Organizational Dualism: The Gradualist and Revolutionary Spheres of the Specific Anarchist Organization
Posted by bodhipunk
As I stated earlier, I will be writing about much more than Buddhism in this blog from now own. In light of that, and due to the recent uprisings taking place around the world, I decided to post something I wrote some time ago which attempts to give a concise explanation of the revolutionary program and anarchist organization. The intention here is to provide a brief, yet theoretical, framework which can be used by certain individuals to organize, influence, and inspire revolutionary movements within their own respective community. I welcome any comments, suggestions, critiques, questions, etc.
Anarchist Communism: The Vision, Our Goal
Errico Malatesta once pointed out that what really matters is “not whether we accomplish anarchism today, tomorrow, or within ten centuries, but that we walk towards anarchism today, tomorrow, and always.” In other words, it doesn’t matter if we achieve anarchist communism on a massive scale immediately. It would be nice, and we will certainly always work towards that end. However, it serves as a vision, a goal, an idea of the kind of world we wish to live in and something worth working towards. It is a future that is worth striving for, always, without regard to its realization on a mass scale in any length of time.
Anarchist communism (also known as libertarian communism or free communism) is an anarchist school of thought which emphasizes and stresses the need for egalitarian principles in the realization of the abolition of social hierarchy and class distinctions (which arise as a result of unequal wealth distribution), the abolition of markets and wages, and the collective production and distribution of wealth by means of a horizontal, self-managed network of voluntary associations.
Production and distribution would be done purely on the basis of “from each according to ability, to each according to needs” through a confederation of free unions and free municipalities. The economy would be organized in a horizontal network of voluntary associations, workers’ councils and/or a gift economy in which goods and services are given from contribution/ability and according to need.
This means that in some economies, recipients are expected to give something in return – such as labor, support, etc. However, exchange does not necessarily involve an immediate return, such as with remuneration; compensations comes in the form of whatever an individual decides is of equal value to their products of labor.
In his work Libertarian Communism, the Spanish anarchist Dr. Isaac Puente explained that an anarchist communist society would be “organised without the state and without private ownership”. However, he also pointed out that there would be “no need to invent anything or conjure up some new organization for the purpose. The centres about which life in the future will be organised are already with us in the society of today: the free union and the free municipality.”
Whenever anarcho-communists speak about abolishing “private ownership” or “private property”, we are not referring to “personal property”, or possessions that you currently use or occupy. So don’t worry – it’s not an excuse to steal your computer or take your videos. “Private property” refers to the privatization of the means of production, which we wish to abolish – and instead replace with its self-management in a participatory and democratic manner. In his Now and After: The ABC of Communist Anarchism (What Is Communist Anarchism?), Alexander Berkman explained this by using the example of the watch factory being owned in common and self-managed by the workers, but the watch you use is entirely yours.
Although there may be no need to “invent” or “conjure up” any new organization, it would still be useful to explain what type of organization may serve as a useful means towards our vision of anarchist communism.
Specifism and Organizational Dualism
One aspect which distinguishes anarcho-communism is the principle of “organizational dualism”, which insists that instead of the “mass organization” there must also be a “specific organization”. For many anarchists, such as Luigi Fabbri, the “mass organization” (such as the labor union) was the agent of revolution, but anarcho-communists also see the need for the specific anarchist organization.
The center of the specifist framework is an understanding of the division of anarchist activity into two levels, the social and political spheres. The social sphere is understood as those struggles that exist within the material and ideological framework of capitalism – these are your every day issues which include social reforms, wages, finance, health care, etc. This can also include community organizations like Food Not Bombs, mass organizations like labor unions, or counterpowers like workers’ councils and even the recent “Occupy” movement.
However, we must also recognize the need to maintain a coherent vision of an alternative society. What it is, exactly, that we strive for. This would be the political sphere, which is anarchist communism and the specific organization.
The Social Sphere: The Gradualist Approach of Mass Organizations, Counterpowers and Social Insertion
The social level involves the recognition of the existing state capitalist institutions, and creating and/or maintaining alternative and counter institutions in place of and in opposition to them. This could even involve participating within existing workplace and community mass organizations and struggles over time at rank and file level, as well as creating new ones where necessary (even specifically anarchist ones).
