A response by a member of the Twin Cities General Defense Committee (GDC) of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) to criticisms of antifascism.
The GDC’s mass orientation and our anti-racism and anti-fascism occasionally receive critiques. We are pleased to engage in honest and productive discussions.
A few years back, we received criticisms from comrades that compared us to French anti-fascists in the 1970s who were allied with the liberal state, and criticized by Gilles Dauvé. Here is one of our members’ initial response, written several years back. If you aren’t interested in a close reading of this article by Gilles Dauvé, skip ahead to “Final Conclusions,” for our response.
"When insurrections die", by Gilles Dauvé (Jean Barrot) in 1979, as preface to collected articles on the Spanish Revolution in the journal Bilan.1
First of all, we should identify main point of Dauvé’s piece, it’s intended audience, and the targets of his critiques.
The anti-capitalist, revolutionary left is his broadest audience. The historical examples which serve as the evidence in his piece are limited to the interwar period of fascism, with only a few short mentions, in the descriptions of the German and Italian cases (the third case, of course, is the Spanish Revolution).
The main project of Dauvé’s piece appears as a critique of those who act as if fascism alone was an enemy, and capitalism and the state can be left unbothered. He points out repeatedly that those who engage in the system of money end by being ruled by it, and that the state ‘fills the gaps’ and serves its own interests.
What money brings together cannot be free, and sooner or later money becomes its master. (63)
Conceptually, his main innovation is to argue that both bourgeois democracy and fascist dictatorship are merely aspects and potentialities of the state form, to be resisted together. This concept of the state is a somewhat innovative one – I’ve not read it theorized in precisely this way, and the state is a notoriously difficult entity to theorize.
Dauvé states explicitly that the state’s rational is to fill in the gaps (I’m summarizing from memory) and to attempt to hold together the capitalist system of production and exchange, which everyday performances of our place in these systems rein scribe our submission to these system. This is the reason why the state can slip between phases of democracy and fascism without, in Dauvé’s view, contradicting itself, or even necessarily requiring a word like ‘revolution’ as a description.
[T]he existence of the state, its raison d’être, is to paper over the shortcomings of ‘civil’ society by a system of relations, of links, of concentrations of force, an administrative, police, judicial, military network which goes ‘on hold,’ as a backup, in times of crisis, awaiting the moment when police investigators can go sniffing into the files of the social services. (56)
This is why, in a critique of anarchism, Dauvé points out that:
Anarchism does not see the effective role of the state as the guarantor but not the creator of the wage labor relation. The state represents and unifies capital, it is neither capital’s motor nor its centerpiece. Anarchism deduced, from the undeniable fact that the masses were armed, that the state was losing its substance. But the substance of the state resides not in its institutional forms, but in its unifying function. (54)
I don’t endorse or criticize this notion of the state here, but note that it is vital to Dauvé’s understanding of the relationship between capitalism, fascism, and bourgeois democracy, and that his notion of the state’s danger is rooted in the autonomist arguments about institutions and bureaucracies (see next paragraph). I do note that similar critiques are made by Giorgio Agamben regarding the ‘sovereignty’ of the state, basing his arguments on Nazi political theorist Carl Schmitt.
Secondarily, and on the basis of this characterization of the relationship between fascism, capitalism, and the state, he makes strategic suggestions, though only ever hinted at: avoid all cooperation with the state in any form, for the occupation of the role of the state will lead inevitably to the subversion of the revolutionary project (cf. USSR and his comments on the death of Lenin’s communism prior to Lenin’s physical death, and the crushing of the Kronstadt Commune). This is a familiar critique that emerged largely out of the autonomist critique of the USSR in the 50s and 60s, led by French anti capitalists like Lefort and Castoriadis.
The targets of his critique, such as they are, are therefore twofold (at least). First, he wishes to criticize those who imagine that fascism is the only threat against which it is acceptable to fight. To put it more starkly, he sees antifascism as a fetishized and limited form of struggle, in complicity with the state, and as an explicitly anti-revolutionary stance, committed to defending bourgeois democracy in this moment (seeing this as a sufficient attack on capitalism and oppression). This makes a great deal of sense, given the nature of Antifascism in the French left, against which Dauvé would have been writing (see more below).
As a corollary of this first critique is a critique of all those who would ever consider engaging in the politics of the Bourgeois Democracies; Dauvé points out in each and every case, very compellingly and correctly, in my opinion, that it was the democracies that sold out the revolutionaries in every case (not that he claims their failure was the sole one; he also notes the failure of the revolutionaries in the post- WW I period). To participate in these forces is to submit, willingly or not, to the forces that reproduce the systems of capitalism and oppression.
