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(en) Britain, Where We Stand: Formation of a new Anarchist Communist project in the UK
Mon, 10 Sep 2012 12:01:36 +0300
Posted By Collective Action May 1 2012 ---- May Day statement of "Collective Action". In
it we outline our analysis of the problems facing the anarchist movement in the UK and
offer a call out to all independent anarchist communists to participate in our project to
re-visit our political tradition, re-group and re-kindle our political action. ---- “I
listen to them freely and with all the respect merited by their intelligence, their
character, their knowledge, reserving always my incontestable right of criticism and
censure.” - Mikhail Bakunin ---- The contemporary anarchist movement throughout the UK,
and indeed around the world, faces unique challenges. ---- This generation is faced with
crippling austerity measures begun by the former Labour government and now accelerated by
the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition.
The economic crisis has provided political elites with a practical justification for
ideologically motivated attacks on the working class. Efforts to “bring down the deficit”
at all costs have provided the state with the necessary camouflage to manoeuvre into
savage Thatcherite cuts to the public sector, education and social welfare, while also
creating an incremental process of privatisation of the National Health Service, greater
tax breaks for millionaires, tax cuts for businesses, as well as strengthening attacks on
workplace organising rights. All of this in an effort to stimulate an economy that
continues to stagnate, largely at the expense of increased poverty and mass unemployment,
affecting most seriously women, the young and people of colour.
The stark realities of this situation are compounded by the fact that working life for
British people is increasingly in economic sectors that are unorganised and casualised, or
soon to be unorganised and casualised. This is while a traditional revolutionary ‘left’
movement has essentially embraced a position of defence and retreat, cuing the outdated
appeal to its standard yet dwindling constituents. The anti-austerity movement seems
content to seek only a defence of the concessions won by older generations, rather than
using the economic crisis and a renewed interest in radical ideas as a means to agitate
and fight for a fundamentally different society. In the various regional anti-austerity
groups, the authoritarian Marxist left and trade unions have entrenched themselves in
petty squabbles over either bureaucratic union organising - in unions that have become
increasingly conciliatory towards the coalition government - or what level of support they
should offer to the Labour Party, in some cases providing them with a platform at
organisational meetings and rallies.
The reality is that the existing repertoires of the Left do not speak to the challenges
the working class are facing or indeed with the experiences of the majority of working
class people, focusing primarily on the minority of organised workers in privileged
economic positions, namely employed, contracted or salaried, non-precarious unionised
workers. These mediocre organising efforts have been complimented by reformist struggles
such as the anti-tax avoidance campaigns, anti-workfare campaign, which lacks a focused
analysis of the nature of work. Initiatives such as Occupy, although at least providing a
base for opening the debate on austerity, equally lack direction and focus or a clear
understanding of the nature and cause of the attacks. Admittedly the occupation movements
in other countries have shown signs of radical transformation, but in the UK most
organising efforts have been couched in a social democratic framework aimed at achieving
nothing more than a defence of concessions and in some instances actually criticising
offensive efforts to fight austerity in the context of anti-capitalism.
The models of activism that the Left rely upon are still tied to the mass struggles of the
1970s/80s - mass rallies, pamphleteering and paper sales, manoeuvring within political
meetings. Yet years of Neo-Liberal reform since then have manufactured a working class
that is de-politicised, de-mobilised and individualised. What is required in this instance
is not intervention, but reconstruction. The Left are still seeking to lead and direct a
mass of workers that, to put it simply, does not exist at this time. Some radicals may
look longingly at the resistance in Greece, Spain and other parts of Europe and, falling
back on classical Marxist economism, argue that it must get substantially worse to get
better. Although the simultaneous rise in “political suicides” in these countries should
at the very least lead us to question the wisdom of this analysis - do we want it to get
that bad? Such a view ignores the sustained, politicised resistance that Greece, for
example, has retained throughout the 1980s/90s, the combative nature of social struggles,
a record of concessions won from the state (particularly amongst the students and youth)
and a growing anarchist/anti-authoritarian movement that is active, visible and engaged
with the communities in almost every urban centre throughout the country.
Our only glimmer of hope, in these years of austerity, has been in the brief but bright
struggles of the youth and students. Only here was it possible to see the successful
meeting of two cultures - of political militants and organisers (anti-militarists,
anti-war campaigners and others politicised through Iraq) and the creativity and
combativeness of a generation shut off from the comfortable futures of even their older
siblings. By March 26th, when the TUC called its “Rally for the Alternative” in London, it
had already become clear how isolated this demographic truly was, as direct action was
taking place on Oxford Street thousands of trade unionists watched Ed Miliband in Hyde
Park, a pro-austerity politician, play to the crowd.
