So as some of you may have picked up elsewhere, I have an exciting new piece of work researching content for the upcoming documentary ‘The Accidental Anarchist’ with Carne Ross. As with most of my work, I thought, ‘why not ask everyone else what they’d include in this film?’
I read Carne’s book, The Leaderless Revolution, in late 2012. In it, he tells the story of his transition from high-flying UK diplomat, to anarchist. While many of Carne’s insights felt familiar to me, his journey was unique. If someone in his position, so deeply aware of and invested in systems of government and top-down solutions, can undertake this kind of transformation, it offers hope for countless others to find similar paths, looking beyond current realities to imagine a better world.
As I read the book I began tweeting Carne; insights the book offered, thoughts it raised for me, parallels with parts of my own work. Specifically, I related to the ‘side door anarchism’ approach, bringing ideas of radical equality, non-hierarchy and autonomy into places where they’re least expected (and thus perhaps a little more digestible for some than countless more cliched images and symbols). We started to chat.
Since then, we’ve spoken at two events together in New York, I interviewed Carne for the Guardian, and he read a final draft of my book, offering a nice comment which helped with the promotion. So when I saw the post for research help with the film, it looked like a great opportunity to work more closely together and to help bring ideas of autonomy and self-organisation to a wider audience.
Remarkably, Carne agreed and asked me to help.
What is The Accidental Anarchist?
While the film will be framed by Carne’s personal journey, the majority of screen time will be spent exploring examples of radical, non-hierarchical organisation from around the world. This could mean worker coops or social movements; communes or community groups; autonomous Indigenous communities or worker-run factories. The point is to highlight what people are capable of, without the imposed coercion of a boss, a leader or a ruler.
Also – to be clear – we are using the idea of ‘anarchism’ in its loosest sense; as a very crude catch-all for a number of autonomous organising practices that have a) pre-dated the European notion of anarchism, b) emerged far more recently, and c) existed in parallel for decades and centuries. This is not an exercise in deciding what is and isn’t ‘true’ anarchism. It is an attempt to draw together a range of interconnected threads in the ongoing story of human organisation that are typically ignored, overshadowed or misrepresented by history, politics and the media. While anarchism is neither the first nor the last of these threads, it provides a lens from which to start a more nuanced conversation about how we organise ourselves in ways that reflect our shared values.
My first task is to create a long-list of potential stories this film might tell. This is where you come in. Rather than rely on my own knowledge and experience, I wanted to ask you about your favorite examples of autonomous self-organisation and self-governance, to start from a more complete list than I could ever develop on my own.
In particular – due to my own experiences and interests, my examples are mostly from the following countries:
So if you have stories from beyond Europe, North and South America, they would be particularly helpful!
Due to relatively tight timelines, this is only going to be open for a few days. Some time next week (after September 15), Carne, myself and the producers will look over the options and highlight a shorter list that may make sense to explore in the film. (Keep in mind it is only likely to be a handful of the countless potential stories that will make it into the film, due to both time and budget).
Submit a story
If you have an example you’d like to include, it would be great if you could add it to this form.
Check the current list
If you’d like to see what others have submitted so far, you can check it out here.
And if you have any wider questions or suggestions about the film, feel free to add a comment at the bottom of this post, or drop me an email on liam AT morelikepeople.org
Excited to have you involved!
PS – feel free to share this post around with anyone you think might have a story they’d like to include. Thanks!
There’s an old political tradition (that probably never had a parallel in the world of management theory) of pamphlet-printing; producing 10-20 pages about a specific theme and selling them as cheaply as you can to encourage the spread of the ideas.
Lovingly hand-folded and stapled by anarchists 🙂
The pamphlet tradition lives on in anarchist circles, while havingbeen mostly forgotten by others in the age of the internet. Some could argue that this is just nostalgic, but there’s also something about the ability to physically pass something around. Something cheap enough to give away to a specific person, at a specific moment, without much thought, that doesn’t require you to both be on the same online platform, or to even remember to send a link after a face-to-face conversation.
