CrimethInc: From Democracy to Freedom

vote for nobody

Last week, I posted a brief section on “community assemblies” from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. I raised some concerns regarding proposals for direct democracy that to my mind create structures that are too rigid and will result in a return to political parties and power politics as people coalesce into groups with sometimes conflicting interests (a critique I have more fully developed in my article, “Reinventing Hierarchy: The Political Theory of Social Ecology,”[6] in Anarchist Studies, Volume 12, No. 4 (2004)). Previously, I posted some selections from Malatesta, Luce Fabbri and Murray Bookchin setting forth different views about anarchy and democracy. Coincidentally, CrimethInc. has been running a serious of articles providing an anarchist critique of even directly democratic forms of government. Here, I present some excerpts from the section on democracy and freedom.

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Anarchist critiques of democracy

Democracy is the most universal political ideal of our day. George Bush invoked it to justify invading Iraq; Obama congratulated the rebels of Tahrir Square for bringing it to Egypt; Occupy Wall Street claimed to have distilled its pure form. From the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea to the autonomous region of Rojava, practically every government and popular movement calls itself democratic.

And what’s the cure for the problems with democracy? Everyone agrees: more democracy. Since the turn of the century, we’ve seen a spate of new movements promising to deliver real democracy, in contrast to ostensibly democratic institutions that they describe as exclusive, coercive, and alienating.

Is there a common thread that links all these different kinds of democracy? Which of them is the real one? Can any of them deliver the inclusivity and freedom we associate with the word?

Impelled by our own experiences in directly democratic movements, we’ve returned to these questions. Our conclusion is that the dramatic imbalances in economic and political power that have driven people into the streets from New York City to Sarajevo are not incidental defects in specific democracies, but structural features dating back to the origins of democracy itself; they appear in practically every example of democratic government through the ages. Representative democracy preserved all the bureaucratic apparatus that was originally invented to serve kings; direct democracy tends to recreate it on a smaller scale, even outside the formal structures of the state. Democracy is not the same as self-determination.

To be sure, many good things are regularly described as democratic. This is not an argument against discussions, collectives, assemblies, networks, federations, or working with people you don’t always agree with. The argument, rather, is that when we engage in those practices, if we understand what we are doing as democracy—as a form of participatory government rather than a collective practice of freedom—then sooner or later, we will recreate all the problems associated with less democratic forms of government. This goes for representative democracy and direct democracy alike, and even for consensus process.

Rather than championing democratic procedures as an end in themselves, then, let’s return to the values that drew us to democracy in the first place: egalitarianism, inclusivity, the idea that each person should control her own destiny. If democracy is not the most effective way to actualize these, what is?

As fiercer and fiercer struggles rock today’s democracies, the stakes of this discussion keep getting higher. If we go on trying to replace the prevailing order with a more participatory version of the same thing, we’ll keep ending up right back where we started, and others who share our disillusionment will gravitate towards more authoritarian alternatives. We need a framework that can fulfill the promises democracy has betrayed…

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Creating Spaces of Encounter

In place of formal sites of centralized decision-making, we propose a variety of spaces of encounter where people may open themselves to each other’s influence and find others who share their priorities. Encounter means mutual transformation: establishing common points of reference, common concerns. The space of encounter is not a representative body vested with the authority to make decisions for others, nor a governing body employing majority rule or consensus. It is an opportunity for people to experiment with acting in different configurations on a voluntary basis.

The spokescouncil immediately preceding the demonstrations against the 2001 Free Trade Area of the Americas summit in Quebec City was a classic space of encounter. This meeting brought together a wide range of autonomous groups that had converged from around the world to protest the FTAA. Rather than attempting to make binding decisions, the participants introduced the initiatives that their groups had prepared and coordinated for mutual benefit wherever possible.

Much of the decision-making occurred afterwards in informal intergroup discussions. By this means, thousands of people were able to synchronize their actions without need of central leadership, without giving the police much insight into the wide array of plans that were to unfold. Had the spokescouncil employed an organizational model intended to produce unity and centralization, the participants could have spent the entire night fruitlessly arguing about goals, strategy, and which tactics to allow.

Most of the social movements of the past two decades have been hybrid models juxtaposing spaces of encounter with some form of democracy. In Occupy, for example, the encampments served as open-ended spaces of encounter, while the general assemblies were formally intended to function as directly democratic decision-making bodies. Most of those movements achieved their greatest effects because the encounters they facilitated opened up opportunities for autonomous action, not because they centralized group activity through direct democracy.16

Many of the decisions that gave Occupy Oakland a greater impact than other Occupy encampments, including the refusal to negotiate with the city government and the militant reaction to the first eviction, were the result of autonomous initiatives, not consensus process. Meanwhile, some occupiers interpreted consensus process as a sort of decentralized legal framework in which any action undertaken by any participant in the occupation should require the consent of every other participant.

As one participant recalls, “One of the first times the police tried to enter the camp at Occupy Oakland, they were immediately surrounded and shouted at by a group of about twenty people. Some other people weren’t happy about this. The most vocal of these pacifists placed himself in front of those confronting the police, crossed his forearms in the X that symbolizes strong disagreement in the sign language of consensus process, and said ‘You can’t do this! I block you!’ For him, consensus was a tool of horizontal control, giving everyone the right to suppress whichever of others’ actions they found disagreeable.” If we approach the encounter as the driving force of these movements, rather than as a raw material to be shaped through democratic process, it might help us to prioritize what we do best.

Anarchists frustrated by the contradictions of democratic discourse have sometimes withdrawn to organize themselves according to preexisting affinity alone. Yet segregation breeds stagnation and fractiousness. It is better to organize on the basis of our conditions and needs so we come into contact with all the others who share them. Only when we understand ourselves as nodes within dynamic collectivities, rather than discrete entities possessed of static interests, can we make sense of the rapid metamorphoses that people undergo in the course of experiences like the Occupy movement—and the tremendous power of the encounter to transform us if we open ourselves to it.

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Community Assemblies

A communal assembly in Rojava

A communal assembly in Rojava

Here is a very short excerpt from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, in which I discuss Murray Bookchin’s idea of community assemblies, an idea which appears to have been taken up by people in Rojava, under constant threat from both ISIS and Turkish armed forces. The issue for me is whether these assemblies form voluntary federations or whether they become communal or cantonal systems of government.

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Community Assemblies

The contractarian ideal seeks to reduce all relationships to contractual relationships, ultimately eliminating the need for any public political process. Murray Bookchin has argued to the contrary that there is, or should be, a genuine public sphere in which all members of a community are free to participate and able to collectively make decisions regarding the policies that are to be followed by that community. Community assemblies, in contrast to factory councils, provide everyone with a voice in collective decision making, not just those directly involved in the production process (Volume Two, Selection 62). Such assemblies would function much like the anarchist “collectives” in the Spanish Revolution documented by Gaston Leval (Volume One, Selection 126).

Questions arise however regarding the relationship between community assemblies and other forms of organization, whether workers’ councils, trade unions, community assemblies in other areas, or voluntary associations in general. In addition to rejecting simple majority rule, anarchists have historically supported not only the right of individuals and groups to associate, network and federate with other individuals and groups but to secede or disassociate from them. One cannot have voluntary associations based on compulsory membership (Ward: Volume Two, Selection 63).

Disregarding the difficulties in determining the “will” of an assembly (whether by simple majority vote of those present, as Bookchin advocated, or by some more sophisticated means), except in rare cases of unanimity one would expect genuine and sincere disagreements over public policy decisions to continue to arise even after the abolition of class interests. The enforcement of assembly decisions would not only exacerbate conflict, it would encourage factionalism, with people sharing particular views or interests uniting to ensure that their views predominate. In such circumstances, “positive altruism and voluntary cooperative behaviour” tend to atrophy (Taylor, Volume Two, Selection 65), as the focus of collective action through the assemblies becomes achieving coercive legal support for one’s own views rather than eliciting the cooperation of others (Graham, 2004).

Robert Graham

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The CNT Splits from the IWA

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The CNT in Spain has apparently decided to break from the existing International Workers’ Association and to “refound” the IWA on a new organizational basis, with each affiliate to have a minimum number of members, to have votes at IWA congresses proportional to the number of members in each affiliate, and to be a functioning anarcho-syndicalist trade union. That would mean that the CNT would most likely have the largest block of votes, if not a majority, at any congresses of the “refounded” IWA, which doesn’t provide much incentive for other groups to join the “refounded” IWA. Interestingly, the Spanish Federation of the original IWA argued at the 1872 Hague Congress that the number of delegates for each national federation should be proportional to the number of members in each federation. See my book, ‘We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It’: The First International and the Origins of the Anarchist Movement.

Below, I reproduce excerpts from the CNT’s announcement regarding its break with the existing IWA/AIT and its proposal to refound the IWA. I have also included excerpts from a response from the IWA secretariat. I don’t know the details regarding the dispute with the German FAU, but the CNT appears to have changed its position regarding the FAU’s membership in the IWA. The issue regarding member organizations having to be functioning trade unions is an important one. But the demand for the “legalization” of member groups, i.e. their legal incorporation or recognition, raises serious concerns. Since when should anarchist groups seek legal recognition from state legal systems in order to function?

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On the Refoundation of the IWA

The CNT would like to announce and explain the agreements made during our December 2015 Congress with regards to the current International Workers’ Association (IWA). We believe that it is necessary to explain our position on the drift of our international, so that this internal situation can be made publically known in order to openly and quickly begin the process of its re-foundation.

In the CNT we consider international solidarity to be critical in this historical moment, marked by the global organization of capitalism. As expected, the economic crisis has served as an excuse to accelerate the process of dismantling the past achievements of the working class. While this phenomenon is not new, it has sped up and intensified in recent years. We understand that a global intervention is required to defend our interests, as workers, against this offensive of capitalism, a world-wide extension of the class struggle following the parameters of anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism. However, we also believe that this global effort needs to be built upon the work of organization and struggle at the local level, carried out by organizations grounded and present in their own territory. International solidarity flows as an extension of these local struggles. To do the opposite would be putting the cart before the horse.

