Anarchists and Organisation

This meeting has been organised to discuss the issues raised by our recently published manifesto Beyond Resistance. As many of you here won’t have seen a copy – today’s your best chance! – I hope this talk will encourage you to read it and think about it. Beyond Resistance is perhaps our best collective project, involving the whole of the ACF in its writing, and going into more detail than previous pamphlets. We divided the manifesto into 3 sections, the first two being our view of the world as it is under capitalism, followed by our vision of the post-revolutionary Anarchist Communist world. The third part explains how we think we should get from A to B, what we’ve called the Revolutionary Programme. As many of us may already broadly agree on how shit the world is now and how it could be better, to discuss those things today in such a short amount of time probably wouldn’t get us that far.

Instead, I’m going outline the ACF’s views on anarchist organisation, which is a major part of the third section of the manifesto. The reason for this, is there’s a lot which has happened in the anarchist organisations over the past year or so. For example in the pages of Direct Action, in the revamped Black Flag, in Workers Solidarity and on the internet there has been much contribution to the debate of how to organise and build anarchist organisations. Turkish and Kurdish anarchists recently called out to the organised anarchist movement. Most significantly, Class War Federation has dissolved and is looking for open debate as to a new direction for organisation and struggle.

The possibilities are limitless, but let us say now there’s no point setting up a new structure without more debate about exactly what a revolutionary organisation is for – that would be putting its form before its content. Agreement, or at least understanding of differences, about anarchist theory, structure, and practice, seem more relevant and necessary than ever. This is part of our contribution. I will outline how we see the role of the revolutionary organisation in general terms, how it should be structured, and how it should engage in the everyday class struggle, of which it is a part.

The role of the revolutionary organisation should be to help the working class transform the Capitalist World into the Anarchist Communist World, to make clear that a Revolutionary Alternative to the way we live in now is both possible and necessary.

First and foremost, it is important to say that we don’t see organisations like the ACF ‘making’ the revolution, nor do we see such organisations as a model for how the future world would be organised. It is the class as a whole, conscious of itself, and influenced by anarchism, who will make the revolution. A revolutionary organisation should dissolve during the revolution as it is overtaken by the creativity of the re-organisation of society by the masses.

Secondly we do not see that any one organisation will have all the answers. The Revolution does not mean, and it never has meant, the centralisation of struggles and the concentration of all the revolutionary forces in a single body. Instead, the ACF sees itself as just one current fighting to create a Culture of Resistance in the working class. We do not think that liberation will come about on a purely spontaneous level , and neither can it be delegated to a vanguard party. But, that does not remove the need for specific Anarchist Communist organisations. It is up to organised anarchists to push the ideas and practice that we think will make a revolution most likely to succeed, to encourage libertarian forms of organisation against hierarchy, and to foster opposition to capitalism, the state, religion and reformism at all times.

So how do we think organisations should be structured? Well, some people have identified the ACF as Platformist, a term coming from the ideas put forward in the influential 1926 document “Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists”, published by Nestor Makhno and others. It was written in response to the failure of the Russian Revolution, and vigourously opposed by Malatesta and others over the next few years. In fact, the ACF takes on board many of the criticisms of the Platform, and this is reflected in the way we organise and view other anarchist groups. For instance, the Platform insisted that anarchists must belong to a single organisation, the General Union, which we disagree with. Also we are clear on how anarchist organisations should try to influence the masses, that is by example and suggestion in the struggles we engage in, to create a leadership of ideas, but not a organisational leadership. Perhaps the Platform underplays the role of propaganda. In any case, the details of the proposed federal structures are open to misinterpretation and criticism. For these reasons, the ACF does not consider itself to be Platformist.

However, there are parts in the platform which should be taken seriously by all organised anarchists. I’d urge everyone to read it as well as our manifesto (and the French Federation of Libertarian Communists 1953 manifesto), but here are the four main points:

1. Theoretical Unity: theory is the force which directs our activity, so the organisation must come to collective agreement on theoretical positions and policies. This is important to reduce future splits, and to avoid presenting a confused idea about where we are coming from.

