Fragmented thoughts on political organization

Fragmented thoughts on political organization

Some rough thoughts on political organization, mostly based on my experience with groups in North America and conversations with some current and former members.

1) Contemporary political organization in the United States in large part came out of the post-Seattle 1999 resurgence of anarchism and the subsequent disagreements with primitivists, post-leftists, counter-institution types, and insurrectionaries.

2)So for a long while (and to a certain extent today), the purpose and main appeal if political organization was in part because of defining themselves against other anarchists. This is no longer an acceptable purpose.

3)Political organization has a tendency to take the types of conversations that should be happening in the wider class and instead places them primarily in closed groups between a very small amount of people. This is encouraged by advocating that a strict separation of the political and the economic must be maintained. However, it assumes that existing economic organizations are not already political and it is rarely gives an adequate explanation on how this differs from Lenin's 'trade union consciousness', which anarchists and libertarian communists have always rejected.

4)There has yet to be a serious and comprehensive assessment of the political organization experience since Seattle '99. This includes successes/failures as well as current and now defunct groups.

5)Despite their rejection of building anarchist or radical left mass organizations 'from scratch', the strategy of social insertion (a type of boring-from-within) doesn't seem to take into account the hundreds, if not thousands of leftist groups who have entered mass organizations in order to radicalize them1.

6)The issue of formal VS informal as some sort of flagship identifier is nearly a false dichotomy, with some political organizations mostly being a listserv you pay dues to be on that occasionally sends out short statements of solidarity. Dwelling on whether something is 'formal' or 'informal' doesn't take into account if the something is worth doing at all.

7)Despite talk of 'theoretical and tactical unity', the actual projects members are involved in as a main activity includes the internal functions of the political organization itself, mainstream unions, the IWW, solidarity networks, Occupy, what amounts to internal reading groups, workers centers, co-operative projects, Food Not Bombs, etc. or...an extremely wide range for a relatively small group of people.

8)Branching off the lack of assessment on the experience of contemporary political organization, there is no formalized resource for passing down skills and knowledge. There are no trainings or documents that help members do the activity the groups say they exist for, nor any effort to make sure members get to trainings or have resources that do exist in other groups.

9)As there is no formalized way to pass down skills and knowledge, there is a huge gulf between older, more established individuals (mostly in major metro areas) and newer, younger and less established people (many in smaller cities, towns and isolated rural areas).

10)Often dominating the dialogue, agenda and concentration of the political organizations are those who speak mainly of theory and 'internal education'. The need for developing organizing skills and experience is secondary. This begs the question of what is a political organization VS what is a reading and discussion group.

  • 1. I consider bringing up the fact that many of them attempted to seize executive positions solely is side-stepping the question, as not all groups did this, nor did they always fail to create a complimentary militant base. Also, none of the political organizations I'm speaking of reject taking formal leadership or staff positions in mass organizations, and some of their members, in fact, do hold such positions.

Comments

klas batalo
Jun 18 2012 19:07

i guess my point is lets say the IWW is not in an area but there is the potentiality of a workplace organizing campaign, but there is a WSA local. it'd make no sense to not organize as the WSA in that situation. right now the internal discussion in WSA that has lead to such thoughts is a WSA member and a few other radical workers at their workplace are thinking of organizing more. there is no IWW there, and if you are going to start from scratch might as well organize as WSA, than starting it as something more apolitical, especially if the workers are already pretty much a radical core. and if they don't want to join, well sure have it be an autonomous committee like solfeders say.

all of this is what tends towards me wanting to agree with gayge that revolutionary organization in our time is political-economic. iww happens to just focus mostly on workplace, and haphazardly on random community organizing/activism. that is i see the IWW more useful as a political-economic network of militants i.e. revolutionary organization than as a purely apolitical economic defense org i.e. union.

other revolutionary organizations could have other "economic" and "political" focuses just like the IWW. if WSA tomorrow started focusing primarily on tenant organizing would that make it a revolutionary tenants union instead, even though it might have other focuses like queer organizing?

OliverTwister
Jun 18 2012 19:34

This is a great entry by Juan and a good discussion so far. I've been lurking with the intention of writing a substantial reply, but for now I just want to jump in and disagree with Nate for ceding ground on the discourse of 'political organizations'.

What I mean is, 'political' and 'economic' organizations don't have a completely objective existence. Their existence is at least partially brought about by the use of the terms. I don't want to get too post-modernist here (I haven't read the relevant texts anyways) so I'll leave it at that. What this means, though, is fhat the use of these terms is an ideological decision (in the most neutral sense possible) that should be defended or discussed as such.

These terms don't just describe the world around us, they help to shape that world. In my opinion they reinforce the division of labor between mental and physical work in capitalist society. Furthermore I think 'political organization' is a really confusing term, as it implies that there are some 'non-political' organizations. I've never heard of any...

I'd be curious sometime to hear someone try to say whether the First International was a 'political' or an 'economic' organization. I know some platformists, especially around Fontenis, tried to claim continuity with Bakunin's secret Alliance of Social Democracy, but I will assume that that most platformists don't until I hear otherwise.

The point I want to make is that the IWMA was not a 'political'organization, nor was it 'economic', and it managed to do OK. The first I'm aware of peoplemaking a big deal out of classifying 'political' and 'economic' organizations was at the 1st congress of the 2nd International, when all of the unions that rejected supporting political action were excluded. Fromnthe start this separation has actively shaped the movements that it was supposed to describe. Incidentally, it has almost always been the 'economic' organizations who are supposed to support the policies of the 'political' organization, which does all the thinking.

I'll stop rambling just to say that, from what I understand of Recomposition, it seems really inaccurate to call.it a 'political organization', and feels a bit like people want to push a round peg into a square hole.

s.nappalos
Jun 18 2012 20:06

Again I worry there's no real material analysis here. Political organization and different forms of workplace groups don't grow and have their trajectory come about simply because of people's ideas about them. They develop, grow, and die in a social context of struggle. The reality is many of the same pressures of trying to work in low periods of struggle in advanced capitalist societies make building combative anarchosyndicalist organizations difficult if possible at all at the same time. It facilitates activism, hobbyism, and reproduces problematic dynamics in all grouplets, which most mass groups are anyway at this time. The answer to me is not to be agnostic on any of this stuff, but try to formulate answers, plant seeds, and work where we are.

