An introduction to Echanges et Mouvement.
What is Echanges et Mouvement as a Group?
Echanges is not a group in the traditional political sense of this word in the leftist mileau. The most accurate way to define it is to call it a "network".
A network, yes but of which people united by what and for what purpose?
Some elements of the history of Echanges will allow a better understanding of its present positions. The Echanges network was established in 1975 by left militants coming from various groups:
- Some from the English group "Solidarity"; these people were still in contact with a former "Solidarity" member (Joe Jacobs) expelled from this group for his opposition to the "Cardanist" line of the group (Castoriadis), mainly for his persistent defence of the importance of class struggle.
- Some from the French group "I.C.O." (Information Correspondence Ouvrieres) which disappeared in the aftermath of 1968 among hard discussions raising the same question of the nature and importance of class struggle.
- Some members of the Dutch council communist group "Daad en Gedachte".
- A small group of militants in Belgium publishing the paper "Liasons."
The contacts between these groups and individuals had existed before, and mostly for a long time. Quite a lot of other individuals scattered all over the Western world were connected to this core, the link between them being not only the group's publications or exchange of correspondence but also international meetings. One of these meetings had furnished the material for a pamphlet more or less giving the common position of the mentioned militants. This pamphlet, entitled "The New Movement", was the ideological link between them. To keep alive the exchanges built for years around these various groups and individuals, it was decided to regularly publish a bulletin giving a minimum of information on class struggle and of the life of left groups in all countries. This bulletin was "Echanges" and the network was constituted by all the previously existing contacts. It gave the opportunity to initiate or to follow discussions on the evolution of capitalist society and of class struggle in the modern world.
The Bulletin ECHANGES
The bulletin was started as a means of spreading and receiving information. Those participating in this project decided not to bother with the clarification of standpoints held in common (which usually accompanies the birth of a new group) but to accept the existing tacit agreement. The basic implicit agreement which underlay the content and form of the information published was still badly defined at the start, but as the project developed, it revealed a sufficiently unified approach among participants even if participants were very diverse as explained above.
This tacit agreement expressed itself in the analysis of various phenomena of the class struggle taking place every day and placed in the context of a more general understanding of the world. These phenomena include what many other people think to be individual forms of protest which are in fact part of a collective movement ( e.g. absenteeism, turnover, refusal of work, etc.) This is necessarily linked to the critique of the existing theories of modern society.
To do this, we must have information about these conflicts and theories. If inside Echanges we sometimes draw different conclusions from a specific fact or from a set of facts, we still think that the information which describes these facts should have certain qualities. Here too, a few simple principles guide our way of selecting the information published in the bulletin:
The raison d'etre of the bulletin is directly determined by the double inadaquacy of the official means of information: lack of information on class conflicts, exaggeration of the importance of political and economic information (two ways of masking reality).
Hence the double task of looking for information concerning the experience of struggle of all sorts and of making a meaningful choice from the mass of political, diplomatic and economical news.
We have few fixed preconceived conceptions limiting our gathering of information or of analyses concerning the meaning of class conflicts today or the forms these conflicts will take in the future. It is not what workers think, even about their own struggles, that matters but what they actually do and the real meaning of their activity. We think we have to learn from these struggles and to consider their links with the general movement of struggles and with the situation of capitalism as a whole. So we despise using empty bluff, empty rhetoric or self-satisfying proclamations or offering "advice" or "lessons" to the workers. We see this attitude as an elitist conception seeking to use and dominate workers' struggles.
As its name implies, the bulletin Echanges wants to be more than a one way means of information. It is conceived rather as a collective letter to which each reader is encouraged to contribute according to his/her possibilities and need, in exchange for what he/she expects to get from others. However, several years experience shows that even with the best intentions, one cannot, just by wanting to, escape certain traditional forms of activity. Presently, the exchange of views and material, the contribution of texts and the practical production of the bulletin are the work of a minority as opposed to the majority of readers. But the original conception remains a goal of Echanges.
