Contents - Introduction - Capital - Class Struggle - Conclusion - Home Page - Index

Voluntary Labour & Self-Organisation
– building consensus to change the world

Four concepts will be utilised to elaborate an approach to understanding the development of the self-organisation of labour, of voluntary organisation.

Firstly, organisations develop from nothingness through the loosest kind of assembly up to the most flexible, self-conscious and disciplined organisation which has actualised the objectives for which it existed, and begins a process of self-dissolution and transformation within a larger and changed context. Each stage along this path constitutes a relative truth of voluntary organisation, characterised by a certain kind of inner contradiction and dynamic, which is meaningful only as part of an unrealised logic of development. Seventeen stages of development are identified.

Secondly, three different kinds of logic, each based on one of three kinds of collective are identified. Composite, abstract general and concrete universal logic constitute three quite different ways of living which frequently underlie antithetical processes at work within a given situation and reflect quite different kinds of organisation and approaches to the resolution of contradictions.

Thirdly, the concepts of individual, particular and universal will be utilised to elucidate the dynamic of organisation in terms of the relation between different levels of organisation – individuals, groups, organisations, movements and classes – which necessarily and essentially co-exist in the life-process of any system of social relations. It is through these relations that the development of self-consciousness and the dynamic of organisations unfolds.

Fourthly, the concepts of extension, generalisation and universalisation will be utilised to look at how initial success in building a group may be the basis for going on to build whole movements. It is the successful universalisation of a new principle, for which there exists a real basis in society at large, which have been given concrete, human form in a group of people who have formulated it, which is what changes history.

Each of these concepts will be developed in relation to the life-processes of voluntary organisation at the level of individuals forming themselves into small groups, small groups forming themselves into large organisations and organisations operating within the larger arena of society at large.

The above principles will also be looked at in relation to a case study of the Geelong Branch of the PLP.

A Word about Logic

As just outlined above, I intend to utilise a number of concepts drawn from logic to elucidate the way in which people live in the complex network of changing relationships of today's society. This brings several benefits: (1) logic provides some concepts which are eminently suited to describing these relationships and processes, (2) the approach helps is understand how our various forms of thinking have their origin and basis in the way people live, and (3) the approach highlights the fact that all our actions are voluntary, but acted out under conditions not of our choosing and consequently, until such time as the conditions in which we act are of our collective choosing, out actions are more or less efficacious according to considerations of a lawful kind. However, this approach is open to misunderstanding in a number of different respects, and it may be well to sound some warnings from the outset.

(1) I am not claiming to describe "laws" of social actions and development which have the force of some kind of necessity derived from some extra-mundane source. Certainly, Hegel held the belief that the Idea "manifested itself" in the affairs of mankind, just as natural scientists commonly believe that natural objects and system "obey" laws of nature. But that is not the view promoted here.

(2) I am just not making an analogy, in the sense that I am saying that the social processes described below are "analogous" to logic. The relationship is stronger than that. Logic is about relationships between thought-objects, and these thought-objects are constructed by people in the very social processes we want to describe here. So the point is, that logical concepts can help us get to the essence of social processes.

(3) It might be tempting to continue the same kind of reflections on a larger domain and doubtless we would find the same kind of apparent rapport with logic in relation to our conceptions of all manner of natural processes. This would however be incredibly misleading, because the basis of the rapport would not lie in nature in-itself, but in the way we humans conceive of it, which in turn is founded on the social relations which are the object of this paper, not is presupposition.

(4) I am not trying to build a model of society - a simplified abstraction from the real, which can be used for speculation, such as was popular among the structuralist and positivistic sociologists. I am trying to develop some concepts which will facilitate perception and conception of social reality, for the purpose of subjecting our ideas about it to criticism and working out more effective ways to find a way towards a world in which people are able to live in free, voluntary associations of producers.


The remainder of this section deals with the subject of voluntary organisation in the language of logic because my objective is to bring to light the foundation of the form of consciousness of genuinely free associations of producers in social relationships which are not simply something which can be speculated about in terms of some future time, but are part of our lives today, and to bring out those aspects of our thinking which have their basis in ways of living which are hostile to such free association.

The chapter on capital, among other things, should draw our attention to the fact that only voluntary labour offers an alternative to the rule of capital which is capable of meeting the needs of the entire global community and doing so in a way which actually transcends what capital is able to achieve, and consequently offers the possibility of going beyond the stage of managing capital by means of regulation or state repression to a world of genuinely free and voluntary association.

Consequently, learning how to work with voluntary association is of absolutely vital importance for us all. So, in this short preamble I want to make a few points in 'ordinary language' about the common misconceptions in this regard.


Firstly, when discussing forms of organisation it is usual to believe that there exists some ideal 'model' of organisation to which an organisation ought to adhere or at least aspire. For example people may talk about 'democratic centralism' as one such 'model', possibly meaning an organisation in which free and open discussion is accompanied by majority voting leading to binding decisions on every issue of importance, ruling out dissent from this majority position outside of appropriate internal forums. Another 'model' commonly talked about is one called 'consensus decision-making', by which is meant a total or qualified ban on voting and exhaustive discussion until unanimity is reached, after which unity-in-action follows as a matter of course.

All too often, after paying respects to one or another of these 'models', someone will say that 'unfortunately' a given organisation is not able to operate in that way so regrettably the organisation will stumble on with a guilty conscience.

This kind of normative thinking is hopeless. An organisation is like it is for definite material reasons, and needs to be understood not as something static which compares well or badly with a given norm, but rather an organism which is struggling with particular problems in the course of its development; the point is to understand these problems and work out how if at all it can be taken forward or should be broken up. My approach therefore will be to try to conceive of the various forms which voluntary association may take as necessary stages of development, and by this means to try to bring the various forms into relationship with one another and explore how one may change into another, how an organisation can 'get stuck' at a given stage or fail to get beyond it, or continue to develop.

This section I have titled 'consensus decision-making', because it seems to me that 'consensus decision-making' is one name given to the process of group development.


One of the other problems I see in understanding voluntary organisation is fetishisation of one or another side of the relationship between a group, the individual (especially the group's 'delegate') and the 'universal', by which I mean the overall principle or program which is the basis of the group, or its national or governing body which is the 'custodian' of that 'universal'. People may believe that an individual ought to totally subordinate themselves to the group, and express regret or disapproval when this principle is violated; alternatively people may believe that after all it is the universal (the program or its 'spokesperson') which should have priority in every dispute, and regard any criticism or deviation from this as 'disunity', 'splitting', 'individualism', 'parochialism' or 'disloyalty', and so on; or alternatively, people may believe that whatever else, it is incumbent upon an individual to be true to themselves, to speak their mind, answer to their own conscience, and so on.

On the other hand, in the life of any large organisation all sorts of struggles take place along these axes, and people often approach these struggles with very fixed ideas about mandating of delegates on the one hand, or the rights of representatives to vote according to their conscience on the other hand; all sorts of loyalties and counter-loyalties get into a pickle with one another, often in a way which may be very confusing.

Again we have the problem of trying to grasp these processes from the standpoint of fixed, one-sided and idealised 'models'. In the second section of this chapter I explore all the different sides of these three-way relationships. The point is to understand and to be able to recognise each and every one of these sides, and I think that a healthy and vibrant organisation is one in which every one of these sides is fully developed in itself and brought into the fullest possible relationship with every other side.

In reading this material, I hope the reader will see how deeply our capacity to think logically is founded in exactly these social relationships and the truth of the fact that the development of truly free human individuality is possible only as part of a society in which all these relationships are so developed.

This second section complements the first because I believe that there cannot be genuine voluntary association among millions of people in which individuals participate directly and without mediation in the whole, but only in and through relatively small groups. Consequently, the only way we can conceive of a world in which people work together as free human beings, is by bringing together these two conceptions. At the same time, these two conceptions together provide the foundation for the understanding of what constitutes human rationality.

Distortion and Underdevelopment

The remainder of the material in this chapter attempts to deal with the various ways in which actual organisation fails to 'measure up' to the ideal. These considerations include the contradiction between the formal, written and agreed constitution of an organisation, and its informal, 'real' constitution which is what it does 'in practice'; and the under-development of the various aspects of organisation and the corresponding 'over-development', fetishism or 'fixation' on one or another side of development.

