Saturday, 26 December 2009

Permanent Bases of Power

We always maintain that the core bases of working class power are the workplace and the community. But we should be careful not to fall into the positivist mindset where we see the revitalisation of organisation in these bases as being restricted to them and their existing organisations. We should bear in mind that movements that restore energy to these bases may arise externally to them, i.e. they may arise as external social movements whcih then invest themselves in the core bases. This could be particularly relevant in the confluence of anenvironmentalist agenda with community-based organisation, as the latter would provide the former with a set of specific sites of struggle, foundation of the agenda in daily life etc.

Strategically, our emphasis in social movements should, where possible, be to aim for their directed engagement in such core and permanent bases.

What is important about these two core sectors is:
1) They take up most of the average person's daily environment.
2) These environments are widely shared among the class - everyone has a workplace and a neighbourhood, not everyone has a local environmental group or whatever.
3) As they involve inequal allocation of power, they are necessarily a site of class conflict.
4) The fact that they have this power, means that they are potentially a site of class power.
This, especially 4) indicates that social movements need to orient themselves to such bases in order to be sustainable. Much of the problems of activism, after all, seem to stem from the lack of any viable base of power.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Warwick Fox's Systems Ethics

Just reading a bit of Warwick Fox in the library today. He's an Australian philosopher who comes froma deep ecology background but has apparently since distanced himself from that sorta thing. Either way, his book, A Theory of General Ethics: Human Relationships, Nature and the Built Environment aims to develop a General Theory of Everything for ethics. From the brief bit I had time to read, tt's an interesting approach, not that nicely written, but quite powerful.

The basis is his distinction between three different types of relationships - fixed cohesion, responsive cohesion and discohesion.

Responsive Cohesion
“the relational quality of responsive cohesion may be said to exist whenever the elements or salient features of things can be things can be characterised in terms of interacting (either literally or metaphorically) with each other in mutually modifying ways such that these mutually modifying interactions serve (at least functionally if not intentionally) to generate or maintain an overall cohesive order” pp72

“responsive cohesion is cohesion that arises through the mutual responsiveness of the elements or salient features of the matter under consideration.” pp72

So this sort of mutually modifying relationship, to me, indicates that determining power is diffused among the various elements of the system (there is no necessary equality of power though), but maintains their interdependence. This is in contrast to fixed cohesion and discohesion.

“fixed forms of cohesion can also shatter or collapse into their apparent opposite, that is, discohesion. We see this in the domain of politics, for example, every time a dictatorship is overcome by a revolutionary movement that initiates a period of chaos and lawlessness. In fact we see it when any rigid structure is overwhelmed by internal or externally imposed forces and shatters into pieces. Thus, rather than representing any kind of “move in the direction of” discohestion, this kind of change from fixed cohesion to discohesion is typically abrupt...Equally, order can forcefully be imposed upon a chaotic situation, as, say, when a new dictatorial regime emerges from civil chaos and imposes a strict order overnight.” pp82-3

So fixed cohesion distributes power unequally, so that a strong hierarchy emerges, whereas discohesion disperses it, but via independence, creating a situation of anarchy.

Anyway, it's an interesting idea, but I think the divisions are mainly only useful conceptually. In reality, especially in social systems, there is always a form of responsive cohesion, but the distributions and methods of mediating this response differ. The state, though it would appear to be a classic fixed cohesion, exhibits responsive cohesion, both internally and externally. It must respond to the pressure of interest groups in order to maintain its legitimacy, although it does, on occasion, ignore these groups altogether (a la Balir in the Iraq War).In fact, the limited responsive cohesion of the state could be seen as the defining principle of its hegemony.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Self-Organisation and Emergence

Been looking over a few articles on modularity this evening (and being distracted from my work) and found one article with two particularly interesting definitions. I'll finish the article tomorrow and maybe write up some more. For now, here are my thoughts on the definitions.


Emergence is a classical concept in systems theory, where it denotes the principle that the global properties defining higher order systems or "wholes" (e.g. boundaries, organization, control, ...) can in general not be reduced to the properties of the lower order subsystems or "parts". Such irreducible properties are called emergent.


Self-organization may be defined as a spontaneous (i.e. not steered or directed by an external system) process of organization, i.e. of the development of an organized structure. The spontaneous creation of an "organized whole" out of a "disordered" collection of interacting parts, as witnessed in self-organizing systems in physics, chemistry, biology, sociology ..., is a basic part of dynamical emergence.

