the role of an anarcho-syndicalist organisation and the role of an anarchist federation

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 24 2009 10:10
the role of an anarcho-syndicalist organisation and the role of an anarchist federation

split from here.

Joseph Kay wrote:
personally, i think there's a role for an anarcho-syndicalist organisation (agitating in workplaces and communites, addressing issues such as gender and sexuality only insofar as they relate to discrimination, violence and the division of labour) and an anarchist federation (furthering anarchism in its fullest sense, including sexual freedom - like the recent Manc SF pamphlet, chomskyian analyses of the media, questions of anarchism and human nature, critiquing the very notions of gender roles and binary sexual orientation, racial identity, religion and so on).

for instance i think a commitment to materialism is important for an anarchist federation, whereas if a buddhist, quaker, musilm or whatever believes in direct action, solidarity and self-organisation and a society based on 'from each according to abiltiy, to each according to need' then i don't think the cognitive dissonance involved in squaring this with a deity should prevent membership of an anarcho-syndicalist organisation.

vanilla.ice.baby
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Sep 24 2009 10:43

I agree that there is a need for workplace and community, militant, possibly revolutionary, directly democratic, solidarity based organisations - and that within them, there would no doubt be specific formal and informal political factions, and tendencies, and that anarchist communists would need to organise specifically to but forward their ideas within that wider organisation.

I think that means we agree. beard

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Sep 24 2009 10:43

As I said on the other thread, I agree that this approach would be a good way of doing things (though I'd quetion the extent to which your "anarcho-syndicalist organisation" would be syndicalist in the strictest sense of the term), I just don't think that the AF and SolFed as they currently exist fit into the two categories you've set out. If anything, it'd make more sense to form a new organisation between AF and SolFed that fulfils the role of this anarcho-syndicalist organisation, with AF and SolFed remaining separate political organisations.

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 24 2009 11:25
madashell wrote:
I just don't think that the AF and SolFed as they currently exist fit into the two categories you've set out.

at present, no. people in SolFed recognise there's no point being an anarchist-federation-but-not-really though, and there are discussions on how to shed anarchist federation functions and develop 'union functions' (in the sense i outline on the other thread).

madashell wrote:
If anything, it'd make more sense to form a new organisation between AF and SolFed that fulfils the role of this anarcho-syndicalist organisation, with AF and SolFed remaining separate political organisations.

thing is then SolFed would have no purpose, so this would (with some reason) be interpretted as an attack on SolFed/IWA. like i say on the other thread, the most hostile reaction to Strategy & Struggle was that we were accused of trying to turn SolFed into a purely political organisation, when in fact we were saying that's what we are at the moment and we should try and change that!

so we don't want to be a political organisation, therefore we should be serious about developing into a political-economic one. although as vanilla.ice.baby says as well, i don't see why multiple political anarchist organisations wouldn't be involved if SolFed managed to become the political-economic network of miltiants with union functions we aspire to (bit of a mouthful, which is i guess why people say revolutionary union or union in formation).

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Sep 24 2009 12:08

Carrying over from the thread in theory:

Joseph Kay wrote:
mainly people took issue with us saying revolutionary unions are non-permanent and consist of mass meetings. against this it was argued that unlike the IWW or CGT, anarcho-syndicalist revolutionary unions are literally unions of revolutionaries, and as such can function as a minority absolutely fine (which is basically what we called 'networks of militants.') this actually makes things a lot clearer, since then we can just describe mass-assembly based federations as workers' councils, a la the russian soviets (as praised by Maximov, Rocker...). our main mistake was to conflate mass meetings and revolutionary unions, when the latter is a means of agitating for the former, but if the mass meeting votes to say, join Works Councils, the revolutionary union wouldn't drop its opposition, as it's made up of those committed to anarcho-syndicalist/libertarian communist principles.

I'd say that the revolutionary/pro-revolutionary distinction is useful here. Outside of a revolutionary period, no organisation can accurately be described as revolutionary, IMO.

Quote:
i think at present SolFed is largely a political organisation little different to the AF, only it's been in denile about it (whereas the AF has embraced its role and seems to be doing relatively well from the outside). this was another thing people took issue with - we said SolFed was a political organisation, but as a statement of fact, not aspiration. people mistook this for advocacy of SolFed being a purely political organisation, which is where the charge of 'councillism' came from.

what SolFed needs to do is shed the functions of an anarchist federation (so no more pamphlets on 'anarchy, sex and freedom') and develop the capacities of an anarcho-syndicalist organisation (we've discussed regular CNT-style workers' drop-ins in Brighton, but we probably need 2-4 more members to be able to sustain that tbh). as and when this happens, i think the possibilties for organisational symbiosis will open up (hence my other thread trying to work out exactly where the roles overlap/delineate).

tbh i think there used to be much more pronounced differences - i've spoke to odd solfed members who used to think that SF locals would be the nucleus of future communes, whereas nobody thinks that anymore (or if they do, they don't say it). but i think the AF have recognised the importance of workplace organisation along anarchist lines, and SF is realising it's not meant to be an anarchist federation so it should stop trying to compete with the AF and develop the functions adequate to an anarcho-syndicalist organisation.

If that's the direction SolFed are moving in, it'll be interesting to see how things develop. Though to be honest I'm not really convinced it's possible to move from being a political organisation to a functioning anarcho-syndicalist union.

