Rosa Luxemburg & Anarchism

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syndicalist
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Jan 18 2008 14:58
Rosa Luxemburg & Anarchism

I was looking at the libcom library earlier, looking over the Luxemburg stuff. No doubt she was a crtical thinking marxist. Critical of the dominant social democracy and of what was to become leninism. All fine and good I suppose.

Often times many anarchists get worked up about Luxemburg. Good stuff she has written. But she was by no mean symapthetic to anarchism.

In her very interesting book "The Mass Strike" , her very first chapter is
"The Russian Revolution, Anarchism and the General Strike." As you will see, her criticisms of anarchism are particularly sharp.Following in the footsteps of Engels ("The Bakuninists at Work"http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1873/bakunin/index.htm )
Luxenburg writes:

"Almost all works and pronouncement of international socialism on the subject of the mass strike date from the time before the Russian Revolution [of 1905], the first historical experience on a very large scale with the means of struggle. It is therefore evident that they are, for the most part, out-of-date. Their standpoint is essentially that of Engels who in 1873 wrote as follows in his criticism of the revolutionary blundering of the Bakuninist in Spain..."

And that:

"Anarchism has become in the Russian Revolution, not the theory of the struggling proletariat, but the ideological signboard of the counterrevolutionary lumpenproletariat, who, like a school of sharks, swarm in the wake of the battleship of the revolution. And therewith the historical career of anarchism is well-nigh ended."

"The revolutionary struggle in Russia, in which mass strikes are the most important weapon, is, by the working people, and above all by the proletariat, conducted for those political rights and conditions whose necessity and importance in the struggle for the emancipation of the working-class Marx and Engels first pointed out, and in opposition to anarchism fought for with all their might in the International. Thus has historical dialectics, the rock on which the whole teaching of Marxian socialism rests, brought it about that today anarchism, with which the idea of the mass strike is indissolubly associated, has itself come to be opposed to the mass strike which was combated as the opposite of the political activity of the proletariat, appears today as the most powerful weapon of the struggle for political rights."

http://www.marxists.org/archive/luxemburg/1906/mass-strike/ch01.htm

Interestingly, the pamphlet was written as the stirrings of revolutionary and anarcho-syndicalism were begining. By 1910 mass anacrho-syndicalist unions were organized/organizing in France, Sweden and Spain.with mass workers movements to follow in Italy and Argentina. Contrary to the marxian notion that the core essence of anarcho-syndicalism can ring loudly amon working people.

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Jan 18 2008 15:48

Funny that this has appeared now, as I''ve just worked on this for the revised section H of An Anarchist FAQ. It is based on my article on 1905 which appeared in Anarcho-Syndicalist Review a few issues back.

So here is a libcom exclusive, an extract from the next version of the FAQ:

Quote:
A classic example of this appropriation of anarchist ideas into Marxism is provided by the general strike. In 1905, Russia had a near revolution in which the general strike played a key role. Unsurprisingly, as anarchists had been arguing for the general strike since the 1870s, we embraced these events as a striking confirmation of our long held ideas on revolutionary change. Marxists had a harder task as such ideas were alien to mainstream Social Democracy. Yet faced with the success and power of the general strike in practice, the more radical Marxists, like Rosa Luxemburg, had to incorporate it into their politics.

Yet they faced a problem. The general strike was indelibly linked with such hearsays as anarchism and syndicalism. Had not Engels himself proclaimed the nonsense of the general strike in his diatribe "The Bakuninists at work"? Had his words not been repeated ad infinitum against anarchists (and radical socialists) who questioned the wisdom of social democratic tactics, its reformism and bureaucratic inertia? The Marxist radicals knew that Engels would again be invoked by the bureaucrats and reformists in the Social Democratic movement to throw cold water over any attempt to adjust Marxist politics to the economic power of the masses as expressed in mass strikes. The Social Democratic hierarchy would simply dismiss them as "anarchists." This meant that Luxemburg was faced with the problem of proving Engels was right, even when he was wrong.

She did so in an ingenious way. Like Engels himself, she simply distorted what the anarchists thought about the general strike in order to make it acceptable to Social Democracy. Her argument was simple. Yes, Engels had been right to dismiss the "general strike" idea of the anarchists in the 1870s. But today, thirty years later, Social Democrats should support the general strike (or mass strike, as she called it) because the concepts were different. The anarchist "general strike" was utopian. The Marxist "mass strike" was practical.

To discover why, we need to see what Engels had argued in the 1870s. Engels, mocked the anarchists (or "Bakuninists") for thinking that "a general strike is the lever employed by which the social revolution is started." He accusing them of imagining that "one fine morning, all the workers in all the industries of a country, or even of the whole world, stop work, thus forcing the propertied classes either humbly to submit within four weeks at most, or to attack the workers, who would then have the right to defend themselves and use the opportunity to pull down the entire old society." He stated that at the September 1 1873 Geneva congress of the anarchist Alliance of Social Democracy, it was "universally admitted that to carry out the general strike strategy, there had to be a perfect organisation of the working class and a plentiful funds." He noted that that was "the rub" as no government would stand by and "allow the organisation or funds of the workers to reach such a level." Moreover, the revolution would happen long before "such an ideal organisation" was set up and if they had been "there would be no need to use the roundabout way of a general strike" to achieve it. [Marx, Engels and Lenin, Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism, pp. 132-3]

