Anarchist Accountability

by Thomas- Miami Autonomy & Solidarity (MAS)

This disease of disorganization has invaded the organism of the anarchist movement like yellow fever and has plagued it for decades…There can be no doubt, however, that this disorganization has its roots in a number of defects of theory, notably in the distorted interpretation of the principle of individuality in anarchism, that principle being too often mistaken for the absence of all accountability.” –Delo Truda Group[1]

“…[O]rganization, far from creating authority, is the only cure for it and the only means whereby each one of us will get used to taking an active and conscious part in the collective work, and cease being passive instruments in the hands of leaders.” – Errico Malatesta[2]

The assessment of the Delo Truda Group from 1926 is as true today as it was 84 years ago.  But if that’s the case; and if, as Malatesta suggested, organization is the only cure for authority, how do we as anarchists differ from others in how we view organization?  Or more specifically, how does our view of individuality differ from the common misconception of anarchism as the “absence of all accountability”.  Perhaps it’s best summed up by Lucien van der Walt and Michael Schmidt in their exhaustive account of the history of anarchist ideas, Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. They explain:

“…[G]enuine individual freedom and individuality could only exist in a free society.  The anarchists did not therefore identify freedom with the right of everybody to do exactly what one pleased but with a social order in which collective effort and responsibilities- that is to say, obligations- would provide the material basis and social nexus in which individual freedom could exist.”[3]

This essay will describe anarchist accountability and how it differs from the types of accountability we’re trying to replace.   Implementing accountability in all of our practices is fundamental to our effectiveness now in our practice and how it prefigures the kind of society that we want to replace the existing society.

The first form of accountability that we as anarchists are attempting to combat most of the time is top-down, hierarchical forms of accountability.  Since we are against all forms of domination and oppression, it’s only natural that we’d be opposed to formal and informal forms of accountability to our employers, landlords, elites or other relations defined by domination.  Although certain forms of top-down accountability may be considered legitimate, such as the accountability of a young child to their parent giving loving and reasonable child-rearing directives, the discussion surrounding opposing most other forms of top-down accountability is only a question of strategy and tactics.  A key anarchist insight in opposing top-down accountability is that to address the root of the problem the top-down structure and relation must be changed, not the person or group holding it.  So unlike some Marxists or other radicals, we don’t believe, for example, that a “proletarian” dictatorship, a matriarchy or a people of color ruling elite will address any of the fundamental issues with class oppression, patriarchy or racism.  Anarchists believe that it’s the structures and relations of hierarchical domination and oppression themselves that must be destroyed and replaced with egalitarian and horizontal structures and relations.

This brings us to anarchist accountability.   Horizontal and egalitarian forms of accountability are based in the notion of free association.  Free association must be mutual between all its participants if it’s to be truly free for each.  It would hardly be free if members of an association were forced to be in an association or collective with people they didn’t want to associate with.   Within a freely associated grouping of people, horizontal and egalitarian forms of decision-making would involve each member having an equal say- no more and no less- than any other member.  Some decisions might need consensus; others might be a simple majority according to the type of decision being made and the practices of the group.  However, societal influences from oppressive socialization such as racism and sexism to personality differences such as being shy or being talkative are likely to create informal hierarchies that reintroduce domination and hierarchy within the group if clear, explicit, collectively-established democratic practices are not established and followed.  Jo Freeman has a variety of useful suggestions in setting up democratic and accountable structures within any grouping in her classic piece The Tyranny of Structurelessness.[4]

Once democratic structures and organizational practices are developed and utilized, then anarchist accountability demands that decisions made collectively must be respected and collectively implemented.  If there’s disagreement within the organization over a collective decision, there are a few options.  Georges Fontenis outlines the basic framework for this in his essay Manifesto of Libertarian Communism[5]:

1) Do Nothing/ Delay It: Decide that there’s too much disagreement to come to a decision at this time and either drop it or discuss it further at another time.  For example, a group might decide not to have an official position on whether capitalism is comprised of two or three main classes until more research is done; or might decide just not to have a position as a group at this time.

2) Accept More Than One: Decide- if it’s possible depending on the type of decision needed to be made- to allow for more than one of the proposed options to be accepted as the group decision with more or less emphasis on either.  For example, a group might decide that although the majority might think that trying to build a militant minority network within their respective workplaces is the best workplace strategy, they also find it acceptable that some members of their group are pursuing a dual unionist strategy with the independent union at their workplace.

