Friday, 13 January 2012

Spontaneity and organisation (one)

The proponents of organisationalism define their projects against the possibility of their absence... ‘nothing will happen unless we make it happen’. Those who see no particular worth in the activities of organisationalism (i.e. those who cannot perceive a discernible wider effect arising from the activities of permanent organisations) are themselves perceived, from the perspective of organisationalists to be advocating ‘spontaneity’. 

anarcho-syndicalism argues the 'spontaneity' of struggles is usually an artefact of the remoteness of the observer, and that invariably (tautologically even) they are initiated by the more militant sections of the workforce/class, therefore if those more militant workers who hold revolutionary views organise together on an industrial and regional basis as workers then we can agitate to increase levels of solidarity and struggle. i'm not aware of any councillists advocating formal, permanent workers' organisations based in workplaces and neighbourhoods. For councillists, workers' councils are the spontaneous product of mass strikes which arise inexorably from the dynamics of capital, within which revolutionaries organised along political lines should then make 'interventions.' for anarcho-syndicalists workers' councils are the high water mark of everyday struggles and self-organisation with which we should be involved from the start.... council communists tend to opt for purely political organisation and see developments in the class struggle as largely spontaneous reactions to capital occurring independently of revolutionary minorities.  
– From an internet discussion
It is true that communism is not reducible to spontaneity and nor is it reducible to any other single underlying principle such as the formation of a permanent organisation. In the quote above, spontaneity is used to defend permanent organisation against the arguments of those who are not ‘self-organised’. In fact, according to this argument, there is no such thing as spontaneity and therefore those who advocate it are merely misidentifying the self-organising activities of workers involved in struggles. Spontaneity here is made to function in organisationalist discourse as ‘creationism’ is made to function by science in religious discourse – it is the easily locatable error of the Other... but just as ‘creation’ is not a scientific theory, and  it is futile to argue against it as if it were, so spontaneity has never been a ‘strategy’, or an alternative proposal to the proposal for organisation. 

Nobody advocates ‘being spontaneous’ as a strategy (as this would be self-contradictory), nor does anyone within the pro-communist milieu imagine that events occur separately from human activity. It is an absurd misrepresentation to argue that because X is not personally involved in a particular struggle that he therefore imagines  class struggle is merely ‘struggles without any participants’.

What occurs negatively as ‘spontaneity’ within the discourse of self-organisation is in reality the effect of a clearer theoretical understanding of the nature and limit of self-organisation, and of the  processes that are required for social change. As has been set out above, it is not possible to organise social change, the only objective possibility  open is to be organised by it. Certainly, class struggle always involves people, and certain people are quicker to pick up on critical events within the conditions of their struggle than others. If it is the case, and I think it is, that critical forms of consciousness are more likely to occur at locations where social relations are in crisis then this is the only feasible meaning of ‘spontaneity’. 

Spontaneity in this context is not to be understood literally as an event springing forth without any discernible causal pressure but rather as a less mediated set of behavioural responses to a change in underlying conditions. People respond to events and either feed their activity back into them (increasing the rate and extent of that change) or they refuse them by sticking to set patterns of behaviour established before the events. What is of most interest in May ‘68 is both the behaviour of those who carried on as normal during the events and the behavioural reversions of those went back to work after the events. People do not ‘make things happen’, they only feed into this process of transformation or that process of continuity. 

Of course, in society all conditions are established through human activity, therefore the conditions of activity are only materialised activity returning as a set of limits... nevertheless, the distinction between live activity, live relations, and mediated conditions is important in the understanding of how society changes. The production of the social relation follows the lines of dead activity dictating to living activity up to the point where the messages transmitted via the former to the latter become confused, and pass into a critical state. At the point of crisis, live activity begins ‘spontaneously’ to make up its own messages, or at least tries to imagine what messages it ‘should’ be obeying (often this takes the form of self-management i.e. ‘we must work harder for less pay to keep things going until the crisis has passed.’)

We see from this that the error of spontaneity as it appears from the perspective of self-organisation is in reality only the coherent application of a theory on the means by which changes in the structure of greater forces causes events at the level of lower order structures. The evidence for this is to be found in the practice of self-organisation itself – if self-organisation (i.e. the voluntary formation of organisations) is really the means by which the working class may oppose the capitalist social relation then a. why hasn’t this proved successful historically when mass allegedly ‘self-organised’ structures dominated the working class and b. why is self-organisation still so difficult to self-organise? The evidence that may be used in support of permanent organisations can only be produced practically, for example through the successful instigating and maintenance of a permanent organisational network of militants and its successful intervention within the class struggle. And yet, this evidence cannot be called upon... organisations which were formed 2 or 3 decades ago have still not gained hundreds, never mind thousands, of members.   

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