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. 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.


Uncle Aunty
Jul 5 2012 03:46
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Having said that I actually do think the emphasis should be on developing front lines organising skills and this -is- actually way more important than being theoretically correct and -is- in fact theoretical. We work really hard in our branch at including as much feminist and anti racist content into our on the job trainings as possible in order to develop this analysis in our members through organising.

Would you mind sharing how you include antiracist and feminist content into your trainings? I am an organizer with SeaSol and would like to see how we could effectively and practically include this into our work... without getting lost in the whole activist left sceney stuff that you mention later. Also you mentioned your branch has a solidarity committee?

I don't know if you would want to send me a PM or reply in this thread, but I am eager to learn more about all this.


Jul 5 2012 05:04

Hey Aunty it's not some secret and it doesn't involve anything that is beyond using the OT 101 and a bit of common sense. We make sure we highlight examples of jobs and issues on those jobs that go deeper than just wages benefit questions, like harassment from co-workers etc. Also use examples from jobs that are not strictly male professions (we have some teachers so we farm them for examples).

We also are very cognizant of who we get to present, generally aiming for parity in the trainings and as much diversity as possible when we do panel talks. We also cover human rights legislation in our legal section, though like most of our legal stuff we skim it and try and push people towards dealing with stuff by organising on the floor.

Joseph Kay
Jul 5 2012 06:50
Sabotage wrote:
Edit: Also in looking towards the AAUD and AAUD-E I think you can just look at their program to see how if some IWW and SolFed folks are looking towards them how they were pretty specifically workerist:

Can I just put this one to bed. Everyone keeps saying this, but SF's recent development is emphatically not based on the AAUD for a series of reasons (I know some of the Recomp folks are more councillist-influenced so I'm speaking for myself here):

1) None of us knew much about them until recently, and only looked into them because people kept making the comparison.
2) If anything it's the other way around; Ruhle admired the IWW and was denounced by Bordiga as a syndicalist deviator.
3) The AAUD were indeed very crudely workerist ('the proletarian is only a worker in the factory, outside he is petit-bourgeois' etc). SF rejects this and sees housing struggles, feminist struggles etc as every bit as part of the class struggle as workplace stuff (albeit our strategies here are less developed as we have less experience, and the strategy is meant to condense best practice).
4) The AAUD eschewed partial struggles and organised solely for workers councils/expropriation. We're talking about using small winnable struggles to build confidence, momentum and movement through direct action.
5) The AAUD was a temporary formation in a revolutionary period which dwindled/dissolved to a tiny grouplet soon after. We're doing this in very unrevolutionary times and see it as vital preparation for any future upsurge as well as of material benefit to our own members (e.g. fighting wage/deposit theft) now.

So imho the AAUD are hugely over-rated. I mean it's an interesting period of history and all and worth studying etc, but what SF (and IWW afaics) is saying/doing would be closer to the FAUD. Of course conditions in the UK or US today are very different to WWI/Weimar Germany so it's not about plucking blueprints from history but developing appropriate contemporary practice. That's a process of trial and error, which is ongoing and the theory develops from and in turn informs that practice.

Joseph Kay
Jul 5 2012 06:58
sabotage wrote:
As I outlined earlier in the thread, sure that is fine if that is people's thing, but I think any type of revolutionary minority organization can be "political-economic" in this period

The reason we use the terminology (which is drawn from the Puerto Real pamphlet on the CNT and a now ex-member's contributions to the internal debates) is because it captures an important shift in orientation. I've been in SF for 5 or 6 years, and in that time we've moved from being a political propaganda group to a nascent revolutionary union. We've doubled in size (from tiny to two times tiny), but it's not really about size. We've consciously stopped doing a whole load of 'political' activity and deprioritised other stuff, whilst started doing a whole different set of activities which never made sense from a political/propaganda pov. I appreciate this is much more visible to those of us involved than across the Atlantic, but the change is really obvious to us, and it's principally one of orientation and activity rather than size (supported by training, structural reorganisations, strategy discussions etc). We're closer to an anarchist SolNet than a specific org imho.

sabotage wrote:
PS: I don't know if I said this earlier or not but I really really look forward to the new SolFed pamphlet, I hope it clears up a lot.

