Complete online archive of issues and articles from the UK libertarian communist journal, Subversion, which was published from 1988 to 1998.
Subversion was a libertarian and council communist group that published the journal Subversion and a variety of pamphlets.
More articles and texts by Subversion are available in our Subversion tag.
Archived versions of the orginal Subversion websites:
Subversion first issue
First magazine put out by the Subversion group in May/June 1988, by former members of Wildcat. The group later decided to instead publish a free agitational journal with the same name, which restarted from issue 1 below in this archive.
PDF of the first issue of Subversion, mostly about the poll tax.
Issue 2 of libertarian/council communist journal, Subversion. From June 1990.
PDF courtesy of the comrades at Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.
Down with Poll Tax, Down with all taxes!
Libertarian/council communist group Subversion on the anti-poll tax struggle.
The Poll Tax may be unfair, even on capitalist terms, but that is not the reason we oppose it. We oppose it for the same reason we oppose increases in rent, mortgages and electricity, etc. We oppose it because it is an increase in our cost of living and an attack on our living standards.
We support street organisation of workers resisting the tax, but we think to be successful this struggle must not be confined there, but needs to extend into the workplace - which is where we are at our strongest.
One way is to whack in large pay demands to take account of the Poll Tax bills. But many of us who are pensioners, unemployed, etc. don't have that option.
If a widespread struggle gets underway, based on workplace and localities, it should include social demands like higher pensions and dole, as well as common wage demands. A good example of this was in Poland a couple of years ago, when striking workers included in their demands raises for some of the sections of the working class who can't easily strike, such as healthworkers.
In the present climate that kind of extension of the strugle is difficult, but it needs to be done.
BEWARE CON (OR LAB, OR LIB DEM) TRICKS
The anti-Poll Tax movement needs to be firmly based on the 'can't pay - won't pay - won't implement' approach. It should not be sidetracked into support for one or other of the supposedly fairer systems of taxation being hawked around by the various political parties.
Any government, whether reformed Tory, Labour, Liberal Democrat or whatever would be forced to try and make us pay for the economic crisis. Their methods of doing that might vary slightly, but that's all. Our job is to resist all of these attacks - not get involved in their debates about the best ways of making us pay.
Class struggle and revolution
Subversion on the relationship between strikes and struggle today, and social revolution tomorrow.
Subversion stands for the creation of a world without states, classes, money and wages, where production will be undertaken for need not profit but to directly satisfy all human needs.
Some people describe this as "utopian". In one sense this is true: such a society does not exist anywhere, and never has. But we reject this "utopian" label if it implies that our goal has no connection with present-day reality.
The question of how to connect the day-to-day struggles we engage in now with the future society we desire has long been a subject of controversy among political groups.
Some organisations engage in the class struggle in order to recruit members to their party, with the aim of eventually becoming strong enough to seize power. We oppose such groups. We do not set ourselves up as generals, directing the rest of the working class into battle. A genuine and successful revolution can only be carried out by vast masses of working people consciously organising and leading themselves.
Besides, in the unlikely event that such groups did succeed in seizing power, the likely outcome would be in a so-called "worker's state" (with them in power), in which we would find ourselves working for "socialist" bosses, being paid "socialist" wages, and so on. If they share our future goal at all - and in most cases they don't - it is only as a distant mirage which continually recedes in the face of endless "transitional periods".
CONVERTS FOR SOCIALISM
Other organisations, who, we acknowledge, do share the same aim as us, and who do not see themselves as saviours of the working class, nevertheless treat this vision of the future society as some kind of philosophical ideal. They seek to "convert" individual members of the working class until eventually there are enough "believers" to turn this ideal into reality.
When members of such organisations engage in the class struggle, it is their identity as individual members of the working class, rather than as a revolutionaries, which prevails. They regard the present day class struggle as necessarily limited and defensive, in no way connected to the future revolutionary attack on capitalism. Thus they end up actively defending organisations such as the trade unions whose very purpose is to contain the class struggle within the terms set by capitalism
BREAKING WITH NORMALITY
By contrast the starting point of our approach to the class struggle is the view that the seeds of the future struggle for communism are contained within the working class's struggles of today.
The types of working class resistance to the attacks of capitalism we support, like strikes, riots, organising against the Poll Tax, and so on, all interrupt the routine of capital ist "normality". In overcoming the practical problems which crop up in the course of these actions, those working class people actively involved find themselves having to develop their own collective solidarity, imagination, initiative and organisation. The development of these powers - all stifled by capitalism - is essential for the working class if it is to transform society.
By changing people's immediate material conditions, collective struggle also contains the potential to alter people's perceptions of the society around them, and place in a new perspective the limited goals they originally set themselves. All of these things can be observed, to varying degrees, wherever working class people take action together to fight back against the miseries heaped on them by capitalism.
The wider the struggle, The greater the potential for the development of new forms of organisation directly controlled by those involved in the struggle, and the greater the potential for the development of radical ideas not confined merely to tinkering with society as it is but with the ambition of completely transforming it.
A CLASSLESS SOCIETY
Our approach is thus materialist: it is based on the working class's struggle in pursuit of its material interests, and recognises that the source of revolutionary ideas and the means to turn these ideas into reality is the working classes' active engagement in the class struggle. This is the seed that will flower into the classless society, a society where all humanity is at last in control of its own destiny, can fulfil its desires and can achieve its true potential.
Issue of libertarian/council communist journal Subversion from around August 1990 with articles about Mandela and the ANC, council workers' struggles and the struggles of workers in East Germany following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the beginnings of widespread redundancies.
Council workers - it's time to fight
Subversion article from 1990 or 1991 about cuts in local government, workers' struggles against them and the unions' complicity in the cuts.
All over the country small groups of public sector workers have been striking, occupying council buildings, demonstrating and protesting against the impact of cuts in their workplaces.
Against the background of a deepening economic crisis, a combination of grant cuts, changes in housing and education finance, competitive tendering and of course the poll tax is pushing all councils, of whatever political flavour, onto the offensive against their workers.
As each of these attacks has come along the unions have argued for co-operation with the employers and "saving our strength" for the bigger battles to come. But each decision to co-operate has simply weakened and demoralised us further. Only when councils have tried to make cuts "without fully consulting the unions" have those unions protested. Some token consultations conceded and they have soon been satisfied. They have then united with the employers in trying to squash any flames of militant resistance by sections of workers most affected by the latest round of cuts.
Many of the small groups of workers now taking action to defend their interests have in previous years, or even months, voted at union meetings for co-operation with the employers, only to find now exactly what that means in terms of job losses, cuts in services, and reductions in working conditions. This apparent contradiction is being exploited for all it's worth by the unions who wave the flag of "democracy" against anyone who refuses to co-operate, implying that these 'refuseniks' are "out of step" or "on their own". The unions deliberately hide the widespread nature of the anger and revolt that is building up, hoping to keep each section of workers isolated and under their control.
But workers are learning to combat these union manoeuvres. In Barnsley for instance thousands of teachers went on a wildcat strike against job cuts despite all sorts of dire threats from both the employers and the unions.
We have to understand that whilst the immediate causes of particular disputes might vary - poll tax capping in one place, privatisation in another, grant cuts elsewhere etc - that these are all part of one co-ordinated employers' offensive. If we are not to be worn down by endless rearguard sectoral disputes, attempts must be made to link all the main disputes together in a single fight against the cuts.
That doesn't mean passing resolutions appealing to the union 'leaderships' to organise something or sitting on our arses waiting for the next 'big' fight. It means using the time released by being on strike to go directly to other workers involved, or in dispute themselves, and arguing for combined and united action. It means controlling any strike ourselves through regular mass meetings, which cut across union and sectoral divisions, and directly elected strike committees.
In this way we can turn the current defensive actions into an offensive against the employers and the government and take a small step towards building the confidence, solidarity and organisation necessary to take on the whole rotten system.
As Manchester City Council goes about implementing the government cuts a number of small disputes have arisen in the libraries, housing departments and elsewhere over things like collection of the poll tax, covering for vacancies and so on. In each case the union (NALGO [libcom note: a predecessor of UNISON]) has sought to keep them isolated and avoid any generalised resistance to the cuts. Their job has been made easier because the majority of workers have previously been persuaded to co-operate with the Labour council rather than oppose them outright.
When you consider the effects of the current cuts this seems surprising, so how did the union pull it off? Basically they manipulated the membership in the following way:-
1. First of all they called a mass meeting early in the year before the practical effects of the cuts were widely known.
2. They deliberately kept the membership ignorant of those effects.
3. They suggested mass redundancies around the corner but only if the council wouldn't negotiate seriously to "sort things out". This tactic combined fear with an easy way out.
4. They made militant sounding noises about strikes but only to secure negotiations not actually against the cuts themselves.
5. They warned that total opposition to the council and the poll tax would leave us isolated. This was a self-fulfilling prophecy to the extent that other union execs elsewhere were saying the same thing.
6. They also warned against being provoked into 'precipitate' and 'futile' action by politically motivated groups like the SWP, who are generally not very popular (conveniently ignoring their own political motives in supporting the Labour Party mainstream!).
