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Parallels between anarcho-syndicalism and council communism

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 22 2009 10:04
Parallels between anarcho-syndicalism and council communism

One thing a lot of people said when we published 'Strategy & Struggle' was that it seemed very councillist. I don't think that's true, i think our notion of a revolutionary union as a federation of mass assemblies very much reflected that of Isaac Puente's 1932 classic pamphlet on libertarian communism (although i must say our understanding/terminology has since developed following some constructive discussions):

Isaac Puente wrote:
The union: in it combine spontaneiously the workers from factories and all places of collective exploitation (...) Ultimate sovereignty in the local federation of industrial unions lies with the general assembly of all local producers (...) In time of revolution, the unions will take collective possession of factories, workshops and workrooms; of lodgings, buildings and lands; of public services and materials and raw materials and raw materials kept in storage.

However, researching the follow-up to Strategy & Struggle has thrown up some interesting parallels between the two tendencies. One thing to make clear is that what defines council communism is not advocacy of workers' councils - the anarcho-syndicalist IWA is constitutionally committed to "a system of free councils", while GP Maximov had this to say of the Russian Revolution:

GP Maximov wrote:
It is a noteworthy feature of the revolution that despite the rather small influence of Anarchists on the masses before its out break, it followed from its inception the anarchistic course of full decentralisation; the revolutionary bodies immediately pushed to the front by the course of revolution were Anarcho-Syndicalist in their essential character. These were of the kind which lend themselves as adequate instruments for the quickest realisation of the Anarchist ideal - Soviets, Factory Committees, peasant land committees and house committees, etc.

Rather the difference is one of organisational practice. Anarcho-syndicalists advocate politicised economic organisation to agitate for the above, council communists tend to opt for purely political organisation and see developments in the class struggle as largely spontaneous reactions to capital occuring independently of revolutionary minorities. So that's the main difference. The similarity seems to be one of a development out of traditions which substituted representative forms (party or union) for the class in favour of self-organisation.

Council communism developed out of the Marxist current (that can be largely traced back to Marx's side of the split in the first international). This tendency, in its social democratic and bolshevik forms had tended to substitute party for class and saw political action (rather than direct action) as key to revolution. Otto Ruhle's The Revolution Is Not A Party Affair is a pretty obvious example of a break with that.

In parallel, anarcho-syndicalism grew out of Revolutionary Syndicalism which can be traced back to the libertarian tendency in the first international. Revolutionary Syndicalism tended to substitute union for class, aiming to recruit all workers then take over the running of society through union structures (similarly to the Industrial Unionism of the IWW in this respect). To varying degrees anarcho-syndicalism broke with this in favour of self-organisation and seeing councils as the revolutionary/post-revolutionary organs - the FORA's insistence that "We must not forget that a union is merely an economic by-product of the capitalist system, born from the needs of this epoch. To preserve it after the revolution would imply preserving the capitalist system that gave rise to it" is one of the clearer examples of this.

Part of the problem in unpicking all this is that there were all sorts of tendencies intertwined and rarely clarified - a hell of a lot of historical 'anarcho-syndicalism' was in fact anarchists doing syndicalism (like AF members joining the IWW today) rather than an actual synthesis of syndicalist methods with anarchist politics. Been reading some really useful stuff on this though - i hope to OCR some chapter's of John Quail's 'The Slow Burning Fuse' when I get the time as some of the more pertinent chapters to this discussion (13-15) are not online. But if anyone has any thoughts on this, or decent reading recommendations, then let's hear 'em!

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Sep 22 2009 14:35
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Anarcho-syndicalists advocate politicised economic organisation to agitate for the above, council communists tend to opt for purely political organisation and see developments in the class struggle as largely spontaneous reactions to capital occuring independently of revolutionary minorities.

I'd like to know what the differences are between a political economic organisation, a polticised economic organisation, a political organisation and a party.

I'd also be curious as to how these distinctions fit with an anarchosyndicalist theory which rejects the seperation of political and economic organisation.

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Sep 22 2009 14:57

economic organisation = one based on shared material conditions

political organisation = one based on shared ideas

political-economic organisation = one based on shared material conditions and political ideas

so...

now obviously despite 'no politics in this union', the famous preamble means the IWW isn't 100% purely economic, and i'm pretty sure the AF has rules barring bosses, so it's not 100% purely political. also, i've placed SolFed according to aspiration as much as practice, as we're part political-economic organisation and part political propaganda one at the moment. but you get the distinction between anarchists doing syndicalism (which is where the CGT has its roots) and anarcho-syndicalism, which developed later.

georgestapleton wrote:
I'd also be curious as to how these distinctions fit with an anarchosyndicalist theory which rejects the seperation of political and economic organisation.

hopefully the venn diagram answers this?

Boris Badenov
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Sep 22 2009 15:24
JK wrote:
i'm pretty sure the AF has rules barring bosses

So basically if Engels wanted to join the AF, they'd turn him down? Buncha crazy ultra-leftists!
Honestly though, I don't see the point to this. Given that very few workers today are interested in radical politics of any kind, it just seems like overkill to have official rules barring bosses from joining.
I think what defines a political focus is simply the willingness to act through political means, like disseminating propaganda, public forums, etc.

ajjohnstone
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Sep 22 2009 15:31

Vlad writes

Quote:
So basically if Engels wanted to join the AF, they'd turn him down?

Nor would Engels be eligible for membership of the IWW since as a factory manager he had the power to hire and fire .

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Sep 22 2009 15:39

poor Engels cry

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Sep 22 2009 15:47
Joseph Kay wrote:
economic organisation = one based on shared material conditions

political organisation = one based on shared ideas

political-economic organisation = one based on shared material conditions and political ideas

so...

now obviously despite 'no politics in this union', the famous preamble means the IWW isn't 100% purely economic, and i'm pretty sure the AF has rules barring bosses, so it's not 100% purely political. also, i've placed SolFed according to aspiration as much as practice, as we're part political-economic organisation and part political propaganda one at the moment. but you get the distinction between anarchists doing syndicalism (which is where the CGT has its roots) and anarcho-syndicalism, which developed later.

georgestapleton wrote:
I'd also be curious as to how these distinctions fit with an anarchosyndicalist theory which rejects the seperation of political and economic organisation.

hopefully the venn diagram answers this?

Fair enough, but then how are councilist organisations not the same as Solfed?

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Sep 22 2009 16:01

And Joseph, do you seriously think having an organisation barring "bosses" makes any qualitative difference to the type of organization it is?

For starters, "bosses" can mean just about anything. What is the definition solidarity federation uses? I bet it doesn't have any sort of internal consistency (not that I think it's a good idea in the first place, but still...)

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Sep 22 2009 16:11
georegestapleton wrote:
Fair enough, but then how are councilist organisations not the same as Solfed?

the historical practice of councillism is that revolutionaries should organise themselves in a purely political party (or group of some other name) and that struggles arise spontaneously as a result of the dynamics of capital.

anarcho-syndicalism argues the 'spontaneity' of struggles is usually an artefact of the remoteness of the observer, and that invariably (tautologically even) they are initated by the more militant sections of the workforce/class, therefore if those more militant workers who hold revolutionary views organise together on an industrial and regional basis as workers then we can agitiate to increase levels of solidarity and struggle. i'm not aware of any councillists advocating formal, permanent workers' organisations based in workplaces and neighbourhoods.

for councillists, workers' councils are the spontaneous product of mass strikes which arise inexorably from the dynamics of capital, within which revolutionaries organised along political lines should then make 'interventions.' for anarcho-syndicalists workers' councils are the high water mark of everyday struggles and self-organisation with which we should be involved from the start. tbh the platformist notion of 'social insertion' has a lot more in common with the ICC-esque 'intervention' than you'd probably like, both of them being ways in which revolutionary minorities organised into specifically political organisations attempt to influence struggles which are external to them.

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Sep 22 2009 16:24
Steven. wrote:
And Joseph, do you seriously think having an organisation barring "bosses" makes any qualitative difference to the type of organization it is?

well funnily enough my speculation about the AF's membership rules wasn't a definitive and nuanced statement. i mean i'm sayin the AF is essentially a political organisation, just not purely so if they include some criteria of material circumstances in addition to ideas.