Rosa Luxemburg repeated Engels arguments in her essay "The Mass Strike" in order to show how her support for the general strike was in no way contrary to Marxism. Her "mass strike" was different from the anarchist "general strike" as mocked by Engels as it was dynamic process and could not be seen as one act, one isolated action which overthrows the bourgeoisie. Rather, the mass strike to the product of the everyday class struggle within society, leads to a direct confrontation with the capitalist state and so it was inseparable from the revolution. ["The Mass Strike, the Political Party and the Trade Unions", Rosa Luxemburg Speaks, pp. 153-218]

The only problem with all this is that the anarchists did not actually argue along the lines Engels and Luxemburg claimed. Most obviously, as we indicated in section H.2.8, Bakunin saw the general strike as a dynamic process which would not be set for a specific date and did not need all workers to be organised before hand. As such, Bakunin's ideas are totally at odds with Engels assertions on what anarchist ideas on the general strike were about (they, in fact, reflect what actually happened in 1905).

But what of the "Bakuninists"? Again, Engels account leaves alot to be desired. Rather than the September 1873 Geneva congress being, as he claimed, of the (disbanded) Alliance of Social Democracy, it was in fact a meeting of the non-Marxist federations of the First International. Contra Engels, anarchists did not see the general strike as requiring all workers to be perfectly organised and then passively folding arms "one fine morning." The Belgian libertarians who proposed the idea at the congress saw it as a tactic which could mobilise workers for revolution, "a means of bringing a movement onto the street and leading the workers to the barricades." Moreover, leading anarchist James Guillaume explicity rejected the idea that it had "to break out everywhere at an appointed day and hour" with a resounding "No!" In fact, he stressed that they did "not even need to bring up this question and suppose things could be like this. Such a supposition could lead to fatal mistakes. The revolution has to be contagious." [quoted by Caroline Cahm, Kropotkin and the Rise of Revolutionary Anarchism 1872-1886, p. 223 and p. 224]

Another account of this meeting notes that how the general strike was to start was "left unsaid", with Guillaume "recognis[ing] that it as impossible for the anarchists simply to set the hour for the general strike." Another anarchist did "not believe that the strike was a sufficient means to win the social revolution" but could "set the stage for the success of an armed insurrection." Only one delegate, regardless of Engels' claims, thought it "demanded the utmost organisation of the working class" and if that was the case "then the general strike would not be necessary." This was the delegate from the reformist British trade unions and he was "attack[ing]" the general strike as "an absurd and impractical proposition." [Phil H. Goodstein, The Theory of the General Strike, pp. 43-5]

Perhaps this is why Engels did not bother to quote a single anarchist when recounting their position on this (as in so many others!) matter? Needless to say, Leninists continue to parrot Engels assertions to this day. The facts are somewhat different. Clearly, the "anarchist" strategy of overthrowing the bourgeoisie with one big general strike set for a specific date exists only in Marxist heads, nowhere else. Once we remove the distortions promulgated by Engels and repeated by Luxemburg, we see that the 1905 revolution and "historical dialectics" did not, as Luxemburg claim, validate Engels and disprove anarchism. Quite the reverse as the general strikes in Russia followed the anarchist ideas of a what a general strike would be like quite closely. Little wonder, then, that Kropotkin argued that the 1905 general strike "demonstrated" that the Latin workers who had been advocating the general strike "as a weapon which would irresistible in the hands of labour for imposing its will" had been "right." [Selected Writings on Anarchism and Revolution, p. 288]

So, contra Luxemburg, "the fatherland of Bakunin" was not "the burial-place of [anarchism's] teachings." [Op. Cit., p. 157] The real question must be when will Marxists realise that quoting Engels does not make it true?

Moreover, without becoming an insurrection, as anarchists had stressed, the limits of the general strike were exposed in 1905. Unlike the some of the syndicalists in the 1890s and 1900s, this limitation was understood by the earliest anarchists. Consequently, they saw the general strike as the start of a revolution and not as the revolution itself. So, for all the Leninist accounts of the 1905 revolution claiming it for their ideology, the facts suggest that it was anarchism, not Marxism, which was vindicated by it. Luxemburg was wrong. The "land of Bakunin's birth" provided an unsurpassed example of how to make a revolution precisely because it applied (and confirmed) anarchist ideas on the general strike (and, it should be added, workers' councils). Marxists (who had previously quoted Engels to dismiss such things) found themselves repudiating aspect upon aspect of their dogma to remain relevant. When Rosa Luxemburg tried to learn the lessons of the revolt, her more orthodox opponents simply quoted Engels back. As Bookchin noted, she "grossly misrepresented the anarchist emphasis on the general strike after the 1905 revolution in Russia in order to make it acceptable to Social Democracy." (he added that Lenin "was to engage in the same misrepresentation on the issue of popular control in State and Revolution"). [Towards an Ecological Society, p. 227fn]

Thus proving my general rule of thumb -- never believe what a Marxist claims anarchists stand for. It is rarely true -- although, Harry Cleaver's article on Kropotkin is excellent. So there are exceptions.

syndicalist
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Jan 18 2008 16:15

Anarcho---it was just by happenstance, what can I say.

