Accountability, democracy and authority in anarchism

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gerrardw
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May 4 2007 14:09
Accountability, democracy and authority in anarchism

Hi folks,

Ok, so for a while Ive been getting seriously fucking frustrated with the disorganised character of the anarchist movement.

Im fed up with people never doing what they say theyre going to, or doing stupid shit without any collective discussion/agreement, or collective discussion still basically translating as 'nobody knows whats going on, so do what you want' and with those who do work their arses off becoming (often through no fault of their own) informal leaders and being left to do everything and make proposals and decisions etc. Ok, so I just needed to vent..... sorry! smile

But the point is, it seems to me that there is a severe lack of democracy (bad word maybe, but cant think of better one) and collectivity in many anarchist groups/organisations.

I guess their aint no easy answers to apathy and lack of commitment in our circles, but I wonder if people do have process/structural solutions to some of the other problems?

I mean, for instance, do any anarchistic groups have ways of formally holding members to account? Of making fucking sure that people do what they say they will do? Of kicking people out if they do fuck all?

I guess what Im getting at, is obviously Im against authority from the top, but what about from the bottom? People got suggestions for making our groups function better collectively? Any suggestions for getting people to care and participate more, feel ownership over collective decisions and actually do what is agreed?

Any thoughts appreciated, cheers!

P.S. Sorry if this shoulda been in 'thought', I figured it was practical so I put it here. Thanx.

WeTheYouth
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May 4 2007 14:12

if some people continuously dont do what they said they will, simply refuse them to take on tasks because they did not carry through the former task.

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JoeMaguire
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May 4 2007 14:29

Through our local and industrial networks within SF people who are madated to carry out tasks are and should be held accountable. Generally we have a culture where things get done, but Im not without my criticisms also. But by contrasts to the rest of the anarchists Ive come across we have a very good work ethic. I think firstly you need to ask why are your comrades failing in their tasks? Sometimes this can be simply down to an anti-organisational trend or because they dont appreaciate the goals your pursuing. I think the later attitude is more widespread amoungst bourgeois anarchists. Also they may have personal problems, I have occassionally taken too much on and had to let people down, and also I find that Im less organised than other comrades.

In terms of solutions remember while others are 'free' to fail your or set group tasks, you are free to disassociate from them. Your cant force people into line but you should have mechanisms available for dealing with people who repeatedly dont stick to plans. Co-operation and mutual aid are the cornerstones of anarchism, implying that trust can be helped a long way by how reliable the people your dealing with are.

This always helps

WeTheYouth
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May 4 2007 14:30
october_lost wrote:
Through our local and industrial networks within SF people who are madated to carry out tasks are and should be held accountable. Generally we have a culture where things get done, but Im not without my criticisms also. But by contrasts to the rest of the anarchists Ive come across we have a very good work ethic. I think firstly you need to ask why are your comrades failing in their tasks? Sometimes this can be simply down to an anti-organisational trend or because they dont appreaciate the goals your pursuing. I think the later attitude is more widespread amoungst bourgeois anarchists. Also they may have personal problems, I have occassionally taken too much on and had to let people down, and also I find that Im less organised than other comrades.

In terms of solutions remember while others are 'free' to fail your or set group tasks, you are free to disassociate from them. Your cant force people into line but you should have mechanisms available for dealing with people who repeatedly dont stick to plans. Co-operation and mutual aid are the cornerstones of anarchism, implying that trust can be helped a long way by how reliable the people your dealing with are.

This always helps

I should of wrote something like that, spot on.