Unfortunately, a lack of ambition is not just something endemic within the traditional
Marxist left. The anarchist movement has also failed to make a significant mark on
resistance to austerity, as well as building momentum towards a general acceptance of
anarchist ideas and methods. Historically the anarchist movement has shown itself to be
distinct from the left, but in recent years - throughout the UK - it has failed to promote
the richness of anarchist tradition and history or separate itself from the inertia of the
traditional left, becoming nothing more than an appendage to it, content with fulfilling a
propagandist role, or at times acting as the more militant wing of the austerity movement
The building blocks of an autonomous counter-power must consist first and foremost of an
attack on the myths of austerity and class compromise and the building of confidence in
self-organisation and direct action.
Where anarchists have been successful in the past they have been vibrant and integrated
parts of working class communities. This means abandoning the terrain of both activism and
the Left, and finding ways to speak to the experiences of, and more importantly finding
ways of organising within those sections of our community who have, in many cases, already
made the critical step of seeing through the illusions of representative democracy but
still remain disconnected from politics.
Ultimately the objective of an autonomous and self-organising workers’ movement is to
build unity. Such an aspiration, however, should not lead us to ignore both the
conservative and privileged nature of certain sections of the workers’ movement as
significant barriers to this goal. A minority of organised workers seek to defend
concessions in secure employment, which in contrast to the majority of the working class
is a particularly privileged position. Precarious workers, students, the unemployed and
their communities have displayed in the last year a distinct sympathy towards
anti-authoritarian methods and have sought to push a momentum towards offensive direct
action. At the same time there has been an acute lack of political foresight, despite the
breeding ground for widespread radicalisation. This has been a failure of the anarchist
movement to capitalise on this moment and use these battle grounds as a framework to build
on this distinct anarchist tradition and insert revolutionary anarchist ideas. This is an
area in which we have fought before - the intransigent revolts of the underclass in
Montmarte in the 1890s, the counter-cultures of Barcelona’s “Barrio Chino” of the 1930s
and the rallying call of the Wobblies to abandon the conservative AFL and act as a pole
for the excluded, abandoned and unorganised - it is an area in which we must fight again.
Collective Action: an association of anarchist communists
“If the revolutionary lacks the guiding idea of their action, they will not be anything
other than a ship without a compass.” - Ricardo Flores Magón
“We also ask for discipline, because, without understanding, without co-ordinating the
efforts of each one to a common and simultaneous action, victory is not physically
possible. But discipline should not be a servile discipline, a blind devotion to leaders,
an obedience to the one who always says not to interfere. Revolutionary discipline is
consistent with the ideas accepted, fidelity to commitments assumed, it is to feel obliged
to share the work and the risks with struggle comrades.” - Errico Malatesta
Collective Action has been formed by a group of anarchist communists seeking to understand
and resolve the issues facing the anarchist movement and the working class. Having lost
confidence in the current formation of the anarchist movement, we felt it necessary to
regroup and rekindle our political ideas and activity in the context of forming a wider
analysis of the current situation. At the present time we consider ourselves to be a
movement orientated association with a focus on critically assessing our failings and the
nature of future struggle. However, we aim to actively participate in current struggles
with the long term objective of building towards the recreation of a relevant and viable
anarchist movement that is able to insert itself into social struggles, winning the
leadership of ideas and fostering the cultures of resistance. We believe that this process
of regroupment is essential to that objective.
We identify anarchist communism as a political current with its roots in the federalist,
anti-authoritarian sections of the First International. This has been a global tradition
present in the revolutions and social upheavals of the past century. In contemporary terms
we believe this particular tradition to be best represented by the specifist conception of
social anarchism. This is a conception of anarchism with which we actively identify.
Specifism can be summarised as:
•The need for specifically anarchist organisation built around a unity of ideas and praxis.
•The use of the specifically anarchist organization to theorise and develop strategic
political and organisational work.
•Active participation in and building of autonomous and popular social movements via
involvement and influence ("social insertion")
We consider an important aspect of specifism to be the idea of “recapturing the social
vector of anarchism,” i.e. re-inserting anarchism as a current of popular organisation
within social struggles.
We do not believe that specifism provides complete answers to the problems raised above;
we do believe that it is a method and tradition that helps us to address and understand
them more clearly (as well as being true to the original vision of social anarchism).
This is a call out to all independent anarchist communists who feel the need to understand
more concretely who we are, where we are and how we move forward. While the association
encourages people to join it and participate in this process of regroupment, our project
is not about quantity, it is about quality. We do not aim to build membership, we aim to
build coherency. We do not want to compete with other organisations, but refocus our
efforts. We are a space for anarchist communists to address their ideas collectively and
to build those ideas into a coherent strategy that is grounded in common struggle and
united by the robustness of theory.
