On Organization

Wetzel, Tom

Publisher:  Ideas & Action
Resource Type:  Article
Cx Number:  CX7860

Discusses the democratic organizational forms appropriate to libertarian socialist organizations.

some partisans of the small group have argued that "bigness" inevitably brings bureaucracy in movements and that only small, independent groups can be genuinely controlled by their members. This ignores the methods that libertarians have developed for avoiding top-down control in mass organizations (such as the guidelines I mentioned earlier), and the examples of libertarian mass unions that functioned through assemblies, without an entrenched bureaucracy; organizations like the Industrial Workers of the World back in the '10s or the Spanish National Confederation of Labor (CNT) in the '30s.

If the "bigness means bureaucracy" dogma were true, a libertarian society would be impossible. To have a society organized along anarchist lines means that there must be a means by which the whole populace can participate in making crucial decisions affecting society as a whole. For this to happen it must be possible to have large organizations, organizations spanning vast areas, such as the North American continent, that are able to function in a non-hierarchical way, directly controlled by their rank and file participants.

If the whole society could be organized to make decisions through direct democracy and mass participation, as anarchists advocate, then surely it must be possible for people to build mass organizations that are run this way today. If not, then how could a libertarian society be brought into existence? Only a mass movement that is itself organized non-hierarchically could create a society free of top-down, bureaucratic, exploitative social relations.

This brings us to the clearest problem with the "small groups" doctrine: Small groups have no power. The power to change society requires a mass movement, and the development of solidarity among working people on a large scale. To unite people from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, to coalesce the various groups into a real movement, to pool resources, mass organizations are needed. In the absence of a larger movement, small groups can be discouraged by their own lack of resources and sense of isolation.

Unless working people can organize their solidarity into mass organizations, they will not be able to develop the power to challenge our very powerful adversaries -- the corporations and their government. Without a mass movement, most people will not develop a sense that they have the power to change society. Our ideal of social change in the direction of democratic participation and workers control will appear to most people as merely a "nice idea, but impractical." Only the strength of a mass movement can convince the majority that our vision of a society run by working people is feasible.

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