The internet brought many advantages to radical organising, not least the speed at which movements can grow and the ease with which complex ideas can be made available to almost everyone. But there were certainly negative side effects and here I want to look at what is probably the most important of these, the move away from sustained collective organising, analysis and preservation of lessons.
It’s useful to start with the statement that there is not point looking back to the past and wishing we where there instead of here, or in a very similar fashion just demanding the ‘discipline’ of past periods without understanding why that discipline was organic to that period.
The easiest way to understand what I mean is to understand the collective newspaper publishing projects of the past. There required many individuals to pool their efforts & cash to produce often well crafted and widely distributed papers. At the time unless you were wealthy this was the only option to reach many people. When printing was technically difficult and expensive it demanded considerable resources from a lot of people in order to distribute your message. And because a lot of resources were going into the distribution of what was a very limited number of words it made sense that a lot of time was spent on what exactly those words were.
2016 is turning into a momentous year. Victory now looks certain in the water charges campaign but it was never just about water and a victory that leaves the ruling parties in power has a sour taste. The 1916 commemorations reminded us that even small numbers of committed organised people can initiate big changes, but also that limiting what is fought for will result in the capitalist class reasserting control as soon as the gun smoke clears.
The Dublin Anarchist Bookfair demonstrated once more that there is a huge interest in anarchist ideas. Hundreds took part in the event and although it was free we can now confirm that donations from those attending have covered the entire cost of about 2600 euro. The DABF is a good example of how anarchists organised together can make things happen that otherwise would not take place.
One of the key foundation documents for the Workers Solidarity Movement is the ‘Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft)’ This text was written in Paris in 1926 by a group that included exiled Russian and Ukrainian anarchists and was very influenced by the lessons they drew from the Russian Revolution. Three of the authors -- Nestor Makhno, Ida Mett, Piotr Archinov -- were then and now very well known anarchists, the remaining two -- Valevsky and Linsky -- I know relatively little about.
In this article I intend to examine whether this text has any relevance to anarchist organising today, some 90 years after it was drafted. In addition, what can we say about its shortcomings? Finally, I will look at some of the confusion the WSM ran into when trying to follow it.
WSM recently held our first Facilitation and 'Conversations about Anarchism' training day in Dublin. The photo shows the problems attendees had already encountered in meetings they had participated in. How many of them have you come across?
The purpose of the training was to give people the basics of facilitation that can avoid or at least minimise these problems.
At the end of the training all the 11 people who had taken part were very positive about it. One said “It was good to meet new people, I learned a lot about facilitation and would now be more confident now, I also learned about anarchist process” while another said “It was very comprehensive with detailed techniques about how to facilitate.” Everyone said they would be interested in future trainings.
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).
Regular readers of the site may have noticed I've been posting a lot more news items as blog posts in the last months and that a new tag, WSM FB has appeared on them. That tag indicates the item was original written for the WSM Facebook page.
I’ve written a good deal about the positive organisational opportunities created by social networking. Here I’m going to look at one of the strong negatives, the intensification and deepening of conflict as a result of online disagreement . This results in fracturing movements even resulting in people unable to be physically in the same space as each other, never mind work together in a sustainable way.
This piece has been written over many months, and I’ve delayed publication at several points to avoid what I’m saying being mistaken for a specific commentary on the latest flare up. Take my references here as being very general and drawn from a long exposure to political discussion on and offline. I’ve been arguing with people online since 1992. Where I’m referring to specific incidents I’ll make that clear, otherwise I’m talking about patterns I’ve observed rather than specific incidents. This is defientley not about you, dear reader even if I hope its relevant to you.
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.
Over the last couple of years the WSM has been going through a process of re-examining the way we relate to people interested in what we have to say. Alongside this we have recently begun to try and get a better understanding of what it is we do. Both these processes have some major implications in reaching an understanding of what the usefulness of a revolutionary organisation is in the modern era of broad and loose social networks.
There is a long standing and in my view pretty counter productive hostility between left political organisations and the radical counter culture. This piece grew out of a reply to ‘The Limit’s of the Counter Culture’ which is part of an online publishing project of Chekov Feeney. Chekov was a member of the WSM for many years and is using this project to slowly reveal his new analysis of radical politics and other ways things might be done. I’ve known him for about 15 years since we met in one such counter cultural political space, the short lived Garden of Delight in Dublin. In any case what started out as a somewhat annoyed response to his piece sat on my drive and grew and grew as I edited it into something more constructive and ended up far too long to post as a comment on his site. So rather than wasting it I’m posting it here.