Reflections on Build Power Show Power and Occupy May First

It has been over a year but the last few months I have been mulling over my thoughts about the Build Power Show Power campaign that the class struggle anarchist milieu in North America put forward as an intervention in the Occupy movement. For those who don’t know various organized anarchist groups, syndicalists and other libertarian anti-capitalists around the Class Struggle Anarchist Conference, A New World In Our Hearts Network, the IWW, and email lists like Talking Heads saw what was possible with the General Strike in Oakland during November 2011 and immediately started working in December of that year towards pushing local Occupy assemblies and an internet media campaign for a General Strike on May Day.

The hope was that the entire Occupy movement would endorse the call for a General Strike on May Day 2012. A lesser known hope was that this would be a way for our currents and the Occupy movement to build autonomous class power not only for a big show of force on May Day but also to continue on in a long lasting fashion afterwards. In hindsight I do think comrades did try their hardest and everyone put in their best work, despite many communicatin mishaps, as well as unforseen obstacles and challenges from the reformist left. However there are lessons to be learned for our next interventions whenever a rupture that brings about a popular mass insurgency occurs. Lastly I’d like to point out how May Day 2013 reflected shifts in consciousness that many maybe did not expect or have yet noticed.

Regarding the original call for a campaign around the concept of Build Power Show Power I have a few fairly targeted reflections and suggestions. The campaign specifically came out of the space created by further coordination after the 4th Class Struggle Anarchist Conference in Buffalo NY. This conference occured in the very early weeks of the Occupy movement, before many knew how big it would become. Anarchists decided on some preliminary guidelines for intervention and created an unofficial inter-organizational email list called In Our Hearts for further coordination. After seeing the movement take off and the success of the Oakland General Strike but also seeing the repression hitting camps across the country, comrades wanted to put forward a clear project for keeping up momentum and something to work for past the winter and into spring. This resulted in the BPSP campaign.

The general idea was that we would get organizational commitments, and individual activists and organizers would either join the May Day mass action / strike organizing group or one for focusing on “Building Power.” In my honest opinion at the time it would have been better if there had just been one organizational venue for discussion of such intervention in the Occupy Movement, but things quickly got confusing for rank and file members of various groups because of the proliferation of email lists like the aforementioned In Our Hearts list, as well as two new lists for these aspects of the Build Power Show Power campaign. Not only this, but there was a great desire by many for the campaign to become as socially inserted and integral with the Occupy movement as possible, so like some South American especifist anarchists say, anarchism could once again gain the social vector within the popular classes. I was one of the people most adament about dissolving our own autonomous organizing efforts into the larger Occupy movement’s adoption of the May Day call that we had gotten adapted by Occupy Boston and Occupy LA. I suggested we do this via working through the new inter-occupy working group, and find ways to link up with other groups like Strike Everywhere. Though I think these links were of temporary tactical importance for what did occur with May Day organizing, I think in the end run it was detrimental to our own goals of putting forward autonomous perpectives, and in practice ended up as awkward deep entryism into a very informal, unpredictable and emphemeral organizing space where really only autonomous initiative made any difference. This left us wide open to having no body to fall back on and put forward alternatives as reformist attempts to intervene and co-op the Occupy movement and it’s general spirit into becoming bird dogs for a new militant reformism.

Concretely what we could have done looks like this:

We could have conducted more extensive social mapping of the anti-state anti-capitalist and revolutionary syndicalist/unionist left. This would have helped us coordinate groups and individuals to make not only pledges to call in sick (i.e. “strike”) or to share the call and various agitational propaganda campaign, but to also in a more organized and systemic fashion seek endorsements by Occupy GAs and and put an emphasis on the building of strong local May Day Strike Committees. We could have planned to use such pledges to actively recruit contacts and talent into the organizing process, doing so while also keeping a clear and open line of communication to assist with advice on how to organize for new or inexperienced comrades. This could have looked like individually contacting every IWW and otherwise libertarian / anti-capitalist local organization we could find. Unfortunately too much of this work was not spread around and much of it fell on only a few comrades in Miami and on the admins of the social media campaign. For me this speaks to the lack of capacity and unity prior to the Occupy movement of this milieu that established the campaign. For now these are a few of the lessons learned.

Next time, I think we could put more emphasis on the responsibility of groups to coordinate their own endorsements, and individuals could have signed a public petition / pledge to share and sign up to become activists/organizers for the call to build power and show power. We especially should have pushed for the building of committees, both territorial or in neighborhoods, and the workplace. Afterall we were calling for a general workplace as well as social strike. More emphasis on developing and having trainings available for how to build actual organized struggle committees in these areas is essential to remember for any future endeavors. We could have put more resources into sending comrades around the country to train, to every city where we had local group contacts, or individuals willing to build committees. Such trainings could have focused on how to canvass and do out reach in working class neighborhoods or how to build a workers committee in the modern workplace.

