Translation of a lead article from the latest Khiaban newspaper (#64).
Self-Organization or Strengthening Social Networks?
by Amir K.
Khiaban #64 / Monday, March 29, 2010
What is self-organization? Maybe it is better to start with the opposite. If we don't organize ourselves, others do it. Self-organization therefore is in opposition to being organized by others.
Let me give some examples. In many social spheres in daily life, we are organized by other people. Look at our jobs. In general, a great part of most people's lives is organized in jobs and workplaces, which are not managed by us. At work, we are placed in particular levels [of responsibility] defined by a small group. We therefore pursue goals set by our jobs' organization, which have not been determined by us. We perform tasks that have been assigned to us. At chosen times, we punch in our time cards to start work, and at designated hours we punch out.
Look at our cities and our places of living. Our lives are organized in a particular spatial arrangement, in the planning and production of which we have had no roles. The fact that you may live in an apartment development in the outskirts of the city, and have to wake up before sunrise and spend two to four hours a day in traffic, and in order to survive expend effort for eight to twelve hours in your workplace, all this gives life an organization that has been imposed by 'others'.
You may know, there are days [in Iran] called 'yom allah', organized in schools by school administrators. There are ceremonies, speeches, decorations in the hallways and classrooms, there are sweets handed out and prizes to this or that hand picked few, all of it organized very well. However, International Day of Women/March 8th, or Worker's Day/May 1st, or many other 'controversial' days don't spark the interests of those 'others' to organize. Billions upon billions are spent on organizing military and security companies and firms, but in many spheres needed by the society no budgets are allocated to organize them.
Maybe now self-organization can be understood better. Self-organization then is not everybody's problematic. Those who are currently involved in organizing the society don't much like the society to find self-organization. They benefit from the current organization of the society; an organization that comes with profits for them, and catastrophe for a majority. Self-organization is the organization of ordinary citizens by themselves and for achieving goals that they have set themselves.
In principle, organizing is a function of a collective goal. The collective goal in self-organization comes out of the needs of the people who form that organization, and by necessity and by definition are in contrast/opposition to the existing and dominant organizations. This is because self-organization does not follow the interests of those 'others'. It follows the interests and the wellbeing of the 'self'. If the ruling system has organized women's lives in such a way that they spend their days in the kitchen, taking care of their kids, cleaning and dusting, and filling their seeming leisure time watching superficial TV series so that they remain obedient, imprisoned and unwaged workers, women's own needs and dreams however bring forth other goals for their lives, and if women organized themselves, they would pursue these goals in a collective manner.
Self-organization gives those who work, those who are unemployed, those who are kept in the margins, the outcasts and the cursed, and any other oppressed and exploited group, the ability to determine their goals themselves and to struggle collectively to achieve them.
Self-organizing is a foundational/creative act. A group of people founds a society for a particular goal; goals which are determined by them, and they create the modes of their own organizing. Self-organizing is also a combative action. It intends to take back those spheres and domains that the class system has expropriated from these groups. It is therefore not without reason that many [commentators] would remain silent about self-organization. But, what is their alternative?
The fashionable phrase 'social networks and how to strengthen them' is a familiar one, no? It is rare to come across an article, some text or call for action or statement in relation to the opposition movement and not see social networks not mentioned as the suggested and prescribed form of social action for the movement. Using this phrase, however, is not without reason. Social networks are neutral. Except for pomp and fanfare this concept carries nothing, and it does not open up a definite direction or path toward creating a new society.
Each of us is placed within a collection of social interactions. [For example] in a network of relatives, in a network of coworkers, a network of fans of this football club or that film director. These networks exist. In any of the most undeveloped all the way to the most advanced human societies, you can draw several different social networks. The concept 'social network' says nothing about the nature and inner workings of injustice, oppression and discrimination. And it is not an alternative to those. Networks are shaped based on the current system and how an existing society works, and they could change with them. Networks do not necessarily follow any consciously determined goals. You are not determining any specific goals when along with your relatives you are defined as a member of a family network.
Social networks are not acts that create or found new things. They are a continuation of the status quo. In any factory [in Iran, for example], there exists a network of relationships among those who work there. However, in rare factories can you see any organization of the employees (be they unions or councils, a syndicate or a public assembly, or ... ) created by themselves and in order to pursue their own goals. Therefore, the slogan to strengthen social networks in effect will have no benefits for those who work in such places.
Strengthening social networks is not a combative act, either. It has no animosity with any person or setup or system, and it cannot have any such antagonism. In the concept of social networks there is no element of confrontation or conflict between 'us' and 'them', and there is no goal-driven 'organization'. Network is a white concept. Neutral. It is fancy speechifying, but empty of any specific idea of struggling in concrete conditions. 'Social networks' has not entered the discourse of many because it lacks anything to say and any plans or platforms, but precisely because it can be used to mask social conflicts and struggles, to mask any confrontation of opinions and interests, and to mask the division of the society into dominant and dominated groups.
People's victory depends on their self-organization. This principle is not to deny the role of political parties or the role of leadership, a discussion that will be dealt with in another writing. But it must be said in brief that 'our' political parties are also a result of our self-organization. People's self-organization has different forms and complexities. Self-organization can encompass the efforts of a group of people in a factory or a company to secure the rights of the group members, or the collective attempts of a group to disseminate gender awareness among women in the form of a magazine, or a larger, more complex organization that works in the form of a political party that puts forth a particular program for organizing the entire society. We will return to this issue in the future.