Fragmented thoughts on political organization

Fragmented thoughts on political organization

Some rough thoughts on political organization, mostly based on my experience with groups in North America and conversations with some current and former members.

1) Contemporary political organization in the United States in large part came out of the post-Seattle 1999 resurgence of anarchism and the subsequent disagreements with primitivists, post-leftists, counter-institution types, and insurrectionaries.

2)So for a long while (and to a certain extent today), the purpose and main appeal if political organization was in part because of defining themselves against other anarchists. This is no longer an acceptable purpose.

3)Political organization has a tendency to take the types of conversations that should be happening in the wider class and instead places them primarily in closed groups between a very small amount of people. This is encouraged by advocating that a strict separation of the political and the economic must be maintained. However, it assumes that existing economic organizations are not already political and it is rarely gives an adequate explanation on how this differs from Lenin's 'trade union consciousness', which anarchists and libertarian communists have always rejected.

4)There has yet to be a serious and comprehensive assessment of the political organization experience since Seattle '99. This includes successes/failures as well as current and now defunct groups.

5)Despite their rejection of building anarchist or radical left mass organizations 'from scratch', the strategy of social insertion (a type of boring-from-within) doesn't seem to take into account the hundreds, if not thousands of leftist groups who have entered mass organizations in order to radicalize them1.

6)The issue of formal VS informal as some sort of flagship identifier is nearly a false dichotomy, with some political organizations mostly being a listserv you pay dues to be on that occasionally sends out short statements of solidarity. Dwelling on whether something is 'formal' or 'informal' doesn't take into account if the something is worth doing at all.

7)Despite talk of 'theoretical and tactical unity', the actual projects members are involved in as a main activity includes the internal functions of the political organization itself, mainstream unions, the IWW, solidarity networks, Occupy, what amounts to internal reading groups, workers centers, co-operative projects, Food Not Bombs, etc. or...an extremely wide range for a relatively small group of people.

8)Branching off the lack of assessment on the experience of contemporary political organization, there is no formalized resource for passing down skills and knowledge. There are no trainings or documents that help members do the activity the groups say they exist for, nor any effort to make sure members get to trainings or have resources that do exist in other groups.

9)As there is no formalized way to pass down skills and knowledge, there is a huge gulf between older, more established individuals (mostly in major metro areas) and newer, younger and less established people (many in smaller cities, towns and isolated rural areas).

10)Often dominating the dialogue, agenda and concentration of the political organizations are those who speak mainly of theory and 'internal education'. The need for developing organizing skills and experience is secondary. This begs the question of what is a political organization VS what is a reading and discussion group.

  • 1. I consider bringing up the fact that many of them attempted to seize executive positions solely is side-stepping the question, as not all groups did this, nor did they always fail to create a complimentary militant base. Also, none of the political organizations I'm speaking of reject taking formal leadership or staff positions in mass organizations, and some of their members, in fact, do hold such positions.

Comments

klas batalo
Jun 15 2012 04:20

Let me first say that I am very sympathetic to your critique and that my local group has been trying to think about this question a bit and also incorporate the question of not separating the political and economic for a while. Lately we've organized into internal fronts like the FARJ do, and have more working group style meetings/discussions as part of our business meetings about/around the mass or intermediate level work we are engaged in. This is of course on top of of also having such discussions and working on struggles in mass and intermediate level organizations. This could yes seem like duplication of effort, but at least at this time our militants are generally the most effected and involved in the organizing we do. I'm still not sure if this makes sense, but has reframed quite easily and switched what we do on the regular, other than analysis, reading groups, and training.

Training is one thing you touched on which my organization has slowly but surely over the last few years started to actually prioritize. Anyone who for whatever reason we have not recruited through direct involvement in struggles, but because of sympathy we have been attempting to make sure they go to as many organizing trainings as possible. This has included everything from the IWW OT 101s, to sharing training experiences of the salt programs of U-H, to more traditional community organizing, a supporting member of ours has developed the below trainings for instance, which have been given at conferences:

http://activism2organizing.org/
http://popularassembly.tumblr.com/post/23067046038/share-this-flier-with-your-friends

This is also a video from a training series in our region we've made sure we've sent our militants and contacts to. Ashanti also recently gave a similar talk this past summer in my city, at our local social center, with the comrade who developed the above trainings also participating in presenting.

http://archive.org/details/WeveGotThePowerCommunityOrganizingTrainingSeriesSession1

klas batalo
Jun 15 2012 05:03
Quote:
Political organization has a tendency to take the types of conversations that should be happening in the wider class and instead places them primarily in closed groups between a very small amount of people.

According to the theory of the political-economic organization, the bodies for the class are supposed to be open committees and assemblies outside of the political-economic organization. So are not political-economic revolutionary minorities having such conversations internally also a very small amount of people? If they are having those discussions in open committees and assemblies, are not those separate (self)organizations that the political-economic group (or it's members) would be having such discussions in, very much like "platformists" or "especifists"...maybe I'm just dense, so excuse me, but I have really not been convinced for sometime that political-economic organizations also engage in dual organizationalism, or boring from within. SolFed doesn't say don't participate in your trade union, they say spread anarcho-syndicalist style organizing methods within and beyond it's structure. How is this any different?

klas batalo
Jun 15 2012 05:10

http://gurgaonworkersnews.wordpress.com/2012/05/21/759/

The recent essays from above might be also interesting for this discussion. Here are some quotes:

Quote:
The steps towards a workers’ organisation are based on political assumptions – one of them being that the classical distinction in ‘trade union struggle’ and ‘party struggle’, in ‘economical’ and ‘political’ struggle, has become a stumbling block.
Quote:
Class Composition and Periodisation

Although historical periodisation contains a certain danger of becoming schematic we can state that, e.g. the cycle of transformation from agricultural labour and small peasantry to urban and industrial work corresponded to formation of ‘communist parties’ as bridge organisations [2], the early stage of skilled industrial manufacturing work gave birth to ‘councilist’ and ‘revolutionary syndicalist’ workers’ organisations, and the period of large-scale ‘Fordist’ industries, which were more integrated into general society brought forth organisational forms of ‘mass workers’, such as general assemblies and wider political coordinations with a quite different ‘communist vision’ from earlier perspectives of ‘self-management’.

