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

Kittenization
Jul 3 2012 03:32
Quote:
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.

I like this and have been arguing this point for a long time now. I hate it when an organizational form gets twisted into a panacea or formula that has to be followed in order for us to bring about the pretty complicated and difficult changes we want to bring about (to the extent that we agree on those things to be changed - and lord knows we don't have a ton of agreement about that). It's something that's turned me off of hardline dual org folks as well as hardline positions around other organizational forms (i.e. informal groups, IWW, Solnets, etc.).

In my experience, I've found locals of political organizations doing some pretty dope stuff and some stuff that doesn't excite me at all. The same can be said of informal groups, the IWW, and any number of other organizational forms. This has also been my experience with different organizational forms in the context of ongoing organizing I've personally been involved with, though I haven't had any experience with the IWW (other than sending in dues fifteen years ago and never getting a red card!).

I'm glad this conversation is happening, though. As a member, I think "pluralism" is often more a posture than a practice in WSA, at least around certain positions. I remember when I joined being lectured why ideas I liked were "incompatible" with social anarchism and the like. We could definitely have less conversations in those sorts of polarizing ways and benefit a lot from it. I can see where Nate is coming from here, particularly since those ideas were also feeding into the things I was organizing around at the time.

I have a load of other thoughts about this stuff, but probably won't ever have time to write them out. But I'd love to talk it over with some of ya'll who have my number! =)

klas batalo
Jul 3 2012 03:45

@nate it's not about line but about folks who think the iww is enough i.e. it is political-economic, don't really seem to be promoting a strategy of developing collective political education and training within the union. maybe you wouldn't call that a grouping of tendency, just like maybe we shouldn't call recomposition a political organization, but i do think folks who have such ideas and are arguing that political work can be done by such an organization i would hope would be coordinating towards those ends. i'd love to help and further discuss with any recomposition or other folks who think that is needed in the union, and my organizer friend has a workshop on thinking about this in mass organizations called "towards an organizing worldview" here is a brief synopsis of it:

Quote:
This workshop illuminates the ways our overall vision of change connects to our "world view" (ideology) and how right-wing ideology creates obstacles in our day to day organizing. How do we counter the influence of oppressive ideologies in our day-to-day work? How can we intentionally recognize these dynamics in ways that improve our work rather than isolate us? By openly these dynamics from an organizing point of view we can grapple with ways to incorporate ideology into our organizing without falling into traps that result in our views resonating only with other committed radicals.
klas batalo
Jul 3 2012 04:03

@cat & @edmontonwobbly and others...

i think part of this which is hard for us to grasp is i think there might be a mix of perceptions on what the role of a revolutionary organization should be.

i don't think E.W. was arguing/practicing entryism.

what he was saying was that he thought a group like the wsa was supposed to help himself and others as mass militants do their work better, to be able to caucus and network with other revolutionary level militants that could help them better coordinate and organize with the iww or other mass organizations.

i've also seen nate say this before, that they joined the wsa or they felt they saw others join the wsa because people thought it would help them do political work within the iww, when just doing political work within the iww is what will help doing political work within the iww. instead nate has repeatedly stated he feels instead it drives people to do political work outside or at least disconected from direct involvement in the iww or other mass organizing.

personally i think you can do political work outside and inside the iww, one could focus more or less on one or the other of those options. but i currently am a member of a political organization, i do a little bit of outside political work and what could be called activism outside of the iww, but the main amount of my activity and organizing is in the iww, and has been since i joined. i really don't think being in a political organization has affected my ability at all to do that work, but perhaps that is because i never entered under the presumptions that political orgs were the cure all for political issues in the iww. i would say i have gotten other organizing experience through participation in political orgs that has benefited me generally as an organizer. i've also built connections and relationships with some of the most committed iww members by finding out they were or were around such political organizations.

i just think of it all as extra. what most matters in the long run is the mass struggle of the proletariat. i'll join whatever group or form i find beneficial towards those ends.

klas batalo
Jul 3 2012 04:52

I decided to reply in such a way to get back to the OP.

Juan Conatz wrote:
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.

I guess the "NEFAC clones" and assorted other pro-organizational anarchist groups did. But WSA and NEFAC's lineage sort of precede this. I know that before NEFAC many of those involved were either in the Northeast Anarchist Front or the Atlantic Anarchist Circle, and before that in or around Love and Rage. The debates between red vs green anarchy, etc really did seem more like natural debates started in a chaotic way than any planned or outright reaction of certain groups of anarchists.

Quote:
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.

Of course this is not acceptable. I don't think we should relate this way to the "non-organized" anarchist movement or the rest of the Left. I'm not saying we have to work with everybody but there is a principled way to work with others, and we should seek alliances that make sense. My main issue with this though is it is a very nice stereotyped narrative that I feel really obscures the point.

Quote:
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.

Really? I think this is really schematic and abstract description of a more complicated actual practice. I don't know any organized anarchists who say that mass organizations and class organizations should be non-political or apolitical. I do know of some that say they should be open to the whole class. I also know that many understand that at least some political limits should be put on that, perhaps like plz no fascists. I think most anarchists in contemporary political organizations believe very strongly that the working class must liberate itself and not be lead by any minority. That doesn't mean that minorities within the class still can't be influential towards such ends. And in fact isn't that even what in someways minority unionism is about, or in point out that many "mass" organizations are in fact "minority" on the day to day basis.