At present we collate our ideas and discussions on our blog and through our website, which
will be published periodically in our journal Ninth Symphony. Our aim, through this, is to
publish materials that emerge as relevant and meaningful to the anarchist movement within
the context of our existing activity as organisers and militants.
- Collective Action
Specifism explained: the social and political level, organisational dualism and the
In discussing the platform of Collective Action some individuals have expressed confusion
at our use of the label “specifism” to describe the tradition of social anarchism we
associate with. The following is a short introduction to what we consider to be the most
essential concepts within the specifist model. This text is an adaptation of a forthcoming
interview with Shift Magazine on anti-capitalist regroupment.
"Specifism" refers to an organisationalist current within the anarchist tradition which,
in contemporary terms, is principally elaborated by the Federação Anarquista do Rio de
Janeiro (FARJ) but has its historical roots in the writings of Bakunin, Malatesta and
Makhno (among others). Many associate these ideas solely with Makhno's "Organisational
Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft)" but they actually date from one of
the first organisational documents of social anarchism - Bakunin's programme for the
International Alliance of Socialist Democracy. At the core of the specifist framework is
an understanding of the division of anarchist activity into the social and political
level1. Specifists argue that a lot of the organisational errors of anarchist militants
result from a confusion of the social and political level.
The social level is understood as those struggles that exist within the material and
ideological framework of capitalism (bread-and-butter issues in layman terms). These will
be heavily determined by the ideology of capitalist society and situated principally
within the logic of capitalism, for example the demand for increased wages in exchange for
labour or the desire for social reforms from the state. These will also be structured by a
wider cultural, economic and political framework that will both shape their character, as
well as causing their level of combativity and consciousness to ebb and flow, one example
being the way in which the ongoing financial crisis has provoked an acceleration of
working class resistance in certain sectors and geographical areas. Anarchists need to
find a way of engaging with these struggles in a way that relates directly to the existing
composition and level of consciousness present within the class. Successful engagement
requires both a relationship of study, in terms of the need to understand and critically
evaluate the existing composition and ideas of the class, and a relationship of
intervention, to practically shape anarchist ideas and methods so they appear as sensible
and useful tools for those engaged at the social level.
Anarchists also need to maintain their own coherent vision of an alternative society -
anarchist communism. This is the political level. The political level represents the idea
(theory) expressed by revolutionary minorities as visions for social transformation and
alternative societies. This political line is obviously not static and exists relationally
to the social level. The political level cannot be purely the expression of propaganda of
the ideal. Anarchist communism is a tradition developed from the lessons drawn from the
struggles of the popular classes. Work at the political level is cultivated through the
study, self-criticism and organisational activity of anarchist communist militants and
expressed through the unity and organisational discipline of the specific anarchist
organisation (SAO). While the social level acts at as the “compass”, as Magon puts is,
that steers the theory of revolutionary militants, the political level is also distinct
from the social level in that the ideas here are held irrespective of the general social
framework and therefore not subject to the mediations of capitalism and the state. The
political level, therefore, while expressing clarity in revolutionary ideas does this in
the form of minority organisations that are independent and not representative of those
held by the class-as-a-whole.
What results from this understanding of the political and social levels is the practice of
"organisational dualism". Specifically anarchist groups (hence the term "specifism") with
well defined positions of principle and operating under conditions of political unity at
the political level intervene, participate within or seek to build popular movements at
the social level. The objective of this intervention is not to "capture" or establish
anarchist fronts but to create the correct conditions, by arguing for anarchist methods
and ideas, for the flourishing of working class autonomy. It is this autonomy that is the
basis for working class counter-power and revolutionary change, as Malatesta (1897)
famously stated, “We anarchists do not want to emancipate the people; we want the people
to emancipate themselves”.
As the Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici (FdCA) (2005) argue, work at the social level
should not be a carbon copy of the organisations of the political level. Intervention at
the social level has to arise within the context of the immediate needs of the proletariat
and their current state of ideological and technical composition. In this sense work at
the social level intervenes within and aims to accelerate the process of, as Marx
expressed it, the class acting “in itself”, subject to a common condition under
capitalism, towards a class-for-itself, a self-conscious grouping acting to its own
material interests – communism.
Specifism is a praxis that seeks to strike the balance between a healthy relationship of
influence within the class and an ideologically coherent communist organisation, while
rejecting the vanguardist approaches of Leninist groups. Whereas Marxists will
traditionally look to the fluctuating struggles of the social level and argue the need for
a revolutionary leadership from without, specifists argue that anarchist communists fight
by acting as a critical conscience from within.
