Login Join IOPS

The Trouble With Pigs

forest
  • Written by:
  • Published on:
  • Categories:
  • Comments:
  • Share:

The pigs I am referring to are the pigs of George Orwell’s Animal Farm: the Communists. The animals that think they are ‘more equal’ than others. As a ‘pig’ myself, this is not an argument against pigs. Rather, I seek to answer the problem thrown up by ‘uneven consciousness’: how to give these people the organisation structure to intervene effectively in the class struggle & to spread their revolutionary class consciousness without them becoming a class in themselves?

As many are aware, this subject has a long history. The debate has centred upon the role of a workers’ state & the internal organisation of revolutionaries. The Paris Commune of 1871 was arguably the first ‘workers’ state’. Today revolutionary groups do not define themselves by it, but they still do in regards to the Soviet Union. For Stalinists it was a workers’ state, for many Trotskyists it was a ‘deformed workers’ state’, for others it was a form of ‘state-capitalism’. Did the Soviet Union act in the interests of working class or not? This is an important question, but 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall & almost a century after the Russian Revolution, it should surely not be a reason for revolutionaries to organising themselves in separate groups.

 

The self-defined ‘Leninist’ organisations of today, most better described as sects, have placed ‘democratic-centralism’ at the heart of their internal structures. As many recruited to sell papers have found out, they are anything but democratic. A small elite, often centred around  a dominant individual, get themselves elected year after year & become an entity that live off member subscriptions & the proceeds from paper sales. This ‘Leninism’ is being demystified thanks to the work of people like Lars Lih & Paul Le Blanc. Whatever one may think about Lenin’s Bolsheviks they had far more open debate & disagreements than today’s revolutionary organisations tolerate. The idea of unity in action following democratic debate is not something invented by Lenin, it’s how just about all organisations work, whether political or not, yet the term ‘democratic-centralism’ has become a fig-leaf to cover the delusions of a small number of largely middle-class intellectuals who have little in common with, & therefore no appeal to the workers they seek to unite.

This lack of connection with working people, with some exceptions, is a symptom of the Stalinist shadow (communism’s bad name) & the post-war boom (why seek an alternative when you’re getting better off?). Neo-liberalism’s assault on organised labour has also pushed back class consciousness. Those left holding the ‘red flag’ are largely middle-class who discovered Marx at university. ‘Ordinary’ people cannot relate to them, probably seeing them as being more like their bosses at work. That’s not to say we have a three class system as Anarchists argue, but just to recognise the reality that there are those who seek to co-ordinate & who like power. A revolutionary organisation should seek to get the most out of such ‘co-ordinators’ whilst preventing elites forming.

To this end I suggest the most useful thing revolutionary organisations can do is adopt ‘participatory democracy’. This simply means striving for equality in decision making as much as possible. It doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be designated roles to which people are elected, e.g. membership secretary or treasurer, or that the elected officers shouldn’t meet regularly as a ‘central committee’. It just means letting the membership have their say. In today’s internet world this is easily achieved. Just what questions, & how these questions are worded, is up for debate. It may be the central committee officers are entrusted with this, or a specially elected separate body. Different ways can be tried to see what works & things will evolve. The key point is members feel they can have their say, & that even if they are in a minority, are more likely to get behind a decision they have been consulted on. Democratic debate followed by unity in action.

Such a structure is less likely to be taken over by an elite if all are non-professionals, i.e. they have to go to work just like the workers, rather than living off them. Why should a membership secretary be a full time post? Can’t these jobs have ‘deputies’ if someone needs to be always available? Where ‘professionals’ are needed, e.g. the editor of a weekly paper, there should be strict time limits. Again, all to prevent elites forming.

Participatory democracy is not just for revolutionary groups, but also the movements they create & support. In Britain the People’s Assembly Against Austerity has attempted to bring together a broad range of people including trade union activists & Occupy-types. For it to include the latter it must adopt something close to participatory democracy. So far it hasn’t. It’s website doesn’t encourage participation. With a renewed phase of the economic crisis immanent, & more cuts after the 2015 election, they need to move up a gear. People’s Assemblies nation-wide, even worldwide, can play an important role in developing working class consciousness & increasing the number of revolutionaries.

Slogans are also important. What is telling here is in recent times the ones that have connected have not come from the Leninists but from those with a less hierarchical view of organisation: ‘Another world is possible’ was the slogan of the World Social Forum & ‘We are the 99%’ from Occupy. Once again suggesting revolutionaries are not as connected as they should be.

