The Role of the Revolutionary Organisation has a history. Originally written by Nick Heath in 1973-1974 as an internal education paper for the Anarchist Workers Association, the document was the central theme of one of that organisation’s Summer Schools in London.
However, the text remained an internal one until it was published as an article in its original form but under the title The Role of A Revolutionary Organisation in the journal Virus (No.5 Winter 1985/1986). It then appeared as an Anarchist Communist Federation pamphlet in 1991 and such was its popularity, it was reprinted in 1995, 2003, 2007 and 2008. The text was substantially rewritten twice, most recently in 2014 and a significantly revised version continues to be published by the Anarchist Federation.
This version is also a product of revision and of rewriting by the original author and others. It makes the case for a specific libertarian communist organisation and outlines the role that such an organisation has the potential and the duty to fulfil in the struggle for revolutionary social transformation.
THE ROLE OF THE REVOLUTIONARY ORGANISATION
We Anarchist Communists have a vision of a revolutionary organisation in bold contrast to that of the Leninists and other authoritarians. At the same time our concept of revolutionary organisation is in political and organisational disagreement with the idea of informal groupings as advocated by some anarchists. We do not think that the liberation of the working class, and through it the liberation of humanity, will come about purely spontaneously. The road to revolution that has its starting point in the internal contradictions of capitalism has not yet been built. It will be created in the struggle, in moving forward, and that means the development and application of strategies, even if every facet of each strategy is not proven effective.
This struggle cannot be delegated to a party. The revolution does not mean, and it never has meant, the centralisation of struggles and the concentration of all the revolutionary forces in a single vanguard party. It means the development of a mass movement, with various coordinations of the subversive forces, in a globalising process that means passing from the defensive to the offensive. That does not remove the need for a specific Anarchist Communist organisation. The role it has to play is not one of making the revolution on behalf of the masses, of being the single and centralised instrument of the revolution.
The role of the revolutionary organisation can be summed up in a number of points:
1. Above all it is an assembly of militants who are in political agreement and who seek to work within struggles and movements in an organised and concerted way.
2. It seeks to act as a memory for the working class, searching out and recalling the history of past struggles, and attempting to draw the lessons to be learned from their successes and failures.
3. One of its functions should be to act as a propaganda grouping, ceaselessly and untiringly putting over a revolutionary message.
4. It acts as a liaison for its militants, conveying information both here and abroad.
5. It acts as a place for debate for militants, where ideas and experiences can be synthesised. It will decide, for example, what propositions to formulate and what way to develop anti-capitalist positions in the area of activity of each militant. By offering this place for debate, it counters localism, and fixation on single issues.
6. It puts into practice its own strategies. It struggles for the independence of struggles, for their self-organisation, against their co-option by reformism and electoralism. It struggles for the recomposition of a revolutionary movement, for an anti-capitalist solution to the crisis within an international perspective. It puts forward initiatives for practical unity and action wherever possible.
7. Defending the independence and self-organisation of mass movements does not mean that the revolutionary organisation does not seek to spread its ideas in these movements. In this sense we recognise and fight for a ‘the leadership of ideas’ within the working class through example and suggestion. In a non-revolutionary period, the potentially revolutionary masses by and large hold conservative ideas and values. In this period there needs to be an organisation that holds on to revolutionary ideas. This leadership of ideas means a clearer understanding of hierarchical society, the concept of self-organised society and of the problem of state ‘socialism’, for example, Leninism, Trotskyism, Maoism and its more reformist variants, Labourism and Left Social Democracy? In the struggle against state ‘socialism’, and all forms of elitism, comes the realisation that the struggle of ideas must be waged at grass roots level. This realisation is reflected in revolutionary anarchist communist theory and practice e.g. the mandating and rotation of delegates for mass decision making and for mass action.
8. The revolutionary organisation affirms that in fighting for a new society it will not seek to carry out a seizure of power independent of the united organs of the working class (workplace and neighbourhood councils).
9. It affirms that it will never seek a mandate to form a government but will fight for the constant involvement in the act of social self-organisation of these revolutionary bodies of the working class.
10. By its practice, by its manner of acting, by the intransigence of its positions and its refusal of compromise, the revolutionary organisation must be an immediate reference point for the radicalised sectors who are facing the most brutal consequences of the capitalist crisis. This revolutionary organisation must synthesise the need for immediate reply to capitalist attacks, possible and practical solutions, and aspirations for a radical change in society.