Steven. wrote:
For starters, "bosses" can mean just about anything. What is the definition solidarity federation uses? I bet it doesn't have any sort of internal consistency (not that I think it's a good idea in the first place, but still...)

the wording of a clarifying motion (which passed) at our last conference was:

SolFed wrote:
There are four areas where people should be barred from membership. These are the state security services; bailiffs; full time trade union officials*; officers or holders of Executive positions in political parties; those who have ultimate power to hire and fire or those whose primary role in the workplace is to hire and fire.

* one who is employed by the union and accountable to the union bureaucracy rather than the rank and file

so you're on the borderline there Steven wink

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Sep 22 2009 16:41

I've read your post three or four times now and I don't understand your distinctions.

I don't think you are accurately describing the historical practice of councilism. I wouldn't consider a group such as Echanges et Mouvement as to some degrees definitional of the practice of councilist movements and your description of their practice doesn't add up with my understanding of either their practice or their theorisation of their own practice.

I like your second paragraph but I'm not sure if it is what anarchosyndicalism says or what you say. I agree with you but I haven't come across this argument being presented as an anarchosyndicalist position before. I haven't even come across it in an anarchosyndicalist publication before. More over the aim of getting "militant workers who hold revolutionary views [to] organise together on an industrial and regional basis as workers [so that] we can agitiate to increase levels of solidarity and struggle" is more syndicalist than anarchosyndicalist. Correct me if I'm wrong but the anarchosyndicalist position is to get anarchist workers who hold anarchist views to organise together on an industrial and regional basis as anarchist workers so that we can agitiate to increase levels of solidarity and struggle.

Finally, on this:

Quote:
tbh the platformist notion of 'social insertion' has a lot more in common with the ICC-esque 'intervention' than you'd probably like, both of them being ways in which revolutionary minorities organised into specifically political organisations attempt to influence struggles which are external to them.

Yeah you are right that there is a commonality between the practice of the ICC and platformist insofar as we are revolutionary minorities organised into specifically political organisations who attempt to influence struggles. However, this could equally be said of solfed. As for us being external to the struggle I think both the ICC and platformists would reject that we are external to the working class and all our work is therefore attempting to influence struggle internal to our class. However, the internal external question might be something else. So the CNT in pre franco did not relate to struggle like platformists because struggles happened through the CNT whereas, platformists do not want struggles to happen through our organisations. We want to engage in working class struggles that encompass workers who do not share our politics as well as those that do.

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Sep 22 2009 16:41
Joseph Kay wrote:
SolFed wrote:
There are four areas where people should be barred from membership. These are the state security services; bailiffs; full time trade union officials*; officers or holders of Executive positions in political parties; those who have ultimate power to hire and fire or those whose primary role in the workplace is to hire and fire.

* one who is employed by the union and accountable to the union bureaucracy rather than the rank and file

So I'm curious would members and employees of say the Scottish Socialist Party be able to join? *Ducks and hides*

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Sep 22 2009 17:06
georgestapleton wrote:
I don't think you are accurately describing the historical practice of councilism. I wouldn't consider a group such as Echanges et Mouvement as to some degrees definitional of the practice of councilist movements and your description of their practice doesn't add up with my understanding of either their practice or their theorisation of their own practic

i'm going off what i've read, which is mostly Rosa Luxemburg, Pannekoek and some Gorter and Ruhle. i'm open to correction though, and it wouldn't surprise me if more contemporary currents have moved towards industrial networking as the limits of purely political organisation became apparent.

georgestapleton wrote:
I like your second paragraph but I'm not sure if it is what anarchosyndicalism says or what you say. I agree with you but I haven't come across this argument being presented as an anarchosyndicalist position before. I haven't even come across it in an anarchosyndicalist publication before. More over the aim of getting "militant workers who hold revolutionary views [to] organise together on an industrial and regional basis as workers [so that] we can agitiate to increase levels of solidarity and struggle" is more syndicalist than anarchosyndicalist. Correct me if I'm wrong but the anarchosyndicalist position is to get anarchist workers who hold anarchist views to organise together on an industrial and regional basis as anarchist workers so that we can agitiate to increase levels of solidarity and struggle.

fair enough, i was using 'militant workers who hold revolutionary views' as a synomym for 'anarchist workers' and that was a bit sloppy. although i suppose it's plausible that people could agree with our A&Ps without self-identifying as 'anarchist', say being libertarian communists who support agitational industrial organisation. that would be identity games rather than substantive politics though.

georgestapleton wrote:
Yeah you are right that there is a commonality between the practice of the ICC and platformist insofar as we are revolutionary minorities organised into specifically political organisations who attempt to influence struggles. However, this could equally be said of solfed.

SolFed is largely a political propaganda group at present, so yes it could. we do need to stop trying to be an anarchist federation and be an anarcho-syndicalist organisation though, as the functions of each are complementary but distinct.

georgestapleton wrote:
As for us being external to the struggle I think both the ICC and platformists would reject that we are external to the working class and all our work is therefore attempting to influence struggle internal to our class. However, the internal external question might be something else.

yes i'm not saying you're outside the class, although sometimes i suspect the ICC are outside the planet...

georgestapelton wrote:
So the CNT in pre franco did not relate to struggle like platformists because struggles happened through the CNT whereas, platformists do not want struggles to happen through our organisations. We want to engage in working class struggles that encompass workers who do not share our politics as well as those that do.

so do we. the CNT was a curious hybrid of revolutionary syndicalism and anarcho-syndicalism (often in open conflict with one another), so i'll talk about SolFed's strategy rather than history. we organise as anarchist workers on an industrial and regional basis, agitiating for mass meetings where we argue for militant direct action. as and when this is happening all over the place we argue for them to federate into regional workers' councils. obviously there's 60 of us, so it's all a bit academic, but we don't want SolFed to be an organ of struggle but an organ of agitation rooted in workplaces and communities (in the unlikely event SolFed had a significant membership in a given workplace i guess it could go on strike even if other workers rejected it in a mass meeting, but that's not our strategy nor a likely scenario in the forseeable future).

as far as i'm aware, none of the specific political groups have a strategy or orientation like that. the most detailed one is probably the AF's 'On the frontline', and all that wants to do is "describe tendencies" rather than outline an organisational strategy (although they are supportive of SolFed's industrial networks approach, without actually joining). do the AF, WSM or ICC advocate permanent workplace/industrial groups of anarchists/communists? i'm pretty sure they reject them in favour of permanent political organisation and contingent workplace organisation.

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Sep 22 2009 17:08
georgestapleton wrote:
So I'm curious would members and employees of say the Scottish Socialist Party be able to join? *Ducks and hides*

employees in principle, they're workers. i'm sure the SSP like any fair-sized organisation would have admin staff and the like. members, and workers with ideological commitment to the party would struggle to show they agree with our (anti-political party, anti-statist) aims and principles though.

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Sep 23 2009 11:35
Joseph Kay wrote:
as far as i'm aware, none of the specific political groups have a strategy or orientation like that. the most detailed one is probably the AF's 'On the frontline', and all that wants to do is "describe tendencies" rather than outline an organisational strategy (although they are supportive of SolFed's industrial networks approach, without actually joining). do the AF, WSM or ICC advocate permanent workplace/industrial groups of anarchists/communists? i'm pretty sure they reject them in favour of permanent political organisation and contingent workplace organisation.

thinking about this a bit more, i can't think of any anarchist groups with a decent industrial strategy. now i'm not saying this in a 'my organisation's better than yours' way, we had to publish a pamphlet which inadvertantly provoked some heated discussions to finally shed light on what SolFed's strategy actually means, so while i think it's actually very good we're absolutely terrible at communicating it, even to members (most people read 'revolutionary union' to mean something like the IWW but expliticly anarchist, not a network of anarchist workers which agitates for mass meetings and direct action).

but if you think about it, the options are pretty limited. Trots can pursue a strategy of capturing positions in trade union bureacracies, as they have no problem with such hierarchical, representative structures. anarchists can't. i vaguely remember a row over the WSM backing one candidate in a union election once, but it's certainly not their strategy, which seems aimed more at reforming the unions to have internal structures and processes more akin to anarcho-syndicalism (although i'm told by some WSMers the position paper is quite old and not very representative of current thinking).

the AF on the other hand are pursuing two different strategies at once, one the more spontaneist, councillist approach of saying workplace resistance groups are a "tendency" they like, but not setting out an approach to create them or even defining them that rigourouly, let alone thinking such groups should link together regionally and industrially (i've heard it called 'defeatist anarcho-syndicalism'). the second strategy is to use the IWW as an industrial networking tool despite (correctly) opposing its stated role and goal (to be a real, registered union representing workers and be revolutionary. that seemed to happen when AF members were rebuffed from SolFed's EWN (i think this was unofficial and never came before conference, but i might be wrong).

so basically anarchist industrial strategies are pretty poor. i do genuinely think SolFed's is pretty good, but unfortunately we've never bothered telling anyone what it is* and just assumed people will read 'revolutionary union' in the way it was intended (and if they don't they must be our opponents). our approach certainly isn't incompatible with the AF's critique of syndicalism since we're not aiming to be representatives of labour power negotiating the conditions of its exploitation on its behalf, which is the (valid) basis of their critique (which ironically does apply to the IWW as it goes down the road of being a recognised union).