7. They had their own ready made, glossy 'do nothing' campaign against those who argued for non-implementation.
8. And of course they controlled the meeting in the usual biased way towards the platform, restricting opposition speakers and resolutions.
This combination enabled them to get a majority in favour of their line, although a substantial minority refused to be brow-beaten. That majority vote is now ritually produced any time someone argues for spreading some action against the cuts. So far their tactics have worked, but they can't keep the lid on the growing anger amongst council workers for ever. We must turn the increasing number of small streams of resistance into an irresistible tide of opposition.
Mandela v the working class
Subversion's communist critique of the anti-working class nature of the African National Congress (ANC) and its leader, Nelson Mandela, during the anti-apartheid struggle.
If you thought Nelson Mandela was a great heroic leader of the oppressed masses of South Africa who, now risen like Christ after 27 years in the underworld and poised to lead said masses, if not to life everlasting, at least to freedom in the here and now, you might be a little puzzled.
Surely that can't be right. Mandela condemning the schools boycott and 'ordering' students back to school. Mandela supporting the use of South African state forces to suppress riots. Mandela and de Klerk singing each others praises. Etc. etc. What's going on?
If you were surprised by all this, it's because you didn't realise what the ANC was all about. The ANC has always been a capitalist organisation.
THE STRUGGLE IN SOUTH AFRICA
The working class in South Africa is probably the strongest on the continent, and has been increasingly showing this strength in the last few years.
There have been major strikes by both coal and gold miners, in the hospitals and on the railways. This in addition to the resistance in the squatter camps, the rent strikes and school boycotts. All of these struggles are a shining example to workers everywhere and show that the workers in South Africa are among the most advanced in the world in combativity. However, they face a serious threat from the ANC.
THE CLASS NATURE OF THE ANC
The ANC is one of many similar groups around the world, such as the PLO, IRA, SWAPO, Sandinistas, etc. who claim to be fighting against oppression and for, usually, 'national liberation'. All of these organisations are simply the latter-day equivalents of the nationalist, bourgeois democratic movements of the historical period following the French Revolution. At that time the emerging capitalist powers needed an ideology which would bind the whole population to the ruling class. They found it in the idea of the 'nation' - a unity of both rulers and ruled, oppressors and oppressed, capitalists and workers who, because they lived in the same area of land and spoke the same language, supposedly were a single unit with a single interest.
THE BIGGEST CON IN HISTORY
It has worked well for the capitalists. The ideology of nationalism has always meant that the working class has accepted the aims and interests of its exploiters, the capitalist class, as though they were its own. It is perhaps the biggest con in history.
Today, capitalism is dominant throughout the world, but there are always conflicts between rival capitalist powers large and small, both between countries and between different factions within a single country. The weaker capitalist factions make use of the same old lies about democracy and 'national liberation', usually coupled with the left-wing capitalist policy of Nationalisation, i.e., direct state control - thus the rhetoric of these groups like the ANC, PLO, etc.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
When they come to power the result is always the same. They get on with the business of running capitalism and exploiting the working class.
When the MPLA, Frelimo, Zanu, Sandinistas, etc. came to power the masses discovered the same thing they did after the French Revolution
- plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose (the more it changes. the more it stays the same.
When the ANC comes to power it will be exactly the same, only they're being a bit more obvious about it than most. This is because of the dovetailing of interests between them and the Nationalist Party at this moment in history.
MENE MENE TEKEL UPARSIN
The growing world economic crisis has hit South Africa badly - especially since the greater part of the international capitalist class has mounted the campaign of sanctions (this latter because they can see the writing on the wall for the Apartheid regime, and they want to get in the good books of the non-racial regime whose accession to power is only a matter of time anyway). The more intelligent and forward looking faction of the white bourgeoisie, represented mainly by the Nationalist Party, realises that a non-racial capitalism is necessary - and as this is also the aim of the ANC, hence the increasingly pally relationship.
For the working class, in South Africa as elsewhere no form of capitalism, whatever fancy phrases it uses, will change the relationship between exploiters and exploited - it will just be an exchange of one lot of exploiters for another.
THE WORKING CLASS ALTERNATIVE
The working class must not allow itself to be conned by the ANC's version of capitalism. Our class can only free itself by abolishing wage-labour itself and taking the means of production - the factories, mines, land, etc. - into its own hands, running them collectively for the collective needs of society. This is the basis of what we call Communism. In contrast to the widespread use of the term Communism to mean state capitalism, as in the Eastern Bloc, we mean a classless society without national boundaries, without inequalities or oppressions, where money, markets and commodity production have been abolished and replaced by production for need, with free access for all.
It will be the first genuinely free society in history. To achieve this genuine liberation, the working class must fight resolutely against all factions of capitalism. The ANC is just one more gang of capitalists confronting us.
DOWN WITH DE KLERK DOWN WITH MANDELA
FORWARD TO COMMUNIST REVOLUTION
Issue of Subversion with articles about the coming Gulf War, Arthur Scargill, perestroika and the fall of the Soviet Union and the fight against the poll tax.
Gang warfare in the Gulf
Libertarian/council communist group Subversion argue against support for either side in the Gulf War.
THERE ARE TWO GULFS currently looming before the working class. One is the geographical gulf which threatens to be the centre of an immense killing ground, whose dry sands will drink the blood of vast numbers of working class people sent, as ever, to die in the name of an illusion. The other is the great gulf between reality and the aforementioned illusion, or illusions, for the gangsters who rule the world, and fight among themselves like vampires vying over our blood, our sweat, our life-energy present us with a choice.
Firstly, there is the view which emanates from America and its allies, which requires us to believe that the forces they have sent to the Gulf are the upholders of civilization and righteousness against one who has suddenly revealed himself as a shameless outlaw, a new Hitler who must be stopped in the name of all that is right and proper.
Secondly, the view which keens its siren song into the ears of many Arab workers, to the effect that Saddam Hussein is leading a glorious war of resurgence of the Arab Nation against Western Imperialism, after whose defeat everything will be just fine.
And thirdly, the Leftist echo of the previous view, which holds that Imperialism is far more iniquitous than plain ordinary capitalism and anyone who, in the hallucinations of the Leftists, is fighting against it should be supported, and anyway, all "nations" have a "right" to "self-determination". The above views all have variations, adding to the richness of our choice.
GANGSTERS FALL OUT
The reality is that ALL the participants in this conflict are a vile bunch of thieves and gangsters who have fallen out over the spoils of their exploitation of us, the working class. The notion that we who are the victims of these Al Capones, these Legs Diamonds, these Corleones writ large who are the rulers of the nations of the world should take sides with any of them is the very pinnacle of idiocy.
These gangsters, however, as we have already intimated, are skilled in the construction of fantastic tapestries of illusion which they substitute for reality in the minds of all of us who have not yet learned to see them for what they are. But the ghostly fingers that tugged at us in a darkened room stand revealed as filthy cobwebs once the light is switched on.
THE REALITY BEHIND THE SPECTACLE
Let us look in more detail at these lies. It is not, perhaps, necessary to spend too much time on the Western view (shared also by what was the Eastern Bloc, now). The foul hypocrisy of those who staunchly supported Saddam Hussein and his regime for years and scarcely blinked at the latter's genocide in Halabja, for instance, only "discovering" Hitlerian tendencies when the growing world economic crisis threw former friends at each other's throats in the scramble for a dwindling "take", will be starkly obvious to those who have seen through right-wing capitalist lies. But capitalism has more than one string to its bow - the left-wing of capitalism even pretends not to be capitalism.
We will discuss the lies of the nationalist third-world bourgeoisie and those of the Leftist together for, as we have said, the latter are merely the junior partners of the former in most things.
IMPERIALISM OR CAPITALISM?
A whole plethora of governments, movements and grouplets, from the Iraqi government to the most radical of the Trotskyist sects, implores us to "oppose Imperialism" and support Iraq, (although some of them are more coy about that latter part). What then is Imperialism? This is a word which has been defined in many ways, but its main use, for the champions of the Third World, is simply this: If you don't want to oppose capitalism as a whole, if you want to distinguish between "good" capitalists and "bad" capitalists and only oppose the latter, you need some other term under which to group together the people you are opposing. Hence, the larger, dominant powers who are the major block to the aggrandizement of the weaker capitalist powers, are called "Imperialists" and the said weaker capitalist powers are alleged to be "fighting Imperialism" when conflict occurs.
This "anti-Imperialism" will usually incorporate an economic analysis of the world as it was nearly a hundred years ago, as though nothing has changed. It was at that time that the Leftists created this "theory of anti-Imperialism" which survives even today.
THE OPPORTUNIST THEORY OF ANTI-IMPERIALISM
These Leftists were groups such as the Bolsheviks, whose political programs, despite any radical phraseology they might contain, consisted in constructing State-Capitalism. Their target areas were the relatively advanced industrial countries, and the adversaries which stood in their path were the existing rulers of those countries - rulers who also had other enemies. One such enemy was the emerging nationalisms which were starting flex their muscles in what were then mainly colonies. Thus, the Leftist concept of "anti-Imperialism" arose as an opportunist attempt at alliance between various weak capitalist forces against a stronger one.