What truly distinguishes the anarchist communist organisation is its structure, its relationship with the working class, and a theoretical elaboration of that relationship coupled with a precise understanding of class spontaneity. It becomes increasingly important to attempt this clarification. The crisis of capitalism on a global level, and we include China, Cuba and the ‘socialist’ nations of Latin America in this, is reflected in the crisis of the organisations of the revolutionary left. These organisations duplicate ruling class values in their authoritarianism, their high degree of centralism, their worship of hierarchy and the sheep-like submission of the rank and file to the omnipotent and all-wise leadership.
As the crisis of capitalism deepens, the related crisis of the left parties becomes more extreme, with split after split, opportunism and collaboration with the social-democratic agents of the bosses, the Labour Party. We have seen the crises inside the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) around the case of ‘Comrade X’, and before it the crisis inside the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), both involving turning a blind eye to sexual abuse of young women by leading members and in the case of the WRP, financial corruption, spying for Middle Eastern regimes, and endorsement of murders of foreign fraternal comrades by the same regimes. It is precisely the centralism and authoritarianism of these Leninist groups that can allow such abuses to be facilitated and abusers empowered.
It is vital that a strong libertarian movement in all areas of social life is created so that working people can defend themselves against the capitalist onslaught, and to create a free, self-organised society. To assist in the building of such a mass movement, a libertarian revolutionary organisation is necessary, an organisation that fights for the co-ordination of all anti-capitalist struggles. Such an organisation must have a structure that ensures permanent political debate and must be controlled by the whole membership. The organisation must have a robust libertarian structure that can organise itself more effectively than the authoritarian ‘revolutionary’ parties, who are able to order about their dupes and underlings. Members and groups in the revolutionary organisation must accept collective responsibility for its action, work to a collective plan and more importantly contribute to making decisions themselves. Otherwise we will be no more than a pale imitation of the hierarchically organised so-called ‘communists’.
Declaration of the First International: “The emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself!”
“The working class by itself can only attain trade union consciousness.” Lenin, What Is To Be Done.
A vast abyss of theory and practice lies between these two statements. We reject the Leninist concept which springs from the managerial strata and the intelligentsia which seeks to dragoon the workers into a new form of oppression: the workers’ state.
But equally we reject the anti-organisational and localist perspectives of many anarchists. The concept of working class spontaneity has been distorted and misunderstood for too long. We do not take the unhistorical attitude that some anarchists defend: that the working class springs into revolutionary activity with no links to previous struggles and no previous agitation by revolutionary minorities. On the contrary, the work of revolutionaries over many years in taking part in clarifying and co-ordinating struggles in the working class greatly helps the revolutionary process.
What we mean by working class spontaneity is the ability of the class to take direct action on its own behalf and to develop new forms of struggle and organisation. The activities of the working class have taken place regardless of and often directly against the pontifications of the revolutionary elite. We in the working class are fully capable of taking direct action for ourselves. We can develop new forms of struggle and organisation to meet our needs. Our class has always thrown up new forms of organisation in times of revolutionary unrest, from sit-in strikes, to mass pickets, flying pickets and road blockades to mass assemblies and workers councils. All of this has taken place independently of the so-called revolutionary vanguards.
“Let us put it quite bluntly: the errors committed by a truly revolutionary workers movement are historically far more fruitful and valuable than the infallibility of even the best central committee.” Rosa Luxembourg, Organisational Questions of Russian Social Democracy.
The experiences of working class life constantly lead to the development of ideas and action which question the established order. On the one hand, the ruling class seeks to reinforce and perpetuate the fragmentation of working class solidarity through its control of the media and education and through its perpetuation of oppression. At the same time, different sections of the working class reach different degrees of consciousness. The working class is neither an amorphous mass nor, for the moment, a solid and united class, conscious of itself and its power.
The anarchist communist revolutionary organisation understands this. It also realises that the only authentic working class revolution is one where working people use mass action to smash the state apparatus of the ruling class and therefore the power of that class itself. Any other revolution cannot, by its nature, be working class and only leads to the formation of a new ruling class. Understanding these facts, the revolutionary organisation recognises that it has several tasks to perform.
CLASS IDENTIFICATION: ONE CURRENT WITHIN THE CLASS
The revolutionary organisation must always see itself as part of the class. In order to strengthen this identification, it must develop and extend its influence in that class. As an anarchist communist organisation, we see ourselves not as outside or beyond the working class but as part of it.
At the same time, the anarchist communist organisation must recognise itself as being in ideological advance of the class as a whole. As it is part of the working class and at the same time a distinct tendency within it, the anarchist communist organisation sees the need for revolution at a time where the majority of the working class does not. Ideological advance should not be confused with practical advance because, as we have said, workers everywhere learn new forms of struggle and organisation that can benefit other workers. The anarchist communist revolutionary organisation must always be ready to learn from the practical activity of the class and should be expected to constantly revise its tactics within the unfolding situation. It should always realise that it is not infallible and does not have all the answers, all of the time. It is inevitably transformed as the working class is itself transformed in the revolutionary process. We must remember that ideological advance does not make us something other than a part of the working class.