Sadly, we have found sections in the current IWA to have very little commitment to union work in their local context. Rather, they exert enormous efforts to monitor the activities of other sections, larger or smaller, that do make this area a priority. Consequently, over the past few years, the IWA has become inoperative as a vehicle to promote anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism at an international level.

We insist, so that it can be clear, that this is not an issue of the size of the sections. All of us are far smaller than we would like to be and than we should be. But there is an enormous difference between the sections that dedicate their efforts to increase their presence or relevance in their regions, experiment with new strategies, initiate and develop labor conflicts, and have an impact, small as it may be, in their immediate context, and those that go for years without union activities yet inquisitorially monitor and criticize the activities of others, lest in their eagerness to build a viable anarcho-syndicalist alternative commit some sin against the purity of the IWA.

For some time, due to these contradictions, the IWA has experienced a considerable internal crisis that erupted with the expulsion of the German section, the FAU. This decision, made unilaterally by the current general secretary on completely unjustifiable motives, was ratified later in a special Congress in Oporto in 2014. At this congress it became clear that due to the peculiar structure of the decision-making within the IWA, a small group of sections, despite their scant presence in their own territories and total lack of orientation towards union activity, could impose their criteria upon the rest of the international. Since this congress, all attempts to address the situation have failed, due to the unwillingness of the current secretary to engage in dialogue (a basic duty of the office) and the complicity of a number of sections that only exist on the internet.

It is therefore evident that this IWA is unable to progress beyond offering the most basic kind of solidarity in the occasional labor conflict. As valuable as this form of international solidarity can be, and as much as we can appreciate it, the truth is that it is ultimately always organized (as there is really no other way) at the local level. Thus the current structure of the IWA is rendered effectively redundant. The contrast between this reality of the IWA and its bureaucracy and infrastructure has reinforced the internal conflicts and attempts at ideological control which we referred to previously. This is far from the objectives we should aspire for in an international coordinating body. As a result of these factors, we have reached the point where the internal situation prevents any attempts to correct this drift, which makes it urgent that we reconsider both the internal operation and the working program of the IWA.

To bring about concrete solutions to these questions, the CNT proposes to begin a process for the re-founding of an anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary unionist international. To this end we are preparing a series of conferences and contacts with those sections of the IWA interested in a process of re-founding the International, and with other organizations that, while not currently members of the IWA, are interested in participating in the construction of a model for revolutionary unionism at the global level. These conferences and contacts will have as their aim the organization of a congress to re-found a radical unionist international…

Legalization

Legalization of the International is necessary to defend against wrongful use of the acronym by non-member unions attempting to benefit from the historic name of the IWA without practicing anarcho-syndicalism or revolutionary unionism. The financial accounts of the organization should no longer in the name of individuals and should be in the name of the IWA itself, avoiding the need to rely blindly on the moral integrity of each secretary that manages these funds.

Autonomy, openness, and dynamism

We believe that it is urgent to reverse the exclusionary dynamics of the IWA and the politics of internal control between the sections and to work towards much more open and flexible politics. Basing ourselves always in direct action as our means of struggle, we must give ourselves the capacity to develop a wide range of international contacts with workers organized in different sectors and struggles, which can only result in strengthening our capacity for the international work of anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism.

While it is often important to have more tightly focused international campaigns limited to organizations in the International, it is essential to also have the ability to perform open campaigns at the international level, which can engage with a diversity of organizations and workers’ initiatives. This can only help strengthen the IWA.

The sections have the autonomy to have temporary relationships in the course of their labor conflicts.

In international work we should always use the name of the Chapter next to the acronym for the International (IWA-AIT). In this way we can limit the self-interested use of a section’s name by outside groups. Any kind of external contact will be made with good faith and maximum transparency…

International expansion project

Along with maintaining the current strategies of contact with existing labor or social organizations interested in belonging to the International, we propose to use the larger union sections of the CNT active in international corporations as a means to expand our conflicts on an international level. We suggest that other sections of the IWA can do the same to the extent of their organizing capacity.

This entails coordination between the delegate of the union section of the CNT, the secretariat of union activity, the secretariat of legal affairs, and the secretariat of external affairs to initiate contact with workers in the same company in other countries. In this way they can encourage processes of organization and struggle that depart from specific cases or objectives, and that with time can go beyond the limits of the company and consolidate broader organizations that develop anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism in all of their aspects.

Simplifying internal processes

It has become necessary to simplify our internal processes in order to make them clear and unambiguous. The CNT is working on various concrete proposals in order to clarify the functions and methodologies within the IWA.

The CNT will immediately begin reaching out to organize the conference that we have announced, whose objective will be the preparation of a congress to re-found the IWA. During this process of re-founding, and until it has gone into effect, the CNT will cease to pay dues to the current IWA.

To conclude, all of the current sections of the IWA that wish to participate in this project of re-founding are invited to be a part of it. We also welcome those anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary unions and organizations that wish to join towards the construction of an alternative that contributes, through international solidarity, to the growth and the implementation of strong local initiatives committed to practical and concrete union activity, who stand against the most recent offensives of capitalism in their regions. This process of re-founding the IWA will be open and transparent. We will periodically provide information about the steps that are being taken, and we hope that we will be joined by organizations from all over the world with whom we share the libertarian spirit of anarcho-syndicalism and revolutionary unionism.

Long Live the IWA! Long Live Anarcho-syndicalism!

Long live the global struggle of the working class!

CNT

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Response from the IWA

Any official decisions of the IWA related to this matter can only be taken at the Congress of the IWA. It is not possible, under the IWA statutes, for the CNT or any other Sections to convoke a refounding conference of the IWA without the approval, in Congress, of the entire IWA. Only if the IWA Congress approves any Ordinary or Extraordinary Congress dedicated to its refoundation can such Congress be considered organic and legitimate.

We stress that only the decisions of the Congress are representative of the IWA’s positions. In turn, only the official positions of each member Section are representative of that Section…

Is the FAU expelled from IWA?

No. The Extraordinary Congress of the IWA of December 2014 decided to put this question on the agenda of the next ordinary Congress in December 2016.

No final decision has been made by the Sections concerning the future affiliation or disaffiliation of that Section…

What has been CNT’s position on this issue?

The position of the CNT on this issue is currently to support the FAU. However, the original motion to expel FAU was made by the CNT. The CNT brought these positions to 4 consecutive IWA Congresses from 2000-2009.

Does this mean the position of the CNT changed?

Yes and it is normal. Organizations develop, change their membership or re-assess their positions so this can and does happen…

lf CNT is bigger, why doesn’t the IWA just take that into account and let them decide what to do?

This is against our federative statutes which have regulated this since 1922. ln 2009 and 2013, the IWA overwhelmingly rejected motions which would go in this direction.

This historical position shapes the current composition of the IWA today since, had we operated on the assumption that the largest should decide, the CNT would not be the IWA Section today. That is because the CNT which we know today was the smaller part of two factions which split years ago, the larger being known as the CGT today.

The same principles which forced us to recognize the CNT as our legitimate Sections years ago are in play today. CNT conformed to our statutes, ideas and tactics. The faction which later became CGT held a split Congress and, although they were definitely much larger, this process was in contradiction to the organic norms and it was not the continuation of the CNT-AIT.

Today, the CNT takes another position. However the type of refoundation process it proposes today is close to this situation. The questions related to the organic legitimacy of such processes, remains the same…

What has been the process of discussion with FAU after the last Congress?

The IWA Secretariat expressed to FAU that it would like to talk and would hope that some Sections would facilitate discussion. Unfortunately, there has not been any good development in this area.

Members of the IWA Secretariat travelled to the Congress of FAU but were not allowed to address this issue at this Congress. Attempts to ask about meetings, including meetings with other Sections, did not get any positive response…

Below is some basic information on decisions or pending topics.

The minimum membership issue was rejected by two Congresses.

In 2013, another Section rejected the number criteria completely and submitted the opinion that the criteria should be a demonstration of syndical activity and organizational regularity, together with an adhesion to our principles and tactics. However as this opinion could only be made after the original proposals were submitted and there was no time to submit a counter-proposal, it is up to the Section to propose a continuation of debate on it in 2016 or not.

The point on international expansion was brought in 2009 to the Congress by the CNT. There was a position paper of that organization. The IWA Sections were in agreement that they wanted to expand but the details on the specifics of how to do this, what steps to take, etc., were not in this paper and thus it was decided to take this to the next Plenary…

What about the legal issue? Are the IWA funds in the name of one individual?

No, this is not correct. The funds are in the name of a member Section and have been for quite a long time.

Permission to access and manage the funds comes with the appropriate mandate of the IWA Congresses and this is a rotated task. The IWA Secretariat is fully accountable and reports all use of funds regularly.

We point out that no matter which entity holds the funds, only a group of mandated individuals would be legally empowered to access them. The safety of any collective money therefore is dependent on the commitment to our ideas of collective responsibility.

As the CNT should know, just because money is in the name of its organization does not mean it is safe because everything depends on the culture of the organization, whether people are committed to ensuring responsibility and have the ability to control the delegates of their organization…

Affiliation to the IWA is open to all organizations that agree with its statutes. By this, it is understood the binding statutes which are in agreement and approved by the official instances of the IWA. The official instance for modifying the statutes is the IWA Congress and only the official IWA Congress, held in accordance with our statutes, or any Extraordinary Congress held by decision of the IWA Congress. The IWA Congress is agreed according to the statutes and cannot be decided by a faction…

At the same time, we point out that the CNT is not mandated to invite organizations to a refounding process that has not been approved, nor is it mandated to speak on behalf of the IWA. The process of official delegation is one strictly based in anarchosyndicalist doctrine and concretely in our case, by the Statutes of the lnternational Workers Association.

All Sections of the IWA are free to maintain relations with other organizations and do this, keeping in mind and within the agreements of the IWA.

