Guangzhou Labour Activists Arrested en masse


December 3rd, one day before China’s Legal Governance Promotion Day, at least 19 activists were arrested at their homes and offices. At least ten are still being held by the police.

Image of three detained activists. Photo: CLB.

December 3rd, one day before China’s Legal Governance Promotion Day (法制宣传日), at least 19 activists were arrested out of their homes and offices. At least ten are still being held by the police. These include four leaders of labor NGOs: Zeng Feiyang 曾飞洋 of Guangzhou’s Panyu Da Gong Zu Service Center (番禺打工族服务中心), He Xiaobo 何晓波 of Foshan’s Nan Fei Yan Social Work Service Organization (南飞雁社 会工作服务中心), Chen Huihai 陈辉海 of Guangzhou’s Brother Hai Labor Service Center (海哥劳工服务部) and Peng Jiayong 彭家勇 of the Panyu-based Laborer Mutual Aid Group (劳动者互助小组)–and six other people who work with these centers–Zhu Xiaomei 朱小梅, Tang Jian 汤建, Xin Minyan 辛敏妍, Chen Yingying 陈莹莹, Deng Xiaoming 邓小明, and Meng Han 孟晗.

Police broke into the offices and homes of the labor activists, searching and confiscating belongings under several different charges commonly used to harass social activists. He Xiaobo was arrested under charges of embezzlement, stopped by police as he left his house. Police then entered He’s apartment and seized all of his electronics, along with his accounting records and materials from various trainings he had attended. Zeng, meanwhile, was arrested on the typical charges of “rallying the masses and disputing social order”. Of the ten activists who remain in the custody of the police, only Chen Huihai can be contacted, though his location remains unknown; the other nine are currently unreachable. He Xiaobo’s wife has tracked down information that he is currently in the hands of the Foshan Economic Crime Investigation Unit, a unit usually reserved for severe cases of corruption. Activists in China are regularly arrested under broad and ill-defined charges such as “disrupting public order”, “disorderly behavior”, and “illegal business operation.” This is a flagrant attempt to eliminate these four organizations and their labor rights activism from the Pearl River Delta.

It is unclear how long police plan to hold the ten activists. Their arrest is the latest in a series of attacks on civil society activists that began this year with the March 7th arrest of the Feminist Five as they were planning an anti-sexual harassment action on public buses. The five were held for over a month in inhumane conditions, forced to sleep on cold floors and interrogated for hours on end. One activist was denied medicine for her chronic liver condition until she had to be sent to the Detention Center’s medical facility. Incidents of repression this year have also included the June arrests of activists Guo Bin and Yang Zhanqing, who worked on rights for the disabled and consumer rights issues, respectively, and who had both previously worked for anti-healthcare discrimination organization Beijing Yirenping. This was followed by the arrest of over a hundred human rights lawyers in July.

Those arrested December 3rd have all at one time worked at the Panyu Da Gong Zu Service Center, a center which has been working to promote workers’ rights since 2002. It is expected authorities will try to charge these four separate organizations as a single entity in order to strengthen charges against them. This is not the government’s first move against these primarily Guangzhou based labor activists. Labor organizations Sunflower Service Center (向阳花) and Nan Fei Yan had their organizational registration retracted mid-year, and several organizations including Sunflower have been forced out by their landlords in a classic indirect attack to sweep organizations out of town. The government is also currently pursuing the passage of a Foreign NGO Management Law, which would strictly regulate the operation of foreign NGOs and the use of foreign funding in mainland China. While the law is still undergoing revisions and has not yet been passed, the crackdown on civil society organizations is closely linked with the attempt to eliminate all “external” influences from Chinese civil society.

The four organizations attacked December 4th have been a major force in defending workers and promoting labor rights awareness in the Pearl River Delta. As China’s economy begins to show signs of decline and withheld wages and factory closures become increasingly common, the government appears to be steadily eliminating sources of independent support for workers’ struggles. This is not only a crackdown on four organizations, but a pre-emptive crackdown on workers’ labor rights.

We will continue to post with updates on the arrest situation in the following days.

For more information, and coverage in Chinese, see below:

“Labour activists detained for doing the job of the trade union” by CLB

“出门见人,回家扫地,扫掉一地劳工NGO” by 思乐书



Follow the page “Free Chinese labour activists now 馬上釋放中國勞權人士” for updates and solidarity actions:



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A Statement in Support of Rojava

August 2015


We in Neither East Nor West-New York City (NENW-NYC) support the struggle of the truly freedom-fighting Kurdish and allied forces in Rojava.
We view this as a continuation of our work in the 1980’s and early ’90’s, when we networked for mutual solidarity between anti-nuclear and anti-militarist etc. activists on the East and West sides of the Cold War divide.
That was the main issue in those days.
We also supported Nigerian freedom-fighting anarchists (those who believe in an extreme amount of freedom, equality, economic democracy, and ecological concern for instance), Cuban ecologists, and freedom-fighting people in China and Hong Kong.
We intersected with Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW, ’67 until now) who were for the first time in U.S. history, a radical veterans group who opposed the war they fought in, while it was still in progress, and supported the “Enemy”! In the Vietnamese fight for independence from the U.S. during the 1960’s to 1970’s. VVAW had tens of thousands of members and were very important. They wanted to work with our peace contacts in the East and Soviet veterans. (One of our members is an “Honorary” VVAW member).
We and others across the world have many examples of how we helped each other.
In just one instance we and allied groups from around the world held pickets at Nigerian Embassies or Consulates to demand the release of four members of the Nigerian anarchist Awareness League we had an alliance with. They were political prisoners held under an emergency decree- all were released after our demonstrations.
We had chapters across the US, as well as in Toronto, Canada, and Mexico City, and published the journal On Gogol Boulevard (named after Moscow’s radical youth/artists/freedom-fighters avenue) to network like-minded struggles around the world.
Since the end of the Cold War, the group has mostly existed in name, but we have again come together to raise our voice in support of the revolutionary struggle in Rojava.
We reject dogmatism; we are made up of different currents, but we all share an anti-authoritarian/freedom-fighting, humanist spirit, believe in equality for women, lesbians and gays, etc., and always have had a natural consensus on the issues that motivate us. The fight in Rojava has inspired us, and we are ready to assist in what small ways we can from New York City.
To all the humanitarians, democracy-lovers, anarchists, those who fight for equality for women, lesbians, gays, minorities etc., those who seek a third path outside of capitalism and state-Communism, to your militia (we are always against forced conscription) and collectives, we offer our heartfelt wishes for

NENW-NYC, August 2015
Signatures so far from our old group (and David Christian who was associated with us) /8-17: Bob McGlynn, Ann Marie Hendrickson, Alexander Rubchenko (an exile from the anti-nuclear Moscow Trust Group), Tom Maurer, Neil Farber (also from the New York/New Jersey Chapter of the Workers Solidarity Alliance [NY/NJ Chapter of WSA]), Mike Harris (also of NY/NJ Chapter of WSA), Bill Weinberg (also of World War 4 Report), Ivo Scoric (exiled from Croatia, also of Balkan Page), David Christian (Atlanta, Georgia, WSA), Lucy C. McAllister,

(We may get more signatures, things are moving fast. Half of us are woman that we haven’t found. All were active in stopping oppression in the West/3rd World/4th World [Indigenious, tribal peoples, nomads etc.] but also against the state-Communist countries too for over 35 years. The many, many, [including exiles or visitors from state-Communist nations] that were in NENW-NYC, [or predecessor groups] are long gone and impossible to find after all this time).

(email for the full Statement that is longer and gives examples of how we did concrete things to support each other East, West, and Nigeria)

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The Case for a “Jazz Revolution” Against Corporate Capitalism

Bottom up? Top down? Improvisation is the key to a middle way.
Jazz economy illustration by Jennifer Luxton.

YES! illustration by Jennifer Luxton.

“Where are the leaders and what are their demands?”

If you switched on your TV during the Occupy protests in 2011, it wouldn’t take long to find some corporate news pundit scratching his or her head over these questions. Accustomed to a world of professional politicians and party platforms, the punditocracy found it inconceivable that such an ambitious movement could survive without spokespeople or a clear vision.

The polyphony of diverse voices in the New Economy Coalition already sounds damn good.

What the talking heads didn’t know was that they’d stumbled onto a theoretical debate that not only led to major tensions within Occupy itself, but has divided revolutionaries for more than a century. In fact, it is perhaps the big theoretical debate that today’s checkerboard revolutionaries—the creators of local economic institutions like worker-owned co-ops and land trusts who are the subjects of this series—must take seriously if their local solutions are to achieve global change.

A few anecdotes from Occupy illustrate the problem. Writing about his experience with Occupy Philadelphia, writer and n + 1 editor Nikil Saval recalled a debate in the general assembly—the encampment’s governing body—wherein a contingent of activists killed a proposal to send a rotating group of delegates to negotiate with city officials. “A sizeable portion of the GA,” he wrote, “sniffs vanguardism and proposes instead that the city come down to GA—an amendment so insane that I begin to doubt the capacity of my fellow assemblymen and women to govern themselves.”

Similar disputes played out at other encampments. Accounts from New York describe the demise of the Demands Working Group—a body formed specifically to answer questions about the movement’s goals—as the result of a sectarian split between the Occupiers who ran it and those who effectively ran the local general assembly. A denunciation of the “so-called Demands Working Group”still affixed to the Occupy website is a reminder of the rancor involved: “This group only represents themselves. While we encourage the participation of autonomous working groups, no single person or group has the authority to make demands on behalf of general assemblies around the world.”

What we see here aren’t just old internal squabbles; they’re the contours of a deep strategic disagreement about leadership and vision that has long kept revolutionary change-makers from finding their true collective power and direction.

I believe there is a way around this rift. And to find it, those change-makers will have to learn to “play jazz.”

A brief history of the problem

More on jazz in a minute. First, let’s take a look at how this rift opened up.

