the relevancy of anarcho-syndicalism

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Common Struggle
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Oct 3 2006 07:00
the relevancy of anarcho-syndicalism

a few more or less random thoughts:

i've been coming more and more to the conclusion that anarcho-syndicalism was conceived of at a time when it was still possible to consider working legally within the framework of capitalist democracy, but since the conflict between capitalism and democracy has been resolved in the favour of plutocracy (which conceals itself by assuming the forms and language of democracy and invokes democratic ideals at the same moment it destroys them), i'm not sure that's true any longer.

the existence of plutocracy implies open class rule with associated ideologically-driven illusions to keep us confused with the idea that we're still living in a democracy. the unions have become totally incorporated into the system of control and thwart the pursuit of workers' rights while maintaining the pretense that they aid it.

i wonder if the open class rule being developed now is simply the conditions of the social democratic class compromise being reinvented under a different guise—the pacification of the working class through the incorporation of unions into the welfare state is being replaced with the incorporation of the working class into empire through an intensification of ideological controls with the vital help of the union bureaucracies.

maybe it's no longer really feasable to strike for improvements in the rate of exploitation (as if it ever was), and the situation demands self-activity designed more or less explicitly in terms of revolutionary gymnastics and pitched to others at the level of a refusal of the reification of our labour power at the expense of the spectrum of our entire personality, ie in the manner of lukacs.

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Joseph Kay
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Oct 3 2006 07:19
Horselover Fat wrote:
an intensification of ideological controls with the vital help of the union bureaucracies.

i don't know if that's the case. certainly the unions are allowed to exist because of their function in controlling struggle and managing the workforce on capital's behalf - but they pulled this off with Britain on the brink of revolution in 1926, and would probably have much less power in any situation like that today because there is massive dissillusionment with them.

i don't know if the problem is ideological controls as the frankfurt school etc would have it. i think its more a case that the 'death of communism' is playing a similar role today to the 'death of god' in nietzsche's day - leaving a nihlistic void that can only be filled by value-creating, where the old left has easily been outmanouvered by the new right/euronationalists etc:

"Flags, nations, armies, banks get a lot of people aroused. a revolutionary project has to at least be able to mobilise the same extent of desire" (deleuze and guattari; the quote is not verbatim 'cos it's from memory)

Vaneigemappreci...
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Oct 5 2006 14:11

a more basic concern with reagrds anarcho-sydicalism.....what would be the point of establishing anarcho-syndicalist groups with the explicite aim of establishing workers councils in a work place such as an office or a call centre? Baring in mind that the service sector is perhaps the biggest employer in britain today what relevance does anarcho-sydicalism have to any worker in this sector and should workers in the service sector even organise to take control of their workplace or just aim at its abolition?

Vaneigemappreci...
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Oct 5 2006 15:02

jack-its a point ive heard a couple of anarchists use against AS before, i personally dont think its a valid criticism but if its a question that others ask about AS then surely its important to answer it?

Vaneigemappreci...
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Oct 5 2006 15:20
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It's been done on here about 7 times before, and every time it's been pointed out it's based on a gross misunderstanding of A-S.

alright, soz!

Mike Harman
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Oct 5 2006 18:58
Jack wrote:
It's been done on here about 7 times before, and every time it's been pointed out it's based on a gross misunderstanding of A-S.

Recent threads suggest it's a gross misunderstanding that some anarcho-syndicalists are quite happy to repeat.

Do I need to go and find those posts by Rata or can you remember them?

Common Struggle
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Oct 6 2006 03:57
Joseph K. wrote:
i don't know if that's the case. certainly the unions are allowed to exist because of their function in controlling struggle and managing the workforce on capital's behalf - but they pulled this off with Britain on the brink of revolution in 1926, and would probably have much less power in any situation like that today because there is massive dissillusionment with them.

i don't know if the problem is ideological controls as the frankfurt school etc would have it. i think its more a case that the 'death of communism' is playing a similar role today to the 'death of god' in nietzsche's day - leaving a nihlistic void that can only be filled by value-creating, where the old left has easily been outmanouvered by the new right/euronationalists etc:

