Communism Without Workers: An Anarcho-syndicalist Critique Of The Communisation Current

Communism Without Workers: An Anarcho-syndicalist Critique Of The Communisation Current

Anarcho-syndicalist critique of communisation

The communist, socialist, and Marxist movement has undergone a fundamental change since the late 1960s (as has the global capitalist system itself). While Stalinists, Trotskyists, and social democrats continue to hang around like a bad headache, much newer tendencies that claim to be innovative in theory and practice have cropped up to jockey for the position of interpreting communism through the modern capitalist system and it's adaptations since the late 20th century. Once such tendency which has gained some intellectual fan fair is "communisation". Various things go under this label, but this discussion will focus on the the tradition of "ultra-left" Marxism this label is often used to describe. Since the uprisings of 1968 by workers across the world (especially in France) and their repression by capitalist forces and, shockingly (depending on how you look at it), leftist parties and governments, certain Marxism oriented activists and thinkers have tried to redraw the lines of struggle for a communist society.

These militants have gone back to Marx's theory of value to emphasize value (in Marx's sense) as a social relation at the base of capitalism, and taken a critical stance toward the leftist efforts of the past from Leninist, to Anarchist, to social democratic. The basis of this "communisation current" is threefold; a critique of capitalism along with a critique of the existing left, from which fallows "communisation", or the strategy purposed by the "communisation current" for achieving communism. We will address all of these in order to evaluate communisation's ability to really provide a winning strategy for attaining a communist society. We start from the conclusion that a communist society is not only desirable, but necessary. For this reason we shall define communism to generally outline the fundamental necessity of it's success.

For A Communist Society

Communism, as articulated by the 19th century workers' movement and dissident, libertarian strains of the workers' movement today, is a society without any coercive mechanisms of domination, without division of society into classes with different levels of wealth accumulation and economic power, and with the self-organization of producers who own the productive resources of society in common and manage the social product for social consumption that meets human needs. This communism is in complete opposition to the "communist" states which cropped up in the 20th century. For these regimes "communism" was a far off utopia that would one day be achieved through developing a national economy that could compete as part of the global capitalist system. These states erected state bureaucratic control of production and social life to extract what the laboring population produced. This product was sold by state firms in the national economy and the world market so that industry and the military could be invested in and developed. Effectively all these regimes created was the state accumulation of capital, or state-capitalism, under the authority of a bureaucratized Leninist party.

By contrast a communist society would abolish the accumulation of capital and production of things to be sold. Freely associated producers would create things that meet the needs of themselves and their community. Such a society is needed because societies build on class divisions, coercive institutions like the state, and domination of one group by another rely on the social marginalization of the vast majority of people. These societies, which we have lived in for the last 10 to 20 thousand years, keep the vast majority of us producing, thus expending our lives, for the enrichment of an elite stratum of rulers who live off of our subjugation. We are denied access to the vast resources we produce, psychologically terrorized by social and legal penalties on failure to comply with the system, and done bodily and psychological harm by those penalties (often times whether we step out of line, or not).

In capitalist society class relations take on the form of our freedom from our own means of subsistence. The major resources of our society are commodities that can only be bought and sold by those with the financial means to do so. The rest of us have nothing to sell but our physical and mental ability to work. Thus we agree, through "free" market transactions, to produce commodities that the owners of resources (capitalists) can sell on the market for a return that can be invested into more production and their own living as individuals. We get just enough of those proceeds back from the capitalist in order to buy the essentials for life in the modern world. Thus capitalism runs on our exploitation and domination, that is, the exploitation and domination of the working class.

The need for capitalists to constantly gain more and more revenue fuels their need to constantly expand production, so the natural world is constantly accumulated by capitalist production to create more and more masses of commodities. Thus from capitalism's birth in the industrial revolutions in Europe to now levels of pollution have consistently increased creating an era that might be called the "Anthropocene" characterized by human domination of the natural world. The problem is that the same natural world we are consuming also provides all of the resources we need to live. Thus capitalist society is paving the way for increasing natural disasters destroying our homes and livelihoods in addition to doing untold physical harm to our species as well ass the depletion of the species and resources we need to consume to survive.

To escape this nightmare, our only option is a free and equal society based on common ownership and free association, communism. Thus we as workers and oppressed people must find a way, a strategy, to achieve communism. This involves understanding our enemy (capitalism) and charting a path of action to achieving our goal (communism). The second requirement for strategy leads to a third requirement, critiquing ineffective communist strategies. Below is an evaluation of the "communisation" current as a critique of capitalism, critique of the existing anti-capitalist movement, and strategy for achieving communism, wholly described as a "communist strategy".

The Value Form

The communisation critique of capitalism is one which focuses on Marx's concept of "the value form", the idea that value is composed of the ability of a product to be a commodity that gains it's commodity status through being exchangeable for a certain amount of money. From this, "communisers" argue that "value" is not simply an economic unit of measurement, but a full social relation. It requires a chain of relations in which people produce a product and then exchange it, making production subordinate to the transfer of product for payment. Since the exchange of value is the basis of capitalism, the communisers argue that the key to overcoming capitalism is overcoming value.

If value is not overcome, then human relations will be subordinate to the capitalist logic of exchange. Instead of producing through their own free efforts to meet their needs people will be forced to carry out their own exploitation, producing and transferring value because production is subordinate to the value form. This means that communism must first and for most be an effort to abolish the value form. Taking over production and having workers' control, or an economy nationalized by a communist party lead state won't do, because neither of these necessarily entail the abolition of value.