Quote:
tbh we're probably tighter than the AF, even accounting for the disagreements over S&S. i mean i've spoke to AF members who aren't really interested in strikes and occupations and see class struggle as squatting and guerilla gardening. that said, i don't think we'd have to dilute our politics so much as define our organisational role. those of us who are also anarchists with an interest in all the other stuff i mentioned could dual-card with the AF and put out any appropriate material through them, while doing workplace and community agitation through the SF.

I can't really think of any current AF members who see things the way you describe.

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as MT says, i don't think this is a problem going off the CNT-FAI relationship?

Maybe it's less of a problem than I thought then, I don't know much about how the relationship between the CNT and FAI works.

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Sep 24 2009 13:12
Madashell wrote:
I'd say that the revolutionary/pro-revolutionary distinction is useful here. Outside of a revolutionary period, no organisation can accurately be described as revolutionary, IMO.

i do agree, but the terminology is very clunky. the important thing is that when SolFed says 'revolutionary union' it means 'pro-revolutionary network of militants with non-representative union functions that agitates for self-organisation' (or so we've been told by the critics of S&S). while i can see how the former can be confused with the IWW or whatnot, the alternatives employ a lot of clunky jargon. 'anarcho-syndicalist union' might be a workable stand-in.

Madashell wrote:
If that's the direction SolFed are moving in, it'll be interesting to see how things develop. Though to be honest I'm not really convinced it's possible to move from being a political organisation to a functioning anarcho-syndicalist union.

fully functioning a-s union? yeah i dunno. political-economic network taking on some of those functions? i don't see why not, in principle.

i'm not even sure how much this represents a change in SolFed thinking so much as an actual explanation of it, for all the heat generated by S&S we were actually surprised how much common ground there is (like my description of a 'revolutionary union' is a straight paraphrase of our harshest critics).

that said, we may well get to next conference having taken on board our comrades criticisms and get voted down again for general deviancy/being from the south/talking to the AF grin

we'll see... we hope to internally circulate a draft of the history section soon and take on board criticisms before we get to a final document.

madashell wrote:
I can't really think of any current AF members who see things the way you describe.

i'm no going to name names and it doesn't seem like a major problem, and it also certainly seems to have improved (like with the AF's preston nutcases). actually when one of them said all of SolFed should be shot it did help understand why Preston SFers were skeptical of our 'co-operate with the SF' motion.

madashell wrote:
Maybe it's less of a problem than I thought then, I don't know much about how the relationship between the CNT and FAI works.

me neither, but i'd imagine any difference is on 'the union question', and given as loads of you are in the IWW, which definitely is a registered union of the kind A&P #7 criticises, i can't imagine it would be much of an obstacle.

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Sep 24 2009 23:33
Joseph Kay wrote:
i do agree, but the terminology is very clunky. the important thing is that when SolFed says 'revolutionary union' it means 'pro-revolutionary network of militants with non-representative union functions that agitates for self-organisation' (or so we've been told by the critics of S&S). while i can see how the former can be confused with the IWW or whatnot, the alternatives employ a lot of clunky jargon. 'anarcho-syndicalist union' might be a workable stand-in.

Mmm, though it can get confusing if what SolFed means by "revolutionary union" doesn't bare much resemblence to what most people would understand as a union in how it functions.

Quote:
fully functioning a-s union? yeah i dunno. political-economic network taking on some of those functions? i don't see why not, in principle.

I suppose it's not impossible, there's just a lot of practical barriers in terms of moving from being one sort of organisation to another.

Quote:
i'm not even sure how much this represents a change in SolFed thinking so much as an actual explanation of it, for all the heat generated by S&S we were actually surprised how much common ground there is (like my description of a 'revolutionary union' is a straight paraphrase of our harshest critics).

It's interesting to learn that, since some of us saw S&S as somewhat of a break from SolFed's politics, possibly because the terminology we use for very similar things is so different.

Quote:
that said, we may well get to next conference having taken on board our comrades criticisms and get voted down again for general deviancy/being from the south/talking to the AF grin

To be fair, the AF has a policy of only counting votes from Southerners as a tie breaker wink

Mike Harman
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Sep 25 2009 01:28
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Mmm, though it can get confusing if what SolFed means by "revolutionary union" doesn't bare much resemblence to what most people would understand as a union in how it functions.

Given the IWW, it differs from how most people in 'revolutionary unions' understand revolutionary unions too. Network of militants works fine for me for shorthand.

Quote:
thing is then SolFed would have no purpose, so this would (with some reason) be interpretted as an attack on SolFed/IWA. like i say on the other thread, the most hostile reaction to Strategy & Struggle was that we were accused of trying to turn SolFed into a purely political organisation, when in fact we were saying that's what we are at the moment and we should try and change that!

If a decent network of militants sprang up, which was able to incorporate all the people will more or less compatible views on industrial organisation from various political traditions (lets say the slice of anarcho-syndicalists, anarchist-communists, ultra-leftist and left-communists who can agree on the basics - it'd obviously exclude some people from all these too, whether actively or passively), along with bringing in newly politicised people from recent struggles, then framing that as an attack on solfed is really the wrong way to look at things. It'd put a lot of the activity of most groups in the UK into questions, not just solfed.

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Sep 25 2009 11:34
madashell wrote:
Mmm, though it can get confusing if what SolFed means by "revolutionary union" doesn't bare much resemblence to what most people would understand as a union in how it functions.

