Class War on the role of the revolutionary organisaton - from Unfinished Business.
"Remember your hardships and keep up your struggle,
The wheel will turn for you,
By the strength of your hands and hardness of your fists."
Mary MacPherson, Isle of Skye, Scotland in the 19th century
- translated from the Gaelic in the play "The Cheviot the Stag and the Black Oil" by John McGrath.
There will be more than one organisation. This is taken for granted. In fact it is in our tactical interests to encourage similar groups as ours to start and grow. This should become clear from what follows below. In revolutionary periods in history all sorts of movements and organisations are thrown up. Some will be good, others will be bad. All sorts of shifting social alliances will be made as the course of the revolution progresses. We must be prepared to hard sell our ideas in this period (and before!) and not just trust to spontaneity to pull us through as some of the anarchists seem to think. This section is informed by "The Organisational Platform of the Libertarian Communists", written by a group of exiled Russian anarchists drawing on their experiences in the Russian revolution of 1917.
Organisation or Movement?
As will become clear below we see organisations like the Class War Federation as playing a part, with others, in the creation and defence of a revolutionary movement within the working class. This movement will be a strong and diverse collection of the revolutionary sections of our class under nobody's control but their own. Yet this movement will also have to be politically coherent. It must have a certain minimum of shared ideas. The Class War Federation and similar organisations exist to bring about this situation. This is the meaning and spirit of this chapter and the rest of this book.
Why do we need Organisations?
The short answer is that if people are to achieve any objective involving a number of others then some kind of organisation is necessary whether that objective is growing corn, building a house or destroying the State and capitalism. For any of these things to be done the people involved must know what they want to achieve and how they are going to do it, wishing it is so will not do anything. What follows examines the types of organisations that can be of use to the working class - and those that can't.
WHAT A REVOLUTIONARY ORGANISATION IS LIKE
Aims of the Organisation
To work as a group of people who come together to further the interests of the working class. Specifically, they aim by their propaganda work and other activities in the class to help their class reach a position where they are in a condition to start on the road to revolution. The priority is to aid the class to 'manage itself in its revolutionary activities. The organisation is not trying to be a new set of bosses as the Leninist parties do. We are aware that where as for us the autonomy and self-management of the working class is an end in itself, for much of the Left this is only a means to an end i.e. taking power by taking over the State. A revolutionary organisation believes in our class's ability to lead itself and works towards this end. In doing this the organisation is not afraid of pointing out to the class what it believes is right at any moment. The aim is to talk as equals with respect to the rest of our class.
Obviously influential figures and organisations are thrown up by the working class in struggle, and they do push for certain objectives. This is to be expected and their relationship to the class is central to assessing their value. In short they have to encourage their class to 'do-it-themselves'. A good example from history would be the Ukrainian anarchist and insurgent movement 1917-22. The military wing defeated both the Red Army, and the counter revolutionary White Army. They did not, as a result, expect to rule socially and made this clear. Instead they worked closely with the local Soviets on social matters, and regarded themselves as the armed wing of the working class and had enough sense to realise that the social and economic part of the revolution was as important as its military defence. For more information see "History of the Makhnovist Movement" by Peter Arshinov.
Strategy of the Organisation
The aim of any strategy is to play a part in the process of creating a large section of the working class that is political and in control of it's own activities. This strategy is guided by examining where the working class are in reality, not where we would like them to be, a failure of the Left in Britain to date. By looking at the condition of our class we come to conclusions about what we should do. In Britain basic propaganda work needs to be done now. The following list identifies some of the things our class requires to be able to take the road to revolution, already mentioned in Chapter Five. This list therefore becomes part of the strategic objectives that we aim to achieve by our work as individuals and as an organisation.
Needs of the Working Class
- Identity. The working class need to assert their own identity in opposition to that which they are 'given' today. It will need to be up to date and free of sentimental and patronising images.
- Pride. Instead of being persuaded to feel inferior and only experiencing pride on the terms of the ruling class, such as love of Royalty and British nationalism, our class need to be proud of themselves and their achievements.
- Solidarity. In place of snobbery and competition, the older and deeper values of unity and common interest need to be retrieved and stressed at very opportunity.