Second are his enjoinders that the strongest antifascist weapon is the the creation and linking together of anti capitalist and anti state groups, willing to reject the power of the state and the power of capitalism. His urgings here slip into the poetic rather than the strategic or tactical, and hence lack the specificity that many of us might prefer. I don’t criticize him for that here, but merely attempt to understand what he means. My sense is that his greatest plea in this article is against conceiving of the ‘revolution’ as a ‘battle’ against capital and the state. Note that he does not claim that there will not be violent conflict:
The question is not whether the proles finally decide to break into the armories, but whether they unleash what they are: commodified beings who no longer can and no longer want to exist as commodities, and whose revolt explodes the logic of capitalism. Barricades and machine guns flow from this ‘weapon.’ The more vital the social realm, the more the use of guns and the number of casualties will diminish. (41)
While violence may be inevitable, the real weapon of the proletarians is a revolution in consciousness (one assumes that he does not limit it to consciousness and subjectivity, and proposes that these would lead to action as well), such that we create the society we wish to live in.
There is no revolution without the destruction of the state: that is the Spanish ‘lesson.’ But be that as it may, a revolution is not a political upheaval, but a social movement in which the destruction of the state and the elaboration of new modes of debate and decision go hand in hand with communization. We don’t want ‘power’; we want the power to change all of life. As an historical process extending over generations, can one imagine, over such a long time frame, continuing to pay wages for food and lodging? If the revolution is supposed to be political first and social later, it would create an apparatus whose sole function would be the struggle against the supporters of the old world, i.e., a ‘negative function of repression, a system of control resting on no other content than its ‘program’ and its will to realize communism the day that conditions finally allow for it. [note the scathing critique of ‘patient marxists’ here]. This is how a revolution ideologies itself and legitimizes the birth of a specialized stratum assigned to oversee the maturation and the expectation of the ever-radiant day after tomorrow. The very stuff of politics is not being able, and not wanting, to change anything: it brings together what is separated without going any further. (64-65).
So, to sum up Dauvé’s arguments:
1. The ‘antifascism’ he encountered in the seventies in France was disappointing, legalistic, state—cooperative, and only patiently ‘anti-capitalist.’ He sees it as completely ineffectual, and indeed as cooperating in the downfall of revolution itself.
2. The revolution cannot take the form of a military formation, a “battle” between the armies of the proletariat and the armies of the state and capital. We will lose such a battle even if we win.
3. The revolution is not a political or military upheaval but a *social* one that simultaneously attempts to destroy the state and communizes real life.
I like this piece by Dauvé a lot! I found myself in agreement with most if not everything he said (for instance, I want to chew on his reconceptualization of the state a bit, and there are poetic sections where it would be hard to agree or disagree without sitting him down and asking him in a profoundly ungallic way what exactly he meant by a phrase). I particularly like the critique of those who think that the state can be a partner in antifascism or in revolution, the historically-developed and well-exemplified argument that the liberals and social democrats *always* sell out the revolution (this is not a new critique, but is well-developed here, including some good critiques of Durrutti, even).
However, I read this piece when I did because, having expressed an interest in Dauvé, a comrade told me that Dauvé’s views on antifascism were influential on him, and were the reason why he was concerned about the antifascist and anti-oppression work that the General Defense Committee (GDC) of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) have been doing.
Briefly, the GDC, especially in the Twin Cities, where many members had extensive experience in antifascist, antiracist, and antisexist organizing, has engaged in a number of anti-fascist projects. These have ranged from reading groups in which we attempt to understand what we mean by fascism (there are many competing definitions, and the GDC has not developed an exclusive one for ourselves), and the dynamics of racist, oppressive movements.
We have released discussion documents which spell out that we feel this work is necessary for multiple reasons. First, there is a moral imperative to protect those workers and human beings attacked for the color of their skin, nationality, language, immigration status, sex, gender, sexuality, religion, disability, or similar cause. I hope there is little objection to that point.
Second, for all that the IWW has improved its gender diversity, it remains an overwhelmingly white organization. A common strategy to overcome this problem (I at least see it as a problem) is to hope that we can organize a workplace with a diverse workforce, and that suddenly the IWW will become a union that resembles the workforce.
It hasn’t worked yet, at least, though perhaps it will be the strategy that eventually transforms the IWW’s composition).