For this reason specifism is fundamentally organisationalist in character rejecting the
idea that anarchism can be developed purely through the propagandistic activity of
discussion circles, groups or federations. Rather the SAO needs to form unified tactics
and a strategy as the basis of its programme that it carries through in its activity
within the class.
Specifism represents both an alternative to anarchist activism, which does not compose
itself formally at the political level, and certain models of anarcho-syndicalism, which
attempt to unify the practice of the social and political level in the formation of
In criticism of anarchist activism, specifists stress the need for an educated and
self-critical practice at the political level to build sustainable long-term interventions
at the social level. The alternative is sporadic, reactive political work that doesn’t
incorporate a cycle of review and re-evaluation. Likewise, as Fabbri notes, the lack of
“visible organisations” on the part of anarchist militants, i.e. clear and accessible
lines of participation, creates space for the “establishment of arbitrary, less
In response to anarcho-syndicalism, specifists argue that the formation of social-level
organisations - unions - with revolutionary principles, does not resolve the problems
created by capitalist mediation at the social level. Rather, as the FdCA argue, what
result often is, “a strange mix of mass organisation and political organisation which is
basically an organisation of anarchists who set themselves up to do union work”. This
situation usually resolves either in the actual existence of a revolutionary minority
within the union itself that seeks to preserve the line in the face of fluctuations at the
social level, often being forced to act undemocratically or necessarily preserving a
minority membership for the union, or a flexibility in anarchist principles which leaves
open the question of where the radicalisation between the political and social level will
occur. Likewise the FARJ make a historical point that the dissolution of anarchist
activity into the social level has meant in many cases the complete loss of any political
reference point following the collapse or repression of these organisations. The SAO, in
this sense, can act as a vital line of continuity for anarchist communist ideas.
Collective Action argues that the lessons and guides derived from specifist theory are a
critical tool in the process of anarchist regroupment. The only way there can be a future
for anarchist politics in the UK in the 21st Century is in making anarchist communist
ideas and methods a practical and coherent tool for organising workplaces, intervening in
social struggles and empowering working class communities. Anarchism needs to recapture
its traditional terrain of organising, what Bakunin referred to as, the "popular classes"
and abandon the dead-end of activism. This means a fundamental re-assessment of what we do
and what we hope to achieve. It also means returning, as Vaneigem would call it, to the
politics of "everyday life". This means reorientation of our practice to both the social
and political level and utilising the richness of our own political tradition to clarify
and improve our own organising efforts.
- Collective Action
Federazione dei Communisti Anarchici (2005) Anarchist Communists: A Question of Class.
Studies for a Libertarian Alternative: FdCA
Malatesta, E. (1897) “Anarchism and Organisation” Available at:
2. A certain elasticity must be allowed with these terms and the labels should by no means
be considered exclusive. The “social” level, for example, is of course at the same time
“political” in that it is a sphere for both the contestation and birth of ideas. Likewise
the “political” level is simultaneously “social” in respect to the fact that anarchist
communist ideas are derived from a historical and materialist analysis of society, and
composed of the experiences and lessons of social struggle (for more commentary on the
historical materialist character of anarchist communism see “Appendix 1: Historical
Materialism and Dialectical Materialism” In: Federazione dei Communisti Anarchici (2005)
Anarchist Communists: A Question of Class. Studies for a Libertarian Alternative: FdCA).
Collective Action is an association of anarchist communists based in the UK. We see
anarchist communism as an engaged tradition of working class socialism and our theory is
informed by both our experience and our continuing participation in social struggles. Our
project is to re-visit our political tradition, re-group and re-kindle our political
action. We want to investigate more concretely how the tradition of anarchist communism,
with which we identify, faces the challenges of the 21st century in a country located at
the centre of the system of global capitalist hegemony. This focus on regroupment is
complimented with the aim of practising and developing the approaches we advocate through
our conduct as both militants and members of Collective Action.
The following are brief reaffirmations of our views within our project as they currently
exist. They will be added to and amended throughout the process of regroupment.
The essential structure of our society is divided into a privileged minority and a
dominated and exploited majority. The relationship between these two divided classes is
complex. In the simplest terms, the dominated and exploited majority (the working class)
have no ownership over the means and tools necessary to produce their own survival. The
only thing we (as the working class) control is our ability to work, and we must sell this
ability to the privileged majority (the ruling class) - who have full ownership over those
means and tools - in order for us to buy back the things we produce. This is the logic of
capitalism. From our analysis of this logic we identify the centrality of class and class
struggle as the principle means of bringing about social change.
Historically the relationship of workers to capitalists can never be justifiably
characterised as a simple conflict between employing and employed class interests
(although ultimately this is what it boils down to). Institutions, such as the church and
the state, the existence of other social classes, such as the managerial class and the
peasantry, various cultural and social influences, as well as the economic structure and
development of capitalism e.g. colonialism and imperialism, constitute factors that
complicate and colour this relationship in various ways.
