In this chapter we shall look at how progress can be made from class struggle towards a revolution involving large sections of the working class.
Chapter 5: From Struggle to Revolution
"You must not forget we can also build. It is we the workers who built the cities here in Spain and in America and everywhere. We, the workers can build others to take their place. And better ones! We are not in the least afraid of ruins. We are going to inherit the earth; there is not the slightest doubt about that. The bourgeosie might blast and ruin its own world before it leaves the stage of history. We carry a new world here, in our hearts. That world is growing this minute."
Buenaventura Durruti - Spanish revolutionary anarchist, 1936
In this chapter we shall look at how progress can be made from class struggle towards a revolution involving large sections of the working class. We will examine what the working class need, what will be required of us and the likely problems our class will encounter. But before we get stuck in to the nitty-gritty, here's a brief summary of where we are in the class struggle now:
- Struggle is inevitable because society is divided into two opposing camps, the working class and the ruling class, who are fundamentally at odds in this world.
- As things stand now struggles are reformist. The ruling class tolerate unions and opposing parties as a means of diverting the anger of our class into reformism.
- All struggles by the working class have revolutionary potential. That is not to say that every strike or community unrest has the potential to become a revolution. But all struggles that place us in conflict with our enemies have the potential to create self confidence, defend or win gains, change peoples ideas and create revolutionaries, all necessary to turn reform into revolution.
So, how do we see revolutionary ideas successfully replacing reformist ones on a mass scale? Some ideas such as commemorations and independent workplace and community groups have already been touched upon. But before going further we'll take a look at how the Left and anarchists see change occurring and their strategies for encouraging it. We will then describe what we think is required and how class struggle can progress towards revolutionary class struggle.
THE ANARCHISTS AND THE LEFT
The Left parties and groups who espouse revolution have at their core "the Party". Party leaders analyse the struggle and make statements and/or demands they think appropriate to a particular struggle. The demands they make are usually, but not always, reformist as the idea is to pull as many people as possible behind the demands or statements that the Party makes. In this way they aim to gain mass support for what they are saying and therefore support for their party. Then the Party, with enough support, takes power on the backs of its supporters, become the new rulers and solve all our problems!
Unfortunately this fairy tale ending has never happened although the Left have had plenty of practice around the world. The problems with this approach are as follows: the initiative and control for the making of reformist and even revolutionary demands and deciding strategy lies in the hands of the Party. The reason for this is the belief in Lenin's words that "the working class can only ever achieve a trade union level of consciousness". Therefore the Party must be there to provide the political, theoretical and organisational leadership for the working class because we are assumed to be to thick to take the lead ourselves. You can see the attraction this must have for the middle class!
This leaves an exclusive elite (the leadership) within the Party asserting their ideas before, during and after the revolution. All we are being asked is to support a different set of bosses. Of course they make out that they will be 'good' bosses, but we will not be able to take back the control of our own lives, except on their terms. There are many different revolutionary Left parties claiming to be the 'correct' party to follow. But their track record is disastrous. They patronise and generally piss off working class people and turn others into cynics - a great waste in our mind. Where such Parties have actually gained power they have been either hopeless or every bit as bad as the capitalists.
The anarchists are harder to pin down over their idea of how struggle will turn to revolution. We'll ignore the middle class mutant-dropouts, the 'back to nature' types and the anarcho-fashion rebels that constitute a miserable ghetto of their own. The anarchist movement mainly leans to what is called 'class struggle anarchism'. This is the predominant stream of anarchist thought, the activists involved in this tend to busy themselves as follows. Producing propaganda exposing 'the system' and the nasty individuals within it, getting involved in solidarity work such as with strikes and prisoners particularly, following a hotch-potch agenda of home-grown issues, and organising and communicating through a loosely associated 'anarchist scene'. There are several national class struggle anarchist oriented groups. These work theoretically and organisationally in a federal structure (see Chapter Seven for a description of federalism). They also publish analysis of local, national and international developments. These organisations are useful in combating the slur against anarchism that it is too vague. They have the worthy aim of a total social, economic and political revolution.
