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.

Posted By

Juan Conatz
Jun 15 2012 03:32


Attached files


klas batalo
Jun 17 2012 19:10
informal groups in iww

see that's just it, i don't see how informal networks/groups like recomposition are not effectively doing what juan critiques. sure i am sure locally many members are trying to have political discussion and development internal to iww. but essentially a group like recomposition certainly has an informal ad-hoc influence on the discourse in a dual organizational way.


On another note Nate I think there is a difference between critique of political organization, and saying everyone should be in political-economic organization, or that political-economic organization is what revolutionary organization is in our time, like Juan is saying...

...and it not fitting personal needs or desires.

So while I understand you are just an IWW guy, and that you think political orgs didn't help you understand how to be a better IWW organizer, or was useful for political analysis, and that you think political discussion should happen in the union (I very much agree with this, we need more political development in the IWW so people can really take "you are the union" and solidarity unionism to heart) that is not what Juan was saying. Juan is making an argument, or at least fragmented critique against the usefulness and existence of an actual practice in political organizations. He basically says political organizations are just meetings, and reading groups, and that they "don't do organizing" and when they do it is entryist/Leninist instead of seen as spreading anarchist/anarcho-syndicalist lines, methods, and struggles like SolFed do... even though the same critique could be made of GMBs, and that shop committees/branches are the bodies that do the organizing. I agree with Scott and Adam W on this, that the same problem has existed in IWW.

Regarding people thinking political orgs are a place for reflection in replacement of IWW reflection, or that political orgs will help people do their mass organizing better. I think it is a mixed bag. I haven't encountered many who thought political orgs will provide them training or the analysis needed for mass work, though there is a trend of militants who do mass work sharing their skills at least in CS/LCF. Maybe it was different out in the Midwest, perhaps folks were thinking that is something or the role of the political org is to have discussions about what you are doing in your mass work. I'll admit those of us in my local political org do have such discussions, but we also have discussions in our IWW branch. So really it is just sorta double tracked? And I don't really think to the expense of the mass organizing, we prioritize both.


Regarding my own needs I think the networking, discussion, learning from other militants in political organization, from their other organizing, etc is complimentary to my organizing practice in the work I choose to focus on. I can see others feeling like they don't have the time to double track, and that is fine. I will say though that before I was in political orgs I was way less developed, plugged in, or involved with anyone on the national scale in class struggle/libertarian/syndicalist politics, and it really is a benefit. I would have never become acquainted with people who for instance have pushed direct unionism. Unfortunately the IWW is very good at atomizing people, and making it especially hard to not find out how to connect on the national scale. It took me 3 years to ever get an OT training, and find out how to get on email lists or talk to anyone on the national scale. I only learned this by working with serious organizers from political org connections.

Jun 17 2012 19:14

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.

Juan Conatz
Jun 17 2012 19:33

I think broadening informal groups or writing collectives into the definition of formal political organization not only goes against the spirit of why the latter exist in the first place, but is actually just a way to include people who disagree with you into your own perspective. I think its dishonest and is just an attempt to disarm people who are against formal political organization by basically saying 'But you're just like us!'.

Also, I can see that sabotage is really seeking out an anti-political org. argument in this, and is referencing bits of past conversations and filling in the blanks with assumptions (some of them safe to make, tbh). However, I haven't really made that argument. I don't think what I wrote is that argument. If I wanted to make that argument, this piece would look a lot different.

Looking over this again, almost all of the points come out of discussions me and another Wild Rose Collective had while I was still in 2 political organizations. This really seems like stuff I needed to get off my chest publicly, based on those conversations, as well as from other ones formerly or currently in those groups. The comments have also helped clarify what I think, although its still jumbled. Obviously, from some of what is said...some of my issues, which are rooted as far back as 2010 are still issues in 2012 among people still in those groups. I know that some of yall have picked up on anti-political organization sentiments I have, mostly because of past discussions, but honestly what I wrote could be used to justify reapproachment OR "liquidationism", and the response from some of the people I would consider'super-platformists' on Facebook seems to back this up.

Jun 17 2012 20:13

"Dishonest", no, the function is very similiar. I'm not saying it's identical, but has many of the aspects of concerted and formal action.

Anyway, I'm not a platformist, so I can't argue from that point of view.

But if you feel that I'm politically dishonest, well, I wish you well.

EDIT: Juan, people can disagree with how they, as individuals, see things. Different views and disagreements over those views are simply that, disagreement and differences. If you wish to think that these different view points are somewhat dishonest, it changes the tenor & tone of the discussion...and implies something else.

Juan Conatz
Jun 17 2012 20:12

Really, a different conversation, but I see it as an argument that's based on assumptions of me being against dual organizationalism all of the time (which I'm not and have never stated anywhere, as far as I can recall) and then using examples such as informal groups and writing collectives as types of dual organization with the end goal of muddying the differences between them and formal political organization, which can then be utilized to prove my (vague and pretty much unstated, btw) position contradictory or wrong.

If that's not what you and sabotage are getting at, then forget it, but I've come across this argument before and that's the angle there.

I think defining informal groups as 'dual organization' stretches the definition of that to almost meaningless. Then, every time 2 or more people talk to each other about doing anything together then it becomes similar to a political organization.

As far as writing collectives go, sure they could be dual organization if that's the terminology you prefer, but there's still a vast amount of difference between that and formal political organization and its pretty clear to me they are not the same thing at all.