3) Accept the Majority View: Depending on the group practice this might be a simple majority vote or a super-majority.  The minority view would be rejected for collective practice; but the minority could continue to argue for their view internally within the organization.  For example, the majority of the group might want to organize a May Day event even though a minority of the group feels that it’s taking away time and resources from the anti-eviction organizing the group is working on.  But since the majority of the group feels that it would be beneficial to organize a May Day event, the group would do the event.

4) Split Based on Differing Views: If the issue is fundamental and either the majority or the minority find it unacceptable to do nothing, accept more than one view on the issue or to accept the majority view on the issue.  For example, if the group decides as the basis of their group that structural racism is something that they’d like to combat as an organization, but one or two members feel that it’s a waste of time to confront structural racism because they believe it doesn’t exist anymore now that Barrack Obama was elected president, there would have to be a split in the organization since having such contradictory views on a fundamental group strategy would give them no room to work together as a group.  However, this doesn’t mean that they couldn’t work together on other issues where the have agreement or continue to try to dialogue between each other on issues where they disagree.

Fundamental to all of this is that when a decision is made, it should be respected and carried out until a decision is made to overturn it, an exception considered or a member quits- or in extreme cases is expelled- out of disagreement.

Holding each other accountable also means getting used to letting each other know- in a comradely way- when commitments and obligations aren’t being fulfilled.   This is a practice that must be built through an organizational culture where comradely honesty and constructive criticism replaces competitive and individualistic passive-aggressiveness or talking behind people’s backs.  The flip side of giving comradely feedback is learning how to receive it, using it to help you and your organization grow and becoming more self-disciplined. This is difficult sometimes since the vast majority of the times we’re being called to task for something, it is coming from top-down relations; but the practice of holding others accountable and being held accountable is fundamental to learn, practice and promote if we want to destroy and replace these top-down relations with horizontal and egalitarian relations.  And of course, ideally these practices would increase self-discipline in carrying out tasks that group members commit to. When holding each other accountable it’s important to come from a place of love and respect that avoids being patronizing, competitive, egotistical or dishonest in any way.  And when being held accountable it’s similarly important to cultivate an appreciation for comradely criticism and renew our commitment to self-discipline.  However, that doesn’t mean we should allow our dignity to be trampled on or ourselves to be disrespected.  When criticism isn’t comradely, we should defend ourselves and demand respect as an equal even when we’ve failed to fulfill our obligations.  But it is essential that comradely anarchist accountability and self-discipline as a practice needs to be developed, encouraged and cultivated within our organizations. Without self-discipline and horizontal accountability, groups revert back to dominating and oppressive top-down relations and/or involve stagnation, demoralization and ineffectiveness.

What about delegates?  Anarchists argue that delegates should replace any necessary functions usually carried out by representatives.  Delegates differ from representatives because delegates are mandated with specific views and tasks that are to mirror as close as possible the views of the group that the delegate has been mandated by.  Representatives are top-down because they make decisions on behalf of groups that then must obey these decisions; anarchist delegates are bottom-up because they are mandated to bring the views, as expressed, of the organization to the grouping of delegates they’ve been sent to.  Sometimes the group may give delegates some flexibility, but the accountability is always from the bottom-up, not the top-down.  Delegates can be over-ruled and recalled at anytime and have no power over the group that they’re the delegate for.  When compromises between delegates need to be hashed out or new items come up at delegate meetings that are value-laden decisions rather than logistical decisions, the delegate usually has to bring back the compromise to the group before it’s finally approved unless the group already mandated the delegate with certain ranges of flexibility on the issue.  However there’s a difference between, logistical decisions and value-laded decisions.  For logistical decisions, a group might mandate a delegate to carry out logistical tasks -such as checking and responding to the group e-mail account- with greater flexibility to act as they see fit.  But they still might ask for transparency and regular report backs and the person mandated with the task can always be directed by the group to carry it out in a particular way since it’s the group that the delegate is accountable to, not the other way around.   In addition, the concepts logistical and value-laden are open for interpretation; so they are more accurately understood as two sides of along a spectrum, rather than easily differentiated, clear-cut concepts.

