Politics of Human Liberation
A pamphlet by the Libertarian Socialist Organisation
This booklet contains the four main statements outlining the political
position of the Libertarian Socialist Organization. In publishing
these statements we are trying to give effect to the traditional
anarchist assertion that a revolutionary movement should outline,
as fully as possible, its vision of a future society and that the
means it chooses to struggle for the creation of this society should
be consistent with those ends. Therefore, a free, equal and humane
society cannot be achieved by a movement employing, for example,
manipulative and terroristic methods nor by organizing itself in
a hierarchical way in which important decisions are made by only
We live in a world which is dominated by two rival imperialisms
the Soviet Union and the United States each of which
is experiencing serious functional problems such as unemployment,
inflation, planning breakdowns and ecological destruction which
stem directly from the social structure of each. Therefore, food
shortages, bureaucratic bungling, industrial mismanagement, strikes,
sabotage and resistance movements from within its empire characterize
the state capitalist structure of the Soviet Union while unemployment,
inflation, fuel shortages, third world anti-imperialist movements
and so on bedevil the private enterprise capitalist economy of the
United States. Unfortunately, before they leave the stage of history,
these two powers have the capacity to destroy the world many times
over in a last desperate attempt by either ruling elite to maintain
its imperial power.
As with the decline of many great powers, new calls go out continually
for a reassertion of the old certainties but, more and more, those
old certainties are being challenged from within. Throughout the
world, movements are developing which challenge the roots of oppression.
The authoritarians of the right call for a reassertion of faith
in the laissez-faire ideal, in private property and entrepreneurship,
in charismatic leadership and consumption while the authoritarians
of the left call for the masses to line up behind them, to place
their faith in them and to abdicate the right to individual freedom
in the interests of building a "workers' state". But the
future belongs to neither of them. Community co-operatives, rank
and file groups, decentralized ecology and anti-militarist movements,
movements for women's and gay liberation and revolutionary religious
groups are all part of an embryonic movement which is challenging
the centralized, hierarchical, competitive and oppressive ethos
which is common to both forms of capitalism in the world today and
which contains the promise of a new democracy. This new democracy
(which we call direct democracy) emphasizes decentralized power
structures based on equal decision-making by all in which coordination
and centralization will be effected through the election of mandated,
revocable delegates. It will also emphasize socialization processes
which value the development of individual autonomy and responsibility,
which replace the narrowness of nationalism with a view of international
human liberation and which encourage the non-violent re-solution
We believe that the political tradition which best reflects these
aims is provided by that of anarchism or libertarian socialism.
This does not mean that we agree with everything that anarchists
have stood for (e.g. the advocacy of terrorism by a small proportion
of anarchists over the last 100 years). However, we believe that
in the ideas of such great 19th century anarchists as Bakunin and
Kropotkin and in the forms of social organization created in such
revolutions as Kronstadt 1921, Spain 1936-37 and Hungary 1956 can
be found the most profound insights for those wishing to establish
this new democracy. The realization of such a goal may be more than
the culmination of a great dream. It may be the only hope for a
humanity which has the means of destroying itself, and which has
ruling elites who see the use of such weapons as a policy option
that they have, rather than the monstrous crime it would be.
DIRECT DEMOCRACY NOT REPRESENTATIVE
In the early 1970's a now-defunct libertarian organization
known as the Self-Management Group formulated a statement which
it called "Workers' Councils Democracy Not Parliamentary Democracy".
The reason for compiling this quite explicit statement about how
that group believed a socialist democracy should organise itself
was a new one for the left in Australia at that time. SMG members
felt that libertarian socialists should have an explicit view of
the ends they were seeking so that they could more effectively make
the means they used align with the ends they sought. The practice
of marxist-leninist organizations in using deceitful, manipulative,
coercive and often brutal methods to achieve supposedly socialist,
democratic and humanist ends and their failure to achieve anything
except deeply authoritarian, tyrannical societies (U.S.S.R., China,
Cuba, etc.) reinforced the SMG's desire to "spell out"
what it was fighting for.
With the break-up of the SMG in 1977 and the subsequent formation
of the Libertarian Socialist Organization (LSO) it was felt that
the old "Workers' Council Democracy" statement was still
valuable but should be updated to take account of developments in
our thinking on a post-revolutionary society.
Our aim as an organization is to encourage people to build a self-managed
society. By this we mean a society which pre-supposes the abolition
of the state, the abolition of private ownership of the means of
production, the distribution of society's wealth on the basis of
equality, the displacement of the consumer society by social relationships
firmly grounded in a richer cultural and community life and the
reorganization of work according to criteria of health, interest,
cooperation and social need. It also involves the replacement of
social hierarchies by decision-making which has its institutional
basis in general assemblies of men and women at fundamental levels
- the workplace and the community. As revolutionaries we can conceive
of only one goal for a social revolution - the remaking of society
so that human beings will be an end in themselves and human life
a revered, and even a marvelous experience.
This statement is not a complete blueprint for a self-managed society.
It simply attempts to outline how we, at this point in time, see
the broad, structural framework of such a society and, as such,
will no doubt be modified in the future by us, by others in the
libertarian movement, by others in struggle, and ultimately, by
those who create the post-revolutionary society for which we are
fighting. Being a political programme dealing with the structure
of democracy it does not deal in detail with such questions as the
overcoming of sexism and racism, with the rejuvenation of cultural
and community life, and with the environmental issues the new society
will have to confront and solve. We do not, however, wish to give
the impression that any of these matters are secondary or that libertarians
are only worried about organizational matters and are not concerned
with social issues. Nor do we wish to convey the idca that they
can only be worked on "after the revolution". Such considerations
are, and will continue to be, part of the lifeblood of the libertarian
movement. We do, however, feel it is essential to discuss now how
a post-revolutionary society would be structured in order to avoid
the trap of people not having thought through all the issues properly
and, perhaps, being mystified by such "revolutionaries"
as marxist-leninists who will invariably be proposing hierarchical
These vanguardists believe that they can implement a socialist society
be seizing the state. We, on the other hand, believe that a democratic
society can only be created by a mass movement which itself constructs
the organizational means to replace the state entirely. Such a movement
must be capable of dismissing political vanguards and parties.
The Libertarian Socialist
Organization Political Programme
The most important aspect of any society is the
way the decision-making process is organised. Humanity is at base
social, creative and productive. We enter into social relationships
to satisfy our creative and social needs. We enter into certain
social relationships to produce goods and services to satisfy our
basic physical needs. But the way these social relationships in
production are structured can prevent the satisfaction of certain
of the creative and social needs. This is because, so far, most
people have been prepared to accept a hierarchical structuring of
these relationships. This has led to the growth of a small ruling
elite which makes all of the most important decisions about what
to produce and how to produce it. Their main criterion in making
these decisions is the mainten-ance of their power. The elite is
able to persuade people that it should have the maximum benefit
of the workers' productivity.
We live in such a hierarchical society in Australia like people
in every country in the world. Most of us accept our positions in
the factories, offices and educational institutions as order-takers.
Most accept that the decisions about what we produce and how we
produce it should be left up to the individual boss or group of
bosses that make up the national or international corporations.
Work is socially organized and controlled by the ruling class. We
believe that it should be controlled not be a ruling class, but
by all the people who do the work.
We are told that the most important decisions about the development
of society are under our control through parliament. Originally
only the rich were allowed representation in parliament. It took
a struggle by the people to wrench this privilege from the rich
and win a vote for all men. In most countries it took a further
struggle to include women. Throughout this period the ruling class
resisted. They granted reforms in the hope of providing sure ground
for resisting further reforms. But an increasing body of rulers
realised that giving the vote to the people would not challenge
the structure of society but confirm and strengthen it by winning
the consent of the majority to their own oppression. No amount of
parliamentary representation would change the reality that the owners
and controllers of production (business-people and financiers) determined
the whole content and direction of the growth of society and controlled
the details of everyone's day to day existence in the fields, factories
The social democratic parties and unions willingly worked within
this reality and therefore could not challenge it. In fact they
strengthened hierarchical society by providing the myth of an alternative
through which workers identified with the system.
Increasingly in this century we have seen parliament providing more
co-ordination and direction in society. Has this increased the voters'
control over their lives? In fact we have seen the growth of large
government bureaucracies with the result that even more areas of
our lives are regimented and interfered with. We have no control
over the activities of such bureaucracies.
Social democrats and liberal reformers see the state as an agency
for balancing the various forces in society. They think they only
have to achieve government in order to turn the state to good uses.
Other leftists more or less see the state as an executive body of
the ruling class of capitalists. They believe that it is only necessary
to remove this ruling class and replace it with themselves for the
state to become good. We believe that any system of hierarchical
political government of society creates interests of its own which
must conflict with the needs of the people. These interests include
the maintenance of power, the desire to control and direct human
activity and to restrict the range of possible alternatives. State
power necessarily separates its possessors from the people, even
in systems where politicians are elected. Permanent bureaucracies,
armed forces, police etc., stabilize the interests of the elite
into an interacting network. This structure is available to influence
and control by changing governments and by those whom the elite
who run the state identify with other elites. But it is also
a power itself. Politicians must accept the imposition of the interests
of the permanent state structure in order to govern, just as they
must accept the interests of the corporate bosses in order to maintain
For example the secret police state structure continues to grow
with or without approving legislation and has always converted any
government to its logic, a logic which governments already accept
in principle since they wish to defend "their" state.