Quote:
Relate to / Create Factory Collectives

Prime objective of any workers’ organisation should be the development of collectives (or the establishing of relations to existing collectives) within workplaces, which are able to act. At the current stage of class struggle the question of the relation between ‘shop-floor’ activities and wider ‘political’ coordination seems to be a question of either – or. Without wider struggles workers’ collectives within factories don’t ‘find’ other group of workers outside. For the same reason ‘political groups’ remain small and can chose either to act on the ‘general terrain’ (going from struggle to struggle, publishing general newspapers) or concentrate on building work-place based activities. One reaction to this dilemma is that once we come across active groups of workers, due to lack of time and energy (and may be reflection) we propose quick solutions, such as setting up of company unions – instead of engaging in a common process of analysis as a precondition for more fruitful collective steps. At this point we can only refer to the historic experience of ‘factory activity’ in Faridabad during the 1980s and 1990s as reference for deeper debate.

http://libcom.org/library/self-activity-wage-workers-kamunist-kranti

klas batalo
Jun 15 2012 05:25

SO I guess my last question is it really that big of a deal if there are some workplace based groups that dabble in a little bit of territorial organizing like SolFed, and that there are territorial groups that dabble in a little workplace organizing like AFed? My gut instinct is either to not care and just accept that multiple groups will try out different things, or think that maybe we should build groups that do multi-issue organizing. But I also get a sense that logic is supposed to tell me, (and I think this is what you are grasping at Juan) that groups should be single issue, or pick limited issues to organize around. IDK where I stand yet, but I think it is generally up in the air.

Another thing some get tense about calls by platformist for union mass organizations to be open to all workers or apolitical, (malatesta vs monatte if you will)...but how is solfed's or IWW's early SWU campaign call for more open worker committees or assemblies not the same thing? Is it because they are more informal?

Chilli Sauce
Jun 15 2012 16:00
Quote:
But I also get a sense that logic is supposed to tell me, (and I think this is what you are grasping at Juan) that groups should be single issue, or pick limited issues to organize around.

I don't want to speak for Juan, but the impression I get is that he thinks groups should have a defined strategy as opposed to "issues" which they campaign/organize around.

That said, in another thread someone said that 'strategy is more often about what a group chooses not to do' and I think that's a really a really important point.

Personally, I'm in favor of a division of labor in the anarchist movement. We should have an anarchist organization for workplace activity and another for anti-fascism. Of course this doesn't mean there won't be overlap and all organizations should bridge the political and the economic, but a defined sphere of activity and an agreed strategy for each group seems like the way forward.

klas batalo
Jun 15 2012 18:52

hmm interesting, never really thought about doing a division of labor for the anarchist movement, so essentially a workplace network does this, ara/antifa for that, etc thanks for your thoughts chilli!

i think i also never thought about doing a division of labor for the anarchist movement, cause the US anarchist movement already does do that. there are a million little single issue organizations.

Juan Conatz
Jun 15 2012 20:44

I'm just gonna concentrate most of my comments here, although I see on Facebook its generated some discussion.

First off, the reason they're fragmented thoughts is because, well...they're fragmented thoughts. If they were more than that, this would have been something far more extensive. Right now I'm not sure if I'm against formal political organization period or have issues with how they were/are. Certainly I have some sympathies with some anti-political organization sentiments, but I'm not totally convinced. Really, it can be summed up as 'They're not for me right now, but they are also not something I'm going to argue against as a position.1

Sabotage, I'm having trouble really understanding what you're saying in the comments above. I'm assuming you've read something about 'the theory of the political-economic organization' that either I haven't or forgot, so not really sure how to respond to your second comment. Thanks for the link to Gurgaon Workers News, though, will have to check that out. Your other comment is also a bit confusing to me, as I'm not sure what you mean by 'territorial organizing' (never seen this term).

The last part of that comment though, is what you're asking basically what the difference is between platformism and the SolFed/CNT/'direct unionist'/network of militants? If so, that's a thought provoking question, and I'd have to think about it some.

  • 1. Except in relation to the IWW. I don't think Wobblies joining political organizations helps the IWW, but actually hurts us, so I would and have argued against IWW people starting or joining political organizations. I think that's a separate conversation though.
Juan Conatz
Jun 15 2012 21:20

On to some Facebook comments

Quote:
I like this mostly. It seems to me that participating in mass work is essential and that as we move towards more of a movement period, good ideas rise to the top (like we saw with the IWW in Madison) and that means that small groups of organized people can have increasingly large impacts. I also think separating the wheat from the chaff in terms of any radical strains isn't a bad idea though it is annoying as hell to have to deal with many anarchists, marxists, etc. That said, I'm all down for people to build the IWW, i.e., a mass org from scratch and would be fine with other types of mass formations being built up, though the IWW is also to some extent a 'political' group within existing unions, the movement as a whole, etc. I also think mentoring is the most direct form of passing on knowledge and experience and that this is only really relevant in relation to real organizing work as you point out. I think the need for formations is for serious people to get serious to better build shit. This is also why we need the IWW and for the IWW to get serious, and this is helped by groups based on affinity or otherwise, as we can see with projects like Recomposition, etc. Finally, I think connecting people who share a lot of ways of thinking across different movements is useful as we are going to start having things pop off when movements see each other as pieces of the same struggle and find practical ways for that to happen. More on this later, these are my scattered thoughts : )

