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(en) The Northeastern Anarchist #11 - Especifismo: The Anarchist Praxis of Building Popular Movements and Revolutionary Organization by Adam Weaver

Date Tue, 09 May 2006 21:19:30 +0300

Throughout the world anarchist involvement within mass movements as well
the development of specifically anarchist organizations is on the
upsurge. This trend is helping anarchism regain legitimacy as a dynamic
political force within movements and in this light, Especifismo, a
concept born out of nearly 50 years of anarchist experiences in South
America, is gaining currency world-wide. Though many anarchists may be
familiar with many of Especifismo’s ideas, it should be defined as an
original contribution to anarchist thought and practice.
While more of a practice than a developed ideology, the first
organization to promote the concept of Especifismo was the Uruguayan
Federaccion Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU) founded in 1956 by anarchist
militants who embraced the idea of an organization which was
specifically anarchist. Surviving the dictatorship in Uruguay, the FAU
emerged in the mid 1980’s to establish contact with and influence other
South American anarchist revolutionaries. The FAU’s work helped support
the founding of the Federacao Anarquista Gaucha (FAG), the Federacao
Anarquista Cabocla (FACA), and the Federacao Anarquista do Rio de
Janeiro (FARJ) in their respective regions of Brazil and the Argentinean
organization Auca (Rebel).
While the key concepts of Especifismo will be expanded upon further in
this article, it can be summarized in three succinct points:
1) The need for specifically anarchist organization built around a unity
of ideas and praxis.
2) The use of the specifically anarchist organization to theorize and
develop strategic political and organizing work.
3) Active involvement in and building of autonomous and popular social
movements, which is described as the process of “social insertion.”
A Brief Historical Perspective
While only coming onto the stage of Latin American anarchism within the
last few decades, the ideas inherent within Especifismo touch on a
historic thread running within the anarchist movement internationally.
The most well known would be the Platformist current, which was began
with the publishing of the “Organizational Platform of the Libertarian
Communists” document written in 1926 by former peasant army leader
Nestor Makhno, Ida Mett and other militants of the Dielo Trouda (Workers
Cause) group based around a newspaper of the same name (Skirda,
192-213). Exiles of the Russian revolution, the Paris based Dielo Trouda
criticized the anarchist movement for lack of organization which was
unable to create a concerted response to Bolshevik machinations towards
turning the workers soviets into instruments of one-party rule. The
alternative they proposed was a ‘General Union of Anarchists’ based on
Anarchist-Communism, which would be based on, “theoretical and tactical
unity,” and focused on class struggle and labor unions.
Other similar occurrences of ideas includes “Organizational Dualism,”
which is mentioned in historical documents of the 1920's Italian
anarchist movement Italian anarchists used this term to mean the
involvement of anarchists in both an anarchist political organization
and as militants in the labor movement (FdCA). In Spain, the Friends of
Durruti group emerged to oppose the gradual reversal of the Spanish
Revolution of 1936 (Guillamon). In "Towards a Fresh New Revolution" they
emulated some of the ideas of the Platform in critiques of the CNT-FAI's
gradual reformism and collaboration with the Republican government,
which contributed to the defeat of the anti-fascist and revolutionary
forces. Influential organizations in the Chinese anarchist movement of
the 1910's like the Wuzhengfu-Gongchan Zhuyi Tongshi Che (Society of
Anarchist-Communist Comrades) advocated similar ideas (Krebs). While
these different currents all have specific characteristics that
developed from the movements and countries in which they originated,
they all share a common thread that crosses movements, eras and continents.
Especifismo Elaborated
The Especifists put forward three main thrusts to their politics, the
first two being on the level of organization. By raising the need for a
specifically anarchist organization built around a unity of ideas and
praxis, the Especifists inherently state their objection to the idea of
a synthesis organization of revolutionaries or multiple currents of
anarchists loosely united. They characterize this form of organization
as creating an, exacerbated search for the needed unity of anarchists to
the point in which unity is preferred at any cost, in the fear of
risking positions, ideas and proposals sometimes irreconcilable. The
result of these types of union are libertarian collectives without much
more in common than considering themselves anarchists (En La Calle).
While these critiques have been elaborated by the South American
Especifistas, North American anarchists have also offered their
experiences of synthesis organization as lacking any cohesiveness due to
multiple, contradictory political tendencies. Often the basic agreement
of the group boils down to a vague, least common denominator of
politics, which leaves little room for united action or developed
political discussion among comrades.
Without a strategy that stems from common political agreement,
revolutionary organizations are bound to be an affair of reactivism
against the continual manifestations of oppression and injustice and a
cycle of fruitless actions to be repeated over and over, with little
analysis or understanding of the consequences (Featherstone et al).