- Culture. The emergence of a genuine working class culture where the above ideas and values are combined with a sense of history, self confidence and a vision of the future. This would replace a lot of what at present is passed off as 'working class culture'. Out would go racism, sexism, macho-shite, bigoted ideas about gays and lesbians, the urge to dominate and bully, the need to be ordered around, ignorance and selfish ambitions.
- Self Management. The idea of managing ourselves would have to be taken up in our communities and workplaces.
- Internationalism. It is crucial for the British working class to get over its legacy of Imperialism.
- Support. Wide spread support for the above ideas and values through the working class - not necessarily a majority, but enough to make change and revolution possible. The identifying of those sections of our class where this support can be built becomes part of the organisation's strategy.
Practice of the Organisation
This is determined by the aims and strategy. It has been said that what a revolutionary group has got to offer the rest of the working class can be found by looking at its internal workings. The organisation must have;
- Internal democracy with all posts being re-callable. This means that people who are elected to do certain jobs such as being secretaries, membership organisers, editors etc. can and will be replaced at any time. The aim is that power over the organisation stays at the local levels, not in some elite central group.
- Clear political ideas and aims
- Clear membership - we have to know who is in and who is not and importantly what the basis of that membership is; i.e. a certain basic grasp of our ideas and a level of commitment in effort and money.
- Comradeship and the ability to care.
- An effective system for members to educate themselves and pass on basic skills like writing articles, public speaking, propaganda, fighting and publicity skills etc. Without this the organisation will wither and die physically and politically.
The "Platform Of The Libertarian Communists" referred to earlier makes some exact suggestions for organisation and methods. Here they are in boiled down form. We see no need to disagree;
- Theoretical unity.
- Tactical unity or the collective method of action.
- Collective responsibility.
THEORETICAL UNITY. Theory (ideas) represents the force which directs the activity of persons and organisations along a defined path towards a determined goal. It also binds the individuals and groups together into a more effective force. A certain minimum agreement on ideas is obviously essential.
TACTICAL UNITY OR THE COLLECTIVE METHOD OF ACTION. A common tactical line in the movement is of decisive importance for the existence of the "organisation". It removes the disastrous effect of several tactics in opposition to one another. It concentrates all the forces of the organisation on its objectives.
Put bluntly this means the organisation must know what it is trying to achieve and how. Incredibly, many groupings in the Left and anarchist movement do not know this beyond a vague desire to do something 'good'. It is essential that the organisation has a strategy for achieving its objectives based on realistic objectives for short and medium term goals. Self management starts at home!
COLLECTIVE RESPONSIBILITY. The entire organisation will be responsible for the political and revolutionary activity of each member; therefore each member will be accountable for their actions to the rest of the organisation. The aim of the organisation is to do its work as effectively as possible. This means out in the open public activity. This sort of work carries risks of its own with it and people should consider how it affects other parts of their lives before getting involved.
FEDERALISM. Anarchism, against centralism, has always professed and defended the principle of federalism, which reconciles the independence and initiative of individuals and the organisation with service to the common cause. Federalism is a way of social organising that brings together independent groups for commonly agreed purposes and agree to co-operate with majority decisions. In this set up, each person and group at all levels has the freedom to argue their position and, if they choose, to leave the Federation altogether.
The groundwork for this new way of organising will be laid before and during the revolution, as is indicated in the chapters on Class Struggle and Revolution. The emphasis is going to be on practical self management; the need to respect though not necessarily blindly follow the wishes of the majority, the use of delegates who are recallable instantly to represent our views to other groups and free access to information. But quite often, the federalist principle has been deformed: it has often been understood as the right, above all, to manifest one's ego, without obligation to account for duties as regards the organisation.
This false interpretation disorganised our movement in the past. It is time to put an end to it in a firm and irreversible manner. Federalism will only become reality, rather than fiction or illusion, on the condition that all participants fulfil most completely the duties undertaken, and conform to communal decisions.
WHAT IS NOT A REVOLUTIONARY ORGANISATION
It is not composed of people who follow the teachings of Lenin, Trotsky, or Mao who all believed in taking control of the State with a vanguard party on behalf of the working class. It does not believe it is possible to use the State to destroy capitalism or even to work towards that end, unlike the British Left parties such as Militant, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) or the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).