The anarchists are good at crying 'wolf at the world we live in, but hatred or being 'dreamy' are all too often applied to the struggle to gain support for anarchism. They are, in strategy, at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Left parties. They hope that some sort of spontaneous mass uprising and revolution will develop on its own. To reflect this their organisations are loose and political emphasis varies from one anarchist to another, making them confusing and elusive.
To sum up. While the Left tell the working class what to do, the anarchists hope that the working class will one day, all at the same time, realise what to do. Criticism such as this is easy. There are elements from the Left and anarchism that are useful just as there are people doing good work coming from each position. But are we any further on in finding an effective way of turning struggle into revolution?
THE CLASS WAR APPROACH
Well, the first point to make is that there are no magic formulas, no Five Year Plans. There are though, approaches that combine various political trains of thought and methods of organisation. We would now like to present you with a broad outline of these and then demonstrate the chances of them succeeding by comparing them to developments in recent struggles. We have divided the next section into two parts - practical and theoretical, this is just for our convenience, the two are inseparably linked.
As part of the working class we are involved in everyday struggles, we fight to make gains, defend those gains and oppose losses to our freedom and standard of living. This situation begs for a revolutionary and not a reformist perspective. In this respect we see no need to make revolutionary demands on behalf of the working class. But we do see the need to play up the revolutionary elements within these struggles. To enlarge these elements of struggle towards greater self-organisation, solidarity and awareness. The use of humour and imagination in this process helps get these ideas and values in the minds of working class people collectively. The object of this activity is to create a popular 'culture of resistance'. This is the popularisation in the working class of ideas and values that include pride, identity, solidarity, self-management and internationalism.
Fundamentally this is about bringing politics into all areas of peoples lives. As we have seen in earlier chapters the capitalists invade every area of our lives, in turn the working class have to retrieve every part of their lives - the old feminist proverb that the personal is political is true here. This development becomes the foundation and energy behind any possible revolutionary movement. In areas of the world where this has happened, such as Scotland, Spain, Italy, and Russia the traditions have lingered on generations after the original movements were crushed. It's powerful stuff!
In the process of developing this culture of resistance we need to assess the ideas being developed both in our class and by our enemies in the ruling class. For this, complimentary activity is required in addition to the active agitation, confrontation and propaganda that we need to do. This is where 'theory' comes in.
As the class war between us and the enemy hots up our class will create various forms of activity briefly touched upon in the previous chapter; federations, networks, local groups in the community and workplaces, as well as special interest groups such as prisoners and gay and lesbian groups etc. and independent groups loosely affiliated to the movement - such as propaganda and entertainment groups. This kind of blossoming of activity outside of the central control of the State and the Left parties will be essential to the push towards revolution.
Alongside this development and as a part of it, there must be continuous political debate and mutual education within the working class. The awakening in struggle that many working class people experience, and remark on, in strikes and riots etc. usually creates a great hunger for knowledge, we keenly feel the need to understand our position in the world as individuals and as a class. It is this exciting process that the Left call developing 'class-consciousness'.
It is essential that a growing number of individuals can inject revolutionary ideas into present struggles and in the same process develop their own ideas personally. This is a two way process. Organisations similar to the Class War Federation can play a crucial role in this respect, as being part of the support network that the revolutionary elements within the working class will need.
We must emphasise here that the job of such organisations is not to detach ourselves from our class like the vanguard parties of the Left, who have a terrible track record in wasting and disillusioning some of the best working class activists they attract. No, our tactic must be the reverse, to move further into the class, so that revolutionary ideas and values such as solidarity, identity, pride etc. start to become a habit. In this way we can, with others, make a more effective impact on the struggle we are involved in.