Further, the Especifists criticize these tendencies as driven by
spontaneity and individualism and not leading to the serious, systematic
work needed to build revolutionary movements. The Latin American
revolutionaries put forward that organizations which lack a program,
which resists any discipline between militants, that refuses to 'define
itself', or to 'fit itself', ... [are a] direct descendant of bourgeois
liberalism, [which] only reacts to strong stimulus, joins the struggle
only in its heightened moments, denying to work continuously, especially
in moments of relative rest between the struggles (En La Calle).
A particular stress of the Especifismo praxis is the role of anarchist
organization, formed on the basis of shared politics, as a space for the
development of common strategy and reflection on the groups organizing
work. Sustained by collective responsibility to the organizations plans
and work, a trust within the members and groups is built that allows for
a deep, high level discussion of their action. This allows the
organization to create collective analysis, immediate and long term
goals and be continually reflecting on and changing their work based on
the lessons gained and circumstances.
From these practices and from the basis of their ideological
principles, revolutionary organizations should seeks to create a program
that defines their short and intermediate term goals that will work
towards the long term objectives:
The program must come from a rigorous analysis of society and the
correlation of the forces that are part of it. It must have as a
foundation the experience of the struggle of the oppressed and their
aspirations, and from those elements it must set the goals and the tasks
to be followed by the revolutionary organization in order to succeed not
only in the final objective but also in the immediate ones (En La Calle)
The last point, but key within the practice of Especifismo is the idea
of “social insertion (1)” It first stems from the belief that the
oppressed are the most revolutionary sector of society and that the seed
of the future revolutionary transformation of society lies already in
these classes and social groupings. Social insertion is seen as
anarchist involvement in the daily fights of the oppressed and working
classes. This is not seen as acting within single issue advocacy
campaigns based around the involvement of expected traditional political
activists, but the movements of people struggling to better their own
condition, coming together out of a not always exclusively materially
based needs, but additionally social and historically rooted needs of
resisting the attacks of the state and capitalism; such as rank and file
led workers movements, immigrant communities demanding legalized status,
neighborhood organizations resisting the brutality and killings of
police, working class students fighting budget cuts or the poor and
unemployed opposing eviction and service cuts.
Through daily struggles, the oppressed become a conscious force. The
class-in-itself, or rather classes-in-themselves (defined beyond the
class reductionist vision of the urban industrial proletariat, in its
most broadest sense of all oppressed groups within society that have a
material stake in a new society), are tempered, tested and recreated
through these daily struggles over immediate needs into
classes-for-themselves. That is, they move from social classes and
groups that exist objectively and by the fact of social relations, to
social forces, brought together by organic methods and at many times
their own self-organizational cohesion, that are self-conscious actors
aware of their power, voice and this force’s intrinsic nemesis of ruling
elites who weld control over the traditional power structures of the
modern social order.
Examples of social insertion that the FAG cites are their work with
neighborhood committees in urban villages and slums (called Popular
Resistence Committees), building alliances with rank and file members of
the rural landless workers movement of the MST and among trash and
recyclables collectors. Due to high levels of temporary and contingent
employment, underemployment and unemployment in Brazil, a significant
portion of the working class does not survive primarily through wage
labor; but rather by subsistence work and the informal economy, such as
casual construction workers, street venders or as collectors of trash
and recyclables. Through several years of work, the FAG has built a
strong relationship with urban trash collectors, called catadores.
Members of the FAG have supported them in forming their own national
organization that is working to mobilize trash collectors around their
interests nationally and raise money toward building a collectively
operated recycling operation (2)
Especifismo’s conception of the relation of ideas to the popular
movement is that they should not be imposed through leadership, mass
line or by intellectuals. Anarchist militants should not attempt to move
movements into proclaiming their ‘anarchist’ position, but work to
preserve their anarchist thrust; that is their natural tendency to be
self-organized and to militantly fight for their own interests. This
assumes the perspective that social movements will reach their own logic
of creating revolution, not when they as a whole necessarily reach the
point of being conscious anarchists, but when as a whole, or at least an
overwhelming majority, reach the consciousness of their own power and
the exercising of this power in their daily lives; and in a way
consciously adopt the ideas of anarchism. An additional role of the
anarchist militant within the social movements, to the Especifists, is
to address the multiple political currents that will exist within
movements and to actively combat the opportunistic elements of
vanguardism and electoral politics.
Especifismo in the context of North American and Western Anarchism
Within the current strands of organized and revolutionary North American
and Western Anarchism, numerous indicators point to the inspiration and
influence of the Platform as having the greatest impact in the recent
organizational blossoming of class struggle anarchist organizations
world-wide. Many see the Platform as a historical document that speaks
to the previous centuries organizational failures of anarchism within
global revolutionary movements and are moved to define themselves as
within the “platformist tradition.” Given this, the currents of
Especifismo and Platformism are deserving of comparison and contrast.
