Syndicalism vs. Libertarian Municipalism

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Mike Harman
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Aug 15 2004 15:38
Syndicalism vs. Libertarian Municipalism

There was some discussion about syndicalism/libertarian municipalism on the Deep Ecology thread that I'd like to continue, but that thread isn't the place for it.

My basic position is that many workplaces have no socially useful function, and most parts of most jobs have no socially useful function. So organising _exclusively_ around workplaces - with the eventual goal of them being taken over and run by workers - no longer has any potential in terms of revolution. In a rational society those workplaces/jobs wouldn't exist, so why argue for them to be controlled by workers?

The alternative to this which I favour most is Bookchin's Libertarian Municipalism - whereby the locality is run by the locality

(including work/workplaces) via public assembly. The assembly is open to all to attend, and makes decisions via majority vote.

Bookchin also argues that people should be trying to create those assemblies now, either by setting up assemblies with no legal powers, or by using the lowest levels of local government. He's American, and discusses this in terms of the USA's political system, but I think Parish/Community Councils would work well in England/Wales (outside London where they're banned) not sure of the situation in Scotland, Northern Ireland and EIRE. The assembly might not be able to make legally binding decisions affecting the actions of the state or corporations, but it could influence decision and if strong enough, begin to demand that its resolutions be carried out. The idea is to emphasise the tension between local politics (in the true sense) and the State.

This approach includes the unemployed, very young, elderly and students who are all largely ignored in (exclusively) work-based organising. It also allows for opposition to the State/Capital which isn't purely economic - addressing civil liberties, environment, transport - things which people get worked up about at least as much work. There's plenty of potential for local assemblies (which if they ever got of the ground would almost immediately have a minority of anarchists in them) to make very bad decisions or be co-opted, but it'd have to be coupled with plenty of education work to try to avoid this.

the original thread is here:

http://www.enrager.net/forums/viewtopic.php?t=2246

I've lots more to say on this, but will leave it at that for now.

Steve
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Aug 15 2004 19:31

Workplace have no socially useful function? What none of them? confused

Anyway anarcho-syndicalism advocates workplace and community assemblies. I assume then you are talking about non-anarchist syndicalism of the sort practiced by the IWW.

Mike Harman
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Aug 16 2004 12:12

Steve, I said many, not all. There's a load of work - telesales, accountancy, marketing, junk mailing, retail, security, stockbroking, banking, working for Franklin Mint in any capacity whatsoever, most jobs with the word administrator in them, etc. etc. that I think almost everyone is in agreement would be unnecessary in a rational society. Not to mention all the work involved in designing, building and servicing the offices where those activities take place, plus producing all the equipment and resources used by them. Plus all the production of stuff that's useful, but is designed to fall apart in five minutes, most of that work could be avoided if the goods were more durable.

So yes, a lot of work being done is unnecessary, and in some cases it's actually harmful. Taking over those jobs and running them cooperatively would merely enable people to do a lot of useless labour without being exploited by an employer.

I'm aware that syndicalists advocate both community and workplace assemblies, but where are workplaces? Even if you have to commute, they're in someone else's locality, so why separate the two? I think one of the main problems with contemporary society is the complete separation between work and everything else - so why maintain that separation in revolutionary activity. I'm not saying organising in workplaces is bad, but I don't see any need to separate the two if you're trying to create structures that will eventually manage society, not just improve pay and conditions.

Here's what I have trouble with - from the front page of SolFed's website:

"We must organise around principles of direct democracy, collective action and class solidarity. Direct democracy means decisions are made by everyone meeting together locally, and any delegates elected must strictly carry out the decisions of the mass meeting."

"Solidarity Federation members who work in the same work sector have formed Networks. Their purpose is to promote solidarity amongst workers. Networks also use Direct Action to fight for better pay and conditions. Networks form the basis of a completely new labour movement,"

So you have direct democracy based in the community - great. But then any federalism is based on work type - I see no reason why you couldn't end up with networks of telesales workers working for "better pay and conditions", when there could equally be local initiatives to cut out that form of advertising and freeze out companies that use it. I'm sure there's better examples. I don't know a lot about SolFed, but as I figured their front page was as decent a place as any. Also - are there networks of the unemployed, pensioners? Or is that exclusively the reserve of people in similar kinds of employment? Why not just network the local groups instead?

