POG is an Anarchist Group
Pittsburgh Organizing Group (POG) is an anarchist group based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We work for the creation of a directly democratic, free society in which humanity can maximize its potential for freedom and justice within a framework of horizontally shared power, collective responsibility, mutual-aid and solidarity. In short… Anarchism.
In 2002, POG was founded as a “progressive group… working to affect systemic change in society.” In many ways our decision in late 2007 to become an explicitly anarchist group represents the logical culmination of this general desire and the beginning of something new. This statement is our attempt to explain who we are and what we believe. It is an initial draft of our foundational document, intended to lay the groundwork for where we go from here.
It is our view that on the whole humanity is not inherently altruistic or selfish, competitive or cooperative, aggressive or passive, “good” or “evil.” Rather, we are possessed with an almost infinite capacity of possibility for what we want, how we relate to others, and the ideal conditions under which our mental and physical faculties can best grow, find meaning and expression. We see anarchism as the type of social organization to create the conditions within which individuals can obtain maximum personal freedom and communities can meet the needs of all.
Our group began with the goal of bringing to Pittsburgh organizing strategies and principles popularized in the (then) recently exploding global justice/anti-corporate globalization movement. Tactically we favored a confrontational attitude towards the state, corporations and other purveyors of injustice. This meant a focus on direct action, respect for a diversity of tactics, a belief in the value of street anonymity, use of consensus process, etc. Strategically we believe/d in the value of long-term social justice campaigns and of mass convergence-style protests. We identified loosely with the progressive and radical Left in the U.S. When we began, few of us were anarchists.
Beliefs are not static. Since our founding dozens of people have joined and left our small group, many contributing to an organizational view and memory that continues to inform our work to this day. We have also been greatly influenced by the views and discussions in the larger anarchist movement (many of which are incorporated into the views and language of this statement.) Over time the scope of our desires has shifted and broadened. Where once we dreamed of putting on an anti-war protest of thousands, or doing an inspiring blockade against militarists, we now dream also of fundamental change in the structures of society that would negate the need for such protests. Where once we saw Pittsburgh as brimming with unrealized potential for radical organizing, we now see hundreds of people with anarchist-friendly views searching for how to pose a more direct and substantial threat to the system than a single protest or direct action is capable of doing. Though our views are inevitably limited by specific perspectives of personal and organizational experience, we think most would agree that a political awakening has occurred in Pittsburgh. While POG may compose merely a fraction of the anarchist-leaning portion of this awakening it extends far beyond us to a broader Left searching for new ideas and answers in an era where both “representative democracy-capitalism” and “state communism” have been thoroughly discredited.
So what is anarchism? Loosely stated it is a free society of free individuals, opposing domination in its many forms, attempting to theorize and create through practice an egalitarian direct democracy. It is a theory of life and conduct under which society exists without government; harmony obtained, not by submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by agreement and coordination. In a society developed along these lines, voluntary associations of workers and local communities, operating under directly democratic decision making, will take upon themselves those necessary functions currently carried out by the state.
Members of our group vary, of course, on how exactly such a society will be most effectively implemented and believe such answers will certainly differ from place to place, but can only be discovered and perfected through practice. Direct democracy is the creation of decision-making bodies where we live and work, coordinated with other similar bodies, possessing the power to create and maintain a society that meets our needs and gives us individual and collective freedom.
We reject “representative” democracy, whether of the capitalist or state socialist variety. While these types of systems offer us limited choice over who rules, a situation far preferable to no choice, they do not allow us freedom and control over our own lives. In the United States representative democracy is a stacked deck in which the economic and political elites are able to maintain the acquiescence of the population with little risk of structural changes which would put power in the hands of the people and the workers. Through our two party voting system, controlled as it is by political institutions in collusion with big business and mass media, the people can achieve concessions through organization and agitation: better working conditions, better health care, a larger share of what they produce.
But our goal of a free society will only be actualized with the acceptance, support and participation of the majority of people in our local community. Such a society cannot be created solely by the actions of a small minority imposing by force its views on others, or heroic acts to destroy the existing apparatus. Nor is it likely to be the product of any one group, and certainly not of a political party. It must be the product of a mass movement utilizing a diversity of tactics. The creation of the society we envision depends on people becoming comfortable with the anarchist movement’s general aims and a substantial number actively working to turn those aims into reality. While we call these aims anarchist, history has shown they are commonsense aspirations of people freed from the shackles of authoritarianism and tyranny. We believe that as more people work towards these aims, the movement’s capability to create alternatives increases. When these increasing numbers act in furtherance of their ideals it naturally brings them into conflict with the capitalist state that seeks to maintain its hegemony by stopping the creation of alternative social relationships and decision-making structures. When people see that a large-scale movement exists, with alternative proposals for meeting society’s needs, they begin to lose their fear and their chains.