THE "RIGHT" OF "NATIONS" TO "SELF-DETERMINATION"
This is a concept the Leftists always take refuge in if all else fails. But what does it really mean? A "nation" is an involuntary union of antagonistic classes - the capitalist class and the working class - the former exploiting and oppressing the latter. The idea that they are a single unit with a single will, a single interest, the idea that they are a single "self" which can have "self-determination", is surely the cleverest fraud that the capitalists have ever devised to make workers forget their own class interests and support the class which oppresses them.
Some Leftists will even admit that nationalism doesn't benefit workers but say they have a "right" even if you don't agree with it. Perhaps we should then spend time and energy advocating the "right" of workers to demand longer hours and lower wages? We can treat this "brilliant concept" with the contempt it deserves.
A REVOLUTIONARY ANTI-IMPERIALISM
Is there, then, such a thing as Imperialism? Can the working class make use of such a term? This is a very moot point, but we can say that Imperialism, if it means anything real, is simply the inevitable conflict for resources and markets that capitalism powers must engage in when the world has reached a certain stage of historical development. The weaker powers' attempts to resist domination by the stronger ones is aimed at replacing them as dominant powers, not in "defeating Imperialism". The weaker powers are part of what is today an integrated capitalist world - they do thus not stand outside Imperialism but are part of it. Their conflict with the major powers is no more "anti-Imperialist" than the challenge which a young stag mounts against the leader of the herd is aimed at eliminating the system of hierarchy which the nature of such animals entails.
Thus all countries in the world are Imperialist. The term anti-Imperialism is therefore meaningless if used for anything but anti-capitalism.
THE STRUGGLE AGAINST CAPITALISM
The working class has no interest whatsoever in aiding any of the factions within the class that is its enemy. Our class must resolutely oppose all the world's states, all the parties, movements and groups which represent one form or other of capitalism. For all the squabbling that takes place between them, they are all heads of the same hydra.
The interest of workers throughout the world lies in overthrowing capitalism and creating a classless society without national boundaries, without wage labour, markets and money, where Humanity produces for its own needs, based on free and equal access for all. Such a society is possible. The struggle to achieve it starts now. Oppose war, in the Gulf or anywhere, intensify class struggle, no war but the class war
Article of Subversion from early 1991 with articles about the Gulf War, a strike in Turkey, the troubles in Northern Ireland and the poll tax and the official left groups.
Issue of Subversion from 1991 with articles about the UK public sector cuts amidst the recession, famine, the collapse of the Eastern Bloc and the Gulf War.
Issue of Subversion with articles about the recession and struggles against it, charity, SATs, the poll tax and the Gulf War.
Workers' solidarity against unemployment and wage cuts
Subversion look at class struggle in the UK and internationally as the recession of the early 1990s bites, and suggests ways for workers to fight back.
No longer, in Britain, is it a case of a wage cut OR redundancies, a wage rise BUT with worse conditions. Today we are faced with a massive onslaught on our class, involving wage cuts, worsening conditions AND compulsory redundancies. Neither is this onslaught restricted to one economic sector or area of the country. It covers everything from Local Authorities, Health Services and Public Transport, through the engineering sector (Govan shipbuilders, GEC, Fords, IBM, ICI, etc) to the services sector (Barclays Bank, Woolworths, Marks and Spencer, etc) and from north to south.
WORLD WIDE RECESSION
Labour politicians would have us believe this is all the fault of the wicked Tories. But although Britain's economy may be more fragile than some others, this cannot hide the fact that the whole world economy is in a state of disintegration.
The economies of the so-called Third World and Eastern Europe are in a state of near collapse. The motor industry, whose health generally reflects the state of modern industry, is suffering a major crisis right across the globe, involving plant closures and redundancies on a huge scale. Hi-tech computer industries have now also been caught up in the downward spiral of recession. Germany, the power-house of central European capitalism, is heavily burdened with the costs of reunification and even Japan is showing the first signs of economic decline, despite its competitive lead. The GATT talks on trade continue to flounder as each nation desperately tries to stop itself sinking at the expense of others. The whole world, not excepting the USA, is burdened with historic levels of public and private debt.
Our bosses and politicians from left to right are orchestrating a fierce attack designed to make us pay for their crisis ridden economy.
WORKERS FIGHT BACK
Our class has not sat idly by and accepted all this shit!
There has been a wave of strikes involving miners, textile and transport workers and many others right across the USSR and Eastern Europe and more recently in that last Stalinist stronghold of Albania. East German workers have long since forgotten the false euphoria over re-unification and are fighting back against redundancies and the withdrawal of social services.
There have been militant strikes of bus, railway and newspaper workers in the USA. Major strikes and demonstrations have taken place in Brazil and other South American states racked by hyper-inflation, IMF imposed austerity measures and government corruption.
There have been a number of lengthy strikes amongst textile and other workers in India that have been sustained by a high level of 'community' support.
In the midst of the war in the Gulf, militant Turkish miners and their supporters threatened the stability of the Turkish government.
Examples abound of the world wide nature of working class resistance to the bosses' attacks.
Here in Britain the beginnings of a fight back have been evident amongst Liverpool Council workers, Massey Ferguson, Post Office, Tube and other workers.
POTENTIALITIES AND PROBLEMS
There exists the potential for a widespread, militant and unified response from our class that could at least temporarily push back the effects of the crisis and lay the basis for an offensive against the whole rotten economic system.
Unfortunately there are still many obstacles in the way of our class taking the first essential steps towards such a unified response.
Two such major obstacles are NATIONALISM and the UNIONS.
In the USSR and Eastern Europe, where the old rigid Stalinist regimes have recently crumbled, local ruling class factions are flexing their muscles in a desperate bid to avoid being dragged under with the rest of their former compatriots.
They are using the resentment of workers at decades of central bureaucratic control and suppression of local languages and culture to bolster their own positions of power in a wave of petty nationalism. The struggle of workers is being diverted from their common class interests towards futile programmes of decentralisation and new nationhood dressed up in the language of "freedom" and "democracy".
On the Indian sub-continent a whole plethora of nationalisms, ethnic and religious divisions is fostered in a similar attempt by local ruling class factions to wrest some degree of power and influence from an economic situation out of the control of the bloated bureaucracies of central governments.
In the 'middle' east and elsewhere, both major and minor imperialist powers cynically use national and religious rivalries in their own ends in total disregard to the suffering of that land's shifting refugee crisis. The sheer immensity of suffering amongst the people of this area has so far almost totally smothered earlier glimmerings of independent working class action.
In western Europe, nationalism doesn't have quite the same force, but it is still at work, particularly through expressions of racism against North Africans in France, Turkish workers in Germany and Asians in Britain.
Here in Britain, politicians of all varieties try to present the economic ills we are suffering as a peculiarly British phenomenon. They invite us to take part in THEIR democratic debates as to the best solutions - in or out of the EEC, Tory or Labour managers for UK plc, etc. In Scotland and Wales the nationalists and their partners in the Green Party add colour to this dull discussion by promoting their own petty nationalist concerns. As if an 'independent' Wales or Scotland would be any less affected by the world slump or being sacked by a Welsh or Scottish boss was more agreeable.
UNIONS AGAINST THE WORKING CLASS
If nationalism is not enough on its own to derail our struggle, the Bosses rely on the Unions to assist them.
Whatever the benefits of the Unions in the last century, it is clear that today they are totally integrated into the structure of capitalism.
Not only are the Unions major capitalist investors in their own right, but their structure reflects the hierarchical organisation of the capitalist state and big business as well. They are junior partners in the management of the economy with special responsibility for controlling the workforce. This job is all the more effectively carried out precisely because they maintain a FORMAL independence from the corridors of power. This is a lesson well learnt by the failure of the old Stalinist Unions in the USSR and Eastern Europe. That they can do a better job for the bosses by being 'independent' is well illustrated by the history of SOLIDARITY in Poland. It was SOLIDARITY, not the old unions which brought the escalating struggle of the workers there under control and which helped enforce subsequent austerity measures.
In Britain, the Unions are even more experienced at heading off trouble on 'the shop floor'.
These are just some of their tactics against us:
- Holding separate ballots amongst different Unions in the same workplace.
- Holding open ended ballots which don't commit them to any particular line of action.
- Continually re-balloting every time the bosses make a slight alteration to their offer.
- Keeping strikes and strikers isolated from each other by monopolising the means of communication.
- Bringing different groups of workers out on strike at different times when their interests are the same and they would have more impact by striking together (viz Tube, Bus and Railway workers in recent disputes).
- Doing behind the scenes deals with the bosses.
- Calling for militant action prematurely, then referring back to failed actions when workers are really keen to go on the offensive.
- Calling campaigns on side issues (like the engineers' 35 hour campaign) when workers need to fight for jobs and wages.
- Splitting workers between 'profitable' and 'non-profitable' firms (like the arguments of the power and BT unions at present).
- Arguing that we "shouldn't rock the boat" in the run up to a parliamentary election and lying that the Labour Party will solve our problems.
- Threatening withdrawal of strike pay (OUR money) if we don't agree to their deals with the bosses.
- Arguing for "lawful action" when the law is DELIBERATELY designed to defeat us.
The list is endless and no doubt you could add a few more from your own experience.
