Brief exploration of how anarchists should operate in mass movements.
It will take time for the working class as a whole to become able to liberate ourselves from capitalism. Our class has various internal problems which limit us and help keep us in our place collectively. It takes work to move us beyond these problems.
At a smaller scope – not the whole class, but smaller numbers of people within our class – and at a lower level – not the abolition of capitalism but smaller steps that move us somewhat closer to that – I think the process works similarly. We have internal problems and it takes time to move us forward.
I think it’s important for anarchists to do work that fights directly against the state, capitalists, landlords and so on. I call it mass work. I’m not attached to the term, we can call it whatever. Mass work, and particularly anarchist involvement in mass work, is important for the process of changing people, at the class level and at a smaller level.
In anarchist involvement in mass work, it’s important that we keep sight of both our need to be effective in the mass work, and of our political goals in the short term and the long term. In order to be effective in this work politically, anarchists have to be decent at doing the organizing work. If we’re not good at and experienced in organizing then we won’t be taken seriously by people involved in struggles. On the other hand, if all we do is build struggles and don’t build relationships and spread ideas then we are little different from non-radical supporters of working class struggles. We have to strike a balance between these two related but different priorities: we’re not just about working class victory in struggles in the short term. We’re about a long term and a bigger picture.
I think it’s crucial that anarchists be involved with mass work in ways that place us in relationship with people who are having specific experiences. When people collectively fight the powers over our lives, we do various things. For instance, in workplace struggles we discuss and make decisions about tactics and strategy, we march on the boss, we walk off the job, and so on. There are at least two elements of this – running our own affairs and standing up to people over us. These are related but not identical. There are various results that follow from these activities. Experiences of running our own lives can help people have more confidence, more skills, and more of a taste for running our own lives in a way that makes it more intolerable when we don’t run our own lives. Experiences of collective conflict with people in power over us can also help us get more confidence in ourselves and other members of our class, help us get more of a sense that collective action is the way to solve our problems, and it can deepen our sense of opposition to the power over us.
Among the things these two things have in common in the most general sense is that both of them have the potential to radicalize or further radicalize the people who experience them, particularly if they haven’t experienced them much before. It’s not guaranteed that these experiences will radicalize people, though, and it’s not guaranteed what conclusions people will draw. I think this is part of why it’s particularly important for anarchists to be involved in struggles in ways that place us in relation to people who are having these experiences, particularly if they haven’t had these experiences before or haven’t had them much. If we’re placed in ways that put us in relationship with people having these experiences we can shape the ways that these transformative experiences play out. We can potentially make them more transformative and try to make it more likely that they eventually become anarchists in response to these experiences.
Finally, if we are involved in experience that change people in the way that I suggest and we are successful, we will have more anarchist comrades to work with. These comrades will have skills and experiences from their experiences of mass work which will be useful in building anarchist organizations. What’s more, these comrades becoming anarchists through working class struggles, they will have relationships with other people involved in the struggles, making the process more effective.