Restating just the facts of problems doesn't give us insights into the real issues they arise out of. I just don't see thinking and solutions being offered to the problems that arise even in workplace organizing. I don't see how people will avoid the problems that already have come up in the IWW alone with hostile political forces poaching, playing destructive roles, and changing the politics of the organization. The history of the CGT, CNT, and FORA alone should at least make us question what alternative we would offer (let alone the IWW's problems with the SLP, SP, and CP).

I don't have faith that simply organizing will work it out (anarchosyndicalism is better than IWW-ism in that way). I also think that informal and individualistic study will reproduce lots of the problematic dynamics of capitalism within our workplace organizations. There is also a natural process where likeminded people come together around shared perspectives in the course of their work together. I fail to see good reason for those people not to work together, not to develop and move their perspective in a principled way, and that that wouldn't help things.

s.nappalos
Jun 18 2012 20:49

One more thing, on recomposition. I think sabotage helped the discussion. There's critiques being leveled here against political organizations & the political level itself. The two aren't inherently connected. Some groups call themselves political organizations but function like OCAP or IWW branches. Likewise some groups claim to be mass groups, but function like political organizations & every permutation in between.

I disagree with Nate that the division is that some people think recomp should dissolve vs become a political org. I don't remember any time when we seriously discussed dissolving. I've changed my views on it, but don't think it should formalize more. But all those issues are side matters, because recomposition itself problematizes the whole liquidation issue.

A group of IWW anarchist communists at a certain point of working together with one and another decided to launch a project to deepen debates, discussions, and push things in our circles. There was a debate about whether to only do this in the IWW or to appeal to broader worker formations. This project was done outside the IWW, as an independent group, and with the politics and perspectives represented by the group. Because we did that and it wasn't just a project of the iww, we had both the freedom to represent our perspective & a broader dialogue than people only interested in IWW stuff. In fact I think our readership is less IWW than not, but it ended up being a real success in terms of engaging workers, getting lots of contributions, readership, moving conversations, etc.

Those were conversations that weren't happening in our work, and politically likeminded people built things together & consequently made an impact. That's maybe not a political organization (We can argue that), but informal doesn't really capture it & it's definately political work independent from the mass organization. I think pretty universally we can say recomp has been a success, so I think it's awkward to argue against engaging in that kind of work (whatever organizational or structural format it occurs in).

On the informality, I can't really avoid getting into trouble talking about that so I'll limit it, but I think it's disingenuous to claim recomp is except when looking only at narrow features.

In general when I think of political work, I would look at grouping around ideology and strategy, coordination of mass work, production and development of theory, recruitment and development of militants, intervening alongside and against other political forces, etc. Any group that does all those things.... it doesn't matter to me if it has bylaws, a constitution, or points of unity.

Nate
Jun 18 2012 21:24

Scott, I'm gonna think more about this. I'm open to saying that all of this is about different things that occur within what your piece calls "the political level." (For people who don't know what I'm referring to, look at this piece that Scott wrote - http://libcom.org/library/defining-practice-intermediate-level-organization-struggle.) I don't think anyone here is saying "we reject that kind of work entirely." I think everyone here agrees on the importance of doing with at the political level, in general and within the IWW. There remain huge differences within that. Like Juan said earlier, he thought his post could be an argument for regroupment or for liquidation. Likewise I think the stuff we agree on - "do political work in the IWW" could be an argument for a range of practices. That means then that this is a conversation about better and worse practices within the political level. I think that's a fair way to understand Juan's article. In that case, maybe that's a good place to take the discussion next. I also think a piece of this, the recomp and IWW specific part, is about how to best do work at the political level within the IWW. I almost feel like this is a problem of translating between languages. I'm like "IWW members should not form political organizations, at most they should do stuff like recomp does." Others are like "that's included in political organization." I don't agree but I don't think there's much use in fighting over the terms. For the purposes of this discussion I'll speak the vocabulary of some of the folk of the discussion. So that "do stuff like recomp does" and "do stuff like the CSAC groups and regroupment" are both "political organization." Okay. But then I need another term. Because even accepting the terms here, these are two different ways to do "political organization", or to do work at the political level. To put it another way, I think that what I want to see happen in the next few years and what you want to see happen are different. Saying "both of us want stuff to happen that involves political work" is fine, but that vocabulary has to be able to allow room to disagree about the specifics of how to do political work. Like I tried to say I think moving toward those specifics would be good here.

syndicalist
Jun 18 2012 23:02

I won't really comment much now, because I am enjoying the refinement of views and so forth.

I just want to be clear about something. I was not suggesting that Recomp is a political organization as folks seem to be defining them. Or as those of us in dual organizational organziations define them.
My limited outside observation suggested to me that
within the IWW they may very well have been carrying out the same function as a political tendency or group. And the regular advertisement in the pages of the "Industrial Worker" would give one an impression
that they are reaching out to bring folks into their
effort.

Nate, thanks for the clarification on the time line of "direct unionism" document.

Ultimately we may agree to disagree on things, yet, I would hope, that we end this conversation with an understanding that nothing is perfect. That sincere
and honest militants may have different areas of focus
and methods and means. And, our respective goals are to build revolutionary movements all marching towards the same goal of the, thus far, illusive new world.

EdmontonWobbly
Jun 19 2012 18:22

There's a hell of a lot going on in this conversation and very little of it has anything to do with the original article. I think Juan hits the nail on the head though.

The problem with "political" organisations (for the record I want the IWW to be more political not less) is they tend to treat ideological questions as vacuum packed and in a separate category from concrete practice in a mass organisation. So for example the fact that the same crowd developed the OTC program, wrote Direct Unionism, and publishes Recomposition says more about our political commitments and how we build our political practice. A training program is political practice and political activity.

Honestly the best analogue I see Recomposition to is the way Pannekoek described the role of council communist groups in the 20's and 30's. Small informal groups of writers that share analysis and are primarily involved in the councils movement- not building their parties. I think that is where Recomposition is (or should be different) our goal isn't to build recomposition up it should be to build the movements we are a part of up. I'm generally anti recruitment to recomp, generally against a more refined line than we have, and generally in favour of us prioritising good analysis and high level discussion.

