The Red Docs is our attempt to discuss who we are and what we’re trying to do. Why bother? Why not just let our political work define who we are?
First, we want to get good at what we do. This requires that we know our goals, focus on them, and through criticism and feedback, change individually and as a group, both our strategy and the goals themselves.
Second, as each of us changes politically we want to be aware of what our politics are in relation to the rest of the group. Political differences between individuals and the group need to be thought through: to change (either for the individual or the group or both), or to separation, or to an understanding that the difference is one that can be tolerated.
Third, by defining ourselves clearly, people in the group can see what they need to do to get more power, that is, we want to equalize access to decision-making. The idea of the core collective, for example, comes in part from a recognition that every group has someone who takes responsibility for the group’s existence. By defining what the core collective is clearly, individuals can develop the skills and attitudes necessary to join the core, rather than have it be accessible to only the more aggressive people.
Fourth, our purpose is different from what it appears to be to people not closely involved within Groundwork. They see just the bookstore or whatever part is most visible and assume that to be our main function.
Please note the incompleteness of the Red Docs. There are missing sections: things we know which we haven’t yet had time to write, sections which should be changed, and many things we don’t know yet. As you move from being a new person to being a high level person within the group, you might consider adding your input to the Red Docs. The first step is an outline of the points you wish to make, or a written statement submitted to all the members of the collective for criticism. You can generate it yourself or bring it up as a meeting topic and we can do it together.
But in the meantime, here is an attempt to say who we are…
The principal goal of the Groundwork Collective is to develop a theory and a practice (praxis) to provide the skills, both intellectual and practical, necessary for a nonhierarchical and nonauthoritarian system of social organization. We believe that the creation of such a system would involve a socialist revolution, but one different from that which is usually understood by this term.
As clearly signified by our name, our organization is informed by our belief that even if our present oppressive and authoritarian capitalist system were to collapse tomorrow, a new socialist society could not be created unless the groundwork for such a society had already been laid. We seek to do this both by working to build a collective working environment among ourselves and by working in coalitions with other people and organizations who are struggling for similar goals.
By providing information unavailable elsewhere and acting as a community center, we hope to both change people’s consciousness and to assist those in unions, political parties, and other progressive groups who are working along similar lines for positive social change. We seek to reach out to such groups through coalition building, sponsoring events, coordinating study groups, and, of central importance, disseminating texts which facilitate the development of a critical consciousness.
Within Groundwork, we seek to create a collective environment through which we can sharpen the skills that will lay the groundwork for the society we envision: a society free from discrimination based on ‘race,’ ethnicity, gender, creed, sexual orientation, age, or disability; a classless society in which all people can develop their full potential, control their lives and determine their future, within a diverse, supportive and critical community.
Acting and thinking in a non-authoritarian and non-discriminatory way does not come naturally, and since we are educated to blindly follow rules and leaders, we believe it is crucial to prepare as many people as possible to utilize the principles and skills necessary for the establishment of our envisioned socialist society. Within our collective structure, we strive to continually improve upon our praxis by working out some theory, putting it into practice, and then changing the theory based on the results.
Most importantly, we seek to learn how to develop critical relationships, act autonomously within a collective structure, participate in consensus decision-making, foster critical socialist consciousness, and take responsibility for our actions. One of the reasons for creating and continuing to develop this document is to articulate the key concepts necessary for understanding and developing these skills.
We oppose any form of exploitation, e.g. capitalism, racism, sexism, ageism, lookism, and imperialism. We are working toward a society in which people have control over their own lives.
Socialist consciousness, i.e. considering the effects of our actions on others, is the most important single value in our political work.
We are committed to struggle hardest over those things preventing unity in our day to day work with comrades and friends. We're committed to not struggle seriously (i.e. think we must reach unity) over those things which don't affect our work together (e.g. whether the 'Gang of Four' was correct or not).
Responsibility for our own Politics
We must be responsible for our own politics: stars, father figures, or believing something to be true because it was said by a special person are bad politics.
Leaders and Followers
We must each work to be both good leaders and good followers, that is, to see through problems, to organize and coordinate for solutions, and to follow others when they are correct. That is, we must each develop our skills so none of us is always a leader or always a follower.
Guidelines, not Rules
We are each responsible for our own decisions as well as responsible to the group. Within Groundwork there are 'guidelines,' not 'rules.' Guidelines are the result of collective decisions that will help us make the correct decisions in the future, but they do not relieve the individual from responsibility (they are not rules to be followed without thought).
Theory and Practice
Good practice (day to day political work) is more important than good theory (knowing the how and why of the correct action but not doing it). However, even better is good theory and practice, where one evaluates and criticizes the practice and then seeks to develop one's theory to improve one’s practice.
Criticism/Self-criticism and Praise
Criticism and self-criticism (C/SC) is a feedback mechanism to help us constantly improve our work and relationships. It's different from the feedback we give each other naturally in that it is more deliberate: we all enter into this agreement to criticize ourselves and each other, to work on doing it lovingly and well, to criticize within the context of our shared political work and values, etc.
The purpose of this paper is to establish some theoretical consensus as to how criticism should be done. From there we can try to achieve a high level of C/SC in practice.
If there are pieces of this paper in the table of contents that aren't yet written, it's because this should be a constantly changing paper. Please make your additions, corrections, comments, etc.
The aim of Criticism/Self-criticism is to resolve a bad situation to everyone's satisfaction rather than fixing blame on someone.
What to Criticize
Of course, you can give a person any feedback you think they might find it useful. But a particular commitment is made to any criticism of their work at GW, anything that creates tension or problems between you, and to a lesser extent their political work and consciousness as a whole.
In straight society criticism is made within a legalistic framework: certain things are against the rules and if you can prove that someone broke a rule you've won a case and they should be punished (feel bad?). How a person makes you feel doesn't matter; anything more subtle than physical harm doesn't constitute a problem; your needs will be considered if and when they start to affect your performance. One thing this leads to is misplaced tension: you're talking about whether someone broke a rule, but the real issue is that they get on your nerves.