I was also just recently thumbing through "Anarchism and Anarcho-Syndicalism" a complation of articles and letters by Marx, Engels & Lenin. I read a letter Engles wrote about the anarchists needed to be persequted. I mean right there, in black and white. I'll have to pull the cite. Anyway, the book is worth looking at only in so far as to read what the trilogy had to say about us. I suspet much of this stuff is on-line anyway.

http://marx.org/subject/anarchism/index.htm
http://marx.org/archive/marx/works/subject/anarchism/index.htm#bakunin
http://marx.org/archive/marx/letters/subject/anarchism.htm
http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1905/nov/24.htm
http://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1901/dec/31.htm

Quote:
Harry Cleaver's article on Kropotkin is excellent.

http://libcom.org/library/kopotkin-self-valorization-crisis-marxism

capricorn
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Jan 19 2008 09:55

I don't agree with your analysis, Anarcho. On two grounds. (1) there were people around in the early 1900s who did advocate a general strike to try to overthrow capitalism and (2) the social democrats ("Marxists" as you call them) did not repudiate the general strike as a weapon in the class struggle.
Surely, what might be called the classic syndicalist position is that workers organise themselves in industrial unions which, when strong enough, "take and hold" the means of production, locking out the capitalist class and then re-starting production on a production-for-use basis. This was the position taken up by the anti-political elements who controlled the IWW for a while and I remember reading a pamphlet by Rudolf Rocker, written at the time, which argued the same position (I'll see if I can find it again). There is an echo of this in the old Anarchist Federation of Britain pamphlet The Social General Strike by Tom Brown (dating from the 1940s) where Brown writes:

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In the Social General Strike the workers decide to cut off these supplies from the employing class and to supply them in full -- for the first time in history -- to the working class . . . The employing class will be without petrol, heat, electricity, communication or servant. Such a General Strike has often been called The General Lock Out of the Capitalist Class. Perhaps that is a more appropriate term.

The Social Democrats were not against general strikes, but only against the idea of trying to overthrow capitalism by means of one (they favoured winning control of state power first). The general strike weapon was applied by the Social Democrats in Sweden, Belgium and Germany to get the vote extended to more workers (not something that would interest anarchists!) or to try to prevent it being taken away. Other social democrats were prepared to endorse the general strike as a weapon in the industrial struggles between workers and employers, though, it is true, all repudiated its attempted use to overthrow capitalism. Including even Luxemburg. In her famous pamphlet on The Mass Strike, she saw the general strike as a means of obtaining political and economic reforms in countries like Germany. In Russia she saw it as a means of overthrowing Tsarism and bringing in "a modern bourgeois-parliamentary constitutional state" (chapter 7). Her contribution to the debate amongst the "Marxists" was to add that it could also be a useful means of raising the class-consciousness of the workers for the final mass popular uprising to seize control of political power. It was this insistence on the need to win control of political power in the course of the anti-capitalist revolution that distinguished her from the anarchists and syndicalists (as well of course her non-opposition to using the vote).

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fnbrill
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Jan 19 2008 11:00

Luxemburg's "Mass Strike" was written in1906, which means in the historical context anarchism was coming out of it's individualist, attentat period. So in a certain way, anarchism was mostly dead in 1905. The revolutionary unions developing at the time did not identify as anarchist, although wings of them did, and were often "mass action" based left social-democrats (eg the left Socialist Party of America role in the IWW) which is why the mainstream of syndicalism - Tom Mann, the CGT, W.Z. Foster etc. made the switch to Leninism so easily.

capricorn
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Jan 20 2008 16:44
Quote:
I remember reading a pamphlet by Rudolf Rocker, written at the time, which argued the same position (I'll see if I can find it again).

I've checked and the pamphlet advocating the General Lock-Out of the Capitalist Class dating from pre-WWI was not by Rocker but by Arnold Roller (easy enough to confuse Rocker and Roller). It was called The Social General Strike and was written in German in 1902 and translated into English in 1905 to coincide with the founding conference of the IWW. Can't find the text on the internet.

capricorn
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Jan 20 2008 17:56

Here's further confirmation that Rosa Luxemburg was by no means sympathetic to anarchism. In Germany in 1910 there was a debate within the Social Democratic Party about the tactics to adopt to try to make the voting system in Prussia more democratic. Rosa Luxemburg and Anton Pannekoek favoured recourse to a mass (general) strike. Karl Kautsky was more cautious. The debate has been translated into French as Kautsky, Luxemburg, Pannekoek. Socialisme. La voie occidentale but not unfortunately into English.
In an article published in a regional paper in March 1910, Luxemburg wrote:

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A mass strike 'decreed' one fine morning by a simple decision of the Party, like deciding to fire a pistol, is only infantile dreaming, anarchist nonsense.