Not to put words in the authors mouth but I think he also outlines what some political groups could be doing to be more effective. In fact I would go so far as to say these practices don't apply to the UCL in Quebec or to Common Cause in Ontario, this is more of an American thing than Canadian thing. The UCL and Common Cause have some concentration in actual struggles (OCAP, CLASSE, IWW etc).

But this gets to the most important point. Common Cause and the UCL aren't successful in my opinion because of the presence of strong political organisations, these organisations are successful because they are a part of groups that are doing organising. I kind of take this as evidence that the health of our movement is determined by how effective we are at practicing our politics, not reciting them.

syndicalist
Jun 19 2012 21:12

Whether folks transcend on to other things, it would have been nice for those who left to have been mentors and so forth for the newbies they "left behind", so to speak. It's a pity that the things some of you are now doing, could not have been attempted when you were part of political organizations. Well, like I said previously,sometimes it's hard to rebuild, build commonalities of practice and have folks in transition all at the same time.

Actually, I think the broad range of the topic and discussion has been useful if for one reason. It has clarified some of the views and perspectives that some of the former members of political organizations did not articulate when they were part of those organizations.

EdmontonWobbly
Jun 20 2012 13:11

You know sometimes you have to go through an experience to know what you think of it first. Maybe these ideas couldn't have been expressed because the experiences that led to the ideas hadn't happened yet and there wasn't enough time to think about what happened. I for one did my best to try and be involved in my political organisation but found at every turn success was not measured by the success of the mass work but rather by the success of the political organisation. I think a lot of political groups are like this.

It also would have been nice in my engagement with political groups to not see any time the IWW is brought up a chorus of "we don't just support the IWW we support other unions too", followed by a bunch of internal debate about the merit of our project and whether it could be done just under the banner of the political group and various business unions. Neither categories offered any training, formal mentorship to us, or real political development beyond reading lists. It was reciting politics not practicing it. Unionism in political groups involved working as a conventional steward in a conventional union and talking about Anarcho Syndicalism. The business unions were the field and the political groups were the game players.

Again I can't help but notice that the biggest misgivings some folks in political organisations have is that we didn't do more to build the political groupings even in the process of leaving them. That's strange. We create these groups to further our struggles, when those groups offer little to advance those struggles we leave them. You can't go around upset that folks didn't do more to build your group when people don't join to build your group, they join to share resources and develop shared projects. That didn't happen, I re-evaluated my priorities and decided political groups had little to offer that wasn't being done, or couldn't be done by a small blog collective and the IWW. None of this was done maliciously or with the intent of hurting anyone's feelings, no one involved was fake or dishonest and there is no reason for anyone to hold a grudge. Honestly even this post feels like a strange breakup letter but it doesn't have to I feel no ill will towards anyone but neither do I regret mine or anyone else's actions.

syndicalist
Jun 20 2012 17:49

Well Edmonton, it was a breakup of sorts and their were some broken hearts, particularly coming out of the positive Minneapolis conference in 2010.

I think WSA was always very clear about itself and rebuilding limitations. And I think our Unionism position had always been very clear (folks supporeted the IWW and other forms of workplace organization).

I begrudge no one for transitioning to where they feel best suited and comfortable. But I also think, as they say, there are two side to each coin.

I wish you luck, stand in solidarity as needed and only good and bright things to come for all of us.

Juan Conatz
Jun 23 2012 21:53
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Honestly the best analogue I see Recomposition to is the way Pannekoek described the role of council communist groups in the 20's and 30's. Small informal groups of writers that share analysis and are primarily involved in the councils movement- not building their parties.

Where does he describe/say this? I haven't read much of him.

Nate
Jun 25 2012 05:04
syndicalist wrote:
Whether folks transcend on to other things, it would have been nice for those who left to have been mentors and so forth for the newbies they "left behind", so to speak.

I don't mean this in a competitive kind of way and I'm not trying to pat myself on the back, but since you're like "it'd be nice if..." I'm gonna state a bit of my own modest contributions... I've continued to mentor newer folk and if anything done it more so after leaving. Primarily in terms of pushing folk to write stuff and put ideas out there via the IW, Recomp, and I&A (and for what it's worth I regularly tell people to submit something to some place other than Recomp because Recomp has a relatively small readership, and we do reprints, so someone else running a piece first then us re-running it = more total readers, the point is much more to get readers for good/thoughtful writing than it is to build Recomp as a thing. Even more than writing, though, for me personally, the point is writers - building up individuals' confidence and habits of writing so there's more of it. I'd like stuff to eventually coalesce into more of a milieu like EdmontonWobbly said though I don't yet have a clear idea what that looks like. Anyway...)

So yeah I think I've worked with like a dozen folk, people from at least four different CSAC groups plus some IWWs, people not in groups, and people in the little marxist website groups, at least on a one-off basis. And some folk I work with more often/in an ongoing way. And I'm kind of like a broken record in terms of pushing people to put stuff out there ("that's really interesting, write about that!"), though a lot of people are like "yeah, well, fine, but I don't wanna", the number of people I ask to write is more than the ones who do.

I'm probly the one who makes the biggest deal out of writing out of the people in the Recomp circles, it's either me or Juan, but I know I'm not the only person who makes a point of working with people in terms of mentorship/pushing people to develop themselves. Like in stuff like organizing skills/training and such, working with some people across the various CSAC groups, etc. So to some extent at least some of this kind of mentorship can and does happen outside political organization.

Edit:
And at least some of the time, individuals in the CSAC groups still benefit from this kind of thing, at least a little. Just as much as if I had stayed in.

klas batalo
Jun 25 2012 05:12

so weeks ago i said i'd have my own fragments of sorts well here they are basically, (my mind is much clearer about these now even if i don't have proof to back these claims up):

1) revolutionary organization in our times isn't just political or economic, it is social (i.e. political-economic), and must be concerned with social struggles that will lead to social revolution. this means there does not exist any basis for a divide between the political or economic struggles, and such organizations and movements can focus on both. this doesn't mean that the party is the class or the class is the party. but more that the mono/dual organizational question has been superseded. revolutionaries should not be afraid to act autonomously but they do not hesitate to also work within struggles with others.