Of course the Unions don't always get their way. Recently, Massey Ferguson workers in Coventry responded to the announcement of 60 day lay offs by holding a mass meeting and going on IMMEDIATE all out strike - without waiting for ballots.
There is a long and honourable history of wildcat strikes amongst workers, but only rarely have these completely broken from the trade unionist framework on any scale.
It is vital now that workers everywhere begin to take matters into their own hands.
This means opposing the diversionary tactics of the Unions by uniting our struggles across Union and other sectional boundaries.
Strikes need to be organised through mass assemblies open to ALL those involved and with directly elected strike committees. Strikes over basic issues like redundancies and wage cuts need to be spread as widely as possible by sending large delegations directly to other workers facing the same threats. Efforts must be made to involve the unemployed and other unwaged workers.
To deal with the unions' monopoly on communications, networks of militant workers in different areas and industries need to be built up to spread information and agitate for joint action. Groups of militant workers need to meet also to discuss the POLITICAL implications of the struggles going on. Increasingly solidarity action across national boundaries will become both necessary and possible.
The experience of all this kind of organised action will help develop a new independent community of resistance. We can begin to develop the confidence and practical understanding necessary to challenge the whole economy of wage labour and production for profit.
Issue of Subversion with articles about diabetes, the Russian coup, Militant, the "New World order", Animal Liberation Front attacks on cheese shops and Marxism and anarchism.
Issue of Subversion with articles about Nestlé, animal liberation, Sylvia Pankhurst, the anti-Parliamentary communist and a review of Left-wing communism in Britain 1917-21… an infantile disorder? by Bob Jones.
Animal liberation or social revolution?
A debate between Subversion and Steve on animal rights.
The main purpose of this letter is to respond to the article "ALF [Animal Liberation Front] LASH OUT" which appeared in SUBVERSION 8.
The main thrust of this article is to condemn ALF activity as being "terrorist" and hence anti-working class since it discourages mass action and intimidates people. No attempt is made to deal with the theory behind the action (that the domestication and exploitation of the non-human animals is oppressive and to be opposed) although presumably the author doesn't accept this. For some reason attacks on vivisection and hunting appear to be OK but actions against the exploitation of non-human animals for food are not. Let me assure you that animal farming involves at least' as much violence and exploitation as vivisection and hunting and on an incomparably larger scale. You seem to think it funny or extreme that the ALF should target a cheese shop but it is simply consistent; the dairy industry and the beef industry are the same thing, you can't have the one without the other. If you attack butchers' shops then why not a cheese shop.
I'm sorry but it really is nonsense to condemn ALF activity as terrorist, and to accuse them of "cavalier disregard for human life" is as absurd as it is slanderous. To my knowledge no human being has ever been harmed in any ALF action, great care being taken to ensure this....yet one hunt sab has now been killed, activists have been seriously injured on numerous occasions and recently an unarmed ALF group on an operation were arrested by armed cops with helicopter backup. Who are the terrorists?
ALF activity primarily consists of sabotage which has a long standing and proud place in the history of working class struggle. Would you condemn the workers' "hit squads" which emerged during the miner's strike? I presume not. If you oppose the politics of animal liberation then you should do so politically, not by trying to smear people as terrorists.
You refer to the fact that capitalism is falling over itself to provide highly processed vegetarian and vegan products. Of course it is, that is the nature of the market economy. Similarly the supermarket shelves are stuffed with so-called "green" commodities.
"Anything you can sell, sell" is the motto. This doesn't mean, as you are well aware, that capitalism has ceased to wreck and pillage our planet and nor does the fact that you can buy Quorn products or meat in Safeway's mean that capitalism is being "nice to animals" _ what a ridiculous suggestion
Your comparison of animal liberation work with charity is also wrong. When people gave money to "Live Aid" that was charity. If people give money to the RSPCA out of guilt or something, that also is charity; but what about the group that broke into and damaged EC grain stores in response to the Ethiopian famine, was that charity? Well if it wasn't then neither is opposing physically the exploitation of non-human animals. Or are you saying that people should only ever act in their own immediate self interest? Or are you saying that the cause of nonhuman animals is different because not being human they don't count for anything?
Having just re-read the article "ALF LASH OUT" I see that you do admit that capitalism inflicts violence and oppression on non-human animals, you even condemn past ALF actions. If you are prepared to condemn activities around these issues now would you also say to women, blacks and gays etc that they should wait until after the revolution".
In conclusion I would repeat what I said to you in a previous correspondence on this matter:
Animal liberation is an important issue for revolutionaries to address because it is very linked to a project which is vital, namely a reappraisal of what exactly is and should be the relationship of our species to the planet we inhabit and our fellow creatures. The absolute schism between "man" and nature has led us to the nightmare of ecological disaster and totalitarianism which is the 20th century.
Many thanks for your letter discussing our article "ALF Lash OUT" in Subversion 8. As promised this is an attempt at a proper reply.
We feel that your letter confuses a number of points. You say that ALF activity "primarily consists of sabotage which has a long standing and proud place in the history of working class struggle." You ask whether we would, "condemn the workers' hit squads which emerged during the miners strike?" We do not believe it is possible to equate the two.
There is, of course, one similarity between the actions of ALF and the miners' hit squads. Both are the product of movements faced with a downturn and the prospect of defeat. Had the Miners' Strike been winning, it is doubtful whether such activities would have been necessary. ALF is really in a similar situation, isn't it? They'd like there to be a mass movement fighting animal cruelty, but it doesn't exist. Our contention, of course, is that such an elitist, secretive activity militates against the existence of a mass movement.
There is a vital difference between the two. The actions of the miners was in the defence of their own living standards and conditions of life. This is something that they shared in common with other workers, e.g. working class women, blacks and gays. All struggle in their own self-interest and as such their actions can be seen as part of the struggle for socialism - something which will only come about by the mass of workers consciously fighting for it.
The actions of ALF and others are, on the contrary, not the actions of one group struggling for its own interests. Unfortunately, animals are unable to do this. As such they have no 'rights'. What animals have are the actions of altruistically minded humans who object to the way animals are treated. This is really not so different to the kind of charity initiated by Live Aid and so on.
We've said before that we don't object to charity as such. All of us reach into our pockets for some worthy cause or other and some members of Subversion go further. But we don't confuse this with revolutionary activity. It is merely our attempts to alleviate some of the problems around us and we recognise that such efforts are pitiful in comparison to the destruction and waste daily perpetuated by capitalism.
We also object to bombings because they are terroristic. Sometimes bombers get their intended targets and sometimes those targets deserve what they get. Equally often the victims are ordinary members of the working class who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, or in ALF's case, young children who happen to be in the right car at the wrong time. Bombing can never be accurately targeted. They always have a randomness about them. As such they have no place1 in the armoury of the working class.
We do not, of course, equate the activities of terrorist groups with those of the state. When it comes to terror the state is in a league of its own. It was, after all, the British and American states who massacred thousands of Iraqi civilians and fleeing soldiers. The states terrorism is routine and incredibly vicious. Even such experienced practitioners in terror as the IRA are mere babies in comparison.
We are against cruelty to animals for a number of reasons. One is that cruelty begets cruelty. Those who habitually abuse and degrade animals, or are associated with it, find it easy to be equally cruel to humans. This is particularly so when one group defines another as being less than human. Nazi Germany was an obvious example, as was Stalinist Russia and today's Yugoslavia.
We are against cruelty to animals because the food it produces is of an inferior quality. We are against it because intensive farming uses up enormous quantities of energy and foodstuffs which would be better used to feed hungry people and not contribute to global warming. You are obviously aware just how much vegetable protein is used to produce tiny amounts of animal protein. The animal protein that is produced is usually of an inferior quality to that produced in more humane ways.
We are against much animal experimentation because it is unreliable and because it teaches many people the kind of cruelty we described above. We are against it simply because it is cruel and because we can't believe a communist society could be based on cruelty.
On the other hand we believe some use of animals is necessary. Maybe we are biased, but members of Subversion have friends and family whose lives depend on medication produced from dead animals. We fervently hope that a socialist society would render this unnecessary. We described the problems of diabetics in our last issue, many of whom have died as a result of having their animal based insulin replaced by synthetic insulin. Another example is cystic fibrosis. This effects 6000 people in Britain. It usually kills people before they reach the age of 30. Untreated they'd be lucky to reach two. The successful treatment of this condition requires the routine taking of enzyme capsules derived from pigs. The techniques for heart and lung transplantation that many people with CF need were first practised on animals. Their need for concentrated protein is such that they cannot be vegetarian and must eat meat.
Maybe one day there will be adequate therapies for diabetics and cystic fibrosis sufferers that don't require the slaughter of animals. We certainly hope so.
In the meantime we see no contest between a cow and a human being.
Footnote: reading through this again, we are not so sure about the statement about people with CF needing to eat meat. However, we don't want to go about changing an article we've already written.
- 1 libcom note: this text originally stated "they have place", however it seems clear that the word "no" was accidentally omitted
Issue of Subversion from 1992 with articles about the LA riots, anti-fascism, US autoworkers, class struggle in Malawi and more.
Subversion on the class elements of the LA riots of 1992.
