Strategy and struggle - anarcho-syndicalism in the 21st century

Strategy & Struggle: anarcho-syndicalism in the 21st century

A pamphlet produced in January 2009 by Brighton Solidarity Federation as a clarification of the meaning of anarcho-syndicalism in the 21st century, and as a contribution to the debate over strategy and organisation.

Libcom note: this 2009 pamphlet provoked strong debate within the Solidarity Federation and several critiques. After a period of internal discussion, this lead to the publication in 2012 of Fighting for ourselves: anarcho-syndicalism and the class struggle, a longer text representing the consensus SolFed reached following the 'Strategy & Struggle debate'.

PREFACE
Since this document was first circulated, it has provoked both discussion within the Solidarity Federation - where in its current form it represents a minority viewpoint - and also in the wider libertarian class struggle milieu, with reports of discussions from the Netherlands to Eastern Europe to the United States.

We encourage our critics to publish their critiques, for the purpose of furthering the necessary debate over how best to build a libertarian working class movement. For our part, based on comrades criticisms, further historical and primary research and reflections on our own activities in our town and workplaces, we have begun the process of drafting a new, much more comprehensive document to build on the ideas set forth in this pamphlet. Let this document too be subject to intellectual criticism and the cauldron of practice, in order to contribute to new and more effective strategies and tactics.

Brighton SolFed
May 2009

INTRODUCTION

"The spirit of anarcho-syndicalism (...) is characterised by independence of action around a basic set of core principles; centred on freedom and solidarity. Anarcho-syndicalism has grown and developed through people taking action, having experiences, and learning from them (...) the idea is to contribute to new and more effective action, from which we can collectively bring about a better society more quickly. That is the spirit of anarcho-syndicalism."
– Self Education Collective (2001)1

Anarcho-syndicalism is a specific tendency within the wider workers’ movement. As a tendency, it has a history of its own dating back over a century. In contemporary discussions many - self-identified advocates and critics alike – take the tradition as it was 50, 70 or 100 years ago as definitive of the tradition as a whole. There is also the fact that the tradition is a plural one, and its core principles have allowed varied, sometimes conflicting practices at differing times in its history. The anarcho-syndicalism of the CNT of 1930 was not the same as the CNT of 1980. The anarcho-syndicalism of the Friends of Durruti was different yet again. As was that of the FORA. And so on.

What this underlines is the need to clarify exactly what anarcho-syndicalism means in practical terms in a 21st century context. That is the purpose of this pamphlet. This aim will be pursued by way of introducing the current industrial strategy of the Solidarity Federation (SF), with some historical context as well as theoretical clarification of the meaning of a ‘revolutionary union’, different organisational roles and the relationship between the form and content of class struggle. This theoretical clarification is solely for the purpose of informing contemporary practice, and not some mere intellectual exercise.

So we see anarcho-syndicalism as a living tradition that develops through a critical reflection on our experiences and adaptation to new conditions. It may well be the ideas presented here are not unique to any one tradition of the workers’ movement and may find resonance with those who do not identify as anarcho-syndicalists - if anything this is evidence of their validity. This pamphlet is written to contribute to new and more effective action, from which we can collectively bring about a better society more quickly; it is written in the spirit of anarcho-syndicalism.

CLASSICAL ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM

"Through the taking over of the management of all plants by the producers themselves under such form that the separate groups, plants, and branches of industry are independent members of the general economic organism and systematically carry on production and the distribution of the products (…) Theirs must be the task of freeing labour from all the fetters which economic exploitation has fastened on it."
- Rudolph Rocker (1938)2

Anarcho-syndicalism emerged in the late 19th century from the libertarian wing of the workers’ movement. Stressing solidarity, direct action and workers’ self-management, it represented a turn to the labour movement and collective, class struggle in contrast to the concurrent tendency of individualistic ‘propaganda by the deed’ – assassinations and terrorist bombings – that had become popular with many anarchists following the massacre of the Paris Commune in 1871.

Classical syndicalists, including many anarcho-syndicalists sought to unite the working class into revolutionary unions. Like the ‘One Big Unionism’ of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) the goal was to build industrial unions until such a point as they could declare a revolutionary general strike as the prelude to social revolution. However, unlike the IWW on the one hand, and Marxists and social democrats on the other, anarcho-syndicalists rejected the separation of economic (trade union) and political (party) struggles.

They stressed that workers themselves should unite to fight for their interests whether at the point of production or elsewhere, not leave such struggles to the specialists of political parties or union officials or still less neglect political goals such as the overthrow of capital and the state in favour of purely economic organisation around wages and working hours.3 Furthermore they stressed that workers should retain control of their organisations through direct democratic means such as sovereign mass meetings and mandated, recallable delegates.

The goal of these unions - as suggested in the Rudolph Rocker quote above – was to expropriate the means of production and manage them democratically without bosses. As such, the dominant tendency saw building the union as ‘building the new society in the shell of the old.’ The same directly democratic structures created to fight the bosses would form the basic structure of a new society once the bosses were successfully expropriated.

Consequently, building the union was seen as one and the same as building both the new society and the social revolution that would bring it about. Class struggle became not just a question of (self-)organisation, but of building the organisation. As the union grew to a sufficient size and influence, strikes could be launched, culminating in the revolutionary general strike that would bring about libertarian communism.4 There was almost a blueprint for social revolution that simply needed to be implemented.

This approach appeared to be vindicated with the outbreak of the Spanish revolution in 1936 in which the anarcho-syndicalist CNT played a prominent role. In Barcelona, factories, public transport and other workplaces were taken over and self-managed by their workers. In the countryside land was collectivised and libertarian communism proclaimed. However the revolution ended, tragically, in defeat, but not before the paradoxical spectacle of the CNT providing anarchist ministers to the government while it ordered insurgent workers off the streets.

The experience of Spain led to many criticisms of classical anarcho-syndicalism in addition to those which had already been made during its development in the early 20th century. To these criticisms we will now turn.

CRITICISMS OF CLASSICAL ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM

"The modern proletarian class does not carry out its struggle according to a plan set out in some book or theory; the modern workers' struggle is a part of history, a part of social progress, and in the middle of history, in the middle of progress, in the middle of the fight, we learn how we must fight..."
– Rosa Luxemburg (1918)5

Criticisms have come from many quarters. We will focus here on four in particular which have relevance to developing anarcho-syndicalist practice as they share our goal of libertarian communism (unlike say, social democratic criticisms). Addressed in order of their severity, these four criticisms are: those which emerged from within - at the height of the Spanish revolution in the form of the Friends of Durruti group; those from the platformist tradition that grew out of the lessons of the 1917 anarchist revolution in the Ukraine; those which came from the council communist tendency in the workers’ movement, and in particular Rosa Luxemburg; and finally those which, for want of a better term emanate from the contemporary ‘ultra-left’ and Gilles Dauvé in particular.

The Friends of Durruti’s criticisms
The Friends of Durruti (FoD) were a group of rank-and-file CNT militants during the Spanish revolution in 1936-7. Their main criticism was that having defeated the army and taken the streets and workplaces, the CNT didn’t know where to go. “The CNT did not know how to live up to its role. It did not want to push ahead with the revolution with all of its consequences (…) it behaved like a minority group, even though it had a majority in the streets.”6 The CNT simply started self-managing the workplaces and collaborating with the remnants of the state, rather than decisively smashing the state and moving towards libertarian communism. For the FoD, the CNT lacked two things: “a program, and rifles.”