A good starting point is that word Saval used: “vanguardism.” It’s an idea that the Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin popularized in his 1901 revolutionary pamphlet What Is to Be Done? Basically, Lenin and his Bolshevik cohorts argued that we couldn’t expect the masses to become effective revolutionaries spontaneously, all on their own. To achieve liberation they needed the guidance of a “vanguard party” comprised of an expert political leadership with a clear program.

Big Plan, of course, evokes Big Brother.

Not everyone was on board. The Bolsheviks’ Menshevik rivals, for instance, felt that if people were ever to enjoy a free, democratic, and equitable society, they’d have to build it themselves from the bottom up. From this point of view, intellectuals should move from the driver’s seat to the backseat and let the working class take the wheel.

This grassroots approach gained traction in the decades after World War II, as the horrors of “really existing socialism” unfolded in the USSR and China at the hands of vanguard parties. The disintegration of the communists’ utopian visions into authoritarian nightmares also cast widespread doubt upon the value of the revolutionary blueprint, roadmap or party program. By the 1960s and 1970s, the universal, the central, and the top-down had fallen from favor among many revolutionaries; while the contingent, the plural, and the bottom-up had become all the rage.

During the last 30-odd years, neoliberal globalization only reinforced these tendencies. If the totalitarianism of Stalin and Mao sought to iron all wrinkles and kinks out of the Soviet and Chinese sociopolitical fabric, the totalizing worldview of neoliberalism has sought to steamroll the entire globe in this respect. In the pursuit of corporate freedom, neoliberals have worked to erase all systems of human organization that don’t fit the logic of the capitalist marketplace.

Accordingly, many advocates for economic, political, and social justice are skeptical about anything that looks like top-down control. These opponents of corporate globalization have embraced a fiercely pluralist worldview bent on preserving local diversity and independence. This is a big reason why those Occupiers in New York were so strongly opposed to the objectives of the Demands Working Group. The conceptual closure that concrete demands represented felt to many like it might strangle the spontaneous, organic creativity of the movement, rather than help it grow.

From static blueprints to dynamic jazz riffs

Caution toward universalism and vanguardism has brought strategic benefits by helping to bring the importance of diversified, participatory experimentation to the fore. Indeed, such experimentation comprises the very core of the checkerboard strategy.

However, over-cautiousness presents several strategic problems. Writer Ethan Miller’s fascinating essay entitled “Solidarity Economy: Key Concepts and Issues,” which urges such a cautious approach, provides some good examples. (The solidarity economy, for those unfamiliar, refers to many of the same concepts as “the new economy,” so for my purposes here I’ll treat them as equivalents.)

One major problem comes into view when we consider what might happen during moments of revolutionary opportunity, which tend to appear suddenly and without much warning. Toward the start of his essay, Miller asserts that “we do not need to wait for a revolution … to construct and strengthen institutions and relationships of economic solidarity.”

He’s right; but what happens if a revolutionary moment does occur? What if another financial crisis coupled with climate chaos sparks an explosion of popular unrest that’s like Occupy on steroids? What if such unrest creates an unexpected political opening for innovative laws and institutions that will help local new economy solutions to flourish, and a chance to seriously tackle macro-level issues like climate change? Should checkerboard revolutionaries let their preference for incremental, open-ended process get in the way of opportunities for concrete, society-wide progress?

This is not just a theoretical concern. Revolutionary history shows the dangers of failing to have a widely shared vision for systemic change and a well-organized political movement to back it up. From 18th-century France to 21st-century Egypt, unplanned efforts to implement revolutionary alternatives in the midst of social turbulence allows time and space for reactionary forces—Napoleons and military juntas—to step in to the vacuum of power.

Avoiding this requires some degree of advanced planning. But this is where alarm bells go off for skeptics. Miller warns against the temptation to “build or to seek a blueprint, a Big Plan, for how ‘the economy’ should work.” Put in these terms, systems thinking does seem like a bad idea. After all, a blueprint sounds so static, so rigidly engineered, so authoritarian. And Big Plan, of course, evokes Big Brother.

But we don’t need to think of the process of envisioning a new economy in this static way. Instead, it’s better to think of it as something akin to playing jazz. When jazz artists improvise, they don’t follow the same score note by note. But they do have a common set of musical guidelines to work within—tempos, modes, phrasing, and so forth. If we think of system visioning like jazz, this means no one can say exactly what the song will sound like in advance, but it also requires us to establish and agree upon a general framework to ensure the result isn’t chaos, and that people don’t tune us out.

The guidelines start with common values like those articulated by Miller, including cooperation, democracy, ecological health, and pluralism. But to be useful in the political-economic world, we have to materialize values in the form of specific policy ideas, legal frameworks, and institutional models. Such proposals won’t specify the exact notes we’ll play, just the general guidelines. For example, we can call for constitutional guarantees for environmental sustainability (and even indicate what that might mean) without specifying the various ways in communities may choose to achieve sustainability. Starting from their common values, it is not only possible but likely that checkerboard revolutionaries could employ democratic processes to develop consensus around such macro-level policy and institutional proposals for a new economy.

The story of one promising new organization points the way toward how that might be accomplished.

Learning to play jazz with the New Economy Coalition

It’s a hot June day in Boston and more than 500 people have gathered under the lazy ceiling fans of the big gymnasium at Northeastern University to hear the closing keynote discussion with author and activist Gar Alperovitz. The audience is a who’s who of checkerboard revolutionaries from across North America and beyond. There are worker co-op leaders, food justice advocates, community reinvestment visionaries, and many more. A good cohort of the participants, including the moderator, Rachel Plattus, are veterans of the Occupy movement.

Such proposals won’t specify the exact notes we’ll play.

This is the 2014 CommonBound conference—the first plenary gathering of the New Economy Coalition. The participants may not know it yet, but they’ve come together to learn to play jazz.

From the stage, Alperovitz tells it straight about challenge they all face: “If you don’t want corporate capitalism and you don’t want state socialism, what do you want? … What does it look like when you actually put it together, that is functional and better than the most powerful advanced capitalist corporate system in the history of the world? Not just projects?”

No one in the room has an answer. But what really matters is that, for what might be the first time, so many checkerboard revolutionaries have come together specifically to look for it. No one in the room knows exactly how the transformational tune will sound, but they’ve already started to jam together—working on the riffs, modes, and tempos that will become the song of revolution. And the polyphony of their diverse voices already sounds damn good.

Since CommonBound, the Coalition’s ensemble has expanded to include more than 120 organizational players. A democratic member-council structure allows independent organizations to come together, build consensus around the big issues facing the movement, and decide on collective courses of action where needed. There is no central vanguardist authority deciding on the direction—no single composer.

But there is a collective understanding that the Coalition’s member organizations can and should learn how to harmonize around common themes—like the Points of Unity document they began to hone at the recent annual meeting. Such a values manifesto could, as suggested earlier, provide the basis for a broad set of macro-level policy and institutional proposals that members would advocate for during moments of revolutionary opportunity.

The Coalition’s board chair, Aaron Tanaka, contextualizes the work in this way: “Rising to the challenge of building a new economy demands that we fundamentally transform our political and economic systems—and that simply won’t happen without a massive popular uprising and a clear vision for a holistic alternative.”

That uprising, when it comes, will undoubtedly be as spontaneous as Occupy, as Chris Hedges and others have pointed out. But by the time the feet hit the streets, the legwork that organizations like NEC are doing now will ensure that our spontaneity flows like jazz toward the new system we want and doesn’t collapse into a confused cacophony.

Keith Harrington is an alumnus of the New School’s graduate program in economics, past board director at the New Economy Coalition, co-founder of the International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics, and founder of Shoestring Videos. Follow him on Twitter: @kharring.


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Fighting for the future: The necessity and possibility of national political organization for our time

Fighting for the future: The necessity and possibility of national political organization for our time

This essay is an argument for moving towards national organization in the United States. It explores the limitations of political organization today, recent positive experiences, and possible ways to build on the present to push forward.

In the midst of the worst economic crisis in decades, the left stands at a crossroads. Despite widespread anxiety, restructuring, stirrings, and disruptions, the left has been unable to respond or develop bases for movements and revolutionary organization in any meaningful sense. In many ways the eruption of the Occupy movement onto the center stage with all of its weaknesses in politics, structure, and dynamics, was a reflection of this. The events of Wisconsin, Occupy, the Oakland General Strike, and the May 1st mobilizations have brought to the fore the nature and potential of combative movements from below as well as the limits of present politics. At the very least since the financial crisis of 2008, social activists are looking for clearer paths towards anti-capitalist alternatives. Many are realizing that something more is needed beyond endless activism, protest politics, and vertical-style union and NGO mobilization. The base level of political education on the left, provided largely by non-profits and liberal university campuses, suddenly seem to have even fewer answers than before. This has left many turning towards political study to deepen their analysis as well as taking up questions around the need for political organization.

We need to ask ourselves, in this time of crisis how can movements be built in an atmosphere of ruling class assaults, disorganization of the popular classes, and sporadic resistance efforts? What are the roles of revolutionaries within movements? What are the strategies to keep ourselves going for the long haul work that radical social change requires? What are the lessons of the past decades in social movements and revolutionary organizations? How do we politically develop the existing revolutionaries and help shape new ones to build a larger milieu of revolutionary organizers, thinkers, and supporters based in popular struggle? How would this milieu and potential political organization relate to broader social movements, other forces on the left, those we share perspectives with, and with those we do not?

The necessity of political organization

Our starting point for this is recognizing, as others have pointed out, that many, if not most, of those active on the left do not believe in political organization.1 There are many reasons for this, but the reason voiced most frequently is that they do not see a need for organization. Beyond broad social movements, they view many of today’s groups as being disorganized and irrelevant. Others are put off by the poor internal culture of today’s organizations with their tendencies for personalizing conflicts, being unable to have constructive debates, and the culture of battles in meetings that seems to isolate rather than integrate members into broader society. The closest experience with left political organization is commonly that of the lone leftist selling strange newspapers at rallies. Frequently political organization as a whole is solely viewed through the prism of negative experiences with members of the worst of Leninist organizations with sectarian approaches to debate and relating to other political forces within organizing spaces, attempts to dominate and control leadership of struggles, and a ‘newspaper as transmission belt of political line’ approach to politics. Those on the left broadly adhering to anarchism fare only somewhat better, in our experience mostly falling into the previous three objections or alternatively the turn away from political organization is based on a reaction to the weakness, political immaturity, and lack of experience observed in existing political organization efforts. These experiences though valid, involve a failure to think beyond the present; a failure to consider the possibilities of the future.

