Separate Organisations? [ZACF]

The revolution and the honour of the workers obliges us to declare … that we make war on the same enemies: on capital and authority, which oppresses all workers … The bourgeoisie of all countries and nationalities is united in a bitter struggle against the revolution, against the labouring masses of the whole world and all nationalities …

The path toward the emancipation of the workers can only be reached by the union of all the workers of the world. Long live the workers international! Long live the free and stateless anarchist commune.

Makhnovist Army and Nabat Anarchist group, May 1919,
“Workers, Peasants and Insurgents. For the Oppressed, Against the Oppressor – Always!”,
leaflet issued in the Anarchist-led revolution in Ukraine, 1918-21.
Reproduced in Peter Archinov, History of the Makhnovist Movement, 1918-21.
1987 Freedom Press edition.

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As Anarchists, we stand for class struggle between the bosses and rulers, on the one hand, and the workers, peasants and the poor, on the other hand. We therefore call on working and poor people to organise separately from the class enemy, the rich and powerful. All working and poor people have essentially the same interests, and can only defeat capitalism, the State and all forms of oppression by organising separately on the basis of CLASS, and only class. We stand for maximum unity amongst the oppressed classes. We oppose any alliances between the oppressed classes and the oppressing classes.


Having said this, we do recognise that there may be a need to organise special commissions (committees) of the Anarchist political organisation, the ZACF, to concentrate on all the various issues relevant to the working class and poor: for example, racism, sexism. Also, in the long run it may be possible to set up ZACF youth and other sections e.g. an “Anarchist Youth” wing.

The point of ZACF commissions is to make sure that all issues relevant to the working and poor people are dealt with in a comprehensive and effective fashion. Examples: commissions on women’s freedom, trade union democracy etc. Such groups would be set up by ZACF National Conference. SEE ZACF CONSTITUTION.

Neither commissions nor sections should be go-it-alone isolated bodies with no aid from other structures, or as “ghettos” to which controversial issues can be assigned and forgotten. Instead, they should be seen as integral parts of the ZACF.

The ZACF is a class-struggle based organisation – we promote organisation and struggle on the basis of class as the means to change society. We oppose divisions between working and poor people. Given that the working-class/ peasantry are multi-national and multi-racial, this clearly means that the ZACF must be an integrated non-racial, non-sexist organisation. It also implies that the working class struggle must be fought on non-racial, international lines.


As noted above, we call for the working and poor people to organise separately from their class enemy: the ruling class. However, we do not support the tactic (advocated by some political currents) of forming non-class based separate organisations. For example, women-only movements (advocated by radical feminism), Black-only movements (advocated by Black Consciousness), gay-only movements etc. Although we recognise that such approaches are capable of gaining fair amounts of support and publicity, we nonetheless argue that they are weak and flawed approaches unable to deliver liberation to the groups whose interests they profess. At the same time, we unconditionally defend people’s basic democratic right to associate with whoever they wish.

Typically, approaches that call for non-class based separate organisation fail to correctly identify the source of the oppression of the group in question. They typically fail to even provide critiques of capitalism and the State; even where they do, they fail to provide workable strategies for liberation. For example, radical feminism argues that all men benefit from women’s oppression, and that, as a result, women must organise separately from men (the enemy). Such an argument fails to identify the real roots of special oppressions (primarily in capitalism and the State), or to recognise that no workers actually benefit from such oppression. It thus fails to realise that only class struggle can end special oppressions, and that the real allies of specially oppressed groups are other working and poor people (in this case, men). It thus fails to see the need for united organisation, and thus for class consciousness, and class power.

Another questionable claim that is sometimes used to promote these non-class based separate organisations is that “they are necessary to make sure that the group in question is not marginalised by other forces”. For example, some Black nationalists argue that Blacks must organise separately so that they are not bossed around or ignored by whites in progressive struggles. This is a legitimate concern, but it does not follow that separate organisation is the best way to deal with it. On the contrary, separate organisation is a particularly weak approach to the problem.

