“We concluded that the current period is one of “resistance,” not one of “revolution.” We thought that the main work of revolutionaries at such times should be to build resistance fights. These fights would build power and consciousness in oppressed communities. But revolutionaries must design and craft this ‘resistance work’ so as to help lay the foundation for the long-term development of a revolutionary movement. As ‘conscious forces,’ we thought that revolutionaries should work intentionally to help the resistance movement mature into a revolutionary one.”
Reclaiming Revolution, by S.T.O.R.M.
S.T.O.R.M.’s analysis in this case is fundamentally sound, but it offers little insight on what this “resistance work” is. What makes this “resistance work” different from the work of revolutionary movement? Or, as A. Weaver pointed out, since the spark for the Spanish Revolution was defense against the Fascists, does that mean that the Spanish revolution was “resistance work” or, as I call it, a defense movement?
First, we must understand what makes a moment revolutionary or not. It is a fundamental question on analyzing the material conditions of a period in history. The predilection of some crude Marxists to make history the agent of revolution is as problematic as the view that equate the revolutionary process to an explosive voluntarism, with will alone becoming this overwhelming passion that would bring down the State apparatus. Revolution is the convergence of certain material conditions in society and the will of those historical agents who act in that situation.
It would be preposterous to claim an exact formula with which we can determine if the moment we live in is a revolutionary one or not. Much of that analysis is made in hindsight, and tends to be heavily influence by a perceived victory or defeat, for example, the late-sixties were not a revolutionary period because they did bore a revolution. However, a particular factor that we must always take into account is the power of the alternative institutions of the class in a confrontation with the status quo. Without powerful and vibrant institutions that channel the collective power of the class, and rival in power and influence the power of the State, true revolution is impossible. That situation, referred to as dual power, is far away from our reality – which means no matter the material conditions we are not faced with a revolutionary situation but with a reactionary one.
Moreover, the power and the institutions of the class directly influence the material conditions of their time period. If we accept that as part of our analysis, then the question becomes how do we move from this reactionary situation into a revolutionary one; and if we understand the need of building the collective power and the alternative institutions of the class, then our route is clear. We must work to build the consciousness and the institutions of the class. That’s the work of the revolutionary today.
Gramsci’s theory of war of position and war of maneuver refer to how we understand revolution: as a process of change or an explosive moment. As a process of change, as a protracted struggle, the revolutionary process is not a direct, straight line to communism. It is a pained, back-and-forth struggle between the State apparatus and the institutions of the people.
Fair enough. The concept of war of maneuver helps us comprehend the basic dynamics of the process of change; it brings to the fore the question of the role of the ideological field of class-struggle and how, in a very vague way, we move from the ideological state we are in to the ideological state we want to be in.
But for me, many questions, crucial questions, remain unanswered. More importantly for this discussion, what is the practical actions that need to be taken by the active group of revolutionaries to move the historical process forward? It is not a question around the role of social movements or the class, but what is the role of the conscious revolutionaries aiming at a revolutionary reconstruction of society?
Gramsci tried to address that in “The Modern Prince”, but his analysis is a vague reassertion of the Leninist argument for the party of professional revolutionaries. He differs from Lenin on that Gramsci view a bigger role for the organic intellectual of the class in the party than Lenin, who views the socialist consciousness as having to be brought in from outside of the class. Its a very limited and elitist view that has brought us already enough bitter fruits in the past.
Anarchists historically held the view that the role of the conscious revolutionaries, whether they originate inside the class or outside of it, is that of agitators or catalysts. They do not wish to have the people “be forced to be free” as Rousseau would have it, but have “people to free themselves” like Malatesta would say. Not to downplay other differences, bu this may be the seminal difference between the anarchist revolutionary organization and the Leninist party.
Since we do not believe that people need to be led to the revolution by the party, we have been accused of “spontaneism” by Marxists. Yet, anarchists that do not believe in spontaneism and aim at a structured approach to the anarchist involvement in the social movement tend to be derided as Marxists or bolsheviks. One group of anarchist that suffered the most of these kind of accusation were the members of the Dielo Trouda group, and more specifically, Nestor Makhno and Piotr Arshinov.
Criticism of their personal acts notwithstanding, the group’s “Organizational Platform of the General Union of Anarchists (Draft)” talks about the role of the anarchist revolutionary organization – the wrestle for the “leadership of ideas” inside the popular movements. The idea of leadership of ideas is left vague and has been a place of criticism against the Platform. It is however, a crucial component of an anarchist revolutionary strategy. It is not about imposition of anarchist views on social movements, but about arguing for anarchistic values inside them.