We could have also used a more experienced and coordinated agitational and literature media team and or collective. Unfortunately a lot of our suggestions for organzing within the campaign relied on social media to express these to new audiences. Too much faith overall was put in the power of social media to make movement. Overall if we had directly reached out and made more of an effort to get commitment though from our comrades experienced in not only graphic arts and writing, but those with more technological or professional communications, pr, or social media experience I think we would have benefited greatly, and not relied on some of the inertia and myths around Facebook and Twitter. These sites provide more of a space for individuals and movements to self-affirm their identities and discuss everything and anything, but they are poorly set up for actual organizing tools. They are more like traditional media but the broadcasting just happens to be two ways. They are sorely lacking features as collaboration tools.

We also should have never given up our own organizing plans and goals of building for autonomous class power. The reformist left, especially the progressive left like MoveOn and those in the mainstream labor movement like SEIU had plans for a spring offensive of their own. This they dubbed the 99% Spring, an effort to train new organizers and bring members of the Occupy movement closer to their reformist perspectives, while also trying to still give their efforts a militant and acceptable vaneer to anti-capitalist activists and the newly radicalized anti-establishment types we saw during that period. Later on through the summer and the fall we saw more and more of this co-optation and their intervention take fruit. In housing with Occupy Homes and later on in labor with securing Occupy endorsement of Our Walmart strikes on Black Friday (practically superseding Adbuster’s usual Buy Nothing Day) and the recent Fast Food Strikes. Efforts closer to genuine connection to the original spirit of Occupy like Strike Debt and Occupy Your Workplace groups have had noticeably less limelight. It is very clear that these forces have gotten close to the people behind OccupyWallSt.org as well as the main social media outlets, as well as starting their own like Class War Kitteh that have a more militant vaneer. Instead of leaving organization up to each Occupy GA or others autonomous intiatives we could have built the on the ground relationships in cities and towns across the country that could have put forward different perspectives and ways forward. NYC working close with mainstream labor for May Day, instead of seeking alternative routes is just one example of what perhaps was a missed oppurtunity. For now these are my thoughts, and I welcome further comments and critique.

Lastly however one bright thing I noticed and I am wondering if others have too, is that May Day 2013 felt like the May Day 2012 that never happened. For the first time since 2006 it feels like the left and anti-system forces in the USA have taken up May Day across the board as the holiday and day of resistance it should be. To me this signals that struggle does help develop consciousness but often much much slower than we expect or desire.

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Wob the State: The IWW & The State (Draft)

The goal of this article* is to overview the relationship the historical and modern day IWW has had with statist politics. The inspiration for it was based on the observation that while the organization today is mostly made up of self-described anarcho-syndicalists and many anti-state Marxists, there hasn’t been much written on its relationship to the State. The review starts with a look at the early fights over the Preamble and the role of Political Socialism. It then moves on to discuss the relationship between the IWW to the Profintern and the IWA as the major international unionist efforts towards organization. After this it discusses views on the State held historically by members of the union and sketches out a preliminary argument for the contemporary IWW to adopt a clear anti-state position.

The early IWW, the Preamble and the break with Political Socialism

According to Luther M. Gaylord’s case study on the IWW Politics vs. Syndicalism anti-statist politics were of an indigenous origin and did not come from the influence of the European syndicalists but “from actual concrete experiences of the lower grades of workers in the western states.” The Western IWWs looked upon the whole modern system of government with considerable disdain. They saw parliaments as little more than clearing-houses for the exchange of “vague and sterile platitudes.” They saw modern State only as an instrument capable of servicing the interests of the capitalist class.

There is a myth in the IWW that these anti-statist politics mostly came from the West but if we look at the founding convention in 1905 almost all of the delegates who came together could be described either as socialists, militant trade unionists or anarcho-syndicalists. If one reads Sal Salerno’s Red November, Black November there is a whole chapter on the influence of anarchists at the founding convention, including famous wobblies like Thomas J. Hagerty and Lucy Parsons.

Hagerty a former member of the Socialist Party is of particular interest. He had been a member until he became disgusted with what he called the “slowcialists,” and turned to revolutionary industrial unionism. In a speech to miners at Telluride, Colorado, in 1902, Hagerty advised: “That railroad is yours; those large business blocks and office buildings downtown that bring in big rent are yours; if you want them, go and take them.” Alluding to the later arguments he would make for economic direct action and organization in the first draft of the Preamble.

Hagerty’s disdain for political socialism was made clear in his speech at the founding convention, when he declared that “The ballot box is simply a capitalist concession. Dropping pieces of paper into a hole in a box never did achieve emancipation for the working class, and to my thinking it never will.”

It is understandable then that when Hagerty composed the first draft of the IWW preamble it did not include a role for politics. Rather, it emphasized the importance of the union as the center of revolutionary struggle, contending that the proletariat should “take and hold that which they produce through an economic organization of the working class,” the classic goal of anti-statist revolutionary unionists.