Platformist criticisms
In many ways platformist criticisms are similar to those of the FoD; whilst supporting the structures of anarcho-syndicalist unions they stress the need for a specific libertarian communist organisation to argue for a communist program within such mass organisations. This organisation would be a single ‘general union of anarchists’ and be founded on four organisational principles; theoretical unity, tactical unity, collective responsibility and federalism.7

In contrast to classical anarcho-syndicalism, contemporary platformism seeks not to build mass organisations, but to insert into them and influence them in an anarchist direction. For example the position paper on trade unions by the influential platformist Workers Solidarity Movement (WSM) states that “no matter how conservative they can become, it does not alter the fact that they are the most important mass organisations of the working class (…) activity within them is an extremely important ongoing activity.”8 Consequently, they advocate reforming the existing Trade Unions towards anarcho-syndicalist structures of mandated recallable delegates, rank-and-file control etc.9

Council communist criticisms
For Rosa Luxemburg, anarcho-syndicalists had an undialectical view of revolution where they could build up their organisation, the one big union, set the date for the revolutionary general strike and that would be it. There was no space for spontaneity, or for learning from struggle and adapting the forms accordingly; the anarcho-syndicalist union was taken as a given. She contrasted the anarchist general strike to the mass strike, a more spontaneous expression of class struggle not called by any one group.

Her ruminations on the mass strikes in Russia – which she claimed were “the historical liquidation of anarchism”10 - led her to formulate a ‘dialectic of spontaneity and organisation.’ For Luxemburg, organisation was born in the midst of class struggle, she held the anarcho-syndicalists put the organisation before struggle; they thought building the union was the same as building the revolutionary struggle, since it was the union that would call the revolutionary general strike.

Ultra-left criticisms
Communist writer Gilles Dauvé has been particularly critical of anarcho-syndicalism. Whilst the Friends of Durruti and the platformists saw the failures of anarcho-syndicalism as stemming from the absence of a clear communist program, and Rosa Luxemburg and the council communists from a proscriptive disconnect from unforeseen, spontaneous developments of the class struggle, Dauvé argues the problems are far more fundamental. He writes that

“‘You can’t destroy a society by using the organs which are there to preserve it (..) any class who wants to liberate itself must create its own organ’, H. Lagardelle wrote in 1908, without realizing that his critique could be applied as much to the unions (including a supposed revolutionary syndicalist French CGT on a fast road to bureaucratisation and class collaboration) as to the parties of the Second International. Revolutionary syndicalism discarded the voter and preferred the producer: it forgot that bourgeois society creates and lives off both. Communism will go beyond both.”11

Furthermore he argues that “the purpose of the old labour movement was to take over the same world and manage it in a new way: putting the idle to work, developing production, introducing workers’ democracy (in principle, at least). Only a tiny minority, ‘anarchist’ as well as ‘marxist’, held that a different society meant the destruction of the State, commodity and wage labour, although it rarely defined this as a process, rather as a programme to be put into practice after the seizure of power.”12

CONTEMPORARY ANARCHO-SYNDICALISM

"Not only did the great determination and ingenuity on the part of the [Puerto Real] workers bring results, but that of the communities too. Mass assemblies both in the yards and surrounding localities involved workers, their families, neighbours and all supporters. Initiating and maintaining entire communities' involvement in mass assemblies alone was fine achievement."
– Solidarity Federation (1995)13

There are numerous examples of contemporary anarcho-syndicalist practice, from the small group organising in Germany and the Netherlands described in FAU Bremen’s ‘Notes from the class struggle’ pamphlet,14 to the McDonalds Workers Resistance networkhere." href="#footnote15_mak52x6">15 to recent struggles in Spain, Australia and elsewhere. However, we will focus on two examples that go beyond the limits of the classical anarcho-syndicalism we have considered thus far, and illustrate elements of contemporary practice which are emphasised in the SF’s industrial strategy. These two examples are the struggles around the shipyards in Puerto Real, Spain in 1987, and the Workmates collective that existed amongst track maintenance workers in London in the early part of this decade.

Puerto Real
When the Spanish government announced a programme of 'rationalisation' at the Puerto Real shipyards, the workforce came out on strike. The CNT was at the forefront in spreading the action to the surrounding population. Not only was the government defeated, but a number of pay and condition improvements were secured. The most noteworthy development was the spread of mass assemblies both in the shipyards and the surrounding communities. These assemblies were the sovereign bodies of the struggle, controlling it from the bottom up. People decided for themselves, rejecting control by unaccountable politicians, union officials or 'experts' and ensuring control remained in the workplace and locality.

These bodies reflected the kind of ‘dialectic of spontaneity and organisation’ that Rosa Luxemburg declared anarchism “liquidated” a century ago for lacking. The CNT did not seek to get everyone in the shipyards and surrounding communities to join it and then declare a strike (although their levels of membership and longer-term agitation certainly contributed to their influence), but when the rationalisations were announced they sought instead to initiate mass assemblies open to all workers regardless of union membership, whilst arguing for the core anarcho-syndicalist principles of solidarity, direct action and rank-and-file control.

Workmates
Workmates began as a handful of militants working in various track maintenance and engineering jobs on the London Underground in 2002. These included track installers, track welders, crossing makers, carpenters, ultrasonic rail testers, track vent cleaning gangs, along with lorry drivers. In Februrary 2003, a meeting attended by around 150 workers voted unanimously to move from being a loose collective of RMT members and set up a delegate council along anarcho-syndicalist lines.16 Each ‘gang’ of workers (typically between 8 and 12) elected a recallable delegate and mandated them to sit on the delegate council.

LUL used a large number of casualised agency staff, most of whom were non-unionised. These workers were also included in the Workmates collective, which was independent of the RMT and open to all workers at LUL (minus scabs and management). The initial struggle Workmates was involved with was resistance to the privatisation of LUL and concomitant attacks on working conditions this entailed. While LUL was privatised, Workmates subsequently scored several victories over working practices after mass meetings organised work-to-rules and delegates consulted with their gangs to plan further action.17

However, there were also some defeats. These, coupled with high staff turnover meant that the levels of participation and struggle were not sufficient to sustain the delegate council structure. Consequently Workmates waned back to being a residual network of militants rather than an independent union, however a legacy of canteen mass meetings whenever a dispute arises remains, and the levels of solidarity are still high, as demonstrated by the level of support for a militant recently victimised by management in the depot where workmates is centred, which helped force an embarrassing climb-down.18

ON FORM AND CONTENT (THE PRIMACY OF STRUGGLE)

"Communist revolution is the creation of non-profit, non-mercantile, co-operative and fraternal social relations, which implies smashing the State apparatus and doing away with the division between firms, with money as the universal mediator (and master), and with work as a separate activity. That is the content… this content won’t come out of any kind of form. Some forms are incompatible with the content. We can’t reason like the end was the only thing that mattered: the end is made out of means."
– Gilles Dauvé (2008)19

Anarcho-syndicalism is commonly associated with particular organisational forms, namely revolutionary unions, mass meetings and mandated, recallable delegate councils. But it cannot be forgotten that these forms are necessarily the expression of some content. This is much like how a pot-maker can fashion many forms from a single lump of clay, but cannot fashion anything without the clay to start with. Structure requires substance, content precedes form. However we are not philosophers interested in such niceties for their own sake, but for their practical implications. So what is this content to which anarcho-syndicalism seeks to give form?

Simply, it is class struggle. Conflict between classes is immanent to capitalism, since capital is defined by our exploitation. We understand class struggle as a process of self-organisation to collectively advance our concrete, human needs as workers. Since these needs are in conflict with the needs of capital accumulation, the rejection of inhuman conditions carries with it the seed of a future human community; libertarian communism, the revolution described by Dauvé above. With the Workmates collective, we have an example of this content – a certain level of militancy – being given an anarcho-syndicalist form; a form which subsequently dissipated as the level of militant participation ebbed with high staff turnover and several telling defeats.