It is indeed true that value is a social relation which subordinates human labor to the production of marketable commodities. But honing in on it as the locus of capitalism ignores that there are many more, just as important mechanisms which perpetuate capitalism's existence. For instance, commodities can only be commodities, and thus be imbued with "value", if they are the property of those who have gained the rights to them in market transactions. If the commodity is not upheld as my property, then I can not receive it, nor exchange it. There also needs to be a mechanism that enforces this property claim on a social scale. This mechanism needs to have control of weapons and top down coercive institutions in order to enforce property relations for the whole society, i.e., there needs to be a capitalist state. There also needs to be a class which finances this state and employs it to maintain control of property relations and production in the society, i.e. a capitalist ruling class.

Because communisers hone in on value, as the locus of capitalism, they conceive of getting rid of capitalism and instituting communism as a matter of "negating" the value form. This leads to their fallacious critique of modern left and communist tenancies and their efforts to abolish capitalism. We will hone in on two of the these critiques in particular, the communisation critiques of Stalinism and and of class struggle Anarchism.

You Forgot To Abolish The Value Form!

This part of our discussion will be based heavily on "When Insurrections Die", by the premier communisation theorist Giles Dauve, as well as his other work; "Eclipse and Reemergence of The Communist Movement". In these works Dauve argues that in the Stalinist case (e.g. the Russian Revolution for example) the party took over the means of production through the state and in the Anarchist case (specifically the Spanish Revolution of 1936) the workers took control of production under worker self-management, but in neither case was the value form, and thus capitalism, abolished. Instead the value form came be administered either by a Leninist party, or Anarchist labor unions.

State-capitalism under the communist states, and the joining of the counterrevolutionary capitalist republican government by the Anarchist CNT and FAI labor unions were thus the logical result of the failure to go beyond the value form. Today Leninists and Anarchists, in advocating seizure of state power, or seizure of the means of production, have forgotten to learn from history. In so doing they continue the leftist failure to hone in on the locus of capitalist relations. These arguments about the existing left made by Dauve are generally echoed by the rest of the communisers. After all, if failing to abolish the value form as the first task of the revolution means failing to abolish capitalism, then what you will get, simply, is more capitalism. However, this critique, being rooted in the communiser critique of capitalism, is inherently limited and analytically flawed.

Firstly, this isn't how the actual history played out. It isn't true that that what lead to the triumph of capitalism over the revolutionary efforts of the 20th century was specifically ignoring the value form. The Bolsheviks had a specific political attitude in terms of how to carry out the struggle for communism which was later shared by the communist parties that came to power outside Russia. Far from it being the case that state-capitalism was the result of failing to consider the abolition of the value form, in the case of the communist regimes, the leaders explicitly thought that state-capitalism was the first step to communism. In his work "State and Revolution", a work that is objectively his most anti-state, even there Lenin argues that socialism is a matter of setting up state controlled capitalist industries like the war time economy of Germany, or the US postal service. In Stalinist Russia Marx's capital was purposefully augmented to remove the beginning which focused on the commodity, out of the specific fear that people would apply it's analysis to the economy of the USSR. All the way up to Khrushchev the preoccupation of Soviet leaders was catching up to the economic development of the west through the state owned economy. In China the hundred flowers campaign of open criticism was squashed right after it's participants began to articulate that the communist state owned the Chinese economy and existed as a power above the workers. In Cuba the first major policies carried out by Castro and Che were reforms drawn up by the capitalist Batista regime that came before it.

A political situation in which the revolutionary masses did not take possession of the means of production and social functions themselves meant that the Leninist career revolutionaries were left to do so. These Leninists, far from simply being unaware of the value form, actively thought that the development of a certain type of capitalism was the requirement for their social project. The idea that Leninism was blind to the value form simply doesn't cut it as an explanation of the historical failure of Leninist theory and practice. So what about Anarchism?

The communiser analysis of the 1936 revolution ignores that the CNT-FAI was "libertarian communist", meaning that, although it wasn't expressed in these terms, effectively the Anarchist movement wanted to replace the value form with self-managed production to meet human needs. When workers took over production and towns in the initial July uprising, they organized it to provide for social use rather than for commodities to sell. Many of the agricultural collectives that were established either replaced commodity exchange with labor vouchers, or direct cooperative distribution of the social product. What doomed the 1936 experiment was twofold. The leading Anarchists of the CNT-FAI union movement were paranoid that the Fascist counterrevolution was going to close in on them. They were given the opportunity to join the liberal republican state and in making this decision they ignored the process of rank and file control through mass assembly. This allowed them to abandon the project of Libertarian Communism for the hallow "anti-fascist" struggle carried out by the republic. This meant that the CNT-FAI leadership took power out of the hands of the working class Anarchist movement and worked for the republic's program of replacing worker self-management with state-capitalism. Once gain, far from the value form being the critical factor it was the political failure of leading Anarchists in making peace with counterrevolution that was the main issue.

The wider implication of this flawed historical analysis is that the communisation critique of modern Leninism and Anarchism is inaccurate. Leninists are explicitly for state-capitalism as they always have been and the vast majority of class struggle Anarchists are for replacing the value form with Libertarian/Anarchist communism. Whatever problem's these tenancies possess, being blind to the value form is not one of them. So what is the communiser strategy that is extrapolated from the communiser critique of existing leftism? What are it's problems?

Communisation

Since, according to the communisers, what failed last time was seizing the means of production, or political power, the communist movement needs to go in a new direction. Instead of developing a political program based on working class conquest of power the working class must spontaneously, and immediately, undo capitalist society. Instead of taking over the means of production, or political power, the working class must act against it's status as the working class. It must immediately rebel against the capitalist state and private property, it must start producing things to meet human need and owning the means of production in common.