In conclusion, this essay tried to clarify how anarchist accountability proposes horizontal and egalitarian or bottom-up forms of accountability to replace top-down forms of accountability. Capitalism, the state, imperialism, racism, patriarchy, and all forms of exploitation, domination and oppression aren’t going to go away without a fight and without something to replace it.  Creating the organizational structure, practice and culture that encourages and takes seriously comradely horizontal accountability, self-discipline and bottom-up mandated delegation is fundamental to the effectiveness of our organizations in building towards and prefiguring the type of society we want to replace the current one.  Whether, when and how we implement, develop, encourage and promote these concepts and practices is the responsibility of us all…


[1] Group of Russian Anarchists Abroad (The “Delo Truda” group). The Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists. 1926. http://www.nestormakhno.info/english/newplatform/introduction.htm

[2] Malatesta, Errico. Anarchy and Organization. 1897.  http://www.spunk.org/texts/writers/malatest/sp001864.html

[3] Schmidt, Michael and van der Walt, Lucien. Black Flame: The Revolutionary Class Politics of Anarchism and Syndicalism. Counter-Power. Volume 1. AK Press. 2009. P. 48

[4] Freeman, Jo. The Tyranny of Structurelessness. 1970. http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/hist_texts/structurelessness.html

[5] Fontenis, Georges. Manifesto of Libertarian Communism. 1953. http://flag.blackened.net/daver/anarchism/mlc/mlc1.html

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13 responses to “Anarchist Accountability

  1. Excellent piece. Made my other wise bad day at work. 🙂

  2. Interesting read. Thanks for going to the trouble.

  3. Pingback: Anarchist Accountability « At Home He's A Turista

  4. Excellent article. I live in Miami. Can I become a member of MAS?

  5. I’m not sure that the delegate/representative dichotomy is always so clear cut. I used to think it was, but practice has blurred their boundaries for me. For instance mandates can be issued in a narrow or broad fashion.

    This can be a tricky area when policy decisions are at a stake. But more commonly I find the issue of accountability arising in the execution of previously agreed policy.

    The distinction between policy formation and execution is very useful, despite Marx’s remarks on the Paris Commune. For example, MAS might decide that publishing a newsletter would be a sure fire way to mass popularity. Say there’s 40 of you so you delegate its production to 1 person or a sub-group. MAS as a whole want it to be a monthly publication pitched at a mass level, i.e. folks who’ve never heard of Makhno and associate socialism with dictatorship.

    An editorial committee will have to be chosen (or if you’re a small group, will have to be chosen in the future). Now the editors can’t be going back to the whole group every time they think an article is unsuitable or needs, well, editing. Maybe it’s unsuitable because it’s badly written, or maybe it’s making poor political arguments.

    Production of a newsletter isn’t just a logistical issue. As well as decisions regarding printing (A4, colour or black/white etc), there is the fundamental issue of political content and how it is expressed, both of which are of great importance as they influence public perception of the organisation perhaps more than anything else.

    The editorial team should have a mandate to make a call on the content. Obviously they can be recalled if the organisation as a whole takes issue with their record, but if the whole of MAS try to micro-manage the editorial process it will defeat the purpose of having a committee.

    It is often helpful to have organisational policy in place to guide their actions (e.g. MAS’s attitude to the unions will influence the tenor and angle taken in this area). But even so, the editors will sooner or later be faced with choices for which they will have to exercise their judgment.

    My own view is that an editorial committee should be selected so that collectively it has competence in writing English and political judgment. They should have the authority to solicit articles and to accept or reject them. Since it is very likely that most people doing the writing will be doing so in their spare time, it is an unfortunate fact of life that they don’t always submit their articles on time. So editors need to chase them up. In this context, members should be accountable to the editors, if that makes sense.

    My own view is that we (the WSM) are too bottom-up oriented, which is fine for policy formation (to stand in union elections; support x referendum etc), but doesn’t work too well when applied to the execution of tasks.

    To a certain extent I think we need to imagine what direct democracy would be like on a mass scale. It’s grand to be going back and forth when we’re a small group (as all Platformist/anarchist-communist ones are).

    But mass organisations like trade unions (or even workers’ councils) could really only have that explicit back and forth for pretty big decisions. In most cases a degree of trust will be necessary. And if a delegate can’t receive a precise mandate on every issue – if only because it isn’t always clear what exactly is at stake – their relationship with their grassroots would need to be dynamic so that they have a fair idea of what line they should be pushing. That requires regular meeting of the base, which is a factor in itself in maintaining high levels of political interest.

    Clearly a degree of oversight of the delegate is necessary and the ability to recall and give explicit instructions is an essential tool in keeping the delegate in line. But in practice it isn’t wielded that often and I’m not sure it will be either. Given it is pretty hard to do so, there is a tendency to try to micro-manage the delegate which is understandable but has got its own drawbacks.