Mike Harman
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Aug 16 2004 12:43

By the way, I admit to conflating criticism of the IWW and anarcho-syndicalism proper, but a quick look at the most recent issue of Catalyst reveals not a single article related to anything except the workplace, so I don't think it's entirely misplaced either. It also has an article discussing lay-offs from Norwich Union's call centre - insurance sales in other words. It's shit that people lose jobs due to outsourcing, but it's also shit that people have to pay a huge whack to insurance companies every year to avoid destitution in case of emergencies (or arrest if they own a car).

Steve
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Aug 16 2004 12:48

From the SF website

"People are getting together to form Locals – Solidarity Federation groups. Locals put solidarity into practice. In time, each Local will have a premises as a base for solidarity action in the local community. Locals are organising or getting involved in local campaigns across a wide range of issues – both in the community and in workplaces. Issues are wide-ranging: defending our natural and local environment and health; opposing racism, sexism and homophobia; in fact, anything which defends or contributes to our mutual quality of life. It is all part and parcel of building a solidarity movement."

"As Locals and Networks grow, they practise community and workers’ self-management. Eventually, industries will be run by producers and consumers. In other words, by workers (in Networks) and people in the wider community (Locals) who want the goods and services they provide."

I think this answers the questions on the community.

We are also revisiting our Workplace strategy again. We've done this several times as we see the need to constantly update and amend in keeping with changes in society. Regarding pensioners/unemployed etc basically it is down to them to take the first steps in orgsnising. We can't do it for them.

Steve
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Aug 16 2004 12:51
Mike Harman wrote:
By the way, I admit to conflating criticism of the IWW and anarcho-syndicalism proper, but a quick look at the most recent issue of Catalyst reveals not a single article related to anything except the workplace, so I don't think it's entirely misplaced either. It also has an article discussing lay-offs from Norwich Union's call centre - insurance sales in other words. It's shit that people lose jobs due to outsourcing, but it's also shit that people have to pay a huge whack to insurance companies every year to avoid destitution in case of emergencies (or arrest if they own a car).

Catalyst is a specifically workplace bulletin. No-one else produces one. Direct Action has hardly any workplace stuff in it.

The jobs people do is another issue. Most working class people can't pick and choose.

Mike Harman
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Aug 16 2004 13:13

Taking a look at Direct Action now. I didn't know you were in SolFed, and there's a fair bit to agree with, but still:

Quote:
"As Locals and Networks grow, they practise community and workers’ self-management. Eventually, industries will be run by producers and consumers. In other words, by workers (in Networks) and people in the wider community (Locals) who want the goods and services they provide."

I think this answers the questions on the community.

I'm not sure it does. There's no provision in there for federation of locals (communities) only Networks (workers) in that statement. How do communities resolve regional/national/international issues, or is it only workers in specific industries who get to do that?

If you have a local assembly, open to all, then surely that provides a forum for pensioners and the unemployed (and students, and the young, and the disabled, and stay-at-home parents)? They may not choose to get involved, but the opportunity's there and they can be encouraged, different to excluding them from 50% of your activity. Saying "It's up to them to take the first steps" means there's no active attempt to engage those areas of the community, despite them being very numerous and disenfranchised.

I'm aware most people can't choose what job they do, I've had some pretty bad jobs (sold plastic trays to food companies for five months - temping, not very interesting and poorly paid), and losing one is generally worse than continuing with it. In the short term, it's necessary for individuals, ideally within organisations, to work to improve their working conditions, but I think arguments have to be made against the very nature of much of the work that people are required to do, and there's often a conflict between those two activities.

