In Britain, something like 40% of the working class as a whole, and an estimated 60% of the unskilled and unemployed working class do not vote at all. In local elections the figures rise dramatically until frequently only a minority bother to vote in solid working class districts. This refusal to participate in the 'democratic' fraud is labelled 'apathetic' by middle class commentators of left and right rather than a positive rejection of false alternatives. And yet, despite the physical expressions of revolt by the most alienated sections of the working class in recent years, it remains unable to effectively challenge the dominant class.
Because of the lack of continuity in the revolutionary movement, each new generation of the working class repeats the errors of the old; where working class solidarity is continually reduced to defence of the unions and support for 'untainted' left-socialism - in the '30's, '40's and '60's significant (and on occasions, majority) sections of the working class placed their future in the hands of the Labour Party - which inevitably results in feelings of betrayal and disillusion when their 'socialist leaders' defend capitalism against the interests of the working class.
It is the failure of the revolutionary movement that the lessons of history have not been driven home and the only solution to bourgeois domination been understood or even properly explained: that the working class must organise - as a class, and not fragmented interest groups - in total opposition to bourgeois interests and organisations which exist only to perpetuate the capitalist system and their own class privileges.
For all the theoretical Anarchist writings of the last 100 years or so, except for specific periods of social upheaval (where necessity dictates the course of action) we have never been able to sustain an overall strategic campaign against capitalism and the state. We rush here and there, filling in gaps in the ideological dyke; reacting to each bourgeois attack rather than developing the critique of bourgeois society as a whole, and challenging it as a class!
The frequently perceived clash of interests between different groups of workers (skilled-unskilled, men-women, black-white) or single issue campaigns (nuclear weapons, ecology, etc.) become topically all-embracing as the forum of struggle for a year or two, supported by the liberal wing of the bourgeoisie for whom any division within the ranks of the proletariat is wholeheartedly endorsed and encouraged.
To debate, and attempt to oppose, in isolation, the quite obvious fact that black workers are often in worse housing than white workers, or that women workers suffer a higher rate of exploitation than male workers is for revolutionaries a pointless exercise, for our object is to destroy capitalism and not reform the (perhaps) more glaring iniquities. This is not to deny that we should constantly struggle to improve our conditions, but not to construct an ideology around a specific example of capitalist oppression.
Historically, anarchist influence within the class has been strengthened by a recognition of its uncompromising class antagonism towards the bourgeoisie and their collaborators, coupled with courageous resistance to all oppression; it is time these qualities were re-kindled in the consciousness of the working class. It can be no coincidence that our influence has waned parallel to the upsurge of militant liberalism masquerading as anarchism. To many people, anarchism has become synonymous with a myriad of crank causes from 'pacifism' to 'animal liberation'. Our primary function as propagandists and resistance fighters has been obscured in the welter of self-righteous and patronising garbage epitomised by Freedom or the irrelevant self-indulgence of the various 'anarchist' punk papers and magazines.
Anarchists are not disciples of some obscure religious sect waiting for the second coming, nor are we a monastic order weeping amidst the philistines; our role is not to be a moral elite waiting for some reaction from the 'masses', but an active movement within the class providing the base for an autonomous working class organised along anarchist principles. "…(the role/object)… must be not to create an artificial force outside the people, but to arouse, unite and organise spontaneous popular forces…" (Bakunin: Letter to Nechaev, 1870). To achieve this goal of being an active and influential movement we must organise on a nation-wide and coherent basis or be reconciled to being an ineffectual collection of individuals and tiny groups. No organisational form can be imposed on the revolutionary anarchist movement, but it is becoming increasingly obvious that some kind of national organisation capable of instigating and co-ordinating resistance to capital's attacks on the working class is essential.
Previous attempts to organise nationally have foundered because of a lack of clarity of what constitutes a viable organising base and confusion about collective objectives. Attempts to reconcile revolutionary class struggle anarchism with groups and individuals whose analysis of capitalism is seriously flawed, and whose aims are fundamentally in opposition to our own, (despite their description of themselves as some variation of anarchist) have resulted in pointless dialogue with uncommitted and reformist elements, as well as the inevitable dilution within the organisation. It is time to reject the worse than useless alliances with pacifists, ecologists, feminists, and all the other variations of militant liberalism as the divisive mystifications that they are.