So, now I'm thinking of writing a sci-fi novel where the revolution is referred to as The Emergence. It's even better than the Singularity!

But anyway, the second definition is particularly useful. If we see the capitalist system as a whole, and do not conceptualise the working class as a discrete, identifiable (i.e. ordered) element within this system, we can see the development of a socialist society as a process of organisation.

In this process, the working class moves from a "'disordered' collection of interacting parts" which share basic characteristics, to a highly ordered group. This group then engulfs particular elements of the system as a whole while discarding or destroying others, so that we can say that a new society emerges.

The role of the revolutionary organisation then becomes guiding this process of self-organisation in such a way that the new society can emerge.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Elements of a thriller

The thriller has a broadened scope to its forebear, the detective novel. This means more elements in play; a more complex system, therefore requiring more mental juggling on the part of the reader. This can be made easier by maintaining strict sequentiality in narrative lines, so that characters' actions (and illustrative description, side-story etc.) follow the plot trajectory as closely as possible. In this way, each action automatically references the last, and the integrity of the overall sequences can be maintained in the reader's mind.

Constructing a Story

A Story is constructed from a situation. It takes this complex situation and uses it to produce a wholly new form of content. It is a way in and thus contains all the practical and ideological baggage of accessing, understanding and expressing this situation, mediated by the formal necessity of expressing it as a story (or an opinion piece, etc.).

The formal necessity means that the publicising of the situation is mediated by a specific form that itself contains ideological elements, structural requirements and immediate practical concerns.

Example: the famed Jan Moir article on Stephen Gately

The situation was that SG had been found dead in his apartment. He had died (in his sleep I think) after returning home from a night out. Himself and his civil partner had invited another man to stay with them that night. The coroner had preliminarily announced that the death was natural. The family had stated that there was a history of congenital heart problems.

The story constructed brought together these facts, and ordered them into an opinion piece, with a specific aim - to provoke sensations of disturbed moral conscience in the readers.

It did this by emphasising the aspects of the situation that suited a moralistic reading - homosexuality, civil partnerships, drugs - and discounting the elements that undermined this - coroner's statement, family's statement.

So, elements of the situation are worked into a coherent piece in such a way as to produce a particular effect upon the readers. In this case, Moir misjudged her readers, and what was produced was outrage against her, not a sneaking reinforcement of homophobia.

The key distinction between Red-tops and broadsheets is what range of responses they attempt to elicit in the readership. Redtops favour strong emotions like outrage, fear, disgust, scorn, etc., while the broadsheets confirm their readers' self perception as alert observers of the world around them, able to grasp all sides of complex situations, etc.

On identifying as Anarchist

A person is not simply an anarchist when they implement and recognise the merits of certain tactics, organising principles, etc. They are an anarchist when they abstract and generalise these principles into a vision of a different society.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Culture and Strategy

That's the sign in the Ford Motor Company war room. I've written before about leadership expert Sam Chand's theory that "Culture is more important than vision" and it's true. It doesn't really matter how great your vision is, or how brilliant your strategy. If you don't create a culture where vision and strategy can be realized, you'll fail. It's a simple choice really. Your organizational culture can either propel you to greatness or sink your ship. Too many organizations rely on the two columns of vision and strategy. They put all their money on the vision of the leader, or their corporate strategy. But too often, at the same time they create an internal environment of distrust, bitterness, and betrayal. Don't make that mistake. Build an internal culture of creativity, innovation, and talent, and just step back and watch the breakthroughs happen.

Taken from Ok, Phil Cooke does seem to be an odd mixture of media guru and christian, but I think the quote is good. Maybe I'll check out Sam Chand.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

The Deducers

The below is not the whole story. And it's too overbearing to define a single starting point for the analysis of cultural products in general.

Anyway, there is another approach that is also valuable IMO.

That is, we understand any cultural work as fashioned from the author's internal worldview, which is itself formed from dynamic interaction with the world. So we can, for lack of a better word, interrogate an author's standpoint in their social world via their work.

The benefit of this derives from the specific characteristics of artistic products, which is that they have the capacity (and the permission) to convey a worldview in a way that no other secular product can. I think this, indeed, is one of the central points of the historical critique of art, which argues that art is invested with many of the functions of religious expression in secular capitalist society.