These mass organizations can include labor unions, affinity groups, cooperatives, and other counterpowers (also known as “dual power” organizations) such as worker councils, horizontal federations, intentional communities, autonomous zones, community organizations, etc. The role of social insertion, as a gradualist tactic, involves participation within these with the clear objective of spreading the influence of anarchist principles and practices – even when other mass movements and organizations may remain somewhat ideologically heterogeneous.
However, the purpose is not to homogenize any mass movements and organizations necessarily, as the strength of these movements lies in their ability to unite and mobilize the largest possible number of workers, regardless of their religious, ideological or political affiliations. Instead, social insertion involves working within in them, and fighting for the prominence of anarchist ideas within such mass movements and organizations, for the implementation of anarchist principles therein (even if not recognized as such by the majority of members of the mass organization) such as participatory democracy, mutual aid, self-management, decentralization, horizontalism, direct action, class struggle and class independence (independence of working class organizations/movements from political parties and electoral politics).
The key to social insertion is how we actively participate and contribute towards the advancement of mass social organizations and counterpowers, through strengthening their libertarian instincts and revolutionary advance from populist opportunism.
The Political Sphere: The Revolutionary Approach of Active Minority as Specific Organization
Again, what distinguishes anarchist communism is the recognition of the need of not just the mass organization, but also of the specific organization – or the “active minority”. We distinguish this from the social sphere because social movements should not have a political ideology, for their role is to unite and mobilize the largest possible number of workers, regardless of their religious, ideological or political affiliations.
In the social movements, it is possible to unite militants from a broader scale and build a unified base, which is not possible at an ideological level. The political movement, on the other hand, must remain small – as that unified base of the dedicated core of individuals, working together more efficiently due to their greater sense of ideological and theoretical unity.
As Georges Fontenis pointed out in his Manifesto of Libertarian Communism, ”
We have seen, in regard to relations between the revolutionary Organisation and the masses, that in the pre-revolutionary period the specific Organisation can only suggest ends and means and can only get them accepted through ideological struggle and force of example.”
However, it is only possible to build a unified base under a strategic project. Therefore, the successful political organization must be built upon a general union of all participating members organized along the principle foundations of ideological and theoretical unity, tactical unity, collective action and responsibility, as well as federalism. Ideological and theoretical unity means that it is important to have coherent ideas, and to act in accordance with those theoretical principles. Naturally, if you are to have a successful and efficient organization with others, it is important to agree with them. This is especially important when that organization has a defined path towards a determined goal. Tactical unity concentrates the forces of the organization and gives them a common direction leading to a fixed objective, as opposed to having several tactics which could end with the disastrous effect of them opposing each other.
Collective action and responsibility means recognizing that all spheres of life, both social and political, are – above all – profoundly collective by nature. Social revolutionary activity in these areas cannot be based on the personal responsibility of separate individuals. Therefore, those who take part in the revolutionary organization must not act in the political domain without consulting with the organization since the organization is always responsible for the revolutionary and political activity of each of its members.
As opposed to centralism, federalism permits the autonomous decision-making of each member and their control over the whole. All decisions made only involves those participants who are directly effected by them. Federalism reconciles the independence and initiative of individuals and the organization with service to the common objective. Anarchist federalism therefore refers to an understanding and free agreement reached between members and groups with a view to work in common towards a shared goal, where all decisions are made by those involved.
It should be noted that while organization within the social sphere includes mass organizations – with their ability to unite and mobilize the largest possible number of workers, the specific organization of the political sphere should only consist of a relatively small number of dedicated militants. Its purpose as a revolutionary vanguard is to exercise a guiding and leading role in relations to the movement of the masses. However, this “active minority”, as opposed to a “vanguard party”, is in not organized in any way that is considered elitist, oligarchical or hierarchical.
In the immortal words of Emma Goldman, in her work Minorities versus Majorities (which is included inAnarchism and Other Essays), “the living, vital truth of social and economic well-being will become a reality only through the zeal, courage, the non-compromising determination of intelligent minorities, and not through the mass.”
