Michael’s Greek lesson
The problems I am thinking of are those that revolutionaries cause by self-defeating behaviour – things like sectarianism, irrationality and opportunism – all of which I fear are very much a likely part of the future of the IOPS. If it is true that these patterns of behaviour are caused by a mix of the subjective will of the people involved and the effects of the institutionalised relationships they operate within, then the IOPS is an experiment with laboratory-like controlled conditions.
Some time before September last year Michael Albert visited Greece and noticed a problem in the Assemblies associated with the protests there: ideologically committed activists, Marxists and anarchists alike, treated the people newly awakened to activism by the current events with a certain disdain and even hostility. They lectured at them, treated them with suspicion, and finally turned away from these new activists with a bit of disgust at their lack of ideological commitment and their impatience with the repetitive sermons so beloved by ideologists. ‘What we can say,’ wrote Michael afterward, ‘in any event, is that whenever this sort of hostility toward where the public is at strikes into the hearts of organisers, and often it does, the organisers need to rethink what they are doing, and why they are doing it. Dissing the public, much less avoiding it, as a way of explaining less than stellar success, is rarely if ever a path toward political and social progress.’[i]
Unfortunately the success of this appeal is likely to be close to zero because the attitudes and behaviour of the activists in question flow from the dominant type of institution – the ideology based organisation - through which anti-capitalist activism has been pursued since at least the time of the immediate aftermath of the Russian Revolution. Most anti-capitalists are well aware of the kind of problem Michael found in Greece. Usually they talk about it under the heading of ‘sectarianism’, which is inadequate because the word denotes small, inward looking groups outside of the mainstream, whereas these problematic relations and behaviour patterns are associated with any ideology-based organisation and in fact becomes more dangerous the bigger and more mainstream such organisations become(as they have many times). Every anti-capitalist group and activist has many times issued the same heartfelt appeal against the left’s sectarianism, dogmatism, intolerance and arrogant contempt for those not in the know. Where these appeals were not integrated with insights into how typical leftist institutions caused these problems, they failed as they were bound to, despite the best intentions and despite the many genuinely emancipatory ideas the leftists inside such institutions stood for. If the IOPS was a laboratory experiment, the experiment question would be something like this: will the proven revolutionary commitment, skills, wisdom, resources and connections of the people organising the IOPS plus the undoubted emancipatory merits of the proposed vision be enough to avoid the typical problems associated with ideology based organising? Alternatively, to what extent will the former mitigate the latter?
What sets the IOPS apart?
The desire for a libertarian community is at the centre of the IOPS vision and programme, but this in itself was not enough to safeguard other organisations from the negative consequences of the ideology based model. Anarchists and libertarian Marxists were motivated by the same desire and yet, to put it mildly, were not at all exempt from the sectarianism, abstention from broad struggles and doctrinaire elitism whose substance is the way the ideology based organising model brings revolutionaries into conflict with the regular struggles of oppressed people. In fact, there is a strong argument that this desire, however incompletely expressed, is the motive for all human activities, which would certainly mean that it is not enough to overcome oppressive patterns of behaviour.
Among its ‘key goals and priorities’[ii] the IOPS is unique in the history of revolutionary internationals in only this: ‘It centrally addresses economics/class, politics, culture/race, kinship/gender, ecology, and international relations without privileging any one focus above the rest.’ Other internationals have shared the rest of the IOPS priorities but have privileged one focus. I think we can accept that this is not the only measure IOPS members will use to avoid the kind of hostile disconnection from the broader public that Michael has witnessed in Greece. The organization will undoubtedly spend a lot of energy on sharing knowledge and cultivating attitudes aimed at making sure the members stay respectful of the general public and where it’s at. Once again the thing is that this is not unique. One of the most valued documents, for example, for the 3rd and 4th Internationals were Vladimir Lenin’s book ‘Left-wing Communism – an infantile disorder’ where he passionately decries the same tendency towards contempt for the broad public among the members of the Communist International. And this is just one example among many others of this kind of appeal to leftists to be more in tune with the people they are supposed to be building movements with. We are therefore left with the question of whether ‘holism’, the commitment to not privilege one of the mentioned focus areas above the others, is enough to overcome the problem of hostile disconnection between revolutionaries and the general public when the latter do rebel against oppressive aspects of society.
I of course think it is not, simply because it does not address the cause of the disconnection. Avoidable, counter-productive conflicts about focus areas tend to occur between self-declared activists. In South Africa right now these arguments occur between Marxists and anarchists arguing for the primacy of class, feminists arguing for the primacy of sex and gender, and proponents of black consciousness arguing for the primacy of race. I am saying that these debates are not necessarily a problem, but where they do assume self-destructive forms from an anti-capitalist perspective it is fueled by the same ideology based organizing I am arguing against. In other words, it is not the mere fact that people have conflicting views around focus areas that leads to destructive divisions. It is because these differences play out within a framework of ideology based organizing that it leads proponents of one focus area into a perspective where they have to frustrate and demobilize the proponents of other focus areas in order to be successful. If you believe that only with a Marxist or anarchist ideology based organization will class oppression be ended, or only with a black conscious ideology based organisation will racist oppression be ended, you will be failing in your revolutionary duty if you do not attack people trying to organize on the basis of a rival ideology. From this perspective a ‘holist’ organization will be just another rival, and maybe a more dangerous or at least more irritatingone at that. Instead of lessening, the divisive conflict is likely to intensify.
The point here is that not only does holism not address the problem of hostile disconnection between self-declared activists as it could be imagined to be doing, but it certainly does not address the general problem of hostile disconnection, which does not occur through disputes around focus areas but between ideologically committed revolutionaries and a broad public not so or not at all committed. This is the problem Michael saw in the Greek assemblies. Holism can contribute to overcoming it, but then it must be part of an approach that opposes ideology based organizing.
An organisation based on ideological agreement
What makes IOPS an ideology based organisation? Hal Draper wrote, ‘A sect presents itself as the embodiment of the socialist movement, though it is a membership organization whose boundary is set more or less rigidly by the points in its political program rather than by its relation to the social struggle.’[iii] According to this definition the IOPS would be regarded as a sect. It embodies participatory socialism, it is a membership organisation, and you become a member by agreeing with the points in its political programme and vision. At this point, however, it would be perhaps more useful to focus less attention on whether IOPS is a sect or not and more on whether and how these institutional features cause the hostile disconnection we are worried about.
The simplest way to understand this in my view is in terms of purpose and currency. A capitalist firm is started to increase its capital and the currency through which this purpose is achieved is money. Individuals active within the firm will have to justify their activity in terms of this purpose and currency. You can do anything you like, as long as it either makes or saves money. Both owners and workers experience the need to make money for the firm as an imposed necessity, not a daily choice. You either do it or you go under, therefore the way to get ahead around here is to make money for the firm. Regardless of the countless and often important differences between capitalist firms they all induce this kind of thinking and behaviour in their members, even if Bertell Ollman is put in charge.[iv]
The ideology based organisation is established to expand the influence and power of a particular set of ideas and the currency is the knowledge of those ideas. In contrast to the capitalist firm, where expansion takes place through gathering currency, here expansion depends on the spreading of the currency. However, the effects of institutionalised purpose and currency operate in both cases. You would not, even could not, start a capitalist firm and then refuse to make money. In the same way it would not make sense to start an ideology based organisation and then not make its central purpose the propagating of that ideology. Of course we live in a capitalist society, which means that capital is the dominant institution, meaning the effects of capital often overrides and always modifies those of other institutions so that many a church becomes just another capitalist firm. However, it would still have to spread its message, and as anyone in the US with a television knows, perhaps even with more enthusiasm and technological savvy than other more narrowly gospel focused churches. Unfortunately just like when we act on behalf of capitalist firms and we have to treat people as a possible means to achieve the purpose of the firm - we have to ignore their humanity - when we act on behalf of ideology based organisations we are driven to treat people as a possible means through which the ideology could be propagated, even when this brings us into conflict with their human needs and inclinations.
None of this means one ideology based organisation is just like another. The effects of this way of organising are either enhanced or softened by at least three factors. The first is the specific content of the ideology the organising is based on. Groups based on the idea that slave labour in the service of the cause is fine are likely to have a different impact from groups that believe in balanced job complexes and participatory planning. The second is the relative purity of the approach. Groups that believe all people and organisations outside their own can only play a negative role will obviously be more hostile in their interactions with other leftists and the general public than those who think their ideology based group is an essential part of a broader movement that is needed for success. The third factor is the general social conditions or historical situation, the spirit of the times so to speak. When an ideology based organisation captures state power it is usually able to exert such a massive pull on people’s imagination that both supporters and opponents adopt ideology based organising. Hal Draper traces the reappearance of what he called socialist sects and I call ideology based organising to the time of the Communist International when the Bolsheviks had captured state power in Russia and used it to impose this organising method on revolutionaries everywhere.[v] (Interestingly anti-Communism in this time also assumed increasingly hardened ideological forms culminating in Nazism.)