We hope that this information will clarify some questions related to the publication. We ask that if organizations have questions, they ask them by writing to the IWA Secretariat so these questions and answers can be known to all the Sections. We also ask for time and respect for our internal process at this moment which is very difficult for our federation.

IWA Secretariat

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The Struggle on the Minneapolis Northside

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Below are excerpts from an article by Ikemba Kuti, “The 4th Precinct: A Black Anarchist’s Perspective on Struggle in Minneapolis’ Northside Streets,” recently published by the First of May Anarchist Alliance. The Alliance is a revolutionary anarchist organization based in Detroit, built around four principles: 1) commitment to revolution; 2) a working-class orientation; 3) a non-doctrinaire anarchism; and 4) a non-sectarian and multi-layered approach to organization. The Alliance seeks “to identify, draw out and help build the movements within our communities, workplaces and schools that have the determination, sophistication, and solidarity necessary to resist and ultimately overthrow the system and the underlying authoritarian social relationships that prop it up. We believe that in order to win the freedom worth fighting for – that the revolution necessary must have an anti-authoritarian character – egalitarian, decentralized, directly democratic, ecological, and internationalist.” The problem of self-defense will continue to grow as fascist populism, which has found its voice in Donald Trump, continues to grow in the USA.

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The 4th Precinct: A Black Anarchist’s Perspective on Struggle in Minneapolis’ Northside Streets

Jamar Clark

On November 15th, 2015, police executed Jamar Clark in North Minneapolis, MN. Several witnesses claim that Mr. Clark was handcuffed and on the ground when he was shot in the head. Following the execution, an occupation of the 4th precinct police station took place on Plymouth Avenue.

The call for the encampment and occupation came from Black Lives Matter – Minneapolis. BLM-MPLS, is a part of the nation-wide organization of chapters that is backed by the Democratic Party of the same system that ensures black and brown communities are hyper-policed. BLM-St. Paul is not a part of the nation-wide organization, and has even been condemned for making Black Lives Matter as a whole “look bad” for simply chanting “Pigs in a blanket, fry ‘em like bacon…” while they are not a chartered chapter.

BLM-MPLS’ call for the encampment resulted in BLM organizers heading the movement with little to no democratic process until later in the struggle. The encampment also generated tensions arising from different agendas, ideologies, levels of anger, and an array of different tactics that different organizations and members of the community aimed to use.

The nationally connected Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis did, and does, great work at getting people to come out. Unfortunately, they also do great work channeling that revolutionary energy into their dogmatic nonviolent reformism due to an undeniable affiliation with the Democratic Party (the system), which must be noted by those interested in liberation of the people, and which is quickly revealed through research on those who are heading #CampaignZero (Black Lives Matter flow chart to attain a world with limited police terror).

Take note of campaign zero’s four person “planning team” – these are important facts: “In 2014, Brittany helped bring community voice to the Ferguson Commission and President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing as an appointee to each. She’s been named one of TIME Magazine’s 12 New Faces of Black Leadership” (http://www.joincampaignzero.org/about/). This individual works directly for the president.

The remaining three are also heavily connected to non-profits such as Teach for America (TFA), which is also historically connected to maintaining the system. For example: TFA was recently given a grant to continue to project their brand through the media. Furthermore, another member of this four-person team was the other recipient; she is the director of St Louis TFA. TFA is, effectively, the leading edge of the neoliberal attempts to gut city schools and further hinder education equity, which in turn systemically hinders black and brown kids educational achievement under the guise of helping those kids.

As an anarchist, of African descent, I argue that we need revolutionary struggle controlled by the grassroots and not by top-down leaders. It was the domination of top-down leadership from BLM-Minneapolis, and their seemingly unconscious commitment to the system, that effectively steered Northside community militants away from 1) the encampment, 2) becoming further politicized, and 3) in playing any role in the organizing of their own communities self-determination. Their voices were effectively hushed; just as the system we function under has done for centuries to oppressed people of color.

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Non-Profits and Their Agenda

…[I]t is easy to see how chartered Black Lives Matter organizers (not the people who come out to support and demonstrate), along with other reformist non-profits, can build movements through agitation. However, movements are more than just people in the streets. Non profit-ism is, more often than not, directly connected to government co-optation of a could-be movement; many times non-profits hijack a movement into electoral politics for Sanders, Clinton, or whoever claims that they are creating change for you while they are lining their pockets. You create change for you – we create change for we – from the grassroots.

These problems arose for many reasons. While it was great that people were in the streets, it is unacceptable to suppress the voices of the people who are terrorized by the police daily. We must come to terms with the fact that Democratic Party-aligned non-profits, while they look helpful, are in fact a hindrance to the movement. Many times, and historically, they co-opt movements. Non-Profits are one of the system’s many witty tactics that aids in halting militant actions and restrains the revolutionary spirit created by a rage that comes out of shared or comparable traumatizing experiences.

Minnesota calls itself the Land of 10,000 Lakes, but it’s also full of Non-Profits. The tendency of non-profits to co-opt, channel, and restrain revolutionary movements is not new to radical organizers in the Land of 10,000 Non-Profits. Many of these organizers have been pushed out of non-profits when their ideologies differed with those of the non-profit leadership in ways that resemble how community members were expelled, alienated, or made to feel unwelcome from the 4th Precinct encampment. This happened many times, once on the first night of struggle when family, as well as community members wanted to see something other than the singing of “slave songs”, as one Northside resident put it. At another moment during the occupation, police came outside and asked BLM-MPLS organizers if they could have protestors move a fire because the smoke from the fire was blocking vision of a police camera. Disgruntled working class community members attempted to dissent the BLM-MPLS protest police, as well as the real police who BLM-MPLS organizers were conforming to while at an action that was to oppose police.

Non-profits are constrained by their grants, money “for the community”, and paid organizing jobs that go on along with the continued oppression of those they are “fighting” to relieve. Paid organizer positions are unethical; a paid organizer continues to get paid at the expense of those they are fighting for. An anti-police paid organizer’s job continues, or BLM-the-brand, only exists because of the existence of police brutality, and the police in general. Non-Profits are extremely limited in their politics and actions because of their ties to the ruling class and the system that is killing the people.

Towards the end of the occupation, I had a conversation with family members of Jamar Clark. They voiced, with the support of people from that community, that they wanted to continue occupying the precinct. However, they were told by Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis organizers that when they would be told to leave by police, that BLM, which also means a large portion of the resources, were going to be obedient to the police, and desert the community who they called to action. Once again, ignoring and hushing the community that police violence is most prevalent in. Since the occupation, many but not all BLM-MPLS organizers have virtually gone AWOL in the midst of struggle when leadership is needed most and while the planning for future actions to obtain justice for Jamar Clark, which continues to this day and will continue against police terrorism even if the police in this case are prosecuted…

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High Points in Militancy – Wednesday

Wednesday, November 18th was different from the majority of the occupation – things were a bit more heated on this night. The escalation began when police complained about not being able to go home, and asked Black Lives Matter organizers if demonstrators could move away from the gates that allowed cars in and out of the precinct. They asked this in order for the police to leave and go home to their families, while Jamar Clark and the thousands of others slain by police will never be allowed to return home to their families. Demonstrators began to ensure that police were unable to go home that night. Protestors blocked exits by standing in front of them and linking arms.

As we know, even when we are peaceful, police use violence – because violence is all that they know. Police used mace on peaceful masses, and shot green marker rounds and rubber bullets at protestors. Only after police used their one and only tactic, violence, even when protestors were peaceful, did rocks begin to be thrown at police. Struggle began at the West side of the precinct. It shifted towards the East side of the complex after the police used enough force to regain the West side and demanded that they be allowed to go home.

After the police made these demands, and the struggle shifted from the West side of the building to the East the level of militancy rose. It was raised by the autonomous actions of a united front of Northside gangs as well as your “average Jamar” Northside community members who have lived with the feeling of being hunted by police since their innocent youth. Siege warfare tactics were used against the police station.

Two groups acted throughout the night, but not necessarily in accord with each other: BLM-MPLS organizers on the one hand, and a handful of radicals and community militants, on the other. Some BLM-MPLS organizers did use their bodies to prevent police from going home; they also pointed people out to be targets of police violence, because these people were not adhering to BLM-MPLS’ dogmatic non-violence.

No more that 20-30 feet from the BLM group, community militants threw stones and erected barricades. BLM-MPLS’ claims about these community militants became so absurd that at one point an organizer yelled at community members to “stop ruining our/your community,” when they tore down a mobile police camera. The brothers from that block promptly hushed him and the large camera was quickly used as a barricade to keep the police from coming out of their pigpen.

Later in the night, militancy rose to even higher levels. Molotovs were made and thrown, and shots fired at the police station. The siege lasted for 3 hours. During those 3 hours militant action of community members and the United Front of Northside gangs would match the police’s use of heightened militant repression on demonstrators. Elevated militant pushback by demonstrators took place in waves, because it matched the waves of police repression: when the police used violence as a terror tactic to scare protestors away, those committed to struggle used community self defense against the police, so that demonstrators could go peacefully back out, and not allow the police force occupying their neighborhood to go home.

After the shots were fired the crowd started to dissipate. Police found nothing that they could use as evidence, and no one was arrested on this night. However, the cops demonstrated their force by occupying all of the streets on the South end of the precinct in military fashion, with locked and loaded assault rifles…

Minneapolis police chief Harteau

Minneapolis police chief Harteau

Inner Movement Pushback

Organizers from Black Lives Matter-Minneapolis – along with the Chief of Police and the Mayor – condemned militant actions as a part of protest. They have claimed, for instance, that property damage, and the throwing of bricks and bottles, was due to the presence of “outside agitators.” These reformist organizers and city officials specifically referred to “white anarchists.” The lies also included accusations of non-BLM aligned demonstrators actually being police officers – as one vouched for the other, each was accused of being a police officer.

