There are two ways to form an organisation: to group together existing organisations and individuals around a common platform of aims and values and then to work towards a common theoretical / political position by means of the analysis of the actual situation or to form an absolutely precise programme and recruit individuals to it. The former method is the one that the Melbourne comrades concerned thought the FAA should follow; the latter is one characteristic of every trotskyist / leninist group.
If one were to read only the SMG editorial in the Sept-Oct 10th FAAB and especially their implicitly approving references to the ORA without reading their statement "Internal Democracy" it would be difficult to believe that the SMG was not an adherent of the second method of forming organisations. On the face of it the SMG criticism of the FAA would appear to involve a number of highly dubious positions: that the growth of the revolutionary movement is to be identified with the growth of a single organisation; that an organisation cannot grow - or at least is not healthy - if there is theoretical disagreement within it; that an organisation must always be capable of unified action and that theoretical disagreement makes unified action impossible.
These positions are, of course, perfectly familiar - being part of the creed of every left-wing sect - and they would appear to be simple common sense. Unfortunately it is not in the least clear that any successful or even important mass movement has exemplified them whereas history is full of examples of small groups for whom they have been self-evident truths.
This is hardly surprising for the positions listed above are the basic theses of sectarianism. Two different organisations holding the above principles cannot cooperate: nor can a single such organisation take any mass movement seriously (except for manipulative purposes) because the mass movement lacks the (correct) programme. A non-opportunist (ie non-leninist) group holding to the above principles will necessarily be a failure.
It is true, as the Brisbane comrades say, that in a libertarian organisation agreement of ideas must replace authoritarian compulsion, but it is not strictly correct to call this 'theoretical agreement' since for the purpose of revolutionary action it is political, strategic and tactical agreement that is important. Theory has its effects at these levels but it is only one ingredient in a complex also involving goals and analysis of the concrete situation. In trying to achieve agreement it seems better to start with these since the available theories are just the results of theorising other peoples' goals and situations.
The presence of different theoretical lines in the FAA seems a rather small price to pay for avoiding sectarian isolation. Providing the FAA has a federal structure there does not seem at present any objection to distinct tactical lines (providing anarchists generally are not compromised by terrorists, chaotists and other lunatics claiming to act as members of the FAA). The FAA is an attempt to foster the anarchist movement in Australia but this is not the same thing as building up particular anarchist organisations. The distinction between organisation and movement is an important one. Individual organisations within the FAA, whether geographical or national, should be able to engage in their own political activity and develop strategies in their own name. They would no doubt use the structure of the FAA to argue for their approach within anarchist ranks but it is a rather different question whether the programmes of individual organisations should be promoted to being that of the FAA. Apart from the resulting splits this would mean that strategies were experimented with on a national level rather than locally. In a country as regionalised as Australia, this would seem simply a mistake. A strategy "correct" in one state may be "incorrect" in another and, unless one believes that one has already found the correct strategy, it would seem the more experimentation the better. Of course one should not pursue heterogeneity for its own sake, but equally one should be wary of pursuing cohesion for its own sake. Cohesion can always be achieved cheaply by a purge, but small is not always beautiful.
If we accept that the main problem in Australia at present is not the organisation of a revolutionary striking force but the propagation of reasonably coherent libertarian ideas (several coherent versions exist), the development of popular militancy and radicalism and, eventually, the development of libertarian mass organisations, then it does seem that something of the looseness of the current programme is a suitable basis for mutual discussion and joint action for, whatever the SMG might say, the current programme does exclude individualists, anti-organisation chaotists, social democrats and marxist-leninists.
(It is disquieting to see the Brisbane comrades quoting the ORA with approval. Whilst traditional anarchists groups in countries without revolutionary experience are incoherent mixtures of completely opposed tendencies, the ORA formula simply reflects the degeneracy of traditional anarchist communism and has historically formed the bridge either to stalinism - as in the case of the author of the ORA programme - or to the more violent varieties of trotskyism in the case of the English ORA and the predecessors of the French one. This phenomenon will be discussed at some length in the forthcoming Anarchist Archives edition of the Arshinov "Platform of the Libertarian Communists" which will also include other documents such as Malatesta's criticisms of the "Platform" and the 1936 programme of the CNT).