There's a third of a chapter on council communism just to put some of this to bed! But yeah, we've written it to both sum up the SF consensus that emerged from strategy debates and provide a point of departure for discussions. I'm sure it will raise as many questions as answers, but hopefully it will help move both the discussion and organisational practices along.

fingers malone
Jul 5 2012 07:52
Joseph Kay wrote:

3) The AAUD were indeed very crudely workerist ('the proletarian is only a worker in the factory, outside he is petit-bourgeois' etc). SF rejects this and sees housing struggles, feminist struggles etc as every bit as part of the class struggle as workplace stuff (albeit our strategies here are less developed as we have less experience, and the strategy is meant to condense best practice).

There's a spectrum of views on that within the organisation but for me the recent developments bringing in housing and stuff have been really positive, and it's been good for members to start bringing those problems up.

I'd never heard of the AAUD until now!

Joseph Kay
Jul 5 2012 08:43

(just to be clear about whats personal opinion; the basis for me saying 'SF rejects this' is the national conference decisions on 'stuff your landlord', community strategy and creating the women's officer post, as well as some of the recent practical survivor support. but yeah individual members will put different emphasis on different activities)

klas batalo
Jul 5 2012 16:28

Hey Joseph!

Thanks for all of that! It was quite helpful. Actually it helped remind me that the unionen were inspired by IWW (I mean it existed before they existed, duh!)

But it is great to see that SolFed in practice is really branching out beyond just workplace stuff, and to hear that essentially it is more like a specifically anarchist SolNet. That is definitely a direction I've been really mulling over for a long time, and that I think would be really awesome. WSA is actually pretty open to that type of focus potentially, some locals already so such work, others have been trying to set up SolNets, generally our locals could easily change to be such formations.

This gets at what I wanted to say to Nate:

I can see why you and EW would want to focus on workplace stuff right now because it is what we are well equipped for and generally more good at, but considering the IWW is a revolutionary organization (right?) I think we should eventually branch out more like we see SolFed doing here up above. I mean at the very least you could have a community organization like the IWW that took Father Hagerty's Wheel and adopted it for different sectors of community organizing. I just don't really think the IWW is useful as being "just a union" Mouvement Communiste in Unions and Political Struggle make a good argument that the IWW was "the shit" and superseded the divide between political and economic, that it was neither party or union. But I think we have to recognize today that the working class is not just workers as such and we should broaden out. SolFed seems interested in doing this, IWW less so.

Jul 5 2012 17:35

I agree with that recognition. But that recognition can be put into practice in any number of ways. I'm skeptical that any organization can take on all aspects of life under capitalism in any real way that's not really reactive or ineffectual. just off the top of my head, stuff in my family in my life in the past ten years, some people in the extended family have been hassled by the cops, arrested, paralyzed permanently in a car crash and scrambled to get a working wheelchair, imprisoned, deported, fired, had to go into long term institutional health care, laid off, retrained for other work, struggled to overcome addiction and legacies of trauma, and split from abusive partners. (That's not an exhaustive list and we've really had it pretty good compared to other people we know, let alone compared to people in much worse off strata of the US working class, let alone the global working class - our lives are relatively stable, and our problems can be overcome (or at least managed enough to make them livable) through informal self-help within the family and people's networks of friends.)

All of those are pressing political issues with incredibly serious personal ramifications. All of them are the class struggle, if we understand class struggle in a comprehensive way. So if you really mean what it sounds like you mean - that an organization could or should try to take on all of the class struggle and the working class's experiences under capitalism - that means being able to deal with all of this stuff in a practical way. And being able to deal with so much more, because there's way more to the class struggle than my short list of familial bad luck here, and a lot of it is stuff that's much more heinous. The idea that a single organization, and one that organizes, can address each of these issues in a meaningful way (and in a way that's doing active organizing rather than just reactively dealing with individual situations) for groups of people above the single or low double digits strikes me as realllly overly ambitious. I find it much more believable that there would be a diversity of radical working class organizations and that that set of organizations would address all the problems of the class. Hell, I find it unlikely that a single organization could adequately address the issues that exist just in the waged workplace - I don't think there could or should be One Big Union in the sense of one single membership organization that all waged workers belong to and which tries to solve all the problems of life under waged labor, and as you say, waged labor is just one part of working class life.