It should be recognised that this is especially horrifying in the
case of the military section of the state. As long as we have competing
nation states we will have the threat of war, which means nuclear,
chemical and biological war. Those who look to the state as the
agency of social change forget that the state is the bloodiest perpetrator
of violence that humanity has created.
In many societies the state does represent some gains of social
reform movements. But these are vulnerable to changes of government
and to the social situation - especially the continuing strength
or otherwise of movements of reform. Moreover, the people who run
the state structures consider that they are dispensing benefits
"possessed" by them and that they have the right to decide
how to apply "their" protection and benefits. (This is
the legal reality.) This is hardly a stable basis for social justice.
Furthermore, the application of social responsibility for individuals
through welfare within a bureaucratic context is usually invasive,
oppressive, discriminatory, unequal and hedg ed with dependency
creating controls and demands. It also leads to the establishment
of large organizations of people devoted to checking, administrating
and divisively handing out benefits. Much of this work is inherently
boring to the people doing it. Many of the "professions"
in welfare are founded on self-serving myths and in their operation
destroy the initiative and autonomy of users.
Welfare increases the range of people's choices compared to a laissez-faire
state and protects some from the depredations of capitalism. However
it is itself a massive structure for avoiding questioning of this
system and the raising of the issue of equal distribution of wealth.
The welfare state is not imposed on capitalism by statist socialists
as anti-state right wingers believe. It grew to protect capitalism
from its own destructive viciousness.
Government, though itself powerful enough to restrict the activity
of corporations and constantly involved in the management of the
economy, works within the parameters of a society founded on corporate
In fact the direct and indirect involvement of the corporate world
in government is large. But as well, and this is often the crucial
factor, the economic, political and media elites are united by certain
fundamental ideas. These begin with the assumption of the necessity
of their monopolization of activity in each of their spheres. Parliamentary
politics and media content do not stray from this assumption, nor
the assumption that there is only one way of conceiving of a social
order. Of course, these elites are often in conflict with each other
and within themselves. But it is a mistake to confuse these conflicts
with a real challenge to the system.
We see, then, that it is an illusion to believe that this society
is truly democratic, that parliament provides control by the people.
In fact the distinguishing feature of our society is bureaucratization.
Throughout society in culture, politics, work, and leisure, the
majority of people are apathetic and uninvolved while their lives
are managed from outside by hierarchies beyond their control. This
apathy is a counterpart to the way society is organized, not an
accidental by-product. Representatives, specialists and bureaucrats
justify their control over our lives in terms of efficiency and
rationality. But they must exclude groups with inconvenient ideas
and interests from a role in decision-making to achieve this narrow
"efficiency" and "rationality". Most people
have retreated to predominantly privatized lives, on the whole accepting
the management of society by "experts". Politicians are
largely seen as just another variety of managers and in this the
undemocratic nature of representative "democracy" is tacitly
recognised. The same situation applies in the unions.
However, society would not function without a degree of participation.
In industry it has been seen as necessary to attempt reform in order
to win workers' support and not resistance. For this end social
democratic (e.g. A.L.P.) and liberal capitalistic regimes throughout
the world are encouraging reform in the social relations of production.
They are encouraging bosses and workers to institute reforms providing
they do not take up the crucial question - whether there should
be a ruling class at all. These reforms include various schemes
for worker representation on boards of directors, workers' participation,
worker control etc. However, in the present economic climate with
large unemployment bosses are content with traditional measures
of fear and coercion to encourage productivity.
Nonetheless it is likely that industrial democracy will again be
used to encourage workers to produce by giving them a feeling of
control at work and identification with the organization's goals.
Perhaps when this happens and people see that it does not provide
real control over work while it implies such a possibility then
they will seek the real thing. What is certain is that trade unions,
social democrats, liberal capitalists and the various marxist-leninists
are not advocating non-hierarchical social relations inside or outside
Workers' and Community Councils
On many occasions during the past two centuries
where the people of one society or another have issued a revolutionary
challenge to the power of their rulers, there have emerged autonomous,
grassroots organizations' which played dynamic roles during the
course of those revolutions. These organizations, when based on
the workplace, have often been called workers' councils and when
based on the community have been given such names as communes and
neighbourhood committees. (The names are unimportant. Their functions
Many of the people involved in these projects have seen them as
the only effective bases on which to form a socialist democracy.
We, too, share this conviction. We believe that it is necessary
not only to fight the power of those who have traditionally controlled
us but also to encourage people to abolish all adherence. to the
principle of hierarchy and to end all loyalty to hierarchical organizations.
The history of modern revolutions, we believe,. shows that only
the workers' and community councils created by people at the base
of society can reflect the values of equality and democracy as opposed
to the hierarchical structures so much favoured by many "revolutionaries".
In recent history some workers have tried to fight this system of
hierarchy based on the bosses' rule at the point of production.
To do this they have built autonomous workers' councils in order
to make decisions about what to produce and how to produce it. As
well they have had to defend this system of decision-making against
the murderous fury of the ruling elite, because such a system would
mean the elite's complete redundancy. The workers' council or grouping
of all workers in different enterprises has been the most co-operative
instrument for the expression of the skills, intellectual and physical,
of the workers. The most important examples have been in Russia
1917-21, Spain 1936-37, parts of the resistance in WW2, Hungary
1956 and France 1968.
The assembly of all people at the relevant workers' or community
council is the basis of a real democracy. To coordinate local, regional
or international production and distribution or other political
problems they simply select delegates with specific instructions
from the assembly. These are not the equivalent of the professional
politicians selected in a parliamentary democracy. Delegates will
receive the same wages as everyone else. They will return to the
job after problems are solved and decisions are taken. Delegates'
positions will not be allowed to constantly fall into the same hands
but will be circulated. If they do not follow the instructions of
the assembly the delegates are simply recalled by an assembly meeting
of the workers who sent them there. In a parliamentary democracy
there is no possibility of recalling a professional parliamentary
politician. There is no political organization to perform that function.
In a libertarian society delegates cannot abuse their positions
as long as people do not want them to.
The general assemblies not the delegates, will be the policy-making
bodies. The job of delegates will be merely to execute such policies,
administer routine tasks and communicate the policy of the general
assembly to other general assemblies or their delegates. In our
society parliament makes policy without our participation but with
our consent (the vote). The corporations make policy without our
participation and without our consent. The government bureaucracies
(the public service, the' judicature) make policy without our participation
and without our consent. The trade unions, and student unions etc.
make policy without our participation but with varying degrees of
consent from none to some. In a self-managed democracy policy in
all areas of work, education and community life would be made by
the appropriate general assembly or general assemblies. National
policy and the discussion and choice of alternative plans would
be made by all general assemblies. After a vote (secret ballot if
necessary) was taken by the assembly the decisions would be recorded
and taken by the delegates to a federal assembly, a gathering of
delegates from the federation of all councils. When policy direction
is voted on it will not be the delegates' votes that are counted
but the collective accumulation of the votes cast in the individual
councils' general assemblies. The majority decision will become
policy on every question. The minority has of course the effective
power in the councils it controls or doesn't control to agitate
for a change in direction. Wrong decisions taken by the majority
will no doubt strengthen their case for a victory in the next federal
assembly. However, the secession of minorities to form their own
organs and mutual aid links, if they feel continually constrained
by majority decisions, will be an accepted right in the extreme
situation that would prompt such extreme action.
At this stage it is not clear how the functions of the workers'
and community councils are divided. Future experience of such councils
and their preliminary forms will stimulate resolution of this question,
though we find that there are theoretical and historical grounds
for forming opinion on this matter. Obviously, workers' councils
should be the bodies which make decisions about life in the various
enterprises. Similarly, community councils will be necessary to
organise matters within neighbourhoods. However, the question of
which type of organization should have primacy in formulating policy
at the regional, national and international levels, or what combination
should exist is a more difficult one to solve. Those who argue for
the primacy of workers' councils point out that the workplace is
the main focus of our interdependence where groups of people have
to be involved in public life.
They also point out the potential narrowness of the concept of community,
and the pressure for conformity in such a social unit. Those who
believe that community councils should have primacy argue that a
stress on work-based councils is a hangover from marxism which we
should abandon. They say that a wider decision-making role for the
community councils would overcome the problem of the enterprise-based
councils having too partial and sectional a perspective on policy
decisions. Either as a legacy from the previous urban structure
or through conscious choice, large numbers of workers may not live
in the immediately vicinity of their workplace. If so, their workers'
council may not a sensible means of making decisions about their
community when that community has to discuss such issues as investment,
health facilities, and so on. As well, some people, if only for
short periods, may be totally committed to domestic work and, therefore,
have easier and more appropriate access to community councils. Whatever
the combination of councils it must be ensured that people have
only one vote on any such issue.
