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from An Anarchist Cookbook, Recipes for Disaster
Please also visit
the resource on Direct Action
- A circle of friends
- Some Courage
- Structures for
Responding to Unexpected Scenarios
- A Good Idea
- Plans for Different
Plan A is backed
up by the rest of the alphabet.
Chances are, even
if you have never been involved in direct action before that you are already
party of an affinity group - the structure proven most effective for guerrilla
activities of all kinds. An affinity group is a circle of friends who,
knowing each other's strengths, weaknesses, and backgrounds, and
having already established a common language and healthy internal dynamics,
set out to accomplish a goal or series of goals.
An affinity group
is not a permanent arrangement, but a structure of convenience, ever mutable,
assembled from the pool of interested and trusted people for the duration
of a given project. Once assembled, this group may choose to be "closed,"
if security dictates: that is, whatever goes on within the group is never
spoken of outside it, even after all its activities are long completed.
A particular team can act together over and over as an affinity group,
but the members can also participate in other affinity groups, break up
into smaller affinity groups, and act outside the affinity group structure.
The size of an affinity
group can range from two to, say, fifteen individuals, depending on the
action in question; but no group should be so numerous that an informal
conversation about pressing matters is impossible. You can always split
up into two or more groups, if there are enough of you. In actions that
require driving, the easiest system is to have one affinity group to each
Affinity groups can
be practically invincible. They cannot be infiltrated, because all members
share history and intimacy with each other, and no one outside the group
need be informed of their plans or activities. They are more efficient
than the most professional military force: they are free to adapt to any
situation; they need not pass their decisions through any complicated
process of ratification; all individuals can act and react instantly without
waiting for orders, yet with a clear idea of what to expect from one another.
The mutual admiration and inspiration on which they are founded make them
very difficult to demoralize. In stark contrast to capitalist, fascist,
and communist structures, they function without any need for hierarchy
or coercion: participation in an affinity group can be fun as well as
effective. Most important of all, they are motivated by shared desire
and loyalty, rather than profit, duty, or any other compensation or abstraction.
Affinity groups operate
on the consensus model: decisions are made collectively, based on the
needs and desires of every individual involved. Democratic votes, in which
the majority get their way and the minority must hold their tongues, are
anathema to affinity groups: If a group is to function smoothly and hold
together, every individual involved must be satisfied. In advance of any
action, the members of a group establish together what their personal
and collective goals are, what their readiness for risk is (as individuals
and as a group), and what their expectations of each other are. These
matters determined, they formulate a plan.
Since action situations
are always unpredictable and plans rarely come off as anticipated, an
affinity group usually has a dual approach to preparing for these. On
the one hand, plans are made for different scenarios: If A happens, we'll
inform each other by X means and switch to plan B; if X means of communication
is impossible, we'll reconvene at site Z at Q o'clock. On
the other hand, structures are put in place that will be useful even if
what happens resembles none of the imagined scenarios: internal roles
are divided up, communication systems (such as two-way radios, or coded
phrases for conveying secret information or instructions aloud) are established,
general strategies (for maintaining composure, keeping sight of one another
in confusing environments to name some examples) are prepared, emergency
escape routes are charted, legal support is readied in case anyone gets
arrested. After an action, a shrewd affinity group will meet (again, if
necessary, in a secure location) to discuss what went well, what could
have gone better, and what comes next.
An affinity group
answers to itself alone—this is one of its great strengths. Affinity
groups are not burdened by the procedural protocol of other organisations,
the difficulties of reaching accord among strangers or larger numbers
of people, or the limitations of answering to a body not immediately involved
in the action. At the same time, just as the members of an affinity group
strive for consensus with each other, each affinity group should strive
for a similarly considerate relationship with other individuals and groups
- or, at the very least, to complement others' approaches wherever
possible, even if these others do not recognise the value of the affinity
group model, and so come to apply it themselves, from seeing it succeed
and from benefiting from that success.
An affinity group
can work together with other affinity groups, in what is sometimes called
a cluster. The cluster formation enables a larger number of individuals
to act with the same advantages a single affinity group has. If speed
or secrecy is called for, representatives of each group can meet ahead
of time, rather than the entirety of all groups; if co-ordination is of
the essence, the groups or representatives can arrange methods for communicating
through the heat of the action. Over years of collaborating together,
different affinity groups can come to know each other as well as they
know themselves, and become accordingly more comfortable and capable together.