2) revolutionary organizations when they are nuclei or are in periods of low struggle must choose and should chose strategic areas of struggle to focus on and figure out an appropriate division of labor to focus on these. as struggles pick up/more members are gained more struggles can be networked/coordinated in total. ideally eventually being the embryo of whole revolutionary movements.

3) revolutionary organization should seek to be territorial in scope. that is open, city wide organizations that are concerned with linking struggles from all sectors whether in the hood or in the workplace. organizations that aim in struggles to unite the whole of society into community/workers assemblies/committees/councils (class wide structures open to all members of society not just specific revolutionary organizations).

syndicalistcat
Jun 27 2012 04:19

To begin with, I want to backup one thing Syndicalist said about how WSA came to a "dual organizational" point of view from practical experience. In my case this shaped by my experience in the '70s building an actual grassroots union from scratch, the Student Academic Employees Union at UCLA. This was initiated in 1970 by a handful of Marxist grad students close to the International Socialists who had been involved in strike support for the local Teamsters during the 1970 national wildcat truckers strike. They decided they should organize "around our own exploitation."

When I went to the first organizing meeting there were about 40 people present. For about the first five years the organization existed as a kind of "minority union" of about 50 to 75 teaching assistants. Its major growth came during an anti-layoffs struggle in 1976-77, when the union grew to 350 members which included 75 to 95 percent of student employees in the language, humanities and social science departments. and conducted a successful one-week strike -- first TAs strike in the history of the University of California. During the strike members of my department carried out an occupation of the Chancellor's office.

A demand in the strike was that the university not close down the tutoring services for undergrads which were mainly used by working class students, especially students of color. Due to this demand, the minority student orgs on campus organized a thousand people in a demo in support of the strike. Our union took the view that we should not be like AFL unions that narrowly focus only concerns of their own members. In this case we were striking in defense of our students.

The union had no right to union elections, but proceeded in the "solidarity union" approach, building the union through grassroots action. There were no paid officers or staff and the union executive was the shop stewards council, with stewards elected from assembly-based department orgs. Although union functioned like the IWW, there's no way the libertarian socialists in it could have suggested IWW affiliation because the Marxists would have disagreed. There were several libertarian socialists in my department and the creation of an assembly based organization there was due to our initiative. we called a meeting that 23 of the 24 TAs attended and they approved a bylaws that we had prepared in advance.

The union was based on a "militant minority" that included people from a variety of Leftist groups and points of view. They supported the grassroots radical character of the union, but there would be no way we could have gotten them to buy into an organization defined by some specifically anarchist or revolutionary line. This doesn't mean the union wasn't "political" -- it was.

Over the years when I advocated for a project of building a grassroots independent union, I'm thinking back to my experience with the SAEU because it seemed to me that proved that, in favorable circumstances, this is possible. And possible to do so outside the IWW. But my stating this obvious fact in WSA apparently offended E.W. as we see in this comment:

Quote:
It also would have been nice in my engagement with political groups to not see any time the IWW is brought up a chorus of "we don't just support the IWW we support other unions too", followed by a bunch of internal debate about the merit of our project and whether it could be done just under the banner of the political group and various business unions.

Well, I believe that a mass revolutionary union movement in the future in the USA is a possibility but i think t is highly unlikely that this is going to happen by recruitment to the IWW. Hundreds of thousands, indeed millions, are needed to have a movement that can transform the society. I don't think we know or could know how such a future mass movement will come to be. On the other hand, we inevitably work at present to develop projects that are feasible in various contexts. I don't say people shouldn't be organizing thru the IWW. I'm not saying this can't be an important contribution, laying the groundwork, for a future mass revolutionary movement. but past experience of labor upsurges in the USA suggest there are always new organizations that emerge, and new groups of people who go into motion.

Moreover, when Marxist groups talk about the distinction between the economic and the political, this becomes a way they justify accepting a lack of radical political vision for a mass organization such as union, because they conceive of "politics" as the function of some political party. I fundamentally disagree with that. On the contrary, because i see the mass movement organizations as the means to social transformation, their political development is essential, and I'd take the view that we should advocate within them to go as far in the direction of being the kind of mass organization we want them to be as is feasible at present, given the current mindset of the working people involved in it.

I also think I don't agree with S.N.'s "intermediate" level idea. Take Teamsters for a Democratic Union as an example. I think MAS would give this as an example of an intermediate level org. But I see it as a kind of mass organization. When I was still living in Wisconsin in the late '70s, TDU had succeeded in organizing virtually all the 5,000 carhaulers in the USA -- people who take new cars to dealers in multi-level rigs. This was their Carhaulers Council. They were so successful in this organizing that became possible for the CC to carry out a job action on its own. In fact this lead to a split in the main Leftist group in TDU back then, International Socialists. A minority in IS believed that on certain contract demands to get them CC should just go ahead an organize a strike, without waiting for Teamster union approval...acting in effect as a dual union. The majority in IS however convinced them to wait for local union prez approval, since the presidents had made rhetorical noises in support of a strike. But the presidents stabbed them in the back, so it was a mistake not to have used CC to carry out the strike. This lead to the Workers Power group splitting off from IS, they were the people who wanted CC to act like a dual union. Around that time i interviewed a number of TDU members in Wisconsin. None of them were leftists. TDU was in fact a kind of military minority mass organization, in principle no different than a "minority union" in a workplace without union contracts. TDU has functioned over the years as a militant minority dominated by several Leninist orgs, who have a boring from within perspective, and thus TDU has followed its "going for power" (in the union apparatus) line but if libertarian socialists had been dominant, say, it could have pursued a different tack.

As to what E.W. finds lacking in the U.S. organized anarchist groups he puts this way:

Quote:
Not to put words in the authors mouth but I think he also outlines what some political groups could be doing to be more effective. In fact I would go so far as to say these practices don't apply to the UCL in Quebec or to Common Cause in Ontario, this is more of an American thing than Canadian thing. The UCL and Common Cause have some concentration in actual struggles (OCAP, CLASSE, IWW etc).

sure enough, the USA isn't Quebec, nor is it Spain either. Earlier on in this thread I pointed to the problem of lack of numbers, and how this leads to sketchy orgs that often don't have enough people in a particular locale to start projects or they have people scattered in a variety of different situations, making it hard to develop common projects or common work in an existing project or mass organization. This is a very long-standing problem. I agree that it is crucial for a viable local libertarian socialist organization to find areas where they, or sections of their members, can work together in some common area, in actual organizing projects & mass organizations. but we can't simply snap our fingers and bring this into being out of nowhere. so E.W.'s comment is arbitrary.