By doing this, it is held, the working class undermines the basic social relations of capitalist society, thus proactively preventing the reproduction of the capitalist system. In negating capitalist society, new communist relations are affirmed, put into place to generate the basis for a communist society. This approach is not completely wrongheaded. It is completely true that taking political power through the state does nothing to hinder the capitalist mode of production. In fact, whoever is in charge of a state in capitalist society must keep that state afloat in the global capitalist economy and geopolitical order. Stalinist state-capitalism and the betrayals of would be reformist/electoral socialists prove this. Communisation moves in the right direction by criticizing the left's historic obsession with using state power to change society and arguing for a communism that is in fact a revolt against the state.

Communisation's error is in it's attempt to break with working class power and workers' control. While any "transition" that includes administering capitalist relations would simply lead to more capitalism, rebelling against capitalism and organizing new relations won't cut it on their own. There needs to be a social force that can transform society itself. The state needs to be toppled, production needs to be brought under collective control, and production itself needs to be retooled for it's new purpose of serving human needs. The only force that can accomplish this is the organized working class, taking over production and the functions of society. The immediate negation of the working class as a class under capitalism is not possible, the working class needs to leverage it's collective strength as the largest class in capitalist society and fulfill it's interest as the exploited class in capitalist society in creating a non-exploitative social formation. This is part of the error with fixating on the value form.

If the value form by itself was what reproduced capitalism then workers simply rebelling against commodity production and work would be sufficient to abolish capitalist society. As mentioned above there are many entrenched mechanisms that support the value form. In this sense, what is needed is actually to go back to the theory and practice of working class self-organization and workers' control. There is no communist project without the working class as the agent of revolutionary change. There have been many attempts at a communism without the working class. As mentioned above there was the Leninist project of having disciplined revolutionaries instate communism from above as well as the social democratic project of elected officials implementing the new society on a piecemeal basis. Both of these simply lead back to capitalism as the communisers have pointed out. The Anarchist Murray Bookchin also tried to ignore the working class as the agent of revolutionary change. Bookchin thought that a communal movement for social justice with oppressed minority groups as the agent of change could abolish capitalism. His theory never cought on, likely because it was just another version of a sectarian tenancy of anti-capitalist movements to separate the struggles of marginalized identity groups and the working class which had been fundamentally challenged by the uprisings of 1968. Bookchin tried to go back to an old mode of thought at a time when it was being actively resisted. Like Bookchin the communisers are trying to separate the communist project from working class power, and like all other attempts to do this, it will either be met with little success, or lead straight back to capitalism. It should be no surprise then that "communisation" is much more of a theoretical "current" than an existing movement.

Conclusion

Communisation is well intentioned in that it attempts to rethink the communist movement in terms of the modern situation in global capitalist society. Unfortunately, it's insular theory that puts a hyper-focus on theorizing about the value form inherently limits its potential for actually bringing about a communist society. In attempting to rethink communism what the communisers have effectively done is disregard the basic element of the communist project (working class power and workers' control) and hand wave about some kind of new, nihilistic strategy that is designed to not really be a strategy in the first place. When communisers outline what it is they "want to do", i.e., how they want to achieve a communist society, such as "Communisation" by Troploin and "Communisation As A Way Out Of Crisis" by Bruno A., all that they seem to be able to come up with is a vague idea of an insurrectionary movement against capitalism that seeks to implement communist relations.

They say that workers can rise up against the state, build communities based on common ownership that negate commodity production, and organize relations in a non-class dominated way. This directly avoids the crucial question of what social force is actually going to take production, the natural environment, and the management of society out of the hands of the capitalist class and the capitalist state, and transform those things to eliminate class society, the value form, and capitalist production. Unfortunately for the communisers the old ideas of workers' power and workers' self-management can't be done away with. This brings us to the importance of the old, but continuing theory and practice known as "Anarcho-syndicalism".

As I have outlined elsewhere Anarcho-syndicalism is the synthesis of the traditions of revolutionary unionism and Anarchism (in Bakunin's words "Stateless Socialism"). It advocates the organization of the working class through self-managed labor unions to fight for the rights of workers and eventually, once critical strength is built, topple the state and bring production, the earth, and social affairs under the control of the collective producers, all through the collective force of the working class and those oppressed by the capitalist world system. Communisers typically object to Anarcho-syndicalism, as shown above, on the basis that worker control doesn't necessarily = communism. Workers could take control of production, but leave capitalist relations of producing commodities to be sold in tact, thus only accomplishing the self-management of capitalism, rather than it's replacement by communism.

This is true, for instance around the world there are a large number of "cooperative enterprises". These are capitalist firms that are owned collectively by their workers rather than share holders who hire boards of directors. These pose essentially no challenge to the capitalist system since, despite being worker controlled, they still have to make profits in the capitalist economy and compete with the other firms. However, Anarcho-syndicalists are not blind to this. For this reason Anarcho-syndicalists are strong proponents of "libertarian communism".

According to the theory of libertarian communism the revolutionary unions that organized the social revolution against capitalism would complete it by transforming into the networked structures of democratic assembly and delegation through which producers, consumers, and communities commonly organize production and social affairs. Production is done cooperatively by freely associated producers to meet their needs. There is no "value", or commodity production because things are now exclusively produced to be distributed on the basis of people's need for them. Thus communism is achieved through Anarcho-syndicalism.

Of coarse we can't just repeat the old Anarcho-syndicalist movement since it failed to achieve a communist society. This, actually, means that developing a new Anarcho-syndicalist movement that can accomplish this goal is more important than ever. Anarcho-syndicalism is theoretically equipped to bring us a communist society in the basic ways that communisation is not. Communisation is an interesting theoretical quandary, but it offers essentially nothing in the way of actually making a better world. We need concrete strategies for achieving the new world, and communization disregards this reality to offer up half baked ideas about the "immediate negation of class society". In other words, not out with the old, but in with the renewed.

Note:

I was once influenced by the ideas of the "communisation current", so this critique has been a long time coming for me. It's point is not to belittle the theorists and activists of communisation (though of Dauve specifically I have a less than positive assessment of personal character). It's only point is to show the limitations of communisation and point out that while it may have useful ideas, it is not fit to bringing about a social revolution and communist society in the real world.