At the end of another article she added a note:

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It is nevertheless interesting to know the position of today's anarchists to a general strike in Germany. At their last congress, in Halle, over Whitsun -- it seems there are still a few dozen anarchists in Germany to hold a congress -- according to the Berliner Tageblatt they drew up the following wise precepts:
"According to the dominant view in anarchism, a purely demonstration strike is absolutely to be rejected. But a mass political strike undertaken seriously, where work would not be resumed so long as the aim pursued had not been achieved, is nothing other than the beginning of the grand Revolution. But this would represent, in the present situation, a misfortune for the proletariat as a whole; for the ruling classes are not sleeping . . . but it is practically impossible to achieve this because Social Democracy lacks precisely the human material: the leadership of the unions is opposed to a serious mass strike and when it does not want to do something the Party does not do it.
" . . . the delegates as a whole were agreed on the fact that a serious mass strike could only lead to a worsening of the social situation of the proletariat, while a demonstration strike would be in contradiction with the basic principles of anarchism.
"As can be seen, here is the typical reasoning of the anarchists: the mass strike is seen as a single big strike, the 'grand Revolution', its carrying-out depending on whether or not the leadership of the unions will agree with it. And, on the basis of this consideration, they end up precisely explaining, today, that a mass strike would be a 'misfortune' for the proletariat."

In other words, Luxemburg considered that the anarchists of her day were advocating a one-off big general strike to oust the capitalist class and that they were opposed to a general strike for anything less than this (I don't know if they really were but this is what Luxemburg thought). It is true that the anarchists in Germany would not have been interested in the purpose for which she was then advocating a general strike (to make the voting system more democratic). As she herself put it:

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Nobody considers today the mass strike, in our debate over the struggle for the reform of the electoral system in Prussia, as a means of action which is opposed to parliamentarism, but as its complement and even as a means of obtaining new rights in the parliamentary context.

So, I don't think Luxemburg can be said to have borrowed the idea of a mass general strike from the anarchists. Her idea of such a strike was quite different from theirs.

Anarcho
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Jan 21 2008 09:29
capricorn wrote:
I don't agree with your analysis, Anarcho. On two grounds. (1) there were people around in the early 1900s who did advocate a general strike to try to overthrow capitalism and (2) the social democrats ("Marxists" as you call them) did not repudiate the general strike as a weapon in the class struggle.

And how does this affect the distortions of Engels in 1873? The bulk of the extraction is clearly a critique of Engels diatribe, with relevant supporting evidence. Luxemburg repeated Engels account and obviously agreed with it.

Talk about missing the point. Simple question. Did Engels distort the anarchist opposition in 1873? Clearly he did, as the evidence I present shows. Did the social democratic bureaucracy fit the notion of the general strike? Yes. Did Luxemburg, like Engels, distort the anarchist position? Yes, she did.

I really do wonder why I bother sometimes...

Anarcho
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Jan 21 2008 09:40
fnbrill wrote:
Luxemburg's "Mass Strike" was written in1906, which means in the historical context anarchism was coming out of it's individualist, attentat period.

That period had ended around ten years previously. Anarchists had been in the French Unions since the early 1890s. So, historical context wise, I think you are wrong. And, of course, Luxemburg was quoting Engels from 1873 and as I indicated, Engels was distorting the anarchist ideas on this matter.

fnbrill wrote:
So in a certain way, anarchism was mostly dead in 1905. The revolutionary unions developing at the time did not identify as anarchist, although wings of them did,

Someone should have told Kropkotkin, Malatesta, Goldman and so forth about that! And, of course, the Fremch syndicalists usually considered themselves as anarchists -- although the unions themselves were neutral.

fnbrill wrote:
and were often "mass action" based left social-democrats (eg the left Socialist Party of America role in the IWW) which is why the mainstream of syndicalism - Tom Mann, the CGT, W.Z. Foster etc. made the switch to Leninism so easily.

Sorry, these were not the "mainstream" of syndicalism! The CGT split and many of its syndicalists did not become Leninists.The SP members who were in the IWW were expelled from the party. I would say that only in Britain and Italy were many of the syndicalists Marxists. In Italy, most of the Marxist-syndicalists supported the war and were expelled from the USI. While these Marxist-syndicalist became fascists, the USI became increasingly influenced by anarchists. in Britain, many of the ex-social democrat syndicalists did become Leninists but in Spain, Italy, and other countries most syndicalists remained anarchists.

Yes, some syndicalists did take the Bolshevim myth seriously. But most did not. As Wayne Thorpe shows in his book ("The Workers Themselves") the Leninists failed in winning most syndicalists over.

Anarcho
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Jan 21 2008 09:50
capricorn wrote:
Here's further confirmation that Rosa Luxemburg was by no means sympathetic to anarchism. . . . So, I don't think Luxemburg can be said to have borrowed the idea of a mass general strike from the anarchists. Her idea of such a strike was quite different from theirs.

I'm not suggesting she was "sympathetic" to anarchism, quite the reverse. She repeated Engels lies about the anarchists in order to hide the fact that her "mass strike" was similar to the "general strike" of the anarchists. In order to hide the similarities, she repeated Engels straw man attack from the 1870s. That way she could appeal to Engels authority as much as her opponents.

Mike Harman
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Jan 21 2008 11:09

Anarcho. So do you not think that many syndicalists at the time (or a bit later) favoured building revolutionary unions until they were big enough to call the general strike? You don't think that's a bit different to a 'mass strike' developing organically via the circulation and generalisation of struggles? I'm no big Luxemburg fan but to me it seems a sensible distinction to make.

