Rough thoughts replying to Juan Conatz on organization - Scott Nappalos

Juan wrote two intriguing and important pieces here and here putting out his fragmentary thoughts on political organization. It’s one of the only places I’ve seen that in text, and put into words many things I’d been wrestling with. This and the earlier piece which I missed sum up a lot of thoughts I’ve had about the problems building political organization in our context. I think it would be wrong to try and extrapolate to other contexts, but in a situation like our own I think these insights are key. Most of the groups people point to usually arose in high points of struggle as means to defend and expand the advances of revolutionary mass movements, and there’s a real error in trying to apply that ahistorically.

One gap I see here though is in the critique of political education stuff (mostly in the fragments piece?), it made me think of the IWW. In our relatively recent experience we’ve come to see the need for deepening the politics of the IWW, and finding a way to do politics more explicitly in our day-to-day work. I think that’s a move towards anarchosyndicalism and within the tradition. In practice though I think it’s fair to say that the people who have experimented the most with that are people more in the political organizational world. In fact some of the wobs, who can speak for themselves, who started doing political work in the workplaces were drawing from some of those traditions and experiments directly. I know my own advocacy of those positions came from engaging with anarchist and marxist experiences in latin america that questioned education as instruction, and that within the CSAC millieu those perspectives led to a number of experiments along those lines. Not much to show for it, but the thinking and practices did expand, and the IWW has benefited, even if indirectly.

I wonder if there isn’t a lesson here. Klas made some comments on the libcom thread that questioned how the divisions are drawn, which is profound in my opinion. Like how much of different animals are political organizations vs. solnets or the IWW? At their extremes we can see where they come apart, but if we do reject the political-economic distinction it muddies the water. It may be for those reasons the work political organization folks set out to do led them to grappling with exactly those questions, of how we do explicitly political work in organizing, that the approach myself and others had taken earlier in the IWW had overlooked.

The answer is not to replicate in my opinion the problematic aspects of those experiences. Instead I think we actually need to rethink how we think about organization all together. In a way, every organization is like the Argentinian FORA. Political organizations and mass organizations are both political entitites and both do organizing on some level. There are different approaches to different problems, and in our context significant overlap in the kinds of questions and work people are doing that are usually artificially separated. More and more we need to define our organizations based on what we’re trying to do and what’s justified. I’m not convinced those lines are drawn correctly, nor that our assessments have been correct. The persistence and increasing political maturity of sections of the IWW speak to something being done right. Likewise the political organizational current did contribute to thinking about education in organizing because of grappling with real problems in that work that provides lessons for anarchosyndicalists. Neither of those two define themselves based on their goals and activity, those perhaps both are moving closer. I feel strongly that attempts to prop up political organization are wrong, but there are contexts where work can’t happen except by getting together with other comrades to work on it. I’m not convinced either that that’s wrong across the board either (not saying anyone else is). In many ways we should be looking at why some experiments in politically linking folks to do some work outside their organizing worked, and why some organizing retained its political aspirations when others dumped it overboard at the first sign of trouble. I think we need a new framework for thinking about organization in general to get better answers than we’ve had.

Originally appeared: Septmber 20, 2013 at Theory & Practice