Jun 17 2012 20:19

Juan, I was just editing my comment, then saw above.

What I am saying is that how some things function, not what they are called are similiar. I'm not saying they're identical. Nor am I saying 2 people writing something is the same as formal organization. I did give an example of what I see as a similiar effort, one with more then 2 people involved and one with clear goals based on a similiar perspective unity.
So, the function is the same as what folks in formal organizations aim to do as well. That's all.

Anyway, you have your views, I have mine and I'll shake your hand, wish you well and just move on.

klas batalo
Jun 17 2012 22:26
I think defining informal groups as 'dual organization' stretches the definition of that to almost meaningless.

I accept that is your opinion, but there are many self-described "informal" affinity groups that operate in a "dual organizational" manner.

Also there are groups and then there are abstract theoretical levels. For me a bunch of revolutionary individuals collaborating on some writing and similar practices within the IWW are acting as an active minority whether they are formally a political group or a writing collective. The difference is that obviously one is more ambitious than the other, and I am not accusing the Recomp Crew of being a revolutionary organization, but it certainly is a collection of very active revolutionary militants.

Jun 17 2012 23:10
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

The WSA was like an informal network so you quit to form an informal network?

Jun 17 2012 23:25

still a bit at sea here, a sea of unfamiliar language...what do you mean by political organisations exactly - is the IWW not a political organisation ? - could folks define what they mean a bit more...i haven't heard these words used to make these distinctions before..well whatever the distinctions are exactly..

i do agree that it is important - despite & because of the life affirming inevitability of peoples diverse responses to the fuck-up that is capitalism etc.- to try and think through and hone organising strategies. to acknowledge the need to focus and what it takes to sustain efforts.

but if you hope that people will focus all their life energy that they have for trying to create political change through one channel then that channel is going to have to offer a richness of experience. i mean that if the focus is on workplace organising as in the IWW then, especially long term it has to feed peoples needs for empowerment, intellectual stimulation, some form of success every so often, community, solidarity, friendship, chance to explore their creativity. most people are not prepared to submit to an experience of political organising that is too much comprised of grind. then there can be the danger of a few feeling they carry too much, power imbalances etc. - maybe familiar dynamics in many collective groupings, (in the west at any rate - not meant to be some pan statement about human collectivity per se.)

and of course as everyone has agreed there are many concerns, many urgent concerns apart from workplace struggle that need addressed.

so all the things that help to create and sustain collectivity in a deeply fractured culture need to be brought to bear. these are more practical and spiritual and concrete in nature and easier for me to grasp hold of and talk about. these are the kind of things that need to be discussed and passed along and not lost. to be held in common without pretense of expertise. i have to say i have never been keen on the language of training but that's for another post or conversation sometime i guess. the discussion of how to generate different kinds of pratical learning that are integrated into ongoing practical organising and struggle is one it could be good to have on this thread, i think.
libcom is like a free library so even making concrete resources like this is an example..

what sustains individuals can be quite particular to them and of that time in their life. even if one approach is genuinely more desirable any suggestion of what is best organisationally can't be proscribed across the lived complexities of peoples lives. although of course an intelligent and responsible discussion about strategy can influence the decisions that people take about where to place their energies and possible consequences for the wellbeing of a project etc.

Jun 17 2012 23:30

syndicalistcat wrote

I would really like to see centers for popular education, outwardly oriented, like the Ateneo tradition in Spain and South America.

if you could say more about what they are & how they work that would be interesting..

Juan Conatz
Jun 18 2012 00:17
Uncontrollable wrote:
The WSA was like an informal network so you quit to form an informal network?

That's not what I said nor what I did, but I wouldn't see that as contradictory, in any case.

Juan Conatz
Jun 18 2012 00:32
dohball wrote:
still a bit at sea here, a sea of unfamiliar language...what do you mean by political organisations exactly - is the IWW not a political organisation ? - could folks define what they mean a bit more...i haven't heard these words used to make these distinctions before..well whatever the distinctions are exactly.

I mean the platformist, 'specifist', dual organizationalist formal political organizations in the U.S. such as Workers Solidarity Alliance, Common Struggle (formerly the Northeastern Federation of Anarcho-Communists), Miami Autonomy & Solidarity, etc, basically the groups around the A New World In Our Hearts network and 'reapproachment/regroupment' effort that has the aim of working together more closely with the possibility of uniting into 1 or more larger anarchist political organizations.

So formal organizations in which struggle does not directly happen through its own organs, unlike say, anarcho-syndicalist unions, solidarity networks, anti-cut groups, the IWW, etc.1

  • 1. And yes, I realize in some situations anarcho-syndicalist unions or the IWW may operate in a 'dual-card' manner, in which it looks more like a political organization, but this not the entire point of them, unlike most political orgs.
klas batalo
Jun 18 2012 01:22

dual organizational theory comes actually from luigi fabbri...fdca is really inspired with it, and a few years back a bunch of people in the us milieu read that stuff.

in which struggle does not directly happen through its own organs

i guess my objection to this, is that this is not always the case. and some organizations have had struggle happen through them. and it is unclear if the struggle happens through a group like solfed, or through the worker committees. in the case of the iww, yes it usually happen through an iww committee, not independent worker committees.

for instance in a recent campaign in my city two common struggle members who are also iww members have been engaged in a campaign. there is a shit load of overlap between each org. but if they wanted they could recruit through a different label. four star members could all get jobs at the same place over the next month, and would they cease to be a political group?

i have some thoughts coming soon on this, how this way of thinking about revolutionary organization needs to be surpassed.