* our published industrial strategy is more a set of broad principles, open to misinterpretation on what 'independent union' means, than a strategy per se.

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Sep 23 2009 11:58

I think this division into good anarcho-syndicalists and bad revolutionary syndicalists is neither very productive nor very historically accurate.

First of all, this isn't how the terms are used elsewhere. For the most part anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary syndicalist are used more or less as synonyms, and in English and Scandinavian you usually just say syndicalist. Whether an organization uses one or the other term has more to do with with local tradition, than with ideological conviction. Thus both the CNT and the CGT in Spain is officially "anarcho-syndicalist", while the USI-AIT in Italy define itself as being in the "revolutionary syndicalist" tradition and the SAC in Sweden is simply "syndicalist". The IWA as a whole also officially defines itself as "revolutionary syndicalist" and has done so since it's foundation in 1921.

Of course you can draw a distinction between a more mixed (revolutionary) syndicalist movement before World War I, and a more anarchist dominated (anarcho-)syndicalist movement from the 1920s onwards. But this change didn't happen because anarchists decided to make a "synthesis of syndicalist methods with anarchist politics". It rather happened because the Marxists and social democrats dumped their syndicalist ideas in favor of either Bolshevism or reformism, and this left the anarchists more or less alone in upholding the traditional revolutionary syndicalist principles.

Claiming that revolutionary syndicalism is "purely economic" while anarcho-syndicalism advocate "political-economic" organization is even more confusing, as this mixes different definitions of the words economic and political. At the time, political action mean parliamentary politics, so classical revolutionary syndicalism was economic in the sense that it advocated direct action by the working masses, and a-political in the sense that the revolutionary unions where open to all workers regardless of party affiliation. The central idea behind revolutionary syndicalism is that the union should both be a means for day to day class struggle, and at the same time educate and prepare the masses for revolution. So it's purely economic only insofar as making a revolution is seen as a purely economic matter.

georgestapleton wrote:
Correct me if I'm wrong but the anarchosyndicalist position is to get anarchist workers who hold anarchist views to organise together on an industrial and regional basis as anarchist workers so that we can agitiate to increase levels of solidarity and struggle.

While some anarcho-syndicalists want to set up organizations for anarchists only, this is not the majority view. I think the classic anarcho-syndicalist position is the one set out by CNT Sevilla in its pamphlet Anarcosindicalismo Basico:

Quote:
Anyone can voluntarily belong to the anarcho-union, with the exception of police, soldiers and members of security forces. No ideological qualification is necessary to be in the CNT. This is because the CNT is anarcho-syndicalist, that is, it is an organization in which decisions are made in assembly, from the base. It is an autonomous, federalist structure independent of political parties, of government agencies, of professional bureaucracies, etc. The anarcho-union only requires a respect for its rules, and from this point of view people of different opinions, tendencies and ideologies can live together within it. Ecologists, pacifists, members of political parties .. can be part of the CNT. There will always be different opinions, priorities and points of view about concrete problems. What everyone has in common within the anarcho-union is its unique way of functioning, its anti-authoritarian structure.

Also, some of the IWA sections that are the most opposed to classical revolutionary syndicalism (such as the French CNT-AIT or the Russian KRAS) are clearly influenced by council communism. I think they have also had members who have self-identified as council communists.

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Joseph Kay
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Sep 23 2009 12:45
Felix Frost wrote:
I think this division into good anarcho-syndicalists and bad revolutionary syndicalists is neither very productive nor very historically accurate. First of all, this isn't how the terms are used elsewhere. For the most part anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary syndicalist are used more or less as synonyms.

this is my whole point. historically all these ideas were intertwined and mixed and matched differently in different contexts. some of those ideas proved themselves worthwhile, some of them proved limited or even counter-revolutionary. that kind of mixing and matching is a sign of a healthy approach to trying new tactics and methods, but with the benefit of hindsight to refuse to separate out the better ones from the worse is tantamount to refusing to learn from history and being doomed to repeat it, imho.

should we not distinguish between different Marxisms because they've all used overlapping labels to describe wildly varying practices?

Felix Frost wrote:
Claiming that revolutionary syndicalism is "purely economic" while anarcho-syndicalism advocate "political-economic" organization is even more confusing, as this mixes different definitions of the words economic and political. At the time, political action mean parliamentary politics, so classical revolutionary syndicalism was economic in the sense that it advocated direct action by the working masses, and a-political in the sense that the revolutionary unions where open to all workers regardless of party affiliation. The central idea behind revolutionary syndicalism is that the union should both be a means for day to day class struggle, and at the same time educate and prepare the masses for revolution. So it's purely economic only insofar as making a revolution is seen as a purely economic matter.

yes i understand the division at the time was betwen 'political action' (seizing the state by democratic or bolshevik means) and 'union action' (i.e. action by workers themselves at the point of production, or more broadly through rent strikes, unemployed actions etc).

however, are you saying there's no difference between the French CGT which was open to all workers and made serious attempts to recruit them all (reaching around 3m members at one point iirc), and the Argentinia FORA, which was a union for anarchist-communist workers? Surely you can see how thw membership criteria for the former is simply economic ('worker') and the latter political-economic ('anarchist-communist worker')?

Felix Frost wrote:
While some anarcho-syndicalists want to set up organizations for anarchists only, this is not the majority view. I think the classic anarcho-syndicalist position is the one set out by CNT Sevilla in its pamphlet Anarchosindicalismo Basico:
[snip]

that's a classic revolutionary syndicalist position: a union for all workers with a democratic structure. i'm not sure when that was written, but the CNT is also committed to libertarian communism since 1923, which completely contradicts 'no ideological qualification.' how could you possibly term syndicalism without any anarchist ideology as 'anarcho-syndicalism'?

the problem here is that both advocates and critics of anarcho-syndicalism take 'the CNT' as the definitive model. but in actual fact the CNT is not a singular entity but an uneasy, contradictory mish-mash of revolutionary syndicalists, anarchists, punks, militant but apolitical trade unionists and so on, and always has been. For instance

Buenaventura Durruti wrote:
Some think the organisation is simply a vehicle for defending their economic interests. Others see it as an organisation that works with the anarchists for social transformation. Of course it makes sense that it's so difficult for the straight union activists and anarchists to get along.

and Abel Paz comments that...

Abel Paz wrote:
There were two conflicting tendencies in the CNT: the simple syndicalists believed that the CNT structures should provide the foundations of the new society, whereas the anarchists argued that the organisation formed to wage class war should not serve as the model for the new social order.

the former 'simple syndicalist' position applies to the Revolutionary Syndicalism of the CGT and the Industrial Unionism of the IWW, the latter 'anarchist' position reflects that of the FORA (quoted in the OP). it's not me making these distinctions, they run throughout the history of the workers' movement.

i think the biggest mistake, for critics and advocates of anarcho-syndicalism alike is the straw man that there is such thing as 'classical anarcho-syndicalism' (a trap we fell into too in 'Strategy & Struggle'). to be perfectly honest, the actual anarcho- tendency has always been a minority, which i think is why some anarcho-syndicalists are happy to paper over the serious differences and thus create for themselves an illustrious history. critics of anarcho-syndicalism are also happy with this since they can shoot down the easier targets like the CGT and the CNTista ministers without dealing with the more revolutionary tendencies that would challenge their own ideology. so everyone gets a nice ideological identity and we learn nothing from history. fuck that.

