Sunday, August 26, 2007

There's a recent post over at the Anarkismo site entitled 'Some Considerations About Collective Responsibility' by Marco Montenegro. The article is a quite poor translation from a Portuguese original. Molly reproduces her "retranslation" into comprehensible English below. The original translation can be accessed above. Molly's comments follow the article.
"As opposed to the Marxist-Leninist authoritarian communists, we frequently affirm that means have to be in accordance with ends. That is, if we want a classless society, where everybody is equal, where everybody has the same rights and duties, where self-management predominates and where an equilibrium exists between individual and collective, then the anarchist organizations that struggle for this society also have to be in accordance with these principles and, thus, contrary to the Marxist-Leninists, we have to reject bureaucratic organs, organized vertically and centralized as we also have to reject "followerism", the leadership cult and critical passivity. "
Thus the practice of acting under the responsibility (orders ?-Molly) of an individual has to be condemned and rejected in the ranks of the anarchist movement. This not only for the reason discussed above, the compatibility between means and ends, but also because the individual alone cannot obtain anything without the help of everyone else. Not even the most solitary writer would be able to write without those who cut trees, who fold the paper, who supply them with ink. An individual acting alone will never obtain anything complete and would be easily decontextualized (I am unable to translate this word into good English-Molly). The areas of social and political action are profoundly collective in their nature, given that you can never base social and political activities under the responsibility of an individual.
Logically then we have the principle of 'Collective Responsibility', a principle that, despite the condemnation of the solitary act, has, however, a strict link with individual moral responsibility. What does this say ? In an anarchist collective praising 'horizontality' and self-management all its members have to be active and participate in all of the decisions of the organization so that such decisions are the fruit of the most possible 'general will', the fruit of a discussion open to all members. Because we don't admit that leaders and subordinates exist, nor do we want conditions for such to exist, and because we want that everyone should have an unlimited critical capacity based on the rationality of practice and not on a process the same as being 'swept along' we believe that this will only happen if this individual moral responsibility exists, this moral predisposition to be active and critical. Collective responsibility will not exist without individual responsibility and vice-versa, individual responsibility will not exist without collective responsibility. it is not only the individual who has the duty to improve themselves and their critical capacity. the collective also has the responsibility to stimulate the critical practice of all the individuals.
The anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker has in his memoirs a curious citation about the individual responsibilities that each one has that determine the collective responsibility that made up the strength of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT. "One of the things that surprised me most, was the attention with which the public listened to the orators(audience in the original-Molly), as if they identified with them, but, contrary to what happened in other countries, nobody applauded in order to state their enthusiasm (the applause was not vigorous in the original-Molly). Durruti himself, who spoke in rude terms, calling without euphemism things by their proper names, did not receive a single ovation, despite the fact that it was visible that the public (audience in the original-Molly) was sensitized. Everybody thought about what they had heard in the act of reflection. I asked Durruti afterwards why it was that the public (audience-Molly) did not applaud. He laughed and said to me, "But my friend Rudof, you know perfectly well that we, anarchists, do do engage in the cult of personality. Applause and ovations that are directed to the orators are the music made to awaken the worm of vanity and, finally, "the leader". It is good that you recognize the ability of your friend who exposes your position, but to believe that they are superior, that is to practice the cult of the master, and that is not the norm between anarchists."
Molly notes,
All that is said above is well and good, but it misses the point entirely. The whole debate about "collective responsibility" is not about putting limits on the "leadership principle", valuable as that may be given the history of not just Leninist parties in the last century but other things much more removed from the concerns of anarchism. Yes, the tendency of people to fall in behind "leaders" in lock step and agree with everything that "individual" leader (or leaders) say is both repulsive and destructive. Most of modern politics is build on the 'Fuhrer principle', however much it might like to disguise its pedigree. But...the concept of "collective responsibility" has another meaning that was clearly expressed in the writings of those who formulated the concept of "platformism" back in the 1920s. It was very much akin to the 'democratic centralism' of the Leninists, and good Leninists will find no difference between the 'collective responsibility' of the platformists and their own 'democratic centralism' . I say "good Leninists" who actually believe in the lies of their parties.
The whole concept comes from seeing the role of the Party/revolutionary group etc. as akin to an army at war. Good "democracy" say that the strategy and tactics of such an army should be determined by the widest possible debate, but once settled on should be followed without question by the members of the army/party/revolutionary group. This means in its extreme version that the members of the army/party/revolutionary group are required to lie and pretend that they agree with the "line" of the organization even if they fought against it tooth and nail. The originators of 'The Platform' expressed this opinion in clear language. In Spain the FAI operated under similar "emotions" without ever being clear about it. The CNT, however, NEVER made such a requirement of its members. Like any union it would demand that, if a strike was agreed upon, that its members would observe the strike, but it was never so foolish as to try and dictate to its members the idea that, if they disagreed with the strike, that they should lie and say that they agreed with it. That would be idiocy in a mass movement. Certainly there was social pressure to "seem" to be in agreement with a given action, but the option was always open to be honest and say that one was acting in a given way out of the interests of "solidarity" even if one disagreed with the course of action.
Now, Molly is of the opinion that clarity is a virtue. She is of the opinion that the rise of "neo-platformism" is a great "plus" for modern anarchism simply because she sees the need for organizations of explicit anarchists that hold to the original goals of anarchism rather than some cultish perversion of it to influence much more important organizations that have a general libertarian thrust, whether these be a "synthesist" anarchist organization or "mass organizations". What she does not see is the need for an organization that is modeled on underground cadre organizations. she thinks an anarchist organization should be more like an ordinary political party in the modern world where membership is dependent on agreeing with the 'general policy' of the organization (not each and every 'theoretical pronouncement') and not on saying/lieing that everything the organization adopts as policy (or worse theory) is right as if it was pronounced Ex-Cathedra by the Pope. Molly is of the opinion that such an organization- with due rules for expulsion for those who violate the 'general policy' of the organization- is MUCH more applicable to modern conditions in the industrially developed world where parliamentary "democracy" holds sway.
Times change. Both the platformist alternative and the similar FAI way of organizing were put together in situations where autocracy was the order of the day. It is not an alternative for most of the modern world. It is also not a way that has any future in the modern world. Not that everything about the way that either the FAI organized or the original platformists proposed (but failed) to organize was wrong. Just that "collective responsibility had a clear meaning that should never be lost sight of- and should equally be rejected by a modern anarchism that hopes to be popular rather than a sect.

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