Anarchist communists reject the Leninist model of a ‘vanguard’ party as counter-revolutionary. This new edition explains the concept of revolutionary organisation and its structure. All libertarian revolutionaries should read this fundamental text - £2.00 +p&p. Translations of RORO available in French: Le rôle de l'organisation révolutionnaire and Serbo-Croat (print-only).
Anarchist Communist Editions series ♣ ACE#6
THE ROLE OF THE REVOLUTIONARY ORGANISATION
Anarchist Communists have a vision of a revolutionary organisation very different from State-orientated parties and groups. But there is also something wrong with the idea of informal groupings as advocated by some Anarchists. To understand why a revolutionary individual needs to be part of a revolutionary organisation it is necessary to first describe the thing itself: its structure, its relationship with the working class and the theoretical basis of that relationship coupled with a precise understanding of class spontaneity.
The first fifty years of the 20th Century saw a sea change in the nature of capitalism. Traditionally capitalism was governed by the iron laws of supply and demand. Now what is produced matters less and less so long as marginal increases in profit are achieved. Economic necessity and technological inevitability mean increased investment and production no longer mean more jobs - they increasingly mean fewer jobs.
With the end of the age of antagonistic nation states and blocs that existed between from 1875 to 1995, the capitalist powers can now manipulate the global economy, shifting finance and production as opportunity dictates. Statist parties and groups have long proclaimed the solution nationalisation. But since investment does not increase jobs there is no argument for seizing the ‘commanding heights of the economy’, only abolishing them and finding new ways to organize work. Growth as a means of full employment is self-defeating since growth under capitalism is only achieved through increased competitiveness, competitiveness through productivity and productivity by shedding labour. Unemployment cannot be solved by increasing the amount of non-working since it depends on lower incomes and inevitable inequalities. Capitalism may have created wealth but it was stolen from the past (the ideas, knowledge and technics accumulated by pre-capitalist societies) and filched from the future (irreplaceable future commodities, gene pools, environmental degradations and so on).
Work and employment are not neutral. Work reproduces work’s social relationships. A person’s activity is productive only if it can be sold. If it can’t be sold it has no ‘worth’, nor do we. It is sometimes argued that employment would be okay if work was pleasurable but it isn’t. Why? Industrialists discovered it was easier to control a machine than a person and easiest of all to control people by subjugating them to a machine. The technology of production has been systematically applied to de-skill and make workers docile. This is being repeated in the process of consumption where we compulsively consume, but only what we are fed and for a clever reason: to balance production and consumption. The area of freedom within work is narrowing, matched by a narrowing of freedom out of employment. Attacks on the welfare state, dole scroungers and stay-at-home mums mirrors increased coercion at work and for the same reasons; we are being compelled to work in order to have the means to consume (however little we can afford to buy). Employment is seen as a socialising force, which no one should escape, and places where there is no work are feared as commodity-free deserts populated by junkies, criminals and deviants. Dehumanised and alienated, we face a future in which technology and the operation of society will be used to produce what the founders of modern industry wanted all along - weak people, easily controlled. Alongside this degradation, rationalisation and intensification of work causes massive amounts of illness, mental aberration and stress. These will inevitability increase as modern technologies compel greater productivity from workers. The fetishisation of work and consumption has a crushing effect on our minds and bodies when we become unemployed and cannot buy things. Forced to work, forced to consume, we are trapped in a system in which inequality and social division persist because the hierarchy of labour creates a socially destructive hierarchy.
From workplace to revolution
The historical argument that the factory would provide the means to create a revolutionary proletariat or source of social mobilization was false from the start and proved a disaster for humanity. How could industrial workers alone, in tightly managed workplaces and offered only the choice of alienated labour or enforced leisure, ever be capable of carrying through a libertarian revolution? Without freedom, industrial development has simply led to managerialism, technological control of the workplace - managing the unmanageable - and to social compulsion or catastrophe.
However not all is lost. Urbanization continues to create a vast, displaced, hungry, dispossessed and desperate working class across the globe. The way capitalism works, life is a red-in-tooth-and-claw struggle for survival where the "least successful" are swept to the margins of society where they can be ignored (if they work), despised (if they don’t) and punished for being different or in anyway resisting. ‘Progress’ constantly replenishes the margins with newly obsolescent humans - an ever-present strata of alienated and isolated people, less and less likely to escape economic and social exclusion. The State constantly raises the spectre of invasion by the marginalized who are demonised by the media. These ghettoised communities are always described as ‘threatening’ while actually being subject to vicious divide and rule and law-and-order experiments. Prime targets are those who can be made out to be different, for instance refugees and asylum seekers. Other bogeys are those who deny ‘modern’ moralities. Visible, different, recognisable: you’re likely to be a victim of hatred and violence whipped up by the bosses to keep the masses occupied, a class apart, separate from the rest of society, to be feared but also a convenient scapegoat.