-

Mike Harman wrote:
Given the IWW, it differs from how most people in 'revolutionary unions' understand revolutionary unions too. Network of militants works fine for me for shorthand.

yes i understand this - which is why we use the term and i think SolFed's main 'political' problem is communicating our politics rather than the politics themselves (i wish we could publish some of the internal discussions which would pleasantly surprise people... i'll ask around, if people agree we might be able to publish an online appendix to the new pamphlet as background to the development since S&S...).

however, the counter argument goes as follows; a network of militants is just that, a revolutionary union can do more, such as the 'union functions' of offering advice and organising solidarity in the workplace. so say a victimised worker could approach the revolutionary union, which would help organise a mass meeting to discuss the grievance and try to collectivise it, perhaps knowing of others int he workplace with similar problems. the argument is a that's more than a simple network, and so 'networks of militants' may be proto-revolutionary unions but aren't synonymous.

on 'unions', the argument continures: there are two traditions in british trade unionism - the dominant one is based on bureacuratic unions which aim to recruit and represent workers on a purely economic basis (and tend to support the labour party, or a 'new workers' party' for political representation). this is the 'primarily organising a union' quoted from 'the Slow Burning Fuse' above.

the second tradition is that of a militant minority typified by the shop stewards' movement 1910-1914. this tradition was not so interested in recruiting all workers, but networking amongst the most militant to 'primarily organise conflicts with employers' as per the 'Slow Burning Fuse' quote above. this is the 'unionism' SolFed draws on.

obviously the problem is both to the 'man on the street' and much of the political milieu, 'union' has lost its original meaning as simply 'a combination of workers' and become synonymous with the former bureaucratic, representative trade unionism. the argument is people have a vague idea that unions are different to political parties, so describing what we advocate as a 'union' at least hints at workplace organisation (compared to all the Trot parties etc), while the prefix 'revolutionary' is meant to differentiate it from regular trade unions.

of course the problem is that there are rank-and-file unions like the IWW which describe themselves as revolutionary, which really muddies the waters. but here we're into semantics/communication of our ideas rather than our ideas themselves. historically we've been poor at this, and assumed anyone who doesn't get it is hostile, which is unfortunate. now i might get in trouble for this, but this is what the most comprehensive internal critique of our pamphlet said on the matter (any SolFed comrades reading, i'm quoting this to give credit to our critics and show there were substantive objections to S&S):

A SolFed member wrote:
The aim of anarcho-syndicalism is to build militant workplace organization but from a clear revolutionary perspective. It fully realizes that conditions in society may vary and as such the possibility of organizing class struggle. But no matter what the conditions anarcho-syndicalism argues that militant workplace organization cannot be achieved by political grouping organizing outside of the workplace. Organisation in the workplace will have to be built by the revolutionary union that involves itself in the day-to-day struggle of workers. But the aim of anarcho-syndicalism is not to enroll every worker into the revolutionary union but rather to organize mass meeting at which the union argues for militant action. The mass meeting is not the anarcho-syndicalist union but a democratic means of organizing. The union is made up of workers committed to the methods and ideas of anarcho-syndicalism.

to be honest, i think that puts it more clearly than we do in S&S, and i wish there was SolFed propaganda with that clarity (a 'role of the revolutionary union' akin to the AF's 'role of the revolutionary organsiation' wouldn't go amiss, i'll suggest we do one once the new pamphet and the attendent discussions are done with).

madashell wrote:
I suppose it's not impossible, there's just a lot of practical barriers in terms of moving from being one sort of organisation to another.

-

Mike Harman wrote:
If a decent network of militants sprang up, which was able to incorporate all the people will more or less compatible views on industrial organisation from various political traditions (lets say the slice of anarcho-syndicalists, anarchist-communists, ultra-leftist and left-communists who can agree on the basics - it'd obviously exclude some people from all these too, whether actively or passively), along with bringing in newly politicised people from recent struggles, then framing that as an attack on solfed is really the wrong way to look at things. It'd put a lot of the activity of most groups in the UK into questions, not just solfed.

i don't disagree, but you can see how as given that's basically SolFed's strategy it may be interpreted as hostility to form a new organisation rather than join an existing one. now the most important thing is these organisations exist, but i think there's a serious discussion to be had about this in the wider milieu. if we can clearly explain our actual ideas and strategy that would certainly help too.

Mike Harman
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Sep 25 2009 12:45
Joseph Kay wrote:

however, the counter argument goes as follows; a network of militants is just that, a revolutionary union can do more, such as the 'union functions' of offering advice and organising solidarity in the workplace. so say a victimised worker could approach the revolutionary union, which would help organise a mass meeting to discuss the grievance and try to collectivise it, perhaps knowing of others int he workplace with similar problems. the argument is a that's more than a simple network, and so 'networks of militants' may be proto-revolutionary unions but aren't synonymous.

Well for me the 'union functions' just means practical things which are undertaken by a workplace group day-to-day - i.e. those workers who are organised at a particular employer, some of whom might be in a wider network, some of whom not. There are always going to be people who are active in their workplace, who don't have an interest in joining a wider economic/political organisation, but who are quite capable of giving advice or helping to organise collective action around grievances etc. - so you have a network spanning regions and industries, and then workplace groups which are more or less local (to industry / employer location) with overlapping membership, and then the actual workplace assemblies which would be as open as possible. I don't think these need to be conflated, and it's only going to be the tiniest workplace with a disproportionate number of radicals working there where they might possibly be the same thing.

