NEFAC Founding Raises Questions
The Northeastern Federation of Anarchist Communists (NEFAC) was founded in April 2000. The organizers, based in Boston and Quebec, are still in the process of developing the federation, which will bring to the northeastern region an organization modeled on such groups as the Anarchist Federation and Class War of the UK and the Workers Solidarity Movement of Ireland.
The political perspective of NEFAC is based on three pillars: anarchist-communism, federalism, and platformism.
The first, anarchist-communism, holds that the social transformation of work is fundamental to achieving freedom in any meaningful way. Moreover, anarchist-communism recognizes that economic, state and social systems of oppression are structured in such a way as to create disparate classes. These classes are naturally in conflict with each other-the exploited and the exploiter-but without organization and a genuine understanding of social freedom, this conflict will continue to sap the strength of the exploited class without leading closer to liberation. Only with organization and a genuine understanding of social freedom will the bleak conflict turn into a true struggle for the life of freedom.
NEFAC declares that the anarchist movement today has a need for an energetic and strong element taking this direction, and I agree. However, anarchist-communism is not all that NEFAC stands for.
NEFAC’s members believe that anarchists — or at least anarchist-communists — need a unified and comprehensive political platform. In their first conference, NEFAC discussed a proposed platform. The conference ended without having a final draft of the platform; the draft will be discussed again at the second conference. There are some small problems with the draft. For example, the points tend to emphasize things-we’re-against (capitalism, statism, patriarchy, racism, nationalism, ecological stupidity, and so on) which leaves the whole susceptible to leftism. For greater effectiveness, the platform would need to provide a cogent summation of what-we’re-for.
However, even if the platform is redrafted in more confident and effective terms, anarchism and platformism may be mutually incompatible. Political platforms repeat the old hierarchical structure of political control. As anarchists, we easily enough detect the bullshit when the state forms think-tanks to transmit official ideologies via the press to the “masses.” That’s a one-way transmission of ideas and a monopoly on political action. It’s statism. The role of state propaganda is to maintain systems of oppression by turning people in their own perceptions into the objects of another’s thought. But anarchism, in contrast, holds that every person is and should be self-determining, and the subject of his or her own thought.
The strongest defense against statism, and the strongest basis on which to nurture freedom, is to transform the objectified “masses” into critical-thinking and socially-conscious individuals. Anarchism must not only achieve this, but it must lead the way in fostering a new kind of politics in which one-way communication can no longer exist.
NEFAC goals include both self-directed “study and theoretical development” and other-oriented “agitation and propaganda.” Until these goals are merged — until study and theoretical development are the basis of a two-way — dialog their liberatory aim cannot be realized. Political platforms and propaganda are structurally authoritarian; even the development of a perfect idea cannot make it less so, once enshrined as The Answer. But this is not cause for despair – it is the seed for transformation. Class struggle begins with genuine dialog, with the return of men and women to their authentic self-knowledge.
NEFAC also holds that the federation is a model of how society as a whole should be organized.
Federalism is a political system in which semi-autonomous collectivities (in this case affinity groups) unite for certain specified political purposes. At the moment NEFAC’s purpose is somewhat sketchy. Their documents state, “The activity of the federation is organized around three poles: study and theoretical development; anarchist agitation and propaganda; and intervention in the struggle of our class, be it autonomously or by way of direct involvement in social movements.”
Theoretical and tactical unity are major goals of NEFAC. Study groups and agitprop are intended to create theoretical unity, while the federation hopes (by providing a general framework) to attain a degree of consistency in the actions of its members. But what sort of action is intended? How is consistency possible, when the tactics are never defined? What are the implications or the limitations of intervention? At the present time, NEFAC’s Aims & Principles and Constitution are too ambiguous to serve as guidelines for unified theory or action.
Talking to NEFAC members, however, a simpler but more cogent picture of NEFAC emerges. Intervention may mean, as Mark Laskey says, “pushing for [a] more radical direction in the way of tactics and perspectives, [and] popularizing anarchist and anti-hierarchical organizing principles (such as decentralization, self-management and direct democracy).”
The idea that unity or even consistency are always liberatory is mistaken. Sometimes inconsistency and a bit of discord is exactly what’s needed to accomplish the work of liberation.
The problems which crop up with Federalism are very real ones. Rather than focus on NEFAC and Federalism, though, I would like to suggest some of the critical problems which concern any anarchist organization. These are my personal point of view, as indeed is the whole article; I do not pretend to speak for “anarchists in general” or “the editorial collective.” I, to the best of my current understanding, believe that any organization which is liberatory in structure and intent must include these basic elements:
First, it must allow and perhaps even foster dissent; the individual should not be supressed by any false need for unity.
Second, it must allow and foster on-going self-criticism. This does not mean a sort of self-flagellation, but merely an honest questioning consciousness. Social freedom in practice doesn’t look like a religion; there can be no “higher answers” or “ultimate truths” — and that can indeed be very scary to face. But there are higher questions — and seeing that relieves the fear; because higher questions are based on understanding; and understanding (in my personal experience) alleviates fear.
Third, the structure of membership and decision-making must be somewhat fluid. Whoever wants to do the work should be welcome to do the work. But what is “the work”? Whether it is organizing class struggle or putting out a newspaper, there is a certain degree of agreement necessary as to what the purpose of the group is. Beyond that modest basis of unity, however, suppressing diversity merely undermines the group’s growth — or the growth of its individual members.
Fourth, groups should understand and acknowledge that direct democracy, consensus and collective responsibility are simply methods of imposing a social order. They can all be used to suppress dissent. If they are enshrined as Sacred Principles of Anarchist Method, they become invisible structures of authority. This is not healthy in anti-authoritarian organizations.
In thought and action, the means are the ends. The means to freedom must be consonant with freedom itself.