There are several problems with the line that was and is being pushed. First, Black Lives Matter-MPLS and city officials ignore the autonomous militant action of the North Minneapolis community. The community doesn’t need “white anarchists” or any other “agitators” to tell them to be angry, or how to take action. The purpose of these accusations was to maintain the system’s current agenda of BLM nationwide, and in this case BLM-MPLS’ monopolization of the anti-police brutality movement. This has become a part of BLM-MPLS’ program in the fight against police terrorism. As with other non-profits, BLM-MPLS and police officials actively tried to push revolutionaries and militants out of this movement, with no care for the repercussions these faulty accusations could cause the victims of their snitch-jacketing.

minneapolis-shooting-blm

Fascist Pushback

Monday, November 23rd, 2016 neo-Nazis violently took their organizing to the streets and shot 5 demonstrators outside of the 4th precinct. The night of the attack neo-Nazis got into an altercation with demonstrators after being asked to leave. The altercation successfully lured several demonstrators Northeast of the precinct and Plymouth Avenue onto Morgan Avenue. It was significantly darker on the north side of Plymouth Ave and easy to flee northbound away from the precinct. That is when the 5, African-American, demonstrators were shot. Police and paramedics came to the scene after a lengthy wait, especially since this took place in front of the precinct. The police rejected giving medical aid to the wounded protesters when they were asked by other protestors to use their medic training, and instead established a cordon to prevent protesters from pursuing the attackers, who escaped (they were arrested later, after one of them negotiated his surrender via a high school friend who is now a police officer).

Lance Scarsella, a 23-year-old white male from Lakeville, Minnesota is the man who pulled the trigger, but not the only organizer. Events leading to the Nazi attack are interesting. First and foremost the shooter, Scarsella, is a white nationalist with white supremacist ideology and now action. There are also pictures that surfaced of the group who led the fascist attack at the 4th precinct toting guns with the confederate flag in the background. Much of the organizing for this attack took place on 4chan, which is described online as ‘a simple image-based bulletin board where anyone can post comments and share images anonymously.’ Those who accompanied Allen Lawrence “Lance” Scarsella III, 23, were Nathan Gustavsson, 21, of Hermantown, Daniel Macey, 26, of Pine City, Joseph Backman, 27, of Eagan, and Julio Suarez, a 32 year old Hispanic (and believed to be ex-marine) was also briefly held in custody.

The Friday before the attack, November 20th, the shooters infiltrated the encampment. This is known for two reasons: 1) the attackers posted on 4chan using code names that have surfaced throughout the investigation (‘Black Powder Ranger’ being the one of the shooter) stating that they were heading to the 4th precinct to “knock this shit out” while holding a gun in the video. They urged people to keep watching the stream as they logged off by saying: “stay white”. 2) People of the community that was created by the encampment caught on to the infiltrators during, what was ultimately their recon mission, which allowed them to execute their attack with precision. When they were identified, they were asked to leave. After the infiltration there were messages sent out on 4chan that read descriptions of specific individuals that were “high profile” targets. Those who were participants in the attack were told to “Remember to wear camo /k/lansmen, we will open fire on anyone who isn’t wearing camo.” (http://www.unicornriot.ninja/?p=4833).

Fascism in the United States is a reality. The fact that Donald is polling so well after some of the most outlandish fascist remarks he has made, and after neo-Nazis carried out a successful violent terrorist attack on black protestors at the 4th precinct in Minneapolis, MN, there is simply no denying it. Throughout the 4th precinct shutdown individuals were forced to adapt and learn quickly. We were forced to understand violence and push back from police, white activists, and black activists. While most radicals are aware of neo-Nazism and its reality, I think those who are unaware of their activity both politically and on the street level were shocked that the white supremacists followed up their threat and took it to that level.

White supremacists and neo-Nazis terrorized the encampment for the next 4 days, at least. The day following the attacks, four shots were fired in an alley just South of the precinct. United fronts of gang members and others teamed up again to create a united front for armed security in the name of Community Self Defense. Many demonstrators had pointed out that the shooters had had tactical police equipment with them, and shared the sentiment that the police were connected to the shooting. This feeling was widely shared, firstly because community members saw police’s limited and near total neglect of the shooting victims while they were suffering and secondly, because of the common knowledge that the president of the police union, Bob Kroll, was a member of a white supremacist biker gang.

While Scarsella executed the attack, we must maintain an understanding that Nazis are building a nationwide movement similar to BLM or that of the revolutionary left. This is not an isolated occurrence or attack. Fascism, or more simply put – hate – is organizing to take similar action nationwide and globally.

anarchist revolution self defense

Neighborhood Networks – Community Self-Defense

After fascists came and the police refused to protect and serve the Northside community, an acquired taste for self-defense emerged. Members of the community came out and began organizing legitimate security to protect the encampment. This protection was not simply for protection from white supremacists, but also from some individuals from the neighborhood who were coming to the encampment for the wrong reasons; for example, amongst those wrong reasons were that of cat calling (harassment of women) as well as thievery while demonstrators were asleep. I recall one individual, who was affiliated with the Vice Lords stating that he had stopped people from stealing and even reclaimed phones as he proudly stated afterwards “I aint ‘bout that, I’m here to do a job… I’m an honest security guard.” It seemed as though an understanding swept across a large portion of the encampment and people realized that policing is violence and police are a reactionary force. Therefore, if they won’t protect us, we should.

November 15th, police executed a man in North Minneapolis, MN during an altercation where several of witnesses stated that Jamar Clark, the man whose life was stolen by Minneapolis police, was handcuffed and on the ground. Who is to protect us when those who are meant to protect and serve the people, the police, have a monopoly on the “legitimate” use of violence and therefore use that as an excuse to partake in year round human hunting? The occupation of the Fourth Precinct in Minneapolis pushed many to understand that liberalism and non-profit reforms are not ridding our societies of systemic killings of black and brown people. It forced people to recognize fascism, and that white supremacists are a real threat to our existence; through the Nazi attacks, and the dissent towards those who police “protect and serve”, which police showed when not one officer protected community members from the attack and not one officer rushed to medical aid after the attack, illustrates that community self defense is a key step to self determination.

Is the time now for community self defense? Through studying historical social change movements it is evident that movements have phases. With police rapidly militarizing themselves, militant neo-Nazis such as the ones who shot five black protestors in Minneapolis, and demagogue fascist leaders like Donald Trump gaining massive amounts of support, we have no need to ask whether the time is now. We can see that the time is now; phase one of a mass social change movement is nearing its end. It’s time – as anarchists – to take matters in our own hands; we must acknowledge that the time is now and start creating opportunities for community self defense outside of non-profits and other mainstream reformist “liberation” campaigns.

Ikemba Kuti, March 2016

First of May Anarchist Alliance

Feminism and Democracy

anarcha-feminism

anarcha-feminism

Here is a statement for International Women’s Day from the Spanish anarchist group, Apoyo Mutuo. I included material from various anarchist feminists in all three volumes of my anthology of anarchist writings, Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Some of the anarchist women included in the anthology are Louise Michel, Charlotte Wilson, Emma Goldman, Voltairine de Cleyre, He Zhen, Itô Noe, Takamure Itsue, Marie Louise Berneri, Ethel Mannin, Peggy Kornegger, Carol Ehrlich, Rossella Di Leo and Carole Pateman.

feminist

There is no democracy without feminism

The legacy of the struggles of women against patriarchal domination contributes to the definition of the current socio-political model. Its discourse and strategies against this sexist, unjust and authoritarian system are the source of forms of resistance and creation that we practice today. Although we find experiences of antipatriarchal rebellion in any historical moment, for more than three centuries feminism, as a unifying concept of perspectives, projects its heritage beyond the limits of a mere social movement. It is not a current, it is a critical way of understanding reality.

The multifaceted nature of the struggle for the rights and freedoms of women, with different approaches and points of incidence, invites us to speak of “feminisms” in the plural. We thus recognize a proactive and transformative condition, in constant adaptation, which has been shaping and consolidating other political movements. Feminisms have brought about changes that affect us as individuals and as a group, helping us to overcome purely ideological positions and to put into practice discourses. They offer guidance on how to realize values such as solidarity or freedom in everyday acts.

This intellectual tradition teaches us that we can not speak of “women” as a homogeneous subject. To be aware that our knowledge and perspectives are defined by our place in the world (ethnicity, social class, sexual orientation, national origin, age… ) requires us to be cautious when studying the category that society calls “woman”. This concept, limited and insufficient, is instrumentalized to render invisible, from women workers, the indigenous, lesbians, black women, to dissident bodies and so many others.

This critical view of our own discourse does not, however, assume that give up looking at ourselves as an oppressed group. To complete our knowledge with a thorough analysis of the areas and diversity of feminisms will help us design more transversal strategies. To update our feminist agendas with this new look is the challenge.

With this perspective it is impossible to deny the centrality of some urgent problems such as gender violence and the feminization of poverty, both closely related. This terrifying alliance between capitalism and patriarchy costs us lives. From our various feminisms, we are forced to design a common agenda to combat both systems of domination in all strata and levels: on the street and in institutions, in the workplace and the home, in organizations and everyday relationships; so many tactics as partners to have at the service of a single objective.

A model of democracy that fully guarantees the rights of women is desirable but insufficient. Feminist economics has taught us that the values and priorities of the economy of patriarchy are the ultimate cause of social injustice and are obstacles to sustainability. Feminisms brought back to the center of the debate the most essential: sustaining life. There is an array of tasks, jobs and functions that the dominant economic system denies or ignores, but which are absolutely essential for social welfare or even for survival.

The recognition of so-called ‘domestic work’ is an example of this struggle between feminisms and patriarchy. The capitalist system boasts of its ability to find a balance in the relationship between work and pay, but it survives thanks to the work of millions of people, mostly women, who provide their services for free. Feminisms unmasked the problem, denounced it and offer profound solutions to eradicate it.

To launch our offensive we must first define our opponent, to whom we turn. It is necessary to keep in mind that the institutions are not reducible to the state, with its multiple heads and instrument, the Law. Social roles are also institutions, whose transformation is addressed by designing and reproducing new educational models, as are the family or the couple, which are challenged through the practice of other affective models which must be made visible and supported.

