A "No Bullshit" Policy VS. The Lethargy of Activism
By Nachie (with contributions from members of the RAAN online community)
This essay originally appeared in the second issue of Praxis, journal of the Red & Anarchist Action Network (Fall, 2003)
Ever since the humble beginnings of our network as a loose group of communists and anarchists who strived to lay down a basic set of common principles off of which to unite in action, we have remained acutely aware of the ways in which our associations, and in particular the methods of open and collective writing that we have used, have shaped our traditions. One of the most interesting developments in our growth has been the way in which we have consciously tried to steer our evolution away from the problems of the current revolutionary culture, raging against attitudes like sceneism and black bloc fetishism in an attempt to secure RAAN's status as an effective tendency apart from the recognized (and flawed) anti-authoritarian movement.
Our organization now has collectives and affinity groups operating in several different cities. As RAAN unfurls and begins to take on a life of its own, it is important that we not allow this evolution to undermine the original goals of the network. We must realize that the ways in which we relate to each other now as an organization will define our praxis and reputation in the future. In other words, now more than ever is when we must solidify our principles into a continuous tradition of action that not only upholds our revolutionary goals, but also articulates our dissatisfaction with the structures and attitudes created by yesterday's activists. One of the most fundamental things that we can do in this sense is to abolish the debilitating habits that plague the so-called revolutionary movement. Of these habits, none has done more to rot away at the core of our tendency than inaction. Inaction is the radical's disease - it hides behind activist careerism, security culture, ideology, and it transforms our dialogues and initiatives into pointless tug-of-wars that make even the simplest tasks take much longer than they should.
During the writing of our Principles & Direction, time and time again our progress was stalled by those who wanted to endlessly nitpick over ideological trivialities, or worse - demanded influence and even control without first having contributed anything to the collective project. Out of our writings developed what we soon began calling the "No Bullshit" policy, a form of sweat-equity through which respect and inclusion (that is, one's very acceptance into the network) had to first be earned by "proving oneself" through contribution and action. In the case of our collective writings, we quickly began to see that those who would confront us with concrete suggestions and projects of their own were more valuable than those who only wanted to abstractly critique the group, often only with the goal of provoking circular debate, and certainly with no intention of themselves becoming directly and positively involved in our development. We now recognize the latter group as being symptomatic of the inaction of the Left, and therefore ultimately useless to our network. So how do we see this "No Bullshit" Policy as being vital to the creation of a tradition of action within RAAN that would by its very functioning exclude these elements in favor of a galvanized membership from which we could expect constant movement?
NO BULLSHIT, JUST ACTION
One can look at virtually any organization or tendency in existence today and quickly see that its total effectiveness is in fact only the sum of its parts; the public activity of any (post-)political group can be expressed best by the actions of its individual members who "by participating in it, give it life" (P&D pg. 40). This basic concept, that an organization can only exist by the actions that members take in its name, should seem obvious to anyone, as it is hardly a revolutionary way of looking at the makeup of a group. However, it is certainly a helpful perspective from which to view the potential of a loose network of autonomous cells that is beginning to grow and create levels of influence.
We should be firm in our demand that those who seek to take part in this network are not only ready to fulfill any self-appointed commitments, but are also well aware of the methods through which we operate, and are prepared to act accordingly - anything less amounts to nothing more than a stalling of the group's activities. RAAN has no official "membership". We have no dues, no president, and no central office. To become a member of RAAN, to be considered involved in its growth and struggle, it is not enough to simply adhere to our principles, because it is only through our autonomous resistance as individuals and organized groups that we give actuality to this network. If actions taken are not done in its name, then RAAN does not exist. But at the same time, we could have one hundred thousand network collectives across the globe, and still manage to remain entirely fictional (or worse, irrelevant!) if none of them ever bothered to do anything.
This fact is a consequence of RAAN's very foundation, which has developed over time from the simple strategic basis of uniting anti-authoritarians not in a never-ending ideological dialogue, but instead through direct activity and support of our comrades, wherever they may be. This unification via action and mutual aid - the most fundamental principle of the network - has the "No Bullshit" Policy at its heart. Should we as a movement fail to remain united in action, we will succumb to the animosity cultivated by those individuals who have made "bullshitting" their main prerogative. To allow the inclusion of these elements is at best unhealthy, and at worst entirely crippling (dare we say... counterrevolutionary?) for they stand directly in the way of creating any sort of significant anti-capitalist, anti-authoritarian movement.
SITTING IN A COFFEESHOP DOESN'T MAKE A REVOLUTION
At this point we should clarify that the issue at hand is not an immaterial call for "unity" across ideological lines, (particularly not with Statists and liberals) but something much more concrete. Even so, the topic here is much harder to articulate because it involves an attitude and a culture that we have to build in opposition to the established Left, a policy that is now developing organically as a result of our initial operations, and in the future will become a defining characteristic of RAAN as a tendency. One of the easier ways to approach this subject is by trying to come to grips with what we see as being the basic problem.
Our message is not necessarily that the current activities of the Left are outdated and ineffective, but that many of them should not even be considered as activity at all! There exists a laziness in the heart of activism, a laziness in which real-world organizing and action, or even simple tasks like the creation of an informative newsletter or article, are now held up as immensely difficult projects that should be celebrated as rare triumphs instead of seen as what they should be - the day to day and entirely unexceptional activity of our movement. This reverence is based in our apologist and self-perpetuating faineancy, and as a result in many places we have been reduced to activist hobbyism; the throwing of potluck parties or the creation of a political zine has managed to somehow take the place of actual activity in our movement's search for fulfillment and results. This should come as no surprise, since it is "activists" who generally have the privilege of remaining inert while the majority of the "real work" is carried out by communities in struggle who often have no choice but to accomplish something.