But oppression takes subtle forms. The ruling class tinkers with the benefit system, offers ways for a person to ‘rejoin’ society, intensifies education around bourgeois norms, beefs up its police force and builds more prisons. Measures such as welfare-to-work carry a set of moral, ethical and political values and imperatives to do solely with the middle class’s fear of the impoverished sections of the working class and ruling class distrust of anything not completely under its control. At times this class is indeed marginalized, inert, trapped by circumstance and culture, rejecting bourgeois notions of work and value, a class which grudgingly accepts authority and is prone to any marketing hype or hysteria, including the exploitative cant of politicians or priests because it is uneducated, unknowing, naive. At other times its anger and thirst for justice bursts free of these constraints and it is then that resistance and revolution become possible. Therefore we should not attempt to ‘reverse the process of marginalisation’ but accelerate it. This is not understood by all ‘revolutionary’ groups. The crisis of market capitalism in the West and collapse of state capitalism in Eastern Europe, China and Cuba on every level (economic, social, cultural and sexual) is reflected in the crisis of the organisations of the so-called revolutionary left. These organisations duplicate ruling class values in their authoritarianism, their high degree of centralisation, their worship of hierarchy and the sheep-like submission of the rank-and-file to omnipotent and all-wise lead-erships. As the crisis in capitalism deepens, revolutionary organisations should increase in strength and numbers but instead the related crisis in the Left parties and groups becomes more extreme, with splits, opportunism and collaboration with the social-democratic agents of the bosses such as New Labour. The Socialist Party (ex-Militant) seeks to show its respectability, denouncing anarchists to the police, while the once influential Workers Revolutionary Party has splintered into a dozen fragments. Corruption, shady financial support from authoritarian regimes, turncoat politics and policies have become commonplace. It is vital that a strong libertarian movement in all areas of social life is created so that working people can defend themselves against the capitalist onslaught and create a free selforganised society. To assist in the building of such a mass movement, a libertarian revolutionary organisation is necessary: an organisation that fights for the co-ordination of all anti-capitalist struggles. Such an organisation must have a structure that ensures permanent political debate and must be controlled by the whole membership.
'The emancipation of the workers must be brought about by the workers themselves.' Declaration of the First International.
'The working class by itself can only attain trade-union consciousness.' Lenin, What Is To Be Done.
A vast abyss of theory and practice lies between these two statements. Leaders from the managerial strata and intelligentsia often proclaim as fact that workers need leaders or centralised parties. This is true of fascists, ‘revolutionaries’ like Lenin and even social democrats like the Blairites. They try to incorporate the workers into a totalitarian state, a quiescent mass or a moral majority, claiming mandates and support but not legitimacy (since power needs none): the idea of the Worker’s State may be discredited but it has been replaced by it’s capitalist equivalent, the Consumer Society. They do this because they want or need to believe that the working class cannot itself bring about revolutionary change and has no (as it is called) working class spontaneity. This concept of working class spontaneity has been distorted and misunderstood for so long.
It is wrong to ignore history or, studying it, to draw the false conclusion (as some anarchists do, for their own reasons) that the working class springs into revolutionary activity with no memory of or connection with previous struggles and no previous agitation by revolutionary minorities. On the contrary, the work of revolutionaries over many years to clarify and co-ordinate struggles in the working class greatly helps the revolutionary process. Working class spontaneity is the ability of that class to take direct action on its own behalf and to develop new forms of struggle and organisation. This happens in every great revolutionary upsurge where working people have formed committees and councils independent of "vanguards". In this country the flying picket and mass picketing were developed as weapons of struggle. ‘Pit commandos’ emerged during the 1984-85 Miners Strike. Road blockades and reclaiming the streets are all forms of struggle developed independently from the Revolutionary Party (whichever one that happens to be). The activities of the working class have taken place regardless of and sometimes against the urgings of the revolutionary elite.
Why should we be organised?
'Anarchism is organisation, organisation and more organisation.' Errico Malatesta
WHAT IS ‘ORGANISATION’? It’s a vast subject so let’s think about one kind of organisation relevant to anarchists. This is the ‘Revolutionary Organisation’. Each kind of organisation has its own purpose enabling people to accomplish what they cannot individually, harnessing energy and resources in productive ways. However organisations are not pure rational constructs. They have their own culture, often obscured by formal structures. Strip away the theoretical organisation of states, corporations and political parties and you reveal the hierarchy, authority, fear and greed that is true organisation in a capitalist society.