It is not composed of middle class people who act out their traditional roles of domination and management of working class people who are members, as in the SWP, or controlled by an upper class group with a working class membership such as Militant.
What makes the Left parties like those mentioned above so unworthy of support is, apart from with their obsession with their own unique fitness to lead, the fact that they all claim to have the one and only, definitive and correct understanding of the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, and often Trotsky. They all believe that they and only they have the correct understanding of so-called "scientific socialism". There must be upwards of a dozen organisations making this claim, yet the only thing they have in common is that they all detest each other, and that each believes only they have the right interpretation and everyone else is wrong. If any theory is capable of so many wide spread and contradictory interpretations, then we should look on its claim to scientific exactitude with the greatest scepticism.
Neither is a revolutionary organisation composed of working class people who are full of sentimental and moralistic nonsense about the class struggle and themselves. Such a group inevitably ends getting led around by a charismatic figure and achieves nothing. Nor is the organisation an alliance of single issue groups and individuals with little grasp of class politics, something which has bedevilled anarchism in the UK from the start.
In its true form it is the same as communism, coming from the same tradition; that of working class resistance to oppression. However, anarchism in the UK and elsewhere has tended, over time, to be hijacked by the middle class (because of its stress on the individual) and used to justify doing nothing. The Russian anarchist movement was criticised for doing the same thing during the Russian revolution by anarchists in the Ukraine. These criticisms apply as much today as they did then, we think it well worth repeating them.
"We are obliged to state that the Russian anarchists remained in their circles and slept through a mass movement of paramount importance. But at the same time, we discover that this deplorable situation is not accidental, but that it has very specific causes, which we will now consider.
The majority of our anarchist theorists have their origins in the intelligentsia. This circumstance is very significant. While standing under the banner of anarchism, many of them are not able to break altogether with the psychological context from which they emerged.
Very few amongst the isolated anarchists found in themselves the necessary sensitivity and courage to recognise that this movement was the one anarchism had been anticipating for many years - those who did rushed to join it.
An even more important aspect of this helplessness and inactivity of the anarchists is the confusion in anarchist theory and the organisational chaos in anarchist ranks.
Thus many anarchists devoted their energies to the question of whether the task of anarchism is the liberation of classes, humanity, or of the personality. The question is empty, but is based on some unclear anarchist positions and provides a broad field for abuse of anarchist thought and practice.
An even greater field for abuse is created by the unclear anarchist theory of individual freedom. Those who do not know the passion of the revolution, who are most concerned with their 'I', understand this idea in their own fashion. Whenever the question of practical anarchist organisation or the question of organisation with a serious intent is posed, they hang on to the theory of individual liberty and using this as a basis oppose all organisation and escape from all responsibility. The ideas and actions of anarchists are thus pulverised to the point of derangement.
For dozens of years the Russian anarchists have suffered from the disease of disorganisation. Thus when the mass movement rose from the depths of the people, the anarchists showed themselves completely unprepared, spineless and weak.
In our opinion this is temporary. Anarchism is not mysticism: it is not a discourse on beauty; it is not a cry of despair. Its greatness is due, above all, to its devotion to the cause of oppressed humanity. It carries within itself the truth, and the aspirations of the masses, and is today the only social doctrine the masses can count on in their struggle. But this is not enough. Anarchism needs to go to the masses and merge with them."
From "History of the Makhnovist Movement" - Peter Arshinov.
In the British Left and anarchist movements exists a wandering tribe of individuals who drift from group to group. Some are full of intellectual rigour and passion who will argue day and night for a precise point but do nothing. One example is that some will argue that it is wrong to be involved in anti-fascist work because it implies support for capitalism of which fascism is just another organisational form. Others are people often displaced socially by previous unfortunate experiences. We do not intend to become an 'orphanage' for such people.
A revolutionary organisation is like a bank. To survive, most of its members must be in credit in terms of money and activity. Obviously there are always some of us who at times may get 'overdrawn'. But when too many are overdrawn the bank closes. What do we mean by overdrawn? If an organisation is attracting people who take more out than they put in, then it is finished. This a particular failing of the traditional anarchist and Left revolutionary scene in Britain with its emphasis on lifestyle.