However, this wording did not make it into the final draft of the Preamble because of the efforts of political socialists like Daniel DeLeon. Between 1905 and 1908 there were continual arguments over these conceptions of struggle and the unions’ ultimate goals leading up to the split with the political socialists in 1908. In that year the version of the controversial clause in the Preamble was completely re-written to reflect Hagerty’s original intent for an economic organization of the working class:

“Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the earth and the machinery of production and abolish the wage system.”

Later commenting on the IWW’s 1908 Preamble, Samuel Yellen was struck by its similarity to the original Pittsburgh Manifesto of the Chicago anarchists. “In principle,” he wrote, “the I.W.W. resembled the “Chicago idea” anarchists of 1886, but advanced beyond them to syndicalism.” It was the conscious efforts of anarchists like Hagerty who continued to affirm in the face of great adversity the principles which the Chicago anarchists gave their lives defending. Hagerty’s contribution to the revolutionary industrial union movement lies in the endurance of the original intent of the Preamble he authored and the courage of the I.W.W.’s rank-and-file to affirm this core principle.

The IWW, the Profintern and the IWA

In the 1920s and 30s, the union came into conflict with the Communist Party which emerged as a proponent of an electoral approach to bringing about a workers’ government. While the Com­munists accepted the importance of industrial unionism, they also believed in the Leninist concept of a revolutionary “vanguard party.” The IWW, committed as it was to democracy preceding from the bottom up, was out of step with the Communist notion of democratic centralism. Over the years, the IWW has continued to oppose support for electoral political action and distanced itself from political solutions as a whole, continuing to stress action at the point of production.

During this time the IWW was asked to join the Red International of Trade Unions, more commonly known as the Profintern, set up by the Third International Communist Parties under the leadership of the Bolsheviks in Russia. The IWW’s response to this request is telling about their commitment to smashing the State. In the IWW’s response to the Profintern there is a section titled Why IWW Is Not Political. A few quotes should make the IWW’s position on the State at that time clear:

We believe that the class character of the state will not permit that institution to aid the proletariat in its class struggle. Therefore, we teach the workers that what they really require is not to influence the state favorably toward them, but to put themselves in such position, through an economic class organization, that they will be enabled to pro­tect themselves against the hostility of the capitalist state.”

“The IWW is cognizant of the fact that it is trying to destroy a social relationship.”

“The capitalist class relies upon the state as its agency and instrument for holding the workers in subjection, and to preserve its rights to exploit their labor-power. The workers must provide themselves with an instrument more powerful than the repressive forces of the state — an organization for the control of their labor-power.”

Now one could say that the IWW did not reply if they were in favor of some sort of “workers’ state” but it seems clear from the above quotes that this reply by the IWW was for an economic organization of the working class more powerful than the repressive forces of the State that would be capable of wiping away the old social relationships under capitalism.

After rebuking the Profintern the IWW went on to flirt with adhering to the anarcho-syndicalist International Workers’ Association (IWA). In The IWW Its First 100 Years, we learn that in 1934 a referendum carried to affiliate with the IWA. Though it was later rebuked by the organization because of conditions of affiliation being placed on religious beliefs, the IWW continues friendly relations with the IWA to this day. If we look at the basic politics of the IWA from its Statutes on Revolutionary Unionism it is plain to see why the IWW was and still is close to such an organization for the IWA is against those currents which seek to propagate the principles of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and instead sees the goal of the revolutionary union movement much like that of the Preamble, where the workers must:

“…prepare themselves in their economic organizations to take possession of the land and the factories and enable themselves to administer them jointly, in such a way that they will be able to continue production and social life.”

This is not to say that IWWs haven’t ever had critiques of those in the IWA or anarchists. In 1937, A. Shapiro a member of the IWW wrote for the One Big Union Monthly a critique of the famous Spanish IWA section the CNT’s class collaboration and entry into the government and statist turn:

“Your “real war policy,” after all, is nothing but a program for entering the Council of Ministry (government); with it you act merely as a political party desirous of participation in an existing government; setting forth your conditions of participation, and these conditions are so bureaucratic in character that they are far from weakening in the least the bourgeois capitalist regime, on the contrary they are tending to strengthen capitalism and stabilize it.”

What did other Wobblies have to say about the State?

Early in IWW history famous Wobbly Vincent St. John in his The IWW and Political Parties had a strong critique of participation in statist politics. He wrote:

“It is impossible for anyone to be a part of the capitalist state and to use the machinery of the state in the interest of the workers. All they can do is to make the attempt, and be impeached—as they will be—and furnish object lessons to the workers, of the class character of the state.”

Also, Ralph Chaplin who wrote the now infamous labor song Solidarity Forever reflected in the late 60s on the IWW’s anti-statism. In his words, “As for the author of “Solidarity Forever”, he is not at all unhappy to have been associated with the very first indigenous anti-statist, anti-totalitarian labor organization that Moscow saw fit to liquidate – and for good and sufficient reasons.” In the same reflection he goes on to describe how the Communists in Chicago despairingly referred to Solidarity Forever as the “Anarchists’ Marching Song.”

The Contemporary Era and the case for a clear Anti-Statist Position

Recently I was reading a piece by FW Nate Hawthorne called No Politics in the Union? Come Off It. The majority of the piece goes into how the disagreements over political socialism does not mean that the IWW’s favoring of economic direct action means we are “non-political” or even “a-political.” But a little nugget in the piece led me to look further into the “no politics” section of the One Big Union pamphlet for its “calls for creating a new society outside official institutional/electoral channels and without the use of the state.” If we look to the current OBU pamphlet we can see it in contemporary style reflects the original politics and intent of the Preamble and the core principles of working class economic organization of life in opposition to government and statist solutions.

“So either those in control of industry ally themselves with those in control of government to save themselves from democracy, or those in control of government extend their regulation over industry and its workers, as in the state controlled economies.

The Industrial Workers of the World see nothing good in an economy that is controlled by corporate managers or by politicians. Instead they want economic democracy–industry run by its workers through direct democratic process free from hierarchy.”

“Industrial democracy can be built only by an organized working class that is aware as a class of what it wants and how to get it, rather than giving decision-making power to friends of labor in political parties or to controlling cliques and vanguards within its own ranks.”

Now one can look at all that has been explained up to this point and think that this article is making a case for the IWW to become an anarcho-syndicalist organization, but I hope that as I have shown the IWW did not adhere to the IWA, and later even had members of a Marxist bent who criticized the anarchists in the CNT’s entry into the government. What I hope FWs and observers can see today is that there is a clear case historically and now with hindsight that the IWW should take up a position of official anti-statism, or at the very least recognize it as an anti-state organization. If there is any final reason to consider this I think we can find it in Marx, whose own lines are famously also included in the Preamble.

For Marx the Paris Commune in 1871 showed why genuine revolutionaries must be enemies of the State. He saw the Commune as a proletarian revolution against the State itself. For Marx the State might have predated capitalism, but it embodied the power of capitalists over the workers, and so the alternative was the self-government of the producers.

Lenin in the State and Revolution took up the smashing of the State, but added that it would entail the setting up of a new “workers’ state” an idea he adopted from Plekhanov. For Lenin and the Third International Communist Parties the IWW rejected, their Dictatorship of the Proletariat became a government, not the social domination of society by the working class, like we see the IWW called for. The IWW much like Marx saw that:

“One thing especially was proved by the Commune, that the working class cannot simply lay hold of ready-made state machinery and wield it for its own purpose.”

*Many parts of this article are essentially plagiarized from the previous works of FWs and Cdes. I am a new writer and I am going to try to get better, but for now let’s just note I am an anti-capitalist and I don’t give a shit about copyright.

 

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Review: Fighting for Ourselves – A contribution towards the debate in the contemporary class struggle workers’ movement (Draft)

*This draft will probably later appear in some form on Ideas & Action*  

 

    Fighting for Ourselves: Anarcho-Syndicalism and the Class Struggle tries to move in the direction of providing a framework and questions that can help the contemporary class struggle anarchist movement move past its’ current impasses, and fight back against the austerity crisis, as well as take the initiative against state capitalism. It sets out to share strategy suggestions for our present conditions by the Solidarity Federation, SolFed for short, the UK section of the International Workers’ Association (IWA). Below will be some of my own comments on the text, with the hope of providing a comradely critique as well as general summary of what I feel is important to bring out in their arguments.

 

One of the first major frameworks they put forward is that unionism usually serves a mix of two particular functions, one associative, that is an association of workers to defend mutual and class interests, and another representative, that is to provide a vehicle for workers’ representation in the economic/social sphere, much like a typical political party would through parliament.

 

SolFed make the case that revolutionary anarchists should organize within the spirit of the first function as much as possible, and that is what separates anarcho-syndicalism from the other forms of adjectivized unionism, trade unionism, craft unionism, industrial unionism, etc. Forms of unionism that they point out often have bad or other connotations within the workers’ movement. In an interesting self-contradiction they put forward that they prefer the term anarcho-syndicalism over plain “unionist” because it has nationalist connotations with the UK context, but throughout the small book they often refer to needing a revolutionary unionist approach, and that they are a revolutionary union initiative. They use this later term to denote that they are currently actively moving away from being just a political propaganda group towards being more of a revolutionary workers’ association or organization of struggle. Considering most of book makes excellent arguments against the need for the majority of what the mainstream workers’ movement as well as radical workers’ movement has known as parties or approaches to union struggle, I am left wondering why they chose such language, considering the connotations? Not to dwell too long on semantics though, I assume this is mostly because of the tradition they find themselves coming from, and it is the content more than the label that matters.

 

These preliminaries all said SolFed, lays out quite a compelling argument for the forms and content of a contemporary anarcho-syndicalist they and practice, as well as dispelling some of the more common myths. They make a substantial effort towards the explanation of a revolutionary alternative form of “unionism” that can be anti-capitalist and anti-state without neglecting to organize with all workers, and participate in the larger labor movement, while maintaining a political as well as economic core set of ideas and methods.

 

The first chapter delves into the mainstream workers’ movement and SolFed’s argument against the separation of the political and economic hindering it. The traditional workers’ movement whether through trade unions, so called revolutionary workers or labor parties, most often made a distinction between the two, advocating for and thus creating representation within the economic sphere of the workplace, and leaving politics and concerns of the social sphere to politicians. The early unions went from being small organizations that would fight around class conflicts to a service oriented strategy that recruited more workers but neglected the daily class struggle and moved in the direction of representation between the workers themselves and capital (bosses’ management, state bureaucrats, etc). They argue this makes prefect sense in the absence of a revolutionary perspective, if you can’t imagine a world without capitalism, you can only argue for a better seat at the table within it. In this critique of the old workers’ movement they make many astute observations, especially that this applies not only within the space of the labor movement but also with the lack of an explicitly anti-parliamentary perspective. History has shown us a movement that instead of defending class interests bargained away our class’ demands to have social needs met, with the promise of labor peace for the capitalists, and mere recognition for our representatives efforts.

 

A few astute observations SolFed makes are that often workers’ join such organizations or become members of such parties exactly for such representation. They also argue convincingly that even if we as revolutionaries find ourselves as we often do in the position to become such representatives ourselves we should be careful to avoid the many pitfalls of such an approach. Becoming stewards or small rep/delegate positions within the unions often gives us more room to organize, but we also need to have a clear anarchist strategy for workers’ self-organization, using the unions more like a host body to launch initiatives in the actual interest of the workers. They also point out that most unions today are not even that much of a “massive” movement rooted directly in workplaces. Local branch meetings often consist of a minority of workers, staff, and deal with internal union business not applicable to the shop floor. Often if there even are regular meetings they are filled with members who don’t even know each other, and are instead of being democratic are lectured to on the next activist endeavor cooked up by union officials or leftists. In this they argue that in reality most  union activity contrary to popular belief exists outside of workplace related situations.

 

Their critique of revolutionary workers’ parties is also quite interesting and hopefully informative for anyone who has ever had to debate a Leninist on the nature of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat. Often later day Leninists argue that Lenin’s State and Revolution shows that Marx and Marxists argue for smashing the bourgeois state and for forming in its’ place via the workers’ councils some form of semi- or non-state. The anarchist and SolFed’s argument against this is that Lenin and Marxists just shift the plane of politics from a bourgeois parliament to trying to forge the direct expression of the workers in their workplace committees and city wide community councils to becoming sort of constituent assemblies as a workers’ government, political competition and all, instead of the direct self-management of a libertarian and free communist society. This completely strips the concept of workers’ councils from their revolutionary political-economic content, and instead proposes them as an alternative forum that mirrors bourgeois politics. The argument can be made that this is just a bunch of complaining and that regardless of our visions or road maps different parties and interest groups will vie for power anyways, but the main issue at stake is we need a stronger culture of solidarity, direct action, and culture that can counter such efforts away from workers’ self-management and the social transformation towards a freely communist society.

 

The second chapter delves into more radical currents in the workers’ movement, mainly anarchism, syndicalism, and council communism. In it’s section on anarchism it overviews two various traditions of dual organizational anarchism, the arguments for specific political organization by synthesist Malatesta against Monatte, and the similar arguments for a more united revolutionary organization by the Platformists. Instead of making much of a critique of the need for united revolutionary organizations, SolFed argues against the strategies argued for by both these camps. The main of their argument through out the book is aimed at Malatesta’s separation of the political and the economic. In his famous debate with revolutionary syndicalist Monatte, Malatesta argued for the need not only for a revolutionary and apolitical syndicalism, but also for a specifically anarchist political organization. Their main difference is not their desire for apolitical revolutionary syndicalism regrouping most workers, but in exactly the need for separate political organization. On a contrary basis the Platformists SolFed argue, worked closer towards an anarcho-syndicalist method of trying to “anarchize” the unions instead of just leaving them to apoliticism or reformism. Instead of like many anarchists they do not condemn the Platformists as “anarcho-Bolsheviks” which they feel is unfair, but that such a strategy is inadequate for the current day situation. SolFed argue our efforts would be better spent organizing direct struggle via a dual unionist approach within the unions when we find ourselves there using anarcho-syndicalist methods of self-organization or possibly forging revolutionary break-aways, instead of reforming the existing unions for anarchism, an approach similar to “boring from within” which they reject as extremely unrealistic.

 

Their critique above also contributing implicitly to their critique of traditional apolitical revolutionary unionism, with a few exceptions of great tactical/strategic leaps made by the IWW’s historical forms of minority unionism, left me most interested in SolFed’s critique of council communism. They argue that it is not the advocating of the council form which makes the council communists unique among Marxists but their anti-parliamentary and at most extreme anti-party perspective. For the council communists the main question relevant to the needed development of Marxist theory is who should operate the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the revolutionary party or the united strength of the working class in their councils. SolFed give a short overview of the history of the council communist current within the communist left that would be very instructive for anyone unfamiliar with it. They point out that the KAPD the Communist Workers’ Party of Germany was a distinctly anti-parliamentary party and that it saw itself as the political arm to the AAUD, General Workers Union of Germany which it was members of. The AAUD itself was founded mainly in inspiration from the heavily Marxist influenced revolutionary syndicalism of the IWW. SolFed’s main critique of this pairing is similar to their one of Malatesta’s separation of the political and economic.

 

Instead SolFed have more praise for the AAUD-E (General Workers Union of Germany – Unitary [Organization]) of Otto Rühle and co. This comrade was expelled from the KAPD and separated from the main AAUD, and moved the closest in the direction of anarcho-syndicalism, rejecting the need for a separation between “party” and “union” forms. SolFed’s critique of the AAUD-E and council communism in general amounts to their rejection of everyday struggles, though within acknowledging that they were involved in a revolutionary situation where continuing reform struggles would have been counter revolutionary. It is debatable in my perspective if such organizations would have moved back to traditional Marxist formations, i.e. separation between political and economic or necessarily reject day to day struggles, most later day council communist offshoots like the KAUD, Communist Workers’ Union of Germany didn’t (and were a political-economic minority organization), or like the GIKH, Group of International Communists of Holland were too small to tell, with a variety of activity split between action and discussion groups. The rest of their critique of the council communists revolves around latent spontaneity from an overly determinist analysis of capitalist crisis/decline, and a rejection of a tendency towards workerism that I feel is warranted considering their inspiration from the IWW, though SolFed goes on to describe some of the efforts by the IWW towards an early anti-racist praxis, it is unclear if struggles outside the workplace were tackled by council communists, and Otto Rühle is quoted as saying outside the factory the proletarian is bourgeois.

 

The third chapter delves deep into the differences of context and organization mostly within the classical anarcho-syndicalist movement. In the introduction to this section I feel they overstate their emphasis on anarcho-syndicalism having “always rejected the division of the worker’s movement into economic and political wings, and rejected representation in favor of associations of direct action.” Their following accounts, especially in the case of the historical CNT reject this assertion, and clearly show how there were often reformist and revolutionary currents within these organizations, not that later day organizations and these contradictions did not pan out in splits, or unfortunately in some cases disaster. SolFed mainly analyzes the FORA of Argentina, the FAUD of Germany, and the historical fiasco within the CNT.

 

The FORA of Argentina probably came the closest to the council communists and is often contrasted with the CNT. They advocated a more ideological unionism based on regional federal organization over geographic territories uniting all workers, compared to a more traditional industrial organizational form. They took on a more specifically anarchist communist politics probably because most of their members were immigrants with no voting rights, and were thus more clear about the need for an anti-state struggle. Argentina was also late to industrialization and so many of the FORA’s members including main theorists were in favor of a more small scale agrarian and ecological free communism. It was also more concerned with political agitation for a direct struggle compared to building the new world within the shell of the old within themselves as the vehicle for struggle, instead seeing themselves more as a catalyst of struggle. In this approach I think SolFed takes liberally. They were self styled as an “anarchist organization of workers” and did not concern themselves only with economic issues, but also ones of a pressing social or political nature. This strategy was impressively successful in securing the 6 hour work day in the 1920s. Eventually much like the CNT though there did end up being a reformist current within the organization, so it split in two with the original but smaller organization joining the IWA. Their main contribution to this day is organizing in a way to destroy capitalism and the state instead of imitating it.

 

The case of the FAUD of Germany was interesting mostly for it’s contribution towards organizing a day to day culture of solidarity, direct action, and resistance. It faced many of the same problems as their council communist cousins in Germany, and anarcho-syndicalists in Russia, in having to compete with opportunist social democrats and Bolsheviks within the councils who wanted to turn them not into bodies for self-management but for a new “worker’s state.” Unfortunately unlike their counterparts in the FORA they could have benefited from a propagandizing a more clear anti-parliamentary perspective. The major lesson drawn by SolFed is that preparation was one of their key assets making them one of the largest revolutionary organizations after the immediate revolution in Germany in 1918-1919, but that they might have been even more successful if they had a clearer critique of the pitfalls of the council form.

 

Most devastating is SolFed’s critique of the historical CNT. When given the opportunity to create a dual power situation, they abstained out of the fear of being substitutionist of creating an “anarchist dictatorship.” Even though in the workplaces and communities they had already been working in alliance with the UGT socialist forces, they had ruled out using a council system after watching the experience in of the Bolsheviks using it to their advantage in Russia. Instead they prepared much like the FAUD for building a culture that could replace the new world internally. In this they took on the desire to be the vehicle of struggle like many other forms of apolitical syndicalism, and thus feared that since most of the workers’ had still not yet joined the CNT, they would replicate the same problems they had seen with the Communist Party in Russia. As SolFed details they failed to be anarchist enough and smash the state when they had the chance because of these fears. In this way “building the new world in the shell of the old” was adapted more as “build the new world in the old.” If they had only came to similar conclusions as the FORA they may have seen their chance and take it. This is all the more unfortunate since rank and file groups within CNT, as seen by the FAI and the Friends of Durruti were proposing just such a dual power strategy of uniting with other forces like the UGT in the cities, as well as a revolutionary junta, and agrarian communes.

 

This failure to smash the state and fill the power gap was not their only problem though. SolFed goes on to suggest that it was structural in that the CNT was conflicted and both adopted an apolitical traditional syndicalist approach to recruitment simultaneously with a libertarian communist program, leaving space for a separation between the political and economic, reformist and revolutionary forces both competing for leadership of the union. Overall this critique striked me as more damning of apolitical unionism than one of dual organizationalism of the FAI or Friends of Durruti. Structurally it was the choice to be open to all workers that befell the CNT the most it seems, where as the FAI and Friends of Durruti might have been strategically misguided or blind in their argument to anarchize and for a dual power strategy respectively regardless of how seemingly right that may have been on the surface. It left me wondering if SolFed would propose in such situations instead to split off and form more specifically revolutionary political-economic organization?  Regarding smashing of the State, SolFed argue they should have without fear having been an organization that was leap years beyond the Russian Communist Party in how it was controlled from the assemblies at it’s base, and not all struggle needs to be contained within one organization, revolutionary pluralism can be a good thing. In total, SolFed argue that the CNT both tried to be “neutral syndicalist” as well as “revolutionary anarchist” without being enough of an anarchist or syndicalist synthesis.

 

The fourth chapter of the Fighting for Ourselves mostly goes into a contemporary analysis of post-WW2 movements and the neo-liberal counter revolution. As much as it’s analysis is dead on, there isn’t much new here in my perspective that couldn’t be read elsewhere. It delves into current class composition, casualization, offshoring, etc. The fifth chapter is where we really get into the nitty gritty of what SolFed proposes as a way forward for the 21st century. They borrow from Marcel van der Linden’s analysis of an ideological, organizational, and shop floor (I prefer community, social, or popular) levels that are all key requirements for a balanced revolutionary organization and perspective. On the shop floor or social level we must realize that struggles even around seemingly bread and butter issues are also political issues, exploitation and oppression overlap and are integrated into each other. That anti-racism and anti-sexism, etc often intertwine with struggles around workplace or neighborhood issues. This is a pretty core anarchist observation. At the organizational level we should be prefigurative and follow principles of voluntary association over representation. At the ideological level an opposition to integration into the state, the management of capitalism, and being working towards communism.

 

Organizationally from the previous chapters we see that SolFed has learned from the more historical CNT that if we are facing a situation of a plural unionism we need to find a way to organize with others without dividing along union lines. They point to the struggles of the later day CNT in the shipyards of Puerto Real, where they actively pushed for mass assemblies of all workers to be the vehicle of struggle, and carried the struggle beyond that point even when that assembly movement died down. They point out such bodies have the same weakness as worker councils, but that is a weakness of being participatory, and if the workers do not want to use revolutionary methods little will do to convince them otherwise, but hopefully through struggle participants can be convinced of such a need. Overall they propose that the “revolutionary union seeks to organize class conflicts using direct action, in such a way as to prepare workers for revolutionary social change by experiencing self-organized struggles, practical solidarity and taste of victories won by our own efforts.”

 

By taking this more ideological approach SolFed do not propose abstention from participating like dual organizationalists advocate in other unions or movements but that anarchists participate in them on a principled class basis. Anarchists might respect a trade unions’ picket line, even though such a union might not respect theirs, however direct appeals can be made to workers. However SolFed assert that if we leave it to reformists to take the initiative they will organize in a reformist and disempowering way, leaving us tailing them, by abstaining from taking action ourselves. Regardless as mentioned earlier such organizations are rarely “massive” and are often a their daily activity taken on by a minority of officials or in the case of many community struggles the staff of NGOs. Overall the more organization we have the more organized we will be when bigger ruptures happen but also recede. Past these suggestions SolFed largely proposes an organizing program similar to that developed in the discussion paper circulating around the current day IWW, called Direct Unionism, in fact a SolFed member who is from North America helped write it, so it is no surprise. Mostly it is a strategy of direct action, self-organization, building a culture of resistance via struggle committees, and mass assemblies that are cross sector and union affiliation when possible. Taking on small fights and larger collective ones when possible, not being afraid of being a minority but aspiring to be much more. In general, Fighting for Ourselves makes a convincing case for a reapplication of anarchist and syndicalist core values, enhanced with a review of past mistakes. Hopefully class struggle militants will continue to debate this important book.

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More and Better Organizers: Advice for Revolutionary Workers (Review of ‘Weakening the Dam’)

So I just got my hands on a physical copy of “Weakening the Dam” by the Twin Cities IWW from Zabalaza Books. I originally skimmed various online versions of the pamphlet a few years ago, but I would highly recommend having it in your hands to keep notes, or pass off to other fellow workers.

The main reason for this pamphlet is explained in it’s introduction, if we are going to build a revolutionary union movement we need more and better organizers. The pamphlet mostly consists of articles and advice that can be found in the Industrial Worker’s For Workers’ Power column. The whole thing reads like a greatest hits of that column, which is especially useful for us workers who haven’t always kept up on our dues enough to always get the IW or the General Organizing Bulletin sent to us. More articles can be found at: forworkerspower.blogspot.com

The pamphlet starts by providing some context to the contents by recounting some organizing stories from a few fellow workers and campaigns from years past. In particular a story from UPS workers and their experience reminiscing about how good it felt to fight back against the bosses when a newbie continued to get harassed for being militant about work pace like the rest of their fellow workers. Also included is a story about bike messengers who were celebrating an anniversary of a work action where they shut off their two-way radios to pressure the bosses into accepting their demands. A year later many have been fired, but none of them would have changed a thing, the experience of collective action being remembered as “life changing.” In this section an argument is made that action precedes consciousness, and that often workers have to experience struggle in order to create ruptures with the type of resignation that comes with day to day drain of class struggle at work. I agree with this analysis and am glad to see fellow workers advocating this within the union. Struggle changes everything.

The next few stories and reflections are on how to take baby steps in your workplace organizing without losing confidence or trying to bite more off than you can chew. The section “Emotional Pressure and Organization Building” goes into how if you properly map out the situation at the workplace it often can just take a little bit of emotional pressure via collective action against lower management to change things for the better on the shop floor and gain the confidence of your fellow workers building committee organization. A corollary to this is the advice of “Stick to the Script!” When we decide to collectively confront our bosses using direct action tactics like a march on the boss, it is advisable to make a plan and to map out what you think the boss will say beforehand. We are often used to taking orders and are taught to be afraid of the boss. Sticking to a script and remembering to insist that it isn’t about whatever the boss brings up, but that you have these demands and that is what you are there to talk about is how you can keep the confidence to put the pressure on, and win.

Most of the rest of the pamphlet is about how to bring people into the union and develop them. A few simple phrases are used to help us as workplace organizers to remember how to do this on regular basis. They are: “Know the Union, Hear the Union, See the Union” and “Replace Yourself” easy refrains not hard to forget, right? Knowing the Union is where we are all at now. You are reading this on a site of interest to IWW members. You know the union, you agree with it’s politics, or have had the union change your life. Hearing the Union are those who are sympathetic to the union and think it is a good idea but maybe need to be given a little more confidence that it is a legitimate effort but once that happens will start coming to meetings and be active. Seeing the union is where most workers are at and they are going to have to see the union in action benefiting everyone in the workplace in order to get off the fence and take a side. Replacing yourself is the act of replicating your skills and sharing your knowledge with other fellow workers so none of us become specialists and we decentralize our working class power. There is a list of various ways you can do this and I suggest that every Wobbly read this section if just because most of these suggestions are very helpful in counteracting your IWW GMB or IUB organizing from becoming an ‘Ol boys club.’

The rest of the pamphlet is a collection of texts on setting short, medium, and long term goals, strategy, and tactics in a campaign. There are also very helpful checklists for recruiting members to your workplace organizing committee as well as new members to your local GMB. It ends with one of the most helpful guides which I think could be of great help to new wobblies organizing which is a sample timeline for a non-contractual direct unionist campaign. Overall “Weakening the Dam” is a great companion to the organizing skills wobblies and supporters can learn in the IWW’s Organizing Training 101. I recommend every IWW member and workplace organizer take it’s advice to heart.

Further Reading:

A Rebel Workers’ Organizing Handbook

Direct Unionism: A Discussion Paper

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In case you were wondering…

I’m still a libertarian communist. I’ve just become increasingly influenced by revolutionary syndicalist and council communist perspectives interested in the generalization of a self-managed and autonomous workers’ movement. Yes, I still hold heavy sympathies to insurrectionary anarchist thought as well.

So why the blog?

This is going to be my spot to post thoughts on faceless and wildcat resistance from everyday life as well as drop beats/link-dumps, re-share riot/strike porn, etc. I’ll probably also be uploading a bunch of texts that I plan to distribute in the near future and generally think others should consider reading.

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