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(en) US, California, The dawn* #4 - Towards More Effective Political Organizations

From <a-infos-en@ainfos.ca>(Erik egh-A-the-dawn.org)
Date Tue, 19 Oct 2004 10:13:19 +0200 (CEST)

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by Prole Cat, who tries to play a positive leadership role
in anarchist politics in the southeastern US
The debate over whether or not anarchists should organize
is a long and rich one. Much has been written on the
subject. So it is likely that most anarchists, at least
those who have been politically involved for a significant
length of time, know where they stand on this topic. At any
rate, the value of organization will not be argued here.
Rather, this text is addressed to those who are already
convinced of the value of anarchist organization, but
who may have doubts about what form such organization
should take or, more specifically, about what should be
the role of those whose personalities incline them to be
at the front of most efforts, and who have ideas that they
believe to be in advance of the rest of the membership. In
other words, what are we to do about "leadership" in our

This essay will attempt to define, in general and practical
terms, how an anarchist activist, organizer or organization
may thread the needle between authoritarian Leninist
vanguardism and post-left disorganization. The following
comments are based on personal experience, within and
outside of movement organizations, informed by anarchist
theory and history.

* What should an organization look like?

The challenge of the anarchist organization is to "organize
without authority," or to "self organize." The words roll
smoothly from the tongue of one well versed in anarchist
lore, but the challenges of practical application are in
fact quite daunting.

First, let us quickly dismiss the notion that organizing
in a libertarian manner can wait until "after the
revolution." Organize we must, even as we categorically
reject the idea that the challenges of battling capitalism
require us to suspend our principles of freedom and
equality. Apples do not grow on orange tress, and a
free society will not spring up in the wake of a revolt
fostered by an authoritarian political organization, any
more than it will happen of its own accord. As Rudolf
Rocker famously said, "Socialism will be free, or it
will be not at all." In a similar vein, so too will the
anarchist revolutionary organization be free.

What, then, are the obstacles to such free
self-organization? To begin with, few people have any
experience with self-organization. Everywhere we turn
in capitalist society is hierarchical organization or,
more simply put, the boss system. The world is divided
into authorities and the submissive: police and citizens,
bosses and employees, clerics and the flock, journalists
and television viewers, ad infinitum. The habits and
perspectives that accompany such a social arrangement do
not automatically disappear as one enters the gates of
the revolutionary movement. There are quite a few of us
who sincerely wish to be actively involved in movement
politics, but who hang around on the outskirts because we
do not know, exactly, what needs to be done? and we are
waiting on someone to tell us! What else could we EXPECT
well intentioned people to do? Folks do the only thing
they know how to do, until they learn otherwise?

On the other hand, movement organizations also have
an ample supply of those who chafe at the restraints of
libertarian forms. They complain of the tediousness of the
consensus process, of the lack of follow through of the
"do nothings." Without explicitly renouncing anarchist
politics, they often begin to drift into modes of behavior
that are decidedly authoritarian. Or perhaps their activist
life becomes one long struggle between their desire to
accomplish social change, and a conscious effort to stifle
their impulses to "lead."

The leaders and the followers, the by-products of an
authoritarian society: this is the raw material from which
we must build the free society. We do not have the option
to fast forward to some post-revolutionary utopia in which
everyone is whole and healthy, and in which capitalism is
just a dim memory, a defeated demon of an age gone by (and
only then will we know for sure how much of our social
pathology is learned behavior, and how much is human
nature). We must begin our egalitarian relations today,
among our damaged selves, if we are to live in a free
world tomorrow.

The question, then, is "How do we accomplish this feat?"

* Let it be, yeah, let it be?

The solution is simplicity itself: let the leaders lead,
and the followers follow. To an extent, the best course
is to allow people to fall into the roles with which
they are most comfortable (since they are going to
anyway!). We cannot change people overnight, nor should
we try to. Rather, our task should be to discern where
the boundaries lie between leadership and authority,
and act accordingly.

There are least two types of leadership that are decidedly
positive, leadership by example and persuasion. Few
would argue the first point. Setting a good example
for others to follow is almost universally lauded. The
second point is almost as non-controversial, once it is
explored. What is anarchist propaganda, after all, but
a sector of the population trying to lead by persuasion,
not trying to assume the reins of authority, but rather
to convince others to give libertarian social ideals a
try? In the words of Bakunin, "we ask nothing better than
to see men endowed with great knowledge, great experience,
great minds, and, above all, great hearts, exercise over
us a natural and legitimate influence, freely accepted,
and never imposed in the name of any official authority
whatsoever." And so we find the platformist idea of "the
leadership of ideas" given ever greater credence.

It is only when leadership crosses the border into
authority that we are called to revolt. What defines
authority? The presence of sanctions. Think about it:
a police officer carries the implied threat of jail, the
boss of firing, and if you think the pastor carries no
authority, you must never have heard of a place called
Hell. Defying authority brings down consequences. The
consequences may be implied rather than explicitly defined,
but it is these sanctions, these consequences that separate
the exercise of authority from legitimate free leadership.

No serious anarchist wants to reproduce authoritarian
social relations within our organizations. On the other
hand, how many of us have watched an anarchist collective
collapse into paralysis as it struggled to eradicate every
last trace of dreaded "leadership" from its ranks? There
is a happy middle ground in which leadership, but not
authority, is accepted and even encouraged. (Ironically,
it has been within the ranks of such non-political groups
as home school associations and 12 step groups that I have
most often seen these principles successfully applied. The
political groups I have been involved with tend to
err to one extreme or the other. Some were informally
authoritarian, with social rejection being the sanctions
with which the leadership kept the troops in line. Others,
in an effort to prevent such authoritarian social dynamics,
self-destructively attacked any trace of leadership as

Obviously the critical element, the key ingredient of any
organization trying navigate this divide, is the ability
to discuss politics, theory, strategy and tactics, without
it becoming at all personal. Only in such an environment
will each and all feel free to voice their opinion
without fear of sanction, social or otherwise. This is an
exceptionally difficult task, given that "the personal
is political." that we are all to some extent motivated
in our politics by personal experience. Passion abounds
in political organizations, as it should. And yet we must
learn to temper our passion with compassion. This, I think,
is the task before us, and it will be energy better spent,
than has been our efforts to bring our leaders down to a
level of uniform mediocrity.

In summation, history makes clear that anarchists must
organize if we are to be successful. And it further makes
clear that to the extent that we seek libertarian ends, we
must use libertarian means (that is to say, our anarchist
organizations must be like the society we hope to build,
free and equal.) And finally, within these organizations
and that society, we should not worry overmuch about the
authoritarian implications of leadership. Let us see to
it that none has power over another, that is to say, that
none may punish another who disagrees, in any way. If
these conditions are met, than we will be well on our
way. Leadership is not authoritarian, authority is!

>From The Dawn, October 2004
* [Ed. note: The Dawn is an anarcho-communist journal]

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