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AndrewF
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May 4 2007 14:33

Ideally you have an internal culture where if people say they will do something then 9 times out of 10 then do it and for the 1 time out of 10 where something crops up they get someone else to do it. If this isn't happening then people are not taking themselves or the organisation seriously. This is pretty hard to address so where are some suggestions that are designed to be used to develop such a culture

1. Make sure you do what you said you would and make sure anyone else who thinks there is a problem does the same.
2. Minute taking - record in the minutes who said they would do what. At the beginning of the following meeting read out that section of the minutes and check with them that it has been done. Don't be judgmental if people haven't done stuff - there shouldn't be any need as over time this will be enough for most to get their act together.
3. Require a commitment beyond going to meetings for members of your group. For instance putting a percentage of their income into a common kitty to fund activity. Odds are if they won't do this then they won't be very serious about implementing things.
4. If someone is still not delivering then when they volunteer for stuff suggest they are taking on to much and would be better off volunteering for less stuff but delivering then over committing.
5. If none of this works consider that
a. the group is agreeing to do things that none of the members actually believe are possible or worthwhile
b. the group is trying to do more than the resources it has available allow - prioritise work

gerrardw
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May 6 2007 00:13

Hi folks,

Thanks for replies, but Im not sure....

I mean, I think this all sounds very well-wishing but not very practical. This culture of getting shit done and work ethic is all well and good, and Id love to be in an organisation like that, but if its not there then what (JB - Ill come to yer comments in a sec)?

Ive been in anarchist groups, 'anti-capitalist/anti-authoritarian/pga' type groups and community campaign groups, and Ive seen time and again, people basically being really lazy and apathetic causing the organisation to never fulfill its potential.

I totally agree with the comments about people basically not being happy (in whatever way) with the action being pursued, but surely then this is a problem of the decision making process? I mean, if they aint happy from the beginning, why (in a totally directly democratic collective) dont they say so in discussion, why consent to an action you cant be arsed (for whatever reason - legitimate or not) to then carry out? Surely theres something wrong in an anarchistic group where people arent participating or having their voices heard?

And sorry but "if people dont do tasks, dont give them tasks to do" sounds a bit silly to me. I mean, the point is they aint doing shit and want someone else to do it all for them. So whats the point of doing just that? One person doing everything, while the rest sit on their arses? And that one then becomes the leader, further solidifying the problem of people being alienated from the consequences of decisions they make? Im not sure how that helps?

Co-operation and mutual aid are cornerstones of anarchism. Yeh ok, but what about when nobody gives a shit for yer cooperation and mutual aid - anarchism falls apart? This seems to be a bit of a problem in my experience anyway...

"people who are madated to carry out tasks are and should be held accountable". Yeh, thats my question - how? How are they held accountable? Whats yer process? Im really interested to find out how different organisations handle this.

"In terms of solutions remember while others are 'free' to fail your or set group tasks, you are free to disassociate from them". Sorry but again, Im not sure how this is a 'solution'? I seem to have spent the last five years being heavily involved with, and then leaving, different organisations. So, Im on the verge of 'leaving' anarchism altogether, and Im trying to find a 'solution' because Im fed up with running from this shit. Anyway, thinking more long term - Is that really our blueprint for a future society? Everyone just does as much work as they want, and if you get fed up being the one person who harvests all the food, just leave? Doesnt sound very appealing to me... I dont want to disassociate anymore, I want to make this *work*, yknow?

"You cant force people into line". Why not? I mean, obviously I cant, no one indivudual can, we dont want a fucking boss. But surely the collective, the organisation, the community or whatever should be able? Surely people should be accountable?

"you should have mechanisms available for dealing with people who repeatedly dont stick to plans". Agreed, but thats what Im trying to figure out. What sort of mechanisms? Any suggestions?

Joe - Ive just recently left a collective I started 2 years ago, and we did a lot of what you propose, to try to solve these problems. The group has rotating positions, has minutes every week (sent out on elist and also read out at next meeting) and members pay subs each week (suggested £3). But since doing this, nothing has changed, if anything things got worse. There is still informal heirarchy, most people dont do jack shit (not even what they say theyll do) etc etc. If you ask are they sure theyll do it, they allways say "yes". They all say they are commited and serious, and agree with the projects the group is doing, but when it comes to getting stuck in and participating in work and decision-making, its a different story.

I feel at a bit of a loss, and Im not sure anarchism has any answers. Any suggestion otherwise is VERY appreciated!

