Organisational Dualism, Active Minority and the discussion between ‘Party’ and ‘Mass Movement’

Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro – FARJ (Brazil)

Mikhail Bakunin
Mikhail Bakunin

The term “organisational dualism”, as it is used in English, serves to explain the conception of organisation that we promote, or what has classically been called the discussion between “party and mass movement”. In short, our especifista tradition has its roots in (Mikhail) Bakunin, (Errico) Malatesta, Dielo Truda (Workers Cause), Federación Anarquista Uruguaya – FAU (Anarchist Federation of Uruguay) and other militants/organisations that have defended this distinction between levels of organisation. That is, a broad level that we call the “social level”, composed of popular movements, and that which we call the “political level”, composed of anarchist militants that are grouped around a defined political and ideological basis.

This model is based on a few positions: that popular movements cannot be confined to a defined ideological camp – and, in this respect, we distinguish ourselves from the anarcho-syndicalists, for example – because they should organise themselves around needs (land, shelter, jobs, etc.), grouping together large sectors of the people. This is the social level or the mass movement, as it has been called historically. The model also contends that, to work in movements, it is not enough to be dissolved – or inserted – in them, even while recognising ourselves as anarchists. It is necessary that we be organised, constituting a significant social force that will facilitate in the promotion of our programme and also in defence against attacks from adversaries that have other programmes. However, one must bear in mind that we do not promote participation in one or other level; anarchists are also workers and are part of this broad group that we call the exploited classes and, therefore, they organise themselves, as a class, in the social movements. Even so, as this level of organisation has its limitations, the anarchists also organise themselves on the political level, as anarchists, as a way to articulate their work and ideas.

What is called the specific anarchist organisation is nothing new in the anarchist movement. Its origins are in the militancy of Bakunin himself, within the First International, with the formation of the Alliance of Socialist Democracy in 1868. Malatesta, developing Bakunin’s thesis of active minority, also thought of something similar. As, in the same way, did the exiled Russians of Dielo Truda and the FAU, amongst so many others. This specific grouping of anti-authoritarian revolutionaries is based on common positions on the horizon (objectives), strategies and tactics. That is, the specific anarchist organisation is not a recent “invention”, but has its trajectory in the consolidation of anarchism itself as a revolutionary tool, tracing itself to the actions of Bakunin.

In the historical development of the anarchist movement, this position was neglected in diverse countries in detriment to a position that said that “syndicalism/ trade unionism” (that accumulated set of social movements) was enough. Not for us. We believe that the duty of the specific anarchist organisation, what Malatesta called the anarchist “party”, is to articulate the force of the anarchists around a common proposal and to stimulate the social movements that they advance more and more beyond their demands, being able to forge the basis of a revolutionary transformation.

It is important to emphasise that organisational dualism does not presuppose a relation of subordination or hierarchy between the two instances mentioned. In our understanding of anarchism the specific anarchist organisation and the social movements are complimentary. The relation of the specific anarchist organisation presupposes ethical and horizontal relations, that imply the absence of relations of hierarchy or domination over the instances that participate.

The role of the specific anarchist organisation is to act as a catalyst of social struggles. We don’t believe that political organisations must guide or direct the struggles, as the Marxist-Leninist primer says. Bakunin’s conception of active minority is very useful for us in this regard. The active minority does not impose, dominate, establish hierarchical relations or control within the social movements.

The role of the specific anarchist organisation in the social movements is also not to group everybody to the positions of the movements that it joins, but to spread out and to influence the movements with libertarian practices (direct action, autonomy, self-management, etc.), without “doctrinisms”.

This implies enormous responsibility and presupposes an ethical relationship with these movements. This also leads us to the inevitable role of contributing to the struggle against any type of harnessing of the social movements, combating bureaucracy, stimulating the internal organisation of the movement, and working to ensure that these movements always stand on their own feet.

As we put it in our programme: “social work is the activity that the anarchist organisation realises amidst the class struggle, making anarchism interact with the exploited classes”; social insertion is “the process of influencing social movements by anarchist practice. Thus, the anarchist organisation does social work when it creates or develops work with social movements and has social insertion when it manages to influence these social movements with anarchist practices”.