Jun 18 2012 01:25
syndicalist wrote:
one-up-organizationalhip (...)
Recomposition very much acts like a political organiozation

In a rush, want to reply while this is on my mind, not trying to be curt/rude. I think you're reading stuff in that's not here re: one-ups-manship, at least if you're referring to me. My position is "the groups aren't for me and they don't build the IWW". That's all. Not trying be like "what I'm doing is better.' Two, Recomp is a publication, that's all. I guess the editorial group is also a verrrry informal and disorganized affinity group who agrees on a lot and have know each other and worked together a long time, and sometimes collaborate on projects (but more like 2-3 of us doing something together, basically never all of us). The difference between all that and a formal political group is so obvious to me that I have a hard time articulating anything about it. If Recomp is as much a political org as the orgs Juan's talking about then I think that's more a criticism of the existing groups than it is Recomp actually being a political org. That sounds harsher typed out than I mean it, at the moment. I don't know how to make that point in a way that doesn't sound harsh. I'll get back later and read the rest of the discussion.

klas batalo
Jun 18 2012 01:27

i guess what my point i've been making this entire time is the IWW is more AAUD-E and SolFed is more KAUD.

Mr. T

Juan Conatz
Jun 18 2012 01:40

Well, yeah, you might have an objection to that. Sure. But listing off highly specific or hypothetical situations that do not reflect neither the vast majority of practice nor the publicly stated organizational documents of the groups...I'm not really sure how that changes how I defined it. If you have a better way to define it, go ahead, I'm game, but I thought that was a fairly noncontroversial way to define it.

I mean, one of the things I've always seen stressed by syndicalist and syndicalistcat is that 'The WSA is not a union'. That might be actually stated somewhere in Where We Stand or somewhere else possibly. And the examples given are working through the AFL-CIO unions, IWW or starting independent unions, which is a seperate thing and pretty much the whole point of the political group: to formely gather militants into an organization to come to some sort of broad or specific agreement on stuff and then work through organizations that are not direct channels of the political group itself. If you think platformism, especifismo, dual organizationalism is something different than this, then please explain, because this seems like the working definition for most people that identify with these labels.

i have some thoughts coming soon on this, how this way of thinking about revolutionary organization needs to be surpassed.

For sure you should. I'd defintly read and comment on that.

klas batalo
Jun 18 2012 01:51

hey juan...

a lot of this could just be because i am hella heretical to the tradition?

yeah i guess my examples were rather specific/hypothetical.

also i think you are right about WSA getting framed that way. i think less so with a group like CS and in it's past more NEFAC, because people were not afraid to do things as the political group. i also think in WSA some people are starting to ask if the strict separation makes any sense. i have also come to the conclusion basically that it doesn't make sense in the current period.

i think the question i am playing around with in my head is do we want unitary political-economic organizations like the AAUD or the traditional IWW, which seek to nominally contain all struggle within them, or do we want unitary political-economic organizations like KAUD or SolFed that want to encourage the self-organization of the class. now I know nate has written some good things on OBUism, and well I think that it is true that the IWW didn't always mean ORGANIZE ALL TEH WORKERZ! but I do think there are possibly some different orientations there that seem to not resolve the debate between mono vs dual organizational model.

i just want to say i really appreciate everything you've put out here juan, it's gotten me to a lot of thinking, even if it agitated me a bunch at first.

*edit* also it makes me wonder about a lot of the leninist/bordigist/left com groups that do workplace organizing but via the party/political organization.

Jun 18 2012 05:20
Juan Conatz:

I mean, one of the things I've always seen stressed by syndicalist and syndicalistcat is that 'The WSA is not a union'. That might be actually stated somewhere in Where We Stand or somewhere else possibly. And the examples given are working through the AFL-CIO unions, IWW or starting independent unions, which is a seperate thing and pretty much the whole point of the political group: to formely gather militants into an organization to come to some sort of broad or specific agreement on stuff and then work through organizations that are not direct channels of the political group itself. If you think platformism, especifismo, dual organizationalism is something different than this, then please explain, because this seems like the working definition for most people that identify with these labels.

As I've said over the years, WSA came to our dual organizationalist approach in a manner that was organic to our practice, not based on what has become, I suspect, associated with the other ideas. Most anarcho-syndicalist "propaganda groups" (including the forerunners of the Solfed) had similiar outlooks and approaches.

Now, if you want to be really nuanced about it, while the WSA has never claimed to be a union, unlike most especifists and platformists, the WSA has been supportive of building a revolutionary workers' movement that included unions that were not part of the mainstream. And for most of the WSA histroy, almost half (and at time more than half) of our membership have been in the IWW. And would it have made sense for some 30 comrades scattered across 3000 miles in 1984 to declare themseves a Union? Anyway, there were only handfuls of people working in the same industries and within those industries mainstream unions were heavily represented to boot. Point really being, is we have always had our own specific approach which we have felt reflected both our politics and realities.

I mean, Juan, we can broad brush all we want, but there are nuances and specifities that certainly allow for our own political trajectory and nuances.

Speaking of braod brush strokes, this part is sorta news to me:

Saboatge: i also think in WSA some people are starting to ask if the strict separation makes any sense. i have also come to the conclusion basically that it doesn't make sense in the current period.