Felix Frost wrote:
Also, some of the IWA sections that are the most opposed to classical revolutionary syndicalism (such as the French CNT-AIT or the Russian KRAS) are clearly influenced by council communism. I think they have also had members who have self-identified as council communists.

(a) i don't see a problem with this. we're meant to be a living revolutionary tendency not a dogmatic religious sect.

(b) one of the few things that came out of council communism that hadn't earlier been said more clearly by anarchists was the critique of representative unionism, favouring self-organisation (the FORA had implied it in 1904, as did various syndicalist anti-bureacracy rank-and-file sentiment, but the councillists made it explicit).

it doesn't matter who said it, anarchism opposes representatation in favour of self-organsiation. 'simple syndicalism' is at best rank-and-file trade unionism and thus trapped within the framework of representing labour power and negotiating its price (the former tendency Durruti describes). anarcho-syndicalism has to reject that in favour of self-organisation - agitiating for mass meetings which decide whether to strike or not, whether to accept an offer or not etc.

but (contrary to Strategy & Struggle) the mass meetings are not the union, but a democratic means of organising. the union is made up of those committed to anarcho-syndicalist ideas (i.e. anarchist workers), the mass meetings are made up of the whole workforce. in practice, the CNT has chosen to become more this than a non-ideological 'union for all workers', otherwise it wouldn't have split with the CGT - if you have no anarchist ideological requirement, what's wrong with participating in state structures? In practice IWA sections have chosen to shrink into propaganda groups rather than compromise anarchist principles. the fact some of them do so while saying openly contradictory things says more about cognitive dissonance than anarcho-syndicalism.

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Steven.
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Sep 23 2009 17:46
georgestapleton wrote:
Joseph Kay wrote:
SolFed wrote:
There are four areas where people should be barred from membership. These are the state security services; bailiffs; full time trade union officials*; officers or holders of Executive positions in political parties; those who have ultimate power to hire and fire or those whose primary role in the workplace is to hire and fire.

* one who is employed by the union and accountable to the union bureaucracy rather than the rank and file

So I'm curious would members and employees of say the Scottish Socialist Party be able to join? *Ducks and hides*

now this question from George wouldn't be an issue for you - because as you have said members have to be "anarchists".

However, sorry but I think you are clutching at straws in trying to distinguish your "political-economic" organisation from a straight up political group like the Anarchist Federation, platformist group like the WSM, or a hypothetical council communist party.

Saying that in your group people organised both "as anarchists" and "as workers" doesn't really mean much. For one, your membership criteria doesn't exclude people who aren't workers (capitalists, members of the Royal family, etc - not that I think it should mind, that would be pointless, but still). And secondly, I don't think you can say that you do any more political organising "as workers" than people in the AF, or even a group like the Socialist Party, which is of course a political organisation, but has caucuses for workers in particular workplaces or sectors, for example.

You know I agree with most of your politics, but I do think that you keep tying yourself in knots trying to make your communist politics fit into anarchosyndicalist language. When it really is semantics. If you were in say the AF as opposed to Solfed, you could make all the same points without having to try to redefine all your terms.

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Sep 23 2009 18:27
Steven wrote:
For one, your membership criteria doesn't exclude people who aren't workers (capitalists, members of the Royal family, etc - not that I think it should mind, that would be pointless, but still)

it's never been a problem tbh, but this isn't the substantive point so much as how we seek to organise.

Steven wrote:
And secondly, I don't think you can say that you do any more political organising "as workers" than people in the AF

we certainly don't atm, with the minor exception of the EWN. which is why I said describing SolFed as political-economic is aspirational rather than actual. But are you seriously saying there's no difference between organisations which seek to build permanent industrial structures and those who don't?

Steven. wrote:
You know I agree with most of your politics, but I do think that you keep tying yourself in knots trying to make your communist politics fit into anarchosyndicalist language. When it really is semantics. If you were in say the AF as opposed to Solfed, you could make all the same points without having to try to redefine all your terms.

for starters they're not 'my terms', they're the terms of members of SolFed who have been involved since the DAM days, most of whom were highly critical of Strategy & Struggle for using the (less useful) mass/minority distinction in place of political/economic.

secondly, if I was in the AF I'd be publishing pamphlets trying to explain having two contradictory strategies, one of which that only "describes tendencies" rather than actually doing anything and the other of which is in diametrical opposition to the AF's (essentially correct) critique of representative unionism. and I like the AF, I just think they don't have a very coherent industrial approach.

I'd also be arguing gor the AF to join SolFed en masse, stop half-heartedly dicking around with an organisation at odds with their a&ps (sorry Wobblies) and thus have a coherent industrial strategy centred on building networks of anarchist workers which can take on some of the useful, non-representative functions of unions thus leaving the AF to focus on it's role as a political Anarchist Federation, such as their excellent new pamphlet on nationalism.

and like I say I'm not saying SolFed are beyond criticism by any means, we've got a poor track record of vmmunicating our ideas, coupled with the erroneous assumption anyone who doesn't telepathically understand what we mean by 'anarcho-syndicalist union' must be against us.

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Sep 23 2009 18:55
Joseph Kay wrote:
Steven wrote:
For one, your membership criteria doesn't exclude people who aren't workers (capitalists, members of the Royal family, etc - not that I think it should mind, that would be pointless, but still)

it's never been a problem tbh, but this isn't the substantive point so much as how we seek to organise.

I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem. But then, I don't think it would necessarily be a problem for other people who are currently excluded to join. The criteria for inconsistent, and not very meaningful. The hire and fire qualification in particular. Lots of people have the power to hire and fire, doesn't really mean much. And where do you draw the line? A working family might hire a nanny to look after their kid while they are at work - do you then exclude them?

Quote:
Steven wrote:
And secondly, I don't think you can say that you do any more political organising "as workers" than people in the AF

we certainly don't atm, with the minor exception of the EWN. which is why I said describing SolFed as political-economic is aspirational rather than actual. But are you seriously saying there's no difference between organisations which seek to build permanent industrial structures and those who don't?

no inherent difference, no.

To pick up your example, the AF also tried to set up an education workers network. What's the difference there?

And picking up my example again, the socialist party have industrial caucuses - does that mean they are a political-economic organisation?

To be honest, I'm not even sure of the value of "permanent industrial structures". Ed here talked to me a while ago about talking with some Solfed local government workers, to begin thinking about a network. But the problem is local government work is so huge I don't necessarily have anything more in common with a random local government worker as I do a random bank worker, or transport worker. I do the ones in my own workplace, because we share the same employer, but then I'll be unlikely to get enough people to form a decent political network.

I think more generally the thing to do is to build an organisation of communist militants, who will argue for things like direct action and workers control of struggle. People in different sectors can help each other out where appropriate. Sure if at some point you get a significant number in one area they could do specific joint work to that area. But again this isn't anarchosyndicalist idea, people in the AF or the SWP wouldn't disagree with this.

Quote:
Steven. wrote:
You know I agree with most of your politics, but I do think that you keep tying yourself in knots trying to make your communist politics fit into anarchosyndicalist language. When it really is semantics. If you were in say the AF as opposed to Solfed, you could make all the same points without having to try to redefine all your terms.

for starters they're not 'my terms', they're the terms of members of SolFed who have been involved since the DAM days, most of whom were highly critical of Strategy & Struggle for using the (less useful) mass/minority distinction in place of political/economic.

I'm very aware of that - you're trying to fit your communist politics into traditional Solfed language. Purely because you're a member of Solfed. If you were a member of the AF, you would not have to do this.

And okay, the AF is inconsistent on some things, but then so is Solfed.

Quote:
I'd also be arguing gor the AF to join SolFed en masse, stop half-heartedly dicking around with an organisation at odds with their a&ps (sorry Wobblies) and thus have a coherent industrial strategy centred on building networks of anarchist workers which can take on some of the useful, non-representative functions of unions thus leaving the AF to focus on it's role as a political Anarchist Federation, such as their excellent new pamphlet on nationalism.

now it looks like you're trying to separate the political from the economic!

And sorry, but it doesn't seem realistic to ask a larger organisation to join en masse your smaller organisation. If anything, you should join the AF, helped rewrite their industrial strategy and then not have to mince your words any more.