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revol68
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Jan 21 2008 11:20
Quote:
So do you not think that many syndicalists at the time (or a bit later) favoured building revolutionary unions until they were big enough to call the general strike? You don't think that's a bit different to a 'mass strike' developing organically via the circulation and generalisation of struggles?

Yeah cos obviously the revolutionary unions and general strike wouldn't grow organically from the circulation and generalisation of struggles.

Oh shit I forgot your circulation and generalisation of struggles is a the magical 'real movement of communism', one that never sullies itself by being made flesh.

capricorn
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Jan 21 2008 11:25
Quote:
And how does this affect the distortions of Engels in 1873?

Well, actually, it wasn't that part I was challenging but the following:

Quote:
A classic example of this appropriation of anarchist ideas into Marxism is provided by the general strike.

But I agree Engels probably did misrepresent the "Bakuninists" on one point, when he wrote that it was "universally admitted" by anarchists

Quote:
that to carry out the general strike strategy, there had to be a perfect organisation of the working class and a plentiful funds.

I'm prepared to accept that the anarchists of the time (and since) thought that the general strike to overthrow capitalism would not need to be carefully prepared but would develop spontaneously out of some sectional dispute with employers and with the intervention of active anarchist minorities. That was certainly the view of Pataud and Pouget in their book Syndicalism and the Co-operative Commonwealth (see summary at http://as101.subvert.info/archive/display/19864/index.php).
I imagine that you will dismiss their view and those of Arnold Roller and Tom Brown for a single, planned and co-ordinated General Lock Out of the Capitalist Class as a syndicalist deviation from pure anarchism. But the idea that capitalism could, and should, be overthrown by the strike action of workers is, fairly or unfairly, associated with anarchism (you yourself rely on this for your claim) or at least with anarcho-syndicalism, even though it was opposed at the famous 1907 Anarchist Congress in London by Malatesta and others who favoured the previous anarchist idea of fighting at the barricades.
But to return to the question of whether or not the general strike as such (as opposed to a general strike to try to overthrow capitalism) is an anarchist idea that the "Marxists" stole, how would you explain the general strike called by the Belgian Labour Party in 1893 to try to get universal suffrage? Since anarchists are not interested in the vote, let alone universal suffrage, it can't have been their idea.
My view is that the idea of a general strike came from the experience of workers under capitalism and that it was taken up by both anarchists and marxists on the basis of this experience, not that the one stole the idea from the other.

Mike Harman
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Jan 21 2008 12:00
revol68 wrote:

Yeah cos obviously the revolutionary unions and general strike wouldn't grow organically from the circulation and generalisation of struggles.

Yeah cos obviously there's no difference between a strike called by a union leadership and one that isn't.

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revol68
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Jan 21 2008 12:05
Mike Harman wrote:
revol68 wrote:

Yeah cos obviously the revolutionary unions and general strike wouldn't grow organically from the circulation and generalisation of struggles.

Yeah cos obviously there's no difference between a strike called by a union leadership and one that isn't.

yeah cos like all strikes called by revoltuionary unions were top down inorganic affairs and obviously Rosa Luxemburgs idea of a mass strike was something that just happened when the holy proletarian spirit overtook the working class. Clearly a mass strike wouldn't require any actual organisations calling it or leading it?

Angelus Novus
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Jan 21 2008 12:38

"Within emancipatory development, regardless of what type, whether the worker's movement, anarchism, or others, there has been a fundamental error. That was the conflict between Marxism and Anarchism. There's a French Marxist, Maximilian Rubel, who was of the opinion that Marx was a better anarchist than Bakunin, because Bakunin argued very emotionally. Marx himself said in a letter to Engels that he was the better anarchist. The failure of emancipation can be found exactly here. It was the private conflict between Marx and Bakunin – both of whom, incidentally, were authoritarian personalities – which flowed over into the organizational conflict, a conflict between Communists on the one side and the Anarchists on the other. I've been attempting at all times to make clear that this contradiction has to be transcended. One can call it “anarchist Communism” or “communist Anarchy”, that doesn't matter to me. But in any case, new ground must be broken. As soon as one falls back into this conflict, emancipation is over."

- Johannes Agnoli

Mike Harman
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Jan 21 2008 12:47

revol:

Quote:
Direct action is best expressed through the general strike which must, from the point of view of revolutionary unionism, be the prelude to the social revolution.

Simplistic no?

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revol68
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Jan 21 2008 12:59
Mike Harman wrote:
revol:
Quote:
Direct action is best expressed through the general strike which must, from the point of view of revolutionary unionism, be the prelude to the social revolution.

Simplistic no?

nice change of the subject but regardless....

Again you're literalist brain can't seem to grasp the notion of the general strike was a necessarily idealised notion, symbolic of the potentiality of the working class, that we make the world so we can shut it down and take it over for our own needs. And of course the revolutionary/anarcho syndicalist notion of 'general strike' is one whereby the workers don't simply walk out but seize the means of production. That to me seems quite obviously a necessary precursor to any social revolution.

Mike Harman
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Jan 21 2008 13:24
revol wrote:
Again you're literalist brain can't seem to grasp the notion of the general strike was a necessarily idealised notion, symbolic of the potentiality of the working class, that we make the world so we can shut it down and take it over for our own needs.