In the case of the IOPS, in my opinion, these three factors all operate in the direction of mitigation rather than aggravation. The first two are very clear, with emancipatory stances around class, race, kinship and politics and a vision of members participating loyally in other movements certainly acting to soften the hostile disconnection that ideology based organising inevitably causes. The third factor is less clear. The initiators of the IOPS are clearly not in awe of the Bolsheviks as either friends or enemies in the same way the revolutionaries that initiated other international organising efforts were and still are. But there is something going on with Venezuela. Has Hugo Chavez’ praiseworthy opposition to US imperialism, his democratic reforms, his social welfare interventions and his socialist rhetoric rehabilitated the idea of the ideological socialist party? If it has I want to point out immediately that his influence is nowhere close, I mean like not on the same planet, as the stranglehold Vladimir Lenin held on the imaginations of revolutionaries for a very, very long nine decades. So, compared to other internationals, this is also a mitigating factor. Furthermore, ideology based organising is to my knowledge universally practised by revolutionary organisations at present, which means that the consistently emancipatory nature of its vision, the commitment to self-management and the revolutionary integrity and capacities of its leaders will make IOPS the best servant of universal emancipation among existing revolutionary groups. But in this case being the best is not good enough. Over time the blockages ideology based organising place upon the struggle for human emancipation will overwhelm these favourable circumstances. Institutional dynamics win out in the end. All of the soul-destroying familiar problems associated with revolutionary organisations will reappear – sectarian disregard, dogmatic haughtiness and opportunist manipulation will come to describe the attitudes of the revolutionaries to the people outside.
A libertarian and class critique of ideology based organising
This should be Karl Marx’ most famous quote:
‘The social character of activity, as well as the social form of the product, and the share of individuals in production here appear as something alien and objective, confronting the individuals, not as their relation to one another, but as their subordination to relations which subsist independently of them and which arise out of collisions between mutually indifferent individuals. The general exchange of activities and products, which has become a vital condition for each individual – their mutual interconnection here appears as something alien to them, autonomous, as a thing. In exchange value, the social connection between persons is transformed into a social relation between things; personal capacity into objective wealth. The less social power the medium of exchange possesses (and at this stage it is still closely bound to the nature of the direct product of labour and the direct needs of the partners in exchange) the greater must be the power of the community which binds the individuals together, the patriarchal relation, the community of antiquity, feudalism and the guild system. (See my Notebook XII, 34 B.) Each individual possesses social power in the form of a thing. Rob the thing of this social power and you must give it to persons to exercise over persons. Relations of personal dependence (entirely spontaneous at the outset) are the first social forms, in which human productive capacity develops only to a slight extent and at isolated points. Personal independence founded on objective [sachlicher] dependence is the second great form, in which a system of general social metabolism, of universal relations, of all-round needs and universal capacities is formed for the first time. Free individuality, based on the universal development of individuals and on their subordination of their communal, social productivity as their social wealth, is the third stage.’[vi]
Granted, it does not have the amiable simple-mindedness of ‘the point is to change the world’, or the impetuous flamboyance of ‘the history of all society is the history of class struggles’, or even the unselfconscious adolescent arrogance of ‘communism is the riddle of history solved, and it knows itself to be this solution’, and neither does it establish a darkly delicious identity between drug abuse and religious worship like ‘religion is the opium of the people.’ It nevertheless summarises the essence of what is useful and unique in the work of Karl Marx.
Karl here proposes that we understand humanity’s long and varied history as divided into just three great stages. In the first, relationships between people are characterised by personal dependence. When people speak of ‘my lord’, ‘my husband’ or ‘my king’ they mean it in the same way as a slave saying ‘my owner’. Slavery, feudalism, classical patriarchy and despotism can all be seen to belong to this great stage. Where it is not based on naked force it depends on the idea that some people are by birth and nature superior to others and therefore entitled to be served.
Capitalist society forms part of the second great stage. Personal dependence has broken down, though not completely. People are not supposed to own other people anymore. Power, privilege and entitlements to economic, political and military service that includes being waited on hand and foot are no longer understood to be the birthright of superior people. Personal independence increasingly becomes written into the law and the other branches of the governing ideology. Society is seen as independent individuals competing for scarce resources and this is called freedom. Yet relationships are still based on domination and submission, often in ways that, compared to earlier times, horrifically increase the suffering of the dominated. Only the mechanism of oppression has changed. The powers of domination previously associated with persons now become associated with things. When a serf was hungry it was pretty clear that the reason was that land, labour and food was under the power of his or her lord. When an unemployed member of capitalist society is hungry it appears as the lack of a thing called money. The capitalist is protected by thick layers of ideology from being implicated in the suffering of dominated groups in the way that the feudal lord was. People are not understood to be choiceless servants of others; rather everyone is seen as serving supra-personal imperatives. Both the capitalist and the worker must conform to the demands of ‘the market’ and serve ‘the economy’, which is capital’s apparent desire to expand, or face severe consequences. Capitalist owners and managers are understood to not be privileged by birth but to have earned their privileges through rendering more valued services to the economy than other less privileged groups.
This mechanism, of oppressing people through the appearance of joint service by formally independent individuals to a greater cause that justifies the sacrifice of human needs and capacities, operates in all spheres of capitalist society. The lowliest citizen and the high and mighty president are both just humble servants of ‘the country’. Men and women are simply joint builders, with different roles of course, of ‘the family’ and ‘the future of the children’. These days even the health, appearance and happiness of the individual have been made into great imperatives to which we feel pressured to conform to. Karl Marx called this dynamic alienation, where our own creations confront us as hostile beings, and he viewed its intensity and universality as the distinctive feature of a society dominated by capital.
All organisations of capitalist society are as a consequence of this to some extent ideology based, and the specifically ideology based organisation is typical when it comes to organised intellectual activity. The constraints this places on thought is seen in widely practised censorship of unorthodox views and rewarding of orthodox ones, and it is unseen but very much present in how loyalty to group orthodoxy act as an internal censor for most people. The latter is the most common way liberty of thought is suppressed in relatively small left groups. In every situation and with regard to every question the individual militant sees his or her task as acting as a conduit for an already agreed set of orthodox ideas. The relevance or truthfulness of those ideas is not questioned. In a situation of competing ideologies this becomes more pronounced, as it is virtually impossible to seriously entertain self-doubts when your task is to win an ideological war. When this war comes to active persecution of the left, as it invariably does, it adds another powerful impulse towards loyalty to your group’s established orthodoxy. The temptation to give up your human capacity to think to the service of the ideas of the party or the movement becomes impossible to resist for all but the most unfortunately enquiring, bull-headed and unpleasant individuals, who tend to become mere memories of heroes or traitors quite quickly. Ideology based organising is the sworn enemy of full free individuality for all supported by the sum total of social wealth and co-operation, which alone can make up a libertarian community that includes all humans. It is made up of alienated intellectual capacity in the same way that the substance of capital is alienated labour power.
What are the class divisions within ideology based organising? Who dominates, who submits? If we think on a society wide scale it is clear that this way of being in the world supports the power of the state-capitalist elite and therefore its dominating class can be said to be this very elite. However it is when we move closer to examine the internal dynamics of ideology based organising that it really gets interesting. For it is not exactly rich capitalists and powerful statesmen that staff the dingy offices and bare living rooms from where left ideologists set out to change the world.
To understand, from a class point of view, the people that directly control and benefit from ideology based organising where must perhaps go back to the beginning. Social class under capitalism is firstly a distinction between people based on wealth. But Michael Albert among others has a put a lot of effort into promoting the idea that class distinctions are about more than wealth difference, that it is crucially also about the role individuals play in the workplace.[vii]Yes, the owner of a capitalist business is in all probability richer than the manager he employs, and both of them are almost certainly richer than their workers, but that is not the only important thing that makes up the three-way class differences between them. ‘Empowering work’ is monopolised by the manager and his class while the workers are confined to boring and burdensome tasks. Empowering work is here understood as tasks that stimulate and develop the creative powersthat set humans apart from other animals, as well as roles that put some in positions to make decisions for others and confer status on the decision makers. To this we could add the role of enforcement, pressuring people to conform to desired patterns of behaviour and to subordinate to authority. The class that lays claim to these tasks and the rewards that accompany them has been called the coordinator class by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel and the professional-managerial class by John and Barbara Ehrenreich.[viii]
Could it be that the professional revolutionaries in charge of left ideology based organising are really members of the professional-managerial class? I am not speaking of the state and party managers in the Soviet Union and similar societies who undoubtedly were and are, nor about the fact that many revolutionaries aspire to be like them, nor about the fact that in their lives outside of revolutionary organising a good many revolutionary activists have the qualifications and even jobs of members of this class. I am asking: does the mere fact of being a leader or even just a member of an ideology based organising project qualify you as a member of the professional-managerial class? Even when you have no intention of becoming an official manager or professional and you swear by self-management and classlessness?