The other concept which I introduce here is of three different 'logics': 'composite', 'abstract general', and 'concrete-universal'. I believe that each of these correspond to quite radically different ways of living and thinking. All are to be found in our lives in bourgeois society today and will continue to co-exist in much the same way that newspapers continue to operate even after the invention of television, and television continues to operate even after the internet comes on the scene.

I: Building Consensus

We begin from the understanding that genuine, concrete consensus of a mass – the kind which changes history – cannot be and is not achieved without the mediation of small groups and larger organisations. General consciousness which is achieved without such mediation shall not be ignored here, and the counter-determination of thinking and acting by capital is the subject of the next section, but the essential development of consciousness in this epoch is the self-activity of people in voluntary organisations. The essence of collective thinking and acting is its genesis. Accordingly, our starting point is the genesis of consensus, which is the essential genesis of organisation.

In what follows, I shall look at the genesis of collective action, discussion or reflective thinking as well as the development of both small groups of individuals and organisations made up of small groups, under each stage of development. The central focus however is the dynamics of small groups.

Consensus decision-making is the essence of group development. The essence of consensus decision-making is group development.

(i) Assembly Phase

1. Situation

Before a group of people come together, before a proposal is made, all the future participants have their own experiences, capacities and expectations both shared and not shared. The potentialities of their coming together has yet to unfold, but are contained within the situation. They are not created by the person who calls people together or the event which triggers a reaction, but exist as just so many people or groups suffering a particular kind of problem or holding a certain conviction or whatever, given situation. But as yet they have no mutual contact or relationship but nevertheless all exist.

This is the situation which exists before a discussion breaks out; the different opinions, exist but have not yet been expressed.

An organisation stuck at this stage is not an organisation at all; it is just "in-itself", only potential. But the "nothingness" of the organisation is precisely the impetus to its formation. "Why isn't somebody doing something about this?" But no amount of agitation will bring about this potential if it does not exist as such.

This was the situation for example in early November 1992 when the newly-elected Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, published his anti-union legislation. The workers' movement was in a state of depression, still coming to grips with the end of a long period of Labor government and the election of an arch-conservative, but John Halfpenny, Secretary of the Victorian Trades Hall Council, correctly estimated the situation and went straight to the press announcing, over the heads of the union leaders, an all-union 24 hour strike. People who had never struck before in their lives and never have since, came out on the streets. History is full of such short-lived instances, many of which doubtless go unrecorded, because unless someone takes the necessary action, there will be no visible manifestation of its existence.

2. Convention

A group of people come together in some way: people may be invited or called together, may simply find themselves together in a common situation or may answer a call or come to an event where a decision is made to join together. The manner of coming together will influence group relationships and composition for some time. People have quite different perceptions and expectations and the only knowledge they have of each other is in the circumstances of the convening. There may be polarisation between those who have been invited and those who did the inviting. Every new member of a group begins from here. Whenever someone makes a proposal or in one way or another a decision has to be made, a group of people begin from the invitation or manner of convention. Groups come together either by mutual attraction or common attraction to a cause or through some initiative taken bringing them together. The basis and manner of their coming together strongly affects future development.

This is the situation which exists when a question is asked or a motion put, but as yet no opinions have been offered.

An organisation which gets stuck at this stage may be a misconception, a "cry in the wilderness" or the problem may be in the manner of convention, in finding the correct way to pose the question, and be heard and understood.

There were a number of big conferences called in the late 80s and early 90s attempting to bring together a range of left-wings parties. These were attended very well and speakers showed great enthusiasm for unity, but nothing ever came of it. Although the participants were responding to a widely felt need to overcome divisions which no longer seemed meaningful, there was in fact no real commitment and unity talks that followed petered out. Likewise, there have been at different times big demonstrations which have brought 100s of thousands of people into the city centre to march over an issue, accompanied by brave talk of new political formations, but then come to nothing. The individuals who turned up to march, go home again in the afternoon leaving no trace behind them. Sometimes these kinds of events may be repeated on an annual basis, but never manage to get beyond the stage of endlessly declaring the need to come together.

3. Meeting/Federation

Basic orientation and getting acquainted: there will be confusion and interaction will be guarded, while members are "finding their place" and gaining their first impressions of the other people involved and the aim of the group and there is not yet any commitment. Unsure about what may be at issue, some people will be reluctant to speak. If people do not like each other or are not attracted to the project of the group, or do not understand what has been proposed or do not like the proposition or the people they find around them, they may retreat or fail to commit to resolving the proposition or working with the group. Disclosure is needed for further development.

A larger organisation in this condition is a federation, with groups working together without mutual contact, maintaining their independence and not committing to the larger entity. It would be just as wrong to criticise an organisation at this stage of development, or part of an organisation which wants to stay there, for "federalism" as it would be to promote "federalism" as a state of virtue in itself. Federalism exists because of the difficulty or undesirability of going forward, or backwards, in the given situation. This can only be resolved by taking specific measures to clarify or stabilise the situation in each part of the whole from the standpoint of every other.

This is the situation in a discussion or in the course of reflective thinking, when the various positions may emerge one after the other and sit side-by-side, and may be pros and cons explained, but without necessarily entering into conflict; information is provided, points of significance highlighted, and so on.

An organisation gets stuck at this stage, as a federation, either because it turns out that there does not exist a basis for developing the relationship, in which case federation is an appropriate form of organisation, or because the tasks of this phase have not been able to be completed. If the component groups or individuals do not fully disclose their aims, opinions, etc., or are blocked by objective difficulties from being able to communicate these to the others, then the stage of federation can never be overcome, and the parties retain their distance and mutual diffidence.

During this assembly stage, there is no commitment or consciousness of "we", but all the conditions inherent in the situation are developed, and the basis created for development.

For example, it is very common these days for "save our suburb" type groups to pop up in response to various issues of a local nature. The groups are united by common opposition to development and central government power and usefully combine in occasional political lobbying, assist each other from time to time and the same individuals pass in and out of the different groups. However, over years, these groups never coalesce into any kind of party or nation-wide anti-development force. It seems that there is simply nothing much to be gained for these groups to put their energy into a wider form of organisation when their focus is the resolution of local problems. This kind of situation is frequently the case when different component organisations have geographically distinct bases. Likewise, professional associations often get very little beyond the stage of federation because the individual careers of the professional people are more important to them than anything collective action can offer.

On the other hand, the organisations which formed the Communist International began very much as a federation, each hanging on to its own leadership and policy and each having its own national base; but the resources and leadership offered by the Bolsheviks was able to persuade the separate parties to sacrifice their independence and form a world party, and the same thing was taking place within each of the countries with disparate working class organisations burying their differences in a single Communist Party.

(ii) Phase of Reflection

4. Conference

People seek direction and test the possibilities, especially opportunities for them to change the group, even in trivial ways. Failure to identify possibilities and opportunities may lead to retreat. If people find that they are unable to influence even the most trivial thing about the group, they are unlikely to commit. People may suggest a change in meeting times or the way the agenda is structured, or minor changes to the wording of a notice or resolution. If their changes have no effect, then they will probably not commit to the project. At this stage, members of a group are likely only to make minor suggestions in any case, so it is important that the group respond to them as such small changes may prove to have greater significance. Equally, minor suggestions for change may be misconceived, but if they are not engaged and modified to produce fruitful changes to the group or project then the emergent difference may return in a more difficult form later. On the other hand, some people have no idea how to make a contribution, and if this condition continues then they will be certain to drop out or become hostile to the project, so those who have a clearer idea about what needs to be done need to explain themselves and give direction, while recognising others by modifying their proposals in the light of proffered suggestions.

At this stage in the formation of a larger organisation, groups endeavour to change one another and their collective practices and engage in a mutual power struggle while testing out the possibilities for collective work. There may be a numbers-game and a trial of strength. If a group perceives that they have no power in the conference, then they are unlikely to proceed to make a deeper commitment and are likely to keep their distance. Having heard the opinions of a group, it is important to be able to test out their views with at least some minor measure of adaptation. This struggle is bound to lead to some anxiety if it continues. But without continuing to a point where the capacity for mutual adaptation is challenged, there can be no real development above and beyond what already existed: a basis for cooperation, but nothing more.

At this stage in a discussion, attempts will be made to modify or amend different propositions to try to accommodate all the various points of view. Many discussions never get beyond this stage of mutual adaptation. If the participating groups and individuals fail to be convinced of the need to sacrifice their independence or fail to be convinced that the others are willing to sacrifice theirs or where there are significant entrenched investments in each case, then the process will exhaust itself.

