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(en) Praxis #2 - The Functioning of a Network: A "No Bullshit" Policy VS. The Lethargy of Activism

From Worker <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>
Date Thu, 12 Feb 2004 09:52:43 +0100 (CET)


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Ever since the humble beginnings of our network as loose group of
communists and anarchists who strived to lay down a basic set of
common principles off of which to unite in action, we have remained
acutely aware of the ways in which our associations, and in particular
the methods of open and collective writing that we have used, have
shaped our traditions. One of the most interesting developments in our
growth has been the way in which we have consciously tried to steer
our evolution away from the problems of the current revolutionary
culture, raging against attitudes like sceneism and black bloc
fetishism in an attempt to secure RAAN's status as an effective
tendency apart from the recognized (and flawed) anti-authoritarian
movement.

Our organization now has collectives and affinity groups operating in
several different cities. As RAAN unfurls and begins to take on a life
of its own, it is important that we not allow this evolution to undermine
the original goals of the network. We must realize that the ways in
which we relate to each other now as an organization will define our
praxis and reputation in the future. In other words, now more than ever
is when we must solidify our principles into a continuous tradition of
action that not only upholds our revolutionary goals, but also
articulates our dissatisfaction with the structures and attitudes
created by yesterday's activists. One of the most fundamental things
that we can do in this sense is to abolish the debilitating habits that
plague the so-called revolutionary movement. Of these habits, none
has done more to rot away at the core of our tendency then inaction.
Inaction is the radical's disease - it hides behind activist careerism,
security culture, ideology, and it transforms our dialogues and
initiatives into pointless tug-of-wars that make even the simplest
tasks take much longer than they should.

During the writing of our Principles & Direction, time and time again
our progress was stalled by those who wanted to endlessly nitpick
over ideological trivialities, or worse - demanded influence and even
control without first having contributed anything to the collective
project. Out of our writings developed what we soon began calling the
"No Bullshit" policy, a form of sweat-equity through which respect
and inclusion (that is, one's very acceptance into the network) had to
first be earned by "proving oneself" through contribution and action. In
the case of our collective writings, we quickly began to see that those
who would confront us with concrete suggestions and projects of their
own were more valuable than those who only wanted to abstractly
critique the group, often only with the goal of provoking circular
debate, and certainly with no intention of themselves becoming
directly and positively involved in our development. We now recognize
the latter group as being symptomatic of the inaction of the Left, and
therefore ultimately useless to our network. So how do we see this
"No Bullshit" Policy as being vital to the creation of a tradition of
action within RAAN that would by its very functioning exclude these
elements in favor of a galvanized membership from which we could
expect constant movement?

NO BULLSHIT, JUST ACTION

One can look at virtually any organization or tendency in existence
today and quickly see that its total effectiveness is in fact only the
sum of its parts; the public activity of any (post-)political group can be
expressed best by the actions of its individual members who "by
participating in it, give it life" (P&D pg. 40). This basic concept, that
an organization can only exist by the actions that members take in its
name, should seem obvious to anyone, as it is hardly a revolutionary
way of looking at the makeup of a group. However, it is certainly a
helpful perspective from which to view the potential of a loose
network of autonomous cells that is beginning to grow and create
levels of influence.

We should be firm in our demand that those who seek to take part in
this network are not only ready to fulfill any self-appointed
commitments, but are also well aware of the methods through which
we operate, and are prepared to act accordingly - anything less
amounts to nothing more than a stalling of the group's activities.
RAAN has no official "membership". We have no dues, no president,
and no central office. To become a member of RAAN, to be
considered involved in its growth and struggle, it is not enough to
simply adhere to our principles, because it is only through our
autonomous resistance as individuals and organized groups that we
give actuality to this network. If actions taken are not done in its
name, then RAAN does not exist. But at the same time, we could
have one hundred thousand network collectives across the globe, and
still manage to remain entirely fictional (or worse, irrelevant!) if none
of them ever bothered to do anything.