Having written a book already, I wanted to distil a couple of key elements from it in a more radical, but also more physically shareable format. So I wrote ‘The constructive subversive’s guide to organisational change,’ Steve Lafler did some illustrations, and Active Distribution printed it and are selling it for £0.77 (+shipping).
You can read the first draft on ROAR Magazine, or the second draft on openDemocracy, and then order a physical copy (or three…) from Active if you’re so inclined.
Alternatively, if you haven’t got the book yet (or want another one for some reason), order one of the last 10 copies from the first edition print run, and I’ll throw in a copy of the pamphlet for free when I send it out.
Good ideas should be passed around. And sometimes the internet just isn’t the right way to do it…
Last month I did a talk at the Open for Change conference in Amsterdam. It was called ‘Open is a gateway drug.’ (You’ll have to watch it to find out what it is a gateway to, though). It was a great event and I reckon there were at least a few more self-identifying anarchists in the crowd by the end of it. Here’s the video.
The title of my book isn’t for everyone. But it’s important. If references to ‘anarchism’ make you uncomfortable, please let me explain the book a little better…
The initial response to this crowd-funding campaign has been amazing! As I write this, $4,670 has been pledged by 82 different contributors! I’m amazed! We’re almost 2/3 of the way there already!
But something has already come up a few times that I feel the need to address.
It’s the title. Yes, it’s bold. I knew that it wouldn’t appeal to everyone, but I also felt it was important for what I hope this book will be able to be.
Let me explain.
A fair few of the ideas in ‘Anarchists in the Boardroom’ have been scattered around a range of forward-thinking management publications before. Some of them are great books! Others, pretty dull ones with some good ideas buried in the rough.
But the vast majority have one thing in common: they were made for managers.
Nothing wrong with that in itself, except that it leaves most people in an organisation out of the conversation about how things get done. Which is a problem when the many individual books are seen as part of a broader trend, alienating most of those affected by their ideas.
I associate this with two main factors:
A condescending attitude to those who don’t manage being unfit or uninterested in organising;
A sense that all power in an organisation rests with management.
I don’t believe either of these statements.
I wrote this book because I know there are countless people within social change organisations all over the world, who are interested in how we organise ourselves for good. I’ve been meeting them in my workshops and on the internet for several years now. Many of these people often do feel powerless to affect change, but don’t have to be.
I come from the train of thought that says complex systems – like any organisation – don’t change because of top-down directives. Executive decrees can be a part of the transition to something better, but often, even with the best of intentions, end up reinforcing the hierarchies they are trying to break-down.
I also believe, from experience, that people can do amazing things, when there isn’t someone there telling them what to do and how to do it.
These two ideas are deeply troubling to some in the traditional world of management – far more so than my choice of title! They challenge the field’s very reason for being!
But here’s my theory:
The radicals, who feel the most stifled and most unable to express themselves in their organisations will be the first to connect with this book. Some will be managers, many will not be. They are the ones who are mostly supporting the campaign right now.
When they get the book, I hope it will resonate and inspire them.
I also hope they’ll share it, as one friend put it after reading an early draft chapter, ‘like contraband in a prison.’
It will move around, hand-to-hand and Tweet-to-Tweet, from those who’ve been inspired by its messages, to those who they think will be inspired by them.
Through this kind of word-of-mouth endorsement, the title will become far less relevant. Someone you know, who knows you and your beliefs about organisations suggested this book to you. It doesn’t matter what it’s called – you felt their enthusiasm for it and want to explore, even if the title seems a bit out there for your tastes.
…and that’s as far as my theory goes. After that, who knows? Hopefully the conversations it sparks will help people find their own ways to help their own organisations to be more like people. Hopefully it will encourage them to share those experiences (as well as the challenges raised) with others who are doing the same (that’s what morelikepeople.com will be for).
But at first, this book really is for the radicals. They/we need it!
