So Flexible it is Bent out of Shape

How far can one go with "diversity of tactics" before diverging with anarchism?

As groups call for entrance into politics or make coalitions with nationalists, this question has shown the urgency for tactical debate based on empirical experience.

The title of this text refers to a long-time trend in the Polish anarchist movement to be "politically incorrect" and enjoy fighting the "dogma" of anarchist thought. Whereas critical thought is necessary, a stance of "political incorrectness" or "political flexibility" can become its own dogma, its defenders standing up for questionable politics and tactics, avoiding the issues with slogans such as "diversity of tactics", which is supposed to be a good thing in and of itself.

Such "diversity of tactics" include running for election. For years the issue between groups was mainly whether or not municipal and other regional political bodies functioned any differently than national bodies such as the Parliament or the Senate and whether or not it made sense for anarchists to participate in such elections. This question was taken to a new level as one organization, relating itself to anarchosyndicalism (WI) allows its members to run for office [1] (and even had a member run for parliament) [2] whereas another (ZSP) refuses participation in the electoral process at all levels.

This year, the issue became far more urgent as we found more and more participation of the WI in running for election and also found that they formed an electoral list together with nationalists. [3]

This move cannot be seen as a total surprise. For some years, the issue of cooperation with nationalists, small business owners and other forces objectionable to the ZSP has also been an issue of contention. While members of that union officially "fight with fascism", there has been long-standing criticism of their members' tendencies to cooperate with the right spanning over a decade: from the anti-communist Naszość [4] to the new right social activist poseurs from Obywatel [5], each and every time we are told that these groups "have nothing to do with the right-wing". The right-wing threat is reduced to exclude groups when alliance politics or friendships require. Earlier this year, two commissions of the WI began their cooperation with the All-Poland National Movement. [6]

By this time, a silent resignation had come to dominate in that group. Notices of joint actions were printed several times on the WI webpage, with no reaction by their members. [7]

The ultimate tabu in that environment has become the questioning of the "flexibility tactics" and "practical antisectarianism" practiced by certain members or member commissions of the organization. If one dares to ask questions like "does your organization really want to be connected to a nationalist one", the immediate reaction is to throw out a selection of epitaths such as "sectarian", "dogmatic" etc. and to make ridiculous remarks which imply that you are brainwashed by Durruti or living in the 19th century. (Although it seems to me that national movements are what belong to that century - not our brand of anti-statist internationalism.)

Upon further examination of the electoral lists, we found that the head of the electoral list 15 in Nowa Sol, created by the WI and the All-Poland National Movement (Ogolnopolski Ruch Narodowy - ORN) is not only an elected representative of ORN and a member of WI... but also is the owner of a business running in several locations - that is a boss. [8]

Including businessmen into your union is another "flexible tactic" which we disagree with: we honestly believe that bosses and workers have nothing in common. After years of fighting over this issue as well, this is another thing I cannot be surprised at. If a small business owner likes anarchosyndicalism, s/he can immediately turn the company over to the workers to run as a cooperative. At the very least.

Our view of the issues are quite simple: we are against right-wing ideologies, against the ideas of capitalism, but also of nationalism, patriotism and social conservatism. In our daily work, which puts us in contact with all sorts of people, where we encounter this, we make every attempt to talk these issues through with people. This is because in large part this reflects the false consciousness of the working class, manipulated by decades of toxic prejudices and propaganda designed by the elites. However we draw lines when we see that people are agents of this propaganda themselves: members of right-wing propaganda and political groups would act like fungi if active in our movements. Worse yet would be organizational ties, such as forming common actions or coalitions. Whereas many of our WI counterparts, including the leadership, have repeatedly alleged that this is a "sectarian view", we maintain that society is too tolerant of these ideologies, and such coalitions are nothing more than another demonstration of this tolerance.

