"Anarchism and syndicalism": A Platformist & A/S Discussion

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syndicalist
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Aug 28 2012 17:01
"Anarchism and syndicalism": A Platformist & A/S Discussion

Just for the sake of discussion and sorta a split-off from the recent WSM discussion I'm starting this discussion. There has always been a tension between platformists and anarcho-syndicalists here on Libcom. This also exists, to varying degrees, here north america as well. But I don't think we all foam at the ideological mouth as others globally do.

So, for the "fun of it", here's what the "Organizational Platform of Libertarian Communists" says on the question of "Anarchism and syndicalism" .... part of which I read the use of the term "syndicalism" to simply mean straight unionism.

Well, here goes:

Quote:
VIII. Anarchism and syndicalism
The tendency to contrast anarchist communism with syndicalism, and vice versa, is one that we consider totally artificial and bereft of all basis and meaning.
The ideas of communism and of syndicalism occupy two different planes. Whereas communism, i.e. the free society of equal workers, is the goal of the anarchist struggle, syndicalism, i.e. the revolutionary movement of industrial workers based on trades, is but one of the forms of the revolutionary class struggle.

In uniting the industrial workers on the basis of production, revolutionary syndicalism, like any trade-union movement, has no specific ideology: it has no world view embracing all the complex social and political issues of the current situation. It always reflects the ideologies of a range of political groupings, notably of those most intensively at work within its ranks.

Our standpoint with regard to revolutionary syndicalism follows from what has just been said. Without wanting to resolve in advance the question of the role of revolutionary syndicalist organizations on day two of the revolution (i.e. are they to be the organizers of the new system of production in its entirety, or will they leave that role to the workers' councils or workplace committees?), it is our view that anarchists must be involved in revolutionary syndicalism as one of the forms of the workers' revolutionary movement.

However, the question now is not whether anarchists should or should not play a part in revolutionary syndicalism, but rather, how and to what end they should play a part.

We regard the whole period up to our own times, when anarchists were part of the revolutionary syndicalist movement as individual workers and propagandists, as a period when relations with the industrial labour movement were amateurish.

Anarcho-syndicalism, which attempts to firmly establish anarchist ideas within the left wing of revolutionary syndicalism through the creation of anarchist-type unions, represents a step forward in this respect, but it has not yet improved on its amateurish methods. This is because anarcho-syndicalism does not link the drive to "anarchize" the syndicalist movement with the organization of anarchist forces outside of that movement. Only if just such a link is established does it become possible to "anarchize" revolutionary syndicalism to prevent any slide towards opportunism.

We regard revolutionary syndicalism solely as a trade-union movement of the workers with no specific social and political ideology, and thus incapable by itself of resolving the social question; as such it is our opinion that the task of anarchists in the ranks of that movement consists of developing anarchist ideas within it and of steering it in an anarchist direction, so as to turn it into an active army of the social revolution. It is important to remember that if syndicalism is not given the support of anarchist theory in good time, it will be forced to rely on the ideology of some statist political party.

A striking example of this is French syndicalism, which once shone out on account of its anarchist slogans and anarchist tactics, before falling under the sway of the communists and, above all, the right-wing opportunist socialists.

But the task of anarchists within the ranks of the revolutionary labour movement can only be performed if their efforts there are closely connected and coordinated with the activity of the anarchist organization outside the syndicalist union. Put differently, we must enter the revolutionary labour movement as an organized force, answerable to the general anarchist organization for our work inside the syndicalist unions, and receiving guidance from that organization.

Without limiting ourselves to the establishment of anarchist syndicalist unions, we must seek to exert our theoretical influence on revolutionary syndicalism as a whole in all its forms (the Industrial Workers of the World, the Russian trade unions, etc.). But we can only accomplish this by setting to work as a rigorously organized anarchist collective, and certainly not as tiny amateurish groups, without organizational links or a common theoretical base.

Groups of anarchists in the workplace, working to create anarchist syndicalist unions, campaigning within revolutionary syndicalism for the prevalence of anarchist ideas within syndicalism and its theoretical orientation and themselves guided in their activity by the general anarchist organization to which they belong - this is the significance of the relationship between anarchists and revolutionary syndicalism and the related revolutionary syndicalist movements (and the form it should take).

