"If you remained isolated, if each one of you were
obliged to act on their own, you would be powerless without a doubt; but
getting together and organising your forces - no matter how weak they are
at first - only for joint action, guided by common ideas and attitudes, and by
working together for a common goal, you will become invincible."
- Mikhail Bakunin
Collective Action is an association of anarchist communists based in Britain. We see anarchist communism as an engaged tradition of working class socialism and our theory is informed by both our experience and our continuing participation in social struggles. Our project is to re-visit our political tradition, re-group and re-kindle our political action. We want to investigate more concretely how the tradition of anarchist communism, with which we identify, faces the challenges of the 21st century in a country located at the centre of the system of global capitalist hegemony. This focus on regroupment is complimented with the aim of practising and developing the approaches we advocate through our conduct as both militants and members of Collective Action.
The following are brief reaffirmations of our views within our project as they currently exist. They will be added to and amended throughout the process of regroupment.
The essential structure of our society is divided into a privileged minority and a dominated and exploited majority. The relationship between these two divided classes is complex. In the simplest terms, the dominated and exploited majority (the working class) have no ownership over the means and tools necessary to produce their own survival. The only thing we (as the working class) control is our ability to work, and we must sell this ability to the privileged majority (the ruling class) - who have full ownership over those means and tools - in order for us to buy back the things we produce. This is the logic of capitalism. From our analysis of this logic we identify the centrality of class and class struggle as the principle means of bringing about social change.
Historically the relationship of workers to capitalists can never be justifiably characterised as a simple conflict between employing and employed class interests (although ultimately this is what it boils down to). Institutions, such as the church and the state, the existence of other social classes, such as the managerial class and the peasantry, various cultural and social influences, as well as the economic structure and development of capitalism e.g. colonialism and imperialism, constitute factors that complicate and colour this relationship in various ways.
This is an analysis that cannot be detached from the recent history of capitalist development. Over the last forty years we have witnessed the gradual collapse of a radical, collective working class identity. Neo-liberal reconstruction has resulted in the presentation, both by capitalism and the supposed representatives of the working class, of a more integrated, aspirational and liberalised model of working life. While this has been a global neo-liberal project, the particular manifestation of this in the UK, represented most strongly in state reforms and the economic adjustments since the late 1970s, reflects real material changes in class composition. The engineering of home ownership, reliance on debt, the cultural promotion of the individual as consumer, as well as moves to create a post-industrial economy, are all examples of this. While currently capitalism faces crisis - economically, socially and environmentally - there has been no re-affirmation of working class values - of equality, autonomy and dignity - when they are most needed.
Anarchist communism faces a crisis of social influence in this context.
As social anarchists we identify hierarchy as a central tool for the continuing power of social elites, as well as a mechanism for the continued reproduction of capitalistic social relations. We therefore object to the division of society on the grounds of class, race, gender, sexuality, nationality and ability and recognise that building unity through this diversity is a critical part of realising our collective freedom.
As libertarian communists we advocate the abolition of the state, capitalism and its institutions in favour of the common ownership of social wealth organised via horizontal networks of voluntary associations and workers’ councils. We believe that a truly free and just society should be based on a gift economy with the guiding principle, “from each according to their ability, to each according to their need”.
This is anarchist communism.
The class system of capitalism is inherently violent. We have witnessed through history the violent methods and measures taken by states to defend the privilege and power of the ruling class. In all instances where the working class have demanded social change it has been met with utter contempt as well as brute force. Therefore we must accept that through our struggles, and with our ultimate objective to create an anarchist communist society, it will be necessary to defend ourselves against the violence of the state.
In some instances workers may take a more pro-active role fomenting insurrection against the state to promote their interests. We recognise this as an important dimension to social struggle, but defend only acts that have a mass, social character and are rooted in a popular move towards communist reconstruction.
Immediate gains can also be won through direct action and self-organisation and we support and encourage this, however, the only meaningful guarantee of our goals is through social revolution.
