OF FORM AND CONTENT
Recently I read a book called Wildcat Spain Encounters Democracy: 1976-78. It describes an uprising that happened in Spain just after the death of Franco. The level of proletarian revolt at the time was the highest that had been experienced in Spain since the 1930’s. The descriptions and analyses of events were certainly inspiring.
At the time, the insurgent proletarians did not act through the unions or parties that claimed to be their representatives—organizations that are well known for their reliance on compromise—but rather organized their activity themselves. This organization took the form of assemblies in the neighborhoods as well as the factories. Coordination between these assemblies was carried out through revocable delegates who were to do no more than relay the decisions made by those in the various assemblies. Since this was the spontaneous method developed by the insurgent population to organize their struggle against capital and the state, as well as against capital and the state, it is worth examining.
The analyses in Wildcat Spain Encounters Democracy make a mistake that often occurs in such analyses. The form of organization is given too much value. One is left with the idea that it was the assemblies and the system of revocable delegates as such that made the difference. But what was significant about the assemblies was not their form, but their content. In the assemblies, the separation between decision and the carrying out of the decision disappeared. The insurgents began to reappropriate the conditions of their existence and, thus, to supercede their proletarian condition. In other words, in practice, they ceased defining themselves as workers and began to define themselves as individuals struggling collectively to take back their individuality—not as an abstraction but as the practical appropriation of the capacity to create their lives as they chose with whom they chose. The assemblies could be vehicles for this, because they were specific organizations of struggle, not formal membership organizations with platforms and programs.
Of course, a content of this sort will affect the form of the organization used in struggle. A union, party or formal federation could never have such a content. History has repeatedly shown that these organizations would, in fact, act to undermine autonomy of this sort. But the specific circumstances of the struggle and the proclivities of the insurgent individuals as they discover the concrete meaning of their individuality in relation to others in struggle will determine the specific form this content will take.
History is not just something that happens to people. It is the activity of people, and therefore this revolutionary content may take a variety of forms—but always informal, always autonomous. It is essential to learn how to recognize this content as it develops and how to identify the forms of organization—such as unions, parties and other representational bodies—that are inherently recuperative, based on the continuation of proletarianization (or other exploitative social role and relationships such as race, age or gender) and thus anti-revolutionary. With this knowledge, it is necessary to fight the latter with the same ferocity as we fight every other institution that rules us.