While WSA has never declared itself a union, the question of possibly doing certain "mass work" (other then unions) in the WSA name or not has never been rejected. There's nothing stopping anyone from doing, say, Solnet or community work as a WSA local project.
[EDITED out additional comments. There were a few internal WSA emails on this on another topic, which just dawned on me.]

To the UK folks, respectfully, we have a hard time understanding some of your phrases as well. -:)

"Mass work" is an old US left term, that seems to have made its way into our own lexicon. Basically, it means folks working in teants organizations, unions and other non-affiliated (to the anarchist organization)
bodies of comunity folks, workers, etc.

A good example of mass work might be two fold. For many, many years UK syndicalists worked inside the trade unions, given the haevy unionization of the workers. Syndicalist Workers Federation (SWF) members were both union members and members of an anarcho-syndicalist propaganda group. They engaged in what WSA
has always considered "mass work".

Additionally, the Syndicalist Workers Federation
helped to initiate and was a main mover of the "National Rank & File Movement". While it mainly turned out to be a grouping of rank and file workers affilaited to non-leninist socialist organizations,
the SWF goal was to engage on a "mass" basis the most radical worker elements to agitate for a new workers' movement. The SWF members mainly operated (from what I can tell) in an open fashion (as SWF and union affiliated members), they did so not strictly limited to the SWF, but through other non-affiliated initiative and organizations as well.

Nate, I'll be happy to have a conversation in a comradely and respectful manner when you have the time. I guess my point being, if a group functions in a manner that is in concert with some goals(in the case of Recomp, as I see it from the far outside)--writing and advocating a tendency for "direct unionism",the looseness of how you all interact is less important,in this instance. The fact that a group has organized to carry out specific agitation and orientation indicates some level of formality and some level of organized goals.

I neither offer this as a criticism of the work of Recomp., nor a failure of any existing dual organizationalist groups. I see it as a group of folks who have common beliefs and orientation in an organization which is their primary focus and long term goals/perspectives, which others outside the specific circle (loose or not) are not part of. I think the real key here is not that folks have not loosely or not come together to write a leaflet or two. From afar, it seems like folks have come together to agitate and organize around a specific set of ideas as articluated in a document with the aim of organizing around that specific document for a long period. A bit different, to me, then loosely getting together with firends to write an article or leaflet.

Jun 18 2012 06:10

Recomp must look way more organized than we actually are. The direct unionism stuff was written before recomp, most of it was done be a solfed member though the N Americans ended working on recomp later. We disagreed the whole time writing that and now disagree about various parts of it afterward and don't share a single perspective on it. We only put it up online a year or two after it was written because it was like "well, this thing's not what we'd do if we wrote it now, but it'd be nice if people read it since we spent a lot of time on it." That was done in a pretty haphazard fashion and to be totally frank I'm not convinced that everyone in the recomp editorial group had actually read the thing before a few of us slapped it online. (I haven't asked.)

I don't think we're really doing all that much to act in a concerted way. I wish we were a lot more than we are, frankly. We're a web site edited by IWW members that's trying to address an audience that's mostly IWW members. We're still figuring out how to do that, and I don't know if we agree all that much on this, we've not talked a lot about it and we don't have much at all in the way of a plan. We run stuff we think is interesting and write stuff we're interested in. That's about the size of it in my opinion, and I personally wish we were more organized on the distribution side to try to up readership among IWW members. Beyond that, we are all IWW members and we do stuff other than the web site. That other stuff has very little to with any of us as recomp and a lot to do with us being part of larger networks and social circles within the IWW. When people in the recomp editorial group *do* work on projects together other than the web site, it's infrequent and it's usually just a couple of us along with other IWW members. When that goes on the coordination happens in the grouping with the other IWW members rather than privately among the recomp editors. Because recomp isn't an organization other than a web site and some informal relationships.

Also for whatever it's worth the recomp editors disagree a lot on formal political organizations - Adam Weaver and Scott Nappalos are both part of CSAC organizations and I think are pretty keen on regroupment. I haven't talked much with them about it because I'm not a member and am not keen and we end up getting annoyed with each other when we have disagreements on this. I've actually been arguing all night by text message with Adam, in an argument sparked by Juan's article, where I'm like "wobs forming political orgs is a mistake!" and he's like "no YOU'RE wrong!" and so on. wink From internet discussions I think the rest of us are pretty much all on the same page on that but I'm not 100% sure. In any case, this is an area where we disagree really strongly within the recomp editorial group in terms of our vision for the IWW. Which is fine, because we're not a political organization and don't need to agree on this. This level of disagreement is something we probably have in common with some of the CSAC organizations - there's a huge diversity of opinion in the milieu in my experience.

I get the sense that Sabotage and you are maybe being like "well if it's such a problem with the CSAC organizations then why is it not a problem with Recomp?" as a response to Juan. If I misunderstand then I apologize. If I get you right, my feeling is that it's one thing for a free publication to have these qualities and it's something different for a formal political organization to have them. I think that in many respects the similarity between Recomp and the CSAC groups is much more a matter of the groups not being particularly organized or formal than it's a matter of Recomp being a political organization.

I will say, the Recomp editors *do* have a lot that we share in terms of vision of the IWW. I don't think this is much of a unique vision on our part, if at all. If anything I see us, specifically as recomp, as trying to push conversations where IWW members reflect together and elaborate further on stuff that's largely common sense or hegemonic in the organization. (Or at least it's hegemonic in the twin cities and in edmonton, as far as I can tell, which is where most of recomp's editors live.) To the degree that we have a clear vision for recomp, which is a pretty low degree in my opinion and I think I probly spend the most time on it, the vision is that we want to help build a political-intellectual culture or milieu mostly aimed at IWW members. I think that's appropriate for a publication/an editorial group.