So, if an artistic product can express its creator's worldview, this is useful for us if we think a couple of things:
1) The artist is involved in a social system
2) Their worldview will be formed from their interaction with this system (this interaction needs further investigation, to dispel the stifling ambiguity).

If we believe these things, then the utility of an artistic product is in its capacity to convey the artist's worldview, its relation to their concrete standpoint, and hence something of their world.

The benefit is that we can hence understand radically different (whether distant in time, space, class, etc.) standpoints in otherwise impossible detail & unity. By engaging with many particular visions, we can start to construct something of a general vision. From the particular to the general, this, for me, is the movement of realism.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

The Producers

The starting point for the analysis of any cultural product (call it text, or whatever you please) is to see it as a productive system. It aims to produce a certain complex of effects upon the person who receives it, views it, interacts with it.

A work that can be said to fail, is a work that does not produce the effects for which it was intended. Artaud. Melville. Bialystock & Bloom.

When we talk about genre films, or genre fiction, we are referring to the effects that the work will visit upon us, the reason that we pick it up, go to the cinema. Action, romance. Each of these words conveys, in a broad sense, the set, or range of personal responses upon which the work will play. Failure then, is also a frustration of our expectation.

When we identify this range, we can then discuss technical and ideological issues. A certain method of montage, cinematographic style, etc., or gender roles, construction of space, etc. these can be assessed, broken up, and reinserted into the understanding as a whole. But technical and ideological are not separate. Not at all. Psycho-cam in Halloween, strong arms in Mills & Boon.

We must ask why our expected responses are played on in specific ways, what modes of behaviour this presumes, and what this (often publically enacted) call-response principle reinforces. Aka, why do boring people like stupid movies & why do artschool wankers like lame-ass pretentious movies?

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

The Agony of the Times

This whole debate on the death of the newspaper is very interesting, and well worth some proper investigation. Clay Shirky is, so far, the best critic of the vain attempts of the newspapers to sustain themselves, and the below quote is quite a nice indication of how badly the business model has been broken, and how increasingly archaic the newspaper form will become.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the media business is being turned upside down by our new freedoms and our new roles. We’re not just readers anymore, or listeners or viewers. We’re not customers and we’re certainly not consumers. We’re users. We don’t consume content, we use it, and mostly what we use it for is to support our conversations with one another, because we’re media outlets now too. When I am talking about some event that just happened, whether it’s an earthquake or a basketball game, whether the conversation is in email or Facebook or Twitter, I want to link to what I’m talking about, and I want my friends to be able to read it easily, and to share it with their friends.

Shirky's blog has a few very good posts on the topic. Also well worth checking out is Michael Massing's article for the New York Review of Books, and Chris Anderson has some Ok stuff on it as well, but tending towards the superficial.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Distributed Leadership in the Obama Campaign

Distributed Leadership in the Obama Campaign

The video above is an excellent, if long, discussion on the development of distributed leadership in the Obama election campaign. The speaker, Marshall Ganz, was a New Lefter, involved in the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Campaign, the United Farm Workers, and had some sort of training role for Camp Obama. The video is worth a look if you have time, but here are the salient points I pulled from it.

What does leadership mean in times of opportunity?
Taking responsibility to enable others to achieve shared purpose in the face of uncertainty.

Stephen Jay Gould mentions two conceptions of time:
- Time as cycle (management, routine)
- Time as arrow (leadership, change)
Both of these are necessary. Time as arrow fits a campaign-organisation suitably, but it also needs to include management and routine. However, the fact of change, and unexpected issues, means that the organisation must be able to adapt, this requires leadership, not management.

Obama campaign had three advantages:
- Message of hope - involved people in shared narrative
- Stategic - set specific goals (local caucases) and built local capacity to win these
- Finance - built an expensive base of small contributors

Moving from Disorganisation to Organisation requires leadership

Disorganisation -> Leadership -> Organisation
Passive -> Motivation -> Participating
Divided -> Relationship -> Community
Chaotic -> Structuring -> Collaboration
Reactive -> Strategy -> Initiative
Inactive -> Action -> Outcomes

Motivation is crucial, because it explores the individual's emotional involvement, their affective mapping of the world. Decisions are ultimately made on the basis of emotional involvement.