The author died in 1967, not 1905.

Quote:
And of course the revolutionary/anarcho syndicalist notion of 'general strike' is one whereby the workers don't simply walk out but seize the means of production. That to me seems quite obviously a necessary precursor to any social revolution.

Generally this was put in extremely productivist term, I suppose they didn't really mean that either. I seem to remember someone else talking about seizing the means of production before syndicalist unions got popular, wonder who that might've been...

And it's no change of subject, it goes back to the voluntarism which is at the heart of 'build the union, build the revolution'.

capricorn
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Jan 23 2008 09:48

Here's what Herman Gorter wrote in 1903 (originally in Neue Zeit, the theoretical organ of the German Social Democratic Party, and you couldn't get more "Marxist" than that) after a strike wave in his native Holland:

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The experience of the last year has greatly changed the view of the Social Democracy in regard to the general strike. To be sure we had already given up the original position of absolutely rejecting the general strike, but the indifference and even the half conviction of the justification of this powerful means of class struggle has grown in just the degree that the idea of this weapon has entered into Social Democracy. Even if we consider the general strike of all laborers as sought after by the Anarchists, Utopian, and if we reject the idea that the general strike is the only weapon, the panacea of the proletariat (for whither shall come the necessary organization, training and discipline for the general strike without the experience gained in the daily political and economic struggle?), we have, nevertheless, learned to recognize it as a powerful weapon whose application we must learn to study and which will be more and more favourably looked upon by all Socialists.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/gorter/1903/rail-strike.htm

Anarcho
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Jan 24 2008 09:09
Mike Harman wrote:
Anarcho. So do you not think that many syndicalists at the time (or a bit later) favoured building revolutionary unions until they were big enough to call the general strike? You don't think that's a bit different to a 'mass strike' developing organically via the circulation and generalisation of struggles? I'm no big Luxemburg fan but to me it seems a sensible distinction to make.

Some syndicalists did, particularly the industrial unionist wing (I know, not strickly syndicalist but close enough). Many did not. The French syndicalists always stressed the "militant minority" -- which recognised that the CGT was a minority and would, therefore, inspire the rest by its actions. If you are "How we made the Revolution" by two leading French syndicalists (written in 1909, I think) its vision of the revolution is a general strike developing organically from local strikes.

In this, they followed the "Bakuninists" (and Bakunin) of the 1870s. Their argument was that a general strike could not be called for a specific date and would develop dynamically. Engels, as repeated by Luxemburg, stated that the Bakuninists believed the exact opposite -- namely that the unions would simply be built up and then they would call a general strike on a specific day.

In other woulds, Engels misrepresented the anarchist position. Luxemburg repeated that misrepresentation in order to gain authority for her position. Her position, ironically, is close to that of anarchists like Kropotkin and Malatesta -- not that you would know that from her account. Hell, it is probably identical to that of most syndicalists at the time.

The key issue I raised is that Engels totally distorted the anarchist position. I'm amazed that I have to point this out.

Anarcho
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Jan 24 2008 09:36
capricorn wrote:
But I agree Engels probably did misrepresent the "Bakuninists" on one point, when he wrote that it was "universally admitted" by anarchists

"probably"? Definitely, more like. I have quoted accounts of the people who were at the conference in question (unlike Engels). They explicitly state that a revolution could not be set for a specific date but would develop organically from local strikes. This was, incidentally, Bakunin's position.

So "universally admitted" does not do it justice really. "universally denied" seems more accurate smile

capricorn wrote:
I'm prepared to accept that the anarchists of the time (and since) thought that the general strike to overthrow capitalism would not need to be carefully prepared but would develop spontaneously out of some sectional dispute with employers and with the intervention of active anarchist minorities. That was certainly the view of Pataud and Pouget in their book Syndicalism and the Co-operative Commonwealth (see summary at http://as101.subvert.info/archive/display/19864/index.php).

Thank you -- so Engels and Luxemburg deliberated distorted the anarchist position. As I have proven.

capricorn wrote:
I imagine that you will dismiss their view and those of Arnold Roller and Tom Brown for a single, planned and co-ordinated General Lock Out of the Capitalist Class as a syndicalist deviation from pure anarchism.

Some syndicalists may have thought this, I am sure, but many more did not. One thing is sure, few anarchists held that position. Malatesta, Goldman, Bakunin did not -- and Luxemburg was attacking the "anarchist" conception of the strike....

capricorn wrote:
But the idea that capitalism could, and should, be overthrown by the strike action of workers is, fairly or unfairly, associated with anarchism (you yourself rely on this for your claim) or at least with anarcho-syndicalism, even though it was opposed at the famous 1907 Anarchist Congress in London by Malatesta and others who favoured the previous anarchist idea of fighting at the barricades.

Malatesta did not deny the usefulness of the general strike for starting the revolutionary process. He simply did not think that it was enough in itself. Just as he did not think syndicalism was enough in itself.

capricorn wrote:
But to return to the question of whether or not the general strike as such (as opposed to a general strike to try to overthrow capitalism) is an anarchist idea that the "Marxists" stole, how would you explain the general strike called by the Belgian Labour Party in 1893 to try to get universal suffrage? Since anarchists are not interested in the vote, let alone universal suffrage, it can't have been their idea.

