I’ve been reading this thing called the Especifismo Reader, about certain anarchist ideas about organization. Here’s my notes.

Among the points made in it so far is the need for anarchists to engage in “social insertion,” defined in Adam’s words as “anarchist involvement in the daily fights of the oppressed and working classes,” that is, “within movements of people struggling to better their own condition.” The emphasis on this activity “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.”

I’m not sure about this. It all depends on how this is interpreted. If by “the most revolutionary” and “the seed …lies already” this means that there are sectors already in motion in important ways, then I disagree. I mean, yes, these sectors are already in motion in important ways, of course. But, at least in terms of workplace organizing, there is usually little if any effective building of power unless people have help from people who know what they’re doing.

Adam continues, “[t]hrough 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.”

That makes a good deal of sense to me, and suggests that the potentials for revolution are not very well developed – that’s why the activity that makes the transition from class in itself to class for itself is needed.

“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.”

I’m not sure what “organic methods” means and I’m not convinced about self-organization. Otherwise, I agree.
I say all this because I’m concerned about two things. One, I think social insertion as an idea can result in chasing struggles and uprisings – there’s one, let’s go get there! Of course that work is important, but it’s limited. Most externally visible events and conflicts result from a longer time period of activity which is less externally visible (external to the networks and organizations that produced the events and conflicts). The moments when we get a glimpse of people acting as classes-for-themselves are part of longer processes. It’s toward those longer processes that we should orient. This is particularly so because class-in-itself to class-for-itself is not a permanent transition most of the time. It’s more likely to be tidal, at least nowadays. People oscillate. People advance then fall back – objectively in terms of balance of class forces but even more so in consciousness and commitment. Of course we should orient toward the moments of the class for itself as they appear, but above all we should be doing the work of trying to create those moments. This shades into my second concern. Chasing struggles doesn’t have to but it can mean not trying to create new struggles. In some contexts, that’s the right move. In my view, in much of the US, it’s not.

Put another way, I think right now it’s equally or perhaps more important for us to be focused on building mass struggles and mass organizations, often from scratch (which means that despite their mass character they’ll be small for a very long time), as it is for us to orient toward existing struggles and organizations.

Adam’s piece goes on, saying “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.”

Now, I’ve got much less experience than other comrades in this, but I’m hesitant. I do think that the only goal should not be to win people to anarchism, and that being an anarchist does not mean per se that one has much in the way of practical know-how for struggles. But I still think that *one* goal *should* be to put forward anarchist ideas and win people to anarchism explicitly. Ideas can play an important role in the transition to class for itself. What’s more, ideas can play a retention role: the high moment of class for itself will often go back to a lower level, as I suggested above. Political ideas and convictions can be a way to keep people acting and interested when things cool down, building the numbers and abilities of people interested in producing the next higher moment (and the long term total victory).

I think this is particularly important if, as Adam writes in another piece, “the federation can act as a historical well of experience.” It seems to me that people get involved in mass organizations because of mass work and in political organizations because of political work. (There’s not an absolute distinction between the two. I suggested in my comment here that “mass organizations are animated largely by values equivalent to the values that animate political organizations,” by which I mean the type of commitment and dedication is similar for the people who really make the organization happen, in both mass and political organizations.) It seems to me that the skill sets in these two are different. Dedicated cadre of mass organizations and of political organizations are not necessarily similar, indeed they’re likely to be different.

What’s more, if anarchists are not trying to win people in mass organizations to anarchism, then the cadre of political organizations will continue to differ from the cadre of mass organizations. (I suppose really part of what I’m after, implicitly, I’ve never been very clear on this, is achieving a level of strong similarity [and overlap in terms of formal membership and in informal relationships] between these two types/sets of cadre: anarchists must become effective cadre of mass organization, and we should try to make non-anarchist cadre of mass organizations into anarchists, and into cadre of political organizations; that set forms or will form the cadre of the class. As such, social insertion into existing struggles and organizations makes sense in moving political cadre to being more effective mass cadre, in building ties to existing mass cadre, and in allowing the potential to move mass cadre closer to being political cadre; I’m still convinced that starting new struggles and organizations is equally or more important, because our class needs more of them; I think our goal in this work of creating new struggles should be trying to develop people as both mass and political cadre, but if we have to pick an emphasis I think the mass character is the more important at least initially.) Anyway that difference or distance between anarchist political cadre and nonanarchist mass cadre does not seem to me to have any positive features and is not one we should want to retain – which is not to say we should reject the analytical distinction, rather we should try to change the real conditions that the distinction describes.

I disagree with this quote of Adam’s from the Brazilian Federação Anarquista Gaúcha”

“The social movements should not have a political ideology, the role should be to unite and not belong to a political party.” I think that in one sense there could be a contradictory logic here. If the point is that anarchists should not be setting the terms for larger movements (which sounds sensible enough) then it’s not up the anarchist to prescribe whether or not movements should have a political ideology. Again, the mass work comes first and spreading anarchist ideas and winning people to anarchism shouldn’t be the only goal – and being anarchist should not be a condition for involvement – but it should definitely be a goal in my opinion.