Another debate is the issue of voting itself. As the WI has brought more and more people from the left into integration with the anarchist movement, more pressure to be supportive of electoralism is made upon the anarchists. This is sometimes done in a covert manner, in an attempt to mollify the anarchists who still overwhelmingly are against voting. So although we can find a call to support the joint electoral campaign of the WI and nationalists on the official webpage of WI (which is not open publishing and is controlled by only a couple of individuals), we are reminded that this is not an official position of the WI. [9] However the clique that run the page have been trying to get electoralism, at least at the local level, into the anarchist movement for years. (And where the voting process has been transparent, it has always been shot down.) It seems therefore that the way to smuggle the call for support of a shady pair of electoral lists is simply to run a website where no votes are taken as to the content, which has been controlled by a narrow group of people for a while.

A stronger statement on participation in elections was published by Left Alternative, some of whose members are in WI and some of whom are also running for office. We published this statement, although we did not agree with it, as an issue for debate. However little has come from it, with the arguments remaining much the same as over the years. [10]
We are told that we need to be "flexible" and stop the dogma. Some bizaare references were made to the Spanish Civil War and being brainwashed by anarchist popes such as Durruti - although for us we have no particular saints and we rather see the lessons of the Civil War to include the mistakes made by the CNT. Little sensible debate is made as my comrades, engaged in some debates for weeks now, are bombarded with buzzwords and strangely disassociated notions. [11]

The crux of the electoral arguments are the same as for anybody propagating voting: maybe somebody will get elected that will actually CHANGE something.

It wouldn't be so bad if the electoral propaganda limited itself to this one illusion. If somebody is naive enough to believe it, is not the worst problem we are facing. The deeper issue relates to the activity of social movements and what often actually happens when people decide on electoral tactics instead of others.

We see this directly as running for office became a wedge issue in the tenants movement a little while back. Our tenants group has been encouraging the creation of self-organized groups in houses and neighbourhoods and a coalition of 32 groups was eventually built. As is common in coalitions, there can be diverse groups and opinions and a tiny fraction of this coalition got electoral ambitions.

We saw several things which, from empirical experience, we know to be very common. First of all, the ones who wanted to be elected also wanted to act like "social partners" to the main ruling parties. This meant they tried to tone down the radicalism and sway the activists away from protesting and into the direction of lobbying. Another problem was that, in the direction of lobbying, a small clique of self-appointed experts and representatives was formed. This we see as a rather natural element of politics, inherent in the activity. Only a handful of people had contacts with politicians, only a small handful of people were able to understand the law and the political process in such a way that enabled them to negotiate. And, although activists from ZSP even found themselves in this handful, the attitude towards representation proved to be totally different. The tiny clique of would-be politicians would meet almost randomly amongst themselves, setting postulates without asking the others and completely baffled by demands that they act democratically and decide issues by votes of all member organizations. And as the postulates became more and more watered down (also known as "realistic"), the politicians showed a preference to paying lip service to the ones who were softer and attempted to marginalize the other pains in their asses. The city then tried to declare them the official "representatives" of the movement, although no vote appointed them as such, and no mandate gave them a right to put forward certain suggestions.

We see this experience as both typical and at the crux of several problems. The first problem is the creation of a caste of specialists or representatives over the creation of a more integrated, participatory social movement. This, one can argue, is not a foregone conclusion - but a great deal of social consciousness and committment to horizontal organizing and the anarchist priniciples of delegation and representation need to be built before we can hope to avoid this problem. In Poland we are in the situation where there is a large absence of grassroots movements and many social or non-governmental organizations are run in a completely authoritarian, top-down manner. So it is a struggle to run meetings where there are no bosses and a challenge to create groups that work on truly democratic principles. Our comrade, who last year conducted a series of interviews with social activists, also found that far too many take the attitude that leaders are needed and movements will be advanced by getting these leaders into some position of power in the government. At a time when we seem to be making progress in the community promoting a different mentality, we are faced with a large wave of social activists from various movements trying to draw people into the game of electoral politics and the accompanying resignation from risky politics that this entails.