Actually, I'm glad you mentioned the IWW in Madison, because this was kind of a situation which rearranged my politics a bit and made me question the need for political organization. But the crossover of people formerly or currently members of political orgs. makes the distinction a little difficult. For example, the only reason I was able to get there and contribute was because 2 members of First of May Anarchist Alliance and 1 former WSAer (all Wobs, too) gave me money to get there. Me knowing these folks is because of my former membership in WSA and WRC. Me knowing what to do in the things I did there that were good were probably directly influenced by being in those groups, too. Also, at the time, I was hitting up a certain NEFAC member about labor stats and info that would help us. So remembering that makes thinking about political org. not so cut and dry, imo.

As far as the IWW be helped by groups with shared affinity, etc. I'm not sure if you mean political orgs. in this, but I think more often than not, such groups haven't really benefited us. I wish they did. In fact, I'd like to see more from people in CSAC1 on why they're in the IWW. Same with some of the independent socialists or Trotskyists in the union. I'm sure they all receive some amount of shit from other people in their tendency about being in the union, how do they justify it? What is their response? I'd actually be curious about that.

Quote:
I think there's a lot less unity needed when things are primarily study groups and announcement listservs, and I think if people acknowledged what things actually are, there would be a lot less yelling at each other. A lot of times it feels like it's mostly a social circle of (primarily white) dudes trying to hype themselves up, and I know we talk a lot about having a better composition...but people join orgs that are relevant to their lives, and I don't think a social network of primarily 20-40something white dudes who like arguing with each other is particularly relevant to people outside that circle. I think the challenge is to get everyone actually working on common projects (because certainly there are parts of these groups that do do common projects, it's just not the case the majority of the time) and to make the foundation of being in an organization common work and common tasks, rather than agreeing on a loose set of common principles and being in the same social circle.

I agree with this quite a bit and was what I was trying to get at with the part about informal VS formal.

Quote:
I particularly like the point on social insertion. As you mention, this has been a left strategy, albiet with a different orientation (ie vanguardist), for quite some time. What also gets left out of the discussion on this point is that there are few mass organizations in the US, as compared to latin america where this concept originated. What options do folks in smaller cities or rural areas with few if any mass orgs to plug into?

and

Quote:
^i think that really is the question we've failed to grapple with. the apparent task of especifistas in the US isn't so much to insert into mass movements but to catalyze them into existence (and how to do that w/o just spawning front groups). idk that anybody's really figured that out yet, and certainly the IWW and solnets seem to move us in that direction. but i think one of the most exiting things is the way that Take Back the Land/Occupy our Homes has just skyrocketed in terms of activity. and it's predominantly anarchist-types tho it's intentionally broad enough to become a mass force. idk that those orgs will themselves become mass, but they may well lead to the rise of mass forces like neighborhood assemblies and tenants' syndicates.

On the first part about 'social insertion'...this is one thing I've really had a problem with platformism is some aspects being anti-anarcho syndicalist and being forces that while officially say that the union form will never be revolutionary, in the end, their practice is making mainstream unions more 'democratic and militant'. It seems that the aim is just to create apolitical syndicalist breakaways of mainstream unions. I don't see how this is less realistic than building the IWW or another formation up and in fact I don't think really takes on tough questions that we in the IWW have had to face (recently I might add), such as issues of mass affiliation and trade unionism with red flags, etc.

The question about getting involved in a mass org. VS building...that's probably the most unaddressed aspect of the rise of political org. in North America. I don't what to make it seem overblown, what we're talking about here is basically 200-300 people, if that, but including defunct groups, former members and influence that punches about their weight, we start talking about far more than that. But that question has never been answered. Its one we wrestled with in WRC and never got much help with from other groups. I remember even starting a thread on Anarchist Black Cat (now defunct) and most people didn't know or had discouraging answers and I sort of came to the conclusion that building more mass forms of struggle was more important and that the political org. was more needed down the road...and this was when I was in 2 of those groups.

  • 1. Class Struggle Anarchist Conference - a conference put on by most of the dual organizationalist anarchist groups in the U.S.
Juan Conatz
Jun 15 2012 21:47
Quote:
Personally, I'm not quite ready to give up altogether on political organization. I do agree with pretty much everything said in the piece and here in the comments. [The] comments immediately above [about the 'question we've failed to grapple with...the apparent task of especifistas in the US'] strike me as particularly relevant: that nobody knows what to really do, and that's a hard fucking thing to deal with and even admit. The various projects mentioined above are steps in the right direction. Hashing out what makes sense in your area, realm of activity, etc, are tough questions. And yeah, there could be more an honest acknowledgement about that among us. Organizing in non-metropoles and where an organized left presence is scattered or non-existent is also supremely difficult.

Agreed. I think a bigger amount of honesty is needed, but there is a hesitancy, which is understandable as no one wants to question what they or others have put blood, sweat and tears into. But this lack of honesty on issues like this I think is a reason groups go defunct, the lack of follow through between groups and the confusion on what exactly to do.

