As We See It

1. Throughout the world the vast majority of people have no control whatsoever over the decisions that most deeply and directly affect their lives. They learn, work and live to reproduce societies that perpetuate the totality of social and material oppressions across race, class, gender, sexuality, and decision making power. Those who own or control the means of production and consumption, accumulate wealth, make the laws and use the whole machinery of the state to perpetuate and reinforce their privileged positions, advance economic “growth”, and the unlimited domination of nature.

2. During the past two centuries neither technological innovation, nor changing standards of living, nor nationalization, privatization, nor the coming to power of political parties claiming to represent people’s needs have been able to positively alter the status of people in relation to direct democratic control over the institutions that define society. Nor have they given the bulk of humankind much real freedom. That is because modern Western society has absorbed and learned to profit from forms of dissent and subversion that revolutionaries of yesterday had previously struggled for. Personal and sexual freedom, racial diversity, and self-management have progressed in the West while no corresponding progress towards mass direct democracy over governing social, economic, political and cultural institutions has been made.   

3. The trade unions and the traditional parties of the left originally aspired to change all this. But they have come to terms with the existing patterns of exploitation. In fact they are now essential if exploiting society is to continue working smoothly. The unions act as middlemen in the labour market. The political parties use the struggles and aspirations of social movements for their own ends. The degeneration of working class organizations, itself the result of the failure of the revolutionary movement, has been a major factor in creating popular apathy, which in turn has led to further degeneration of both parties and unions.

4. The trade unions and political parties cannot be reformed, “captured”, or converted into instruments of social emancipation. We don’t call however for the proclamation of new unions, which in the conditions of today would suffer a similar fate to the old ones. Nor do we call for militants to tear up their union cards. Our aims are simply that people themselves should decide on the objectives of their struggles and that the control and organization of these struggles should remain firmly in their own hands. The forms which this self-activity may take will vary considerably from country to country and from society to society, from movement to movement. Its basic content will not.

5. Autonomy is not just an individual’s right and freedom to own and control property. It means social equality, collective freedom, reciprocal recognition and a radical transformation in all human relations. It is humanity’s understanding of its environment and of itself, its domination over social institutions as it may need to create and change them for the general objective of self-organization. These are not secondary aspects, which will automatically follow the expropriation of the those who benefit from oppression and domination. On the contrary they are essential parts of the whole process of social transformation, for without them no genuine social transformation will have taken place.

6. An autonomous society can therefore only be built from below. Decisions concerning production and work, community and education, public space, politics and governance, will be taken by popular assemblies, self-managed councils and the people directly affected by corresponding decisions. Decisions will be taken on the basis of the widest possible discussion among those affected and experts will play a merely advisory and consultative role. This democratization of society down to its very roots is what we mean by “direct democracy”.

7. Meaningful action, for revolutionaries, is whatever increases the confidence the autonomy, the initiative, the participation, the solidarity, the equalitarian tendencies and the self-activity of the masses and whatever assists in their demystification. Sterile and harmful action is whatever reinforces the passivity of the masses, their apathy, their cynicism, their differentiation through hierarchy, their alienation, their reliance on others to do things for them and the degree to which they can therefore be manipulated by others—even by those allegedly acting on their behalf.

8. No ruling class in history has ever relinquished its power without a struggle and our present rulers are unlikely to be an exception. Power will only be taken from them through the conscious, autonomous action of the vast majority of the people themselves. The building of autonomy will require mass understanding, mass self-reflection and mass participation. By their rigid hierarchical structure, by their ideas and by their activities, both social-democratic and traditional left types of organizations discourage this kind of understanding and prevent this kind of participation. The idea that real democracy can somehow be achieved by an elite party (however “revolutionary”) acting on behalf of the masses is both absurd and reactionary.

9. We do not accept the view that any particular agent, such as the working class, is the driving force of history and social change. On the contrary we believe that peoples’ conditions of life and their experiences across the totality of social relations drive them to adopt priorities and values and to find methods of organization and struggle—often informal—which challenge the established social order and established patterns of thought. These responses are implicitly autonomous. On the other hand, social movements are fragmented and their various sections are at different levels of awareness and consciousness. The task of the revolutionary organization is to help give popular consciousness an explicitly autonomous content, to give practical assistance to people in struggle, and to help those in different areas to exchange experiences and link up with one another.

10. We do not see ourselves as yet another leadership, but merely as an instrument of mass action. The function of Autonomy or Barbarism is to help all those who are in conflict with the present authoritarian social structure in society at large, to generalize their experience, to make a total critique of their condition and of its causes, and to develop the mass revolutionary consciousness necessary if society is to be totally transformed.