My own ideal of the local chapter would be for it to have various common projects, or areas of focus. I've also advocated for building centers of popular education where organizer trainings, workshops/discussions on revolutionary history, etc can take place. This is an example of a project that a revolutionary libertarian group could do itself, if it had the numbers.

EdmontonWobbly
Jul 2 2012 17:34

Heh, alright 'cat, I think your points here are actually pretty good and in good faith. Unfortunately they aren't the first time I've heard them, and in fact they are exactly the rant I heard every time anyone mentioned anything to do with the IWW. Can you imagine the effect that has on someone who joined a political group because they thought that group had something to offer their political work?

If you say, "we support lots of unions including the IWW" once it sounds like a good, solid political perspective. If you say it three times it sounds like you are a bit uneasy about the IWW but genuinely want to work with folks in the IWW, and if you say it every time the IWW is brought up it sounds like you are being passive aggressive and don't actually agree with the project your fellow WSA members are working on.

I would go so far as to say that there was probably a small amount of hope that we would ditch the IWW in favour of independent unions and the WSA but that I'll be upfront that I'm reading between the lines here but when you repeat that line ad nauseum that's the impression given and it's not on me for taking it the wrong way.

So sure, I get it, you want to work with lots of unions not just the IWW, I got it the first time you said it. But when we see an independent group of workers in the W.S.A.and try and make the case for them linking up inside the IWW and that canned speach you just gave is aired on the list you are actually interfering in the organisational work of a 'mass' organisation that joined a political group to build itself.If that isn't the roll of the WSA, to build the politics and practice of the groups people join from what is the point?

In other words your cookie cutter political line forged in a struggle from four decades ago was an impediment to organising and networking by currently active shop floor militants. Again the political and ideological criteria trumps the real practical expression of the class struggle in mass organisations by people working on them now.

It's not different when the marxists do it because your political line is different, it's the same activity and is something prior to any other level of ideological activity because it is itself an ideological position. Ad hoc justification based on tradition, or abstract political lines doesn't really mean much if you are doing the same thing you're going to get the same results, even if your reason for doing the same thing is actually different.

Quote:
My own ideal of the local chapter would be for it to have various common projects, or areas of focus. I've also advocated for building centers of popular education where organizer trainings, workshops/discussions on revolutionary history, etc can take place. This is an example of a project that a revolutionary libertarian group could do itself, if it had the numbers.

I have to admit the phrase "my own ideal local chapter" is half the problem with political organisations right now. You can't base politics on your local ideal chapter because you'll only ever have the chapter you have. You won't have the numbers to do it because you keep trying to shoe horn what you have into what you want, that's what happened to me and that's why I quit the WSA. Not sure if I wanted to say it, but apparently a few people really wanted to hear it.

syndicalistcat
Jul 2 2012 20:30
Quote:
Heh, alright 'cat, I think your points here are actually pretty good and in good faith. Unfortunately they aren't the first time I've heard them, and in fact they are exactly the rant I heard every time anyone mentioned anything to do with the IWW

well, that's quite false. and I don't believe you. I think you'd be offended if i mentioned it once. Your gross over-estimate of the number of times I mentioned this suggests exactly this conclusion. WSA emerged from a group who had left the Anarchist Communist Fed because of the obsession of Bekken's group with the IWW as the only road. Plus people forced out of the IWW. So, that helped shape our outlook.

nor do you ever really address the question of numbers. Now it's true that numbers will come from engagement in practice with others, and that requires others to work with. But there are many different possible ways that can take place.

Nate
Jul 2 2012 20:55
syndicalistcat wrote:
Quote:
Heh, alright 'cat, I think your points here are actually pretty good and in good faith. Unfortunately they aren't the first time I've heard them, and in fact they are exactly the rant I heard every time anyone mentioned anything to do with the IWW

well, that's quite false. and I don't believe you. I think you'd be offended if i mentioned it once. Your gross over-estimate of the number of times I mentioned this suggests exactly this conclusion.

Good point. The problem here is that EdWob is too easily offended. That's definitely the most plausible story. I mean, because you've never been a bit tone-deaf in your interactions with people in your organization or in the CSAC milieu in such a way that slightly annoyed anyone. So clearly that can't have ever happened with regard to how you and others talk about the IWW. And I'm totally sure that this is the first time in the WSA's 25+ years anyone has ever suggested such a thing, right...?

Seriously the recurring "the IWW isn't the only thing we're into we also are for...." often when someone mentioned the IWW is a big part of why I quit the WSA. I frankly never really cared if other people in the WSA joined the IWW or not, I had no intention of recruiting to the IWW joining, the IWW was something I was personally committed to. But in general if someone's like "hey there's this thing I'm doing that's part of an effort I'm excited about and committed to" and someone else is like "I don't share your excitement and commitment to that effort, but please, go on" it is kinda offputting. And more so every time it's repeated. And it got really predictable what would happen if anyone mentioned their work in the IWW, as part talking about what they were up to lately. Some other WSA members would bring up their reservations about the IWW or about how there were into stuff other than the IWW too would. It got old. I thought I tried to raise this as a concern but definitely not very effectively. (Then again I don't remember the organization ever having a constructive conversation about any members' problematic behavior ever while I was involved.) So after a while I actively decided to try and avoid talking about anything IWW related in the WSA. That didn't work and the fights continued. That's not the only reason I quit but it was a big part of it.

It's also kind of ironic that this disagreement happens now, in a thread about problems in actually existing political organizations, and your response is basically "no, that problem about tensions around the IWW does not take place, you are wrong that there is any such problem."

syndicalistcat
Jul 2 2012 20:57

Nate, You describe people mentioning that the WSA envisions a variety of possible worker organizing paths as "problematic behavior" but why? It's as if people are to be blamed for stating WSA's line. Whether it's "problematic behavior" or not is something that you haven't argued for.

klas batalo
Jul 2 2012 22:07

I have a question for the Recomposition crew, especially Nate, Juan, EdmontonWobbly...