Quote:
i think the biggest thing since apparently these concerns have been a big issue for many people in our groups, is that if you have concerns share them. you have political responsibility to not just talk about this shit on facebook and engage your current organizations especially the less developed and newer people, otherwise i see lots of people quitting, being elitist, and not sharing their ideas, working with people. i'm not making a critique of recomp people btw, i'm more talking about my experience in CS... and i wasn't around for the folks getting fed up with WSA, i fucking joined cause i thought the recomp people were in it in fact. but yeah i think we should just have the conversations about this stuff and move on instead of like getting mad that most of the movement is 2 years behind the rest of us theory nerds.

On bringing it up within the groups...I guess that's fair. I think parts of this had been brought up within the groups some us former members were in at the time. Some of it wasn't. Other stuff, I know MAS and Scott Nappalos have written about. It seems maybe you're interpreting an attack on the CSAC groups with my piece, I'm sorry you feel that way. I tried to be constructive, maybe it didn't come across that way as much as I wanted it to. But it wasn't my intention for this to be some sort of sniping attack. Oh, also, here's something I wrote in response to leaving the WSA a while ago. Looking back at it, I'd probably write it differently, and some of it you might not exactly know what I'm talking about, but it mostly reflects my position as far as 'changing from within' goes:

In the past, you've suggested or questioned those who've envisioned different things for the CSAC milieu to stay and push for them. And to a certain extent, I agree. And I hope those who share my outlook who have the time and energy do exactly that. However, I don't have that time and energy, and I can see how others don't either. I feel like my time and energy pushing for what I want is better spent in the IWW, which in my opinion, is less inward focused and has more tangible results when it succeeds. I am exclusively interested in workplace organizing and helping others gain the tools and experience doing workplace organizing. Anything that distracts from that, whether it's poorly thought out ideas on housing/community organizing, solidarity networks or fighting for a reorganization of political organizations that aren't focused on workplace organizing is not really my thing, right now.

I still enjoy engaging people in the political organizations and wish I could make it to CSAC4, which I appreciate receiving an invitation to attend despite me not being in any of those groups anymore, but right now, my activity would be hampered by involvement in one of the political organizations, not enhanced.

Juan Conatz
Jun 15 2012 22:17
Quote:
What about how the objective conditions we operate under in advanced capitalist economies? How does that impact the type of organizations that are possible in the current context? Is it even possible for a far-left organization to be more than a tiny sect under these conditions and consciousness? Is it even possible to break with the dominant mediation of the trade unions in a substantial movement? Is there an alternative?

Not really sure what you mean by 'objective conditions we operate in advanced capitalist economies'. That has to be unpacked quite a bit, man haha.

Juan Conatz
Jun 15 2012 23:56

In some ways, what Nate Hawthorne jokingly refers to as 'liquidationism' is probably a vague, but partially accurate description of what I'm for right now. Not sure if that's actually a term that means anything or has been used by people before though.

Basically, I kind of think we should dissolve formal political organizations and concentrate on working in bigger groups such as the IWW or mass organizations while maintaining informal networks and producing publications/blogs/writing. Right now, it's more important to gain organizing skills and experience, while building up combative economic organs/formations of the class. I'm not convinced that formal political organization can accomplish or even assist with this. Later, at a certain point, if there's a need, then those things can be formed.

This is all pretty vague to me though and I'm unsure about it. Like was mentioned, these are fragmented, incomplete thoughts and sometimes contradictory.

syndicalist
Jun 16 2012 00:24

I'm not really sure I get what folks are saying here.
Mainly because anarcho-syndcalist propaganda groups of my day were/are essentially "dual organizationalist".
Certainly in the "advanced" capitalist countries.And this has colored my thinking ever since.

The idea has always been to theoretically grouping militants with similiar ideas in the same organization who are theoretically engaged in mass work. And to produce publcations, etc. that would help advance the general ideals.

"Mass work" included such things as being in the IWW, the reformist unions, community stuff, defence of reproductive clinics and so forth. Theoretcially folks are to share experiances, seek help where needed and discuss things they may not be able to discuss in their mass work.... Doesn't always work out this way, but, I suspect this is th basis for how it should.

Honesty is also based around relaistic expecations, not wihs lists of what folks expect, but may not materially exist at a given moment.

I will take exception to this, because it's just not accurate: " i wasn't around for the folks getting fed up with WSA"...... unless you know something we don't, it was always said to us in the WSA folks were leaving to concentrate on "local stuff" or the IWW.

That said, eveything is a two way street. You can't be fed up with something which may not have existed or were working towards. I suppose it's hard to be both rebuilding and satisfying expecations at the same time. But peoples own politics and focus transition
and everyone has the right to transition and move forward, backwards or sidewise as they choose.

Quote:
Agreed. I think a bigger amount of honesty is needed, but there is a hesitancy, which is understandable as no one wants to question what they or others have put blood, sweat and tears into. But this lack of honesty on issues like this I think is a reason groups go defunct, the lack of follow through between groups and the confusion on what exactly to do.

I think that the question of capacity, the eveness of capacity and realistic expectations often color things.
Most people are not "honest" in that assesment. I mean, to the extent that everyone wants stuff to already be advanced, in place and ready to go and it's not always there.

In terms of overall assesments, I don't think people ask the question as to what they do best. Or ask themselves what have they done wrong.

In terms of the WSA, perhaps being the pettre dish of the movement was not so good or helpful. We wanted to provide an outlet to build a national class struggle organization that incorportaed the best of some
of the various traditions then held our younger comrades. With too many people in motion, tyring to figure out their own politics, styles, methodology during a period of fast regrowth maybe didn't work out so well. Perhaps sometimes you try and it doesn't work.
Does it mean that opening up the organization to folks was not offered in good faith,certainly not.