When Capitalism is confronted by events which rupture the smooth facade of its peaceful order (the peace of slavery) and challenge the grip of its talons on our bodies and on our minds, it responds in a practised manner.
Just as an act of Class rebellion has two parts - both the physical fight itself and the salutary effect which that has on the consciousness of other proletarians - so is the retaliatory strike of our rulers also twofold.
Firstly, it uses physical force against acts of insurrection, whether they be strikes, riots or anything else. And secondly, the class nature of these struggles these appeals in physical form for solidarity from the rest of the working class - are countered by lies, lies and more lies from the ruling class.
The recent riot in Los Angeles, with its echo in many other U.S. cities, illustrates this well.
RACE RIOT, CRIME SPREE
First we are told that it was a race riot, blacks attacking whites etc. Then we are shown the acts of "criminals" racial assaults and looting of stores blending together in the image. And finally we are told it was the revolt of an "underclass" which has been left out of the prosperity enjoyed by "most Americans". Lies, lies and more lies.
What started on the night of Wednesday 29 April was an explosion of class anger such as happens all too rarely. The acquittal of a bunch of racist pigs of a crime which had been recorded for all the world to see was merely spark for a generalised class action by working class people of all colours. Starting with the attack on the police station and proceeding to the looting of everything food and other basic necessities to things such as televisions, our class fought back against the system which oppresses it. Workers everywhere should applaud this resistance.
However, this "carnival of the oppressed" had a goodly share of gatecrashers.
BLOODS, CRIPS AND OTHER SCUM
Riots, whatever their cause, often attract anti-social elements who swarm in like flies to a plate of uncovered food. The two major drug gangs, the Bloods and the Crips, have always been just as much an enemy of working class interests as the Police - their endless bloody conflict has taken vast number of lives, both their own members and innocent bystanders.
In the L.A. riot, these murderous gangs declared a truce, so they could devote their energies to participating in the riot. Not, of course, from a working class standpoint, but from an ethnic (anti-white and anti-Korean) and from a business standpoint - they have put forward a joint programme of reconstruction of their neighbourhood involving a partnership between themselves, the state and business interests. If you didn't already know it, this must convince you that the gangs are just another part of Capitalism - if anything came of these plans, the drug gangs would simply be an extra tier of the state machine. The participation of these gangs in the riot was the participation of a faction of capitalism fighting for its own sectional interests.
What the presence of the gangs shows, together with that of other anti-social elements including a definite racist element (which overlaps with the gang element), both against whites and against Koreans, is this: rather than ONE riot there were really TWO riots which took place simultaneously - the class riot and the "anti-social riot/pro-capitalist riot" which was parasitical on it.
A similar confusion, a similar distinction between positive and negative elements exists in many social movements - a typical strike, for instance, will be imbued with Trade Union ideas which merely aim to reform Capitalism. An example is the 1984-85 Miners' Strike. Central to the NUM's strategy was the "Plan for Coal" which was an alternative way of running Capitalism "in the Miners' interest". This reactionary nonsense existed alongside a genuine class-struggle element.
THE CRUCIAL DISTINCTION
For revolutionaries it is CRUCIAL to differentiate between the class element and the reactionary element in all such cases. despite the capitalist media, both left and right, which will always try to merge the two parts into a single "phenomenon". The presence of counterrevolutionary, pro- capitalist organisations (whether the Bloods, the Crips or the NUM) alongside workers engaged in class struggle. And indeed the presence of confused ideas in the minds of many of the workers involved, must not be allowed to muddy the issue. Revolutionaries take a clear, uncompromising stance - we support ONLY the class element and oppose the reactionary element.
Aside from the attempts of the media to clothe the L.A. class rebellion in the anti-social garb of its "parasite- riot", they also tried the other tack of using the "underclass" theory.
WE'RE ALL MIDDLE CLASS NOW
According to this, the bulk of working class people are not, in fact, working class at all but middle class. Below the middle class is a small, impoverished, chronically unemployed class called the underclass. They it was who were responsible for the riot, so even if it was a class rebellion, the story goes, it has nothing to do with most workers, who are middle class in any case.
This theory is of course reactionary garbage. The working class is a single class united by its position in society of possessing nothing but its ability to work. Some workers may earn more than others but they are still powerless in any real sense power is exclusively in the hands of the owners of society's wealth, the controllers of the state machine, namely, the capitalist class.
This divisive nonsense about an underclass is peddled not only by the capitalist mainstream but by the Left - this is but one example of the way the Left acts in practise as just another part of capitalism.
95 MILES FROM L.A.
We said a couple of sentences ago that the working class is powerless. This is true in everyday life, but there is one situation in which workers DO have power - when they engage in class struggle.
A riot is not a revolution. Nor, for that matter, is a strike. We have a long way to go, but the Future develops out of the Present, and great struggles develop out of small ones. The L.A. riot is one of a number of signs of increasing class struggle from around the world in recent months. Let us take heart from it.
I'd be safe and warm if I was in LA.
California dreaming on such a winter's day.
The menace of anti-fascism
A communist critique of anti-fascism, arguing that rather than small fascist groups, the real enemies of the working class are usually the mainstream "democratic" parties.
The low level of workplace struggle in Britain over the last few years left the anti-poll tax movement as one of the few fishing grounds open to left wing groups. With the partial success of that movement and consequent decline in organised opposition to the poll tax, left groups have been cast adrift looking for new pools from which to recruit. It has proved a difficult search.
Anti-apartheid doesn't provide good campaign material since the ANC started playing footsie with the National Party. Other foreign adventures were considered a bit risky since 'liberation' movements generally began falling over themselves to court western politicians and bankers. A few esoteric groups have chanced their arm at reviving interest in support for Fidel Castro's Cuban dictatorship, but it isn't much of a crowd puller these days.
The general election campaign provided a brief respite from the left's desperate search, but now that is out of the way, the problem has returned.
In the absence of any new and exciting campaign material the left have fallen back on to some of their old tried and trusted formulae for conning workers into supporting them.
THE LAST TIME ROUND
The left played a significant part in the 30s and 40s in rallying support for "democratic" CAPITALISM against the forces of fascist CAPITALISM in Europe. 'Communist' parties and even Trotskyists gained themselves considerable credibility by attaching themselves to the coat-tails of various western governments whom they had previously dismissed as vile enemies of the working class. Even anarchists on the fringe of left politics came out of the cold and fell into line by supporting Republican capitalism in Spain against Franco's fascists.
"PLAY IT AGAIN SAM"
So today, thinks the left, if we shout loud enough about the new fascist menace in Europe and hark back to the horrors of World War Two, perhaps we can create a new 'anti-fascist' movement and round up all those footloose labourites and liberals reeling from another Tory election victory.
So that's exactly what they have done. Time, energy and money have been diverted into various organisations and activities previously quite low on their list of priorities. Unfortunately for them, not only is it difficult persuading most workers that there really is a fascist menace, but competition for the footloose is so intense amongst these lefties that each has decided to set up their very own 'anti-fascist' or 'anti-racist' front. Incidentally this sectarian promotion of different groups, all supposedly fighting the same enemy, is in flat contradiction to the Trotskyists' oft repeated, if false theory, that fascism in the thirties made such headway only through the failure of all the left groups to create a genuine 'united front'.
To our knowledge there are at least five ostensibly national anti-fascist/anti-racist fronts in Britain alongside dozens of other local alliances. Of the national groups some are straightforward extensions of one particular group. Militant's Youth Against Racism and the SWP's Anti-Nazi League are examples of these. There's the moderate Anti-Racist Alliance made up of Labourites and their hangers on. Smaller political groups like Red Action and the anarchist DAM have clubbed together in the more radical sounding Anti-Fascist Action. The participants in AFA have made a virtue out of necessity, by proclaiming non-sectarian principles against the 'opportunism' of the likes of Militant and the SWP.
THEM AND US
Well, you might say, this is just sour grapes on the part of an even smaller group like Subversion, who couldn't extend themselves to setting up their very own anti-fascist front in competition with the others or haven't the stomach for in-fighting in AFA. But Subversion is not in the business of trying to manufacture opposition in the absence of genuine working class struggle. Neither are we interested in recruiting on the basis of single issue politics.
SOME IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
Then again you might think we're being a bit unfair on the lefties' motives or political reasoning. After all, even if it is accepted that the left's claims are a bit overblown, surely it's still true that for some workers even a tiny group of self-proclaimed fascists or their supporters can make life a misery? And isn't it true that the fascists on the continent are much stronger than here - shouldn't we be working together to stop that happening here?
AND THE ANSWERS
Well, on the first point we agree that, for instance, if some bunch of fascist thugs is harassing black workers then they deserve a good beating and we should support those workers organising themselves to sort the fascists out, in whatever way we can. Such groups of self-organised workers should, wherever necessary, link up over as wide a geographical area as practicable. Of course in any physical confrontation with fascists in this type of situation we don't stop to ask if the individual next to us is a member of the SWP or Red Action, but this shouldn't stop us from questioning the politics of such groups.
On the second point, it is true that self-proclaimed fascist groups are stronger in some other European countries and that alongside these groups are much larger and more influential extreme right-wing organisations like the National Front in France which the working class needs to oppose.