Conference is a process of transition from federation to union. Sometimes this process is achieved in a single day with innumerable examples provided by the founding conferences of organisations which began with disparate groups coming together and ended with a new, unitary organisation. Sometimes this stage is very protracted; there are numerous re-organisation conferences going on around the world today with relatively long drawn-out processes of discussion taking place between fragments of the old sects and left parties painstakingly talking through old differences and joining together in successive projects to build new formations. It is not really possible to "get stuck" at this stage, because the process is exhausting, and if it doesn't produce results, the participants will tire of the effort.

5. Union

Establishing "ground rules" for operation: informal ground rules established, anxiety decreases, acceptance of limitations of group and the need to begin work. Failure to agree on norms will prevent any effective development. Some mutual trust may begin to develop at this stage. Having demonstrated to themselves that the group is responsive to their ideas, members of the group are prepared to commit to ground rules and testing of boundaries should subside as the need to progress and adopt group norms takes precedence.

In the development of a larger organisation, if the conference is successful, the groups will establish a constitution and regular structure and agree on formal objectives, leadership, structure, etc. Failure to agree on ground rules etc., will lead to regression.

In a discussion, the differences between the various proposals become clear and their points of opposition and the debate crystallises around a clear choice on the basis of agreed facts.

The stage of "union" is the first stage at which a new organisation can really be said to exist, but it is still an organisation in name only. If contact is too infrequent or mutual attraction and trust too weak, then the union will remain stagnant at this stage and not able to achieve much more than the component parts could separately. The norms established can minimise conflict, but can also act as unwanted restraints on independent activity.

A newly-elected union committee, made up of people who don't yet really know each other, but who come together with very definite rules and regulations in place are in this stage, and frequently never get beyond it, for example, if Council meets only once a month, it is unlikely that the delegates will ever really establish communication.

6. Communication

Once norm development has been successful, communication becomes very free and people feel uninhibited. Failure of anyone to participate signals a problem that needs to be addressed, as it will soon be too late to bring someone "up to speed". Individuals dominating discussion must be dealt with lest it exclude others from achieving the capacity to communicate and before domination becomes a source of conflict. Smooth and effective means of communication are developed as the volume of activity expands. Communication is flowing freely in all directions, people are no longer defensive about the interests of different groups and put forward various perspectives and struggle for them without fear and without necessarily fighting for numbers.

In a discussion, the implications of each of the opposing proposals are now explored with increasing depth and intensity, driving to the essential contradiction at issue.

An organisation can get stuck at this stage and achieve a quite effect level of organisation and creativity, but it is characterised by an unwillingness of participants to really challenge each other or to accept challenge from others and consequently frustrations and resentment may grow, but rather than manifesting itself and being dealt with, it is either suppressed or the participants simply hold back. Perhaps it was a mistake? No real development can take place and there is likely to be a "turn-over" as participants exhaust the possibilities for themselves.

I have participated in numbers of "action groups" which have been able to reach this stage very quickly because of a unity of purpose and a reasonable level of experience among participants who are in any case frequently already acquainted with one another; because the group is engaged in a relatively short-lived campaign it never gets to the stage of "conflict". Conversely, where social interaction is as much an end as a means of the group, as is the case with many voluntary groups, conflict is simply avoided and free communication can operate for long periods of time within implicit limits which do not challenge the participants.

7. Conflict

Members asserting individual ideas: Frustration grows, differences are expressed and the air may be cleared as opposing points of view emerge. Since members of the group are now free and able to communicate without fear, conflict is inevitable and is the necessary source of change and creativity. Conflict may become too intense and lead to retreat or fragmentation. If members never reach the stage of feeling prepared to engage in conflict without risk to themselves or the group, then no real development can take place. The problem here is maintenance of conflict on the edge between maximum creativity and the danger of fragmentation. The difference between opposite propositions sharpens to the maximum without an irreversible falling-out.

In a discussion, conflict between different perspectives and ways of working comes out into the open with a passion and the possibility for either transformation or disintegration emerges. There is now full-on contradiction and struggle and the systematic basis of the opposing lines of action are brought out with potential for break-down and acrimonious failure.

An organisation cannot really get stuck at the stage of conflict because if it is unable to resolve the conflict and make a real development, then it will almost inevitably break up or regress back to "politeness". However, if the participants retreat at the first signs of conflict, then it can never get beyond it, so a conscious effort may be necessary to prolong the stage of conflict in order to enter the phase of actualisation.

Alternatively, an election may be called and the struggle for power resolved by recourse to the ballot. Or the organisation may split. In such cases, the outcome is a new organisation (or two) which begins again but hardly from scratch, because it has been born precisely out of the failure of its predecessor on the rocks of conflict. "Passing through" the stage of conflict does not mean that individuals do not leave, indeed this is almost inevitable, but that the organisation survives and develops with or without some individuals.

But if it survives, the conflict stage brings to an end the "birth pangs" of an organisation.

The Socialist Alliance, which existed in Melbourne for a couple of years around 1993-4, brought together some disparate groups from Trotskyist to Anarchist leanings, and developed through the stages up to that of conflict. However, the conflict, mainly between the anarchist and Trotskyist currents eventually led to some of the participants losing patience and the conflict was pushed to the point of split and the organisation simply died. This is an all-too-common story of course. The Progressive Labour Party so far has passed through the period of most intense conflict in its Victorian division with a few individuals leaving, but in the main it has continued to develop and has strengthened; on the national level, the period of conflict has so far been maintained beyond the point where split would have been very easy and the possibility of passing through this stage and reaching the "production" stage still seems achievable.

(iii) Production Phase

8. Formation

Replacing initial conflicts with acceptance of others: conflict declines as members find ways to resolve differences, leadership and commitment is shared, concept of "we" develops and group goals overshadow individual concerns, communication is open, people accept the need to change. A successful outcome from the period of conflict produces a process of change in which a new quality emerges in the work of the group which none of the participants brought with them individually. All the details of proposals can be dealt with as a project is put into practice. Groups and individuals are raised to a new level and a new identity emerges in which former allegiances and hostilities are replaced with new understandings and concepts which did not formerly exist.

In a discussion, the ground of the contradiction becomes clear and the means of unifying the opposing propositions on a new basis is established.

A group stuck at this stage is an effective group but it is still "abstract" and not securely founded – its agreed line of action needs to be concretised and members need to find their place as part of worked out strategy and tactics. Commitment is still slender, and the group is delivering nothing back to those who participate other than the satisfaction of achieving results. This may be fine, but unless the individual participants develop out of participation and are able to take on new roles, then exhaustion and dissatisfaction may follow and the group may decline into conflict, fall at the first hurdle, or fail to maintain its membership.

I would estimate that my own union branch committee at the University of Melbourne is stuck at this stage of development. The majority of the Committee has worked together for a few years and we have a very diverse group of people working together with considerable mutual trust and very effectively. However, a number of conditions combine to keep the level of activity and commitment at a fairly low level and the committee meets only monthly, and it is my opinion that it is really impossible to take a group like this to a higher level with such infrequent meetings.

9. Realisation

Sharing of tasks, leadership and trust: dependence on any individual participants disappears, interactions are goal-oriented, work delivers rewards to members, people listen, care, are prepared to change their minds and are not afraid to tackle new challenges. We have a mature group in which every member of the group has found a role in which they can contribute maximally and both accept and criticise the work of others.

Group activity at this stage is rewarding and enjoyable. The new formation is able to work and achieve new milestones freely and works with a clear idea of its goals and is able to adapt to new challenges, change leadership and replicate itself freely. All participants are proud of their membership and are exhilarated by participation.

The outside world is still there however. If this stage is not accompanied by appropriate changes of role and reorientation in line with changed possibilities, the group may become too set in its ways and cliques may develop.

In a discussion, the new proposition is now fleshed out and concretised with allowances being made for outstanding irreconcilable opposition and details of implementation worked out. Contingencies are dealt with along a consistent line.

So long as the group can continue to confront new challenges and adapt to changes in existing conditions, then this is the ideal stage of development of a group. The capacity for a group to continue to develop and maintain itself at the stage of production is limited by objective conditions however, and since these very objective conditions are the object of the group's activity the group must grow and change.

