Thinking About Anarchism and Organisation


An accusing finger is pointed at anarchists any time the word organisation is mentioned. Many people believe that anarchism is against organisation and just another word for chaos, but is it? The simple answer, of course, is no, but that does not explain the confusion surrounding the question, nor the accusations thrown at anarchists.


Organisation, for anarchists, is one of the most important questions to be settled. Firstly, anarchists recognise that only through organisation can the bosses’ system be smashed. For example, the fact that during the Miners Strike in Britain, massive and co-ordinated police mobilisation was used to break the picketing and isolate the miners makes this point evident. The employers have at their disposal an efficient state apparatus, which will move to crush any opposition to it.

Only by being as organised and strong can workers hope to overthrow the employers and their class. Workers, as anarchists se it, must organise in the one place where capitalism is powerless without them, that is their place of work. By organising together in all industries, workers would have the collective strength to create a revolutionary movement to overthrow capitalism and replace it with socialism.

Secondly, however, there is the question of what type of organisation anarchist workers should build to overthrow the employers. Two types of organisation are possible. The first type is the one that we are all used to, the capitalist mode of organisation, is a top-down structure, where most of the members (say 95%) have little or no say in the decision making process and simply obey what the other 5% decide. Though this 5% are often elected, as with the Dail, they are completely unaccountable and simply represent their own interests, which in the case of the Dail is that of business.

The second type of organisation possible is that which anarchists say is indispensable to a workers organisation if it is to build socialism. This organisation is based from the bottom-up that is with the rank and file involved in all decisions taken by the organisation. Such an organisation excludes any leadership emerging that would make the decisions for the membership. When decisions are made, accountable delegates are appointed by the rank and file to implement these decisions. Thus, in practice, the organisation remains under the control of the membership and not under the control of any leadership. 

Some socialists organise on the principle that the working-class need a leadership, which will be the party of these socialists, without which, they believe, anything of worth can be achieved. For them, the party is the brains, the vanguard of the class. Inside the party, the “best” members form the Central Committee and the “best” of this becomes the leader or leadership. The whole process leads to a strict hierarchy in which orders come from the top and democracy is pushed into the background. Anarchists maintain that this sort of organisation will lead workers nowhere except to more tyranny and exploitation as in China and the former Soviet Union. 

Anarchists reject the capitalist mode of organisation, which all other left-wing organisations use on the basis that the means you use to achieve socialism dictate the end-result you get. Therefore, a hierarchical organisation will result in a hierarchical and totalitarian state and not a non-hierarchical socialist society. The claim is often made against anarchists that non-hierarchical organisation is inefficient and doesn’t work. More often that not, though, this allegation is made because these people regard their leadership as all-important. They pay lip service to Marx’s statement that the emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class themselves.

Anarchists are not opposed to organisation, but they do reject outright the principle by which most organisations operate. Participation by the mass of people in the decision making process is something that is absent now but that forms the very basis of socialism. Therefore, to achieve socialism, it only makes sense that we organise in a manner that guarantees mass participation and democracy.