So while class struggle has primacy over the particular forms it takes, which are only means to advance our concrete needs and ultimately establish a society based on those needs, we do seek to give this struggle particular forms. These forms cannot be created from scratch, but we can seek to give disparate content a particular form, in turn focussing and developing that content. This is where the pot-maker analogy breaks down, because some forms sustain and expand the struggle while others strangle and suppress it. The relationship is dialectical in that the particular form the struggle takes in turn affects the development of the struggle. Since it is the class struggle that will create libertarian communism, we must always give it primacy over the needs of particular organisational forms. This was a lesson drawn by the Friends of Durruti when they found themselves facing expulsion from the CNT for advocating revolutionary struggle against the state of which it had become a part.

SOME NECESSARY DISTINCTIONS

"The most important thing that I would to point out, is that [in Puerto Real] we managed to create a structure whereby there was a permanent assembly taking place. In other words decisions within this particular conflict were made by those people who were directly involved in the conflict."
– Pepe Gomez, CNT (1995)20

Before we can proceed further, we will need to make three conceptual distinctions. The reasons for such precision will become apparent in the following sections, as well as for properly understanding the Industrial Strategy which completes this pamphlet.

Permanent/non-permanent organisations
Pepe Gomez above describes the assemblies in Puerto Real as “permanent”, yet he also notes how they were an expression of a “particular conflict.” Perhaps ‘regular’ captures this meaning better in English. We would define a permanent organisation as one which endures between cycles of struggle – political parties, trade unions and anarchist propaganda groups are all permanent organisations. We would define non-permanent organisations as those which are inexorably the expression of a certain level of struggle and cannot outlive it without becoming something else entirely. The assemblies described by Pepe Gomez would fit into this category. For us therefore regular meetings do not equal permanent organisation.

Mass/minority organisations
We call a mass organisation one which is open to essentially all workers in whatever area it operates (we would call a popular organisation one open to all people, regardless of class). We call a minority organisation one which maintains specific, usually political criteria of membership which preclude some from joining. A trade union is an example of a mass organisation. A political group such as the Solidarity Federation is a minority organisation, since it requires agreement with specific, revolutionary aims and principles which are necessarily minority views outside of revolutionary upsurges. Some of the anti-war groups in 2002-4, at least those which organised via open public meetings as was the case in Brighton would be examples of a popular organisations.

Revolutionary/pro-revolutionary organisations
The final distinction we must draw is between revolutionary and pro-revolutionary organisations. We call revolutionary organisations those which are actually capable of making a revolution. These are necessarily mass organisations since no minority can make a revolution on behalf of the class – the pitfalls of such Leninist vanguardism are well known and don’t need repeating here. We call pro-revolutionary organisations those which are in favour of revolution but which are in no position to make it themselves. Propaganda groups would be an example of this. We do find the term ‘pro-revolutionary’ less than ideal, and in fact something like ‘agitational’ might be better. However this doesn’t immediately capture the relationship of the organisation to revolution that we are trying to convey.

ORGANISATION AND ORGANISATIONAL ROLES

"To organise is always a necessity, but the fixation on your own organisation can be perilous. Against that we believe in the diversity of groups and organisations, that arises from different situations and fulfil different needs in the flow of class struggle. Some are more temporary, while others are continuous."
– Riff Raff (1999)21

We can use the distinctions in the previous section to identify four ideal types of organisation. Of course many different forms of organisation are possible, but only some are of interest to anarcho-syndicalists since only some offer the potential to develop the class struggle both in the here-and-now and ultimately in the direction of social revolution and libertarian communism. Now while these are ideal types and therefore not all actually existing organisations fit neatly into one category or the other, they do identify the real tensions present in organisations that try to defy the logic inherent to their particular organisational form. We will discuss real-world examples below to help illustrate the argument.

Mass, permanent organisations
Mass, permanent organisations are by definition de-linked from the levels of militancy of their members and class struggle more broadly. Therefore, they are not expressions of the self-organisation of workers sought by anarcho-syndicalists, but for the representation of workers as workers. We therefore recognise that neither trade unions or so-called mass workers’ parties are revolutionary organisations. In the case of trade unions, their structural role as representatives of labour power within capitalism compels them to offer disciplined workforces to the employers.

If they cannot offer the promise of industrial peace, they are in no position to negotiate. Such social partnership is inherent to the idea of mass, permanent workers representation, de-linked from class struggle. Furthermore, they divide up the class by trade and in addition to their structural limitations are bound by a host of laws just to make sure they fulfil this function, such as restrictions on secondary action and the notice needed for industrial action, all on pain of the sequestration of funds and imprisonment of officials.

If levels of militancy are low, trade unions work hand-in-hand with management to impose cuts and restructuring. If levels of struggle are higher, they will posture more militantly and operate as a limited expression of that struggle in order to appear to workers to really 'represent' their interests, calling tokenistic one-day strikes and suchlike. There are numerous recent examples.22 As and when such struggles begin to take on a self-organised character and go beyond the institutional and legal limits of the trade union form - by the development of mass meetings, wildcat action, flying pickets etc – two things can happen. The trade union will either come into conflict with the workers (as in the isolation of the Liverpool postal wildcat during the national strikes of 200723), or effectively cease to exist as a permanent organisation as it is superseded by the structures of mass meetings and the like, which as expressions of the level of militancy represent a non-permanent, potentially revolutionary supersession of the mass/permanent trade union form.

Consequently, we hold that not only are permanent mass organisations not revolutionary, but that in the final analysis they are counter-revolutionary institutions (note, we are not saying trade unionists are counter-revolutionary, the institutions are). The counter-revolutionary nature of trade unions does not arise from bad leadership, bureaucratisation and a lack of internal democracy, rather the leadership, bureaucratisation and lack of internal democracy arise from the logic of permanent mass organisations representing workers as workers. As revolutionary forms are necessarily the expression of class struggle and so necessarily non-permanent, the de-linking of form from content represents a counter-revolutionary inertia.

Of course it does not follow that we reject membership or activity within the trade unions, as their ultimately counter-revolutionary nature does not mean revolution would break out tomorrow if they suddenly ceased to be. Rather, the unions only act as a brake on struggles when they develop a degree of self-organisation in contradiction to the permanent form. Until that point, they do act as a limited expression of struggles precisely to secure their role as representatives. Consequently as workers we think it makes sense to be union members in workplaces where a trade union is recognised.

But as anarcho-syndicalists we hold no illusions in reforming them in accordance with our principles; instead arguing for, and where possible implementing, an anarcho-syndicalist strategy of mass meetings, mandated recallable delegates, delegate councils and secondary solidarity action regardless of the wishes of the union. Reforming the trade unions would be a waste of time, because the very level of self-organisation required to force such reforms would render the reforms themselves redundant, since we’d already be doing the things independently we were lobbying to be allowed to do. In workplaces where there is no recognised union, we advocate alternative structures, which will be discussed below.

Minority, permanent organisations
These are the kinds of organisation familiar to us today. There are two distinct pro-revolutionary roles for minority permanent organisations of interest to anarcho-syndicalists: propaganda groups and networks of militants. We see these as two distinct roles that organisations can fulfil. This could be attempted as a single organisation – as is the case with the SF’s current attempts to operate a dual structure of locals and industrial networks – or separate organisations, each focusing on its own role. We will elaborate our preference in the following ‘how we see it’ section, for now it is sufficient to understand that within a given type of organisation there can be distinct roles. We do not find it useful to refer to any kind of minority organisation - even an industrial/workplace one - as a union as in English in particular this has the connotations of mass organisations, for which we reserve the term.