This fact is a consequence of RAAN's very foundation, which has
developed over time from the simple strategic basis of uniting
anti-authoritarians not in a never-ending ideological dialogue, but
instead through direct activity and support of our comrades, wherever
they may be. This unification via action and mutual aid - the most
fundamental principle of the network - has the "No Bullshit" Policy at
its heart. Should we as a movement fail to remain united in action, we
will succumb to the animosity cultivated by those individuals who
have made "bullshitting" their main prerogative. To allow the inclusion
of these elements is at best unhealthy, and at worst entirely crippling
(dare we say... counterrevolutionary?) for they stand directly in the
way of creating any sort of significant anti-capitalist,
anti-authoritarian movement.

SITTING IN A COFFEESHOP DOESN'T MAKE A REVOLUTION

At this point we should clarify that the issue at hand is not an
immaterial call for "unity" across ideological lines, (particularly not
with Statists and liberals) but something much more concrete. Even
so, the topic here is much harder to articulate because it involves an
attitude and a culture that we have to build in opposition to the
established Left, a policy that is now developing organically as a
result of our initial operations, and in the future will become a defining
characteristic of RAAN as a tendency. One of the easier ways to
approach this subject is by trying to come to grips with what we see
as being the basic problem.

Our message is not necessarily that the current activities of the Left
are outdated and ineffective, but that many of them should not even be
considered as activity at all! There exists a laziness in the heart of
activism, a laziness in which real-world organizing and action, or even
simple tasks like the creation of an informative newsletter or article,
are now held up as immensely difficult projects that should be
celebrated as rare triumphs instead of seen as what they should be -
the day to day and entirely unexceptional activity of our movement.
This reverence is based in our apologist and self-perpetuating
faineancy, and as a result in many places we have been reduced to
activist hobbyism; the throwing of potluck parties or the creation of a
political zine has managed to somehow take the place of actual
activity in our movement's search for fulfillment and results. This
should come as no surprise, since it is "activists" who generally have
the privilege of remaining inert while the majority of the "real work" is
carried out by communities in struggle who often have no choice but to
accomplish something.

While it would be incorrect to label all activist hobbies as "bullshit",
(though some, such as the ritual formation of superfluous
organizations, are just that) the substitution of these diversions for
real work, and in particular the distraction or even sedation of the
radical movement that is brought about through the endless cycles of
whining and posturing that come from trying to aggrandize such
activities is in fact the very definition of bullshit. Ridding ourselves of
these problems is a monumental task that involves significant change
in the overall activist consciousness. Accomplishing this first and
foremost in our own network means using our past experiences and
failures to develop new ways of approaching revolutionary activity.

DEFINING A "NO BULLSHIT" POLICY

Thus far, we have only defined the "No Bullshit" Policy as being in
opposition to something (which itself has not yet been sufficiently
defined). If we are to firmly develop our conception of it as a
distinguishing aspect of RAAN, we must first refamiliarize ourselves
with the idea of bullshit's antithesis: action. Doing this warrants
quoting extensively from the Principles & Direction,

Members of the network are encouraged to involve themselves in a
variety of activities that they feel to be fulfilling towards their political
consciousness (and more importantly, their immediate lives). RAAN
activists have achieved this in a variety of ways.

...

...it has been where RAAN members have come together to create
projects in the name of the organization itself that the most promising
results have been shown.

...

Instead of dealing solely with organization and the modes of
discourse involved in interfacing with the powers that assume
themselves to be, we choose to focus instead on material gains in the
fields of alternative institutions that have a tangible presence in our
communities and yet are completely independent of organizations
which already impose themselves so much on the community that we
feel obliged to enter their arena before constructing our own.

We confess to the intentional vagueness of these ideas, but feel
that not only would it be impossible for a group such as ours to
produce a general action programme at this stage, but that it would in
fact be counterproductive. As we grow, each member and regional
collective in RAAN will be able to decide what are the best uses of its
resources. We see nothing more hopeful and exciting then to leave the
development of the network to the individuals who will, by
participating in it, give it life. (P&D pg. 39-40)

RAAN's spectrum of "action" is therefore very broad, and in
accordance with this, what members of the network see as "bullshit"
or "not bullshit" is in many cases rather subjective - we must embrace
this as part of our continuing commitment to a diversity of tactics.
What matters most to RAAN is that an action be fulfilling towards a
participant's immediate life and political consciousness, not so much
whether or not a monolithic "network membership" supports it
(obviously, expectations regarding an action's compatibility with the
with the basic anarchist-communist principles of the network remain).
Thus, the "No Bullshit" Policy is not a vehicle through which to
promote one type of network activity (union organizing or property
destruction, for instance) as being superior to another, but instead is
our weapon against the attitudes that stall the progress of any action,
and prevent it from being as reliable and fulfilling as possible.