  6. James, I don’t think that what you have to say is in contradiction with what I’m trying to say in the article. I agree that the danger of micro-managing is an important issue to bring up. And I agree that lines are blurry around issues such as the publication of a newsletter. The piece is trying to address the general application of anarchist principles with regards to accountability. I don’t think that an editor holding writers accountable is a form of top-down accountability. The editor remains mandated by and therefore accountable to the group as a whole for carrying out the task. Part of that task is holding others accountable who are not meeting their timelines for writings. We have a similar process occurring in relation to our blog that I don’t think contradicts either what I say in the piece or you say in your comments. I am glad that you responded to the piece bringing up the danger of micro-managing for consideration. The principles of anarchist accountability as they’ve developed over the past 150 or so years are of course constantly clarified and refined in the practice of individual circumstances and you emphasize an important aspect of these.

  7. I am sincerely curious-so don’t write this off as trolling-as to what would bring a self-proclaimed anarchist to approve of the ideas presented in “the tyranny of structurelessness”. I occasionally hear leftists who identify as anarchists talk about how great this piece is. What baffles me is that it is an article written by an anti-anarchist statist who was upset by anarchist types of activity infecting the feminist movement and asserting the need of formality to hold people accountable and certain anti-authoritarians seem to think it presents legitimate, practical ideas for anarchist activity.

    I mean, it is essentially an apology for hierarchy. So really, I am genuinely curious as to what the authors feel is positive about that piece.

    ps-I am aware that the passage quoted from article in question is a minor aspect of the writing as whole.

  8. It’s really difficult to have a discussion with someone who can talk about “leftists who identify as anarchists”. Anarchism is and has always been part of the left; it grew out of the socialist movement regardless of what some so-called anarchists claim to the contrary. To me, formal organization is an important component in combating hierarchy. It’s difficult for me to understand how you see the Tyranny of Structurelessness as an “apology for hierarchy”. The Tyranny of Structurelessness points out the danger of informal hierarchy and how the proposed democratic structural suggestions can help to combat informal hierarchy. These suggestions are: specific delegation, bottom-up accountability, distribution of tasks, rotation of tasks, rational selection of roles instead of favoritism, diffusion of information, and equal access to resources. Which of these ideas are you opposed to? Why?

  9. first off, i have to note the irony in you complaining about me using the phrase “leftists who identify as anarchists” and then refer to post-left anarchists as “so-called anarchists”. it might do you well to learn make an attempt to understand the post-left critique before writing it off as well; you look like a fool when you talk about some anarchists trying to deny the left anarchy association. post-left anarchists understand this traditional relationship; they just see it as harmful and unnecessary. whats so sacred about tradition anyway?

    but. now back to the topic at hand, a contemporary of jo freeman’s (who was actually an anarchist btw) whose name escapes me at the moment wrote a critique of that piece talking about how, while informal hierarchies may arise in informal groups, the fact that those groups are informal will prevent those hierarchies from crystallizing.

    just because it is difficult for you to see the authoritarian nature of a text written by an authoritarian complaining about anarchist values and tactics infesting the feminist movement doesn’t mean it’s not there. hell, plenty of people don’t see the police as a harmful presence in our communities; that doesn’t mean they’re not.

    on a side note, i seem to recall reading a bakunin text several years ago where he mentioned how in groups sometimes those with more knowledge in the matter at hand will essentially become an informal hierarchy. example: i’m building a boat with friends one of whom is a carpenter. it makes sense that they are paid attention to and went to for advice more often than say me with skills which are not extremely useful to this project but maybe very useful to others. i don’t see that as very harmful compared to say, i don’t know, “influential militants” of an anarchist organization joining the government.

    it’s intellectually lazy on your part to present formal organizations as these perfect mechanisms which harbor only “specific delegation, bottom-up accountability, distribution of tasks, rotation of tasks, rational selection of roles instead of favoritism, diffusion of information, and equal access to resources” (ad naseum). without noting the more common characteristics of formal organization like well defined rules and regulations, determined policies and lack of spontaneity, limitations on the activity of individuals/minimization of freedom of action, permit the application of division of labor.

    its not that i have beef with any of your particular buzzwords (although they don’t really excite me) it’s that I have beef with the unspoken implications of what you advocate.

    to quote jason mcquinn:

    For any genuine anarchists these arguments will appear as paranoid, schizoid and nauseatingly opportunistic as they do when they are parroted in authoritarian leftist publications (and web sites like that of the ISO), where they are used like clubs to bash those nasty, undisciplined, but dictatorial anarchists who don’t ever give authoritarian socialists a fair chance to be elected into leadership positions in the anarchist movement.