This is the 'ideal' stage of development. Unfortunately, after some reflection I have to say I have never had the privilege of being part of a group which achieved this level. The necessary combination of belief, full-time commitment and unity of purpose is not at all easy to achieve in social struggle. A really good sports team when it is at the top of its competition would achieve this level as would some military groups or Green or peace groups.

(iv) Completion Phase

10. Reinforcement

Appreciation for the group and reinforcement of commitment: participation in the group becomes an end-in-itself, consensus decision-making is normal, people defend each other. Conditions for development of a correct strategy are now ideal, but if a correct policy cannot be developed, the group will founder. Success is the greatest danger at this point as members of the group are reluctant to upset what is working so well. The willingness to pose new challenges, revisit former taboos and place new demands on members is essential. With success and power, participation in the organisation has become an end in itself and indeed the organisation has become identified with its ends and it makes heroes.

There can be no stopping at this stage since the very success of the group has already transformed the conditions of its existence and this opens a new phase of development. This is the stage at which a guerrilla leadership finds itself a government or a pressure group finds its demands legislated and its leaders appointed to implement the policy. Glorious, but all too often the beginning of the end.

11. Actualisation

Flexibility, consensus decision-making: the group has gone as far as it can and needs to re-form or dissolve if it is not to decline. Objective difficulties may block actualisation and the way the group reacts to such a crisis determines its future development. Success is equally challenging since more than anything, success makes it necessary to abandon former goals and adopt new ones. The organisation is now posed with the completion of its historic role and must either re-orient to new issues or bureaucratise.

A group stuck at this stage has become a bureaucracy, but this stage is nevertheless a more or less inevitable phase of development. The point is to recognise it and move on. One thinks of Marx when he moved the centre of the International Workingman's Association to America and Lenin in 1901 and 1917 when these leaders deliberatively broke up what had been achieved in order to be able to move forward.

12. Resistance

A crisis arises but the group is usually unwilling to recognise it as inconsistent with the continuation of the group in its current form which has worked so well in the past. Since a group shouldn't be deflected by every change of circumstances, such resistance is essential. A new struggle emerges and polarises the organisation in multiple directions in terms of how to deal with the new situation. If the crisis is real, resistance must give way ...

13. Rejection

The group reacts against the change by reasserting itself and if the new situation cannot be accommodated, the result may be anger and disappointment. The need for reorientation is not necessary prima facie and a conflict is essential to test this out.

This stage either terminates the group or lays the basis for a new beginning.

(v) Reorientation Phase

14. Renegotiation

If the group confronts the contradiction of having achieved its goal or failed in terms of its former objectives, then it may work out the best method of changing itself or dissolving and address this as their next task. The methods developed in former times must now be utilised in the establishment of new roles and concepts.

15. Regret

There is a period of regret as the group enters new roles and new situations and recapitulates the difficult first phases of formation of new relationships. An inevitable, but hopefully short-lived, period of mourning.

16. Recapping

Having resigned themselves to the termination of the former relationships and activity, it is necessary to gather and affirm the lessons of the previous joint experience. This will include the affirmation of the changes that have affected the individuals in the former group and the way in which this will affect their future roles and responsibilities.

(vi) New Beginning Phase

17. Resolution

Members turn their back on the past and are addressing the new situation in new relationships. This begins a new phase as at stage 1. above.

More Broadly ...

Every member of a group, and every group in a federation or movement, is at a slightly different stage in this process within a particular group. Such differences constitute internal tensions and contradictions which contribute to development since, if paid attention to, they highlight unevenness in development. But if ignored and not consciously dealt with, differential development hampers collective development since the needs of those at different stages are different.

The group also recapitulates stages in miniature when confronting new circumstances and events or tackling a new task, or when a decision has to be made, and to some extent, the group recapitulates the process when it reconvenes at every meeting, with whatever has taken place since the last meeting and with its new composition. This necessitates a kind of telescoped development - "the story so far" - which will consolidate development and help to ensure continued progress and draws attention to problems that may have arisen unnoticed.

Not every group may or ought to progress through the whole process of development. The group may be made up of people who do not share longer term objectives, and an organisation may be more effective if a group agrees to halt development at a stage which does not force it into an irreversible negative phase of development, and wait until conditions change.

In general however, the skipping of stages is a negative, and will be manifested in contradictions developing at a later stage, forcing things back to the processes that have been overlooked.

In any organisation, there is both a formal and an informal dynamic. For example, an organisation may specify in its constitution a certain mechanism for decision-making; but the actual means by which decisions are made may be quite different. Neither the formal nor the informal decision-making process constitute the essential dynamic of the organisation, which is rather the conflict between the two.

Achievement of the stage of Resolution makes it possible for the organisation to grow, albeit by other means, because its members have all developed and transcended the work of the small group with whom they began and are able to accept responsibility for organising without the close personal relationships they developed in the original group.

Hegel's Logic in the light of the above

The above genesis will be familiar to anyone who has studied Group Dynamics, a branch of bourgeois social science which began in the 1930s out of concern by the US government for some social processes at work in the ghettos, and was later developed by the Peace movement and other social movements, especially in the U.S., and is nowadays widely used in industry and business, especially "change management".

It will also be familiar to anyone who has read Hegel's Science of Logic. Broadly speaking, the following is the correspondence of the above stages of consensus and Hegel's Logic:

The Doctrine of Being: the Assembly Phase: "1. Situation" is the moment of Pure Being in the Logic; "2. Convention" cover the moments of Quality and Quantity in the Logic; the completion of the Assembly stage in "3. Federation/Meeting" corresponds to the completion of the Being in Measure. This phase is characterised by the fact that components parts or individuals of a nascent organisation are not yet themselves changed by the encounter; there is no "engagement".

The Doctrine of Essence

The Phase of Reflection: "4. Conference, 5. Union, 6. Communication & 7. Conflict" correspond to the division of Reflection, the first division of Essence in the Logic, which Hegel outlines in the stages of Identity, Difference, Opposition, Contradiction & Ground. This division of the Logic is characterised by the co-existence of opposites and the sharpening of the contradiction between them.

The Phase of Production: "8. Formation & 9. Realisation" correspond to the divisions of Appearance and Actuality in the Logic, completing the Doctrine of Essence and the genesis of the Notion.

While the completion phase could be said to correspond to the Doctrine of the Notion, the preceding 9 stages are really as far as the correspondence with Hegel's Logic goes. The content of the division of the Subjective Notion is drawn upon in the section below which deals with processes in which organisations and individuals mediate the relations between one another. In so far as the remainder of Hegel's Doctrine of the Notion, the development of the Idea, is valid, I believe it can be dealt with quite adequately with the concepts already found in the genesis of the Notion. But otherwise I regard the section of Hegel's Logic after the Subjective Notion to be of restricted validity.

II: Hierarchy & Mediation

The relationship between the constituent groups of an organisation, its members, and the organisation as a whole is expressed in the way in which the "branches" send representatives or delegates to the peak or central body and in the way principles, decisions and policies are made and carried out. Both these processes can be comprehended through the relationship of universal, individual and particular, concepts that are more frequently utilised in the consideration of logical development.

Universal, Individual & Particular

The larger movement or society of which the group is a part constitutes the group's universal principle. Individuals participate in the universal not just as individuals, but through a particular, and this particular is in general the "group", branch or whatever. For example, an Individual worker may 'believe in' unionism (a Universal principle, which can have no other existence than the whole of the union movement, with all its faults, across its various stages of development, etc.), but can belong only to a Particular union (the ETU or whatever, appropriate to a specific trade, at a given stage of development and so on), and it is only membership of a Particular union that an individual can belong to the union movement. Equally, unionism cannot exist simply because there are many unionists (or for that many because there are many unions), but only because individuals belong to unions. A person cannot get to know the Universal other than through contact with an actual social movement and its individual members and particular organisations.

I want to explore the various ways in which voluntary organisations are constituted in terms of the concepts of the individual, particular and universal. These terms originated in the logic of Aristotle and were given further development by Hegel. Thus, we can also understand the course of a "logical" argument, or "syllogism", using the same concepts as we are using to understand the social relations between groups and individuals within a specific social and historical context. As a matter of fact, it is only our living within these complex social relations that makes logical thought possible.