Hesitation to replying yes I think concerns the issue of privilege. Although the professional-managerial class is distinguished from the classes below them by their roles in collective activity, the many profound privileges they are awarded because they monopolise these roles constitute an equally important a distinction; it is, after all, what motivates the members of this class. Since the 1950s the wealth of the upper layers of this class has grown exponentially, and in the current neo-liberal era it has positively exploded.[ix]Revolutionary organisers have of course been left out of these gains. Working for the overthrow of capitalist society remains as unprofitable as it has always been. So how can we think of the people doing this as members of the privileged professional-managerial class?
As a rule, when it comes to revolutionaries, ideology based organising do not confer economic privileges on its leaders; they do not get to satisfy, through this relationship, their money-associated needs at the expense of or above others. However, in my view they do gain very important privileges from their role in this type of organising. In terms of the way the psychologist Abraham Maslow described human needs[x], we could say the leaders in revolutionary organising processes that are based on ideology get to satisfy their higher needs for self-actualisation, esteem and often for love and belonging at the expense of and from a position above the other people involved in this social relationship. In fact ideology based organising could be seen as turning Maslow’s hierarchy of needs upside down, with the need for self-actualisation becoming primary. Arguably deliberately suppressing some of your needs in favour of others is already oppressive, but it is in the encounter with outsiders or insiders of lower rank that the true oppressive nature of this form of organising comes to the fore most clearly. Outsiders pay a heavy price in frustration, confusion, boredom and emotional distress when they try to simply come together to discuss and act on the many problems capitalist society causes them but are instead subjected to the repetitive lectures, esoteric language, patronising dismissals, sectarian squabbles and moralistic condemnations that are the stock in trade of ideologists. Clearly when the ideologists are making history, serving the cause and doing their revolutionary duty, the nice feelings that legitimately flow from these glorious activities come at the expense of all the unfortunates who have ever innocently come to a meeting where ideology based organising managed to get space for expression.
I therefore see the leftists in charge of ideology based organising as a special section of the professional-managerial class. Their expertise, the source of their influence and power, is the knowledge of their particular ideology and their capacity to articulate it. They dissent from official capitalist ideology but organise in ways that reproduce the class hierarchy of capitalist society. This hierarchy that privileges them is hidden or justified by the idea of joint submission to a higher power, in this case their preferred ideology, where ideas seemingly transcend their annoyingly uncertain status as the rather imperfect products of human minds, and become an independent force with the power to determine human welfare. They are the carriers of certainty in an uncertain world and thus feel entitled or actually obliged to impose.[xi]
The opposite of ideology based organising
Is it really possible to have a revolutionary organisation without an ideology?
We all have a worldview. It might lack internal consistency and explicit formulation, but it is there nevertheless. All our actions are influenced by it, and when it becomes the deliberate basis for these actions our worldview is an ideology like any other, which seemingly suggests that revolutionaries should strive to base their organising on a correct ideology, rather than on no ideology, the latter being impossible or unworkable. But this is not true. Yes, we all have a worldview and even arguably an ideology, but that does not mean our organisations have to have one. Ascribing human characteristics to social institutions is precisely the typical workings of oppressive relations in capitalist society; it is alienation, because an organisation of thousandsof members with a single worldview can only happen if those members give up bits and pieces of their individual worldviews. In this process the members suppress their human needs and characteristics in favour of the institution. They become less human! It is entirely avoidable.
Let us take the example of two revolutionary organisations from the Russian revolution – the factory committees and the Bolshevik party. The Bolsheviks had a comprehensive ideology worked out over many years and codified in programmatic documents.[xii] The factory committees had no such thing. They were simply the assembled workers at a particular factory and what they decided to do and delegate. Their politics did not express a codified ideology; it expressed the will of whoever was at the assembly.[xiii] Of course the Bolsheviks had often acted in ways that clashed with their ideology, and the factory committees (less often) in ways that clashed with the will of the assembled workers, but this did not negate the basic nature of the one or the other. Both were revolutionary, but where the Bolshevik Party was an ideology based organisation, the factory committees were decidedly the opposite. It did not seek to base itself on ideological agreement; instead its base was a social group – the workers - rebelling against their oppression. The opposition between these two types of organising and the classes it serves played out in a zero-sum, one-must-die struggle between the Bolshevik Party and the factory committees, which the latter, and the workers who constituted them, lost very badly.[xiv]
The factory committees of the Russian Revolution were by no means unique. Not in Russia of that time and not in general. The soviets were also examples during the Russian Revolution. In South Africa in 1980s we saw the appearance of street committees, civic movements and trade union locals that were essentially the same kind of thing. In all revolutionary situations this type of organs appeared – revolutionary organisations based on rebelling oppressed groups. Lately the popular assemblies in Greece and Argentina that sprang up during revolts against neo-liberalism reminded us of this. To get a clearer picture of rebellion based organising I propose we look at the following issues: historical occurrence, revolutionary effectiveness and practical implications.
Historically, in revolutionary situations mass organs of rebellion based organising inevitably appeared, but were either destroyed by the old ruling classes, or mixed up, taken over and also ultimately destroyed by ideology based organising. We can therefore say that rebellion based organising have been universally present where large numbers of oppressed people have risen against their oppressors, but have proved to be neither enduring, nor pure. Based on this same history we can with confidence conclude that the revolutionary professional-managerial class ideologists had acted to destroy the character and leaders of rebellion based organising as soon as they were strong enough to do so. The factory committees and soviet and Russia were typical examples. After the Bolshevik party took over and destroyed these rebellion based organisations, they gave their names to ideology based formations that the party had created to subordinate the workers to the Russian state.[xv]
During the Spanish Revolution of 1936 onwards the same hostility was expressed when the Stalinist Communist Party backed by the Soviet state destroyed all working class organisations not under their control whether ideology or rebellion based.[xvi]But perhaps less known is the conflict between anarchist ideologists and rebelling workers and peasants. Anarchist leaders joined the capitalist government in 1936 thereby setting themselves against the efforts of workers and peasant to seize factories and land from the capitalists and landlords. In his book Workers against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona during the Popular Fronts, Michael Seidman documents several authoritarian actions by anarchist leaders clearly aimed at undermining and punishing worker and peasant rebelliousness. The anarchist union CNT made a decision that workers could be dismissed for ‘laziness and immorality’ and that workers should 'have a file where the details of their professional and social personalities will be registered,' which was intended for monitoring and control. García Oliver was the minister of justice and a CNT representative in the government. He was also the initiator of labour camps. Even the Friends of Durutti, who up to today has the reputation as the most principled of the anarchists, advocated forced labour.[xvii]
The Spanish revolution was a turning point I think. It was the last revolution whose leading ideology and activists were prepared outside of the template imposed on revolutionaries by the leadership of the Russian revolution, and it showed that this template was opposed to independent organisations of the oppressed masses to the extent where its promoters would rather hand victory to the fascists than accept the right of these masses to rebel in their own name under their own control. Even the Cuban revolution followed this template, despite the leadership not having direct links of accountability to the Soviet Union. After Spain mass rebellion based organising still appear in revolutions, but it is much weakened, more often mixed up with and controlled by ideological organisations from the start. As a result the conflict between the two is more hidden and often appears as factional fights between different wings of the same movement. In Cuba, for example, the subordination of the trade unions to the ruling party and state took place through the Castro leadership replacing a democratically elected leadership with their own appointees and changing the structure of the unions in centralist, authoritarian directions. The union leaders that were removed were also Fidelistas.[xviii]
One can argue that it was not ideology based organising that inspired these actions by revolutionary leaders against oppressed people; that they were responding to other pressures that would have induced the same behaviour in leaders of rebellion based organisations. This obscures the specific role of ideology based organising. Revolutionary leaders might have faced the very same temptation towards authoritarian impositions even when they were not part of ideology based organisations, but the fact that they were so organised indeed facilitated authoritarianism because one the one hand they were conveniently organised separately from and outside of the control of the rebelling masses and on the other their ideology is what gave them the belief that they knew better than these masses and were therefore entitled to impose. In any case, in no way does this disprove the point I am making here: rebellion based organising has appeared as revolutionary mass formations in every revolution but has been defeated by either the old ruling classes or by organisations based on ideologies serving a section of the professional-managerial classes.