We understand that to destroy capitalism a movement will have to grow within the working class that is diverse yet coherent in its ideas. In other words people and groups from very different backgrounds and experiences will have to come together and work together; from prisoners to blacks, to gays and lesbians, to workplace groups and womens groups and so on. This diversity of approaches and emphasis is a strength in developing a culture of resistance but the only cement that can hold it together is the power of ideas.
These are not ideas handed down to us on a plate from some marginal group of lefties or intellectuals but ideas developed and worked out together by working class people in everyday life and in everyday struggles. (During this century and the one before the working class has had its own debating clubs, libraries and corresponding clubs).
We have with the rest of our class an economic and social tie but when we stand shoulder to shoulder together on the barricades it should not just be because we are stuck in the same boat; it should be because we have our eyes wide open and are fighting to create a better world for us and our children.
Quite simply, if the revolution we hope for has a chance of happening and surviving it will be because the working classes have the right ideas in their heads for the job.
Not a Fantasy
This type of growth of a culture of resistance and class consciousness is always a very real possibility, one that the ruling class understand very well. We have only to look at past struggles to see this. The 1984/85 miners strike was notable in a number of ways. Support groups and strike committees were widespread and effective. Food distribution and welfare advice were, amongst other things, self organised in mining communities. The 'hit squads' of the miners (and printers) were direct, courageous and imaginative while the picket lines were full of humour and political debate.
"During that year of struggle and unity many mining women like me discovered our true selves. This new woman revealed a multitude of talents that she developed and used during the strike. We can never go back to being those ordinary housewives tied by tradition to our homes. We have changed, for the better and forever. We look at everything in a different way. We are now active in our communities. We meet regularly to tackle local and national issues that need our attention.."
Sian James - Chair, South Wales Womens Support Group
"We no longer regard ourselves as housewives, we are soldiers in the struggle."
Angela John, wife of a striking miner.
Barriers in our class can be quickly broken down in struggle as it becomes obvious who are our friends and who are our enemies. In the 'News International' printing dispute at Wapping in London some of the arrogant Left and hippy anarchists naively scoffed at the print workers because they worked for a company that produced racist, sexist and anti-gay literature. Yet to see those same print workers warmly applauding and welcoming the lesbian and gay groups supporting them was, to say the least, heartening.
In the anti-poll tax campaign many people attended rallies, held community meetings and organised local and national activities to defeat the hated tax. This was all done in the face of all the usual nonsense from the Left parties who were trying to organise us, recruit us and take the credit for our successes. They were shocked and dismayed when we bypassed them to riot and revolt all around the country and at Trafalgar Square in London.
This is the exciting revolutionary potential of the working class in struggle. To say that this can be built upon in the manner we have described is no idle fantasy.
THE PROBLEMS FACING THE REVOLUTION
But our class will encounter problems in moving from struggle to revolution and here we are going to discuss some of them.
When we start to become organised and aware on a mass scale the ruling class will pull out all the stops to keep the revolution at bay. We will look at what we can expect from the ruling class in a moment but first we should look at the problems we will face from within the working class.
As we described earlier the strategy of the Left parties is to pull as many people behind them as possible, changing their line as often as necessary. The possibility of a Leninist grouping hi-jacking our struggle must be taken seriously, history shows us all too many examples of just this happening. To combat this we see the need to create independent revolutionaries and groups within the working class. We also see a deep suspicion of the Left parties as being part of the culture of resistance.
There will also be a need to tackle the deeply ingrained right-wing ideas that exist within sections of our class; racism, religion, royalism, nationalism etc. that are at the moment fostered in our class to keep us divided. In a period of intense struggle that looks dangerously revolutionary these same ideas will be used to push sections of the working class towards fascism. At the same time there will be intense anti-communist and anti-anarchist propaganda rubbishing the failed revolutions of the USSR and elsewhere.
The ruling class are reluctant to use the fascists because they are not reliable and can turn on their masters, like Hitler did. Nevertheless, fascism is the insurance policy the ruling class hold against working class rebellion and this is the reason that they support and fund the fascists throughout Europe and elsewhere. Fascism is a problem that our class has to deal with.