2. Tactical Unity: this is the collective method of action. It doesn’t mean we all have to do the same at the same time, but that we have a similar approach to struggles based on our collective theory. Obviously if we don’t have theoretical unity, this causes problems in deciding our tactics and focus.

3. Collective Responsibility: this means that all members are responsible for the activity of the organisation, and vice versa. Some people have taken this to mean that we lose our individual responsibility, and maybe this why some local groups are resistant to federations like the ACF, but it’s more to do with making sure that people are aware and remember that they and the other members should at all times be acting as a collective. The aim should be to prevent ego’s taking over, and also to avoid members playing a passive role and giving control over to a minority (or a majority for that matter).

4. Federalism: This is the part where the Platform asserts the non-hierarchical nature of the organisation, against centralism. It’s also about accountability, so that federated groups and individuals conform to communal decisions.

To summarise what WE think about the role of the revolutionary organisation, we try to do the following:

  • To work within struggles and movements
  • To initiate struggles, though not to control them
  • To produce propaganda
  • To act as a place for debate
  • To act as a memory for the working class, by recalling the history of past struggles and drawing their lessons.
  • To convey information between ourselves and beyond, all over the world.
  • To promote self-organisation and independence of struggles, whilst spreading our propaganda – this is the leadership of ideas.

    The Anarchist Communist Federation continues to argue for class struggle anarchists to be in organisations on national and international levels, and against localist or anti-organisational tendencies. I hope we will convince you of this. This is because we think the organisations with theoretical and tactical unity are the ones most likely to last and succeed in achieving all the things just mentioned, and in creating the culture of resistance which we want to exist in the whole working class. The next part of this talk explains how we think organised anarchists should be going about creating this Culture of Resistance.

    Second Part – heavily edited from part C3 of the manifesto – the activity of the ACF in struggles before the Revolution

    The ACF has positions which we try to implement in our approach to the revolutionary movement and also in our involvement in resistance at work and in our communities, which we believe will help create a culture of resistance and revolutionary consciousness.

    To make revolution more likely, working class communities must be united. People must be made conscious of the fact that it is Capitalism which divides us and makes us compete, that it is not a natural human condition. Creation of self-active units and communities will make the Revolution more likely, as we get a glimpse of what life could be like outside of state control and the requirements of profit. Because of this we get involved in such areas as opposition to the Criminal Justice Act and the Poll Tax in past years, unemployment issues such as the Job Seekers Allowance and Project Work, opposition to council and government collaboration with big business, the wrecking of our environment by building roads or superstores, resistance to the closure and under-funding of community facilities, support of creative and cultural projects, squatting and housing projects, support of immigrants and fights against deportation.

    To give a couple of examples, many of us are involved in anti-JSA groups. In my local group in Nottingham, we have consistantly put the case against the CPSA unions view that the 3-strikes tactic is anti-worker, and proved its effectiveness by putting it into action. We are also looking with interest at the IWCA’s initiative in setting up a community group in Nottingham neighbourhood. It is vitally important that we investigate all avenues for encouraging a culture of resistance.

    We have a similar approach to workplace struggles. Workers should be supported whenever they oppose the boss class, be it over issues of safety, pay, hours, racism, sexism, or job security. Victory improves conditions in these areas but can also inspire workers to create more meaningful change.

    However, real resistance, whether short term or aimed at longer term social change is only possible if trade unionism is undermined. This does not necessarily mean we tell workers not to join unions. Unions are one place where you can meet other people fighting, or wanting to fight the bosses, and meeting regularly can build a sense of solidarity and give you somewhere to discuss politics. In some workplaces with a tradition of union membership, not only would you be seen as anti-working class if you didn’t join but you would be unlikely to get any support if you were victimised by the bosses. But, unions have never been revolutionary and nowadays they are not even very influential. When we get involved with disputes it is vital to show workers that it is they who are in struggle, not their union, and that if they win it is in spite of their union.

