Home > Anarchism, Socialism/Communism > Organization: A Key Question In the Left Libertarian Movement

Organization: A Key Question In the Left Libertarian Movement

Sometime in early 2009, I learned of the Redwing Workers Organization, a libertarian socialist group based out of Des Moines, Iowa in the 1970s. Wait, wait, wait…a libertarian socialist group in Iowa?! 30 years ago?! Yep.

Immediately upon learning of them I tried to find out everything I could about these unknown Iowan reds, talking to older militants and trying to extract from their valuable memory. Tracking down written documents of any kind was somewhat difficult, but I managed to obtain two. The first was this one, which the Workers Solidarity Alliance archives kindly sent me. The second is a history, which consists of short blurbs of some of the things the RWO and their predecessor, the Feminist-Socialist Group (FSG) did. I’ll be posting this in the future.

Before we get into who this group was and what this document says, I gotta say that there’s so much here that is as relevent as ever. As usual, whenever I find out earlier generations were arguing the same fuckin shit between themselves, I shake my head. Also…..if you know or knew anyone who was involved with this group, contact me please!

From Iowa Women’s Archives:

The roots of the Redwing Workers Organization (RWO) began in November 1972 when a group of people attended a Marxist-Leninist Educational and decided to form an on-going group of their own. After several preliminary meetings, the Feminist-Socialist Group (FSG) was formed in February 1973. The FSG divided into two Primary Revolutionary Groups (PRG’s) in June 1974, with one group striving for ideological unity focused around libertarianism, communism, feminism and working class issues. The other group formed around a feminist-socialist ideology. In 1976, five PRG members formed a libertarian tendency group. These members worked with other Des Moines libertarians to plan and organize a Midwest conference. The Redwing Workers Organization grew out of this conference. In September 1976, the RWO formed itself into a federation of two smaller groups: a Redwing healthcare workers organization and a Redwing workers action development group.

This is the first part of a two-part series on organization. In the first part we will center on the need for organization. The second part will outline our conception of libertarian organization, based on our practice.

Organization has become a key issue in the libertarian left over the last year. This is no doubt in response to the deepening of the capitalist crisis and the realization among libertarians, and leftists in general, that building a revolution will require a high level of self-discipline and collective organization.

To begin with, revolutionary organization is not a magical formula that will make the social revolution blossom in the hearts and minds of the oppressed. Organization is simply a tool that allows us to collectively project revolutionary thought and action into the most strategic areas of struggle. Organization allows us the opportunity to present our ideas, solutions and forms of struggle to other oppressed people. We, as a revolutionary element among the people, can and only should struggle to provide the spark that ignites the social revolution. Revolutionary organization is the tool that unites our theory and practice into a weapon of class[1] struggle that catapults people into building, managing and defending the revolution.

The question is not whether we should organize, but how to organize. Presently, the majority of the libertarian left in North America is guided by anti-organizational attitudes. This, in our opinion, can only serve to isolate us from the struggle, and allows the authoritarian left to become the only alternative to people.

This tendency in the movement places priority on developing individual solutions to the alienation created by the social system. According to this concept, the revolution will happen by people “doing their own thing” without a conscious strategy beyond their local area. Anything beyond a local level will then somehow work itself out.

Alexander Berkman states,

“Do not dupe yourself with the silly notion that things will arrange themselves. Nothing ever arranges itself, least of all in human relations. It is men (people[2]) who do the arranging, and they do it according to their attitude and understanding of things”[3]

The present state of the movement is a clear reflection of individual solutions being posed as models for building the revolution. What these models fail to see, however, is that individual self-realization is possible only if there is a shift in social consciousness that allows this self realization without the exploitation of others. In capitalist society, individual solutions can function only as personal escapes, and therefore act as safety valves for the system.

In the final analysis, however, there are no truly effective personal escapes. Modern society is too socially integrated for an individual or small group to stand outside of it. Since Capital defines and restricts all current social relationships, the only effective means of struggle is collective confrontation with the system.

We realize the importance of struggling against the specific forms of oppression which we personally experience, and against our own authoritarian socialization. However, the personal struggle can only find revolutionary expression by engaging in the class struggle. Building the class struggle clarifies and heightens the personal struggle by giving it a collective character that expresses itself through confrontation with the enemy – capitalism and authority in all its forms.

This leads to the essence of the organizational question. The present organizational patterns of the movement are determined by informal organization.

An informal organization has a structure, whether the members are conscious of it or not. The structure by which decisions are made is based on informal social ties. Therefore, one’s access to, and participation in, the decision-making process is dependent upon who s/he knows and how well they can relate socially. A clear hierarchical method develops from this practice. The lack of formal organization makes this inevitable. It is not a matter of power hungry individuals stealing leadership, it is a matter of a lack of structure leaving a void that has been filled by committed people. The effect is that those who have the most access to anarchist ideas, free time, transportation, money, communications, etc. form an informal “central committee” that decides movement questions for all of us. In other words, movement questions are dealt with through social connections, thereby forming social elites who determine the flow of the movement. The movement then becomes a social club, a debating society isolated from the day-to-day struggles of the people, and gets caught up in its own forms of social escape.

We reject this current state of the movement and are struggling to put the organizational question in its proper perspective. We need to join together to correct organizational void by developing libertarian structures.

Bakunin gives a clear insight into the need for organization:

“It is not enough that the people wake up, that they finally become aware of their misery and the causes thereof. True, there is a great deal of elemental power, more power indeed than in the government, taken together with all the ruling classes; but an elemental force lacking organization is not a real power. It is upon this incontestable advantage of organized force over the elemental force of the people that the might of the State is based.

Consequently, the question is not whether they (the people) have the capacity to rebel, but whether they are capable of building up an organization enabling them to bring the rebellion to a victorious end – not just a casual victory but to a prolonged and ultimate triumph.

It is herein and exclusively so, one may say, that this whole urgent problem is centered.

Therefore the first condition of victory by the people is agreement among the people or organization of the people’s forces”[4]

In this spirit we are putting forward the need to build a class struggle libertarian organization that is integrated with the people and willing to fight for the liberation of society.

In the second and last part of this series, we will share our social practice in trying to build a class struggle organization in Des Moines.

We invite feedback and criticism.

Robert Davis
Gary Larsen

c/o P.O. Box 1902
Des Moines, Iowa 50306

[1] It should be made clear that we are using the term “class” in a broad sense. Class is a hierarchical concept. It is based on a person or group having power over another person or group; this is what we mean by a class relationship. Accordingly, class can be based upon one’s relationship to production, wealth, sexuality, race, etc. Therefore, we see the class struggle as encompassing the struggles of all oppressed people (i.e. women, Third World people, gays, workers, etc.). History has shown us that a class revolution cannot be successful without successfully overcoming each of these specific oppressions. In other words, it is impossible to have a successful class revolution without also a successful women’s revolution, Third World revolution, gay revolution, etc.

[2] our addition

[3] Berkman, Alexander, WHAT IS COMMUNIST ANARCHISM?, N.Y., Dover Publications Inc., 1929, page 233.

[4] Maximoff, G.P. (ed), THE POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY OF BAKUNIN, N.Y., The Free Press, 1953, page 367

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