After a five year plus process of engagement there is currently underway an effort to merge a number of the existing mostly regionally based class struggle Anarchist groups into a single national organization. Following up on the piece “Fighting for the Future: The Necessity and Possibility of National Political Organization for Our Time” which attempted to lay out both the arguments for as well as speak to the limitations that exist at the current political moment, one of the authors offers their thoughts on the current process as well as sentiments within the larger class struggle milieu that have came about since the publication of that piece.
By Adam Weaver
In the piece “Fighting for the Future: The Necessity and Possibility of National Political Organization for Our Time” that I co-authored with SN Nappalos we took up themes related to political organization in the current moment. The piece described political organization as meeting immediate and practical needs such as creating a ‘political home’, creating a space for the collective as opposed to isolated development of new political militants and served a role in building a common set of references and conversations among wider layers around theory, practices and methods of organization. In terms of broader political vision and strategy, we discussed organization as a method to develop a new base, cohere a clear libertarian voice within struggles, build a common set of reference points, and act as a pole of ideas and action.
These discussions are especially important though because coming out of several years of annual joint conferences, groups within the class struggle anarchist milieu have been undergoing a process of rapprochement which is close to reaching fruition of forming a common organization. In many ways the original article was designed to speak to that process as well as committed revolutionaries outside of the process. And in that same spirit I’d like to offer some follow up thoughts that have emerged since the writing of that article.
An organization for our time
One of the main points stressed in the piece was not just a blanket call for national organization, but that organization must reflect the needs and the political moment we exist in: “Political cohesiveness, development and praxis are not end goals declared that we can find ready made formulas to create, but rather a process that is built qualitatively over time.” What we are trying to do in the current effort of regroupment is not build the ideal organization rooted in the struggles of the working class and oppressed that we imagine, but rather we are creating an organizational project that can act as a vehicle to struggle towards that goal. In other words, we are not creating the organization we want to see today but clearing the path and building towards the organization we’d like to see tomorrow. There is a certain humility and honesty needed in recognizing that we don’t even know now what we are trying to work towards, we are building something that we’ve never seen or known in our lifetimes.
As to what this means on a practical level is that we cannot proceed with an attitude of rushing to merge and that the organization we strive for will materialize simply if we declare it. Politically we can’t rely either on the old lines in the sand. Terms such as anarchist-communism, libertarian socialism, anarcho-syndicalism, platformism, and especifismo may represent distinct traditions that each bring important things to the table (I’d also include even some parts of libertarian Marxism), but more and more these terms bleed into one another and we find those who use these labels taking the same positions and on the same sides in struggles even if they use different terms to express their ideas. Texts such as Black Flame have been a great service in helping us rethink the history of class struggle anarchism more along these lines. Organizationally we need to create the spaces that allow us to have the higher level discussions that we could not ordinarily have and sometimes this buts up against the tendency to spend inordinate amounts of time on the formalities of process rather than the sustenance of our ideas, our debates, and most importantly our concrete projects and organizing efforts.
You build it and then I will come
Having made several points about the effort to create an organization I’d like to move to discussing sets of problems and attitudes that exist within in our milieu and those in the orbit but whom are not part of the current process. And while these stances may seem pointed, they are aimed not to tear down but with the goal of challenging those whom I see as some of the best of comrades and highest quality militants that I’ve come to know.
The first I call “you build it and maybe I will come” and it is based on an individualistic approach to what are the collective political issues of organization that we face as a milieu. What I mean by this is that there are many quality comrades that are for one reason or another outside of the current process that is based on existing organizations. On one hand that is in large part structural but on the other hand there is a certain hedging of bets “Well, if everything works out and something good forms then I’ll consider joining or participating.” But going unstated is often a sentiment of “I’m not really sure if this going to work out so it’s better to sit on the sidelines and not put my energy into this just yet.”
In many ways this is a mirror of the same individualism that permeates the larger society and which asks “why struggle against the powers that be in my life? It’s more likely than not that I will loose, so it’s better to wait and see if such and such demand seems likely to win.” And given the influences of commercialism and media that permeates our society it’s easy to see why this is a common starting point of many working class people in the US. But to hear these sentiments from those who call themselves committed revolutionaries is troubling. Instead we need ask what we can do to build what we want to see and engage in the work of rolling up our sleeves and building rather than waiting for what we want to be built to arrive on our proverbial doorsteps. Too many revolutionaries are plowing the fields of every other political efforts- those of NGOs, of progressive reformism, those of business unions which act as the mobilization arm and institutional base of the Democratic Party- but the time is now for those who want to see Anarchism take root and become an actor within the struggles of the working class and oppressed to begin our own project and to begin the work of tilling our own field.
Building a movement for ourselves instead of for yourself
Another issue in the same vein is framed around those of needs. Either the building of political organization does not fit into ones political needs or the question that needs to be satisfied first is whether this meets one’s personal political needs. Since the fading of the 70’s party building Left that demanded that their members be “robots for the revolution” with no personal time and solely focused on the needs of the party, there has been a healthier turn in the left towards personal balance and the need to see involvement in activity as serving a role not just for the movement but for those who make up the movement. But perhaps now the pendulum now swings too far in the other direction.
When needs are raised as an objection I’m often taken aback. Speaking personally on my own involvement in political activity for most of my life and in efforts to build specifically anarchist political organization for a decade now, I do not see the vast majority of my political work as serving my own interests or development. Personally I could spend plenty of time talking with the usual suspects over the internet and feel like many of my own needs are being met. But that doesn’t build a movement. What I spent most of my political work doing (and by ‘political’ I mean efforts around my political ideology as opposed to mass level organizing work) is one-on-one meet ups and mentoring, organizing discussion circles around basic texts and videos and mundane but practical organizational tasks. But suffice it to say that almost none of that work serves my own immediate political needs. Rather I see that work as building largely other people and serving their political needs because that’s what I think helps to build a movement in the long term. Rather than seeing our work centering around our own needs in an individualistic fashion, we instead need to think collectively about how we work towards our goals, political organization being one aspect, and how personal needs can combine with movement building goals. Often what we think of as personal needs are usually shared by others and in reality collective issue.
We can’t build it because it doesn’t exist
Lastly I want to say that the only way to reach political organization is to build towards it. Again, what we build today is not what we seek but rather a project or vehicle to allow us to struggle towards what we want to create. But there is a naysaying voice that says our work can’t be done—the level of consciousness is not there, our milieu too small and scattered and politically undeveloped, we are destined to replicate the pitfalls of the past, and that the current downturn in struggles doesn’t favor our project. All these are true to varying degrees but none of them need to stay the same.
The best example that I can give of this is the current IWW in the US. In the early 2000’s the organization was largely a collection of radical left activists with little to offer. Membership was a revolving door and most often workplace organizing efforts were simply a smaller scale copy of business union campaigns, just run by radical activists volunteering their time instead of by paid staff. But slow transformation occurred as several generations came and stuck to the IWW, engaged in the trials and errors of organizing, and congealed those lessons into a systematic training program that developed more workplace militants who moved to higher levels of organizing efforts. While still remaining small and not without weaknesses that have persisted, the IWW is now a force of sorts that was difficult to imagine possible only so many years ago.
The lesson though that I’d like to draw out of this is to caution against drawing from momentary situations what is and is not possible in the future. We cannot stumble once on the road and conclude that every road in the future will cause us to stumble again. “Today I burnt my dinner in the oven and I heard my neighbor did last week, therefore we need to see the objective conditions of the oven as always being too hot and need to now only cook with the microwave” is easy to say. But when we commit over a period of time to a process and vision that we believe in then we will have more than great dinners coming out of our political oven.