A TALK ON PRO-ORGANIZATIONAL ANARCHISM

A TALK ON PRO-ORGANIZATIONAL ANARCHISM
by Wayne Price

On January 14, 2003, there was a forum on the relationship between anarchism and organization, sponsored by the Libertarian Book Club in NYC. We had initiated it in response to a statement circulated by the Curious George Brigade. It opposed any form of ongoing anarchist organization beyond the local collective and the temporary network. I spoke for NEFAC, defending the perspective of a federation. There was also a speaker for the Workers Solidarity Alliance (an anarcho-syndicalist group), Critical Resistance, and a speaker from the CGB. The following is based on my notes for my presentation. Later I give a summary of some of the CGB's statements.

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Anarchism is consistent in its means and ends. Its goal is a self-organized, radically democratic, participatory, association of popular associations. Its means is also a self-organized, radically democratic, participatory, association of associations. From this perspective about the importance of anarchists forming associations, I am worried about some things right now. For example:

There is a growing antiwar movement. This is all to the good. There are apparently far more anarchists in it than there are Marxists. And yet, perhaps the largest antiwar organization, around ANSWER, is dominated by the Workers World Party, a Stalinist-Leninist grouping.. These people left the Trotskyists because they weren't authoritarian enough! Another large antiwar coalition is Not In Our Name, which is influenced at least by the Revolutionary Communist Party - last of the Maoists. They admire the Shining Path of Peru, a gruesome guerrilla movement. And there are other Leninist tendencies, such as the International Socialist Organization. The ISO is not totalitarian like the WWP or RCP, but it is Leninist, and manipulative, and it is growing. (I am not against working with the Leninists--in my union I am currently in a coalition with the ISO and other Leninists right now--but I am against letting them dominate the movement.)

There has been a effort to "out-organize" the Stalinists in the movement, but this has been done by liberals, social-democrats, and pacifists. Not anarchists. A group was formed in New York by anarchists, No Blood for Oil. It has done excellent work. But it decided not to define itself as anti-authoritarian, but as a group which did civil disobedience. That is, it does not challenge the Stalinists on their politics.

Consider the labor movement. The unions are in a bad way. Where once they had a third of the work force, now they have merely 12 %--only 9 % in the private sector. I believe there will be a huge upheaval among workers to build unions, a mass movement like the thirties. Leninists are preparing for it. Various Leninist outfits have people throughout the unions and throughout industry. There is also a layer of union officials who have reformist socialist (social democratic) politics, which is prepared to come to power if the old guard gives out.. The Leninists and the social democrats have been working in the labor movement for years. When the upsurge comes, if anarchists are not also in the unions and industry, we will be left far behind in the major institutions of the working class.

What worries me most of all, however, is the growth of fascist organizing. Throughout the U.S., there are young White working class people who are alienated from society, angry about their lives, rebellious toward their parents, and generally politically ignorant (the result of public education and the media). They are being appealed to by the so-called White Nationalists. The Nazis have really worked on organizing. They have musical events, racist bands and records, books, pamphlets, and journals, and organizations. This has attracted a significant following. I don't know about you, but this scares the hell out of me!

Right now the Nazis are below the country's radar. But when the political middle collapses--as I believe it will - the conflict is going to be among the previously - ignored extremes: the fascists, the Leninists, and the anarchists. Are we preparing for this? I do not think so.

Over the course of history, since Bakunin began the anarchist movement, anarchism has had some big successes. It has organized mass trade unions, in France, Italy, Spain, and Latin America--and in the U.S. if we count the IWW (a parallel phenomenon). It has organized revolutionary armies, in the Ukraine, Spain, and (if we count the original Zapatistas) in Mexico. During the Spanish revolution of the thirties, anarchist workers took over and managed factories and industries, and anarchist peasants voluntarily ran collective farms. And these were run very well.

Despite these and other successes, the anarchists have repeatedly failed in their revolutionary goals. They failed in Russia and Ukraine, beaten by the Leninists. They were defeated in Spain, between the fascists and the Stalinists. They were destroyed by the fascists in Italy. They were defeated in Latin America, by Stalinists and nationalists. In the U.S., the IWW dwindled to a marginal existence. Paul Avrich, the historian of anarchism, once told me, "The anarchists are always beaten by the hard revolutionaries." Historically, this has been true.

We are in a serious situation. The polar ice caps are melting. Capitalist industrialism has turned the world into a sewer. Technology must be taken away from the capitalists and used by the working class to create a society in balance with nature. And the same goes for these escalating wars. The Cold War is over, but the nuclear bombs remain. If we do not succeed this time with a world anarchist revolution, humanity is in big trouble.

In the late 1920s, a group of exiles from the Soviet Union met in France, to discuss why the anarchists had failed in the Russian revolution. These included Peter Arsinov and Nestor Makhno. Makhno and other anarchists had led a massive military struggle in Ukraine which had repeatedly beaten back the White armies. Anarchists had major influence in the factories of Moscow and St. Petersburg (the two big cities). They had been part of the coalition which overthrew the previous regime, the Provisional Government. Yet they were utterly defeated and destroyed by the Bolsheviks. Why was this?