In short, women’s struggle is a struggle for the freedom of all people. It teaches us how to decommodify and democratize human relations, recuperating the fair value of people over things; the practice and theory of mutual support that are the foundation of the social change that we are building.

Apoyo Mutuo

anarcho-feminism

Murray Bookchin: HeartBern

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Bookchin v.

Sanders

Sanders

When Bernie Sanders began his campaign for president, I recalled that Murray Bookchin had some critical things to say about him when Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vermont in the 1980s. Fortunately, someone has now posted on the internet Bookchin’s 1986 article on Sander’s record as mayor. Bookchin lived in Burlington, and so witnessed first hand Sander’s peculiar version of “socialism in one city.” Bookchin’s comments on Sanders’ predilection for top down organization and centralized leadership suggests someone well suited for presidential government, while highlighting the limits of Sanders’ so-called “socialism.” I included several selections by Murray Bookchin on social ecology, direct democracy and direct action in Volumes Two and Three of  Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Here I reproduce excerpts from Bookchin’s 1986 article on Sanders in the Socialist Review.

Sanders for mayor

Sanders’ Record 

SANDERS’ CLAIM that he has created “open government” in Burlington is premised on a very elastic assumption of what one means by the word “open.“ That Sanders prides himself on being “responsive” to underprivileged people in Burlington who are faced with evictions, lack of heat, wretched housing conditions, and the ills of poverty is not evidence of “openness” — that is, if we assume the term means greater municipal democracy and public participation. What often passes for “open government” in the Sanders cosmos is the mayor’s willingness to hear the complaints and distress signals of his clients and courtiers, not a responsibility to give them any appreciable share in the city’s government. What Sanders dispenses under the name of “open government” is personal paternalism rather than democracy. After six years of Sanders’ paternalism, there is nothing that resembles Berkeley’s elaborate network of grassroots organizations and councils that feed into City Hall.

When it comes to municipal democracy, Sanders is surprisingly tight-fisted and plays his cards very close to his chest. Queried shortly after his 1981 election on a local talk-show, You Can Quote Me, Sanders was pointedly asked if he favored town-meeting government, a very traditional form of citizen assemblies that has deep-seated roots in Vermont townships. Sanders’ response was as pointed as the question. It was an emphatic “No.” After expressing his proclivity for the present aldermanic system, the mayor was to enter into a chronic battle with the “Republicrat” board of aldermen over appointments and requests that were to be stubbornly rejected by the very system of government that had his early sanction.

Sanders’ quarrels with the board of aldermen did not significantly alter his identification of “open government” with personal paternalism. As an accepted fixture in Burlington’s civic politics, he now runs the city with cool self-assurance, surrounded by a small group of a half-dozen or so aides who formulate his best ideas and occasionally receive his most strident verbal abuse. The Mayor’s Council on the Arts is a hand-picked affair, whether by the mayor directly or by completely dedicated devotees; similarly, the Mayor’s Youth Office. It is difficult to tell when Sanders will create another “council” — or, more appropriately, an “office” — except to note that there are peace, environmental, and gay communities, not to speak of unemployed, elderly, welfare, and many similar constituents who have no “Mayor’s” councils in City Hall. Nor is it clear to what extent any of the existing councils authentically represent local organizations and/or tendencies that exist in the subcultures and deprived communities in Burlington.

Sanders is a centralist and his administration, despite its democratic proclivities, tends to look more like a civic oligarchy than a municipal democracy. The Neighborhood Planning Assemblies (NPAs) which were introduced in Burlington’s six wards in the autumn of 1982 and have been widely touted as evidence of “grassroots democracy” were not institutions that originated in Sanders’ head. Their origin is fairly complex and stems from a welter of notions that were floating around Burlington in neighborhood organizations that gathered shortly after Sanders’ 1981 election to develop ideas for wider citizen participation in the city and its affairs. That people in the administration played a role in forming assemblies is indisputably true, but so too did others who have since come to oppose Sanders for positions that have compromised his pledges to the electorate.

Bernard Sanders’ view of government appears in its most sharply etched form in an interview the mayor gave to a fairly sympathetic reporter on the Burlington Free Press in June, 1984. Headlined “Sanders Works to Expand Mayor’s Role,” the story carried a portrait of the mayor in one of his more pensive moods with the quote: “We are absolutely rewriting the role of what city government is supposed to be doing in the state of Vermont.’ The article leaped immediately into the whole thrust of Sanders’ version of city government: “to expand and strengthen the role of the [mayor’s] office in city government:” This process has been marked by an “expanding City Hall staff,” an increased “role in the selection of a new fire chief,” “a similar role in the Police Department,” and “in development issues, such as the proposed downtown hotel.” In response to criticism that Sanders has been “centraliz-ing” power and reducing the checks and balances in city government, his supporters “stress that citizen input, through both the Neighborhood Planning Assemblies and expanded voter output, has been greatly increased.” That the Neighborhood Planning Assemblies have essentially been permitted to languish in an atmosphere of benign neglect and that voter participation in elections hardly equatable to direct participation by the citizenry has left the mayor thoroughly unruffled.

A FAIR CONSIDERATION of the results produced by Sanders’ increased role in city affairs provides a good test of a political strategy that threatens to create institutional forms for a Burlington version of New York’s Mayor Koch. The best case for the mayor appears in the Monthly Review of May, 1984, where a Pollyanna article written by Beth Bates, “a writer and farmer,” celebrates the virtues of Sanders’ efforts as “Socialism on the Local Level” — followed, I might add, by a prudent question mark. Like Sanders’ own claims, the main thrust of the article is that the “socialist” administration is “efficient.” Sanders has shown that “radicals, too, can be fiscal conservatives, even while they are concerned that government does the little things that make life more comfortable” like street repair, volunteer aid to dig paths for the elderly after snowstorms, and save money. The administration brings greater revenues into the city’s coffers by modernizing the budgetary process, principally by investing its money in high-return institutions, opening city contracts to competitive bidding, centralizing purchasing, and slapping fees on a wide range of items like building permits, utility excavations, private fire and police alarms, and the like…

THE ULTIMATE EFFECT Of Sanders’ aging form of “socialism” is to facilitate the ease with which business interests can profit from the city. Beyond the dangers of an increasingly centralized civic machinery, one that must eventually be inherited by a “Republicrat” administration, are the extraordinary privileges Sanders hasprovided to the most predatory enterprises in Burlington — privileges that have been justified by a “socialism” that is committed to “growth,” “planning,” “order,” and a blue-collar “radicalism” that actually yields low-paying jobs and non-union establishments without any regard to the quality of life and environmental well-being of the community at large.

Bernard Sanders could have established an example of a radical municipalism, one rooted in Vermont’s localist tradition of direct democracy, that might have served as a living educational arena for developing an active citizenry and a popular political culture. Whether it was because of a shallow productivist notion of “socialism” oriented around “growth” and “efficiency” or simply personal careerism, the Burlington mayor has been guided by a strategy that sacrifices education to mobilization and democratic principles to pragmatic results. This “managerial radicalism” with its technocratic bias and its corporate concern for expansion is bourgeois to the core — and even brings the authenticity of traditional “socialist” canons into grave question. A recent Burlington Free Press headline which declared: “Sanders Unites with Business on Waterfront” could be taken as a verdict by the local business establishment as a whole that it is not they who have been joining Sanders but Sanders who has joined them. When productivist forms of “socialism” begin to resemble corporate forms of capitalism, it may be well to ask how these inversions occur and whether they are accidental at all. This question is not only one that must concern Sanders and his supporters; it is a matter of grim concern for the American radical community as a whole.

Murray Bookchin

Socialist Review 90 (November-December 1986), pp. 51-62

bookchin

Hurrah for Anarchy!

hurrah for anarchy

Recently Dissent magazine carried a rather lame critique of anarchism by Sheri Berman. Here I present an excellent rejoinder, posted by “Patrick” (also the author?) at For Student Power and the Black Rose Anarchist Federation website. As the article notes, Berman’s comments about the Paris Commune being an example of anarchism’s failure are particularly off the mark (for a different perspective, see my book, We Do Not Fear Anarchy – We Invoke It). As for Dissent, I can’t resist recalling an old Woody Allen joke about Dissent merging with a similar magazine, Commentary, to create a new magazine, Dissentary.

volume-3

Another Day, Another Hatchet Job

Is just me, or has the quality of critiques of anarchism been getting worse lately?

Barnard Professor Sheri Berman’s contribution to Dissent’s Fall 2015 issue (“No Cheers for Anarchism”) makes it clear she holds anarchism — and anarchists — in contempt. I looked for, but sadly could not find, a well-argued reason why. Her essay is plagued by the kind of scattershot superficial analysis, innuendo, and guilt-by-association better suited to a publication like the Weekly Standard than such a storied journal of the left.

Berman’s trouble begins when she asserts a fundamental similarity between anarchists and libertarians:

Anarchists dream of a world without states, traditional political organizations, or any other structures that restrict individual freedom. Because they share such beliefs and goals with libertarians, anarchists are easily confused with them. In the American context, at least, the main distinction between the two concerns capitalism: anarchists view it as inherently coercive, while libertarians venerate it as the embodiment and guardian of individual rights. This has led the former to be viewed as left wing and the latter as right wing, but in reality, anarchists differ dramatically from other sectors of the modern left (just as libertarians differ dramatically from traditional conservatives and other factions of the modern right).

While it’s true that American libertarians essentially stole their appellation from us (“libertarian” at least in Europe still largely means anarchist), they sadly did not deign to import any of our ideas. Anarchist analysis is fundamentally social and structural, and is the common thread that links our opposition to capitalism and the state, our resistance to all forms of oppression and domination, and our proposal of common ownership of wealth and production through direct democracy. Libertarians, on the other hand, construct their world starting with the atomized individual, resting on a foundation of modern property rights: it is a thoroughly reactionary ideology.

no to anarcho-capitalism

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth century anarchism’s rejection of traditional political organizations and activity led to its involvement in various uprisings and rebellions, the most important of which was the Paris Commune.