Bibliography:

For Communism:Wage Labor and Capital, K. Marx, The Modern World System As A Capitalist World Economy: Production, Surplus Value, and Polarization, Immanuel Wallerstein, World Systems Analysis: An Introduction, Marx, Marxism-Leninism, And Socialist Experiences In The Modern World System, I. Wallerstein, State-Capitalism: The Wages System Under New Management, Buick & Crump, Capitalism and The Destruction Of Life On Earth, R. Smith

The Value Form: Eclipse and Reemergence Of The Communist Movement, Dauve & Martin, When Insurrections Die, Dauve, Notes On The New Housing Question, Ednotes, Private Property, Exclusion, and The State, Junge Linke, Wage Labor and Capital, K. Marx, Capital Vol. 1, K. Marx

You Forgot To Abolish The Value Form!: Eclipse and Reemergence Of The Communist Movement, Dauve & Martin, When Insurrections Die, Dauve, Marx, Marxism-Leninism, And Socialist Experiences In The Modern World System, I. Wallerstein, State-Capitalism: The Wages System Under New Management, Buick & Crump, Anarcho-syndicalism In The 20th Century, V. Damier, The Evolution Of Anarcho-syndicalism, R. Rocker, Anarcho-syndicalism: Theory and Practice

Communisation: Eclipse and Reemergence Of The Communist Movement, Dauve & Martin, Endnotes 1, Communisation, Troploin, Communisation As A Way Out Of Crises, Bruno A., The Ghost Of Anarcho-syndicalism, Bookchin, Anarchism Without The Working Class, Price, Murray Bookchin, Vissions Of A New Society [Interview]

Conclusion: Anarcho-syndicalism Theory and Practice, R. Rocker, Libertarian Communism, Issac Puente, Communism and Anarchy, P. Kropotkin, Stateless Socialism: Anarchism, M. Bakunin, Statutes Of The International Workers' Association, On Exchange, Joseph D., Anarcho-syndicalism In The 20th Century, Damier

Comments

Spikymike
Apr 1 2019 10:46

I don't think Dauve is against 'working class struggle' or 'organisation' even if some other communisation tendencies might be. This communisation critique is rather a critique of the actual material conditions both objective and subjective as experienced in the Russian/German revolutions and the Spanish Civil war period rather than simply a criticism of some 'wrong ideas' by the leading political organisations in those periods. It certainly is a critique of both the adequacy of the 'union form' and the traditions of 'self-management' as expressed historically by varieties of both anarchism and marxism and more specifically of marxist-leninist transitional programmes (which presumably most anarchists would agree with). 'Communisation' in this respect means a historical process over time that involves a combined simultaneous assault on capitalism both political and social (against the state and the value form) rather than a two stage nation-state by nation-state accumulation of socialist societies (or federation of autonomous self-managed communes?). As far as anarcho-syndicalism goes the SolFeds 'Fighting For Ourselves' makes some progress towards Ivysyn's ''developing a new anarcho-syndicalist movement' but it is still in my opinion a case of anarcho-syndicalism being well intentioned but still lacking an in-depth analysis of the functioning of modern global capitalism.

darren p
Apr 1 2019 20:41
Spikymike wrote:
As far as anarcho-syndicalism goes the SolFeds 'Fighting For Ourselves' makes some progress towards Ivysyn's ''developing a new anarcho-syndicalist movement' but it is still in my opinion a case of anarcho-syndicalism being well intentioned but still lacking an in-depth analysis of the functioning of modern global capitalism.

If memory serves me right Dauve actually references this book in his latest book “From Crisis To Communisation”. Away from home so can’t check...

Sike
Apr 2 2019 06:15
Ivysyn wrote:
The Anarchist Murray Bookchin also tried to ignore the working class as the agent of revolutionary change. Bookchin thought that a communal movement for social justice with oppressed minority groups as the agent of change could abolish capitalism. His theory never cought on, likely because it was just another version of a sectarian tenancy of anti-capitalist movements to separate the struggles of marginalized identity groups and the working class which had been fundamentally challenged by the uprisings of 1968. Bookchin tried to go back to an old mode of thought at a time when it was being actively resisted. Like Bookchin the communisers are trying to separate the communist project from working class power, and like all other attempts to do this, it will either be met with little success, or lead straight back to capitalism. It should be no surprise then that "communisation" is much more of a theoretical "current" than an existing movement.

Abdullah Öcalan? Democratic confederalism? Rojava?

Respectfully, it seems that Bookchin's ideas have caught on to some extent and at this point constitute something more than just a theoretical current.

R Totale
Apr 2 2019 10:50
darren p wrote:

If memory serves me right Dauve actually references this book in his latest book “From Crisis To Communisation”. Away from home so can’t check...

Iirc the only Solfed text mentioned is the short article "the paradox of reformism", but still interesting that he directly engages with Solfed stuff. Without wanting to sound like too much of a loyal disciple, I was also thinking this article would benefit from a read of "From Crisis...", because that very much engages directly with class, I like the formulation that a revolution will have to both take place on class grounds and break with those grounds.

Also, just in terms of readability/ability to check claims, this might benefit from having direct footnotes showing what claim is found where instead of just a general bibliography.

Imo, this article seems like it misses the things that anarcho-syndicalism's good at that communisation doesn't really do, which is the kind of immediate-level praxis stuff documented and reflected on in places like recomposition and Organizing Work - I'm not really aware of any "communisation-y" equivalent*, would be interested to hear of one.

*I dunno what label people would put on the AWW in this context?