    In actuality, the potential problems Freeman is most worried about in informal groups, are much more prevalent, virulent and destructive in large, formal organizations. However, the believers in and proponents of such groups simply don’t bother to worry about them there, partly because other problems particular to formal organizations are more obvious, and partly since such people are and were never really worried about the fundamental problems of personal and social freedom in the first place — only in their reified, political representation (and thus falsification).

  10. There’s nothing ironic about me referring to “post-left anarchists” as “so-called anarchists”. I have read and understand the “post-left critiques”, I just think they’re ridiculous. There’s nothing sacred about tradition; but unless you give me a good reason not to call an orange a fruit, I’m going to continue calling it a fruit regardless if you insist it’s a grain. If “post-left anarchists” think it’s harmful and unnecessary, then good for them… I don’t; though I have disagreements with other sectors of the left which is why I’m an anarchist communist. But council communists, autonomist marxists and other libertarian communists have a lot of overlap with anarchism.

    It doesn’t matter whether Cathy Levine or any other anarchist criticized the piece; what matters is the content of the piece. Cathy Levine’s criticism side-steps the issues by just affirming how important small and personal groups can be in certain contexts. That’s fine and good; but that doesn’t address Jo Freeman’s critique and explain why her insights and suggestions are wrong in all instances.

    Hierarchies not “crystallizing” doesn’t mean they’re not there. Neither formality, nor informality provides any guarantee of the absence of hierarchy. However collectively decided upon processes and practices can help to combat individuals or cliques from dominating the group. Are these collectively decided upon procedures and practices sufficient by themselves? Of course not. But they can be a useful tool and put the group in a better position to build collective capacity instead of allowing individual dominance than if they hadn’t utilized them.

    I disagree that Jo Freeman was complaining about “anarchist values and tactics infesting the feminist movement”. She was making an argument against informal hierarchy in favor of utilizing more democratic and participatory practices that help engage the group as a whole. Since when are informal hierarchies “anarchist values” and since when are democratic and participatory practices harmful? Your comment about people seeing police as harmful is irrelevant because you still haven’t addressed why democratic and participatory practices used to combat informal hierarchies are bad in and of themselves.

    The Bakunin quote that you’re thinking of was from God and the State:

    “Does it follow that I reject all authority? Far from me such a thought. In the matter of boots, I refer to the authority of the bootmaker; concerning houses, canals, or railroads, I consult that of the architect or engineer. For such or such special knowledge I apply to such or such a savant. But I allow neither the bootmaker nor the architect nor the savant to impose his authority upon me. I listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism censure. I do not content myself with consulting authority in any special branch; I consult several; I compare their opinions, and choose that which seems to me the soundest. But I recognize no infallible authority, even in special questions; consequently, whatever respect I may have for the honesty and the sincerity of such or such an individual, I have no absolute faith in any person. Such a faith would be fatal to my reason, to my liberty, and even to the success of my undertakings; it would immediately transform me into a stupid slave, an instrument of the will and interests of others. ”

    Of course these forms of authority aren’t harmful; and of course an anarchist joining the government is a complete rejection of anarchist principles. But like Bakunin points out that doesn’t mean that this authority should be imposed. One of Freeman’s suggestions is that yes we should use rational criteria for selecting people to positions instead of favoritism. For example, if someone is good at doing web design, we’d probably agree that they do the web design- if they were willing of course- instead of someone who doesn’t know anything about web design. But Freeman also suggests that we should distribute tasks so people can build capacity; so we might propose that the person who’s interested in web design work with the person knowledgable of the skill so that they can learn and the workload can be shared. And also, Freeman suggests that even people appointed to a position should be answerable to the group. So just because someone volunteered to do web design, doesn’t mean everything and anything on the website should be up to them. If it’s a group website, the group should ultimately have the final say even if a little leeway is given to the person making the website because they’re putting in extra effort.

    Your claim that I’m intellectually lazy and that I “present formal organizations as these perfect mechanisms” and only point out the good things without pointing out the bad things is ridiculous. The first thing I talked about in the piece- after the introduction- are the kind of organization that should be opposed. I talked about how top-down and hierarchical organization is a bad thing and that the only difference of opinion between anarchists with regards to hierarchical, top-down organizations and relations of domination is how to combat them. I discussed how it’s the structures of domination that need to be opposed not who’s in them. I also talked about the importance of an honest, supportive and comradely culture… that organization in itself isn’t sufficient. Are there more things I could have mentioned? Of course. There are likely always a 1000 more things that can be mentioned; but the piece was specifically about accountability and the importance of it. It wasn’t a comprehensive treatise on anarchist views on organization.