Two questions remain. If rebellion based organising that threatens the power of the rulers is arguably what defines revolutionary times, what happens in non-revolutionary times like ours? And, what can we learn about rebellion based organising as a self-conscious approach from revolutionary literature?
In my view the answer to the first question should start with the observation that collective rebellions against oppression are not always revolutionary. We can therefore say that rebellion based organising is very common. Every oppressed group rebels periodically against at least some aspects of their oppression, and in most cases they do not set ideological agreement as a condition for joining their struggles and organisations. Workers fighting for higher wages generally seek to organise other workers and supporters interested in joining this fight without requiring them to agree on a particular ideology.
However, take the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) as an example. No organiser in a Cosatu union would dream of insisting on ideological agreement before allowing workers to join the union’s struggles for better wages and working conditions. At the same time Cosatu is strongly ideological and these same organisers would hardly dare to challenge the basic ideology in public or even internally. The few that do inevitably are reprimanded, disciplined and often dismissed or expelled by the leadership. The union’s public pronouncements and engagements are controlled from the top to be always framed in the terms and orientation of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) ideology that it shares with the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the African National Congress (ANC).[xix] Does this mean Cosatu is ideology based?
Indeed it does. It is obviously mixed, as its method of recruitment and many of its activities is that of a rebellion based organisation, but the fact is, in this mixture the characteristics of an ideology based organisation is dominant. For many years the primary role of Cosatu has been to defend the ideology and politics of the tripartite alliance that it is part of with the SACP and the ANC, instead of focusing on organising worker rebellions.[xx]During the recent strike and police massacre of mineworkers in Marikana this has become especially clear, with the mineworkers needing to break from Cosatu in order to fight for the wage increase they wanted, and the leaders of Cosatu affiliate clearly siding with the employers against the workers.[xxi] Clearly the issue here is not that Cosatu spends too much time promoting NDR ideology and too little on mobilising workers. It is that its ideological basis undermines the mobilisation of workers.
This has a lot to do with the specifics of Cosatu’s ideology, social composition and organisational structure. The ideology commits it to support black capital that in South Africa has no independence from white capital, the social composition sees a minority of predominantly male union leaders who by their income and role belong to the professional-managerial class dominate a majority of workers in permanent jobs and exclude the unemployed and the precariously employed, and the organisational structure is centralist in that it subordinates members, workplace structures and lower level branches to the top structures. These factors will undermine worker mobilisation even in a relatively pure rebellion based organisation. However, we cannot get away from the fact that Cosatu functions like an ideology based organisation in crucial ways and that this is what gives its ideology, social composition and organisational structure coherence, power and the capacity to reproduce. Also, as I have already argued, even if the union had a more radical ideology as its base, it will still have to use the same methods of propagating and enforcing ideological conformity that undermine worker mobilisation as we have seen when more radical Marxists or anarchists have tried to form ideologically pure unions.[xxii]
The point here is that although Cosatu started out of rebellion based organising and still engage in it in some ways, it is in fact dominated by ideology based organising. I think this is typical. Resistance tend to start out as rebellion based organising, even when initiated by ideologists who tend to put their ideology aside in the beginning, but when it consolidates it does so as mixed organisations dominated by ideology. In my opinion this expresses three closely intertwined factors. The first two I have mentioned already: firstly organisations tend to be ideology based in capitalist society because its members are conditioned to act in the service of ideological abstractions, and secondly, the victory of the Bolsheviks in the Russian revolution turned out to be an epoch making victory for ideology based organising as far as capturing the attention and imagination of revolutionaries are concerned. The third factor is the absence of self-conscious, open opposition to ideology based organising among revolutionaries.
My reading of revolutionary literature finds a complete absence of any attempt to articulate an approach to revolutionary organising that breaks from the ideology based model since at least 1872 when the International Workingmen’s Association (First International) split at its congress in The Hague, until 1969 when the New York Radical Feminists started the Stanton-Anthony Brigade, their first consciousness-raising group. The outcome of the Russian revolution intensified the domination of the ideology based model with the force of an atomic explosion. With Stalinism it assumes the shape of a kind of madness that infects its supporters and rivals alike. Ideologies are pushed with the fanaticism driven by the vision that the only possible alternative to the realisation of the ideology in question is the utter destruction of the human race. Among the left there is an ever present awareness of sectarianism and its dangers, there are searing critiques of totalitarianism and its evils, but it is all done within the framework of ideology based organising. The task is posed as finding the proper, the ‘correct’ ideology to base our relationships on. Was it even possible to articulate the alternative in the three decades after the end of the Spanish Civil War? In the countless articles and books of the revolutionary mainstream, and to my knowledge even of the fringes, it was never done.
Compared to this era of ‘darkness at noon’ the late 1960s/early 1970s represents a breaking dawn. In four places, independently of each other as far as I can tell, the search for an alternative to organisations based primarily on ideology is expressed in revolutionary writings. The new pioneers are the second wave feminists around Shulamith Firestone and Anne Koedt, who proposes consciousness-raising groups as the main method of a process of revolutionary organising open to all women regardless of their ideological orientation as long as they are willing to question sexism in its many forms.[xxiii] Shortly after in Apartheid South Africa, Steve Biko posits blackness, not ideology, as the basis for revolutionary organising. ‘Black Consciousness,’ he writes, ‘is in essence the realization by the black man of the need to rally together with his brothers around the cause of their oppression - the blackness of their skin - and to operate as a group in order to rid themselves of the shackles that bind them to perpetual servitude.’[xxiv] At the same time the American Marxist Hal Draper come to the conclusion that sectarianism among revolutionaries are not just the result of bad attitudes, but of the institutional framework within which organising happens. He therefore proposes his idea of a propaganda centre that is not only subjectively opposed to leftist sects but also institutionally. And Jacques Camatte, a French Marxist, leads a breakaway from the International Communist Party and declares a complete disillusionment with revolutionary ‘groupuscles’ who try to substitute themselves for the working class.[xxv]
Alas, the dawn was false. For a complex of reasons connected to the retreat of the world wide mass rebellions of this time, none of these writers complete their work or manage to find successors to carry it on. The feminists of the second wave never give up consciousness raising groups as an organising strategy, but they do not tie it to an open struggle against ideology based organising and therefore end up succumbing to its attraction. Soon the movement, having grown so explosively and raised such magnificent hopes, flounders in soul-destroying internal conflicts around the proper ideology upon which to based feminist organisations. Biko lies dead in a police cell, and his colleagues either abandon black consciousness or incorporate it into an ideology whose dominant elements are Marxism and nationalism. The black consciousness movement becomes just another participant in the constant rivalry between ideology based organisations. Hal Draper proposes as an alternative to the sect another ideology based organisation – the propaganda centre. His searching critique of the effects of the Communist International on left consciousness and his quest for an institutional alternative to sects and sectarianism are effectively ignored. Jacques Camatte goes through Marxism with a fine tooth comb, sees its contradictions, and concludes that working class revolution is impossible and revolutionary organising futile.
We have to wait 20 years through the time of triumphant neo-liberalism and the breaking up of the Soviet Union before revolutionary writers start grappling with the question of rebellion based organising again. Istvan Meszaros, in a giant leap for Marxism, in 1994 writes that Vladimir Lenin’s idea that ‘socialist consciousness had to be brought to the working class from the outside proved to be historically unviable in the course of twentieth century developments.’[xxvi]Instead of Lenin’s vanguard party, he recommends ‘Marx’s original idea of producing “communist consciousness on a mass scale” – with its necessary implication of an inherently open organisational structure’.[xxvii] More than a decade later he adds constant ‘self-critique’ as a vital element of the transition to emancipation.[xxviii] Clearly Meszaros, in his rather ponderous Hegelian way, has turned against ideology based towards rebellion based organising. But his ‘communist consciousness’ lacks definition apart from including a commitment to ‘self-critique,’ which itself seem to be a subjective orientation of the members of this ‘open organisational structure’. It is not clear at all how exactly the latter will differ in structure from its opposite.
The next occurrence is marked by the publication of Cyril Smith’s book Marx at the millennium in 1998. Smith spent a lifetime in one of the most grotesque sects in the Trotskyist tradition before embarking on the work of ‘rescuing Marx from the distortions of the Marxists’. In a series of articles and books[xxix] he excavated and explained Marx’ notion of communist consciousness comparing it in turn to all its main rivals starting with Marxism-Leninism and including classical philosophy, historical materialism, political economy, mysticism and the main ideas of the Enlightenment. Smith left us with the most complete, consistent and accessible exposition of Karl Marx’ ideas on the kind of revolutionary consciousness that makes universal human emancipation possible. He did not have the opportunity to consider the organisational implications of this; although he knew very well that ideology based organisations do not serve such a vision of emancipation.
