Beautiful Justice: No Leaders, No Rules, No Movements

From Deep Green Resistance:

By Ben Barker
February 1, 2013

There’s no such thing as a functioning group of human beings existing without leadership or structure. That sentiment, while exalted by many on the radical Left, is a fallacy. Whether or not we want it to be true, human beings are by nature social creatures and we learn by the example of others, which is to say we learn from those we look up to and from the customs of the culture we live in. Leadership and structure are inevitable. The only questions are by who? and how?

Sure, radicals can reject this notion and operate as if it didn’t exist—it’s what many are already doing. But, all the while, our groups still move in particular directions, and it’s the members that take them there. Those who wish to prohibit leadership and formal structure are really just spawning informal versions of both, with themselves at the helm of control.

There’s a long history of this. From the anti-war movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s to the anarchists and Occupy movement of today, “leaderlessness” is almost taken as a given; it’s praised as an obvious first step in challenging power inside and out. Again and again, however, we see this paradox’s predictable outcome: when structure is not explicit, it takes its own form—one usually shaped by those most willing to dominate the group.

This was the lesson of the classic Leftist essay, “The Tyranny of Structurelessness,” in which author Jo Freeman argues that, as movements “move from criticizing society to changing society,” they need to honestly and openly address how they will organize themselves. “[T]he idea of ‘structurelessness,’” she writes, “does not prevent the formation of informal structures, but only formal ones.” So in all the backlash against formality, activists are only serving to undermine their own supposed ethics by contributing to unspoken rules and hierarchy.

Intentional organization may or may not lead to the egalitarian, functioning movements we desire—there are clear cases of both the success and failure of formally structured groups. Done well, however, structure can provide a means of accountability between members that their structureless counterparts inherently lack. In the best case scenario, the group’s expectations and rules (I hear the shrieking of purists already) are explicit and accessible to everyone, allowing leaders and followers alike to keep each other in check.

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