Libertarian revolutionary tradition favours the workers' councils
in this dialectic but community councils may well be favoured by
technology and ecological demands, opening up the real prospect
of universal, creative, integrated work and leisure. The ultimate
criterion for deciding this issue will be which form most effectively
reinforces the values of direct democracy and en-hances people's
control over their own lives. The one principle which must guide
libertarians' debate and practice on this point, however, is that
the basic organ of decision-making is the general assembly at the
appropriate council not any body of delegates.
The councils will organise the military defense of the people and
be the main instrument of social justice, with law based on the
satisfaction of human needs and not their restriction by helping
to maintain a ruling elite in the manner of present capitalist law.
Workers' councils will need to make links with councils in industries
which supply them with raw materials to regularize their relationships.
They will also need to make similar links with factories they supply
and with distribution centres. Such links will be routine matters
requiring little discussion by the assembly but administered by
special delegates under the right of recall.
In capitalist society many of us are engaged in work that is essentially
unproductive. Much of the paper shuffling in the public service,
insurance, etc. would be redundant in a rational society. A vast
number of people would be freed for more productive and interesting
areas of work. It is essential in such a situation that society
should shorten working hours for such purposes as discussion, leisure
and education. Another essential feature of both workers' and community
councils is that a great deal of care must be taken to ensure that
all the information necessary for making wise decisions is on hand
for people and in a form and a language they can understand.
It should be clear that we see workers' councils as the democratic
bodies for all workplaces - education, health, agriculture not just
secondary industry, We see all types of workers taking part in these
councils and the day to day cooperation of work on an equal basis.
Every factory must have its technicians, every construction site
its engineers, every education facility its experts in various spheres.
However in a workers' council expertise would not mean power over
others but would place a demand on the expert to cooperate and a
demand on others to recognise and use expertise when it is relevant.
This can be done without surrendering initiative, critical faculties
or the right of the people effected to decide. The nuclear energy
issue has shown, once again, that major social decisions cannot
be left in the hands of experts and that the effectiveness of expert
knowledge is usually restricted to a narrow area within a much broader
The essential nature of the councils will be that they organise
political power where it really exists; at the point of production
and in the communities. We suggest then that people begin to organise
these councils rather than participate in parliamentary elections.
While there is relevance in voting for the most reformist or democratic
ruling party during the elections, to give political space to build
these councils free of immediate fascist and reactionary oppression,
we should not accept that these reformist capitalist regimes will
tolerate the councils when they threaten them. People should regard
elections as tactical situations of limited significance. The most
significant activity is not to serve at the polling booths for the
ALP but to build cells and councils at our places of work and in
In these workers' councils every person will have one vote subject
to the following elastic restrictions; people who are intellectually
or psychologically handicapped will have the option of a vote. Children
who, from the experience of parents or councils where they are involved,
can comprehend and effective-ly make political decisions will have
a vote. The involvement of young people will depend on their involvement
in the wider society. We expect that the age of responsible participation
will be much younger than it is today. Such responsibility in a
situation of increased integration will help young people mature.
People who commit anti-humanist activity will not be penalised by
taking away the vote from them as happens in some cases in parliamentary
democracy. Every effort will be made to include them in cooperative
and responsible activity.
Each person will have one vote as outlined irrespective of race,
sex or religious orientation. Although this is the avowed intention
in a parliamentary democracy as well, women and racial minorities
are victimised because they do not have effective power. They have
usually less power than other people. They are scapegoated usually
because people who have no power find it easier to irrationally
suppress less powerful groups than replace the system which oppresses
Horses, cows and land being non-human will not be entitled to a
vote as they do as a result of some gerrymandered electoral systems
such as the one in Queensland. It will not be acceptable that people
will have the equivalent of two or more votes because they live
in more remote parts of the country or have more important economic
problems. Human beings are the basis of our society and they will
each have one vote.
Writers, artists, small scale craftworkers, musicians, actors and
so on will probably organise themselves into community councils.
People will be enfranchised through the councils. If people are
not working at the time of the election they will still vote in
their council assembly. Sick and old people will maintain this link
to provide them with an effective basis for expression of their
attitudes. It will be the responsibility of the council to see that
everyone enrolled has a chance to vote. Voting will be a voluntary
When we use the term equal decison-making, we are not so naive as
to expect that every decision will be made with exactly the same
degree of involvement of all the people affected by a decision.
Different people will have different degrees of knowledge, concern
and attention in relation to different decisions at different times.
Not everyone would or should have the same amount to say or otherwise
contribute. But increased self-confidence will see a much more real,
more active involvement by all people in the general assembly. Trust,
confidence and familiarity allow individuals elasticity. It would
be mechanistic to believe that the act of voting is in itself sufficient
to guarantee that people are preserving their real participation
in democracy. This will always be determined by the reality of the
circulation of information and the basic seriousness with which
people partake in debate. However, we are quite sure that the fact
of each individual's having the equal power to determine the choice
of policies is the only secure structural basis for direct democracy.
The material wealth produced by the collective energies of the people
will be divided equally. After finance needs for national policies
are decided, an approximate figure will be arrived at which can
be divided amongst the producers equally. This will be paid in the
form of a money wage. In a world of finite natural resources each
person should become the trustee of a certain agreed upon portion
of these resources. The most efficient way of providing this to
each person is to convert those resources to currency which then
allows people choice within this framework.
The alternatives to some form of a market available to a socialist
society are bureaucratic planning or distribution of goods through
a free storehouse. The first is what operates with varying degrees
of ludicrous inaccuracy and imposition of ruling class priorities
in state capitalist societies. The second is the society based on
the slogan "from each according to his abilities, to each according
to his needs."
Planning which attempts to direct production according to estimates
of consumption in all areas must be bureaucratic and authoritarian
because it is impossible to allow for the variety and development
of individual wants. It is structurally necessary to ignore some
wants and because they are not allowed for in production, they are
thereby restricted. Some state capitalist societies carry out opinion
polls to assess wants but this is a concession by the bureaucracy
not a structured means of allowing variety to flourish.
The free storehouse idea demands that people can merely take what
they want in goods without using any tokens to reflect the importance
of their need for particular goods. But, in fact, the only way of
ensuring that this is possible is by over-producing goods so that
the storehouse will always have available whatever anyone might
want. Otherwise, shortages would operate to deny certain needs without
making this explicit and, therefore, remediable. Furthermore, people
who entered a storehouse would have no way of knowing whether the
need of others for a particular good was greater than their own.
People have to have a means of mediating their needs by a consideration
of the limits of what is possible for society to produce. There
can be no society of super-abundance without ignoring environmental
and resources constraints and without dismissing the problem of
inequality of wealth at an international level.
Society must make choices about what to produce, choices which must
restrict some people. (For example, society could (should?) choose
not to produce private cars for everybody.) The problem is for society
to make these choices in a way which makes a minimum impact on the
possible variety of human expression. While freedom to acquire material
goods is certainly not the sum total of human freedom, it is an
important aspect of the expression of this freedom and can only
be facilitated by a money economy. It is our belief that the problem
can only be solved by a mixture of large-scale planning and a consumer
market. The structure of direct democracy would provide the means
for choice amongst alternative national plans with the different
restrictions they imply.
We do accept the necessity to totally underwrite, where possible,
many essential services, so that exchange of currency will not be
necessary. Medical care, most transport, utilities fall into this
Every person who fits within the category of a voter in the preceding
section will receive an equal wage. We particularly stress the need
for the aged and sick to receive an equal wage, even if they are
unable to engage in productive labour. In a capitalist society these
people are written off as no longer useful to capitalist production
and maintained on a pittance. Children who have voting rights will
also receive the wage in order to give them the possibility of independence
from their social unit (family, commune, etc.) if they desire it.
In the case of infants or intellectually and psychologically handicapped
people it will probably be a good policy if the principle of an
equal wage applies to them. The money could be spent on behalf of
the desires they express.
The strength of such an equal wage system is that competitive activity
between workers' councils with the aim of making profits to increase
their wages is prevented.
In capitalist society investment in housing or any support of home
life and leisure or payment of those chiefly working in this area
is considered wasteful. This domestic ecomomy is upheld by the unpaid
labour of women. In a self-managed society when one or more members
of a living unit needs to spend most of their time in such work
they will not be penalised. They will recieive a full wage (as mentioned
before they will probably exercise their political power through
community councils). If society is to be genuinely libertarian people
must practise their politics in their personal lives. Therefore
we would expect that such work would be shared equally between men
We do believe that such a system will not only release the psychological
and social abilities of all human beings but will as well lead to
a great rise in ordinary economic production. Our problem will be
to rationally plan our resources in relation to our ecology. We
expect more goods to be produced in a shorter time, because of social
cooperation. Finally we will have to decide in a world of massive
inequality whether we intend even within that framework to take
a drop in out standard of living in order to help other people care
for their needs. We in the Libertarian Socialist Organisation believe
that this would be a moral imperative. We would encourage a drop
in the standard of our living in order to provide food, clothing,
medical supplies, technical aid, arms and if necessary volunteers
to assist in every way the struggle of oppressed peoples for a self-managed
revolution in their own countries. Of course many would argue that
such a change would be a qualitative improvement not a "drop"
in our standard of living.