The delegate, representative or elected individual mediates in the relationship between the particular group and the universal organisation, and through the individual the group makes the universal its own. Logicians represent this as "P - I - U". Pp 600-700 of Hegel's Science of Logic explore the Universal, Particular and Individual Notions, the various judgments, syllogisms and figures expressing the manifold relationships of these concepts. [By the by, Lenin comments in his Philosophical Notebooks, "These parts of the work should be called: 'the best means for getting a headache!'" and skips over the whole section with just a couple of remarks]. Hegel's Philosophy of Right translates these concepts back into the language of social relations, where for example, Hegel assigns universal to the monarch, particular to the legislature and individual to the executive. The extended quote from Marx reproduced in the introductory remarks to this paper refer to Hegel's treatment of these comments.

At the same time, it is the policies and principles of the organisation, necessarily determined by the movement through the peak or coordinating body, which mediate the relationship between the particular group and the individual delegate or representative. Having participated in a central committee meeting, the branch rep. returns to the branch meeting as a member of the leading group and expresses also represents the universal in the particular: "I - U - P".

Thus the branch finds that the universal is mediating in the relationship between the particular group and the individual representative. In fact, the universal mediates between the individual and particular through the whole range of communications and actions which the organisation participates in since the relationship of every individual to the particular group is determined to one degree or another by the activity of the organisation as a whole.

However, the central committee will soon find that the group with which the branch delegate spends most of her time is also mediating the relationship between the individual and the universal: "I - P - U"!

These relations will be further explored below in the section entitled "Mediation".

III: Collectives

In addition to the above considerations on mediation and the genesis of organisations, there is the collective concept, the different manner in which things, people or groups come together. I am concerned with three different kinds of collective:

(a) Composite

The collective of things (people, groups) which are marked by their difference and complementarity, so that a collective is made by bringing the different parts together into a whole – families, teams, alliances, workgroups, departments.

The simplest form of composite is the bonded-pair or couple or nuclear family. In the domain of voluntary organisation there is the team, action group or committee which is appointed by virtue of complementary skills, etc. If the composite grows beyond very strict limits, it cannot remain a "composite".

The logic of the composite is that of uncritical acceptance since the different propositions come out of different standpoints. A person is a member if they have been appointed or born as a member, and that's that. A statement is true if it is posed.

The Progressive Labour Party of which I am a member is currently working in an Alliance with the Greens, the Indigenous People's Party and the Women's Party. The Alliance is possible because each of the participating parties have broadly the same policies, but rest on different social bases. The relations within this Alliance are precisely those of a Composite in that there is absolutely no intention of merging the parties, we simply cooperate with each other.

Bourgeois management experts have developed to a science the construction of work-teams with socially engineered mixtures of personalities which allow people to work in just this way. Feudal society, based as it was on kinship, with no distinction between political or social status, depended on collectives of the social type. Although very inflexible, the composite should not be underestimated as an extremely effective form of organisation.

Anyone must have at some time had an argument with someone who simply asserts that such and such is the case, and no amount of what we would call "logic" makes an impression. And yet, one cannot just for that say that such a person is "illogical", for their convictions may be perfectly well-founded; but they are not presented as the outcome of a logical argument, each assertion being seen as true by virtue of itself. This kind of logic is what I am calling "composite".

According to Lev Vygotsky, the first kind of collective a child makes is a composite: when given a collective of object of different sizes, colours and shapes and asked to collect together a set of them, the child will make up a family group rather than collect together object with a feature in common. I have myself witnessed the stage of development; recently my brother reported that his 3-year-old was seeing "Mummy, daddy and baby" everywhere and compulsively organising things into threes.

(b) Abstract General

The collective of things (people, groups) which are marked by their having a common feature or principle, brought together indifferent to their differences – clubs, unions, sociological categories, interest groups, industries and associations.

The abstract general may have an entirely abstract existence as in the sociological category, or a real but entirely potential and passive existence as in the audience, or a passive, but real and material existence as in the crowd, or graduates of a school, etc., or it may take on increasingly active elements as in "Labour voters" or members of a trade or profession, or members of a union, especially in relations where their membership makes the object of things (publicity, ballot papers, etc.) but involves little active interaction with the organisation as a whole.

The logic of the abstract general is formal logic. A proposition is true if it is part of a set of propositions which are true, a set which is mutually exclusive from the set of statements which are not-true. Decisions are made by secret ballot. A person's attributes are compared with the criteria for membership and on this basis a person is a member or not.

In science, this type of thinking is ubiquitous – defining one's terms at the outset, organising the material into neat mutually exclusive categories according to this or that attribute, model-making and the application of mathematical methods and formal logical reasoning.

The twentieth century has been the century of the abstract general – social organisation dominated by the mass media which broadcast the same message to millions of "listeners", developing up to advertising "targeted" to carefully selected "audiences" and magazines and so on produced for 1,001 specialist "markets", the individual's identity is found not in kinship but in the membership of the various sociological categories and we see the rise of "identity politics". Decision-making is conducted in the same way: the questions and arguments are broadcast, and then people vote for this or that option, then the votes are organised into sets and counted.

(c) Concrete Universal

The collective of things (people, groups) in such a way as to resolve and transcend the contradiction or conflict between them and form a higher unity of which the former components are special principles. Concrete universals overcome the limitations of both abstract generality and composite and can arise only from a process of mutual interaction, conflict and development.

The concrete universal is the essential logic of the voluntary organisation: action-group, party, institution or mass movement. Class is a concrete universal concept.

The logic of the concrete universal is dialectical logic. A proposition is true if it follows from what has gone before by including them as special principles of itself. Decisions are made by consensus. A person is a member if they have been part of the growth and construction of the group.

Logical Transformations

The three types of collective - composite, abstract general & concrete universal, correspond to three types of logic - uncritical assertion, formal logic and dialectical logic. Each of these types of collective and logic play specific social roles and relate to each other in the form of a development.

Very young children are able to form composites, and passing quickly through "chains" as they learn their first words, learn to form abstract generals. [Concrete universals are not normally attained till secondary school level and very many people never truly achieve this level of conception]. Feudal society placed a high value on composite organisations and methods of work, with no real distinction between the state, the family and production relations. In medieval society every person had a place in society which was equally social as political, civil as state; landed property dominated all aspects of social life on the basis of inheritance, primogeniture and traditional systems of obligation and right. The emergence of modern society (i.e bourgeois society) was characterised by the separation of state and civil society.

The modern political state is dominated by abstract general relations (popular suffrage, the numbers game in political parties and public institutions, abstract political rights, equality before the law) even while "civil society" is dominated by the concrete universal development of labour and capital. Bourgeois science, both natural and human, is dominated by abstract general concepts (definitions, mathematics and statistics, sociological categories) and culture in this post-modern world is dominated by abstract general relations (the media, audiences, the public, the readers, public opinion).

The powerful concrete universal logic of labour and capital not only drives the abstract general logic of the mass media but is driving the state into oblivion. The residual crucial functions of the modern state hinge on its responsibility for maintenance of the Universal - the value of money, and the social and historical force of last resort - the military. Abstract political rights, while becoming very general are so abstract as to be largely meaningless.

The future lies in the struggle between labour and capital, even though the dominant social consciousness is a million miles away from that, dominated as it is by abstract generalisations which corresponds to stagnating, atomised and fragmented public individual existence.

The New World Order of today is the untrammelled rule of capital; the New World Order of tomorrow is the untrammelled rule of labour.

History shows the transformation of social relations from composite to abstract general to concrete universal relations. The break down of composite into abstract general and abstract general into concrete universal takes specific forms which will be considered later.

This completes the introduction of the notion of mediation and the three types of logic. I now want to explore problems of organisation on a broader scale than was possible in the earlier consideration of group dynamics, calling upon both these concepts.


In the composite organisation, the plenipotentiary is the person whose role it is to participate in the peak body. It is the plenipotentiary's job to participate in the peak body and his membership in the group ipso facto constitutes the identity of the group in the universal. This form of mediation is far more common than at first appears. Many left-wing parties are organised in precisely this way where the "branch secretary" or "national secretary" in the case of international formations is never by any stretch of imagination genuinely elected by the branch and in fact any hint of the secretary reflecting branch pressures is regarded as a failure of leadership. It is also the usual situation in churches, self-help movements and such like.

In the abstract general organisation, the representative is elected by members of the group. Here, no distinction is made between the general and the universal. Decisions are made by majority decision on the basis of information broadcast to the voters and secret ballots may determine that mediation between the individual and the universal is reduced to a minimum.. The apparent total subordination of the Universal to the Individual masks the actual complete subordination of the Individual to the Universal which monopolises both the means of communication and its content.

