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+4 votes
As an additional question, does anybody know whether there's been any writing done on the subject? If so, links?

Now to clarify what I mean:

Obviously, we as anarchists oppose leadership in the form of authority and hierarchies. However, I've read some things here and there remarking on the organic emergence of "leaders" in anarchist groups, in the form of people who are the most experienced, the most confident, and/or the most capable of taking action.

I've also seen proposed something akin to "if you must take the role of a leader, do so only for as long as it takes to share your knowledge and experience with those around you". A leader who encourages others to knock her off her pedestal, so to speak.

Basically, what I've run into is that a large portion of my friends are either into anarchism or consider themselves anarchists (after being exposed to it, through hanging around me), but don't have the knowledge/experience/initiative to be confident in working on projects. I really want to share what I've got, but honestly I don't have a lot of experience with "leadership" and instilling confidence and inspiring action.

MAYBE this is something totally out of my hands and it's just a matter of waiting for them to find their own initiative and desire to act, but I really feel like what I've done thus far is equivalent to saying, "Here's what anarchism is - if you agree with it, cool. We should do something about it." And that doesn't seem like enough.

3 Answers

+6 votes
Time for an epic response; thanks for giving me an incentive to write it out.


1. Guide: a leader who persuades by example and suggestion, based on experience or informed speculation (expressed as such). Practices voluntary relationships. Legitimate.

2. Master: a leader who manipulates through duress or deceit, based on experience or misinformed speculation (often concealed). Practices coercive relationships. Illegitimate.

* * *

In my opinion, legitimate leadership requires at least 13 conditions:
*Active Choice – followers actively and voluntarily decide their roles with informed consent, constantly re-evaluate
*Anarchistic Skepticism – the burden of justification rests on guides rather than followers
*Contextual Merit – guides' proficient in a specific context
*Egalitarian Integrity – absence of force and fraud in interactions
*Egalitarian Purpose – no compensation requested beyond effort expended or direct need; guides and followers live in the same material conditions
*Empowering Trajectory – concrete processes for empowering followers, sharing information or materials, rotating roles, decentralizing agency, and rendering further guidance unnecessary
*Finite Duration – guidance duration directly linked to mutually-agreed upon goal(s)
*Immediate Recall – the followers' ability to immediately revoke status of guide(s)
*Radical Accountability – guides redress force, fraud, and failure
*Radical Transparency – honest and empowering explanations of guides' logic and aims
*Responsible Teaching – guides want responsibility to followers rather than power over them
*Social Leveling – the followers thwart guides' senses of entitlement, arrogance, & contempt
*Stakeholder Accessibility – the inclusion of all parties deserving agency, based on expressed or implied need

* * *

Gently, she grasps her tender lover's unpracticed cheek. They brush faces, touch lips. She guides with her affection, encouraging learning in the most compassionate of ways. As their intimacy grows, they reach a balance together, her inexperienced partner becomes a competent lover. And even with all of her practice, she could not help but have her own learning stimulated. Now they walk their path hand-in-hand; neither guides, neither follows.

He remembers his early youth, when his elders taught him to walk in the forest and gather his nourishment. He remembers their confidence, his apprehension, as he first stepped into the bush, nervous, with them. But now he often walks under the pale light of the moon, fetching the acorns, with only his memories keeping him company. Soon he will teach his little ones to become sons of the oaks, the cycle starting afresh.

* * *

    “Leadership would emerge naturally among the members of a society, very much as it does among children, and confine itself to taking initiatives only when individual ones are impractical. The followers should be the ones to decide whom they will follow and should be free to change leaders as suits their convenience. In a continuum culture like that of the Yequana, the functioning of leaders is minimal and it is possible for any individual to decide not to act on the leader's decision if he prefers...”
        –Jean Liedloff, the Continuum Concept

* * *

Immunization to Authoritarianism

If we want to live without rulers, we need empowerment to immunize us from the threat of authoritarian relationships and defeat the potential pitfalls of leadership.. In order for that to happen, we need to understand the psychology of perception and prejudice, creativity, intelligence, learning, logic and fallacies, intuition, critical thinking, argumentation, problem-solving, planning, systems analysis, and risk management. Those of us who know these things (such as myself) would do well to act as guides and share our knowledge. So here goes:

-psychology (self-actualization processes; cognitive biases; psychological heuristics)
-prejudice (cognitive prejudice; affective prejudice; behavioral prejudice)
-creativity (imagination; inspiration; intuition)
-increasing intelligence (“seek novelty; challenge yourself; think creatively; do things the
hard way; network”)
-increasing learning (working memory; attention)
-logic (formal v. informal; inductive v. deductive)
-reason (logic) v. intuition (instincts, associations)
-logical fallacies (search: “Critical Thinking as an Anarchist Weapon”)
-awareness of disinformation techniques
-critical thinking as "the process of purposeful, self-regulatory judgment, which uses reasoned consideration to evidence, context, conceptualizations, methods, and criteria."
-critical thinking components (skepticism; logic; clarity; credibility; accuracy; precision;
 relevance; depth; breadth; significance; fairness)
-critical thinking requires: "falsifiability, logic, comprehensiveness,  honesty, replicability, sufficiency"
-critical thinking requires: “humility, integrity, courage, autonomy”
-critical thinking requires: “follow through, open-mindedness, foresight attention, inquisitiveness, thoroughness, fair-mindedness”
-critical thinking requires: willingness to criticize oneself
-"Critical thinking clarifies goals, examines assumptions, discerns hidden values, evaluates evidence, accomplishes actions, and assesses conclusions."
-argument mapping (contentions, premises, co-premises, objections, rebuttals, lemmas)
problem-solving (techniques & methodologies; brainstorming; collaboration; networking)
-lateral thinking (idea-generating tools; altering focus; selection; application)
-planning principles (PsyBlog goal hacks: stop fantasizing; start committing; start starting; visualize process not outcome; avoid the what-the-hell-effect; sidestep procrastination; shifting task-or-goal focus; reject robotic behavior; focus on the aim not the goal; know when to stop; if-then plans; verbalization & visualization of  processes; contrast positive fantasy /indulging with negative reality / dwelling)
-planning methodologies (STOP, OODA loops; SWOT analysis; PDCA cycles; flow charts)
-working backwards (goal; strategy; tactics; timeframes; deadlines; review)
-systems analysis (complexity; emergence; fragility/resilience; systempunkts;
+risk management (risks; threats; vulnerability; mitigation)