If social activists participate in the electoral process, especially in a country almost completely dominated by the right, this becomes largely the process of watering down opinions to create an acceptable package, the process of making concessions to get onto the list of some crap mainstream party, or, if not, of raising loads of money and, if by chance getting elected, then searching for coalition partners. This is how, even though groups such as Left Alternative officially declare they are critical of mainstream parties, their members and colleagues wind up on lists such as PSL (the partner in the ruling coalition with Civil Platform), or SLD (the former ruling party, involved in many attacks against workers and much shady business). From such a dubious start, are we to believe these people can remain independent? Again, we can simply look at the track record of others. Maybe in some countries with strong left traditions some strong reformists are tolerated and may at least fight for some concrete issues with some success. The chances of the survival of such politicians in Poland are next to nothing with the SLD being famous for purging its ranks of its only openly gay parliamentarian and marginalizing the anti-militarist voices in the party as they sent troops into Afganistan and Iraq. And when it came to issues such as abortion, they bowed down and agreed with the church in order to get some concessions. The political scene is a constant play of moving the left towards the right in order to stay in power, and then pretending to be left again when there are too many players on the right side.

Above all, what we dislike about playing the political game is that in our local conditions it is moving people away from the real tasks of building social movements that we must undertake. As the anarchist movement falls into more and more passivity and decay, a generation of activists who spent their careers at squat parties building a subculture or looking for more "realistic alternatives" to this dead-end pseudo-political ghetto, look towards NGOs or politics to "make a real difference". Usually this is without trying to do the hard work of movement building themselves; they look for ready-made structures and alternatives to "anarchism that gives no results" - ie. the anarchism of the subculture. (This can be a useful form of entertainment, solidarity networking or community building but is not the same as building a broad social movement. ) As groups like Left Alternative write that anarchists should consider running in elections, they ironically become the co-creators of the phenomena they themselves dislike: the transfer of anarchists into liberal politics and mainstream parties. Because, even though that is not what they propose (they imagine rather some alternative electoral lists) - once you start systematically attacking anarchist critiques of electoralism by calling this "dogma", "sectarianism", etc., you are opening the way for those who are even more flexible ideologically than you.

So how far can one take this flexibility without diverging from anarchism? We all know this is a controversial question. All I can say is that for me, the fight against capitalism and wage labour extends to the very form of such a workplace and anarchosyndicalism is about replacing this system. The fight for internationalism is the fight against nationalism and the fight for a common, solidary workers identity is the fight against the false identities created by nationalist politics. And finally, the struggle for authentic self-management, at the workplace and in society, is the struggle for replacing representative democracy and institutionalized power with direct democracy and libertarian communism. In daily life we may have to make many small compromises to go forward, but we mustn't attack the end goals or take paths that too seriously compromise them or give legitimacy to the very things we are fighting. This sort of "flexibility", when taken too far, is clearly the road to nowhere.

POSTSCRIPTUM: Additional jeers should be given to the Roza Luxemburg Foundation and die Linke for giving financial support to people known to work in cross-alliances while pretending to be vehemently against them.

[1] Commentary on WI decision.
[2] P. Ikonowicz's electoral press conference with Andrzej Lepper (corrupt populist politician and sex offender) and Mateusz Piskorski, former neo-nazi and current fan of Eurasian politics (Duginism).
[4] These people currently are mostly in WI. Some contacts with Naszosc still exist; last year people in Poznan recommended then to do a joint action with people in Gdansk and it turned out to be an embarrassing situation when they found out they were right-wingers.
[5] About the politics of Obywatel.
[6] Announcement of meeting with WI and the All-Poland National Movement, attended by, among others, the Secretary of WI.
[7] Articles published 2 February and 26 July remain up to this date. After the publication of an article criticizing this, it seemed a couple of texts disappeared from a few sites around the Internet.
[8] Member of WI, ORN and owner of a few auto schools.
[9] A different version can be found here:
Neither text refers to the participationof ORN.
[11] Those who read Polish can sample the hundreds of comments sent to