Spikymike
Apr 2 2019 10:58

Sike, Did you have a look at this though re Murray Bookchin and Ocalan:
https://libcom.org/library/unsuitable-theorist-murray-bookchin-pkk-umair-muhammad-2018

Sike
Apr 2 2019 17:06

@Spikymike,

No, I hadn't.

The gist of the article that you directed me to appears to me to be that the PKK's perceived adherence to Bookchin's social theories don't hold up to scrutiny when the actual political content and historical trajectory of PKK is subjected to examination and that therefore the supposed adherence to Bookchin's ideas constitutes little more than a superficial appropriation on the part of Ocalan, the PKK and it's regional affiliates in Rojava, correct?

If so good points, and thanks for the clarification.

Agent of the In...
Apr 3 2019 13:18
Sike wrote:
Abdullah Öcalan? Democratic confederalism? Rojava?

Respectfully, it seems that Bookchin's ideas have caught on to some extent and at this point constitute something more than just a theoretical current.

Democratic confederalism is a completely separate thing from Bookchin's ideas. It is the sole invention of Abdullah Ocalan.

And I doubt Bookchin's ideas have any popularity in the region of Rojava. They must have some presence in the region, but does anyone really know for certain how many people identify with his ideas?

boozemonarchy
Apr 5 2019 23:34
Spikymike wrote:
As far as anarcho-syndicalism goes the SolFeds 'Fighting For Ourselves' makes some progress towards Ivysyn's ''developing a new anarcho-syndicalist movement' but it is still in my opinion a case of anarcho-syndicalism being well intentioned but still lacking an in-depth analysis of the functioning of modern global capitalism.

I see this criticism repeated quite a lot but have never seen anyone elucidate it. I'm always sort of struck by it, like I've missed something huge?

In what ways is 'modern global capitalism' fundamentally different from the early 20th? Certainly a deepening of globalization has occurred, but transnational capital was certainly a thing back then and is a type of organization that just 'makes sense' to capitalists and so they've always sought / fought for freedom of movement for capital. As such, workers organizing transnationally, a basic anarcho-syndicalist tenet, makes more sense now than ever.

The basic relationship of workers to capital is essentially the same despite certain, very limited attempts to rope workers into weird pseudo types of 'ownership' via stock options and even more laughably, 'the gig economy'. In fact, it could be argued that conditions of extant capitalism share more features with early 20th capitalism as opposed to conditions in the mid to later 20th. Let me explain: Late 19th / Early 20th capitalism featured an extreme hostility towards organized labor, extreme precariousness in both employment and domestic world (rentals and out-of-control landlords), Generally low wages, poor conditions, little to no control over work. By the mid to late 20th we see a stark contrast - employer - union partnership (I know, yuk), generally livable wages and widespread homeownership, dual power at work with unions being fairly influentual even if class-collaborationist. Wages generally higher and conditions influenced by workers organizations.

Now, in extant capitalism, we see the wheel has turned again towards no 'social partnership' and extreme focus on short term gains via quick and dirty exploitation. Low homeownership and union shop rates, out of control bosses and landlords, no 'social partnership' (want to be clear that I'm not advocating 'social partnership - just analyzing history here)

So what is it exactly about this era that folks are stuck on? Technology developments? How does some shitty app directing your working / domestic life really effect the dominant social relation? In what ways are the answers (working-class organizations / solidarity) not the same? What I'm I missing?

darren p
Apr 5 2019 20:41
boozemonarchy wrote:
I see this criticism repeated quite a lot but have never seen anyone elucidate it. I'm always sort of struck by it, like I've missed something huge?

Anarchist unionism seems like a non-starter for the simple fact that there is no anarchist movement. A union can only be as radical as its members. So either an anarchist union will have to admit a majority of non-anarchist members if it wants to be of any significant size, doing this will stop it from being an anarchist union. Or it can just restrict membership to anarchists, and so be really small, and so not really be a union.

In the early twentieth century, anarchist syndicalism took off in Spain because of specific historical conditions, the values of anarchism were close to those of the traditional way of life in the villages. In the modern world, these ways of life have long since been subsumed by capital.

I guess there could be other criticisms but this seems like the main one.

boozemonarchy
Apr 6 2019 00:01

Thanks for response Darren.

I guess to be clear I wasn't exactly fishing for any random critique of anarcho-syndicalism y'all got laying about but rather trying to figure out what people are talking about when they say, 'the functioning of modern global capitalism". The suggestion when folks use this phrase is vast, fundamental differences that preclude class organization (I could be mistaken?) and my confusion is that there doesn't seem to be any such differences (just some changes to scenery). Your post didn't really address that.

In regards to your criticism, some anarcho-syndicalists now-a-days are focused on rebuilding class movements that actually make gains where anarcho-syndicalist ideas would have a hope to germinate if they are sown. I basically agree with you that you just don't get to be like, "BOOM, anarcho-syndicalist union!" in a place without any history or cultural understanding of this practice.
Cart before the horse and all that. That said your initial response is a bit of a strawman to me at least, whose suggesting that is possible?

I don't really agree with the 'subsumed by capital' business as that all seems like throwing up ones hands to the tides of history. To me anarchism fell to the wayside (a couple of different times) as anarchists retreated from class movements into individualism, alienating insurrectionism or purely political club venues. Had nothing to do with capital pushing its weight around so much as actual actions and developments in our own movements. In regards to Spain, anarchism took root not because of historical accident, but quite literally decades of class organization and anarchist militants spreading their ideas within the movements they helped build.

Mike Harman
Apr 6 2019 05:46
n what ways is 'modern global capitalism' fundamentally different from the early 20th? Certainly a deepening of globalization has occurred, but transnational capital was certainly a thing..

I'm generally wary of periodisation, but also there's been significant changes in the conditions for organising in Western Europe and the US. The percentages of people employed in manufacturing are much lower, many more people are employed in service industry jobs. A lot of service industry jobs are in small workplaces with only a handful of staff. Also the prospects for taking over a workplace are not viable for a lot of people's workplaces (coffee shops that don't even have a functioning kitchen, offices on business parks etc.)

'fighting for ourselves' deals with some of these issues well (it's a while since I read it now though).

These also affect tendencies that very much focused on periodisation (autonomism/operaia) which were hyper focused on car production, and didn't necessarily react to them in a good way when conditions changed again, Negri et al).

darren p
Apr 6 2019 09:42
boozemonarchy wrote:
In regards to Spain, anarchism took root not because of historical accident, but quite literally decades of class organization and anarchist militants spreading their ideas within the movements they helped build.

But what was it that gave this propagandising traction in the first place? The success or failure of efforts can’t really be assessed without taking into account the historical conditions in which they were taking place.

Spikymike
Apr 6 2019 14:46

boozemonarchy, the phrase ''...being well intentioned..'' was of course a sly reference back to the opening tale-end remarks of Ivysyn, but even if of course 'capitalism is still capitalism and the working class is still the working class' the distribution, scale and composition of the working class has changed significantly since Marx and Bakunin were arguing. This as a result of scientific and technological changes themselves a result of capitalist competition and past 'successful' working class struggle that make the old organisational forms of struggle (both social-democratic and syndicalist) not just outdated but a barrier to any movement with potential to escape the repetitive cycle of capitalist crisis, modernisation and renewal.
Edit: This text is a bit dated but still useful;
https://libcom.org/library/trade-unions-pillars-capitalism-internationalist-perspective

R Totale
Apr 6 2019 13:54
darren p wrote:
Anarchist unionism seems like a non-starter for the simple fact that there is no anarchist movement. A union can only be as radical as its members. So either an anarchist union will have to admit a majority of non-anarchist members if it wants to be of any significant size, doing this will stop it from being an anarchist union. Or it can just restrict membership to anarchists, and so be really small, and so not really be a union.

If there's no anarchist movement, but there's also not really any unions around either, then does that sort of balance out?
Anyway, if what you say is right, then surely the questions to be asked are, what (pre)conditions would be needed for an anarchist movement to exist, and is there anything we can do to help bring them about?
I could be wrong on this, but I think the defeat of the organised workers' movement is important here - thinking about that Thatcher quote about "Economics are the method: the object is to change the soul", and without wanting to romanticise old pre-Thatcher union culture too much, I think it did mean that there were a lot of people who at least had some understanding of class struggle as important, a set of values that stressed solidarity and so on, which isn't the same thing as being an anarchist, but is at least a pretty good basis to start from.
To me, (anarcho-)syndicalism is interesting because, compared to virtually all other left tendencies, it puts so much stress on trying to answer questions like what it'd take to have strong workplace organisation in the service sector, which if I'm right is the sort of thing that'd take us closer to a place where it was possible to have a meaningful anarchist movement. I definitely have more interest in those kinds of experiments than in the sort of perspectives that have an unstated assumption that the workers' movement is out there and all that's needed is to guide it in the right direction - Transitional Programme-style Trotskyism obviously being the worst for that, but I think some elements of platformism/especifismo tend to have similar assumptions.
I should also admit that the current revival of electoral socialism, where you have lots of people joining Labour/DSA in the absence of mass workers' organisation, proper messes up my "first you have a workers movement, then you can have socialists" theory.

And I am always suspicious of that "traditional Spanish villages" argument, because Barcelona certainly isn't what I'd call a village.

darren p
Apr 6 2019 14:59
R Totale wrote:
If there's no anarchist movement, but there's also not really any unions around either, then does that sort of balance out?

That only makes the outlook for anarcho-syndicalism more grim.

Quote:
And I am always suspicious of that "traditional Spanish villages" argument, because Barcelona certainly isn't what I'd call a village.

But much of the population in the early to mid 20th century would have been rural migrants or only a few generations removed from the countryside.

Black Badger
Apr 6 2019 16:44

For an explanation about how workers in Barcelona often reproduced village-like relationships and arrangements, take a look at Chris Ealham’s “Anarchism and the City.”

R Totale
Apr 7 2019 20:29
darren p wrote:
That only makes the outlook for anarcho-syndicalism more grim.

Oh yeah, that bit was intended as a joke... anyway, I suppose the interesting questions are, if the conditions aren't suitable for an anarch(o-syndical)ist movement, a) is there some other form of communist movement that'd be better suited to our conditions, and b) is there anything we can do to help move towards a situation where conditions might be more favourable?

boozemonarchy
Apr 7 2019 23:32
darren p wrote:
boozemonarchy wrote:
In regards to Spain, anarchism took root not because of historical accident, but quite literally decades of class organization and anarchist militants spreading their ideas within the movements they helped build.

But what was it that gave this propagandising traction in the first place?

Regards the traction, my guess was always that their worker organizations were actually making gains and winning? They created living, breathing, practical demonstrations of anarcho-syndicalism that served as a tangible reference.

In regards to ignoring historical conditions? I suppose you're correct, but those seem exist more in the realm of hindsight while present historical conditions exist mostly in the imagination. I'm skeptical of folks claiming to have their finger on the pulse of history and making very serious declarations as to what is and isn't possible in a present moment because of x & y.

Lugius
Apr 11 2019 02:58

boozemonarchy wrote:

Quote:
In what ways is 'modern global capitalism' fundamentally different from the early 20th? Certainly a deepening of globalization has occurred, but transnational capital was certainly a thing back then and is a type of organization that just 'makes sense' to capitalists and so they've always sought / fought for freedom of movement for capital. As such, workers organizing transnationally, a basic anarcho-syndicalist tenet, makes more sense now than ever.

Good point. The kind of conditions of capitalism depicted in Zola's 'Germinal', commonplace in Europe in the 19th century are now commonplace right across Asia and Africa today.

A critique based on whether or not something is 'modern' enough tacitly accepts the progressive narrative of capitalism.

boozemonarchy
Apr 11 2019 13:24

Thank you for the response Lugius, what I really wanted to talk about was the oft-put-forward critique of anarcho-syndicalism being out-grown by 'modern' capitalism. I'm not convinced that a larger service sector and other such changes accounts for much more than aesthetic changes and that a lack of a thriving, militant labor movement is really more the fault of the left being wooed by social democracy and other liberalisms.

All that said, apologies to Ivysyn for hijacking thread here that should be discussing her critique of left com.

LeninistGirl
Apr 11 2019 16:35
Quote:
I'm not convinced that a larger service sector and other such changes accounts for much more than aesthetic changes

The power of the unions has historically come from the fact that workers were all pushed together in larger and larger, more and more centralized factories, with a greater and greater division of labor, and being exploited by the same capitalist or group of capitalists. In such a situation the value of sticking together as workers to win gains becomes much more clear. But now the west is moving faster and faster towards a world of very small workplaces or lines of work where you don't even get to see your co-workers(like with all the deliverance jobs and über).

The left can't just will a workers movement into existence, especially not with the idea that smaller and decentralized workplaces can allow for the same forms of organization as the large factories of yesterday.

Quote:
social democracy and other liberalisms

Very American stand point to randomly compare social democracy to liberalim. It should be very clear to anyone that social democrats has a much larger section of the working-class organized than what liberal parties even attempt... In Sweden 26% of the total work force is part of a "blue-collar" trade union confederation controlled by social democrats. The force of the trade union only derives from the will of the membership's militancy and its ability to oppose leadership, not the "left".

R Totale
Apr 11 2019 17:37
boozemonarchy wrote:
Thank you for the response Lugius, what I really wanted to talk about was the oft-put-forward critique of anarcho-syndicalism being out-grown by 'modern' capitalism. I'm not convinced that a larger service sector and other such changes accounts for much more than aesthetic changes and that a lack of a thriving, militant labor movement is really more the fault of the left being wooed by social democracy and other liberalisms.

I mean, I'm very sympathetic to a-s, but this seems a bit on the ahistorical side - I think the point is less the growth of the service sector and more the destruction of the sectors of the economy that were once bases of workers' power. What happened in the mining communities in 84-85 was not just an aesthetic change, and neither was what happened to printworkers after Wapping, the Liverpool dockers, etc. (Or, in American terms, Reagan vs Patco '81, Arizona copper '83, Hormel 85-86, International Paper 87-88, and so on.)

Quote:
All that said, apologies to Ivysyn for hijacking thread here that should be discussing her critique of left com.

Tbh, arguments about historical periodisation aren't that offtopic, they're pretty relevant to that TC/Endnotes kind of determinist left com.

jura
Apr 11 2019 19:44

The argument that everything has changed because of capitalist restructuring is appealing, but I don't think it's all that convincing.

First of all, as Kim Moody points out in On New Terrain, there's still plenty of "traditional" working class jobs (with large concentrations of workers) to go around in the US, and I think the same applies to other typical countries of the capitalist core, like the UK or Germany. He also shows that a lot of these new "service" jobs, such as in logistics, are actually organized around similar principles as "traditional" factory jobs. And he points out that the gig economy, self-employment, etc. actually form a rather minuscule part of the economy, even if we only take "the West" into account. Some of these points have been discussed in other threads on here before. The absolute number of manufacturing workers around the world is probably higher today than ever. This should be the heyday of syndicalism!

Second, and much more important to the present discussion, is that even in all these non-Western manufacturing hubs where there are millions of people working in factories (e.g., China, India, Central and Eastern Europe), including in car production (which is still a very important sector, even in the core – see Germany) working class struggles do not take the forms we have seen in 1930s Detroit or 1960s Turin. In China, there have been important struggles by the "new working class" and important concessions have been won, but there's not been much success in terms of more permanent organizing, legal or illegal. You don't see the kind of growth of the various expressions of proletarian autonomy and power that we've seen earlier. Through repression or integration (I don't know), the potential of workers in China has been contained, so far at least. Similarly, in Central and Eastern Europe the struggles, when they even take place, are completely dominated by mainstream unions and rarely go beyond symbolic action. The unions are often actually more radical than the workers.

LeninistGirl
Apr 12 2019 05:03

I never said that there are no manufacturing jobs left in the west. Personally I work a very typical manufacturing job, but none of my peers can relate to my experiences with workplace struggle because their workplaces just aren't structured in the same way at all. My workplace is made up of several different "sections" that the products all pass through, and then we have further division of labor in each "section". But my comrade who works in a store has almost no division of labor, and not even a storage facility connected to it(all the wares are on the shelves), and they are very few people on the floor.

The matter of the fact is that if we look at a country like Sweden there is extremely little industry left. Back in the day anyone could get a job working in the docks building boats or in a car factory but neither is left in Sweden now, they have been exported to countries like Iran. The ones that are left are very far in between and often populated either by older and trained workers, or by super-exploited EU-migrants.

No doubt that he absolute number of manufacturing workers around the world is probably higher today than ever but these workers are no longer concentrated in Stockholm, Göteborg and so on. This is just a fact if you look at statistics over Sweden, there was a large rise in "middle-class work", "white-collar labor", teachers and so on.

jura
Apr 12 2019 10:08

Sure, but even some of those "new" sections of the working class you mention, like teachers, have waged important struggles in the past. And they still do (e.g. the 2018 series of strikes in the US), but the forms these struggles take seem different from what they used to be. They don't seem to coalesce as quickly into larger attempts at organizing, they don't get as politicized, they appear and disappear or are recuperated. Even when concessions are won, the experience of struggle does not seem to bring about the sort of transformations in consciousness one would expect. Certainly not on such a massive scale as when Luxemburg was writing about the "mass strike".