In Groundwork we want to get away from all that. We want to create a place where people can be happy with their work and each other. That means getting away from laying blame. If one person has a problem, that's a collective problem. Most common problems are shared by everyone to different degrees anyway. The purpose of a criticism is to find the happiest possible resolution to the problem. A problem is a problem when one person says it is. And that's not making accusations, so there's no need to hold back, there's no harm in bringing something up. And we want to be as honest as possible, develop our perception of our own feelings and the dynamics between people; to be good at saying what the real problem is. That means legitimizing such things as "I don't feel like you're concerned about my welfare." or "Such and such a thing you do makes me uncomfortable."
It's incredibly easy to not make criticisms. And it requires no ill will on anyone's part for things to get hopelessly screwed up. On the contrary, it takes energy to keep them straight. It's just too easy to assume that if someone did something you don't like that they must have bad intentions, and then assume that if you do anything anyone else doesn't like they'll assume it's an honest mistake and bring it up. Our lack of skill in resolving such problems leads us to look for easy answers, and the easiest one is 'they just don't want to listen.' It's essential to realize how difficult this task is, and quit blaming each other when things aren't easy.
Formulation of the Criticism
Attitude and feelings. If your attitude is, I'm right and they're wrong, most people will be put on the defensive and the working through the criticism will be difficult at best. Your attitude should be:
I may (or do) have a difference with this person. They may well have good reasons for what they do or say. Can I get them to accept a joint decision for this problem through working it out?
This doesn't mean you have to compromise or must be a wishy washy liberal. There is still lots of time to take a hard stand - after you understand their point of view.
Take responsibility for your feelings by trying to see where they come from, to know to what extent they depend on the other person's behavior, and to be open to the possibility of changing your feelings rather than the other person changing their behavior. Often we have bad feelings from past criticisms that weren't dealt with and this particular problem may bring out a backlog of bad feelings. Expressing your bad feelings in the Initial Statement not only helps your attitude but presents you as human rather than self-righteous.
Have a positive attitude toward the person rather than rationalizing why it won't do any good. If you find yourself doing this, you can turn it around by using your analysis of why it won't do any good as a re-statement of the problem, i.e. “I find myself thinking that I ought not waste my energy on Robert because he doesn't respond well to criticism.” A more positive restatement would be to say "Robert doesn't respond well to criticism. I have to decide either to address that problem or to not, and if not, how to resolve the immediate tensions some other way."
Focusing the criticism. Focusing the criticism means separating your observations from inferences (thoughts about why the person might have done it) from your feelings so you can make a statement of the problem which is clear and easy to understand. You should deal with the subtle as well as obvious aspects and put into words any other assumptions, feelings, or thoughts that lead you to the conclusion or criticism. You might want to discuss the criticism with someone else to help you analyze and add other observations. But don't use this as an excuse for relieving tension and not making the criticism, i.e. being liberal to avoid criticism for fear of struggle or to be a "nice person." You may, of course, decide not to make the criticism at this time or to withdraw it.
You might also consider focusing the criticism with the person being criticized. Tell them you have this vague criticism and ask to work together to focus it.
You might want to figure out who bears the costs and benefits of what is being criticized and who bears the costs and benefits if the criticism is accepted. This may be necessary to help you understand the criticism but, if possible, should be left to the Struggle phase where the person criticized can participate.
Making the Initial Statement
In general, it is best to criticize when the situation occurs so that details are fresh in both (all?) your minds. If there is a compelling reason to wait, take notes for later discussion. Compelling reasons could be:
criticism would be distracting from something being discussed
you are in the presence of people that you don't want to hear the criticism.
you need time to formulate the criticism.
you are unsure of your motivations and might be using the criticism to put someone down.
the person is in a bad mood.
you want to wait for a one-on-one discussion because the person may take the criticism as an automatic put down. This may be ego problems or may be a conditioned reaction to our capitalist dominated society in which "criticism" is used by those with power over you to their benefit without any joint resolution of the "problem."
However, if you are in a good critical relationship with the person, it often raises the consciousness of others to hear socialist decision making in action.
The tone of your statement in general derives from your attitude (see Formulation) and communicates a lot: any negative feelings you have, your level of respect for the person, how urgently you feel a resolution is needed, and how much energy you're willing to put into truly trying to understand the person's point of view. It's important that you communicate these things accurately but without creating unnecessary tensions. The way to do that is to present the areas of possible tension as soluble problems. For example, to say that you have hostile feelings for such-and-such a reason rather than to just let your hostility show through (or to try not to let it show through).
Starting with issues of information (Does the problem result from something I don't know? They don't know? Some miscommunication?) will get the easy solutions out of the way first and help communicate your desire to hear what they have to say and to avoid unnecessary conflict. Don't, however, ask questions you already know the answers to. This liberal technique generates alienation through putting the person through a test without you having to communicate the criticism.
Establishing the criticism as a joint problem
Asking "Can I hassle you" or "Can I criticize you" is a good first step. It shows your respect for the person in that there exists a problem and asks their permission to make it a joint effort to solve it. Also, it allows them to put it aside if they are particularly down and not in a mood to deal with a problem. If they don't want to hear it then, try to get them to decide who has responsibility for the problem and when it can be discussed, e.g., "Should I bring it up sometime next week?" or "How about you telling me when you want to talk about it."
The actual statement will depend on your relationship with the person, as well as the particular criticism, but one very useful form is:
"When ____ (observation), I feel _____ (feeling), because ______ (costs, reasons). I think ______ (suggested resolution)."
A clear statement of the observations and feelings are the most important. Costs, reasons, and suggested resolutions may be best left for the Understanding and/or Struggle phases where you both (all?) participate. You have presented a situation in which no one is blamed, your "I" shows you take responsibility for your feelings, and there is the possibility of a solution with "no losers." The only cost will be the time spent working through the criticism.
Also, state any reservations you have about being able to make the criticism without alienating the person. If you're worried about this but don't say anything you run the risk of being so obscure that the person can't understand what you're trying to tell them.
Understanding the Criticism
Understanding is the attempt to reach agreement on what the problem is. For an easy, well-stated criticism it may not be necessary to spend time agreeing on what the problem is. Perhaps just understanding the criticism is all that is necessary for Acceptance of the criticism and there is no need for Struggle. However, for more difficult problems, much time can be wasted in Struggle if there is not a clear focus and agreement on what the problem is. Understanding should not be a Struggle, i.e. an attempt to convince the person to see a contradiction or to change. You just want them to see clearly what is bothering you. If you have any doubts that the person understood or if you think the criticism may have generated bad feelings, ask them to paraphrase the criticism, that is, feed it back to you in their own words. For example, you might say, "I'd like to hear you tell me what the criticism is, so we can see that we're both talking about the same thing."
It's important here (as well as in the Struggle phase) that you take responsibility for communications even if the other person does not.
"You weren't listening" says you didn't understand and the responsibility for the miscommunication lies with you.
"I didn't explain it very well" says you didn't understand and it is my problem. (It's liberal to accept responsibility for a problem if you don't mean it).
"We didn't communicate, let me say it in another way" doesn't lay blame for the previous miscommunication and asks for a joint decision to try again.
Try to maintain an attitude of everyone working against the problem and not against each other. Try to avoid taking a hard unchangeable position. The harder your position, the harder the other position will be and at least one of you must change for a successful resolution. Try instead to understand and focus on the contradictions in their position. The desired place to introduce your position is when they are trying to resolve their contradictions. If you must introduce a hard position, take responsibility for it. "Let me argue a hard line because it may help focus the problem. It doesn't mean I necessarily feel this strong or can't change." Try to reach a joint resolution, i.e. an agreement on some outcome (see following section for suggested outcomes).
Of course, you would struggle longer with friends you are committed to struggle with than with some casual acquaintance. If you have just criticized your local police, you might try to bring out some unresolved contradiction in their position if you decide to give up on the struggle. Keep trying for resolution. If you can get behind the immediate problem to a point where you agree, the criticism can be worked out. Every time you say "no it can't because...", your why is a new restatement of the problem. You must, however, choose carefully who you are going to give your struggle energy. Don't waste your time trying to convince the ruling class to overthrow themselves.
Try to focus behind the immediate problem to where the fundamental difference is. Do you have differences in info which could be verified? If so, each could assume the others’ info. is correct and see if a disagreement still exists. If this resolves the disagreement, effort should be made into agreeing on the info. Are there differences in values? Do different experiences lead to different subjective probabilities? All of our probabilities are subjective. That is, our belief as to the likelihood of a particular event occurring under given circumstances is a result of our experiences and ideology. We may know some probabilities very accurately, e.g. being able to predict the number of times we'll get "heads" in a large number of tosses of a coin. On the other hand, we often let what we want to believe influence our probabilities. If Allende hadn't nationalized U.S. corporations what would the chances of establishing socialism in Chile have been? Would Allende have survived if the people had been given arms? Should the Allende government have known to give arms to the people? Since the answers can't be proved, each person has to generate the probabilities based on the info available- and that may be difficult to convince another person.
Problems Which May Hold Up the Struggle
Watch for these in yourself as well as the people with whom you are struggling:
Defocusing the discussion:
That is, bringing up divergences and trying to explore them. Try to get agreement on what the difference is. Ask for agreement to write down the divergences which can be returned to after the criticism is resolved.
Criticizing the person who made the criticism because they did the same thing, because they didn't make the criticism perfectly, or because they're not perfect in some way. Explain that the criticism is not meant to imply inferiority (OK, I do it too, should we both make this same mistake?). Try to get agreement to postpone criticism of how the criticism is made until after this one is resolved.
Seeing what's false in the criticism rather than what's true:
There is always a sense in which something is false and that can be used to try to prevent dealing with what is true. Acknowledge what is or may be false to get a better focus on the problem, e.g. Jan is being criticized for not being prepared at meetings, and her response is that she was prepared for the previous meeting. That may be true, but it doesn't answer the criticism. A useful thing to say might be: "There's always a sense in which a criticism is wrong and I may not have made this one well. But there is something true in what I'm saying and I'd like you to try to focus on that instead." Or you might just say: "Can you see that what I'm saying might be true in some sense?"
Arguing about something that's not the problem, even where there's no disagreement. For example:
"Let's paint the room blue."
"Well, I think the couch should be red."
"But blue's a really nice color."
"So is red, and besides, it shows our politics."
"You don't have to go showing your politics in everything you do."
"Why not? Are you ashamed of your politics?"
Do you feel you're talking about the real problem?
Is there a tension that is not being dealt with? Ask your partner to explore what might be holding back the struggle. You might use the Brainstorming technique (see below) to find the tension.
Techniques for Hard Struggle
To focus on differences:
Empathy. One person sets aside their position completely. The other person explains their point of view. Questions can be made but only to clarify and understand the position being explained. If that doesn't resolve the problem the roles are reversed, with one position set aside and the other position explained, with questions for clarity and understanding only. If the problem is still unresolved, the participants try to discuss the issue again but taking the other person's position. This will almost always resolve the problem or point out clearly what the fundamental difference is, which can be the basis for more struggle or an agreement to disagree.
Cost/benefit analysis. Analyze the costs and benefits of the problem and who they fall on. Then consider the costs and benefits of the desired change. For example, if someone is consistently late to meetings, you might analyze how much time is lost by the people there if the meeting can't start, or the loss in input of the late person, or the loss in time in updating latecomers vs. the benefits to the person in being late. If the late person accepts the analysis they have a contradiction which can be resolved through coming on time. Whether the contradiction actually gets resolved though, depends on the person. The fundamental problem probably still exists. It might be poor planning or it could be they feel more important when they arrive late. If the problem persists, future criticisms should be struggled toward finding the underlying contradiction, i.e. finding the less obvious benefits to the person in being late.
Models. A model is a simplified version of the problem where the relevant variables are abstracted, i.e. included in a simplified version of the problem. A model airplane, for example, keeps its shape, i.e. relative size, but gives up overall size allowing one to see things which would be impossible on a full size airplane. Similarly, Marx's model of human society focusing on classes and the economic relationships, enables one to understand contradictions which would remain blurred.
Thus, to focus on a fundamental difference, you can try to develop a simple model of the more complex problem i.e. assume out of the way all sorts of info. which might divert your attention. If everyone agrees the model illustrates the difference, it can be worked through to get a better understanding of the fundamental difference. Then you can discuss the differences or repeat the process with a more precise model to isolate the difference further.
Models (as well as analogies below) also help by removing the problem from the emotionally loaded context and a joint solution can be brought back to that context for resolution.
Analogies. Analogies are similar problems which are related in that the same principles apply but are in a different context or environment. You may be able to create an analogy which the other person would arrive at a conclusion which is in contradiction with their previous position. Or, if everyone can agree on an analogy which illustrates the problem, it can be worked through together and the solution applied to the original problem.