    What are the “unspoken implications” of what I advocate? The Jason McQuin quote on “opportunism” and guilt-by-(supposed)-association is weak. So because Marx called out Bakunin for his anti-semitism we’re supposed to agree with Bakunin because he was an anarchist and reject Marx because he wasn’t? Agreeing with someone’s particular arguments doesn’t mean that you agree with everything they say; it just means you’re not sectarian.

    “In actuality, the potential problems Freeman is most worried about in informal groups, are much more prevalent, virulent and destructive in large, formal organizations.” That’s a big claim with no evidence to back it up. You are right that being large and formal does nothing to prevent informal hierarchies from coming up. But Jo Freeman’s suggestions for democractic processes and practices are useful tools in trying to address these hierarchies if they come up as I suggested in the article?

    “However, the believers in and proponents of such groups simply don’t bother to worry about them there”

    That’s ridiculous. Worrying about them in formal organization is the point of bringing up Jo Freeman’s suggestions for democratic practices in the first place.

    “such people are and were never really worried about the fundamental problems of personal and social freedom in the first place — only in their reified, political representation (and thus falsification).”

    Are you serious? That’s the way you’re going to end your response? With a slanderous and absurd claim that “such people” like myself don’t care about personal and social freedom? It’s all just a front? Seriously…

  11. “There’s nothing ironic about me referring to “post-left anarchists” as “so-called anarchists”.”

    Wrong. Complaining about my use of the phrase “leftists who identify as anarchists”, followed by your assertion is ironic.

    “unless you give me a good reason not to call an orange a fruit, I’m going to continue calling it a fruit regardless if you insist it’s a grain”

    Empty literary tool attempting to cover up your lack of argumentative substance. an orange is an organism which can be scientifically observed and understood. anarchist ideas are not; there is no authority to consult which is capable of deeming anarchy an orange.

    “Hierarchies not “crystallizing” doesn’t mean they’re not there”

    Ugh. Are you serious? Did I say that? No. When hierarchies are not institutionalized, they are going to be easier to oppose.

    Jo Freeman was upset by anarchist forms of activity infesting the feminist movement, she then wrote a rant about what she saw as the horrors of informal hierarchy. I didn’t say informal hierarchies were anarchist values I thought it would be clear I meant informal organization (which btw is not synonymous with informal hierarchy). It makes sense that those allegedly championing autonomy would favor informal organization and makes sense that a statist would favor formal organization.

    I didn’t say democracy and participation are harmful (although, fuck democracy- only confused fools think democracy is synonymous with anarchy) but, participation in no way requires formality. My police comment wasn’t irrelevant, you apparently just don’t understand people are capable of organizing their own activities without imposed formality.

    You (sincerely???) write:

    “But like Bakunin points out that doesn’t mean that this authority should be imposed. One of Freeman’s suggestions is that yes we should use rational criteria for selecting people to positions instead of favoritism”

    You do realize that it is the formal organizations in which imposition takes place whereas informal settings they arise more organically and, if undesirable, they are easier to oppose due to the fact that they are not institutionalized?

    Let me get this straight: People with more knowledge on the matter will adopt a position of ad hoc authority; so to prevent these potential politicians from doing permanent damage to helpless, temporary, informal groups and the helpless individuals whom make up these groups, we need to impose-er,delegate- these positions via formal organization. Throw in buzz words “democratic” and “participatory” somewhere for good measure.

    “Agreeing with someone’s particular arguments doesn’t mean that you agree with everything they say; it just means you’re not sectarian.”

    True, but there is more than an allegedly weak guilt-by-association argument to what jason was saying. For example. the fact that the individual who wrote this piece was an anti-anarchist is a very important aspect of the article in whole. Sure, I could enjoy reading the travel adventures of some random fascist but I’m not going to take seriously, weird rants about people not being about to deal with shit themselves and needing institutionalized mechanisms to do so.

    “It’s all just a front? Seriously…”
    You tell me. The shit your on seems pretty wack. What does relying on formal mechanisms have to do with autonomy?

  12. “Wrong. Complaining about my use of the phrase “leftists who identify as anarchists”, followed by your assertion is ironic. “

    If I were to criticize your use of the phrase as being unfair or biased, then it would be ironic to call you a “so called anarchist”. But I wasn’t. I was criticizing your phrase as absurd and pointing out that it’s difficult to have a conversation with someone who doesn’t understand why anarchism was and is part of the left. I don’t see any legitimacy in trying equate differences with and criticisms of other section of the left with not being a part of it.

    “Empty literary tool attempting to cover up your lack of argumentative substance. an orange is an organism which can be scientifically observed and understood. anarchist ideas are not; there is no authority to consult which is capable of deeming anarchy an orange.”

