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(en) The Platform: It's Not Just For Platformists Anymore

From Northeastern Anarchist <northeastern_anarchist@yahoo.com>
Date Mon, 24 Feb 2003 21:47:20 +0100 (CET)

      A - I N F O S  N E W S  S E R V I C E

by Jeff Shantz & P.J. Lilley (NEFAC-Toronto)

"It is time for anarchism to leave the swamp of
disorganization, to put an end to endless vacillations
on the most important tactical and theoretical
questions, to resolutely move towards a clearly
recognized goal, and to operate an organized
collective practice." 
     - Organizational Platform of Libertarian
Communists, 1927

Much has been made over the last few years of renewed
activity by anarchists inspired by the 1926 platform.
Rather than engaged debate on the issue, discussion
has tended to be polarized between defenders of the
platform and unwavering opponents of platformism (and
so-called organizational anarchism generally). Lost in
this polarization is the fact that platformism offers 
some important insights into contemporary anarchist
actvity, insights that may be especially useful for
We should begin this discussion by saying that we are
not platformists. We have never been platformists and,
who knows, we may never be platformists. In fact, over
the years we' ve had our own share of problems with
the platform and many arguments with proponents of the
Still, we support the recent emergence of platformist
organizations in North America generally, and the
activities of a specific platformist federation,
NEFAC. We also think that platformist actions and
ideas have much to offer anarchists in North America,
both in terms of their critique of North American
anarchist movements and in terms of their positive
contributions to the struggle for an anarchist
Thus we write this short piece not as boosterism for
those who agree with the platform, nor as a rebuttal
to those who are opposed to the platform. Instead we
write it as anarchists still grappling with the
questions and challenges posed by the platform. We are
encouraged by the possibilities raised by platformist
organizing which buillds anarchism outside of our
limited circles and in connection with people's
everday lives and struggles under capitalism.
In our view, the burden is on critics of platformism
to explain what is wrong with the emergence of
anarchist organizations that through their ideas and
activities might serve as a pole of attraction for
anarchists. Non-platformists have many questions to
Why not draw anarchists together to actively hash out
common positions, strategies and tactics?  Why not
prefer that active engagement to the comfort of
spinning out personal utopias, criticizing from the
sidelines or conversely setting aside political
differences altogether? What is there to oppose in
efforts "to rally all the militants of the organised
anarchist movement?" Why oppose attempts to attract
working class militants to anarchism?
The goal of developing anarchist perspectives within
unions and other working class organizations is one
that anarchists have neglected for far too long. And
then mnay anarchists have the nerve to complain about
the un-anarchistic character of the working class.
That some non-platformists have responded to
platformist organizing dogmatically and reactively,
criticizing a document to dismiss a movement, refering
to broad generalizations about "organization" rather
than specific organizational practices, suggests that
some habits are tough to shake. Still it's exactly the
habits nurtured during times of lethargy, insularity
and marginality that must be shaken off as people are
beginning to seek alternatives to capitalist social
relations. Not only thoughts of future societies but
of real strategies for making it happen are needed.
To begin with, it seems obvious that the original
Dielo Trouda concern with overcoming "the miserable
state in which the anarchist movement vegetates" is
one that must be shared by North American anarchists
today, despite the encouraging upswing in anarchist
activity recently (of which platformists have played a
good part).
As anarchist movements grow the questions of
organization and the relations of various anarchist
activities to each other and to broader strategies and
tactics for social change will only become more
significant and pressing. If anarchists are to seize
the opportunities presented by recent upsurges in
anarchist activity and build anarchism in movements
that have resonance in wider struggles, then we must
face seriously the challenges of organization, of
combining and coordinating our efforts effectively. We
will be aided in this by drawing upon the lessons of
past experiences and avoiding, as much as possible,
past errors.
One of the glaring errors has been to avoid questions
of organization and unity, leaving us woefully
unprepared when struggles erupt. When movements are in
low ebb and goals are less ambitious, such questions
may appear less immediate and the impetus to break out
of the protective shell of the subculture less
pressing. This has been the situation in North America
until very recently.
The changed circumstances in a time of growth for
anarchism, and anti-capitalist activities more
generally, require new practices suited to the changed
dynamics of struggle. As struggles expand and develop,
the question is not so much whether people will form
organizations or not, but rather the types of
organizations that will emerge.  People trying to beat
capitalism will certainly try to join forces with
others to share resources, coordinate efforts and
build strength. To stand on the sidelines in such
matters is to leave the terrain open to authoritarian
and/or reformist organizations to fill the breach.
When one looks at the history of anarchism,
organizational perspectives and activities, far from
being marginal elements, represent the core of
anarchist endeavour.  Attempts to suggest that
organizational approaches represent some deviation
from anarchism or the intrusion of un-anarchist ideas
into anarchism are a strange attempt at historical
revisionism. Of course, most anarchists are involved
in some type of organization or another, whether an
infoshop collective, publication team or affinity

