Some thoughts on organization
By P. Murtagh
What is the type of organization that we, as anarchists, libertarian
socialists and libertarian Marxists, should be working towards?
What should be our immediate organizational goals? It is not enough
to simply deplore the present lack of serious organizational work
amongst anti-authoritarians. Some sort of concrete plan must be
set forward to deal with the circumstances we find ourselves in.
In order to find out what sort of plan we should put forward we
should first take a long hard look at the present state of our movement
in this part of the world. In doing this we should neither overestimate
our strength by labelling every decentralized protest movement anarchist
or libertarian (often these movements are merely temporarily decentralized
as various authoritarians are working mightily to take them over).
Neither should we overestimate the strength of our opponents to
the extent that we advocate imitating their propaganda style and
organizational forms slavishly. This is not going to gain us the
recruits they presently make; all it will do is attach us as a tail
to the commie dog. And doom us to eternal marginality! I feel that
we should recognize the inherant limitations, in our context, of
the commie style and concept of revolution.
To deal with the most obvious fact first, the romantic idea of
The Revolution (do we always have to capitalize it?) as a gigantic
street fight is ridiculous in the extreme. In the first place the
present military forces in North America are too strong to be defeated
by military insurrection. The most that such a frontal assault on
the state could produce is more repression. Second, should an insurrection
succeed by some miracle (molotov cocktails and 303s against Phantom
Jets fat chance!) we would be confronted by the fact that
our societies (Canada and the U.S.) are hardly of the type that
could survive the chos involved in a civil war. Perhaps five per
cent of the population have any access at all to self sufficiency.
Revolutions are not glorious events where everyone goes out singing
the Red Flag, shoots the police, hangs the boss and immediately
takes possession of all the wealth of the world in pristine mint
condition. They are long, bloody, destructive, and, above all, chaotic
events. Just think what wouId happen if the majority of people no
longer had Safeway and McDonald's to gently nurse them. No rhetoric
please about "people will work these things out". They'd
starve. How many millions are you willing to see sacrificed to the
glorious future? Also, stop and consider what the first response
of starving people is THEY WANT A STRONGMAN TO SAVE THEM.
Finally, I don't think that any reasonable person could deny the
fact that the atomic umbrella that our empire has built up to supposedly
protect itself against the Russian empire is also trained on
us. Do you expect to put up a barricade high enough to stop
Second, we have to recognize the main barrier to non-insurrectional
revolution (this is not equivalent to non-violent revolution) is
the inability of liberatory organizations and actions to build up
a competing system. We do not live in a capitalist society where
the ruling class reacts to threats to its hegemony by either repression
or bribery. We live in a managerial society where the inner dynamics
of the competing and co-operating bureaucracies drive them to integrate
threats, to turn them into means of strengthening themselves (though
repression is still often used). Our response to the ruling class
should be not to try to push them with demands (they love it), but
rather to build up links between the various isolated struggles.
A new system should be built. Food co-ops should be linked to strikes.
The mostly urban based left should re-investigate its relationship
to the countryside. ETC, ETC, ETC.
The building of such links should be intermediate level goal. We
have to get ourselves together first, but this eventual goal should
be kept in mind. We cannot imitate the commies and set up our organizations
with no other goal than to put pressure on the ruling class, especially
since the jackpot that supposedly comes at the end of this process,
the big time revolution, is probably impossible. Such organizations
will either be marginalized or will be integrated a la the Communist
parties of west Europe. The commies, if they do consider 'links'
necessary, think that the function of link should be reserved to
the party alone. This should not be our goal also. The links between
struggles will not be built just because a group intervenes with
theory. We must proceed to gather the technical resources that these
links will need. This is a question that should occupy our thoughts
now, not at some in the future. What exactly will be the resources
that various struggles will need to link up? Transportation? Radios?