Because of this some anarchists reject not only the ‘ordering’ imposed on our minds by capitalist society but all forms of organisation. We in the Anarchist federation recognise the problems of organisation but accept that it is necessary both in and in achieving a libertarian society. What is important is to make organisations that reflect the ideas of anarchist communism in their own practice.
To create effective organisations we must know our own and other’s minds, therefore there must be a high degree of communication, of sharing. We must set about creating aspiration, setting achievable targets, celebrating success, rededicating ourselves again and again to the reasons why we have formed or participate in the organisation. And because organisation is a mutual, sharing activity these things cannot be contained within one mind or merely thought but acted out and given a tangible existence through words and actions. At the same time, we must remain individuals, capable of independent and objective appraisal, not cogs in some vast machine. What then is the purpose of ‘revolutionary organisation’? Can it be described? Given that the need for revolution already exists, revolutionary organisation must increase the demand for revolution. It must increase the measurable ‘weight’ or ‘force’ of the resources joined to demand revolution. The structure must increase the ability of the organisation to perpetuate itself while its ends remain unrealised. It must increase the ability of the organisation to resist attack, by increasing the determination and solidarity of members and by so arranging itself that damage caused to it (from external attacks, defections, internal conflicts and so on) are minimised. It must be flexible, be able to absorb or deflect change or challenges to it, have the ability to change or cease as circumstances dictate and the self-knowledge to initiate change when change is required. High levels of positive communication, mutual respect and celebration, shared aspirations and solidarity all describe the revolutionary organisation.
Creating a revolutionary structure
Anarchists in a free society will be self-ordering and society will be self regulating. The organisations we construct will arise out of the needs of the moment, filtered by our knowledge and perceptions. Organisations, whether free associations, collectives, federations, communes or ‘families’, will be fluid and flexible but retain the ability to persist. They will be responsive to individual and social need. They will have a structure and culture matching the needs, beliefs and purpose of members. They will not have the super ordered, monolithic or divergent cultures of competition, fragmentation, subordination or conflict that exist within organisations today. Creating organisations that have a revolutionary structure is an act of revolution itself. The more we do it, successfully, the better we will be at making the revolution and the closer we will be to achieving revolution. But to be successful we have to learn far more about the nature of organisations, what is effective communication and how we respond to demands for change. The Anarchist Federation is one attempt to put these ideas into a practical form. We do not claim to have all the answers, but we are convinced that anarchist communism can only hope to make real progress as the leading idea in a united revolutionary movement. Working as an organisation has made our interventions in the class struggle stronger and our ideas clearer than they could be alone or in local groups, and though we still have a long and hard road to travel, ever increasing co-ordination is unmistakably the way forward. A powerful revolutionary organisation will not come about by people simply agreeing with each other. Only through the dynamics of working together can we achieve the unity of activity and theory necessary to bring about a free and equal society.
Questions of consciousness
Let us put it quite bluntly: the errors committed by a truly revolutionary workers movement are historically far more fruitful and valuable than the infallibility of even the best central committees.
Rosa Luxembourg, Organisational Questions of Russian Social Democracy. The experiences of working class life constantly lead to ideas and actions that question the established order. This leads to "working class consciousness" but different sections of the working class may reach different degrees of consciousness. At the same time, the ruling class seeks to keep the working class divided, undermining solidarity based on culture and common experience through its control of the media and education and by perpetuating racism and sexism. The working class is never wholly atomised nor, at the moment, solid and united, conscious of itself and its power. The anarchist organisation must always be part of the working class. This creates a tension. While on the one hand it’s consciousness is more developed ("in advance"), it’s ability to develop and extend its influence in the class depends on not being too far in advance. If it is, it will fall into the trap of ignoring or rejecting the new forms of struggle and organisation which, as we have said, can benefit other workers and which workers everywhere must learn. There are dangers in this contradiction and the revolutionary anarchist organisation needs to develop ways of acting based on an awareness of the contradiction. We must always be ready to learn from the class and constantly revise our tactics with the unfolding situation. The revolutionary organisation is transformed as the working class is transformed in the revolutionary process. Theory and practice must be rooted in concrete conditions.
The anarchist revolutionary organisation understands this. It also realises that the only possible working class revolution is one where people use mass action to smash the apparatus of the ruling class (the police, courts, bureaucracy etc) and the class itself. Any other revolution leads only to the formation of a new ruling class. To bring the working class revolution about, the anarchist organisation has several tasks to perform.