Camp Obama identified each of these issues
Motivation: People told their stories of why they were there, what their values were
Relationship-Building: People would have one-on-one meetings, bring discussion back to wider group - develop shared interests
Structuring: Develop interdependent leadership teams
- Decide on norms on which decisions and actions are made
- What are the tasks? who can do what?
Strategising: Give people the tools to identify goals and identify necessary tasks.
Action: Give training in very specific tools

Different Models of Organisation

That's my MSPaint rendition of his diagram, which is not dissimilar to a model I previously drew up. The lateral arrows indicate that links are always being established and drawn between the various groups.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

What is a 'Distributed' Workforce?

We consider a workforce "distributed" if it meets any of the following three conditions:

- Individual workers are in different physical locations.
- Most normal communications and interactions, even with colleagues in the next office, are asynchronous; that is, they do not occur simultaneously.
- The individual workers are not all employed by the same organisaion, or are working within distinctively different parts of the same parent organisation. They may have widely different terms of employment.

EEach of these three dimensions impacts workforce management in today's economy, and the interactions among them create new skill requirements, demand new management practices, and raise stress levels for everyone. However, these new conditions also present intriguing opportunities for productivity improvement, organisational effectiveness, and enhanced personal satisfaction.

The above is from a short article, Understanding Distributed Work, by The Work Design Collaborative, and available here.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Eric Fromm The Art of Loving

Just as automatons cannot love each other they cannot love God. The distengration of the love of God has reached the same proportions as the disintegration of the love of man. This fact is in blatant contradiction to the idea that we are witnessing a religious renaissance in this epoch. Nothing could be further from the truth. What we witness (even though there are exceptions) is a regression to an idolatric concept of God, and a transformation of the love of God into a relationship fitting an idolatric character structure. The regression to an idolatric concept of God is easy to see. People are anxious, without principles or faith, they find themselves without an am except the one to move ahead; hence they continue to remain children, to hope for father or mother to come to their help when help is needed.

The Art of Loving, pp93-94

Monday, 13 July 2009

Doris Lessing on the fragmentation of culture

I came across Doris Lessing's Nobel Prize lecture recently. There's some interesting issues raised, which are worth thinking about.

The title of the speech is 'On not winning the Nobel Prize', and Lessing focuses on the sheer deprivation in Zimbabwe, and the lack of the conditions necessary for proper education, 'I do not think many of the pupils of this school will get prizes.' Despite all this, she maintains, there is an intense desire for knowledge, and an active culture of self-education. She contrasts this with the immense resources of a prestigious London school she visited, where excellent facilities are left vacant by the absence of interest.

In this privileged school, I hear what I always hear when I go to such schools and even universities.
"You know how it is," one of the teacher's says. "A lot of the boys have never read at all, and the library is only half used."

There's a curious thing; "you know how it is"; "what I always hear"; "we do indeed know how it is". How it is that the dominant countries of the world, ironically, are entirely lacking in a drive towards self-education that could ensure their dominance.

How it is in Lessing's narrative, is that this lack of drive derives from a general cultural listlessness, itself born of a postmodern disintegration.

We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.

yeah, yeah, we know, all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned. It's not unreasonable to see in these words a literati lament, mourning with belated bitterness their dispossession of the privileges accorded to artists within an earlier mode of capitalism. Cerainly, that's the position taken by Scott Rosenberg, from, who sees it as a basically conservative position, 'the cultural establishment, the journalism business, and other important institutions are still saying that blogs will destroy civilization.'

But let's bracket that easy dismissal and look at the role of reading in her argument. There are many, she says, "[who] know nothing of the world, [who] have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other". Reading, then, and probably culture in general, is for Lessing a vital link between the individual and the world, perhaps even of establishing some harmony between the disparate individuals and groups of society. It is, as she says herself, concerned with taking the "raw, the individual, the uncriticized, the unexamined, into the realm of the general."

If we maintain a sceptical position on this, we would argue that the function of literature, then, is to contribute to the reconciliation of social existence as individuated and society as totality, between civil society and the State. That is, that literature can fulfill the same function for the conflict between individual and general in the terrain of world-vision that democracy accomplishes for the political-economic.

But what of this for socialists? And let us remember Lessing's own credentials as an advocate of social equality, and a sharp critic of capitalist power relations.

Well, Trotsky, Lenin et al were keen readers, weaned on the greats of classical Russian realism. And this brought them into sharp conflict with the Futurists and Formalists, particularly when the former advocated 'push[ing] Pushkin and Dostoevesky from the steamship of modernity.' The later official theory of socialist realism, expounded most definitively by Lukacs, identified the realist form with the greatest gifts of the bourgeoisie to the proletarian movement, and from it emerged a strict set of guidelines for the articulation of proletarian literature, a written form that would overcome the mystifications of capitalism, and the bring the working class into consciousness of itself and, of course, its historical mission.

