rough thoughts replying to Juan Conatz on organization

Juan wrote two intriguing and important pieces here and here putting out his fragmentary thoughts on political organization. It’s one of the only places I’ve seen that in text, and put into words many things I’d been wrestling with. This and the earlier piece which I missed sum up a lot of thoughts I’ve had about the problems building political organization in our context. I think it would be wrong to try and extrapolate to other contexts, but in a situation like our own I think these insights are key. Most of the groups people point to usually arose in high points of struggle as means to defend and expand the advances of revolutionary mass movements, and there’s a real error in trying to apply that ahistorically.

One gap I see here though is in the critique of political education stuff (mostly in the fragments piece?), it made me think of the IWW. In our relatively recent experience we’ve come to see the need for deepening the politics of the IWW, and finding a way to do politics more explicitly in our day-to-day work. I think that’s a move towards anarchosyndicalism and within the tradition. In practice though I think it’s fair to say that the people who have experimented the most with that are people more in the political organizational world. In fact some of the wobs, who can speak for themselves, who started doing political work in the workplaces were drawing from some of those traditions and experiments directly. I know my own advocacy of those positions came from engaging with anarchist and marxist experiences in latin america that questioned education as instruction, and that within the CSAC millieu those perspectives led to a number of experiments along those lines. Not much to show for it, but the thinking and practices did expand, and the IWW has benefited, even if indirectly.

I wonder if there isn’t a lesson here. Klas made some comments on the libcom thread that questioned how the divisions are drawn, which is profound in my opinion. Like how much of different animals are political organizations vs. solnets or the IWW? At their extremes we can see where they come apart, but if we do reject the political-economic distinction it muddies the water. It may be for those reasons the work political organization folks set out to do led them to grappling with exactly those questions, of how we do explicitly political work in organizing, that the approach myself and others had taken earlier in the IWW had overlooked.

The answer is not to replicate in my opinion the problematic aspects of those experiences. Instead I think we actually need to rethink how we think about organization all together. In a way, every organization is like the Argentinian FORA. Political organizations and mass organizations are both political entitites and both do organizing on some level. There are different approaches to different problems, and in our context significant overlap in the kinds of questions and work people are doing that are usually artificially separated. More and more we need to define our organizations based on what we’re trying to do and what’s justified. I’m not convinced those lines are drawn correctly, nor that our assessments have been correct. The persistence and increasing political maturity of sections of the IWW speak to something being done right. Likewise the political organizational current did contribute to thinking about education in organizing because of grappling with real problems in that work that provides lessons for anarchosyndicalists. Neither of those two define themselves based on their goals and activity, those perhaps both are moving closer. I feel strongly that attempts to prop up political organization are wrong, but there are contexts where work can’t happen except by getting together with other comrades to work on it. I’m not convinced either that that’s wrong across the board either (not saying anyone else is). In many ways we should be looking at why some experiments in politically linking folks to do some work outside their organizing worked, and why some organizing retained its political aspirations when others dumped it overboard at the first sign of trouble. I think we need a new framework for thinking about organization in general to get better answers than we’ve had.

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5 thoughts on “rough thoughts replying to Juan Conatz on organization

  1. Pingback: What in the hell are Juan Conatz’ ideas on Organization? | ¡klas batalo!

  2. A lot of us seem to be putting these thought fragments out lately, slowly linking them up. It’s exciting, even though I don’t know what comes next. Maybe that’s the exciting part.

  3. Pingback: Liquidationism (a discussion on political organisation) | Beyond Resistance

  4. I want to put some placeholders here to remind me to expand this. I have a few old drafts that are incomplete on rejecting the monism (the anarchosyndicalist union is the sole vehicle of revolition) vs. dualism (separation of political organization and mass organizations). I think the framing is actually completely wrong and that organizational lines should be drawn according to tasks rather than spheres of ideology to such an extent that I question whether the things we call “unions” and “political organizations” today are reliable terms at all. Instead they’re overlapping terms that describe groupings often doing similar work in varying contexts which can only called different at their extremes. Looking at Emilio Lopez Arango, one of the main FORA thinkers of the 1910s-20s, he did not draw similar divisions and saw workers organization in a way that doesn’t map onto such divisions. From this piece I translated (poorly)

    “We want only show that the labor movement is not governed by mechanical norms, let alone by a conscious sovereignty, even when the form of its functioning conforms to democratic rules, and that workers act either driven by their political opinions or allowing themselves by ruled by the most prestigious leaders which destroys union discipline and makes each union a particularity of a collective personality, it is necessary to hold the leadership of union bodies to a process of free discussion on the orientation of the workers movement. And the clash of antagonistic tendencies, that divide the disciplined bodies, balances the struggles of the working class. Here we find the true base of revolutionary activity of the anarchists within the bosom of the militant proletariat.”
    http://libcom.org/library/political-leadership-or-ideological-orientation-workers-movement

    • I like the idea of focussing on tasks instead of ideology. So many groups get together because “we believe this” and then their activity to advance whatever “this,” is is all over the place. Honestly, at worst (which definitely is not always) they don’t stick to any task/model/project long enough to actually learn how to do it well or effectively.

      I think, but obviously do not know, that forming groups based on common tasks and activities firstly has the possibility to be more fruitful. Peoples ideas and views change all the time, weirdo radicals like us included.

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