Anarchist communism has as its basis the idea of mutual aid, autonomy and self-organisation of the community. Revolution can never therefore come via the directives of revolutionary vanguards or the re-organisation of the state apparatus.
The dominant social relationships established through hierarchical society are expressed through the relationship of human society to nature. Nature is increasingly seen as a resource, object or raw material to be exploited. We argue that environmental destruction and unsustainable models of social development are rooted in the problems created by the hierarchical organisation of society and unequal distribution of its resources and not, as some ecologists argue, the levels of technological development or population growth.
Capitalism has worsened the problematic relationship of humanity to nature. The drive for capital to over-produce and expand markets into areas where none currently exist has lead to ever more intensive use of resources. The result is the production of commodities on a scale that is not even desired, let alone necessary for our survival and collective comfort. Capitalism has strengthened the idea of nature simply as “natural resource” by excluding the costs, and consequences, of environmental destruction within the pricing mechanism. Capitalists are free to extract resources, exploit and even devastate ecologies with little financial repercussion. Imperialism, colonialism and contemporary globalisation have ensured that this has happened on a scale unprecedented in human history. The result is that our relationship with nature now even threatens our survival on a global scale in the form of global warming.
We believe that the anarchist principles of mutual aid need to be extended to our relationship with the environment. We believe it is essential to study and develop better ways of putting into practice the complex inter-relationship of human society to ecology. We also recognise capitalism as a primary obstacle to the development of genuinely renewable and sustainable models of living. While capitalism may occasionally choose to present a “green face,” the logic that drives the system is still one of environmental destruction, and ecological concerns are ultimately always secondary to the profit motive. As anarchists we voice particular concerns for even a “green” capitalist state which will undoubtedly be authoritarian. This is both in terms of the need to manage the social unrest arising from the effects of global warming while also “offsetting” the lifestyles of the elites by increasingly excluding the poor from consumption. The cause of social ecology is, therefore, inseparable from the need for social revolution.
Unions - trade and syndicalist, reformist and revolutionary
At the most basic level a union is the organisation of workers for a common interest/goal. Historically, unions have been important expressions of working class organisation, fighting for and winning concessions in working hours, pay and conditions. Things that many of us take for granted today. Even in the present context of capitalism, unions are relevant, since they express their power at the point of production, having the hypothetical ability to affect the reproduction of commodities and in turn the very basis of capitalism: Profit.
As capitalism has developed it has succeeded in creating effective responses to the threats that unions pose. Capitalists have sought to accommodate models of unionism that integrate the working class into capitalism, forcing them to accept the logic of the class system. This has resulted in the establishment of (bourgeois) reformist trade unions. These unions limit the aims of workers, hamper their ability to self-organise and unify across sectors, racial and gender divides. Trade unions control their members via an organisational hierarchy/bureaucracy and, as a result, will frequently discipline combative and autonomous sections of their membership. The organisation of trade unions mirrors the hierarchies and dominant structures of capitalist society and is at odds with anarchist communist goals of an autonomous and self-organising workers’ movement. Trade unions are developed as a tool for the negotiation of conditions within capitalism and, therefore, cannot play a part in popularising anti-capitalist ideas and methods.
In contemporary terms trade unions, following the logic of operation within the confines set by capitalists, have taken on an increasingly defensive and reactionary posture. The ideology of de-classification that has accompanied the ascension of capitalist realism has been reproduced in the trade unions. Trade unions increasingly represent a minority, privileged section of the working class in the UK, promote a service-orientated model of membership and offer little to the majority of un-organised/unemployed workers in the UK. This is while they continue to be dominated by authoritarian-left and even right-wing elements that see the trade union model as consistent with their statist aims.
We do not accept the argument that anarchist influence in the workplace needs to be mediated via the trade unions. This is while we do affirm our support and solidarity for the most militant and combative sections of the class, whatever position they may develop from.
