I’ve decided to break this piece up into sections, both because it was becoming unwieldy, and also because I’m still grappling with many of these questions and issues, which is the main reason I’m writing about them–in order to clarify my opinions and to organize my thoughts. So this is part 1, which is basically an intro.
I’ve called myself an anarchist for about 12 years now, and up until recently, I honestly have never given much thought to figuring out the most effective and appropriate organizational form for a specifically anarchist organization. Perhaps that’s because, like (arguably) most anarchists in North America, I’ve never been a part of a specifically anarchist organization. In fact, I’ve always been wary of such organizations –having always heard the Leninist accusation (quite unfairly for the most part, as I now believe) thrown at such groups (mainly heard this levied against NEFAC and other “platformist” groups), I was suspicious of what I perceived as their rigidity, and suspected an element of vanguardism. I have been involved in many different groups, nearly all of which have been heavily influenced by anarchism, and usually populated in the majority by anarchists, but none of which espoused an avowedly anarchist politics.
Workplace organizing has always seemed to me the best use of my time in trying to advocate for people taking control over their own lives. I’ve been a member of the IWW, off and on, for as long as I’ve been an anarchist, and remain active and committed to this type of revolutionary unionism. But I have always seen the need for lots of different types of anarchist activity and organizing, and have never thought that, for example, only building revolutionary unions was enough, only building dual power institutions was enough, or only spreading anarchism through a cultural context was enough. While I certainly think that it’s more important that the ideas that are the core of anarchism spread far and wide than the ideology of anarchism itself, I do think that in order for us ever to have an anarchist world, we need a great deal many more anarchists than we currently have. This is the reason that I have come around to the belief that we need more specifically anarchist organizations out there spreading these ideas and helping more people find anarchism–I believe that in order to win more people to anarchism, we have to have a strategy for doing so.
The big questions for me then become, what kind of anarchist organization?, and what can we accomplish with this organization?
There are an endless number of organizational forms that anarchists have used in the past 150 or so years–the affinity group, collective, platformist model, workplace networks, unions, and on and on. All of these forms of organization predate my birth, and were not developed specifically with the American South in mind. That’s not to say that none of these forms of organization have anything to offer to anarchists here in the South looking to strategically focus efforts and expand the influence of anarchism, or that just because a model is old and was developed in a different context that it will necessarily not translate to a different time and place. But, I do think that a loyalty to, or adoption by default of, one form or another without a critical evaluation of whether or not that loyalty is practical or justified, can be a hindrance to effectiveness and to a realistic evaluation of how best to spend organizing energy.
I think it’s also important to keep in mind that while I could postulate endlessly about what the perfect form of organization would be, and why–any organization will need to be able to adapt to the reality of the successes and failures of different projects, campaigns, efforts. So, I believe that the substance of what people are actually working on and accomplishing is vastly more important than whether they call their organization platformist, or synthesist, or whatever. Not that terms like these have no meaning, but I don’t want to be part of a group that feels constrained by them–I think we should use what works and discard what doesn’t, both in terms of labelling and in practice. We should try to be as unsentimental as possible about the work we’re doing, in that we can’t let ourselves be too attached to romantic notions of what should work, or what almost worked in the past, or what some group 90 years ago called themselves.