This brief sketch may have pushed my hypothetical readers straight back towards postmodernism, so I had better try and make a libertarian socialist case for realism.

Class, as we know, is not solely a matter of one's relation to capital, but also, crucially, of one's relationships to others in our society. Is the attitude of capitalists to their workers authoritarian or paternalistic? Are politicians clientelist or ideological? These are all important questions for the analysis of society in general. But for our analysis of the working class and its development into a revolutionary force, the question of modes of organisation is absolutely fundamental, and provides the clearest distinction between the various articulations of socialism.

The mode of organisation identified by libertarian socialists as the only one possible for the construction of a socialist society is what has been termed 'horizontalism', which I have attempted to define earlier (I think). In my view, the development of the proletariat as a revolutionary class demands that horizontalism be the determining mode of its social organisation, and that it consciously attempts to extend this mode across the social terrain; i.e. towards communism via revolution.

So, in this case, the formation of this class consciousness, and its extension as revolutionary class consciousness is clearly a massive change in the world-vision of many people. Moreover, this vision must be shared among the class, there must be a common framework for self-consciousness. It will require, in fact, for many men and women, to know much of the world, to know much of each other, and to know what they are capable of.

Back to the Bourgeoisie
A conservative critic, who writes for Asia Times as Spengler, and who chose his pseudonym advisedly, has written of China's 6 to 1 advantage over the United States. This is the ratio of Chinese to American children studying classical piano.

The world’s largest country is well along the way to forming an intellectual elite on a scale that the world has never seen, and against which nothing in today’s world - surely not the inbred products of the Ivy League puppy mills - can compete

Here we have the same basic components as Lessing; education, class, the emerging nation, and the malaise of Western culture. Education, it seems, is tightly bound to the emerging nation. For Lessing, this is tied to poverty, to growing up in a place "where parents long to get an education for their children which will take them out of poverty." For Spengler, it is tied to the development of a class of intellectuals, of scientists and engineers and businessmen. A class that will build the nation.

Another key writer here is Benedict Anderson, as his writings on Nationalism highlight the common development of a national elite as the common core of nationalist rebellion in subaltern economies.

[INSERT Anderson quote, plus stuff by Gramsci]

Gramsci was one of those who tried to think through a similiar process from the perspective of empowering the working class.

To fight for a new art would mean to fight to create new individual artists, which is absurd since artists cannot be created artificially. One must speak of a struggle for a new culture, that is, for a new moral life...intimately connected to a new intuition of life until it becomes a new way of seeing and feeling reality and, therefore, a world intimately engrained in "possible artists" and "possible works of art."

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Problems of Strategy

- Much existing writing on strategy begins with the premise of a defined body, to be applied to certain defined ends.
- Strategy then concerns the direction of a known body to known ends, utilising calculable forces.
- This isn't possible for us, as the primary purpose of the org in the current stage of struggle is to develop the internal organisation of the class, i.e. to create bodies capable of exerting forces.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Ultra-Left vs Democracy (unfinished)

[some things need more work. if you can think of a better definition of democracy, please send it.]

Today I've been reading a couple of ultraleft critiques of democracy, Gilles Dauve's Contribution to a Critique of Political Autonomy and the pamphlet Communism against Democracy, containing texts from Wildcat and Against Sleep and Nightmare.

Dauve's text, at 32 pages, is not particularly clear or useful, but the latter two are. The below quote is from And Democracy Continues its March by Sleep & Nightmare.

No scheme for managing society will by itself create a new society. Highly democratic, highly authoritarian and mixed schemes are now used to administer capitalism. The basic quality of capitalism is that the average person has little or no control over their daily life. Wage labor dominates society. You must exchange your life to buy back your survival. Whether people under capitalism make the decisions about which records they buy, which inmates serve long sentences, what color the streetlights are, etc., is irrelevant.

The community that escapes capitalism will involve people directly controlling the way they live.
This is the individual and collective refusal of work, commodity production, and exploitation. This will involve much collective decision making and much individual decision making. The transformation cannot be reduced to a set way of making decisions or a fixed plan of action.

Not believing in democracy means not automatically knowing how to proceed if people have profound disagreements. So be it.

The Ultra-Left love their rhetoric.