If the title puts you off – as it initially did my mom – focus on the ideas you’ve read about thus far that you do relate to. If you like them enough, help someone you know get past their own kneejerk responses to anarchism by explaining it to them in terms you think they will understand. My mom did this for several of her friends involved in social justice organising efforts, some of whom excitedly contributed, once they’d had her version of what the book is about. She ‘translated’ it for them.
The video below – a conversation with David Graeber, former Yale prof and philosophical lynchpin of the Occupy movement – might help you to do so.
Just because anarchism has developed a bad public reputation, doesn’t mean its ideas should be dismissed. I often describe ‘more like people’ as ‘anarchism for your organisation,’ in the sense that it places the highest faith in people to do amazing things, if they have passion and are not boxed in by constraining structures and beliefs telling them what to do. Not such terrible stuff, is it?
So if the title is bugging you, I ask you to ask yourself ‘why?’ If you’re concerned about what others will think, maybe you could play a role in breaking down their particular prejudices, in ways that only those we know and trust are able to?
Otherwise, I’m left trying to write a book for everyone, which almost inevitably means, ‘a book for no one.’ Maybe we could meet half-way and you could do some ‘translation’ for those who don’t speak quite the same language, but still want to understand the message?
…The title is why I’ve written Anarchists in the Boardroom and have started the crowd-funding campaign to have it published today. In the last 12 or so years of varying combinations of activism and organisational development work, I really believe this to be true. The old ways are holding us back, limiting our collective potential to create change in the world and driving wedges between people who should be working together for something better. If we change how we do what we do, our time, effort and energy may go infinitely further than the old hierarchies could ever have imagined…
The ends do not justify the means. In the name of this slogan, many injustices have been spawned, from large scale atrocities, to out-of-touch campaigns and services, no longer serving those they began operating in the names of.
Dehumanising management systems and practices – even when they are well-intentioned – exemplify ‘ends-justify-the-means’ thinking every day, sucking the life out of the people who should be most committed to their organisations’ work.
The essence of management, as we know it, lies in the belief that ‘if we don’t tell others what to do, they’ll probably get it wrong.’ But it’s this belief that is wrong, yet most of our organisational structures are built upon it.
If we truly believe in equality, we need to organise ourselves with a clear sense of equality, ensuring that all of those involved have an equal voice in shaping what we do.
If we truly believe in human potential, we need to give it the space to reveal itself, not boxing it into a pre-set job title, or measurable outcome, but allowing it to find its own path to greatness.
If we truly believe in accountability, we need to be transparent in all that we do, making sure our work leaves nothing to be ashamed of, rather than simply trying to hide away the parts of it that might embarrass us.
There is no reason why we should have to undermine the things we believe in, in order to make the world a better place. Quite the opposite! In fact, doing so is usually a good indication that we won’t get where we think we’re going.
The adoption of industrial organising models has not brought the promise to social change organisations that it did for the manufacturing process. The kinds of social transformation most of us want to see are not made on assembly lines, but emerge through the countless autonomous actions of those who care, living their values in every stage of the change process, bringing about something new through their many individual choices to do things differently.
But I believe there is a path from the institutions of yesterday, to the unknown organising patterns of tomorrow. I’ve chosen to look to social media and new social movements for hope, but I’m sure others will find it in other unexpected sources of inspiration.
I’ve written this book as my first significant contribution to what will be a varied, messy, and unpredictable process of collective change, from professionalism to humanity; hierarchy to network; control to trust.
There’s no reason the same principles that can change our organisations can’t also change our world. Think of your organisation as one-of-many test grounds for something much bigger.
When we let go of our obsessive attempts to control complex groups of people (whether organisations, or societies), we open up new possibilities and human potentials in every realm.
But like the transition I describe, this book will not be published just because I want it to be. Others will have to want it to, if it is going to get beyond my laptop.