Some Basic Principles
A network, like any group or collectivity, is something having its own life and having an evolution related to the transformation of society as a whole. People left Echanges for a number of reasons, others joined it who did not have the same approach as the first participants. In 1980, some of us thought to write a statement expressing more clearly the common positions of Echanges. The resulting theses were a matter of permanent discussion and cannot be considered as an Echanges platform but rather as something to be improved through an open discussion. What follows is not the original text but the latest version discussed:
In capitalist society the true contradiction is not one of ideas - revolutionary, reformist, conservative, reactionary, etc. - but one of interests. No kind of will or desire can overthrow commodity production or abolish the wage system. This will only break down as a result of class struggle arising from the very position of the working class in the sytem of capitalist production.
According to a widespread opinion "class consciousness" and "unity" are seen to be the main and necessary conditions for what is considered as "revolutionary behaviour" or as "working class action". This view overlooks or misinterprets how action and consciousness are influencing each another. Workers don't act as a "revolutionary class" because first of all they are or become "conscious" of what they want. "Unity" is not a precondition for, but is created in and as a result of struggle. Workers are a "revolutionary class" because their position as a class inside the capitalist system makes it inevitable that the mere defence of their own interests brings them into direct opposition to the fundamentals of the existing order. Such struggles are fought continuosly in the factories and elsewhere, and potentially they are revolutionary.
The development of class struggle with all its changing forms is therefore far more important than the developement of the so-called "revolutionary movement", regardless of the meaning given to this word.
The break with any form of exploitation or political practice and thought (reformism, etc.) is not a matter of theoretical discussion and conceptions but a matter of class struggle and workers' practice, a practice which is the result of their daily conditions of exploitation.
Trade unions are institutions in capitalist society whose function is to regulate the labour market. To be able to do so, they have to keep a balance between on one hand workers' interests (trying to maintain the loyalty and the support from the workers) and on the other hand the interest of capitalists (trying to maintain the confidence of as well as their usefulness for management.) But in modern capitalism the historical trend pushes toward their complete integration. Performing their initial function in these conditions they are more and more transformed into mechanisms of disciplining the workers. Calls for rejecting the unions or for their support or for reforms have no meaning at all. It is more important to see what is the specific and concrete role of unions in the development of class struggle. One has to be well aware of the fact that the same rank and file workers who at one time support unions will oppose them in practice when their own interests force them to go against the present social order. In general we can say that particularly in the highly developed countries the post-war development of class strulggle has greatly reduced the possibility of mediating between the classes and has created a situation where workers find themselves permanently opposed to the unions. The same development of the actual class struggle has rendered obsolete any kind of syndicalist project.
For similar reasons it is useless to call for the rejection or support of parliamentarism. The fate of parliamentarism depends exclusively on class struggle inside the capitalist system. Whatever may be the reason for those who want to call themselves "revolutionaries" not to participate in parliamentary work or not to vote in an election workers have other reasons when they don't go to the polls. If they stay at home on election day, they don't do so with revolutionary ideas in mind. They abstain because parliament, parliamentary parties and politicians don't have anything to say to them, because they have understood none of the poltical parties is defending their interests and that it does not make much difference if this party or another is in office. On the other hand workers who go to the polls and share parliamentary illusions will not refuse to participate in unofficial strikes or factory occupations if they seem necessary. Both categories behave in the same way in practice irrespective of their attitude in elections. They do so without a revolutionary theory about parliament and without being conscious that they are attacking the order of bourgeois society.
The so-called "revolutionary movement" and the "revolutionary groups" tend to be weaker and weaker nowadays and clearly suffer the fate of atomisation. They are weak because workers are more and more acting for themselves and by themselves. It is more and more clear that their means of action and methods of struggle are and cannot be prescribed or taught by any sort of movement or group formed for this purpose outside or inside the working class. Class struggle exists and develops independently of these "revolutionary groups" or "movements". The level and size of the so-called "intervention of revolutionary groups in the struggles" never determine or fundamentally influence the level and size of working class struggle. We may be individually involved in such struggels either because we belong to the collectivity involved in a particular struggle or because we participate in one or another of the host of temporary organisms created during a particular struggle and for that struggle alone. We consider that outside these struggles the exchange of information, discussions and the seeking of theoretical insights are an essential instrument of our own activity which eventually might serve others as well.