Anyway, moving from the future into the present, what is the present
state of the anarchist movement in our part of the world? Our organizations
that span localities such as the SRAF or the IWW (I realize that
the IWW is not 'exactly' anarchist, but it is close enough to be
counted as libertarian) comprise perhaps 1000 members, at a liberal
estimate. Other organized anarchists, and other libertarians, comprise
perhaps double that amount, once again at a liberal estimate. A
pretty poor showing in a population of over 200 million. The number
of convinced anarchists who are not members of formal groups comprise
perhaps ten to fifteen thousand. I think that these figures point
out an immediate task. What is the matter with the two large scale
organizations? Why do the majority of anarchists refuse to join
them? Even more importantly, why are the vast majority of anarchists
unorganized? I don't believe that it is because they are all individualist
I would like to deal with the latter question first. One of the
great reasons why the majority of anarchists are unorganized is
th that many anarchists consider that any specific anarchist organization
is somehow 'counter-revolutionary', an imposition on the people.
Organizational libertarians have failed to criticise this position
thoroughly enough. This is perhaps the most important 'theoretical'
task of our movement. It was good to see the article 'Why
the Leninists Will Win' in the last issue of the Red Menace
as a beginning of this criticism. While the non-organizational anarchists
may refuse to help us in practical work they still read anarchist
literature. Perhaps we can persuade them of the contradiction of
refusing to work on specifically anarchist projects while working
in organizations controlled by far less savory groups and individuals
as many of them do.
As to those unorganized anarchists who are afraid to declare their
anarchism because of possible loss of jobs, harrassment, etc., I
feel that they should not be allowed to act as brakes on the more
Now, as to the main organizations in North America, the SRAF and
the IWW, it seems that their main problem is the fact that they
offer little in the way of organizational resources to groups affiliated
or to members. Each city or locality is almost totally self-contained.
The accumulated experience and resources of long term groups are
not made available to neophyte groups. The result is an immensely
high rate of turnover and mortality in newly formed libertarian
groups. The local narrowness of the member groups of these organizations
has to be overcome. At the present time we should not be thinking
so much of expanding the presently existing grroups as of forming
ones in new localities.
With all of the above in mind, what are the concrete tasks that
we should be thinking of at the present time? The first task is
probably the correction of the lamentable state of our press. The
libertarian movement does not have a North American paper, even
though it has dozens of magazies. The appeal of magazines is inherently
limited. Our goal should be the establishment of a weekly (if possible)
newspaper, enjoying wide newsstand distribution across North
America. The most likely candidate for such an organ is the Open
Road, published out of Vancouver. Its present publishing frequency
is far too infrequent (4 times a year). Serious attention should
be paid to increasing its distribution to the point where it can
begin to publish more frequently. If necessary, this may mean giving
consideration to the idea of canvassing the libertarian movement
for funds for the support of full time staffers for the Open
The second task is probably the establishment of a serious program
of publication of various materials, utilizing a press and other
materials that are our own and are not dependent on some
government grant. Maybe such a thing already exists. If it does,
however, its existence is mostly unknown to the general North American
Which brings up still another point. Just exactly what is the state
of our present resources? What materials, printing resource, speakers,
advice, knowledge, etc. do the various isolated N.A. libertarian
groups have available to help each other? Too little interchange
of a practical nature has taken place between groups. This should
be one of the immediate tasks also. The establishment of a serious
program of touring speakers should be uppermost in our minds at
the present time.
Many of the above tasks are already being thought about in a disjointed
fashion amongst libertarians. Some are even being acted upon. The
problem is that the action undertaken by isolated groups falls into
a void the minute it goes beyond their local horizons. Believe it
or not, we do have trans-local groups (the SRAF and the IWW). While
criticisms can certainly be made of these groups, it is still incumbent
on libertarians to make them from within the organizations it question.
It is useless to carp and complain from the outside, while refusing
to help in the transformation of these organizations into effective
Published in Volume 2, Number 2 of The
Red Menace, Spring 1978.
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