The effectiveness I claim for rebellion based organising cannot be that it always works or even that it is guaranteed to work at some point – it often fails in fact, and, since the destruction of human society has become a real possibility, no other outcome can claim certainty. What I do claim is firstly that it is the only approach that has a chance of achieving a society where every individual is free and all people work together to support and expand this freedom; and secondly that all available evidence show that rebellion based organising has a high to very high chance of successfully making this libertarian communist revolution.
A society such as the one envisioned by libertarian communists – a society of perfect liberty, equality and solidarity – is of course a splendid idea. Even a philosopher of the calibre of Mitt Romney would hardly object to it in principle. His reasons for rejecting the idea would be practical, like say ‘we can’t afford it’ or ‘it would threaten the job security of the brave men and women of America’s armed forces.’ But if this vision is just one idea among others, why would it triumph? Why can we foresee a society where Romney’s ideas, which might be more popular now, have died out, but we cannot foresee a time where humans are living without this desire for expanding freedom and deepening togetherness? The answer my friends is that this desire, like the capacity to laugh and the need to eat, is part of human nature; we can study humans in all the different situations they have had to face and we will never find them without it. What we need to explain therefore is not really how a society of unqualified freedom, equality and solidarity is possible, but how a society based on institutionalised oppression is possible, given the desire and capacityfor liberty and social support of every individual member of society. How can beings that each want to be free constitute a social order that is oppressive?
We are born into a society divided along the lines of class, sex, race/culture and authority. Crucially these divisions are not simply differences, but institutionalised relationships setting up the members of one group against the members of the other. Men and women may or may not differ in important ways, but that is not at issue here. The issue is that in sexual cultures based on the patriarchal family, men can only advance their powers and choices and their access to social resources and support at the cost of women, and women can only liberate themselves at the cost of men because all of them, including the few that sometimes support feminism, benefit from institutionalised male privilege. Workers, managers and capitalists do not simply play different roles in the workplace. They are trapped in relations of mutual antagonism by the institution of capital. Workers have to risk blood and nerves in fighting capitalists and managers for the slightest chance to meet their needs and develop their creative powers. Outside the institution of racism there are no black or white humans. But within the present society of structural and ideological racism, black people will win freedom at the expense of whites or they will not win it at all. Those at the bottom of the social hierarchy mediated and guaranteed by the state will never see freedom and equality if they do not overthrow the authority of those at the top. In this situation, when we seek satisfaction for our desire for freedom and solidarity within the roles designated to us by capitalism’s social institutions, we of course reproduce this oppressive order.
When we trace the history of the defining institutions of capitalist society – which I cannot do here -we find the same principle at work. Human beings are struggling to cooperate in meeting their needs and developing their powers. They are doing so in social conditions they have inherited from the past. Part of these conditions is the limits of the human creative capacities developed up to that point and the institutional framework within which these capacities are used and developed. This institutionalised inequality places similar constraints on individual freedom and social solidarity as we see in capitalist society, although the specific institutions, divisions and relationships are of course different. The constraints are of two kinds. Firstly, increasing freedom and social support for oppressor groups are only possible at the expense of oppressed groups, and the other way around. Secondly, the relatively low level of creative capacity means a society of equals is only possible through enforcing restraints on liberty. The first scenario - of zero-sum conflicts between oppressors and oppressed - is present everywhere in recorded history. The second one - of attempts to establish societies based on equality, mutual aid, and more or less strictly enforced limitations on consumption and obligatory participation in socially valued activities–is common in the story of pre-historic societies,[xxx] and is an episodic outcome in the recorded history of revolutions led by oppressed groups.[xxxi] Therefore we can understand the defining institutions of capitalist society – capital, the state, the patriarchal family and exclusive cultural communities – as outcomes of partially successful struggles for fully developed individual liberty and social co-operation.
The history of capitalist society is a continuation of this history of constant struggles between oppressors and oppressed and occasional revolutions defined by attempts of the oppressed to remake society as an all-inclusive libertarian co-operative, in other words a society of universal emancipation. And although none of the great anti-capitalist revolutions has so far done so for very long, this history reveals a clear basis for the belief that rebellion based organising will probably succeed in achieving this ever longed for universal emancipation.
The first and most important element of this basis is the fact that rebellion inspired by the vision of the most radical versions of freedom, equality and solidarity is not simply one good idea that some are trying to impose on others. It is part of the make-up of human beings. As long as there is a human society there will be this striving. And as long as people are striving for such a society, there is a chance they will succeed, a chance that grows bigger with time. If we view this from the standpoint of the entire future of humanity, the chances must be excellent, even certain except for the possibility of human extinction. In my view, admittedly intuitive to a large extent, humanity in the past has had to overcome far greater difficulties to just survive than the ones we have to overcome to be free.
The second element we get from history has to do with the nature of capital. Under the power of this institution human capacity has developed to levels that earlier could hardly be foreseen. Given this present productiveness of human co-operation, we can now foresee the real possibility of a revolutionary transition to a society of unpoliced equality. Here I think it is important to say that this capacity should not be confused with the productivity of the employees of a capitalist firm. Such productivity is profit driven and often counter-productive for social well-being. The capacities I have in mind is the sum total of resources, knowledge, skills and connections we have developed to meet human needs. The mere existence of these and the concentration of a critical mass of it in the direct control of the oppressed, means that a post-capitalist society of equals can transition to a stage where the enforcement of limitations and obligations around consumption and participation in productive activity is no longer necessary.[xxxii] This will make the development of a new ruling class and the relapse of society into oppressiveness finally impossible.
Another element is the existence of a large and potentially strong enough group of people whose fundamental interests are bound up with the overthrow of capitalist society. The same mad greed of capital that is behind the explosion of human productive capacity conditions the oppressed in important ways. Capitalists can never be content with their levels of wealth and profits. A never-ending scramble to expand both is institutionalised in the structure of capital. The oppressed are continuously under attack and continuously provoked into rebellion. Under capital therefore the oppressed are always confronted with opportunities to become competent rebels.
Patriarchy, ethnic oppression and the state are all older than capital, but have all been incorporated, transformed and subordinated by it to serve its exploitative designs. The struggles of women against sexism, of oppressed nationalities against racism and communal oppression, and of those of no or low rank against state power have thus become struggles against capital, in common with the struggles of the working class. More than this, the very effect of capitalist patriarchy, racism and statism has been to push women, blacks and the rankless into doing the most precarious, burdensome, boring and unrewarded kinds of work. The worst off sections of the working class are therefore overwhelmingly drawn from these groups. As a result there has never been a sustained mass uprising of the working class against capitalism that was not at the same time a mass rebellion against sexism, racism and state power. The working class simply cannot liberate itself without overthrowing these institutions. Any attempt to promote the interests of workers in collaboration with sexism, racism and the state is therefore bound to have oppressive results. The opposite also applies. Women, oppressed nationalities and the victims of the state cannot abolish sexism, communal oppression and the authority of the state, if their working class members do not liberate themselves from the tentacles of capital. When women rebel against sexism and blacks against racism, they threaten the male and white privilege of many workers, but they do not threaten anti-capitalist revolution; they advance it. Capital itself therefore creates a basis for a successful fight for revolutionary unity and solidarity among all its oppressed groups.
A question that remains is that of subjective readiness. The factors in favour of successful revolution are always at work in capitalist society, yet revolutions are not everyday things. People might live in a state of permanent rebellion, but mostly they confine themselves to individual actions and organising for particular reforms. Only rarely do the oppressed masses feel ready to overthrow capitalist society as such. What does this readiness consist of? And how does it come about?
The essence of revolutionary readiness is an attitude that refuses to be treated as a lesser human being. A black, woman worker that rejects all the efforts of sexist, racist and classist society to condition and force her to accept inferior social roles and status to that of whites, men, managers and capitalists, is a revolutionary. It does not matter that she cannot read or have never heard of Lenin, it does not matter that she does not understand the meaning of the financialisation of the economy, it does not matter that she believes in God and visits a sangoma, as long as she knows that she is entitled to the same social resources to meet her needs and develop her talents as any other member of society, and as longs as she is prepared to act on that knowledge, she is a revolutionary. When this attitude comes to be shared by a critical mass among the oppressed, the best of times, revolutionary times, have arrived.
