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(en) US, black rose fed: ESPECIFISMO: THE ANARCHIST PRAXIS OF BUILDING POPULAR MOVEMENTS AND REVOLUTIONARY ORGANIZATION
Sun, 1 Jul 2018 11:52:12 +0300
First published in The Northeastern Anarchist #11 in Spring 2006, Especifismo: The
Anarchist Praxis of Building Popular Movements and Revolutionary Organization broke new
ground as the first English introductory article on the concept of Especifismo. While
being short and limited in scope, it has since become a standard introductory text which
has been translated into multiple languages and is now used by Latin American political
organizations. The piece was based on early translations and exchanges by
Brazilian-American anarchist Pedro Ribeiro but since it's publication new documents have
been translation that have further deepened and enriched the understanding of Especifismo
such as the Federación Anarquista Uruguaya‘s 1972 theoretical piece "Huerta Grande" and
the multi-chapter booklet "Social Anarchism and Organization" by the Federação Anarquista
do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ).
By Adam Weaver
Throughout the world anarchist involvement within mass movements as well the development
of specifically anarchist organizations is on the upsurge. This trend is helping anarchism
regain legitimacy as a dynamic political force within movements and in this light,
Especifismo, a concept born out of nearly 50 years of anarchist experiences in South
America, is gaining currency world-wide. Though many anarchists may be familiar with many
of Especifismo's ideas, it should be defined as an original contribution to anarchist
thought and practice.
The first organization to promote the concept of Especifismo-then more a practice than a
developed ideology-was the Federación Anarquista Uruguaya (FAU), founded in 1956 by
anarchist militants who embraced the idea of an organization which was specifically
anarchist. Surviving the dictatorship in Uruguay, the FAU emerged in the mid-1980s to
establish contact with and influence other South American anarchist revolutionaries. The
FAU's work helped support the founding of the Federação Anarquista Gaúcha (FAG), the
Federação Anarquista Cabocla (FACA), and the Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ)
in their respective regions of Brazil, and the Argentinean organization Auca (Rebel).
While the key concepts of Especifismo will be expanded upon further in this article, it
can be summarized in three succinct points:
The need for specifically anarchist organization built around a unity of ideas and praxis.
The use of the specifically anarchist organization to theorize and develop strategic
political and organizing work.
Active involvement in and building of autonomous and popular social movements, which is
described as the process of "social insertion."
A Brief Historical Perspective
While only coming onto the stage of Latin American anarchism within the last few decades,
the ideas inherent within Especifismo touch on a historic thread running within the
anarchist movement internationally. The most well known would be the Platformist current,
which began with the publishing of the "Organizational Platform of the Libertarian
Communists." This document was written in 1926 by former peasant army leader Nestor
Makhno, Ida Mett and other militants of the Dielo Trouda (Workers' Cause) group, based
around the newspaper of the same name (Skirda, 192-213). Exiles of the Russian revolution,
the Paris-based Dielo Trouda criticized the anarchist movement for its lack of
organization, which prevented a concerted response to Bolshevik machinations towards
turning the workers' soviets into instruments of one-party rule. The alternative they
proposed was a "General Union of Anarchists" based on Anarchist-Communism, which would
strive for "theoretical and tactical unity" and focus on class struggle and labor unions.
Other similar occurrences of ideas include "Organizational Dualism," which is mentioned in
historical documents of the 1920's Italian anarchist movement. Italian anarchists used
this term to describe the involvement of anarchists both as members of an anarchist
political organization and as militants in the labor movement (FdCA). In Spain, the
Friends of Durruti group emerged to oppose the gradual reversal of the Spanish Revolution
of 1936 (Guillamon). In "Towards a Fresh Revolution" they emulated some of the ideas of
the Platform, critiquing the CNT-FAI's gradual reformism and collaboration with the
Republican government, which they argued contributed to the defeat of the anti-fascist and
revolutionary forces. Influential organizations in the Chinese anarchist movement of the
1910's, such as the Wuzhengfu-Gongchan Zhuyi Tongshi Che (Society of Anarchist-Communist
Comrades), advocated similar ideas (Krebs). While these different currents all have
specific characteristics that developed from the movements and countries in which they
originated, they all share a common thread that crosses movements, eras, and continents.
The Especifists put forward three main thrusts to their politics, the first two being on
the level of organization. By raising the need for a specifically anarchist organization
built around a unity of ideas and praxis, the Especifists inherently state their objection
to the idea of a synthesis organization of revolutionaries or multiple currents of
anarchists loosely united. They characterize this form of organization as creating an
exacerbated search for the needed unity of anarchists to the point in which unity is
preferred at any cost, in the fear of risking positions, ideas and proposals sometimes
irreconcilable. The result of these types of union are libertarian collectives without
much more in common than considering themselves anarchists. (En La Calle)
While these critiques have been elaborated by the South American Especifistas, North
American anarchists have also offered their experiences of synthesis organization as
lacking any cohesiveness due to multiple, contradictory political tendencies. Often the
basic agreement of the group boils down to a vague, "least-common-denominator" politics,
leaving little room for united action or developed political discussion among comrades.