PunkJohnnyCash
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Jul 8 2010 13:19

This seems to me to be a concept that would promote a regional democracy. The regional issue I think holds many problems. A look at migrant issues will show some that may arise. Democratic systems are something I question. If the democratic rule or resolution is something that is voluntary I will have no problem or objection. If one is held to the decisions of the majority I believe there can be real issues. I recently wrote a post opposing the concept that the majority is 'right' and stating that it can come close to 'might makes right'. How does one avoid a majority tyranny over a minority or coercive force to make others follow in suit with the the will of the voting majority.

Does participation in the voting process mean that one is bound to a decision they have voted against?

I am not of the belief that the world will be divided into one style of organization when power is de-centralized. I do believe this model has potential but will not be implemented for all, but those who choose to follow such a model. I do however see this as a highly workable anarchist model. I do take issue though if this is not a voluntary system.

fort-da game
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Jul 8 2010 14:48
Mike Harman wrote:
My basic position is that many workplaces have no socially useful function, and most parts of most jobs have no socially useful function. So organising _exclusively_ around workplaces - with the eventual goal of them being taken over and run by workers - no longer has any potential in terms of revolution. In a rational society those workplaces/jobs wouldn't exist, so why argue for them to be controlled by workers?

"Useful' work will also not be controlled by 'workers'. But the purpose of the event (as opposed to the ideal) of 'workers' control' is not so much to run these places as to decommission them... it will become necessary to travel back 'upstream' and release the various binds, ideologies, practices, technologies and so on that were specifically active in every place – the most important element of worker's control is the release from the habit of being a worker. Every human being is employed, from their perspective, as an individual rather than as abstract labour and so it will become necessary for them to play to the end their relationship to their specific workplace. As McIver has rightly said, both 1917 and 1789 released centuries of terrible pent-up traumas which were incomprehensible to those subject to them and which even now we barely understand... this apocalyptic bloodshed cannot be permitted to happen again, or put another way, there was terror because people did not understand what was going on and what possibilities were open to them. The productivist ideology of workers' control does not help at all in this understanding. Therefore, it seems to me that the event of workers control must serve as a therapeutic exercise as workers begin to release themselves both from the role of worker and from the fantasy of control. Obviously, there is a strong socialising element associated with work which will continue to hold for a while at least (most of us will become a species of ghost, still performing tasks which we have become habituated to without those tasks being connected to anything – if we don't perform those tasks then we will intuit, probably rightly, that there will again be a 'red' terror that is the result of an intensified sense of powerlessness and alienation which revolution always induces ). The people previously employed would continue to turn up to their workplace, what else would they have to do?, and would be free to investigate exactly what it was that they were doing before as workers, what their company really did, and how all that fitted into the capitalist social relation. This investigation in very many places would take the form of an active demolition as resources would be redirected. It seems to me that workers' control of (your example) Franklin Mint would be of vital concern, as through it and other equivalent factories*, we might begin to understand the hold it has on so many people's desires (speaking as someone who has inherited treasure hoards of this stuff as older relatives die).

*bookies, off-licences, casinos and penny arcades etc etc, the places where humans are closest to the essence of their desires.

Spikymike
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Jul 8 2010 21:09

Mike Harman, and better still fort-da game, make very valid points about the nature of a large part of modern day capitalist work and the struggle to liberate ourselves from it - if 'workers control' means anything in most places it is to deconstruct the whole activity and dissolve it into the revolutionary reorganisation of social life.

I have respect for some of Bookchins early work, but his proposals for 'Libertarian Municipalism' are just another detour, redefining communism in terms of democratic formalism no better than it's traditional syndicalist and councilist counterparts and as outdated as traditional syndicalism as a current strategy.

Workers are quite capable of forming assemblies, councils and other forms of organisation to practically defend themselves and in the right objective circumstances to take control and revolutionise their social relations but such organisation cannot be preformed as shells to be filled in advance of the conditions that require them.

I think pro-revolutionaries as a tiny minority need to argue their case wherever they can and wherever the opportunity arises to connect without prescribing in advance the 'correct' forms of action (though we may often have to criticise what exists and argue for what shouldn't be done).

Mike Harman
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Jul 9 2010 07:48

In case anyone misses, this is a very old thread from 2004, while I still like Bookchin's early stuff, I've not got any time for libertarian municipalism as such any more.