"Flags, nations, armies, banks get a lot of people aroused. a revolutionary project has to at least be able to mobilise the same extent of desire" (deleuze and guattari; the quote is not verbatim 'cos it's from memory)

fair point, but in that sense the void is a product of state policy underwritten by empire, and if the old left was outmaneuvered by empire which has succeeded in reinventing itself ideologically to fill the gap, then surely that presupposes the existence of some sort of ideological control.

it's no secret by now that one of its tricks is to find some scapegoat for the problems it causes and position itself as the solution to itself. no doubt a void exists but it's anticipated by the architects of empire who have learnt to adapt themselves. if the death of communism was tantamount to a loss of god, then surely the reason why the 'new left' remains stillborn is because the 'new right' has stolen its fire, coopting the forms of its opposition. they'll keep on winning until we stop using outdated concepts like left and right and recognise in the 'new right' the workings of empire, thereby evolving a new paradigm ourselves.

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Oct 6 2006 08:44
Jack wrote:
Mike Harman wrote:
Recent threads suggest it's a gross misunderstanding that some anarcho-syndicalists are quite happy to repeat.

Do I need to go and find those posts by Rata or can you remember them?

He also said anarcho-syndicalists shouldn't organise in arms factories, and you wouldn't attribute that as a generic syndicalist position. angry

aye, and it would be very cheap for someone to pick a single anarcho-syndicalist and use the individual opinions of that person to hammer a whole political tradition and organising model. A-S has never been, is not now and hopefully will never be just a bunch of drones repeating same rehearsed lines in unison.

Mike Harman
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Oct 6 2006 11:10
revol68 wrote:
anarcho syndicalism was not (and shouldn't be) some fucking programme

But it is for a lot of people, as you've said yourself on those threads when they start talking shit.

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means that anarcho syndicalism can't deal with the issue of next to useless jobs.

So it's not monolithic, doesn't consist of a load of "drones" repeating the same thing, but now "anarcho-syndicalism" has some kind of agency as a movement in itself?

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OliverTwister
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Oct 24 2006 23:56

Brilliant.

Why aren't you in the IWW? smile

syndicalist
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Oct 25 2006 00:56
OliverTwister wrote:
Brilliant.

Why aren't you in the IWW? :)

IWW isn't anarcho-syndicalist.

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OliverTwister
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Oct 30 2006 20:29

neither is Revol68 smile

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Dec 7 2006 00:41
syndicalist wrote:
OliverTwister wrote:
Brilliant.

Why aren't you in the IWW? :)

IWW isn't anarcho-syndicalist.

who cares!?

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Dec 7 2006 08:36
x357997 wrote:
syndicalist wrote:
OliverTwister wrote:
Brilliant.

Why aren't you in the IWW? :)

IWW isn't anarcho-syndicalist.

who cares!?

maybe an anarcho-syndicalist wink

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Dec 7 2006 09:12
JDMF wrote:
x357997 wrote:
syndicalist wrote:
OliverTwister wrote:
Brilliant.

Why aren't you in the IWW? :)

IWW isn't anarcho-syndicalist.

who cares!?

maybe an anarcho-syndicalist ;)

maybe a puritanical one...

syndicalist
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Dec 7 2006 14:03

I'm not puritanical, but I don't really care if one is in the IWW or an explicitly anarcho-syndicalist organization. But it is factual that the IWW isn't anarcho-syndicalist (close enough here in the US tho). The question is what works best in a given situation, industry/service and what comes closet to our ideas. Perhaps in some situations the IWW is the way to go, in others not.

One thing which has been a divide has been having a pre-deterimined program and one having a more flexible approach.
This has blurred somewhat over the years (I've been at it since the 1970s)but has been a source of disagreement.

I believe that the IWW is but one organization in the class struggle, it is not, in my opinion, the One Big Union of the whole working class. Yet if someone feels good about joining the IWW, feels that they can organize their workplace, cool by me.

I respect ones right to organize whatever way they wish and hope that the same holds true for the next person.

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Dec 7 2006 15:40

I agree with Horseloves' comments about the role of union beauracracies, but I don't entirely agree with this:

"maybe it's no longer really feasable to strike for improvements in the rate of exploitation"

I think this needs some clarification. While I don't think modern capitalism allows for the reformist struggles where the working class sought recognition within the system (through unions and political parties) this doesn't mean we still can't defend ourselves against capitalism's attacks and even win temporary victories. In fact, it makes it even more vital that we do so.