The implication of the SMGs position on conferences is that their purpose is to give rise to organisational developments. This is one purpose conferences might serve, but it is hardly the only one. Some Melbourne anarchists had suggested calling a fairly sharply defined conference to discuss issues that had not been properly discussed at Sydney. These were anarchism and organisation (pre-and post-revolutionary); anarchists and trade unions; anarchism and social theory. After the Canberra anarchism/feminism conference it was also suggested that this be the subject of a non-separatist discussion. It is not clear that one needs regional or national organisation to discuss these questions; one only needs ideas. To ensure that the latter criterion was satisfied it was intended that discussion should be based on formal papers read to the conference and that discussion groups should play only a subordinate part.
It might be argued that one does not need a conference to discuss these questions since the discussion could be carried out in the various bulletins and that conferences should only be called to make political or organisational decisions. This however would be wrong. There have been a stream of articles on these questions in FAAB and VRAB in the past year without anyone having written replies - even the Brisbane SMG if one accepts their comments on some minor points in the last FAAB. It appears that anarchists are incapable of carrying on written discussions. In this situation it seems we have to hold conferences to get any theoretical development.
Obviously there could be no such conference without the participation of the SMG because they are the only anarchist group in Australia with a highly developed ideology. However there are people in Victoria with highly developed theoretical positions on the subjects above who are not in complete agreement with the SMG and people in Sydney with highly developed positions on feminism who might not agree with either. A productive conference would require at least tri-state participation.
If a conference is to discuss ideas rather than detailed organisational and political proposals it does not seem so important that it be closed. In particular one may wish to invite selected non-anarchists to contribute on various subjects and one would certainly want to open the discussion on anarchism and feminism to feminists who were not members of trotskyist groups (separatists of course would be self-excluded).
Whilst students are (to an exceptionally minimal extent) "order-takers" whilst at university and may, when they leave university, become "order-takers" in some private or governmental office, it is simply fatuous to identify their situation with that of industrial or clerical workers. If anything one should compare the modem humanities student with an independent commodity producer. Just as the latter produces under his/her own control a product for sale on a market so the student produces his/her essay for marks. There are essay deadlines of course but then even independent commodity producers have to sell their product on time if they don't want to starve (a somewhat more serious matter than failing). Admittedly in institutions where students have forced a continuous assessment on the academics (or where academics, for their own peculiar reasons, have forced it on the students) a situation rather more like piecework is found but in general it is hard to imagine a freer life situation than that of a university student.
As the writer of the article "Strategy and Tactics" says, libertarian ideas have been popular among students. What is worrying however is that there seems to be an almost perfect negative correlation between actual oppression (in terms of order-taking) and perceived oppression. One would like a theory of this phenomenon; indeed in the absence of a theory one might suspect that one's university agitation would come to nothing.
Whilst in a libertarian society one would have a libertarian university (or more likely no such institution at all) this shows absolutely nothing as to whether a struggle for self-management at the university is an important, or even an appropriate, part of a libertarian strategy. To decide this question one needs a theory of the university in society. Do students from a self-managed university go on to create self-managed institutions outside the university? Are we concerned that, say, lawyers should have enjoyed themselves at university? And why do students go to university anyway? (Some start towards answering these questions was made in the article "The university as production and consumption" reprinted in Anarchist Papers No 1 by Melbourne Anarchist Archives). It is important to answer these questions since one's attitude to students will rather crucially depend on whether one regards them as a variety of skilled worker or as a "petit cadre" of capital like policemen or prison warders.
This leads on to another point: with the exception of industrial workers and lower clerical workers most members of hierarchies are both order-givers and order-takers. (One cannot save students this way because just as with children, theirs is an order-taking situation they grow out of. Neither children nor students form a class in any ordinary sense). The criterion gives no clue to the -characterisation of these intermediate grades. Indeed one might wonder if there are any pure order-givers at all. The individual capitalist is not autonomous far from it. The hierarchy criterion gives no guidance for social analysis once one goes beyond the bottom of the pyramid. Yet a concentration on the bottom of the pyramid is exactly what the article on 'Strategy and Tactics' accuses the writer in VRAB of having done. The Cardan criterion hence delineates almost exactly the same group as the Marx criterion (sale of labour power for production). It applies perhaps to a larger number of societies but only because with Cardanist principles it is impossible to distinguish between different types of societies. For the same reason it is impossible to understand how they work.
Since the above sounds rather negative in tone I should like to make the following comments in conclusion:
FAAB, Nov-Dec 1975