The state and capitalism are, of course, the two dominant structures that must be overcome, so we feel obligated to state what the words mean to us. There are many competing definitions, and most people in the United States view capitalism as simply the economic system we live with, and the state as simply our government, both of which we are working to replace.
To us, the state comprises a set of interconnected hierarchical institutions, which collectively claim authority to make the rules under which society functions and hold the ultimate authority to use coercive violence. The state is the collective entity that controls our obligations, determines our “rights,” enforces obedience and prevents the people from instituting an alternative society via the police, bureaucracy, the political apparatus, the prisons, and socialization through the current education system. We see capitalism, in its most basic sense, as an economic system necessitating authoritarian mechanisms (in the U.S., the state) to ensure the ability of some, but not all, to maintain the ownership of what is needed to produce wealth. It necessitates a fierce competition, pitting people against each other, so that a few can be the “winners,” some can live comfortably, and many toil too long and too hard for too little. In this system, people and their labor, and much of the natural environment, becomes an exchangeable commodity from which value is generated and a surplus extracted.
Capitalism and the state are deeply entwined, both generally creating conditions that serve to bolster each other. We oppose this system because it results in an unequal distribution of wealth, is incapable of meeting basic human needs, and fosters and depends on an interconnected web of oppressions (gender, sexuality, race, class) and curtails personal freedom. It necessitates massive power imbalances, which lead to exploitation and oppression.
Anarchism is anti-capitalist and we reject those who disingenuously claim free-market capitalism has anything to do with our movement’s historical tradition. We do not wish to get the government off our back simply to empower big business and petty authoritarians, the logical consequence of a system of police and courts facilitating a private property system of fully deregulated capitalism.
The word anarchy, deriving from the Greek an-archy literally means a lack of rulers, just as “mon-archy” means one ruler. Some believe that the organization and coordination necessary for such a society to function is impossible without a hierarchy of rulers utilizing a coercive bureaucracy, and for them anarchy naturally is synonymous with chaotic disorientation and terror. We anarchists hold a different view.
We have seen mass uprisings that began with or acquired a libertarian focus (the Paris Commune, Spain in 1936, Hungary in 1956, Paris in 1968, and Argentina in 2001) to name but a few) demonstrate people’s capacity to supplant the state and address society’s needs democratically and with efficiency through direct democracy mechanisms like workers’ self management or community councils. The mass media often uses the word “anarchy” to describe purposeless destruction and violence that we could never support because we see that such acts ultimately serve to create a justification for authoritarianism and open the door to organized oppression. At the same time we see that such incidents often result from social breakdown that comes about because of state/authoritarian violence, or upheaval that occurs in response to state oppression. It is unsurprising that some people, isolated from any sense of community, socialized since birth to believe we must depend on the government for direction and the police for protection, steeped in consumerist values, will sometimes use social breakdown to seek financial gain or grab authoritarian power over others.
Confrontational street protests are also not, by themselves, anarchy-in-action. They are simply a tactic, used by various political persuasions and movements, which sometimes involve anarchists because we are often on the front lines of militant opposition to oppression and injustice.
The issue for anarchism is not order versus disorder, but the type of order we want, and how we can organize to secure it. The more organized we are the more impossible it becomes for a few individuals, or a specific class or elite, to try and rule us. Organization, far from creating authority, is the means whereby each one of us will get used to taking an active and conscious part in creating the world we wish to live in. It is our view that every worker who takes orders, who is forced to sell their labor, who lacks the ability to alter the conditions of their work, is exploited. Just as all individuals who lack the means to pursue their dreams and desires, are oppressed, and all well-intentioned individuals who can do so only at the expense of others, are unwilling participants in the oppression of others.
Our accompanying statement, “POG is an Anarchist Group: Now What?” provides more information about how our changing identity will impact our day-to-day work and our longer-term strategic orientation.
This statement has been a modest attempt to present a brief picture of who we are and what we believe. There are no certainties of success and no such thing as an ultimate victory. Nor do we presume to have all the answers or speak for all anarchists, even those in our small corner of the world. We do believe in our ideas and we fight for them. Only through the process of doing so, and engaging in constructive dialogue with other groups and diverse tendencies, will we further mature. We invite you to join us in this journey, through your participation or feedback. Hope and optimism continue to drive our desire to experiment, to learn, to fail and to grow. It is our sincere belief and hope that we stand at the dawn of an anarchist century. Regardless of whether history vindicates this belief, as a well-known anarchist once said, “What matters is not whether we accomplish anarchism today, tomorrow, or within ten centuries, but that we walk towards anarchism, today, tomorrow and always.”
Pittsburgh Organizing Group