Tasks of the Organisation
Accepting that the revolution can only be made by the self-activity of the working class, the anarchist revolutionary organisation still has a number of tasks to perform. It must act as a propaganda grouping, untiringly putting over the message that the working class must destroy capitalism and establish a libertarian communist society. It must also show how this can be done by giving examples of self-activity. It must search out the history of past struggles and share the lessons to be learned with the rest of the class as part of the development of class-consciousness. When important developments occur, the revolutionary organisation must spread the news through its links with organisations in other countries. But the organisation is not just a propaganda group: above all it must actively work in all grassroots organisations of the working class such as rank and file groups, tenants associations, squatters and unemployed groups as well as women’s, black and gay groups. It must try to link unionised and non-unionised workers, building a movement at the base.
Reclaiming ourselves can only occur in areas outside the main focus of capitalist control: our neighbourhoods, campaigns of resistance or protest, areas of greater freedom (such as squats) and libertarian initiatives. This is where we reconnect with the ‘unemployed’, the ‘underclass’, the ‘socially excluded’. Since work does not depend on employment and freedom is about what we do not how much money we earn, there should be no boundaries between revolutionaries and those laying the foundations for a self-organized society. The need to control our lives, to use our skills in a ‘good’ cause, to choose who we transact and interact with, to achieve a balance between giving and receiving, to entrust our lives to others, all are central to us as human beings and all can be experienced through work only on a personal or local level, never within a mass society. Inevitably smaller-scale production will spread throughout the free society. The revolution may be led by an awakened proletariat breaking out of the prison of the workplace but is just as likely to begin with a radicalised populace calling the workers out to join them. The true test of the revolutionary potential of a situation will be the extent to which workers struggling within the workplace connect with those acting outside. The revolution will re-connect workers and non-workers as people, not classes, it will be made and led by affinity groups sharing common values about work, the environment and social relations, rather than trade unions. These groups will be free associations built on mutual respect rather than associations created by economic necessity. The free society will be a society where there is no social coercion compelling the individual to work. But it is also one where the work that needs to be done will be done because it must be done. The boundaries between what we call work and play will disappear until all we are left with are the things we choose to do. There will never be a moment in our waking lives that we are not individuals expressing ourselves through our activity and our leisure and members of a society contributing who we are and what we do to it. And we will know that what is true of ourselves will be true of all else.
The organisation seeks to work inside single-issue groups to help radicalise them and to argue for a break with reformism and authoritarian revolutionaries. At the same time it respects the independence and autonomy of working class movements and (unlike others) does not try to subordinate them to the revolutionary organisation. This does not mean that it does not seek to spread its ideas in these movements. The organisation works to bring about mass participation inside all these groups and the class as a whole, working for self-activity and self-organisation in every struggle and aspect of life. These ought to be working class organisations as cross-class movements hide class differences and imply that the working class have shared interests with the ruling class. Full emancipation cannot come about without the destruction of capitalism. Only by building such organisations in the course of struggle can the working class hope to achieve liberation. To make revolution more likely, working class communities must be united in both thought and action. The creation of self-managing and autonomous groups within society will make the revolution more likely as we see what life might be like outside state control and the iron logic of profit and competition. Agents and apologists of the ruling class will resist us. Neighbourhood groups will clash with local councils, workers with trade unionists, artists with the cultural elites who control funding and so on. Activity that is unofficial, unsanctioned and independently organised is more likely to build the self-confidence and skills of people than initiatives that are bureaucratised or led by reformists from the start. Campaigns that set out forthright demands and are fuelled by people’s anger avoid the danger of partial, negotiated solutions. Movements that can count on a high degree of solidarity or which strike a chord among many communities will exert far more pressure than isolated struggles.
The revolutionary organisation itself must have mass participation and decision-making. It must also be organised federally as only federalism can hinder bureaucratic degeneration and encourages active participation by all members in the organisation. The anarchist organisation realises that the social revolution cannot be won without struggle at the point of production and the seizure of the means of production. However, it does not relegate struggles in other areas of life (unemployed, sexual, anti-racist, environmental and cultural) to a secondary role. All these struggles within capitalism are closely intertwined. The questioning of one facet of capitalism can lead to a total rejection of the system. The militants of the revolutionary organisation who are involved in these groups must seek to pinpoint in what ways the class system causes and/or perpetuates the problems different sections of society are confronting.