  • Firstly, separate organisation often tends to reinforce and deepen the marginalisation of the voice of a given group. (a) The existence of a separate organisation often allows the “ghettoisation” of that group’s concerns. For example, men can say that issues of women’s oppression should be dealt with by the women, and are thus able to avoid changing backward ways of behaving (e.g.. sexism) that are, ultimately, against the interests of all working/ poor people. Instead, all sections of the working class and poor need to won to a programme of opposing (rather than ignoring) all forms of oppression. (b) Even if these other sections do not themselves have first-hand experience of a given form of oppression, it does not follow that they cannot be won to a position of opposition to that oppression. Such a position is in their own interests because no workers really benefit from oppression. In addition, all workers share a common form of oppression as workers, which provides a basis for unity. We reject the notion that “the facts” can only be understood by members of a given group – social-scientific analysis can produce reasonably objective, context-free knowledge. (c) Third, separate organisations can lay the basis for the isolation and defeat of a specially oppressed group. For example, the Black minority in the USA is too small and weak to overthrow the US ruling class on its own. It needs allies. Yet the logic of separate organisation advocated by US Black nationalists is to oppose all such alliances, because it effectively claims strength flows from isolation, and denies the very real common interests of all workers.
  • Secondly, this view expresses a lack of confidence in the abilities of Blacks, women etc. to function in integrated organisations. But it is folly and patronising to assume that, for example, Black people in such organisations will always be passive followers of “White leaders”. Exactly the opposite is true. Even within Europe and the USA, Black workers will be in the forefront of the struggle, a crucial part of the layer of activists whose role is so vital to the revolution. In South Africa, the Black working class will be the agent of revolutionary change. To claim that Black people will “always” be reduced to passive followers in integrated leftist movements is to be blind to the capacities of the Black working class.
  • Taken to its logical conclusion, separate organisation divides the working class into competing and even hostile sections to the detriment of all. Why stop at Black-only or women-only movements? The basic idea of separate organisation readily leads to an emphasis on difference, and a process of continual fragmentation: blacks versus whites versus Asians versus blacks of one sort of origin (e.g. America) versus those of another (e.g. African) versus blacks of one sex (e.g. men) versus those of another (e.g. women) versus blacks of one sexual preference (e.g. straight) versus those of another (e.g. gay) versus blacks of one religion (e.g. Christian) versus those of another (e.g. Islamic) etc. etc.. Such fragmentation of political struggle is common in many countries. Instead of emphasising difference, and using it to justify separatism, we need to find points of agreement and common interest; divided we are weak, united we can win. Class provides the basis for uniting the vast majority of the world against the key source of poverty, oppression, and domination: capitalism, the State and their ruling classes.
  • The claim that only separate organisation can prevent the marginalisation of a group’s concerns is false. On the contrary: the most effective way to, for example, commit the working class to the struggle for women’s freedoms is not to confine the issue of women’s rights to small women-only groups, but to win all working-class people to a position opposed to sexism. This increases the support for such demands, and strengthens the struggle for such demands. Moreover, since it is in the interest of all working/ poor people to support the struggle against all oppression, the task of winning all workers to this position is quite practical/ possible.

Separate organisation on a non-class basis is NOT always progressive. Whilst we defend the right of free association, and defend and support progressive organisations that fight oppression, we also recognise that in some cases separate organisations are clearly a reactionary and a backward step.