Finally, one concrete way revolutionaries of different shades & opinions can come together & engage the working class, particularly the young who are more likely to be unemployed or paying exorbitant rents to landlords, is by creating a non-corporate Facebook-plus website. A site paid for by revolutionaries that offers not only social networking, but also entertainment (all free music, films, books, games), personal organisation (calendar, contacts, tasks, photos, documents), education, (home-teaching, parental support, on-line degrees, revolutionary ideas), & sharing (landshare, travelshare, sheltershare, etc). All under a single website (e.g. ourworld.org). This requires a serious commitment, engaging the unpaid work of many non-revolutionaries, but has the advantage of giving people, a lot of people, a glimpse of what a world without profit looks like. A view that can start to counter the distortion of Stalinism & Leninist sects. A world where all animals are equal.

Discussion 19 Comments

  • Lambert Meertens 18th Dec 2014

    The idea to create a website like this is related to the ideas at the blog post Creating Another World.

    Now that we are gearing up to creating a new website for IOPS, I keep toying with the idea of not keeping this specific to IOPS, but trying to gather as many like-minded groups as we can in a shared project to create a shared website dedicated to creating another world. The idea is that this website will offer all groups that are working for a better world their own spaces that they can consider their (online) homes and set up as they wish, while the joint website also has shared spaces where we can interact – in forums, projects, whatever. See also my comment at the recent blog post Proposal to provide space for IOPS allies. IOPS would be a part of such a website as one equal group among hopefully many others engaged in dialogue and common narrative-finding.

  • John Keeley 18th Dec 2014

    Thanks Lambert. We've discussed this before: http://www.iopsociety.org/england/blog/creating-another-world

    We're all quite good at ideas, it's the execution of them that we're not so good with. What I'm suggesting is a major undertaking & I'm not sure IOPS have the skills or resources to realise it, or even the ability to get them through contacts. Hopefully, I'm being unduly pessimistic.

    What I don't support at present is the taking down of this website. I think this website is fantastic. If we need money to pay people then let's get subscriptions set up. I'm happy to contribute.

    Organisations need people to take on responsibilities. A new ICC made up of active members can designate people to get things done, such as on-line direct debits being set up, treasurer to ensure outgoings don't exceed income, etc. Basic organisational structure.

    • Lambert Meertens 18th Dec 2014

      Quote from John Keeley:

       "What I don't support at present is the taking down of this website. I think this website is fantastic. If we need money to pay people then let's get subscriptions set up. I'm happy to contribute."

      I think you are not aware how many things are not working properly that the programmers have not been able to fix in years. Some of the bugs are truly bizarre, appearing only rarely – but, unfortunately, consistently for some members. The coding is impenetrable. Given the proprietary framework and the way the work is done, each change in functionality makes the already complicated code more convoluted, and the whole thing is likely to eventually collapse. We had a major catastrophe before that brought the site to a two-week effective halt. The paid team could not fix it; fortunately a volunteer stepped in and found the bug they had introduced.

    • John Keeley 18th Dec 2014

      Thanks Lambert.

      I can just comment on what I see, & I love the geographical structure of it because if we really did achieve the creation of a new international it could form the basis of a new form of democracy; the electronic side of the communes of direct, participatory democracy.

      If we have to make major decisions like this though shouldn't we first resolve the current ICC issue, as in the near zero credibility it has?

    • Lambert Meertens 19th Dec 2014

      John, do you have ideas on how to resolve what you call "the ICC issue"? As you saw from the discussion at http://www.iopsociety.org/blog/icc-report, some feel we need no ICC at all, while others are not at all keen on disbanding or even changing the role or composition of the present ICC. In fact, at no time has the ICC had a role of helping establish priorities and coordinating activities, which I feel is what we most urgently needed some mechanism for. This should have been solved by a founding convention that did not happen. We may have achieved the ultimate in participatory democracy if the measure of that is equality in decision making, since no one can make any decisions here.

      If you have concrete ideas for achieving some coordination at the international level that allows us to set priorities, please let us hear them. "Responsibility and initiative should move to chapters and overall membership", as from the most recent Poll on IOPS Future, is not specific enough.

    • John Keeley 21st Dec 2014

      My suggestion is we replace the current ICC with a new one. That we should ask who wants to be on it & even get people to suggest who they think should be on it.
      We can then have a poll to vote on along the lines of keep the current ICC or have the new ICC.

