The editor of Workers Unite! should be congratulated on his aim, namely to make the debates within the International Working Men’s Association (IWMA) accessible for radicals active 150 years after it was founded in 1864. Yet while the book’s subtitle states “150 years later” the introduction is written as if those 150 years do not exist. This is explained by the editor being a Marxist and so unwilling to admit that Marx helped push the workers’ movement into a dead end.
There is a strong tendency, almost a rule, that anarchist groups tend to fall apart once they have more than 20-30 members in any city or 50 to 60 overall. Or at the very least an organisation that once felt like it worked very well becomes one that feels sluggish and starts requiring too much effort to achieve limited results in the longer term. There are exceptions which mean this is not inevitable but why does this happen and more importantly how can we avoid it in our organising?
The cause may be simply a limitation of our brains and in particular the number of complex inter relationships between people we can track. Or, more correctly, a failure to acknowledge that this limit means that informality will fail and formal administration is more and more necessary as group size rises. A lesson that is not just relevent to anarchist but to all attempts at horizontal organisation.
(If you arrived here from a search for Dunbar's number
and know little or nothing about anarchist organisation
you might want to read
Are Anarchists in Favour of Organisation).
Individualist anarchism has always been very much a minority within the anarchist movement and given some of its advocates, you can understand why. However, it is always good to see material from the past made available to modern day radicals simply in order to allow people to judge for themselves.
There have been enormous changes in the world and on the left in the last 30 years. How do these effect what the role of an anarchist organisation like the WSM is? The weekend of October 11th after a couple of years of discussion the WSM reached some collective agreements around this in the form of the position paper below which replaces an older text that largely dated from the 1980's.
I was part of a long education and discussion process that culminated in this new position paper on "Anarchism, Oppression & Exploitation" being agreed by WSM National Conference at the start of October 2014.
This is a frustrating book. On the one hand, it is nice to see a work dedicated to the importance of workplace democracy and which argues that (state) socialism was simply state capitalism. On the other, it would have been nice if the author, Richard Wolff, had some understanding of libertarian socialism so that he realised he was simply reinventing the wheel and avoided unnecessary jargon. This is understandable given that the author is clearly working in the Marxist tradition but it is not excusable.
This is a write-up of the notes of a talk made at the 2014 London Anarchist bookfair. I have made a few slight changes/additions. On the day I skipped the section of “small-scale” production (“Kropotkin the Medievalist?) and covered the differences between communist-anarchism and syndicalism in the discussion period. It is based, of course, on the work I did for Direct Struggle Against Capital: A Peter Kropotkin Anthology. A newly translated article by Kropotkin from May 1890 (“The action of the masses and the individual”) is appended.
It’s a confusing time to be on the revolutionary left as everything that was once certain turns to smoke. Technology has overturned & remade what constitutes effective communication & the construction of networks. Quite how to organise is no longer clear and old reference points of 1917, 1936 or even 1968 no longer provide definitive models.
Read this book.
Perhaps I need to write more? For those who do not know, Errico Malatesta (1853-1932) was one of anarchism’s greatest activists and thinkers for over 60 years. He joined the First International in 1871 and became an anarchist after meeting Bakunin in 1872. He spent most of his life in exile from Italy, helping to build unions in Argentina in the late 1880s and taking an active part during the two Red Years after the war when Italy was on the verge of revolution (the authorities saw the threat and imprisoned him and other leading anarchists before a jury dismissed all charges). Playing a key role in numerous debates within the movement – on using elections, participation in the labour movement, the nature of social revolution, syndicalism and Platformism (to name just a few), he saw the rise and failure of the Second International, then the Third before spending the last years of his life under house arrest in Mussolini’s Italy.
“Either competition, – that is, monopoly and what follows; or exploitation by the State, – that is, dearness of labour and continuous impoverishment; or else, in short, a solution based upon equality, – in other words, the organisation of labour, which involves the negation of political economy and the end of property.”
– Proudhon, System of Economic Contradictions
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