But anyway. The critique of democracy should begin at a brief definition of what capitalism is, versus what communism is. They say, "The basic quality of capitalism is that the average person has little or no control over their daily life", which is fair enough as a 12 word summary. This arises from the division of social production into independent commodity producers (via the commodity form) and from the internal division between owners and non-owners of capital (via private property).

Communism, on the other hand, "will involve people directly controlling the way they live." Again, fair enough, this will arise from common control over the means of life.

So, what the hell is democracy? Actually, I'm gonna eat my words, Dauve actually does make one point in particular better than these lads:

Ancient Greece’s real contribution to history was not the principle of democracy as a set of rules and institutions by which citizens make collective decisions. The innovation went deeper. It invented what democracy is based upon: a special time-space reserved for confrontation, and distinct from the rest of social life. In that specifi c sphere, a person is taken away from his private interests, from fortune and status differences, from his social superiority or inferiority, and placed on an equal footing with all the other citizens. Equality of rights alongside social inequality: that is the definition of politics.

Well done Gilles. Have a link, you deserve it.

Ok, so let's say that democracy is a model of governance that constructs a specific space of governance for a polity and allocates equal decision-making to all members within this space.

Aha!! So, we can immediately start the critique by targeting the fallacy that implies that
- formal equality of power within the decision-making space is equivalent to real equality in the polity, thus subduing the actual relationships of power that define the people in the polity and ultimately overdetermine the construction of the democratic space itself. Boom!

Which leads us to a more substantive awareness of the separation between power and policy-making within modern society. Historically, these emerged from the strategic separation of these spheres as a defensive manouevre by Enlightenment liberals, so that politics becomes an issue of determining to what extent political power can intervene in economic matters. This, of course, again surfaces in the liberal doctrine of 'negative freedom', and all these bum concepts have at their basis the desire of the emerging capitalist class to ensure their freedom and security of property against state power.

In this way, we can see how democracy as separate space for arbitration of disputes and issues between private individuals is a very sensible political method for dealing with the problems of a society of property owners. As the boy I.I. Rubin wrote:

The distinctive characteristic of the commodity economy is that the managers and organizers of production are independent commodity producers (small proprietors or large entrepreneurs). Every separate, private firm is autonomous, i.e., its proprietor is independent, he is concerned only with his own interests, and he decides the kind and the quantity of goods he will produce. On the basis of private property, he has at his disposal the necessary productive tools and raw materials, and as the legally competent owner, he disposes of the products of his business. Production is managed directly by separate commodity producers and not by society. Society does not directly regulate the working activity of its members, it does not prescribe what is to be produced or how much.

But the market cannot solve everything. As these autonomous firms proceed solely upon their own interests they necessarily come into conflict with each other (I'm visualising capitalism as a day at the bumper cars here). As such, there is clearly needed a space of arbitration, where the autonomy and independence of the market can be laid aside, so that matters can be resolved in the interest of the polity as a whole.

Anyway, I have another problem, one of my own construction, and that is that:
- the 'polity' that is governed by democracy, is often, in fact, constructed via democracy. Which is a fancy way of saying that democracy rests on a people; it implies the self-governance of a particular, identifiable group.
- However, the group that is governed is not cast in iron; it is composed of many sub-groups, and it has many connections which exceed the bounds of the group.
- Democracy, as an abstraction, reinforces the bounds of group and limits sub-groups within these bounds.
- Democracy then allows for the 'people' (or organisation) to be posed over and against the real people
- Democracy then acts as a limit of the activity of sub-groups, and these groups consequently experience their membership of the democratic group as unfreedom.

Democracy in a Lefty Organisation
As mentioned earlier, I'm interested in developing ideas for how an anarchist organisation can run itself better.

Now, I think the thing to emphasise here is the practicalities of what needs to be decided.

I will first of all say that the theory of the organisation should be immediately connected with its activities. It does not need a position on the Chinese Revolution if it is concerned with organising tenants to agitate for social housing. However, an anarchist organisation will need to share a common outlook on the nature of its environment (i.e. society), the changes it wishes to make, and some general principles about making them.

To direct its activity, however, an anarchist organisation does not need reams of analysis. The general orientation and approach to the environment supplies the basis, the next steps will be taken autonomously, by the interaction of individuals and sub-groups with the environment.