This is an analysis that cannot be detached from the recent history of capitalist
development. Over the last forty years we have witnessed the gradual collapse of a
radical, collective working class identity. Neo-liberal reconstruction has resulted in the
presentation, both by capitalism and the supposed representatives of the working class, of
a more integrated, aspirational and liberalised model of working life. While this has been
a global neo-liberal project, the particular manifestation of this in the UK, represented
most strongly in state reforms and the economic adjustments since the late 1970s, reflects
real material changes in class composition. The engineering of home ownership, reliance on
debt, the cultural promotion of the individual as consumer, as well as moves to create a
post-industrial economy, are all examples of this. While currently capitalism faces crisis
- economically, socially and environmentally - there has been no re-affirmation of working
class values - of equality, autonomy and dignity - when they are most needed.
Anarchist communism faces a crisis of social influence in this context.
As social anarchists we identify hierarchy as a central tool for the continuing power of
social elites, as well as a mechanism for the continued reproduction of capitalistic
social relations. We therefore object to the division of society on the grounds of class,
race, gender, sexuality, nationality and ability and recognise that building unity through
this diversity is a critical part of realising our collective freedom.
As libertarian communists we advocate the abolition of the state, capitalism and its
institutions in favour of the common ownership of social wealth organised via horizontal
networks of voluntary associations and workers’ councils. We believe that a truly free and
just society should be based on a gift economy with the guiding principle, “from each
according to their ability, to each according to their need”.
This is Anarchist Communism.
The class system of capitalism is inherently violent. We have witnessed through history
the violent methods and measures taken by states to defend the privilege and power of the
ruling class. In all instances where the working class have demanded social change it has
been met with utter contempt as well as brute force. Therefore we must accept that through
our struggles, and with our ultimate objective to create an anarchist communist society,
it will be necessary to defend ourselves against the violence of the state.
In some instances workers may take a more pro-active role fomenting insurrection against
the state to promote their interests. We recognise this as an important dimension to
social struggle, but defend only acts that have a mass, social character and are rooted in
a popular move towards communist reconstruction.
Immediate gains can also be won through direct action and self-organisation and we support
and encourage this, however, the only meaningful guarantee of our goals is through social
Anarchist communism has as its basis the idea of mutual aid, autonomy and
self-organisation of the community. Revolution can never therefore come via the directives
of revolutionary vanguards or the re-organisation of the state apparatus.
The dominant social relationships established through hierarchical society are expressed
through the relationship of human society to nature. Nature is increasingly seen as a
resource, object or raw material to be exploited. We argue that environmental destruction
and unsustainable models of social development are rooted in the problems created by the
hierarchical organisation of society and unequal distribution of its resources and not, as
some ecologists argue, the levels of technological development or population growth.
Capitalism has worsened the problematic relationship of humanity to nature. The drive for
capital to over-produce and expand markets into areas where none currently exist has lead
to ever more intensive use of resources. The result is the production of commodities on a
scale that is not even desired, let alone necessary for our survival and collective
comfort. Capitalism has strengthened the idea of nature simply as “natural resource” by
excluding the costs, and consequences, of environmental destruction within the pricing
mechanism. Capitalists are free to extract resources, exploit and even devastate ecologies
with little financial repercussion. Imperialism, colonialism and contemporary
globalisation have ensured that this has happened on a scale unprecedented in human
history. The result is that our relationship with nature now even threatens our survival
on a global scale in the form of global warming.
We believe that the anarchist principles of mutual aid need to be extended to our
relationship with the environment. We believe it is essential to study and develop better
ways of putting into practice the complex inter-relationship of human society to ecology.
We also recognise capitalism as a primary obstacle to the development of genuinely
renewable and sustainable models of living. While capitalism may occasionally choose to
present a “green face,” the logic that drives the system is still one of environmental
destruction, and ecological concerns are ultimately always secondary to the profit motive.
As anarchists we voice particular concerns for even a “green” capitalist state which will
undoubtedly be authoritarian. This is both in terms of the need to manage the social
unrest arising from the effects of global warming while also “offsetting” the lifestyles
of the elites by increasingly excluding the poor from consumption. The cause of social
ecology is, therefore, inseparable from the need for social revolution.
Unions - trade and syndicalist, reformist and revolutionary
At the most basic level a union is the organisation of workers for a common interest/goal.
Historically, unions have been important expressions of working class organisation,
fighting for and winning concessions in working hours, pay and conditions. Things that
many of us take for granted today. Even in the present context of capitalism, unions are
relevant, since they express their power at the point of production, having the
hypothetical ability to affect the reproduction of commodities and in turn the very basis
of capitalism: Profit.