"5. If none of this works consider that
a. the group is agreeing to do things that none of the members actually believe are possible or worthwhile
b. the group is trying to do more than the resources it has available allow - prioritise work"

This is probably most true, probably a) rather than b). So, ummm back to a problem with participatory, collective, democratic decision making then? Aaaarrggghh.

Is it ok to turn fascist? They made the trains run on time or suminc innit??? wink

Cheers comrades.

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ginger
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May 6 2007 16:02

Do you have a membership structure? If so, its obvious, "Sorry, but you've failed to do what you greed to do so you're no longer in the group" and can be done in nicer and meaner ways.

A membership structure I like i to hve open meetings, but only members can vote/block concensus. Membership requires attending a certain number of meetings, and contributing to the work of the project.

Its deeply wrong for anyone to be taking decisions about what other people should be working on, so if they're not prepared to do any of the dirty work, they shouldn't be part of the decision making.

Of course some people will always have more time/confidence than others. And I think some way of apprenticing/mentoring is valuable. eg in leaflet making.

And if someone needs to say "I'm going to be taking a backseat for a couple of months due to personal reasons" thats grand. They can still come to meetings. Their contributions are still valuable, but they temporarily do not vote.

Having a "homework monitor" is an idea I like. Thats a person who phones round everyone who took on a task a few days before the next meeting or whenever to make sure the task is under way or to help solve any problems or reallocate task if its not going to happen for whatever reason.

Agree strongly with JoeBlack that its about the organisational culture.

Better to have a few of you, all committed to working on a project and taking responsibility for it then a big group that just floats along (I sound like the platformist that I'm not!) so if the group you're in dissappoints you, try starting up something more dynamic and potentially closeknit with realistic targets? (I think targets and strategy are vital)

At the end of the day we've all got a lot of shit put into our psyche from this society and most of us have hard lives just getting through the things we need to do to pay rent/bills.

Best wishes.
Al

asn
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Joined: 2-01-07
May 7 2007 09:15

In looking at the
reasons for things not getting done and followed through in various groups in the anti-capitalist milieux today - the critical issue is one of motivation - and the fact that many groups are composed of many who see the group as and end in itself - as an escape from the aliention from capitalist society - meetings being an excuse for social occasions - meeting procedure and micro bureaucracy being an end in itself - a ritual of the psuedo leftist micro church - so you see likely effects on the objective world aren't very important for many-
also you have to take into account the class composition of many groups - today many socalled acivist groups in the anglo world are composed of students and middle class elements and those on social welfare lacking experience of the class struggle and the lash of the bosses but want to getup to a bit of spectacular antics at times - the anti-globalist protests -
- where you do have activists involved with much workplace experience - often they fail to carry through due to low morale and an anti-intellectual orientation - they have never made a serious study of history re the revolutionary project and don't have a well thought out strategic grasp of the revolutionary project - and due to their associating with middle class leftist elements with their identity politics religions - which are beyond debate and discussion - can't set and adhere to prioties and long term programs of work - they get swept up in a merry round of campaigns and single issues - and would have a tendency to "flake out" when given important reponsibilities on occasion (these are rare cases from my experience)
- However my experience with workplace activists - has been generally very good - the lash of the bosses - seems to ensure their consistency -on projects they are working on - preparing articles and gathering info/stories re their workplace/industry and local distribution of publications etc - they are often very good in meeting
deadlines
- going further from that say attending regular meetings would be out of the question or even exceptional meettings
due to family and other committments and problems with shifts/tiredness - growing intensity and progress of the employer offensive - eg work speedups, longer shifts etc
- so you see if you take account of the more deeper issues I'm raising - you see why no matter how much "accounting" measures you introduce in many groups - you get nowhere - and due to the lack of workplace experience, anti-inellectual climate and lack of revolutionary strategy even if things the groups agreed on were carried out they would not
get any where re the revolutionary project involving workers' conrol directed activity - their activity would just appear to say workers in some dispute as the opportunistic activity of the leninoid groups they have come across and the churning out of abstract propaganda
-on a final note you need also to differentiate between workplace organisations - which would have various formal structures - and accountablity procedures - which due to the pressures of the class struggle would ensure - things are followed through which are decided upon (see latest RW on our webpage www.rebelworker.org for info in the sydney bus industry re such formal organisation "working" to the fears of the union hierarchy and bosses )
- and the syndicalist catalyst which is based outside the job - composed of highly motivated militants - their network
lacking any micro bureaucracy and formal accounting procedures but assisting the blossoming of the above formal workplace organisation and engaging in the long range precision
hard slog it requires and not distracted by opportunistic campaign and issue chasing, for formal
membership and recruitment games - however they and their associated militants on the job would "recruit" other militants on the job into its practical industrial work on various scales.
mark