So I think where I’m at is that I agree with the ideas about an anarchist organization in terms of structure and discipline and so on, but am unsure about some of the details of what these organizations should do.

I’m also unsure about the “necessity for separate anarchist organization” to quote Adam again. If this is a thoroughgoing necessity, in the sense of logical necessity, then I disagree. That is, if the idea is that there are objective limits inherent to what we can achieve without political organizations, then I don’t buy it. If this is a fuzzy necessity, as in simply “we think this could be useful, fill a role” then I totally agree.

I don’t like the term ‘federation’ nor do I like the practice as I understand the term. As I understand it, ‘federation’ means an organization of organizations. I’m against that, I prefer what I call a unitary organization: people belong to one group as members and are not members of subsidiary bodies. I mean ‘member’ in the sense of formal decision making. Of course people will have various informal groups they work with within the organization, including people all living in one locale doing local work. I may be misunderstanding the term, I’m not sure. In NEFAC’s interview with the FAG they describe “a delegation system and executive proceeding, functional so that it can be spread in a large geographic area without the need of assemblies and frequent meetings.” That makes a lot of sense, though I’m hesitant if “delegation” means delegates from subsidiary collectives (which would presuppose the existence of those collectives in a formal manner).

I totally agree with the rejection of synthesism, likewise the importance of theoretical unity. I’m not sure about tactical unity. Certainly strategic unity. Tactical unity I guess really must mean “no hard disagreements about tactics,” since tactics will likely have to differ in some locales due to different local conditions. That is, tactical unity must mean tactical flexibility in order to be practical across much space. So to me it sounds more like strategic unity is the issue. I’m also not sure about strategy, though. If ‘revolutionary strategy’ means ‘how will we bring about revolution’ then that is I think quixotic. If it means ‘how shall we advance the revolutionary movement and the movement of the working class,’ that makes a good deal more sense. I just don’t think we’re in a place where serious discussion about accomplishing revolution makes sense except for purposes other than its stated ones (so, it can be useful as a thing to hang hopes on, for instance, and a statement of values). Put another way, ‘revolutionary strategy’ seems to me to only make sense as ‘strategy for radicals acting now and in the foreseeable future.’

I like the text by the Fórum do Anarquismo Organizado very much, lots of good stuff there, including the nuts and bolts of roles within a small organization and the point about how there can be multiple organizations and forms of organization and that’s not a bad thing.

I need to come back to “The Need of Our Own Project” by the Organisación Socialista Libertaria (Argentina)” later. From what I’ve read of it, I like it a lot. For example, “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 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.” Yes. It seems to me that this is part of what I’ve been fumbling toward with regard to strategy and orienting toward cadre building. The short term program is to get to where we can have a meaningful long term program.

“Spontaneity – that includes no planning, that is a far cry from acting according to an analysis of the situation but is acting at whim without taking in consideration the utility of an act, that makes of certain actions an end on themselves and do not see them as means to reach certain goal, that only acts forced by a situation created by the popular masses and ceases to act when the said activity decreases – cannot have a place if the organization base its activities in a program; nor there is a place for individualism.”

From “The Need of Our Own Project”
The militant action around the program of the organization implies “not just deal with things when they happen, neither deal with each situation isolated from the other nor lose enthusiasm because the advance is not immediately visible. It is about setting goals and move towards them. It is about choosing actions and establishing priorities based in these objectives. This implies, of course, that there are activities that we will not do, actions in which we shall not be. They might be important or even spectacular, however, they do not count if they do not fit with the purposes of the step of our program. In other cases, in activities that are in harmony with our goals, we will be in the absolute minority or with great complications. To choose what is more pleasing or with less complications is not a correct policy.”(5)
(The quote within the quote is from Sobre el concepto de estrategia, XI Congreso de la Federación Anarquista Uruguaya, 1997. I think this is it.)

From “Materialism and Idealism – CAZP/FAO” by The Anarchist Collective ‘Zumbi dos Palmares ‘
“We understand two indispensable but distinct, not antagonistic, spaces of organization: the social, relative to the way in which the organization inserts itself (university, factory, residence etc), that is the space of organization and construction of popular power, the social movements in general; and one specifically political, programatically anarchist. We must have clarity as to how much the role of the organization fits politics and to the social movements. Considering that they possess distinct dynamics, but that it does not mean to say they are opposed, possessing different roles in the class struggle. (…)the social movements, the organized working class in general, are agglutinated in more concrete questions and tends to linger itself at the peculiarities of its movement and space of struggle. And this is beneficial and indispensable. But with the Political Organization of revolutionary intention the opposite occurs: what it loses in numerical strength, it must gain in theory and in political programme to be defended, therefore it will go to think not only of the global form, coordinating forces in different locations of performance, as well as in long standing term, not falling into immediacy, it therefore has a more clearly defined political programme. Here it is important to add that we are not speaking of a hierarchy, being able to seem of implicit form, of the political organization (which would be the principle responsible for the theoretical-programmatic elaboration) and the mass organizations (responsible for the practical action). The mass organizations (entities, unions etc) are spaces of construction of the revolutionary theory and of its programme, or even better, it is in these where the struggle and all its implications are fundamentally constructed.”