Minority, non-permanent organisations
This type of organisation essentially mirrors minority/permanent ones, except that they will be created out of the needs of the class struggle at given times and places rather then being something we could have a general strategy for building. Examples would be the Friends of Durruti as a hybrid propaganda group/network of militants, and arguably workplace groups like McDonalds Workers Resistance,24 the informal social networks of ‘faceless resistance’ described by the Swedish communist group Kämpa Tillsammans,here." href="#footnote25_e6loilu">25 or some of the groups of anti-war activists that formed during the upsurge in anti-war sentiments in 2002-3. On account of their varied and non-permanent nature the only strategic approach to such organisations we can offer is to support them where they form and to try and create them in our own workplaces or localities as and when conditions permit.

Mass, non-permanent organisations
Mass, non-permanent organisations are a product of a certain level of class struggle, and therefore they cannot simply be built piecemeal by recruitment. For us, these organisations are the only type that are potentially revolutionary, as they are the mass expression of heightened class conflict. The organisations we can build in the present are the pro-revolutionary, minority ones, which can network, propagandise and agitate to develop the class struggle and give it anarcho-syndicalist forms as it develops. We think failure to recognise the fundamental difference between mass revolutionary organisations and minority pro-revolutionary organisations can only lead to practical confusion and demoralisation. Only if we recognise the relationship of organisation to class struggle can we be clear about what is possible and practical in the here and now and also how this gets us closer to the mass, revolutionary unions we want to see (more on which in the following section ‘how we see it’).

Reprise
It must be borne in mind that these four organisational types are to a certain extent idealised ones. In reality, groups exist that are in fact combinations of them. However these ideal types represent real tensions. For instance the paradox of a mass, directly democratic revolutionary organisation in times when the majority of workers are not pro-revolutionary places real limits on the size of attempts to create revolutionary unions in the here and now. Take for example the split between the Spanish CNT and the CGT over participation in state-run class collaborationist works councils.

The departure of the Swedish SAC from the International Workers Association (IWA) for similar reasons also reflects this paradox: internal democracy in a mass organisation when the majority of workers are not pro-revolutionary means the organisation has to sacrifice either internal democracy or its revolutionary principles – either way breaking with anarcho-syndicalism - the only other alternative being implausibly successful internal education to turn all members into pro-revolutionaries. Furthermore, the very co-existence of revolutionary organisations with the state is a necessarily unstable, temporary situation of dual power, they either make a revolution, are repressed, or accommodate themselves to legal existence as a regularised trade union.

Consequently while the organisational types we have described are not definitive of all actually-existing organisations, they do demonstrate the distinct types that exist and the tensions present within organisations that try to combine them. The paradox is only resolved with increased levels of class struggle and class consciousness – hence revolutionary unions are necessarily non-permanent products of struggle, and attempts to maintain them beyond the struggle of which they are an expression will see them lapse into a counter-revolutionary role. Without militant struggle they couldn’t but become organs for the representation of workers within capitalism, not the ultimate abolition of the working class.

OUR NOTION OF REVOLUTION

"A libertarian communist economy, a system without the market and where everyone has equal rights to have their needs met, has always been the aim of anarcho-syndicalists. Workers' self-management would amount to little in a world of inequality with decisions being dictated by the market."
– Solidarity Federation (2003)26

Anarcho-syndicalists are libertarian communists. Without this communist perspective, anarcho-syndicalism would amount to little more than democratic trade unionism for a self-managed capitalism. Communists recognise that capitalism is not simply an undemocratic mode of management, but a mode of production. Making it more democratic doesn’t make it any more responsive to human needs so long as money, commodity production and exchange persist. Consequently, against Rudolph Rocker’s classical position quoted earlier in this pamphlet, our notion of revolution is not simply the taking over of production in order to self-manage it democratically, but a simultaneous process of communisation – restructuring social production around human need.

This entails not the liberation of the working class envisaged by Rocker, but our abolition as a class and with it the negation of all classes. It also implies not the democratisation of work but its abolition as a separate sphere of human activity. Much activity - waged or not - that is potentially rewarding in itself is reduced to repetitive, alienating work by the requirements of capital accumulation. We don’t want democratically self-managed alienation, but its abolition. Furthermore - and this is of practical import to anarcho-syndicalists – whole sectors of the economy need to be abolished altogether, while those that remain need to be radically transformed in terms of the division of labour and the nature of productive activity itself.

This is significant, since while for example mass assemblies of call centre or financial services workers will likely be a part of any revolutionary upsurge, outbound call centres and finance have no place in a libertarian communist society. In parts of the UK these sectors account for nearly half of all employment. But at some point these assemblies would be deciding to dissolve themselves as part of the process of reorganising production around human needs, a process which constitutes social revolution. This once again demonstrates the limitations of the classical approach stressing the goal of self-management alone and reaffirms the need to state clearly and unequivocally that we are communists and that social revolution is a process of communisation.

HOW WE SEE IT

"We want a society based on workers' self-management, solidarity, mutual aid and libertarian communism. That society can only be achieved by working class organisations based on the same principles - revolutionary unions (...) Revolutionary unions are means for working people to organise and fight all the issues - both in the workplace and outside."
– Solidarity Federation Constitution (2005)27

As we have seen, an anarcho-syndicalist union isn’t just a really democratic trade union, but an altogether different beast with an altogether different purpose. Permanent mass organisations such as trade unions exist as things which organise workers. By contrast, the revolutionary unions advocated by anarcho-syndicalists are an expression of a process of workers’ self-organisation at its higher points. Therefore if we want to see these organisations, we have to agitate to build the class struggle itself, and for it to take these forms as and when class militancy develops sufficiently. ‘Building the union’ per se literally makes no sense, and represents a fetishism of form that forgets that the form can only ever be an expression of content, of class struggle.

For us, a revolutionary union is necessarily non-permanent because it is an expression of a given wave of class struggle. It cannot outlive the struggle of which it is an expression without becoming something fundamentally different, something counter-revolutionary, precisely because anarcho-syndicalist unions are defined by militant participation, direct action, solidarity and rank-and-file control. The particular form such unions entail is mass assemblies open to all workers (minus scabs and managers), and mandated recallable delegates forming delegate councils to co-ordinate the struggle. Federation by region and/or industry would also be advised as the numbers of such assemblies grew.

In order to develop the class struggle in a direction where such revolutionary unions are possible, we see two distinct organisational roles to enable anarcho-syndicalists to engage in direct action in the here-and-now. These are libertarian communist propaganda groups (of which anarcho-syndicalist propaganda groups are a subset), and networks of militants (of which industrial networks are a subset, on which we will focus).

In contrast to a platformist ‘general union of anarchists’ or left communist ‘single proletarian party’ we take a more pluralist approach to propaganda groups. While we are opposed to needless duplication of effort and resources, we are also opposed to the false unity that often accompanies attempts to unite everyone into one single political organisation. If there are real political differences between groups, they should organise independently. This does not however preclude practical co-operation on concrete projects of common interest. Consequently, while we clearly believe strongly in our ideas and seek to persuade others of them, with regard to propaganda groups we advocate an approach of non-sectarian pluralism and fraternal co-operation wherever possible to spread libertarian communist ideas and develop the class struggle.

In terms of propaganda, our goal is twofold: both to win other pro-revolutionaries to our positions and tactics, and to promote anarcho-syndicalist tactics and libertarian communist ideas amongst the wider class. The most obvious means of the former is the production of pamphlets and engaging in debates with the wider pro-revolutionary milieu – if we are confident in our ideas we should not fear an open confrontation of them with others. The latter goal of spreading our ideas amongst the wider class entails activities like producing and distributing strike bulletins on picket lines or distributing propaganda at workplaces facing redundancies, as well as maintaining accessible online information and holding public meetings.

As to industrial networks, we see membership of these as less determined by ideas and more by economic position (being a militant in a particular industry). Of course a level of theoretical and tactical agreement is required – networks are not apolitical - but we do not see this as being as high as for propaganda groups. For example it would be foolish not to organise with other militants because they have a different understanding of revolution, or are yet to be convinced of its necessity, but nonetheless support direct action, mass meetings and rank-and-file control of struggles.