The problem is that without an explicitly communist consciousness, no permanent union (with a small u!) can survive without being integrated into the state. And, obviously, the majority of workers do not have this consciousness most of the time.

Nonetheless, when the working class begins to move it rapidly creates highly effective organs to organise its struggles: strike committees, general assemblies, etc. These organs draw their combativity from the will of workers to defend themselves, from their anger and determination, and it is this dynamic will that preserves their proletarian character. Because of this, these organs can only last as long as the struggle lasts - when they survive longer they quickly become integrated into the hierarchy of unions and left-wing political organisations. Only in a revolutionary situation when struggle itself has become permanent and the consciousness of the proletariat far more developed can these organs become permanent. At this stage they take on a higher form, that of the soviet.

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Nate
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Dec 8 2006 05:05

Syndicalist,

There's no way any wobbly could disagree with you here:
"I believe that the IWW is but one organization in the class struggle, it is not, in my opinion, the One Big Union of the whole working class"

given that most of the class isn't in any one organization. I think the IWW could become the OBU, but even I'm wrong that's not the first criteria for judging our work. Or anyone else's of course.

take it easy,
Nate

syndicalist
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Dec 8 2006 05:20

Here's an interesting article which I posted elsewhere on libcom. This ties into some of this discussion in terms of building an alternative libertarian workers movement here in the US.

The article is fuzzy on the issue of unions and worker centers. I believe this was purposeful as it reflects these workers (mainly Chinese & Latin) generally negative experiances with certain trade unions---mainly the garment division of UNITE and the resturant division of HERE (unite-here!).

Anyway, just some additional food for thought.

Workers' Centers & the New Labor Movement:
http://libcom.org/forums/organise/workers-centers-the-new-labor-movement

syndicalist
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Dec 8 2006 05:34

Nate, I think you'd be interested in this by Sam Dolgoff:
The American Labor Movement: A New Beginning

www.fondation-besnard.org/article.php3?id_article=103

Also, the Piere Besnard site is pretty cool.

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Dec 8 2006 06:53

We presumably advocate libertarian syndicalism as a strategy (if we do) because we see it as a path to social transformation, the self-emancipation of the working class. The basic idea, i take it, is that mass organizations, formed by oppressed communities (workers in workplaces are oppressed communities), can -- not always but can -- prefigure a different kind of society. This is so because workers could only liberate themselves from the class system collectively, and they need mass organizations to develop in that direction. A sense of collective power requires collective struggles that exhibit that power in practice. Many of the actual mass organizations are quite defective from our point of view, such as the various bureaucratic trade unions. But the need for effective collective struggle provides a motivation to develop something better. I don't see any reason to believe that a particular mass organization formed at the present time in the USA, when inklings of a movement that could effectively challenge the capitalists, are small, could be predicted to actually encompass that movement of tens of millions needed.

Also, the class struggle doesn't just exist in workplaces, but spreads throughout the society, in struggles over housing and other areas. And there are struggles against other aspects of the system of oppression, here in the USA structural racism is particularly important, and hard to separate from the class struggle, and this includes things like fights about police brutality, criminalization of youth, extreme incarceration rates (the prison system), and so on. Thus it seems likely that a powerful movement could be a coming together of a variety of mass organizations into something like a people's alliance, that would bring together threads of struggle against various aspects of oppression. Mass labor organizations would be a crucial part of this, if only because workers must ultimately take over responsibility for social production, not to mention the power of workers to shutdown the system. Because we can't predict what sort -- or sorts -- of labor organization are going to be developed, I think it is better, as syndicalist says, to leave it open, so that we talk more generally about the need for self-managed mass workplace organization, leaving open the possibility that this might include various independent initiatives.

Given the small size of the IWW in the USA at present, it seems to me likely that some of these initiatives are likely to emerge outside the IWW. Consider for example CUE, an independent rank-and-file controlled clerical workers union, which emerged out of a rank and file rebellion against AFSCME, with a number of radicals playing an important role. CUE may not be officially committed to a revolutionary program, as the IWW is, but I think some vagueness on that score is inevitable in the current period given the relative lack of revolutionary consciousness in the USA.

t.

