Few concepts render a group of activists ineffective as the idea of decentralized leadership.


  • n. A proponent or practitioner of activism; an especially active, vigorous advocate of a political cause.

For an activist engaged in political change; successes is the point. If your trying to end war, climate change or conserve a species close is not enough.

Stopping and quietly reflecting on what you are opposed to, one could conclude it is those perpetuating ideas and myths that encourage the status quo. Clearly what worked before, is not working now. So who controls the status quo?

Option 1: We all control the status quo. We all make decision as individuals and those collective decisions affect the world in a huge way. “If all make moral decisions, the world will change for the better” “No individual snowflake feels responsible for the avalanche”. Individual responsibility, its what big corp wants you to believe. Be a vegan, drive a Prius, just keep the GDP growing.

Option 2: Organize and sieze control, no really people believed that once. There are systems that need to be changed, fundamental structures in our society that are problematic. Off with their heads, In order to make the needed changes we will need to work in a coordinated fashion to fundamentally change the way we live, interact and enjoy life together.

Individual vs Organizational

I am sure there are other options but these are the two fundamental directions. Katie Fitzpatrick wrote an article in Aeon “Change the world, not yourself, or how Arendt called out Thoreau”. In this article she contrast the vision of Thoreau with that of Arendt. I suggest you follow the link and read her whole article, but the short version goes something like this.


Follow your moral convictions, democratic institutions only degrades our moral character. We are bound to disobey any law that runs contrary to our convictions. This is the basis of civil disobedience; be true to yourself and your ideals. The challenge of course is that grounding civil disobedience in individual conscience is subjective and can be used to justify all sorts of behavior.


While it is better to abstain from injustice, just that act alone is not enough. To be complacent filled with individual moral purity does not absolve you of the responsibility to create a more just society. Purity is a recipe for organizational failure, perfection the enemy of good. Simply put the world does not need another billion vegetarians, it does not help India, the world needs 4 billion less people and that will not happen without a concerted well organized effort

Back to Decentralization

What is the connection? Rugged individualist like a decentralized power structure. It leads to unaccountable cliques with their own agenda and rarely challenges power, the rhetoric inevitable sounds like this;

From the great anarchists theorist to the radical anarchist movements of the 1970s; they all shared goals such as ending domination, hierarchy, capitalism, gender roles, and interpersonal violence, and utilized and influenced the key anarchist organizational structure of the small leaderless affinity group.

This all sounds really enlightened, the problem of course is that it always goes no where. It goes no where because leaderless groups tend to flounder. If you wanted to plant a seed of ideological destruction in a radical group, this would be it. The reason for its astounding failure and inevitability of failure is two fold

Problem 1: You are up against very patient business people who pay their employees. They are all thinking in terms of how they pass wealth on to their children thru long term manipulation of tax laws and labour markets. Your protests are temper tantrums in comparison and peter out because no one is being paid and your struggling over things of little consequence.

Problem 2: A coup is a very simple management issue. Management is about vision and organization. One vision, one chain of command, one clear instruction to the troops. Most people want to follow, most are craving to be lead, only a few are capable of leading, rather then expecting everyone to lead, you need a harness on the leaders and then whip their ass to make them pull the cart.

In the late 90’s I spent many years of my life working in a decentralized green party. It did not work. I see the same mistakes made in other movements since and have read about failed movements in the past.

If I were to try to introduce an idea into a movement, to render it inefficient, ineffective and a distraction the one idea that could and would render it completely useless is the idea of a decentralized organizational structure and leadership. Expect this idea to be covered by CNN, the Colbert report and other arms of the corporate media. They will say its a great idea. Of course they will.