It is vitally important that a ‘libertarian front’ of all these movements and groups is built. Thus, revolutionary work consists in part of linking each area of struggle, bringing out all latent anti-capitalist and libertarian tendencies. Revolutionary anarchist militants seek to unite all those whose struggle is global and act as a driving force of this unity, constantly drawing in radicalised elements and building a mass movement. The revolutionary organisation is a means of communication and a weapon to be used by the working class, not how anarchists take over mass movements. In opposition to authoritarian and leftist ideas of leadership, the anarchist organisation fights for the leadership of ideas within the class through example and suggestion. In a non-revolutionary period people will generally accept conservative ideas and values. In this period the organisation keeps revolutionary ideas alive. Interested only in control, left organisations are often taken by surprise by the speed at which revolutionary activity develops and the audacity and imagination of the revolutionary masses. The anarchist organisation must be aware of this danger and not act as a brake on revolution or resistance. If the revolution progresses, counter-revolutionary forces will press for statist or piecemeal solutions; the revolutionary organisation has to defend the advanced ideas of the masses. With its clearer understanding of hierarchical society, the concept of self-organised society and authoritarianism, the revolutionary organisation is well placed to resist ‘revolutionary’ parties based on authoritarian notions of power and elitism. It will be a struggle at the grass roots, a war of ideas and tactics against authority and bureaucracy, using revolutionary anarchist theory and practice.
Building the revolutionary organisation
The ultimate goal of Anarchists, including members of the Anarchist Federation, is to achieve Anarchism or, in our case, Anarchist Communism. But how is this to be achieved given the small number of anarchists and the weakness of their organisations? Obviously, the main priority must be to build mass movements and organisations and to increase the awareness and acceptance of the ideas and methods of Anarchism. But this commitment to recruiting can lead to passive, paper memberships and degeneration. What is needed is a movement based on self-organisation (which may in fact be many movements): active, aware and voluntary. If equality is to mean anything then education and communication cannot be the prerogative of leaders but must be a group activity, coming from within the working class and in which there is as much ‘learning’ as there is ‘teaching’. We need to be vocal as anarchists, when possible, in all our daily struggles as well as within broader-based, ‘political’ campaigns. Anarchist Communists believe in fighting to win as quickly and as effectively as possible. If it’s struggle in the workplace we push war with the bosses, if it’s in the community, we work for the best possible outcome with no compromises. What we suggest and propose must be honest and come from our beliefs, possess some integrity. As anarchists we are generally respected for our principled positions even if people disagree with us; we win people to the struggle by exposing the lies and manipulations of the Left. Even if people don’t join revolutionary organisations, as long as they accept and practise some of our ideas this can help build a culture of resistance.
Where do we start?
But where are these people to come from? Where do we start? Firstly, with friends or people we meet who may be sympathetic to our ideas, starting with discussion and gradually working towards joint activities. Secondly, where we work, in community groups or associations, or at political events where people disaffected with contemporary and left politics may come to-gether. From these actions a small group may develop that can then start to widen the network, build up a picture of who is prepared to work and struggle towards similar ends. This group must try to involve as many people as possible and to build strong contacts with isolated people and groups or those in other countries with similar aims and tactics. If the group is functioning well it will generate enthusiasm. It will balance the joy of successful action with the need for thought and careful planning. Mobilisations and mass demos can be very energising, reminding us that resistance is always going on and providing an opportunity for getting our ideas across to a lot of people. It is also the opportunity for us to demonstrate to others the strength and practicality of our ideas while at the same time developing those ideas through practical experience. The propaganda we produce should have the strength that comes from honesty and truth, giving practical solutions to social questions and struggles, soundly based in theory and ideology. It should also meet the needs of the moment: sometimes we need to fire people up, to agitate and mobilise. At other times we need to prepare for action by discussing ideas in depth. Similarly when we try to put our ideas across in written form, we need simple, straightforward bulletins to reach a large audience and at other times more detailed and focussed pamphlets, going into greater detail.
The culture of resistance
Consider where we are today. What community there is is artificial, based on hated workplaces, our rank in the pecking order, the family, alienation, consumerism and corrupting ideas like patriotism, sexism, xenophobia, selfseeking individualism. Our true sense of community and culture only comes to life when we resist, when our class acts for itself. The more we resist the stronger our culture and community become and the more rebellion and social revolution become possible. This is seductive. Many degenerated leftist parties confuse activity with progress. They get drawn helplessly into single-issue politics, becoming parasites feeding off exploitation and struggle. Anarchists should work to link up various struggles not merge solely with one cause. Building links is an important task, links between cause and effect, between struggles and campaigns, between ideas and theories, between people. If there is a local anarchist or libertarian communist grouping, you should be involved, individually and collectively. Don’t try to force your ideas onto people as you will either split the group, exclude yourself or create de-energised and bored people, alienated from the idea and practice of revolution. Don’t be rigid or push forward rigid formulas. People’s views change through struggle not by being harangued or having deadly theory shoved down their throats.