We believe that political organization, rather than being a distraction or worse destructive, addresses problems in struggle today. The need for the political organization of militants roughly falls into two categories: immediate and practical needs, and broader political vision and strategy. First we must start with why political organization can address the practical and immediate needs of movement. As resources become more scarce, people are displaced, unemployment takes it’s toll, and communities are dispossessed of their long standing resources, the need for a united and coordinated means of organizing and fighting grows more crucial. Not having political organization means relying on the winds of chance when organizing efforts emerge, to bring together militants under various banners and projects, cobbling together resources for each fight, and then scattering to the wind again once the fight subsides, often leaving behind little analysis of strengths and weakness of the fight that occurred. Further, the relationships and politicization that arise out of fights are often not furthered and maintained in order to continue to build future fights.

This isn’t to say that we can’t try to outlive struggles without capital ‘P’ political organization. We can and should. But a political organization, in one form or another, is a tool, which can help us do that work more systematically. While not a panacea or even the deciding factor necessarily, it does expand what we can do over time. Political organization provides a space for reflection, and deepening of the lessons of struggle amongst like-minded people that wouldn’t otherwise meet together. It can be a place to weave disparate experiences into a coherent whole. Work is divided by issue, location, and the necessary political mix that movement work needs. While it’s possible to try and institutionalize sharing experiences and strategizing across projects, sustaining this systematically is difficult. Similarly, different and higher level conversations are possible amongst militants who share fundamental aims and analysis. Since struggles ebb and flow, gain or lose their libertarian character, political organization can give us extra tools to understand and work in changing conditions. Extrapolating from this, a national political organization creates the widest level of discussion across a broad range of experiences of like-minded militants. With smaller regional or localized groups conversations are often limited to a smaller pool of individuals, with more limited resources, and less experience.

A useful concept is that of the ‘political home’, in which political organization acts as a ‘home base’ creating “a place for discussion and creation of a vision to guide the organizing efforts of revolutionaries, and a place for reflection, development, and growth” of similarly minded militants.2 The idea of the political home is useful to newly developing anarchists, in providing them with a community they can identify with, and grow their political development with. While for experienced militants, the political home is useful in creating a community of ‘co-thinkers’ to reflect, engage, carry them through the long haul of highs and lows of struggles, and to develop theory with.

Beyond practical issues of coordination and a home base of militants there are more systemic level issues such as: the often uneven levels of political development within movements, incipient small group mentalities, excessive inward focuses that often relies on the social glue of key militants and thereby stymies growth beyond an immediate circle, and the lack of a healthy culture of internal criticism. Unaddressed, these issues together hinder the emergence of a vision around what we call ‘the anarchist project’, which we will speak more on in the discussion around vision and strategy.

The issue of political development and popular education is crucial. Whether we grow as a movement, build and retain individuals, reflect the makeup of the working class, have a movement where people can articulate an anarchist perspective, defines whether or not anarchism is a growing and meaningful force that is rooted in struggle or whether it is a marginal philosophy. Individuals, or sometimes layers of individuals working together, often begin their process of politicization and involvement in social struggles when they begin to question the ‘common sense’ assumptions of capitalism, patriarchy, racism, and other power relations. These questions then can give way to deeper systemic questions of how do we understand the system at a deeper level, what we can create beyond the current social order, where does our work fit into the larger picture of reaching a new society, and what language and tools are helpful in describing and thinking about all of the above? Individuals are generally left on their own devices to grapple with these burning questions and reflect on their experience.

Informal mentorship and individual study are currently the norm for political development on the left. Isolation is the default practice. Despite all the emphases on acting collectively on the left, individuals are largely left on their own, to work through the deepest issues. We must ask though: Who receives the mentorship from whom, if at all? Who is able to successfully navigate individual study and the political minefield of facebook posts, blogs, political forums, and websites that are so important in shaping the narrative of radical politics? The answer is that this process is often gendered towards men, and reflects existing class, race, education, and geographical hierarchies. The political isolation of thinking alone reproduces existing negative social relationships. All of these contribute to the entrenchment of activist dynamics, lopsided development, and holds back the building of a rooted, diverse, and more representative left.

Working in isolation, or within frameworks that do not share goals of popular education, collective empowerment, and libertarian values, radicals find themselves struggling both for their own education and to understand how to intervene in their work and lives. Dolores from Miami Autonomy & Solidarity in her piece “Why Women Should Join Political Organizations” puts it this way:

“I know so many women that have so much to contribute – their ideas, organizing experience, parenting experience, etc.– and have talked with them about many of their frustrations with nonprofits or with individual activism, and yet they continue to work alone. If we continue like this and don’t come together around a common ideological framework then there will never be an end to patriarchy or oppression.”3

Here Dolores identifies specifically the isolation related to grappling with work. It isn’t that there aren’t lessons, critiques, or ideas being developed by militants. It is that they have not found a framework for uniting with others to work through political questions and proposals (either those developed by the broader left or by building them themselves). This is where political development and broader popular education efforts can intervene. While the efforts of localized or informal groups can do some of this work, it is far more effectively done drawing from the collective experience, skills, and resources at the national level. Organization is a method for building a common set of references and conversations among wider layers about theory, practices, and methods of organization.

This leads us to the broader issues of vision, strategy and what we call the “anarchist project.” The anarchist project is what we use to describe the cumulative efforts- whether at the level of action, organization, culture or consciousness- that give birth to revolutionary social change and bring the vision of anarchism into reality. No doubt this is a huge endeavor that requires the efforts of many; millions in fact. But this compels us to ask the question: What advances the anarchist project and what hinders it? How do we begin the discussion of a new society with the tens of thousands active in changing the world and then perhaps the millions who are not (yet) active? How do we make the ideas and values of anarchism not just a part of those conversations but a tangible proposal? Certainly political organization is no complete answer for these questions, but it gives us an important tool to put forward our ideas and vision in an amplified way. This is true whether through propaganda and literature, social media content, popular education and political development activities, and importantly through the coordinated organizing work we do and the discussions that are inevitably raised in that work. Political organization can give us additional tools to begin addressing these issues.

One example of this that we can look to is within the anarchists of the Frente de Estudiantes Libertarios (Libertarian Student Front or FEL) involved in the Chilean students movement. Over the last several years in response towards moves to further privatize the education system, students in both higher education and at the high school level have led massive street demonstrations and campus takeovers. Felipe Ramirez, the elected 2011 General Secratary of the Federación de Estudiantes de la Universidad de Chile (University of Chile Student Federation or FECH) and member of the FeL, elaborates in an interview how the organization became a meaningful force within the student movement:
“The most crucial thing for the growth of FeL and for the strengthening of the national organization was its political maturity. At first, the FeL was an organization that had very few policy plans. … Faced with these situations [attacks on education and mass mobilizations in opposition], the FeL begins to slowly start building the framework for its political line, its proposal to education and the funding issue and all that somehow congeals in 2011. The mobilization catches us with an organization that is starting to grow along the heightening of the student movement and we see high school students go onto college, and these students come with a history of struggle and mobilization already, and they’re interested in the left and that also allows us to accumulate part of the whole process. The year 2011 forces the organization to throw the muddle, to understand that anarchism can not remain a sum of values, a sum of words of good upbringing or books that were written 140 years ago, nor moral principles, nor ethical ones. Anarchism has to be a policy, and without it being a political policy, it dies. And faced with this dilemma, luckily the organization opted for political discussion, for the creation of concrete proposals to give to the movement, understanding that we are not fighting for the revolution but for the specific conditions that accumulate towards a project of the working class, and that has allowed us to grow and consolidate as a national structure and also carve out a place among the leftist organizations.”4

Here Ramirez, an anarchist militant of the FeL, is answering how the FeL shifted from a largely ideological political group that numbered in the dozens to a political force in the hundreds at the center of society-wide ruptures. Key to this was not simply their demands nor the time period, but also the framework for developing their struggles and deepening them through ongoing practice and assessment.

Objections to political organizations

Common concerns and objections, raised by the most active and intelligent militants, within our organizations focus on our local strength and our relationship to social movements. If we are too weak locally to function in an effective capacity, how will we build a national organization? If our commitment is to struggle in and to build social movements, and our capacity is limited locally, won’t a national organization take away from those efforts? Perhaps we need such an organization, but with the state of the left and the poverty of our forces is it not a better use of our time to focus on building up the movements and small circles of affinity that will at some point down the road make political organization possible? Is it possible to build an organization that relates to movements and ‘everyday people’ and not just the usual suspects on the left? Moreover, political organizations don’t have much to show for their efforts, so wouldn’t our time be better spent just building up social movements?

To these objections, we would like to state the case that a national organization in our time, in this moment, will not deter from our movement, but in fact is necessary to overcome many of our present limitations and problems. We believe a national organization with a meaningful and thoughtfully built unity and praxis can play a key role in making our desire to move beyond retreat and reform possible. This may not happen right away, and it may be a protracted process of striving towards a goal with steps forward and steps backwards, but we believe this is necessary to become a meaningful political force.

For example, there is a concern that time would be better spent simply building up movement work. This is largely right. There is scarcely enough energy invested in struggle, and often the left squanders its time on self-absorbed activities more than struggles that impact people outside of left subcultures. Yet there’s a problem here too. Mass struggles do not exist nor arise in vacuums. When they do emerge, other political forces intervene. Many times, we are the same ones initiating projects as well as working within them. This is done typically through linking with others and trying to forge a united vision of doing that work. Such projects rely on informal and tacit political links; informality that often reproduces all the problematic behavior and isolation of the left but without clear mechanisms to address it. Moreover, if we allow our work to be defined by personality types and charismatic individuals who tend to begin or seize these projects, our trajectory will tend to reflect those individuals and their passing interests. Organization can allow us to experiment, learn, work together and actually work towards the collectivity so many of us as radicals speak of.