Nov 21 2010 21:30

At least a few people with principles are speaking up:

Statement of IP Silesia regarding the participation of the Lubuski Commission of Workers Initiative in the 2010 Elections

We demand the immediate exclusion of the above named commission in connection with its activities which are contrary of the ideas of anarchosyndicalism. We treat this trangression as an attempt to take over and force priorities other than WI were supposed to have on the union. We interpret this move as a planned attack on the anarchosyndicalist doctrine and to be clearly aiding state structures, which is against our basic values.
We are not surprised by the above-mentioned collaborators' attempt to get into power, using our union for this purpose. However we are surprised by the support of our "comrades" from Poznan and the lack of reaction from other cities. Joining the union which declared itself as anarchosyndicalist, we were sure of its foundation, just like now we are not sure of our participation in WI. We remember the declarations from a few years ago concerning the use of the unions' symbols during election campaigns - that whoever would appear in a union T-shirt while conducting election campaigning would be kicked out of WI. Then we "trusted" this declaration. Now the Lubuski Commission used the name of the union, announcing the start of an election campaign by WI, which is, in our opinion, a serious trangression.

At this time we are waiting on the reactions of other commissions which have not taken a position on this matter yet.

Nov 22 2010 10:49

thanks for this- let us know what happens with discussions around this.

I'm sure you will have seen on here mention of UK anarchists around Ian Bone/class war running in the next election, and of course all the "anarchists" who supported Obama, so unfortunately this is an issue everywhere.

Nov 22 2010 14:16
Steven. wrote:
all the "anarchists" who supported Obama

i mean, i know alot of dinguses who think they're 'left' stumped for him, but ... anarchists?

Nov 22 2010 15:44
petey wrote:
Steven. wrote:
all the "anarchists" who supported Obama

i mean, i know alot of dinguses who think they're 'left' stumped for him, but ... anarchists?

I remember people on Anarchist Black Cat supporting voting for Obama, and liberty and solidarity types, as well as some American anarchists I know personally.

Nov 22 2010 18:59

Yes, I was in some discussions about this and, unfortunately, yes quite a few bought into this Obama shit. I won't get into a long disgression, but some of my comrades and I proudly stood up against Obama's manipulations back in 84-85, but then he was without the media hype and people could just see he was talking bullshit. It is really amazing what kind of lies people are willing to buy and sad to say that in America, what passes for "the left" is usually just some form of liberalism.

Yes, I thought the issues we are seeing here now are quite universal.

The discussions were on all night and all day today, but they do not progress anywhere - the reformists and leftists just repeat banal arguments and we temporarily went out of the discussion altogether to rather let those people discuss amongst themselves, so as not to be seen as "interfering" with this little internal war. The Silesians published their statement and overnight the National Commission of WI published theirs. (They can do it because they work on majority and it's enough for the people in Poznan and Lubuskie (the ones who support that crap), to agree and they can issue any statement they like. It is quite a work of art I would say. First they claim there is no such thing like WI Silesia (on their webpages they mention that they have in Upper Silesia - a bureaucratic technicality - everybody knows who the fuck it is). Then they claim that no group in WI ever supported an electoral committee - also a technical manipulation since the WI web pages write that the created the committee - but didn't say they supported it! They also printed an appeal for money, bragging about how it was founded by WI activists on the official webpage, but again they claim well, officially nobody supported it... so everything is OK. In my opinion it is political sleaze and a very good example of how when you elect people to posts where they have lots of discretionary power (like the National Commission of WI, which is basically a clique without any control), they will use it and abuse it. And apparently those bozos are the ones who decide whether or not some group has broken some rules and should be expelled - but what can one expect if the National Commission is stacked with people from the group the complaint is again and their close buddies? When the situation calms down, we will probably return to printing some texts on the ideas of mandated delegates, accountability and recallability. In the meantime it is just too pathetic to read through the comments of trolls whose remarks are too brainless to fathom.