Let’s see how we can better explain this in practical terms. For us, the most important work of the anarchist organisation is to function as a motor/ tool of the struggles of the social movements, trade unions etc. and, in this sense, we always have as an objective to create movements or to participate in movements that already exist.

Well then, we say that we do social work when we participate in or create movements and when they do not work with the strategy that we defend. When we enter into a movement like that of the homeless, for example, and we develop work without managing to conclude a proper project that is a practical application of our programme, we are doing social work. Social work is, therefore, to participate in a movement, but without managing to implement our programme, this proper project of which we speak. Generally, the first steps of an anarchist organisation are always of social work, but it is indispensable to seek social insertion, according to the moment.

In agreement with the definition made above, social insertion occurs when, starting with its social work, the anarchist organisation manages to make its strategy function in practical terms in the popular movements. In reality, for us it is not enough to simply be in the social movements and to kowtow to them; it is necessary to be there with a programme and struggle so that it is implemented as much as possible in practice.

In our programme we propose a determined strategy for the movements: in sum, broad movements without religious or ideological criteria as a basis for association; a class characteristic in this association, that is, movements forged by sectors of the exploited classes; combativeness aiming at conquests by means of struggles and not by cross-class collaborationism or cabinet agreements; autonomy in relation to individuals, organisations and institutions such as authoritarian parties, the State etc.; direct action as a form of guaranteeing class conquests in the struggles of the class itself, without participating in instances of bourgeois democracy; decision making by means of direct democracy, that is, movements that are organised horizontally, with decisions being made by all those involved in the process of struggle without leaderships detached from the ground and in favour of self-management and federalism; finally, a long term perspective that can impel day-to-day conquests and also impel struggles with a socialist and revolutionary objective.

In short, the more we manage to promote this strategy within movements, and the more they function in this way, the more social insertion we have.

Therefore, an easy distinction is: social work is to participate and social insertion is to manage to implement a programme. Work must always be the beginning and social insertion the desired objective in the movements.

We emphasise social movements, thus social work is not made at random and even less can we consider any act of rebellion, however admirable when directed against the oppressors, as social work. First there is the question of terrain; what is the terrain of the class struggle and of the possibilities offered for popular organisation? If we understand the group of exploited classes as the protagonists of the revolution, there is nothing more obvious than to work with movements constituted by those oppressed by capitalism.

These movements either already exist, or they need to be created – this last task can come from the specific anarchist organisation or not. Social work necessitates a certain systematicness. That is, it needs to be regular and be developed on more or less solid bases and have, or intend to have, the aforementioned class character. It is necessary to reflect on your objectives, under threat of falling into activism for activism’s sake or of wasting energies necessary for the advancing of struggles.

We must stress that social work requires a lot of patience and perseverance. Therefore a certain posture is needed. Something that the FAU calls estilo militante (militant style), a term which is completely adequate for us and is something on which we have started to reflect more recently. There is no militancy which gives results when there is significant discordance between the postures of militants. Nor do we wish that everyone act and behave in a homogeneous way or they be annulled in detriment to the collective. There are various personalities and temperaments within the organisation.

What we think is that you must have certain parameters of social work that must be stimulated within the specific anarchist organisation. Our statement of principles already defines the back bone of our organisation, but the daily experience of social work presupposes problems that will not be resolved by abstractions only. For this it is indispensable that the militant is not an exotic or exogenous “foreign body” to the movements in which they intend to (or do) participate. It is necessary to know how to listen, to know how to hear. It is necessary to be patient, and above all, to be very authentic and sincere in the work realised. To give body to the values that we defend not by verbosity or pure indoctrination, but by walking together shoulder-to-shoulder, by the fraternity and solidarity of struggle that unfolds in the daily experience of social work. It is not possible to develop social work, if I only manage to interact, converse and socialise with my “revolutionary” equals.

Obviously, no militant combines all the qualities that we expect, but it is from collective considerations that we sharpen the tone.

The more this militant posture exists, the greater the possibility of having social insertion. It is not about ideologising the movements, nor about transforming them into anarchist social movements, but about doing such that they manage to go as far as possible en route to revolutionary horizons.

This text is an extract from an interview with the Anarchist Federation of Rio de Janeiro (Federação Anarquista do Rio de Janeiro – FARJ) – an anarchist political organisation from the city of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil – conducted by the ZACF between August and October 2010. The full interview can be read here: