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History of Affinity Groups

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The idea of affinity groups comes out of the anarchist and workers movement that was created in the late 19th century and fought fascism in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish Anarchist movement provides an exhilarating example of a movement, and the actual possibility of a society based on decentralized organization, direct democracy and the principles behind them.

Small circles of good friends, called “tertulias” would meet at cafes to discuss ideas and plan actions. In 1888, a period of intense class conflict in Europe and of local insurrection and struggle in Spain, the Anarchist Organization of the Spanish Region made this traditional form (tertulias) the basis of its organization.

Decades later, the Iberian Anarchist Federation, which contained 50,000 activists, organized into affinity groups and confederated into local, regional, and national councils. Wherever several FAI affinity groups existed, they formed a local federation. Local federations were coordinated by committees were made up of one mandated delegate from each affinity group. Mandated delegates were sent from local federations to regional committees and finally to the Peninsular Committee. Affinity groups remained autonomous as they carried out education, organized and supported local struggles. The intimacy of the groups made police infiltration difficult.

In July 1936, Francisco Franco, with a group of fascist generals, launched a military revolt to take power from Spain’s government. Spanish workers and peasants armed themselves and defeated the military throughout much of the country, particularly in Anarchist strongholds. Millions of Spaniards took action to restructure society along revolutionary lines, not revive the treacherous Spanish government.

Factories, transportation, telephones and even wholesale and retail stores were taken over and run collectively; an estimated 1200-1800 self-managed workers’ collectives were formed. Workers’ self-management effectively replaced the remnants of government and private institutions, providing the everyday necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter, and public services. The experience of working in non-hierarchical affinity groups created the conditions for 6 million people in Spain to reorganize society along revolutionary principles, organizing workplaces, agriculture, and communities without bosses and government.

The idea of large-scale affinity group based organization was planted in the United States on April 30, 1977 when 2,500 people, organized into affinity groups, occupied the Seabrook, New Hampshire nuclear power plant. The growing anti-nuclear power and disarmament movements adopted this mode, and used it in many successful actions throughout the late 1970s and 1980s. Since then, it has been used by the Cental America solidarity movement, lesbian/gay liberation movement, Earth First and earth liberation movement, and many others.

Most recently, affinity groups have been used in the mass actions in Seattle for the WTO and Washington DC for the IMF and World Bank, as well as Philadelphia and Los Angles around the Republican and Democratic National Conventions