Without a strategy that stems from common political agreement, revolutionary organizations
are bound to be an affair of reactivism against the continual manifestations of oppression
and injustice and a cycle of fruitless actions to be repeated over and over, with little
analysis or understanding of their consequences (Featherstone et al). Further, the
Especifists criticize these tendencies for being driven by spontaneity and individualism
and for not leading to the serious, systematic work needed to build revolutionary
movements. The Latin American revolutionaries put forward that organizations which lack a
which resists any discipline between militants, that refuses to ‘define itself', or to
‘fit itself', ...[are a]direct descendant of bourgeois liberalism,[which]only reacts to
strong stimulus, joins the struggle only in its heightened moments, denying to work
continuously, especially in moments of relative rest between the struggles (En La Calle).
A particular stress of the Especifismo praxis is the role of anarchist organization,
formed on the basis of shared politics, as a space for the development of common strategy
and reflection on the group's organizing work. Sustained by collective responsibility to
the organizations' plans and work, a trust within the members and groups is built that
allows for a deep, high-level discussion of their action. This allows the organization to
create collective analysis, develop immediate and long term goals, and continually reflect
on and change their work based on the lessons gained and circumstances.
From these practices and from the basis of their ideological principles, revolutionary
organizations should seek to create a program that defines their short- and
intermediate-term goals and will work towards their long-term objectives:
The program must come from a rigorous analysis of society and the correlation of the
forces that are part of it. It must have as a foundation the experience of the struggle of
the oppressed and their aspirations, and from those elements it must set the goals and the
tasks to be followed by the revolutionary organization in order to succeed not only in the
final objective but also in the immediate ones. (En La Calle)
The last point, but one that is key within the practice of Especifismo, is the idea of
"social insertion." (1) It stems from the belief that the oppressed are the most
revolutionary sector of society, and that the seed of the future revolutionary
transformation of society lies already in these classes and social groupings. Social
insertion means anarchist involvement in the daily fights of the oppressed and working
classes. It does not mean acting within single-issue advocacy campaigns based around the
involvement of expected traditional political activists, but rather within movements of
people struggling to better their own condition, which come together not always out of
exclusively materially-based needs, but also socially and historically rooted needs of
resisting the attacks of the state and capitalism. These would include rank-and-file-led
workers' movements, immigrant communities' movements to demand legalized status,
neighborhood organizations' resistance to the brutality and killings by police, working
class students' fights against budget cuts, and poor and unemployed people's opposition to
evictions and service cuts.
Through daily struggles, the oppressed become a conscious force. The class-in-itself, or
rather classes-in-themselves (defined beyond the class-reductionist vision of the urban
industrial proletariat, to include all oppressed groups within society that have a
material stake in a new society), are tempered, tested, and recreated through these daily
struggles over immediate needs into classes-for-themselves. That is, they change from
social classes and groups that exist objectively and by the fact of social relations, to
social forces. Brought together by organic methods, and at many times by their own
self-organizational cohesion, they become self-conscious actors aware of their power,
voice and their intrinsic nemeses: ruling elites who wield control over the power
structures of the modern social order.
Examples of social insertion that the FAG cites are their work with neighborhood
committees in urban villages and slums (called Popular Resistance Committees), building
alliances with rank-and-file members of the rural landless workers' movement of the MST,
and among trash and recyclables collectors. Due to high levels of temporary and contingent
employment, underemployment, and unemployment in Brazil, a significant portion of the
working class does not survive primarily through wage labor, but rather by subsistence
work and the informal economy, such as casual construction work, street vending, or the
collection of trash and recyclables. Through several years of work, the FAG has built a
strong relationship with urban trash collectors, called catadores. Members of the FAG have
supported them in forming their own national organization which is working to mobilize
trash collectors around their interests nationally and to raise money toward building a
collectively operated recycling operation. (2)
Especifismo's conception of the relation of ideas to the popular movement is that they
should not be imposed through a leadership, through "mass line," or by intellectuals.
Anarchist militants should not attempt to move movements into proclaiming an "anarchist"
position, but should instead work to preserve their anarchist thrust; that is, their
natural tendency to be self-organized and to militantly fight for their own interests.
This assumes the perspective that social movements will reach their own logic of creating
revolution, not when they as a whole necessarily reach the point of being self-identified
"anarchists," but when as a whole (or at least an overwhelming majority) they reach the
consciousness of their own power and exercise this power in their daily lives, in a way
consciously adopting the ideas of anarchism. An additional role of the anarchist militant
within the social movements, according to the Especifists, is to address the multiple
political currents that will exist within movements and to actively combat the
opportunistic elements of vanguardism and electoral politics.