It is strange to see Berman assert that anarchists during that time rejected “traditional political organizations and activity.” I can only assume she means electoral and party politics, which given the time period were anything but traditional. Indeed, Europe has a much longer history of strikes, revolts, and revolutions than of parliaments. Modern European political parties only kicked off in earnest post-1848 while universal suffrage took even longer. And while she claims anarchism is a very different animal from its brethren on the left, anarchists made up a significant portion of the First International, and have joined arms with their fellow socialists in barricades, picket lines, and revolutions ever since.

Odder still, considering how few actual anarchists were there, is Berman’s implication that the Paris Commune was an “anarchist activity”:

Despite their often spectacular nature, anarchist activities were almost uniformly unsuccessful. For example, the Paris Commune’s lack of internal organization, leadership, or agreed-upon goals left it prone to infighting and vulnerable to counter-attack; it was brutally crushed by the forces of counter-revolution.

Given that both Marxists and anarchists spoke highly of the Commune, one suspects there is more to it than Berman lets on. While she pins the blame on a “lack of internal organization, leadership, or agreed-upon goals,” one of the anarchist critiques of the Commune is that while there was plenty of internal organization, it was hobbled by its centralized and bureaucratic nature. As Kropotkin put it:

But in 1871 the people of Paris, which had overthrown so many governments, was only involved in its first attempt at revolt against the governmental system itself: it submitted to governmental fetichism and gave itself a government. We know the consequence. It sent its devoted sons to the Hotel-de-Ville. Indeed, immobilised there by fetters of red tape, forced to discuss when action was needed, and losing the sensitivity that comes from continued contact with the masses, they saw themselves reduced to impotence. Paralysed by their distancing from the revolutionary centre — the people — they themselves paralysed the popular initiative.

Berman then claims that the fin-de-siecle left abandoned anarchism for political parties and trade unions, neglecting to mention that a large majority of anarchists at that time were already moving into the labor movement. While many socialist parties at the time saw trade unions as little more than party recruiting grounds and vehicles for turf wars with other socialists, anarchists placed labor struggles at the heart of revolutionary strategy (exemplified by the prominent rise of anarcho-syndicalism across Europe and Latin America).

Anarcho-Syndicalism

Anarcho-Syndicalism

Berman correctly notes that after World War I “socialists played a significant role” in governments across Europe:

During the interwar period socialist parties became the bulwarks of democracy in many parts of Europe. Defending democracy meant that socialists needed to win elections and attract the support of the majority, which would in turn require compromises, trade-offs and patience—none of which appealed to anarchists.

While socialists in power were quite successful at breaking strikes and attacking popular movements on their left, they failed at what was possibly their most important task: heading off the rise of nationalism and fascism. The world paid dearly for that failure. In Spain it was the election of a social democrat-led coalition, not anarchist agitation (as Berman alleges), that spurred Franco’s coup. Were it not for the immediate actions taken by the UGT and anarchist-led CNT trade unions to arm and mobilize the population, against a backdrop of paralysis on the part of the government, Franco’s victory likely would have been nearly instantaneous.

Similarly, Berman’s analysis of the 1960s is painfully incomplete. Claiming the post-1945 social democratic order “undergirded an unprecedented period of consolidated democracy, economic growth, and social stability in Europe and the West,” she neglects to mention the mountains of stolen resources and millions of bodies across Asia and Africa on which that order depended. Nor does she mention that the anti-colonial, anti-imperialist project was central to the radical left of the 1960s, simply stating that “many anarchist-influenced ‘New Left’ and counter-culture movements (including punk and the Yippies in the United States, and squatters movements in many European cities) attack[ed] the reigning ‘bourgeois, capitalist’ order.” The only time Berman bothers to reach outside the comforts of the West is for a few bogeymen:

Some praised the likes of Ho Chi Minh, Mao Zedong, and Fidel Castro—hardly icons of freedom—and showed scorn for public opinion and for the “masses” who didn’t share their vision of the world.

Trying to hang those three around anarchism’s neck — none of whom were remotely anarchist, and in the case of Castro, actively jailed and murdered Cuban anarchists? The mind boggles.

Anti-Castro Cuban anarchist paper

Anti-Castro Cuban anarchist paper

In the post-Cold War era, anarchism has emerged as arguably the most energetic current on the left in the U.S. Berman dismisses Occupy Wall Street as a flash in the pan, little more than “theatrics” with “ephemeral impact.” While neither OWS nor the many successful campaigns and movements it birthed were majority anarchist, their tools, sensibilities and outlook drew heavily from that tradition. And too many progressives forget that over the course of a few months, OWS dramatically changed the bounds of mainstream economic and political debate (remember the summer preceding it, when matters of wealth inequality and Wall Street were permanently sidelined to debt ceilings and austerity packages?). That’s something for which the Elizabeth Warrens and Bernie Sanderses of the world should thank their friendly neighborhood anarchist.

Berman reaches peak superficiality as she concludes her essay by way of former congressman Barney Frank, a man whose blinkered conception of social change can only be measured in angry letters and phone calls to the Capitol switchboard:

In his recent book, Barney Frank, for example, contrasted the National Rifle Association’s persistent grassroots organizing and resultant ability to mobilize supporters to flood lawmakers’ offices with letters and calls and to vote as a bloc, with the inclination of many on the left to “hold public demonstrations, in which like-minded people gather to reassure each other of their beliefs.” Frank goes on to argue that “if you care deeply about an issue and are engaged in group activity on its behalf that is fun and inspiring and heightens your sense of solidarity with others . . . you are most certainly not doing your cause any good.”

There’s quite a bit of confusion here, not least of which is the implication that social movements (let alone anarchist-inspired ones) desire the same scope and scale of change that the NRA does. I for one am glad that so many movements reject the Berman-Frank model of social change. From immigrant rights (in both the Americas and Europe) to service sector unionization, from campaigns against fossil fuel projects to the 2012 Québec student strike, anarchists are at the forefront and in the trenches, helping shape analysis and strategy. Instead of petitioning their elected officials, they are doing what every successful movement has done: changing the reality on the ground so starkly and fundamentally that political and economic elites are forced to accommodate.

chomsky on anarchism

Ultimately, the shadow that hangs over Berman’s entire essay is cast not by anarchism, but by the colossal wreckage of social democracy.

Berman approvingly quotes François Mitterand’s denunciation of Paris protesters in May 1968: “what a mish-mash of quasi-Marxism, what hotch-potch, what confusion.” While she contents to caricature one of the most important events of the twentieth century, the quote much more accurately describes Mitterand’s own panicked and confused descent into austerity when faced with all the terrible demands of capital but none of the workers and youth on the streets to force him to live up to his socialist promises.

For decades now, social democratic parties across the West have taken up the mantle of hatchet men for the interests of capital. It is austerity imposed by the “left” that cuts deepest and is hardest to oppose. This slow self-immolation by socialist parties, stretching from London to Athens and Paris to Berlin, reminds us that we can’t administer our way out of the horrors of capitalism. While those on the electoral left — the true starry-eyed utopians — propose yet another round of minor fixes to capitalism’s foundational deformities, anarchists and our allies will keep fighting for and building a liberated world, one that needs neither capitalists nor their reluctant stewards.

January 2016

A different perspective

A different perspective

2015: Year in Review

Circle A

Just got my annual report from WordPress. During the past year, my three most popular posts were “Libertarian Revolution in Rojava,” David Graeber’s “There is a real revolution in Rojava,” and “Further Reflections on the Revolution in Rojava” by Janet Biehl. For more recent stories about the Kurdish struggle for self-determination, particularly for women, see this article in the Washington Post, and this article in the Huffington Post regarding Murray Bookchin’s continuing influence among the Kurds. Here is an excerpt from an article from last fall by Carne Ross on the situation in Rojava, noting the war that Turkey is waging against the Kurds, a war largely ignored by the mainstream media, which likes to pretend that Turkey is helping in the fight against ISIS. The full article can by found here on Ross’ blog. I included material from Kurdish anarchists and Janet Biehl’s interview with Kurdish “democratic confederalists” in Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas.

anarchy_rojava_STIM

Power to the People of Rojava

I visited Rojava last month while filming a documentary about the failings of the western model of democracy. The region covers a substantial “corner” of north-east Syria and has a population of approximately 3m, yet it is not easy to get to. The only passage is by small boat or a creaky pontoon bridge across the Tigris from Iraq.

Turkey has closed its borders with Rojava, preventing all movement from the north, including humanitarian supplies to Kurdish-controlled areas. To the south, in Iraq, the Kurdistan Regional Government does not make access easy; permits for journalists are not straightforward and, we were told, repeat visits are discouraged.

The isolation is not only physical. Turkey regards the Syrian Kurd YPG militia that is fighting the jihadi organisation Isis in Rojava as synonymous with the Kurdistan Workers’ party (PKK), a longstanding enemy inside Turkey. The YPG’s advance against Isis along Syria’s northern border has been halted by the declaration by Turkey of a so-called “safe zone” to the west of the Euphrates between the front line and the Kurdish-controlled canton of Afrin in the north-west. For the Kurds, the motive seems transparently clear: to prevent the formation of a contiguous area of Kurdish control along Turkey’s southern border.

The KRG, which collaborates with Turkey against the PKK, has also been reluctant to support the YPG, even though they share a common enemy in the shape of Isis. Turkey has likewise pressured the US to eschew the Syrian Kurds, although in the past few days Washington has come out in more open support, including delivering arms supplies to the YPG. Meanwhile, the Kurds maintain an uneasy truce with the Syrian regime, which keeps two small bases in Rojava but otherwise has no military presence here — a tacit deal whereby the Kurds control the territory in return for not fighting the regime.

Those journalists that do get here naturally gravitate to the front lines like the devastated city of Kobani; similarly, images of the photogenic young women who make up the female Kurdish militia, the YPJ, are more eye-catching than the village hall meetings that comprise the reality of an innovative grassroots democracy. But it is in those dusty assemblies across Rojava that a democratic revolution is taking place.