Much of anarchist activity in North America,
unfortunately, still corresponds with the Dielo Trouda
description from 1926: "local organizations advocating
contradictory theories and practices, having no
perspectives for the future, nor of a continuity in
militant work, and habitually disappearing, hardly
leaving the slightest trace behind them."  Absence of
durable anarchist organizations still contributes to a
drift into passivity, demoralization, disinterest or a
retreat into subculturalism.
Many of these short lived organizations are built on
the synthesist basis that platformists have been and
remain so critical of.  While we're not convinced that
synthesist approaches must fail, in my experiences
they do exhibit a tendency to be the "mechanical
assembly of individuals" which the platformists
suggested. Such groupings work reatively well as long
as their level of activity doesn't rise above running
a bookstore, infoshop or free school. Unfortunately,
even in those cases disastrous rifts emerge 
when meaningful political questions are broached. A
consensus based on not wanting to offend other members
or declining controversial work because it threatens
collective harmony are too often the default positions
of synthesist type groups.
Platformists seek a substantial unity based on shared
action and reflection. Platformism encourages a
political and theoretical honesty. One can take a
stand without having to compromise or soft peddle
one's positions in order to keep the peace.

Discussion of unity perhaps requires some
clarification. When platformists talk of theoretical
or tactical unity they are not saying that everyone
has to read the same things or agree on all points.
Surely, however, there has to be some agreement on
basic ideas. And these positions are only determined
collectively, through open debate and discussion
rooted in actual experience.  Unity speaks to a
focused sharing of resources and energies that brings
currently limited anarchist forces together rather
than dissipating and diluting our efforts.
Of course it's always easier to avoid the collective
work, the lengthy debate and discussion, the
development and revision of ideas through practice and
finally the legwork of organizing that platformists
take on. It's also easier to develop pure schemes in
the comfort of one's apartment, rarely worrying
oneself whether or not such beautiful fantasies "would
inevitably disintegrate on encountering reality."
Platformists, on the other hand, accept the shared
responsibilities of building anarchist movements in
connection with those who suffer the assaults of
The anarchist organization is a place to come together
and reflect on work being done. It offers the
opportunity to examine and refine one's practices and
explore alternatives and options given the resources
experiences at hand.
It seems to us that the important thing about
platformism isn't found in the specifics of a 1926
document but in the challenge that it puts before us
to come together openly and seriously to develop
anarchist strategies and practices in a way that is
engaged in real class struggles against actually
existing bosses, landlords and bureaucrats. 
Platformists have taken up the challenge of moving
anarchism from its current status as social conscience
or cultural critique. This is exhibited in the work
being done by platformist groups in tenants' unions,
workplaces, anti-poverty actions and fighting
deportations to name only a few.
These actions, based upon serious debate and an
estimation of the capacities to do the work properly,
have moved the discussion of organization out of the
clouds of speculation and brought it to the ground of
everyday practice. 
They have taken it from comfortable abstraction to
practical reality based on the experiences of people
living under actually existing capitalism.
Of course, the platform is simply a "tactical and
theoretical orientation" and platformist organization
is the bringing together of those who would develop
that orientation through their practice. Thus it is
always open to re-appraisal as circumstances suggest.
It's important to keep in mind that the platform was
only ever intended as a beginning, "as the first step
towards rallying libertarian forces." Far from being a
fully fleshed out program of action it provides only
"the outlines, the skeleton of such a programme."  Its
authors recognized its many gaps, oversights and
inadequate treatments.
Part of anarchism's growth must include a commitment
to developing visions and practices that can build
anarchist movements rather than just "scenes" or
cliques. If platformism offers a starting point for
this process then it makes a welcome and necessary
contribution to anarchism in North America.
Anarchist hobbyism is not much better than the
hobbyism of stamp collecting or bird watching. Hobbies
offer their practitioners moments of freedom,
self-expression and relief from the daily grind but
they don't do much to keep the shit from piling up. 
Anarchism can do better than that and must do better
than that. This is what platformism recognizes and it
attempts to take anarchism out of esoteric hobbyism.
Anarchism must move from the realm of speculation to
the terrain of possibility. In giving a serious
impetus to this movement, platformist organizations
offer much to anarchist efforts in North American.

(1) As well this will not be an exposition of the
platform's positions.  Those accounts can be found
elsewhere in this issue or in Nicolas Phebus' fine
article "As Far as Organization Goes: We are
Platformists" [NEA#3]

The Northeastern Anarchist is the English-language
theoretical magazine of the Northeastern Federation of
Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC), covering class struggle
anarchist theory, history, strategy, debate and
analysis in an effort to further develop
anarcho-communist ideas and practice.


Current issue is $5ppd ($6 international) per copy,
back issues are $2ppd ($3 international) per copy.
Subscriptions are $15ppd for four issues ($18
international). For distribution, bundle orders are $3
per copy for three or more copies, and $2.50 per copy
for ten or more. 

Checks or money orders can be made out to
"Northeastern Anarchist" and  sent to: 

Northeastern Anarchist
PO Box 230685
Boston, MA 02123, USA
email: northeastern_anarchist@yahoo.com 

For more information about NEFAC, visit us on the web
at: http://www.nefac.net

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