TL;DR – Skeptical of Guides, Hostile to Masters, Deliberate as Fuck, Destroy Power Through Collective Self-Empowerment, Tell Everyone.
by (8.9k points)
edited by
perhaps it's rude to critique the theory behind your sketch, but it bothers me that you write
"And even with all of her practice, she had a lesson or two remaining."

this is an odd attitude to have about sensual experiences, surely? sex/feelings/relationships are not really the sort of things that one can become perfect in, or complete, or entirely known... not sure how to talk about this except that this line quantifies stuff that can't be quantified...

Not rude at all, I think you have a good point there about quantification. I wanted to emphasize, metaphorically, the imperfection of leaders and how those who follow them also teach and lead them in a way. I defaulted to a quantifying method because the dominant culture has taught me to, despite my desire for unquantifiable, anomalous, direct, lived experience. I also didn't proofread this, and the way the website removes my formatting (bold & italics) really removes the incentive for me to polish things sometimes. I think I will change it to, "And even with all of her practice, she could not help but have her own learning stimulated." I did my best to remove the sex and gender of her partner without making it an awkward read; hopefully I did so passably. Did it come across as cheesy or cliche?
If you have any other informative or constructive criticisms of anything I post here feel free to post them; I like to keep an open mind and see everything as an opportunity to learn from. :-)
Mad props on this response and the ensuing discussion.

I may need to re-read it a couple of times (large blocks of plain text makes it awfully difficult to fully absorb information sometimes), but this has so far struck me as some excellent analysis of the concept of anarchist leadership.
+2 votes
One text that was interesting to me (despite her reputation) was Starhawk's book on group dynamics and structure (Truth or Dare). It encouraged me to think about the different roles that people play, how they can be played well, and how many (all?) of them have a place in a happy group.
Which leads to the point that being a good leader requires active participation from the group. To some extent we all are at the mercy of our friends and context (ie part of the problem with how we view leaders is the idea that "a good leader can overcome things on their own").
The example given by the question seems to be one of commitment, that people are afraid or unwilling to act (which can be for a number of different reasons), and I think that sometimes leaders are merely the people who are willing to do something even if it means they might be wrong (or be seen to be wrong).
by (53.1k points)
edited by
+2 votes
For me this is dangerous ground.  Usually a leader is one who feels (consciencely or not) the need for power or control in whatever small to large degree.  Eventually you will either have a leader who comes to dominant or where the followers of two different leaders begin to try to take a dominant position.  Leaders feel the need to take control to guide their fellow members; from there authority begins to take control.  And it is not always the leader who bring this about but the followers who force the issue.

There is another answer which can focus more on the ability and character of each person.  "Leaders" might be those who are able to inspire others or who are good strategists or who have certain qualities that are cause for admiration.  Any of these trait are beneficial to any group of people.  But if any see themselves as leaders they are more likely to become part of the problem rather than an answer.

For anarchy to work, the people must all either be each for themselves or they must all be for everyone.   Any other mindset will only lead back to hierarchy and authoratarian structures.
by (2.0k points)
edited by
To me I've become what some may call a leader by default, because I was the one to take inititive and begin what had, in my view, to be done.  I would have done this on my own but people followed me, and someone noticed what I was doing on my own and asked me to get a non hierarchical group together.  The question of non dominant leadership has been playing on my mind since.  I have been studying pack structure in wolves, as I am a dog behaviourist.  Contrary to most people's opinions wolves almost never use violence against fellow pack members but do have very clear leadership, which is constantly under review so that the wolf who others trust as the most suited to the job of leader is the one who others defer to when quick life or death decisions or hunting decisions need making.  The leaders are constantly tested by the other wolves - they are active, questioning followers who follow out of free choice.  Nature therefore seems to deem leadership necessary in the wild but this is completely different to dominant bullying masters. Somewhere along the line leadership and dominance got associated with eachother. This can be seen in dog training where people think that becoming the pack leader means things like biting and shouting at dogs. In reality it is about learning canine body language and force or shouting is a sign of stress and a failing leader which makes the dog feel like it must take over leadership so the pack is safe.  Good wolf pack leaders are serenely calm.  I personally don't see why anyone would want to be a leader as it is a huge responsibility and pretty exhausting. That is why native Americans give their condolences to those people who become leaders.  Just some thoughts.