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Relations of the Specific Anarchist Organisation with the Social Movements

category brazil/guyana/suriname/fguiana | anarchist movement | policy statement author Tuesday February 14, 2012 03:13author by Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro - FARJ Report this post to the editors
We have, until now, dealt several times with the separation between the social and political levels of action. We intend to expose, in a little more detail, what we understand by each of these levels, the strengths and weaknesses of each and, especially, the way in which we understand them to be able to relate to one another.



We have, until now, dealt several times with the separation between the social and political levels of action. We intend to expose, in a little more detail, what we understand by each of these levels, the strengths and weaknesses of each and, especially, the way in which we understand them to be able to relate to one another.

For us, the social level is the ambit in which social movements are developed and in which we must seek to build and increase the social force of the popular organisation. It has social movements as favoured actors, but is not reduced to them. At this level, when we deal with social movements, we emphasise that they should not fit within an ideology, but should be formed around need; a common and concrete cause. They must be organised around concrete and pragmatic questions that seek, in case of victories, to improve the living conditions of the exploited classes. Social movements can be organised to struggle around the question of land, of housing, of work, to defend workers from the bosses, to demand improvements in the community, to advocate many other issues. Within these movements must be all those interested in the struggle around these issues and who would benefit if the struggle was victorious.

As we have seen, the more these social movements are organised and have the desired characteristics (force, class struggle, combativeness, autonomy, direct action, direct democracy and revolutionary perspective), the more they will be able to construct the popular organisation and permanently increase their social force. We understand that it is only with the convergence of the various social movements in the construction of the popular organisation that we will be able to overcome capitalism and the state, and build libertarian socialism through the social revolution. That is, the social level is the most important level for the social transformation that we intend to imprint on society and, without it, any changes that you think of may not produce results other than the creation of a new class of exploiters. Therefore, the social level is the main protagonist in the process of social transformation.

Nevertheless, as we have seen some characteristics are inherent to this social level, which end up complicating this process of social transformation (social movements –> popular organisation –> social revolution –> libertarian socialism). Firstly, because the various political forces that interact with the social movements, and the social movements themselves, often cause them not to have the desired characteristics for this process of transformation to happen.

The difficulties that arise from the authoritarian forces that act in the social movements are many: there are organisations that seek to ideologise the movements, causing them to be weak; there are organisations that try to harness them, causing them to function for their own purposes (that are different to the purposes of the movements); there are movements that do not seek the involvement of the exploited classes and end up becoming a “vanguard” detached from the grassroots; there are movements that function only with the help of governments and capitalists; there are movements completely tied to politicians, parties, and other authoritarian groupings; there are movements that want to elect candidates and only participate politically through representative democracy; there are movements that support hierarchical relations in which the leadership decides and the grassroots only obeys; there are reformist movements; there are isolated movements that do not want to connect with others; there are movements that do not produce theory and situational analysis, among many others.

Other difficulties arise from the actual operating of social movements. As they are always organised around short-term struggles, there is a very big risk that their ultimate objective ends up being the simple victory in these struggles. When this happens, many social movements become reformist movements – that is, movements whose aim is an adjustment or achievement within the capitalist system. Most of the time these short-term struggles distance social movements from revolutionary struggle. Moreover, as these movements are in most cases formed spontaneously, there is, undeniably, an organisational difficulty to carry out any long-term struggle. “Therefore, spontaneism, the spontaneous mobilisations of the masses, repercussion of an accumulation of unsolved problems that just ‘pop up’, if they are not properly channelled and instrumentalised, makes it is difficult to transcend the political plane in terms of changing power relations.” [164] As we have seen, social movements are still subject to variations in situation, and they are, sometimes, responsible for demobilisation. These processes of ebb are also often responsible for them to lose the accumulation and learning in struggles.

That is, if on one hand the social level should be the main protagonist of social transformation, on the other it has serious limitations for this to happen. We understand that this transformation will be the result of an addition to this social level, made by the political level.

The political level is the ambit in which the specific anarchist organisation develops. Unlike the social level, the political level is an ideological level; an anarchist level. “The problem of power, decisive in profound social transformation, can only be solved at the political level, through political struggle. And this requires a specific form of organisation: the revolutionary political organisation.” [165]

This political level must, necessarily, interact with the social level as we understand that without the social level, the political level is incapable of realising the desired social transformation. Thus, the political level absolutely needs the social level which, as we have said, is the protagonist of social transformation.