Because it is part of the class and at the same time a distinct tendency within it, the revolutionary organisation faces a contradiction in its relationship to other working people. Of course, if it is not part of the class then, like other groups, it tends towards elitism, vanguardism and divorce from class reality. Theory and practice must be rooted in concrete conditions. There are dangers in these contradictions and the anarchist communist revolutionary organisation must be aware of this and derive a practice from this awareness. This contradiction cannot be completely removed until the triumph of libertarian communist society.
It should be emphasised that unlike the approach of Leninist organisations, we never divert, disrupt or take over working class struggles in order to increase our membership.
TASKS OF THE ORGANISATION
In understanding that the revolution must be made by the self-activity of the working class, and recognising the above tension, the revolutionary organisation has a number of tasks to perform. It must act as a propaganda grouping, ceaselessly and untiringly putting over the message that the working class must destroy capitalism and establish a libertarian communist society. It must also show that this can be done by giving ideas of libertarian organisation and examples of self-activity by working class people. It must search out and recall the history of past struggles, their successes and mistakes, and impart the lessons to be learned on the rest of the class. Working class history becomes buried beneath the ideological debris of capitalism and is deliberately obscured and excluded. The revolutionary organisation must help in the task of rediscovering these struggles in its efforts to help the development of class consciousness. We work towards the rediscovery of past struggles, their successes and mistakes, sharing the lessons that develop our class consciousness.
Whenever important developments occur within the class, the revolutionary organisation must spread the news through its links with organisations in other countries. The revolutionary organisation is internationalist and seeks links with other groupings in order to increase class communication and effectiveness.
But the organisation cannot see itself solely as a propaganda group. Above all it is an assembly of militants. It must actively work in all the grassroots organisations of the working class It aims to help in the recognition of the essential interconnections of racial, sexual and class oppression. It respects the independence and autonomy of the working class women’s, black and LGBT movements. It does not try to make these movements an appendage of the revolutionary organisation just as it respects the autonomy and self-organisation of movements in the workplaces that may develop. Obviously, this does not mean that it does not seek to spread its ideas in these movements. Rather, it analyses the anti-capitalist and libertarian tendencies in these struggles. It agitates for a break with reformism, hierarchical forms of organisation, and the idea that we share an interest with members of the ruling class on the basis of a common identity.
The organisation works for the fullest mass participation inside all these groups and inside the class as a whole, for self-activity and for the self-organisation by working people of every struggle and every facet of life. Only by building such organisations in the course of struggle can the working class hope to achieve liberation. The revolutionary organisation itself must have mass participation and decision-making. It must also be organised in a horizontal, federalist structure as this hinders bureaucratic degeneration and encourages the active participation of all the member in the organisation.
Whilst it does not relegate the struggle in other areas of life (unemployed, sexual, anti-racist, environmental and cultural) to a secondary role, the anarchist communist organisation realises that the social revolution cannot be won without a struggle at the point of production and a seizure of the means of production. These struggles are potentially anti-capitalist and all these issues are closely intertwined. The question of one facet of capitalism can lead to a total rejection of the system. The militants in the revolutionary organisation who are involved in these groups must seek to pinpoint in what ways the class system causes and/or perpetuates the problems different sections of society are facing.
It is vitally important that a ‘libertarian communist front’ of all these movements and groups is built. Thus, revolutionary work consists in part of linking each area of struggle, bringing out all the latent anti-capitalist and libertarian tendencies to be found there. Anarchist communist militants seek a regroupment of all those who have ‘globalised’ their struggle, having developed from fighting on one front of capitalism to a total critique. This radical regroupment has to be actively fought for by the revolutionary organisation and be reflected in its activities and publications. It must act as a driving force of such a front, constantly drawing in radicalised elements and helping to build a mass movement.
When we say ‘driving force’ we don’t mean the state ‘socialist’ and Leninist approach of seeking to dominate such a movement by capturing positions and so forth. We seek to minimise the organisational contradictions and look for a close relationship with the mass movement. What is vital is not only the numerical increase in the revolutionary organisation but the development of the whole of the working class. The revolutionary organisation is a means of communication and a weapon to be used by the working class.
THE LEADERSHIP OF IDEAS
In opposition to the Leninist ideas of leadership, the anarchist organisation fights for the ‘leadership of ideas’ within the class through example and suggestion.
The leadership of ideas entails a clearer understanding of hierarchical society, the concept of self-organised society and of Leninism. In the struggle against Leninism and all forms of elitism comes the realisation that the struggle must be waged at a grassroots level. This realisation is reflected in revolutionary anarchist communist theory and practice e.g. the call for mandating of delegates, for mass decision making and for mass action.