In the workplace
As we all know, the basis of work is EXPLOITATION and the bosses have no mercy for those who rock the boat. Yet spreading anarchist ideas and organising in the workplace is vital. Here, more than anywhere else, resistance and rebellion can and will have the most effect on the boss class. Be careful. Get to know the job but get to know your workmates better - friendships at work are a more reliable source of support than any temporary alliance with workplace activists. People don’t have to call themselves revolutionaries to be good class fighters. As a rule, unionised workplaces offer a better working environment but remember that during disputes the union is NOT on the side of the workers. And it’s this message that needs to be put across to those we work with. Anarchists don’t get involved with union politics (although some anarchosyndicalists do!); our job is to push ideas of resistance and the most effective tactics among those we work with and that often means challenging and exposing the leadership of the union.
In non-unionised workplaces there are usually fairly high levels of discontent and resentment with many opportunities to fan the flames of resistance but also less solidarity and the danger of being grassed-up to management. Its relatively easy to get people worked up but the danger is that there will only be two options to taking the struggle forward: joining a union and negotiating or launching an isolated strike likely to end in defeat unless the bosses have been thoroughly softened up. What is needed is for the potential battlegrounds to be broadened and strong links made with local communities and other workers. This tends to require forming a workplace resistance group. Don’t confuse this with rank-and-file groups that emerge for short periods where the leadership is particularly bad or there are ambitious leaders or factions who encourage resistance from below and then defuse dissent when their own agendas have been achieved. Workplace resistance groups work outside the union though you may all be members. They are anti-work, anti-boss, anti-union, anti-capitalist organisations advocating class war and practicing direct action. They are not ‘revolutionary unions’ but a way to band together the most militant workers for direct action. They aren’t the machinery of collective bargaining but a way to make things hot for the bosses. They aren’t interested in radicalising unions or pushing the leadership leftwards. They are not legal and definitely semiunderground. Their membership is defined not by theory but by the desired end - the destruction of the power and authority of the owners and bosses.
Contrary to popular prejudice, fostered by both media caricatures and by the antics of a small number of self-proclaimed ‘anarchists’, anarchism is neither ‘rugged individualism’ nor individualistic rebellion. Whilst anarchists argue that the realization if individual freedom is central to any authentically revolutionary politics, we don’t equate this fundamental freedom with the right of individuals to manifest their ego without regard for social totality. More importantly, it is our belief that it is collective action which creates change and is essential to anarchism rather than the activity of isolated and atomised individuals. This is such common sense that it should not require comment but so often individualism is regarded as the bedrock of anarchism rather than its actual opposite. That is not to say, of course, that social anarchists, especially anarchist communists, are opposed to individuality – far from it – but that in capitalist society individualism is at best an excuse by some to selfishly indulge themselves and at worst an ideology which encourages the most horrendous competitiveness and exploitation. Capitalism loves (and sings the highest praises of) individualism while crushing real individuality. Capitalism fears, however, collective action. A trade union’s strength is founded upon the potential of its members to take for collective action. The union’s ability to mobilize and control this action is crucial to its credibility and position as a mediating influence between worker and boss. If the possibility of collective action is removed, trade unions tend not to be taken seriously by either employers or members any more.
The individual can be compared to the finger of a hand. On it’s own it is not particularly strong or effective but in unison with the other fingers it can become a fist. The working class, in whatever context whether community or workplace, is more easily dominated and exploited when it is divided and, because divided, powerless. When it organises itself collectively, it has the potential to act in a concerted manner against capital. The workplace provides opportunities for individual action such as sabotage, absenteeism and ‘theft’ but these activities, even when organised clandestinely, can be more effective when done collectively. Individual actions may alter relations and conditions within a class but not between classes or permanently. And it is far more likely that the actions of the ruling class in manipulating social relations to its advantage will bring about change far more easily than the efforts of one or more individuals.
If not mutuality, what then? As Malatesta says, ‘ My freedom is the freedom of all .’
Collective action also creates a spirit of combativeness as people realize that, far from being powerless, they do have the power to bring about change. The most outstanding example in recent years was the Anti-Poll Tax movement of the late 1980s and early 1990s. If resistance to that tax had been purely in terms of individual non-payment, of individuals separated from others refusing to pay, rather than in the form of a community of collective struggle, then it would have rapidly collapsed as isolated individuals were picked off by the State.