From what I can tell a lot of this general adaptation of the "political-economic" framework of a revolutionary union is that it does politics as well as struggle around economic exploitation of it's members. That it has not only the benefits of a political organization generally but it also "does shit"...

It is obvious to me that at least a 1/3rd of the wobblies are actually engaged in organizing and struggle, but I don't really see much in the way of political education/training/work going on. There is of course the OT 101, but that is mostly training around workplace struggle and not much around politics. I say this as someone who has taken the training three times and read most of the trainer's documents...

So my question is how do Recomposition people explain the lack of building a political education program and training to do political work as the organization? I'm not saying as non-workplace stuff or electoral work, but generally bringing about a political approach and developing a collective political outlook as a revolutionary union? Does Recomposition see itself working towards such aims?

I ask this not to be provocative, but because what I see is mostly an informal tight political milieu around the IWW and not really a direct engagement towards political education or developing the politics of the union, and I am wondering if there is anything in the mission of Recomposition towards such ends since you say this is what the IWW allows us to do, compared to political organizations.

I don't really think this type of political work is only proper for political organizations, and I do think it could occur in networks of militants like the IWW or other mass organizations, but if that was to happen in the IWW I think it would pretty much require folks who believe in an anarcho-syndicalist/councilist "direct unionist" tendency within the union actively coordinating towards such ends internally?

syndicalist
Jul 2 2012 22:31

Historically speaking, WSA tried to find a balance between the three major forms that anarchists have done workplace organizaing around.Those who supported the IWW over one form and those who supported independents form or work in the trade unions another form, but that obviously was not satisfying for some.
In the main, most WSA prolly didn't care which form works, as long as something was working.

I think the the tensions in an organization where some support one form of shopwork over another will always be there. Unless you have a monolithic position on things. Which some do and that's ok.

From what I recall, the real tensions began over the idea of mandating WSA members attend IWW trainings. And between two members over organizing: one supporting the IWW and one supporting workers centers. And that debate didn't even happen inside WSA, but, rather on ABC.

This strikes me and I am trying to find some or any discussion of this on the internal WSA list:

"when we see an independent group of workers in the W.S.A.and try and make the case for them linking up inside the IWW and that canned speach you just gave is aired on the list you are actually interfering in the organisational work of a 'mass' organisation that joined a political group to build itself.If that isn't the roll of the WSA"

"Canned speech" aside, I don't recall this sort of thing happening. I'll be the first to admit memory loss on some stuff, but this would stick out as smething that would've warrented lots of debate and discussion.

Speaking of the "canned speech", I prolly must've give it a million times as the Secretary dusring this period. And it was usually when folks went at it with each other. Like i said, in an organization that has several different approaches to workplace stuff, trying to mediate and keep the balance isn't always easy. And sometimes you just have to repeat the same thing and tell folks to respect differing points of view.

I guess my only feeling is that whenever IWW comrades sought out help, WSA came through. I find it ironic that it was mostly the non-IWW members who offered the motions on solidarity emails and donations.

R. Spourgitis
Jul 2 2012 23:44

Since this pot is still getting stirred, I'll throw in again. smile

EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Not to put words in the authors mouth but I think he also outlines what some political groups could be doing to be more effective. In fact I would go so far as to say these practices don't apply to the UCL in Quebec or to Common Cause in Ontario, this is more of an American thing than Canadian thing. The UCL and Common Cause have some concentration in actual struggles (OCAP, CLASSE, IWW etc).

But this gets to the most important point. Common Cause and the UCL aren't successful in my opinion because of the presence of strong political organisations, these organisations are successful because they are a part of groups that are doing organising. I kind of take this as evidence that the health of our movement is determined by how effective we are at practicing our politics, not reciting them.

I have to take some exception to this. Where there has been actual struggles present, I think that a lot of CSAC groups and members are involved in them. Obviously this differs tremendously between various regions and locales, but the implication that a lot of us just sit on our hands I don't think is very fair. Occupy is one example where I know around here and for many of the other groups a ton of time and effort was spent actively within them and, for what its worth, May 1 general strike / day of action came right out of this (this campaign also revealed some weaknesses, but not my point here).

Even where "big" struggles have been not very present, you find many of those groups, or often at the very least its members, involved in building solidarity networks, workers centers, reproductive justice work, anti-racist work, etc; to say nothing of course of the extensive overlap between IWW and various political organization's membership.

I do think the OP has good points for critiquing aspects of the processes within our organizations, but I'm not interested in a IWW vs. political organizations debate because I think it's ultimately a false binary. There's quite a various gradation between who is doing what, who's prioritizing what. Granted, I was never in WSA nor do I know who said what however many years ago. But I do think that building any struggle seriously is going to involve all manner of organizations, informal and formal, revolutionary unions and (at least the membership of) non-revolutionary ones, publications, blogs and conferences. Hell, I think the more of them the better!

We should be honest about our shortcomings and failures, which has been a benefit to this discussion, but we can also look at the contextual relationship that any number of these groups, political orgs and IWW branches alike, that affect the potential and efficacy of the work chosen. Or, you work with what you've got, and sometimes that really isn't much.

I also think this piece from Gayge Operaista is a great one for a non-dogmatic, and dynamic view of this question.

http://libcom.org/library/dialectic-exploitation-repression-forms-self-organization-avoidance-vulgar-workerism

Abbey Volcano
Jul 3 2012 00:16
syndicalist wrote:
From what I recall, the real tensions began over the idea of mandating WSA members attend IWW trainings.

I don't recall this happening-- could someone perhaps remind me of what that was all about?

syndicalist
Jul 3 2012 00:32
Abbey Volcano wrote:
syndicalist wrote:
From what I recall, the real tensions began over the idea of mandating WSA members attend IWW trainings.

I don't recall this happening-- could someone perhaps remind me of what that was all about?

I know Nate and Mike went at this. And I also said that it shouldn't be mandatory, but WSA members should be encoraged to attend. Now, maybe this was on one of our internal lists, maybe on ABC, I can't recall. What I do recall is that this came up.

Nate
Jul 3 2012 02:50
sabotage wrote:
how do Recomposition people explain the lack of building a political education program and training to do political work as the organization?