Quote:
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.

Sure this could be done. But I really don't know who could do it authoritatively. Not saying it isn't worth doing, but I am sure there are many opinions.

Quote:
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 them. 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.

Really this sort of claim needs the naming of names and back up really. I know of a few stewards. A lot of those folks have been Wobblies too. Also it seems really still in the spirit of trying to label such organizations Leninist. It's like saying dual unionism is Leninist. It is trying to imply that social insertion is a form of entryism, and that really misunderstands the concept IMHO.

For an accurate example of social insertion one only has to look towards the Occupy Movement, and how after 20+ years since the fall of the Soviet Union, the default methods of organizing if not standard ideology on the Left is basically anarchist or close to wanting to be so, i.e. most Communists and Socialists try to pretend to be "from below" these days.

Quote:
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.

I addressed this earlier, but I'd agree. Really both types of practices are sort of a yin and yang. No matter what you label the organization you are going to have elements of both.

Quote:
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.

This really doesn't touch on the theoretical unity aspect. I think most organizations in the last few years have recognized that we have a large degree of tactical flexibility, and instead have tried to work towards framing our organizing within more internal work on building a strategic framework for what we do. I feel in the next few years people will be starting to see more about that. Personally I think it is good that members are involved in such a wide variety of projects.

Quote:
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.

I think I have addressed this elsewhere. But in some organizations these trainings do exist. I do agree though that they should be promoted and more widely spread through out the movement. Decentralization works, and that is why more young anarchists are gonna reprint and distro zines and organizing guides they find on zinelibrary.info or libcom.org than they are gonna if well CSAC groups or the IWW for that matter don't publish our thoughts and methodologies for organizing. I don't see what the big issue would be with doing so. The rest of the left publishes such books, though they do often cost an arm and a leg. We should pirate all of their books and publish our materials for free also. That would be in the true spirit of self-organization.

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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).

This is really an issue of development and yes I think it is an issue, but it isn't as if again this is not an issue that effects the IWW as well. I might have said this elsewhere but for 3 years (from 2007 to 2010) I didn't get any training in the IWW and I almost left. In fact I only learned about the training because I was a member of a political organization by that point (late 2010). To me it seems like no coincidence that this period 2007-2012 has been when the libertarian left has decided to get a bit more serious about education and training. This same period being when the CSAC groups started that network and started to share with each other about their organizing and starting to try to reflect on where we are going.

Quote:
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.

All I can say is I've seen tendencies towards both though I think in my time the last 2 years in political orgs I've seen a shift more towards the latter of taking seriously the need to have revolutionary organizers also be capable mass organizers.

R. Spourgitis
Jul 3 2012 06:03

The latest position on the political organization from Nate, Juan and EW...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gAYL5H46QnQ

MAN!! You can't build the class struggle through reading groups and failed social insertion strategies!

wink

Abbey Volcano
Jul 3 2012 11:54
Kittenization wrote:
I'm glad this conversation is happening, though. As a member, I think "pluralism" is often more a posture than a practice in WSA, at least around certain positions. I remember when I joined being lectured why ideas I liked were "incompatible" with social anarchism and the like. We could definitely have less conversations in those sorts of polarizing ways and benefit a lot from it. I can see where Nate is coming from here, particularly since those ideas were also feeding into the things I was organizing around at the time.

Yeah, this happened to me, too. Practically quit in the first few weeks over it.

Anyway, I can't believe I just read syndicalistcat all but accuse Edmonton Wobbly "and his buds" of entryism. I think I'll go back to sleep now.

syndicalistcat
Jul 3 2012 17:05
Quote:
I can't believe I just read syndicalistcat all but accuse Edmonton Wobbly "and his buds" of entryism

i never thought that when he was a member of WSA. i'm just taking the passage i quoted at face value. i said it COULD be interpreted that way. but I don't profess to be a mind-reader. maybe E.W. expressed himself in a misleading way. as i said i don't want to be accusatory, but am here responding to criticisms directed at me. I think it would be more helpful to avoid personalizing things and talk about the politics, but others seem to want to personalize.

Uncontrollable
Jul 3 2012 18:46
Kittenization wrote:
Quote:
I remember when I joined being lectured why ideas I liked were "incompatible" with social anarchism and the like.

What were those ideas?

klas batalo
Jul 3 2012 19:24
syndicalistcat wrote:
Quote:
I can't believe I just read syndicalistcat all but accuse Edmonton Wobbly "and his buds" of entryism

i never thought that when he was a member of WSA. i'm just taking the passage i quoted at face value. i said it COULD be interpreted that way. but I don't profess to be a mind-reader. maybe E.W. expressed himself in a misleading way. as i said i don't want to be accusatory, but am here responding to criticisms directed at me. I think it would be more helpful to avoid personalizing things and talk about the politics, but others seem to want to personalize.

Again i think you misread this Cat and not that it can be interpreted that way. this is what EW said:

Quote:
when we see an independent group of workers in the W.S.A. i.e. folks who have no union but seem interested in doing workplace stuff and try and make the case for them linking up inside the IWW and that canned speech you just gave is aired on the list you are actually interfering in the organisational work of members of a 'mass' organisation that joined a political group to build itself. If that isn't the role of the WSA

i can see how this can still come off a little weird. but if these people entered the WSA thinking it could help them build the IWW and that is what political groups were getting sold to them as, groups that can help you strategize on how to better do your mass work and build your mass work. i can see why EW and others would have thought that was the role, that they thought was slated for the WSA and why they thought suggesting folks perhaps consider joining the IWW or going to it's trainings might be a good idea, especially if they were already unaffiliated.