Especifismo in the context of North American and Western Anarchism
Within the current strands of organized and revolutionary North American and Western
Anarchism, numerous indicators point to the inspiration and influence of the Platform as
having the greatest impact in the recent blossoming of class struggle anarchist
organizations world-wide. Many see the Platform as a historical document that speaks to
the previous century's organizational failures of anarchism within global revolutionary
movements, and are moved to define themselves as acting within the "platformist
tradition." Given this, the currents of Especifismo and Platformism are deserving of
comparison and contrast.
The authors of the Platform were veteran partisans of the Russian Revolution. They helped
lead a peasant guerilla war against Western European armies and later the Bolsheviks in
the Ukraine, whose people had a history independent of the Russian Empire. So the writers
of the Platform certainly spoke from a wealth of experience and to the historical context
of one of their era's pivotal struggles. But the document made little headway in its
proposal of uniting class struggle anarchists, and is markedly silent in analysis or
understanding on numerous key questions that faced revolutionaries at that time, such as
the oppression of women, and colonialism.
While most Anarchist-Communist oriented organizations claim influence by the Platform
today, in retrospect it can be looked at as a poignant statement that rose from the morass
that befell much of anarchism following the Russian Revolution. As a historical project,
the Platform's proposal and basic ideas were largely rejected by individualistic
tendencies in the Anarchist movement, were misunderstood because of language barriers as
some claim (Skirda, 186), or never reached supportive elements or organizations that would
have united around the document. In 1927, the Dielo Trouda group did host a small
international conference of supporters in France, but it was quickly disrupted by the
In comparison, the praxis of Especifismo is a living, developed practice, and arguably a
much more relevant and contemporary theory, emerging as it does out of 50 years of
anarchist organizing. Arising from the southern cone of Latin America, but its influence
spreading throughout, the ideas of Especifismo do not spring from any call-out or single
document, but have come organically out of the movements of the global south that are
leading the fight against international capitalism and setting examples for movements
worldwide. On organization, the Especifists call for a far deeper basis of anarchist
organization than the Platform's "theoretical and tactical unity," but a strategic program
based on analysis that guides the actions of revolutionaries. They provide us living
examples of revolutionary organization based on the needs for common analysis, shared
theory, and firm roots within the social movements.
I believe there is much to take inspiration from within the tradition of Especifismo, not
only on a global scale, but particularly for North American class-struggle anarchists and
for multi-racial revolutionaries within the US. Whereas the Platform can be easily read as
seeing anarchists' role as narrowly and most centrally within labor unions, Especifismo
gives us a living example that we can look towards and which speaks more meaningfully to
our work in building a revolutionary movement today. Taking this all into consideration, I
also hope that this article can help us more concretely reflect on how we as a movement
define and shape our traditions and influences.
1. While "social insertion" is a term coming directly out of the texts of Especifismo
influenced organizations, comrades of mine have taken issue with it. So before there is a
rush towards an uncritical embrace of anything, perhaps there could be a discussion of
2. Eduardo, then Secretary of External Relations for Brazilian FAG. "Saudacoes Libertarias
dos E.U.A." E-mail to Pedro Ribeiro. 25 Jun 2004
En La Calle (Unsigned article). "La Necesidad de Un Proyecto Propio, Acerca de la
importancia del programa en la organizacion polilitica libertaria" or "The Necessity of
Our Own Project, On the importance of a program in the libertarian political organization"
En La Calle, published by the Organización Socialista Libertaria, Argentina, Jun 2001.
Translation by Pedro Ribeiro. 22 Dec 2005.
Featherstone, Liza, Doug Henwood and Christian Parenti."Action Will Be Taken: Left-Wing
Anti-Intellectualism and Its Discontents" Lip Magazine 11 Nov 2004. 22 Dec 2005 .
Guillamon, Agustin. The Friends of Durruti Group: 1937-1939. San Francisco: AK Press, 1996.
Krebs, Edward S. Shifu, the Soul of Chinese Anarchism. Landham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield,
Northeastern Anarchist. The Global Influence of Platformism Today by The Federation of
Northeastern Anarchist Communists (Johannesburg, South Africa: Zabalaza Books, 2003), 24.
Interview with Italian Federazione dei Comunisti Anarchici (FdCA).
Skirda, Alexandre. Facing the Enemy, A History of Anarchist Organization from Proudhon to
May 1968. Oakland, CA: AK Press 2002.
For related theory and strategy articles we recommend "For a Theory of Strategy by CAB
(Brazil)," "The Problems Posed by the Concrete Class Struggle and Popular Organization"
and "Theory, Ideology and Political Practice: The FAU's ‘Huerta Grande.'" For a
contemporary analysis of the US by Black Rose/Rosa Negra we recommend "Below and Beyond
Trump: Power and Counter Power" written in 2017.
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