Sometimes folks have expectations of "you" and you of "them" and sometimes they just to even up.
It takes alot of resposnsibilty for making sure that the growth has some evenness, that people are willing to put their foot to the grindstone and so forth. Sometimes folks are tied down with other stuff ("mass work" alone) and feel that those in the political organization have to shoulder the burden of group rebuiliding alone. Don't always work. And it son't always work that way.

After near 40 years of "doing" this stuff, my greatest disappointment is that too many people got way too much to say, but much work falls on the same shoulders, with everyone else basically not picking up their share. Then folks criticize that stuff ain't happening to their liking cause the few people doing it ain't doing it right, to their liking or fast enough. No matter what organization you may belong to,it's all the same. I dunno, work hard at what you believe in, stick it out, tough it out and don't loose faith in the ideal. Everything else is just stuff you got to wipe off your shoes from time to time.

syndicalistcat
Jun 16 2012 03:21

i think some of the problem is do to the very longstanding problem of very thin numbers. I would really like to see centers for popular education, outwardly oriented, like the Ateneo tradition in Spain and South America. but that would be a major local project. We'd presumably want to be able to do organizer trainings, public discussions of revolutionary history, and other things related to both formation of militants and building organizing skills.

There are other kinds of organizing projects it would be very important to be able to do, such as to work on building a particular union in some workplace/industry locally, or building a tenant union. But it would take sufficient number of people who are agreed on a project, for a project of this sort to get off the ground.

My experience has been that it has been very difficult to get even a few libertarian socialist militants together, who are dependable, and often people are in very different situations. So, in this general situation you inevitably will tend to have organizations that will often be more like networks in practice.

Nate
Jun 16 2012 04:19
Juan Conatz wrote:
[my views] can be summed up as 'They're not for me right now, but they are also not something I'm going to argue against as a position. (...) Except in relation to the IWW. I don't think Wobblies joining political organizations helps the IWW, but actually hurts us, so I would and have argued against IWW people starting or joining political organizations. I think that's a separate conversation though.

This is exactly where I'm at. Plus wanting to have (and enjoying having) informal personal contact and friendly relationships with some likeminded radicals including people in the various political groups.

klas batalo
Jun 16 2012 05:54
Nate wrote:
Juan Conatz wrote:
[my views] can be summed up as 'They're not for me right now, but they are also not something I'm going to argue against as a position. (...) Except in relation to the IWW. I don't think Wobblies joining political organizations helps the IWW, but actually hurts us, so I would and have argued against IWW people starting or joining political organizations. I think that's a separate conversation though.

This is exactly where I'm at. Plus wanting to have (and enjoying having) informal personal contact and friendly relationships with some likeminded radicals including people in the various political groups.

I know the FAI was basically like a rank and file anarchy caucus of the CNT, but I just haven't ever thought that way in relation to the IWW and anarchist political orgs in the USA. Sure I've heard some people make comparisons, but I think it is misguided, and I've had some stern close words for comrades who've brought up such notions.

If IWW or a group like SolFed are political workplace ("economic") organizations, why couldn't their also be such groups for other sectors. I think the main issue is that current political groups are seen as being too expansive, and not focused enough. This is why I think having specific strategies for different fronts of struggle is important. Not if each of those should be divided into separate orgs or not, IDK.

Oh on that note territorial vs workplace groups is leftcom jargon. There have been some recent pieces by ICT and ICC using such language.

lou.rinaldi
Jun 16 2012 16:01

Hey Juan --

First I want to say thanks for writing this, because I think it is important to reflect on organization, where it is at, and why we get frustrated with it. A lot of this resonates with me, even as a current member of a libertarian communist org and of the IWW (which you say is bad for the IWW, a statement I strongly disagree with). The issues of political education and internal development really lag in the CSAC milieu, from my experience, but like Sabotage has said, it is something being moved forward with. In Common Struggle, specifically, I think it's being moved forward on at a good pace.

I guess one thing I wanted to speak to in particular was that you said platformist groups often have radical posture ("the union can never be revolutionary") and then end up in the position of attempting to reform the union to be better, more militant, and more democratic. However, I wouldn't argue against this per se, because we have to evaluate where we are at.

First, in some areas building independent organization won't always be possible. Even though I tend to have the mentality of "push forward!" a lot of the time, I have to admit that it is sometimes worth it to work within reformist structures, especially the more militant reformist structures. For young radicals in particular, I think it can be a learning experience (I say this because it was for me -- being invovled with nonprofits around solidarity work, then solidarity with a union more directly, and then an abortive attempt at salting for a AFL-CIO union).

Something I hear repeated often is that we should just be good ol' union boys and build a relationship and sense of trust with people. We should, but we should be careful. Creating relationships with various organizers and activists can pay off at a later time. But there is always the danger of getting played -- and sometimes we will. Another instance of, especially for younger comrades, I say good. Learn from that mistake and learn how to organize better.

I would rather have people get pushed around and mess up in a reformist organization than the IWW. I think being disillusioned with the mainstream unions is a good thing -- but we need to know how to bring people back into the fold and get them excited about the IWW.

I've got a lot of thoughts on this but I've got to run for now. Hope this all makes sense.