In the concrete universal organisation the delegate is mandated by the group. Sent to conference with a strict mandate, the delegate cannot make a decision without winning the consent of her particular constituency (or at least is confident of being able to win support post facto), so if the organisation is to make any decision at all, the mediation between the universal and the particular must be thorough. But this "triangle" of mediation has three sides each of which can operate in two directions. All six aspects of mediation can only be fully developed within a concrete universal organisation.

Nevertheless, we need to look at the different aspects of mediation within the context of each of the three concepts of organisation. A creative, dynamic and free organisation is one in which all six aspects of mediation are fully developed. We can examine the development of organisations through a consideration of the significance of the various aspects of mediation.

Concrete Universal Organisation

Drawing on Hegel's analysis of Universal, Particular and Individual Notion, we can see that his triangle of mediation is also manifested in a discussion or in the implementation of policy as follows:

It was on the basis of this kind of conception, that Hegel assigned the Universal, Particular and Individual to distinct arms of government, respectively the Monarch, the Legislature and the Executive. Once we recognise the contradiction between the formal decisions, policies and principles of an organisation, and its informal or actual activity, then it becomes clear that the relation between universal, particular and individual are reciprocally determining. It is never the case that individual decisions purely and simply implement policies which purely and simply express principles. To a certain extent it is always the case that the "real" policies of an organisation are exhibited in its decisions and the "real" policies in the actual activities and decisions made by the constituent bodies and members. The relation between formal and informal constitution, between decision and action, will be considered later.

Decision & Election

An organisation determines its actions and policies and the composition of its leading bodies and committees according to specific forms of Judgment which may be more or less developed. In his exploration of the Judgment, Hegel identifies four (NB! not three) grades of judgment – Judgments of Existence, Reflection, Necessity and Notion and Hegel identifies 3 types of judgment in each grade. Each of these grades of judgment indicate successively developed forms of election and decision.

I shall consider the development of decision in relation to the selection of delegates, but the same considerations apply in relation to the making of any decision. In each case, the decision does not just involve making the right choice between a number of apparent alternatives, which would lead to an abstract general conception of decision. On the contrary, the development of options not previously considered and the gaining of commitment to a decision are what specifically characterise concrete decision-making as opposed to abstract decision-making.

If we begin from the particular, then the issue is to posit the position of the particular to the universal; if we begin from the universal, then the particular must find within itself the individual which best expresses the universal; if we begin from the individual then the issue is to posit the particular and the universal as extremes.

The various grades of judgment, taken from the standpoint of the particular rise from abstract to concrete as follows:

Judgment of Existence: here the group proposes what it believes in as motions to be put to conference and selects the delegate with whom it finds the greatest rapport.

Judgment of Reflection: here the group reflects on the universal and takes its position for and against, amending and so on and has regard for the standing of its delegate at conference.

Judgment of Necessity: here the group looks at the whole program and posits an alternative which is consistent across the whole and expects and assists its delegate to argue and mobilise at conference.

Judgment of Notion: here the group develops its own line having regard to the essence of the issues confronting the universal and poses itself as an opposite to the universal.

Each of the four grades of decision may be posed from the alternative standpoints, for example in the circulation of the motions before conference to branches, and in the work of individuals towards the development of the group and the organisation as a whole.

Representation & Delegation

In the scheme of Hegel's Logic, the Syllogism is the restoration of the Notion in the Judgment, and Hegel says "everything rational is a syllogism". Hegel recognises three grades of Syllogism – Syllogism of Existence, of Reflection and of Necessity, and explores altogether 9 different syllogisms through which a notion develops through different movements between Individual, Particular and Universal.

Hegel says that the syllogism is the restoration of the Notion in the judgment and consequently the truth of both. That is to say, the syllogism brings into unity the three judgments in each figure beginning from universal, individual or particular. And again, the syllogism develops from Existence, to Reflection to Necessity.

Thus, in the decision-making process of an organisation we begin with the branch posing its position to the centre, the centre posting the conference motions, etc. to the branches and the individuals developing the differences between the two. This process then must progress from mutual reflection to counterposing of the essential line in each direction, and so long as the process is sufficiently deep and protracted, the outcome must necessarily be a new development of the universal, particular and individual.

So we see in the decision-making process of an organisation a complicated kind of "reasoning process" through which the points of view of different parts of the organisation, each participating from a different standpoint, are concretised through the internal struggle between these aspects of the whole organism.

Abstract General (Categorical) Logic

The abstract general notion of universal, particular and individual are very easy to understand in terms of individual members of particular sets belonging to a universal class.

In abstract general logic, various categorical syllogisms are built around the above kinds of propositions and their converse and obverse versions. In each case there are two premises and a conclusion, one of the premises acting as a "subject", the other as a "middle term" with the conclusion acting as a predicate. So the abstract general concept of organisation sees members as belonging to different groups or branches in the same sense as things can be categorised.

The particular branch also mediates between the individual and the universal in the concept of communication whereby the particular passes messages of various kinds between the peak body and the individual member. However, in abstract general organisation this aspect is weak. Predominantly, abstract general organisation is characterised by the unmediated relation between the individual and the universal. The "particular" is really nothing but a "half-way-in-between", a small universal or a bunch of individuals.

Decision and commitment is determined by majority decision-making. Compromise and development is possible only by the "numbers game" – finding the proposition which is supported by the largest possible number of delegates.

Composite Logic

In composite logic, the individual, particular and universal each have their own existence side-by-side and their own role. It is the function of the peak body to conduct national business, of the branch to carry out local work and of the individual member to do whatever, each according to their specific duties. The universal is "my universal" for the individual, not because I have elected her or because they are organically connected in the development of the organisation, but because I am a member and she is the leader. Each makes a decision in the light of clear directions, unshakeable belief and perception of the individual circumstances in which the decision must be made.

IV: Crises of growth

What do you do when you have been successful with one particular group? One idea can take you nowhere, unless you can generalise from that idea. But to generalise from an idea is limited in that it can have no greater content than that from which it started and the success of generalisation is to a certain extent a matter of chance. The real issue is to be able to universalise the idea. This means to find what is essential within the idea; that is, not to just begin with the particular, but with the universal, and find within the particular, that which reflects the universal. This is the theoretical form of the crisis of growth within an organisation.

I shall here look at three ways in which groups which have been successful in establishing themselves try to extend themselves: extension, generalisation and universalisation.

1 Extension

Core & Periphery: The first and most common form in which a crisis of growth manifests itself to a group is the fixation of the organisation at a certain stage of development with a relatively developed core and a periphery which, instead of being integrated into the life of the group, remains in the condition of an "abstract constituency". The group in question may be a new voluntary organisation which has begun from a few people until it finds that despite every success, its active membership is remaining quantitatively and qualitatively stagnant. Alternatively, the group may be the elected committee of a union branch or other voluntary organisation with a relatively large membership, or the periphery may constitute an inactive majority of a voluntary organisation of any kind. Overcoming the relative passivity of the periphery and the attempt to organise it or draw it into the group itself, often constitute a central concern for the group or "committee".

"Extended Family": The group may respond to the growth of a passive periphery by further elaborating its division of labour and engaging more and more people in the work of the group through subsidiary or local roles, while the members of the original group becomes transformed from activists to administrators or organisers. However, even this effort can take an organisation only so far. At a certain point, the process of extension must reach a limit, beyond which it can only grow by the development of new centres of activity and creativity.

The development of a group into a larger organisation can happen in several ways:

2 Generalisation

3 Universalisation

Successful universalisation leads to a development like that sketched above (I: Building Consensus), but this time at a higher level, with groups joining with other groups, rather than with individuals joining with other individuals. There has to be conditions for such a process, there has to be a widespread basis for what it was that was essential in the success of the original project and there has to be a basis for cooperation on that essence. What that basis may be will determine the stage which universal development may reach. The key to successful universalisation lies in understanding what is essential in a particular group's successful development, that is to say, that for which there is a universal significance. History provides us with famous instances of groups which have come together and been able to summarise in a concise slogan, demand or given themselves a name which captures something which has universal appeal at that moment in history, and in a very short space of time a new movement is born, be it Black Power, Women's Liberation or Rural Action.

