Wrote most of this around July 2012 or so. Sort of lost interest in it, not sure where I was going, and I think I was mostly jumping into the middle of a heated conversation that happened without me. Some of the ideas and wording I don't agree with and some of it I feel even stronger on. I still think there is space for an IWW centered critique/pushback of political organization (socialist or anarchist), though.
Recently, I wrote a pretty short blogpost, listing some of the problems in current anarchist political organization in the United States. These things could just be inherent to formal political organization in general, but I don’t know. Most of it was based on conversations had with some members of Wild Rose Collective during the time I was a member. Some of it also came from discussions with former members of the Workers Solidarity Alliance, of which I am also a former member. Because of where it comes from, the blogpost can be seen in two ways; either ‘It’s time to get actually serious.’ or ‘Formal political organization isn’t useful’. Personal preferences sway me to the latter, although ‘isn’t useful’ is a pretty strong assessment. Some comrades know my sympathies to lie with the latter, and part of their response has included contesting the admittedly vague alternative indicated.
In the discussions and comments that have branched off ‘Fragmented’, I’ve come to a better understanding of what I’m both for and against. While still somewhat vague and maybe contradictory in places, it’s enough to continue the discussion, which in itself is useful.
This is intended as a critique of formal political organization as a useful project for anarchists and communists in the United States right now. It’s based on personal experience in the milieu, conversations with other comrades formerly in them and/or just thinking about this stuff on my own. This is not intended to be sectarian, offensive or insulting, nor do I aim to sabotage people’s efforts, burn bridges, hurt feelings or ‘one-up’ anyone. In the last 13 years or so, dozens of groups have popped up with strong sounding statements largely directed at those who don’t engage in formal political organization or find that type of effort worth it. Some of this has been directed at groupings or currents seen as too disorganized, undisciplined or too ‘ultraleft, whether that means insurrectionary anarchists, primitivists, anarcho-syndicalists or whatever variety of communist. Very rarely has there been much of a worthwhile response. Mostly any response comes as sniping comments on a website or from the formerly more common‘post-leftist’ perspective.
In addition, those of us from the milieu who may have a critique that speaks the language of the formal political organizations mostly keep silent and don’t write them out of a fear of making people they respect become mad or offended. The defensiveness is understandable if one remembers the uncomradely and hostile tone from certain camps during the formation of NEFAC in the early 2000s. It’s understandable, but unfortunate.
-The need and usefulness of political organization is directly tied to the existence of fighting organs of the class. If they do not exist, it is the task of ‘pro-revolutionaries’ to build them. But build what kind?
Because most of the documents and groups the POs are influenced from were written at a time of intense struggle, with large mass movements or organizations already existing, the interpretation expresses itself as looking at already existing mass organizations and advocating involvement. However, besides spurts of movements here and there, there are little to speak of. The ones that do exist are so intertwined with the state, capital or non-profit industrial complex as to make them virtually immovable when it comes to pushing them be combative organs of the class with the potential for communist content.
-Political organization has not been shown to assist much with the building of these formations and when they do, the time and energy associated with being involved in a political organization interferes with participating in the building of these formations.
-A sometimes stated purpose and function of political organizations is being the ‘memory of the class’. However, this can be accomplished with publications and blogs, which do not have attached to them large amounts of internal processes, structure, etc that can be a hindrance to building previously mentioned formations.
-One of the primary tasks of anarchists and communists should be gaining organizing skills and experience, as theory should derive from practice. Political organization that does not absolutely prioritize this will tend to degenerate into an email list for people with time to argue on, that you pay to have access to. A political organization that does not prioritize their members gaining organizing skills and experience has a questionable purpose.
-Ideological self-identification is subjectively important, but often has little to do with how someone is oriented in their action. For example, in practice, some Marxists are to the left of some anarchists and some anarchists are to the right of some Trotskyists.
-The IWW is not ‘apolitical’. It is an ultrapolitical expression of an ‘indigenous’ working class experience in North America. It has principles that guide its action and vagueness as an endgoal, similar to nearly all other organizations that claim a label like socialist, anarchist, etc.
-One of the stated primary reasons for political organization has been along the lines of ‘gathering people who agree with each other for common work’. The ‘work’, more often than not, has been limited to the internal functions of the political organization itself, much of it having little to do with what is meant by ‘common work’.
-If the dysfunctional nature of the political organizations are the fault of being spread too thin, it’s hard to see what can change this, other than fighting formations of the class arising.
-The Friends of Durruti are often championed as one of the few shining examples of formal political organization. But they, unlike current FPO’s, did not see themselves as seperate from the CNT-AIT.
Originally appeared: September 20, 2013 at Thinkin Through It