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Sep 23 2009 18:56

(Sorry, this has happened to me a few times now - the quoting in my posts isn't working, and I don't understand why. Hopefully you can still understand my posts by remembering which posts were yours Joseph)

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Sep 23 2009 23:50

Joseph wrote:
for councillists, workers' councils are the spontaneous product of mass strikes which arise inexorably from the dynamics of capital, within which revolutionaries organised along political lines should then make 'interventions.' for anarcho-syndicalists workers' councils are the high water mark of everyday struggles and self-organisation with which we should be involved from the start. tbh the platformist notion of 'social insertion' has a lot more in common with the ICC-esque 'intervention' than you'd probably like, both of them being ways in which revolutionary minorities organised into specifically political organisations attempt to influence struggles which are external to them.

This is a bit of a caricature (as noted by George Stapleton in a later post). First it implies that 'councilists' (or are you actually talking about left communists, since there are not many councilist organisations these days) just hang about on the outside until workers councils emerge. As you well know, left communists also see the councils as the high water mark of everyday struggles and the struggle for workers' self-organisation through general assemblies - a struggle in which left communists partcipate both as members of political organisations and as individual workers.

I have a feeling that the reason why comrades find JK's arguments a little hard to follow is that they are working in an area of abstraction, of 'strategies' worked out like manuals for the class struggle. I also agree with Steven that they come across as an attempt to force ideas into the Solfed mould.

However, there is a real question behind all this, and that is how do militant workers organise outside periods of open struggle. Most of us actually seem to agree that there can't be permanent mass fighting organisations today, so we are talking about networks/groups/committees of militant minorities. In our view, there is a need for such groups to organise in and across workplaces; but while communists should certainly be involved in such groups and often take the initiative in forming them, such groups are not and should not be composed solely of communists - or anarchists for that matter. They unite workers who see the need for class methods (assemblies, extension of struggles beyond the sector, unifying demands, etc) but there is no need to insist that workers who get involved in such groups have an overall revolutionary conception (this is why political groups are needed...). Such groups may come together on a very temporary basis, others may have a longer existence, but they can only really play a useful role in any situation of struggle if they are open to all who are prepared to argue for class methods. I was speaking to Choccy about the London Education Workers Group the other day and he seemed to agree that it would be self-defeating to prevent workers who didn't define themselves as communists or anarchists from participating.

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Sep 24 2009 00:27
Joseph Kay wrote:
as far as i'm aware, none of the specific political groups have a strategy or orientation like that. the most detailed one is probably the AF's 'On the frontline', and all that wants to do is "describe tendencies" rather than outline an organisational strategy (although they are supportive of SolFed's industrial networks approach, without actually joining). do the AF, WSM or ICC advocate permanent workplace/industrial groups of anarchists/communists? i'm pretty sure they reject them in favour of permanent political organisation and contingent workplace organisation.

While we don't have a specific policy on this beyond what you've referred to in this thread (unless I've missed something), I don't think that anything in our politics contradicts the idea of "permanent workplace/industrial groups of anarchists/communists" though and we have attempted to set up such networks in the past (the short lived attempt at setting up an anarchist education network with SolFed and the IWW springs to mind).

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Sep 24 2009 00:26
Joseph Kay wrote:
I'd also be arguing gor the AF to join SolFed en masse, stop half-heartedly dicking around with an organisation at odds with their a&ps (sorry Wobblies) and thus have a coherent industrial strategy centred on building networks of anarchist workers which can take on some of the useful, non-representative functions of unions thus leaving the AF to focus on it's role as a political Anarchist Federation, such as their excellent new pamphlet on nationalism.

Honestly, I still don't understand why SolFed and the AF don't just have joint industrial networks. You'd struggle to fit a Rizla between our industrial strategies in practice.

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Sep 24 2009 08:42

ok a few replies to field here, i'll do one post in reply to each person to try and keep it clear...

Steven. wrote:
The hire and fire qualification in particular. Lots of people have the power to hire and fire, doesn't really mean much. And where do you draw the line? A working family might hire a nanny to look after their kid while they are at work - do you then exclude them?

tbh you're coming off as deliberately pedantic here. the way it was framed already anticipates this ("ultimate power", "primary role" always at the discretion of the local to interpret), not that you give a shit since you declared before you actually knew our wording that you "bet it doesn't have any sort of internal consistency" and are determined to see what you say. i think having management and workers in an organisation formed to agitate against management is problematic for obvious reasons. i'm sure you do to, but it's far more fun to shout 'BUT PRINCE WILLIAM COULD JOIN SOLFED!!11' eh?

Steven. wrote:
no inherent difference, no.

To pick up your example, the AF also tried to set up an education workers network. What's the difference there?

well then the AF would also be trying to be a political-economic organisation. this problem has arisen is because both SolFed and the AF have historically tried to be self-sufficient and positioned themselves as rivals, rather than doing the sensible thing of recognising there is a role for an anarcho-syndicalist organsiation and a role for an anarchist federation, which are complementary.

Steven. wrote:
And picking up my example again, the socialist party have industrial caucuses - does that mean they are a political-economic organisation?

now you're getting it! not rocket science is it? just like if unison said you had to be a Labour voter to join, it would move toward the political end of the economic <-> political spectrum. obviously this isn't the only distinction between organisations, it's literally a one-dimensional analysis. self-organised vs representative is another really important one, as i mentioned in the OP (this is where i see the parallel with councilism).

Steven. wrote:
To be honest, I'm not even sure of the value of "permanent industrial structures". Ed here talked to me a while ago about talking with some Solfed local government workers, to begin thinking about a network. But the problem is local government work is so huge I don't necessarily have anything more in common with a random local government worker as I do a random bank worker, or transport worker. I do the ones in my own workplace, because we share the same employer, but then I'll be unlikely to get enough people to form a decent political network.

tbh, this sounds like pre-amalgamation trade unionism. obviously industrial networks that can be formed by organsiations of the size of SolFed or the AF are going to be fairly broad. i still think something like the EWN producing Education Worker is worthwhile, even though a porter at a university has different specifics to a primary school teacher. Just think how well Dispatch was received as it was largely by a worker in the industry, versus a random bulletin produced by politicos with no experience in the sector (i had some really good chats with posties who juxtaposed it to 'preachy paper sellers' for this exact reason).

of course industrial organisation alone isn't enough, which is why SolFed also organises on a local basis, and why after sitting on the fence a bit in Strategy & Struggle we were persuaded the networks should remain part of SolFed (without this precluding wider ones, like the London Education Workers' Group).

Steven. wrote:
I think more generally the thing to do is to build an organisation of communist militants, who will argue for things like direct action and workers control of struggle. People in different sectors can help each other out where appropriate. Sure if at some point you get a significant number in one area they could do specific joint work to that area. But again this isn't anarchosyndicalist idea, people in the AF or the SWP wouldn't disagree with this.

there's no reason the AF should oppose anarcho-syndicalist methods, the FAI are all in the CNT. the AF's critique of syndicalism is a critique of unions which act as mediators for the conditions of sale for labour power. i don't think many people in SolFed would disagree, this critique was being made in an undeveloped form even in the shop stewards movement in the Syndicalist revolt of 1910-1914, and that wasn't even specifically anarcho-syndicalism.

and you no full well an SWP industrial network would not be organised along libertarian lines, would be geared towards gaining representative positions rather than self-organisation etc. so again, it just looks like you're determined to define anarcho-syndicalism as 'shit stuff i disagree with' rather than any serious analysis of historical development and practice.

Steven. wrote:
I'm very aware of that - you're trying to fit your communist politics into traditional Solfed language. Purely because you're a member of Solfed. If you were a member of the AF, you would not have to do this.

communist is not mutually exclusive to anarcho-syndicalist you realise? we're not having to shoehorn anything into anything. i mean seriously, does it not occur to you that we might join an organsiation because we agree with its strategy?

when we quote the FORA's insistence unions cannot form the basis of a post-capitalist society because they are only good for fighting it, Maximov's assertion that the factory committees and soviets in russia "were anarcho-syndicalist in their essential character", Rocker's insistence that the russian soviets were the realisation of the first international libertarian faction's 1869 Basel Resolution and thus the consistently anarcho-syndicalist, the IWA's enshrining of this by advocating a "system of free councils" in 1922 (although drafted broadly enough to try and draw in the IWW too), the later tendency in the CNT marked by Durruti's scathing attacks on the "thirtyism" of those "straight union activists" in the CNT who sought legal recognition from the state, the subsequent critiques by the Friends of Durruti, the actual practice of the post-war CNT in Puerto Real for instance....

no, none of these things are 'really' anarcho-syndicalism. anarcho-syndicalism is what Steven says it is. seriously mate, it's embarassing. if we were drawing inspiration from Pannekoek, Gorter, Luxemburg et al and labelling it anarcho-syndicalism you might have a point, but really the only councillist influence is Pannekoek's (?) critique of trade unionism via Debord's critique of representation, which is simply a more theoretically developed version of the practices listed above. tbh we've pretty much kicked Dauvé to the curb too, his treatment of anarcho-syndicalism is pretty blind to the tensions within it, although his criticisims of representative unionism are still valid.

Steven. wrote:
now it looks like you're trying to separate the political from the economic!

i see a role for a political anarchist federation and a political-economic anarcho-syndicalist organisation yes. as i've always made clear (we even said so, in somewhat vaguer terms in S&S). you sound a bit like someone shouting checkmate! having cornered a bishop grin

Steven. wrote:
And sorry, but it doesn't seem realistic to ask a larger organisation to join en masse your smaller organisation. If anything, you should join the AF, helped rewrite their industrial strategy and then not have to mince your words any more.

the AF are probably about twice the size of SolFed, we're both pretty irrelevantly small. we're in SolFed because we agree with its strategy. it's really really not rocket science. we're simply not mincing our words. what exactly do you think we're not saying that we want to say?

and to be honest, if we joined the AF, successfully managed to get them to adopt an anarcho-syndicalist strategy and out-muscle SolFed, then there'd still be a need for a specific, political anarchist federation (i'll talk more about this in reply to madashell, since he seems less interested in petty point-scoring of the 'but i agree with that so it can't be anarcho-syndicalism' kind...).

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Sep 24 2009 09:18
Alf wrote:
This is a bit of a caricature (as noted by George Stapleton in a later post). First it implies that 'councilists' (or are you actually talking about left communists, since there are not many councilist organisations these days) just hang about on the outside until workers councils emerge. As you well know, left communists also see the councils as the high water mark of everyday struggles and the struggle for workers' self-organisation through general assemblies - a struggle in which left communists partcipate both as members of political organisations and as individual workers.

ok thanks for clarifying, i'm less familiar with councillist/left communist practice. however i think the bits in bold highlight the difference. we think it's important to agitate for self-organsiation via political workers organisations, i.e. permanent industrial organisations of revolutionary workers (i say revolutionary rather than a-s, as since Steven's post shows you can agree with our methods and goals whilst resolutely refusing to call it anarcho-syndicalism).

we also think these should take on (non-representative) union functions, such as acting as sources of advice and support within the workplace, i.e. a non-revolutionary worker could approach such an organisation with a grievance, and it would help agitate for a mass meeting to discuss it and what action to take, where it would argue for militant direct action, class solidarity, self-organised methods (delegates etc).

by contrast, typically a representative union, regular trade union or radical syndicalist would sign the worker up (regardless of their political views) and then proceed to address their grievance (or not). trade unions would tend towards an individualised service approach, but may be threaten strike action (i think Steven's unison branch has threatened to ballot over an individual grievance). the IWW would try and get the whole shop organised into a job branch and then initiate collective direct action (offering advice in the meantime i'd imagine). but representative unions try and recruit workers on an economic basis, who are then represented by the union who negotiate the conditions of their exploitation (usually with legal sanction to do so from the state, as the IWW is seeking as it tries to become a 'real union'). an anarcho-syndicalist union on the other hand doesn't look to recruit any old worker, but organises democratically through mass meetings where it argues for direct action, solidarity and self-organsition, without ever hiding its revolutionary aims (although not shouting 'revolution now!' like an impatient teen anarchyist of course).

Alf wrote:
I have a feeling that the reason why comrades find JK's arguments a little hard to follow is that they are working in an area of abstraction, of 'strategies' worked out like manuals for the class struggle.

i don't see what's so abstract about it. organisations need strategies (i.e. agreed goals and methods of achieving them). ours is to build local and industrial networks which can take on the union functions described above, thus agitiating for self-organsiation through a permanent political workers' organisation (i.e. a political-economic one). it's not a manual, it may well prove limited or flawed, and as and when it does we'll discuss it, modify it and get on with it.

the alternative is not acting strategically, which means running around after disputes trying to support them without any longer-term perspective*; running to stand still. this was what Brighton SolFed was like in its first year of life, and it was rubbish. a bit of growth and financial stability from a shifting composition away from students towards wage-workers has allowed us to stop thinking at most a fortnight ahead and thus operate more strategically, and this is serving us really well.

Alf wrote:
I also agree with Steven that they come across as an attempt to force ideas into the Solfed mould.

because for you and Steven, "the SolFed mould" is your caricature of our oganisation, so anything we actually do and say that you agree with has to be outside it. i'm really not mincing my words here, i'm saying exactly what i think using suitable terminology (the mass/minority distinction used in S&S is less useful than political<->economic since what defines anarcho-syndicalist unions is not their mass character, since they function perfectly well as minorities, but their combination of workplace organisation and revolutionary anarchist politics).

* i don't want to caricature, but perhaps decadence theory fills this role for the ICC. capitalism is collapsing in on itself, so there must be a resurgence of class struggle since nobody wants barbarism.

Alf wrote:
However, there is a real question behind all this, and that is how do militant workers organise outside periods of open struggle. Most of us actually seem to agree that there can't be permanent mass fighting organisations today, so we are talking about networks/groups/committees of militant minorities. In our view, there is a need for such groups to organise in and across workplaces; but while communists should certainly be involved in such groups and often take the initiative in forming them, such groups are not and should not be composed solely of communists - or anarchists for that matter. They unite workers who see the need for class methods (assemblies, extension of struggles beyond the sector, unifying demands, etc) but there is no need to insist that workers who get involved in such groups have an overall revolutionary conception (this is why political groups are needed...). Such groups may come together on a very temporary basis, others may have a longer existence, but they can only really play a useful role in any situation of struggle if they are open to all who are prepared to argue for class methods. I was speaking to Choccy about the London Education Workers Group the other day and he seemed to agree that it would be self-defeating to prevent workers who didn't define themselves as communists or anarchists from participating.

i don't at all disagree with broader, more contingent/less permanent groups of militant workers. two of our local work at the same university, and in addition to being EWN members are trying to set up a broader-based group of militants (and indeed SolFed EWN members are involved in the London Education Workers' Group i think). but where you seem content to rely on these ad hoc groups forming and dissipating according to the needs of the struggle, we think we can best help bring them about by organising permanently on an industrial basis (i.e. there's already stuff like Education Worker available to distribute and make contacts, there's a permanent organisation to swap experiences and discuss strategies and tactics accross different workplaces and generations etc). the ICC seem happy to let a purely political organsiation take that role, although tbh if you grew to a size where you didn't all know each other by name i wouldn't be surprised if you formed industrial networks (i.e. adopted a political-economic approach) for all the reasons i've advocated.