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klas batalo
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Aug 28 2012 19:05

It is interesting to re-read this, because mainly the concern seems to be that of revolutionary syndicalism just being stuck in one sector for organizing, and not connected to a larger social perspective and practice. TBH this seems pretty fair. It is clear they were in favor of forming anarcho-syndicalist unions in the workplace as well. Really it makes much sense then that there should in the modern era be no theoretical dissonance about fusing the practice of anarchist workplace organizations with anarchist community organizations for a generalized social fight.

---

okay so this also made me go back and read the anarkismo statement, and i realized that the accusation often thrown around that platformists want to bore from within to create break off anarcho-syndicalist unions is not what it says. now whatever one thinks about the 1930s part of it, it basically argues to use the "democratic structures" of anarcho-syndicalist methods of struggle when one finds oneself to be in the trade unions. that is a lot different. now maybe there is theory or strategy statements from WSM, or FdCA, etc that have different strategies, but it seems that the anarkismo statement is very much in line with the original platform in calling for an anarcho-syndicalist strategy within the unions.

syndicalist
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Aug 30 2012 03:58

Any other comments?

Harrison
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Aug 30 2012 13:18

as far as i'm aware, and please correct me if i am wrong, but (exempting platformists doing stuff in mainstream unions) i believe that today generally platformists lean toward the creation of less overtly political unions, as they view a dichotomy between a very big fighting union with some anarchist influence, and a smaller union that is therefore less effective but with greater anarchist influence. (this is taken to a far greater degree by L&S, but to be fair they do not self-describe as anarchist).

in my opinion this view has some truth to it, but sets up a rigorous dichotomy that may not always hold in practice. I believe part of why small anarcho-syndicalist groups are not organising many concentrated industrial struggles not to be too much down to that they want to be too political in workplace organisation, but more that they lack the organising / fighting culture automatically thrown up by less political grassroots unions, and have to really struggle to build that culture. similarly its solving the workplace growth / recruitment / inducing recruits to the politics, which are all problems that can only be worked out through practical experience.

syndicalist
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Jun 7 2015 19:39

Platformists.....I'm wondering what is meant by this:

"Without wanting to resolve in advance the question of the role of revolutionary syndicalist organizations on day two of the revolution (i.e. are they to be the organizers of the new system of production in its entirety, or will they leave that role to the workers' councils or workplace committees?)"

http://www.nestormakhno.info/english/newplatform/general.htm

blarg
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Jun 8 2015 18:21

I'm not necessarily a platformist, but the meaning looks fairly clear. It's the question of whether during and immediately after a revolution, a revolutionary syndicalist organization like the old CNT, IWW, etc will or should transform itself into the main organization of democratic workers' control, or whether new councils or committees will/should form to play that role. Crudely. should the union itself take over and run things? Apparently Makhno thinks this question is best left open ("without wanting to resolve in advance"), to be decided when the time comes, based on whatever makes sense in the actual circumstances of the revolution. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. That sounds about right to me.

syndicalist
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Jun 9 2015 17:33
blarg wrote:
I'm not necessarily a platformist (not am I frothing at the mouth anti-platformist), but the meaning looks fairly clear. It's the question of whether during and immediately after a revolution, a revolutionary syndicalist organization like the old CNT, IWW, etc will or should transform itself into the main organization of democratic workers' control, or whether new councils or committees will/should form to play that role. Crudely. should the union itself take over and run things? Apparently Makhno thinks this question is best left open ("without wanting to resolve in advance"), to be decided when the time comes, based on whatever makes sense in the actual circumstances of the revolution. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. That sounds about right to me.

I'm def not a platformist, have read the document many times over the decades, but never, for some reason paid attention to the quote.

Our take's are basically the same. yet I thought it might mean something different to platformists rather then simply face value.

Not sure if I still get any distinction become the workers unions in a prerevolutionary society and workers councils in a post revolutionary society. I always figured that the classical anarcho-syndicalist POV is that the prerevolutionary situation workers unions will flower into workers councils in a post-revolutionary period. That there should be no distinction's, just changes in practical application of things given two different time periods. And maybe that the view is workers unions are simply for reforms and general struggle and councils are for after the revolution. I dunno know, not how I've seen things. But, hell, theory is not my forte so I could have a misunderstanding on that level.