Consequently we believe membership of a political organisation should not be a precondition of joining an industrial network as it represents an unnecessary barrier to the establishment and growth of such networks. Therefore we see the development of such networks as a concrete project for practical co-operation with other pro-revolutionary groups and non-aligned individuals who also see the need for them. The role of these networks would be to produce industrially specific propaganda and agitate industrially for direct action, solidarity and rank-and-file control. In the immediate term this means invisible, ‘faceless resistance’, but the goal is to foster open conflict controlled by mass meetings of all workers.

This may seem to represent a separation of political and economic organisation alien to anarcho-syndicalism. We do not agree. Both organisational roles address both ‘economic’ and ‘political’ issues of interest to the class, whether wages and conditions or border controls and the availability of abortions. The only separation is one which is a material fact of capitalist society – we share an economic position with fellow workers who may well be militant without sharing all our political ideas. We simply say this should not be a barrier to common action, only that it should be recognised and organisations structured accordingly. We believe the propaganda group/industrial network roles are a means of achieving this.

Finally, we should say that the list of activities given as examples for each type of organisation is not exhaustive. There are for example times when either type could engage in forms of direct action either to support its members or to support other workers in struggle who for whatever reason cannot take certain forms of action themselves.London Coalition Against Poverty (LCAP) would also be an example of a group that engages in direct action both outside the workplace and beyond just propaganda." href="#footnote28_4kg2l36">28 The possibilities thrown up by the class struggle cannot all be known in advance, and it would be foolish to try and prescribe exactly and exhaustively what each organisation should do. Instead, we seek only to describe the kinds of organisation that can advance the class struggle and move us closer to libertarian communism.

SOLIDARITY FEDERATION INDUSTRIAL STRATEGY

The Solidarity Federation seeks to create a militant opposition to the bosses and the state, controlled by the workers themselves. Its strategy can apply equally to those in the official trade unions who wish to organise independently of the union bureaucracy and those who wish to set up other types of self-organisation.

Rank and file control
Decisions should be made collectively. This means they are made by mass meetings, not by officials in union offices. These mass meetings include all those in the workplace, regardless of union membership. It will not, however, include scabs or managers.

Anyone we elect to negotiate with management should have a mandate from the workforce that gives them clear guidance on what is and is not acceptable. Mass meetings of workers need to be able to recall all delegates.

Direct action
Direct action at work means strikes, go-slows, working-to-rule, occupations and boycotts. We are opposed to the alternative which is 'partnership' with bosses. Workers can only win serious concessions from management when industrial action is used or when bosses fear it might be.

Solidarity
Solidarity with other workers is the key to victory. Workers should support each others' disputes despite the anti-trade union laws. We need to approach other workers directly for their support. 'Don't Cross Picket Lines!'

Control of funds
Strike funds need to be controlled by the workers themselves. Officials will refuse to fund unlawful solidarity action. Union bureaucrats use official backing and strike pay to turn action on and off like a tap.

Unions use a large proportion of their political funds on sponsoring parliamentary candidates. Backing the Labour Party is not in the interests of workers. We should also not fall into the trap of backing so-called 'socialist' candidates. The Parliamentary system is about working class people giving up power and control, not exercising it.

Social change
The interests of the working class lie in the destruction of capitalist society. The whole of the wealth of society is produced by the workers. However, a portion of this is converted into profits for the shareholders and business people who own the means of production. When workers make wage demands, they are simply trying to win a bigger share of what is rightfully their own.

This means that trade union organisation around traditional bread and butter issues is not enough on its own, although it is vital. As well as a structure of mass meetings and delegates there also needs to be a specifically anarcho-syndicalist presence in any workplace organisation. This will necessarily involve only a minority of workers in the present time. The role of anarcho-syndicalist militants is not to control the workplace organisation but to put forward an anarcho-syndicalist perspective in the meetings of the workplace organisation and attempt to gain broad support for our aims and principles, through propaganda work.

Preamble
Solidarity Federation's ultimate aim is a self-managed, stateless society based on the principle of from each according to their ability, to each according to their needs. It is a society where we are no longer just used as a means to an end by bosses wanting to make money from our labour.

In the medium term and as an essential forerunner to such a society, SolFed promotes and seeks to initiate anarcho-syndicalist unions. To this end, SolFed seeks to create a militant opposition to the bosses and the state, controlled by the workers themselves. Its strategy can apply equally to those in the official trade unions who wish to organise independently of the union bureaucracy and those who wish to set up other types of self-organisation.

Details of the strategy
Mass meetings should be seen as an alternative structure to official union structures that are dominated by full-time bureaucrats. Decisions are made collectively in these assemblies. The work of these assemblies in different workplaces should be co-ordinated by delegate councils.

In the most militant workforces regular mass meetings will be held and this is obviously the ideal we are aiming at. This may not be possible in other workplaces where it will only be possible to organise such meetings when a dispute arises.

We need a three-pronged approach to the business of actually setting up an independent organisation at work.

1.In a workplace with a recognised TUC union, an SF member would join the union but promote an anarcho-syndicalist strategy. This would involve organising workplace assemblies to make collective decisions on workplace issues. However, workers will still be likely to hold union cards here to avoid splits in the workplace between union members and non-union members.

2.In a non-unionised workplace, independent unions, based on the principle of collective decision-making, should be set up wherever possible.

3.In a non-unionised workplace, that is difficult to organise due to a high turnover of staff or a large number of temps, we should just call workers assemblies when a dispute arises.

SF members will also undertake anarcho-syndicalist propaganda work in each scenario. The principles of our industrial strategy would apply to all three approaches.

Posted By

Fall Back
Feb 8 2009 10:41

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sabot
Feb 18 2009 13:09

I know in this article you've responded to many from the left who have attempted to debunk anarchosyndicalism... but I was curious if someone could respond to Murray bookchin's "the goast of anarchosyndicalism" critique of such movements.

posi
Feb 20 2009 09:50

I'd echo the other posters who've said that there is very little, if anything at all, in this document that is specifically anarcho-syndicalist. I think this is good thing. I'm sure some of the authors must recognise this?

I would also be interested where the language, and central importance, of minority vs. majority and permanent vs. temporary comes from. I know that's something that I've also taken from debates on these board, particularly from the debates with our resident left communists about unions (specifically Alf, I think), and why it is that they become reactionary. But is it something that's ever been specifically raised in those terms before, in an article anywhere? If anyone knows of one, I'd appreciate a link or reference.

Ed
Feb 20 2009 15:23

Just to quickly comment on what those are saying regarding the document not containing anything "specifically anarcho-syndicalist", I think you're missing the point.

The main thing for me with this pamphlet is that it reflects a lot of what is currently anarcho-syndicalist practice, the examples given here are Workmates and Puerto Real. Were these activities not anarcho-syndicalism in practice? If not, then what is?

Activity of anarcho-syndicalist groups is all based around being minority organisations (because that's what they are) while the talk is all about becoming a mass, permanent, revolutionary union. For me, I have always found this confusing (and was glad to see the Brighton lot point it out) especially as I think you'd only find a tiny minority of anarcho-syndicalists today who think it is the union itself which will make a revolution and that their organisation is/will become that union.

As a final point, when I was involved in Solfed a couple of years ago (very sporadically, mind), one of the appeals was that when talking to the South London lot, they criticised the IWW for putting the organisational cart before the horse i.e. this is the structure of the revolutionary union, we recruit to this until it becomes big enough to start calling strikes. Now it seems that this same reason I decided Solfed was for me, is exactly the thing that makes it not "specifically anarcho-syndicalist". Admittedly, I'd say there was a lot of confusion within Solfed about what it currently is and what it wants to be; which again, is why I'm pleased the Brighton group wrote this pamphlet...

syndicalist
Feb 20 2009 17:02
Quote:
I was curious if someone could respond to Murray bookchin's "the goast of anarchosyndicalism" critique of such movements.