So --

sabotage wrote:
considering the IWW is a revolutionary organization (right?) I think we should eventually branch out more like we see SolFed doing here up above.

I don't think being revolutionary means 'aspiring to address all aspects of working class life in a practical way through organizing'. I don't think a group that addresses more of working class life must be more revolutionary, or vice versa. I think there are tasks of organizations and tasks of the class. The working class must address the totality of working class life when the class becomes revolutionary. But that doesn't mean it's possible for every formal organizational expression of the class to do so.

klas batalo
Jul 5 2012 18:26


I am not saying that we should have the One Big Organization... hardly, I was arguing against that earlier...i am increasingly sympathetic to your sorta monist/pluralist idea...I am just saying that today such organizations (or at least the revolutionaries in them) should be able to recognize that they need to fight for these other things too, and connect their struggles with others. That the set of such organizations should find ways to work together and unite as much as possible.

This still leaves me wondering about groups though that put out their perspectives in magazines and/or are discussion/reading groups (to get back to the OP.) Whether these are informal like Recomposition or formal like some of the CSAC groups, what do we see as their role? Do we see a role for these? I see these as groups that regroup militants from mass struggles that want to analyze and share inquiries, etc this is why I think even if Recomposition isn't that formal it better fits what Scott Nappalos would call the revolutionary level, or whatever Juan, EW, and you were looking for from the WSA.

Juan Conatz wrote:
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.
Juan Conatz wrote:
my experience in this milieu is that these groups are more like informal networks

Edit: I don't highlight this stuff to say Juan is a hypocrite or whatever, but to point out there could be value to such networks?

For instance even though they were in separate countries the GIKH and the KAUD worked very closely, publishing each other's materials. One was more a specifically communist workers organization, the other a loose federation of discussion/publishing circles. But both had the same end goals basically.

This thread by JK also sorta gets at this:

Jul 5 2012 18:13
sabotage wrote:
organizations (or at least the revolutionaries in them) should be able to recognize that they need to fight for these other things too, and connect their struggles with others. That the set of such organizations should find ways to work together and unite as much as possible.

Totally. Some of the time this will mean a one-off fight that's not in line with a group's over all aims and stuff (in terms of areas of the working class's grievances/social injustices that the group emphasizes). Some of the time this will mean changing a group's over all aims (again in terms of the injustices it focuses on) or starting a group that works on some different or broader set of stuff. And some of the time it will involve a sort of organizational hand-off, like "hey comrade we'll do what we can here but we also want to help you find a group of people best suited for dealing with this." I don't think there's a single best approach for all times, places, and organizations, and people should do what makes the most sense in whatever setting their in. Even though I do think that the best approach most of the time in most places for the IWW is to do mostly just waged workplace stuff.

And I agree completely w/ the rest of your comment. smile

Juan Conatz
Aug 3 2012 02:12

I should probably just let this thread die, but I have to say...being at Work People's College and not having access to the internet, and then coming back to see how the conversation developed...I'm a little annoyed. I know I brought this on by writing this, but some of this conversation shouldn't have happened on a public forum. In the future let's avoid, but so and so said this, etc. discussion as much as possible. Its narrow in that only really the people involved are going to care, and with limited use, as the other people not involved who care is going to be based on the appeal of gossip and drama.

One of the reasons I wrote this (and yes I recognize its sort of a low quality writing) is 'yo i don't think formal anarchist political organizations should have a monopoly on "if you're serious" you should agree with us' statements and perspectives, not, 'hey people that used to be in formal anarchist political organizations and those who still are, let's have you hash out very specific interactions with each other publicly'.

Aug 6 2012 03:02
Juan: some of this conversation shouldn't have happened on a public forum. In the future let's avoid, but so and so said this, etc. discussion as much as possible. Its narrow in that only really the people involved are going to care,

In spite of everything, that discussion was needed. It didn';t happen elsewhere and wasn't going to happen if not in some sort of forum (be it public or private).

I don't think anyone's mind have been changed, but those involved in past relationships and events may have gotten some new insights into others thinking (at the times involved) and feelings. So, there was some value in having had aspects of the conversation.

Feb 18 2016 01:22

In some personal ways, I really regret re-reading this thread. But needed to as I am trying to continue to gather notes on WSA history.