A. Weaver
Jun 16 2012 20:32

I'm reposting some edited comments from FB: Good deal of useful content in this and even though this sort of presses my buttons for various reasons I think it gives some valuable points to evaluate previous pitfalls and what needs to be strengthened. But I know that the degree of truth in this piece is read by many as a criticism of the larger project of political organization but if that's what people are taking away from this then I'd call that criticizing the seed for not being a flower. I'd also point out that good number of the points (and some new ones in similar veins) could easily have applied to the IWW a decade ago (and having joined the IWW in 1998 I can speak to that). Scott Napolas took my point that basically the IWW was only so long ago 'a seed' and only through a great deal of hard work by solid militants over time as well as many missteps and fumbles along the way did it become the burgeoning flower that we see today.

From Scott:

Quote:
"The bigger questions are what we need to build, and how a functional revolutionary movement could arise[?] The IWW was a largely non-organizing sect before many of us hunkered down and built a new practice that hadn't really been tried in north america in a long time. That's a model in a way. What would that look like for political organization? I don't see real differences there. ... in the end if we have these insights about the political/economic divide, the need for coherent trainings & experience in mass work, etc., we need to build that alternative. The other option is the present culture of individualistic self-study, near-term uncoordinate mass work, and hemorrhaging militants to even worse organizations which personally i saw in the IWW. We lost solid folks to bad social democratic groups, leninists, and wack anarchist groups not because we didn't have a solid mass base, but because the most advanced failed to engage people at a political level and offer a coherent alternative. Political organization won't come out of a box and solve this stuff, and whatever organizations we build are only as good as the people & the political context."

One point that I'd contest though is #5 "social insertion as boring-within." While I think that a good deal of folks who claimed inspiration from the platform in the US (wrongly IMO) took up a position of or something close to 'bore-from-within' based on their interpretation of the Platform, Especifismo has never been presented as advocating this and I think that's a misread. If you look at the article I wrote on especifismo a number of years ago that played a large role in introducing it to North America, the example it gives for social insertion is one of political militants building a long term relationship with folks in an industry and helping them build an organization from scratch:

From "Especifismo: The Anarchist Praxis of Building Popular Movements and Revolutionary Organization in South America"

Quote:
"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."

Further, reading the interviews where the Latin American especifists actually talk about their work, with the exception of working with rank and file of the MST, most example of organizing that they talk about are work that they've developed, such as neighborhood committees and popular education projects. Or in the case of Chile, what seems to be the largest anarchist effort is the intermediate type student/anarchist organization the FEL, which is active within the larger students movement.

In my mind (and I feel that I've always tried to represent this position generally as the primary task of political militants), the US generally does not have real popular/social movements and what does exist are often super deformed by NGOism and top down business unionism that offer no or little terrain for revolutionaries to build a real praxis; therefore the main tasks is to help birth these and build these movements. Now a lot of shit has popped off in the last year or two that's changing that, but the tasks are largely the same-- how to take these momentary bursts and make them into something more long term, systemic and organized? And especially because I believe in the importance of the workplace a site of struggle, how do we channel this into the workplace and build working class power as opposed to just diffuse opposition/protest movements? And another key task is how to build solid and developed militants that are long term committed to the work and ideas?

R. Spourgitis
Jun 16 2012 20:33

Being one of those fbook posters, still in favor of political orgs. but thinking Juan has brought to the fore issues overdue in discussion for us.

I first want to say what the political organization has offered me, where I see its benefits still. The ability to engage with others on a higher level of political and practical understanding is rewarding in terms of personal development, and more importantly, in strategizing about how to take action. This doesn't happen in synthesist forms, and informal ones are too closed in my view. Sure, informality and friendship-based nature of political orgs. are always there - but they are in mass orgs. too. We aren't robots, we don't remove our humanity and interpersonal shit when we walk into the meeting. All our human failings follow us as well. People are right to point out that building up the trust, confidence and skills to act effectively are in many ways where we are. Does this let people off the hook for lack of follow through? Certainly not, but we need supportive engagement to get there. Besides that, we need active campaigns and projects on the ground, which realistically are going to come from both within and outside of our milieu. And that's for the better.

Like sabotage, I don't see it as an either/or. I think those of us who see the value in trying to build, or maintaining, our national/regional/local political organizations can still do that. Do that, and have productive effective relationships with those who choose not to. Also, with those on the broader left we choose to work with, either through political affinity as in some of the new-school "libertarian marxists" or for short-term practical efficacy. It's all about trying out what works.

Something I haven't said on facebook, because I don't use a pseudonym and am uncomfortable with its public/private nature, is my personal relationship to the IWW. I have never been in a branch, so I really don't understand what is at issue over political organization involvement vs. solely IWW work, basically not going to comment there. I will say that being in an area which has struggled to maintain more than 5 active wobblies at any given point, and this spread out over 3-4 cities in a roughly 100 mile radius of the midwest, it doesn't really offer me much, personally. 5 years ago, being less developed politically, I was involved at a time when two different area wobs had two equally abortive attempts at a workplace drive.

When the more recent wobbly group popped up this past year, partly inspired by the events of Madison, I think anyway. There was some hope for more. Two are "dual-carders" in trades unions an hour east of me. Two others of us work at same place, in an industry with a highly diffuse workforce (1-2 employees on shift in 70 different sites), we also had a third (who quit the job, no doubt for the stagnant wage, shitty hours and nature of the work). A few of us have been to the organizer training - a very valuable resource, no doubt. Our abilities/efforts to agitate in the workplace are hampered by several things, but my point in all this rambling is that a realistic workplace organizing campaign doesn't really seem to be on the horizon. We meet once-a-month, bullshit about work and politics, pay our dues, maybe have some beers after. That's pretty much it.

