Tuesday, 12 April 2016

RASEL: Open assembly or libertarian socialist cadre?

There have been a lot of debates within RASEL over the last year which I hope this post helps clarify. I think the main question comes down to whether we are an assembly or cadre.

Question 1: Assembly or cadre? Is RASEL (a) an example of an open community group? That is, a group of 'active' (activist) community members? Or (b) is RASEL a group (cadre) for libertarian socialists?  Or is it both? (From the below discussions, I think there are problems with trying to be both.)

It should be noted that we are not the only organisation which faces this type of question. A parallel example that might help us think about this is the International Workers of the World syndicalist union. Syndicalism means they want the union to eventually be massive and take over all wageplaces in a revolution. It is supposed to an anti-capitalist organisation. However, it has members that are not anti-capitalist. Its preamble to the constitution reads:
It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.

 My understanding is that originally (and maybe still now, technically) people who join the IWW are supposed to agree with this statement in order to join. People are supposed to join and become organisers, promoting the idea of anti-capitalism and syndicalism. However, in reality it often doesn't work like this. Often the IWW helps wageplaces* organise themselves and then these wage labourers (e.g. cleaners) often set up their own branch even if they are not all anti-capitalist syndicalists. In other words they are organised how the IWW wants them to organise, but otherwise they are not supporting syndicalism. In the IWW there are sometimes debates as to whether there should be branches like this, or if it should only be open to anti-capitalists.

Although there are differences between the IWW and the Radical Assembly, and RASEL, I think we have a similar kind of debate to address.

(2) Membership: I've said from the start that I favoured a membership. This was on the assumption (without really thinking about it) that we are (b) a group for libertarian socialists. I couldn't see why we would be open to people that weren't showing their dedication to creating libertarian socialism. For me building libertarian socialsm means people are primarily concerned with building community groups (type (a) groups) that could lay the basis for a future socialist society.  We wouldn't focus on growing RASEL, but would instead try to grow community groups we start, or pre-existing residential groups such as 'Our Forest Hill' (we'd also try to influence such groups politically), or other types of community projects that get people used to collectively allocating resources and making community decisions.

However, having no membership and being open to nearly everyone makes sense if we are (a) an example of a community assembly ourselves. Only a tiny fraction of the population share our more or less libertarian socialist politics so if we want to be a community group we can't be open to only people that share our goals. We have to be open to a whole range of perspectives. Type (a) groups also don't need to have an agreed strategy. They can deal with problems as they arise, as I assume community groups will do in the future.

I get the feeling at the moment RASEL is stuck between being (a) and (b) at the moment. Or trying to be both. We are very open, unfocussed, laizzes faire, and we don't really have an anti-capitalist strategy (we didn't come up with one at the strategy day), which is something you'd expect from a type (a) open community assembly. But simultaneously, we have quite an exclusionary libertarian socialist ideology laid out in our principles (exclusionary in that not many people share it). So not many people want to join. So we're open and non-strategic, yet tiny all at the same time. The worst of both worlds. We are acting like an active community group, asking people from our tiny group to go to this action and that action. Meanwhile the organising work such as making the stall (and banner, and fliers/posters) has has taken about 6 months. If we include public education as cadre-type work, we also haven't made any videos or articles or podcasts. Our educational readings, presentations and discussions have ended up being just for each other rather than the public. Basically, I can't see what community organising we're doing as a group. So we're not a cadre. But we're also far too small to be a type (a) community group.

(3) Censorship: On Facebook I've favoured having a 'page' only type set up, where the people that regularly come to meetings (unofficial members) invite people to our activities or post our information. I've wanted to not have the FB group or have it closed to only the members (about 15 of us) to discuss things. I think this restrictive FB policy makes sense if we are a type (b) group. I didn't understand why we were letting anyone join the FB group and post almost anything. For example, stuff about Momentum. We aren't working with Momentum (although I wouldn't be opposed if people wanted to), so I didn't see it as suitable to be posted by random people we don't know. It was distorting the message of 'the group' (people that go to meetings) and distracting from our projects. If we're going to let people post stuff about Momentum, or any other political stuff the group isn't involved with, why not let people post other irrelevant stuff about sports or shopping, or holidays? Where do we draw the line? However, if we are a type (a) open group it makes sense for anyone in South East London to be able to join the FB group and post pretty much what they like. That we also have an FB page which the informal membership controls implies to me we are trying to be both (a) and (b).

I think we need to think about and clarify what RASEL is to help us clarify our tasks.

*Note I'm trying to not to use the word 'workplace' or 'worker,' as I think it reinforces gendered ideas of work that overlook house work as being work.

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