Human Liberation Not Nationalism
For the last few hundred years the people who boss us about have
managed to encourage us to accept ideas which maintain our oppression.
The most mystifying idea they have used to maintain their power
inside the societies they control has been the idea of nationalism.
(Previously religion was the main ideological support to deny the
existence of class). Boss and worker we are all supposedly one nation.
Bonds of blood and national boundary are insignificant in comparison
with political ties. The most significant public ties between human
beings are their views about the type of decision-making process
which would operate in society and their attitudes towards various
forms of domination. From having such a view on these questions
they will develop their code of human conduct, their morality. What
is most significant about people who have blood ties is that they
are divided against each other on these questions. Therefore the
Australians who believe that they should have power over other Australians
by managing them at work have very little in common with the Australians
In two horrible wars this century the ruling class have managed
to use national identities as a lever to get people to kill each
other. These wars have only left the causes of imperialist wars
alive because they are caused by competition between the national
When the bosses call for workers to put their shoulders to the wheel
for everyone's sake, the nation's sake, it means mainly for their
sake, for the bosses' privileged position. The call by the bosses
and nationalist minded workers for national unity is merely a call
to try to mask the real differences that exist.
We call upon the people to free themselves and even their oppressors.
The ruling class is made up of sick and restricted individuals with
the perversion of controlling other people. We hope that people
will see that the true question involved is not national liberation
but human liberation.
All these ideas are ours at the present time. We would be foolish
to pretend that they could not change with further thought. Moreover,
it will be a mass movement which will put libertarian ideas into
practice. Drawing on the widest range of expertise and practical
experience among the population such a movement will create forms
and innovations which we have not considered.
We have taken up the question of the essentials of democratic structures.
Without these we believe a self-managed democracy cannot operate.
However such changes would be illusory if those making them did
not alter the quality of their whole life.
People will have to reorganise work not only to fit in with the
schedules of direct democracy but also to make their work a satisfying
and creative experience. Many people today are foreshadowing a technologically
created "utopia" in which machines and computers will
do most of the work and the rest of us will be "free"
to flick pebble across ponds, weave baskets or blow our minds with
the ultimate in computerised audio-visual equipment. We believe
this is rhetoric to ease the passage of changes in work which will
bring about greater control over the workforce and greater centralization
of power. But apart from this we also believe that such "utopias"
reflect false notions about technology, freedom, work and leisure.
A hierarchical society creates technology suited to the interests
of the dominant social class and suppresses the liberatory potential
of technologies within the context of oppressive and unjust structures.
We will only achieve freedom by controlling the decision-making
structures which determine the creation and use of technology.
People have a need to do productive work. The desire for utopias
of leisure is a reaction to oppressive relationships at work and
to all the consequences of that - people suiting machines not machines
designed to suit people, industrial disease and accidents, production
of useless things, production of inferior goods, unequal distribution
of information, training etc., unfair distribution of the "dirty
work", the monotonous, purposeless, unfulfilling nature of
many jobs, unfair distribution of the boring but necessary parts
of any given occupation and compet-itiveness amongst workers. But
to deprive people of the possibility of personally satisfying and
socially useful work is to deny them a vital part of their potential.
The flight from work is also a result of the ridiculous pace of
our society. People are constantly anxious because they have too
many different things to do in too short a time. This is particularly
ridiculous while there is unemployment. In this climate even leisure
is a desperate and hurried affair. It would be a qualitative improvement
in our standard of living simply to have more time and to change
the general pace of society. To do this requires a change of values
and the power to apply changed priorities. We do not have to automate
ourselves out of life and into privatised consumer lethargy.
In a libertarian society we imagine that in many areas (especially
energy and food production) work and domestic life and leisure will
be more integrated and indistinguishable. This will partly be a
result of ecological practices, partly a result of a more complex
combination of the skills of individuals in a greater variety of
living patterns. We also foresee that individuals will have time
to develop a greater range of skills. They may also change occupations
a number of times. Certainly education and training will be available
throughout life both to facilitate this variety and to provide stimulating
recreation. However, we do not imagine that eliminating a public
life of work and a social division of skills and occupations will
be either desired or necessary.
People would have to ensure that they were making socially valuable
products and in such a way that the environment was not being destroyed.
Both industries and energy systems will need to be decentralised
in order to bring them more securely under the control of workers
and communities. Therefore, in the case of energy systems, it will
not be enough to simply use renewable energy sources - sun, wind,
tide etc. These systems must also be decentralised so as to diminish
the possibility of their being, once again, centrally and hierarchically
controlled. This is not to say that energy and industrial systems
would be chaotic and un-planned - simply that they would be locally
based and controlled.
Finally, people will have to learn how to overcome attitudes of
sexism, racism and other prejudicial attitudes which lie at the
basis of various forms of domination. A social revolution which
achieved the structural changes necessary to implement the kind
of democracy described above but which failed to confront such problems
would simply be laying the basis for its own degeneration. Structurally,
the broader cultural life which would accompany the creation of
a self-managed society would see experiments with small group living
relationships, nuclear families, extended families, communes etc.
If libertarians are agreed that these are the broad outlines of
a society in which they would wish to live, then they must also
be clear about their role and about the way they organise. If libertarians
are going to join together to pursue their aims, then they have
to evolve strategies and undertake avtibities which are consistent
with their ends and organise in a way which refelcts their egalitarian
and democratic ethic.
For a direct democracy based
on a federation of workers' and community councils - for each person
- equal power, equal wages.
THE ROLE OF REVOLUTIONARY
Means and Ends
The need for consistency of means and end is the ultimate
condition in considering our role. Our fundamental aim is freedom.
Its form is direct democracy. This cannot be given from above or
produced by anonymous forces. Personal change, independent thought
and creative effort around defined aims, and applying recognised
values are the bases for attaining a free society. They will occur
only with the practice of direct democracy and autonomy in direct
action by the people. Dependence on leadership or reliance on bureaucratic
and parliamentary channels expands the erosion of initiative amongst
the people. Self-activity is the only school for self-management.
We are not referring to the narrow, rationalistic conception of
humanity usually implied in leftist discussion of "consciousness".
It is because we are aware of the need for change that reaches to
the individual psychic base of the irrational in politics that we
have emphasized the need for means consistent with our ends.
Non-libertarian revolutionaries believe that socialism comas from
above or outside people. The classic formulation of this was by
Lenin in 1902 in the phrase "the working class can only achieve
trade union consciousness". It must therefore be led to socialism
by the Party. Lenin was forced to amend this position when the working
class created revolutionary soviets in 1905, but he held to his
vanguardism. The essence of vanguardism is the belief that the people
must be incapable of emancipating themselves through structures
and actions of their own devising. Most vanguardists believe in
a socialism run by the state, with the promise of eventual utopia.
They see this transition as necessary to bring about the development
of the "human material" (Lenin's term) which is inadequate
for full freedom. The belief in the subsidiary role of the creativity
of the people becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because the Party's
seizure of the state involves the smashing of the efforts of the
people or their submission to central control, the Russian Revolution
providing the classic example here.
Whether they are open authoritarians or believe they have discovered
a benevolent form of vanguardism, leaderships are primarily attached
to their own indispensibility, correctness and power. The efforts
of the people remain acceptable only if they do not detract from
these. They seek to have people support them as representatives
of their interests. Thus, the shifts in consciousness they encourage
are destructive of the capacity for self-emancipation. They identify
the revolutionary movement with their organization, and are therefore
Libertarians believe that the people can achieve consciousness adequate
for the creation of socialism on the basis of their own collective
experience. Various social-psychological and sociological explanations
have been offered to explain this. The essence of the argument is
that people are not totally destroyed by social conditioning, but
must retain (even for the purposes of a hierarchical society) such
resources as participation and co-operation and thus capacities
for resistance and self-activity. It is quite sufficient for this
statement, however, to rely on the historical evidence of the development
of ideas and examples of direct democracy, the most profound of
which were provided by the people despite the leadership of unions
and parties, not because of it e.g. the collectives, councils and
action committees of the Spanish Revolution 1936-37, the Hungarian
insurrection of 1956, and the French events of May, 1968.
We do not believe that this consciousness issues forth automatically,
either because of the "purity of the masses" (as in the
naive faith about insurrectionary activity of some traditional anarchists)
or because of historical forces which make revolution inevitable.
Some libertarians, in response to the destructiveness of vanguardism,
believe that any attempt by revolutionaries to spread their ideas
or to engage in activism is vanguardist. They would restrict themselves
to reporting on struggles. But even this requires selection and
interpretation by the revolutionaries according to their ideas.
In fact, all the examples of libertarian revolutions developed understanding
and aims which were created by communication of information and
ideas. Sometimes groups of revolutionaries had a part in this. These
revolutions were liberatory not because people unconsciously reacted
but because of what they consciously created.