Very often, in our movement work, we work together with others, who do not share our values. Inevitably some of these forces relate to struggles in unprincipled, authoritarian, and co-optive ways. We have seen from experience they do so in organized systematic manners. The organization of anarchists as a political force within struggles is thus a strategic question. In trying to build the world we want to see, we will encounter organized forces that seek to either maintain the status quo or work towards contradictory aims from our own. All the would be vanguards and those pushing to channel movements into institutional and electoral directions will always exist, but can an organized voice of those pushing for horizontal approaches, militancy in tactics, and radicalism in practice be present? An organized anarchist presence is necessary to move us forward and present a libertarian alternative.

Beyond the problems raised above concerning the life cycle of struggles, there are more factors that make going-it-alone a bad option. It is difficult to work inside movements and struggles in a fragmented and often isolated manner. The political environment both within those struggles and all the forces bearing down on us make sustaining struggle in the long run unlikely without some form of unity. History is filled with libertarians failing to organize a coherent opposition until whole periods were torn out from under them. Part of this is taking a longer-term view. We need to begin anticipating problems of our work years in advance so as not to have them crushed by foreseeable political opposition.5 Political organization provides a field for advancing libertarian alternatives in an otherwise hostile environment, while lack of political organization removes tools that might soften the forces scattering us and causing us only to be reactive to the circumstances of the moment.

Another objection raised is that the work we want to see isn’t happening within the organized anarchist movement, but outside of it. The organizations we happen to have aren’t up to snuff. On the face of this critique it is partially true. It should be noted that groups often don’t talk about what they do, since many long-term campaigns (particularly with workplace organizing) are not easily presented in public without endangering the participants or doing so in a way that distorts the relationship between the organization and the movement. Still, it is correct that the present movement on the whole isn’t doing the work we all want to see. Too often there is comfort amongst the radical left, some of the organized anarchist movement included, to exist as an offshoot of the broader activist subculture or as a historical and political hobby, disconnected from the daily experiences and struggles of the working class. But there is a lot of innovative work being done in the US right now: autonomous workplace organizing independent from the unions and antagonistic to the contractual-NLRB organizing methods, neighborhood organizing seizing homes and defending against foreclosures, collective direct actions against employers, landlords, and state assaults, direct actions against deportation, and countless other examples. Much of this work is carried out by other groups, with different libertarian ideologies (rarely by party oriented Leninists, though broad social changes could make them adopt different methods) and by unorganized radicals in these movements. This isn’t to say there aren’t groups doing great work right now, but those working outside dwarf the organized anarchist milieu.

Where we can work together, we should in general. There should be systematic attempts to unify with people based on shared strategy and objectives wherever this can be done. One tool that allows for this is building networks of tendency within our organizing that has strategy, tactics and broad values as the basis. This is different from political organizations because of the purpose (to build libertarian practice up within struggles) and the degree or level of unity. Members of MAS have written about this in a series of documents that discuss the concept of intermediate level analysis and as well the Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro or FARJ) in Brazil has described this as the concentric circle model.6 Not enough is being done to build those networks of practice, and in many ways that is the primary task for libertarian revolutionaries, especially in a time when militant reformism, recuperation, and forms of neo-fascism are being put back on the table by a system chewing on a crisis.7

Still, we should look further. The divisions that exist in the broad libertarian milieu are drawn for the wrong reasons. We can’t believe today that people doing the solid work we aspire to are politically divided based on the validity of today’s divisions. In too many ways we have inherited the politics of other time periods that consistently shows itself to be inadequate in our daily practice. Given our historic task of the anarchist project, and creating a politics for our time, we cannot ignore a key responsibility we have– which is to become a pole, that attracts and unifies the forces that seek libertarian revolution, and pushes struggle further, going beyond the walls and limits thrown up by reformism, authoritarians, and the weight of the system on us all. With whatever forces we have, we need to strengthen the work we do, and find a unification that brings together those working outside of organizations and those outside of our milieu behind projects that redefine politics in our time. In other words, we should look skeptically at the existing perceived political divisions, not be held to the limitations of existing projects, and we should refuse the idea that it is not possible to bring together the best of what exists today to transform the current political alignments into a better and higher quality struggle tomorrow.

It should be noted that many of these objections raised about political organization reflect fears, latent or overt, rather than positive proposals. People often are hesitant to build because of their fear that things will go sour or they will look bad. It is not that these fears and reluctances are not based on anything concrete- there are no well-paved roads in the journey of revolutionary work- rather it is that these manifest and hold back our work in a number of ways. Resistance to Occupy, “turfism”, and an unwillingness to engage and build with new militants, are examples of fears getting the better of otherwise solid and experienced militants. Yet we can’t shape our politics around our own fears, reluctance, and sideline criticisms. This is only a recipe for stasis and in the long term these tendencies act as counterweights to the anarchist project. The assumption that doing nothing is better than the potential pitfalls should be questioned. Similarly, experience in failure can make militants scared to take risks, so scared they end up missing opportunities. From a negative politics that is based around fear, waiting and seeing, and trying to tackle collective problems in isolation, we should instead be constructing a positive vision, supported by a thoughtful program of how to begin from where we stand today.

The pitfalls of localized groups and collectives

Now we move to discussing the dynamics of where most of the organized and class struggle oriented Anarchist movement, along with those with sympathetic and similar politics, are at currently. Small city-based organizations that function as collectives based out of one city or regional organizations that grow out of larger social, mass organizational, and political networks should be seen as organic and practical starting points. Navigating the dynamics of doing good work on a local level is easier and keeps the scope small enough so that it’s easy for people to see the need and feel that it is possible. From what experience shows though, there are a number of recurring problems that these types of groups pose: they are weaker and more likely to fail, they tend to reproduce local and small-group dynamics, and they fail to develop the skills necessary to intervene on a wider basis.

Local collectives tend to face enormous pressures. Relocation of people creates real problems, especially in highly mobile societies like the US. Having a tiny core as the center of organizations make normal life events that change people’s activity level (illness, family, career changes) into political problems. Replicating infrastructure and administration at a local level places a larger burden on groups, which might otherwise use the same energy in order to organize and do public work that sustains people. Small in-group dynamics, isolation, and social pressures all chip away at these formations, and they face these issues generally alone (often with the same failures repeated every few years by new individuals). This is especially true outside the activist urban centers where there is not enough left presence to tread water by swimming within the existing activist scene. In large sections of the country where little activist infrastructure exists, such groups often have to create everything from nothing, while facing the countercurrent of life under capitalism. Most often these groups fail within a few years.

Though this is true of local or regional groups, the same dynamics exist for national groups that fail to move beyond functioning at a similar level. It’s a natural response to try and perfect one’s work in a single local before tackling further issues. Typically this does not work. In part the thinking is that with will and good organization, you can overcome common problems. While part of the problem is conscious organization, these are lessons that are difficult to confront again in isolation. While organizations tends to correspond to the broader forces of struggle in the time they exist, by limiting attempts to collectivize the problems of our time we end up putting too much time into recycling administrative problems and lose out on collaborative political approaches that we might move forward and grow from; or at least better identify our limitations and weaknesses.

It is sometimes said that national organization would take away from local organizing which often stands on shaky ground. This is an understandable concern given the limited resources, time, and problems we face. Historically though, we have seen the opposite: left to our own devices there can be a steep decline of local work. In the past few decades, a number of local and regional anarchist and not explicitly anarchist organizations have been formed and dissolved in quick succession. While obvious factors might be the shaky political foundations that many groups began with coupled with lack of experience, this also follows a natural trajectory of strain from being isolated locally. Indeed most radical mass organizing projects have similar fates and trajectories. By only drawing locally, we put ourselves into a position where, as we stated previously, members moving, changing careers, having family obligations, etc., strain already limited organizations. A national organization is able to offset this both by absorbing the loss of militants to other areas, as well as building more local contacts through a visible public presence.

Further, having a national organization creates a pole to attract the sharpest militants from around the country that may otherwise be isolated or, as does happens, drift in other directions politically. Allowing developing members to benefit from, dialogue, and work with a larger pool, or in other words a wider milieu, of experienced militants and talent. Numerous times we’ve read of repeated lessons learned by disparate groups. Rather than seeing these pitfalls continue, we are heartened to believe there are perhaps, some trends towards the repetition of advances, that forces are moving closer to one another despite working in parallel.

There is no magic formula to overcoming the real issues both national and local efforts face. National level organizations present their own sets of problems, but we believe that they are better problems to struggle around, than the lower level problems that localized groups face on their own: attrition, stagnation, lack of resources, lower levels of discussion and less political coherence. A more fruitful way to look at these issues is that we ultimately can’t avoid investing in both national and local efforts. The real question though is how based on our needs today?

Organization today, organizations of the immediate past

In this segment we will first offer commentary on the current class struggle Anarchist milieu that the authors have been participants in and three other influential groups related to the milieu. The segment within anarchism, in the US, that has dedicated meaningful effort to building political organization over the last decade has been the class struggle anarchist milieu. The groups emerging out of this milieu, while certainly taking steps both forwards and backwards, have in the last decade made strides towards being rooted in and based around organizing activity. Still though, they have been largely localized or regionalized, and fallen victim to many of the issues discussed in the section on small organizations and collectives.