As capitalism has developed it has succeeded in creating effective responses to the
threats that unions pose. Capitalists have sought to accommodate models of unionism that
integrate the working class into capitalism, forcing them to accept the logic of the class
system. This has resulted in the establishment of (bourgeois) reformist trade unions.
These unions limit the aims of workers, hamper their ability to self-organise and unify
across sectors, racial and gender divides. Trade unions control their members via an
organisational hierarchy/bureaucracy and, as a result, will frequently discipline
combative and autonomous sections of their membership. The organisation of trade unions
mirrors the hierarchies and dominant structures of capitalist society and is at odds with
anarchist communist goals of an autonomous and self-organising workers’ movement. Trade
unions are developed as a tool for the negotiation of conditions within capitalism and,
therefore, cannot play a part in popularising anti-capitalist ideas and methods.
In contemporary terms trade unions, following the logic of operation within the confines
set by capitalists, have taken on an increasingly defensive and reactionary posture. The
ideology of de-classification that has accompanied the ascension of capitalist realism has
been reproduced in the trade unions. Trade unions increasingly represent a minority,
privileged section of the working class in the UK, promote a service-orientated model of
membership and offer little to the majority of un-organised/unemployed workers in the UK.
This is while they continue to be dominated by authoritarian-left and even right-wing
elements that see the trade union model as consistent with their statist aims.
We do not accept the argument that anarchist influence in the workplace needs to be
mediated via the trade unions. This is while we do affirm our support and solidarity for
the most militant and combative sections of the class, whatever position they may develop
Historically anarchist communists have recognised revolutionary
syndicalism/anarcho-syndicalism as an important tool for the development of working class
self-organisation. Syndicalism seeks to unite workers on an economic basis, promoting
principles of mutual aid, solidarity, direct action and grassroots democracy to achieve
this. Syndicalism rejects the class collaborationist model of trade unionism and promotes
explicitly anti-capitalist aims. We perceive a degree of unity between these practices and
the broad aims of social anarchism. In certain circumstances syndicalism can provide us
with a tool for both the injecting of anti-capitalist ideas into the workers’ struggle as
well as the methods to mobilise workers for mass action on day-to-day issues.
We do not hold to the anarcho-syndicalist model that it is necessary to dissolve anarchist
ideas and practices entirely into the social arena. We argue that a specifist anarchist
organisation is an essential point of continuity for the anarchist tradition as social
struggles ebb and flow, and popular initiatives gain and lose influence. We also find
ourselves in agreement with the analysis of Errico Malatesta - that the needs of social
revolution and communist reconstruction will demand a break of structure from even the
most revolutionary of unions. We also recognise the potential danger of syndicalist unions
becoming incorporated into the system of capitalist management.
As a result, where syndicalist/anarcho-syndicalist unions do exist, and our members are
active, we believe it is our role to promote and fight for social anarchist principles and
tactics, with a commitment to those approaches on which we perceive a basis of unity.
Contrary to other European states, syndicalism/anarcho-syndicalism has not retained the
same popular influence in the UK and is currently only a growing minority tendency within
the labour movement. We do, however, recognise the methods of syndicalism - of the mass
meeting, of the horizontal organisation of people around common economic interest, of
direct action and shop floor democracy - as useful tools regardless of the presence of an
organised union. Moreover, we recognise this in contexts outside of the workplace, seeing
these methods as necessary within all grassroots struggles, such as claimants groups,
poverty coalitions (and “direct action casework” groups), LGBTQ and feminist initiatives.
National Liberation and Nation States
A “nation” refers to a community of people who share a common language, culture,
ethnicity, descent or history. In recent history this understanding has become
intermingled with the notion of sovereignty (political control) over a particular
territory. This is expressed as a “nation state”. The “nation state” is intrinsically
linked to the development of capitalism and is an important instrument of social control.
It has specific historical roots in the Europe of the 16th century and has been shaped and
created over the last 500 years by tribal, religious and cultural identity and
consolidated through the class system. The nation state and its creation do not represent
a “natural” division of peoples but is a political tool tied to the interests of wealth
By presenting people in a particular region as a distinct and separate unit, and in
presenting those who are not as “other,” race and national identity fulfil a key
ideological role within the capitalist system. Internationally the working class share
common interests, which they do not share with those in power. As a result of this
conflict between those who work and those who control, is an inevitable - necessary -
outcome of capitalism. It is this conflict which race and national identity obscure,
replacing it with the myth of the “national interest” and other false conflicts which are
exploited by capitalists to expand their control over markets and resources.