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Sep 24 2009 09:55
madashell wrote:
While we don't have a specific policy on this beyond what you've referred to in this thread (unless I've missed something), I don't think that anything in our politics contradicts the idea of "permanent workplace/industrial groups of anarchists/communists" though and we have attempted to set up such networks in the past (the short lived attempt at setting up an anarchist education network with SolFed and the IWW springs to mind).

i agree. i think the problem is that historically when SF has said 'anarcho-syndicalist union' AF members have read 'TUC with circle-As', or at best 'Wobblies with circle-As', and so contrary to your A&P no7. thus you haven't joined. however the AF's critique of syndicalist unions - "Even syndicalist unions are constrained by the fundamental nature of unionism. The union has to be able to control its membership in order to make deals with management" - does not apply to the kind of unions SF is talking about, which do not seek to make deals on behalf of workers but agitate for mass meetings which control the dispute and agree or reject any deal.

so when AF members read 'revolutionary union' they read 'mediator of labour power with impossible revolutionary rhetoric' while when SF members say 'revolutionary union' they mean 'a combination of revolutionary workers agitiating for self-organisation from within the workplace.' this is made all the more farcical by lots of AF members joining the IWW, which definitely does fall under the valid critique of syndicalist unions. unfortunately, SolFed has traditionally dealt with this by attributing hostile motives to anyone who doesn't telepathically 'get it' (including SF members to some extent), rather than communicating clearly what we actually mean.

we had to publish a controversial pamphlet before anyone bothered to tell us, after our local had existed for 2 years. the culture of internal discussion is markedly improving though - i recently compiled a load of the internal discussions over our pamphlet into a digest for easier reading (it was spread over many months IBs) and the high level of discussion was heartening. tbh this isn't entirely one-sided though, the AF is not without a history of sideswipes at anarcho-syndicalists, e.g. "Anarchists don’t get involved with [trade] union politics (although some anarchosyndicalists do!)", and seeming to go out of your way to prove you're not anarcho-syndicalists with very dodgy stuff like this:

AF wrote:
The historical argument that the factory would provide the means to create a revolutionary proletariat or source of social mobilisation was false from the start and proved a disaster for humanity. How could industrial workers alone, in tightly managed workplaces and offered only the choice of alienated labour or enforced leisure, ever be capable of carrying through a libertarian revolution?

(...)

Reclaiming ourselves can only occur in areas outside the main focus of capitalist control: our neighbourhoods, campaigns of resistance or protest, areas of greater freedom (such as squats) and libertarian initiatives.

which is a lot stronger than saying that workplace organisation isn't the be-all and end-all (which anarcho-syndicalists agree with anyway, even the old CNT did rent strikes and the like).

madashell wrote:
Honestly, I still don't understand why SolFed and the AF don't just have joint industrial networks. You'd struggle to fit a Rizla between our industrial strategies in practice.

i don't think a joint network is the way forward, as this would mean separating the networks from SolFed, when if you agree with the networks all the locals are is a cross-industry meeting of other network members in your area. but i agree our lack of close co-operation is ridiculous - a Brighton motion at the last national conference in May was passed that read:

SolFed wrote:
Solidarity Federation notes:
• Solidarity Federation remains a relatively small organisation given the enormity of our task of smashing capital and building libertarian communism.
• That working in a principled manner alongside other organisations does not
diminish our individual politics, whereas it strengthens our activity.
• That many organisations profess to hold goals and methods in common with
ourselves to differing degrees.
• That of these organisations in Britain, the one who is closest to our goals and
strategy, and presents the best opportunities for joint working is the Anarchist
Federation.
• That there have been many recent instances where Solidarity Federation and
Anarchist Federation locals have productively worked together to strengthen our activity, or to allow things to be published that otherwise would not have been – including, but not limited to Brighton Solidarity Federation adopting the Anarchist Federation statement on Gaza into our leaflet on the invasion, Liverpool Anarchist Federation adopting Brighton Solidarity Federation’s anti- BNP leaflet for their own use on demonstrations, and the work between Anarchist Federation and Solidarity Federation (as well as others) on recent “Tea Break” workers bulletins.
• That there have been fruitful co-meetings recently between Anarchist Federation and Solidarity Federation locals, such as the recent London wide joint Anarchist Federation and Solidarity Federation meet up.

Solidarity Federation resolves:

• To actively seek to work alongside the Anarchist Federation wherever practical and wherever our interests coincide, in all instances where such cooperation would not be a threat to our principles.

now we might have the odd member who sees simply talking to AF members as a threat to our principles, and they're no-doubt saving this post as evidence of a hidden agenda behind the motion (which was literally just a general statement of fraternal co-operation with nothing specific in mind). but you'd hope in light of such a motion that more constructive discussions about closer co-operation could take place.

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.

(actually, this is an interesting topic in itself, i'll start a new thread.)

therefore - and this is personal thinking out loud rather than anything fixed, still less 'the brighton position' - i'd advocate the AF joining SF as its industrial and community strategy, whilst continuing to have an independent existence as an anarchist federation futhering the above. i'm not just saying that to build 'my' organisation, i'd dual-card if such an arrangement was the case, for instance things like the 'Marx for anarchists' pamphlet i've mooted (which is somewhere on my to-do list for the middle of next year) would be far better published as an AF document than an SF one. it's not exactly like the CNT-FAI for the reasons i've outlined in discussing the CNT above, but it's not a bad example to follow imho.

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madashell
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Sep 24 2009 10:35
Joseph Kay wrote:
i agree. i think the problem is that historically when SF has said 'anarcho-syndicalist union' AF members have read 'TUC with circle-As', or at best 'Wobblies with circle-As', and so contrary to your A&P no7. thus you haven't joined. however the AF's critique of syndicalist unions - "Even syndicalist unions are constrained by the fundamental nature of unionism. The union has to be able to control its membership in order to make deals with management" - does not apply to the kind of unions SF is talking about, which do not seek to make deals on behalf of workers but agitate for mass meetings which control the dispute and agree or reject any deal.

so when AF members read 'revolutionary union' they read 'mediator of labour power with impossible revolutionary rhetoric' while when SF members say 'revolutionary union' they mean 'a combination of revolutionary workers agitiating for self-organisation from within the workplace.' this is made all the more farcical by lots of AF members joining the IWW, which definitely does fall under the valid critique of syndicalist unions. unfortunately, SolFed has traditionally dealt with this by attributing hostile motives to anyone who doesn't telepathically 'get it' (including SF members to some extent), rather than communicating clearly what we actually mean.

I'd agree with most of this. A lot of AF members were pleasantly surprised by S&S, since it was very different to what many of us would recognise as anarcho-syndicalism (I'm not saying that it isn't anarcho-syndicalist, mind).

The IWW thing happened, as far as I can tell, because AF members wanted to be a part of broader industrial networks that ran along (sort of) anarchist lines. Not many AFers would join SolFed for its industrial networks because SolFed is seen as a political organisation little different to the AF.

Quote:
we had to publish a controversial pamphlet before anyone bothered to tell us, after our local had existed for 2 years. the culture of internal discussion is markedly improving though - i recently compiled a load of the internal discussions over our pamphlet into a digest for easier reading (it was spread over many months IBs) and the high level of discussion was heartening. tbh this isn't entirely one-sided though, the AF is not without a history of sideswipes at anarcho-syndicalists, e.g. "Anarchists don’t get involved with [trade] union politics (although some anarchosyndicalists do!)", and seeming to go out of your way to prove you're not anarcho-syndicalists with very dodgy stuff like this:
AF wrote:
The historical argument that the factory would provide the means to create a revolutionary proletariat or source of social mobilisation was false from the start and proved a disaster for humanity. How could industrial workers alone, in tightly managed workplaces and offered only the choice of alienated labour or enforced leisure, ever be capable of carrying through a libertarian revolution?

(...)

Reclaiming ourselves can only occur in areas outside the main focus of capitalist control: our neighbourhoods, campaigns of resistance or protest, areas of greater freedom (such as squats) and libertarian initiatives.

which is a lot stronger than saying that workplace organisation isn't the be-all and end-all (which anarcho-syndicalists agree with anyway, even the old CNT did rent strikes and the like).

Yeah, those bits of RoRO always struck me as a bit jarring. I think they have to be viewed in the context of the mid to late nineties when workplace organisation was basically nowhere to be seeen, though I wasn't a member at the time, so I'm probably not the best person to ask.

Quote:
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.

Fair enough, though I don't see that SolFed currently plays that role, since it's actually quite tight politically. For the sort of relationship you seem to be proposing to work between AF and SolFed, wouldn't SolFed have to (for lack of a better term) dilute its politics a little?

Quote:
therefore - and this is personal thinking out loud rather than anything fixed, still less 'the brighton position' - i'd advocate the AF joining SF as its industrial and community strategy, whilst continuing to have an independent existence as an anarchist federation futhering the above. i'm not just saying that to build 'my' organisation, i'd dual-card if such an arrangement was the case, for instance things like the 'Marx for anarchists' pamphlet i've mooted (which is somewhere on my to-do list for the middle of next year) would be far better published as an AF document than an SF one. it's not exactly like the CNT-FAI for the reasons i've outlined in discussing the CNT above, but it's not a bad example to follow imho.

Hmm, I can't really see this happening any time soon. Even if you could persuade everybody in the AF that we should join SolFed en masse, I can't see a lot of people in SolFed being overjoyed about it. It would probably be seen as an attempt by the AF to "take over" SolFed.