EdmontonWobbly
Jul 3 2012 19:29

Is there actually any ambiguity on this point? Are political groups that don't see themselves as vanguardist there for anything other than advancing mass libertarian formations?

I mean would someone who joined the CNT stand accused of "entryism" into the FAI if they felt that certain practices in the FAI were holding them back?

I would think anything other than that, is in fact, vanguardism.

syndicalistcat
Jul 3 2012 20:34
Quote:
Is there actually any ambiguity on this point? Are political groups that don't see themselves as vanguardist there for anything other than advancing mass libertarian formations?

Right, advancing mass libertarian formations is the goal. I agree with that. But it's not clear how WSA not committing itself to the IWW as the one and only route for workplace organizational development hinders that.

Quote:
they thought suggesting folks perhaps consider joining the IWW or going to it's trainings might be a good idea, especially if they were already unaffiliated.

as i said, i agreed with the idea of people attending the organizer trainings. a constant theme of mine has been the need for the libertarian left to develop popular education infrastructure and the organizer trainings are maybe the only current example of this.

Nate
Jul 3 2012 22:32

Oof loads more here than I can get into. For now just in reply to Sabotage -

sabotage wrote:
folks who think the iww is enough i.e. it is political-economic

Just to make sure... people who find their goals being met through political organizations (or simply enjoy being in them) should stay in them. I do think some of the things that some people currently get out of their political organizations could be done in the IWW if we built the internal institutions necessary for that. I think that a lot people are always going to want more than the IWW can provide and some of those people are going to find that joining/starting a political organization's the right move for them. They should do what's right for them, but shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that in doing so they're building/improving the IWW. So I'm not really trying to say the "the IWW is enough" (organizationally speaking) for anyone other than me (and Juan and EdWob who have said they're on the same page). Again just so we're clear about this. This is different from me saying "no one should ever be an organizational dualist", it's just saying "not everyone should always be an organizational dualist."

sabotage wrote:
don't really seem to be promoting a strategy of developing collective political education and training within the union

I think we are and I thought I listed some examples of this. Some other examples include the resolutions currently up for consideration and which will be up for debate at the next convention, some of the sessions of the Workpeople's College happening right now, and the discussions on gender and race at the past organizing summits. So some of this kind of thing already happens. I just wish there was more of it and it was more explicitly planned. And as I said I think there aren't enough people doing this and there's not a lot of clarity about what it would look like. And as I tried to say I think that doing this kind of work within the IWW requires building some of the context or institutional channels (or simply the interpersonal relationships) required to make this happen - kind of like how a canal has to be dug before it can be filled with water.

sabotage wrote:
maybe you wouldn't call that a grouping of tendency, just like maybe we shouldn't call recomposition a political organization, but i do think folks who have such ideas and are arguing that political work can be done by such an organization i would hope would be coordinating towards those ends

I would just call it "a group of IWW members" or perhaps "a committee." I think there are some channels for this kind of work in the IWW right now - the Industrial Worker, the GOB, the email lists, and the various gatherings the organization holds - but there should be more, and like I said I think there's some relationship building that has to be done. Which is time consuming in an organization of the IWW's size. I know we're small in the grand scheme of things but I think just my branch and the Edmonton branch total to almost the size of all the CSAC groups and I think there are more IWW branches than there are members in most of the CSAC groups. That's not meant as a knock at anyone just saying that it's going to be a slow process.

I'm definitely up for discussing this stuff further though in terms of how to improve the IWW, and I'd prefer to move that discussion as quickly as possible into one that happens in and through IWW channels (again like the GOB and the IW and email lists, branch to branch communication/resolutions, etc). That's probly stuff to do elsewhere rather than on this thread though.

Edit: To bring it back toward the original post a bit and the theme of how in some instances organizational dualism isn't always best in the short term - I think part of why this kind of work hasn't been advanced further in the IWW is that a lot of times when people have started to want to do this kind of thing they've either quit the IWW or formed/joined another group and made the other group the place where they do this kind of work instead of doing it in the IWW. That's definitely what I did and I know loads of other people who have as well. I think that kind of division - where the political organization does the political stuff and the economic organization/mass organization does the economic stuff - is encouraged by organizational dualism at least as I understand. Again I'm not saying that this is always a bad move. It could very well be the best move for the individuals who make the move, or be best for the group they start/join, and in some cases it may also be the best move for the economic organization/mass organization. And it might be good for some of those and bad for others (I've seen people leave the IWW in ways that hurts the IWW but is good for them personally, and I've seen people stay in the IWW at personal costs to themselves where they really should scale back their involvement for their own good.) But yeah anyway I think at least some of the time part of why there's not been more and better political work in and by the IWW has been because of some people doing organizational dualism.

syndicalistcat
Jul 3 2012 20:51
Quote:
I think we are and I thought I listed some examples of this. Some other examples include the resolutions currently up for consideration and which will be up for debate at the next convention, some of the sessions of the Workpeople's College happening right now, and the discussions on gender and race at the past organizing summits.