Quote:
on 'unions', the argument continures: there are two traditions in british trade unionism - the dominant one is based on bureacuratic unions which aim to recruit and represent workers on a purely economic basis (and tend to support the labour party, or a 'new workers' party' for political representation). this is the 'primarily organising a union' quoted from 'the Slow Burning Fuse' above.

the second tradition is that of a militant minority typified by the shop stewards' movement 1910-1914. this tradition was not so interested in recruiting all workers, but networking amongst the most militant to 'primarily organise conflicts with employers' as per the 'Slow Burning Fuse' quote above. this is the 'unionism' SolFed draws on.

Well, same thing. If people want to talk about the 1910-1914 shop stewards' movement, talk about that - don't use it as an excuse to obfuscate every single political discussion with dualistic use of the word 'union' just because a struggle a century ago was conducted within a more or less union framework.

Quote:
so describing what we advocate as a 'union' at least hints at workplace organisation (compared to all the Trot parties etc), while the prefix 'revolutionary' is meant to differentiate it from regular trade unions.

Well the Trots advocate unions too. And the Russian Revolution had a bunch of 'revolutionary unions', which were used against the factory committees, called off strikes etc. etc. For every FORA or shop stewards' movement there's a dozen counter-examples, so best not to confuse things in the first place.

Quote:
of course the problem is that there are rank-and-file unions like the IWW which describe themselves as revolutionary, which really muddies the waters. but here we're into semantics/communication of our ideas rather than our ideas themselves.

I don't think this is semantics at all - not when we have recent, real life examples where 'semantics and communication' has resulted in some really fucking stupid behaviour by 'revolutionary unionists'. I'm sure if I was to spend some time going through Direct Action or Anarcho-Syndicalist Review I could find some stuff which completely goes against what you've put forward here (I probably won't, but myself and Steven' haven't just made up our views of SolFed out of nothing).

Quote:
Organisation in the workplace will have to be built by the revolutionary union that involves itself in the day-to-day struggle of workers. But the aim of anarcho-syndicalism is not to enroll every worker into the revolutionary union but rather to organize mass meeting at which the union argues for militant action

Here again the terminology gets tricky. You said that union used to mean just 'group of workers' or 'union of workers' - in which case that would be applicable to mass meetings (especially regular ones with a backbone of workers keeping things going in-between - strike committee etc.) - but in this case, the revolutionary union is a separate organisation from that - so must have some other property which makes it not a simply group of workers - precisely that it's a politicised 'network of militants' - an agitational group, albeit one based in the workplace rather than outside.

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Steven.
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Sep 25 2009 14:05
Mike Harman wrote:
Joseph Kay wrote:

Organisation in the workplace will have to be built by the revolutionary union that involves itself in the day-to-day struggle of workers. But the aim of anarcho-syndicalism is not to enroll every worker into the revolutionary union but rather to organize mass meeting at which the union argues for militant action

Here again the terminology gets tricky. You said that union used to mean just 'group of workers' or 'union of workers' - in which case that would be applicable to mass meetings (especially regular ones with a backbone of workers keeping things going in-between - strike committee etc.) - but in this case, the revolutionary union is a separate organisation from that - so must have some other property which makes it not a simply group of workers - precisely that it's a politicised 'network of militants' - an agitational group, albeit one based in the workplace rather than outside.

, this conversation is getting confusing, with the overlap with the other thread...

Joseph, here you are saying that the anarchosyndicalist organisation organises in the workplace, not outside the workplace like a political group.

But the big problem with what you are saying is that it is all in an abstractions. You are not talking about something based in the real world.

The big problem with what you are saying is that because at the moment we are at a very low level of struggle, libertarian communists (or Anarchosyndicalists or whatever you want to call them) are a tiny tiny minority. Therefore you will almost never have more than one at any workplace.

Okay so many of the individual members will probably be people that co-workers come to for advice (I always was before becoming a union rep), and that individual may try to organise the odd meeting (again, as I and catch have done) but calling that one person, or if you're very lucky two people, a "revolutionary union" in a workplace seems more than faintly ridiculous.

Seriously, I think you're trying to think up a strategy that sounds great and consistent on paper, but these theoretical discussions are getting detached from the reality on the ground.

You could still call your organisation a "revolutionary union" if you wanted to, but it wouldn't be qualitatively different from a political organisation like the anarchist Federation. People outside your work from your group could still assist you if you wanted, for example perhaps leafleting people during a dispute, but again it wouldn't matter if these people worked in the same industry or whatever as you.

I think we should try to keep bringing this discussion back to the real world today if we are actually going to get anything useful out of it.

Mike Harman
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Sep 25 2009 15:16

Well no, because we use communism as jargon between ourselves, not in everyday conversation - and there aren't 'communist' groups connected to the scene which are signing no-strike clauses.

Additionally, 'communism' is either a joke or a dirty word for a lot of people, it's not been in regular English language usage for the past 15-20 years, and there aren't large 'communist' organisations or Communist countries around with which it can be confused any more. However I very much doubt we'd be using it even as jargon if we were in ex-Eastern Bloc countries (or China) where there's still a lot more meaning attached to it. Also you'll note that only left-communists use the term 'communist party' as such (which would be closer to the use of 'union' since it describes a group, not a concept/ideology) - and when they do that causes huge misunderstandings about what they mean as well.

And when I occasionally do use 'communism' in everyday conversation or even with politicised people not from this scene, I expect to spend a fair bit of time explaining what I'm talking about or getting funny looks. Whereas if you say 'union', then of course people know what that is.