Social movements, to remain healthy and vibrant, must be politically open. They must be a reflection of “the-class-for-itself”, a collective with understanding of their needs and aspirations and ready to fight for it. Movements cannot be monoliths attached to one political ideology or another – even when they subscribe to one political ideology, tend to have different interpretations of said ideology. That is the nature of social movements because they enhance the best in their participants – critical thinking, challenging authority and sense of individual and collective power. Solidarity and discipline are not enemies of democracy, but many times leftists tend to see dissent as a quality to be squashed. I mean, it’s all and good to challenge the boss, but never challenge the party line.
Conformity is the death of any social movement. When it gets stuck between the five “brilliant ideas” of their “glorious leaders”, movements not only reproduce the structure of the State but they also miss out on a plethora of solutions to the problems they face that could come from the active participation of their members.
The question then is what is the relationship between a organization of revolutionaries and these social movements? Lenin’s conception of the vanguard party ascribed to the organization of revolutionaries the role of a tough-love teacher – to bring socialism from without to the social movements and stir them to the path by grace or by might. It assumed an asymmetric relationship of knowledge and aspirations between the working classes and the upper classes and saw it as immutable. Therefore, the ideology of socialism as developed by the enlightened intelligentsia must be followed by the working classes:
Hence, to belittle the socialist ideology in any way, to turn aside from it in the slightest degree means to strengthen bourgeois ideology. There is much talk of spontaneity. But the spontaneous development of the working-class movement leads to its subordination to bourgeois ideology, to its development along the lines of the Credo programme; for the spontaneous working-class movement is trade-unionism, is Nur-Gewerkschaftlerei, and trade unionism means the ideological enslavement of the workers by the bourgeoisie. Hence, our task, the task of Social-Democracy, is to combat spontaneity, to divert the working-class movement from this spontaneous, trade-unionist striving to come under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social Democracy. The sentence employed by the authors of the Economist letter published in Iskra, No. 12, that the efforts of the most inspired ideologists fail to divert the working-class movement from the path that is determined by the interaction of the material elements and the material environment is therefore tantamount to renouncing socialism.
V.I. Lenin – What Is To Be Done
The Platform’s concept of the leadership of ideas has been likened to a Leninist vanguard, but if not from malice, the argument seems to come from a place of half-knowledge. Any ideological group seeks a leadership of ideas in its field – be they religious, scientific or political. Those who are passionate about their ideas want to share them. That anarchists should try to have a leadership of ideas – make their ideas prominent, even dominant inside movements. It is however, paramount that anarchists fight for the democratic process and spirit of movements at all times. We, who wish that “the people liberate themselves”, must advocate for and defend the elements of social movements that foster the realization of people as full human beings – critical thinkers, anti-authoritarian, self-confident human beings. This cannot happen without real space for dissent and debate inside the movements, for people to organize themselves in ways that may not be the desired ones by anarchist organizers.
One thing we must be aware is that challenging “what people want” is a fundamental part of organizing, however. The role of the anarchist organizer is to challenge the preconceptions of what is possible, of the one single way of doing things, and shatter the paradigms set on by capitalist society. That is the line that needs to be wlked on all the time – fostering critical thinking and respecting dissent in one hand, and offering critique and challenging attitudes that come from the bourgeois ideology. To expect that people “already know everything” is naive and self-deceptive. People can see only inside the paradigm that have been reared in. But for that to become a excuse to destroy dissent will never bring the liberation of the working-classes.
In that context, we must understand leadership of idea as a struggle for hegemony between authoritarianism and self-actualization – between the values of obedience and critical thought. The left tends to charge at people with what to think, but it is often scared of thought. The leadership of anarchist ideas is the leadership of the ideas of socialism, solidarity and freedom in the broad sense, and the ideas of direct democracy and critical involvement by working people.
We believe that direct democracy and critical thinking are indigenous to every popular movement and that it is obedience and hierarchy that are brought from without. But those seeds are planted in people’s mind way before any particular organization tries to strangle the movement. That being the case, the anarchist organization must seek to raise the questions and to challenge those authoritarian and hierarchical tendencies.
I know I barely said much in this post, but it is enormous as it is, and I’ve been working on it for a long time. I’ll just post this here now and get back to it.