Root & Branch

Organisational statement of the Root and Branch collective outlining their libertarian take on communist theory and practice.

Submitted by libcom on October 28, 2005

ROOT AND BRANCH (From #7; undated - probably late 70s) With the 1960s the eternal prosperity, the managed economy, and the attendant "death of ideology" of the post-World War II period came to an end. The combination of unemployment and inflation in the capitalist West and the inability of the state-run systems of the East to satisfy their working classes are producing unsettling effects throughout "industrial society": the deterioration of conditions in the big cities, which nonetheless draw an increasing proportion of the world's population; the brutalization of the seemingly permanent army of the unemployed, which has been accumulating in these urban centers; the instability of governments in the democracies, in the absence of any clear policy alternatives, inspiring a drift toward open authoritarianism; the development of opposition to the party dictatorships in the East, both in the form of liberalism among the intelligentsia and, more significantly, in that of strike movements among the working classes; and the continuing decay of ideologies and social norms. All this testifies to the basic character of the "limits of growth" that modern society is coming up against. Whatever disappointments Nature has in store for us in the future, the limits we are encountering now are not ecological but social ones. It is not even socially caused, environmental disaster but the third world war that most directly threatens our extinction. That a fascination with zero-growth has replaced the nineteenth century's discovery of eternal progressive development is only the ideological form of the experience of the bankruptcy as a social system of capitalism and its state-run analog.

As yet we cannot speak of the existence anywhere in the world of forces or social movements which represent a real possibility of social revolution. But, while in no way inevitable, social revolution is clearly necessary if possibilities for an enjoyable and decent life are to be realized- and perhaps if human life is to be preserved at all. For this reason we see the overthrow of the present order of society as the goal to which we as a group wish to contribute. While the ideal we aim for has been called by a variety of names-communism, socialism, anarchism-what is important to us is the idea of a system in which social life is controlled by those whose activities make it up. Capitalism has created the basis of such a system by so interweaving the production and consumption of all producers that only collective solutions are possible to meet the producers' need to control the means and process of production and distribution. To eliminate the problems caused by the subordination of social production to capital's need for profit, the working class must take direct responsibility for what it already produces. This means opposition not only to the exist ing ruling class of capitalists and politicians but to any future managers or party leaders seeking to hold power in our name. Root & Branch, therefore, holds to the tradition of the workers' movement expressed in the Provisional Rules of the First International, beginning with the consideration "that the emanicipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves."

From the past we draw not only inspiration and still-meaningful ideas but also lessons on mistakes to be avoided. The fundamental idea of the old labor movement, that the working class can build up its forces in large organizations in preparation for the "final conflict" has proven false. Whether the organization was that of reformist or of revolutionary parties, producer or consumer cooperatives, or trade unions, its success has always turned out to be a success in adapting to the exigencies of survival within capitalism. The Bolshevik aIternative of the small vanguard of revolutionaries preparing for the day when they would lead the masses to the conquest of state power has also proven useless for our purposes. Such parties have had a role to play only in the unindustrialized areas of the world, where they have provided the ruling class needed to carry out the work of forced economic development unrealized by the native bourgeoisie. In the developed countries they have been condemned either to sectarian insignificance or to transformation into reformist parties of the social-democratic type.

While history has indicated that there can be no revolution ary movement except in periods of revolution, the principles of such a future movement must guide the activity of those who wish to contribute to its creation. These principles-in contrast to those of the old labor movement-must signify a total break with the foundation of capitalist society, the relation between wage labor and capital. As our goal is that of workers' control over social life, our principles must be those of direct, collective action. Direct, because the struggle for control of society begins with the struggle to control our fight against the current order. Collective, because the only successes which have& future are those involving (if only in principle) the class as a whole. We recognize that the working class does not have one uniform identity, and thus experiences oppression under capitalism differently according to age, sex, race, nationality, etc. However, what defines and thus unites the working class is its exploitation by capital, even if the character of that exploitation varies giving the appearance of separate problems and thus separate solutions, While it is true that the struggle against capitalism will not by itself solve these problems, overcoming capitalist exploitation raises the possibility of their solutions. Thus, each working- class struggle, even if it does not address an issue experienced by the class as a whole, must be aimed at the real enemy, capital, and not other members of the class. In the same way, we think workers must overcome in action the division between employed and unemployed, between unionized and non-unionized members of their class. Such a view automatically brings us into opposition to existing organizations like trade unions, which exist by representing the short-term interests of particular groups of workers within the existing social structure. Similarly, we are in conflict with the parties and sects which see their own dominance over any future movement as the key to its success.

We see ourselves as neither leaders nor bystanders but as part of the struggle. We are for a florescence of groups like ours and also for cooperation in common tasks. We initiate and participate in activity where we work, study, and live. As a group, we would like to be of some use in making information available about past and present struggles and in discussing the conclusions to be drawn from this history and its future extension. We organize lectures and study groups. Since 1969 we have published a journal and series of pamphlets. We hope others will join us to discuss the ideas and the materials we publish and that they will help us to develop new ideas and means to circulate and realize them.