Carne Ross, October 2015

Emma Goldman "Happy New Year"

Emma Goldman “Happy New Year”

Ron Sakolsky: Mutual Acquiescence or Mutual Aid

breaking_loose

Ron Sakolsky has a new book out: Breaking Loose: Mutual Acquiescence or Mutual Aid? He will be talking about the book at Spartacus Books in Vancouver, Canada, on November 30, 2015, starting at 7 PM (3378 Findlay Street). Ron edits and publishes the Oystercatcher, and has written several books relating to anarchism and surrealism: Creating Anarchy (Fifth Estate,2005), Swift Winds (Eberhardt, 2009), and Scratching The Tiger’s Belly (Eberhardt, 2012). Here I present some excerpts from the Preface to Breaking Loose (the article which gave rise to the book can be found here). In Volume Two of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian IdeasI included pieces on anarchism and surrealism by Andre Breton and the French surrealists.

Mutual Acquiescence or Mutual Aid

Ron Sakolksy

Ron Sakolksy

The story of this book starts with the coining of the term “mutual acquiescence.” It first appeared as part of a single sentence in a 2006 thought piece that I wrote for Green Anarchy magazine under the title of “Why Misery Loves Company” in which I stated: “What I call mutual acquiescence is the polar opposite of the anarchist concept of mutual aid in that it paralyzes revolt rather than facilitating it”…

To be clear from the start, I did not create the term mutual acquiescence as part of a doom and gloom scenario of despair in which misery rules our lives, but as a way of understanding why and how people become immersed in the dead end of believing that misery is the only reality. The latter “realistic” state of mind is what surrealists call miserabilism. I see the relevance of the concept of mutual acquiescence here as bringing the historical connection between surrealism and anarchy into the present moment. For my part, the operative idea was that if we could understand the contemporary phenomenon of mutual acquiescence, we could begin to figure out how to transform its socially ingrained relationships of subservience into vibrant ones of mutual aid. I had no illusions that accomplishing such a task would be an easy one in practice, but assumed that the crossroads of mutual acquiescence and mutual aid would offer us a place to start in that journey toward anarchy…

However, I did not want the title to inadvertently lead to the depressing conclusion that mutual acquiescence made the realization of anarchy impossible. Instead, it needed a dynamic title that would make it clear that in order for the flowing waters of mutual aid to run freely, the dam of mutual acquiescence must be destroyed. Rather than simply blaming all of our woes on the state or capitalism, we can begin the processes of individual and social transformation by understanding the toxic nature of the everyday social relationships that prevent us from breaking loose.
If there is any subtext to this book, written in between the lines is the idea that we all hold a piece of the puzzle called anarchy. In so saying, I do not mean to oversimplify the profoundly complex differences between anarchist ideas from individualist to communitarian ones and from those which prize negation to those that emphasize affirmation. Rather, it is my contention that we need to recognize anarchy as a mosaic rich with diversity and not let any of the internal theoretical contradictions therein make us forget what we have in common. Together in mutual aid and as individuals in revolt, we can take back our lives. We can break loose from the dead weight of mutual acquiescence and set sail for the beckoning shores of anarchy.

Ron Sakolsky

ron creating_anarchy2013_xvi8-wc

Andrew Flood: Reflections on Platformism

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

In Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I included excerpts from the “Organizational Platform of the Libertarian Communists,” which argued for a class struggle based anarchism united by a common platform. The Platform was written by veteran Russian and Ukrainian anarchists, such as Peter Arshinov and Nestor Makhno. I also included critiques of the Platform by the veteran anarchist revolutionary, Errico Malatesta, and by other Russian anarchists, including Voline, who argued for an “anarchist synthesis” which was supposed to combine the best aspects of anarchist communism, syndicalism and individualism. In the excerpts below, Andrew Flood reflects on the experience of the Workers’ Solidarity Movement (WSM) in trying to follow a platformist approach in the 21st century. The complete article can be found here.

Andrew Flood

Andrew Flood

Reflections on the Platform in the 21st Century

“The platform’s task is to assemble all of the healthy elements of the anarchist movement into a single active and continually operating organization, the General Union of Anarchists. All of anarchism’s active militants must direct their resources into the creation of this organization.”

This sentence is probably among the most contested of the [Platform], including quite often within WSM. The Platformist approach is sometimes misrepresented as being about just grouping together the best militants. That is grouping together a relatively small number from within the anarchist movement that will influence the movement in general through the power of their ideas. Elsewhere on the left and occasionally within Platformism that sort of ‘best militants’ grouping is sometimes called a cadre organisation. Cadre is a military term about the methodology of maintaining a small but highly trained force in peacetime that forms the officer layers of a very much bigger conscript army when war arrives.

Instead of war we are talking here about revolution. Those who in effect advocate a cadre organisation hold to the idea that this side of the revolution the revolutionary organisation can only group together a tiny minority and that this means the quality of that minority is all that is really important. I say ‘in effect’ because the obvious contradiction between the cadre form and anarchism has meant you have anarchists who advocate the form but oppose the use of the term cadre. Which introduces contradictions that prove damaging in the medium term as the form is adopted in a way that makes critique of it more difficult. You end up with a ‘that’s not what we are’ denial that then necessitates one of those frustrating debates about what words really mean.

In any case the language used in the Platform above is quite different, it excludes the cadre approach. It aims to group not the best anarchists but (almost) all anarchists. The solution advocated is not the identification and recruitment of a knowledgeable and skilled cadre but rather a methodology to bring together most anarchists in a manner that collectively generates and allows implementation of the best solutions they reach. Platformist groups that have ‘gone bad’ have been those groups that confused the first process for the second.

To repeat, the Platform argues for grouping together “all of anarchisms active militants” – the only anarchists it excludes are the implicit ‘unhealthy elements.’

However, unlike the Synthesis counterproposal, the Platform doesn’t want to group all anarchists together ignoring political differences but rather insists that the major function of the grouping together of militants is to discuss and resolve those differences in a collective fashion and then implement what is agreed.

unity2

The question of unity

As the text continues it defines the four key organisational principles through which this is to be achieved;
1. Unity of theory
2. Unity of tactics or the collective method of action
3. Collective responsibility
4. Federalism

“Federalism means the free agreement of individuals and entire organizations upon collective endeavour, in order to achieve a common objective.”

The WSM had a strong focus on the first point, unity of theory, through the development and repeated modification of position papers. For the most part this worked at preserving a collective baseline that could be referenced in new situations but our methodology for generating it left a lot to be desired. We basically copied the methodology of much larger organisations like the unions and the traditional left. Which was one where motions were written by individuals and then debated and voted on by the WSM as a whole at twice yearly national conferences.

The problems here were that
a. the intellectual work of generating large blocks of text only suited a small minority of member. Probably less than 10% of members ever submitted a substantial motion to conference even though dozens of such motions were submitted over 25 years. There was little or no effort prior to 2011 to change that dynamic, in effect accepting the existence of a de facto internal cadre carrying out the most important intellectual work. Some of those who subsequently left not only embraced this but based their analysis of ‘what went wrong’ around the admittance of members they consider to lack sufficient intellectual understanding. A mea culpa here – probably as much as 50% of the text of our motions after 1990 was generated by me, it’s a form of thinking out an issue and codifying the results that comes very easly to me.
b. motions being generated by a small minority resulted in a lot of the members being quite passive with regard to the content of these motions, in particular where the content was not politically controversial. This had the biggest impact in areas of resource allocation as it meant that unless members strongly disagreed with a proposal they would vote for it. But that didn’t indicate a personal commitment to the work required to implement it.

In a certain sense there need not be a problem here. Often there will be tactical proposals that are compatible with other tactics and so the only question really is whether there are enough collective resources that people would allow a particular experiment to go ahead.

The problem arises when there is the expectation that the act of getting a motion passed is enough in itself to then expect all members will work to implement it in circumstances where the act of passing is really more of a ‘sure, give it a go’.

This is in part a discussion around what ‘tactical unity’ should be read to mean. And partly a discussion about understanding that implementing any project will always be a case not just of winning passive agreement but also generating ownership and ‘buy in’. That second factor was seldom understood in WSM, instead people tended to fall back to simply demanding that ‘Unity of tactics’ meant people had to implement their project once it had been voted for.

anarchist unity

The challenge of resource allocation

That approach might work if the original decision making process is one in which the entire work of the organisations is weighed up and the votes take place in the context not of deciding whether something is a nice idea but rather on whether resources can be moved from some other area to that area. Obviously this would also have a huge impact on the likelihood of a motion being passed and required a very different decision making mechanism, one outside the tradition of unions and other organisations. It didn’t help that we were an all volunteer organisation while unions have a large staffs of full timers to administer and co-ordinate the allocation of resources. As the organisation becomes bigger the scale of trying to weigh all the demands on resources against new demands in motions become ever more complex. Indeed even at the level of an organisation with 50 members in 3 cities it’s close to impossible for every member to keep track of all the needed information.

Pre 2013 the WSM had no mechanism to weigh up competing demands for resource beyond members including ‘make a priority’ type phrases in their motions. But actually that simply displaced the problem as before long almost everything of importance to anyone was made a priority. In retrospect it seems remarkable that we never recognised that the developing friction that was causing required different methodology or a change in approach to what we meant by tactical unity.