David UK
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May 11 2007 13:06

I have been speaking to a load of people about this. And frankly I get the Impression that Anarchists don't take Anarchism seriously. All the groups I've been involved in are almost like social groups, certainly not revolutionary ones, although they have revolutionary intentions, and theories behind them.

I've started Reading The Organisational Platform, and I actually couldn't agree more with the opening lines;

The platform wrote:
"In every country the anarchist movement is represented by local organizations with contradictory theory and tactics with no forward planning or continuity in their work. They usually fold after a time, leaving little or no trace"
The platform wrote:
"...There can be no doubt, however, that this disorganisation has its roots in a number of defects of theory, notably in the distorted interpretation of the principle of individuality in anarchism, that principle being too often mistaken for the absence of all accountability"

(emphasis added)

And I'd also like to add that this "distorted interpretation of the principle of individuality" has been made 100x worse by firstly; the punk scene, secondly our phobia of working with the media, and (in reference to mayday) masking up on peaceful demos shouting "fuck order"

I don't want a debate about the platform. But when I read those criticisms, the accuracy appalled me.

I've been in the same groups as Gerrard for the past couple of years, and am not sure if it's a problem with the individuals, or the circumstances they are brought together (the organisation) - I tend to go with the latter, i think the lack of accountability breeds apathy, and laziness. And I'll be honest, At times I've not felt the motivation to complete tasks on time because I know someone else will do it, or It'll just be forgotten - and the fact that this happens makes me take the group less seriously. Though I do make the effort to complete all tasks I volunteer for, or explain well in advance that I will be unable to do them.

Now in other political groups, you would face punishments, like banning, or a fining or perhaps a good old fashioned bollockin', but as we amount to a bunch of mates, a friendship group or political interests club (and not a revolutionary body) it's sarcastic, and actually ridiculous to suggest that.

I can't but help think the sex pistols are to blame. I'll prolly write a bit more later.

Gerrard wrote:
Everyone just does as much work as they want, and if you get fed up being the one person who harvests all the food, just leave?

Thats a bit pessimistic, if food production is ever run anarchicly (a word?) then that'd mean real people would be involved, and they do these jobs everyday, pretty well tongue at least, whenever it's been applied on that scale it worked to some degree.

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fkschulze
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May 11 2007 18:53

maybe they just need to cut down on the pot.

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JoeMaguire
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May 13 2007 11:25

Guys this is turning into quite a productive thread because awkward questions are being raised. But Im going to hinge away from the negativity and express that my experiences in SF have been a blessing compared to some of the other stuff Ive had mixed contact with. For example see here. I think this can come down to the class nature of the group and your activities, I think a previous poster said that activist students had more time and means to pursue their own political education/activities and potentially a working class activists could be off put if he or she had to associate with a core of the later. A group of activists who organised around bread and butter questions, particularly employment dont have much appeal to lifestylists, and they have nothing per se to gain socially from being politically active. For many of us, being active is a risk we take because it may have negative impacts at work, but if it was easy they wouldnt call it struggle. Simply because these campaigns that Ive come across which throw up questions of employment always seem to keep the activist ghetto away.
If your organising around war, environmental destruction or something in the community, I think you have to be careful who you associate with, there are clowns who use our language but are there simply because they think its outlet for them, disassociate with them at all costs.