Here we come to the 'heart of the matter', politically speaking. It is essential that we understand the emotive and non-historical use which the left makes of the term fascist. Fascism (or Nazism, and there were some important differences between the Italian and German variants of what is commonly described as Fascism in popular usage) was a very particular combination of nationalism, racism and state corporatism which the ruling class supported in Germany and Italy in a specific historical situation.
Other combinations of the same elements were found to be more useful elsewhere - Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe for instance. Yet Stalinism was aligned with the so-called forces of 'democracy' against fascism! Furthermore, we would argue that it was 'democracy' and the democratic parties of capitalism in Germany who effectively paved the way for the rise of the Nazis to power, in particular through their political and physical attacks on the working class rebellion in central Europe between 1917 and 1920.
DEMOCRACY AND DICTATORSHIP
Capitalism as a system is neither naturally 'democratic' nor 'totalitarian' in its political forms. Whatever the political form, it is however, always a dictatorship of the capitalist class over the working class. The nation states of capitalism will at different times pass through a whole range of right wing 'democracies' and 'dictatorships' and left-wing 'democracies' and 'dictatorships'. The particular political form will depend on the perceived needs of the national ruling class to deal with their competitors abroad and their enemy at home - the working class. It is also at least arguable, that political 'democracies' have perpetuated as much violence against the world's workers - through wars, starvation, enforced poverty, ecological disasters, industrial 'accidents', civil repression, etc - as have political 'dictatorships'.
Let us not forget such current or recent examples as the Gulf War, Serbia's 'ethnic cleansing', famine in Africa, Shoot To Kill and Bloody Sunday in Ireland, the Chernobyl and Bhopal disasters, to name just a few.
BACK HOME AGAIN
So returning to Britain today, we can see that there is a huge difference between sorting out a bunch of local fascist thugs and building up a whole campaign focussed on some supposed national or international fascist threat.
The real enemy of all workers, black or white, at the present time are the everyday institutions of capitalism and the people who run them - the courts, police, jails, immigration office; the established political parties of capitalism, Labour, Tory, Liberal, SNP etc; the media and churches; AND right in the heart of the working class, the unions and the bureaucracy which runs them.
THE STATE OF THINGS TODAY
It's the state which enforces a rigorous policy of racism throughout society, especially in times of recession. (It's the Tories with the tacit support of Labour who have introduced the racist Asylum Bill not the fascists).
It's the state through its police and army which tries to break our strikes and occupations.
It's the established political parties which seek (ably assisted by the left) to channel our discontent into harmless parliamentary pursuits and dependence on leaders. It's the media which reinforces racist and anti-working class values. It's the churches that divide workers and preach subservience to the system "on earth as in heaven". It's the unions who divide workers and divert our energies.
Yet the left in their "Broad" fronts and alliances say 'fear the fascist menace - vote Labour'! Instead of fighting the sham of capitalist democracy they either openly or covertly encourage participation in the system 'in order to keep the right wing and the fascists out' or just to minimise the fascist vote. This despite the fact that it is often workers' confused rejection of capitalist democracy which tempts them to support the fascists.
The Anti-Racist Alliance seems to be made up of assorted left wing Labour Party types and various Black 'community leaders', all loyally working within the system, promoting reforms and offering advice to those in power. The last Manchester meeting we attended had as its honoured guest a black community policeman from the USA, who was particularly strong on the benefits of working within the system.
Even the AFA, which many consider the best of a bad bunch for its members' willingness to 'get stuck in' still trawls the polluted waters of the trade union bureaucracy for support and produces election leaflets with propaganda aimed only against tiny local fascist groups.
RIGHT WING RESURGENCE
That nasty fascist and extreme right wing groups are able to make any headway amongst workers today is a reflection of the depth of the economic crisis, the visibly worn out policies of the established parties of capitalism (including the so-called 'socialist' parties) to deal with it, and the disunity and demoralisation of the working class following the defeat of a wave of strikes and other struggles in the seventies and eighties.
The re-emergence of working class struggle and the increased unity and self-confidence across racial and other barriers which comes with it, cannot be artificially manufactured by small political groups through the medium of campaign style politics.
Struggle will re-emerge. It always does. There are already at least some small signs of this which the media prefers to hide news of beneath a barrage of false debate over capitalist issues and the latest demoralising news of massacres in Yugoslavia etc. To have any chance of success, the struggle as it re-emerges needs to know its enemies and not be diverted into capitalist battles between left and right, democratic or dictatorial, black or white etc. We will not assist this process by promoting cross class alliances under the banner of anti-fascism.
Issue of Subversion from 1992 with articles about the government attacks on the working class in the wake of Britain's withdrawal from the exchange-rate mechanism, war in Yugoslavian, anarchism and the left and the Greens.
Unfinished business - review by Subversion
This long awaited book represents a serious and welcome attempt by the Class War Federation to sort out its own politics and present them to the working class in a clear and comprehensible language.
Subversion shares some important areas of political agreement with Class War which are hammered home in this publication. In Summary these are:-
1. A clear rejection of ‘reformism’ as a way forward for the working class and a commitment to the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and its state.
2. A recognition that the overthrow of capitalism means the complete abolition of the wages system, money and the market in all their forms.
3. Rejection of the ‘old labour movement’ as represented by the Labour Party and the trade unions and a commitment to independent working class struggle.
4. The need to combat racism and sexism within the context of the class struggle.
They also reject, as we do, Leninist views on revolutionary organisation. Whilst they continue to use the term ‘federalism’ to describe their approach to organisation, they clearly do not mean by this the kind of ‘every idea or tactic is of equal value’ and ‘every individual or group can go its own way’ approach of traditional anarchism.
Having said this there are some important weaknesses in the book which are very much hangovers from traditional left wing politics and in particular, anarchism. Firstly, their analysis of capitalist class structures is very confused. They attempt an amalgam of ‘Marxist’ and anarchist definitions of class, relating this to ‘wealth or property’ ownership on the one hand and ‘social power’ on the other, rather than a straightforward ‘relationship to the means of production’ definition which we would use.
We wouldn’t disagree with them when they say that capitalism is basically divided into three classes; the capitalist or ruling class; the middle class; and the working class. But their estimate of the size and importance of the ‘middle class’ is completely mistaken and their examples of who make up these classes reveals the muddle they’ve got themselves into. For instance, they say that rank and file soldiers are working class but rank and file policemen are not! Despite both being part of the state apparatus of repression. This distinction sees them reverting to an ideological rather than a material definition of class. They classify people like teachers and doctors as middle class but go on to say that in a ‘revolutionary’ period a large section of the ‘middle class’ will come over to the working class side, whilst sections of the working class will side with the capitalists. But if teachers and their like have distinctive and opposing class interests to the workers, why should they? They also imply that ‘peasants’, i.e. small agricultural landowners, could be considered working class, whilst small business owners are clearly middle class! What Class War have failed to do is make a materialist analysis of the way capitalism has developed over the last 150 years and how this has affected its class structure.
Modern capitalism is based on a complex division of labour on an international scale. Putting it very simply, commodities are no longer produced in factories and surplus value extracted from individual factory workers, but are the social product of the ‘collective worker’ as represented by factory, transport, communication, educational, health, housing and other workers. For example, whereas teachers in the early days of capitalism were for all practical purposes ‘outside ‘ the production process and for all their low pay, ‘middle class’ today we have a mass education industry fully integrated into the production process, with teachers playing their part in the creation of the social product of capitalism. Most teachers have become working class. This isn’t to deny that the role of teachers inclines them to conservatism and places obstacles to their becoming class conscious. But this equally apply to other sections of the working class. It does mean that there is a material basis for teachers and other similar groups of workers to be drawn into the advancing class struggle when it reaches a certain pitch. Even today it is fair to say that there were probably more teachers actively involved in supporting the last British miners’ strike than there were ‘working class’ soldiers!
There is certainly more chance of teachers and other ‘professional’ workers becoming involved in a revolutionary struggle or the overthrow of capitalism than there is the remnants of the peasantry or small time business people and others of the traditional middle class which still survives.
The important point for us is the relationship of people to the means of production. Thus many doctors running their own business might be ‘middle class’ whereas others fully employed in the NHS could more reasonable be considered working class. As Class War themselves say, there are many grey areas and it is certainly true to say that there is much more class mobility amongst some sections of the (mainly better paid) working class than others. The potential for upward mobility may detrimentally effect the ideology of some sectors of the working class, it doesn’t alter their objective class position at any given time.
A radical, militant and collective working class movement may well develop initially amongst the traditional working class - i.e. average manual and office workers. A recognition of this is important to our political strategy. It will only successfully go on to challenge capitalism if it draws in firstly the unemployed and then the rest of the modern working class. We can’t expect more than a handful of genuinely ‘middle class’ people to become committed to the movement precisely because they have got more to lose than gain in the immediate situation.
Secondly, Class War have an extremely ambivalent attitude towards nationalism.
On the one hand they state correctly that ‘Nationalism is one of the ways of keeping the working class divided’, but then they say, ‘....in the face of often brutal oppression nationalism gives working class people something. That "something" is identity, pride, a feeling of community and solidarity....’