The important thing about this knowledge is that it is instantly accessible to everyone and this makes possible a revolutionary movement of equals that includes the vast majority. But is it enough? Does knowing their full humanity and being prepared to fight for it put the oppressed in a position to overthrow oppression? Yes and no. No, because the business of overthrowing capitalist society and creating a society of free equals requires that the revolutionary masses have a certain minimum level of knowledge and skill in all fields including politics, economics, organising, psychology, self-defence, healthcare, to name just a few. But fundamentally yes, because this factual knowledge and technical skills are to a decisive degree already mastered by the oppressed masses. The people making revolution are the same people doing most of the productive work in capitalist society. They are the same people who learn the political-economic-sexual-communal structure of capitalist society through the pains of their hearts and bodies every day. They do not need experts to tell them how to care for one another and who their enemies and friends are. If they lack the habit of making decisions and the skills of organisation they will pick it up in the natural course of the struggle. Yes, the revolutionary attitude is enough because it will inspire them to use and acquire all the other knowledge they need to free themselves.
The substance of revolutionary organising is therefore the cultivation and acting out of an attitude among the oppressed of being willing, and only being willing, to work together as free and equal individuals. There are many facts and skills that are crucial and many more that are important for revolutionaries to learn, but all of these are secondary to learning the revolutionary spirit, which some seem to be born with fully developed, but the rest of us carry in an undeveloped state and have to nurture to maturity through appropriate experience and reflection. The goal of this reflection is self-knowledge that is individual and social at the same time. To ‘know thyself’ for a human being is to ‘know thy society and thy place in it,’ because this is what we are – individuals both created by society and creating it. Feminists understood this when they said, ‘The personal is political,’ meaning that both the causes and solutions to the problems of individual women are to be found in social institutions, in how we live together. What the oppressed need to understand therefore is how social institutions produce them as both oppressed people and potential liberators. With regards to both, the communication of facts disconnected from personal experience is wholly inadequate. More than this, attempts to organise revolutionary movements by appealing to knowledge disconnected from personal experience of oppression and by pressurising people into submission to revolutionary authority can only result in the absurdities of sects and the monstrosities of totalitarianism. Revolutionary movements wanting universal emancipation must be internally consistent with this goal. To fully develop as liberators people need to experience themselves as liberated. When they do come into touch with their oppression it must strike them as abnormal, perverse and intolerable. Revolutionary organising of this kind is primarily about creating times and places where people relate to each other as free equals working together on fighting the people and institutions that oppress them, with the overarching purpose of extending such free relations to everyone all the time. The effectiveness of such an approach in transforming large masses of docile, even servile victims into intractable rebels has played a part in all historical progress towards emancipation.
I am not aware of any example of revolutionary rebellion based organising being put into practice with consistency. The closest that any group came to this was in some wings of Second Wave Feminism, which coincidentally constituted the most revolutionary political tendency ever. But it should be clear that all of the defining parts of this approach have been practised by many people for a long time. The problem is that this approach is very sensitive. Leaving out even one of these parts robs it of its effectiveness, if we understand effectiveness as its capacity to promote and achieve universal emancipation. Adding even one incompatible part has a similar effect. From the start therefore it should be clear that rebellion based organising that is effective and revolutionary need to incorporate all of its defining parts and add nothing that conflicts with any of it.
The different parts have all been elaborated elsewhere, so I will confine myself to brief descriptions. Obviously the starting point is the rebellions of oppressed groups that give rise to organisations open to all people similarly rebelling. Revolutionary organising should actually be seen as nothing more than the efforts to give such rebellions the best possible chance of the most comprehensive possible success. Revolutionaries are therefore first of all members and supporters of community, worker and women based movements who work to strengthen these movements in terms of organisational capacities and revolutionary commitments. All the parts of rebellion based organising happen within this context. Its ideal organisational base is an open, mass orientated association engaged in fighting for the immediate interests of an oppressed group against their oppressors. Where such associations do not exist, as is often the case, the task is to work towards it, either from scratch or from within the closest approximations of it that may exist. This work has the following aspects: mental emancipation, propagate by doing, serving immediate interests and direct action.
The activities specifically aimed at emancipating the oppressed from mental slavery include what Marx and some of his supporters call critique and are fulfilled in what feminists call consciousness raising groups, because ‘none but ourselves can free our minds.’[xxxiii] Critique according to Marx, Smith and Meszaros is not simply saying an idea is wrong, but also explaining why and how a particular way of living produces that idea, and also explaining why and how that way of life will pass away together with its attending idea and what will replace it. Our ways of living are conditioned by the social system that gives us only so many options to choose from, none of which is freedom. Therefore, critique of capitalist ideology, which is also critique of the way we live, is always also self-critique. Living as steely eyed revolutionaries might seem the most sensible thing now, but this way of life is also destined to pass away. And even the steeliest among us collaborate with the system in one way or another to survive. The same fact – of our involvement in reproducing the system that oppresses us – that makes us potential liberators also necessitates constant self-critique. Of particular importance is the critique of ideology based organising, for the simple reason that this aspect of capitalist society has been almost completely neglected by revolutionaries up to now. In this the written word has an important role to play, but carries a danger that must be avoided if we want any chance of success.
The great benefit of the written word is of course that it allows us to cooperate with people who are not there. When we want to critique the ensemble of our social relations that we call the state we can get help from Mikhail Bakunin. This is great that we do not have to start from scratch all the time, that we have bodies of helpful knowledge disconnected from living bodies. We may even choose to identify with a specific tradition within these bodies of knowledge like anarchism for example, but when we proceed to base our organisations on this identification we are instituting an ideology based organisation with all its associated problems. I would recommend revolutionary writers to work together as loose networks and informal groups. If for practical reasons we need to form an organisation separate from the membership based movements of the oppressed to produce and disseminate revolutionary critiques, we of course will tend to work with people close to us in their views, but we should not make ideological agreement a condition for membership at all.
One sign of the dominance of ideology based organising is that producing and disseminating written material tend to be the main preoccupation of so many revolutionaries. Yet writing can only take us so far. The best model for doing the intellectual work of mental liberation is the consciousness raising group pioneered by the New York Radical Feminists. From the guidelines issued by this group[xxxiv] it is clear that the purpose of consciousness raising is to encourage people to become revolutionaries without requiring them to commit to a body of pre-existing writings that takes years to master. It is based on the recognition that everybody has the experience of oppression and the inclination to rebel, and that the exploration of these is the only starting point for revolutionary education aimed at full liberation. The way the consciousness raising group is instituted breaks down both the hierarchical division between learners and teachers and the imagined separation of social scientists from the social relations they are studying, both of which reflect the alienation of people from their life activities under capitalism. It is here that revolutionary critique finds its proper setting as self-knowledge that is at once individual and social, that is always driven by the vision of the most complete liberation possible, that is free, equal and solidaristic in both its aims and methods, and that is the defining attribute of the humans gathered there instead of a dead body of work.
The importance of this task of making the internal relationships, structures and tactics of the revolutionary movement accord as close as possible to its aim of full emancipation goes beyond the special tasks of mental liberation. All of the activities of the movement must incorporate this task or victory will not be possible. The anarchist movement provides us with most of the historical examples of revolutionaries trying to prefigure the society they want in their day to day structures for organising and decision making.[xxxv]Such structures have included small, local, autonomous groups as the basic unit of the movement trough which all decisions are made and activities pursued. Where tasks require broader coordination it is done through voluntary federation of these groups. The movement avoids delegating authority and even tasks to individuals. When this is unavoidable there are several measures to combat the rise of authoritarianism. Firstly, delegates are given binding mandates. Their brief is to carry out these mandates, not to make decisions on behalf of others. Secondly, delegates are made instantly and easily recallable, so they cannot continue in their role at any time without the consent of the group. Thirdly, standing delegated tasks are rotated as much as possible to fight the rise of a distinct layer that monopolises certain roles. Activists in the anti-globalisation movement have become known for their determination to institute rules drawn from anarchism to ensure that decision-making within autonomous groups are also supportive of individual autonomy. They have therefore striven to make decisions and carry out tasks through a combination of spokescouncils and affinity groups,[xxxvi] which for some reasons have become associated with consensus decision making – its direct opposite in an important way. With decision by consensus some in a group can stop others from carrying out their own views, whereas spokescouncils are structured to ensure the full expression of all views, and affinity groups to give those who have reached sufficient consensus (in their own view) the chance to act on it.