I'm glad to hear about trends in this direction, such as the discussions about race & gender. Altho I've not been a member -- except for going to some San Francisco branch meetings for awhile in the '80s -- my impression has been inadequate political development in the IWW & fear of political discussion. I remember IWW members in the '80s opposing such discussion under the theme of "keeping politics out of the union" -- as if the IWW should follow the traditional AFL apoliticism. I have had some more recent discussions with IWW members (other than WSA or CSAC dual carders I mean) that did suggest getting past that earlier mentality.

But I still run into the old mentality sometimes. When I mentioned to a female IWW member the fact that the CGT in Spain has elected Women's Secretaries on all their regional committees & national committee, and periodic conferences of women members, which develop campaigns such as for free abortion on demand or against violence against women, she responded by getting defensive and saying that the elected women's secretaries "didn't mean anything." But in fact it does mean something. It's a formal expression of that syndicalist union's commitment to address the situation of working class women. The CGT also has social action secretaries for liaison with other social movement organizations they work with such as housing and ecology groups, and to work on campaigns related to issues outside the workplace. It seems to me these things are an expression of how the Spanish form of syndicalism is a political-economic unionism, and not apolitical. CNT also has social action secretaries as well.

EdmontonWobbly
Jul 3 2012 21:07
Quote:
don't really seem to be promoting a strategy of developing collective political education and training within the union

Our branch was really kickstarted by a council communist reading group. We also are doing a workshop series that goes a bit deeper into the political context of direct unionism, like tonight we have a panel talk from organisers in the public sector talking about organising against austerity, one from a group of librarians and archivists we work with, another with a student group we work closely with and another with a postal worker. The next talk is about developing a deeper analysis of capitalism and is pretty much a theory workshop.

Having said that I actually do think the emphasis should be on developing front lines organising skills and this -is- actually way more important than being theoretically correct and -is- in fact theoretical. We work really hard in our branch at including as much feminist and anti racist content into our on the job trainings as possible in order to develop this analysis in our members through organising.

Quote:
I'm definitely up for discussing this stuff further though in terms of how to improve the IWW, and I'd prefer to move that discussion as quickly as possible into one that happens in and through IWW channels (again like the GOB and the IW and email lists, branch to branch communication/resolutions, etc). That's probly stuff to do elsewhere rather than on this thread though.

I think I'm on the same page as Nate, I think we want to see more of this in the IWW though I also think this opens the door to too much of an orientation towards the activist left if it isn't grounded in organising people outside the social scene we tend to see ourselves marginalised in. After all the point of good organising isn't to sign up every kid who devours a zine it's to recruit people who are upset about the abuse of power they have been subjected to and to politicise them.

klas batalo
Jul 3 2012 23:31
Nate wrote:
This is different from me saying "no one should ever be an organizational dualist", it's just saying "not everyone should always be an organizational dualist."

I just wish there was more of it and it was more explicitly planned.

I think there's some relationship building that has to be done.

I'd prefer to move that discussion as quickly as possible into one that happens in and through IWW channels (again like the GOB and the IW and email lists, branch to branch communication/resolutions, etc).

I dig it, and agree with all of this.

Nate wrote:
I think that kind of division - where the political organization does the political stuff and the economic organization/mass organization does the economic stuff - is encouraged by organizational dualism at least as I understand.

I really don't agree with this schematic. Maybe it is in the theory of FdCA or some more classic platformist group somewhere, but it is not how I see shit play out on the daily in USA groups. At least in Boston and Providence where I've had most of my experience, I've never seen the organizers that developed me or any of us say that mass organizations should only do apolitical economic stuff. If anything I've seen this more from the Wobblies out here over the years, sort of like Tom says where the tendency towards wanting to only focus on the workplace or being a real union gets you people who refuse to be in solidarity with other working people's struggles like around transit, or housing, saying shit at the most extreme like "WE ARE A UNION, NOT A GOD DAMN POLITICAL ORGANIZATION!"

I think the IWW very much should focus on an organizing approach to involvement in other social movements, like EW says perhaps through social action and support committees like we see in Spain. I mean anyone who doesn't recognize we need community support and involvement is kidding themselves, even Unite-Here and SEIU are all about building these community campaigns. But there is a definite tension in the IWW still to only do workplace stuff, and that is why I'd like to do broader political education based in the organization like Nate says above.

Edit: Also I think if you only are doing political stuff in the specific organization and you are not also doing political stuff in mass organizations, I think you are doing it wrong.

Kittenization
Jul 4 2012 01:56
Uncontrollable wrote:
Kittenization wrote:
Quote:
I remember when I joined being lectured why ideas I liked were "incompatible" with social anarchism and the like.

What were those ideas?

Criticisms of identity politics that came out of queer politics and sexuality and gender.

EdmontonWobbly
Jul 4 2012 15:54
Quote:
At least in Boston and Providence where I've had most of my experience, I've never seen the organizers that developed me or any of us say that mass organizations should only do apolitical economic stuff.

I don't think the argument is that anyone is consciously advocating this position, I think the argument is that this is in effect what happens. I've certainly seen this in the IWW with folks from political organisations. Here's three examples:

Liberty and Solidarity definitely wanted to push the IWW in a more conventional unionist direction, trying to tone down the revolutionary tone, de-emphasising direct action in favour of representation etc. They generally pursued a more legalistic strategy and tried as a block to push the IWW in the UK in that direction.