Nov 22 2010 19:27

Sorry for spam, but this is funny for me. Somebody put something called "the Second Tupolev" on the internet. It is a reference to the plane crash which wiped out a whole bunch of politicians at one time. And people get to select their 89 most hated politicians for a new flight. The moron who started all this electoral shit in WI actually is in 22nd place on this hate list; a much better result than he got when he ran for parliament!

Nov 22 2010 20:02

Question (akai): “So how far can one take this flexibility without diverging from anarchism?”

Answer (akai): “All I can say is that for me, the fight against capitalism and wage labour extends to the very form of such a workplace and anarcho-syndicalism is about replacing this system. The fight for internationalism is the fight against nationalism and the fight for a common, solidarity workers identity is the fight against the false identities created by nationalist politics.”

I’m not an anarcho-syndicalist, nor ‘fishing for friends’ but that statement inspires genuine solidarity. Courage and fraternal greetings.

Nov 22 2010 20:23
akai wrote:
some of my comrades and I proudly stood up against Obama's manipulations back in 84-85


akai wrote:
sad to say that in America, what passes for "the left" is usually just some form of liberalism.

that's certainly true.

Steven. wrote:
I remember people on Anarchist Black Cat supporting voting for Obama, and liberty and solidarity types

i guess i shouldn't be surprised, but the least amount of self-awareness should have prevented that

Boris Badenov
Nov 22 2010 22:11

Wasn't Obama still in college in '84?


akai wrote:
in America, what passes for "the left" is usually just some form of liberalism.

that's pretty much the case everywhere.

Joseph Kay
Nov 22 2010 22:40

really interesting article. i think this is a trend everywhere, certainly everywhere there's anarcho-syndicalists these kind of problems are happening; 'revolutionary' unions which jettison revolutionary ideas/practices as 'dogma', who collaborate with the state whilst claiming to be 'anarcho-' and so on. thankfully, there's also those who don't and pieces like this help develop a sense of what revolutionary politics mean in practice (since this is not about abstract debates, but real-world organisational activity).

Nov 23 2010 02:52

It's not like that in Brazil... yet. We're halfway there. We got "anarcho"-trotskytes supporting/running for state unions and trying to form "anarchist" parties (allegedly not to run for governmental positions - what else a party would be for is beyond me), and even some individuals who defend Leninism openly, though unofficially. It's already bad enough, but it visibly is only a matter of time before they start trying to "insert" themselves into official government bodies. I wish it was also only a matter of time before they finally stopped calling themselves anarchists, but I can't see it coming soon.

Politicians trying to fish anarchists into their demagoguery goes a long way back. I think the first occurrence of this came from the treintistas reformists at the CNT in the 1930's, some of which like Ángel Pestaña (who went on to form the Partido Sindicalista) insisted on claiming to be anarchists who thought it was necessary to participate in state issues. They called this "Posibilismo Libertario". I find it weird that the "libertarian" politicians of today aren't using this as some excuse for their lies. They're not even trying to justify themselves anymore.

It does looks like it all starts with union elections, and since there is a few reformist "anarcho"-syndicalist unions out there, I guess we'll see a lot more of this stupidity in the next years.

Juan Conatz
Nov 23 2010 04:03

You knew about Obama in 1984? eek

I don't remember any threads on ABC about supporting Obama, I do however remember the 'Hope Bloc'.

I like to identify where this came from as the counter-institution tendency within American (?) anarchism. Those who invest their time building non-profits etc. I think the group around the Bookchin's Social Ecology organization are the most important out of these.

Anyway, unrelated to article, but thought I'd chime in.

Nov 23 2010 09:26

Juan, I don't have time to seek out the thread right now, but I believe it was called "Who would you vote for?" Or something like that.

Dano, I would agree with you that yes it seems that union elections can act as some sort of "gateway drug" to full reformism. We don't hear much about anarchism in Latin America, or Brazil in particular, so it is extremely interesting to get your input - please do continue to keep us up-to-date!

