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Full text of "Affinity Groups - Essential Building Blocks Of Anarchist Organization"

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“| am therefore faced with the problem of 

creating a project whose immediate aim is 

destruction, which in turn creates space for 
the new... 

..We believe that instead of federations and 
groups organised in the traditional sense — 
part of the economic and social structures 
of a reality that no longer exists — we 
should be forming affinity groups based on 
the strength of mutual personal knowledge. 
These groups should be capable of carrying 
out specific coordinated actions against the 

An affinity group could be a sewing circle or a bicycle maintenance 
collective; it could come together for the purpose of providing a meal 

at an occupation or forcing a multinational corporation out of business 
through a carefully orchestrated program of sabotage. Affinity groups 
have planted and defended community gardens, built and occupied and 
burned down buildings, organized neighborhood childcare programs and 
wildcat strikes; individual affinity groups routinely initiate revolutions 

in the visual arts and popular music. Your favorite band was an affinity 
group. An affinity group invented the airplane. Another one maintains this 

able to rely on each other to come through on commitments. When 

a plan is agreed upon, each individual in a group and each group ina 
cluster should choose one or more critical aspects of the preparation 
and execution of the plan and offer to bottomline them. Bottomlining 

the supplying of a resource or the completion of a project means 
guaranteeing that it will be accomplished somehow, no matter what. If 
you're 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 couldn't show up. Over time, you'll learn how to 
handle crises and who you can count on in them—just as others will learn 
how much they can count on you. 


Stop wondering what's going to happen, or why nothing's happening. Get 
together with your friends and start deciding what will happen. Don't 

go through life in passive spectator mode, waiting to be told what to do. 
Get in the habit of discussing what you want to see happen—and making 
those ideas reality. 

Without a structure that encourages ideas to flow into action, without 
comrades with whom to brainstorm and barnstorm and build up 
momentum, you are likely to be paralyzed, cut off from much of your 
own potential; with them, your potential can be multiplied by ten, or ten 
thousand. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed 
people can change the world," Margaret Mead wrote: “it's the only thing 
that ever has.” She was referring, whether she knew it 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, the 
revolution would be accomplished in a few short years. 



Turbulent times are upon us. Already, blockades, demonstrations, riots, 
and clashes are occurring regularly. It's past time to be organizing for 
the upheavals that are on the way. 

Rut getting organized doesn't mean joining a pre-existing institution and 
taking orders. It shouldn't mean forfeiting your agency and intelligence 
to become a cog in a machine. From an anarchist perspective, 
organizational structure should maximize both freedom and voluntary 
coordination at every level of scale, from the smallest group up to 
society as a whole. 

You and your friends already constitute an affinity group, the essential 
building block of this model. An affinity group is a circle of friends who 
understand themselves as an autonomous political force. The idea is that 
people who already know and trust each other should work together to 
respond immediately, intelligently, and flexibly to emerging situations. 

This leaderless format has proven effective for guerrilla activities 

of all kinds, as well as what the RAND Corporation calls “swarming” 
tactics in which many unpredictable autonomous groups overwhelm a 
centralized adversary. You should go to every demonstration 
in an affinity group, with a shared sense of your goals 
and capabilities. If you are in an affinity group that has experience 
taking action together, you will be much better prepared to deal with 
emergencies and make the most of unexpected opportunities. 

This guide is adapted from an earlier version that appeared in our 
Recipes for Disaster: An Anarchist Cookbook. 


Relative to their small size, affinity groups can achieve a 
disproportionately powerful impact. In contrast to traditional top-down 
structures, they are free to adapt to any situation, they need 
not pass their decisions through a complicated process 
of ratification, and all the participants 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 socialist structures, they 
function without any need of hierarchy or coercion. Participating in an 
affinity group can be fulfilling and fun as well as effective. 

Most important of all, affinity groups are motivated by shared desire 
and loyalty, rather than profit, duty, or any other compensation or 
abstraction. Small wonder whole squads of riot police have been held 
at bay by affinity groups armed with only the tear gas canisters shot at 


Some atfinity groups are formal and immersive: the participants live 
together, sharing everything in common. But an affinity group need 

not be a permanent arrangement. It can serve as a structure of 
convenience, assembled from the pool of interested and trusted people 
for the duration of a given project. 

rather than resenting or fearing you. They should come to recognize the 
value of the affinity group model, and so to employ it themselves, after 
seeing it succeed and 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 security is called for, representatives of each 
group can meet ahead of time, rather than the entirety of all groups: 

if coordination 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, becoming accordingly 
more comfortable and capable together. 