There are some pressures that seem most prevalent within the milieu. First, it’s difficult to solve problems of a changing world, especially in light of the crisis and new struggles in the working class, in isolation. Organizations are running in parallel trying to solve big problems with limited resources. Second, small group dynamics dominate and hold back moving forward. When organizations are centered on personal relationships, often as cliques of sorts, it’s easy for personal tensions to overwhelm the capacity of these groups. Third, there’s excessive administrative effort relative to the amount of people involved, simply by reduplicating things like web maintenance, correspondence, publications, etc. Lastly, if larger structures are not developed for political action, the skills and methods necessary for them will not develop either. Creating a national delegated structure of locals, navigating different ideas, strategies, and methods to implement work is necessary to build capacity to respond and construct alternatives to national issues. Meaningful action needs to be taken towards addressing these issues and not merely delaying them.

There are two more pressing issues that need to be taken up. Existing organization across the revolutionary left has been unable to produce solid popular and political organization, and coordinated strategic work has been limited in implementation. While in general for the anarchist milieu, the past ten years have seen moves towards social struggles as the primary front for radical activity, existing organizations have not been able to integrate and implement a coherent revolutionary approach to this work. Work centers around individuals, projects, and often driven by the winds of change without a coherent anarchist alternative being evident in practice. There is a combination of tailing business unions and NGOs, intellectual tinkering outside of struggle, highly uneven political development, and sloppy issue chasing. This again is a reflection of our time, however it is not inevitable. It is well within our reach to begin thinking and working on how the anarchist movement could have an organized and coherent expression of a movement that confronts capital, the state, and oppression through the struggles of the popular classes. We cannot change the objective situation, invent struggles, or proceed as if we have the militants we need, but we can take strive towards solutions over the long haul.

Similarly, organizations have fought to build conscious political education and to a lesser extent popular education through their mass work. On both fronts, an independent and revolutionary approach to this work has fallen short. If the lessons of the 90s and 2000s were about the central role of mass struggle rather than activism, perhaps the need for a revolutionary alternative and educational work is becoming the lesson of this moment. It is the ability to facilitate creative militants, who can think and act in real time, that is the lifeblood of movements. Perhaps it is an organization’s main task to improve the ability to work through these issues, put heads together, and strategize the best path forward.

There are three helpful reference points that, we believe, are useful to draw upon from political organizations of the immediate past within the libertarian left. The first would be the role of the publication Love and Rage by the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation (1993-1998), which emerged out of the protest politics of the 1990s. With a final press run reported at 9,000 their well-produced monthly publication featured a range of debate and was read and respected outside the anarchist milieu. While Love and Rage as an organization had a number of tendencies and practices that coexisted together, their publication stands out as an example of the creation of a visible pole of anarchism within the larger left. With the maturing of the North Eastern Federation of Anarchist Communists (2000-Present, now Common Struggle – Libertarian Communist Federation/ Lucha Común – Federación Comunista Libertaria), originally as a bi-national organization in the US and Canada, we saw a concrete reorientation away from the protest politics and summit hopping of the 1990s and early 2000s towards engagement with and commitment to building mass oriented social movements as opposed to activist mobilization. Finally, the organization Bring the Ruckus (2002-2012), in part founded by former members of Love and Rage that included anarchist and non-anarchist members, left a legacy (among many other ideas) of a collective strategy built around a common analysis. What this meant in practice was a set of criteria for their organizing work and regular evaluation of how their local level organizing met or fell short of their political goals. These three examples present starting points which we can build on to create new examples for the current political moment.

Towards a vision of political organization for today

The organization of today is not that of 1917, 1936, or even 2001. Our moment in history has its own needs, its own challenges, and potentials. Given the state of the left and of the working class, we can’t expect nor aim to create political organization modeled on previous upheavals. A political organization today is not the vehicle of social revolution. Struggle changes everything, including organization, and we can only try to anticipate and prepare for transformations that we cannot fully understand or control. Part of taking this into account is acknowledging that we cannot lay out the ideal picture of what a political organization should look and act like and expect all the good people to simply “get on board.” This simply won’t happen. Rather than an idealized endpoint, political organization should be seen as a process that must be built conscientiously through on the ground work, the creation of a pole of ideas, meaningful relationships, and political struggle over time.

In this article we’ve attempted to give brief comments on the current political terrain, state the case for a national political organization both on levels of practical needs and that of vision and strategy in relation to the anarchist project. We’ve also attempted to spell out our criticisms of the current state of the organized Anarchist movement that exists as local and regional based collectives. Now, drawing from our discussions above, we now hope to present our vision of political organization that speaks to the needs of here and now. Some of this may repeat previous point of other sections, but we feel the need to present the vision in full and more expanded terms here.

We need a different kind of political organization. Political organization today needs to speak to the needs of drawing out of isolation the current regional and city based groups and taking our efforts to a higher level with national organization. First and foremost is the need to create a common set of reference points, a healthy culture of discussion and debate and political development in all members so as to address the current uneven levels of development across our milieu. This should become an expectation for all incoming members as the political education and development of new militants will be the key site of growing, raising the quality of, and transforming our milieu. In sum these are the key areas for political work: developing militants and creating a healthy culture of debate, building a pole for deepening a libertarian praxis, expanding a coherent libertarian voice within struggle, and working in social struggles at the intermediate level.

The primary work of political organizing right now is developing committed militants who can act with creativity and initiative, rather than the military model of soldiers carrying out orders. The building blocks of this work begins with one on one contact and relationship building, and moves towards integrating militants into collective study and organizing efforts. Any national formation should be working to pool resources, systematize, and develop work aimed at maximizing the potential of building committed revolutionary militants rooted in struggle. Developing internal process and curricula is one part of this. Reading groups and workshops are traditional, however not enough thought has been spent looking at how people actually learn; through practice, reflection, and taking initiative in working through problems that confront them in their work. Beyond the development of the ability to do this work, larger questions confront us.

If we hope to break out of the dynamics of much of the present left where demographics and development are skewed around race, gender, class, formal education, and those from major coastal urban centers, then we need to be committed to, as members of the Furious Five Revolutionary Anarchist Collective called it, “building the new base of anarchism” which is cultivated from and draws from our base within organizing.8 A developed practice of political education will be one aspect of building a new base and two other useful concepts in our political organization tool kit should be the concept of creating concentric circles and the political home.

Taken from the tradition of the Latin American especifista anarchists, the concept of concentric circles is a recognition of differences in the role and trajectory of struggle in the activity of militants.9 A concentric circle model involves organized overlapping circles grouped by levels of commitment and activity with their own respective decision making. In MAS this has been reflected by what is called the MAS compas10 circle, which involves organizing a social space for reflection on struggles, exploration of politics, and collaboration in building social struggle on a broad libertarian basis. Within MAS, there is a circle of integrating militants in the process of building common practice, understanding, and relationships with the organization. The process of integration is one of defining one’s role, but also one’s level of commitment and capacity. Members of the organization are people who have the capacity and initiative to act, understanding of the group’s political analysis and objectives, and are active in social struggles as a militant. Concentric circles gives a model where we can start at the present underdevelopment of left practice, political development and levels of commitment and over time develop and grow and deepen our relationships, ideas, and practice in tandem.

The political home is a concept drawn from Amanecer, who define it as part of making political organization “a place for discussion and creation of a vision to guide the organizing efforts of revolutionaries, and a place for reflection, development, and growth.”11 In a time in which the left is largely alienated from practice, and often reflects the social ills of isolation and broader society, the political home attempts to build a nurturing environment for experimentation and creating solutions in our communities. At this time, fostering exploration is more important than winning over people to one or another line. We need militants capable of intervening and formulating their own creative approach to their situation. The political home is a place where this growth can occur.

Beyond the relationship of the organization to the militant, a national organization needs to work towards becoming a pole of attraction for libertarian ideas within society. As we said, today a rigid, narrow framework of a tight organization does not fit our capacity or challenges. To believe that the positions we’ve inherited are comprehensively correct is naive and dangerous. Largely our task is to build a politics for our time. Yet, to do so we still need to have an orientation as libertarian revolutionaries. It is not the case that, just putting everyone in the same room will yield anything beneficial. The paralysis that occurs when people declare unity, though an artificial unity without any way to agree on how to proceed, is an unfortunately frequent occurrence of a left that both seeks unity and yet has little experience creating real lived unity.

Against this, we propose that we should build specific projects that put our energy into concrete proposals. We live in a period where experimentation is crucial, and likewise a plurality of experiments is necessary. Organizations then should be organizing around trying out their own conception and ideas. The goal of such efforts should be to provide poles of attraction to their politics, and likewise should be looking at how their experiences play out. Rather than dissolving ourselves into an amorphous mass, the pole of attraction model argues for building our politics through struggle and praxis on the political and social movement terrain, while seeking to draw in energy and individual militants through those experiences.

Realizing these goals requires exerting energy and having the means to work through our thinking, express ourselves, and enter into dialogue with others. Traditional media models, those of the left included, see media as centered around the transmission of ideas. Yet media is as much about social relationships as what we express. The work of creating media draws us into political relationships with the struggles we’re interacting with and in the process of distributing our ideas. Looking at media as a political process of social relationships, organizations should be building a libertarian voice within social struggles.

There are a number of pieces to this. First popular education (understood as a political process of praxis between revolutionaries and people in struggle, yet centered on working through the immediate experiences of those struggles by their protagonists) needs to drive our efforts of media. On top of this we do need libertarian thought and work around developing our analysis of social conditions and struggles. Libertarian thought has been become prominent, perhaps even hegemonic in some aspects, over the past two decades within the US left and many parts of the global left, though it remains a scattered, amorphous, and often incoherent in its content. Recognizing this, there is a need to take up the role of articulating relevant libertarian ideas and building it into a coherent voice throughout society. One part of this may be publications, radio and video programs, and studies. In Latin America, the Colombian based Centro de Investigación Libertaria y Educación Popular (Center for Libertarian Investigation and Popular Education or CILEP) and in Spain the Instituto de Ciencias Económicas y de la Autogestión (Institute of Economics Sciences and Self-Management or ICEA) are possible examples of how broad sections of libertarians can build spaces of collective thinking and dialogue in a non-sectarian manner. In the US the Institute for Anarchist Studies (IAS) is perhaps the closest step in that direction, though one that libertarians have unfortunately not yet taken up on a broad collective level.12

In terms of social struggles, we stand in a difficult place. There are limited elements of movements, but these experiences are largely too isolated, fragmented, and insufficient. For these reasons, today an intermediate approach to struggle is the primary method we believe militants should be utilizing. An intermediate approach involves working at the level of militants in struggle united around a practical orientation to their work (unlike the mass or political orientations who target everyone or those united by specific politics respectively). The intermediate approach seeks to build autonomous power through struggle, by those reflecting on their work, taking a libertarian methodology within, and over time creating a force capable of responding to the ups and downs that occur within struggles. Further, it is united by strategic objectives built through experiences and not merely imposed ideologically. Such an intermediate force could be able to push the potential of struggles further in situations where established power breaks down. Yet our experiences in workplaces, communities, and schools has suggested that this kind of work can also give us tools in our time that are not otherwise available. An intermediate approach gives us clear work when we cannot force mass organizations that aren’t in immediate reach, nor political organization where there are no militants.

