Some Considerations about Collective Responsibility
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.