This appears to raise a couple of issues: (i) what do we mean by the essence of the development of a group, or putting the same thing differently, (ii) how do we determine what is of universal significance in the development of a group. The issues discussed in I: Building Consensus deal quite adequately with what I have called "objective universalisation", inasmuch as if we can recognise what is of universal significance in the development of our particular group, separating it from inessential, local, particular or individual characteristics which will be different from group to group, but if no such movement exists, or putting it another way, if it exists only as "Situation", (iii) how can a group bring before the whole movement, which exists only "in-itself", a "Universal"?

Essential and Universal Development

How then to recognise what is essential in the development of a group. This not likely to be possible unless a group has achieved the Production Stage, since it is only at the Production Stage that the internal conflicts within the group are resolved and it is the resolution of these conflicts which reveals the essence of the group and separates it from what is inessential. For example, a group which has been able to achieve only the stage of federation cannot universalise itself because it has not yet found its own identity and the unifying principle which would enable it to move past that phase.

Further, such a universal development is possible only from a concrete universal group. A composite is by its nature only capable of extension, and an abstract general group cannot go beyond generalisation. A group may begin in any number of ways; it is its development through successive stages through internal conflict which allows a group to separate the essential from the inessential and allows the group to become self-conscious. The coming-together of a group may be an abstract general - all those in a particular town who are opposed to the felling of a particular tree, for example. The struggle to stop the tree from being cut down is a task which may take the group through a process of internal struggle which possibly brings a quite different consciousness to the group as it confronts all the bureaucratic processes which support the felling of the tree, all the vested economic interests which require its felling and all the fears which hold people back from fighting against it.

It is the whole period of internal conflict through the Reflection and Production phases of development – in which differences first emerge within a group, are resolved, uncovering further deeper conflicts, which if the development is "successful" can be resolved in the formation of a group which works with clarity and mutual understanding – which brings to light what is essential. This is a process resembling the stripping away of the layers of an onion; all that was accidental – the personalities of particular individuals, the locality where the group lives, the particular beliefs and backgrounds of the participants – becomes inessential, and it is the essential which becomes clearly understood by all as the unifying principle.

The achievement of this stage constitutes a crisis because further development can only take place by concretising this essence. The process of self-clarification, the "peeling of the onion", has gone as far as it can, and further development can only be achieved through concretisation. The Period of Completion is the time when a group has the opportunity to understand this essence and the crisis may resolve itself in a Reorientation towards universalisation. It is because the essence of the development has come out of the process of stripping away what is accidental and inessential, that it has universal significance.

So for example, while it may be the threatened felling of a tree which brought the group together, and the task of the group may have been the prevention of the felling of this one particular tree, the group may see that not only is it a question of trees in general rather than a particular tree, but that it is the lack which a community has of any ability to control the development of its environment which is essential. The outcome could be the call for a meeting under the banner of "Save Our Suburbs" which brings to light a hundred such groups. It is of course by no means determined whether the development which may then follow is able to go beyond the very first stage of Assembly.

The contradiction which then arises from the process of universalisation is that while the group has arrived at a high level of self-consciousness and clarity about its program and so on, to the extent that it is able to express this in a way that has universal significance and appeal, the Universal movement(s) into which it then enters has nothing like the same level of development and may never achieve it.

When a development is considered so as to determine what has universal significance, we necessarily arrive at an abstraction; a relatively concrete abstraction it is true, since it has arisen out of and summarises a concrete and particular social development. "Black is Beautiful!" for example, or "Victory to the NLF", or "Not Australia Day - Invasion Day", "Women's Liberation" - a slogan or concept which is easily grasped and under the conditions where it has indeed universal significance, it can ignite and focus a whole movement and create the situation in which a movement can be built.

However, if a genuinely concrete universal movement is to be built, rather than an abstract general one, it is not enough to have just the abstract general slogan. The issue is to express the principle (Notion) as a concrete universal and this means to express it as an individual, in a personality, and a person who knows it and is able to translate it into policies and tactics – what Hegel called the world-historic individual.

Now, in these days in which "leadership" is a dirty word on the left, these conclusions may be controversial. But this hostility to the role of the individual in social movements is misconceived. The bourgeois media-politicians know it perfectly well, and package their policies with meticulous care in an individual who is far more a product of ad. men, market researchers, media consultants and spin doctors than their dear mothers. But I think it is wrong to draw the conclusion that personification of a political line is essentially some kind of deception. The creation of such personification by video images and media massaging is, but a political line which cannot be personified is thereby essentially false. That is why the images manufactured for US Presidents invariably turn out to be fake. A nation and a class which is historically outmoded producers leaders who are corrupt or mediocre, and dressing them up for television is like repainting an old motor car for sale.

If we are talking about new ideals, a different ethic and a new way of living, then we must be talking about a different way of being a human being and that has to be liveable. "All actions, including world-historical actions, culminate with individuals as subjects giving actuality to the substantial" [Philosophy of Right, s. 348]

The case study of the Geelong Branch of the PLP will be used to explore the concept of "essential development".

V: The Reality of Voluntary Organisation

The Contradiction between Formal & Informal Dynamics

Almost any organisation has a constitution or set of rules of some kind governing relations between people within the scope of the organisation. Usually these rules are not the product of a self-conscious design, but are a mixture of accidents of history, both past events and the stamp of individuals which have shaped its life, more or less developed concepts of how the organisation ought to function and externally imposed laws and regulations. Such is the life of any real organisation. A successful and dynamic organisation will have a constitution which accords with its mission and self-consciousness, and with time the organisation will gain in self-consciousness and amend its constitution to bring it more and more into line with its true essence and self-consciousness.

At the same time, the actual relations which pertain within an organisation do not correspond at all to what it written and publicly accepted as the normal means of decision-making, norms of behaviour and division of labour within the organisation. This is the informal constitution. For example, an organisation may specify that elections take place on the basis of statement circulated on behalf of candidates; but in reality all sorts of personal loyalties, misunderstandings, prejudices and so forth are at work within the election process. For example, an organisation may specify that its state council is the supreme policy-making body; but in reality, a small group of paid employees may be effectively determining policies and reducing the state council to the condition of mushrooms (kept in the dark and fed shit).

It is tempting to say that the informal constitution is the "real" constitution, while the formal one is but an illusion outside of the extent to which it is actually adhered to. The contradiction between the formal and informal constitution ought to be overcome, but it is not the intention here to rate one higher than the other, but to recognise in this situation the existence of a real contradiction, neither aspect of which is fully self-conscious. This situation may arise simply as the product of change and the fact that the written constitution must lag behind the development of practice, and of the unavoidable impact of contingencies. Alternatively, an abnormal contradiction between formal and informal constitution may come about through the interpenetration of different logics, and it is part of the aim of this paper to try to work out an approach to understand such conflicts and find means by which the participants can become conscious of the contradiction and give it deliberate and conscious expression.

For example, if a trade union committee realises that its discussions are dominated by the imposition of gender-specific roles, while the committee has an agreed policy against sexism and gender oppression, specific measures can be taken which will counter the sexist practices and bring the formal dynamic into line with the committee's consciousness of itself, and this change will be reflected in changes to its formal constitution. Contrariwise, if a committee realises that it is in fact a certain sub-group which is running a certain part of its work which, according to the formal constitution should be under the control of the whole committee, rather than expose members of the sub-committee to unwarranted criticism, the committee may formally decide that the work is the exclusive responsibility of the sub-committee between monthly meetings of the whole committee. So the contradiction can be resolved in a number of ways, but it needs to be recognised and resolved.

Under- and Over-Development

In the above, I concentrated on what I believe is essential. So, for example, the manifestation of sexist or racist oppression within a voluntary organisation is inessential and a distortion of voluntary organisation. Nevertheless, it may be that such "distortions" are from time to time the most significant thing about a voluntary organisation, and further, that the struggle against it the most progressive and significant aspect of development.

A lot of attention is paid in studies of group dynamics to the phenomena of "group consciousness", by which is meant the orientation of mentality towards maintenance of group norms and interests at the expense of the interests of the group's members as individuals or in relation to other non-group social responsibilities and at the expense of others not within the group. Thus we have inter-group rivalry, gang-warfare, communal friction, unhealthy rivalry between parts of a larger organisation up to willingness to commit group-suicide or form irrational belief systems remote from systems of belief common in society generally. "Group consciousness" also includes all the various phenomena of group life manifested in the course of its development.

My interest now is to comprehend such pathology in terms of fixation of over-development on specific stages of development of a group at the expense of the whole development, and underdevelopment of aspects of the logic of group development. This is not to say that pathology cannot arise by means of "infection" of the group by alien tendencies, and in fact the effect on money on voluntary organisation is specifically considered in the third part of this work.

