Thinking About Anarchism: Dual Organisation


The society we live in is a long way off the kind of society that anarchists advocate. So the question that anyone interested in creating a better society has to answer is: how best to act for positive change? The question of how anarchists should organise is one that has been debated over and over. It is clear that anarchism, rooted in ideals of equality, freedom and democracy, needs to adopt organisational practices which foster rather than stifle these ideals.

Anarchists need to form their own organisations on the basis of a common vision. Acting in isolation, there is little one can achieve. However, it is important for any group that anarchists form to base itself on a shared conception of what they stand for, where they want to go and how they want to get there. Otherwise, there is not enough in common to allow the group to act coherently. Within these specifically anarchist organisations, members can share their experiences and perspectives and thereby refine their political ideas. Such an organisation also allows for collective action, based on a democratic decision making processes. Thus, anarchists can act more effectively by combing their efforts rather than acting in isolation.

How then would an anarchist group such as this relate to other organisations of the working class, such as trade unions, community groups or campaigns? These are actually two very different entities. The specifically anarchist organisation is a political group based on a shared ideology, while other groups such as those mentioned above are born out of immediate conditions; all workers in a certain industry for example, or all people living in a certain area. The latter type of organisation will by its very nature be composed of people with different politics and ideas. These are the mass organisations that will be at the forefront of struggle, and naturally anarchists belong to these bodies as well.

Within the Left in general, there are many different conceptions of how a political group should relate to mass organisation. Some favour entering these groups with a view to acquiring positions of power for their members, thus allowing their small political group to dictate the actions of the larger group by direct control over decision making. Others see the wider organisations merely as a pool of potential recruits; in other words, the struggle you’re engaged in is unimportant as long as we get a few new members out of it! Anarchists reject such approaches as undemocratic and authoritarian. Indeed, such manipulative tactics are totally counterproductive for the development of a socialist society, even if they are carried out with the best of intentions. Their use has led to a deep distrust by many people of political groups, and a fear of “infiltration”.

Our view is that when we join a mass organisation like a union or campaigning group, we argue openly within that group for the value of our ideas and approaches, such as a focus on democratic decision making, self management and organisation, and direct action rather than reliance on politicians and other “leaders”. Of course, we also take part in the activity of the mass organisation just like everyone else; it’s not all about preaching! What we hope is that anarchist ideas will become popular within the wider membership by virtue of their effectiveness. This is sometimes referred to as being a “leadership of ideas” as opposed to just trying to take over the official roles and make decisions on behalf of everybody else.

We see the roles of the specific anarchist organisation and the mass organisation to be mutually enriching. If you have a political organisation which doesn’t participate in mass struggle and stays inward looking, then it is completely useless. Not only are you talking to no-one but yourself, but your ideas are likely to be well off the mark, as they have not been tested in practice. Groups like this condemn themselves to irrelevancy in the class struggle. As for the mass organisations, without a healthy injection of revolutionary thinking, it is easy to fall into opportunism and adopt a narrow focus. This often leads them into compromise with their enemy, and can often result in “winning the battle but losing the war”. A classic example of this was the adoption of social partnership in this country, based on the notion that the capitalist class and the working class had shared interests, and were all in it together somehow; a notion which was shown for the nonsense it is when things got tough and as always, the majority were made to suffer while the rich are protected from all harm.