Also look at the arguments coming out of certain long standing folks from Common Struggle with regards to the IWW and it's status as a union. I mean we had an NLRB staff person in Common Struggle argue that the IWW should pursue more of a contractual strategy, move more towards building certifications and contract negotiations and try to be less of a revolutionary organisation. This has a pretty long history too, going back to NEFAC, with folks from several unions going into staff positions and holding the same opinions on the IWW.

Hell even some folks in MAS, who I otherwise agree with on a lot of points, have argued that the IWW should ditch the preamble because that sort of revolutionary language is a barrier to organising apolitical workers.

It may not be intentional but the argument is in effect that the mass organisation should fit the ideal type of what a mass organisation should look like. Again instead of the categories of analysis used as explanatory models for what exists they are used as a yard stick to judge organisations as ideal specimens of their 'type'.

Quote:
I think the IWW very much should focus on an organizing approach to involvement in other social movements, like EW says perhaps through social action and support committees like we see in Spain.

Our IWW branch has what's called a 'solidarity committee', it has an officer that acts as secretary and a small budget. They coordinate attendance at rallies (anything from the pride parade to first nations solidarity, to feminist events around town), they also coordinate picket support too.

Honestly though there is also something to be said for having some focus and making priorities. I do think that building the IWW as a militant workplace formation should be the priority. You can't give meaningful solidarity without building a constituency first and that means sometimes people are too busy meeting with workers, developing organising skills and helping people plan actions on the job to attend every rally in town.

If there has been anything that's been destructive to long term organising in our town it has been the band wagon tendency to jump from issue to issue without ever building anything lasting. The most effective organising is usually pretty unglamorous for a really long time.

klas batalo
Jul 4 2012 16:48
Quote:
I mean we had an NLRB staff person in Common Struggle argue that the IWW should pursue more of a contractual strategy, move more towards building certifications and contract negotiations and try to be less of a revolutionary organisation. This has a pretty long history too, going back to NEFAC, with folks from several unions going into staff positions and holding the same opinions on the IWW.

Just think I should point out this person is now a supporter, and that most of those other people left the organization many years ago, and became not only union staff, but some have become christians, statists, etc. But it is hardly a unified position our organization has taken and was always a minority of folks who were interested in this route. People can look at our (yes fairly old) workplace position paper on where we stand on such issues, in many respects it is as pluralist as the WSA, but takes a bit of a harder stance on the integration of unions into the state/left of capital.

EdmontonWobbly
Jul 4 2012 17:21

Okay, sure but it still leaves the position from MAS and Liberty and Solidarity though within the IWW. These are also pretty recent examples, all of these folks have moved on sure but we're talking about the last twelve years here, not forty.

Also just to be clear I'm not saying this has a lot to do with the expressed political sympathies of members or the written positions of organisations, I'm saying an arrangement where you have one group doing political work (theory) and another group doing mass work (practice) tends to favour a certain way of thinking about these problems- regardless of what they say they are doing.

I mean look at a lot of the examples that folks who express sympathy for political organisations are using in this thread. They are historical examples, there are theoretical examples and examples from other countries and places. These are important to study and understand but I see a lot less examples from people's currently existing mass work, partly because running a political organisation takes a lot of time and commitment, both of those are resources you have to split between two groups. So you do have a real choice to make, you either work on political work, you work on mass work or you do both and have no life and probably crash and burn.

Another example is heavy involvement in the Unite-Here salt program. Now I may be off base because unions vary a lot but I'm skeptical that you have much room for organising against "the integration of unions into the state/left of capital" as essentially foot soldiers without a lot of real decision making power over negotiations or campaign strategy. This is easier to swallow when the political organisation, that doesn't have a policy of recruiting pissed off workers from the floor, is where most of the talk about strategy and ideology happens. If it isn't happening in the political organisation again this brings up the question of what is the point of the organisation?

There would actually be a lot more room for political agitation if you got jobs in the Hotels themselves, as members you can say what you like to officials and speak up in meetings but if you enter in as staff you have very little power over the direction of the union (and frankly you shouldn't, you're staff).

Joseph Kay
Jul 4 2012 19:29

I'm reluctant to chime back in here as I'm pretty ignorant of the US context and there's obviously some hurt feelings too, so these comments are intended more generally as I can't comment on the specifics above.

EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Also just to be clear I'm not saying this has a lot to do with the expressed political sympathies of members or the written positions of organisations, I'm saying an arrangement where you have one group doing political work (theory) and another group doing mass work (practice) tends to favour a certain way of thinking about these problems- regardless of what they say they are doing.

I think the 'unintended consequences' thing is an interesting one. In a general sense, it highlights the danger of dreaming up 'ideal type' organisational forms detached from actually doing them (personally I've become more reluctant to engage in these kind of discussions on libcom without explicit reference to practice), because things can go against your expectations in practice and force you to revise the theory.

I think the point about separating theory (political org) and practice (union) is also important. Maybe it doesn't have to be so, but there seems like a strong tendency for this separation to operate as a hierarchy between directors and directed. Which brings me to the historical examples ( wink ). Part of the AAUD-E/Rulhe split with the AUUD/KAPD was over this relation (the separation of the explicit politics from the point of production), effectively merging the party into the union.