Historically anarchist communists have recognised revolutionary syndicalism/anarcho-syndicalism as an important tool for the development of working class self-organisation. Syndicalism seeks to unite workers on an economic basis , promoting principles of mutual aid, solidarity, direct action and grassroots democracy to achieve this. Syndicalism rejects the class collaborationist model of trade unionism and promotes explicitly anti-capitalist aims. We perceive a degree of unity between these practices and the broad aims of social anarchism. In certain circumstances syndicalism can provide us with a tool for both the injecting of anti-capitalist ideas into the workers’ struggle as well as the methods to mobilise workers for mass action on day-to-day issues.
We do not hold to the anarcho-syndicalist model that it is necessary to dissolve anarchist ideas and practices entirely into the social arena. We argue that a specifist anarchist organisation is an essential point of continuity for the anarchist tradition as social struggles ebb and flow, and popular initiatives gain and lose influence. We also find ourselves in agreement with the analysis of Errico Malatesta - that the needs of social revolution and communist reconstruction will demand a break of structure from even the most revolutionary of unions. We also recognise the potential danger of syndicalist unions becoming incorporated into the system of capitalist management.
As a result , where syndicalist/anarcho-syndicalist unions do exist, and our members are active, we believe it is our role to promote and fight for social anarchist principles and tactics, with a commitment to those approaches on which we perceive a basis of unity.
Contrary to other European states, syndicalism/anarcho-syndicalism has not retained the same popular influence in the UK and is currently only a growing minority tendency within the labour movement. We do, however, recognise the methods of syndicalism - of the mass meeting, of the horizontal organisation of people around common economic interest, of direct action and shop floor democracy - as useful tools regardless of the presence of an organised union. Moreover, we recognise this in contexts outside of the workplace, seeing these methods as necessary within all grassroots struggles, such as claimants groups, poverty coalitions (and “direct action casework” groups), LGBTQ and feminist initiatives.
National Liberation and Nation States
A “nation” refers to a community of people who share a common language, culture, ethnicity, descent or history. In recent history this understanding has become intermingled with the notion of sovereignty (political control) over a particular territory. This is expressed as a “nation state”. The “nation state” is intrinsically linked to the development of capitalism and is an important instrument of social control. It has specific historical roots in the Europe of the 16th century and has been shaped and created over the last 500 years by tribal, religious and cultural identity and consolidated through the class system. The nation state and its creation do not represent a “natural” division of peoples but is a political tool tied to the interests of wealth and power.
By presenting people in a particular region as a distinct and separate unit, and in presenting those who are not as “other,” race and national identity fulfil a key ideological role within the capitalist system. Internationally the working class share common interests, which they do not share with those in power. As a result of this conflict between those who work and those who control, is an inevitable - necessary - outcome of capitalism. It is this conflict which race and national identity obscure, replacing it with the myth of the “national interest” and other false conflicts which are exploited by capitalists to expand their control over markets and resources.
States are, by their nature, expansionist, seeking to promote the position of their domestic elites against a global network of competing states and territories. The “advancement” of Western nation states, in particular, bears the legacy of decades of exploitation of global resources via slavery, the subordination of indigenous peoples, colonialism and imperialism. These are positions of privilege which are still maintained by the global institutions of neo-liberal hegemony - the IMF, World Bank and others - which ensure that “under-developed” states conform to existing patterns of global exploitation.
Anarchist communism is an internationalist tradition and has a rich history of organising across, and against, borders. Historically, anarchist communists have also involved themselves in the struggle against the projection of specific national and cultural interests - racism, colonialism and imperialism - and the struggles of indigenous and native peoples against subordination. We support the struggle against imperialism, colonialism, racism and all forms of oppression rooted in the concept of the “nation state.” However, we reject “national liberation” - the establishment or consolidation of new nation states - as a vehicle through which to do this. National liberation, like the ideology of the nation more broadly, argues that there is a common interest across class lines within a geographic region. This is not the case.