One piece of that project of building up the IWW and related milieu, the intellectual culture specifically, is writing but in my opinion a much bigger piece, certainly for me personnally, is working to develop new writers. We're also relatively friendly people so we end up getting into conversations with people who aren't IWW or aren't as IWW-centered as I am (and not everyone in recomp is as IWW centered as I am, unfortunately, which I think speaks to the point about us being a web site rather than an organization). And I'm like a broken record when I get into a conversation - "that's interesting, write an article about that!" (Phinneas gripes about.) I tend to push people to publish stuff in the Industrial Worker more than Recomp whenever possible. All of which is a long-winded way to say that I think you must be squinting if we look like a political organization... wink

Jun 18 2012 06:34
dohball wrote:
if you hope that people will focus all their life energy that they have for trying to create political change through one channel then that channel is going to have to offer a richness of experience. i mean that if the focus is on workplace organising as in the IWW then, especially long term it has to feed peoples needs for empowerment, intellectual stimulation, some form of success every so often, community, solidarity, friendship, chance to explore their creativity. most people are not prepared to submit to an experience of political organising that is too much comprised of grind.

I wouldn't say I want people to make the IWW their main channel for change but I think this gets at an important point. I take you to be saying people needs lots of things. I think people form or join multiple organizations at least in part because they have multiple needs. I'm for trying to make fight organizations - I would call them mass organizations, I also like the term political-economic organizations - into things satisfy as many of people's needs as possible. That is in tension with my wanting the IWW to be focused on workplace activity, though. I would like the IWW's overall focus to be workplace organizing but for there to be a rich internal intellectual and cultural life to support that and meet people's other needs as much as possible. That is: people leave the organization or they join another group when they reach the ceiling within the IWW in terms of how many of their needs can be met inside the IWW. I think that there will always be a limit for some people, so that some people will always bump into that ceiling and so go elsewhere. That's fine. I think that currently we could raise that ceiling higher than it is. I think people going elsewhere encourages not raising that ceiling. In our efforts with recomposition I see us as trying to raise that ceiling a bit. And I think that some of this is probably not unique to the IWW. I think that for a lot of organizations the ceiling just can't be raised very high but for some organizations the ceiling could be raised higher. I'd be very interested to hear from people involved in the Seattle Solidarity Network about their experiences, if any of them are reading this, I know some SeaSolers are in political organizations and some are not, and I know at least some of the time SeaSol has done some internal reading groups etc.

Joseph Kay
Jun 18 2012 06:51

I think some of the discussion on this thread is at too high a level of abstraction to be useful. I mean, if you're discussing organisational forms at a level where autonomous shop committees and trade unions, political organisations and unions, and and a few people informally blogging and formal political organisation are all the same, then it's not going to really shed light on anything. The only possible conclusion is 'everything is the same as everything else.'

If SF is 'dual organisational' for seeking to organise autonomous shop committees and mass meetings then the word loses all meaning, since it specifically refers to the practice of a specific political organisation active within a union on the basis any union "always reflects the ideologies of a range of political groupings, notably of those most intensively at work within its ranks." If trying to 'anarchise'/reclaim unions is the same as organising for autonomous shop floor activity independent of them, then specific political organistions are the same as the Labour Party. After all, both are active within another body (social movements/parliament). Which is what I mean by it not being possible to say anything meaningful at this level of abstraction.

As to the difference between 'specific political' and 'political-economic' organsiations. I'll leave SF out of it as we're in the very early stages of moving towards the latter. But if the differences between the CNT and the WSM (as exemplars of anarcho-syndicalism and platformism respectively) aren't entirely self-evident I don't know where to start! (The CNT also operates through wider assemblies, which I guess makes it 'the same' as the ICC tongue ).

Joseph Kay
Jun 18 2012 08:32
Nate wrote:
I also like the term political-economic organizations

Also just on this, I think maybe people are expecting too much from the term. It's not really the answer to anything, it's a basic category and a point of departure. If someone says they favour political organisation, that's the start of the conversation not the conclusion (what's your programme? structure? sphere of activity? strategy?). Likewise with political-economic organisation. The term basically emerges in opposition to the Marxist tendency to separate 'economic' trade unionism from the political party, as well as the various anarchist currents which reproduce this separation in different ways (in much the same way as anarcho-syndicalism is neither simply anarchism nor simply syndicalism).

Joseph Kay
Jun 18 2012 09:02

Last post in a row, promise. To try and be more constructive here, I'd say not just the organisational form, but the culture and day-to-day content required for organising is quite different to that of intervention. That's not to pass judgement; I know some in the CNT felt they were too slow to react to 15-M because the CNT's monthly assembly structure and organisational culture is set up for long term organising and not reacting to and intervening in social movements. So while I'm arguing for prioritising organising I'm not dismissing a potential role for specific political organisations set up to 'insert' into social movements (though I'm not sure if such movements exist in the UK right now).

Here's a couple of slightly speculative/provocative thoughts:

- the role of formal political organisation is being squeezed by technology. i.e. pre-internet someone like me would have to join a formal, dues-paying political organisation (or at least IRL reading group) to have more theoretical discussions, today I can just use forums like this, or facebook, or twitter, or e-lists etc (which also means there's more tendencies and influences interacting from a wider geographical area). Likewise, in the past I'd have needed the resources of an organisation to get my ideas out there (paper/magazine), whereas today I can do it myself (blog - ok, libcom blogs aren't just me but requires a collective, but I could set up a wordpress/twitter if libcom didn't exist).