The opposite problem happened with the FAI within the CNT. They formed not so much to change the CNT but keep it the way it was against a growing reformist tendency. This was successful, but the price was creating an internal division between a political leadership and the rank-and-file (even while the former were mandated, recallable) which turned disastrous after July '36 when the leadership was co-opted against the militant sections of the rank-and-file (e.g. the May Days).

I think something like L&S is the opposite - there the explicit goal is to depoliticise the union and do politics as a specific organisation (presumably vying with other political organisations/tendencies for control of the union exec, 'ruthlessly smashing' opponents and so on). So it's not so much unintended consequences as the explicit aim. Nobody on this thread seems to subscribe to that kind of political/economic division of labour, i.e. 'no politics in the union' is interpreted as no big-P party Politics as opposed to developing theory, discussing issues of oppression, self-education with regard to understandings of capitalism and communism etc. This reminds me of Pepe Gomez' comments (a CNT militant in the Puerto Real shipyard disputes in the 80s):

Pepe Gomez wrote:
There are two points inherited from a marxist perspective. First of all, marxism separates the political and the economic to try and promote the idea of economic unions, unions that deal purely and simply with economic issues, whereas the political issues are tackled by the political party. Secondly, we are left with the need to struggle against the whole culture that has been built up around delegating activities, around delegating power to others. Anarcho-syndicalism is trying to oppose these negative legacies of marxism, so that people are actually re-educated in order to destroy this culture of dependency and to build up a new kind of culture that is based on activity and action for people, by themselves.

Which then leaves the question of whether formal political organisation of a non-party type is the best vehicle to develop this, or whether informal editorial type groupings made up of union members a la Recomp are more appropriate. Tbh that's a practical question more than a theoretical one. In theory a political org could join the IWW (or indeed the CNT) in order to develop its internal political culture and act in a co-ordinated way to build up the institutions to support political self-education and ongoing theoretical development. But this might also backfire in practice e.g. by drawing the most 'political' militants out of the union to do their theoretical discussions elsewhere (i.e. in meetings of the political org).

Nate
Jul 4 2012 19:58

Joseph, what's a good starter on that German and Spanish history stuff? I don't know anything about any of it. I keep meaning to learn but I'm intimidated by the amount of material there is.

I also want to add, earlier in this conversation some folk were like "you have these criticisms of other groups but isn't recomposition pretty similar?" and thinking about it now I think there are tendencies or stuff that push-and-pull in that direction. To where recomp could end up having a similar issue of being detached from the IWW and (and this is the real concern) having the effect of encouraging that kind of detachment. I'm open to that and I think those of us in the recomp editorial group should be frank and self-critical about that (at least those of us who are more pro- the IWW as a self-sufficient/unitary political-economic organization).

EdmontonWobbly wrote:
running a political organisation takes a lot of time and commitment, both of those are resources you have to split between two groups. So you do have a real choice to make, you either work on political work, you work on mass work or you do both and have no life and probably crash and burn.

^ This. And there's also... like an identity issue and an issue of people's individual trajectories, or like what's the center of gravity socially and interpersonally. What I mean is, if someone goes to an awesome anarchist event involving talking anarchism with anarchists, it's likely to make the person want to go to more things that involve talking anarchism with anarchists. (And that's part of the point of anarchist political organizations, right? I don't mean that flippantly - anarchist organizations are about gathering anarchists together based on their shared values and analysis in order to deepen their grasp of those values and to build anarchist-to-anarchist relationships.) Similar dynamics play out if someone goes to an awesome IWW event involving talking IWW with IWW members. So it's an issue of where people go for what kind of awesome experience, and what kind of awesome experiences they try to create for what constituency.

As the IWW continues to grow in numbers and in quality I'd like to see as much as possible of the awesome experiences that members have be ones that happen within the IWW and which make them want to be more involved in the IWW. I think this is more likely to happen through IWW events that are about building the IWW than through things involving people who gather around some other common thing (being anarchists) and involving a mix of IWW members, non-members who are interested and supportive non-members, and non-members who are indifferent or skeptical.

I'm sort of repeating myself but I think we should orient toward building the capacity of IWW members to think collectively via internal organizational units of the IWW, whether formal or informal. I think this is already underway sort of organically in the organization but it could be a lot better. So that the places where people go for considering political issues - whether small-scale and short term like issues of policy or how to do better organizing, or more large scale like analysis of capitalism, or really fundamental like issues of core social values and vision of social revolution - are places that are 1) within the IWW 2) made up of IWW members 3) conducted in relation to the IWW's current working existence and practical concerns and 4) conducted as much as possible in vocabularies open to all IWW members. It also means, more simply, IWW members spending time building institutions of the IWW. It's fine and good if IWW members build institutions of other organizations, but it doesn't help the IWW.

And like I've suggested here I think this stuff is somewhat in tension with building up the political organizations. I don't want to be rude but I think if we drew a map and stuck in grey pins for the most dynamic IWW branches and blue pins for the most dynamic political organizations we wouldn't see many spots with both gray and blue pins. And where we did I think we'd find the overlap in people and activity between the two would be pretty rare.