We would say it gives the working class a false sense of pride, a false identity and a false sense of community and solidarity.
We do recognise, as Class War say, that in places like Northern Ireland many of the struggles engaged in by the Catholic working class are not purely nationalist. But our job is to clearly split the nationalist from the class elements, both theoretically and practically, not fudge the two as Class War does.
Sadly, even the strengths of this book are not consistently carried through in the practice of the Class War group. This is shown starkly in their confused approach to the trade unions. One of their very few members to talk and write regularly about workplace struggle is Dave Douglass, but despite some interesting insights into aspects of this struggle he still promotes an outdated ‘rank and falsetto’ approach which ends up defending the Trade Unions. (See the interesting Wildcat pamphlet "Outside and Against the Unions" for a criticism of his views.)
As worrying, is the ‘idealist’ tendency in Class War which sees many of their members worn out in an endless search for the ‘right formula’ that will get their ideas across to the working class. This was particularly evident at their final "Communities of Resistance" Rally in London where any critical discussion was deliberately squashed, with instant appeals for us to ‘get stuck in’ and ‘do something’ only to be told by Class War at the end that their idea of doing something was yet another typical lefty "Day of Action" stunt.
These are not by any means our only criticisms of this book of the Class War group, but we’ll leave it at that for now.
Text from www.prole.info
Libcom note: Two letters about this review and an editorial reply were published in the next issue of Subversion.
Issue of Subversion from 1993 with articles about struggles against public sector cuts, Somalia, Militant and gay liberation, Class War and the Spanish revolution.
IRA: anti-working class bastards! - Subversion
A response to the 1993 Warrington bombings. From Subversion #12.
The IRA have once again shown their true colours with a disgusting act of callous brutality towards ordinary working class people, this time on the streets of Warrington.
They are an organisation that claims to be fighting against "oppression", fighting for "freedom" - but their actions should demonstrate to everyone just exactly where the working class would fit into their "free" society. Right at the bottom, oppressed and exploited, the same as in every other capitalist society.
In this they are the same as every other "National Liberation Movement". In the name of the "freedom for an oppressed people" they fight for the freedom of the local capitalist class to exploit "their" workers - and these latter are conned into fighting to exchange one lot of bosses (who live abroad) for another lot (who live locally). Whenever such movements come to power they soon reveal their true nature - and the working class finds it has shed its blood for nothing.
Sometimes however, groups of this sort don't wait till they come to power before the "freedom fighter" mask slips: the killings of workers and peasants in Peru by the "Shining Path" rival those of the Peruvian Government; the starving populations in the southern Sudan have little reason to choose between the "Sudanese People's Liberation Army" and the Sudanese Government; and the ANC's torture camps for the disciplining of its own members are now well known.
That such capitalist gangs (which all nationalist groups are) should pretend to be "revolutionary" is not surprising - it serves their aims well. But we've also got to contend with all manner of left wing groups (Trotskyists, Maoists etc) telling us the same thing.
An outrage like the one in Warrington thus brings with it, in addition to the murderous act itself, several different levels of hypocrisy: the lies of the perpetrators about fighting for "liberation"; the expressions of moral indignation by the British government and the pro-government press (terrorists in power criticising terrorists in opposition); and the bleating of so-called "socialists" about how the working class simply must support such anti-working class scum and their "just" struggle (whether "critically" or not).
SUBVERSION and similar organisations have always argued against the lies of "national liberation movements" and fake-socialists (the "Left" for short) and every other organisation or institution that pretends to be pro-working class. But for anyone who hasn't been convinced by our arguments, just ask yourself one question - what could there be in common between the need of the working class to put an end to oppression and exploitation and create a truly free, world human community on the one hand, and on the other the aims of people who are content to bomb the workers of Manchester, Warrington or anywhere else, and the "Socialists" who support them.
GLOSSARY OF LEFT-SPEAK
Freedom Fighter = Capitalist-In-Waiting
Right of Nations to Self-Determination = Right of Capitalists to Exploit Workers
Fighting against Imperialism = Fighting for "our" Capitalists against Foreign Ones
Socialists giving Critical Support to Nationalists = Hypocritical Tossers
Uniting our struggles
Subversion look at a variety of struggle is going on in 1993 and suggest ways for workers to unite their struggles at a grassroots level.
As the annual budget setting process got underway in local authorities around January, the local and national press started filling up with startling news of drastic cuts in almost every conceivable local service. A couple of months later there was apparently contradictory news in some cases of jobs and services being saved!
In fact nothing had really been saved, it was just part of the usual public bargaining between local and central government aimed at fixing us into the democracy game and softening us up for what were by any account very real cuts, affecting real people.
These real cuts, many of them devastating in their effects on the most disadvantaged of our class, have not passed without protest. In Manchester alone there have been a good dozen separate campaigns involving marches, demonstrations and petitions by users and workers alike. But each campaign has pursued its own particular case separately and in isolation, only occasionally, and usually accidentally, coming together face-to-face. Even on these occasions there has been no resultant unity or joining of forces. The situation in Manchester, as far as we can tell, seems fairly typical in this respect. These type of campaigns have been easy meat for the skillful 'divide and rule' tactics of the politicians and union leaders.
There have also been a rash of local strikes by council workers. Some as in Islington and Newham in London involving over a thousand workers. But again these strikes have remained separate and there has been no movement towards any kind of coordinated national strike action.
In addition to the obvious hardship to those who have lost services or been made redundant, conditions for the workers remaining have grown steadily worse, with mounting management pressure to increase productivity, all against the background of a compulsory competitive tendering process accepted by Labour councils and unions alike. Politicians and senior management in the councils are carrying out a determined campaign to weed out troublesome workers, not just political activists but also those suffering from ill health or anyone with a 'bad attitude' who isn't willing to commit themselves 'body and soul' to their new corporate strategies. Despite all the trendy talk about teamwork and equal opportunities 'management by fear' is returning with a vengeance!
The following description of conditions for workers at the London borough of Hackney is very familiar to those of us working for councils in the North West:
"In the case of local community activists, the Council has reportedly withdrawn facilities for some groups to use its properties for meetings - and in one case the local Labour Party allegedly discussed setting lawyers and private investigators on its critics. And in the case of Council employees, where Members and Officers have real power, the picture is a horror story. It's worth selectively listing just what's going on, for comment is simply superfluous: it has been made a sackable offence for employees to squat in Council properties; it's a serious disciplinary offence to talk to the media or to Councillors about Council services (with real sackings to back the threat up); every employee has been asked to register with the Council if they belong to any voluntary group active in Hackney; despite condemnation by the NCCL/Liberty, being in arrears of Council rent or of poll tax renders people ineligible for many jobs (again backed, according to one union, by at least one sacking for poll tax non-registration and more allegedly in the pipeline, plus staff being moved jobs because the Council itself has cocked up their rent payments); the Council has retrospectively decided to use personnel and payroll data for totally different purposes, namely hunting for people in difficulties with rent and poll tax. "New Management Techniques" are all the rage, including the Total Quality Management approach that was lauded as an exemplar of good private management in last year's American election...by the rabidly right-wing Republican party.
"And, last but not least, there are corruption, racism, and a massive wave of disciplinary actions with many sackings. According to the local NALGO, it recently had over 100 members facing investigation for Gross Misconduct, with over 98% of them black, yet it believes that many of the accused are completely innocent, and that for many others, even if disciplinary action was conventionally justified, management is going for dismissal when it's totally disproportionate to any "offence". Meanwhile, the local paper reports humiliating results for the Council when it defends its earlier dismissals - but no reinstatements, so the climate of fear is perpetuated. It is widely alleged, including by some dismissed staff, that the "corruption" and "fraud" allegedly involved in many dismissals go far higher, but that certain leading local figures are simply covering it all up.
"To fight these attacks and abuses is far from easy. Politically, the claim that it's all designed to improve services goes down well with anyone who knows the real standards on offer in the last few years. Real fraud and corruption are a permanent feature of local government, not just of Hackney, so repression under the banner of fighting it carries a lot of moral authority - even if close study of the details shows many people being framed and scapegoated on nonsense "evidence" and charges. And one pretext for the new management techniques is to better know how resources are really allocated, in order to use them more efficiently: who could argue with that?
"Nor does your correspondent want to act as adviser to the local Labour Party dissidents: however good their intentions, the facts of life in local government, its power over local residents and workers, means that promises for a distant future will have to be treated with caution even if anyone tries to make good on them. The unions themselves are not much better: member-involvement is poor, and most employees are frightened; on top of that grass-roots weakness, it turns out that many of the full-time officials, like many senior council officers, are leading Labour local government figures in nearby local Councils. And dismissed employees seeking legal redress keep discovering that law firms specialising in industrial relations...are also specialists in work for their friendly neighbourhood Labour Parties."[from RED BANNER].
We're sure this list of nasty 'goings-on' in Hackney could be substantially added to by many of our readers from their own experience elsewhere.
In Manchester there have been numerous 'disciplinaries' leading to sackings, which despite ritual union protests have gone largely uncontested and the situation is getting worse. Undoubtedly senior management in the local authorities are having some success in this war of attrition.