In revolutionary times especially, the mass rebellions of the oppressed have tended to incorporate a good number of these practices in their organising, often without the influence of anarchists or similarly orientated groups. However, it is a rare thing for rebellion based organising to incorporate all of them, particularly the ones designed to promote individual freedom. Where workplace, community and women based organisations do so, upon examination we are likely to find that they are really ideology based – open for joining by any member of the oppressed, as long as they accept the domination of the ideologists in control. The task of creating a rebellion based mass movement that prefigures full emancipation is therefore a task of fighting for the transformation of existing rebellion based organisations along these lines. This implies revolutionaries will, more often than not, work as members of organisations that only partially if at all incorporates revolutionary goals, and will have to oppose the institutions and people that embody capitalist society inside the organisations at the same time as organising rebellions against those outside. A range of tactical questions now arise, which can only be addressed in practise based on at least the following factors: Does the organisation actually engage in rebellion against aspects of oppression, or is its overriding purpose to incorporate that particular section of the oppressed into capitalist society? Do the conditions of membership allow revolutionaries to pursue their full programme even if unofficially, or does being a member require that you give up revolutionary activity? Are better alternatives available? The question of whether to work as a member of a particular business union, docile community organisation or faith aligned women’s group becomes a matter of estimating the practical possibilities of doing revolutionary work in that setting, rather than estimating the revolutionary potential of its leadership and politics. In most cases some of the activities involved in building revolutionary movements that are rebellion based will require forming separate organisations.
When we do form such organisations it is of course an opportunity to institute the full package of structures and rules that combine collective solidarity with individual autonomy and equality. But this must not become an end in itself. Revolutionary movement building must never separate itself from serving the immediate interests of the oppressed, or it will run the risk of going the way of ideology based organising. Even when we judge that the purpose of our organisation should be to propagate our specific ideas, this has to be tied to the immediate educational and media needs of the general rebellions of the oppressed. In any event the most powerful way to promote the revolution happens to be deeds not words. In my opinion, one example of a libertarian collective engaging in militant actions to serve the immediate needs of the oppressed will do more to spread the revolutionary mentality than at least two websites, a newspaper and a blog added together. One of the reasons why the Black Panther Party grew so explosively was the feeding, educational and health programmes it ran as part of its ‘projects for survival.’[xxxvii] When people then read the newspapers and leaflets of the Panthers they already knew that these angry youngsters have shown over and over how much they care and whose side they are on. Maybe in movements fighting for ‘what they believe in’ it is possible to imagine ignoring the day to day needs of the members and their communities, but when it comes to movements of the oppressed fighting for their own liberation, the struggle for survival must be incorporated into the task of building the movement or the masses will or at least should dismiss such a movement with contempt. There are many services that libertarian collectives could offer as part of the broader movement building project. Feeding, health and education services are almost always relevant, as are protection against male violence and just general self-protection. People will of course pay much more attention to our ideas if we are known as people fighting for and delivering these kinds of services in our communities, but more importantly serving each other in this way organised as libertarian collectives is the essence of our ideas, simply the right thing to do, much better communicated through words and action rather than just words. Also important from the perspective of revolutionary strategy is the effect of this kind of activity on the oppressed. An oppressive system teaches its victims that their liberation is not really the issue, that they are not really the people that deserve society’s resources and care, and that they therefore would be smart not to care too much about their own pain and happiness as there are more important things. This self-aversion becomes part of the character structure of individuals and is difficult to break down temporarily and probably impossible to exorcise completely within capitalist society. Therefore even when people rebel against oppression it is often accompanied by self-destructiveness. The revolutionaries that will create a society of the fullest possible liberty, equality and solidarity will all have the highest possible regard for themselves and their communities. They will want nothing less than the absolute flourishing of their bodies, minds, emotions and relationships. For the oppressed to break through the imposed barrier of internalised self-aversion the experience of care is crucial. We begin to care about ourselves and others like us when we experience being cared about. The ‘projects for survival’ where the oppressed take care of each other is therefore a central part of building revolutionary movements.
As soon as a concept begins to be associated with positive things people will come along who ascribe a meaning of their choice to that concept even if this differs from the original way the concept was used. People that support the death penalty and admire Christianity will often argue that the teachings of Jesus Christ leave no room for opposition to the death penalty, despite the difficulty of reconciling this act of retribution with the well known (although much ignored) injunction to ‘turn the other cheek.’ Something similar is happening to the concept ‘direct action’. In the late 1990s and early 2000s the telling blows against the neo-liberal mantra that ‘there is no alternative’ were struck by movements and actions led by direct actionists. The idea became respectable far beyond the circles of notorious anarchists and ridiculed environmentalists with whom it was associated up to then. Since then I have heard any number of fuzzy meanings ascribed to the term, until finally even dictionaries started to define it as something like protests that are more impatient with formal and legal procedures than normal protests.[xxxviii] In its original sense direct action are simply rebellious people doing things they want done, or stopping things they do not want done, instead of relying on representatives or pressurising the ‘proper authorities’. A protest march - however big, angry and effective - to pressurise the police to offer protective accompaniment to women that need to walk somewhere late at night, is therefore not a direct action, even if it happens to be the right thing to do. A direct action would be for activists to rebel against male violence in ways that transcend the laws of the country as well as the powers of the police and to themselves organise and offer such protective accompaniment to women whose freedom are restricted by the threat of male violence. Similarly, picketing the city council to stop the instillation of pre-paid water meters is an indirect action. The direct action in this case would be for affected people to remove or bypass the meters themselves in defiance of the council.
I feel the need to be very clear because in its original sense direct action is the centre piece, if there is one, in the collection of activities that constitute the building of revolutionary mass movements that are rebellion based. It cannot stand alone. Without patient consciousness raising, prefigurative organising and projects for survival and upliftment, direct action cannot build the kind of movement that full emancipation demands. It can only win short term changes and often it will not even do that but transform into a kind of adventuring disconnected from a liberatory agenda. At the same time, without direct action the oppressed will not ‘seize their own power’[xxxix] and will neither get more than the stingy, miserable freedom allowed by capitalist society nor will they become rebel-revolutionaries. Of course anything can be misapplied, especially inherently risky things like direct action, which require careful thought and judgement to be used successfully. However, nothing fuses the means and ends of complete liberation, nothing revolutionises masses of people as quickly and thoroughly like direct actions where the oppressed defy all the toxic nonsense that power heaps upon them to become fully what their humanity destines them to be – self-conscious beings that co-operate as free equals in creating a society that mirrors who they are when they are at their very best.
In my opinion there are many more revolutionaries that have broken with ideology as the basis for organising than the literature reflects. They simply get on with the anti-capitalist activities of consciousness raising, prefigurative organising, mutual aid and direct action without making it a priority to confront the left ideologists and oppose their influence. The reason is easy to see: that old feeling of ‘every time I think I’m out, they pull me back in!’ The rebel-revolutionaries have usually arrived at their perspective through considerable experience of that soul destroying mix of viciousness and futility that is so characteristic of inter- and especially intra-ideological conflicts. Now they just want to get on with it. The last thing they want to get involved in are the debates without borders with people whose minds are clearly and truly made up about just about everything, and yet who want to do nothing as much as debate all the time. The simplest thing to do is to stay out of it and get on with your own thing.
However, I am arguing that ideology based organising and its associated problems are not the result of confusion and bad faith on the part of left-wing activists. It results from the dominant way left organising is instituted as organisations based on ideological agreement, which itself results from the failure of the left to break with the alienation of intellectual, emotional and moral capacities typical of capitalist society. Problems whose causes are both in our institutions and in what oppressive society ingrains in our psyches, cannot be ignored or dodged out of existence. To overcome them we have to deliberately imagine and then create the institutional framework that would allow this – in this case, a revolutionary movement that is rebellion based. We have to constantly renew our individual commitment and capacities to fight the attraction of ideology, which requires regular self-examination among friends of our multiple personal entanglements with this way of life. And we have to give others the best possible opportunities to avoid or escape the clutches of revolutionary ideology based organising, which require publicly critiquing it. If we doubt the benefits of doing this, remember the liberated feeling, that sense of weightlessness and infinite possibility, when for the first time we realised we need not second guess ourselves and had no business trying to squeeze our innermost feelings, thoughts and natures into the confines of an ideology.
I am committed to use the dictionary definition of terms as far as I can, despite my feeling that the terms for what I want to say sometimes do not exist. Where I must use words in ways different to their dictionary definition I will say so clearly.
 It is difficult to think of the Catholic Church or the Communist Party of China as sects, but they are nevertheless ideology-based organisations and good examples of what happens when such groups gain power.
 This is a bit unfair as the feminists are rather quiet. The main protagonists in the debates about focus areas at the moment are the platformist anarchists of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Federation, various Trotskyist groups like the Workers International Vanguard Party, and the black conscious September National Indaba.
 Few things enrage ideology debaters as much as someone saying they are all wrong.
Bertell Ollman, a revolutionary Marxist hits upon the idea of promoting class struggle through starting a firm that sells a board game. He catches himself thinking exactly like the capitalists the Class Struggle board game is intended to undermine. Nevertheless a great venture and read.