You mean the ghost of Murray Bookchin?

syndicalist
Feb 20 2009 17:07

Sorry for the double posting. Someone started a different post on this pamphlet http://libcom.org/forums/theory/left-communists-solfeds-approach-anarcho-syndicalism-revolutionary-organising-2002 but I figure my comments would also fit here.

------------------------------------------------------------------------
As an anarcho-syndicalist, I've no problem with this:

Quote:
from the introduction:
"Anarcho-syndicalism is a specific tendency within the wider workers’ movement. As a tendency, it has a history of its own dating back over a century. In contemporary discussions many - self-identified advocates and critics alike – take the tradition as it was 50, 70 or 100 years ago as definitive of the tradition as a whole. There is also the fact that the tradition is a plural one, and its core principles have allowed varied, sometimes conflicting practices at differing times in its history. The anarcho-syndicalism of the CNT of 1930 was not the same as the CNT of 1980. The anarcho-syndicalism of the Friends of Durruti was different yet again. As was that of the FORA. And so on.
[...]
So we see anarcho-syndicalism as a living tradition that develops through a critical reflection on our experiences and adaptation to new conditions. It may well be the ideas presented here are not unique to any one tradition of the workers’ movement and may find resonance with those who do not identify as anarcho-syndicalists - if anything this is evidence of their validity. This pamphlet is written to contribute to new and more effective action, from which we can collectively bring about a better society more quickly; it is written in the spirit of anarcho-syndicalism."

I'm here in the US and have been an active anrcho-syndicalist since the 1970s. One of the things folks I've associated with have always said is that we have neiether a blueprint or fixed in cement way of going about our work. Has our work been the same as other anarcho-syndicalists elsewhere, for the most part, probably not. Maybe the closest our perspectives and works has been was closest to the Direct Action Movement and perhaps the networks concept of the early Solfed. Would I proscribe the same for Spain, France or Germany (to name a few countries), absolutely not. They've got working class traditions that are different then ours. Does this mean one tactic, strategy, form or method is better or more superior, probably not. can we all learn from each other, absolutely. Can we learn from the experiances of others, sure can.

I would think the goal of anarcho-syndicalists are to build and enhance the most libertarian forms of struggle. Will the method be replicated in the same form from land to land, surely not.
Although I'm not in the IWA, I think the "Introduction" to the IWA Principles binds like minded libertarian workers together.

Regardless of the form we can all agree that "the duty of the workers is to participate in all actions that lead towards a revolutionary transformation of society, always striving to move towards our final goals. We must make our strength felt through this participation, always striving to give our movement, through propaganda and organization, the necessary means to supplant our adversaries. Similarly, wherever possible, we must realize our social system through the means of model and example, and our organizations must exert, to the limits of their possibilities, the greatest possible influence on other tendencies in order that they may be incorporated into our struggle, which is the common struggle against all statist and capitalist adversaries, always keeping in mind that circumstances of place and time, but remaining faithful to the goals of the movement for workers’ emancipation." ( http://iwa-ait.org/statutes.html )

I'll leave it here for now.

posi
Feb 20 2009 20:35

Ed - I accept all the things you say about Puerto Real and Workmates representing the real activity of people who identiy as anarcho-syndicalist. But then you have this pattern where 'traditions' go something like this:

1. Someone sets out some theory, probably based on observing real world practice. They get their new school of thought a name.
2. Someone makes some activity, based on that theory, and perhaps builds an organisation round it. The organisation now defines the school.
3. So everthing done by the organisation now counts as practice of that school - the practice will take place in different circumstances to the first lot, and hence will be different. The practice is named, theorised, brought under the umbrella of the school.

OK. Then the whole cycle can start again. People who take part in, and sympathise with things done by the organisation (stage 3) join it, adopt the name and theory of the school, and identify themselves with it. They then face new and different material conditions, develop new practices, name them...

... and so it can continue, and it's good that it does. But how far can the eventual practice get from the first stage practice before it doesn't count as the same thing any more? Sure, people can call it what they want. But by this point, the school is as much of a cultural or organisational trend as it is an identification with particular politcal principles (which is surely why the name was useful in the first place). And that means re-raising the reasons for organisational separation, adopting particular labels, etc.

But at the same time, there will be other 'traditions' undergoing the same process. And, quite probably, many of them will end up with similar practice and theory, coz after a few rounds of this cycle, real conditions will have more impact than the stage one practice and the stage one theory.

Fact is, I'm sure - and I reckon I can probably find some examples - of non anarcho-syndicalists doing similar things, even as non-ideological industrial militants. So if non-anarcho-syndicalists can do it as well... what?

When I said it was a good thing, I wasn't having a dig at anarcho-syndicalism. I think that convergence is a good thing because it suggests that organisations are relating their practice and their theory to reality. People can call the finished product what they want... I guess I just hope that the labels don't become barriers to realising what's really important in the content of the theory, either for "anarcho syndicalists", or anyone else.

Ed
Feb 21 2009 01:18

Posi, what you've described is the natural evolution of ideas over time. For instance, when I look at the stuff the AF put out, I find very little relevance of Kropotkin in it. Of course there is some common ground. In fact, fuck it, loads of the general principles come from his work, but the point is that anarchism has moved on since Kropotkin and in terms of the nuts and bolts of fighting the class struggle in 2009, Kropotkin is pretty far from the final word.

Similarly, anarcho-syndicalism has moved on since Durruti (I'm sure he'd have wanted it that way too) and the tools which his generation of anarcho-syndicalists created have been blunted by the relentless march of history (of course, this is my opinion, I'd be interested to hear from some anarcho-syndicalists who disagree). What we need to do is to take the general principles (direct action, rank and file control etc) and make them relevant to today; as, I feel, the AF has done with old anarchist-communists.

So again, we come to your question: "how far can the eventual practice get from the first stage practice before it doesn't count as the same thing any more?" Well, I don't know. But it depends on how far you think the pamphlet 'strays' from 'classical anarcho-syndicalism'. Indeed, I'd like to know what you think 'classical anarcho-syndicalism' is and how much its formation was a result of the historical conditions it found itself in.

posi wrote:
Fact is, I'm sure - and I reckon I can probably find some examples - of non anarcho-syndicalists doing similar things, even as non-ideological industrial militants. So if non-anarcho-syndicalists can do it as well... what?

I don't understand this bit. The pamphlet isn't claiming anarcho-syndicalist copyright to self-directed working class struggle. Or are you saying that 'non-politico' workers have formed non-ideological militant networks as well? Probably. But these networks aren't supposed to be non-ideological (you can join the IWW for that). The industrial networks as laid out in the pamphlet aren't supposed to be non-ideological, just not as strictly ideological as say, joining a political organisation.

posi
Feb 21 2009 07:31

I think I acknowledged what you say about how tradition evolve in my post before, of course that's how things evolve and that's a good thing. What I'm saying is that it unavoidably raises questions about what is specifically part of that tradition, and what is also part of other traditions. The pamphlet is framed as being - as Felix Frost says - about the meaning of anarcho syndicalism. What I'm saying is that, though you've chosen to frame it in that way, the things you say could equally well be said by people from other political traditions. (In fact, if they couldn't, you'd have a problem, since the point of the proposal as I see it is that non-anarcho-syndicalist revolutionaries can get involved in the networks on equal terms.)

This isn't a criticism, it's positively a good thing... fwiw, I agree with the conclusions of the pamphlet, and have been writing something with a friend for similar conclusions myself, I guess from a libertarian Marxist perspective.