We all get down in the dumps at times, stress is very common in our society and this is where comradeship and caring are important. But if an organisation is attracting people who demand or require a lot of support then it is doomed. We are not a therapy group. Sometimes you have to be cruel to be kind!
This refers to some common tendencies in the British Left which we mean to avoid. On the one hand are the cynical Left like the Revolutionary Communist Party, Socialist Workers Party etc. who will pick up an issue and run with it until they can gain no more from it in terms of membership, money, influence and publicity. They will descend on a struggle or issue and milk it dry for their own interests and then piss off!
Sometimes the change of party line that comes down from central headquarters is so rapid that the activists on the ground are left mouthing the wrong slogans; this is particularly true of the Socialist Workers Party.
Then there is an attitude common in the anarchist scene which is well intentioned but ineffective and can be called "the must do something syndrome". An understandable reaction to an unjust world. This often comes unstuck through a lack of understanding of the beast it is up against, capitalism and the class system. Worthy and imaginative initiatives such as the community cafes of the 1980's tend to fall apart because they are an alliance of single issues politics without a common thread. Much of the activity is geared to making those involved feel better.
Even in many class struggle anarchist groups this tendency is still strong, with effort devoted solely to various campaigns. The reasons for expending large amounts of effort in this way again boils down to making those concerned feel better. As the saying goes, they cannot see the wood for the trees.
Neither of these kinds of missionary tend to stay around long. On the other hand we in the Class War Federation and similar organisations have a clear and straightforward aim as we have outlined above. We are going to build organisations which will have in-depth support and popularity in this country and around the world, and whose groups and activities will be dispersed throughout our class where it counts. We will make sure we have the clarity of thought and determination of action to succeed in our objectives, which are to play our part in creating a revolutionary movement in society. We intend to be around for as long as it takes.
Workers and Intellectuals In the Organisation
This is an old chestnut and often the cause of friction. The Italian anarchist Maltesta deals with it well;
"We have no 'working class' prejudices, no preferences for the manual worker because he is a manual worker, and above all no admiration for the uneducated and the illiterates, who, nevertheless, have the valid excuse, that their condition is not their fault"
Contrast this to the anti-intellectualism of many contemporary anarchists and socialists, many of whom are from upper class backgrounds and have had the best education available. But Malatesta continues;
"On the other hand we know that most of the so-called intellectuals are, by reason of their education, their family background, their class prejudices, tied to the Establishment, and tend to want the subjection of the masses to their will.
We accept the intellectuals with pleasure and without suspicion when they fuse with the working class, when they join the people without the pretensions to command; without a patronising air of condescension, but with the open mind of someone coming amidst brothers and sisters to repay them a debt they have contracted in educating themselves, which in most cases is at the expense of the children of those whose work has produced their means of education"
Errico Maltesta - Italian Anarchist; Umanita Nova 1921.
The 'dictatorship of the intellectual' is not something we intend to copy from the left-wing parties. Our aim is to make everyone an intellectual.
Horses for Courses
There will be many different groups and individuals in the same organisation and the wider mass movement. They will have different experiences and approaches and each will be good at different things. But how will they work together and treat each other? The following quote from "The Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement" gives us an idea.
"Some groups are a more 'direct' expression of the proletariat. Others maybe more 'dogmatic' as they try to grasp the whole historical movement. Origins and experiences are very different. Revolutionaries are able to understand and criticize each other. Communication is vital. Those who are only interested in theory, as well as those who are only interested in organising others' activity, stand outside the communist movement."
- Barrot and Martin.
In other words one of the essential characteristics of a revolutionary is the desire and ability to understand others in different situations and from different backgrounds.
So a revolutionary organisation is not a cosy social club for refugees from the real world, like so much of the left-wing and anarchist scene in this country.
The organisation and the people in it must have; the clarity of ideas to cut through the ruling class's attacks, toughness and strange as it may seem, the ability to care. One of the 'perks' of the job is the increased self-respect that comes from fighting back, comrades you can depend on, and ideas that help you see through the bad times, and last but not least being in an organisation with a sense of humour!