At the same time we must avoid rigidity in our outlines of the future
society. Basic libertarian concepts (e.g. direct democracy, decentralisation
and local autonomy) and practices (direct democracy, recallable
delegates, rotation of delegated tasks, federation when and where
necessary) must be explicit but not confined in a blueprint of the
The standard by which actions should be judged liberatory is not
that of lack of conscious preparation. It is that of conscious independence
from organizations and ideas representing domination and a willingness
to create means of action under the control of the actors. Spontaneous
action originating in unexamined, unconscious motivations or misunderstood
outside forces is just as likely to be bad as good. Action which
is both ideationally and organizationally autonomous must always
be beneficial. Of course, action will often have varying degrees
of autonomy in either sphere (a self-managed body may advocate repressive
ideas). In such a situation anyone with greater clarity will oppose
regression or lagging. Spontaneists would deny this role exclusively
to revolutionaries. It can be expected that there will be some mutual
interaction between autonomy in ideas and organization. Revolutionaries
must assist this whenever they can by communicating their understanding.
The Tasks of Organized Libertarian Revolutionaries
Our unique importance is that we have an overall critique of society,
and an overall solution. All revolutionaries claim this much. But
our overall critique extends to all forms of authoritarianism including
the solutions of other revolutionaries. We claim, therefore, to
see a little further than others but we do not aspire to be leaders
in consequence of this. Revolutionaries have the responsibility
of helping others to become revolutionaries, not that of achieving
all the enormous tasks of a revolution. Our task is always to demystify,
never to represent. We aim to be the most accurate revolutionaries,
not necessarily the best militants. We do not wish to win influence
by demonstrating our ability for a superior effectiveness in pushing
forward, on behalf of people, their demands.
We are dedicated to the uncompromising advocacy of self-activity
of people, to their own self-institutionalization of socialism.
to their organizational and ideational autonomy and the antagonism
between their own power and the aims of all parties.
One task, therefore, is to disseminate information on historical
and current examples of self-activity or to assist in such dessemination
to counter the impression that nothing is done without leaders and
But the organization is created to provide a basis for activism,
to help each other resist the tendency to privatization, to exchange
and consolidate knowledge and experiences, to provide defence against
repression and to concentrate our energies to make an impact for
specifically libertarian socialist ideas. We expand these functions
be creating regional links and eventually a national federation.
We maintain international links and work towards an international
federation while remembering that local grass-roots activity is
the essence of our activism.
Such an organization can proceed on its own initiative to create
platforms and campaigns, enter new areas, make its own issues and
maintain an impetus somewhat independent of objective conditions
and the arrival of issues.
But the libertarian socialists as individuals, sections and organizations
are also involved in various ways in broader movements such as reformist
and issue-oriented campaigns, coalitions of groups supporting elements
of libertarian aims and practices and, eventually, a broad revolutionary
movement. Here they carry out demystification of reformist, nationalistic,
vanguardist etc. illusions and advocate direct democracy. In struggles
for partial aims they try to make people aware of the overall basis
of the problem and the interdependence of attempts at a solution.
The Libertarian Socialist Movement
The unity of a single organization of libertarians can be based
on nothing other than agreement in ideas. How far this agreement
should extend can be a difficult matter but it must at least include
the basic socialist and anarchist critiques of exploitation, domination,
the state, alienation, etc., agreement on the nature of the alternative
society, structure of the organization and its role.
Within the libertarian socialist (or anarchist) tradition there
have been some major differences on each of these points. For example,
on the question of future society differences between anarcho-communism,
anarcho-syndicalism and council communism. It would seem that most
of these differences involve emphases different enough to make coexistence
in one organization impractical. However, they usually do not exceed
the bounds of a healthy and stimulating pluralism which allows organized
debate and cooperation in political activity.
Unity in federation must also be based in ideas even if such federations
would tend to have looser adherence to particular conceptions. The
libertarian socialist movement may have the character of a single
loose federation or it may be made up of a few federations (and
other groups) each with tighter adherence to particular conceptions.
Our experience is that an ongoing federation can only come about
when there is a reasonable common denominator on the above issues
and sufficient viable regional organization.
Agreement on the above issues is realizable but agreement on social
theory has limitation past a certain point. It seems that basing
an organization on a particular thoroughgoing social theory has
the inherent danger that the survival or success of the organization
becomes confused with that of the theory. Thus the theory becomes
religious (as with marxist organizations). Theoretical agreement
should be an ongoing creation of an organization, partly in response
to issues which emerge. When the movement can support them, avenues
for debate on social theories should be established (journals etc.).
The Revolutionary Movement
Revolutionary activity is not the activity of revolutionaries alone.
Revolution cannot occur through the proliferation of cells of the
revolutionary organization, which become committees, then councils
in a linear development. The revolutionary group is not the embryo
of future society. The libertarian movement will be part of a multiple
challenge to domination.
This challenge has its basis in long-standing features of capitalism
but the struggles of the sixties signified a new impetus. Anarchists
originally drew on and encouraged elements
in the workers' movement which challenged domination as such rather
than aspects of capitalist domination. These conflicted with the
ultimately predominant elements which favoured a new form of domination
in which the state replaced or modified private capitalism. Similar
mixtures of elements exist in any new movement. For example, part
of the basic ideology of the women's movement is identical with
basic libertarian views in its anti-authoritarianism, its demands
that political movements embody the values they espouse, its attempts
at internal democracy and dissatisfaction with partial solutions.
At the same time marxism, reformism and separatism accommodate the
movement to domination. The counter culture reveals basic libertarian
elements along with a desire to simply be given space by society.
The ecology movement's critique of industrialism often produces
libertarian ideals, yet it tends to separate technological problems
from their social context.
At any particular time due to historical/sociological factors a
particular sector of society may be more militant and critical.
Any group which has been excluded or discriminated against and comes
to hold hopes for a better future will be more likely to fight (women
today for example). This was originally the position of the industrial
working class, and like the working class, once any such sector
of society secures a place within society its radicalism and militancy
become periodical not constant. Even in the stage of radicalism
there will be tension between the tendency to push the critique
to its fullest dimensions and the tendency to tailor it to the limitations
necessary for winning recognition. How this battle proceeds is not
predetermined by fate but due to highly subjective struggles of
ideas and organizations as well as to powerful objective trends.
Trend is not destiny, as can be seen by comparing the results of
this battle in the working class movements in Spain and Britain.
Another example is the anti-nuclear movement. It is certain that
capitalism is marketing alternative technology and generally seeking
hierarchical and competitive solutions to the energy problem. But
it is not certain that the movement will be swept into accommodation
with these trends. Whether or not it clarifies its radicalism depends
on subjective factors in which libertarians can play a role.
As well, if accommodation does occur it sets up a division with
the original base as continuing domination reveals the substantial
unsatisfied remainder in original ideas and values (or changes them
to account for the fact that the "solution" is now part
of the problem).
Of course, there is a difference between a class defined by capitalist
structure and women or ecologists. But the nature of modern capitalism
diffused such structural definitions. Many new sectors have entered
social conflict and apart from the top, all sectors are open to
revolutionary consciousness, though some more so than others in
particular periods. For libertarians what is significant are crises
in meanings, motivations, responsibility, values, beliefs, attitudes
and socialization, that is, a cultural crisis. Economic crisis can
produce such dislocation but it usually re-inforces fear and individualism.
Political crises, war, the struggle of a sector for "first
class citizenship", single issues, ecological crisis can all
be part of a continuing cultural crisis or act as catalysts for
a leap into revolutionary consciousness. Economic struggle or any
struggle in the realm of production has no particular liberatory
significance by itself. Questioning of patriarchy, authoritarian
education, cultural vacuity and so forth are as vital to the thoroughness
of the alternative. Moreover the form of struggle - whether it emphasizes
direct action, increases the ability of people to act for themselves,
their confidence in their own capacities, their initiative etc.
- is of the utmost significance, and we have seen these features
in struggle throughout society.
Reformism and Revolution
Capitalism readily accommodates reform and co-opts leaders and organizations,
and social democracy and trade unions are an important part of this
phenomenon. They attempt to limit demands. Vanguardists attempt
to understand which demands capitalism will reject in given circumstances
but which will be acceptable to the "consciousness" imputed
by them to the "proletariat". The vanguard expects to
use a skillful combination of immediate, democratic and transitional
demands to lead the workers step by step by the nose to revolution.
The manipulation is in pretending to share illusions attributed
to the proletariat, which the vanguard "knows" are illusory
because capitalism will not grant them. Workers are thus led through
"instructive" experience. Usually, of course, the vanguardists
underestimate the adaptability of capitalism or the consciousness
of the people, or both.
The role of libertarians in relation to demands is
to be honest and as accurate as possible. There are no magical demands
and the constant leftist focus on demands usually forgets the context.
There are no transitional demands. Immediate concerns, especially
in a situation of multiple challenge, carry the potential of dispute
with the established order as a whole and the possibility of an
overall understanding of problems and solutions. A demand which
cannot be co-opted will either be abstract and therefore useful
only in the propagation of ideas (e.g. "Leave Uranium in the
Ground and Bury Capitalism with it") or symbolic and therefore
useful in action (e.g. "Paint 'em black and send them back"
- Springbok tour 1971) or it will be instituted by the movement
itself and after a certain point this means dual power (e.g. Federation
of Workers' Councils). If they are not instituted by the movement
itself, they can be integrated into the hierarchical system.
