Wednesday, July 11, 2012
Some (more) thoughts on organisation...
The past six months or so have been quite a tough time for me in terms of my politics, or my collective anarchist/community activity. Being busy with life and my son (I'm a stay-at-home dad at the moment while I'm studying part time) means I simply can't get involved in the things that I'd like to right now. A little bit of conflict/change in the anarchist collective I'm involved with, a relatively low period of struggle in Christchurch (despite numerous issues facing the people of this city), and and my own slight burn out/re-evaluation of politics adds to the feeling of confusion and sometimes, outright pessimism.
So when a number of articles on organisation popped up on various websites, it was like finding my doubts manifested and shared. Articles from the US such as some thoughts on political organisation from Juan Conatz (with a valuable comments section), Gayge Operaista’s thoughts on exploitation, repression and self-organisation, and an excellent article on the Cautiously Pessimistic blog summed up a lot of what I had been thinking — the later especially.
It's hard for me to write about organisation at the moment because of my own personal shit (mentioned above) that's tied up with it. I also feel hypercritical writing about it because of these reasons. But I thought I'd record some thoughts nonetheless. They aren't as succinct as the links above, and they mainly relate to my localized experience.
First, a bit of background. I helped get Beyond Resistance (BR) off the ground with a number of anarchists around October 2009. At the time I firmly believed that a tight group of anarchists with a high level of ideological unity was what we needed to forward our political project, which was to get back to long-term workplace/community organising (rather than what we called 'mere reaction'). Whether we were successful with that or not is hard to say. We were involved in lots of projects and events, published some good texts, and were especially active during the initial weeks of the CHCH earthquakes. We helped spread the idea of Solnets in New Zealand (especially through some of our strategy papers and in forums on the West Coast) and started one in Christchurch.
Now, I'm not so sure about the need for a specific anarchist organisation. I've begun to think such groups tend to come at struggle from an ideological place, in terms of appealing to workers on the realm of ideas and morals. Of course we were engaging in struggles around material needs, but I still held to the idea that tighter org will crystalize our arguments, make them sharper and more visible/audible to those in the wider class. Despite arguing that we wanted BR to be based firmly in the struggle around the material needs of our members, we still never shook the mantles of an anarchist propaganda group.
Also, I reckon it's a question of who we work with. In the past I've looked to other anarchists with a similar agreement on principles as my base community. Yet surely this is an arbitrary and unhelpful thing, when compared with say, a community based on material and shared needs? What I mean is something like a Tenants Union of people in my area who share landlords, or as Cautiously Pessimistic points out, those who have a specifically shared experience of exploitation under capital. If class struggle is about building and strengthening relationships and self-activity, why did we as anarchists feel the need to build an anarchist group first, or that to do class struggle we needed a political org behind us — to do it as a political org? I'm not sure if what I'm trying to say makes sense, and maybe it's natural to organize with those you feel closest affinity with. I'm just questioning that particular framework with which we approached struggle.
I'm not anti-organisation, nor have I moved over to a position of pure spontaneity. I definitely think political education and cultural work is needed, and that having a group of peeps you can share your ideas and experiences with is a must: as a place to bounce ideas around practical actions in our lives/struggles. And this is the way BR is starting to operate right now — a place for its members to bring in their experiences of struggle, to discuss and then to put into practice. But at this moment in time, I would rather put any time and energy I had into projects other than an anarchist political project, such as a solnet, or into a tenants union. Only problem is these don't really exist, so building them would be a huge task.
What does that mean for BR? We've decided that the nature of our energy and focus right now means we can't (or won't) do the external stuff we used to do — you know, stuff a typical political org does (propaganda/flyers, evenings, meetings, calling pickets etc). Two years ago I would have slammed such a move as being nothing more than a talk shop; inward-focused and irrelevant. Now I'm not so sure. Groups like Recomposition have been valuable as models, and the discussions on libcom under Juan's text are very interesting (although in CHCH there is no IWW or 'mass' org to 'liquidate' into). I guess we'll just have to wait and see.