On the Need for Organization - Response to Ron

Oct 1, 2010

When I began to read Ron’s essay, “On Organization,” I thought that I agreed with most of it, but that it had an odd focus. When I finished it, I realized that I did not agree with it at all, because Ron did not advocate a special organization of revolutionary anarchists.

The question here is whether to support a dual-organizational approach: for popular, hetereogeneous, organizations, such as unions and community associations, and also specifically anarchist organizations organized around a core of political agreement on certain key points of unity. This does not imply that this organization should try to have all anarchists join it—there are too many disagreements among anarchists. Nor does it imply that the revolutionary organization claims to have the absolute truth or all the answers—just that it has the best analysis and program which its members can come up with and agree upon.

Ron says he believes that more anarchist organizing is needed than just local collectives or affinity groups. But most of his essay is directed against the idea of an organization with “theoretical, programmatic, and tactical unity.” He is afraid that such an approach would lead to the anarchist equivalent of the Marxist-Leninist democratic-centralist vanguard would-be parties which he and I have experienced. Such would-be-parties had opinions on just about everything—a whole worldview—and insisted that every member agree with all these opinions or at least act as if they did. To the best of my knowledge, no anarchists advocate such a Bolshevik-type organization, including those who advocate “theoretical, programmatic, and tactical unity.” But this is what most concerns Ron.

Frankly, this concern seems somewhat odd in this time and place. I will not deny that such a centralized “anarchist” body could ever come into existence. But this is hardly the problem right now! The U.S. anarchist scene is a swamp, confused and confusing. Perhaps most of those who call themselves “anarchists” are for the reformist strategy of building alternate institutions (mis-called “dual power”) such as co-ops and gardens, which are supposed to gradually and peacefully grow and replace capitalism and the state. Others are “primitivists,” waiting for industrial society to collapse. Of the others, many are unclear about the relation of the class struggle to non-class issues. Many advocate burying themselves in unions and reformist institutions. Others are in principle opposed to unions and to nonclass struggles. Many do support nonclass struggles such as racial or gender conflicts, but reject solidarity with oppressed nations. Many anarchists vote for the Democrats. In this context, to focus on the danger of Leninist-like anarchist organizations seems mistimed at best.

He then has ten paragraphs on why there cannot be “theoretical unity” and one and why there should not be “tactical unity.” Then he concludes that “we can and should build organizations based on some degree of programmatic agreement.” This is an “agreement” on program without either agreeing on the theory behind it or the tactics to carry it out. This would be—and is meant to be—a very limited concept of programmatic agreement. Ron does not suggest what such agreement would actually be on.

In my opinion, a revolutionary anarchist organization should agree on the general goal of a libertarian post-capitalist society. It should have enough theoretical unity to agree that capitalism and the state need to be overthrown by a revolution. It needs to see the modern working class as a major agent of this revolution, while supporting the struggles of all oppressed groupings. It needs to have a method of combining the raising of anarchist revolution with on-going struggles for betterment in the here-and-now. It needs to work to have as much practical unity in action as is possible without centralist discipline but with loyalty to the organization.

There are all sorts of topics on which it does not need to have agreement: the nature of reality; the basis of morality; whether there is a God; animal liberation; the precise nature of libertarian socialism (communist-anarchist, pareconist, experimental, whatever); and perhaps even national liberation, if we cannot agree on this but do on everything else.

Ron has a section on values. He wants an anarchist network which will “share fundamental values.” The problem with values (being kind and compassionate, treating others as we would be treated, etc.) is that everyone is (sincerely) for them, except for total cynics and psychopaths. At the same time, except for absolute pacifists, everyone agrees that there are times when violence is necessary for defense. Lenin may have been a cold sort, but Lincoln was a saintly character, and he managed a cruel civil war. Values are just too vague by themselves to provide a clear program. They cannot substitute for a theoretical analysis of capitalism and a revolutionary program.

Only at the end does Ron say something about the structure of an organization of anarchists, which he sees rather as a movement and not as a political organization. “At this point in time, the kind of anarchist movement I think we should be building in the United States is a national network of individuals and a variety of organizations - collectives, unions, periodicals, regional and even national political groups, study circles, community organizations, medical clinics, artists’ and musicians’ collectives, theater groups, agrarian communes, etc.” In my opinion, this is no alternative to the present anarchist swamp.

Clearly, he is not accepting the distinction between radical political groupings and popular organizations, since they both seem to be part of his desired “national network.” The people who he knows and agrees with (those around The Utopian journal I suppose), he writes, should talk with others and work together wherever they happen to agree. Some day, in the far distant future, there may be “even more formal kinds of unity.” Who can say?

I keep on thinking about the Spanish Revolution of 1936-37. The anarchists had the support of half of the working class, organized into a big union federation (the CNT), which included almost all of the workers in the most industrialized region. They had widespread support among the peasants. They had a specific anarchist organization (the FAI), which dominated the union. (The FAI was a confederation of affinity groups, held together not by external discipline but by fierce loyality to each other.) Yet when the revolution broke out, they were overwhelmed. They betrayed their general program (and values) by joining the national and regional governments, together with bourgeois parties and with social democrats and Stalinists. It wasn’t until it was too late, that the Friends of Durruti Group came up with the correct strategy, of forming an association of workers’ organizations to replace both the bourgeois states of the fascists and the liberals. The revolution, which might have won, was lost. It was not enough even to have an anarchist organization. The right theory and program was also necessary for a successful revolution. And they still are.

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