    • Lambert Meertens 22nd Dec 2014

      What about an international coordination working group whose task is to coordinate the necessary work for moving us forward – open to any member who wants to commit to putting energy in that? Rather like the existing "inter-chapter working group" that already regularly meets in an online chat, but more open. No poll needed.

    • John Keeley 23rd Dec 2014

      So long as we get some structure & start to get things moving again.
      Formal structure not people setting up projects all over the place; I can't keep up with them!
      Maybe we have delegates & time limited places on a committee.
      Others have been move involved & committed than me, like you, so happy to listen to what others want.

    • Lambert Meertens 23rd Dec 2014

      If we had a better website, with wiki functionality as for Wikipedia – as I've advocated before – we could easily collaboratively re-arrange projects, merge discussions, bury dead projects in an archive, and so on. That will not solve all problems, but it would definitely help.

      But you are right, there is a deeper problem and I agree we need to find ways to escape the tyranny of structurelessness. I'm not sure what the best way is, but the function assigned to the ICC is too specific and limited – being confined to matters that are "truly essential" (who determines that? Snowball and Napoleon?) – that simply replacing its members by others will do little good.

      My hope is that the present "inter-chapter working group" will develop into an open body of committed volunteers that encourages and expedites processes by which we can take collective decisions through online methods – in particular, sufficient decisions to further the functioning of IOPS at all levels. That will take time, but it is not as if nothing is happening.

      To do more at the central level, we need more committed volunteers. But this should not distract from efforts to form locally active groups in places where there are real possibilities.

  • Alex of... 18th Dec 2014

    i feel like i may have heard the idea of a network of groups somewhere before too. lol. have some ideas on that. more a simple premise with a set of questions to pursue.

    doubt it would be something that IOPS itself could transform into, just based on a few things. not something to be forced but something to be explored perhaps by some of the members as well as others.

    as IOPS goes, maybe it would be useful to outline what current tasks and thus roles are needed for better functionality. this has alway been all over the place. but it is less my interest than the former concept at this point.


    • Lambert Meertens 18th Dec 2014

      I don't propose that IOPS transforms itself into a network, but only that it connects with other groups, each of which retains its identity.

    • Alex of... 18th Dec 2014

      cool. i'll read all this in more detail of course!

    • Alex of... 19th Dec 2014

      back in a moment to earth but asking the local rain today. walking in it and feeling the drops.

    • Alex of... 19th Dec 2014

      one moment of thought. wikipedia is basically an anarchist project. yet, engaged-in and active, and utilized and appreciated, by many who would not consider themselves anarchists, or necessarily anything. there is a core to the functionality that a few developed, and more that made and make it better. how that develops as something of use comes from massive diversity and is ongoing. it's the design itself that creates the autonomy and free association, yet still has checks and balances by the way one can engage and contribute. it does not require that any one individual is well-studied in this or that. in fact, that's contrary to the point.

  • Jon Doe 18th Dec 2014

    We should continue to learn from those on whose shoulders our organization stands like Errico Malatesta: "An anarchist organisation must be based, in my opinion, on full autonomy, on full independence,and, therefore, on the full responsibility of individuals and groups; free agreement between those who believe it to be useful to unite in order to co-operate with a common end; a moral duty to keep to the commitments accepted and not to do anything that contradicts the accepted programme."
    And IOPS members could learn from excellent 3rd world, modern applications of these ideas, like "Social Anarchism and Organization" from the Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro (Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro – FARJ), Brazil, approved at the 1st FARJ Congress, held on 30th and 31st of August 2008.
    http://zabalazabooks.net/2012/03/20/social-anarchism-and-organisation/

  • Peter Lach-Newinsky 19th Dec 2014

    Lambert: "Now that we are gearing up to creating a new website for IOPS, I keep toying with the idea of not keeping this specific to IOPS, but trying to gather as many like-minded groups as we can in a shared project to create a shared website dedicated to creating another world. The idea is that this website will offer all groups that are working for a better world their own spaces that they can consider their (online) homes and set up as they wish, while the joint website also has shared spaces where we can interact – in forums, projects, whatever. See also my comment at the recent blog post Proposal to provide space for IOPS allies. IOPS would be a part of such a website as one equal group among hopefully many others engaged in dialogue and common narrative-finding."

    I fully support this idea for a completely new, globally encompassing IOPS website, Lambert.