Neither an insurrection, nor a prolonged process of struggle are possible on the backs of, or distant from the masses. The spontaneous predisposition of these, which it is the function of the political organisation to channel in terms of organisation and ideological development, always has an absolutely principal role. You cannot make a revolution on the sidelines or despite the people. And even less build a new social system without the initial support of at least a substantially large sector of the people. [166]
The specific anarchist organisation aims to put into practice a revolutionary politics that conceives the means of reaching the final objectives (social revolution and libertarian socialism) with action always based on strategy. For this, it organises as active minority, co-ordinating the ideological militant activities that work as yeast for the struggles of the social level. The main activity undertaken by this political level is the social work that occurs when the political level interacts with the social level. In this contact the political level seeks to influence the social level as much as possible, causing it to function in the most libertarian and egalitarian way possible. We have seen that this can happen directly between the anarchist organisation and the social movements, or through groupings of tendency. From the moment that the political level obtains this – even partially – we say that it has social insertion. It is only through this social insertion that we understand it to be possible to build the popular organisation and, increasing its social force, reach the final objectives. Therefore, for us, as the political level needs the social level, so too does the social level need the political level.
Hence the need for an ideological activity of explanation (and to have the elements necessary for it) that is not contradictory, but complements other levels of struggle (economic, military etc.). By ideological activity we do not mean, obviously, “educationalist” ideological preaching, which refers more-or-less exclusively to the diffusion of revolutionary “theory”, even though, let us clarify, this also has its importance. Ideological activity is something more than the mere diffusion of theoretical knowledge. The facts, the actual political practice are ingredients, key elements for the integration of a level of revolutionary consciousness. [...] An essential ideological result is based on demonstrating before the people the prospect of victory, a journey of hope, of confidence in the possibility of a profound, revolutionary transformation. [...] And this “demonstrative” function [...] is the function of a politically organised minority, with an ideological level of consciousness that cannot be generated in the spontaneous practice of the masses. A level that implies the overcoming of spontaneism. [167]
Thus, we understand that the social and political levels are complimentary. This because the political level, in this process of influence that occurs when social insertion takes place, seeks to give to the social level the desired characteristics, which it often lacks – some because of the influence of authoritarian political forces, and others because of the workings of the social level itself.

In this interaction with the social level the political level should: fight in order that the movements are not ideologically driven; to avoid the negative influence of all the authoritarians, preventing them from using the social movements for their own ends; to involve the exploited classes as much as possible in the process of struggle and causing them to be the true protagonists of social transformation; to ensure that the movements do not live by the favours and aid of the ruling class, but that they impose their conquests by force; to ensure that the movements are not linked to politicians, parties and other authoritarian groupings; that they do not seek the election of representatives in the parliamentary system, but that they carry out their own politics; in order that everyone from the movements can discuss and deliberate all issues in the most democratic way possible; such that there is no hierarchy; such that the social movements use their short-term gains in order to build a long-term revolutionary project; such that the social movements connect and build the popular organisation; such that they assist in the elaboration and production of theory and the necessary analysis of the situation; such that spontaneity is transformed into organisation; such that, in case of ebbs, they do not lose the accumulation and learning of struggle.

The social level is characterised by strong ebbs and flows as it varies more than the political level in relation to the conjuncture. Thus, an important political level function it to ensure the continuity of ideology and the accumulation of struggles in times of ebbs (or even of flows) of the social level. This because “the [anarchist] political organisation is also the ambit in which is accumulated the experience of popular struggle, both at national and international level. An instance that prevents the dilution of knowledge that the exploited and oppressed acquire over time.” [168] In times of flow of social movements the role of the specific anarchist organisation is to propel them. In times of ebbs, its role is “to keep the flame alight”, or to wait and prepare for new opportunities to act.

Anarchism does not aspire to the conquest of political power, to dictatorship. Its principal aspiration is to help the masses to take the authentic path of social revolution and the construction of socialism. But it is not enough that the masses take the path of the social revolution. It is also necessary to maintain this orientation of the revolution and its objectives: the suppression of capitalist society in the name of the society of free workers. [169]
Thus, the process of the political level influencing the social level seeks to ensure that it possesses the desired characteristics. In cases where they already exit, then the political level only accompanies; in case they do not exist, it struggles to make them exist.

When we define the political level as the specific anarchist organisation of active minority, we are seeking a meaning opposed to that of the authoritarian vanguard organisation. Authoritarians, while also proposing a distinction between the social and political levels, believe that the political level has a relationship of hierarchy and domination in relation to the social level. Thus, the hierarchy and domination from within the political level (of the authoritarian parties) is reproduced in its relations with the social level. Similarly do the authoritarians understand the reproduction of consciousness, which works with hierarchy and domination within the political level, and that in their understanding must be brought from the political level to the social level, from the “conscious” to the “unconscious”. This is how the relationship of hierarchy and domination of the political level over the social level works. The relationship is not two-way, of the political to the social and vice versa, but rather a one-way relationship, of only the political to the social – that ends up being a transmission belt of the ideas of the political. The authoritarian idea, which supports the vanguard as a beam of light that intends to illuminate the path of the people, is an example of this. The social level, in darkness, would depend on the light of the political level. We know from diverse historical examples that, in this relationship in which the political level fights for the social, the political level obtains positions of privilege.

