Key ideas for community organising

Acorn Bristol picketSome very broad basic ideas for getting started at organising in your local area.

Firstly, remember: If you are going to do community organising, do it in your own area; don’t be a missionary!

 

Research and preparation

Look around your local area and determine what issues it faces. Talk to your neighbours, what issues do they think are important regarding the area. Determine what kinds of projects you can develop or direct action you can take that meet the area’s needs or address the community’s issues.

Find out if others are already working on the problems in their area and if they’ve been effective and what you can learn from them. Determine what kinds of resources you have available and who in your area might be useful allies in accomplishing your goals.

 

Volunteering or starting your own group

If there is a group doing work in your area and they are effective, it would be a good idea to volunteer with them to gain experience. If there is no group doing work on the issues you are concerned about or existing groups are not effective, start your own group but try to remain on friendly terms with existing groups.

 

Planning

Set a goal. Devise objectives (or strategies) to achieve the goal. Devise actions to achieve the objectives.

 

Community-building projects

Plan everything you do in your area with an effort to bring people in the community together and get them involved. Make a special effort to get people in the area who are not politically conscious to work on projects and become active.

In short, gear your work towards not just helping the community but towards actually strengthening a sense of community.

 

Fight prejudice as you organise

Make a special effort to ensure that your organisation and its projects reflect the racial, ethnic and gender diversity in the community and make sexual equality and anti-racism explicit parts of your organisation’s politics and policies.

 

Get attention

Be visible in your area, make every effort to let people nearby know you exist. Seek press attention when you do an action, gain a victory, or establish a project.

What anarchists think #2 – Freedom

Total freedom bannerIn the name of freedom the USA has invaded or dominated dozens of countries and regions including Vietnam, Nicaragua and Iraq. In the defence of freedom, Britain has  imposed martial law on Northern Ireland. Freedom for Hitler meant exterminating Jews; for Stalin it required the invasion of eastern Europe. Everyone today seems to want freedom.

But freedom for capitalist states, corporations and parties surely cannot be the same as freedom for anti?capitalists. As these examples show, there appears to be no one acceptable definition of ‘freedom’. Has freedom any real value, except as a propaganda weapon to justify self-interest?

 

Definitions

Anarchists take it for granted that freedom is vital to humanity. Yet others fear freedom, preferring security to the responsibilities that freedom gives. Under capitalism most citizens see freedom as the ability to buy the latest smartphone or a new pair of shoes – is freedom really about acquiring consumer goods? One of the oldest ideas about freedom is that it means being left alone to get on with life without interference.

Now this is all very well in a general sense, no one likes to be constrained or hindered. But within the context of class societies, this demand serves as camouflage to justify inequality. So?called ‘negative freedom’ (the absence of constraining laws) much loved by libertarian and capitalist parties is supposed to benefit everyone. In practice this freedom is the freedom of the rich to plunder the poor, of freedom for businessmen to exploit their workforce, for advertisers to humiliate women and so on.

Such freedoms to exploit and mistreat are often protected by laws passed by the powerful to protect their privileges. Where there are gross inequalities of power, freedom only maintains inequality at the expense of the great mass of the population.

 

Coercion

Anarchists argue that wherever there are coercive or bureaucratic institutions freedom will be affected. In human relationships, the hierarchical family is usually a patriarchal and adult-dominated institution. So called democratic organisations that institutionalise power and authority become oligarchic, either openly through the degeneration of internal structures or covertly via informal leaderships.

On a grander scale, the state curtails freedom (to benefit the ruling class) by means of the legal, bureaucratic and military systems it maintains. In contemporary society there is a working alliance between all types of coercive institutions to maintain order, from the family upwards.

Freedom involves the destruction of externally imposed order. To achieve freedom, government from without must be replaced by voluntary cooperation within society.  Anarchists envisage a society in which individual freedom is maximised while preserving the freedom of others. Anarchists argue that individuals should act as they feel fit, so long as they do not interfere to an intolerable degree with the freedom of others. Put differently, freedom has limits, the limit being arrived at when others are exploited, dominated or in some other way harmed.

Since humans are naturally social animals, for freedom to accord with our nature, it must be in a societal context.
In respect to social freedoms anarchist-communists see them as being integrated within community. Freedom is unimaginable outside of community. In contemporary society, community – in the sense of meaningful social solidarity – has been largely destroyed class domination. One of the key tasks of post?capitalist society will be to recreate community to promote personal and social development.

There may arise, however, contradictions between individual and societal goals which anarchist-communists argue can to a large degree he overcome through a system of federation. Individuals, local and larger groups of people agree to act in unison so long as it is advantageous. From the individual’s point of view, the advantages of voluntarily joining with others are those of communal living e.g.  friendships, sexual relationships, support, availability of goods and services. So long as the individual gains more from participating in society it will be advantageous.