We prefer to participate in movements with demands which challenge
the roots of the established order or provide the roots of the new
liberatory order (even if only in ideas), and we encourage such
developments. Libertarian groups and individuals will, by intention
or by accident of situation, occupation or location be participants
in other movements. We will honestly criticize or praise their realism
and worthiness according to our perspective.
Reform often strengthens the system, and many reforms do only that.
But reforms which qualitatively improve human life, which we value
for their own sake, also strengthen the resistance for it is hope
that leads to revolution and misery without hope produces nought.
The accommodation of reforms often leads to the collapse of movements
or their replacement by new institutions of control. But this only
destroys movements based on narrowness, and mystification. Libertarians
can act to dispel such notions. We want to work in these areas where
people are discussing and acting on important issues. We are part
of the multiple challenge and we want libertarian socialist ideas
to be part of the discussion. We do not rely on self-created action
Working Within United Fronts
We know what is wrong with organizations beyond the real control
of people, yet claiming to represent or lead them. But there are
also problems with direct action movements and mobilizations. They
feature transitory commitment of the participants, uneven sharing
of work, lack of confidence amongst participants, changeover of
attendance from meeting to meeting, the use of militancy to cover
for sterility or lack of direction, and constant pressure (even
when aims were originally radical) to modify demands to a meaningless
common denominator deriving from the impulse to collect the masses
rather than consolidate and develop. It is easy to see how a leadership
could grow or established leaderships and infrastructures come to
be relied upon. A cause of much of this is the lack of a general
appreciation of the problem in hand, a failure to make the link
from struggle to struggle and to look at the root causes of social
injustices, and an unwillingness to consider the magnitude of necessary
change. It is considered more important to make an act of propitiation
for guilt, to stop an action, to make a show of opinion or demand
a reform. When movements remain this limited, they evaporate, usually
without the evaporation of the original injustice. Furthermore their
practical value as an experience of self-activity is limited when
ad hoc leaderships or bureaucratic control are unquestioned.
When we work in such a situation we consider whether the aims are
part of a development toward greater freedom and cooperation. As
was indicated our main aim is not to appeal to the oppressors but
to demystify the oppressed. But within such a united front we go
further and encourage discussion of the issue to deepen the participants'
appreciation of the causes of the problem, alternatives available,
links with other struggles etc. This could only lessen the vulnerability
of the movement to manipulation and increase the confidence and
sense of direction of the participants. By advocating democracy
we also directly oppose passivity and manipulation. We suggest regular
policy and planning meetings to which all who agree with the aims
can come. We even suggest that manifestations be turned into such
discussions. We also argue for the right of tendency for any group
in agreement with the aims.
A Coalition for Direct Democracy
A further avenue for action for the libertarian group
is a coalition with other groups and individuals active in such
areas as the women's movement, ecology, radical religion, counter-culture
who from their more specific perspective have arrived at libertarian
conceptions such as direct democracy. It is important to clarify
the meaning of direct democracy with all groups in this coalition
before undertaking action. On the basis of such concurrence of aims
it is easy to establish a democratic form of cooperation and to
avoid some of the perils of the mobilizations discussed above. If
a coalition becomes permanent it will create a broad, pluralistic
However, there are reasons for caution in contracting such alliances.
We should ensure that the principles of direct democracy are fundamental
to the outlooks of those with whom we join and that these principles
are not merely sidelights to a much stronger commitment to such
concerns as religious observance, non-violence or protection of
We do not aim to reform trade unions any more than we seek to reform
social democratic parties. Both are part of the capitalist system.
In industry we apply the same range of propagation of ideas and
direct intervention as we have discussed in all the points above.
Thus we issue our own statements on industrial questions. We might
work in a rank and file movement as we would in a united front.
We do not spread the illusion that there can be new unions with
a different role to those now operating. We advocate autonomous
organization of industrial action.
Lifestyles and Activism
Health centres, child care collectives, women's centres,
free stores, food cooperatives, free schools and education programmes,
urban collectives and rural communes are all examples of direct
constructive efforts. As the basis of a self-managed community life
they have great importance. As concrete instances of the construction
of an alternative they are as significant as autonomous bodies for
direct action. When they improve the quality of our lives they contribute
to our confidence and hope. They provide avenues for politicization
of everyday life outside major workplaces.
However, it is in this last point that they are often restricted
by ameliorative and self-improvement conceptions of their role.
Some advocates place leading a correct style of life against political
activism. They see a passive counter-culture as the only genuine
path to social change. This disagreement is further exacerbated
when small groups of revolutionaries need to devote most of their
energies to direct activism in order to keep a libertarian socialist
presence. It is clear from our statements on spontaneism that we
see the need for intervention and the propagation of ideas. We believe
that the maintenance and growth of direct constructive efforts within
the community will need political federation foreshadowing the formation
of com-munity councils, just as the survival and defence of autonomous
bodies in workplaces will require a federation of workers' councils.
We build organizational structures to facilitate decision-making.
Organization is the essential social mechanism, without which social
cohesion and cooperation is impossible. Direct democracy is not
about structurelessness. No society would be workable if it had
to constantly recreate its methods of acting. We are not spontaneists
or nihilists; we believe that people must consciously organize their
social lives. Similarly revolutionaries require organizations.
The question is to ensure that such organizations are democratic.
We reject "democratic centralism" as practised by all
marxist-leninist parties. This system assumes the need for hierarchy.
Supposedly, authority flows upward from cells etc. to the central
committee and discipline flows down. Discipline is the essence of
democratic centralism for all decisions of higher party organs are
binding on those below. Minorities with divergent opinions are to
carry out the will of the majority. They may have the right to work
as a faction within the party (though this is considered a concession
and is very readily annulled) but they cannot present a divergent
opinion publicly on pain of expulsion. When the party holds state
power factions risk liquidation.
Elections are held to all party organs and these organs are periodically
(no right of recall) accountable to their respective party organizations.
Thus the central committee is periodically accountable to the party
congress. If this theory is inherently undemocratic, the practise
is even worse. For example, the party congress is dispersed and
without any authority for most of the time. During this time the
central committee is responsible for most of the initiatives which
then become binding on the whole party. Such a democratic centralism
cannot be viewed separate from its natural product - bureaucratic
centralism. Moreover, in association with state power and control
over the police and army, any lingering accountability of the higher
party organs is soon disposed of through terror.
A few moments thought will show that the basis of democratic centralism
is the organizational method of all parties, if not in name, then
in reality, except those that are overtly fascist. Conservatives,
liberals, social democrats, the Communist Party all maintain hierarchies
under the guise of democracy, all maintain discipline under the
guise of unity and they all rapidly take on the appearance of bureaucratic
centralism. Of course, in parliamentary democracies, most parties
allow leeway for dissenting opinions unless they become a threat
to existing power groups. Nor do they take on the methods of totalitarianism
when they have state power and use it within their own parties.
The party congress or conferences usually have become numbers games
in which the leaders competitively organize voting blocs among the
delegates to ensure particular positions of power or gain new positions.
Similar methods are used to ensure that party policy remains within
the limits the leadership deems reasonable.
A libertarian organization can have no part of democratic centralism
in its hardline marxist-leninist form or any of its modified or
similar forms. We believe that our means must reflect our ends if
these ends are to have any chance of realization. Therefore, the
basic principles of direct democracy (as described in our Direct
Democracy Not Representative Democracy statement) apply to the revolutionary
RELEVANT BASIC PRINCIPLES
Majority Rule - the vote of the majority
determines policy, decisions on activity and so on. Sensitivity
should obviously be applied if the issue is of fundamental importance
or if the vote is so close that the group's ability to carry out
the decision is affected. However, we reject consensus decision
making as a fundamental requirement of democracy. In fact, it can
often be intrusive and dictatorial in its subtle demand for compliance
and the suppression of genuinely held individual disagreements or
reservations. It is far better to have divisions out in the open
where they can be discussed. It is better to have a conscious opposition
who can watch a decision's coming into effect and criticise or accept
its validity accordingly.
One Vote for Each Person - We may encourage some people to
develop some of their particular potentials. We may draw heavily
on the experience of others. This, however, in no way makes their
needs more basic or important than those of any other person. They
should be treated accordingly - with respect, as we respect all
people, but without submission or privilege. The only privileges
that any area of expertise should have are the privileges necessary
to that area of knowledge - the privileges necessary to the task
of being an engineer, surgeon etc. such as access to certain tools
e.g. electron microscopes. Such privilege is obviously qualitatively
different from those privileges which flow from giving power to
While we may be ignorant in many areas, we are not mystified by
the knowledge of experts. While this absence of mystification may
actually increase our respect for some people's knowledge, it negates
completely any possibility of submission. One of our fundamentally
revolutionary tasks is to break down the mystification surrounding
expertise and the development of knowledge. We must restore people's
confidence in their own experiences as the fundamental way of understanding
the world. We may place some trust in experts but we cannot surrender
control over our lives to them. We, therefore, retain decision making
power, expressed in access to information, in involvement in discussion
and ultimately, in the vote.
