A reportback from the 2009 Class Struggle Anarchist Conference in Detroit, Michigan.
The Class Struggle Anarchist Conference (CSAC) is an event for pro-formal organization anarchists who believe in class struggle, involvement in mass movements, and that revolution is only possible coming from the diverse working people of the world--not an isolated or select minority of radicals. It is an invite-only conference and this year's was the second annual gathering of this sort in North America.
The sponsoring organizations were Buffalo Class Action, Common Action (Pacific Northwest), Common Cause (Ontario), Four Star Anarchist Organization (Chicago), Miami Autonomy and Solidarity, Michigan-Minnesota Group, Northeast Federation of Anarchist Communists (NEFAC), Solidarity and Defense (Detroit/Lansing), and the Workers Solidarity Alliance (WSA). This is my personal account of the weekend.
My arrival in Detroit preceded the start of the conference by one day. It was seemingly unexpected, but Solidarity & Defense folks responded well. One S & D comrade gave me a nearly 3 hour tour of the city, telling me various stories of working class agitation, whether it involved socialists, fascists, unions, or black nationalists. After a 15 hour bus trip and a combination of these tales, the site of hundreds of burnt out, abandoned buildings and devastated infrastructure was somewhat overwhelming for me. While definitely depressing, there's a feeling one gets from Detroit of potential and history that's inspiring, as well..
On Friday, I was mostly a passive observer while the local organizers of the conference found housing and made various plans for airport and bus station pickups. Wish I could have helped, but as an out of towner with no vehicle, there wasn't much I could do.
People were slowly and steadily coming into town and we met at a local bar that once served as the headquarters for the intense 1995 newspaper strikes. Over too many whiskeys on my part, I finally met folks that, until then, had only been faceless email addresses, browser crashing myspace profiles or impersonal Facebook accounts.
Although I woke up on Saturday suffering from a cold, a hacking cigarette cough and a general hangover, remembering the panels and workshops ahead, as well as unsafe amounts of black coffee, re-energized me. Here's some summaries of the what I attended.
This was the opening panel and consisted of short overviews of the history of the participating organizations. While a decent thing for people unfamiliar, I would have liked to have seen a more theoretical or tactical explanation of these groups. Time probably would have constrained this. Hearing â€œAndrew Flood is the Johnny Appleseed of North American anarchismâ€ made me laugh, though...
Began with excellent explanation of what a workers' center could be and how it can prefigure the goals of anarchists and libertarian socialists. It is true that, in this country, the concept is one that does not have one, solid definition and because of this, there is unlimited potential.
Organizer's experiences with the newly formed Lansing Workers Center, Centro Obrero in Detroit and direct action casework in Seattle were recalled and analyzed in a critical way by the four members of the panel.
Direct action casework was referred to as the class struggle anarchist's Food Not Bombs, and I would have to agree with this. This model, while having problems of its own, doesn't take a whole lot of resources besides having a telephone number and people willing to go and confront bosses and landlords with those having grievances. The model could definitely be tweaked to fit the purpose of whatever group of people decide to do it as well, just like FNB differs in its aims and purposes from city to city (and within cities?).
Intersectional Class Struggle Anarchism
Had a creeping feeling that this was going to be a point of contention and bitter disputes, but it went well. Knowing marginally what the two panelists meant by the title, I felt already in agreement, but they provided more. They provided a theoretical framework and background for this conception, where it came from, how some have misused it, its potentials and limits in a way I was only slightly familiar with previously.
While most likely directed or geared towards those who are or deal with class reductionists, it was personally valuable as a way to deal with gender, sexuality and race reductionists. That is something I deal with far more.
Anarchists In The Workplace
This consisted of folks involved with the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) or traditional trade unions and their experiences with agitating and organizing. One account that I enjoyed was a Wobbly describing how some of their co-workers became acquainted with anarchism to the point where they either acknowledged its worth or eventually became anarchists themselves. It is often underestimated how these types of day-to-day interactions lead people to become radicalized.
There were two important issues raised, while not having too much discussion around them, need to be explored if we are serious about a revolutionary movement.
What is the role, if any, of anarchists in relation to the AFL-CIO/Change to Win unions? While some of the participating organizations have position papers and such about this question, some do not. And regardless of a paper, what is a concrete strategy to implement these positions?
Is it time to seriously start a dialogue about where anarchists should work? While I realize this isn't something that everyone can choose, for some it is. Where are areas where we can have the most influence, success and spread our ideas? These questions tie in to our relations with the unions as well, as they would often determine the character of our struggles.
This has been a topic of debate going on several months now. As the level of duel members, increasing cooperation and closer outlooks have manifested, so has the idea for a national or continental body of class struggle anarchists. The three people on the panel gave their own or their group's views on the question.
Some of the pros for regroupment given were a larger skillbase, no replication of isolated work, increased financial resources, improved ability for â€œsocial insertionâ€, more political development and better to reach the outside world with.
Among the cons stated were the possibility of an energy drain for the decision making process if delegate structure isn't used, political differences arising, and if the process is done quickly, it may fall apart just as quick.
In the end, it seemed most of everyone is for regroupment, there are just disagreements on the process and timetable of it.
Nature Of the Period & The Task Ahead
I wished this had been given more time and been more focused. Unfortunately, it was cut short and people were also generally tired because of the previous night's social gathering.
The first panelist stated that in Latin America and Europe, many groups frequently assess the situation and context they find themselves in. This helps them decide what work they will do and how they will do it. With the economic crisis, demobilization of what pathetically passes as the left following Obama's election, and the rise of a right-wing populist movement, we find ourselves in a very particular situation. One in which American anarchists have not done a good job in assessing.
The second panelist mentioned that during The Great Depression, stabilization in the markets occurred before a movement with revolutionary potential sprung up. Taking anarchists to task for our lackluster response to the crisis, he suggests that people are going to look for answers and they will or are turning to the Democratic Party, social democracy, religion, black nationalism, neofascism and Leninism for them.
Eventually, I had to leave and missed the informal discussion as the conference came to a close. Leaving energized, I look forward to any projects, campaigns, discussion or work that may come out of CSAC-II and immensely enjoyed the company of the individuals attending, even if it required two 15 hour bus trips on my part...