Mutual aid as a basis for human society and all forms of social relationships and organization is vastly superior as an organizing principle than competition or regulated interaction (contract). Kropotkin showed conclusively that mutual aid was the rule amongst the most successful species (of all kinds, including predatory ones and humankind): "Those species…. which know best how to combine have the greatest chance of survival and of further evolution". Success for the individual is always bought at the expense of the group and is both destructive and energy consuming. At the same time ‘species that live solitarily or in small families are relatively few, and their numbers limited’ – and the energy required for them to live at any other than a rudimentary level is great. A simpler life for some means less life for others. The social relation that activates and extends mutuality in time and space is solidarity. It is what changes the natural impulse to co-operate and to share into a force governments fear. It is the means by which the potential new social relations acquire the strength to change society and which enable relations and institutions based on mu-tual aid to retain their strength.
The individual anarchist can only do so much on her/his own. The feeling of isolation which capitalism imposes on the individual rebel can often lead to disillusionment and despair. Collective action in the shape of an anarchist group can accomplish far more whilst a national network constantly keeping militants informed and motivated….. well, who knows what we could achieve? Why not take the individual decision to take collective action with the Anarchist Federation?
The power (and weakness) of direct action
Direct Action may be a protest designed to draw attention to a grievance or injustice. It may be designed to stop actions such as destruction of the environment or attacks by the ruling class. It may be an act of solidarity with a community or individual under attack. But unless it is part of a political strategy for fundamental change it can only be defensive and transient, overwhelmed by the capitalist response and the much greater resources of the ruling class. Direct Action can have positive outcomes even within the framework of capitalism. Forcing the State to bear higher and higher costs (economic, political, social) as it tries to ram a roads-only policy down people’s throats has had an effect. But it has not led to sensible and sustainable transport policies. As a type of political protest, Direct Action may be growing but because it is not part of a generalised class struggle it is unlikely to be a real threat to the ruling class in the long-term. It is unlikely to break out of the marginalized and embattled ghetto the media and police state are busy creating for it.
The strength of Direct Action is that it is based on ACTIVITY and not simply ideas. It requires higher levels of co-operative communication and interaction, the development of consensus and agreement on the target, the tactic, outcomes and organisation. Based on ideas like autonomy and empowerment, Direct Action avoids disputes and divisions among leadership groups which weaken the struggle and result in a lowest-common denominator approach: leaders make assumptions about what people can and should do in the pursuit of a sterile and entirely fictitious unity. This is most often seen on marches and demos today. No collective consciousness develops because no collective action takes place. No change occurs because the crowd does not act against that which keeps it divided, it remains an assembly of atomised individuals. This is not true if the march comes under attack from the State: then people acting together to defend themselves and each other, out of the control of the leadership, working together, often develop new levels of consciousness and emerge from the fight energised and empowered. The weakness of Direct Action is that co-operation is rarely sustained or sustainable because there is no generalised opposition or resistance - there is no CULTURE OF RESISTANCE.
Without a political strategy that makes Direct Action one weapon in a rising tide of anti-State protest it will fail. The measure of this weakness is the relative strength of the Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) movement. This offers no challenge to Power, proposing instead a principled pacifism that allows and encourages the police to run riot instead of paralysing their will to act through fear. The danger of single-issue campaigning is that people in struggle remain alienated from the struggle for general emancipation and are inevitably either marginalized or reincorporated into capitalism.
Direct Action has limited aims and if those aims are achieved, however partially or temporarily, all the energy and rebellion dissipates. Some anarchists argue that as capitalism increasingly demands we become passive producers and consumers, rights and freedoms will constantly decrease and that, in consequence, the rights-based struggle (human rights, freedom, anti-discrimination) will continue to grow. In fact the lack of a coherent program and the basic disunity of those who put forward an individualistic, moral and liberal version of rights compared to those who are resisting collectively and on a broad front will keep the movement fragmented.
Successful Direct Action requires a comprehensive analysis of the enemy’s weakness. Particular types of Direct Action, chosen to exploit these weaknesses, must be flexible enough to meet changing conditions. This flexibility is a tactic and must not become an end in itself - this leads to ‘stunt-ism’. Each day of action, each campaign, each new point of confrontation must be understood to be part of a growing and expanding sphere of resistance. But this needs sustaining and prolonging. Local social and mutual aid centres create the space for people actively engaged in resistance to meet and interact on a PERMANENT, ONGOING BASIS.