When you want to accept differences and find a solution which meets everyone's needs:
Brainstorming. When the problem is clear to both participants, you may want to look for a joint solution which meets both persons’ needs without any fundamental change. Brainstorming is a good technique for that as well as for looking for solutions to many other types of problems. The first step is for all participants to state possible solutions as they come to mind. One person writes down the solutions but no attempt is made to evaluate any solution. This encourages a wide variety of possibilities. After everyone has given all their ideas, go over the list one by one, eliminating unacceptable solutions and looking for the best alternative.
When you're not getting anywhere:
Change the composition of the group that's struggling. If several people or two groups are involved, it may help to isolate to one person on either side of the issue to continue the struggle and then, when resolved, each would struggle with their respective groups. Conversely, two people struggling may want to include their comrades.
Restart the criticism process. You may want to consider going back to making the initial statement, repeating the understanding phase, and seeing if you can begin the struggle phase from a more productive place.
Set the problem aside. If you decide to set the problem aside to be discussed again at a later time, it's important to sum up the most important known difference and to agree on what that difference is before leaving the problem. You should also both review the original criticism, so both people can continue struggling independently.
Out of the struggle, comes:
Acceptance. You completely accept the criticism. Can you turn it into a self criticism? Sometimes acceptance is to meet the needs of a particular person and you may not be able to make it into a self criticism (e.g., a roommate asks that you always do the dishes right after eating. You may accept that as their preference and agree to it without it being a self crit, although after agreement, if you fail to do the dishes, a criticism should be accepted and then turned into a self crit). But usually you should be able to make an accepted criticism into a self criticism. Acceptance means the receiver takes the responsibility to completing the resolution of the criticism.
Postponement. The Receiver should try to resolve the criticism on the spot. However, for lack of time (which is a euphemism for higher priorities or commitments), bad feelings, or for whatever reason, a postponement can be made. The receiver takes responsibility for getting together at a later time to resolve the criticism.
Withdrawal. Sometimes it becomes apparent that it will take more energy to resolve the criticism than it's worth. Often this is because the criticism remains vague in either person's mind. The criticism can then be withdrawn. If it focuses, then it can be made again at a later date. Responsibility rests with the person who made the criticism.
Rejection. If you have struggled to a mutual rejection of the criticism then the person making the criticism has changed their position.
Open Criticism. Sometimes a criticism cannot be resolved in any of the above ways, yet remains an important difference between the people. It can be agreed to keep it as an open criticism, with both people taking responsibility for trying to focus it, finding new examples, and keeping track of its existence until the criticism is Accepted, Rejected, or Withdrawn. You should have a way for keeping track of all your Open Criticisms.
Guides for Making a Criticism
Make the criticism at the time unless you have a good reason to wait. Don't let bad feelings build up.
Don't be legalistic. Criticize or discuss what really bothers you.
Take responsibility for your feelings (usually by stating them).
Enter into joint decision making (i.e., don't dump the problem on them).
Assume they have good reasons for what they do.
Take the time to formulate the clearest statement you can of the problem. This is most important for heavy, or fundamental criticisms. Specific incidents tend to be better handled right at the time, with the best off-the-top-of-your-head approach you can come up with.
The task of the receiver of criticism is to try to understand what the person is saying, enter into joint problem solving with them, and implement (maybe jointly) the agreed upon solution.
Some of the problems that come up include:
the criticism makes you angry, alienated from the giver in some way, etc.
you don't understand the criticism.
you don't accept the criticism, and this leads to problems.
The most important single thing to do is to fight any tendency to play the victim and dump all the responsibility for communication, problem solving, etc., on the giver. This is especially hard when the criticism is poorly made or stems from values you don't agree with.
How to do it? First is to treat the content of the criticism and the way it is made as two separate issues. If you can, deal with content first. But if the emotional elements are too intense to do that, make it clear that you are not rejecting the criticism but need to talk about the form first. Then take responsibility for your feelings or needs. One way to do this is to put them in the form of "I feel this way," or "I need this," instead of "You're doing this," or "This is outrageous." It's important to ask for whatever you need, or say however you feel; as long as you're not dumping blame on the other person they will tend to react very positively. And of course, they need to know what you need: a different explanation, more examples, more understanding of your position, a clarification of expectation, less blaming, etc.
Next is to assume that no matter how much falseness there is in the criticism, somewhere there is a grain of truth. After all, the person has some reason for making this criticism, even if it is wrong. There is something somewhere that needs to be dealt with. So you look for and acknowledge what is true in the criticism, usually before elaborating on what is not true.
Try to account for the person's perceptions or feelings. For example,
"You don't like me anymore”
“Maybe you feel that way because I didn't respond much the other day when you were talking. But it wasn't because I don't like you, it was because..."
The last thing is to not be liberal about accepting a criticism you don't really believe is right. The idea is to change and you won't do that unless you really believe it is necessary. Often when you see a change as necessary you'll think of it in different terms than the person making the criticism. What you see is a problem that needs to be resolved, not a change in you. This doesn't matter; the idea is not to confess, but to change. A "confession" may reflect a superficial view of the problem, a hope for a quick and easy solution that doesn't entail all the difficulties of real change. When you are in a position to change you will understand the reasons you've acted as you have, and won't be able to feel it is as simple as: "I was wrong, I confess, I repent."
Guides for Receiving Criticism
Look for the truth in what the person is saying.
Try to account for the person's feelings or perceptions.
You don't have to accept a criticism you don't really think is right. Don't think you've gotten to the bottom of it when you can say, "I was wrong."
Try not to feel persecuted or otherwise take the criticism negatively. If you do feel this way, take responsibility for it by stating your feelings and trying to deal with the criticism independently of them.
Understand the criticism before you decide whether you reject it or not (take responsibility for your feelings usually by stating them).
If you accept the criticism, make it a self criticism. Follow through towards change.
If you accept the criticism but don't want to change, say so.
Self criticism is the key to long term success. If you had nothing else you could get it all from self criticism. Your plans could be completely unrealistic and you'd learn by using self criticism. Your goals could be vague and you would clarify them. Your statements could be unfocused and alienating and you'd clean them up, if you were self critical. Self criticism completes the feedback loop; it ends one problem and formulates a new one. Every time you say what went wrong you've defined what to do next. Every time you say what went right you've cemented a part of your learning.