For each of the above logics - composite, abstract general and concrete universal - there is their undeveloped forms, their negatives or exclusive forms, and their retarded, obsolete or inappropriate inclusive manifestation. But first, we have the two following problems which arise from abnormal development.

Abnormal Development


The development of an organisation through the entire series of stages outlined above is the exception rather than the rule. In general an organisation will find itself "stuck" at one or another stage of development. There may be internal or external reasons for the inability or unwillingness to progress beyond a given stage. However, recognition of the situation as one of fixation at one stage in a complete process of development, makes it possible to comprehend what is essential in the development of the organisation, how it can go forward and the nature of the principal contradiction determining its crisis. The material in the first part of this paper is intended to provide the basis for understanding the problem of fixation.


Due to impatience or to the fixation of members on their goal at the expense of how to get there or through external constraints, an organisation may attempt to "fast-track" itself and the skipping over of intermediary stages can lead to later crises and relapse. For example, if at its first meeting, in the excitement of the moment a group of people may decide to formally found an organisation and establish all the formalities, and then only later discover that their mutual desire to get along together at the first meting has masked profound differences over what kind of an organisation they wanted and the constitution is completely mixed up. Or alternatively, just at the time when conflict is beginning to manifest itself as the group tests itself out, someone may want to achieve high levels of commitment and set tasks which the group is not able to handle and conflict may become too intense for the group to withstand.

Logics of Underdevelopment

(a) The composite begins from the point where the components each exist side-by-side but not yet in relation to one another, where the parts form a whole in name only.

(b) "Chain" is the name given to the precursor to the abstract general, its under-developed form. Here A is joined with B on the basis of a given common property, but then B is joined with C on the basis of a different property, and C with D differently again, with the result that the collective formed by ABCD... is a complete mish-mash. A lot of the union amalgamations that happened in the late-80s to early 90s in Australia were of this kind. Alternatively, the 'criterion of membership' may be so thin and abstract, that the collective itself is meaningless.

(c) This paper effectively describes the various forms of development of the concrete universal and consequently clarifies the meaning of "under-development" of concrete universals. In general, underdevelopment takes the various stages of development of the opposition between the principles within it from the point at which the opposition is altogether unclear to the point where the contradiction is sharp and explicit but unresolved, to the point where it is resolved and concretised.

Logics of Exclusion

(a) The Composite is a powerful form of collective - the mother-and-father or couple, the navigator, pilot & gunner, the work-team put together with a designed set of Briggs-Myer personality types, good-cop/bad-cop, and so on. Each member of the composite accepts the modus operandi of the other and demands, in fact, that they operate in the expected fashion according to their role. Members of a composite are not equals and do not enjoy "equal rights", because rights do not even arise in the composite. Under the impact of external relationships, the acceptance of membership of the composite may change. The ladies no longer accept the role of making tea and healing the wounded, and the mother prefers to go out to work. Once the mutual acceptance characteristic of the composite has gone, it takes on the content of a vehicle of oppression. If composite role-playing tries to maintain itself beyond the bounds of its mutual acceptability, then internal warfare breaks out.

(b) The habit of defining strangers according to their attributes in a way which is inappropriate is the negative aspect of the abstract general - "defining" people, "prejudice", treating people according to their colour or their gender instead of as human beings. Likewise, the formation of groups on the basis of commonality is entirely abstract and if there is no process of growth and development, the abstract general group is an illusion.

(c) The fixation of a group at the Completion stage, refusal to face up to the need to transcend itself, preferring to remain with what has worked well in the past, is the typical manifestation of the logic of exclusion, of the development of sectarian consciousness, in a hitherto healthy group.

Logics of Incorporation

(a) The softness of "we're all brothers and sisters together" leads to acceptance and even celebration of difference to the point of idiocy and ineffectiveness.

(b) Rather than by the incorporation of more of the same, the abstract general can grow by driving the criteria for inclusion to a more and more abstract level - the "motherhood statement", or the "numbers game".

(c) The pathology of the concrete universal is the inclusion in the collective of those who share fundamentally hostile interests to the group, even though they are part of the growth of the organisation. This includes the acceptance of leadership beyond its useful life, when what is needed for further development is actually a regression to early stages of development, but at a higher level. Also under this category I include the attempt to include the bourgeoisie and their interests and spokespeople in organisations of labour through accommodation. We could call this "conciliationism"?

VI: The Organisation and the Objective World

So far we have had regard only to the development of the members, policies and structure of an organisation without regard to the situation which confronts it in the outside world. This objective situation is not an amorphous mass of facts and individuals, but is likewise an organised and developing whole in which different organisations with different social bases, different universal principles and objectives, organise and orient towards it.

In the spirit of this paper, it is vital to understand that this outside world consists on the one hand of the possibility of alliances, federations, unifications and mutual transformations, and on the other hand, of the forces of capital which are manifest in, organised and exerting influence in a whole range of organisations from state bodies and capitalist enterprises to social movements which are not aligned to capital at all.

Both these aspects of the objective world must be considered separately before the interrelation of the two can be considered. For the moment, I think enough has been said about the development of any voluntary organisation to deal adequately with all the issues that arise in its relations with other non-bourgeois organisations. The only thing that must be remembered here, before we move to a consideration of the dynamics of capital, is that unlike Hegel, in his Philosophy of Right, we cannot pose the development of the state as a continuation and reconciliation with civil society. The bourgeois state expresses the interests of capital, and the independence of organised labour from the bourgeois state is a fundamental premise of this paper.

The above sketch of the development of discussion, group dynamics and organisational growth expresses the processes through which voluntary organisation unfolds. It is necessary to look at the opposite dynamics which captures the movement of capital. However, before turning to these questions, one small digression ...

The Workers' Movement Today

The reader has, I hope, gathered that the considerations above are intended to contribute to a conceptual framework for the solution of problems in the building up of the organisation of the workers' movement and may reflect on the current condition of the workers' movement and possibly how, if at all, a revolutionary workers' party could figure in such a view.

If we look forward to the day when the universal constituted by the international working class - the principles of socialism and freely cooperative labour - has social reality in a really-existing international workers movement, in what sense do we see this existing today?

This is a complex question, but I want to emphasise that to say "No, unfortunately such a revolutionary workers' party does not exist", or still worse, that some particular group, the "International Vanguard Party" or whatever, is that revolutionary workers' party, just waiting for the masses to join up, is not the way to approach this question.

We must conceive of the universal workers movement as existing here and now at just the stage of its development which we find before us, not as something which will be brought into being at some future time or place. We see a fragmented union movement, itself the arena of struggle between political groups and capital; we see political groups separated from each other and from the unions and a myriad of voluntary organisations with no concept of relation to the workers' movement at all, very unclear, contradictory and embattled conceptions of socialism, and millions of workers with no substantial relation at all - or at most a very abstract, general relation – to the workers' movement as such.

Our conception has nothing in common with the conception of a "vanguard party" which begins pragmatically and organisationally ready-made, waiting only for recruits and generalised acclaim; nor with the concept of the workers' movement as millions of voters and a few elected, professional "leaders", nor as some kind of heterogenous soup in which the lack of any universal concept of organisation is a permanent and essential feature.

The problem before us is constructive participation in the development of the universal workers' movement while all the time capital is organising labour in a completely different direction.

The foregoing discussion did not attempt to make a concrete diagnosis of the situation today, or to lay down a prescription on the proper way to proceed. My only aim has been to introduce some concepts which can assist us in understanding voluntary organisation, and to demonstrate exactly how rationality is rooted in the practice of voluntary organisation.


Science of Logic, Hegel, 1812, Trans. A V Miller

Philosophy of Right, Hegel 1821, Trans. T M Knox

Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right, Marx 1843, Trans J O'Malley

Thought & Word L S Vygotsky 1934

The Growth of Logical Thinking, Piaget & Innhelder 1958

Resource Manual for a Living Revolution, Coover, Deacon, Esser & Moore, 1977

The Dynamics of Discussion, Communication in Small Groups S E Jones, D C Barnland F S Haiman 1980

Working Effectively with Task Oriented Groups D F Seaman 1981

Decision Making in Small Groups, The Search for Alternatives A C Kowitz T J Knutson 1980

Dealing with Difficult People, C J Keating 1984