But importantly the second issue here is around the idea that tactical unity should be translated into every member implementing every decision. WSM went through periods where that was attempted, normally in the context of genuine mass popular campaigns that involved a significant minority of the working class. The most recent example of that approach being organising against the Household Tax where there was considerable pressure on every member to make it the main focus of their activity. There was logic to that as at the time it was the biggest struggle in quite some years. But there were also problems beyond the obvious one that it is never a good idea to put all your eggs in the one basket. Those included;
a. Newer members in areas where they were the only member didn’t necessarily have the confidence, experience and skills to deal with the manipulative behaviour of the leninist groups.Most of our newer members who found themselves in this sort of situation quietly drifted out of WSM .
b. The campaign was a very basic class based one with limited economic demands. Making it the major focus of every member would have resulted in members who were active in other areas, in particular anti-oppression struggles having to reduce or temporarily abandon that activity.
c. The Household Tax campaign was eventually defeated in a way that was quite demoralising. With most of our members putting most of their effort into that struggle the result was widespread demoralisation in WSM in the final months that was not balanced by success elsewhere.

hierarchy_is_chaos

The wrong case for tactical unity

It’s often the case that when you argue with Leninists about the need for democracy they fall back on military examples where its only possible for a small number of people to make a decision that has to be made quickly or defeat is certain. Therefore they claim direct / assembly democracy is not essential and should be replaced by the representative forms of democratic centralism. Arguing for general patterns of behaviour based on extreme examples will seldom give good results. Yet platformists tend to do this with relation to tactical unity.

In the conditions of the revolution in the Ukraine you can certainly see why quite a tight tactical unity would be needed. It was important that everyone would implement a particular plan at the same moment in time. ‘We are going to attack that hill at dawn from three sides and we need you to attack the river crossing 5km away 30 minutes before hand as a diversion to draw away reinforcements.’ But as with the Leninists and democracy just because extreme examples exist where a very strict definition of tactical unity needs to be followed this doesn’t then mean that such a level should be the default position in most circumstances.

Instead I’d suggest that tactical unity should not be read as anything more than a requirement to implement the tactics that are agreed if they apply to the given area a member is active in. So in relation to the household tax campaign tactical unity would mean arguing for a boycott of the charge, if that was the work you were involved in, and not a requirement to get involved in that work in order to make that argument. Indeed that must have been the intended meaning of the Platform, why else list Tactical Unity separately from Collective Discipline? There could be times, preferably brief, where the organisation thought that the scale of opportunity that existed did require an exceptional level of tactical unity including an individual requirement for implementation. But that would need to be a clear cut decision rather than, as happened in our case, an assumption some members made and tried to require of others.

Which brings us to Collective Responsibility. This can be read as every individual being responsible for the implementation of every decision but that makes little sense. What makes more sense is if it is understood to operate on both the collective and individual level. On the collective level it is the requirement for the organisation to implement decisions made. If that is to be meaningful it means building into the decision making process a way of weighing up and parcelling out the competition for collective resources. Then on the individual level the implementation of tasks that the individual has taken on should be a requirement, as should the expectation of taking on some minimum volume of tasks. In other words at the individual level the expectation is not that everyone will do X but rather than the individual will take on tasks and implement those tasks as part of a collective process.

When you look at the way the Platform defines the last point, Federalism, we see exactly this expectation in the definition; “the federalist type of anarchist organization, while acknowledging the right of every member of the organization to independence, freedom of opinion, personal initiative and individual liberty, entrusts each member with specific organizational duties, requiring that these be duly performed and that decisions jointly made also be put into effect.”

The conclusion I would come to is that in these core aspects it can be argued that the post 2013 WSM have moved a lot closer to a practical understanding and implementation of the Platform. The pre 2009 WSM had a formal adherence to the Platform but we lacked a practical distinction between tactical unity, collective responsibility and federalism of the sort worked through here. Instead we failed to distinguish between these. And coupled this with an inherited a set of contradictory practises from the unions, left and republicanism that were to some extent in contrast to these points and were administratively unworkable in an anarchist organisation. The end result was that the proclaimed (too intense) unity was seldom realised in practise and this became a source of frustration & friction.

Solidarity march

National co-ordination

The platform also addresses head on the tricky question of how you co-ordinate the work of numerous branches or other sub-divisions, its answer is not dissimilar to the WSM Delegate Council (DC):

Executive Committee of the Union

“The following functions will be ascribed to that Committee: implementation of decisions made by the Union, as entrusted; overseeing the activity and theoretical development of the individual organizations, in keeping with the overall theoretical and tactical line of the Union; monitoring the general state of the movement; maintaining functional organizational ties between all the member organizations of the Union, as well as with other organizations.”

However because of the administrative contradiction outlined above was an ongoing tension where WSM DC was expected to somehow solve the consequences of our failure to collectively understand the differences between the four points above. Those who later went on to become social democrats wanted DC to micro-manage the organisation’s work – at a level impossible without ‘full timers’ – and as part of this micro-management the requirement to pass on all sorts of decision making powers to DC.

The social democrats later interpreted their failure to make DC work in the manner wished as a failure of anarchism. In particular they came to adopt the idea that such decision making roles were only suitable for an elite of people with the right sort of brains. To be clear they were far from the first set of people for whom the Platform proved a transition out of anarchism to more elitist politics, to my mind this is because the Platform has often been implemented as a program for a cadre organisation.

Does any of this still matter in the age of the ‘networked individual’?

There is a final point, and that is to ask whether an organisational set of principles from the year when public telephones first appeared in Dublin train stations has relevance in the age when many of us have instant global video communication devices sitting in our pockets. The transformative opening up of ‘one to many’ communications in the last decade has radically changed the way oppositional movements emerge. The central part once played by the old left party system in monopolising ‘one to many’ communications in oppositional politics no longer exists. We are only beginning to see how that will transform the left but the question has to be asked whether this means the organisational principles of the Platform are about as relevant as designs for a horse and cart today.

I’d suggest that perhaps the Platform is more relevant than ever precisely because the communication monopolies that once made centralised, top down party structures seem natural no longer exist. Let’s rewrite the 3rd paragraph of the platform quoted at the start of this piece slightly to refer to more recent events. ‘In every country the Occupy movements were represented by local organizations with contradictory theory and tactics with no forward planning or continuity in their work. They folded after a time, leaving little or no trace.’ This suggests how the problems of informal anarchism of the 1910s have become more general movement problems today. But it also enables us to see how the negative costs of such disappearance are not what they used to be because online communications and archiving makes it much more possible to preserve both lessons and communications networks. Occupy and the other horizontalist movements didn’t simply vanish, they often seeded other movement’s.

An important qualifier is that the horizontalist movements may share organisational features with the informal anarchists of long ago but they did not define themselves as revolutionary organisations en route to overthrowing capitalism. From that point of view the way the Platform talks about the relationship between the Platformists and the mass semi-spontaneous movements of its day are informative “We regard revolutionary syndicalism solely as a trade-union movement of the workers with no specific social and political ideology, and thus incapable by itself of resolving the social question; as such it is our opinion that the task of anarchists in the ranks of that movement consists of developing anarchist ideas within it and of steering it in an anarchist direction, so as to turn it into an active army of the social revolution. It is important to remember that if syndicalism is not given the support of anarchist theory in good time, it will be forced to rely on the ideology of some statist political party.”

The post 2011 period is precisely a period where ‘horizontalism not given the support of anarchist theory in good time, [was] forced to rely on the ideology of some statist political party’ in the forms of Syriza, Podemos and much less convincingly the old left of Sanders & Corbyn. This was a failure of the weakness and general disorganisation of anarchism in 2011 – it failed to provide a convincing alternative. Worse some made the mistake of reading the failures of Occupy as being failures of anarchism. Some of the informal anarchists in Greece, Spain and elsewhere ended up being sucked into becoming voters if not foot soldiers of those new statist political parties.

Resisting those tendencies would have required quite sizeable and well resourced formal anarchist organisations with the reputation and reach to successfully argue for other paths than the retreat to electoralism. Building those sort of organisations is not the work of weeks or months, nor can they rapidly emerge from nowhere. Rather we need to spend time building the required tight relationships and deep levels of skill and experience on a large enough basis to give us the needed reach when popular movements explode onto the scene. The Platform continues to provide a starting point to understanding how that is done.

Where does that leave the WSM today with regard to the Platform?

The ‘Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft)’ remains a useful foundational document even if its certainly not the text you would hand to someone explain what the WSM stands for. It’s particularly useful for anarchists who have become frustrated with practises of anarchism that are based around informality as a demonstration that informality is not fundamental to anarchism. The danger here is that for such people it is often also the last step before they break with anarchism, so the historical experience has been that hitting a barrier often results in just such a break. Critics then reverse cause and effect and portray the platform as some sort of exit text.

It’s useful as a tool of common identification with other anarchists internationally. In both cases its pedigree is important as those who drafted it were quite central figures in anarchism of the 1910s and 1920s. But that is quite a specialist usage that also has the downside of only working for those who have a rather detailed knowledge of what many consider to be an obscure corner of anarchist history. Out of necessity WSM has relied almost completely on such an approach to identify potential international allies, the exceptions being where direct individual contact generated the level of knowledge and mutual understanding that could bypass that.

As with all foundational texts it’s important to be hyper aware of the tendency to treat them as scripture or material for ‘appeal to expertise’ style of arguments. And the related danger of presuming that anything not touched on is not of major importance. As discussed already the huge shortcomings of the platform is not in what it says but what it doesn’t say, it had nothing to say about how other oppressions intersect class. Or, although this is a modern concern, the related questions of environmental crisis and growth requiring economics.

The Platform is not anything approaching a manual, quite the opposite it’s a sketch of some ideas that will only become useful as a guide when they are considerably fleshed out and built on. It’s central ongoing strength, perhaps unfortunately, is its description of the shortcomings of informal anarchism in the opening paragraphs and the sketch it provides of organisational structures and methods to overcome those shortcomings. Without those anarchism remains trapped as a critique of the left without the accompanying methods to aid the birth of a genuinely free society.

That at the end of the day is the relevance of the platform. We stand on the shoulders of a fight for freedom that is hundreds of years old and in certain respects thousands. That is a fight that has not been won and broadly we have lost for two reasons. The first because rebellion resulted on the promotion of new people into power, people who promised freedom but who at best simply modifyed the prison. And the second because we lacked the organisation to defeat the old regime. Most of the left tends to focus simply on that second problem, many in the anarchist movement fear the first to the extent it makes the second inevitable. The platform claimed to provide the route to freedom overcoming both.

Andrew Flood

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