Friday, 26 June 2009

Octopus gonna fuck you up diva boi

fo' real

Modular organisation

Another useful quote from Linked, this time on modular organisation in complex networks, a particular focus of mine these days:

Hartwell and colleagues jumped into the middle of this debate by proposing that cells sustain a multitude of functions - i.e., multitask - thanks to a discrete modular organisation. According to this view, the network behind the cell is fragmented into groups of diverse molecules, or modules, each module being responsible for a different cellular function. As modules are connected via a few links to other modules, the network behind the cell is similar to Granovetter's circle of friends, where those within the same circle know each other well and communication with other circles is maintained by a few weak ties...Modularity is a defining feature of most complex systems. Indeed, departmentalisation allows large companies to create relatively secluded groups of employees who work together to solve specific tasks; the Web is fragmented into heavily interlinked communities of Webpages whose creators share common interests; modularity in our intellectual and professional interests allows Amazon to offer book recommendations inspired by the reading patters of people within a comparable intellectual module; a modular computer design allows us to replace the old bulky screen with a flat panel display without redesigning the whole computer. Yet, a modular architecture is at odds with everything we have learned so far about complex networks. Most networks, from the cell to the World Wide Web, are scale free, held together by a few hubs. By virtue of the many links hubs possess, they must be in contact with nodes from numerous modules. Therefore modules cannot be that isolated after all, resulting in a fundamental conflict between the known scale-free architecture and the modular hypothesis.

So the obvious question for me is how to model a modular architecture for da wissum, so it can do specialised tasks more effectively. Answers (with diagrams) on a postcard.

Sunday, 14 June 2009


Currently reading Linked, a book about networks, mainly an introduction to the work behind all that hoo-ha. Interesting and easy to read, and starting to provide some useful nuggets. Like this

The surprising discovery of power laws in the Web forced us to acknowledge the hubs. The slowly decaying power law distribution accomodates such highly linked anomalies in a natural way. It predicts that each scale-free network will have several large hubs that will fundamentally define the network's topology. The finding that most networks of conceptual importance, ranging from the World Wide Web to the network within the cell, are scale-free gave legitimacy to hubs. We would come to see that they determine the structural stability, dynamic behavious, robustness, and error and attack tolerance of real networks. They stand as proof of the highly important organising principles that govern network evolution.


Sunday, 10 May 2009

Nice Quote - Individualism & Innovation

It is right to recognise that we became human individuals in terms of a social process, but still individuals are unique, through a particular heredity expressed in a particular history. And the point about this uniqueness is that it is creative as well as created: new forms can flow from this particular form, and extend in the whole organisation, which is in any case being constantly renewed and changed as unique individuals inherit and continue it.

Raymond Williams, The Long Revolution

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

I'm gonna come back to this

Just using this as a bookmark for now - I'll try to come back and have a go at discussion when I have some time.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Types of Class Power in Beverly Silver

Here's a quote from Beverly Silver's excellent Forces of Labour (2003), which uses the term associational power in a slightly different way.

Contentions about the state of world labor are based on assumptions about the impact of contemporary globalisation on workers'bargaining power. A useful starting point for differentiating types of workers'bargaining power is Erik Olin Wright's (2000:962) distinction between associational and structural power. Associational power consists of "the various forms of power that result from the formation of collective organisation of workers" (most importantly, trade unions and political parties). Structural power, in contrast, consists of the power that accrues to workers "simply from their the economic system." Wright further divides "structural" power into two subtypes. The first subtype of structural power (which we shall call marketplace bargaining power) is the power that "results directly from tight labor markets." The second subtype of structural power (which we shall call workplace bargaining power) is the power that results "from the strategic location of a particular group of workers within a key industrial sector."

Ok, so this interesting for me, not only because Beverly Silver is brilliant (check this review of the book, by Aufheben), but because it makes me think about why I think my use of this term, associational power is useful, but distinct from Silver's use of it. God this sounds pretentious.

Anyway, I guess the ímportant thing about the paragraph above is that its talking about class power in a specifically antagonistic relations with capital, i.e. the relative strengths of the capitalist and working classes. Fair enough, that's the topic of the book.

My problem is that I want to be able to talk about something underlying this, which is how the internal organisation of the class can both reproduce the disempowerment of the class in relation to the forces of production by maintaing sectionalism, clientelism, etc, but can also be the basis of a wholly different organisation of society.

