Rethinking Anarchism

The Proletariat for President

Organizing is very hard work. The tasks themselves are not often that complicated. The hard part is just keeping moving. If you don’t keep moving, the enormity of the task seems overwhelming. What can keep you going?

Saul Alinsky had a saying: “Action is Oxygen.” And direct action is like super-concentrated caffeinated oxygen. When we take direct action, we glimpse the top of the mountain through the trees. We know it’s still far away, but we know we can get there.

Of course, Alinsky was no anarchist. He wasn’t even a socialist. For him the top of the mountain was much closer than it is for us. As Anarchists, our goal is social revolution, the abolition of capitalism and its attendant oppressions: sexism, homophobia, racism, ageism, on and on. We are unique amongst organizers because our road is the longest. We don’t believe in shortcuts or half-measures.

This approach demands a high degree of discipline and determination. There are many temptations. Currently, many on the left have fallen for the temptation of electoral participation. They hope that Barack Obama will do it for us. He won’t, for the simple reason that the emancipation of the workers must be the work of the workers themselves. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be emancipation. The democrats, even the progressives, do not desire the emancipation of humanity from capitalism and the state.

And  yet, we find them as fellow travelers on our path. They walk with us at times, encouraging us to participate in the diversion of electoral campaigns or union staff positions. They even use grassroots organizing for their ends, sometimes dabbling in direct action. Because of this, many Anarchists end up working for them (in all the senses of this word.) The progressives in Minnesota are currently the best-organized political force in the field.

I’ve been thinking a lot of about organizing strategy lately because a number of my friends have been accused of terrorism under the Patriot Act. To fight these charges, and ensure our right to organize, we need support from inside the political arena. In such moments, it’s hard to maintain support for abstentionism. Indeed, at such times I find myself looking for allies amongst the progressive and liberal left. Through grassroots organizing, they have built a base amongst students, professionals, and the petit-bourgeois in general. They have managed to suck working people into their party through union patronage of the Democratic Party. We need the support of these political organizations to avoid being destroyed by the state. We can manipulate divisions amongst the rulers to win our battles, as well.

In the short term, I think these tactics are acceptable and necessary to maintan the right to organize. Bordiga was wrong to advocate for abstention from parliament as Mussolini came to power. Many communists died for this mistake. We need to develop a more sophisticated use of the political system to ensure our right to organize, while building a political subject that needs no allies: the proletariat.

The political strategies used by groups like Wellstone Action, the Obama campaign, and other groups are tools that can be used for any ends. It is incumbent on us to learn to use these tools to bring about social revolution.