Joseph Kay
Jul 4 2012 20:17
Nate wrote:
Joseph, what's a good starter on that German and Spanish history stuff? I don't know anything about any of it. I keep meaning to learn but I'm intimidated by the amount of material there is.

tbh, I'm not sure there's good introductory texts. i've spent much of the past 2 years or so wading through loads of disparate stuff trying to get my head around it (i.e. most texts are from a pretty clear ideological positions, so you have to read several to triangulate in on what's consensus, what's disputed, etc). best thing is probably the forthcoming SF pamphlet, which summarises a lot of the above and has further reading recommendations. I'm not saying that to blow our own trumpet, part of the reason we felt the need to write a long pamphlet was that loads of this history is otherwise obscure and intimidating, so it can serve as a summary/point of entry. We'll send Recomp a review copy as soon as the final edits are done.

syndicalistcat
Jul 5 2012 03:43
Quote:
I mean look at a lot of the examples that folks who express sympathy for political organisations are using in this thread. They are historical examples, there are theoretical examples and examples from other countries and places. These are important to study and understand but I see a lot less examples from people's currently existing mass work, partly because running a political organisation takes a lot of time and commitment,

well, if this is a reference to me, I really spend little time "running a political organization" apart from going to a monthly meeting. I've not had any responsible position for years. From 2000 to 2010 all my efforts were in the local housing movement. And i've been retired since 2007. I do spend time reading about labor struggles & history and doing interviews, including worker interviews. But by implication, then, older comrades who are retired have nothing of value worth listening to, nor do writers who study labor history & do interviews but are not themselves engaged in shopfloor organizing. Better toss out all of Staughton Lynd's works.

But, hey, the entire libertarian milieu in North America is ageist.

EDIT: I think part of the point of a political group is that it can bring together people who are involved in a variety of areas of struggle, to share perspectives. For example, workplace & tenant struggles or tenant organizing. Also, it can, in principle, bring together people across generations, if it lasts that long. And there is the whole issue of what to do in regard to the sectors where existing business unions are entrenched. So, is a single mass organization going to exist throughout all the areas of struggle?

klas batalo
Jul 5 2012 00:17
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Okay, sure but it still leaves the position from MAS and Liberty and Solidarity though within the IWW.

Liberty and Solidarity is not a North American group so I don't see how this relates to Juan's piece. Also they seem to even water down what they are as a revolutionary organization to saying they are socialist/syndicalist, and they are starting a new Monattist network the IRSN, but again I don't see how this relates.

MAS as far as I am aware has a few members who believe you won't have revolutionary mass organizations until a revolutionary period (sorry if that is a gross oversimplification from the folks I've heard this from, I am sure Scott Nappalos could tune in about that). I know however that Scott doesn't think this is necessarily so, so it is hardly a position.

EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Another example is heavy involvement in the Unite-Here salt program.

This is just really baseless. It is not like we have any strategy of "heavy involvement" in Unite-Here. Also seriously in WSA and CS there has been barely under a handful of folks out of around 80-90 people total that have done salting with U-H or flirted with it. I did try to become a salt but left pretty early on when the staff guy who knew I was an anarchist basically called me an ultra-leftist for posting the piece from libcom.org on unions (O.o) Also everything I learned about the union and how it operated for me didn't give me a sense that they really believed in self-management of the workers committee, nevermind workers autonomy. I could get into my critique more at some other point, but basically it amounts to agreeing to what you laid out after this sentance quoted above.

EdmontonWobbly wrote:
There would actually be a lot more room for political agitation if you got jobs in the Hotels themselves, as members you can say what you like to officials and speak up in meetings but if you enter in as staff you have very little power over the direction of the union (and frankly you shouldn't, you're staff).

Just so you know this is what you actually do as a salt for Unite-Here get a job as a normal worker. The union doesn't even give you the perk of giving you a card for being their bird dog. So there is the possibility per se to go against the grain and have "more room for political agitation" but the union is most likely going to do everything in it's power to isolate you if you do, and I've seen this happen to salts who go against the line, or try different methods.

klas batalo
Jul 5 2012 01:21
Quote:
what's a good starter on that German and Spanish history stuff? I don't know anything about any of it. I keep meaning to learn but I'm intimidated by the amount of material there is.

For histories of the German Communist Left:
libcom.org/files/dutchleft.pdf
http://libcom.org/library/communist-left-germany-1918-1921
http://libcom.org/history/councilist-movement-germany-1914-1935-history-aaud-e-tendency-grupo-de-comunistas-de-con
http://libcom.org/library/origins-movement-workers-councils

This piece might also be interesting considering the current discussion:
http://libcom.org/library/question-neoplatformism-critiques-mystifications-solutions-roi-ferreiro

klas batalo
Jul 5 2012 03:01
Joseph Kay wrote:
I think the 'unintended consequences' thing is an interesting one. In a general sense, it highlights the danger of dreaming up 'ideal type' organisational forms detached from actually doing them (personally I've become more reluctant to engage in these kind of discussions on libcom without explicit reference to practice), because things can go against your expectations in practice and force you to revise the theory.

Right on. I think this really gets to the issue. I feel like this whole thread has been generally two sides of folks with a little bit in between. Some folks saying "how do you explain then, how my mass organization is involved in political struggle?" and then others saying "how do you explain them, how my specific organization is involved in mass struggles?"