    Rather than become part of the bureaucracy of a near-redundant trade union mechanism ourselves, we must be able to offer credible alternatives. Some alternatives have already been tried. Rank and File-ism, for example, involves a ‘bottom up’ approach where radical workplace representatives rather than paid union convenors take the initiative. Whilst this poses a threat to slow moving and back-sliding union bureaucracy, its emphasis is still reformist, and limited by existing trade union structures. Individual rank and filists may give a radical lead to some struggles and gain a high profile, but this does not seem to result in the creation of mass movements, let alone revolutionary consciousness.

    For similar reasons we are sceptical about the potential of syndicalism and anarcho-syndicalism as revolutionary methods, but I won’t go into this now as we have just published some of these views in the lastest Organise!

    The ACF has discussed whether the establishment of a permanent support groups network is a good idea, as the matter has been raised by workers, but we are wary of establishing any permanent structures, useful though they may seem in the short term. They may become as paralysed by bureaucracy as the union, and prey to leftist take-over. Not least, if they are permanent, then the State can attack them with legislation.

    What is needed is the growth of a new culture of economic resistance without a permanent structure but able to produce high levels of militant activity as and when it is needed. This is not to say that there should be no on-going radical work. Even when not officially in dispute, workers should establish semi-secretive non-elitist non-permanent ‘workplace resistance’ groups. Their secrecy and lack of permanent structure means that their members cannot easily be identified, victimised or bought off by management, and they can concentrate on action and understanding of capitalist tactics, not on self-perpetuation. Such groups do not seek to be alternative unions. They are anti-capitalist, anti-company, anti-union and anti-party political and have no respect for legality. They should advocate class war and practise direct action to achieve their objectives. Such groups should encourage and carry out resistance and rebellion, attacking management and unions, advocating go-slows and mass sick-days, non-cooperation, and sabotage.

    As well as our work in the community and workplace, revolutionaries should be actively engaged in communication with anarchists in other organisations, both near and far. Because the ACF believes debate is vital, we aim to support and establish places for discussion with other groups, through conferences or discussion bulletins. We participate in the Northern Anarchist Network and in Groundswell. Many ACF members are active in local anarchist groups. This year we organised a joint discussion meeting with Subversion, which was also open to members of other groups, we attended a conference of the Revolutionary Socialist Network, and we have responded favourably to Class War setting up meetings to discuss a future direction. We also maintain an internet web-site. We are ready to debate with all those who recognise the need for an anti-capitalist alternative for the end of the Century. We also want those people who agree with us to join the ACF!

    Internationally, whilst there are anarchist communists in many countries, the individualist and syndicalist traditions still dominate. We argue that these traditions neither fully represent revolutionary working class self-activity nor offer the best way towards international Revolution. In addition, many countries have no anarchist tradition, where our ideas have not reached or where the State has suppressed them. Our aim is to encourage Revolutionaries to work towards an Anarchist Communist international. This is vital because we believe that the Revolution, wherever it starts, must spread quickly internationally if it is to survive.

    Revolution can not succeed whilst Capitalism remains in any part of the world. Neither can it succeed whilst established anarchist organisations draw too heavily on the experience of militants in the Western traditionally industrialised countries, without addressing the changing experience of the working class under new global capitalist practices. For this reason we take communication with our members, sympathisers and contacts throughout the world very seriously, giving what advice and support we can to them and learning from the lessons they learn in struggle in their respective countries.

    We produce propaganda in different languages, and translate material from other groups. We are at present helping the formation of an ACF federation in North America, and looking at the merits of joining the International Federation of Anarchists.

    That concludes my talk. I hope I’ve given a clear insight into what the ACF thinks and is doing at the moment.