Boris Badenov
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Sep 25 2009 16:09

On a minor point

Mike Harman wrote:
Additionally, 'communism' is either a joke or a dirty word for a lot of people, it's not been in regular English language usage for the past 15-20 years, and there aren't large 'communist' organisations or Communist countries around with which it can be confused any more. However I very much doubt we'd be using it even as jargon if we were in ex-Eastern Bloc countries (or China)

While I agree with this, the same could easily be said about mostly any kind of political ideology, save for "left" and "right" wing liberalism. Last time anarchism meant something akin to class struggle in the public consciousness was 70+ years ago; socialism is used either as a boogeyman (in most cases) or as shorthand for centrist politics (in France, Venezuela, etc.). People may know what a union is, but if you say revolutionary, you've lost them. I think it's best to avoid all political jargon from the beginning. If people agree with you, it's because they agree with your goals and principles; the ones who jump on board simply because they like the sound of "revolutionary" and "anarchist" are obviously there for the wrong reasons. Just my 2 cents, granted that I'm not part of any kind of radical organization so maybe I just don't get how it works.

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Sep 25 2009 16:10
Jack wrote:
Do you think JK would just say revolutionary union, and leave it at that? Of course not - if he was to use it he'd explain it and contextualise it. The same as he would with communism.

Although as I said, personally I dislike the term as it ineveitably leads to these confusions. But that's just arguing semantics.

Jack, it's not just about semantics though.

If your "revolutionary union" only has 60 members, doesn't have more than 1 in any workplace, or any significant number in one particular industry, then it's no different from a purely political organisation.

Even if it did have some more, and did have a few members in a few workplaces, then it still wouldn't be significantly different again from something like the Socialist Party, which has workplace and industrial groupings, and whose individual members co-workers would sometimes come to for advice, etc.

What you seem to be arguing for in this discussion is a separation between a political organisation (like the anarchist Federation) and a joint political-economic organisation. But this seems to be quite pointless.

To be honest, I just agree with what Alf said on the other thread - that you have a political organisation that argues a particular line, and consistently for particular tactics, and at work you organise in whichever way is most appropriate and with whomever is most appropriate.

Yorkie Bar
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Sep 25 2009 17:16
Quote:
at work you organise in whichever way is most appropriate and with whomever is most appropriate.

Right, so what is the most appropriate way and who are the most appropriate people? That is the substance of this discussion, no? Don't you think that's a worthwhile thing to debate?

~J.

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Sep 25 2009 17:35
BigLittleJ wrote:
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at work you organise in whichever way is most appropriate and with whomever is most appropriate.

Right, so what is the most appropriate way and who are the most appropriate people? That is the substance of this discussion, no? Don't you think that's a worthwhile thing to debate?

~J.

no, that is not the substance of this discussion. This discussion is about the organisation of anarchists.

At work, the aim is to organise with everyone, through mass meetings/assemblies. And delegating when necessary. But again, I think we're all taking this as a given here.

Yorkie Bar
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Sep 25 2009 18:12
Quote:
no, that is not the substance of this discussion. This discussion is about the organisation of anarchists.

Specifically, it's about the organisation of anarchists in the workplace. Or, to put it another way 'how should anarchists organise in the workplace and with whom' which is exactly the question that you are fudging.

Quote:
At work, the aim is to organise with everyone, through mass meetings/assemblies. And delegating when necessary. But again, I think we're all taking this as a given here.

This is a better answer than "in whichever way is most appropriate and with whomever is most appropriate" which doesn't really mean anything, but is workplace organising for anarchists limited to demanding mass meetings/assemblies (and even if it is, how are we to demand these things - it's not like you can conjure up mass assemblies of all workers out of the air, you need to organise and agitate for them)?

I mean, I could be wrong, since I'm inexperienced and not very familiar with the organisations in question. But it does seem to me like there's a hole in your logic here.

~J.

no1
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Sep 25 2009 18:25

I think the reason for calling it a revolutionary union is pretty simple actually: a union is a workers' organisation that fights for workers' economic interests. That's very different from a political organisation, which tries to promote particular politics, perhaps even through direct action, but not its members' direct economic interests.

I think combining the political and the economic in this way is actually pretty important for communists, because it's about proletarian self-organisation. If you're in a revolutionary union you're fighting for your own economic interest - that's self-organisation. If you're in a political group, even a communist political group, you're basically just telling others what you think ought to be done.

Of course size matters. Calling an organisation of 60 members a revolutionary union is mental. That's why nobody in Solfed does it.

Personally I think one should only talk of a revolutionary union if it's a workers organisation that's able to fight for its members economic interest because it is big enough to mobilise enough workers to put pressure on bosses, e.g. by calling a strike, or go-slow. If it's too small to have an impact, then it can't fight for workers' economic interest, so it's not a union.

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 26 2009 13:38
Steven. wrote:
What you seem to be arguing for in this discussion is a separation between a political organisation (like the anarchist Federation) and a joint political-economic organisation. But this seems to be quite pointless.

