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(en) South-Africa, Revolutionary Anarchism #8 - Some Thoughts on Theoretical Unity & Collective Responsibility by Jonathan

Date Fri, 07 Mar 2008 09:49:57 +0200

This article aims to examine, briefly, the relationship between theoretical
unity and collective responsibility, and their mutual dependence within an
anarchist-communist organisation. It also poses some questions regarding the
problems that may arise within an organisation surrounding these notions, and
the challenges that these may present to the growth and endurance of the
organisation and the movement. ---- We agree that in order to maximise
efficiency and potential, theoretical unity is the desired tenet of an
anarchist-communist collective or organisation; in order for an organisation to
develop an effective tactical orientation towards an oppression, it needs to be
informed by a collectively deliberated and agreed upon strategy, reflecting said
organisation's collective theoretical under standing thereof.
The success of Platformism depends on
the fact that entry into a group relies on the
candidate's acceptance ­ beforehand ­ of
the group's core positions, which are
debated but not negotiated with the
prospective entrant. Of course this is not to
say that they are not open to criticism, are
permanently fixed and cannot be changed
at a later stage. What is important, howev-
er, is that militants are accepted into a
group based on their being won over to its
positions first, and not admitted and then
convinced of the positions at a later stage.
Acceptance into the specific anarchist-
communist group must imply acceptance
of the major line for the group's day-to-day
activism, including the willingness to
defend that line in public, even if the partic-
ipant has disagreements with it. Of course
there must also always remain a climate of
comradely debate, so that positions are
continually being criticised and refined, but
this must come from within, as the result of
the introspection of the organisation, and
not as a means of attracting more mem-
Failure to maintain this culture of com-
radely debate could result in the creeping
in of a "false peace", in which internal criti-
cism and debate is avoided, and the theo-
retical and practical approach of the organ-
isation is therefore not developed further
and does not evolve. This false peace of
fake agreement could be based on silenc-
ing people through various tactics in an
argument, like sectarianism and name call-
ing, or through tactics like extreme forms of
consensus decision-making. It could also
be deliberately applied in
order not to offend certain members, or
upset the internal relations of the organisa-
tion, and could have disastrous effects.
An organisation might form on the basis
that all its members are brought together
by a common ideological vision; but what
happens if, in the course of the life and
development of an organisation or collec-
tive, it emerges that militants' opinions on a
particular issue differ from one another?
Perhaps because the issue in question was
not considered at the outset, or due to the
uneven growth of each member. The latter
can be avoided by paying special attention
to the internal education of the group, so
that militants are able to advance theoreti-
cally simultaneously, preventing them from
developing their ideas in different direc-
Theoretically, and in practice in a directly
democratic group, all members should
have an opportunity to present and argue
for their ideas, and try to win the others
over to their positions. Perhaps in the
process of debate new ideas come to light,
and the organisation is able to develop its
own position, which is guided by and
acceptable to all its members, resulting
therefore in the growth of both the individu-
als and the collective.
This ties in with the idea of collective
responsibility; everyone in an anarchist
communist organisation or collective is
responsible for its ideological character
and its members have the duty to argue for
and promote their positions as a means of
refining the ideological and theoretical
understanding of the collective as a whole,
not just leaving it up to the intellectuals and
so-called experts to develop the politics of
a group. This is why, no matter how seem-
ingly trivial and unimportant a specific issue
might appear to some, all the members of
a collective have the responsibility to par-
ticipate in that dialogue in order to ensure
that the outcome is informed by and satis-
factory to all. This could help to prevent
bigger differences from arising later on,
because the ideological and theoretical
character of the collective will develop in
tandem with its members, serving to keep
them in constant theoretical closeness.
But what if irreconcilable theoretical differ-
ences emerge in the development of an
organisation? If it is a minority of people
who hold an opposing view, should they be
expected to compromise to the will of the
majority? If they do so, how will it affect
the collective responsibility shared by
all, knowing that some might be
engaged in something in which
they do not fully agree? If it is
a minor difference, yet
unlikely to be overcome,
should the organisation
proceed as before? And
if it does so, and more
differences arise, where
do you draw the line
between a platform
inspired group, with the-
oretical unity, and one
more resembling a syn-