The history of the struggle for national liberation shows that this usually means nothing more than a changing of face within the political class. When a foreign power is removed a new native bourgeoisie take control, members of which have usually been educated in Western universities and share Western hegemonic views on political and economic organisation. Even in supposedly “anti-Imperialist” states, such as Cuba or Venezuela, it is impossible to break the reliance on global markets dominated by Western interests. In fact in many cases, despite their rhetoric, elites will actively court foreign interests. The Venezuelan government, for example, relies on the sale of oil to global markets at the expense of domestic ecological devastation and is guaranteed through violent anti-union activity. Cuban officials likewise court Western tourist operators as an essential source of state revenue, reinforcing old colonial inequalities while creating new ones such as “sex tourism.” Even in the case of the anti-imperialist struggle in Palestine, where a state is yet to be internationally recognised, the movements still mirror the elitist practices of the nation state that disguise the interests of a political class, in the case of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), and a religious leadership in the case of Hamas, which comes at the expense of working class Palestinians.
In the UK the issue of national autonomy is associated with Irish, Scottish and Welsh independence and, to a lesser extent, the regionalist politics of Cornwall and Yorkshire. Nationalists present themselves as progressive alternatives to the dominance of Westminster politics and argue that a nation state can help preserve cultural autonomy. This, however, ignores the fact that the projection of state power is not simply institutional but also economic and cultural. Consider, for example, the dominance of North American cultural products over the majority of the globe. Like any political class, however progressive they may seek to present themselves, they are ultimately subject to the disciplining mechanisms of the global market - in the form of de-investment, capital flight and, at an extreme, military intervention - and, as a result, can never promote an alternative to the present social system.
International class struggle is one of the key tools of the working class with which to fight the systems of exploitation and oppression we collectively face. Solidarity should be built across borders aiming to show our common interests across a diversity of cultures. Domestically we stand beside and seek to defend the struggles of migrants, marginalised and minority groups that are subject to the racist policies of the state.
The Revolutionary Left
Historically, leftist organisations and traditions have claimed to speak on behalf of working class interests. In reality these organisations only present an alternative version of capitalism, in some cases worse than the conditions under which workers currently live. These traditional left ideas and organisations promote the belief that centralised political authority i.e. the state, can be a tool to create communism. This analysis ignores the fundamental nature of capitalist social relations and the role the state has in perpetuating them.
The centralisation of political authority i.e. a state, requires subordination to it and to the "centre" (a central committee or central government for example), dominated by a political elite, whose role is to ensure the continued hegemony of the state’s control (centralised political authority). The revolutionary left will claim that the state’s purpose is to maintain a defence of the revolution at all costs. In order to maintain and operate this process a bureaucracy or civil service must emerge. Over a period of time, this bureaucratic minority becomes entrenched within its role, in the course of which, actual expressions of workers’ power are recuperated because they cannot exist simultaneously if the state is to maintain and defend itself. The bureaucracy cannot allow workers’ collectives organising areas of land and industry independently of their centralised political authority; or maintaining military militias separate to a centralised army, otherwise the state’s power is undermined. It is therefore not possible to have the emergence of workers’ councils in work places and the creation of workers’ militias that express their own political power if centralised political authority exists. The two will always come into conflict.
This contradiction will always exist. Real workers’ democracy can only be expressed when political authority is decentralised, directly managed horizontally and economic ownership placed into the hands of the working class. This is the point when workers are truly in control. That process has to begin during the development of social struggle, even before the moment of revolution. If we allow the centralisation of political authority and the emergence of a bureaucracy, we will lose the ability to express true workers freedom, except that mandated by those controlling a structure, the specific role of which is to defend and perpetuate itself
Even in contemporary terms, revolutionary leftist groups and individuals will integrate themselves into existing positions of power, e.g. acting as trade union bureaucrats or running in local elections, stifling the individual initiative of workers, encouraging accommodation and compromise with the state and sowing illusions in liberal capitalism. These activities are often associated with efforts to isolate elements that are critical to them, undermining efforts for direct democracy.