I guess in the end run I just think the case hasn't been made that SolFed and the IWW have a more workerist orientation, or that political-economic organization basically amounts to political-workplace organization with community solidarity on the side. As I outlined earlier in the thread, sure that is fine if that is people's thing, but I think any type of revolutionary minority organization can be "political-economic" in this period, and preferably would coordinate across many different sectors as they are increasingly able, not just one i.e. the whole community not just the workplace. Yea certainly you would need some sort of division of labor, but I don't know if it is useful to divide separately and make new organizations for each sector or just do it internally? I guess I am agnostic/leaning towards doing it internally.

Nate wrote:
I also want to add, earlier in this conversation some folk were like "you have these criticisms of other groups but isn't recomposition pretty similar?" and thinking about it now I think there are tendencies or stuff that push-and-pull in that direction. To where recomp could end up having a similar issue of being detached from the IWW and (and this is the real concern) having the effect of encouraging that kind of detachment. I'm open to that and I think those of us in the recomp editorial group should be frank and self-critical about that (at least those of us who are more pro- the IWW as a self-sufficient/unitary political-economic organization).

Yeah, this is pretty much all I was getting to when originally bringing this up.

Nate wrote:
So that the places where people go for considering political issues - whether small-scale and short term like issues of policy or how to do better organizing, or more large scale like analysis of capitalism, or really fundamental like issues of core social values and vision of social revolution - are places that are 1) within the IWW 2) made up of IWW members 3) conducted in relation to the IWW's current working existence and practical concerns and 4) conducted as much as possible in vocabularies open to all IWW members.

I dig this as far as the IWW goes, but perhaps I am far too ultra-left in my end analysis, and I do think organizations like the IWW will eventually face limits if even mildly successful on a larger scale and will need to be superseded. This goes back to my statement earlier that the IWW is more like the AAUD. Here is a quote from some Origins of the Movement for Workers Councils in Germany:

Quote:
With the change of name [referring to KAUD], there was a change of conception. Up till then, council communism had only taken note of the 'organised class'. Both the AAUD and the AAUD-E had believed from the beginning that it would be they who would organise the working class, that millions would rally to them. It was an idea close to that of revolutionary syndicalism, which looked forward to seeing all the workers join their unions, then the working class would be an 'organised class'.

This analysis from the GIKH is that the AAUD/AAUD-E idea of unitary political-economic organization was pretty much along the lines of "One Big Unionism" for the whole working class. I think this is something in practice that we really have to think about especially when all new members are still given the One Big Union pamphlet, and many new people we are bringing into the union can end up taking it literally.

Edit: Also in looking towards the AAUD and AAUD-E I think you can just look at their program to see how if some IWW and SolFed folks are looking towards them how they were pretty specifically workerist:

http://libcom.org/history/program-aaud

Quote:
The mission of the AAUD is to carry out the revolution in the workplace. It takes the political and economic education of the workers seriously.

So my continued question is what do folks think about organization outside the workplace? Is the answer that we should have workplace focused revolutionary organizations and separate community focused revolutionary organizations? Alas Recomposition's subtitle has been "Towards a New Workerism" so perhaps this really is folks' deal?

klas batalo
Jul 5 2012 01:55

PS: I don't know if I said this earlier or not but I really really look forward to the new SolFed pamphlet, I hope it clears up a lot.

Nate
Jul 5 2012 03:14
sabotage wrote:
what do folks think about organization outside the workplace? Is the answer that we should have workplace focused revolutionary organizations and separate community focused revolutionary organizations?

yes, in my opinion.

klas batalo
Jul 5 2012 02:55

hey thanks for the clarification on the second part. quite helpful.

again i guess i'm just sorta agnostic about that/think we'll have to agree to disagree.

(sort of randomly) i think interesting to point out is that CS allows for territorial organizations or workplace ones:

Quote:
4.1 The basic unit of the organization is the Local Union, which consists of three or more members in a given area or workplace.

it is a bit of a hang over from when we had collectives, but sort of interesting now that i think about it. theoretically this sorta models how there are gmbs and shop branches.
...

yeah probs a non sequitur, like fuck those people, but i guess it is very easy for people who don't really know what is going on with recomp, or who don't know you all personally probably especially because of some of that "no politics in the union" sentiment that is still sometimes around, but also the idk if it really was useful pointing that out, but generally more i agree that there could be a tendency towards that, and it seems you should follow through with what you think would be a better direction.

Nate
Jul 5 2012 03:11

No prob, and htanks for the refs to that german stuff. On the workplace vs community stuff, I'm not against all attempts to combine stuff in all contexts. Seasol seems like it does a good job of combining tenant and workplace stuff, for instance. I'm for people doing whatever works for them and I'm for experimentation. I could imagine in some places that there could be great organizations built uniting teachers and parents and students around fighting school closures, or bus riders and bus drivers, or tenants and building service personnel being in the same group.

I just meant that I'm against the IWW getting into much beyond workplace organizing because of what I think the IWW is suited for and what I want it to grow into. I think there are lots of worthwhile important projects that the IWW is not very well suited to. Like anti-police brutality work, and stuff around immigration, and around sexual assault - there are aspects of that stuff that the IWW could address but aspects of that work is going to be stuff the IWW is ill-suited for and so people who want to make that their main emphasis should make some other organization their main work. I'm for there being lots of organizations working on various kinds of things and combining things in various ways that make sense of the group doing the work.