thesist organisation?
How is an organisation to
prioritise which are minor,
and which are major differ-
ences; when a major issue
to one, non-class
oppressions for exam-
ple, may be of less con-
cern to another?
It would be helpful here
to make a distinction
between issues that are
fundamental (issues of
major analysis and princi-
ple), issues that are critical
in practical terms (e.g. bor-
ing-from-within unions) and those that are
not seen as important or are specifically not
addressed within an organisation (e.g. reli-
gion in the case of the ZACF).
Fundamental issues are those that the
organisation presents to the public as its
core principles and specific anarchist-com-
munist analyses, and it is essential that,
despite any minor disagreements within
the organisation, all its members are com-
mitted to supporting these in public.
Failure to do so would result in the concep-
tion of the anarchist-communist organisa-
tion as theoretically weak and disunited.
Moreover, it is essential to the health of the
organisation that these fundamental issues
of major analysis and principle are agreed
to and supported by all militants.
Disagreement over fundamental issues is
likely to lead to fracture and dissolution or
splitting of the organisation, which again
gives the impression that the anarchist-
communist organisation is disunited and
theoretically weak.
Issues that are critical in practical terms
are those that guide the strategic and tacti-
cal nature of the organisation. As the effec-
tiveness of the organisation depends on
the full participation of all its members in its
activities, it is vital that collective agree-
ment on these is reached. Once again, if
militants enter an organisation knowing
that they are in slight disagreement over
certain issues, they nonetheless chose to
do so by free association, and the respon-
sibility lies with them not only to defend and
argue for the organisation's principles and
analyses but, by participating in the activi-
ties of the organisation, to share in the col-
lective responsibility implied by the practi-
cal engagement of the organisation in the
class struggle.
Those issues that
are not seen
as important, or
are specifically not
addressed by the
organisation, are
those that do not detract
from the efficiency and
proper functioning of the
organisation, nor its per-
ception by the public,
despite a possible
lack of theoretical
unity. These are
most often issues
of personal prefer-
ence and interpreta-
tion, do not influence
the core principles and
analysis of the organi-
sation, and are there-
fore of lesser concern.
To attempt to answer
some of the questions
posed: it is not
uncommon that, in
the life of an organisation, members will
sometimes be in disagreement. A healthy
organisation should accept different points
of view, and members should not be
expected by the organisation to renounce
their opinions but rather to accept and
defend, provisionally and at least in public,
that of the majority of the organisation.
If a majority of members hold a different
point of view to the official position of the
organisation, then it might indicate that
either the organisation has grown beyond
its original framework, and needs to revise
its positions or, possibly due to a lack of
coherent internal education, members
have developed their ideas in a direction
different to that envisioned at the outset.
As far as possible it should be attempted
to iron out and overcome differences
through internal education and discussion
but, while trying to stay as close as possi-
ble to the core principles of the organisa-
tion, a diversity of views should also be
respected and accepted.
Of course, we want our organisations and
movement to grow, but we are also con-
vinced of the necessity for theoretical unity
and collective responsibility for them to be
effective. In trying to maintain this charac-
ter, our organisations will grow more slowly
than others, and strict membership criteria
might give the impression of sectarianism.
This can lead to frustration within our
organisations, and some people might
become disillusioned and modify their
views to make them accessible to more
people, while others may drop out alto-
gether. The question that faces us, then, is
how we can build our organisations and
movement by being non-sectarian and
open to a diversity of ideas, while retaining
our specific anarchist-communist orienta-
tion and without compromising our princi-
ples of theoretical unity and collective
If we are successfully able to build a core
group of anarchist communists with a
coherent and theoretically unified under-
standing of anarchism, and a clear strategy
of engagement in the class struggle, the
first step is taken. Having done so, the
opportunity for building our organisations
and movement lies within our non-sectari-
an ability and willingness to engage with a
diversity of groups and tendencies on the
left, and in our finding a social insertion for
anarchist ideas and practice within the
movements and structures of the
oppressed classes.
This organisational dualism, on the one
hand the specific anarchist communist
organisation, and on the other its social
insertion within the popular classes, is the
answer both to retaining our anarchist com-
munist orientation and building our move-

Extracted from: http://www.zabalaza.net/pdfs/sapams/zab08.pdf

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