Seeing through the false divisions maintained by the ruling class is a crucial activity, its not something that comes secondary to direct confrontational action. It is an essential part of building a culture of resistance and developing a class consciousness where we make an unbreakable bond of solidarity within our class. This is the basis for building a new world, and will be gone into in more detail in the next chapter.
There are also the dangers of things happening without mass support. This is a tricky one. Revolutions can develop very quickly when sections of the working class get fired up. To be successful in actually winning a revolution and creating a new world we must have a reasonable level of solidarity and class consciousness in the working class. International links will be needed to move forwards against capitalism permanently.
This is not to say that we should sit in ivory towers waiting for a mass international, class conscious movement to come knocking on our door! We'd grow old waiting if this was the case. But neither are we prepared to pitch into a suicidal and poorly thought out and poorly supported revolutionary push. Some anarchists see every dispute as a potential route to 'the big one'. We share their optimism, but can not let this get in our way of calmly assessing the potential of this or that struggle. Having said that, if sections of our class rally behind the banners of revolution we'll not be there saying "comrades, wait!". We do have good reason for believing that even from humble beginnings that revolutionary success is a very real possibility.
Besides, the advance towards the revolution is never smooth. Many of our class will find themselves in the position of having to fight back. Often we find ourselves in the position of having to "go with what we've got". James Connoly in Ireland, Zapata in Mexico and Makhno in the Ukraine are good examples of this.
In earlier chapters we've explained the economic and social similarities that bind us together as a class. Now, internationally, capitalism and its class system touches everyone's lives. Despite our differences in language and culture, we have, undeniably, a link with the working classes of the world.
We are now in a global economy that is in deep trouble. We don't have to stare into a crystal ball to realise what the immediate future holds for our class: a more desperate ruling class launching evermore vicious attacks on us the working class. Building an international revolutionary working class movement is not just a good idea, it is essential.
So far we have looked at gaining support for revolutionary ideas and increasing class consciousness, the need to prevent the Left and the Right from hi-jacking the struggle, the need for sound, clear thinking on our part and internationalism. Now we should look at what we are going to face from the ruling class.
In earlier chapters we looked at how the ruling class keep on top of society by propaganda, economic power and the brute power of the State both legal and military. On the propaganda front we understand the need to advance our alternative view of society that attacks negative ideas such as racism, sexism, nationalism etc. and the need to stress the positive aspects of current struggles such as solidarity, courage, self-management and imagination.
This work would also seek to undermine ruling class propaganda in as many ways as possible. In this respect the use of humour should not be under-estimated. Every possible media will be used; graffiti, jokes, stickers, posters, leaflets, newspapers, music and football fanzines, magazines, poetry, song, pirate TV and radio, audio and video cassettes, public meetings, exhibitions, comics and debating clubs etc. As pointed out earlier this kind of activity is the cement that will hold our class together against the attacks of the enemy and their lackeys. We can expect an intense propaganda campaign aimed at the active sections of our class. The example of Northern Ireland has much to teach us about what to expect.
In this connection we can expect the ruling class to try and discredit revolutionary groups and individuals by many means. Simple 'black' propaganda, i.e. lies, is always used, but the skill of the media and security services is in mixing these lies with 'grey' and 'white' propaganda ('grey' is a mixture of truth and lies and 'white' is simple truths). Although the British security services and the media like to give the impression that they are invincible the truth is rather different.
The 'iron-men' of the SAS regularly got bumped off when they were in Aden in the Middle East and now in Northern Ireland. And the recent propaganda campaigns against the miners, printers, rioters, Irish etc. are falling apart with judgements, convictions and rulings being overturned regularly in the courts and large sums of compensation being paid out e.g. for the miners at the 'Battle of Orgreave'. But the miners strike is a good example of the power of the media. By simple techniques such as editing their film so that the miners were shown attacking the police first and then the police shown counter-attacking they gave the impression that the miners were all crazed nutters. The truth was that the police attacked first, as at Orgreave. And the media wonder why people think they are scum who are not to be trusted!
