Charted and Uncharted Territories: Common Cause and the Role of the Anarchist Organization

By 1 Kitchener-Waterloo member, 1 Toronto member, and 2 Hamilton members

I. On the Question of Organization

The decision by a group of people, no matter how few, to commit themselves to collective and protracted struggle and to reject ‘on the go’ politics, shapes everything that follows.
Grace Lee Boggs (1972), Organization Means Commitment

These days, the phrase “anarchist organization” is widely seen as a contradiction of terms. For those whose opinions of anarchism are shaped by dominant society, this is perfectly understandable. In the crude caricature fashioned by capitalist media depictions and reinforced through popular culture, anarchy is synonymous with chaos, spontaneous violence, and a vicious, Hobbesian state of nature.

However, more pertinent to us is that even within anarchist circles, the idea of an anarchist organization is often seen either as an oxymoron, or more commonly, as an inherently authoritarian structure somewhat akin to a Leninist cult. And as anarchists who have derived considerable practical benefits from our participation in a formally structured organization, we feel that much of this confusion boils down to a misunderstanding of terms and history.

There has always been well-defined distinctions between different types of revolutionary organization. Whereas Marxist-Leninists of various stripes have sought to lead the masses to revolution under the strategic direction of a vanguard party (with the goal of seizing state power for themselves), anarchists have sought to create, through the establishment of specific anarchist organizations, a “vanguard of ideas.” That is, through direct participation in struggle, and through the creation and distribution of revolutionary propaganda, anarchists have historically attempted to provide insight on movements of the class, while popularizing anarchist strategy and tactics. Because specific anarchist organizations yield no kind of authoritative power, nor do they seek to, they rely solely on the strength of their ideas and practice to influence others. read more