The anarchist communist organisation will obviously not be the only organised tendency within the working class. Unlike state ‘socialist’ and Leninist organisations, it does not see itself as The Party but as one of several organisations which will participate in the mass movement alongside those without affiliation. There may also be autonomous organisations of oppressed people that will be represented in the movement and in the workplace and community councils and other revolutionary bodies that may develop. However, we would argue that these should be working class organisations as cross class movements inevitably obscure class differences and imply that the working class can have shared interests with the ruling class. The revolutionary organisation consistently argues that full emancipation cannot come about without the destruction of capitalism.
THE DEVELOPMENT OF REVOLUTIONARIES WITHIN THE ORGANISATION
The anarchist communist revolutionary organisation acts as a school or university for its members. It is a space for debate, dialogue, discussion and the development of ideas. It seeks to build the self-confidence of its members and to develop their skills and to create a collective analysis. This is in order to break down the divisions between leaders and led, to equalise all members and avoid both official and unofficial hierarchies of knowledge and skills. In addition, it wants its members to be able to use this knowledge and these skills in the world of struggle, in both the workplace, the neighbourhood and within social movements. This requires consistent, organisation-wide education that will be a distinctive feature of the revolutionary organisation.
THE COMPOSITION OF THE REVOLUTIONARY ORGANISATION
All sections of the working class who recognise the need to overthrow capitalism and who want to create a libertarian communist society will be united inside the organisation. Elements of other classes and strata who see the need for the victory of the working class will also be gathered inside the organisation. Blue collar and white collar workers, elements of the working intelligentsia and scientific strata will work together in the realisation of the revolution. The intellectual has a role to play in helping to clarify positions inside the organisation, but they should never have a privileged position within it. In fact, the practicality of working class people very often outstrips the intellectual in theory and practice. It is vital that workers must be the vast majority inside the revolutionary organisation.
During revolutionary upheavals, the revolutionary organisation will fight in the newly created workplace and neighbourhood structures on an ideological level against authoritarian groups. It will work within the working class to ensure that these structures function with the full participation of all on an equal basis and fight against any party or organisation that aims to take power in the name of the working class. If the Leninists try and use force to destroy the gains of the working class then the anarchist organisation must be fully prepared to combat them on a physical level and to help other working class people to prepare for this eventuality. It follow from this that in the revolutionary period the anarchist organisation must call for and assist in the arming of all working people for defence against their enemies and for the formation of workers militias under the control of the mass organisations.
The anarchist communist revolutionary organisation does not dissolve itself immediately after the initial insurrectionary phase of the revolution. It must continue to grow in order to struggle until libertarian communism is fully achieved. As this ideal is realised, the organisation becomes looser and eventually disappears completely. There will be no change in the aim of the organisation now or during the revolution. That aim is the self-emancipation of the working class, conscious of itself. Our tactics will of course be modified to the circumstances and activity will be raised to the highest possible level. However, it should be stressed that revolutionary action even in time of violent conflict must be combined with even greater self-education and propaganda. The most important battle to win will be the battle of ideas.
To operate effectively the revolutionary organisation should adopt a more organic nature in time of revolution. Since it may be difficult if not impossible to hold congresses or delegate meetings of comrades far apart (the successful revolution is a global event, although it may spark in only certain places initially) and meetings are often slow to come to decisions (and are extremely vulnerable to attack by our enemies thus breaking up inter-group links), most communication and achieving of consensus on short term strategy is likely to be done by informal contact between members and groups using what methods of communication are available. We must have an inter-linked network of members involved not only in their local revolutionary grouping but simultaneously in workplace and community collectives that have arisen in the course of struggle. Equally important are non-geographical alignments. for example, with revolutionaries to whom our members are politically close to or in debate with, with those in similar circumstances of struggle or sharing types of communities or particular forms of oppression.
As it does already, the revolutionary organisation will undoubtedly need to delegate responsibility to individuals and groups to carry out certain roles during the revolution. What is important is that no individual should become indispensable in the event of their loss or defection, and that the organisation retains the ability to remove delegates at any time. The recall and rotation of delegates must be a normal feature of the revolutionary organisation. Ideally all members should be able to fulfil a variety of roles, and no leadership elite will be allowed to develop.
The anarchist communist organisation should see itself in the revolutionary period as a tendency within the revolutionary movement advocating maximum involvement. It should be prepared to exist with other tendencies as only constant debate within the class can ensure that correct decisions are made.
If you agree with the vision of a revolutionary organisation, the role and the approach outlined above, we would encourage you to join us.