Reportback from Karen Johnson (New World Collective)

Submitted by Juan Conatz on February 20, 2011

Two of the points of discussion unresolved at the conference were: 1) the criticism I offered but was unable to clarify about the classist nature of our inability to prioritize for action focus major forms of oppression such as class, race and sex and 2) the necessity for ideological unity (by this I mean a basic agreement on the ideas, principles and analysis – or theory – which informs action). I would briefly like to explain my further thinking on these issues since the conference.

The bourgeois ideology of the society in which we live is, in part, a mixture of an extreme individualism – my need over yours – and submerging of the individuality into a consumption orientated mass. It is the remnants of the bourgeois individualism – please don’t confuse with individuality – which I perceived to be operating in our disagreements at the conference. To heighten personal experience and need as the only criteria for determining one’s focus for revolutionary action stems from very individual experience. In general this experience is not that of the working class or poor class, nor is the stance which was issuing from it consistent with the needs of those classes.

The inability to focus energy through revolutionary strategy destroys the very possibility of a viable movement. Of course, as the movement grows the focus can and should broaden. Also, at the present time individual needs and experience must be an important consideration in choosing the focus for action. For example, as a white woman I have no justification for organizing blacks. However, I should raise the issue of racism as it pertains to the organizing of which I am a part. My personal experience will influence my choice for activity, but it will be one criteria in tension with the overall needs of the collective movement. This is the embodiment of the anarchist principle of the dynamic between individuality and collectivity.

To disregard collectivity when determining strategy is class based. This becomes classist because it inhibits collective action which serves the interest of people who are relatively better off than working and poor people. That was/is the gist of my critisism.

The second point which I tried to make is that a unity of ideas (principles, analysis, theory) is necessary within an organization as the foundation for action; that is, they inform action. An organization with a unified perspective has a criteria upon which actions can be formulated, energies focused and movement supported. It is consistent with anarchism to support unity within an organization and a diversity of organizations. The level of unity will largely determine the sophistication of the action in which an organization can engage. Lack of unity blocks action through disagreements. This perspective is consistent with the desire to establish a statement of principles with which we can agree as libertarian communists.

This is a very brief explanation of my thinking, but hopefully it will serve to enable the useful insights to be identified through further exchange. Collective explanations of these points will be written by Des Moines people in the future.

Karen Johnson (New World Collective)