    Do have my doubts however about whether a number of people of the very very few still conversing here at IOPS would be supportive of this, as it would relegate IOPS to a position of very small, initiating partner of a global website of much larger and more important global movements and groups, no more Big International in spe (ridiculous as the latter notion always was IMO). Will post my similar proposal as a separate blog soonish. All the best.

  • Mark Evans 19th Dec 2014

    Hi John - you touch on some interesting issues here. However, your blog also contains some puzzling statements (one omission and one distortion) which, for me, raise further questions.

    For example, with regards to the Soviet Union, you write that "For Stalinists it was a workers’ state, for many Trotskyists it was a ‘deformed workers’ state’, for others it was a form of ‘state-capitalism’." However, there is an additional perspective which holds that the economy of the Soviet Union was neither worker or capitalist controlled but rather controlled by the coordinator class. Given that you have posted this blog on IOPS - which is informed by this very analysis - it seems strange that you would choose not to mention it. Could you say why you omitted this?

    On the same topic you also write that "That’s not to say we have a three class system as Anarchists argue". This also seems strange to me as I do not think that having a three class understanding of economics makes a person an anarchist. So why present this position in such a distorted way?

    In your blog you also advocate for "participatory democracy" and "central committees". This makes me wonder what you think of our (IOPS) notion of self management - "strives to implement the self management norm that "each member has decision making say proportional to the degree they are effected"" and sharing empowering tasks - "apportions empowering and disempowering tasks to ensure that no individuals control the organization by having a relative monopoly on information or position". Do you oppose these features?

  • John Keeley 19th Dec 2014

    Mark,

    Thanks for your response.

    The Soviet Union - I'm happy to add the 'coordinator class' interpretation. I didn't write the article specifically for IOPS; the main target are the 'Leninists' & their understanding of 'democratic-centralism'.

    Anarchists - I don't regard myself as an anarchist, so if I'm wrong to describe anarchists as having a three class system, then I'll change it. Probably the key difference between communists & anarchists is the former sees the likelihood of the need for a workers' state before a classless, stateless society can be realised. You can't simply abolish classes overnight, the property needs to be taken over & the forces defending them defeated. In Barcelona in 1936 the working class were 'in the saddle' so wasn't it a 'workers' state'? Perhaps more a problem of definitions as Barcelona is what we should be aiming for.

    Central committees - There's a lot of emotion thrown up by such terms. My argument is more directed against Leninists in todays Leninist sects who hide behind 'democratic-centralism' where central committees are not democratically accountable at all. Quite different to the Bolsheviks of Lenin's time, who even if more centralised than what IOPS supporters would like, did have far more democracy than Leninist sects today. Lenin was often defeated. In IOPS we have a ICC that is supposed to provide some form of coherence & structure in helping members make decisions & be an effective force in changing the world. We need to get behind polarising language such as 'central committees' & 'self-management' & actually describe how we want to organise. As we always want a say & a form of action that is effective, the gap in the rhetoric stands a chance of being bridged. IOPS being currently ineffective & Leninist sects declining because they're not democratic.

    I think I've consistently argued for participatory democracy, not just in movements like IOPS & the People's Assembly, but also in revolutionary organisations such as The Commune.

    It's all about changing the world - that means having an organisational structure that deals with 'uneven consciousness' whether held by those who identify as anarchists, communists or whatever label, to enable them to spread their class consciousness without becoming the pigs of Animal Farm.

    • Mark Evans 22nd Dec 2014

      I agree that uneven consciousness is a problem that needs to be addressed within any revolutionary organisation.

      As you will know, this problem is used to rationalise the vanguard within the typical Marxist-Leninist party. As far as I am aware, anarchists have never really come-up with an oganisational proposal to address this problem.

      The development of popular vision - which historically has been neglected by the revolutionary left - can be understood as an alternative to the Leninist vanguard approach. This, you might say, is IOPS's way of trying to address uneven consciousness.

      You write that "In IOPS we have a ICC that is supposed to provide some form of coherence & structure in helping members make decisions & be an effective force in changing the world."

      This is a misunderstanding. The ICC has always had a very minor role to play within IOPS - and this was intentional and for the very reasons you give when you write "to enable them to spread their class consciousness without becoming the pigs of Animal Farm" - at east that was what was hoped for! The "form", "coherence" and "structure" that you talk of must come from the self-managed local chapters and national branches, or it does not exist at all.

      In short, I think that we already have in place organisational mechanisms that address the issues that you raise in your blog. The problem with IOPS is that the vast majority of people who have joined have participated minimally, if at all. That is a very different kind of problem, it seems to me.