So, let's say we have a big-ass trade union, like Siptu or whatever. It is a free association of workers, and it certainly does have a certain amount of power, associational and structural in the terms used above - it could shut down the country (in potential anyway). But power vested in a body like Siptu is obviously not equivalent to class power - because the actual people who have power in this structure are very few, and the majority of members are left disempowered by this mammoth body. The trade union structure, as has been remarked countless times, has a basically clientelist mode of organising, which empowers TU leaders to make decisions on behalf of members. So it's difficult to see the origins of a mass movement in such a body.

My concern is that we need to be able to identify fertile ground for anarchist intervention, and that these should be defined, not primarily by numbers or structural position (although these are also important criteria), but by a mode of organising which can be the basis of class power. Without which, in fact, we cannot really speak of class power, but only of discrete sectional agendas. This is what I want to use "associational" modes of organising to distinguish.

I don't want to use this in an exclusivist way, as if there are "associational" modes of organising, but these are immediately cancelled out by the intrusion of clientelism or whatever. I think that such modes will, and do, coexist within various social structures, and the role of revolutionaries is to develop the relative strength of associational power bases.

I'm still skirting around an exact definition.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Starting thoughts...

Biographical aside...

After a year of discussions about defining socialist politics with the comrades from the Black Cat Group, I began to reconsider my initial position, which aimed to incorporate all the various bad things of the world under the term 'capitalism' and thus incorporate all struggles against them into the term 'class struggle'.

I think this was a reaction against bad identity politics, as well as a discourse of 'tolerance' which basically relativised and made equivalent all forms of of struggle against these bad things. The negative reaction is correct, I believe, but the alternative I posited relied on a total equation of 'anti-capitalism' and 'class struggle', which tends to overlook the actual specificities of exploitations & oppressions for the sake of rhetoric. So I tried to think about what exactly the basis of socialism in everyday society is, as an actual principle, or tendency within human organisation. I started by thinking about different modes of social organisation that create change in the world, then thinking about motivation, and differentiating activity based on its cause. We can then proceed to think of class strugggle as a 'struggle-for' where the 'for' is an expansion, or generalisation of some principles already present in the social world.

I don't fully agree with either of these notes, and they're both clearly quite limited (god, "happiness" is so lame), but I think the principle of associational modes of organising is useful enough. I'll flesh it out in a later, more focused piece (if I defined it clearly earlier, I can't find it now...)

In M->C->M', capitalist activism finds itself as the transformational logic of capitalist society. But for the capitalist, the transformational quality is obscured by the simple reflexive continuity of accumulation; the social/material transformation of the world created by capitalist projects is a side effect.

If the capitalist class identifies the corporation as the structure for the realisation of their projects, the political class identifies the state political structure. It is from there that they can develop and implement their various plans.

The working class must find its own structures. People who do not have access to such structures as State and corporation must find or develop their own. On the lowest levels, these are simply social structures by which we aim to realise the type of life that we want. On another, these are structures by which we aim to enact a force upon society.

I suggest that is when people use social structures dominated by associational principles of organising that they are happiest.

Later notes

We can reconfigure the terms and problems of classical anarchism into spatial terms.

The 'venting', or symbolic protest action of the electoral left is intended to generate a stance, a block of recognisable mass.

Direct action is conscious, projective movement. It contains a direction, defines its path en route and applies a force.


Capitalism and all hierarchical systems maintain the relative privilege of a minority through compulsive behaviour. However, it's survival/growth depends upon its ability to harness initiative based on impulsive behaviour.

This is fostered in a wider group of people via economic and ideological infastructures and is, passively, the ideological status quo (initiative within certain bounds).

We are looking for a society based on redistribution of weight between impulsive and compulsive behaviour.

Reaction [i.e. Reactionary forces] in capital arises when the generalisation of impulsive behaviour exceeds manageable bounds both in scope and in breadth.

Consider the Octopus...

This blog will be a space for the discussion and analysis of social organisation with a view to finding theories, methods and forms of organisation that will be useful for the creation of a better world.

The slightly opaque title comes from a reference to the octopus as a interesting model, or at least a useful analogy for how the authors see the structure of an ideal revolutionary organisation, as octopus tentacles, while directed ultimately by the central brain, have nerve clusters which enable them to determine variations in movement autonomously. (Hopefully Rowan will come along and put some science on this before I get embarassed)

Anyway, we both have a lot of existing material on this topic (organisation, not octopi) so the next few days should see this transcribed. Hopefully we can then start moving onto new discussion.