No one's really done it. I mean, there's been informal stuff quite a bit at the branch level and sometimes cross-branches like the League of Revolutionary Black Worekrs event a few year back, and publications, but nothing systematic. This is not solely because of political organizations but a contributing factor is that when a lot of people have wanted to do politics beyond the degree it's currently done in the IWw they've basically left the organization - either completely, or they've gone elsewhere for most of the politics. I think in a lot of ways that's exactly what organizational dualism as practiced in the CSAC milieu encourages, which is part of what I'm on about when I tried to say that that sort of organizational dualism is bad for the IWW. But you're right, this doesn't happen enough and ought to.

sabotage wrote:
Does Recomposition see itself working towards such aims?

That's what I'd like us to do and that's how I see what some of us are doing. We don't have much in the way of worked out opinions - we're a group of friends who run a web site and collaborate on writing and stuff. Some of us aren't interested in being part of political organizations and are pretty IWW focused (and we wish the rest of the people in the editorial group were too) and some of us are very interest in being part of political organizations and while active in the IWW are less solely IWW focused (and wish the others were the same). So I don't think we agree on this. We should discuss it...! I'd like to hear what others think.

Oh yeah, also, I'm not married to Recomp as a vehicle for this. For instance I edited the Weakening the Dam pamphlet and wrote some of it and me and some other people from my branch worked on getting our branch to put it out as a pamphlet and trying to distribute it around the union. Likewise Adam and me and some other friends around the union organized the LRBW event. That's not really anyhting to do with Recomp. If anything I'd say I'm committed to this project/goal - doing political work in the IWW and pushing discussion in the IWW about how the IWW does political work - and I'm politically interested in Recomp to the extent that it's useful for that goal. (I'm also just generally interested in Recomp for social/interpersonal reasons, because I like the people involved and the people I interact with as a result of working on it, but that's not really politically driven for me, it's more just that I like it. The political part for me is what I said above. And thanks for asking, Sabotage, it's clarifying for me to talk about this.)

sabotage wrote:
not really a direct engagement towards political education or developing the politics of the union

I don't know how many people are thinking or talking about this. My views on all this are pretty new to me. It's been a few years since I quit the WSA but I've got a small kid and I work a lot and I've been sort of following random intellectual threads that I've written about more than I've had a plan, so part of why I've not done more on this is lack of vision/clarity, lack of a plan, lack of time, lack of energy, and lack of many collaborators. This is definitely the direction I'd like to move in personally and I wish everyone in Recomp agreed. Currently there's disagreements on political organization etc and some people are less active because of organizing and life commitments, but we all like each other and it's nice to collaborate and communicate. I wish we more all on the same page but short of everyone else adopting better views - ie, my views smile - I would prefer to keep working with the current group of friends because it's fun and intellectually productive (our arguments are often annoying but I always feel like I come away from them smarter).

sabotage wrote:
if that [kind of political agreement] was to happen in the IWW I think it would pretty much require folks who believe in an anarcho-syndicalist/councilist "direct unionist" tendency within the union actively coordinating towards such ends internally?

I don't mean this rhetorically but why is that? Maybe I'm missing something but I don't see the need for unity around those points for the kind of political work I'm talking about to happen. To put it another way - I think the IWW needs some internal institution building to increase its ability to have a collective intellectual life on its own terms and through its own internal structures. Once that exists then I think different informal groupings might put out views on any number of things that could be called the specific political line of any grouping - big picture social vision, visions of revolution, core values like anarchism and feminism, issues of strategy and analysis like in the direct unionism piece and the nature of labor law and understanding the current crisis, and short term policy and practice issues of the sort that come up regularly around the annual convention etc. Personally I think building the institutional capacity (the organizational context necessary for a collective intellectual life or for meaningful internal discussion and education) is more pressing than any the particulars of line. I also think that the IWW I want to see would do political work on an ongoing basis aside from those disagreements or others, and I think that capacity could and should be built up. To a limited extent this is what happened around the IWW involvement in Madison.

syndicalist wrote:
Abbey Volcano wrote:
syndicalist wrote:
From what I recall, the real tensions began over the idea of mandating WSA members attend IWW trainings.

I don't recall this happening-- could someone perhaps remind me of what that was all about?

I know Nate and Mike went at this. And I also said that it shouldn't be mandatory, but WSA members should be encoraged to attend.

I know I said it and I'd be shocked if I'm the only one. I think I said something like "many people in the IWW and out of it have found it really helpful for stuff and you don't have to join." It wasn't intended as an attempt at recruiting (least of all an attempt at recruiting Mike) or in any way an attempt to shop the IWW to people. At the time that I made the suggestion I had not yet given up on trying to build the WSA. My thought was that if people attended the training it would help them do better at whatever their organizing projects were and the WSA as a whole would benefit. (I know SolFed's adapted the curriculum and found it productive and Erik is currently putting on versions of the training for groups across Europe who are finding it exciting. That's not motivated by building the IWW but rather at sharing skills and experience with comrades and encouraging them to pick up the ball and run with it.)

syndicalistcat wrote:
Nate, You describe people mentioning that the WSA envisions a variety of possible worker organizing paths as "problematic behavior" but why? It's as if people are to be blamed for stating WSA's line. Whether it's "problematic behavior" or not is something that you haven't argued for.

I have made an argument, actually, but you've managed to both mischaracterize it and claim the argument wasn't made. I said something to the effect of "people committed to the IWW would discuss there work and other WSA members would rush to describe their reservations about the IWW" and stated that this was offputting. If you like I could demonstrate how this is offputting. Tell me about the housing stuff you've been doing and that you're excited about it and I'll tell you about how I don't particularly see the point, then we'll do that a few more times in sequence, and you'll get it. That's honestly kind of impressive. I never had and do not have a problem that the WSA envisions multiple directions for worker organizing. This issue here is not pluralism. The issue here is how some of y'all responded to others of us when we talked about our particular interests.

Seriously, being frank here, I feel like I'm not saying much more than a detailed version of "yo sometimes the way some of you talk is kind of offputting emotionally to other people in your group and the circles around your group, and here's an example" and I feel like you're responding with either disputing the point like "nuh uh no way, nothing about how any of us talk is offputting" or else disbelief like "really? that's weird because no one else has ever said anything about any of us carrying ourselves in a way that is at all offputting."