When the disadvantages become intolerable, the individual has the option of ‘dropping out’. From the community’s point of view, it has the ‘right’ to defend its collective freedom from individual saboteurs and can seek recourse in expulsion of the anti?social individual. Given that the vast majority of us will want the benefits social life and society bring, it is important we begin to work out and act out the balance between the individual and community, in both thought and action.

Freedom in the real world of capitalism and the state is an illusion. In an anarchist-communist society, with its social equality and solidarity, it at last becomes possible.

London Anarchist Bookfair 2012

On Saturday 27th October the annual London Anarchist Bookfair is being held.

old_posters

It’s the biggest event in the UK anarchist calender, with stalls from hundreds of different activist groups, campaigns and publishers. As well as these, there are discussion meetings, talks, workshops, films and more.

Hereford Heckler will have a stall there as usual, with items from our shop for sale. Come and find us and have a chat!

The bookfair will be held from 10am-7pm at Queen Mary, University of London, Mile End Road, London, E1 4NS.

The English Defence League are due to hold a demonstration on the same day, also in east London. Anti-fascists are calling on people to head to Walthamstow to oppose them. If you’ve got time and a bit of a plan, why not do both?

In Praise of Anarchy

This article, written by Dmtry Orlov, has been posted on the Post Carbon Insitutes infomation website www.energybulletin.net Does this mean that the environmental movement is coming round to the ideas of Anarchism?

Once upon a time there lived a prince. Not a fairytale prince, but a real one, his bloodline extending back to the founder of Russia’s first dynasty. It was his bad luck that his mother died when he was young and his father, a military officer who paid little attention to his children, remarried a woman who also took no interest in him or his brother. And so our prince was brought up by the peasants attached to his father’s estate (he was born 20 years before Russia abolished serfdom). The peasants were the only ones who took an interest in him or showed him affection, and so he bonded with them as with his family. And so our prince became a traitor to his own class.

Peter Alexeyevich Kropotkin is our prince’s name, and he eventually became a renowned scientist who advanced the understanding of the history of glaciers, an historian of revolutionary movements, foremost theoretician of anarchism, and, because of his lifelong burning desire to do something to help the plight of the common man, something of a revolutionary himself. His memory has not fared well over the 90 years that have passed since his death. On the one hand, he suffered from being associated with the Bolsheviks, although he never spoke out in favor of state communism or dictatorship of the proletariat. On the other hand, a major effort has been made by Western capitalist régimes to denigrate anarchism and equate it with terrorism.

I would like to rehabilitate both Kropotkin and anarchy. People who bother to read Kropotkin’s lucid and unpretentious writings quickly realize that he is first of all a natural scientist, who approached the study of both nature and human nature using the same scientific method. He was also a great humanist, and chose the path of anarchy because, as a scientist, he saw it as the best way to improve society based on successful patterns of cooperation he observed in nature. He had no use at all for the vague metaphysics of Hegel, Kant or Marx. He also had no use at all for the imperial state, be it communist or capitalist.

Kropotkin was an advocate of communism at the level of the commune, and based his advocacy on its demonstrated superior effectiveness in organizing both production and consumption. His examples of communist production were the numerous communist communities that were all the rage in the United States at the time, where the numbers showed that they produced far better results with less effort and in less time than individuals or family farms. His examples of communist consumption included various clubs, all-inclusive resorts and hotels and various other formal and informal associations where a single admission or membership fee gave you full access to whatever was on offer to everyone. Again, the numbers showed that such communist patterns of organization produced far better results at a much lower overall expense than various capitalist pay-as-you-go schemes.

Kropotkin was definitely in favor of grass roots communism, but I could not find any statements that he had made in favor of communist governance. He spoke of the revolutionary change—change that required a break with the past—as necessary in order to improve society, but he wished that it would be a spontaneous process that unleashed the creative energies of the people at the local level, not a process that could be controlled from the top.

He spent a long time living in Switzerland, before the Swiss government asked him to leave, during which time he radicalized a large number of Swiss watchmakers, turning them into anarchists who, we must assume, practiced their anarchy with great precision. Based on his observations, he came to see revolution as rather likely. Again, he wished for it to be an anarchic phenomenon.

Based on this, I feel it safe to conclude that Kropotkin was not exactly a revolutionary but more of a scientific observer and predictor of revolutions who saw them as increasingly likely (and in this he was not wrong) and kept hoping for the best as long as he could. It also bears noting that he declined to accept every leadership role that was ever offered to him, and that his participation in the Bolshevik revolution in Russia was nil: he returned to Russia from exile as soon as he could, after the revolution of February 1917, but quickly removed himself to his home town of Dmitrov, north of Moscow, where he died in 1921. He wasn’t exactly popular with the Bolshevik leadership, but they could not touch him because he was so popular with the common people.

Dmtry Orlov

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