Another favourite method of the State is to carry out some barbaric act, such as bombing a train and blame it on some revolutionary organisation. This also has the added bonus of justifying more repressive action against the working class generally. There are well documented cases of this type of practice in Northern Ireland (e.g. the Miami Show Band killings) and Italy (the Bologna train station bombing). The activities of the secret police in South Africa are very relevant to this as well.
The State is fond of planting spies in movements and groups for obvious reasons. Another tactic is to plant people called agent-provocateurs. Their purpose is to provoke people into some act or other that the State can then use as justification to move against. Planting people in organisations and groups to spoil their internal workings is another method. For obvious reasons these people are called 'spoilers', their favourite method is to create a rift over an organisational or political matter. The Black Panther Party in the USA was an FBI target for this type of action in the 1960's and 70's, as was the radical feminist movement.
There is no sure defence against any of these activities. We have much to learn from those fighting imperialism elsewhere in the world. But life will be difficult for these agents if we succeed in creating a movement that is very diverse and organised from the bottom up with no 'leadership' that can be easily picked off. The very public nature of this movement will also be an obstacle to this kind of attack as spies prosper best in semi-secret organisations.
This does bring us to a very important point. Individuals and groups that do come to some kind of prominence, and they will, are sure to be singled out for attention by the security forces and media. This is fairly inevitable and people should consider carefully the consequences of involving themselves in this kind of public political work. Some individuals will be destroyed by the State, that is certain, again; look at events in Ireland with the Army and RUC death squads.
This is done in order to terrorise the rest of the working class and the activists. But such a loss will not be a body blow to the movement, organisationally or theoretically. If it is, it will be because we have created the wrong kind of movement. We do not mean to sound callous; an injury to one is an injury to all. We know what has to be done and what is likely to happen, there is no point in trying to fool people about this.
On the Brink
The classic sign of gathering revolution is when alternatives to the States power start to co-exist within the same society. Examples would be 'no-go' areas that are also 'no-go' areas for racists, bullies, rapists etc. and leisure activities outside State and commercial control. In the economic sphere this would be accompanied by activities of production and distribution carried out for communal needs and organised communally e.g. health, building, transport, food etc.
Struggles would no longer be about things like rent, housing, policing, dole money, and unemployment they would be about who controls the workplace and the community. At this stage there would start to occur large scale seizure of the means of production (factories, materials, machines etc.) and distribution (offices, communications, lorries etc.). A good example of this seizure of the means of production (also called expropriation) was the 1974 revolution in Portugal where land and factories were taken over.
At this point, and probably long before, our class will certainly come to the position where they face all the armed forces of the State. Previous struggles demonstrate that many of the armed forces will change sides (Portugal 1974, Russia 1917, Ireland 1916-21, China, Cuba etc.) but the secret service, special branch and 'elite' army units would probably remain intact as would some of the air force - an important weapon. Then there would probably be intervention from NATO and EEC forces hence the need for a truly international revolution. Our class would have to face up to the military aspect of revolution and overcome it. Workers militias and revolutionary armies will have to be considered bearing in mind the dangers of these forces becoming detached from our class and becoming a new power in themselves.
But this problem is not insurmountable. In the Ukraine such armies repelled both the Tsars armies and those of the Bolsheviks. In Spain the same methods were used and were very effective. While in Nicaragua, a tiny country, the working class toppled a dictator and fought off everything short of a full military scale invasion by the USA.