This group decided that the major reason (not the only one, but a major one) was that the anarchists had been out-organized by the Leninists. They felt that the answer was for anarchists to find a way to combine self-management and freedom with effectiveness and collective responsibility (loyalty to the group's own decisions). They published The Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (1926). Although it was not a direct influence, its principles were similar to the way the FAI was to organize in Spain.

There is now a tendency within international anarchism which calls itself Platformist. This does not necessary mean an attempt to carry out every aspect of this 70 year old document. As I understand it, it means a commitment to pro-organizational anarchism, as opposed to those who want to keep anarchism as minimally organized and minimally coordinated as possible.

The Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC) is Platformist. We are a democratic federation of collectives. We are able to act locally, with full flexibility. Yet we are also able to pool our resources to put out common literature, documents, and publications. We discuss among ourselves to develop a common theory, strategy, and program. We can coordinate our efforts, as when we bring our forces together to fight the fascists or to go to an antiwar march, or when we coordinate activities in various unions.

Some anarchists think that the day will come when everyone, all at once, suddenly decides that socialist-anarchism is the answer. That day will never come. What does happen is that people come to revolutionary politics, one by one, and in small groups, in clusters so to speak, in layers. People look around for radical answers, and they listen to those who offer answers, such as Leninists, social democrats, and even fascists. And to the anarchists, if there are anarchists around. Right now the Marxists are relatively discredited, due to the worldwide collapse of the Soviet Union and to China's turn to openly market-style capitalism. But they will listen to whomever has ideas - which is sensible, after all. Then they make up their own minds as to their choices.

This development of revolutionaries in layers is not contrary to the self-organization of the working class. It is the self-organization of the working class.

What we want is for those radicalized individuals (those who come to anarchism, that is) to get themselves together and to develop their politics as revolutionary working class socialist-anarchism (in the tradition of anarcho-communism). We believe they should form themselves into federations - which is just what we are doing in NEFAC.

This does not mean that we want to take over mass organizations, such as unions, workers councils, neighborhood or community associations, Black community organizations, and so on. These will be multi-tendency and multiparty popular organizations (this is a disagreement we have with classical anarcho-syndicalism, which wants to create revolutionary unions, with, in effect, one-party programs). Mass organizations spring up during struggles, forming popular councils such as the original soviets in the Russian revolutions. Whenever they do, authoritarian parties and factions form to take them over. It is the job of anarchist organizations to counteract these parties, to fight for increased democracy and self-reliance within the mass organizations - as part of a revolutionary program.

We should be willing to work with anyone we can. No one has all the answers and anarchists should know the value of alliances where they can be made (what is called the united front), especially with those who are closest to us. North America is a big place, with many different sorts of people. It is unlikely that all the good revolutionaries will be in one organization. But we also know the need to openly and honestly debate our differences before the public.

We are especially happy to work with other anarchists who do not (yet?) see the need for federation. Their local organizing is often very good for local projects or temporary events, such as a specific demonstration. But they have not considered what is necessary to make a North American revolution. Their program is implicitly nonrevolutionary, whatever their intentions. As I said, this is a big and complex place. The ruling class of the U.S. is powerful and ruthless beyond compare. The White part of the multiracial working class of the U.S. is deeply poisoned by racism. All these and other difficulties will have to be faced. Only a flexible but widespread federation can deal with them.

I have a great hope for the future. There is a movement for anarchism such as has not been for decades. There is the anti-globalization movement, the antiwar movement, and the beginnings of an upsurge in the labor movement. This is very exciting. But there is also an increased danger. The government is more militarist and repressive than it has been for a long time. The Democrats hardly even seem to be an opposition. There is a rise of right wing extremism, from the fringes to the administration to the maddened nazis.

We are aware that anarchism has been defeated time after time. This time we have to do it right.

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After my presentation and the other presentations, the speaker from the Curious George Brigade spoke. (The following is based on my notes; obviously I am not an unbiased reporter.) He downplayed the idea of revolution, saying that, after all, "There are revolutions all the time." (By the same token, there are counterrevolutions all the time.)

He said we should look for inspirations, because there was no reason to worry that Leninists or fascists would seize power. (I wish I lived in his world.) He pooh-poohed the idea of knowing what happened in the Russian or Spanish revolution. (Whereas I believe that revolutionaries should study revolutions.) He felt that the anarchist movement was doing great and there was nothing to worry about. Speaking from the floor, another of the collective's members said that since a global revolution was not going to happen for a long time, the best way to counter global warming was to put up solar heating panels on roofs.

The comments of the CGB are consistent with my statement that their anti-organizational (or perhaps low-organizational) approach was a nonrevolutionary one. While they are excellent anarchist militants (and I love their name), they are, by their own account, not revolutionaries. They do not see the need to direct current activities by a long-term goal of working class revolution. This is certainly an arguable position. (Revolution was not the subject of our discussion, any more than was a working class approach, or libertarian socialism, nor anarchism itself.) My only point is that their organizational approach is consistent with their nonrevolutionary politics, while a pro-organizational approach (Platformism) is consistent with revolutionary anarchism.