Primacy of the general assembly of the most basic units - Meetings
of delegates carry the instructions of these basic units. A movement
of revolutionary groups should be organized in a
federal structure through the meetings of such delegates such that
power actually diminishes at each ascending level of co-ordination.
Delegates are revocable.
Involvement in the decision-making process of all people substantially
affected by that decision - The corollary of this is that those
people not affected should not be involved. There is nothing democratic
about the unnecessary involvement of people not implicated in discussions
and decisions. We think of these issues in terms of autonomy and
responsibility. Individuals have their own ideas and concerns and
are capable of determining their own priorities and making their
own decisions. In this they are autonomous. This autonomy and independence
is to be encouraged and promoted. The counter to the abuse of this
autonomy is the concept of responsibility, an awareness of the limits
of autonomy. Those people who are responsible for any particular
thing are those people whose activity it concerns in an immediate
sense. This means they have decision making rights in that area.
Any person or group of people who have a clearly defined area of
responsibility can be said to be autonomous in that area. Any person
or group of people who make decisions outside their sphere of responsibility
without involving all those people who are responsible can be said
to have acted unilaterally. Responsibility is an important
aspect of the social ethic not to be regarded lightly.
The Full Circulation of All Relevant Information -We should
not set up structures and practices which obstruct people from obtaining
information. We should set up mechanisms for making information
Minority Rights -Any minority on a given question has full
freedom to express its ideas in public and to have access to all
means for the expression of these ideas. It has the right to speak
on the same platform as the majority, to outline its position, to
publish its view along with the majority view or to release it in
a separate statement if it prefers.
A minority is not obliged to take part in activities flowing from
a decision or policy with which it disagrees.
In a libertarian group in which these rights are, in fact, a reality
there is no justification for secrecy or other forms of manipulation
on either side of a disagreement.
We have talked of rights here. Rights are an expression of the social
ethic. They are the codification of what we expect of each other.
They define limits we set on our behaviour so that we preserve the
integrity of others and do not trample on their needs. Thus, they
are a guarantee (of ourselves) and an expression of confidence (in
others). They are the social code which makes cooperation possible
and comprehensible. But rights without the power to exercise them
are mere rhetoric. In the points above we have stated the essential
elements that provide the power to make rights a reality. But even
these decision making structures are no guarantee of democracy unless
people remain active rather than passive in their involvement. We
believe they can be and should be written down as a code to guide
a direct democracy. But the reality of the operation of democracy
will also be affected by many factors less obvious than direct violation
of basic principles. The elaboration of a few points illustrates
some of these factors.
Power and Influence
Power can be understood in several senses. It can denote the ability
to perform certain tasks i.e. power over the material world. However,
in the social sense, we recognize that power is
an aspect of decision making. Decision making is the essence of
organization. While all people make decisions of some kind, we recognize
that in the present society some people make decisions on other
people's behalf and occupy positions of power while other people's
role becomes passive. They carry out decisions that others have
made. There is no precise division, rather the division is a hierarchically
graded one of people having different degrees of power and powerlessness.
Our decision making power should be equal. In coming to a decision
we may be influenced in various ways. If someone has particular
expertise in a sphere, rationally, we are bound to be influenced
by that expertise in one way or another. Finally, however, we must
make our own critical judgement. While it should not necessarily
concern us that some people are more influential in some areas or
even in general than others, we must recognize the variety and complexity
of human nature, and be sensitive to the potential and depth of
people who do not fit society's definition of "strong"
or "dominant" personalities.
The dividing line between influence and power can be quite subtle.
Power cannot be applied unless people abdicate their critical responsibility.
There will be many decisions made which only a handful of people
will influence and this is not necessarily a bad thing. However,
the moment people passively accept another viewpoint then problems
of power confront us. We need not assume simply because we espouse
revolutionary principles that we will not fall into this way of
acting. Moreover, the blame cannot always be placed on those who
have "influenced" us. It is our responsibility not to
be influenced other than in a rational manner. We cannot criticise
one who was merely arguing a viewpoint when it is we who are incapable
of being critically independent. If we are unsure, or unconvinced,
or confused, we should not be afraid to say so. However, those who
are experienced, knowledgeable or articulate should appreciate the
diffiiculties inherent in the situation where there are significant
differences in these areas across the organization. Such people
should be sensitive in their use of language and of argument realizing
that these may be means of exercising power over others who are
less confident. Such an exercise of power is unacceptable in a libertarian
Women and Men
Males should be aware of the destructive effects of sexism on their
relationships with female members of the organization and should
make every effort to eliminate sexism from their behaviour and language.
Women members should point out such incidents to the men concerned
realizing that these men are probably amenable to change.
The women comrades must help themselves and each other actively
to take up more equal roles in some areas where sex-role conditioning
or the results of confidence-destroying pressures that continue
to be part of the woman's situation are draining their energies.
Since the basis of revolutionary relationships is mutual cooperation
and support, revolutionary women's commitment to each other must
replace the veiled rivalry and distrust which so often invades women's
relationships and prevents them from taking themselves seriously
as a revolutionary force.
We dispute the idea that freedom is individual freedom
from obligations to a democratic social organization. Freedom suggests
rights. Among these are the rights of others to have expectations
of an individual member. This is not an infringement of freedom.
The acceptance by other people of their duties is the other side
of the reality of our rights.
A related matter here is the organization of work. The acceptance
of tasks is an individual act based on the individual's assessment
of his or her energy. Acceptance of that task makes that task an
Some Details on the Organization's Internal
Some libertarians confuse the achievement of democracy with the
existence of an informal, freely fluctuating and entirely open association.
They identify a lack of democracy with any arrangements placing
limits on the constituency for decision-making. The nub of direct
democracy is that everyone who should be involved is involved, not
that, in principle, everyone should be involved. Of course there
will always be important disputes about who should be involved,
but without selectivity democracy would be unworkable. Despite what
some libertarians think there is no demand in principle that a libertarian
group must be totally open.
A general assembly of a workers' or community council has no need
to require agreement in ideas from its members or to preempt disagreement
on any questions it may need to discuss.
To attempt to do so would be a departure from democratic principle.
A fascist who disagrees with the direct democratic system has a
vote in that system. But such councils are not primarily concerned
with the function of representing and disseminating ideas. A revolutionary
organization is and that, along with its embattled position in society,
constitutes the prominent features of its exceptional position.
(It would be absurd to give a fascist a vote in such a group!)
The libertarian revolutionary organization should not exert discipline,
set up order-givers, practice democratic centralism, have "junior"
members or use any other authoritarian mechanism to create cohesion.
The only basis for its cohesion is in a degree of unity in its basic
ideas. It is advantageous to adhere to a basic level of unity on
ideas and to ask agreement at this level from potential members.
At the very least this avoids repetitively reaching a level of agreement
already long established.
However, we all approach libertarian socialism from different experiences,
therefore our approaches will differ. To go to the other extreme
and demand too much internal unity in ideas leads to just as much
unproductive internal tussling in the effort to ensure overall uniformity.
It also makes too much of the exceptional position of the revolutionary
group already mentioned and puts it in the same category as the
various religious proselytizers, the doctrinaire left sects and
other fanatical groups.
We believe that the level of agreement required should be limited.
It should not extend, in the region of social theory for example,
too far beyond the basic socialist/feminist/anarchist critiques
at a general level. A most fundamental right is the right of free-thinking,
the right and authority of free judgement to explain and interpret
all things for oneself. Our unity extends as far as we agree on
the basic solution to human relations: a self-management revolution
and how we can best contribute to it. There is a variety of opinion
on other aspects of human relations, and what we regard as most
Therefore people interested in joining us should work with some
section of the group or join in some general activity of the group
depending on their interests and skills. They should reach
a practical appreciation of the way the group works and they should
gain a general idea of what the group has been saying and discover
their agreements and disagreements. The members they work with would
also be learning about them. They should read As We See It,
The Role of the Revolutionary Organization, Direct Democracy Not
Representative Democracy and Internal Democracy and
understand that substantial agreement on these matters is sought.
The questions discussed in these four statements are most germane
to the consistency of means and ends that we require and it is our
experience that substantial disagreement in these
areas is difficult to contain within a single revolutionary organization.
The issues raised from this reading should be discussed. When the
new member is proposed in a general meeting, those who have been
involved should offer recommendations and a vote should be taken.
If accepted a person becomes a member with all the rights we mutually
defend and the responsibilities we mutually share.
We have outlined the level of unity in the group. Continued divergence
over basic principles either expressed in action, public statements
or internal behaviour will produce confrontations and, if not resolution,
then possibly dropping out expulsions, splits or even dissolution.
It should be recognized that there are unusual aspects
to the position of a revolutionary and that of a revolutionary group.
Obvious difficulties include - sharp disagreement, constant conflict
(often acute, even violent) with the social surroundings and with
slim resources to bear the pressure of such antagonism; combinations
of people demanding constant, often intense contact, mutual dependence
etc. perhaps without the space normally available for a release
from such contact; risk of an excessive personal identification
with secondary social aspects of the group; the attraction of romantic
and other types. It should be observed that similar difficulties
occur for some other form of opposition (whether revolutionary or
"alternative") such as communes or collectives.