The use of the strike or the general strike to gain a reform is obviously an anarchist tactic. That the Belgian socialists appropriated that idea to gain a specifically political reform is beside the point. Economic struggle to gain reforms was argued for by anarchists since the 1860s while Marxists stressed political action to gain reforms. That they had to resort to the general strike to be able to use political action says it all, I think.

capricon wrote:
My view is that the idea of a general strike came from the experience of workers under capitalism and that it was taken up by both anarchists and marxists on the basis of this experience, not that the one stole the idea from the other.

Yes, anarchists did generalise from the experience of workers under capitalism and so they advocated the general strike. Engels totally misrepresented their position and mocked the idea. Faced with the actual experience of the general strike, many radical Marxists took it up -- and faced the problem of Engels dismissal of the tactic. Hence the problem of orothodoxy Luxemburg faced -- to show that Engels was right even when he was wrong...

syndicalist
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Jan 24 2008 15:22

On the question of the "general strike to gain reform", this article from the German SDP press is indicative of where some social democrats were coming from.

Rudolf Hilferding November 1905: Parliamentarianism and the General Strike

http://www.marxists.org/archive/hilferding/1905/11/parliamentarianism-strike.htm

capricorn
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Jan 25 2008 11:59

The argument is not about the general strike as a weapon in the class struggle in general -- I think it is clear that this has always been accepted as much by "Marxists" as by "anarchists" -- but it is about the use of the general strike as a way of overthrowing capitalism (a specifically syndicalist position). The people you call "Marxists" have always accepted the strike weapon, and have been prepared to consider the careful use of the general strike both to defend wages and working conditions and to try to obtain certain political reforms, in particular the extension or defence of the vote for workers.
Engels, incidentally, did comment on the 1893 Belgian general strike (in a letter to Karl Kautsky on 3 November 1893). He argued that it would only work if the army was shaky (as he believed it to be in Belgium). In the same letter he advised against the use of the general strike in Austria on the grounds that the Austro-Hungarian army was not shaky but that the government would send in Slav regiments to crush the German-speaking strikers. In other words, even for Engels, the general strike was a possible weapon though not the panacea some anarchists seem to believe it to be.
If you think that

Quote:
The use of the strike or the general strike to gain a reform is obviously an anarchist tactic.

you might like to ponder on the fact that the only successful general strike in British history was the Protestant Workers Strike in Northern Ireland in 1974 which overthrew the power-sharing government there. I don't suppose you'll be arguing that the UDA stole this tactic from the anarchists . . .

Anarcho
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Jan 30 2008 15:45
capricorn wrote:
The argument is not about the general strike as a weapon in the class struggle in general -- I think it is clear that this has always been accepted as much by "Marxists" as by "anarchists" -- but it is about the use of the general strike as a way of overthrowing capitalism (a specifically syndicalist position). The people you call "Marxists" have always accepted the strike weapon, and have been prepared to consider the careful use of the general strike both to defend wages and working conditions and to try to obtain certain political reforms, in particular the extension or defence of the vote for workers.

Actually, that is not the case. Engels repeated attacked all suggestions at using the general strike as such a weapon... The radical left of the social democratic movement had to fight tooth and nail to get the idea discussed, only to get Engels assertions thrown back in their faces. Mainstream Marxism was opposed to the idea of a general strike.

But, let me restate the matter. This debates is NOT "about the use of the general strike as a way of overthrowing capitalism (a specifically syndicalist position)". It is about Engels distorted the anarchist position in 1873 and that Luxemburg repeated that distortion in 1906. I have proven that Engels simply made up the "anarchist" position he attacked -- which is, needless to say, somewhat dishonest...

capricorn wrote:
Engels, incidentally, did comment on the 1893 Belgian general strike (in a letter to Karl Kautsky on 3 November 1893). He argued that it would only work if the army was shaky (as he believed it to be in Belgium). In the same letter he advised against the use of the general strike in Austria on the grounds that the Austro-Hungarian army was not shaky but that the government would send in Slav regiments to crush the German-speaking strikers. In other words, even for Engels, the general strike was a possible weapon though not the panacea some anarchists seem to believe it to be.[/quote[

According to the book I am reading, Engels opposed the use of the general strike in Belgium to win suffrage. I'll have to check the actual letter to see what he actually wrote.

capricorn wrote:
If you think that
Quote:
The use of the strike or the general strike to gain a reform is obviously an anarchist tactic.

you might like to ponder on the fact that the only successful general strike in British history was the Protestant Workers Strike in Northern Ireland in 1974 which overthrew the power-sharing government there. I don't suppose you'll be arguing that the UDA stole this tactic from the anarchists . . .

Yawn. The idea of the general strike predates anarchism. In the context of this discussion, which was about anarchism and Marxism, it is clear that the general strike is an anarchist tactic. It is based on economic organisations and direct action as opposed to "political action" -- which is why the mainstream of social democracy labelled the radical supporters of it "anarchists". It is also why Bakunin supported it while Engels dismissed it (at least, his version of it -- he singularly failed to accurately present the anarchist position on the matter).

So, my point is really simple. Engels lied about the anarchist idea of the general strike in 1873. Luxemburg repeated those lies in 1906. In other words, just because Engels or Marx said it does not make it true -- particularly if they are talking about anarchism...

capricorn
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Jan 31 2008 10:28

I have already conceded that Engels did attribute to the Bakuninists of 1873 a much more organised and planned conception of a general strike to overthrow capitalism than in fact they held. But it remains true that in the first decade of the 20th century there were anarchists and syndicalists (and others, the industrial unionists) who did argue that the workers should become more and more organised industrially and eventually be in a position to "take and hold" the means of production in a General Lock-Out of the capitalist class. I cited a pamphlet The Social General Strike by Arnold Roller which argued this point. Unfortunately I can't find a copy of it (perhaps someone else can). It was also the view of many in the IWW. So, Luxemburg would not have been "lying" in attributing this view to at least some anarchists, a view which you yourself have conceded some anarchists to have held.
As I said, I think that the general strike is a working-class tactic, not a specifically anarchist one. In any event, if the general strike is a specifically anarchist tactic, how come that the revered "father of anarchism", Proudhon, was opposed even to partial strikes?

Spikymike
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Feb 3 2008 17:45

Whilst my views in this area are probably closer to those of Capricorn, Anarcho must be congratulated in getting at least a small concession from the 'marxists' in recognising some of the caricatures and overgeneralisations of anarchist views of the 'general strike' and 'mass strike' made by Engels and many social democrats ever since.

It is also important to understand that there has been much interweaving of ideas since Bakunin's time between 'marxist' and 'anarchists' , such that some at least who call themselves 'communists', are rather closer to each other than they would normally admit. Certainly on this issue I have found a good deal of common understanding of the 'mass strike' as Rosa describes it amongst some of my anarcho-syndicalist inclined comrades, even if we disagree on a lot else.

Anarcho
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Feb 6 2008 08:49
capricorn wrote:
I have already conceded that Engels did attribute to the Bakuninists of 1873 a much more organised and planned conception of a general strike to overthrow capitalism than in fact they held. But it remains true that in the first decade of the 20th century there were anarchists and syndicalists (and others, the industrial unionists) who did argue that the workers should become more and more organised industrially and eventually be in a position to "take and hold" the means of production in a General Lock-Out of the capitalist class.

And how does this affect what Engels claimed in 1873? Luxemburg repeated these inventions to "the anarchists", which was not the case in 1873 or in 1906. Now, if she had said "some anarchists" and "some syndicalists" then she would have been correct. But she did not. She proclaimed that the anarchist position was the same as that Engels had proclaimed in 1873,. The problem was, the anarchists had said no such thing in 1873 (as can be seen from the lack of quotes from Engels and the quotes I have provided).

And to repeat myself, that was the whole point of my post, to show that Engels had misrepresented the anarchist position (he basically invented it) and that Luxemburg had simply repeated it without qualification or acknowledgement as the "anarchist position." As I said, repeating Engels assertions does not make it true.

capricorn wrote:
I cited a pamphlet The Social General Strike by Arnold Roller which argued this point. Unfortunately I can't find a copy of it (perhaps someone else can). It was also the view of many in the IWW. So, Luxemburg would not have been "lying" in attributing this view to at least some anarchists, a view which you yourself have conceded some anarchists to have held.

I said that Engels was lying and Luxemburg was simply repeating Engels (she probably thought, like most Marxists, that Engels assertions were true). As I noted, subsequently to 1873 some syndicalists (and some anarchists) subscribed to Engels distorted account of the anarchist position but to say that Engels distortions were the anarchist position on the general strike is simply not true. if Luxemburg had stated "some" anarchists, I would accept your point. She did not. She assigned Engels position to all anarchists....

All this seems obvious to me, rereading my original posting. I'm surprised that I have to repeat myself.

capricorn wrote:
As I said, I think that the general strike is a working-class tactic, not a specifically anarchist one. In any event, if the general strike is a specifically anarchist tactic, how come that the revered "father of anarchism", Proudhon, was opposed even to partial strikes?

I'm not sure that Proudhon is "revered". All revolutionary anarchists I know of criticise his positions on many subjects (including his opposition to strikes). We take what is correct in Proudhon and dump the rest -- that is why we do not call ourselves "Proudhonists" (or Bakuninists or whoeverists).

Now, obviously, the strike and the general strike are working-class tactics. Equally, Engels and Marx attacked the idea of the general strike and considered it as a silly tactic. Anarchists, however, supported it. Given the issue of "political action" vrs "economic action" it is clear that it is an anarchist tactic in the sense that anarchists supported it first, from the late 1860s. Marxist support for it comes later and was expressed in opposition to Engels and the leadership of the official Marxist movement.

Unsurprisingly, the opponents of the general strike labelled it anarchist and people who supported it as anarchists (Kautsky called Panneokeok an anarchist in the 1910s, as did Lenin in 1920s). To defend their position, they invoked the holy name of Engels. This caused the likes of Luxemburg a problem, which she tried to solve in her pamphlet. To do so, she repeated Engels distortions on the anarchist position.

I am well aware that since the 1870s many Marxists supported the general strike (or mass strike). Which is good, but it does fly in the face of Marx and Engels. In fact, it is the position of Bakunin. Which, in itself, is significant...