Self criticism just means asking yourself if you've achieved what you set out to do; looking critically at what you've done in terms of your goals; are you getting where you want to go? If you want to get the most out of it, keep a journal. Write your goals and plans, then come back and see if they worked like you thought they would. Write down all your self criticisms and review them to see if you've made the changes you wanted to. Write down your problems and your thoughts about them until you can see a way to proceed. You can ask certain questions of yourself: did I guilt-trip anyone today? Did anyone pull a power trip I didn't recognize at the time? Did I maintain my favorite contradiction again today?
A frequent failure of self criticism is when your plan comes to some unexpected end - say the situation changed before you implemented your plan. You may not think of self criticism because you don't recognize this as the time to do it. Or you may give up looking for a workable solution. This is the most important time to use self criticism-when something fails-why didn't I find a workable solution? Where is the contradiction?
Socialist consciousness is a central concept and necessary practice for building a strong collective and a good socialist society. From it stems many other concepts and practices that are discussed in the Red Docs. Socialist consciousness means to have consideration for the welfare of the collective and others without neglecting individual needs. It is a simple concept and makes sense but it requires effort and can be difficult to implement because most of us are products of an individualistic society in which we are taught to put our own welfare before that of all others. Socialist consciousness does not mean, however, that you have to be a martyr. Suppressing your own needs can not only lead to a bad decision but one that may be difficult to support in the future.
As Kelly gets ready to leave for the day, she notices that she has made quite a mess of the computer area, the front counter is a fire hazard, and there are two dozen boxes of books outside the back door. Leaving would satisfy Kelly's need to get home before rush hour; however, this action does not take into account Lorna's need for a clean work area. By taking five minutes to clean up her mess and help Lorna with the boxes, Kelly can still get home in a reasonable amount of time and Lorna is saved the frustration of cleaning up after someone else.
The collective is discussing the possibility of staying open later. Some members of the collective say this is necessary to meet the needs of customers who have difficulty coming into the store during the day. Betsy is uncomfortable with the idea of being in the store alone at night as there is little security available. However, since it appears that most people seem to like the idea and Betsy would like to see Groundwork more accessible to the community she suppresses her own need to feel safe. By playing the "martyr," Betsy may find herself feeling put upon whenever she's in the store late at night. Also, had she expressed her needs at the meeting she would have discovered that Niti and Chloe felt the same way and perhaps a different decision could have been made such as staying open late only one night a week.
This is when people agree to struggle until everyone in the group accepts the decision and agrees to implement it without resentment. Acceptance by each individual means they can live with it; that they believe it to be the best decision by the group even though they personally may think there is a better decision.
Consensus decision-making requires each person to take seriously the values and beliefs of all the others in the group and be open to change. If people survive the struggle to do this initially, consensus gets easier as they resolve differences in values and have common experiences. Consensus decision-making develops our socialist consciousness, that is, considering the effect of our actions on others, which in turn makes consensus decision-making easier. Similarly, majority-rule decision-making encourages our individualist consciousness.
A critical relationship is one in which people are committed to review each others' work (long term as well as day-to-day), and to provide feedback, in the form of criticism and praise, as well as support. It's important to set aside time for a periodic (every two weeks?) review, especially while the relationship is beginning. A little encouragement goes a long way toward making a critical relationship successful.
Criticism, Self Criticism & Praise
This is used to look critically at our work to keep a view of how we are progressing toward our goals. Criticism of a person (including criticism of ourselves) should always be done in a constructive and loving sense. When animosities develop they can be handled through the criticism process if each person will take responsibility for his/her feelings and try to understand why the other person feels the way he/she does. Groundworkers have committed themselves to using criticism to keep bad situations from developing further, and to use praise to keep a good situation going.
Since these are important concepts in our collective we've devoted quite a lot of space in the Red Docs to them. A fuller description of criticism, self-criticism, praise, and critical relationships is in the back of the Red Docs.
Clearness is our attempt to focus on the relationship between some person and the collective as well as the individuals in the collective. It's a time to make, and hopefully resolve, criticisms and praises, and to air past bad and good feelings. It's an opportunity to consider one's strengths and weaknesses and lay the groundwork for changes.
Usually we use it when someone is making a higher commitment, for example, coming into the collective. It can also be used to eliminate tenseness and to focus collective problems, or just because someone wants to re-examine their Groundwork relationships and criticisms. More about this in the back of the Red Documents, including how to prepare for it.
Responsibility and Residual Responsibility
Responsibility means doing what you say you are going to do, that is, keeping your commitments. Responsibility is necessary to be a good follower; residual responsibility (RR) means taking responsibility for an entire project or job. (The term "residual responsibility" comes from taking responsibility for all the "residual" or leftover responsibility after others have taken responsibility for specific parts of the job).
The person who takes RR should get an overview of the problem, plan for the future, see that all the work gets done, and whatever else it takes. It doesn't mean they have to do all the work themselves, but it does mean they have to know how to break down the work and get others to help. It also means that they should make a disciplined withdrawal if they can't do the job. Knowing how to take RR is necessary to be a good leader.
Responsibility is a fond subject of ours, probably because we've had so much trouble getting people to actually be responsible. There is more on the subject under "Work."
The Day Coordinator (DC) is the person who has residual responsibility for the collective's work on a particular day. In the bookstore, collective members take responsibility for different days of the week. They are the ones who train new staffers, see that problems get solved (or shuffled to the correct people), and do whatever it takes to keep the store going.
When you leave the collective, even if it's only for a little while, it's a good idea to take the time to make a disciplined withdrawal. The main point of this is to cause the collective as little pain as possible. When anyone leaves the collective they leave behind vacancies in the things they were responsible for. If you just run off with no warning, it will take longer for things to start functioning again in the jobs you are leaving.
You should explain to the collective that you are leaving, why you are leaving, and for how long. Places to do this are: (in order of preference) at a meeting, in the daybook, to a core collective person. It's especially nice for you to give any criticisms of the collective before you go (even if they aren't the reason you're leaving -- we're still interested in your thoughts).
A disciplined withdrawal also involves handing over responsibilities. Make an announcement that there will be open jobs needing volunteers and be willing to train someone to take over. A high level would be to write up a job description.