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Dec 8 2006 14:35

Thanks for those Syndicalist, I'll read 'em ASAP. On negative experiences w/ unions, a friend once told me about an IWW campaign where there were a lot of people who were former steel workers. The USWA had rolled over in a big way on something pretty huge, I think it was a plant closure. The people with that experience were great on workplace actions but would hear no talk of any kind of union. I don't know if any of them ever came around about taking out an IWW membership (which isn't the most or only important thing). They did participate actively in the campaign. I wish I could remember what the industry was.

SyndicalistCat (SyndiCat?), I'm in complete agreement. I think most wobblies I'm close to would agree too - we don't claim any IWW monopoly on anything, so much as that we're a good and worthwhile organization especially when compared with most other unions and most other lefty stuff in the US. This is not a dig on WSA, NEFAC, or anyone else whose members are on this board, I'd say the same of y'all compared the general decomposition of the US left.

syndicalist
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Jul 15 2007 12:44

I'm curious how different anarcho-syndicalists (and those close to anarcho-syndicalism)see their activities and roles today. That is, what sort of organization and what sort of organizational relevancy foots their bill?

In the US and Canadian context, what would an expplicitly anarcho-syndicalist organization mean and do? Given the diversity of activist efforts here in the US/Canada, can an anarcho-syndicalist organization be more like a "especifico" organization? That is, an organization of like minded activists coming together to issue libertarian literature and help develop and enhance their work in a variety of worker, social and community struggles. Or must its sole and defining role be something else or something else?

Catch 22
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Jul 15 2007 21:13

*shrugs* Well I think anarcho syndicalists have a responsibility to push mass organizing and mass struggles. I think the focus on especifico tactics can be useful when there are already existing mass campaigns with libertarian potential. However there aren't too many of those around to be honest. Most mass organizations in the US/Canada have been pretty well co-opted and are thoroughly hierarchical. Attempts to democratize and radicalize them seem resource intensive with little return on investment. Especially as many of these groups-eg unions-loose members with every year.

If we're serious about winning then we need to start making the move necessary to win. That means building power through struggle on a mass scale. Any anarcho-syndicalist organization in US should be doing exactly that. What form that takes is a bit of a different matter. I would agree with the WSA in that we need to build self managed institutions of struggle. I see myself involved in this via my participation in SDS and the IWW. I know some think that these groups are flawed and don't have mass revolutionary potential, but I don't see them organizing any physical alternatives so I feel that these critiques seem a bit still born.

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Jul 15 2007 23:06

catch22:

Quote:
I think the focus on especifico tactics can be useful when there are already existing mass campaigns with libertarian potential. However there aren't too many of those around to be honest. Most mass organizations in the US/Canada have been pretty well co-opted and are thoroughly hierarchical. Attempts to democratize and radicalize them seem resource intensive with little return on investment. Especially as many of these groups-eg unions-loose members with every year.

Why do you assume that the espificifista emphasis on presence within, and influence on, mass organizations is limited to the established mass organizations such as mainstream unions? Why wouldn't it be just as necessary to have left-libertarian influence within new mass organizations that we form? even if a mass organization is initiated by left-libertarians, if it is successful at becoming an actual mass organization, it will have a diversity of people with diverse views within it. there is no such thing as an "immaculate conception" that immunizes against conservatizing or bureaucratizing tendencies, or against infiltration by authoritarian left tendencies (tho that danger has shrunk in recent years). WSAers were involved in initiating the formation of an independent union among employees of the University of Tennessee but that union later affiliated to the CWA, even tho WSA members in it argued against this, and has developed a tendency towards oligarchy (executive committee tending to grab more control).

aonl
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Apr 8 2013 15:10

It seems that AS remains relevant today in that the vast majority of people who would want to revolt against this capitalist, fascist, state run world are people in the general work force. Where better to start a revolution than in the work place? Even the service sector is perceived to be a necessity to many people today. If we take control of not only production but of work in general we turn the tide in the favor of the people. Of course, in my opinion, syndicalism is but one of the goals/means useful and essential to the revolution.