We recognise as pro-revolutionary, and will co-operate with, only those currents that seek to promote the autonomous and self-organising actions of the working class at the expense of capital and the state.
We identify anarchist communism as a political current with its roots in the federalist, anti-authoritarian sections of the First International. This has been a global tradition present in the revolutions and social upheavals of the past century.
Noteworthy examples include the Nabat (Nabat Confederation of Anarchist Organisations) during the Ukrainian revolution, the FAI (Anarchist Federation of Iberia) and later “Friends of Durruti” group in the period leading up to and during the Spanish Revolution and Ricardo Flores Magón’s Mexican Liberal Party before and during the Mexican revolution.
In contemporary terms we believe this particular tradition to be best represented by the specifist conception of social anarchism. This is a conception of anarchism with which we actively identify. Specifism can be summarised as:
- The need for specifically anarchist organisation built around a unity of ideas and praxis.
- The use of the specifically anarchist organization to theorise and develop strategic political and organisational work.
- Active participation in and building of autonomous and popular social movements via involvement and influence ("social insertion").
We consider an important aspect of specifism to be the idea of “recapturing the social vector of anarchism,” i.e. re-inserting anarchism as a current of popular organisation within social struggles.
While the UK lacks an equivalent indigenous tradition of organisational anarchism to that of continental Europe or Latin America, it is possible to identify organisations such as the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation, the Industrial Syndicalist Education League, the Shop Stewards Committees, even the Communist Party (British section of the Third International) and other such organisations as evidence of a popular libertarian current lost to the contemporary workers’ movement. It is with knowledge of this that we seek the “recapturing” of a social vector of libertarian organisation, in our case the anarchist communist current of libertarianism, as a principle aim.
While it is true that many of the popular initiatives of the present period have had an anarchist orientation in their methods and practices, and we consider this a validation of our approach, we also perceive a disconnect between the tradition of our ideas and the identity and ideology of these activists - anarchism as a tradition of working class militancy.
Tactical and Theoretical Unity - Moving Forward Together
As an organisation we operate under principles of tactical and theoretical unity, collective responsibility and expectations of a level of commitment from our membership. We identify lack of commitment, responsibility and self-discipline as a continuing problem for anarchist groups and organisations. In this sense we find ourselves in agreement with the sentiments expressed by Errico Malatesta that, “it is better to be disunited than badly united.”
As an organisation we prioritise decision-making that gives more importance to collective deliberation than individual points of view or subjective experiences. In recent years it has been a preference of many anarchist groups and organisations to favour “Consensus Decision Making.” However we believe that Consensus Decision Making is too individualising in that it hinges on how individuals "feel" about a decision, when decision-making should be critical, collective and collaborative. Consensus Decision Making, contrary to its stated aims of developing collective positions while protecting minorities, also creates a culture where debate and disagreement are not celebrated and used for theoretical development and internal education, but seen as obstacles to an immediate goal - producing consensus.
The relationship of the individual to the organisation is intrinsically tied to their role as a participant within an association of individuals with shared goals. We believe that the above concerns extend from the original anarchist principle, elaborated by Mikhail Bakunin, that “the other’s freedom, far from being a limitation or denial of my freedom, is, on the contrary, its necessary condition and confirmation.” We, therefore, consider it consistent with anarchist principles to commit to an equitable delegation of tasks, a unity of ideas through the education of members and a proportional relationship between participation, responsibility and deliberation within the association. All of which are measures that empower ourselves (as individuals) and improve our collective efforts (as an organisation).
We feel a close affinity to the ideas and organisational practices emerging as a part of the Anarkismo project - a product of the international co-operation of anarchist organisations and individuals within the anarchist communist or specifist tradition of anarchism. We have certain reservations concerning the Editorial Statement on the issue of the role of militants within the economic organisations of the working class. These are the source of ongoing debate and clarification amongst ourselves and representatives of Anarkismo.
Details on how to become involved in Collective Action are available here.