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Jun 11 2015 04:01

in regard to the question of organizing outside the workplace, I suppose those who emphasize the specific organization might see them as providing a linkage for militants, between those inside & outside workplace. On the other hand, there have been cases where AS unions did engage in outside the workplace struggles, such as the Barcelona 1931 rent strike or the 1920s rent strike & renters union in Meixco (of CGT). Of course there are likely to be mass orgs that aren't unions or workplace based that militants are active in, so then the question arises as to their relation to the unions. at times in the past there cases of alliances of AS unions with independent mass orgs (as in '20s in Peru between the AS unions and the indigenous liberation organization).

on the question of the role of the union in the revolutionary transformation, generally it seems the CNT held that the union would convert itself into an organization to run production. In summer of 1936 when workplaces were seized it was usually the union that ran them at first. so the shop stewards council simply became the administrative council.

Later on in 1937-38 I think Friends of Durruti was critical of this practice on grounds that the unions as organizations of struggle were needed separately from the councils to administer the industries. Thus I've heard they were trying to rebuild the union assemblies & federations apart from the workplace administrative councils. It does seem to me that the union, as organization of struggle, has a different function than an organization to manage production.

syndicalist
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Jun 11 2015 15:14

Cat:

Quote:
It does seem to me that the union, as organization of struggle, has a different function than an organization to manage production.

I suppose there are transitions even in this regard as well. I've never given it much deep thought until I reread that passage from "the platform".

This is something I'd like to explore more.

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Jun 11 2015 17:22

In a way, that reminds me of the "union co-op" model advanced by Mondragon, which the Steelworkers are also flirting with in industrial laundry co-ops in the US. In a nutshell: worker-owners elect a board to represent the firm (ie, to represent their interests as capitalists), and they also elect union reps to negotiate on their behalf (ie, to represent their interests as workers). I always thought it sounded like a pretty schizophrenic kind of self-management.

But I guess that's only relevant to cooperatives in a capitalist market and doesn't quite apply to the scenario discussed here...the idea of dividing "administrative organizations" from "combat organizations" seems counterintuitive from a syndicalist perspective. If we as workers are self-managed, who are we fighting?

syndicalistcat wrote:
Later on in 1937-38 I think Friends of Durruti was critical of this practice on grounds that the unions as organizations of struggle were needed separately from the councils to administer the industries. Thus I've heard they were trying to rebuild the union assemblies & federations apart from the workplace administrative councils. It does seem to me that the union, as organization of struggle, has a different function than an organization to manage production.

I'm not sure I follow. In that case, is the role of the union assembly to dispute and bargain with the administrative councils? Could one CNT member belong to both bodies at the same time?

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Jun 11 2015 17:44

I think the distinction comes into effect in a revolutionary process. Let's say you've got a huge revolutionary union with 10% of workers in it. Insurrectionary general strike breaks out, strike committees and councils are forming etc, the union's playing a catalytic role pushing things towards expropriation etc.

So does it then say (a) everyone's invited to join the union, which is transformed from a combat organisation to an administrative one (this is basically Pataud & Pouget's position in the revolutionary wing of the old French CGT), or (b) remain active within the wider movement, pushing for extension and deepening of the revolutionary process etc, and presumably fading/dissolving to the extent the revolutionary process succeeds and a combat organisation is redundant?

If (a) didn't even happen in Catalonia in 1936 (only about 50% of workers joined the CNT, iirc), which was the most favourable circumstances and the highest revolutionary union density in history, that suggests we should give more thought to (b).

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Jun 11 2015 23:24

Actually at time of onset of revolution in July 1936 60 percent of workers in Catalonia belonged to a union, thus 540,000 out of 900,000 wage-earners. Of those 540,000, 350,000 were CNT members, or 65 percent union members were in CNT. During revolution the membership of all unions increased.

Joseph Kay is right to emphasize that revolution is a process.