On the second section of your post - I understand that's what's being advocated. But I wasn't aware Workmates had ideological criteria, though you're using it as an example and don't say there were such criteria?

Mike Harman
Feb 21 2009 10:51

I agree with Posi's points - that there's very little which is specifically anarcho-syndicalist in this, and that this is a good thing.

One additional point - Puerto Real and Workmates aren't the only examples of anarcho-syndicalism in practice - organisational work, producing and distributing propaganda - these are also the practice of organisations. So it's not just a disconnect between what organisations say and what they do - and this is reflected in the pamphlet's proposal to make industrial networks no-longer tied to solfed local membership.

Ed
Feb 21 2009 11:24
posi wrote:
But I wasn't aware Workmates had ideological criteria, though you're using it as an example and don't say there were such criteria?

Ah, right, sorry, I thought you were talking about non-politicos setting up industrial networks.. no, there wasn't ideological criteria in Workmates (beyond being militant, pro-direct democracy etc). That said, I think my original response still stands: I don't think we (or 'classical anarcho-syndicalists', or council communists, or anyone else I would consider a decent communist) need to claim copyright to self-directed working class struggle to feel affinity with modern tactics of building that struggle. The point is that we (me and you and other libertarian communists) take our cue from the class, we find the organisational forms that work, that are relevant to our experience. Are we deviating from our tradition as it was 50, 70, 100 years ago? Yes, and I'm glad you agree that this is a good thing (fancy joining an industrial network? wink )..

I guess all I'm saying is that I don't see the point in saying "Oi, that's not anarcho-syndicalism.. where's the union?" The 'union' will come in good time comrades, but what shape it will take we're yet to see as organisational form is shaped through struggle.. it makes as little sense for us to decide on the organisational form now and base it on the experiences of Spain in 1936 as it would for the CNT of 1936 to base their organisational form on some old artisan trade guild of mid-19th Century England.

Joseph Kay
Feb 21 2009 11:36
Steven. wrote:
the headings in this section like "mass/permanent organisations" are grammatically different to those of the previous section. The previous section uses the "/" to indicate either/or, where in this section they are not. I think that using commas would be clearer, i.e. " mass, permanent organisations" - as they are not mass or permanent, but mass And permanent.

good point, will change that

Steven. wrote:
the statement "the union is only act as a brake on struggles when they develop a degree of self organisation in contradiction to the permanent form" I disagree with. I would say that unions act as a brake on struggles pretty much all the time, unless there is pretty much no struggle at all. For example, in the recent public sector pay disputes there has not been self organisation threatening to go beyond the union form, but the unions still sabotaged the struggles.

this has definitely happened, and indeed is quite common. but i'm not sure it's inherent to unions per se - as far as we're aware the RMT didn't try and undermine Workmates for instance. now that's probably got a lot to do with the general level of militancy of RMT members coupled with the fact it never properly established itself as an independent force, but it would beg lots of questions to both big up Workmates and then say all unions sabotage all struggles all the time.

Steven. wrote:
In the subsection entitled "minority/permanent organisations" the second sentence says "there are two distinct pro-revolutionary roles for minority nonpermanent organisations...". I think you mean "permanent organisations"

i think we do, cheers.

Steven. wrote:
I think McDonald's workers resistance would not count as a nonpermanent organisation, because I think they wanted it to be permanent.

if someone wanted solfed to be a mass, permanent revolutionary union that wouldn't make it so. there is no necessary reason why workplace networks at large employers must be non-permanent though, and in reality MWR probably to some extent straddled our ideal categories, like a lot of real-world organisations.

Steven. wrote:
you talk about assemblies excluding scabs and managers. Many so-called "managers" are actually low ranking workers who might have some sort of token supervisory role. I would replace the word managers with "bosses", as this implies people who have some sort of actual decision-making power.

the wording is taken from solfed's industrial strategy. while many workers have 'manager' in their job title, and while the wording could perhaps be improved i think it's obvious who's meant to be included/excluded, at least i'm sure it would be to the workers involved in any given situation (everyone knows the bosses' chums, grasses, the 'team leaders' who don't give a shit and are really on our side etc).

Steven. wrote:
the sentence "if we are confident in our ideas we should not fear an open confrontation of them with others". "Open confrontation" sounds a bit weird here I think, a bit too full on maybe, like it implies physically fighting.

you think? i think it's pretty clear we're talking about a clash of ideas, not settling political disagreements in the car park...

Steven. wrote:
as for the industrial networks, I think this is a big issue. Obviously within SF this will be an issue for you guys. But also it is a big political discussion more generally. While I would be sympathetic to the idea of pro-revolutionary industrial networks, which don't require being a member of SF, I do think that there would still have to be strict ideological criteria. Otherwise the same fate would befall them as the "mass permanent organisations" - either they are controlled undemocratically by revolutionaries and have a consistent revolutionary line, or they get lots of nonrevolutionary workers and get dilute. I think that this is a real danger, because what are key points for us, communists, are not even considered by anyone else really. Principally in terms of industrial networks this would be the line that workers ourselves should try to control struggles ourselves and bypass the unions, that we should try to spread struggles as much as possible, that we should not try to reform the unions. So these are things to bear in mind if they are to be set up.

yes, this is important. we can see these different tendencies at work with the national shop stewards network. on the one hand it has the potential to be a really useful cross-union, cross-sector national network of militants; but then the brighton launch meeting next week is subtitled "how can we rebuild Trade Union power?" - i think reflecting Socialist Party influence. Obviously working class power and trade union power are not the same thing at all, and if the NSSN becomes a rank-and-filist caucus for reforming the unions it will be a great waste of militancy and self-organisation. we're definitely in favour of political-economic industrial organisation, and the political has to be well-defined (i don't think things like positions on national liberation would be relevant in the way they would be for a specifically political libertarian communist organisation though).

Steven. wrote:
Solidarity Federation industrial strategy... of course, the rest of this section is a reprint of the additional SF industrial strategy. I think that some of this is now contradictory to the rest of the document. For example the statement "trade union organisation around traditional bread and butter issues... is vital".

well, i think organisation around traditional bread-and-butter issues is vital - this is in the context of saying our interests lie in the revolutionary destruction of capital, but stressing this doesn't mean we neglect bread and butter issues for revolutionary posturing. often these struggles take place through unions to some extent, and when it happens in non/barely- unionised workplaces unionisation is often a result. as the strategy makes clear, we do not advocate TUC-unionising non-unionised workplaces, but forming independent workplace groups ("independent unions"), which we argue are necessarily mass, non-permanent organisations like Workmates.

Steven. wrote:
1-I think a more case-by-case approach is useful than a blanket "SF member would join a recognized TUC union". Although I don't have a problem with union membership as such, there are difficulties as many workplaces will have multiple recognized unions, and so joining any of them would still help with dividing up the workforce. Furthermore some recognized TUC unions are very much bosses or scab unions, which it probably wouldn't be useful at all to join.

i think that's probably accurate, and reflects our actual approach in practice. i doubt anyone in solfed would join a bosses/scab union because the strategy says so, and of course it says nothing of which union to join in workplaces with multiple ones. i read it as an anti-abstentionist position - we participate in unions at shop-floor level even though we want to go beyond them, and argue for mass meetings, rank-and-file control, solidarity and spreading struggles from that position - an approach i'm sure you agree with.

Steven. wrote:
2 - recommending "independent unions" to be set up is problematic, unless you make clear some sort of alternate definition for "union". If you do this, then that will make this point no different to 3.

we've made clear our definition (mass, non-permanent, with structures like a delegate council and mandation/recallablity a la Workmates). This is different to 3, because calling a one-off mass meeting in a given dispute is not the same as having regular mass meetings, a delegate council etc i.e. an independent workplace organisation (anarcho-syndicalist union). remember "for us therefore regular meetings do not equal permanent organisation."