While it would be incorrect to label all activist hobbies as "bullshit", (though some, such as the ritual formation of superfluous organizations, are just that) the substitution of these diversions for real work, and in particular the distraction or even sedation of the radical movement that is brought about through the endless cycles of whining and posturing that come from trying to aggrandize such activities is in fact the very definition of bullshit. Ridding ourselves of these problems is a monumental task that involves significant change in the overall activist consciousness. Accomplishing this first and foremost in our own network means using our past experiences and failures to develop new ways of approaching revolutionary activity.
DEFINING A "NO BULLSHIT" POLICY
Thus far, we have only defined the "No Bullshit" Policy as being in opposition to something (which itself has not yet been sufficiently defined). If we are to firmly develop our conception of it as a distinguishing aspect of RAAN, we must first refamiliarize ourselves with the idea of bullshit's antithesis: action. Doing this warrants quoting extensively from the Principles & Direction,
Members of the network are encouraged to involve themselves in a variety of activities that they feel to be fulfilling towards their political consciousness (and more importantly, their immediate lives). RAAN activists have achieved this in a variety of ways.
RAAN's spectrum of "action" is therefore very broad, and in accordance with this, what members of the network see as "bullshit" or "not bullshit" is in many cases rather subjective - we must embrace this as part of our continuing commitment to a diversity of tactics. What matters most to RAAN is that an action be fulfilling towards a participant's immediate life and political consciousness, not so much whether or not a monolithic "network membership" supports it (obviously, expectations regarding an action's compatibility with the with the basic anarchist-communist principles of the network remain). Thus, the "No Bullshit" Policy is not a vehicle through which to promote one type of network activity (union organizing or property destruction, for instance) as being superior to another, but instead is our weapon against the attitudes that stall the progress of any action, and prevent it from being as reliable and fulfilling as possible.
Because of this, "bullshit" as the roadblock to action can take many forms, and while we can certainly identify it as a force at work in situations where ideological bickering, dominating or even just socially-inept personalities, cowardice, and laziness have appeared, for us the universal defining characteristic of bullshit is that it needlessly stalls or halts a project, at times to the personal gain of whomever is perpetrating the bullshit. This analysis is of course not an attempt to de-legitimize any relevant criticism, which at its most effective also has the power to derail a project. Criticism can also be action, but the difference between bullshit-criticism and action-minded criticism is that the latter has in mind a physical contribution to the project at hand, (even if in the form of a complete alternative) while the former manifests itself as an obstacle at best.
A good "rule of thumb" to use in distinguishing action from bullshit on a project is to ask yourself whether the proposal in question is going to mean more work for someone. If the answer is yes, and the necessary work has not already been done and contributed by the person putting forward the proposal as part of that proposal, or if said person has not immediately taken charge and asked for any needed help in doing the work, then you're probably dealing with bullshit. It is important that we recognize inaction (particularly inconclusive or evasive methods of dialogue) as an unconscious force at work within ourselves, and safeguard ourselves by applying these standards to everything that we do. Labeling a proposal or critique as "bullshit" does not mean that it should immediately be discarded, but rather that we need to reexamine it in order to make it actually capable of affecting something.
WORKING IN A CULTURE OF "NO BULLSHIT"
In the above example, if the person putting forward the proposal or project said that they would do the work, but then ultimately failed to deliver on that promise, their proposal would still be bullshit, because their putting the group in a position of reliance on them, and then subsequent inability to follow through on that self-appointed responsibility would have resulted in the collapse or massive delay of the project at hand. This is a situation that RAAN has dealt with before, and it is imperative that we not only organize, but also begin to conceive of ourselves in such a way that neutralizes the impeding power of B.S.
The first step in this process is to reaffirm the way in which we see the network's (anti?)organizational functions. As I stated earlier, if actions taken are not done in the name of the network, then the network does not exist. Similarly, if no one is out acting in the name of RAAN, then RAAN at that moment has no membership. Alongside adherence to our principles, action (keeping in mind our broad definition) precludes all membership in RAAN because the network is an amorphous tendency that exists only when one or more individuals act or create something in its name. Our essays, publications, and collectives are the footprints of this process, and serve only as indicators - not proof - to the existence of our organization.
The most important byproduct of this system of action is that it builds reliability through its very functioning. Reliability is the quality that we define as having others (in this case RAAN) be able to depend on you and trust that any work that you say you are going to do will actually get done. The reason that RAAN's system of fluid association through action builds this trust is that in order for you to receive respect and aid from others in the network, you must have first contributed something to it (the proposal of a project, the organizing of a network affinity group, contribution to an ongoing project, etc.). In the realm of activism and even revolutionary thought, which is filled with those who speak much but do nothing, this principle is our first line of defense against the traditions of the Left (including post-Left) that would relegate us to a self-perpetuating inactivity - that is, bullshit.
This essay should be taken only as an introduction to the concept of RAAN's "No Bullshit" Policy. As I have explained, the "policy" itself is a developing culture of progress-minded individuals who actively seek to self-correct and apply operative methods of collaboration in the interests of making the Red & Anarchist Action Network just that - an action network.