States are, by their nature, expansionist, seeking to promote the position of their
domestic elites against a global network of competing states and territories. The
“advancement” of Western nation states, in particular, bears the legacy of decades of
exploitation of global resources via slavery, the subordination of indigenous peoples,
colonialism and imperialism. These are positions of privilege which are still maintained
by the global institutions of neo-liberal hegemony - the IMF, World Bank and others -
which ensure that “under-developed” states conform to existing patterns of global
Anarchist communism is an internationalist tradition and has a rich history of organising
across, and against, borders. Historically, anarchist communists have also involved
themselves in the struggle against the projection of specific national and cultural
interests - racism, colonialism and imperialism - and the struggles of indigenous and
native peoples against subordination. We support the struggle against imperialism,
colonialism, racism and all forms of oppression rooted in the concept of the “nation
state.” However, we reject “national liberation” - the establishment or consolidation of
new nation states - as a vehicle through which to do this. National liberation, like the
ideology of the nation more broadly, argues that there is a common interest across class
lines within a geographic region. This is not the case.
The history of the struggle for national liberation shows that this usually means nothing
more than a changing of face within the political class. When a foreign power is removed a
new native bourgeoisie take control, members of which have usually been educated in
Western universities and share Western hegemonic views on political and economic
organisation. Even in supposedly “anti-Imperialist” states, such as Cuba or Venezuela, it
is impossible to break the reliance on global markets dominated by Western interests. In
fact in many cases, despite their rhetoric, elites will actively court foreign interests.
The Venezuelan government, for example, relies on the sale of oil to global markets at the
expense of domestic ecological devastation and is guaranteed through violent anti-union
activity. Cuban officials likewise court Western tourist operators as an essential source
of state revenue, reinforcing old colonial inequalities while creating new ones such as
“sex tourism.” Even in the case of the anti-imperialist struggle in Palestine, where a
state is yet to be internationally recognised, the movements still mirror the elitist
practices of the nation state that disguise the interests of a political class, in the
case of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), and a religious leadership in the
case of Hamas, which comes at the expense of working class Palestinians.
In the UK the issue of national autonomy is associated with Irish, Scottish and Welsh
independence and, to a lesser extent, the regionalist politics of Cornwall and Yorkshire.
Nationalists present themselves as progressive alternatives to the dominance of
Westminster politics and argue that a nation state can help preserve cultural autonomy.
This, however, ignores the fact that the projection of state power is not simply
institutional but also economic and cultural. Consider, for example, the dominance of
North American cultural products over the majority of the globe. Like any political class,
however progressive they may seek to present themselves, they are ultimately subject to
the disciplining mechanisms of the global market - in the form of de-investment, capital
flight and, at an extreme, military intervention - and, as a result, can never promote an
alternative to the present social system.
International class struggle is one of the key tools of the working class with which to
fight the systems of exploitation and oppression we collectively face. Solidarity should
be built across borders aiming to show our common interests across a diversity of
cultures. Domestically we stand beside and seek to defend the struggles of migrants,
marginalised and minority groups that are subject to the racist policies of the state.
The Revolutionary Left
Historically, leftist organisations and traditions have claimed to speak on behalf of
working class interests. In reality these organisations only present an alternative
version of capitalism, in some cases worse than the conditions under which workers
currently live. These traditional left ideas and organisations promote the belief that
centralised political authority i.e. the state, can be a tool to create communism. This
analysis ignores the fundamental nature of capitalist social relations and the role the
state has in perpetuating them.
The centralisation of political authority i.e. a state, requires subordination to it and
to the "centre" (a central committee or central government for example), dominated by a
political elite, whose role is to ensure the continued hegemony of the state’s control
(centralised political authority). The revolutionary left will claim that the state’s
purpose is to maintain a defence of the revolution at all costs. In order to maintain and
operate this process a bureaucracy or civil service must emerge. Over a period of time,
this bureaucratic minority becomes entrenched within its role, in the course of which,
actual expressions of workers’ power are recuperated because they cannot exist
simultaneously if the state is to maintain and defend itself. The bureaucracy cannot allow
workers’ collectives organising areas of land and industry independently of their
centralised political authority; or maintaining military militias separate to a
centralised army, otherwise the state’s power is undermined. It is therefore not possible
to have the emergence of workers’ councils in work places and the creation of workers’
militias that express their own political power if centralised political authority exists.
The two will always come into conflict.
This contradiction will always exist. Real workers’ democracy can only be expressed when
political authority is decentralised, directly managed horizontally and economic ownership
placed into the hands of the working class. This is the point when workers are truly in
control. That process has to begin during the development of social struggle, even before
the moment of revolution. If we allow the centralisation of political authority and the
emergence of a bureaucracy, we will lose the ability to express true workers freedom,
except that mandated by those controlling a structure, the specific role of which is to
defend and perpetuate itself
Even in contemporary terms, revolutionary leftist groups and individuals will integrate
themselves into existing positions of power, e.g. acting as trade union bureaucrats or
running in local elections, stifling the individual initiative of workers, encouraging
accommodation and compromise with the state and sowing illusions in liberal capitalism.
