Autonomous Self-Organization and Anarchist Intervention: A Tension in Practice

by Wolfi Landstreicher

Introduction: a few definitions and explanations
Any potentially liberatory struggle among the exploited and dispossessed must be based on autonomous self-organization. As anarchists, who are also usually among the exploited, we have every reason to participate in and encourage these struggles. But since we have specific ideas of how we want to go about our struggles and a specifically revolutionary aim, our participation takes the form of an intervention seeking to move the struggles in a specific direction. Having no desire to be any sort of vanguard or leadership or to be caught up in the joyless game of politicking, we find ourselves in a tension of trying to live our conception of struggle and freedom within the context of an unfree reality, of trying to confront the real daily problems we face with our own refusal to play by the rules of this world. Thus, the question of autonomous self-organization and anarchist intervention is an ongoing problem with which to grapple, refusing to fall into easy answers and faith in organizational panaceas. To begin exploring this question let’s start with a few definitions and explanations.

Autonomous self-organization
When I speak of autonomous self-organization, I am speaking of a specific phenomenon that tends to arise whenever people, angered by their conditions and having lost faith in those delegated to act for them, decide to act for themselves. Autonomous self-organization therefore never manifests in the form of a political party, a union or any other sort of representative organization. All of these forms of organization claim to represent the people in struggle, to act in their name. And what defines autonomous self-organization is precisely the rejection of all representation. Parties, unions and other representative organizations tend to interact with autonomous organization only in the form of recuperators of the struggle, striving to take over leadership and impose themselves as spokespeople of the struggle — usually with the aim of negotiating with the rulers. Thus, they can only be viewed as potential usurpers wherever real self-organized revolt is occurring.

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