    My point was that you were making a claim that contradicts the views of the majority of anarchists throughout history and the majority of anarchists around the world now. Just because you claim something, doesn’t mean I’m going to accept it. Peter Steudermeier solidified my view on “post-left” anarchism in 2003: http://www.social-ecology.org/2003/07/anarchists-in-wonderland-the-topsy-turvy-world-of-post-left-anarchy/ I haven’t seen anything that adequately address his remarks since and haven’t seen anything productive come out of “post-leftism” either. But I’m really not interested in debating it on the MAS blog. My original point was that it’s difficult to have any kind of productive debate with someone who still believes that “post-left anarchism” makes sense and has something useful to contribute.

    “Ugh. Are you serious? Did I say that? No. When hierarchies are not institutionalized, they are going to be easier to oppose.”

    You side stepped the issue of informal hierarchies by saying: “the fact that those groups are informal will prevent those hierarchies from crystallizing.” I responded by pointing out that even if they aren’t crystallized, they’re still there… so we still have to deal with them.

    “Jo Freeman was upset by anarchist forms of activity infesting the feminist movement, she then wrote a rant about what she saw as the horrors of informal hierarchy.”

    Reread the text: http://flag.blackened.net/revolt/hist_texts/structurelessness.html Not only does she not use the word anarchist in the whole text, but she argues how structurelessness in the context of study groups was “a healthy counter” to “overstructured society”, “control” and “continual elitism”. But she argues that the idea has gone too far and become “a goddess in its own right”, “unquestioned” and “little examined”. Though she acknowledges that structurelessness was “an excellent means to an end” in consciousness raising groups because it “encouraged participation and helped create a “supportive atmosphere (that) elicited personal insight”, she argues that when people wanted to do something more specific structurelessness caused problems- informal hierarchies emerged- and many people were unwilling to consider them because they rejected off-hand organization and structure. Then she provides useful tools- democratic processes and practices- that could be used to help address these hierarchies. There’s nothing inconsistent with anarchism about trying to combat informal hierarchies; there’s nothing inconsistent with anarchism about organization or structure; and there’s nothing inconsistent with anarchism about the 7 democratic practices and processes that she suggests as potential tools to make sure that groups are more participatory.

    “I didn’t say informal hierarchies were anarchist values I thought it would be clear I meant informal organization (which btw is not synonymous with informal hierarchy).”

    Just because some anarchists believe informal organization is an anarchist value- which of course is not synonymous with informal hierarchy- doesn’t mean that all anarchists think it’s an anarchist value. Similarily, just because Bakunin rejected communism and Marx favored it doesn’t mean Kropotkin was anti-anarchist for accepting communism. Also, Jo Freeman doesn’t even reject structurelessness; she rejects the informal forms of domination that can emerge in structureless groups in some contexts. She acknowledges it’s useful in some circumstances, but argues that it’s not in others. So she’s not arguing against informal organization, she’s arguing against it when it has created hierarchies in her experience.

    “It makes sense that those allegedly championing autonomy would favor informal organization and makes sense that a statist would favor formal organization.”

    The dominant trend in anarchism as it developed from the 1860s on has favored formal organization over informal organization whether the participation in the International, Bakunin’s Alliance, the innumerable anarcho-syndicalist unions, or various federations of anarchist groups. Again, like Malatesta said, “[O]rganization, far from creating authority, is the only cure for it and the only means whereby each one of us will get used to taking an active and conscious part in the collective work, and cease being passive instruments in the hands of leaders.” http://www.spunk.org/texts/writers/malatest/sp001864.html

    “I didn’t say democracy and participation are harmful (although, fuck democracy- only confused fools think democracy is synonymous with anarchy) but, participation in no way requires formality. My police comment wasn’t irrelevant, you apparently just don’t understand people are capable of organizing their own activities without imposed formality.“

    Participation doesn’t require formality; but in some group contexts formality can help to foster more productive and broader participation than otherwise. I don’t know anyone who thinks that anarchy is synonymous with democracy. And of course people are capable of organizing their own activities without imposed formality… or non-imposed formality for that matter. But you didn’t respond to what I said, you just twisted it. I said:

    “I disagree that Jo Freeman was complaining about “anarchist values and tactics infesting the feminist movement”. She was making an argument against informal hierarchy in favor of utilizing more democratic and participatory practices that help engage the group as a whole. Since when are informal hierarchies “anarchist values” and since when are democratic and participatory practices harmful? Your comment about people seeing police as harmful is irrelevant because you still haven’t addressed why democratic and participatory practices used to combat informal hierarchies are bad in and of themselves.

    “You (sincerely???) write:
    ‘But like Bakunin points out that doesn’t mean that this authority should be imposed. One of Freeman’s suggestions is that yes we should use rational criteria for selecting people to positions instead of favoritism'”

    “You do realize that it is the formal organizations in which imposition takes place whereas informal settings they arise more organically and, if undesirable, they are easier to oppose due to the fact that they are not institutionalized?”

    No there’s nothing intrinsic about formal organization that makes them where imposition takes place and like I mentioned the “Anarchists believe that it’s the structures and relations of hierarchical domination and oppression themselves that must be destroyed and replaced with egalitarian and horizontal structures and relations.” In my experience informal forms of imposition are not easy to oppose; but like Jo Freeman suggests there are democratic practices and processes that can be used to try to address them- like the 7 she mentioned.

    “Let me get this straight: People with more knowledge on the matter will adopt a position of ad hoc authority; so to prevent these potential politicians from doing permanent damage to helpless, temporary, informal groups and the helpless individuals whom make up these groups, we need to impose-er,delegate- these positions via formal organization. Throw in buzz words “democratic” and “participatory” somewhere for good measure.”

    No, you don’t have it straight at all. I quoted Bakunin because you brought up something from Bakunin you remembered and I happened to remember the exact quote you were talking about. Bakunin’s point is that people with more knowledge have a kind of authority; but that doesn’t mean they should have the final say. Similarly, in a group setting, if someone knows a lot about a project the group is working on that doesn’t mean that they should be able to impose whatever they think is right on the group. You said that you remember Bakunin saying: “… how in groups sometimes those with more knowledge in the matter at hand will essentially become an informal hierarchy” and then you said, “i don’t see that as very harmful…” I agreed with you but pointed out that he was also saying that the person with more knowledge shouldn’t just be able to decide on behalf of others (which would be imposing). So a democratic group process can help to make sure that one person with specialized knowledge doesn’t dominate because of that specialized knowledge but that everyone gets a chance to speak and be part of the decision-making as a group on how to proceed.

    “True, but there is more than an allegedly weak guilt-by-association argument to what jason was saying. For example. the fact that the individual who wrote this piece was an anti-anarchist is a very important aspect of the article in whole. Sure, I could enjoy reading the travel adventures of some random fascist but I’m not going to take seriously, weird rants about people not being about to deal with shit themselves and needing institutionalized mechanisms to do so.:

    Ok, believe what you want to believe about Jason McQuinn’s guilt-by-association argument. I personally don’t think the politics of the author are as important as the content of what they say. For example, I completely disagree with the politics of Max Stirner; but I didn’t reject everything in the Ego and Its Own off-hand. I read it, considered it, compared it to what I thought, compared it to my experience, and came to my own conclusions on what I thought was beneficial and what I thought wasn’t. I learned from some of his ideas. For example, I thought his formulation of individual freedom in relation to physical impulses and ideas was interesting: that in order to be free we can’t let our physical impulses or our mental idealism control us and dictate our actions; instead we must dictate which physical desires and which mental aspirations that we’d satisfy and which we wouldn’t… that this was more free than following everything according to our whim because then we were being controlled by them instead of being really free. Max Stirner and my politics are very different; but that doesn’t mean that I can’t read something he wrote and learn from it. Similarily, when the POUMists criticized the anarchists for joining the government in Catalonia to unify the front against facism during the Spanish Revolution, I’m not going to reject their criticism and side with the anarchists just because they were anarchists. And surely enough the Libertarian Youth and the Friends of Durruti made similar arguments as the POUMists, that doesn’t make them anti-anarchist. Or again, Kropotkin, Malatesta, Magon, Goldman, Parsons, Fabbri, etc. accepting communism didn’t make them anti-anarchist because Bakunin rejected communism and saw it as anti-anarchist whereas Marx argued for communism. Just as anarchist communism is much different than other forms of communism; so Jo Freeman’s use for the insights and practices in her article might be different than anarchists use for her insight and article. That doesn’t mean we should reject her insights and practices because she wasn’t an anarchist. We should look to the content of her piece rather than her politics in deciding if it’s useful or not. If after reading through my article, Jo Freeman’s article and my replies to you and actually considering the arguments, if you still don’t see any merit how- even if they’re not your preferred practices- they’re arguing for autonomy and freedom, then I don’t think our debate is going to go anywhere.

  13. Pingback: More dishonest, irresponsible fun and games with Workers’ Liberty. | Cautiously pessimistic

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