Thus there will be a range of incompatibility, personality clashes
etc., such as will always exist in human organisations, and when
groups are small or isolated (or both) such conflicts may be exacerbated.
Such matters should be understood so that people are not too willing
to disguise such conflicts as matters of high principle.
There are two contradictory fallacies in dealing with a situation
if such conflicts move from irritation to disruption.
"Everything will be resolved as long as we keep fulfilling
our tasks, " This might be called the Victorian pragmatist
view and against it we have to put our view that revolutionary activity
aims to increase peoples' self confidence. If we cannot build our
self confidence collectively, and spare some thoughts on how to
do this, then the revolutionary movement is in for some demoralizations.
Our total unity is essential. If we resolve our own problems, then
everything is simple. Therefore much of our energy should concern
internal problems. This might be called group narcissism. Against
it we must realize that no amount of discussion will resolve all
the tensions that arise in a revolutionary group. At various times
people will take their frustrations out on each other. We expect
these problems to be resolved in a humanist way, and we expect a
high level of comradeship in a self-management organization, but
if we thought group therapy could solve all our problems, we wouldn't
The balance lies between the two poles of these viewpoints.
These conflicts may be combined with genuine differences of a substantive
kind. It is possible that conflicts of this kind, if unresolved,
will lead to dropping out, expulsions, splits or even dissolution.
The revolutionary organization is not an embryo of the future society.
Its structure will not attempt to rigidly mirror the general structure
of future society but will be a response to particular circumstance.
It will not necessarily have the stability of the structure of the
organs of a self-managed society.
If it is a growing organization, it may be that a general gathering
which is its democratic centre will be gradually superceded by the
increasing dynamism, profusion or size of sections defined by such
things as particular activities, occupations, insitutional locations
or personal orientations. Such sections may be affinity groups,
collectives, cells in various workplaces or other institutions,
community groups, urban or rural communes etc. Then the general
gathering would become a meeting of revocable delegates with a mandate
to vote according to the views of their particular sections.
There are other possibilities. In difficult times there may be a
return to the earlier closer structure or a group may remain unitary
rather than federal and express its expansiveness in coalitions
with other groups in the form of a movement.
At all times our primary concern will be that, whatever the specific
structure, we practise the broad principles of internal democracy
We have dealt only with internal democracy here.
Thus, we have not concerned ourselves with the other avenues of
expansiveness and more often association available in the relationship
of the group with various constructive efforts such as cooperatives,
councils and rank and file groups which do, at least in their potential,
represent the embryonic form of the self-managed society, or with
our relationship with other groups of libertarian revolutionaries.
[See The Role of the Libertarian Revolutionary Organization.]
We hope that we have provided a clear understanding of the rights,
responsibilities and mode of operation of the internal democracy
which, along with the various external forms of democratic coalition
with others, constitute the most immediate test of the reality of
AS WE SEE IT
(1) Throughout the world societies are characterised
by a division beteen those without power and a hierarchy of decision-makers.
People take no part in the decisions which most deeply and directly
affect their lives. All work and knowledge is disassociated from
power to determine major social priorities and activities. On serious
matters people surrender responsibilities to hierarchies. People
never feel the power of cooperative control over their work and
therefore lack confidence in their own ability. They believe in
leadership even when the leaders repeatedly use the repressive machinery
of the state to reinforce their privileged position.
(2) During the past century the living standards
of working people improved. But neither these improved living standards,
nor the nationalisation of the means of production, nor the coming
to power of parties claiming to represent the working class, such
as marxist-leninist or social democratic parties, have basically
altered the status of the worker as worker. Nor have they given
the bulk of mankind much freedom outside production. East and West,
capitalism remains an inhuman type of society where the vast majority
are bossed at work, and manipulated in consumption and leisure.
Progaganda and police, prisons and schools, traditional values and
traditional morality all serve to reinforce the power of the few
and convince or coerce the many into acceptance of a brutal, degrading
and irrational system. The "Communist" world is not communist
and the "Free" world is not free!
(3) The trade unions and the traditional parties
declared they would change all this. But they have come to terms
with the existing patterns of exploitation. In fact they are now
essential if exploitative society is to continue working smoothly.
The unions act as middlemen in the labour market. The political
parties use the struggles and aspirations of workers for their own
ends. The degeneration of the working class organisations, itself
the result of the failure of the revolutionary movement, has been
a major factor in creating working class apathy, which in turn led
to the further degeneration of both parties and unions.
(4) The trade unions and political parties cannot
be reformed, "captured," or converted into instruments
of working class emancipation. We don't call however for the proclamation
of new unions, which in the condition of today would suffer a similar
fate to the old ones. Nor do we call for militants to tear up their
union cards, if you are forced to have one by the union
bureaucrats who control the job. Our aims are simply that the workers
themselves should decide on the objectives of their struggles and
that the control and organisation of these struggles should remain
firmly in their own hands. The forms which the self-activities of
the working class may take will vary considerably from country and
from industry to industry. Its basic content will not.
(5) Socialism is not just the common ownership and
control of the means of production and distribution. It means equality,
real freedom, reciprocal recognition and a radical transform-
ation in all human relations. It is people's positive self-consciousness.
It is people's understanding of their environment and of themselves,
their control over their work and over such social institutions
as they may need to create. These are not secondary aspects, which
will automatically follow the expropriation of the old ruling class.
On the contrary they are essential parts of the whole process of
social transformation, for without them no general social transformation
will take place.
(6) A socialist society therefore can only be built from below.
Decisions concerning production and work will be taken by the workers
and community councils composed of elected and revocable delegates.
Decisions in other areas will be taken on the basis of the widest
possible discussion and consultation among the people as a whole.
This democratisation of society at its very roots is what we mean
by "workers power".
(7) "Meaningful action," for revolutionaries, is whatever
increases the confidence, the autonomy, the initiative, the participation,
the solidarity, the egalitarian tendencies and the self-
activity of people and whatever assists in their demystification.
"Sterile and harmful action" is whatever reinforces the
passivity of the people, the apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation
through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to
do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be
manipulated by others - even those allegedly acting on their
(8) No ruling class in history has ever relinguished its power
without a struggle and our present rulers are unlikely to be an
exception. Power will only be taken from them through the conscious,
autonomous action of the vast majority of people themselves. Those
soldiers and police who are workers because they are given orders
and paid low wages, will find themselves in a particularly difficult
situation when called upon by the bosses to suppress their fellow
workers. We encourage soldiers and police who believe in our ideas
to prepare resistance inside the police force and the armed forces.
In a self-managed society those hierarchical organisations will
dissolve and defence and social justice will be maintained by the
workers and community councils. The building of socialism will require
mass understanding and mass participation. We have confidence in
the strength and efficiency of people. This is our political strength.
The boss and his executive are pathetic in relation to this combined
human effort. More pitiful are the bolsheviks and social democrats
who try to represent workers and who think they are strong because
they ape the bosses' political and
economic organisation with central executives, leaders and the whole
(9) We do not accept the view that workers are only interested
in material rewards. On the contrary, we believe that our conditions
of life and our experience in production constantly
drive us to adopt priorities and values and to find methods of organisation
which challenge the established order and established pattern of
thought. These responses are implicitely socialist. On the other
hand, workers are fragmented, dispossessed of the means of communication
and the various sections are at different levels of awareness and
consciousness. It is necessary
that explicitely socialist ideas are fought for before people will
break out of their atomisation and hopelessness and face the task
of organising their struggle autonomously and equally. This
is the role of the revolutionary organisation. It is done by carrying
out meaningful action which generalises the idea of self-management,
supporting such action of others, and opposing useless action. The
revolutionary organisation cannot abdicate criticism of sterile
and harmful working class struggle, nor can it support the ruling
classes of state capitalism m Russia and
China or their embryos as represented in the national liberation
fronts in the third world and in the marxist-leninist parties of
the industrialised countries.
(10) The Libertarian Socialist Organisation is an organised
group of people who are unified around the essential demand for
workers and community councils as the basis of real democracy. In
these councils people will have equal decision-making and be paid
an equal wage. We do not see ourselves as yet another leadership,
but merely people in socialist struggle where we live and work.
We do not reflect values of leadership internally. Our structure
is based on equal decision-making and autonomy. As an individual
member or as a minority, different political opinions on the best
way to achieve these aims are able to be held and publicly articulated
as the position of a minority as opposed to the majority. The function
of this statement is to help all those who are in conflict with
the present authoritarian social structure, both in industry and
in society at large. to generalise their experience, to make a total
critique of their conditions and its causes, not just ones of their
particular situation, and to build autonomous organisations which
will develop the people's revolutionary consciousness which is necessary
if society is to be totally transformed. We encourage you to join
an organised struggle for these aims because isolated individual
acts, no matter how courageous or full of integrity, are easily
defeated by ruling class oppression.
Connect with Connexions
Newsletter Facebook Twitter