Steven. wrote:
3 - see above, and also this probably would go without saying, but rather than just calling workers assemblies, on a practical level people would try to gather around them trusted colleagues based on informal relationships in a workplace on a more long-term basis.

see above. on a practical level, yes, of course. that's why we bring in 'faceless resistance' into the equation, as our stated strategy jumps straight in at the visible level of class struggle, when clearly mass meetings don't come out of nowhere, but from often informal social networks within workplaces, bonds of trust and solidarity built up by thousands of tiny acts, friendship etc. certainly that better describes my current work situation than any imminent possibility of mass meetings/anarcho-syndicalist unions (it's more likely now than 6 months ago though).

Steven. wrote:
I have long thought that there are unnecessary false divisions between anarchists in the UK based on personal stuff and semantics. For example, I think that there are more disagreements on politics within both SF and the AF than between them. I hope that this document and any resultant discussion can move towards bridging some of these divisions

the issue is that both are permanent, minority polticial organisations. solfed is meant to be an anarcho-syndicalist organisation - i.e. a political-economic local & industrial network of militants with libertarian communist politics, united by advocacy of direct action, solidarity and rank-and-file control - in practice it isn't this, but is an organisation of anarcho-syndicalists (which is why you, the AF etc aren't members). i think there's a place for both a specific libertarian communist political organisation and an anarcho-syndicalist political-economic organisation.

Joseph Kay
Feb 21 2009 11:44
Mike Harman wrote:
I agree with Posi's points - that there's very little which is specifically anarcho-syndicalist in this, and that this is a good thing.

lots of people are making this point, but it just seems like identity politicking to me. i've no doubt if we were ICC members publishing this as 'left communism for the 21st century' then our advocacy of political-economic industrial organisation would immediately be identified as anarcho-syndicalist. i'm more interested in whether people agree with the substance than the nomenclature tbh; arguing the pamphlet represents a certain convergence of anarcho-syndicalism and council/left communism is one thing (we're not hiding our openness to criticism or the influence of Dauvé), but presenting it as a complete break with a-s when Workmates is one of its major inspirations is just silly. we do advocate anarcho-syndicalist unions, we just recognise they are necessarily non-permanent (a recognition of reality, and explanation why they haven't been built by force of will), and therefore we make organisational proposals for what we should do as a minority in the class other than lament 'why aren't we a union yet?'

B_Reasonable
Feb 23 2009 19:10
Quote:
Joseph Kay wrote:
lots of people are making this point, but it just seems like identity politicking to me. i've no doubt if we were ICC members publishing this as 'left communism for the 21st century' then our advocacy of political-economic industrial organisation would immediately be identified as anarcho-syndicalist. i'm more interested in whether people agree with the substance than the nomenclature tbh; arguing the pamphlet represents a certain convergence of anarcho-syndicalism and council/left communism

There is something a bit similar to all this isn't there?

Quote:
Jack wrote ('Call for meeting of grassroots education workers' thread)

I'm a member of the local who produced it, and JK was the principle author who has been posting on this thread. I'm sure we'd both love to hear your great incites into our fetishising the pre-1940 working class.

In case you missed it, here it is: CSA fetishizes pre-1940s working class

Joseph Kay
Feb 23 2009 19:21

nobody missed it, it just doesn't merit a response.

Ed
Feb 23 2009 19:49

That's literally the shittest criticism of class struggle anarchism I've ever read. It's cool though, coz sometimes I get thrown off by Principia Dialectica's nice design and post-Marxist rhetoric and think they might be onto something. But then I read stuff like this:

Principia Dialectica wrote:
In other words, CSAs [class struggle anarchists] believe that for the majority of UK workplaces - which are unproductive - the workers should fight to take control of the workplaces in order to, after the revolution - close them down.

Yeah, that's what I wanted to do when I worked in a call centre, I wanted to take it over until we had a revolution.. roll eyes

Principia Dialectica wrote:
How are home based call centre workers going to have a mass assembly? Go from all over the country to meet at a workplace that doesn’t exist? Do they then occupy their own homes and wait for someone to tell them that the revolution has been successful and that they can communise them?

Well, there goes my blueprint on how to organise the entire working class through a single tactic.. what now, comrades?

Django
Feb 23 2009 19:58
B Reasonable wrote:
In case you missed it, here it is: CSA fetishizes pre-1940s working class

Lol, Principia Dialectica are such morons. Its hilarious that these lot can call people who identify a class antagonism in capitalism dinosaurs following "nineteenth century navigation techniques" whilst calling on people to vote against the toffs in the London Assembly!

That "critique" is so packed full of straw men its just amazing.

Django
Feb 23 2009 20:12
Ed wrote:
That's literally the shittest criticism of class struggle anarchism I've ever read. It's cool though, coz sometimes I get thrown off by Principia Dialectica's nice design and post-Marxist rhetoric and think they might be onto something.

Well, they're Crimethinc for postgrad students. You can't polish a turd but you can certainly wrap it in nice typography.

888
Apr 20 2009 20:52

FYI, the Seasol/Seattle IWW reading group will be reading this text this month (along with the markedly different "Rules for Radicals" by Alinsky).

BB
Apr 23 2009 10:40

"FYI, the Seasol/Seattle IWW reading group will be reading this text this month "

Sounds good.

OliverTwister
Apr 25 2009 06:01

yep

888
May 4 2009 17:35

What happened to the PDF version? Am I blind or has it been removed?

Joseph Kay
May 5 2009 11:36

We were formally requested by another local not to further distribute the pamphlet until after our national conference, pending discussion. we agreed and took down the pdf. discussions are ongoing, and our conference is this weekend, after which we'll decide how to proceed.

raw
May 13 2009 06:56

Wondered if this has become official SolFed position or not? Rumour has it it was rejected by the conference.

no1
May 13 2009 08:40

Yes it was rejected and the pamphlet only represents the politics of the Brighton local not the federation. Some comrades in SF have somewhat misread our intentions (thinking it was an attack on SF rather than a contribution to the debate about contemporary anarcho-syndicalism) and our position (thinking that we're advocating SF should limit itself to being a political propaganda group rather than aiming to become a political-economic organisation). There are also a few more factual problems that have been highlighted. We will probably write a second version of the pamphlet that takes into account the discussion and criticisms, fleshing out some things, and giving more concrete examples.

jesuithitsquad
May 14 2009 23:46

that's too bad. what's to come of it then? if you were asked to take it down before the conference, with it being rejected are you allowed to continue to publish it as a brighton solfed pamphlet?

jesuithitsquad
May 15 2009 00:17

so it's not just a minor disagreement regarding the pamphlet then?

*clearly none of my business so i will gladly fuck off upon request.

Devrim
May 15 2009 07:08

Just out of interest were you surprised, Jack?

Devrim

no1
May 15 2009 08:17

There is an ongoing debate within Solfed about our industrial networks - some feel they should be uncoupled from Solfed to become networks that are only sponsored by Solfed, others are strongly opposed to this. In our pamphlet, we say membership of the industrial networks should be "less determined by ideas and more by economic position" and that the "level of theoretical and tactical agreement required" should not be "as high as for propaganda groups". Some have interpreted this as calling for a seperation of the networks from Solfed, although that's not our local's actual position, and this is the only accusation of the pamphlet violating the SF aims and principles that has been substantiated.

knightrose
May 15 2009 11:27

We'd be really interested to hear what you made of the AF's industrial document. To our mind the politics involved are remarkably similar, though developed independently.

Joseph Kay
Jun 4 2009 22:02

new preface added to clarify the status of the document. we're working on a new expanded version and this one has prompted a very constructive ongoing debate within SolFed.