To be honest, I just agree with what Alf said on the other thread - that you have a political organisation that argues a particular line, and consistently for particular tactics, and at work you organise in whichever way is most appropriate and with whomever is most appropriate.

ok this is a substantive point. Jack's already pointed out nobody's claiming 60 people is a revolutionary union, and no1's done a pretty good job of describing what is.

so i'll explain why i disagree with your/the ICC approach (you've made your bed there wink ). as i said in the OP, i think the critieria for a political group are much tighter than required for revolutionary workplace organisation. for example, if there are people who are in favour of direct action, solidarity and self-organisation, with a broadly libertarian communist perspective, then i think they can benefit by all being part of one organisation that organises industrially and regionally. they could produce industrial (and regional) bulletins advocating mass meetings and direct action, reporting on other struggles in the sector and lessons learned etc - like we've tried to do on an ad hoc basis with Dispatch and Tea Break, only more systematically.

there was a definite difference with those being written by workers effected than if they were primarily written by outside politicos - certainly in how they were received on picket lines. the Education Workers' Network tries to do this a bit, but obviously it's pretty small. if the SP were to do this, they'd be organising on a political-economic basis too. it wouldn't be anarcho-syndicalist though as it would be organised along leninist lines and have SP not anarchist politics.

now to organise on this basis, so long as people are opposed to sex/gender/sexuality/race/religious based discrimination (i.e. act on a basis of class solidarity) i think that's sufficient. for an anarchist poltical group however, a more developed critique of gender roles and capitalism, materialist opposition to religion, a critique of the very notion of race etc are all pretty important. so i think an anarchist political group should be tighter than an anarcho-syndicalist network of militants/revolutionary union. this tightness also suggests a plurality of specific political groups, since there will be disagreements - so you have larger ones like the AF, smaller ones like L&S, specific editorial groups like libcom and aufheben and so on. ideally all of those people would also be involved in an anarcho-syndicalist organisation (i'm not saying SolFed is necessarily it).

Steven. wrote:
But the big problem with what you are saying is that it is all in an abstractions. You are not talking about something based in the real world.(...)
Seriously, I think you're trying to think up a strategy that sounds great and consistent on paper, but these theoretical discussions are getting detached from the reality on the ground.

You could still call your organisation a "revolutionary union" if you wanted to, but it wouldn't be qualitatively different from a political organisation like the anarchist Federation. People outside your work from your group could still assist you if you wanted, for example perhaps leafleting people during a dispute, but again it wouldn't matter if these people worked in the same industry or whatever as you.

I think we should try to keep bringing this discussion back to the real world today if we are actually going to get anything useful out of it.

i don't really understand this... SolFed and the AF (and other specifically political groups) exist, and i don't see a problem with trying to clearly define our roles and objectives. as a member of neither, i can understand if this doesn't interest you.

like i say i'm not particulary attached to the term 'revolutionary union' and we tend to use 'network of militants.' but if you want to engage with the substance of the argument instead of repeatedly telling us to call it something else then i (and no1) have tried to explain the reasons behind the terminology, which are non-trivial. i mean if you were discussing mass meetings direct action etc with someone, and instead of commenting on that they just kept saying 'but THAT's not communism, EVERYBODY KNOWS that the USSR was communism' you'd recognise it's not a very constructive way to carry on a discussion right?

in any event, this discussion is firmly rooted in the real world. just in our local we're involved in supporting various workers' struggles (basically as a political group at present). we've also been involved in a broader group for supporting the Vestas workers made up of Trots, greens, councils communists, anarchists and so on, which organised a packed-out meeting addressed by a Vestas worker, people from the Lewisham Bridge occupation and a Cityclean worker, with a general consensus that we need to support workers' direct action and class solidarity independently of (and even against) the trade unions. what if any grouping comes out of this is up for grabs.

we also have two members in one workplace, who instead of being simply two members of a political group are also part of the EWN, which means they have access to a wider network, an industrial newspaper and so on. obviously the EWN isn't anywhere near the size and influence of a 'revolutionary union', and so the potential benefits of this are somewhat curtailed. but we're not dreaming up strategies out of thin air but out of reflections on our concrete practice in the present and discussions about where we'd like to be in the future. a strategy is that which links A to B.

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Sep 26 2009 14:07
Mike Harman wrote:
Well for me the 'union functions' just means practical things which are undertaken by a workplace group day-to-day - i.e. those workers who are organised at a particular employer, some of whom might be in a wider network, some of whom not. There are always going to be people who are active in their workplace, who don't have an interest in joining a wider economic/political organisation, but who are quite capable of giving advice or helping to organise collective action around grievances etc. - so you have a network spanning regions and industries, and then workplace groups which are more or less local (to industry / employer location) with overlapping membership, and then the actual workplace assemblies which would be as open as possible. I don't think these need to be conflated, and it's only going to be the tiniest workplace with a disproportionate number of radicals working there where they might possibly be the same thing.

i'm all in favour of workplace groups that are broader than the (pro-revolutionary) network of militants - in fact a couple of our education workers have had a few meetings in the pub trying to set one up. however if you refuse to define a lot of these day to day things as 'union functions' you're (a) being completely ahistorical as they're things unions have been doing for a couple of centuries and (b) you'd have to say that a lot of the day-to-day stuff Steven does as a Unison convenor isn't union functions either.

i don't think a critique of the unions is furthered by labelling everything bad they do as 'union functions' and everything useful they do as 'practical things which are undertaken by a workplace group day-to-day' - rather i think the critique needs to be of the role of (trade) unions as representatives of labour power and thus mediators of the conditions of its exploitation, not agents of its abolition, then stressing the useful things they do do (link different workplaces, act as a source of advice, help organise collective action) can be done independently of such structures.

Mike Harman wrote:
I'm sure if I was to spend some time going through Direct Action or Anarcho-Syndicalist Review I could find some stuff which completely goes against what you've put forward here (I probably won't, but myself and Steven' haven't just made up our views of SolFed out of nothing).

