A Specific Anarchist Organization in Montreal

Ce texte a originellement été publié en marge de l’assemblée publique du 1er octobre 2023 à titre de texte de réflexion dans le processus ayant mené à la fondation de l’Organisation révolutionnaire anarchiste (ORA). Ce processus s’est étalé sur près d’un an et demi et a rassemblée plusieurs dizaines de militant-es autour de comités de réflexion et d’assemblées publiques.

« creating an organisation that can fulfil the tasks of anarchism, not only in times of preparing the social revolution, but also afterwards. Such an organisation must unite all the revolutionary forces of anarchism and immediately concern itself with the preparation of the masses for the social revolution and with the struggle for the realisation of the anarchist society. » – Nestor Makhno

There are already libertarian groups in Montreal. They are not federations or specific organizations. Existing groups are based on affinity, on secrecy, on trust. These groups do not often or ever self-identify as “anarchist.” They avoid using the term in public. Calls for membership are, evidently, not publicized. These groups do network and share their actions with one another, but not in a formal or assuredly consistent way.

The consequence has been that, although Montreal’s anarchist movement is secure, it is marginal.

This is too bad, not because our goal, per se, is for everyone to go around calling themselves an « anarchist. » But, for there to be anarchists – coordinated, consistent, and growing numerically – is to create the best preconditions for revolution. Anarchism encourages direct action, the autonomy of movements from hierarchy or cooptation, combativeness, solidarity and a revolutioanry (not reformist) perspective on oppression. Whenever we have been disappointed as anarchists involved in social struggles, it is because of a lack of anarchist tactics or anarchist-minded people.

It’s true, over the past few years, anarchists in Montreal have been leaders in decolonial and antifascist movements. However, in labour, community, and increasingly student or ecological circles, there is no anarchist presence or it is irrelevant. We have failed to take advantage of several opportunities that have presented themselves, letting non-profits, politicians, carreerists, reactionaries and social democrats to take advantage, sabotage, or coopt struggles.

When classes start, in most universities, there is no anarchist group there to welcome students with more radical ideas. The same can be said for our presence in other areas. If it wasn’t for our bookstore and library, newcomers to Montreal would be forgiven for thinking there was no anarchist presence in the city at all! The potential to further radicalize people and grow our movement is being lost.

This is not a new problem. The « Montreal model » of anarchism, with the same pitfalls, has existed, at one point or another, in other countries.

It is up to us anarchists to take the intitative of forming a specifically (the origins of the term « especifismo: » an organizational model offered by comrades in Uruguay and Brazil) “anarchist” organization. Under the especifist tradition, the specific anarchist organization is an organization that is composed exclusively of anarchists, which identifies as anarchist, which produces anarchist theory, popular education, and coordinates its members’ actions or strategy. Members of this organization through consensus or majority decision-making would have a common agreement on what they believe in, and their strategy. The idea is not that anarchist militants agree with each other on everything. We have to occassionally make strategic concessions to the overwhelming majority of our comrades so to maintain a unified and effective movement.

The core of the militant work done by this organization would be very similar to what anarchists already do in Montreal, but in a more coordinated, consistant, paced, and explicit way. The organization would coordinate “social insertion” of its members into social movements. Essentially, an anarchist should involve themselves in all kinds of popular organizations (such as trade, student, or tenant unions) and struggles (such as the George Floyd uprising, 2012, or Shut Down Canada) to ensure that these movements use the following methods to their best extents: Force, Combativeness, Direct Action, Class Struggle (meaning the struggle of all oppressed classes for liberation, including women, people who are queer, indigenous people, etc), Autonomy, Direct Democracy and Federalism, Solidarity, Internationalism, Mutual Aid, Popular Education, and Revolutionary Perspective.

Even if it does not call itself anarchist, social movements are fighting for and building towards a revolution if they use all these methods. Some people, particularly in Montreal, think it’s enough to just start a « mutual aid » organization, or to just do « direct action » with their small groups, but by just doing so, we create incomplete sets of strategy that are unsatisfactory as preconditions for revolution and that will never have the capacity to become mass organizations.

To do the work of « social insertion » requires that anarchists emerse themselves in non-anarchist spaces and lead by example. One way to do this is alone or with a few comrades from the organization. An organization can create fronts (such as a trade union, community, and student front) with committees to focus on the organizations’ engagement with specific struggles that interest the anarchists involved.

Another model, that is often useful, is to create splinter groups that are autnomous from the anarchist organization and regroup anarchists and non-anarchists with common commitments to organize the public. The IWW or the Montreal Autonomous Tenants’ Union resemble these last kinds of organizations (some call them « groupings of tendency » but that’s a clunky technical word) because they are not explicitly anarchist, but use methods such as direct action and direct democracy. They are good organizations for an anarchist organization to maintain strong relationships with and use as the basis for « social insertion. » Unlike a vanguard party, the goal is not to take over an organization or to have it pledge fealty to one or another idea. The goal is to encourage a consistent and powerful set of tactics among the public that would set even non-revolutionaries on a revolutionary course.

Like most groups, the anarchist organization would have a gradation of militant involvement, depending on people’s own choice and desire to put their time into the anarchist organization. People could take on supporter roles, and stay in a supporters network, attending events, actions, helping postering, etc, without the need to involve themselves in the organization’s core decision-making or to burn themselves out.

The anarchist organization would conduct political education, which could include organizing film screenings, study groups, lectures, offering a canon of zines and books, and throwing together public assemblies to put forward the anarchist perspective on issues getting mainstream attention. There could be different kinds of educational programs, some intended for people familiarizing themselves with anarchism, and, on the other end of the spectrum, for long-time anarchist comrades within the organization.

Some people, especially in Montreal, doubt the value of education or « theory, » maybe because « theory » is used by many people to just mean late 19th century thinkers and their direct followers. But the theory an organization values is entirely up to them. It can be based on a canon written entirely in the past ten years, or include non-explicitly anarchist texts, such as queer or feminist writings. The key perspective is that there is no such thing as the absence of a theory (or strategy) on how we to approach action. Therefore, it is in our collective interest to understand, improve, share, and – to the greatest extent possible – agree upon the theory we are using, and countinuously release our own theory that relates to our local context.

Some anarchists in Montreal may also be skeptical of having an organization that is actively recruiting. Unfortunately, if we do not do this work, reformists, NGOs and Marxist « vanguards » will be more than happy to take our place. If it is security we’re concerned about, it’s important to know that the specific anarchist organization does not need to be the centre for publically coordinating illicit activity. This is where the affinity group model continues to work best. The anarchist organization can then function as a place where the strongest and most affinities are created.