…Which is why today is the start of the crowd-funding campaign on StartSomeGood.com to publish ‘Anarchists in the Boardroom.’ You can visit the campaign page here to pledge, or read a snippet from the book if you’re still looking to be convinced.
Pledge for a book, pledge for a bit of my time, pledge for a few copies for the office and use them to spark discussions amongst colleagues as to how you can all start living your values in the ways you work to bring about a bit of good in the world each day…
And if you’re not in a position to pledge right now, feel free to share it with anyone else you think would be interested in reading the book.
I am deeply appreciative for whatever you can do to help make this happen and wherever we take the conversations from here!
Are our organisations hearing the lessons of the Occupy movement? If we want to be more human, there’s definitely a thing or two they could be teaching us… [ADDITION: if you’re looking for my book that I ended up re-using this title for, you can find it here.]
But it is also misses something. (Every book does – no subject can ever be addressed in its entirety in a single publication.)
The book starts from the radical premise that our rigid, hierarchical organisational structures are unequipped to face the challenges of an increasingly networked world, across all sectors and types of organisations, and that social media is beginning to model alternative, more human ways of getting things done. Ace.
But here’s another step beyond: what if the ways of organising that traditional organisations are learning from social media have been practiced in some circles for many decades before? And what if those who have been practicing them have done so in a world so foreign to management theorists, as to almost not exist?
I would argue (maybe unsurprisingly, as I’m writing a book on the theme) that the systems of social media are simply the ‘systems’ of anarchism (or perhaps more succinctly, grassroots activism), scaled-up. Decentralised, non-hierarchical, autonomous, processes of making decisions and getting things done, have been at the core of the current Occupy movement, but also its predecessors in the climate justice and anti-globalisation movements (and many movements before them, too).
This is why these movements have been able to take social media in stride and run with it, while most traditional organisations have superficially embraced new technologies, but actively fought tooth-and-nail against them in most of their practical manifestations.
While some of the initial shock may have worn off, think, from a traditional organisational perspective, how ludicrous the idea that nearly 1000 cities around the world would feature activists encampments in their economic centres, diametrically opposed to the predominant activities taking place in those same places?
Yet, somehow, it has happened.
Tens of thousands of people are being communally fed and sheltered, while carving-out the early etchings of a political alternative to an unsustainable status quo, without any of the management systems we might have thought essential to such an operation… Surely, there’s something managers could take away from this?
Why activists ‘get’ social media
Occupy, like several movements before it in the last decade, are ahead of the curve when it comes to social media, because it comes so naturally to people who have never believed in hierarchy, silos, traditional notions of expertise, or strategic planning. Anarchists skipped that couple century-blip we seem to be at the tail-end of, of ‘humans thinking they can turn a bunch of other humans into a well-oiled machine’.
One of the key messages I’ve taken from my time with these movements has been the value of ‘undefined engagement’ – giving people the chance to get involved in something they truly believe in, in whatever ways they choose to (social media has clear parallels). This is likely to be a massive challenge for traditional organisations – particularly those that exist primarily to make money. But perhaps one of the truly revolutionary lessons that Occupy can bring to the world of business, is that if we want to harness the potential of people, making money will not (on its own) be the way to do it. Purpose is critical, as is an increasing level of autonomy…
So while I absolutely commend Jamie and Maddie’s work on Humanize, I also challenge it to go a step further: learn from the hippies, learn from the anarchists, learn from the folks out on the streets of New York, London, Oakland and so many other cities, who are ‘doing’ Humanize, and have been since before there was social media to put it into the spotlight.
Flipping our notions of ‘expertise’
The world of management has for decades looked down its nose at activists, even when they have achieved massive change in the world, whether ending wars or apartheid, or winning voting or civil rights for all. In doing so, a lot of important learning has been largely ignored.
Maybe it’s time that view was turned around and the organisations that are increasingly struggling to maintain themselves on yesterday’s systems, swallowed their pride and asked a scruffy anarchist what they should be doing differently in the boardroom?