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(en) Britain, Where We Stand: Formation of a new Anarchist Communist project in the UK

Date 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while a traditional revolutionary ‘left’ movement has essentially embraced a position of defence and retreat, cuing the outdated appeal to its standard yet dwindling constituents.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 when required.

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 anarchist organisation

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 revolutionary unions.

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 libertarian organisations”.

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: http://www.marxists.org/archive/malatesta/1897/xx/anarchorg.htm


1. 1
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).


About us

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.

Anarchist Communism

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 revolution.

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.

Social Ecology

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 from.

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 and power.

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 exploitation.

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 militancy.

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 badly united.”

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 consensus.

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 organisation).


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 agreement.

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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