Political organization: We build as we walk

We began this piece with questions speaking to the current political period and stating our case for both the need for a national political organization and our criticisms of the localized and small group dynamic that exists for much of the class struggle Anarchist milieu. But in a broader sense these points could in many ways apply just the same to much of the non-party radical left as well, whether they explicitly identify with anarchism, broad anti-authoritarianism or not. In the preceding section, based largely on our own experiences as well as examples by similarly minded anarchist militants in Latin America, we outlined a sketch of what we feel are the most useful tools and practices which speak to the practical needs of political militants and the broader goals of what we call the the anarchist project.

Overall our main stresses are that if we wish to work towards and become the movement we profess to believe in, then we need to think in broader terms fighting not just for today but also for the future. We cannot limit ourselves to being the proverbial frog at the bottom of the well, convinced that the sky is only as wide as the opening of the well.13 Neither can we wait till social explosions arrive on our doorstep to build the skills and infrastructure we need – it will already be too late. We hope that the criticism and points that we’ve outlined can be a starting point towards this. But importantly we want to be clear that by stating the case for national political organization it does not mean we believe that this is automatically possible or even something immediately desired. Political cohesiveness, development and praxis14 are not end goals declared that we can find ready made formulas to create, but rather processes that are built qualitatively over time. Examples that we may be able to draw from are the Especifist current within Brazilian anarchism that has spent well over a decade linking together local and regional groups and attempting to develop a coordinated praxis under the network of the Forum of Anarchist Organizations, and most recently in consolidated into the Brazilian Anarchist Coordination. While class struggle Anarchists in North America have spent already more than five years building links and exchanges, this is not to say that ten years of work is the required prerequisite either. Likely a range of experimentation, with pitfalls and disappointments along the path, and perhaps even under various organizational banners, will provide the necessary trial and error. But the journey only begins with a firm understanding of our present limitations coupled with a vision of what we are attempting to create; after this there is only one foot in front of the other.

The authors would like to acknowledge Shambhu Shunya for editorial contributions to this article.

1. “The Crisis Within the Left: Theory, Program, Organization” by BJ for the Party Building Commission of Freedom Road Socialist Organization / Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad.
2. “Mission Statement” by members of Amanecer: For a Popular Anarchism, a California based political organization that existed 2005-2012. The concept of the ‘political home’ is taken from the especifista tradition in Latin America and first put into use in the US by members of Amanecer at their founding conference in 2005. One of the authors was a founding member.
3. “Why Women Should Join Political Organizations” by Dolores of Miami Autonomy and Solidarity.
4. “Interview with Felipe Ramirez of FEL-Chile” Interview by Scott Nappolas, translation by Mónica Kostas.
5That isn’t to overestimate our powers of prediction. Speculative politics typically is a lottery. With foreseeable problems however we can both practice and prepare. This is different from believe that we can anticipate or build revolution step-by-step, a model which can exacerbate conservative tendencies in politics.
6. See “Defining Practice: The Intermediate Level of Organization and Struggle” by Scott Nappalos. . A follow up commentary piece is “The Intermediate Level and Trajectories of Struggle” by Nate Hawthorne . A helpful collection of documents can also available which includes “Social Anarchism and Organisation: Concentric Circles” by FARJ and “The Problems Pose by the Concrete Class Struggle and the Popular Organization” By José Antonio Gutiérrez .
7. The term was first coined in a December 2004 statement. Members of the Furious Five later dissolved the collective to found what became Amanecer. For more on the Furious Five see:
8 The term was first coined in a December 2004 statement. Members of the Furious Five later dissolved the collective to found what became Amanecer. For more on the Furious Five see
9. The best overviews of the concept which should serve as starting points are “Social Anarchism and Organization: Concentric Circles” which is a translated excerpt from “Anarquismo Social e Organização” by the Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro (FARJ) and “How to Participate in the FARJ?” an organizational document of the FARJ translated by Jonathan of the Zabalaza Anarchist Communist Front of South Africa.
10Compa is short for compañero in spanish, which has a political connotation to it beyond friend.
11. Amanecer Mission Statement
12Websites with further information on each of the groups are as follows: CELIP ; ICEA ; IAS .
13This political parable is often attributed within the left to Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, but the origins actually lie in 4th century BCE Daoist writings by Zhuangzi, Section 17, “Autumn Floods.” For a brief discussion see:
14“Brazil: Elements for a Historical Reconstruction of Our Current” by Coordenação Anarquista Brasileira (Brazilian Anarchist Coordination or CAB), translation by Jonathan P.

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What is behind the label?

Men and women call themselves Socialists, Communists, Anarchists, Individualists, thinking they thus explain their views to themselves and others. Yet question them, but a little; you will discover how few of them have any clear conception of what they mean by their labels. Thus it is that many fail to recognise a brother of their faith, unless he bear a label, discourse he never so fully and clearly upon his beliefs and ideals.

When we are considering the as yet intangible things of the future, the life of our hopes beyond our present experiences, precise thinking is difficult; prolonged research and meditation are necessary to arrive at any clearness of aim. Therefore behind the labels we find abundant confusion. The advocate of such an extreme form of State interference with the liberty of the individual as compulsory birth-control is found to label himself Individualist. Zealous upholders of Capitalism also label themselves Individualists, though Capitalism could not be maintained an hour without the power of the State forces, which protect private property, and prevent those who have not enough to satisfy their needs from despoiling those who have something to spare.

Self-styled Anarchists are found who have not thought out a single fundamental of a society without law, and who support variously nationalisation of the land, the single tax, and other State organised panaceas, Trade Unions with their centralised mechanism and oppressive officialdom, and petty trading and production for profit, which, like the larger Capitalism, necessitates law and its forces to protect the property-holder from being dispossessed.

So-called Socialists are found whose idea of Socialism consists in various reforms of the Capitalist system: Parliamentary legislation to secure such things as more liberal charity towards the poor or closer supervision over them, higher taxation or taxation on a new basis, municipal trading, State Capitalism, State subsidies and other encouragements to great Capitalism, or, on the other hand, war on great Capitalism, and State encouragement of small Capitalism, and other confused and conflicting expedients.

Self-styled Communists are found whose aims differ little if any from those of the most confused and vague of the reformists.

‘What is Socialism, what is Communism, what is Anarchy?’ ask a multitude of would-be converts, weary of the cruelty and waste of Capitalism and eagerly desiring an alternative. For answer they receive only confused denunciations of existing things; no hopeful vision of the new life which the labelled ones are supposed to advocate is vouchsafed them. They turn away empty and discouraged.

Programmes become cramping and conservative influences if men and women worship them as holy writ, and refuse their thoughts permission to go on before an accepted formula. Yet without discovering for ourselves what our aims really are, without defining them so that they may be understood by others, how shall we work for them, how shall we sow the seed that shall create a movement to achieve them?

Our aim is Communism. Communism is not an affair of party. It is a theory of life and social organisation. It is a life in which property is held in common; in which the community produces, by conscious aim, sufficient to supply the needs of all its members; in which there is no trading, money, wages, or any direct reward for services rendered.

The Individualist emphasises his dislike for coercion by the collectivity, his desire that the individual shall be free. We also dislike coercion and desire freedom; we aim at the abolition of Parliamentary rule; but we emphasise the interdependence of the members of the community; we emphasise the need that the common storehouse and the common service shall provide an insurance against want for every individual.

We aim at the common storehouse, not the individual hoard. We desire that the common storehouse shall bulge with plenty, and whilst the common storehouse is plenished we insist that none shall want.

We would free men and women from the stultifying need of making their own individual production pay; the peasant toiling uncounted hours with inadequate tools, the fear of incapacity and want always dogging his thoughts; the little business man counting his losses and profit with anxious mind; the wage-slave selling his labour cheaply and without security; the artist debarred from the effort to improve his skill and quest for his ideals by the insistence of the economic spur.

We aim at the common service; we desire that all should serve the community, that no longer should there be divers classes of persons; the hewers of wood and the drawers of water; the intellectuals, the leisured classes, who are merely parasites. The Individualist cries: ‘Freedom.’ We answer: ‘Thou shalt not exploit.’ ‘Thou shalt not be a parasite.’

Yet we would have nothing of dictatorship: we believe that a public opinion can be treated which will produce a general willingness to serve the community. The exception to that general willingness will become, we believe, altogether a rarity; we would not have the occasional oddity who will not join the general effort disciplined by law; the disapprobation, even the pity of his fellows will insure his rarity.

The thought: ‘I will not produce because I can secure a better living as a non-producer,’ whether it be the thought of an employer, or of an unemployed worker, is a typical product of Capitalism. A society in which that thought predominates is inevitably one of poverty and exploitation. The thought: ‘I will not produce if I can avoid it’ falls like a blight upon society to-day. It is the inevitable product of the capitalist system.

Let us produce in abundance; let us secure plenty for all; let us find pleasure in producing; these thoughts must pervade the community if it is to be able to provide, in lavish measure, plenty for all-in material comfort, in art, in learning, in leisure. At such a community we aim. We emphasise the need for the Workshop Councils.