On the other hand, previous class-struggle organisations have failed because of a steady drift towards neo-Trotskyist centralism with a party line dressed up as 'aims and principles' (typified by the Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists - O.R.A. and Anarchist Workers Association - A.W.A. in the 1970's).
A national anarchist organisation can declare no 'correct path' for social revolution, it cannot be a single group with a holy writ of 'aims and principles' etched in stone tablets, but a federation of fully autonomous groups and individuals freely grouped around the single aim of promoting unity of action and mutual aid in the struggle - an organisation capable of guiding and supporting all activities pursued by revolutionary anarchists thus federated. Composed of the most conscientious revolutionaries, its tasks will not be to seize power or assume a vanguard role, but to prevent others from doing so; whilst providing a secure forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences, not as an end in itself, but to translate these ideas and experiences into nation-wide action.
"…We are the most pronounced enemies of every sort of official power - even if it is an ultra-revolutionary power. We are the enemies of any sort of publicly declared dictatorship, we are social revolutionary Anarchist. But, you will ask, if we are anarchist, by what right do we want to influence the people, and what methods will we use? Disowning all power with what sort of power, or rather by what sort of force, shall we direct a peoples' revolution?
By a force that is invisible, that admits and that is not on anyone, by the collective dictatorship of our organisation which will be all the greater the more it remains unseen and undeclared, the more it is deprived of all rights and significance… in the middle of this universal anarchy… a secret organisation, dispersing its members in small groups… but nevertheless firmly united and inspired with a single idea, a single aim, applicable everywhere in different ways according to the circumstances, of course, and acting along the same lines… expressing the very essence of popular instincts, desires and demands in their clear and conscious aims among a crowd of people who would be struggling without any purpose or plan…" (Bakunin: Ibid).
The effectiveness of any national organisation will depend on various conditions:
a) A common understanding of the nature of the enemy.
b) Speedy and secure contact among federated groups.
c) Mutual trust and solidarity.
d) A recognition among federated groups and individuals that we are never hampered by considerations of bourgeois legality and that all effective action against the ruling class will sooner or later become illegal.
e) Although the basis of federation will be the recognition that an autonomous working class is the only class capable, ultimately, with the will, to carry out the social revolution, resistance may take many forms, from industrial struggle, to rioting and armed resistance depending on the circumstances. Federated members must support the validity of all forms of resistance.
Liberal democracy is primarily an exercise in illusion. Repression is minimal because it is largely unnecessary, the capitalist class relies on convincing the exploited class that things are very much as 'nature' intended. Any radical deviation would of course be lunacy.
This ideology is largely successful during periods of capitalist booms while the alienation and powerlessness of the majority of the population is offset by increased financial security (although it is interesting to note, that the financially secure years of the '50's and '60's, saw the explosion of strikes and stoppages over, seemingly, trivial issues - the so-called 'bloody-mindedness' of the British workforce! - as an attempt to relieve the boredom and alienation of their labour and to effect some control over their lives.)
In periods of recession, although fear - of unemployment, sickness, etc., - appears to pacify the working class, the illusion fades and the reality of the conflict between exploiter and exploited becomes more difficult to disguise. Parliamentary democracy is discredited, while the so-called 'workers organisations', (the trade unions) are shown in their true corporate role as managers of the labour force.
Now, more than any other time since the war, the conditions exist to precipitate a loss of control by the bourgeoisie. If the anarchist movement is to exploit these conditions and become an important influence on an insurgent working class, we must cease behaving like dilettantes, and playing at being revolutionaries. It is not enough to campaign (like some charitable pressure group) on abstract principles. The anarchist movement must be involved in every facet of the struggle of the working class; not as participants in events beyond our control, but as an organised nuclei of the working class. We must demonstrate our ability and determination to win, to lead by example. Our actions and propaganda should be a co-ordinated attack on capitalism and its institutions. We cannot do this while we remain a haphazard collection of groups and individuals, united in name only.
From: Anarchy 38, 1984/5.