The Capitalists, Violence and the Revolution
We need to take a serious look at the response of the capitalist class and their servant, the State. They are the masters of physical and mental brutality and revel in it as their privilege of power. We on the other hand suffer the violence of their society every day and have no love of it, but do see violence as necessary and inescapable. Here is a vision of what we are up against;
"The State knows what most lefties ignore, that is that revolution is possible and is a real clanger to its existence. It will try to isolate revolutionary elements with the help of the official organisations (unions, communist parties, socialist and labour parties, even most of the left-wing groups). Its strategy will probably consist of separating revolutionary areas from others. Its ultimate tactics will include systematic destruction in these areas, so as to prevent them evolving toward communism by destroying its material conditions: industry, power, transport, etc. It will not hesitate to annihilate these areas if necessary, using the same methods it used in the Second World War (Dresden, Tokyo, Warsaw, Coventry, Hiroshima). Before reaching this stage, it will try to crush the revolutionary movement by using elite troops. If we consider the problem from a simple material point of view, the superiority of capital is remarkable: our only hope lies in a subversion so general and yet coherent that the State will be confronted by us everywhere.
One of the strengths of the capitalists is that people - even the proletariat - just do not imagine how far the State will go in civil war. Many future events will surprise them. It is very useful to point out now the important aspects of the future civil war."
From "The Eclipse and Re-emergence of the Communist Movement" - by Barrot and Martin.
Democracy and Revolution
A revolution is not 'democratic' in the sense that there might be a majority of our class involved. Although there might be widespread passive support in our class and elsewhere (which is important) those actually participating might be a minority.
As pointed out earlier, many so-called 'anarchists' and 'communists' in the UK seem to believe a revolution is the whole people rising spontaneously like a massive wave and sweeping away the ruling class. Such people would rather avoid the realities of the future in the same way that they seek to avoid those of the present. These people cannot swallow what many in our class already realise. That a revolution means civil war for our class.
Our Job - What is the Role of the Federation?
Our role in organisations like the Class War Federation should now be pretty clear from what has been said before. Simply, the strategy of our organisation and others like it should be guided by what our class needs to become revolutionary. It should also be obvious, we hope, that the sort of political activity and work that is required of us is best done out in the open. In this way each individual and group comes to be a representative of the revolution, something that earlier generations of revolutionaries understood well. This kind of work needs clear thinking, determination, humour and some courage.
Those that sneer at such mundane activity and have dreams of the 'armed struggle' or nothing should stay out of our way, or catch a plane to the Palestine or Beirut. The military organisation of the revolution is not our job, nor could it be, for what we see as obvious reasons.
We recognise the problems we face. We have no easy task, particularly as we seek true social, political and economic revolution to form a totally new world. But much of what may be seen as problems and obstacles now to forming a revolutionary movement in the working class would also become our strengths once things started moving; the 'snowball effect' that the ruling class dread. These present obstacles and future strengths are:
- Creating a culture of resistance.
- Advancing practical solidarity.
- Raising class consciousness.
- Making federal (or similar) links between different groups and organisations both nationally and internationally.
The name of the game for revolutionaries is to create the right conditions for our class to become revolutionary. In this chapter we have looked at how the Left see revolutionaries as being an outside influence on the working class, rather than a growing current within it. We have looked at how anarchists tend to shy away from organised strategic intervention in the struggle. We then outlined our approach and the need for practical and theoretical activity. We then illustrated by reference to past struggles how the step from reform to revolution might be made. Next we examined problems we can expect to face both from our own class and the ruling class as things hot up.
So, we are not dreamers, we know the problems we face but believe our goal is worth the hardships. We believe that the material means to enable everybody in this world to have enough of everything for a good life are already in existence. All that remains is to take control out of the hands of the few and put it into the hands of the people. To achieve a society where nobody can claim to own the means of production, where all human creation and invention are part of our common heritage and so belong to everyone.
A New World?
Now its time to think of brighter and happier times which is after all what we want and what makes us into revolutionaries and class warriors in the first place!
From what we have said so far it should be clear that the foundations of the new world that we hope for are in the process of being laid in present struggles. The next chapter looks at the kind of world that might be built on such foundations.