What's more, even if there are no large manufacturing workers concentrations around Stockholm or Göteborg, they sure exist around Shenzhen, Faridabad or (on a much more modest scale) Trnava. Masses of workers are crowded in dorms and on the shop floor, doing terrible work and loads of overtime, most of them young, with a constant stream of migrant newcomers. And often with rising real wages accompanied by increasing intensity of work. So it's like a recipe for explosion, yet we don't see the kinds of things we get excited about when reading up on Detroit or Turin. And I don't mean just particular forms of struggles, like sit-downs or rolling strikes or whatever. I mean the entirety of the "proletarian experience" and its expressions, in art, newspapers, communities and everyday life. Even if things flare up they seem to die down pretty quickly.

So I agree with the thrust of the critique of anarchosyndicalism (in fact, of "permanent radical organizationalism", as AS is just one of the strands) expressed by some comrades on this thread. It does seem out of place today, but I'm skeptical about identifying capitalist restructuring as the culprit. The material conditions, or at least most of them, are still there.

Mike Harman
Apr 13 2019 02:49
jura wrote:
I mean the entirety of the "proletarian experience" and its expressions, in art, newspapers,

A lot of this is because media has moved online though, and in the past ten years the shift in discussions from sites like this one or blogs to social media. So you do not necessarily get pamphlets, or even blog posts, but you do get a lot of people talking directly and indirectly to each other about their experiences in more or less real time such as during the Ferguson uprising on twitter, or (it looks like) Sudan now. There have been live streams of rank and file troops fraternising with protesters in Sudan which would have been unthinkable 10 years ago (unless maybe provided by a major news operation), also seen plenty of photos of strikes in Sudan (although the ones I saw looked quite symbolic - i.e. people stopping work to take a photo, not sure if that's been written up much).

Something like this: https://twitter.com/3ozaz/status/1115979456060039173 would maybe have been a line in 'slogans of the Sudanese 2019 uprising' released months or years after the fact, now we can actually see it. The extent to which it does, or might, coalesce into longer term/different kinds of movements, how people can learn from struggles of the past 30-40 years compared to the century before that is very different though.

In terms of workplace organising, a lot of things that would have required after work organising meetings, or at-work mass meetings, or photocopied posters etc. - i.e. the trappings of organisation (formal or informal), are sometimes carried out via instant messaging group chats or similar which are completely invisible to anyone apart from the participants until they result in action. A lot of aspects of the West Virginia teachers strikes last year were co-ordinated by teachers themselves over a Facebook group with tens of thousands of members - see here for example: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/carolineodonovan/facebook-group-west-virginia-teachers-strike

LeninistGirl
Apr 13 2019 16:58
Quote:
What's more, even if there are no large manufacturing workers concentrations around Stockholm or Göteborg, they sure exist around Shenzhen, Faridabad or (on a much more modest scale) Trnava.

Did I every say the opposite? My point being that extreme concentrations of workers under the same roof is something that has been dismantled in some parts of the world that used to have such conditions. First the low productive industries(textile, etc) was wiped out through "solidarisk lönepolitik" and then the high productive industry went away through capital export to the global south. This has without a doubt changed the way that organizing functions in countries like Sweden, beyond "aesthetics".

If the de-industrialization of past industrial centers is just "aesthetics", was Marx and Lenin just describing an aesthetic when they were describing industrialization and its relation to class struggle in the first place?

jura
Apr 13 2019 17:24
LeninistGirl wrote:
Did I every say the opposite?

No, you didn't (and I never accused you of saying the opposite). My point is that while you may be able to explain the absence of organizing or mass struggles in Sweden by referring to the absence of large concentrations of workers in Sweden, this isn't very helpful for cases where there are large concentrations of workers (in fact, larger than there ever were in Sweden), but there still isn't much going on (and hasn't been for a while now) in terms of anarcho-syndicalist unions, workers' parties, mass autonomous organizations and such.

The topic of this thread (as I see it, anyway) is not class composition in Sweden or in the West, but the applicability of anarcho-syndicalist strategies today in general, and the possible explanations of why it doesn't seem very successful.

LeninsitGirl wrote:
If the de-industrialization of past industrial centers is just "aesthetics", was Marx and Lenin just describing an aesthetic when they were describing industrialization and its relation to class struggle in the first place?

I never even used the word "aesthetics" so I'm not sure what you're getting at. Anyway, about industrialization, we've recently seen what was probably the biggest wave of "de-agrarization", urbanization, proletarianization, and industrialization ever (perhaps China by itself sets that record). And while there have been important strike waves (as predicted by people like Beverly Silver), a workers' movement comparable to that of, e.g. Russia and Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century or Italy in the 1960s has not materialized (yet?).

That's why I said that it seems like some of the important conditions are there but the forms that struggles take are different. I don't know what the reasons for that could be but, on a global scale, it certainly isn't the absence of workers or of industrialization.

LeninistGirl
Apr 13 2019 17:26
Quote:
I never even used the word "aesthetics" so I'm not sure what you're getting at.

Did you read the comment I was responding to with my first comment? I feel like you are arguing at a broader scope then what I or the person I responded to did.

jura
Apr 13 2019 17:40
LeninistGirl wrote:
Did you read the comment I was responding to with my first comment? I feel like you are arguing at a broader scope then what I or the person I responded to did.

Oh, OK, but I wasn't even responding to your comment specifically, you replied to me first. I was addressing the general explanation, hinted at by a few comrades earlier in the thread, that changes in the global economy like "deindustrialization" are responsible for the absence or low level of struggles in the West. I don't think that's the key factor – if it was, we should be seeing a renaissance of the workers' movement elsewhere.