I wouldn't say I've gotten shit for being in IWW (I forget if Juan says this here, or on fbook or both - it's all jumbled up now, smile), if anything there is almost a mystique attached to it, like it's the extra-down class struggle club to be in. Part of that might be our location, and the way we come together from different places for the IWW meet up, part is surely the nature of keeping shit on the d-l when you're talking organizing efforts. But it's definitely something I try to dispel where I can. I am usually describing it in fairly limited terms as a radical anti-capitalist labor union that does a lot of good stuff in industries the rest of the unions won't touch, at least for those who don't know.

Good discussion all around. Lots to think on.

R. Spourgitis
Jun 16 2012 20:53
A. Weaver wrote:
In my mind (and I feel that I've always tried to represent this position generally as the primary task of political militants), the US generally does not have real popular/social movements and what does exist are often super deformed by NGOism and top down business unionism that offer no or little terrain for revolutionaries to build a real praxis; therefore the main tasks is to help birth these and build these movements. Now a lot of shit has popped off in the last year or two that's changing that, but the tasks are largely the same-- how to take these momentary bursts and make them into something more long term, systemic and organized? And especially because I believe in the importance of the workplace a site of struggle, how do we channel this into the workplace and build working class power as opposed to just diffuse opposition/protest movements? And another key task is how to build solid and developed militants that are long term committed to the work and ideas?

I would add to A. Weaver's last point that yes, all that has popped off and we need to build off it, but all that activity and events has tested our meddle, and we find less organizations than before. Tensions, contradictions and difficulties in ideology and praxis have been revealed which seemingly were previously masked in the period of much lower activity. I don't know, that's what my take-away has been of late.

dohball
Jun 16 2012 22:45

Well the link to ashanti's talk made my saturday night!
really energising!

post wall of housework in readiness to face my wall of admin with a clear desk...except i only managed to tackle the kitchen..yep thats this sat night..

I think we can use it in our project...so much appreciated link.

(i think it would have been even better to get 2 folks to film it though and edited the footage ( not loads of work if you can find someone who can use even a basic editing programme) or set up a tripod/improv tripod - you can do that even if yr filming of a mobile & that really can make all the difference etc. etc. even just little things when it comes to shooting yr footage can make all the difference to its quality. I just say this because it was such a compelling talk it feels like it deserves a really good record of it; a bit better and it could have been used as a public screening. But the one that's there still does the job + its good it was filmed at all.So cheers to the project that pulled it together.)

I want to follow this conversation but i am struggling to make sense of some of it... it would help if folks could say what the letter acroynms stand for. Anyway..

Juan said

Quote:
Basically, I kind of think we should dissolve formal political organizations and concentrate on working in bigger groups such as the IWW or mass organizations while maintaining informal networks and producing publications/blogs/writing. Right now, it's more important to gain organizing skills and experience, while building up combative economic organs/formations of the class. I'm not convinced that formal political organization can accomplish or even assist with this. Later, at a certain point, if there's a need, then those things can be formed.

what do y'all mean by formal political organisations.. do you mean like the the anarchist federation & solfed?

Do you think that we can only help/stimulate the growth of active radical self-organisation on a massive scale by aiming to form large organisations (like the IWW aims to be) or do you think there is a role for groups that don't aim to attract lots of members?

I think one of the key questions for any group large or small is whether it is both genuinely empowering for the people involved in it at the same time as espousing anarchistic (my often prefered word for revolutionary/radical/non-vanguardist/liberatarian communist/one that respects that people need to make their own decisions together etc.)ideas.

feels like such a massive conversation to have online

dohball
Jun 16 2012 22:56

do you mean whether to organise/initiate your own groups and campaigns/movements or whether to join already existing ones and try and change them from within?

i think its best to start your own but aim to co-operate and learn from whoever else is there... that's clearer and enables you to say more passionate and in control of what you think is best to do next.
trying to 'bore away' sounds too tiring and a bit disrespectful - better to be try to be honest about what you really want & hope the excitement catches on.

dohball
Jun 17 2012 13:34

well i guess that just added to the fragmentation. sorry - shouldn't post so late at night. may try to get back to this later

bozemananarchy
Jun 17 2012 13:58

Hi Juan,

I wanted to hear you expand on #3 some.

Basically I would agree that Political org. has that tendency to make a smaller circle for those conversations. But the way I see it, the same thing happens in all sorts of organizing. From informal groups in ones workplace, to informal groups in the IWW, this same effect can be seen.

As soon as one creates that informal group that is willing to engage in such conversation, it sort of becomes a closed circle yea know?

Could you respond to your own critique by describing where those conversations ought be taking place?

About the bottom part of #3, I can't really comment, cause I don't know the reference material. wink

Quote:
3)Political organization has a tendency to take the types of conversations that should be happening in the wider class and instead places them primarily in closed groups between a very small amount of people. This is encouraged by advocating that a strict separation of the political and the economic must be maintained. However, it assumes that existing economic organizations are not already political and it is rarely gives an adequate explanation on how this differs from Lenin's 'trade union consciousness', which anarchists and libertarian communists have always rejected.
syndicalist
Jun 17 2012 14:10
Nate wrote:
Juan Conatz wrote:
[my views] can be summed up as 'They're not for me right now, but they are also not something I'm going to argue against as a position. (...) Except in relation to the IWW. I don't think Wobblies joining political organizations helps the IWW, but actually hurts us, so I would and have argued against IWW people starting or joining political organizations. I think that's a separate conversation though.

This is exactly where I'm at. Plus wanting to have (and enjoying having) informal personal contact and friendly relationships with some likeminded radicals including people in the various political groups.

The problem is, this is painted as an either or scenario.