The authors of the Platform were veteran partisans of the Russian
Revolution. They led a peasant guerilla war against Western European
armies and latter the Bolshiviks in the Ukraine, whose people had a
history independent of the Russian Empire. So the writers of the
Platform certainly spoke from a wealth of experience and to the
historical context of one of their eras pivotal struggles. But the
document made little headway in its proposal of uniting class struggle
anarchists and is markedly silent in analysis or understanding on
numerous key questions that faced revolutionaries at that time such as
the oppression of women or colonialism.
While most Anarchist-Communist oriented organizations claim influence by
the Platform today, in retrospect it can be looked at as a poignant
statement that rose from the morass that befell much of anarchism
following the Russian Revolution. As a historical project, the Platforms
proposal and basic ideas were largely rejected by individualistic
tendencies in the Anarchist movement, misunderstood because of language
barriers as some claim (Skirda, 186) or never reached supportive
elements or organizations that would have united around the document.
The Dielo Trouda group did host a small 1927 international conference of
supporters in France, but it was quickly disrupted by the authorities.
In comparison, the praxis of Especifismo is a living, developed practice
and arguably a much more relevant and contemporary theory emerging out
of 50 years of anarchist organizing. Arising from the southern cone of
Latin America, but influence spreading throughout, the ideas of
Especifismo do not spring from any callout or single document, but have
come organically out of the movements of the global south that are
leading the fight against international capitalism and setting examples
for movements worldwide.
On organization, the Especifists call for a far deeper basis of
anarchist organization than the Platform’s “theoretical and tactical
unity,” but a strategic program based on analysis that guides the
actions of revolutionaries. They provide us living examples of
revolutionary organization based on the need for common analysis, theory
and firmly rooted within the social movements.
Globally as well, but especially as writing from the stand point of
North American class struggle anarchists and also as multi-racial
revolutionaries within the US, I believe there is much to take
inspiration from within the tradition of Especifismo. Whereas the
Platform can be easily read as seeing anarchists role as narrowly and
most centrally within labor unions, Especifismo gives us a living
example that we can look towards and which speaks more meaningfully to
our work in building a revolutionary movement today. Taking this all
into consideration I also hope that this article can help us more
concretely reflect on how we as a movement define and shape our
traditions and influences.
1. While “social insertion” is a term coming directly out of the texts
of Especifismo influenced organizations, comrades of mine have taken
issue with it. So before there is a rush towards an uncritical embrace
of anything, perhaps there could be a discussion of this term.
2. "Eduardo," then Secretary of External Relations for Brazilian FAG.
"Saudacoes Libertarias dos E.U.A." E-mail to Pedro Ribeiro. 25 Jun 2004
En La Calle (Unsigned article). "La Necesidad de Un Proyecto Propio,
Acerca de la importancia del programa en la organizacion polilitica
libertaria” or “The Necessity of Our Own Project, On the importance of a
program in the libertarian political organization." En La Calle,
published by the Argeninian OSL (Organicion Socialista Libertaria) Jun
2001. 22 Dec 2005. Translation by Pedro Ribeiro.
Original Portuguese or English
Featherstone, Liza, Doug Henwood and Christian Parenti."Left-Wing
Anti-intellectualism and its discontents" Lip Magazine 11 Nov 2004. 22
Dec 2005 .
Guillamon, Agustin. The Friends of Durruti Group: 1937-1939. San
Francisco: AK Press, 1996.
Krebs, Edward S. Shifu, the Soul of Chinese Anarchism. Landham, MD:
Rowman & Littlefield, 1998.
Northeastern Anarchist. The Global Influence of Platformism Today by The
Federation of Northeastern Anarchist Communists (Johannesburg, South
Africa: Zabalaza Books, 2003), 24. Interview with Italian Federaione dei
Comunisti Anarchici.
Skirda, Alexandre. Facing the Enemy, A History of Anarchist Organization
from Proudhon to May 1968. Oakland, CA: AK Press 2002.
Adam Weaver is an anarchist-communist from San Jose, CA.
This essay is from the newest issue of 'The Northeastern Anarchist'
(#11)... which includes essays on Magonism and the CIPO-RFM,
Especifismo, Organizational Dualism, the Quebec 'national question',
participatory economics, and much more!
The Northeastern Anarchist is the English-language magazine of the
Northeastern Federation of Anarchist-Communists (NEFAC), covering class
struggle anarchist theory, history, strategy, debate and analysis in an
effort to further develop anarchist-communist ideas and practice.
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