Remember that Friends of Durruti were trying to dislodge the collaborationist regional committee. The working class & CNT movement were still engaged in an overall class struggle, despite having taken over most of the industries. The struggle against the still existing state etc was still in process. So they needed the CNT to still be a movement of struggle in a larger sense. I suspect they may have felt that the shop stewards getting bogged down in administration took their focus away from the larger political & class struggle.

syndicalist
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Jun 11 2015 23:49

I suppose ^^^^ this will happen during an partial revolution and civil war

syndicalist
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Jun 12 2015 00:13

JK:

Quote:
"fading/dissolving to the extent the revolutionary process succeeds and a combat organisation is redundant?"

I'm not sure if "dissolving" is the same as possibly transitioning or transforming into something else, as in workers councils as opposed to combative unions?

syndicalist
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Jun 12 2015 00:45

Fnordie---

Quote:
If we as workers are self-managed, who are we fighting?

Ourselves of course!

Seriously, I can see that in an immediate period there will be the need for combative
fights around certain things.

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Jun 16 2015 19:37

The industries in Spain that were taken over by the workers were not totally self-managed. that's because that would require self-management of the society & economy as a whole. The fact that the state still existed, and used loans & credits to the coops as a way to eventually seize control of them, and statize the economy shows this. In 1938 the CNT entertainment union carried out a desperate strike against state seizure of the entertainment industry which had been taken over by the union originally. so there was still a class struggle in a larger sense as long as the working class had not consolidated the revolution.

syndicalist
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Jun 16 2015 20:21
Quote:
so there was still a class struggle in a larger sense as long as the working class had not consolidated the revolution.

In some ways the dreaded "transition period"....which I suspect there would actually be in some senses.

freemind
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Jun 17 2015 17:04
syndicalist wrote:
Quote:
so there was still a class struggle in a larger sense as long as the working class had not consolidated the revolution.

In some ways the dreaded "transition period"....which I suspect there would actually be in some senses.

This is a serious problem for Anarchists,the extent of which depends on the level of consciousness the class is at when Revolution occurs.Just dismissing the Transitional phase as Marxist chicanery is simplistic and a copout.Anarchists need to say how we confront the issue and how we stop a new dictatorship emerging without jeoprdising revolutionary gains.

syndicalist
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Jun 18 2015 13:26

Been a very long time since I read this. Maximoff "Labor in the Transition Period" ( Program of Anarcho-Syndicalism). http://libcom.org/library/chapter-5-labor-transition-period

Whether something is called a transition period or a period of adjustment, I suspect something will be there. Not that we want there to be. I suspect there will be a lot of unevenness coming out of the revolutionary period and into the new period of reconstruction. Of course, I'm only speculating and have no real idea as this is so far off and theoretical. But...

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Jun 18 2015 15:44
syndicalist wrote:
transition period

Friends of Durruti wrote:
We are introducing a slight variation in anarchism into our program. The establishment of a revolutionary Junta. As we see it, the revolution needs organisms to oversee it, and repress, in an organized sense, hostile sectors. As current events have shown such sectors do not accept oblivion unless they are crushed. There may be anarchist comrades who feel certain ideological misgivings, but the lesson of experience is enough to induce us to stop pussy-footing.

I agree with this. But I have a suspicion that doesn't make me a "slight variation of an anarchist" so much as it just makes me "not really an anarchist". If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck...

syndicalist
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Jun 18 2015 16:04

I'm neither a foe or a fan of the FoD
but recognize there are no clean, straight lines to anything
Unless we have a decades long period of change in thinking, in acting, in greediness and self agrandizing, problems on the magnitude of totally upheaval and transformation will arise
I am neither utopian or authoritarian, yet I'm trying to think of how adjustments in a post revolutionary period occur. Just speculating. Maybe the utopian full communism will happen on day. If so, it would be wonderful. Not so sure tho

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Jun 18 2015 23:26

When they say a slight modification in anarchism, they are of course referring to whatever the dominant idea of anarchism was in Spain at that time. The dominant idea, according to Agustin Guillamon, seems to be the "anti-power" nonsense. If you deem it "not anarchist" then why should I give a shit about "anarchism"? The issue is what the working class must do in a revolutionary situation to work towards its liberation. I think it clearly must consolidate society-wide economic & political power. But the class won't be in control if the junta (council) is not accountable in a direct way to the mass movement. In Oct 1917 the Bolsheviks got the soviet congress to agree to set up a central government with power concentrated in a Council of People's Commissars. we know where that led. So in what ways did the FoD proposal differ from that? I think in various ways.