ASR is published by Wobblies in the US who consider the IWW anarcho-syndicalist, so i'm not sure what that says about the views of the UK IWA section? confused I'm not saying there aren't plenty of 'anarcho-syndicalists' who use the prefix completely spuriously. And every issue of DA carries the following disclaimer: "Direct Action is published by the Solidarity Federation, the British section of the International Workers Association (IWA). DA is edited & laid out by the DA Collective. Views stated in these pages are not necessarily those of the Direct Action Collective or the Solidarity Federation."

Now i could help you out and find you a leaflet that appears to copy and paste from the IWW, advocating 'One Big Union' - i'm not saying SolFed is and has always been a paragon of theoretical and tactical unity (i think that leaflet reflects the fact tha until recently there's been no formal method for producing national propaganda so stuff like that slips through). All i am saying is what has been said to us in response to S&S - i wish we could publish the correspondance because it shows a high level of political debate which i think reflects well on the organisation. although if people were just going to ctrl-F for 'revolutionary union' and argue over terminology not substance, there might be little point. (fwiw, the nearest to a defence of 'One Big Unionism' there's been is to say it's simply an aspiration that all workers adopt anarcho-syndicalist politics and join us. which everyone acknowledges is neither likely or necessary, therefore i think it's pointlessly obfuscating to nick the slogan of a different organisation when we don't even mean it. but that's from one individual who's not particularly attached to the term.)

Mike Harman wrote:
Here again the terminology gets tricky. You said that union used to mean just 'group of workers' or 'union of workers' - in which case that would be applicable to mass meetings (especially regular ones with a backbone of workers keeping things going in-between - strike committee etc.) - but in this case, the revolutionary union is a separate organisation from that - so must have some other property which makes it not a simply group of workers - precisely that it's a politicised 'network of militants' - an agitational group, albeit one based in the workplace rather than outside.

well that's precisely what the 'revolutionary' bit means. if a union is simply a 'combination of workers', then a revolutionary union is a 'combination of revolutionary workers' - adjectives are a wonderful thing wink

like i say, i'm not particularly fussed about the terminology, the important thing is we actually formulate a strategy to move towards such a situation.

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Sep 27 2009 17:07

I did think that perhaps the Brighton SolFed's pamphlet 'S&S' was the beginning of a move towards some clarity and agreement on the potential role of pro-revolutionaries (not just anarchists) in the workplace, which might form the basis for better unity between us all in the current situation, but it's rejection by the SolFed conference and the debate here seems to demonstrate a backward step.

I note that the latest 'Direct Action' does indeed have the promised statement on what SolFed considers the principles of revolutionary unionism and whilst it does have some sound stuff in it (along with one or two questionable details), to my mind it goes well beyond any common place definition of an 'economic' organisation, encompassing as it does most of the wider social and political aims of libertarian or anarchist communism.

At the end of the day it does seem to revert to the traditional view that there is no distinction in practice between minority political pro-revolutionary organisations and the wider miltant economic and community - (if we add the qualification supplied in the a seperate statement on 'Anarcho-syndicalism') organisations of the class.

I thought Brighton SolFed in their pamplet and above were moving away from that view but perhaps I was mistaken?

Of course it could be that some of us from the left and council communist (and possibly platformist) traditions still cannot get our heads round the SolFed's peculiar redefinition of a 'union' in the same way that SolFed and traditional anarchosyndicalists cannot get their heads round our different definitions of 'political' organisations and parties.

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Sep 27 2009 17:44
Spikeymike wrote:
I note that the latest 'Direct Action' does indeed have the promised statement on what SolFed considers the principles of revolutionary unionism and whilst it does have some sound stuff in it (along with one or two questionable details)

it's still very much a work in progress - we don't have the internal procedures to formally agree things between conference, so someone tends to take the initiative, people make criticisms and a consensus is reached that way. please feel free to elaborate what the problems are. the final sentence - "All decisions are made by the mass membership of the unions" appears to have been added in unilaterally to an otherwise collectively agreed text - the whole thrust of the criticism of S&S has been that revolutionary unions function perfectly well as minorities as they indeed necessarily must most of the time, so the addition of the word 'mass' seems to go back to a One Big Unionist view. please feel free to elaborate any 'questionable details'.

Joseph Kay wrote:
At the end of the day it does seem to revert to the traditional view that there is no distinction in practice between minority political pro-revolutionary organisations and the wider miltant economic and community - (if we add the qualification supplied in the a seperate statement on 'Anarcho-syndicalism') organisations of the class.

I thought Brighton SolFed in their pamplet and above were moving away from that view but perhaps I was mistaken?

not just Brighton SolFed, it appears to be the 'orthodox' SolFed position going by the post-S&S discussions. the emerging consensus seems to be that anarcho-syndicalists/revolutionaries should organise as workers but as a militant minority who relate to our workmates and the wider class through organising/advocating mass meetings where we argue for militant direct action. i think that's (a) a good approach and (b) very different to the IWW 'revolutionary unionism' which looks to recruit workers into a recognised trade union and then take action on that basis. we really should make this clear, and the current phrasing of a lot of our stuff is ambiguous. but like i say if anyone in solfed basically wants to be the wobblies with circle-As then they haven't said so, and there have been some pretty thorough discussions.