- mass organisations do not exist, at least in the sense ascribed by dual organisational theory. mass membership organisations exist (e.g. trade unions), and mass non-membership movements exist (various). But a trade union is, in the workplace, at most a minority of activists meeting (often socialists/anarchists), except during disputes when they'll often organise mass meetings. There is no 'mass' to win around most of the time (often, even the activists don't meet regularly). Outside of big disputes a union is normally a network of activists (and may not be a very effective network if the key node is a conservative branch). I think once this dynamic is recognised, the idea of functioning as a union and not just a propaganda group makes a lot more sense: if we're going to do the legwork of organising, why not try and do it on our own terms? Again, the result is a squeeze on the role for specifically political organisation as historically conceived.

Jun 18 2012 13:54

Syndicalist has raised some important points that I think were probably missed. There is a destructive tendency, which I myself have been prone to, to try and avoid conflict through withholding criticisms either because it's seen as being too difficult or not worth your time. It's good Juan chose to write this to open that discussion, but I saw that in syndicalist's posts and I think he's right to note it, call it out, and try to get folks to reflect on it. It does a double disservice to the movement by both sewing bad blood & not giving others the chance to learn from debate. I'd say it's part of a broader problem of people not knowing how to have productive disagreements. A comrade of mine once told me that a lesson he learned in 40 years in the struggle was "not to let short term political differences harden into long term divisions". Having an inability to debate and a lack of openness will certainly help that.

As someone involved in recomposition I do think it's a political organization de facto though not in name. There are differences between how something like recomposition functions and say WSA, but the differences are about scope, details, and practice rather than form. I do think the critiques are weak because they're a slippery slope. Why shouldn't recomposition dissolve into the IWW? If we think that grouping politically outside the IWW to do certain work won't help the IWW, why isn't that wrong in that case? I do also think the same logic would be applied to dissolving the IWW into business unions. I don't support that, so I think it's strange to see that logic & people not make the connection. Syndicalist's points about organizational one-up-manship probably has a kernel of truth for that reason. There's really no reason to see any exceptions there except if you think your group is really great. I think Juan's critiques have truth, though failing to locate that truth in a larger objective situation, but apply across the board.

The big hole I see in this discussion is that encourages agnosticism on crucial questions. Rather than addressing holes in our practice, the move is just to step away and hope that struggle & mass work will work it out. Sometimes that happens, but in my experience in the long run we get worn down by the winds blowing the other direction. Speaking personally, I developed politically in the portland iww which still in my mind was probably the high point of the IWW in recent decades with ~300 members, organizing in more than 6 industries, etc at the time when I cut my teeth. My mentors & the layer of leadership around me (some of which were workers recruited off the shopfloor) are mostly gone. Some of the folks entered into the NGO world & business unions. Some joined the machinery of the democratic party, various soft social democrats, or leninist groups. The ones who have stayed have largely ignored their own political development because they lacked a space for collective weighing of ideas. In otherwords, some leadership who failed to develop or participate in a political space limited themselves and didn't move forward. I'm not saying everyone will be like that, but it's a problem. Recomposition in some sense is an answer to that, but it makes problematic the above ideas since the logic is that you need to group with likeminded comrades to engage in political thinking and coordinated activity outside of your mass work.

More seriously though much of the leadership of that era left the IWW altogether in order to do political work. It wasn't because they thought that it would make the IWW better, but because they didn't think that there were answers to questions they ran up against inside the IWW. I think they may be wrong there. But even so the process is important & a reason why I think agnosticism will lead to a slow bloodletting of militants. Especially in groups like the IWW that try to maintain the political/economic division between "leave politics at the door" and unite in the economic field under a revolutionary banner (as opposed to anarchosyndicalism). There are larger and more specific problems that arise that people will want to work on with people who share their perspective. Much of that can be done in broad circles with all walks of life. Some of it can't. The alternative to grouping with political folks is individualistic study. If we don't offer alternatives, other people will. Likewise if we don't collectively develop ourselves, we will be objectively limited.

I do think political organization will make people better at IWW work. There's good and bad political organization, and the problem is that I don't see people raising the objective situations that push bad political organization. There's also strategic and theoretical errors that lead to bad political organization. The answer to me isn't to ignore these issues, but to build better political organization. There's also an objective situation that pushes activists into the iww who don't want to organize. We don't say that the iww is a waste of time because the WTO made environmentalists & various activists want to fly a labor flag over their single issue work. The question to me is how we can take the best of what is and what could be and contribute to building this movement. We need to not just deal with only our very narrow immediate needs and problems, but also try to anticipate and plan for what we may need in the future. I'm skeptical about an attempt to be stageist about it, and only focus on certain work with informality at the level of ideas. In reality people develop all their faculties and thinking in tandem, and if you don't develop or offer solutions to those needs, they will go in different directions and find them elsewhere.

fingers malone
Jun 18 2012 22:26

please use his user name, Juan Conatz.

Admins, please could you delete his name out?

Admin: done.

S. nappalos, sorry that sounded rude. Didn't mean it to.

A. Weaver
Jun 18 2012 16:46

Small point here on the definition and role of Recomp. I think Nate is right when he says this point here:

the editorial group is also a verrrry informal and disorganized affinity group who agrees on a lot and have know each other and worked together a long time, and sometimes collaborate on projects (but more like 2-3 of us doing something together, basically never all of us).