When several clusters of affinity groups need to coordinate especially 
massive actions—betore a big demonstration, for example—they can hold 
a spokescouncil meeting at which different affinity groups and clusters 
can inform one another (to whatever extent is wise) of their intentions. 
Spokescouncils rarely produce seamless unanimity, but they can apprise 
the participants of the various desires and perspectives that are at 

play. The independence and spontaneity that decentralization provides 
are usually our greatest advantages in combat with a better equipped 


For affinity groups and larger structures based on consensus and 
cooperation to function, it is essential that everyone involved be 

the one hand, you can make plans for different scenarios: If A happens, 
we'll intorm each other by X means and switch to plan B; if X means 

of communication is impossible, we'll reconvene at site Z at Ql o'clock. 
Un the other hand, you can put structures in place that will be useful 
even if what happens is unlike any of the scenarios you imagined. This 
could mean preparing resources (such as banners, medical supplies, or 
offensive equipment), dividing up internal roles (for example, scouting, 
communications, medic, media liaison), establishing communication 
systems (such as burner phones or coded phrases that can be shouted 
gut to convey information securely), preparing general strategies (for 
keeping sight of one another in contusing environments, for example), 
charting emergency escape routes, or readying legal support in case 
anyone is arrested. 

After an action, a shrewd affinity group will meet (if necessary, ina 
secure location without any electronics) to discuss what went well, what 
could have gone better, and what comes next. 


An affinity group answers to itself alane—this is one of its strengths. 
Affinity groups are not burdened by the procedural protocol of other 
organizations, the difficulties of reaching agreement with strangers, or 
the limitations of answering to a body not immediately involved in the 

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 least to complement others’ approaches, even if others do not 
recognize the value of this contribution. Ideally, most people should be 
glad of your affinity group's participation or intervention in a situation, 

A particular team can act together over and over as an affinity group, 
but the members can also break up into smaller affinity groups, 
participate in other affinity groups, or act outside the affinity group 

structure. Freedom to associate and organize as each person 

sees fit is a fundamental anarchist principle; this promotes 
redundancy, so no one person or group is essential to the functioning of 
the whole, and different groups can reconfigure as needed. 


An affinity group can range from two to perhaps as many as fifteen 
individuals, depending on your goals. However, 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 need be. 
In actions that require driving, the easiest system is often to have one 
affinity group to each vehicle. 


Learn each other's strengths and vulnerabilities and backgrounds, so 
you know what you can count on each other for. Discuss your analyses of 
each situation you are entering and what is worth accomplishing in it— 
identity where they match, where they are complentary, and where they 
differ, so you'll be ready to make split-second decisions. 

Une way to develop political intimacy is to read and discuss texts 
together, but nothing beats on-the-ground experience. Start out slow so 
you don't overextend. Once you've established a common language and 
healthy internal dynamics, you're ready to identity the objectives you 
want to accomplish, prepare a plan, and go into action. 


Affinity groups are resistant to infiltration because all members share 
history and intimacy with each other, and no one outside the group need 
be intormed of their plans or activities. 

Unce assembled, an affinity group should establish a shared set of 
security practices and stick to them. In some cases, you can afford to 
be public and transparent about your activities. in other cases, whatever 
goes on within the group should never be spoken of outside it, even after 
all its activities are long completed. In some cases, no one except the 
participants in the group should know that it exists at all. You and your 
comrades can discuss and prepare for actions without acknowledging to 
outsiders that you constitute an affinity group. Remember, it is easier to 
pass fram a high security protocol to a low one than vice versa. 


Affinity groups generally operate on via consensus 
decision-making: decisions are made collectively according 
to the needs and desires of every individual involved. 
Democratic voting, in which the majority get their way and the minority 
must hold their tongues, is anathema to affinity groups—for if a group 

is to function smoothly and hold together under stress, every individual 
involved must be satisfied. Before any action, the members of a group 
should establish tagether what their personal and collective goals are, 
what risks they are comfortable taking, and what their expectations of 
each other are. These matters determined, they can formulate a plan. 

Since action situations are always unpredictable and plans rarely come 
off as anticipated, it may help to employ a dual approach to preparing. On