Spikeymike wrote:
Of course it could be that some of us from the left and council communist (and possibly platformist) traditions still cannot get our heads round the SolFed's peculiar redefinition of a 'union' in the same way that SolFed and traditional anarchosyndicalists cannot get their heads round our different definitions of 'political' organisations and parties.

basically SolFed people use union in a very non-loaded sense to mean just a group of workers (and let the adjective do the talking). left/council communists tend to use union synonymously with trade union. so i think there's a lot of mutual misunderstanding. something we're looking to do in S&S 2 is embellish the classic syndicalist critique of unions (pro-democracy, anti-bureaucrat) with Debord's argument that 'the representation of the proletariat has become the enemy of the proletariat' - and thus explicitly develop the idea of anarcho-syndicalism as a practice of self-organisation in contrast to representative unionism, be it traditional or radical rank-and-file like the IWW.

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Sep 27 2009 19:02
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i think that's (a) a good approach and (b) very different to the IWW 'revolutionary unionism' which looks to recruit workers into a recognised trade union and then take action on that basis.

Just a quick comment here, you mean the IWW in the UK right? Our branch in Edmonton has a standing policy that we do not become a registered trade union (though this is controversial I support this motion).

gypsy
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Sep 27 2009 19:07

yeah joseph is talking about the IWW in the UK im pretty sure.

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Sep 27 2009 19:07

Yeah I would say BIROC these days is a lot less of a mixed bag than the rest of the IWW. Still though a few of us have been reading the stuff coming out of Solfed, like the Brighton pamphlet with some keen interest.

gypsy
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Sep 27 2009 19:08

Is there a branch of the IWA in the USA?

gypsy
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Sep 27 2009 19:13

oh yeah? can u tell me about those circumstances or is that confidential laugh out loud

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Sep 27 2009 19:40

There's an old thread about the WSA and IWA here for those who are interested: http://libcom.org/forums/workers-solidarity-alliance/workers-solidarity-alliance-and-iwa

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Sep 27 2009 20:19

I think the best person to sound in on this is Syndicalist as he is one of the WSA people who was around for the whole situation. I joined afterwards. Also for the sake of intellectual charity saying that ASR thinks the IWW is anarcho syndicalist isn't quite right. More like they argue for their line of anarcho syndicalism within the IWW, I think even they would acknowledge a lot of different tendencies are in the IWW and it is far from an A-S organisation.

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Sep 27 2009 21:38
EdmontonWobbly wrote:
Also for the sake of intellectual charity saying that ASR thinks the IWW is anarcho syndicalist isn't quite right. More like they argue for their line of anarcho syndicalism within the IWW, I think even they would acknowledge a lot of different tendencies are in the IWW and it is far from an A-S organisation.

ok cheers, i stand corrected. i've never actually seen a physical copy of ASR, let alone been familiar with its editorial collective.

Also as Jack says, i'm talking about IWW-UK, but yeah the exact legal status isn't so much the issue as the organising model. As far as i'm aware, the IWW tends to organise by getting people in a given workplace to join and then self-manage their own job branch, hence 'One Big Union for all workers'. what SolFed's talking about is revolutionaries organising in the workplace, and involving other workers through mass meetings which control the struggle. the mass meetings may be really regular if there's a militant workplace, or more ad hoc if there's not. but the mass meetings and the revolutionary union aren't the same thing.

as a comrade said criticising S&S: "the aim of anarcho-syndicalism is not to enroll every worker into the revolutionary union but rather to organize mass meeting at which the union argues for militant action. The mass meeting is not the anarcho-syndicalist union but a democratic means of organizing. The union is made up of workers committed to the methods and ideas of anarcho-syndicalism." i actually think we argued something like this in S&S, only we called the revolutionary union a 'network of militants' and the mass meetings the revolutionary union - but the relationship between revolutionary workers and the rest is the same; not leading like a political vanguard but agitating for a democratic forum to air class demands and initiate direct action. certainly this is what led us to cite the CNT's role in Puerto Real and the SolFed comrade's role in Workmates as positive examples to emulate.

i think this difference between 'simple syndicalism' and 'anarcho-syndicalism', which has developed in practice although with much overlap, can be theoretically enhanced with a critique of representation per se. anarchists rejected political representation per se, and turned to the unions, such as the CGT in 1895. subsequently, syndicalists like Tom Mann developed a critique of bureaucracy, to which they counterposed a rank-and-file unionism influenced by French revolutionary syndicalism and the Industrial Unionism of the IWW.

i think the anarchist critique, and thus anarcho-syndicalism goes one step further, e.g. see the AF's critique of unions as representatives of labour power, thus structurally bound to mediate the conditions of its exploitation and unable to be revolutionary (the FORA anticipated this by rejecting the idea the union would survive capitalism, let alone become the structure of the new society. Maximov/Rocker/the IWA took this further by embracing a council system). the upshot of that is any anarcho- or revolutionary union has to reject representation in favour of self-organisation, which i think is the model i've outlined, where it is made up of revolutionaries and agitates for mass meetings, rather than trying to recruit workers, organise a shop then struggle like a more democratic version of a traditional union.

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Sep 28 2009 13:19

"what SolFed's talking about is revolutionaries organising in the workplace, and involving other workers through mass meetings which control the struggle. the mass meetings may be really regular if there's a militant workplace, or more ad hoc if there's not. but the mass meetings and the revolutionary union aren't the same thing".

What the ICC is talking about is revolutionaries organising in the workplace, and involving other workers through struggle groups which argue for mass meetings which control the struggle. the mass meetings may be really regular if there's a militant workplace, or more ad hoc if there's not. but the mass meetings and the struggle group aren't the same thing.