A particularly costly undisciplined withdrawal is the "fade away." Here, someone lowers their commitment because they "don't have enough time," but doesn't tell anyone. "Don't have enough time" really means not high enough in their priorities. One should be straight as to why priorities have changed, and let the collective know whether it's temporary or permanent.
One should also make a disciplined withdrawal from any job he/she has taken RR for, but can't complete or keep up with. For instance, suppose someone has taken RR for publicity and the job description includes keeping classified ads in local newspapers, keeping a good general leaflet around, etc. If they can't do it, they should make the collective aware through the Daybook or at a meeting. Possible solutions would include:
taking responsibility for only part of a job (say classifieds) and looking for someone else to "take RR" for overall publicity,
keeping RR temporarily until someone else takes it, or,
lowering the expectations for the job.
People are usually very poorly prepared to work in a non-authoritarian environment. In this section we gather what we know about making collective work successful.
What does it mean to be responsible in Groundwork? Taking residual responsibility, as we mentioned before, doesn't mean you make all the decisions concerning that area without any input or feedback from the rest of the collective. It doesn't mean you're saddled with all the work. It doesn't even really mean that you have to see that all the work gets done. What taking RR does mean is that you are responsible for soliciting information, criticism, and especially help from the rest of the collective. It means you are responsible for the decisions made - including decisions to let certain areas slide if you feel they aren't critical. What it especially means is making decisions that you feel are best for all concerned.
To clarify some of these things, let's take an example. Suppose Groundwork has decided to show a film. You agree to take on the job of seeing that leaflets advertising the film get distributed in the community. The first step is to inspire volunteers to post leaflets in various designated areas. You do this, but you can't get enough volunteers. Your choices are to do it all yourself, or just decide that certain areas won't get done because they aren't critical.
The second choice isn't an irresponsible decision. Decisions should be based on what's best for all concerned. In other words, if the only way all the areas are going to get leafleted is if you put in a lot of time and effort and burn yourself out on the project, then it probably isn't worth doing it all. This is an acceptable decision if you know that leafleting those areas isn't crucial. The decision should be based on its effects on you (do you have enough energy to put into this?) and on the effects on the rest of the collective (is the film going to flop because of what you didn't do?). It's important not to make decisions that are too individualistic (caring for your own welfare at the cost of others) or too martyr-like (caring for the welfare of others at the cost of your own).
Another problem is making sure that the volunteers that were supposed to do some of the work actually got it done. You can assume they did it, which isn't unreasonable if they've always been trustworthy before, or you can check up on them. One way of checking is to go to the area they were supposed to leaflet and see if any are up. Another is to ask the person to tell you when they get it done. Then, if you don't hear from them, it won't seem strange when you ask. If you are depending on unreliable people and you don't check up on them, you are unreliable as well. This is another aspect of irresponsibility.
If, after you've finished all the leafleting you're going to do, someone criticizes you for some reason, this doesn't mean you've been irresponsible. If their criticism is valid, but you feel you tried to make the best decision, all it means is that you've made a mistake. It's important not to feel that you have to be perfect to be responsible---you make mistakes, you learn from them.
When you take responsibility for something it's often a good idea to get an overview of the whole problem. Then you can decide how much energy you have available (either personally or in people who have volunteered to help), and bring to the entire collective the question of how good a job they want done before you even start. This way you can avoid spending all your time on non-critical things or doing things in a round-about way. You may even discover that the project is going to take more than you are willing to give. You then have the option of deciding it's not worth it before you spend a lot of time that will be wasted on it.
For example, say you've taken RR for showing the movie. You could start by deciding what movie to order, ordering the movie, and then trying to find a room to show it in. But what happens if you discover you aren't able to get a room because you asked too late? You'll have a film, which will probably have to be paid for, and nowhere to show it. If you had started out with an overview, you would have seen that the wise thing would have been to check everything out first before committing yourself, and then begin committing yourself to the things you could back out of with a minimum of fuss. If you had found out that getting a room was free and that you could drop you request without causing any hassles, then that was the thing you should have done first. If you had taken an overview you wouldn't have been stuck with a film you couldn't show.
Being responsible also means leaving responsibly. If a DPR is leaving the collective or has just gotten tired of that job, they have an obligation to make a disciplined withdrawal. They either finish the job to the collective's satisfaction or train someone else to take over. If the leaving DPR doesn't do this it can create a lot of hassles for the people still in the collective.
Doing something responsibly means that you make sure the work gets done as well as it can be, that you try to consider everyone's needs, and that you don't waste the energy of yourself and others. It also means agreeing to encourage praise or criticism from the collective and to try to learn from your mistakes.
Responsibility necessitates a positive attitude toward what you take responsibility for. There is a tendency for all of us, coming from the society we do, to avoid as much responsibility as possible, using a legalistic or literal interpretation of the agreements we've made to do so. For example, bureaucrats are famous for the ability to say, "Oh, that's not my department, go see someone else."
In Groundwork, that's not an acceptable attitude. Our political 'path' says we want to encourage people to take control over their own lives. Control necessitates responsibility. This isn't an oppressive attitude because each person is fully in control of what they take responsibility for. And they take a critical attitude toward their work but not a judgmental attitude toward themselves. Self criticism, like criticism of another person, should be loving.
Becoming a Designated Person Responsible
When taking on a new job, it's best to proceed through the following phases:
Learn the job well as it was done before you start to change it. You can learn it by:
Reading past job descriptions (Green Documents)
Talking to people who had the job
Asking for criticism and suggestions (what could be done to make it better?)
Understanding the input and output of the job, that is, who is going to be affected if you change things (having a socialist consciousness)
Take RR. That is, now you can take an overview of the job, change how the work is handled, look for help because you can't handle it, or whatever. It's yours. You may also consider how to divide it into several jobs, which you can coordinate. Taking RR doesn't mean you have to do all the work yourself, just see that it gets done.
Get the job wired. That is, get it down so that the work flows easily in a minimum amount of time, files set up for easy access, clear decisions on how to handle "normal" problems - for example, the DPR for periodicals should make sure that staffers and customers all know how to make suggestions for new periodicals and what the decision-making process is.
Write (or change) a job description and keep it updated and on file in the Green Documents. This will help make your disciplined withdrawal a success. It also means the job can be handled by someone with less commitment of energy. The job description might include check lists, traps to watch out for, tips, and whatever other useful information.