In very general terms "revolution" is usually defined as the overthrowing of capitalism. If we wish to characterize it in a different way we could say e.g. that it means on one hand the decline and disappearence of all kinds of practical organizational forms "representing" and repressing workers' interests and of ideological expression of such attempts, on the other hand the generalization at the same time of autonomous workers' practice.
What is Echanges today?
As we are not concerned with conquering any organization or being the leadership of anyone we have nothing to hide or to pretend. We are a small number of scattered militants writing and distributing publications to between 300 and 500 people equally scattered and being more or less politically motivated people, among them certainly not too many workers and many of them showing political disagreement with the basic positions developed in this presentation text.
We could, as so many groups do, pretend to be an "international" organization involved and "intervening" in a lot of struggles all over the world. We are, however, not at all worried to be what we are: a group as we have said above is the product of a specific situation in the development of present society. Its fate, be this growth or decline, will be the result not simply of our own involvement and activity, but of the evolution of class struggle. Trying to build something else only referring to our own "revolutionary will" would be inconsistant with our view on class struggle and rather inconsequential as well. To answer the usual criticism of being a mere "spectator" of class struggle we will say that it is not a matter of our own choice being constantly involved in the developement of class antagonism or not.
To face some sensible curiosity we can say that the most active in Echanges are either individuals or groups located in
and the U.S.A.
and that these individuals or groups are in close contact with individuals or groups in Belgium, France, (Liasons), Holland (Daad en Gedachte), Italy (Collegamenti Wobbly), Scandinavia (Motiva Forlag), Spain (Etcetera), U.S.A. . . . though it is undeniable that these contacts are not excluding differences of opinion and distinct ways of action.
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List of publications
Publications marked with an * are practically out of print and could be no longer available when ordered. Prices are in French francs for the publications in French and Pound sterling in English. Cheques or postal orders have to be made out in francs or in sterling. Bank notes in any currency are acceptable as far as they represent the countervalue of the total order at current exchange rates with one of the two currencies mentioned. Prices include postage. Orders will be answered only if payment is enclosed. Orders - as well as any proposal for meeting, discussion or particpation in Echanges activities can be sent to either of the following addresses:
Echanges et Mouvement
75866 Paris Cedex 18
Echanges et Mouvement
BM Box 91
London WCIN 3XX
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Publications in English
Pannekoek, Anton Workers' Councils (Echanges) Part 1 and 2; Part 3 and 4
The Hungarian Revolution (Council Communist ) 60p
The Experience of the Factory Committees in the Russian Revolution (Council Communist) 60p
*Cwmbach Miners and Women Speak Out 50p
H.Simon - Poland 1980-1982 Class Struggle and the Crisis of Capital (Black and Red) 200p
H.Simon - The New Movement 100p
H.Simon - Some Thoughts on Organization (Collective Action) 75p
*C.Brendel - Theses on the Chinese Revolution (Solidarity) 100p
*France Winter 1986-87: The Railways Strike - An Attempt at Autonomous Organization (Echanges) 50p
D.Brown - The COBAS - A New Rank and File Movement, Italy 1986-87 (Echanges) 60p
D. Brown/H.Simon Shake It and Break It. Class and Politics in Britain 1979/1989 (Echanges) 90p
M. Flug The Maryland Freedom Union (Collective Action) 75p
The Refusal of Work (Echanges) 150p
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Current issue available free.
Subscription: 7 for one year including pamphlets and eventually books published during the year.
Back issues available at the cost of photocopying (4p per A$ double page) plus postage.
Some of these texts are available in other languages (Dutch, French. German, Italian or Spanish). Other texts exist only in French and German. Complete list upon request.