An alternate strategy, adopted by the GDC, is to become active in anti-oppression struggles that are not already seen as ‘workers’ struggles, and to defend “the class as a whole.” We see this as a contribution (not the only one needed, to be certain) to overcoming the accumulation of differences among the working class, on which our bosses and rulers rely. To that end, we do prisoner support, have organized against transphobic murder attempts (CeCe McDonald, e.g.), disrupted speaking events by Holocaust Deniers, confronted neo-Nazis trying to find acceptable public space in the Twin Cities to spout their hate, and traveled to out-state areas for similar events.
We hope to become involved in supporting immigrant workers against those who make their lives even more precarious, ranging from ICE to street-level racism, and to ally with Muslims in the are to combat Islamophobia. We do not cooperate with the state or law-enforcement, and our actions are driven by our subordination the revolutionary unionism of the IWW. We eschew the adventurism and macho styles of previous North American antifa (which some of us describe in a critical way as ‘vanguard versus vanguard’) and engage in large, mass actions, with the vast majority of people unmasked (we can’t control the masking of all participants, but there are very few): we aim to organize our societies as a society, of real peoples, not of presumably ideologically aligned people who can’t recognize each others’ faces or know each others’ names).
As such, after reading Dauvé’s piece, I became confused. Why in the world was Dauvé’s piece, which aligns so neatly with the GDC’s views on antifascism, anti capitalism, and the need for autonomous building up of a rebellious society, being used as a ‘critique’ of the GDC? My best guess is that those who wish critique the GDC in this way have missed the historical context of Dauvé’s authorship of this piece, which is doubly unfortunate, since the piece is an explicitly historical and comparative work, pointing out the things that did and did not change (according to Dauvé) in the interwar period.
In contrast the GDC’s antifascism, which is anti-state, anti-capitalist, and autonomous in all respects except its autonomously chosen self-subordination to the IWW’s General Executive Board (GEB), the French Antifascists of the 1970s were party-based, pro-statist, and not really engaged in revolutionary anti-capitalist struggles. They were vanguard organizations.
Here’s a good summary of the 1970s antifascists2 :
In the 1960s and 1970s, the Far Left antifascist movement in France was heavily influenced by Maoism and Trotskyism, but hopefully today Maoist influence has disappeared, although one can say it has been recycled in ATTAC, Occupy, Indignados and other no global movements. Obviously what interests us here is how can we efficiently fight Far Right and fascist ideas and organizations among the working class. Unfortunately, the antifascist movement (whether influenced by Trotskyists or by anarchists/ « autonomous » groups) in France is very confused.
Let’s first analyse the flaws of the Far Left antifascist movement :
-it has never been working-class orientated and in the « good old days » (60s and 70s) it was only focused on high school and university students ;
-it has never drawn the lessons of the mistakes committed in the 1920s and 1930s when workers faced classic traditional fascist movements ;
-and it has always had an opportunistic attitude towards Stalinist-dominated Resistance movements during WW2 and its purely bourgeois, counter-revolutionary politics at the end of the second world war.
So in terms of actions and propaganda, French Far Left antifascist movement has been, at least since the birth of the National Front in 1972, more than 40 years ago, a permanent ally of social-democracy, Stalinism and bourgeois Republicans. Even if the Far Left has often tried to organize counter demonstrations against National Front meetings, its cooperation with the Reformist Left has only brought more political confusion and limited the « antifascist struggle » to legal aims : laws against racism, anti-Semitism and against holocaust denial ; banning of some very small fascist groups ; unitary demonstrations or meetings with a very moderate Republican, antiracist agenda ; press campaigns against the National Front presented as a « non Republican » party, etc. Obviously it was not 100% negative but it had no revolutionary or socialist colours.
For Dauvé’s piece on antifascism to be useful as a critique of the GDC, the GDC would have to resemble these antifascists. We do not. Instead, we are explicitly community and worker based, and anti capitalist, we engage in reading groups and programs specifically to challenge ourselves to learn more and transform our understandings of the challenges we face, and we are principled rather than opportunistic in our resistance to authoritarianism of all sorts.
The one place where Dauvé’s critique *could* apply to the GDC is in the following: we embrace a broad defense of anti-capitalists. Thus, when the Statist Communist group the Anti-War Committee (AWC) was raided by the FBI and charges brought against them, we immediately took a stand against this repression by the state. Thus, it is possible that this non-sectarian defense could be criticized by Dauvé or others as a cooperation with a authoritarian/statist group that would cripple the revolution. I’m unconvinced by this argument, but want to note it’s existence.
Originally posted: April 8, 2016 at Twin Cities General Defense Committee