The Individualist fears that even the autonomous Workshop Councils may lead to the circumscribing of personal liberty. We however desire the Workshop Councils in order to insure personal liberty.

In the Communist Society at which we aim all will share the productive work of the community and all will take a part in organising that work.

How can it be done?

In these days of great populations and varied needs and desires people are not willing to return to the stage at which every individual or family made its own house, clothing, tools, utensils, and cultivated its own patch of soil and provided all its own tools. A return to productive work, a discarding of artificial and useless toil, we desire and expect to see, but work in which many workers co-operate we expect and desire to retain.

The building of engines and ships and all sorts of machinery, the construction of cables, weaving and spinning by machinery, and numberless other things are dependent on the co-ordinated work of large numbers of people. It is probable that developments in the use of electricity and other present and future inventions, will tend to render less economically necessary than used to be the case, both the vast workshop and the vast city. Moreover the influence of profit-making being eliminated, the unhealthy and uncongenial massing together of people will be checked. Nevertheless for at least a very long time, the large scale production wrought by many inter- related workers, will remain a necessary condition of maintaining both plenty and leisure for all.

If large numbers of people are working together and if the varied needs of large populations are to be supplied, the work will come either to be directed from above or from below. Unless each individual in the work shop is an independent co-operator, taking a conscious share in the organisation of the collective work, then all the workers in the shop must be under the direction of a manager; and that manager must either be appointed by those whom he directs or by some outside authority.

The same principle applies throughout the entire field of production, distribution, and transport; unless the workshops co-ordinate themselves, unless they themselves arrange their relationship with their sources of supply and the recipients of their products, then that co- ordination must be affected by an outside authority with power to enforce its authority.

In order to promote the liberty and initiative of the individual, as well as for the welfare of the collectivity, therefore, we emphasise the need for the autonomous workshop councils, co-ordinated along the lines of production, distribution and transport.

–  Sylvia Pankhurst

First published in Workers’ Dreadnought, 3 November 1923. Taken from the Antagonism website

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On the Left/Right Paradigm, Capitalism’s Grow-Or-Die Imperative, and Murray Bookchin

by Ursula Le Guin

“The Left,” a meaningful term ever since the French Revolution, took on wider significance with the rise of socialism, anarchism, and communism. The Russian revolution installed a government entirely leftist in conception; leftist and rightist movements tore Spain apart; democratic parties in Europe and North America arrayed themselves between the two poles; liberal cartoonists portrayed the opposition as a fat plutocrat with a cigar, while reactionaries in the United States demonized “commie leftists” from the 1930s through the Cold War. The left/right opposition, though often an oversimplification, for two centuries was broadly useful as a description and a reminder of dynamic balance.

In the twenty-first century we go on using the terms, but what is left of the Left? The failure of state communism, the quiet entrenchment of a degree of socialism in democratic governments, and the relentless rightward movement of politics driven by corporate capitalism have made much progressive thinking seem antiquated, or redundant, or illusory. The Left is marginalized in its thought, fragmented in its goals, unconfident of its ability to unite. In America particularly, the drift to the right has been so strong that mere liberalism is now the terrorist bogey that anarchism or socialism used to be, and reactionaries are called “moderates.”

So, in a country that has all but shut its left eye and is trying to use only its right hand, where does an ambidextrous, binocular Old Rad like Murray Bookchin fit?

I think he’ll find his readers. A lot of people are seeking consistent, constructive thinking on which to base action-a frustrating search. Theoretical approaches that seem promising turn out, like the Libertarian Party, to be Ayn Rand in drag; immediate and effective solutions to a problem turn out, like the Occupy movement, to lack structure and stamina for the long run. Young people, people this society blatantly short-changes and betrays, are looking for intelligent, realistic, long-term thinking: not another ranting ideology, but a practical working hypothesis, a methodology of how to regain control of where we’re going. Achieving that control will require a revolution as powerful, as deeply affecting society as a whole, as the force it wants to harness.

Murray Bookchin was an expert in nonviolent revolution. He thought about radical social changes, planned and unplanned, and how best to prepare for them, all his life. A new collection of his essays, “The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy,” released last month by Verso Books, carries his thinking on past his own life into the threatening future we face.

Impatient, idealistic readers may find him uncomfortably tough-minded. He’s unwilling to leap over reality to dreams of happy endings, unsympathetic to mere transgression pretending to be political action: “A ‘politics’ of disorder or ‘creative chaos,’ or a naïve practice of ‘taking over the streets’ (usually little more than a street festival), regresses participants to the behavior of a juvenile herd.” That applies more to the Summer of Love, certainly, than to the Occupy movement, yet it is a permanently cogent warning.

But Bookchin is no grim puritan. I first read him as an anarchist, probably the most eloquent and thoughtful one of his generation, and in moving away from anarchism he hasn’t lost his sense of the joy of freedom. He doesn’t want to see that joy, that freedom, come crashing down, yet again, among the ruins of its own euphoric irresponsibility.

What all political and social thinking has finally been forced to face is, of course, the irreversible degradation of the environment by unrestrained industrial capitalism: the enormous fact of which science has been trying for fifty years to convince us, while technology provided us ever greater distractions from it. Every benefit industrialism and capitalism have brought us, every wonderful advance in knowledge and health and communication and comfort, casts the same fatal shadow. All we have, we have taken from the earth; and, taking with ever-increasing speed and greed, we now return little but what is sterile or poisoned.

Yet we can’t stop the process. A capitalist economy, by definition, lives by growth; as Bookchin observes: “For capitalism to desist from its mindless expansion would be for it to commit social suicide.” We have, essentially, chosen cancer as the model of our social system.

“Capitalism’s grow-or-die imperative stands radically at odds with ecology’s imperative of interdependence and limit. The two imperatives can no longer coexist with each other; nor can any society founded on the myth that they can be reconciled hope to survive. Either we will establish an ecological society or society will go under for everyone, irrespective of his or her status.” [1]

Murray Bookchin spent a lifetime opposing the rapacious ethos of grow-or-die capitalism. The nine essays in “The Next Revolution” represent the culmination of that labor: the theoretical underpinning for an egalitarian and directly democratic ecological society, with a practical approach for how to build it. He critiques the failures of past movements for social change, resurrects the promise of direct democracy and, in the last essay in the book, sketches his hope of how we might turn the environmental crisis into a moment of true choice-a chance to transcend the paralyzing hierarchies of gender, race, class, nation, a chance to find a radical cure for the radical evil of our social system.

Reading it, I was moved and grateful, as I have so often been in reading Murray Bookchin. He was a true son of the Enlightenment in his respect for clear thought and moral responsibility and in his honest, uncompromising search for a realistic hope.

A new collection of Murray Bookchin’s work entitled, “The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy,” is available through Verso Books.

[1] Murray Bookchin, “Libertarian Municipalism: A Politics of Direct Democracy.” The Next Revolution: Popular Assemblies and the Promise of Direct Democracy, Edited by Debbie Bookchin and Blair Taylor. Verso Books, January 2015. p. 91.

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“Je ne suis pas marxiste” – Michael Heinrich

"Je ne suis pas marxiste" - Michael Heinrich

Michael Heinrich argues that Marx was not after a “Marxism” as an identity-defining “truth.” Rather, he was more interested in the critical business of undermining certainties.

Whoever visits the grave of Karl Marx at Highgate Cemetery in London encounters a gigantic pedestal upon which a gigantic bust of Marx is enthroned. One has to look up at him. Directly under the bust, “Workers of all lands unite” is written in golden letters, and further down, also in gold, “Karl Marx.” Below that, a simple, small headstone is placed within the pedestal, which names without pomp and gold those buried here: besides Karl Marx, there is his wife Jenny, his grandson Harry Longuet, and his daughters Eleanor and Helene Demuth, who led the Marx household for decades.

Marx selected the plain headstone himself after the death of his wife. Showing off was not his thing. He explicitly asked for a quiet funeral restricted to a small circle. Only eleven people took part. Friedrich Engels was able to prevent plans by the German Social Democratic Party to erect a monument to Marx at the cemetery. He wrote to August Bebel that the family was against such a monument, since the simple headstone “would be desecrated in their eyes if replaced by a monument”. (MECW 47, p. 17)

Around 70 years later, nobody was left to protect Marx’s grave. The present monument was commissioned by the Communist Party of Great Britain and unveiled in 1956. Only cemetery regulations prevented it from being even bigger. The Marxists had asserted themselves against Marx.

“Je ne suis pas marxiste,” stated Marx, rather annoyed, to his son-in-law Paul Lafargue, when the latter reported the doings of French “Marxists.” Engels had circulated this statement numerous times, including in letters to newspapers – definitely for public consumption. Marx’s distance from Marxists is also expressed in other comments. When he stayed in France in 1882, he wrote to Engels that “the ‘Marxistes’ and ‘Anti-Marxistes”’ […] at their respective socialist congresses at Roanne and St-Étienne” had “both done their damnedest to ruin my stay in France.” (MECW 46, p. 339)

In any case, Marx did not aspire to “Marxism.” But not only that; when the German economist Adolph Wagner was the first to deal with Marx’s theory in his textbook and wrote of Marx’s “socialist system,” the latter, outraged, noted in his marginalia that he had “never established a socialist system.” (MECW 24, p. 533) “Systems” and worldview “isms” were never his thing. One looks in vain for statements in which he stylizes himself as the founding father of an “ism.” Besides seeing himself as a man of the “party” (by which he meant not a specific organization, but rather the totality of forces struggling against capitalism and for social emancipation), Marx saw himself as a man of science. Capital, which he regarded as “the most terrible missile that has yet been hurled at the heads of the bourgeoisie (landowners included)” (MECW 42, p. 358), he counted among the “scientific attempts to revolutionize science.” (MECW 41, p. 436) The emphasis on “scientific” is Marx’s. And, when Marx wrote in the foreword to the first volume of Capital, “every opinion based on scientific criticism I welcome” (MECW 35, p. 11), that was not simply rhetoric. Marx was fully aware of the provisional nature and fallibility of scientific assertions. “De omnibus dubitandum” – “everything is to be doubted” – he wrote as an answer to the question as to his life’s motto in a fashionable questionnaire that his daughter had presented to him. The enormous mass of manuscripts that he left unpublished, and the to some extent considerable revisions of already published texts bear witness to the fact that he did not exempt his own work from such doubt. In the history of Marxism, this work was often dealt with in a different manner.