Why don't the IWW liquidate and enter mass movements, retain thier locals as informal political revolutionary unionist groupings and expand from there?

While I not not serious, this is really the mirror image of what is being proposed for those anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists who wish to engage and organize on a couple of track basis.

Nate
Jun 17 2012 16:01

No, it's not. I'm not saying y'all dissolve. I don't have much in the way of serious opinions about what y'all do. I'm not a member and don't get a vote and more importantly I really don't have ideas about what I think would be best for y'all to do. The political organization milieu didn't offer me stuff that I wanted and needed, other than friendships which I'm glad I made. So for what I'm after, the organizations aren't it. For other people, the organizations are a good idea for them to meet needs they have.

What I do have clear views on is that IWW members who want to build the IWW often make the mistake of thinking that joining or forming a political organization will help them do that. I'd like to see that mistake stop happening. I also think that often IWW people join or start political organizations for other reasons than wanting to build the IWW. I wish them well and wish them success in those efforts, but more often than not they come at the expense of the IWW. I'd like to see the IWW figure out how to meet as many of those people's needs as possible because those needs are pushing/pulling them into other groups and somewhat out of the IWW. There are limits to that, though - like if someone wants to do anti-police brutality or anti-sexual assault work (etc), both of which are really important, another group is going to be a better choice because the IWW's not going to be very suited for that except in the very short term. So people who want to do other organizing that doesn't make sense in the IWW should go do that work with another group and we shouldn't sweat that. But people who want to reflect on organizing together etc, we can do that in the IWW and should, rather than having political organizations be the place where those happen.

None of this is against people currently in political organizations or saying those groups are useless or worthless. It's saying that for the limited goals of building the IWW, they're generally not an asset. That's not the only thing that matters and it's not something everyone should care about. But a few of us who do care about it and like I said we tend to make a mistake in thinking that joining other groups helps build the IWW.

syndicalist
Jun 17 2012 16:53
Quote:
"What I do have clear views on is that IWW members who want to build the IWW often make the mistake of thinking that joining or forming a political organization will help them do that. I'd like to see that mistake stop happening. I also think that often IWW people join or start political organizations for other reasons than wanting to build the IWW."

If eveything is IWW-centric, yes, this would prolly be true to the extent that the IWW is not a political organization and a political organization isn't a union. Each have something particular to offeer and each provide a space for different discussions, or should at least.

While, for example, an anarcho-syndicalist may have a certain focus in the IWW, for the most part that is shop and campaign oriented. With "leaving politics at the door" as the main "political" approach of the IWW that, IMHO, has always left a space open for a dual organizational approach. that said, it may not be locally applicable everywhere.

Nate
Jun 17 2012 17:59

We're kind of going over ground we've been over before so I'm gonna bow out after this. Earlier you said I was making this an either/or scenario. It is, but not for everyone. It is for people who are, as you put it, IWW-centric, I didn't say everything is IWW-centric. I'm IWW-centric. That's what I'm into. People who share that priority should, in my opinion, do stuff along the lines of what I said. People with other priorities should do whatever makes sense to them. I haven't here made any argument about how everyone should have the same priorities on this as well. I have not said and do not think that everyone should be IWW-centric. I'm personally not particularly interested in having a discussion about why people should or shouldn't prioritize the IWW as those discussions are pretty much never interesting or productive in my experience.

I'm not saying people should want to build the IWW or should not want political organizations. It's just true that some people do want to build the IWW. Those people should do so, and they are generally mistaken if they think that forming or joining political organizations is a good way to do so. That's all I'm saying. People who want to do other things should do those things, and political organizations may well be a good way to meet those other priorities. I don't have a strong opinion or clear ideas on that either way.

syndicalist
Jun 17 2012 18:14

By the same token, Nate, I'm not particularly interested in debating whether political organizations are good, bad or indifferent.You say they're not for IWW purposes, and maybe there's a truism from a perspective of prioritizing
IWW work.

I suppose I just don't accept the writing off of dual organizalism as being particularly constructive. But everyone is entitled their perspectives and views. That's really my point. To each their own and we'd avoid the same circular conversations that happen.

Nate
Jun 17 2012 18:47

Then we agree, Syndicalist, because I'm not talking about political organizations in general. I don't personally want to be in one. Juan expressed very well why he doesn't, and I think the same. As he put it:

Juan Conatz wrote:
'[political organization are] not for me right now, but they are also not something I'm going to argue against as a position. (...) Except in relation to the IWW. I don't think Wobblies joining political organizations helps the IWW

And if people in the IWW think joining or starting political groups helps the IWW, fair enough. I think they're wrong, but they're free to believe that and to act on their beliefs. The best way to resolve that disagreement would be in practice, for those people to make some plans to build the IWW up through their activity in their other groups, and see what happens after while and report back.

syndicalist
Jun 17 2012 19:13

I agree...that folks should do what they think is right for themselves ..... but this continued and historical sorta one-up-organizationalhip has always been a turn off....and continues to be.

Yes, of course, the proof of the pudding is always in the eating. But I don't think being a member of a political organization and of the IWW are contradictory,in conflict with each other or diminshes from the work they do in either organization.

Recomposition very much acts like a political organiozation in the sense you all agree on a certain set of political ideas, but see the primary focus of your mass work is the IWW. The promotion of a revolutionary document (Direct Uniionism) was the concsious effort of ideologically in tune folks.
This was a formal and concious effort by folks who may be somewhat loose in their organizational formality, but act in concernt and in a formal way within the mass organization. Very similiar to what, I would think, folks in, say, anarcho-syndicalist dial organizational organizations may try and do.