People organise based on a collective sense of need, and the perspectives and problems encountered in social groups crystallize into organisational forms and moments. This is a general historical trend; even without a theory, organisation emerges to meet concrete needs that cannot be solved except by building social forms to address them.

Part I: Trajectories of Struggle, the Intermediate Level, and Political Rapprochement

Political organisation is a collective answer to common problems. People organise based on a collective sense of need, and the perspectives and problems encountered in social groups crystallize into organisational forms and moments. This is a general historical trend; even without a theory, organisation emerges to meet concrete needs that cannot be solved except by building social forms to address them.

Continue reading “Towards Theory of Political Organisation for Our Time (web)”

Notes on Anarchist Organisation and Our Revolutionary Program (web)

Download PDFby Karl Blythe

In this essay I will examine some selections from the Organisational Platform together with some of the writings of Nestor Makhno, as a starting point in the question of anarchist organisation. So as to avoid lengthy explanations of historical context, I will assume the reader is familiar with most of these materials. For those who are not, I refer as a main source and starting point for research to the work of Alexandre Skirda (Facing the Enemy: A History of Anarchist Organisation from Proudhon to May 1968, with a translation and discussion of the Platform) and to The Struggle Against the State and Other Essays by Makhno. Note that this is not meant as a comprehensive analysis of the Platform, so much as a look at certain of its shortcomings or weaknesses which I would like to repair. After going through these I will then conclude with some general propositions as to how we might construct and/or improve our organisation, taking off from my discussion of the Organisational Platform.

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Organised Anarchism in the Anti-Capitalist Struggle: Why We Need Organisation and Principles to Follow (web)

Download PDFby members of Common Cause Ottawa

Prelude

This booklet is based on a presentation made by two members of Common Cause Ottawa at the “Capitalism and Confrontation: Grassroots Responses to Empire, Ecology and Political Economy” conference in March 2010 held at Carleton University. We thank the conference organisers, the Critical Social Research Collaborative (CSRC), for allowing us to participate.

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An Anarchist Reader …for effective organising (web)

Download PDFForeword

This reader is a collection of texts that we, the Zabalaza Books editors, recently came across.  The reason they are published together here in this format is that we feel that they all contain valuable ideas for making our struggle more effective and that, because of this, they should be read by as many of our movement’s organisers as possible.

The one point of contention in these articles is the “We must stop trying to build a movement of anarchists and instead fight for an anarchistic movement” sentence in the first article Active Revolution by James Mumm.  A response to this, and one with which we agree, is covered by the Editors note from the comrades from the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists found after the article.  Another idea that comes to mind in this regard is that it could be argued that we should shift our emphasis from building our anarchist organisations to building anarchistic movements, as building the organisation very often comes across as just another form of party building to those in the mass organisations of our class that we may be organising with.  The alternative being that those in the mass organisations, coming across our ideas, will find them worthwhile and come to us; thereby making their commitment to our ideas and political organisations that much stronger.  This however is not explicit in the sentence in James Mumm’s otherwise excellent article so is probably not what he had in mind.

Zabalaza Books
August 6, 2010

Continue reading “An Anarchist Reader …for effective organising (web)”