This incidentally is where I disagree with Hal Draper. The staff of his proposed propaganda centre will view outsiders in the same way and will require the same ideological conformity of insiders. The relationship dynamic will be the same though lessened by the fact that the propagandists are not trying to recruit members.
Self-awareness, imagination, conscience, free will and language.
 I prefer professional-managerial class because it sounds less idiosyncratic.
 This only holds true for the relatively small scale upon which most left organising currently happens.
 This is the contemporary situation. Historically, when such organizations have seized state power, the price was paid in massacres and genocides.
This imposition does not require violent methods or prescribed hierarchies; moral pressure can serve it fine in many situations, as George Orwell understood. See endnote xi.
Or maybe even two!
Incessant ideological conditioning, moral pressure on dissenters, sectarian antagonism, expulsions, etc.
 An example of this is the Oil, Chemical, General and Allied Workers Union (Ocgawu). When Cosatu leaders expelled a Trotskyist a lot of his fellow workers left with him and they formed Ocgawu, which quickly adopted some of the central tenets of the Trotskyist ideology. Almost as quickly it became involved in the same sectarian divisiveness and undermining of worker rebellions as the Cosatu affiliate that it split from. See endnote xxii.
The British Workers Revolutionary Party that elevated their leader Gerard Healy to pope-like status.
Much more consistent than Marx, who often either contradicted or set aside the implications for revolutionary practice inherent in his ‘communist consciousness’ concept. But I guess this is only truly a problem if we have decided to agree with him in all things.
 Presidential candidate for the Republican Party in the 2012 US elections.
 The official philosophical objection is that authority is necessary for the maintenance of order. In other words, a libertarian community is not inherently bad, but it will inevitably collapse into chaos.
 The human capacity for self-determination is truly amazing if we think about it. Not only do we have the imagination, conscience, will and communication skills to decide for ourselves, but also to create for ourselves to such a degree that we create our society. We surpass mere self-determination; we are capable of self-creation.
Yes, there are people that clearly desire to be damaged and oppressed, but they are generally seen by psychiatry as being sick. The fact that all of us have some of this desire in us reflects the fact that we live in a sick society.
I include military prowess here despite it being destructive, because it is used to create favourable conditions for those who have power over it.
For many goods and services such constraints are unnecessary even now. Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel’s proposed Participatory Economics should be seen as a vision of aspects of this transition period. See endnote xxxii
Of course in order to judge something as wrong we need a standard by which to do so, which can only be universal human emancipation or society organised as a libertarian commune, but this is something many Marxists recoil from with horror, forgetting that the idea that scientific knowledge is judgement free is capitalist through and through.
 Select a topic; go around in a circle; always speak personally, specifically and from your own experience; don’t interrupt; never challenge anyone else’s experience; try not to give advice; sum up. See endnote xxxiv
 Individuals can of course get considerable leeway to decide how to carry out their tasks.
This is not the same as the ‘organisational dualism’ of the Platformist anarchists, which is building two organisations as a matter of principle, one of which must be ideology based.
 Maybe we should propose a new meaning to ‘propaganda by the deed’ where it means building institutions that prefigure the society we want.
[i]Greek Lesson?! by Michael Albert, 21 September 2011. http://www.zcommunications.org/greek-lesson-by-michael-albert
[iii]Anatomy of the micro-sect by Hal Draper, 1973.http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1973/xx/microsect.htm
[iv]BALLBUSTER? True Confessions of a Marxist Businessman by Bertell Ollman, 2002
[v]Toward a new beginning – on another road by Hal Draper, 1971. http://www.marxists.org/archive/draper/1971/alt/alt.htm#CHAPTER5
[vi]The Grundrisse by Karl Marx, 1857. http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1857/grundrisse/ch03.htm
[viii]Looking forward: participatory economics for the twenty first century by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, 1991, and The professional and managerial class by Barbara and John Ehrenreich in ‘Radical America’, Vol. XI, No. 2, March-April 1977.
[ix]Talent grab – why we pay our stars so much money by Malcolm Gladwell in ‘The New Yorker’, 11 October 2010. http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/10/11/101011fa_fact_gladwell
[x]A theory of human motivation by Abraham Maslow originally published in ‘Psychological Review’, no. 50, 1943. http://psychclassics.yorku.ca/Maslow/motivation.htm
[xi]Lear, Tolstoy and the fool by George Orwell, 1947.http://www.strong-brain.com/Reading/Texts/orwell-lear-tolstoy-fool
[xii]See the entry Bolshevik party in the Marxist Internet Archive’s ‘Encyclopedia of Marxism’ http://www.marxists.org/glossary/orgs/b/o.htm#bolsheviks – accessed 13 September 2012.
[xiii]The Bolsheviks and workers’ control by Maurice Brinton, 1970.http://www.marxists.org/archive/brinton/1970/workers-control/01.htm#h1
[xv]The workers’ opposition by Alexandra Kollontai first published in ‘Pravda’ on 25 January 1921. http://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/1921/workers-opposition/index.htm
[xvi]Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell, 1938.
[xvii]Workers against Work: Labor in Paris and Barcelona during the Popular Fronts by Michael Seidman, 1991.
[xviii]The Cuban Revolution – minority resolution to the 1961 YSA convention by Shane Mage first published in ‘Sparticist’ No. 2, July-August 1964. http://www.marxists.org/history/etol/document/icl-spartacists/cuba/cuba-rev.html
[xix] See for example Consolidating working class power for quality jobs – towards 2015: programme arising from the Cosatu 8th national congress, 9 October 2003. http://www.cosatu.org.za/show.php?ID=1332
[xx]Impressions of the Cosatu 10th national congress by Martin Jansen in Khanya Journal No. 23, Winter School edition 2009.http://khanyacollege.org.za/sites/default/files/KJ%2023%20www.pdf
[xxiii]An introduction to the New York Radical Feminists a pamphlet by the New York Radical Feminists in 1969.http://archive.org/details/Intro-newYorkRadicalFeminists1969
[xxiv]The definition of Black Consciousness by Steve Biko, a paper produced for a SASO Leadership Training Course in December 1971. http://www.azapo.org.za/links/bcc.htm
[xxv]On organisation by Jacques Camatte, first published in French in ‘Invariance’ Anne V, serie II, no. 2, 1972.http://www.marxists.org/archive/camatte/capcom/on-org.htm
[xxvi]Beyond capital: toward a theory of transition by Istvan Meszaros, 1994.
[xxviii]The communal system and the principle of self-critique by Istvan Meszaros in ‘Monthly Review’ Vol. 59, issue 10, March 2008.
[xxix]The Cyril Smith Internet Archive at http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/smith-cyril/index.htm
[xxx]Primitive communism, barbarism and the origins of class society by Lionel Sims, posted in libcom.org 15 February 2012. http://libcom.org/history/primitive-communism-barbarism-origins-class-society-lionel-sims
[xxxi]Mutual aid by Peter Kropotkin, 1902. http://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/kropotkin-peter/1902/mutual-aid/index.htm
[xxxii]The political economy of participatory economics by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, 1991.
[xxxiii]From a speech by Marcus Garvey published in Black Man magazine, Vol. 3, no. 10, July 1938, paraphrased in Redemption Song by Bob Marley.
[xxxiv]Introduction to consciousness raising by New York Radical Feminists, a pamphlet published in 1976. http://archive.org/details/FeministConsciousness-raisingGroupGuideTopics
[xxxv]Anarchism as a theory of organisation by Colin Ward, first published in ‘Patterns of Anarchy’. A collection of writings on the anarchist tradition, edited by Leonard I. Krimerman and Lewis Perry, Anchor Books, New York, 1966.http://www.panarchy.org/ward/organization.1966.html
[xxxvi] Beyond the general assembly - affinity groups and spokescouncils by George Franklin on reclaiminquaterly.org - http://www.reclaimingquarterly.org/web/resources/DA-Process-Handout-GF.pdf - accessed on 29 October 2012.
[xxxvii] The 6 Panther P’s by Willie Baptist and Phil Wider, published by the Annie Smart Leadership Development Institute, undated. http://www.google.co.za/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCcQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.millcreekurbanfarm.org%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2FThe%25206%2520Panther%2520P's.doc&ei=W5iPUKzrCs6ZhQfqm4HABA&usg=AFQjCNHC7MjRJ7Gsl3W_NrRyxQp5QE0IWA&sig2=F4ejq7R8rufRb_-dwY9YTA
[xxxviii] Collins English Dictionary see entry Direct Action. http://www.collinsdictionary.com/dictionary/english/direct-action - accessed on 29 October 2012.
[xxxix] Paraphrased from an anonymous poem written by a participant in the Mandela Park Anti-Eviction Campaign in 2002.