Because of this, "bullshit" as the roadblock to action can take many
forms, and while we can certainly identify it as a force at work in
situations where ideological bickering, dominating or even just
socially-inept personalities, cowardice, and laziness have appeared,
for us the universal defining characteristic of bullshit is that it
needlessly stalls or halts a project, at times to the personal gain of
whomever is perpetrating the bullshit. This analysis is of course not
an attempt to de-legitimize any relevant criticism, which at its most
effective also has the power to derail a project. Criticism can also be
action, but the difference between bullshit-criticism and action-minded
criticism is that the latter has in mind a physical contribution to the
project at hand, (even if in the form of a complete alternative) while
the former manifests itself as an obstacle at best.

A good "rule of thumb" to use in distinguishing action from bullshit on
a project is to ask yourself whether the proposal in question is going
to mean more work for someone. If the answer is yes, and the
necessary work has not already been done and contributed by the
person putting forward the proposal as part of that proposal, or if said
person has not immediately taken charge and asked for any needed
help in doing the work, then you're probably dealing with bullshit. It is
important that we recognize inaction (particularly inconclusive or
evasive methods of dialogue) as an unconscious force at work within
ourselves, and safeguard ourselves by applying these standards to
everything that we do. Labeling a proposal or critique as "bullshit"
does not mean that it should immediately be discarded, but rather that
we need to reexamine it in order to make it actually capable of
affecting something.

WORKING IN A CULTURE OF "NO BULLSHIT"

In the above example, if the person putting forward the proposal or
project said that they would do the work, but then ultimately failed to
deliver on that promise, their proposal would still be bullshit, because
their putting the group in a position of reliance on them, and then
subsequent inability to follow through on that self-appointed
responsibility would have resulted in the collapse or massive delay of
the project at hand. This is a situation that RAAN has dealt with
before, and it is imperative that we not only organize, but also begin to
conceive of ourselves in such a way that neutralizes the impeding
power of B.S.

The first step in this process is to reaffirm the way in which we see
the network's (anti?)organizational functions. As I stated earlier, if
actions taken are not done in the name of the network, then the
network does not exist. Similarly, if no one is out acting in the name of
RAAN, then RAAN at that moment has no membership. Alongside
adherence to our principles, action (keeping in mind our broad
definition) precludes all membership in RAAN because the network is
an amorphous tendency that exists only when one or more individuals
act or create something in its name. Our essays, publications, and
collectives are the footprints of this process, and serve only as
indicators - not proof - to the existence of our organization.

The most important byproduct of this system of action is that it builds
reliability through its very functioning. Reliability is the quality that we
define as having others (in this case RAAN) be able to depend on you
and trust that any work that you say you are going to do will actually
get done. The reason that RAAN's system of fluid association through
action builds this trust is that in order for you to receive respect and
aid from others in the network, you must have first contributed
something to it (the proposal of a project, the organizing of a network
affinity group, contribution to an ongoing project, etc.). In the realm of
activism and even revolutionary thought, which is filled with those
who speak much but do nothing, this principle is our first line of
defense against the traditions of the Left (including post-Left) that
would relegate us to a self-perpetuating inactivity - that is, bullshit.

This essay should be taken only as an introduction to the concept of
RAAN's "No Bullshit" Policy. As I have explained, the "policy" itself
is a developing culture of progress-minded individuals who actively
seek to self-correct and apply operative methods of collaboration in
the interests of making the Red & Anarchist Action Network just that
- an action network.
------------------------------
This essay originally appeared in the second issue of Praxis, journal of
the Red & Anarchist Action Network (Fall, 2003)


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