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Some Considerations about Collective Responsibility

category iberia | anarchist movement | debate author Sunday August 26, 2007 16:08author by Marco Montenegroauthor email riottheghost at riseup dot net Report this post to the editors

As critical to the Leninist-Marxist authoritarian communists, we frequently affirm that means have to be in accordance with ends, that is, if we want a classless society, where everyone is equal, where everyone has the same rights and duties, where self-management predominates and where an equilibrium exists between individual and collective, then the anarchist organizations that struggle for this society also have to be in accordance with these principles and, thus, contrary to the Marxist-Leninists, we have to reject bureaucratic organs, vertically hierarchised and centralised, as too we have to reject “followism”, the leadership cult and critical passivity.

Soon, the practice of acting under the responsibility of an individual has to be decidedly condemned and rejected in the ranks of the anarchist movement. This not only for the reason discoursed above, the compatibility between means and ends, but also because the individual alone cannot obtain anything without the help of anyone else. Not even the most solitary writer would be able to write without having those who cut the trees, who fold the paper, who supplies them with ink. An individual acting alone will never obtain anything complete and would be easily decontextualised. The areas of social and political action are profoundly collective in their nature, giving that you can never base social and public activities under the responsibility of an individual.

Logically, then, we have the principle of “Collective Responsibility”, a principle that, despite this condemnation of the solitary act, has however a strict link with an individual moral responsibility. What does this mean to say? Now as an anarchist collective praising horizontality and self-management, all its members have to be active and participate in all of the decisions of the organisation so that such decisions are the fruit of the most possible general will, fruit of a discussion open to all members. Because we don’t admit that leaders and subordinates exist, nor do we want conditions for such to exist; and because we want that everyone has an unlimited critical capacity based on the rationality of practice and not on a process mimical of being swept along. However, this will only happen if this individual moral responsibility exists, this moral predisposition to always be active and critical. Collective responsibility will not exist without individual responsibility and, vice-versa, individual responsibility will not exist without collective responsibility; it is not only the individual that has the duty to improve themselves and their critical capacity, as the collective also has the responsibility to stimulate the critical practice of all the individuals.

The anarcho-syndicalist Rudolf Rocker has in his memoirs a curios citation about the individual responsibilities that each one has and that also determines a collective responsibility that, besides, made the strength of the anarcho-syndicalist CNT: “One of the things that surprised me most, was the attention with which the public listened to the orators, as if they identified with them; but, contrary to what happened in other countries, nobody applauded in order to state their enthusiasm. Durruti himself, who spoke in rude terms, calling without euphemism things by their proper names, did not receive a single ovation, despite that it was visible that the public was sensitised. Everyone thought about what they had heard, in the act of refection. I asked Durruti afterwards why it is that the public did not applaud. He laughed and said to me: “But, my friend Rudolf, you know perfectly that we, anarchists, do not give to ourselves the personality cult. Applauds and ovations that are directed to the orators, are the music made to waken the worm of vanity and, finally, the “leader”. It is just that you recognise the ability of the friend, who exposes their position, but to believe that they are superior, this is to practise the cult of the master; and this is not the norm between anarchists.

author by Jonathan - Anarkismopublication date Sun Aug 26, 2007 16:18Report this post to the editors

The original version of this article, in Portuguese:

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author by Manuel Baptista (personal capacity) - «Luta Social»publication date Sun Aug 26, 2007 18:25Report this post to the editors

What does it mean 'Collective'?
In a true class struggle anarchist collective, being the decision making process totally democratic and shared, it is not possible that some stay aside in the implementation of the decisions, under the pretext that they were not agreeing with it.
That's the meaning of «collective responsability» in practical terms.

author by Anarkismo Editorial Group - Anarkismopublication date Mon Aug 27, 2007 00:49Report this post to the editors

traducción española (spanish translation):

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author by Jonathan - ZACFpublication date Mon Aug 27, 2007 15:14Report this post to the editors

I agree that members of a collective cannot refrain from the implementation of a decision under the pretext that they do not agree with it. Collective responsibility I think requires that members try as far as possible to reach a consensus, with which everyone is in agreement and willing to share responsibility to put said decision into place and that, failing consensus, members are bound by the same responsibility to the will of the majority, even if they disagree with decision reached.

But what of members of a group who, possibly due to a lack of availability ie. time constraints, locality etc., do not participate in the implementation of a decision? Or even the decision-making process?

And if a member is unable to participate in the decision-making process, are they still bound by collective responsibility to participate in its implementation? After-all their participation could have influenced a different outcome. I would think that, if the decision was reached collectively, they should be required to share in the responsibilities to put it into practice.

I agree that, ideally, all members would participate in both the decision making and implementation process, and that is the collective responsibility to be striven for, but how should we deal with members who cannot, through no fault of their own, be as involved as others?

And what about members of a group that appear not to want to be as involved as others, and seem comfortable to leave decisions up to others? I think that that is where the danger of leadership cults emerges, when people delegate their duties. If some people feel comfortable being less involved than others, then I think it brings into question their commitment, either to the collective or the cause, and consequently their place as a member.

I agree, also, that it is the duty of the collective to stimulate the members to participate in all activities and decisions of the collective but this, I think, is sometimes easier said than done.

author by Manuel Baptistapublication date Mon Aug 27, 2007 16:09Report this post to the editors

What you point out is sensible, Jonathan.

We should raise permanently the awareness of all members, in a self-taught educational process. This is one of the reasons why we need permanent organisations, with militants rather than just 'activists'.
In fact, militants are trully committed individuals, but activists are -most commonly - people with intense activity for some time, but then they loose enthusiasm and sink in passivity.
In general, self education inside a collective should include discussion and remedy of problems, such as those you pointed out.
If we are sincere, we acknowledge our failures, both as individuals and as a group, and try to solve the problems.
There is no other way, I think.

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