You might consider sharing RR or moving on to another job.
Requests for Help with Work (not collectively approved 4/83)
Some people are overloaded, while others don't know what to do. You might have RR, but want others to help (if you want to give up RR, see Disciplined Withdrawal under Concepts).
Turn to those doing the least before asking those doing the most because skills and information create a "natural" hierarchy (as opposed to the authoritarian one in business and government). Turning to those doing the least makes the group larger and more decentralized, giving more people power. Also, those doing the least may not know what needs doing and can benefit from your instruction/inspiration. You might also consider looking outside the collective, that is, notes on the message board, appeals (gentle) to friends, suggestions to interested customers, or people you would like to know better.
Volunteering is never expected (although it's awfully nice), i.e. the bad feelings because someone didn't volunteer to help you. You must take responsibility for making your needs known in a way that doesn't guilt trip.
In an authoritarian environment, those with RR control rewards and punishments which allow them to order work to be done. In a liberal environment, hints, manipulation, and guilt are often used (In some families, the father uses authoritarian methods and the mother uses liberal techniques). In collective work, we must be careful to break away from these common patterns. You are going to have to learn new ways to ask for help on the work you took responsibility for. On the other hand, most people have only known the authoritarian and liberal methods, and may respond to your requests and attempts to be an RR person by accusing you of being authoritarian or guilt tripping. You might ask them how you can make your needs known without hassling them, i.e. ask them to become active in finding new ways for making collective work successful.
The other side of this is for you not to respond to someone asking you for help by feeling pressured or manipulated.
How to ask for help depends on how desperate you are and you should try to request help before getting too desperate. Here are some ways:
Statements which don't require answers are always okay:
"If you want to learn how to receive books, I could use some help."
"It wouldn't make me mad if..."
This can also include statements in the daybook asking for help, not directed at any particular person.
Asking questions that don't demand "yes" answers:
"Would you like to..."
"I could really use some help. If you'd help me now, I'd buy you juice at the next TG or be forever grateful, or help you..."
Asking for a social decision (usually after giving up on other ways):
"I'm pretty desperate for help, can you make this your problem too?" This could include a plea in the daybook which then should be on the next meeting agenda.
If you have other ways, please show us.
The Collective Problem
The way Groundwork is organized has developed in trying to solve the following fundamental and sometimes conflicting problems:
performing reliable and high quality work
avoiding long tedious meetings
avoiding hierarchical relationships
allowing easy access to participation and limited responsibilities to new people
allowing those who want marginal participation access to decision- making
allowing those with higher levels of participation the space to make fast decisions and limiting their struggle liabilities
developing the socialist consciousness of the participants
creating a liberated zone from the surrounding capitalist-dominated society
developing the relationships and organization which might be used in the good society
It would be easy to have one or two people make all the decisions and leave everyone else to grumble ineffectually, just accept the way things are done, or try to grab control of the organization themselves, but then we wouldn't be a collective. What's harder is making sure that everyone in the collective has a say in making decisions -- a sort of equal access to decision-making. We feel this is a much more satisfying way of running things, but it creates new problems.
In practice, it's very difficult to have the entire collective make every decision. If we all had to get together to decide if the store needed sweeping out, the store world never get swept out. The compromise is that everyone in the collective is encouraged to make the decisions they feel capable of making, but if anyone is unhappy with that decision, they in turn are encouraged to criticize it. On the other hand, if someone is happy with the decision they are free to praise it and encourage more of the same. Anyone can bring a problem to a general business meeting or to the daybook for a decision if they think it's something the whole collective ought to discuss.
However, if everyone is just hanging out doing what they feel like doing, there may be some important jobs that don't get done. To avoid this, we list all the jobs that need doing and try to get people to volunteer to do them.
Designated Person Responsible (DPR)
Anyone can volunteer to take care of some aspect of the collective's work for which they will be responsible. This doesn't mean, of course, they are exempt from criticism. It just means they can make decisions on their own without having to get consent from everyone. This also doesn't mean they have to do all the work themselves, only that they're responsible for making sure the work gets done. This is called taking residual responsibility for a job, affectionately known as "taking RR."
The person who takes RR for a job is known as the Designated Person Responsible, or the DPR. Every DPR should be in a critical relationship with someone in the core collective, and is responsible for seeing that personal and delegated commitments are fulfilled, planning for future problems, encouraging the use of criticism/self-criticism to improve effectiveness, and returning problems to the group if they appear unsolvable.
In the bookstore, we keep a current list of who's taken RR for what on the message board. This list can be used to find out who is responsible for taking care of a certain problem, and who to direct criticism and praise toward. Groundworkers should also check it out now and then to see if there are any jobs which no one has taken RR for and that they might be interested in taking on.
If you have some suggestion or criticism about how some part of the store is running, look on the Workboard for who is the DPR. Talk to them about your suggestions and try to reach a consensus decision about what to do. In the rare event that the two of you can't reach consensus, it becomes a collective problem. You should describe the problem in the daybook so people can begin thinking about it for resolution at the next general business meeting.
One of our goals in the collective is to try to get new people involved in as much responsibility and decision making as they want. In the Bookstore collective, most new people start out as staffers. Essentially, each staffer is the DPR for the shift they take on. Each staffer is responsible for knowing how to staff, staffing the hours they committed themselves to, and entering into a critical relationship with their day coordinator. This means that both the staffer and the day coordinator are obligated to tell the other if there is something bugging them about that person's work.
When a new person begins working with Groundwork, we ask them to tentatively make the same agreements as collective members, but only with their day coordinator rather than the whole collective. Some of these agreements may be hard for new people to keep because they don't know yet how Groundwork works. How to use criticism and how to be involved in consensus decision making may be the hardest things to learn. The process of understanding the agreements and preparing to make them with the whole collective is called the Long March. It lasts several months, during which time new people should attend at least three GW events.
During the Long March, the new person should enter into a critical relationship with their day coordinator as they become familiar with the Red Docs and the other GW agreements. However, new people should feel free to drop out of the Long March at any time for whatever reason, but particularly if they can't keep the collective agreements (or struggle with the collective to change them). They should, however, make a disciplined withdrawal, making the day coordinator aware of their decision. Don't just fade away!