Such interaction helps overcome the artificial divisions capitalism creates. Creating a culture of resistance in which Direct Action would be more effective requires changes of consciousness (for instance people becoming more radical) and permanent change in social relations. Does participation in a squat or roads campaign fundamentally and permanently overcome alienation and atomisation? Does the change in consciousness lead to a more generalised resistance? Therefore, while we get involved in struggle because very often the struggle is ours as well, anarchists always try to raise consciousness and transform social relations through education, building bridges, positive communication, creating trust, empowering people in ways that (hopefully) leads to an increase in the numbers of people committed on a wide front to permanent struggle.
When revolution comes
Traditionally Left groups called for the General Strike to overcome capitalism. By this they meant a mass, economic general strike, arising during one of the periodic crises of capitalism. So long as a vanguard party or, in the case of syndicalists, a politicised union stood ready to convert this war of economic grievances into a political general strike against the power of the ruling class, all would be well, we were told. But the dangers of taking the working class down a road they are not yet prepared to travel themselves are – sadly – well known by now. That way lies the disaster of authoritarianism or counter-revolution. This does not mean revolution is impossible, only that a set of objective conditions must apply beforehand. It is possible to imagine a rising tide of land and road occupations, students on strike, factories paralysed, mass consumer boycotts and demonstrations choking the streets of our major cities, which may, possibly, break the will of the ruling class to resist. The Sem Terra and Chiapas movements are modern examples of the landless and rural poor rising to reclaim an economic future. Such movements are finding allies among the urban proletariat, among workers being pulverised by capitalism’s juggernaut. All over the planet there is growing disenchantment over wealth inequalities, the corruption of political and social elites, privatisation of basic utilities and public services and pressure on the means of life: water, land, shelter and energy. In some countries economic failure is the foundation for conservative or reactionary movements that seek to create or perpetuate the myth of national unity. But in many other places the revolt is by workers of all kinds, in alliance with the angry and dispossessed, and against the ruling class and international capitalism. Mass general and social strikes, boycotts, ‘invasions’ of major cities or other symbolic places of power, rent strikes and the expropriation of capital through the occupation or destruction of factories, theft of electricity, food or fuel, all suggest that the power of capitalism and the ruling class is by no means secure.
The danger in such a revolution is that, because the revolution is the means and not the end, it will not be a unified or unifying process. Some groups may balk at certain actions or have less determination. They may be satisfied with partial outcomes and resist further development of the struggle. No successful revolu-tion can arise out of the unification of either means or programmes amongst the multitude of protest and agitational groups involved in resisting attacks by the ruling class without the development of a generalised revolutionary consciousness in which the focus of action shifts from short-term goals towards achieving the revolution. If this consciousness does develop all sections of the working class who recognise the need to overthrow capitalism and who want to create an anarchist communist society may coalesce in one or a relatively few organisations. Elements of other classes and strata who see the need for the victory of the working class will also be gathered alongside these organisations and their aim must be to bring about the conditions for and the organisation of a general political strike, using both mass industrial action and mass social protest, strikes and boycotts to first paralyse the will of the ruling class to fight and then, through the means of occupation and expropriation, deny it the means to resist. Without a mass organisation or federation, anarchist groups will be just one tendency in the revolutionary movement, existing with other tendencies. Anarchist communists in the new, autonomously organised workplaces and neighbourhoods will need to fight against authoritarian groups and tendencies. They will act within the working class to ensure that the new structures function with the full participation of all on an equal basis. They will fight against any party or organisation that aims to take power in the name of the working class. If they try to use force to destroy the gains of the working class then anarchist organisations must be fully prepared to combat them on a physical level. It follows from this that in the revolutionary period the anarchist organisation must call for and assist in arming all working people for defence and for the formation of workers militias. Anarchist organisations should not dissolve immediately after the initial insurrectionary phase of the revolution. Anarchist communists will continue to struggle until anarchist communism is fully achieved. As this ideal is realised, the organisation becomes looser and eventually disappears completely.
This short pamphlet sets out some of our ideas about how a revolution against capitalism may come about and the role individuals, communities and organisations could play in helping to bringing it about. It is one of the few pamphlets produced by the Anarchist Federation that intends to be authoritative and prescriptive. Here, more than anywhere, we mean what we say. We judge the importance of people committing themselves to a life of resisting power and greed, and joining groups and organisations with a revolutionary aspiration, as being fundamental to our ambition to one day live free in a free society. It is our hope that these words contribute to a general understanding of the need for organisation among all people seeking to be free, and of the importance of building a mass revolutionary movement throughout the world. We do not advocate a single party, a single organisation or even a single movement to do this, recognising the diversity of resisting groups and cultures. But these movements must have one aim – to abolish capitalism and the state – and one means: the expropriation of the ruling class by taking over the productive forces of society and putting them to our own use, on our own terms. On that road lies freedom.