Nate
Jul 3 2012 02:45
R. Spourgìtis wrote:
building any struggle seriously is going to involve all manner of organizations, informal and formal, revolutionary unions and (at least the membership of) non-revolutionary ones, publications, blogs and conferences. Hell, I think the more of them the better!

I totally agree. Like an ecosystem, so to speak. But not everyone in that ecosystem has to do everything or be part of everything. So for me I'm against organizational dualism being elevated to principle to be followed by all but I'm for organizational dualism when it makes sense in context.

syndicalist
Jul 3 2012 03:01

Nate, basically, all of this stuff you guys are putting out now, was never part of any internal discussions and so forth. And when you left WSA, you said, I ain't answering questions.

Edit: I mean you talk like every WSA member talked to you guys in a certain manner. I think like maybe two people (out of 50 plus) just really didn't care much for the IWW. I dunno, just seems a bit blown out. Like I said, even those who disagreed threw their support and money behind IWW campaigns;towards the Food Workers travel fund and so forth.

Anyway, if this is really how you feel, fine. A bit late, but fine.

Nate
Jul 3 2012 03:01
syndicalist wrote:
Nate, basically, all of this stuff you guys are putting out now, was never part of any internal discussions and so forth. And when you left WSA, you said, I ain't answering questions.

Anyway, if this is really how you feel, fine. A bit late, but fine.

Nah. I wrote you a long email about this and you said "thanks" and that's about it. I probly could have been clearer earlier on about these reservations but some people in the organization were jerks and that wasn't conducive to being super forthright about concerns. And from what I gather from gossip from current members I' not convinced that that's changed much. But yeah, okay, I'll own half of it: I should have voiced my concerns sooner. Fair play. And the other half is that you people should have noticed the problems before people started quitting over them. Given that this is still in part a conversation about being skeptical about at least some of the groups in the CSAC milieu, I think this confirms some of the over all points in Juan's piece.

Edit: I didn't get into it more detail in my resignation letter because I knew there was no way I was going to stay and so I didn't see the point in getting into an argument with any of you about it (I'm not sure what the point is not, actually...) and I really didn't want to encourage anyone else to quit. I wanted my resignation to be minimally disruptive, and I knew that several other members were unhappy. I don't know if they stayed members later or not, I don't ask (I know everyone of the recomp editors eventually quit but I know some of them stayed members a long while after).

syndicalist
Jul 3 2012 03:05
Quote:
Nah. I wrote you a long email about this and you said "thanks" and that's about

OK, after I wrote you and some others off list as to why you left. And this was many months later.

The bottom line is, really, the stuff coming out here is hindsight stuff, which is ok.

"Jerks".... I think all orgs got 'em. I see the IWW hasn't quite gotton rid of that factor either. But we all just try and control stuff the best we can, you know?

syndicalist
Jul 3 2012 03:13
Quote:
Nate: And the other half is that you people should have noticed the problems before people started quitting over them

FWIW, I think we tried to. And, TBH, when we all left the TC conference, everyine said they were "stoked" about doing stuff together. When in the TC, we could have collectively addressed issues. You know, it's a two way street when it comes to owning and dealing with stuff. And I know how many on and off list hours I spent with all of you folks trying to move things along, trying to make things run smoother and trying to keep all the multipule egos in tact. Well, it goes with the territory. Ya win some, get fooled sometimes and loose sometimes. Just another day in the rradical workers movement, ya kow?

syndicalistcat
Jul 3 2012 04:18

nate:

Quote:
I said something to the effect of "people committed to the IWW would discuss there work and other WSA members would rush to describe their reservations about the IWW"

I think i was always supportive of the organizing the IWW was doing. I'm referring to things like Jimmy Johns, SWU, and other projects. I don't think i ever suggested people should not be doing that or not doing it through the IWW. so i don't know what you're talking about.

In regard to the organizer training suggestion, I think that was a good idea.

Moreover, it seems that E.W.'s complaint was rather different, as we see here:

Quote:
when we see an independent group of workers in the W.S.A.and try and make the case for them linking up inside the IWW and that canned speach you just gave is aired on the list you are actually interfering in the organisational work of a 'mass' organisation that joined a political group to build itself.If that isn't the roll of the WSA

the "we" here I take it refers to E.W. & his IWW buds. this statement *could* be interpreted as saying that he & his buds were engaged in an entryist maneuver to recruit people from the WSA to help them with some political project inside the IWW. what he seems to be objecting to is that those who re-iterated the WSA's pluralist position were "interferring" with this entryist project of getting as many people in WSA to support his project as possible. If this interpretation is correct, then it seems to me that E.W.'s project here was not respectful of the spirit of the position of WSA as reflected in Where We Stand. in other words, note that he's not talking about interferring with some IWW organizing project apart from WSA but a project of people from IWW to recruit from within WSA.

E.W. continues:

Quote:
In other words your cookie cutter political line forged in a struggle from four decades ago was an impediment to organising and networking by currently active shop floor militants

but E.W. is assuming, falsely, that i would rest my case for a pluralistic perspective solely on my participation in SAEU 40 years ago. On the contrary, I would refer to plenty of contemporary organizing to indicate a variety of different possible directions -- workers centers, seattle solidarity network, union breakaways (like NUHW), and so on -- and I'd include the IWW in that list.

I had argued that having a distinct political organization doesn't imply agreement with the traditional Marxist tendency to push everything political into the party and capitulate to apoliticism in unions. but he responds:

Quote:
It's not different when the marxists do it because your political line is different, it's the same activity and is something prior to any other level of ideological activity because it is itself an ideological position.

but his conclusion doesn't follow. just because i allow that there could be multiple unions comrades might be involved in, A and B, it doesn't follow that they couldn't advocate for political unionism in each. from the fact that i didn't support a project of recruiting everybody in WSA into the IWW, why does that show I think political development of the IWW is not worthy or something I'd not support?

I'm sorry I'm being distracted...my cat just brought a lizard here. I have to take care of this...

i'm back. i just wanted to add that it's fine with me if Nate, E.W. and others wanted to go their own way. things sort themselves out and I have no problem with that. i'm not interested in being prosecutorial towards E.W. or anyone.