  • Separate organisation in the workplace (e.g. women-only trade unions) is not acceptable in any case where industrial unions of all workers exist. The logic of trade union organisation is to unify different categories of workers, who can only find strength in their unity. Where the unions exclude categories of workers, these workers should be organised to separate unions as a transitional step, but in all cases United Front action between the different unions should be promoted because its strengthens struggle, and because it helps lay the basis for future unification. Maximum unity on a principled basis (i.e. anti-racist etc.) must be promoted.
  • Separate organisation is only admissible as a tactic for liberation in cases where workers face a special oppression. We do not, for example, support tribalist movements such as the Inkatha “Freedom” Party because Zulus do not face a special oppression as Zulus.
  • Separate organisation that is not on a class struggle basis is dangerous because it almost always lays the basis for multi-class alliances as it is based on non-class identities and (supposed) non-class common interests. As argued in POSITION PAPERS on FIGHTING RACISM, WOMEN’S LIBERATION etc., only class struggle (not cross-class unity) can end racism, imperialism, sexism etc.


In practice, as we have noted elsewhere, working and poor people have responded to the repression, exploitation and injustices of capitalism in a variety of ways. For example, at the ideological level, people have supported various political ideologies. Some of these ideologies share much ground with anarchism (e.g. other types of socialism); and others with which we have relatively little in common and/or reject (e.g. nationalism).

In addition, people have organised themselves to fight against capitalism in a variety of ways and areas of social life. Two key forms of response are:

“Political” responses. For example, some people work to build parliamentary parties (e.g. the ANC), or build wings of political parties (e.g. SASCO or PASO). What these approaches have in common is that they recruit people on the basis of a specific set of political beliefs (e.g.. the Congress tradition).

“Economic” responses. For example, civic associations, rent-strike committees, youth structures, self-defence units, and, of course, trade unions. What these organisations have in common is that they are broad-based grassroots structures which organise people (regardless of their political beliefs) to fight for their daily needs against the power-that-be i.e. on the basis of their economic and social interests (for example, more rights, better schools, lower rent, better working conditions). Such organisations typically have a class dimension in that they are based largely amongst working-class people and address issues relevant to the workers and poor. Class struggle is not just about wages – it is about every action by working and poor people to resist the bosses and rulers. The economic and class aspects of these structures remain true, no matter which political ideologies influence their membership (a variety of political currents are commonly present within these structures).

Organisations with homogenous memberships (for example, only Black members) may exist within both types of response (see above). Some of these organisations have such a composition because it reflects members’ political beliefs. For example, AZAPO. Therefore it is a “political response” (belief in non-class based separate organisation). The composition of other structures reflects their grassroots base. For example, a township-based civic is almost certain to be entirely Black in membership. Nonetheless, such a structure is an “economic response” in the sense outlined above and should be treated as such.

The following “rule of thumb” should be applied by the ZACF when relating to these two types of body:

Political groups. In other parts of these Position Papers we have criticised both the strategy of using parliament for social change, and the strategy of using non-class based separate organisations. SEE OTHER POSITION PAPERS AND THIS PAPER. This means that we do not do political work within such organisations. However, we are more than ready to work alongside/ in co-operation with such organisations through the tactic of United Front action.

Economic groups. We would generally work within such organisations (including through ZACF commissions) to win them to our programme. Our aim:

  • promote class-consciousness, an explicitly working-class programme, an end to class collaboration (as opposed to nationalism, support for politicians etc.).8.2.2. put control into the hands of the working-class grassroots, not middle- and upper-class politicians and “radicals”.
  • promote unity with other mass economic structures because of the common interests of the workers and poor, and because of the need to prevent isolation leading to defeat. Promote principled and progressive co-operation with unions.
  • also, we take up arguments about the need to support the struggles of specific part of the working class (e.g. women) with other sections of the working class (e.g. men).


As indicated in the UNIONS Position Paper, our aim is to unite and merge all of these “economic”/class struggle bodies: those at the workplace should unite into “One Big (Trade) Union”; those in residential areas should unite into “One Big (Community) Union”- into integrated fighting structures that rally all working class people against capitalism, the State and all oppression. The actual process of unification would not exclude tactics like united fronts, ZACF commissions, work with caucuses (e.g. women’s caucuses) .These workplace and community “unions” will lay the basis for self-governing worker and community councils in the Anarchist future. See ROLE OF REVOLUTIONARY ORGANISATION.