In my mind Recomp is an 'organization of tendency' in that we have a fairly high unity in praxis around the IWW and this is what brought us together. But as Nate outlined we don't have what I'd call 'political unity'. I'd say we have a mid level unity in that we're class struggle anarchists and in the same ball park with many things, but obviously not on the question of political organization.

But I would argue (as I have in the past in personal conversations with Nate and others) that the role that Recomp plays within the IWW reflects many of the needs that political organization seeks to address.

Jun 18 2012 16:54

Many years ago, while employed in the then heavily unionized needle trades industry, the relationship between building a "mass" organization and our role as anarcho-syndicalists was clearly on the plate. I share this more out of an historical perspective of how some of our ideas and practices developed seperate and distinct from the other traditions cited elsewhere.

While I prolly have moved somewhat from some of the nuances of things, I would say this is still about accurate from my point of view. Of course conditions have changed, with less folks being in organized shops and conditions to organize independents.

Long term work, I would suggest, ultimately requires "formal" organization.

"Mass organization vs. ideological organization

It is the LWG’s [Libertarian Workers Group] hope that we can develop or initiate and organization
that would be open to all militant workers who seek to develop
policies and tactics that suit their needs and aspirations. It is from
this perspective we’ve initiated the Needle Trades Workers Action
Committee. The role of NTWAC should be defined as an informal body
that—in the opening stages—seeks to discuss the various problems
within our shops and locals. From there we would like to see NTWAC
help to coordinate and develop actions and a program that will meet
the needs of the rank and file. It is also important that the NTWAC
remain independent of the leadership of the union. For the present we
see NTWAC as part of a movement to revitalize the militant traditions
and build towards a position of strength to fight the bosses and the
union to act as a pressure group within the various locals. We don’t
view NTWAC as an electoral caucus or even as a caucus at all. We hope
to be an action committee, one that raises the most proposals and
fights in the interests of the ranks. Being an open and non-sectarian
committee, the choice to run a slate for any of a number of official
positions will be determined in an open and democratic way. However,
as anarcho-syndicalists, we are critical of such a position.

If other libertarians are engaged in this type of activity, it is
important to distinguish this type of activity between an ideological
organization and a mass organization The LWG views NTWAC (or any
other committee we initiate) as a mass democratic body, one, as I
noted before, that is open to all. Within NTWAC, there will be various
viewpoints on the union and politics and the nature of the struggle.
Different people have distinct concepts of what NTWAC should be.
Therefore, various tendencies will develop. This fact of diversity of
point of view, and the discussions that will ensue, is healthy, and
should be encouraged. Naturally, we intend to discuss our ideas and
put forth our own militant platform within the context of these
discussions. Thus, we aren’t vanguardist because we refuse to impose a
pre-determined line that NTWAC must follow. Instead, our politics will
be accepted or rejected on their own merits.”

“The ‘ideological organization’, in this case, would be our own
‘fraction’ within the mass organization. This fraction would attempt
to help develop the mass organization in its form and perspectives
along anarcho-syndicalist lines. We will have our own positions and
will argue for them. In this way we will also hope to recruit people
into our tendency and, hopefully, into the LWG. The LWG is an
ideological organization because it is a group with a specific
ideology – one that is composed soley of those who agree with
anarcho-syndicalism and are prepared to work towards those goals."

ideas & action Summer 1982

I guess my final comment on this, is the period in which Juan was part of political organizations were periods of either rebuilding, of being new and fresh, with lots of inexperianced hands at work. Few of the organizations had any political or mass maturity, in the sense of having a stable membership that was engaged in sustained, long term activities. Whereas, for example, the IWW was in a period of growth with many experianced hands, generally stable structures and a whole host of lots of younger members with a generally singular focus.

Jun 18 2012 16:55
s.nappalos wrote:
Why shouldn't recomposition dissolve into the IWW? If we think that grouping politically outside the IWW to do certain work won't help the IWW, why isn't that wrong in that case?

I'd support that dissolution, actually. I think a lot of the tensions within the editorial group are between on one end of the spectrum (the left, of course!) dissolution into the IWW and on the other moving increasingly toward formalization as a political organization. Personally I think the fact that the recomp editorial group doesn't agree on whether or not we're a political organization (at least three of us think we're not) is a good argument against thinking we are. But then that really just amounts to be saying "I think I'm right, because I'm right." It also may be that there's no single best answer across the board here - maybe I'm wrong that political organizations hurt the IWW across the board. They would in my branch. They have in similar branches. In other spots, maybe it doesn't work that way. I'm not opposed to organizational dualism in all cases. I just think that organizational dualism is wrong in some cases. Like in my branch of the IWW, and like in trying to build the IWW international/general administration. And again there's nothing wrong with that, not everyone has to want to build the IWW. The main arguments people make in favor of political organization and regroupment are not 'it will help the IWW', and that is a good thing, those arguments are about other goals. I happen to not personally want to work on those goals, as I said, but that doesn't mean no one should or that they're useless.

Jun 18 2012 18:06

On second thought... - I'm still unconvinced that recomp's a political organization. I mean, if we are, then what have the last several years of polemic/snark between pro-organizational/platformist and anti-organizational/insurrectionist anarchists been about? I think the use of the word 'organization' here is so broad as to be almost meaningless.