Awesome Dude
Nov 23 2010 19:39

It seems that the forces of opportunism are on the march. I think a lot of us who hold some very clear ideas (and practice) about the fundamental basics of class struggle and communism are going to increasingly come under attack by those who hold 'pragmatism' above all 'dogmatic' principals. This will probably get worse as captalism ruthlessly continues it's restructuring excercise and the 'realpolitik' corner will try even more desperate opportunistic tactics.

I guess none of this is new. The same debates about opportunism were taking place 90 years, or so, ago. Anton Pancake had a good go in his world revolution and communist tactics. Below is an interesting quote from part 2:

Opportunism does not necessarily mean a pliant, conciliatory attitude and vocabulary, nor radicalism a more acerbic manner; on the contrary, lack of clear, principled tactics is all too often concealed in rabidly strident language; and indeed, in revolutionary situations, it is characteristic of opportunism to suddenly set all its hopes on the great revolutionary deed. Its essence lies in always considering the immediate questions, not what lies in the future, and to fix on the superficial aspects of phenomena rather than seeing the determinant deeper bases. When the forces are not immediately adequate for the attainment of a certain goal, it tends to make for that goal by another way, by roundabout means, rather than strengthen those forces. For its goal is immediate success, and to that it sacrifices the conditions for lasting success in the future. It seeks justification in the fact that by forming alliances with other ‘progressive’ groups and by making concessions to outdated conceptions, it is often possible to gain power or at least split the enemy, the coalition of capitalist classes, and thus bring about conditions more favourable for the struggle. But power in such cases always turns out to be an illusion, personal power exercised by individual leaders and not the power of the proletarian class; this contradiction brings nothing but confusion, corruption and conflict in its wake. Conquest of governmental power not based upon a working class fully prepared to exercise its hegemony would be lost again, or else have to make so many concessions to reactionary forces that it would be inwardly spent. A split in the ranks of the class hostile to us – the much vaunted slogan of reformism – would not affect the unity of the inwardly united bourgeoisie, but would deceive, confuse and weaken the proletariat. Of course it can happen that the communist vanguard of the proletariat is obliged to take over political power before the normal conditions are met; but only what the masses thereby gain in terms of clarity, insight, solidarity and autonomy has lasting value as the foundation of further development towards communism.
Nov 24 2010 22:23

Steven, reading Akai's postings makes me feel that at least in Brazil the situation is pretty much the same as there - there are the "pragmatists" on the one side supporting state unions, practicing entryism and collaborating with political parties, and there are we the "sectarian dogmatists" on the other trying to build an autonomous revolutionary movement. We believe we must reorganize and take over from where our movement has left due to the repression it suffered in the hands of right and left dictators and they believe we must somehow take over structures build on authoritarian principles and magically transform them into libertarian ones. They really look like an "anarchist" version of social democracy. Looking at IP, CGT and their friends shows exactly where this strategy will take us: authoritarian reformist practice and pseudo-libertarian demagoguery.

By the way, I translated your last posting, Akai. It's on COB's webpage:

Nov 28 2010 01:09

Whether in Brazil, Spain or Poland, the symptoms are the same, although perhaps the details differ.

There's probably more to say about the dynamics between the reformists, their Trotskyist and Bolshevik friends and the anarchists, who were progessively driven out or marginalized. But to tell the truth, I've had enough of the topic today. I think people can imagine the interconnection; it is also not an exotic case.

About the Obama digression, first met even before with some comrades at Columbia student organizing event. The sleaze part involves Nader, Obama and money, but... sorry folks - don't wanna get Libcom sued. smile (When I was young I made the mistake to temporarily think I could "make a difference" by becoming a professional activist lobbyist so I went to work for Nader.)

BTW, it is interesting for me that several ZSP comrades came to a more radical viewpoint after working in NGOs or "alternative" businesses. NGO is a broad term, I don't want to put them all in one basket, but at least here, a lot of professional NGO work is also another reformist road to hell.