These activities are often associated with efforts to isolate elements that are critical
to them, undermining efforts for direct democracy.
We recognise as pro-revolutionary, and will co-operate with, only those currents that seek
to promote the autonomous and self-organising actions of the working class at the expense
of capital and the state.
We identify anarchist communism as a political current with its roots in the federalist,
anti-authoritarian sections of the First International. This has been a global tradition
present in the revolutions and social upheavals of the past century.
Noteworthy examples include the Nabat (Nabat Confederation of Anarchist Organisations)
during the Ukrainian revolution, the FAI (Anarchist Federation of Iberia) and later
“Friends of Durruti” group in the period leading up to and during the Spanish Revolution
and Ricardo Flores Magón’s Mexican Liberal Party before and during the Mexican revolution.
In contemporary terms we believe this particular tradition to be best represented by the
specifist conception of social anarchism. This is a conception of anarchism with which we
actively identify. Specifism can be summarised as:
The need for specifically anarchist organisation built around a unity of ideas and praxis.
The use of the specifically anarchist organization to theorise and develop strategic
political and organisational work.
Active participation in and building of autonomous and popular social movements via
involvement and influence ("social insertion").
We consider an important aspect of specifism to be the idea of “recapturing the social
vector of anarchism,” i.e. re-inserting anarchism as a current of popular organisation
within social struggles.
While the UK lacks an equivalent indigenous tradition of organisational anarchism to that
of continental Europe or Latin America, it is possible to identify organisations such as
the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, the Industrial Syndicalist Education League,
the Shop Stewards Committees, even the Communist Party (British section of the Third
International) and other such organisations as evidence of a popular libertarian current
lost to the contemporary workers’ movement. It is with knowledge of this that we seek the
“recapturing” of a social vector of libertarian organisation, in our case the anarchist
communist current of libertarianism, as a principle aim.
While it is true that many of the popular initiatives of the present period have had an
anarchist orientation in their methods and practices, and we consider this a validation of
our approach, we also perceive a disconnect between the tradition of our ideas and the
identity and ideology of these activists - anarchism as a tradition of working class
Tactical and Theoretical Unity - Moving Forward Together
As an organisation we operate under principles of tactical and theoretical unity,
collective responsibility and expectations of a level of commitment from our membership.
We identify lack of commitment, responsibility and self-discipline as a continuing problem
for anarchist groups and organisations. In this sense we find ourselves in agreement with
the sentiments expressed by Errico Malatesta that, “it is better to be disunited than
As an organisation we prioritise decision-making that gives more importance to collective
deliberation than individual points of view or subjective experiences. In recent years it
has been a preference of many anarchist groups and organisations to favour “Consensus
Decision Making.” However we believe that Consensus Decision Making is too individualising
in that it hinges on how individuals "feel" about a decision, when decision-making should
be critical, collective and collaborative. Consensus Decision Making, contrary to its
stated aims of developing collective positions while protecting minorities, also creates a
culture where debate and disagreement are not celebrated and used for theoretical
development and internal education, but seen as obstacles to an immediate goal - producing
The relationship of the individual to the organisation is intrinsically tied to their role
as a participant within an association of individuals with shared goals. We believe that
the above concerns extend from the original anarchist principle, elaborated by Mikhail
Bakunin, that “the other’s freedom, far from being a limitation or denial of my freedom,
is, on the contrary, its necessary condition and confirmation.” We, therefore, consider it
consistent with anarchist principles to commit to an equitable delegation of tasks, a
unity of ideas through the education of members and a proportional relationship between
participation, responsibility and deliberation within the association. All of which are
measures that empower ourselves (as individuals) and improve our collective efforts (as an
We feel a close affinity to the ideas and organisational practices emerging as a part of
the Anarkismo project - a product of the international co-operation of anarchist
organisations and individuals within the anarchist communist or specifist tradition of
anarchism. However, due to our disagreements with the Editorial Statement on the issue of
the role of militants within the economic organisations of the working class and the
defence of grassroots anti-imperialist movements, we will not declare our uncritical
Collective Action: an association of anarchist communists
The blog and our position papers published on www.anarchistcommunist.org reflect the
products of our approach. In addition we reproduce texts, images and theoretical documents
that we find interesting, find ourselves in agreement with, or present themselves as
useful tools to activists. Periodically these are collated into our journal Ninth
Symphony, which we aim to distribute for free.
Details on how to become involved in Collective Action are available here.
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