All of that aside, I also think "is it or is it not?" is likely to be unproductive and will at most result in clarity about a word or at worse descend into nothing more than semantics without resolving anything. I also think most people won't and shouldn't care about a handful of people running a web site but maybe for the sake of discussion it will be useful. Anyway, let's say for the sake of argument that recomp really is a political organization. In that case, the conversation is reframed away from political organizations vs something-else-which-is-not-political organization. It's reframed instead toward practices within political organization. Maybe that will be a more productive direction for the conversation, toward best practices within organizations. I think Juan's piece is mostly a set of points about things that he thinks are disfunctional within actually existing organizations. Do we agree on that, or not? And what are some steps forward that people think should happen? Regroupment is one issue that people fall on all sides of (for, against, indifferent).

From this perspective, this very expansive use of the word organization, there's a huge wide diversity of practices in 'organizations'. Some groups have dues, some don't, some groups have meeting and conference calls, some don't, some groups write and publish a lot, etc etc. Treating recomp as a political organization for the sake of argument, using this expansive definition of 'organization' then I'll drop my 'political organizations are bad for the IWW' thing. Instead, from this expansive use of the term, I think more IWW members forming 'political organizations' with qualities like recomp could be a good thing as long as it didn't take away time from organizing and otherwise participating in the IWW. I certainly would like to see greater participation in recomp within the IWW - strictly in the sense of more people writing stuff and more people reading and discussing stuff and more people proposing stuff for recomp to publish. I think more IWW members forming or joining political organizations like the WSA, MAS, etc would be bad for the IWW.

Maybe it'd be useful to spell out some of the differences between recomp and MAS and Amanecer and NEFAC and the WSA and Wild Rose? (I pick those groups because the editorial group are all current or past members of those groups.) Off the top of my head, recomp compared to NEFAC and WSA (the groups I was part of). What recomp doesn't have that those groups had when I was a member:
dues, open 'membership', any 'membership' expectations/requirements at all in terms of participation and doing work, a political statement/aims and principles, a set decision-making procedure, a treasury, conference calls or meetings (I think 3-4 of us had drinks like 2-3 years ago?), an internal education agenda.

What recomp has that NEFAC and WSA did not have when I was member: a focus that's mostly on doing work within the IWW (we do some other stuff mostly because we don't agree on how much emphasis to place on IWW stuff, also in part because we're curious open-minded folk and friendly and open to building more relationships - that's a quality that's not unique to recomp, WSA is like that too, not trying to score points and say we're smarter or nicer), a focus on writing and publishing, a high volume of publishing, a high volume of writing per 'member' (though this is uneven, some of us write a lot, others don't), all of us have attended IWW organizer training and done a lot of work in the IWW so we share some relationships in the organization and a common vocabulary to like almost 100% degree, something of an emphasis on mentoring new writers and cultivating new writers (I do this the most, some others do), very little if any common projects that 'members' work on other than the web site (and really, participation in making the web site happen and distributing content is super uneven, which is fine but worth saying). When 'members' do carry out work together other than the web site it's in the context of larger projects that they're part of and where decisions and conversations happen in that larger project. (Examples; an organizer reflection session that Juan helped organize, which was him and other people, and a few of us on the editorial group glanced at the list of question, or like in the CUPW work, where Phinneas and Rachel are part of a larger group of CUPW folk and the role of recomp is to give some feedback on their writing and beg/bully them into writing more, and to publish their writing, or like Juan working on the Industrial Worker and the Twin Cities IWW's newsletter, or like me trying to get more people to write for or co-write pieces for the IW and a reading group on materials on political economy that Juan and I are are slowly trying to put together with other TC-IWW members).

klas batalo
Jun 18 2012 18:53

i guess this is about levels of abstraction really...

i mean scott's analysis of the revolutionary, intermediate, and popular levels of organization could lend itself to this.

in that analysis the levels are pertinent whether a group is a formal organization or not. so where as wsa might be a formal revolutionary organization, certainly recomposition is somewhere on the revolutionary to intermediate level spectrum.

i think informality and formality is dialectical, or like the yin and yang of organization. so it doesn't really matter to me if something is a small writing group or a formal political org, if both seem to be on the same level to me.

anyway i think this makes it clear i don't care about the last decade's debates between informalists and pro-formalists, i think they are dumb, especially when one prefers one over the other.

and so like Joseph Kay said he thinks there is a huge difference between WSM's practice and CNT's but not all supposed platformists have the exact practice. it seems pretty reductionist of me to have to reduce anarcho-syndicalism to the CNT, and platformism to WSM. again i guess that gets us into more abstraction, or complexity (or reality mind you). but there is nothing stopping WSA for instance doing solnet style work or workplace stuff as their locals if folks wanted, i think folks are imposing assumptions from the past upon the potentialities of the present.

also it might not be useful to do this, but I think some context around this is that for instance Gayge Operaista seems in their latest article to be saying that all revolutionary organization/organizing today is political-economic, i.e. social.

i'm inclined to wanting to jump on that bandwagon, though i still haven't made up my mind, totally. but i guess i just see there is a problem with saying platformists can only be like leninists or trots who want to bore from within/reform existing unions...there are plenty of examples from NEFAC's history of using forms of autonomous self-organization/direct actionist methods of workplace organizing a la SolFed, or workpace resistance groups...which seems to destroy that stereotype. so i guess that is a whole other level of abstraction insist continually that platformism can only mean everything we don't like...