But we anarchists cannot emancipate the people, we want the people to emancipate themselves. We do not believe in good that comes from above and is imposed by force; we want the new mode of social life to surge from the people’s belly, corresponding to the degree of development attained by man and that can progress as they progress. It is therefore important to us that all interests and all opinions find in conscious organisation the possibility of asserting themselves and influencing collective life in proportion to their importance. [170]
For any specific anarchist organisation the relationship between the social and political levels necessarily implies a serious discussion about the question of ethics. We have assumed from the beginning that: “the FARJ will respect the strong ethical principals that support it, promoting the development of a political culture based on respect for plurality of perspectives and affinity of objectives” [171].

It is through ethics, and only through these, that the anarchist organisation does not act as an authoritarian (even if revolutionary) party. The ethics of anarchism, unlike all other ideologies, holds a unique position on the relationship between the social and political levels. For this reason ethics are absolutely central to any anarchist organisation that wants to work with social movements. Unlike the vanguard organisation, the political level organised as active minority that acts with ethics doesn’t have a relationship of hierarchy nor of domination in relation to the social level. For us, as we have emphasised, the social and political levels are complimentary and have a dialectical relationship. In this case, the political level complements the social level, as well as the social level complimenting the political.

Contrary to what the authoritarians propose, the ethics of horizontality that work within the specific anarchist organisation are reproduced in its relationship with social movements. When in contact with the social level the specific anarchist organisation acts with ethics and does not seek positions of privilege, it does not impose its will, does not dominate, does not deceive, does not alienate, it does not judge itself superior, it does not fight for social movements or in front of them. It struggles with social movements, not advancing even one step beyond what they intend to.

We understand that, from this ethical perspective of the political level, there is no fire that is not collectively lit; there is no going forward, illuminating the way of the people while the people themselves come behind in the dark. The objective of the active minority is, with ethics, to stimulate, to be shoulder-to-shoulder, giving solidarity when it is needed and requested. By this, unlike the vanguard, the active minority is legitimate.

The individual application to support the social movement should be subject to the attitudes of those who intend to work in this situation. The supporter, or even legitimate organisational militant must demonstrate that they are willing to listen much more than to talk. They must become aware of the circumstances in which the natural members that make up the specific social movement in which they are acting live. As part of a whole, i.e., an organisation, they must grow with it and not define its paths and shape in an authoritarian and vertical way. It is important to remember that a collective construction process is always, and above all, a process of self-education. With time, if the proper codes of the group are followed, and only then the supporter or militant will realise that the most important thing is to contrast their ideology with the reality of the group and not to try to reduce the social movement to their ideological certainties. [172]
This does not mean that we advocate a certain type of “grassroots-ism”, which understands everything that the social movements advocate to be right. We know that the majority of the time these movements possess characteristics different to those we desire, and what’s worse: from time to time make shifts to the right, and defend capitalist or even dictatorial positions, as was the case of fascism. Therefore, if on the one hand we do not believe that we should be in front of the social movements, we also do not believe that we should be behind them, following all their wishes. We want to be in a position of equality and, on seeing that they are distanced from the positions that we believe to be the most correct for the intended project of social transformation, we struggle internally and seek to influence them to have the characteristics already explained.
It is not that we believe that the masses are always right, or that we want always to follow them in their changing moods. We have a programme, an ideal to make triumph, and that is why we distinguish ourselves from the mass and are party people. We want to act on it, propel it on the path that we believe to be best, but as our objective is to liberate and not to dominate, we want to habituate it to free initiative and free action. [173]
Besides this, contrary to the authoritarians, for us the social level influences and must always influence the political level. That is, the political level, by comparing its ideology with the practice of the social level will also have very important contributions that should be added to the anarchist organisation. We only believe it to be possible for the political level to conceive a consistent revolutionary strategy from the moment that it has contact with practice at the social level. Thus, we argue this two-way street between the political and the social also has a lot to contribute to the political level.

We think that this division between the social and political levels will be necessary until such time as the social revolution is consolidated and secured, with libertarian socialism in function. At this time, the political level should merge into the social level.


164. Juan Mechoso. Op. Cit. p. 194.

165. Ibid.

166. Ibid. p. 195.

167. Ibid.

168. FAU. "Declaración de Principios".

169. Dielo Trouda. "Organisational Platform for a General Union of Anarchists".

170. Errico Malatesta. "La Organización". Excerpt from L’Agitazione, 18 de junho de 1897. In: Vernon Richards. Op. Cit. p. 89.

171. FARJ. "Carta de Princípios".

172. Universidade Popular. Op. Cit.

173. Errico Malatesta. "Enfim! O que é a ‘Ditadura do Proletariado’". In: Anarquistas, Socialistas e Comunistas, p. 87.

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