There's also the issue of the AF being a member of IAF-IFA and SolFed being the British section of the IWA.

MT
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Joined: 29-03-07
Sep 24 2009 10:54
Quote:
There's also the issue of the AF being a member of IAF-IFA and SolFed being the British section of the IWA.

But what about CNT-E and FAI nowadyas. In this specific context, is this an issue for them? (not that I know the answer, I just guess)

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
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Joined: 14-03-06
Sep 24 2009 11:11
madashell wrote:
I'd agree with most of this. A lot of AF members were pleasantly surprised by S&S, since it was very different to what many of us would recognise as anarcho-syndicalism (I'm not saying that it isn't anarcho-syndicalist, mind).

tbh, the internal criticisms of S&S have really made us think and we're revising a few substantive points and a lot of terminological ones.

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.

(a second major mistake was the shallowness of the historical section, we'll address this in the new one with some much more comprehensive research).

madashell wrote:
The IWW thing happened, as far as I can tell, because AF members wanted to be a part of broader industrial networks that ran along (sort of) anarchist lines. Not many AFers would join SolFed for its industrial networks because SolFed is seen as a political organisation little different to the AF.

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).

madashell wrote:
Yeah, those bits of RoRO always struck me as a bit jarring. I think they have to be viewed in the context of the mid to late nineties when workplace organisation was basically nowhere to be seeen, though I wasn't a member at the time, so I'm probably not the best person to ask.

it's still in the 2008 revision though, which i have on my shelf wink

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.

madashell wrote:
Fair enough, though I don't see that SolFed currently plays that role, since it's actually quite tight politically. For the sort of relationship you seem to be proposing to work between AF and SolFed, wouldn't SolFed have to (for lack of a better term) dilute its politics a little?

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.

madashell wrote:
Hmm, I can't really see this happening any time soon.

agreed, doesn't mean we shouldn't think about what we'd like though...

madashell wrote:
Even if you could persuade everybody in the AF that we should join SolFed en masse, I can't see a lot of people in SolFed being overjoyed about it. It would probably be seen as an attempt by the AF to "take over" SolFed.

you're probably right there would be such sentiment. i mean we're not without a small number of outright sectarians who think the AF's goal is to destroy anarcho-syndicalism (and we've been painted with that brush for co-operating with you instead of shunning you). but that's a tiny minority. any such moves would need to follow a long period of discussion about our respective roles and strategies, so that people were satisfied there weren't ulterior motives and that the goal was symbioisis not synthesis. like i say i've met odd AF members who i don't think should really be in the AF or SolFed and seem to have just joined because they identify as 'anarchist' rather than our of a desire to aid and participate in collective class struggles, so an organisational decision to join might not even be the best way to go about such a hypothetical re-organisation.

madashell wrote:
There's also the issue of the AF being a member of IAF-IFA and SolFed being the British section of the IWA.

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

Felix Frost's picture
Felix Frost
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Joined: 30-12-05
Sep 24 2009 11:49
Joseph Kay wrote:
Felix Frost wrote:
I think this division into good anarcho-syndicalists and bad revolutionary syndicalists is neither very productive nor very historically accurate. First of all, this isn't how the terms are used elsewhere. For the most part anarcho-syndicalist and revolutionary syndicalist are used more or less as synonyms.

this is my whole point. historically all these ideas were intertwined and mixed and matched differently in different contexts. some of those ideas proved themselves worthwhile, some of them proved limited or even counter-revolutionary. that kind of mixing and matching is a sign of a healthy approach to trying new tactics and methods, but with the benefit of hindsight to refuse to separate out the better ones from the worse is tantamount to refusing to learn from history and being doomed to repeat it, imho.

Trying to learn from history and sort out the better tactics from the worse is fine, but I don't think it's a very constructive way of doing this by constructing some idealized pure anarcho-syndicalism, and then dismissing everyone who don't mach this as not proper anarcho-syndicalists, or suffering from cognitive dissonance. However, I'm not really here to defend "anarcho-syndicalist orthodoxy" and I don't think there is anything wrong with being inspired by council communism. On the contrary, I think it's mostly a positive influense.

Joseph Kay wrote:
however, are you saying there's no difference between the French CGT which was open to all workers and made serious attempts to recruit them all (reaching around 3m members at one point iirc), and the Argentinia FORA, which was a union for anarchist-communist workers? Surely you can see how thw membership criteria for the former is simply economic ('worker') and the latter political-economic ('anarchist-communist worker')?

Yes, I see the difference between the CGT and the FORA, but the FORA model has always been a minority view within anarcho-syndicalism, so I wouldn't use it as representative for anarcho-syndicalism.

Joseph Kay wrote:
that's a classic revolutionary syndicalist position: a union for all workers with a democratic structure. i'm not sure when that was written, but the CNT is also committed to libertarian communism since 1923, which completely contradicts 'no ideological qualification.' how could you possibly term syndicalism without any anarchist ideology as 'anarcho-syndicalism'?

I think the Anarcosindicalismo Basico pamphlet was originally published in 1994, and there was a new edition in 2001. The pamphlet is intended as an introduction to the CNT for new members and people interested in joining, and I think it has been quite widely distributed within the organization. The CNT is not just committed to libertarian communism, but has very radical positions on a whole number of issues, and the pamphlet goes into this in some detail also. But while CNT as an organization is committed to libertarian communism, it doesn't demand that every member is a committed libertarian communist. This isn't very different from the IWW which officially is committed to abolishing wage labor, but doesn't demand that every member is a committed revolutionary.

Joseph Kay wrote:
the problem here is that both advocates and critics of anarcho-syndicalism take 'the CNT' as the definitive model. but in actual fact the CNT is not a singular entity but an uneasy, contradictory mish-mash of revolutionary syndicalists, anarchists, punks, militant but apolitical trade unionists and so on, and always has been. For instance
Buenaventura Durruti wrote:
Some think the organisation is simply a vehicle for defending their economic interests. Others see it as an organisation that works with the anarchists for social transformation. Of course it makes sense that it's so difficult for the straight union activists and anarchists to get along.

and Abel Paz comments that...

Abel Paz wrote:
There were two conflicting tendencies in the CNT: the simple syndicalists believed that the CNT structures should provide the foundations of the new society, whereas the anarchists argued that the organisation formed to wage class war should not serve as the model for the new social order.

the former 'simple syndicalist' position applies to the Revolutionary Syndicalism of the CGT and the Industrial Unionism of the IWW, the latter 'anarchist' position reflects that of the FORA (quoted in the OP). it's not me making these distinctions, they run throughout the history of the workers' movement.

Sure, there has always been conflicts between the anarcho (or revolutionary) part and the syndicalist part. This was the case in late 1800s and it is the case within anarcho-syndicalist organizations today. But I think this is a tension that is unavoidable when trying to unite day to day class struggle with revolutionary aims. It's not as easy as the anarchists being the good guys and the "simple syndicalists" being the bad guys. A lot of the anarchist critique of the syndicalists were that they were too preoccupied with "reformist" struggles like getting higher wages, instead of preparing for the revolution, and often their alternative didn't amount to much more than organizing failed uprisings.

Joseph Kay wrote:
but (contrary to Strategy & Struggle) the mass meetings are not the union, but a democratic means of organising. the union is made up of those committed to anarcho-syndicalist ideas (i.e. anarchist workers), the mass meetings are made up of the whole workforce. in practice, the CNT has chosen to become more this than a non-ideological 'union for all workers', otherwise it wouldn't have split with the CGT - if you have no anarchist ideological requirement, what's wrong with participating in state structures? In practice IWA sections have chosen to shrink into propaganda groups rather than compromise anarchist principles. the fact some of them do so while saying openly contradictory things says more about cognitive dissonance than anarcho-syndicalism.

First of all, it is good that you have clarified the part about the mass meetings not being the unions. I thought that was the most confusing part of your pamphlet. I think everyone here can agree about arguing for workplace assemblies. The question remains why your militant workplace network should be limited to only workers who wholly agree with your political ideology, as opposed to those workers who agree with your industrial strategy. Especially when the end result of this is that you don't get any militant workplace networks at all, because you have no one to network with, and you are left being an anarchist political organization that wishes it was something else...