Near the end of the Long March, the new person and their day coordinator should discuss clearness, the agreements, and their feelings about joining the collective, or becoming a fellow traveler. During clearness they will make the agreements with the collective.
Somehow it all sounds so formal. It's just our attempt to get to know new people and have them know us. Hopefully, they can then move from that vague status of new person to be taken as seriously as they choose to be taken. Along the way they can drop out at any time (with discipline, alas).
Collective members have been through the Long March (a series of steps by which a new person becomes acquainted with the Groundwork Collective, its organization, and the people in it), and clearness, and are committed to keeping the Collective Agreements.
Devote at least two hours a week to the collective.
Work toward a critical relationship with other members of the collective. Start by developing this with at least one other person in the collective.
Make a disciplined withdrawal from commitments to the collective when you want to end them. This includes any jobs you took RR for, as well as leaving the collective itself. You should not go longer than two weeks without contact with the collective.
Have a working knowledge of the Red Documents and be in agreement (or at least consensus) with each part.
Be open to criticism. Solicit criticism of your work and make self criticism when necessary. Self-criticism would include developing a style of work which includes considering these agreements from time to time and criticizing whether you're meeting them.
Be committed to making criticism.
Any other agreements made by your specific collective.
Sometimes a person who has been through the Long March wants to be involved in Groundwork but can't agree to all of the agreements or doesn't want to go through clearness. Sometimes people just want to work in a bookstore and don't want the responsibility of a collective relationship. After a statement of their reservations, a joint decision between them and the collective may be made that they are "fellow travelers." Fellow travelers can always decide later on to become collective members.
So who makes Decisions?
Basically, everyone is encouraged to make decisions which they have the information to make, but to pass problems along (via the day book or a general meeting) if the decision might best be made by someone else. All decisions are subject to criticism and struggle with everyone at Groundwork. It's important to write up questionable decisions in the day book so other people can criticize them if they so desire.
Struggles which are unresolved are subject to discussion and resolution at the business meetings. All major policy decisions are also made at these meetings. It is a high priority to achieve consensus on these matters. All Groundwork people are encouraged to attend and enter the struggle for consensus.
In the event a consensus cannot be reached by those present among the members at the meeting, an attempt shall be made to reach consensus among the members of the Groundwork organization, i.e. all the collective members. The struggle between members of the Groundwork organization shall continue until consensus is reached. If no consensus can be reached this grave situation represents a breakdown of the socialist decision making process. We have a split in the group, and the decision shall be made by a plurality vote among the members of the Groundwork Organization. Every possible effort should be made to avoid this split in the group.
The Groundwork Organization
A Groundwork collective is a group of people meeting regularly who have made the collective agreements. At least two members of the collective should be in the core collective.
New collectives can be started by splitting existing collectives or by a joint decision between an existing collective and people who meet the requirements for a collective.
The Groundwork Organization consists of all the collective members of all the Groundwork collectives.
The first Groundwork collective has taken responsibility for Groundwork Books. The second collective is working to establish a Far/Retreat. New collectives might also be "at large" collectives of people doing different political work from each other but meeting regularly for review and criticism of people with the same social goals.
Clearness is our attempt to focus on the relationship between some person and the collective as well as the individuals in the collective. It is a time to make and possibly resolve criticisms and praises, and past bad and good feelings. It is an opportunity to consider one's strengths and weaknesses and lay the groundwork for changes which are desired.
Usually we use it when someone is making a higher commitment, e.g. coming into the collective. It can also be used to eliminate tenseness and in focusing collective problems or just because someone wants to re-examine their Groundwork relationships and criticisms.
Preparation by focus person
The responsibility for preparation falls on the focus person. In preparing for clearness you might:
Read the section on Criticism/Self Criticism in the Red Docs and be ready to handle criticisms. In particular know what an open criticism is and ways to resolve criticisms. Look for self criticisms; consider your past political work in Groundwork and before in a critical way. Do you have any special problems which keep you from working well in groups? Why did you leave previous groups? Anything you want to correct? What's your style of work? When you take on a task is it carried through to the end (or brought back to the group) rather than done poorly (or just dropped)? Can you ask for advice while keeping RR for a task? Are you a together person or flaky? Do you want to change? What do you want most to change about yourself (if anything)? How seriously do you want to be taken? You might go to people in Groundwork to see what criticisms they have to see if you can think them through and make self criticisms at the meeting. Think about past relationships with each member of the collective and any criticisms of them you have. If important, you may want to discuss before clearness to get it all straight. It's important that any past hostilities or bad feelings or unresolved criticisms be dealt with to prepare for the great leap forward. Think about your other commitments and where the collective fits in your priorities. Are you in any other social change groups? Where does your job or school fit in, i.e. are you career oriented? Think about the collective itself. Is it working? Are you taking responsibility for making it work? Review the collective agreements and resolve any problems with them.
If there is too much to cover during clearness for one reasonable session, you may want to have a clearness with one other person before to summarize and bring out the most important parts of your clearness. Don't let the clearness stuff scare you or bog you down. You're among friends.
Preparation by others
Each person should consider what criticisms they have as well as praises. Any bad feelings which exist should be brought up. If feelings or criticisms are particularly strong, you should consider discussing them before clearness.
A typical session will consist of discussions of the following topics: a review of why clearness now, (e.g. coming into the collective) for the benefit of those who don't know self criticisms criticisms of people in Groundwork criticisms of the focus person criticisms of Groundwork discussion of relationship to agreements summary of open criticisms or feedback which is going to be given regularly, i.e. ongoing commitments decision of whether to come into group, wait a while, leave the group, or whatever criticism/self criticism of the clearness celebration or...
Devote at least two hours a week to the collective. Work toward a critical relationship with other members of the collective. Start by developing this with at least one other person in the collective. Make a disciplined withdrawal from commitments to the collective when you want to end them. This includes any jobs you took RR for, as well as leaving the collective itself. You should not go longer than two weeks without contact with the collective. Have a working knowledge of the Red Documents and be in agreement (or at least consensus) with each part. Be open to criticism. Solicit criticism of your work and make self criticism when necessary. Self criticism would include developing a style of work which includes considering these agreements from time to time and criticizing whether you're meeting them. Be committed to making criticism. Any other agreements made by your specific collective.
Illustrations borrowed from the Beehive Design Collective