The Specific Organization
The active minority, as a specific organization and revolutionary vanguard, is to exercise a guiding and leading role in relations to the movement of the masses. Georges Fontenis points out that, “The political vanguard, the active minority, can of course during the making of the Revolution charge itself with special tasks (such as liquidating enemy forces) but as a general rule it can only be the consciousness of the proletariat. And it must finally be reabsorbed into society, gradually as on the one hand its role is completed by the consolidation of the classless society and its evolution from the lower to the higher stage of communism, and as on the other the people as a whole have acquired the necessary level of awareness.”
The purpose of the active minority, as the revolutionary vanguard, is to bring anarchist organization and self-management into the forefront of class struggles. It is using the specific organization as an influential example for otherwise mass organizations. It is working within the dual organizational framework of the social and political spheres, utilizing both gradualist and revolutionary means simultaneously.
One distinguishing characteristic of the active minority from other vanguard parties is that all organization is non-hierarchical and voluntary, and all decision-making is decentralized and democratic. As pointed out above, the active minority consists of a small number of dedicated militants. The active minority serves as a general union of all participating members (or a “general assembly”) organized on the fundamental principles of theoretical unity, tactical unity, collective action and responsibility, and federalism. This general assembly may form temporary working groups which may be assigned to deal with short term issues or propose the formation of new standing committees.
These committees may be assigned by the general assembly or its working groups, but it is at the general assembly where there will be report backs from all committee activity. Final decisions will be made by majority of the total membership vote, with the option of consensus-decision making of all of those who attend.
To keep things running efficiently within the organization, delegated tasks may be assigned to various individuals. It should be noted that these positions are non-hierarchical and temporary, and they must be ratified by either the general assembly or by its working groups, or by a committee acting on its behalf. All elected delegates are also subject to referendum and recall by the membership of general assembly.
Some delegated positions may include those of the general secretary (or secretaries), committee organizer(s), general chamberlain(s), etc. Below is a short description of each role and how they could function within an organization, but these are working definitions that are subject to changes that fit the needs of any given organization.
General Organizer: The general organizer should ensure that all meetings have a regular time, location, and agenda, that meetings are announced, that meetings are facilitated, that a list of tasks committed to is kept, report backs are written by committee organizers and delivered to the general assembly, and that mandates given to committee organizers are accomplished.
General Secretary: The general secretary should ensure that the general assemblies are organized (find a space, time, and location), and that proposals are distributed to members in advance of the meetings. The general secretary is also responsible for maintaining internal and external communications as well as maintains communication with new and interim members throughout their process of application.
General Chamberlain: The general chamberlain is responsible for the collection, management, and allocation of resources as mandated by general assembly. The general chamberlain must also ensure that a resource report is given at each general assembly, be accessible for resource distribution, and keep track of general assembly attendance.
Although they are both attempts at organizing a revolutionary vanguard, this is ultimately what distinguishes the active minority from the vanguard party: the active minority is not a sect or political party; it is a specific organization. It is not authoritarian, hierarchical, nor is it oligarchical. There is no military-type leadership. The active minority is a free association of individuals, dedicated to the maintenance and influence of mass organizations through individual effort, innovation, and collective responsibility.
The most important aspect of the active minority, however, is the amount of flexibility allowed due to its inherent decentralization. This flexibility allows the specific organization to evolve and grow, existing both within and without present social conditions. There will be times when the active minority actually expresses a majority, which will tend to recognize itself within the active minority. Yet, there will also be periods of “retreat” for the active minority; that is, to become more explicitly underground. However, even then it is only maintaining itself enough to hold out until it again regains its audience with the masses.
Even when the active minority becomes isolated, this can be countered through acts of social insertion. Social insertion, as an active involvement with broader mass organizations of the social sphere, is not some form of mere entryism; it is engagement. It is not to be used as some trojan horse method, as it is mutual aid in action. This is because the focus should always be upon the genuine improvement of the community, and the role of the active minority is to be actively involved and engaged, leading by example and influence rather than simply through being some form of authoritarian hierarchy. The difficulty here then is to maintain an active minority without becoming isolated and cut off from reality. We must not make the social sphere an “other”, or worse yet, a mirror of the political sphere.