What is a Collective?

A collective is a permanent organizational grouping that exists to accomplish a range of tasks or achieve a goal or maintain a permanent project. Collective members usually share the same political views, in fact, they are often united as a collective by their political views specifically. Most collectives are also local in focus since most collective projects are based in local communities, most collective projects are local in scope, and the collectives themselves are made up of people who live relatively close to each other.

Collectives, on a small scale, are often not very different from affinity groups, however, small groups that refer to themselves as collectives usually work on long term projects like publishing a magazine, or running an infoshop, or operating a business. Affinity groups can theoretically do anything, but typically affinity groups often focus on varying short term goals and tasks. A collective, on the other hand, focuses on long term goals and permanent projects.

For example, an affinity group may decide to post political flyers all over a city either as part of a larger action or as an individual action that the affinity group takes upon itself. Whereas a collective that ran an infoshop would post flyers all over a city to promote an event happening at the infoshop. The action performed by the affinity group would be an end in itself, but the action performed by an infoshop collective would just be one task among a variety of tasks that are required to maintain a permanent project like an infoshop.

Also, unlike an affinity group, a collective technically has no size limitations. A collective can number anywhere from 3 to 200. However, when a collective reaches a certain size, it may be wise to either break up a collective into one or more smaller collectives or divide the collective internally into permanent affinity groups. Decision making in a collective can range from direct democracy, to consensus, to combinations of both.

Tips on Forming and Maintaining a Collective

  • Try to organize your collective with an effort towards bringing in people that incorporate as many key skills relevant to accomplishing your goals as possible.

  • Take action with a specific focus, within the context of your broader concerns. A "scattershot" approach to your collective's activity will likely end in frustration.

  • Identify and approach all possible allies to your collective and its goals.

  • Take yourself, your collective, and your issues seriously. If you lack confidence in your project or your cause it will soon show.

  • Continuity, persistence, and focus are prime ingredients for success.

  • The easy part is getting started. The hard part is keeping things going. The single most important way to sustain a collective is to be active. If you don't develop regular projects and actions as a group that people can involve themselves in, they will sense a purposelessness to the group and drop out.

  • To avoid the dilution or subversion of your collective's politics or goals (intentional or not), the group should be founded on an explicit basis. Coalitions are more susceptible to manipulation than groups with clearly identified politics and goals.

[Excerpted from the War Resisters League pamphlet "Organizing a Local Group" by Ed Hedemann with modifications by the editor.]

Getting Started

  • If possible, contact a member of an existing collective that you know of and ask advice on how to go about forming a collective in your area.

  • Contact as many people in your area that you think might be interested. If they are interested, tell them to tell anyone they may know that might be interested. Call together a meeting of everyone involved in a public place (such as a library or bowling alley) and discuss setting a clear agenda of what should be and what could be done. Encourage every member to speak up and voice disagreements so that each member feels comfortable being honest.

  • If there is an anarchist book shop or community center in your area, post leaflets up that tell about the group and what you aim to accomplish. If there are no anarchist book shops or community centers, try and find somewhere else where you think the group might be welcomed.

  • Set some short-term goals and execute them. This could be something like distributing 500 leaflets, attending a demonstration, organizing a small demonstration of your own, getting anarchist classics into your local library, or participating in and learning from existing community projects. The only limit to this is your imagination.

Once you have established the collective, you can work on projects to maintain interest in the collective. These are goals that require extensive planning and resourcefulness and are definitely worth the effort if they go as planned. A good example is broadcasting a public-access cable show, or a weekly program on community radio -- but they require lots of scripting and someone that will stay calm on the air as well as appear friendly. Obviously, what can be done is, again, limited only by your imagination. If you choose to do something though, make lots of plans for every detail so that if anything fails you've got at least a few back up plans. Basically, use some common sense and try and decide what will work best for your community.

What is very important, though, is that the group takes action. Action defines the existence of the collective, people want a group that gets results. Everyone promises results, but the ones that deliver will be the ones that have the most support. What this also means is that you have to know what problems people face. Talking with people openly is a good way to understand these problems, as well as finding good solutions and new tactics.

[Excerpted from "Information on Starting a Heatwave Collective" with modifications by the editor.]

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