Regroupment Interview 1: Collective Action

This is the first interview in a series looking at new groups which have formed in the UK recently. We wanted to find out why new groups are forming and the politics informing their work. These were printed in the final issue of Shift.

Originally published in September 2012.

Why has your organisation formed?

As we state on the ‘About Us’ section of our website the Collective Action project aims to re-visit our anarchist communist political tradition and re-group and re-kindle our political action in relation to the challenges of the 21st century in a country located at the centre of the system of global capitalist hegemony. We also state that this focus on re-groupment is complemented with the aim of practicing and developing the approaches we advocate through our conduct as both militants and members of Collective Action. In other words, while critically assessing the historical experience of anarchist communism we look to further enrich our revolutionary theory through an ongoing involvement in the living struggle of classes. Moreover, future dialogue and interaction with like-minded groups and individuals from around the world will, over time, naturally inform and influence our international perspectives.

What are you hoping to organise around and how?

Launched on 1st May this year, Collective Action is a new association and, as yet, is relatively small in numbers. However, as we reject the concept of political vanguardism in favour of one of a leadership of ideas, by way of social insertion we seek to develop a strategy and tactics capable of building a strong, effective base for our anarchist communist ethos within the wider working class. In practical terms this will involve principled co-operation with diverse anti-authoritarian militants in conflicts as they ensue. Anarchists often speak of the need to nurture a new society of freedom within the shell of the old. For this vision to become reality a consistently pro-active approach to revolutionary struggle is imperative. We refer to this required process as building counter-power.

What are the differences between CA and Afed and Solfed? Does the UK need another anarchist membership organisation?

Simply put, Collective Action is a current within the anarchist communist movement seeking re-groupment. The Solidarity Federation, by contrast, is an anarcho-syndicalist union and, as such, has very little to do with our perspective. Acknowledgment of this fact, of course, implies no disrespect to SolFed whatsoever. CA emerged from the Anarchist Federation largely as a response to the latter’s penchant for propagandism and apathetic attitude towards coherent organisation. In contradistinction to this our association has identified with Especifismo; the need for specifically anarchist organisation built around a unity of ideas and praxis. In order to carry our project forward a membership structure is essential.

Especifismo or “Specifism” refers to a organisationalist current within the anarchist tradition which is principally elaborated by the FARJ (Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janiero) but has its roots in the writings of Bakunin, Makhno and Malatesta (among others).

Specifists argue that a lot of the mistakes of activists result from a confusion of the social and political level. The social levels are those struggles that exist within the material and ideological framework of capitalism (bread-and-butter issues in layman terms). These are heavily determined by a wider cultural, economic and political framework that will cause them to ebb-and-flow, one example being the way that the ongoing financial crisis has provoked an acceleration of working class resistance in certain sectors and geographical areas. Anarchists need to find a way of engaging with these struggles in a way that relates directly to their existing composition and level of class consciousness. However anarchists also need to maintain their own coherent vision of an alternative society - anarchist communism. This is the political level. Strategically what results from this understanding of the political and social levels is a practice of “organisational dualism” where specifically anarchist groups (hence the term “specifism”) with well defined positions of principle and operating under conditions of political unity at the political level intervene, participate within or seek to build popular movements at the social level. The objective of this intervention is not to “capture” or establish anarchist fronts but to create the correct conditions, by arguing for anarchist methods and ideas, for the flourishing of working class autonomy. This autonomy is the basis for working class counter-power and revolutionary change.

Specifism is a praxis that seeks to strike the balance between a healthy relationship of influence within the class and an ideologically coherent communist organisation, while rejecting the vanguardist approaches of Leninist groups. Many people associate these ideas solely with Makhno’s “Organisational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists” but they actually date from one of the first organisational documents of social anarchism - Bakunin’s programme for the International Alliance of Socialist Democracy.

There has been debate in certain sections of the anarchist movement around the reasons why many of your members left the Anarchist Federation to found Collective Action. Could you explain some of the thinking behind this?

We felt that there was no longer a space within the Anarchist Federation for the kind of fundamental reorientation that we were arguing for. Unfortunately many anarchists have been too long entrenched in this cycle of political activism to look beyond this as the only means of building anarchist communism. CA, in many ways, was a search for a new critical space in which developing ideas could breathe.

Following our formation there has been a great deal of hostility to the internal composition of our organisation which runs closely to the FARJ’s model of “concentric circles,” as well as our idea of an explicitly organisationalist approach. Both of these, wrongly we believe, were accused of being “vangaurdist” or “hierarchical”. Our response, as indicated above, is to argue that these ideas have a long tradition within anarchism and are fully compatible with its principles.

Even with its existing Aims and Principles there are many areas of the Anarchist Federation’s activity that are very loose or ill-defined. We’ve pointed out before, for example, their propagation of the “workplace resistance group” without any following strategy for putting these into practice (or any analysis of how these relate to the existing composition of the class). The AFed’s central idea of creating a “culture of resistance” also, we believe, confuses the social and political level and gives no clear guidance on practice at both a local or national level. It was this desire for coherence, as well as theoretical re-assessments that motivated us towards the formation of CA.

Many of the recent struggles that have emerged have not consciously identified with existing left wing traditions such as anarchism and socialism, do you think there is a future for an explicitly anarchist politics? In particular the anarchist movement which exists in the present.

We are neither on the left nor of it. Anarchist communism advocates the abolition of the state and capitalism in favour of common ownership of the means of life with production and consumption based on the principle, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs.” For such a society to succeed it must be based on the norms of direct democracy and horizontalidad, thus enabling personal autonomy to flourish within a framework of social equality. None of this bears any resemblance to the machinations of the left wing of capitalist management which strives only to replace one state apparatus with another. We forget our history at our peril. The tragic outcome of both the Russian and Spanish revolutions must constantly be borne in mind. The prevailing anarchist milieu continues to be a tremendous engine of ideas, but in many ways it is badly organised. Its future development and success, therefore, rests on redressing this imbalance as a matter of urgency.

The only way there can be a future for anarchist politics is in making anarchist ideas and methods a practical and coherent tool for organising workplaces, intervening in social struggles and empowering working class communities. Anarchism needs to recapture its traditional terrain of organising, what Bakunin referred to as, the “popular classes” and abandon the dead-end of activism. This means a fundamental re-assessment of what we do and what we hope to achieve. It also means returning, as Vaneigem would call it, to the politics of “everyday life”. To put it bluntly, if your politics cannot relate and potentially organise around the problems and struggles of the twenty or so people you routinely meet through your day (and we don’t mean “activist” friends and circles here, the people you ride the bus with, work with, live next to etc.) then you have no theory of social change. And to clarify, by this we do not mean watering down your politics or dissolving yourself into “community projects”, rather it’s about finding ways to radicalise those connections you have with existing communities to a point where they take on a specific political content - anti-capitalism. It is us, after all, who produce the wealth of this world and any social conflict needs to be waged on the basis of this fact and the need for re-appropriation of the collective product of our labour. Now this is, of course, incredibly difficult. But we’d argue that even minimal progress in this area would be a leap forward compared to even twenty of the best attended A-B marches or “spectacles”. The tasks as we see it now, as Collective Action, is both to be making this argument to the wider movement, re-establishing our understanding and relationship to the wider class, as well as furnishing ourselves with an organisational theory and praxis suited to this task.

You can contact Collective Action on collectiveaction@mail.com and their website is http://www.anarchistcommunist.org/