When several clusters
of affinity groups need to co-ordinate especially massive actions - for
a big demonstration, for example - they can hold a spokescouncil meeting.
In this author's humble experience, the most effective, constructive
spokescouncils are those that limit themselves to providing a forum in
which different affinity groups and clusters can inform one another (to
whatever extent is wise) of their intentions, rather than seeking to direct
activity or dictate principles for all. Such an unwieldy format is ill
suited to lengthy discussion, let alone debate; and whatever decisions
are made, or limitations imposed, by such a spokescouncil will inevitably
fail to represent the wishes of all involved. The independence and spontaneity
that decentralisation provides are our greatest advantages in combat with
an enemy that has all the other advantages, anyway - why sacrifice these?
Not only is the affinity
group the best format for getting things done, it's practically
essential. Without a structure that encourages ideas to flow into action,
without friends with whom to brainstorm and barnstorm and build up momentum,
you are paralysed, cut off from much of your own potential; with them,
you are multiplied by ten, or ten thousand! "Never doubt that a
small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world,"
as Margaret Mead wrote: "it's the only thing that ever has."
She was referring, whether she knew the jargon or not, to affinity groups.
If every individual in every action against the state and status quo participated
as part of a tight-knit, dedicated affinity group, change might come more
You don't need
to find a revolutionary organisation to join to get active - you and your
friends already compromise one! Together you can change the world. Stop
wondering what's going to happen, or why nothing's happening,
and start deciding what will happen. Don't just show up at the next
demonstration, protest, or day at work in passive spectator mode, waiting
to be told what to do. Get in the habit of trading crazy ideas about what
should happen - and of making those ideas reality!
Let five people
meet who are resolved to the lightning of action rather than the quiet
agony of survival - from that moment, despair ends and tactics
For affinity groups
and larger structures similarly based on consensus and co-operation to
function, it is essential that everyone involved be able to rely on each
other to come through on their commitments. When a plan is agreed upon,
each individual in a group and each group in a cluster should choose one
or more critical aspects of the preparation and execution of the plan
and offer to bottom line them. Bottom-lining the supplying of a resource
or the completion of a project means guaranteeing that it will be accomplished
somehow, no matter what. If you are operating the legal hotline for your
group during a demonstration, you owe it to them to handle it even if
you get sick; if your group promises to provide the banners for an action,
make sure they're ready, even if that means staying up all night
the night before because the rest of your affinity group never showed
up. Over time you'll learn how to handle crises, and who can be
counted on in them - just as others will learn how much they can count
Although one of the
rules of thumb for affinity groups is that they should not be so large
as to need formal structures for discussions, larger meetings - between
clusters of affinity groups, for example - may require them. Be warned:
using such protocol unnecessarily will bog down discussions and alienate
participants, and can even foster needless antagonism and drama. On the
other hand, if an assembly shares good faith in a given approach and works
out it's details together; such structures can make group decision-making
quicker, easier, and more responsive to the needs and interests of everyone
involved. No system is better than the people who participate in it; make
sure in advance that everyone is comfortable with the format you use.
In one common format,
the discussion goes around a circle, each person taking a turn to speak.
In another, suited better to larger gatherings, the group begins by agreeing
on a facilitator, an individual who will help keep the discussion constructive
and on topic. Another individual volunteers to "take stack,"
keeping track of the order in which people raise their hands to speak;
if people feel it is important to make sure different demographics represented
in the group get equal time speaking, this person can take a separate
stack for each, and alternate between them. Next, individual propose items
for the agenda of the discussion, then come to consensus on an order for
these items and, if it is pressing, a time limit for the discussion of
each. During the discussion process, individuals can ask to respond directly
to questions, so the group doesn't have to wait until the stack
comes around to them to hear their responses. Individual can also make
comments on the process of the discussion, urging people to focus when
they are getting distracted, or proposing a break so people can stretch
their legs and discuss matters in small groups. When it's time to
make a decision on an issue, individuals make proposals, propose amendments,
and then address concerns until the group reaches consensus or the closest
thing to it.
Source: An Anarchist
Cookbook: Recipes for Disaster
The publishers, the notorious CrimethInc. Ex-Workers' Collective,
humbly put this book and all its contents at the disposal of those who,
in good faith, might read, circulate, plagiarise, revise, and otherwise
make use of in the course of making the world a better place.
NO! Copyright, 2004
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