Historically speaking, the popularizations among Engels’ later works, above all his Anti-Dühring, constituted the point of departure for the construction of “Marxism.” But it’s somewhat one-sided to to make Engels into the “inventor” of Marxism, as the publishing house Propyläen did when they gave the German translation of Tristram Hunt’s Engels biography the subtitle “The Man who Invented Marxism.” The original English edition has the more accurate title “The Frock-Coated Communist.” It was only under pressure from Bebel and Liebknecht that Engels confronted in the 1870s the views of the German university lecturer Eugen Dühring, who was increasingly winning adherents in German social democracy. Since Dühring claimed to have assembled a new comprehensive “system” of philosophy, history, economics, and natural science, Engels had to follow him into all these areas, but not without emphasizing in the preface that his text “cannot in any way aim at presenting another system as an alternative to Herr Dühring’s “system”” (MECW 25, p. 6) But this hint was of no use. Historically, Anti-Dühring became the point of departure for precisely that “system” that became famous under the name “Marxism.” Its first important representative was Karl Kautsky. Until the first World War, Lenin also followed it without any critique.

Whereas Engels still made fun of Dühring’s claim to a “final and ultimate truth” (MECW 25 p. 28), now such a pretension, along with all the fantasies of omnipotence based upon it, was made by many Marxists: “Marxist doctrine is omnipotent because it is true.” The flattenings invested in social democratic Marxism before the first World War were continued in the Marxism-Leninism that became a canonical doctrine in the Soviet Union after Lenin’s death.

Just to be clear: my intention is not to discredit every analytical and political achievement of Kautsky, Lenin, and many other Marxists. If one wishes to evaluate these achievements, one has to take each case individually. What I’m talking about are those philosophical simplifications that are presented as “Marxism,” those mixtures of simple materialism, bourgeois ideas of progress, and vulgar Hegelianism which are presented as “dialectical materialism” and “historical materialism” – terms that one seeks in vain in Marx’s work.

Now, modern, enlightened, undogmatic Marxists will immediately object that cults of personality aren’t their thing, and that the old, dogmatic Marxism isn’t either. Only their own enlightened standpoint should count as “Marxism,” everything that is unpleasant – from determinist conceptions of history to the reduction of gender relations to a “secondary contradiction” to the Stalinist gulag – is supposed to have nothing to do with the true, real Marxism. However, if one asks what constitutes real Marxism, the air suddenly becomes thin, and that’s not a coincidence. If one attempts to substantively flesh out the term “Marxism,” one is necessarily confronted with a dilemma. If one inserts too much content, then the determination becomes too concrete and easily ends up contradicting subsequent science. “Lysenkoism” is only the most well-known example of this. But if one leaves thing at a vague, general level, then there is a danger that what is presented as Marxism remains at the level of platitudes: everything real is material, history develops through contradictions, etc.

For some Marxists, Georg Lukács counts as the one who cut the Gordian knot. Even if some individual results of Marx’s theory proved to be false, according to Lukács, his “method” remained: maintaining “materialist dialectic” as a research method was supposedly the core of “orthodox Marxism.” Even disregarding the fact that there is little agreement among Marxists as to what actually constitutes this dialectical method that people so readily speak of, it’s also not any kind of real recommendation for a method to cling to it even if it leads to incorrect results. I’m in no way contesting that there are reasonable concepts of materialism and dialectic. However, I doubt that one can put together the foundations of an ontology or an all-encompassing method from them.

If one cannot offer a substantive determination of Marxism, there always remains the possibility of using the term in a purely descriptive way. Thus, one definition for the keyword “Marxism” is that “Marxism encompasses all practices which in the last 150 years positively, or in the sense of a continuity, refer to the works of Karl Marx as well as the authors and activists who have subsequently referred to Marx.” A few sentences later, there is talk of the “harassment of Marxism at the hands of Stalinism and Fascism.” Apparently, Stalinism is not counted as part of Marxism, although it definitely positively referred to “the works of Karl Marx,” and most contemporaries never doubted that Stalinism was part of Marxism, among them not a few critical spirits, such as Ernst Bloch. If one retroactively excludes Stalinism from Marxism, understood in a descriptive sense, then one proceeds in a manner no different from Stalin, who also attempted to erase those who fell out of grace from historical records and old photographs.

The fact that it’s not easy for Marxists to determine what “Marxism” actually is, is also Marx’s fault. One has to admit, he didn’t make it easy for them. His work consists not only of a number of texts that he published, but also numerous manuscripts that were unpublished in his lifetime. All of the fundamental theoretical projects that Marx pursued remained unfinished. Unpublished manuscripts such as the “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts” of 1844 or the omnibus from 1845/46 that became known as “The German Ideology” are unfinished and fragmentary. Many of the published texts are either provisional summaries, such as the “Communist Manifesto” of 1848, or are part of unfinished projects such as the first book of the “Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy” (1859) or the first volume of “Capital.” (1867/1872) Political analyses such as the 18th Brumaire (1852) or “The Civil War in France” (1871) deal comprehensively with their respective topics, but the theory of the state and politics that Marx aspired to are touched upon only implicitly and incompletely. Marx not only left behind one unfinished project, he left behind a number of unfinished projects. No wonder that the discussion of these projects, their respective range, their gaps, and their relationship to each other has provided rich material for debate, and still does.

Furthermore, Marx’s posthumous works were only published little by little (and are still being published). Every generation of readers was confronted with a different oeuvre of Marx, and on multiple occasions in the 20th Century, it was proclaimed that now – finally – one would get to know the real Marx. However, the posthumous works were usually strongly revised by the respective editors before publication. That was already the case for the second and third volumes of “Capital” published by Engels, and it’s even more so the case for the “Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts” and “The German Ideology” published in the 1920s and 1930s. The texts of Marx and Engels were published for the first time completely and without such editorial interventions in the second “Marx Engels Gesamtausgabe” (MEGA) published since 1975, but at the moment only half of it abides.

In the historical development of the various Marxisms, however, the texts of Marx and Engels play a limited role anyway. Early on, people were satisfied with a few striking formulations, such as that about history always being a “history of class struggles”, or of “communism” as “the real movement that abolishes the present state of things.” The contexts in which Marx made these statements, and how they might have been modified by later developments of Marx’s theory – were of less interest. For Marxism, Marx was not interesting as a thinker who was constantly learning and developing his theoretical conceptions, but rather as somebody who produced final truths – “Marxism.”

Many modern, enlightened Marxists also maintain a certain distance toward an exact engagement with Marx’s work. Frequently, it is emphasized that one does not wish to “conduct philology,” but rather deal with Marx politically. Not infrequently, however, the distancing from philology serves primarily the goal of maintaining undisturbed one’s own notion of Marx’s theory and Marxism. If, for example, one refers with regard to the concept of praxis in the Theses on Feuerbach, which many regard as the central concept of Marx’s theory, to the specific context of the debate with Feuerbach and the Young Hegelians, which robs the Theses on Feuerbach of their status as a foundational document, or if one emphasizes that in the case of the “Communist Manifesto,” Marx’s actual engagement with capitalism begins afterward and even rejects some of the theses of the manifesto, then one does not make many friends. The same is the case if one notes that not every statement in “Capital” is carved in stone, that for example there are indications that in the 1870s, Marx might have regarded more critically the “law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall” formulated in the 1864/65 manuscript of the third volume of Capital. Then this is all decidedly too much “philology.”

Again, to be clear: the fact that the critique of capitalism is not exhausted in philology is banal. However, the fact that if one wishes to work with Marx’s concepts, one has to first appropriate them critically and not just in a superficial textbook manner, is just as banal. But more often than not, it is precisely such a critical appropriation that is lacking.

One final point: among critical social scientists, and in particular the Assoziation für kritische Gesellschaftsforschung [Association for Critical Social Research – translator’s note], Michel Foucault enjoys a certain popularity. His analyses of the relationship between power and knowledge are enthusiastically referred to. However, Marxists – even the modern, undogmatic ones – have a hard time conceiving of Marxism as just such a power-knowledge complex. At the conference organized by the AkG, Marxism as a means of domination was not a topic of discussion.

It was discussed with regard to Marxism in the GDR. But it’s not just Stalinism and the history of authoritarian communist parties that belong to this topic, where the history of Marxism is always also a history of exclusion and domination. In left groups and in university seminars in the West, the supposed certainties of “Marxism” also produced numerous demarcations between that which was considered “still” or already “no longer” Marxist, what was included or excluded from discourses and social practices.

Even if some would like to think so, the microphysics of power do not stop where (western) Marxism begins. The “short summer of academic Marxism” (Elmar Altvater) that existed in West German universities in the 1970s, and which some still miss, was to a large extent a pseudo-prosperity which rested upon discursive effects of power. In order to demonstrate that one was cutting edge, one knew – regardless of what the topic was – to at least throw in a short reference to “the contradiction between use value and exchange value.” A lot of analyses of Marx’s theory and subsequent contributions building upon it were composed in this period that are worth reading, but also a huge amount of nonsense.

Marx himself, in any case, did not seek final certainties. He was far more interested in the critical business of undermining certainties in order to open up new spaces for thought and action – in which it’s not immediately clear what the correct result will be.

In contrast to the “Marxism” that Marx rejected, with its identity-defining certainties, this critical, unfinished Marx has an extremely stimulating and subversive effect. Which of his analyses and concepts are useful, what can help to change the world, and what can’t, is not fixed for all time. One will always have to constantly discuss and make new judgements: “De omnibus dubitandum.”

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