This growing frustration of workers in the local authorities, the rash of protest campaigns and sporadic strikes in the public services, and in particular the initial angry nationwide response to the announced mine closures, have convinced many activists that there is both a need and a potential to unite struggles, particularly around the public services.
This 'feeling' has been reflected in the organisation recently of several different national conferences, all with the common acclaimed theme of "uniting struggles amongst workers and in the community". They have been sponsored by an assortment of semi-official trade union bodies, anti-cuts campaigns, miners support groups and others. We have attended two in Manchester and have seen material for some of the others.
On the positive side they have allowed some exchange of information between some very different groups of workers in struggle. People attending them may well have come away at least feeling that they weren't 'on their own'. The conference participants have also expressed genuine distrust and often outright hate of politicians of all hues as well as union leaders. But that unfortunately is about as far as it goes.
The predominant ideological influence of the left at these conferences has proved yet again to be a dead weight on the development of any original thinking or effective organisation.
The genuine desire for real united class action has been squeezed into the theoretical formulae of this or that left-wing group. Grandiose, meaningless resolutions have been subjected to tortuous compromise wordings that reflect the relative strengths of the left factions in attendance, following on from predictable and pre-rehearsed debates. Stale old slogans are dusted off and presented as new. Those who have stopped thinking altogether parrot their 'demands' for the TUC to call a general strike. The more adventurous, but equally 'out of touch', suggest we call a general strike ourselves! In both cases we find that this 'general strike' is meant to be little more than a token 24-hour stoppage anyway!
No-one is actually analysing the common causes and threads running through the struggles which are taking place. No-one is asking what potential there is and how we can unite in common action, with common demands, the struggles already underway or about to start. The 'unity' that is continually talked about seems little more in most cases than the lining up of various 'campaigns' on the same platform or demo, with any 'link' being provided behind the scenes by one of the left groupings.
Very occasionally, the recognition seems to surface that it's not just the Labour and trade union leaders that are an obstacle to the development of effective class struggle, but the whole organisational form and mode of operation of the organisations they lead. That there is no trade union and labour 'movement', just a body of institutions that were never up to the mythology created about them and which were long ago integrated into the apparatus of capitalism.
But clearly the full horror of this recognition for people, many of whom have devoted their lives to working inside (or alongside) these institutions is just too painful to accept. Material reality can't be allowed, in the end, to intrude on their cozy assumptions.
Thus such people can say on the one hand "...the remedies will have to come from below and will take place despite, and in opposition to, the leaders of the Labour Party and the trade unions", and in the next breath make demands on Labour Councillors to reject their role as bosses and recommend us to "...struggle to force union leaders to lead a fight or make way for those who will". All this demonstrates at best confusion and at worst deliberate manipulation.
Of course if there is enough pressure from below - not in the form of branch resolutions and the like, but through unofficial and wildcat actions - union leaders will respond. They may even call 24-hour 'general strikes'. But the whole purpose of this will be to try and control the movement and smash it!
To defend our wages and conditions and our benefits, to fight cuts in services and jobs, to fight for our needs against the requirements of profit and the market, we urgently need to develop an INDEPENDENT movement of our class. Struggles may start off within the confines of trade unionism and under the influence of Labourist ideology but they must rapidly go beyond these confines. They must begin to consciously recognise who the enemy is - not just the traditional establishment, the Tories, churches, judiciary, press, etc., but also the capitalist institutions, like the Labour Party and the trade unions, inside the working class.
Our class, despite the arrogant and pessimistic warnings of the left, is quite capable of this. Without the benefit of the left to advise them and up against Stalinist and military dictatorship Polish workers, briefly in 1981, showed the potential which exists. They organised their own strikes and occupations through mass assemblies and directly elected committees made up of recallable delegates. These actions were coordinated through central committees with delegates from different workplaces and areas. Common demands were thrashed out. Workers in one sector refused to go back unless the demands of all sectors were met. They organised an embryo system of dual power which challenged the apparatus of the state at all levels. There are many other examples.
We need organisations which can help that process along. Not 'rank and file' groups hanging on the coat-tails of the trade unions. Not 'campaign' groups which operate within the framework of capitalist democracy through petitions, lobbies and media stunts.
We need groups that bring together the minority of committed militants in the workplace, independent of union and sectional divisions, to discuss and inform struggles and agitate for their extension wherever practicable. Such groups need to concentrate on the real struggle and not to be sidetracked into union reform campaigns or grandiose schemes to set up new unions, which would just end up the same as the old ones. Outside the workplace we need 'solidarity' groups which promote mutual aid and direct action. Any such groups need to be under the direct control of the people involved, without being tools of different left groups. Some anti-poll tax groups and miners support groups have taken tentative steps towards transforming themselves this last direction but sadly most seem to have been content with a 'campaigning' role.
The conferences so far have given us no confidence that they will play any positive role in developing a genuine independent class movement. Despite this, Subversion will continue to take every opportunity to intervene in such events and would urge others in our political camp to do likewise.
What's the working class anyway?
A letter exchange in Subversion about the nature of class.
In your review of Class War's 'Unfinished Business' you quite rightly argue for a material definition of class as opposed to Class War's ideological mishmash. However, when examining our strategy as communists - in addressing different groups of the proletariat - surely we shouldn't discount all ideological factors? This 'strategy' means our identifying of which groups of people we should spend our time dishing out propaganda to, or talking to, or working with, etc. - and which groups we should be suspicious of and not waste our time on. Obviously we don't bother with our class enemies: the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. But I'd also say shouldn't bother with the professional army, police, etc., and a lot of 'professionals', who have often been university trained (the University itself is an ideological institution which extends beyond its campuses into our everyday lives, like the Church used to).
We are best talking to those people who have a more immediate experience of their class position, those to whom class struggle is, or often becomes, a daily reality - i.e.. the working class (but not all those who are not the big or small bourgeoisie). Anyway, it is these people who engage in proletarian class struggle - it is not, for example, Managers and Experts (who generally act to defeat the working class, of course).
As you say, it is only through class struggle that class consciousness, and the eventual defeat of class society, will come about. How could the manager of a supermarket come to a communist perspective without abandoning his/her job? How could an architect (who decides on designs for proletarian living areas, for example), a journalist, a priest or a social worker remain in their profession if they became communists? More importantly, given the jobs they do, how are these people going to be involved in class struggle? The same also goes for members of the police or professional army, of course.
In non-revolutionary, and even revolutionary, times hardly any of these types would become communists. Our strategy as communists involves exposing the fact that these people are the enemy of a class conscious proletariat - not by fact of their relation to the means of production (they are proletarian), but by the fact of their ideology and the actual job they do. The same also goes for the unions of course, and the fact that, in the final analysis, a shop steward fulfils a similar function for capitalism as does a foreperson.
Whereas the job of a car park attendant is basically 'neutral', the actual job and day to day existence of a journalist or social worker consists precisely of actively protecting the status quo. They do just the same job as priests used to do (and still do). Nationalism, for example, is a purely ideological enemy of communism and the working class when it exists amongst the class - but a journalist or social worker is a physical enemy in as much as the person embodies the ideology s/he has accepted and made a living out of. In a revolutionary event people like these will be physically swept aside, however, there will be no revolutionary event if the escalating class struggle hasn't squashed the power of the ideology of nationalism.
The problem for us (strategically) is recognising that some sections of the proletariat are irrevocably lost to bourgeois ideology and that they will ultimately to be smashed physically along with the machinery of state and the bourgeoisie itself. (Universities, for example, should be destroyed).
Some professional or 'expert' jobs seem more ambivalent though. University trained engineers, or NHS doctors, for example, may be 'neutral' - but socially and ideologically they would probably feel closer to journalists than to car park attendants.
Perhaps we need new labels for these different sections of the proletariat, so we don't resort to calling than 'middle class'.
You are right to argue that a material definition of class is essential, however, I think defining what the class struggle is, or could be, is at least as important, and part of that involves understanding and pointing out the real ideological divisions in the proletariat and exposing everything that is the enemy of communism.
Having suggested all this I'm not, of course, saying that you don't already know it (or know better, which is more likely!), and I realise that your comments in Subversion 11 were only brief.
Pete Post, Sydney, Australia.
Although having some sympathy with your criticism of Class War, in particular its obsession with 'profile', a few other points I must take issue with. In particular your assertion that Class War in its book 'unfinished business' gets into a muddle over class.
You say Class War is wrong to put squaddies in with the working class when the police are then placed as (reactionary thugs of) the middle class. You consider it more accurate to place everyone in relation to the means of production.
As C.W.'s book correctly states though, mutiny within the army is an historical reality that has little parallel within the police force. Thousands of unemployed workers are cornered into taking up shit lives - bound to long contracts within the armed services. Coppers on the other hand are well-screened, well-paid and well-used to sticking the boot directly into the public.
Subversion, being seemingly unaware of this reality, leaves me wondering. Surely Subversion you are not peddling that naive crap that the police are only workers in uniform? If so don't expect sympathy when in an upsurge of struggle you're gunned down by a police force joyously wielding their Armalite toys. Does working class blood have to be spilt time and time again as testament to the failure of blinkered Marxist analysis?
Or, could it be that, having teachers making up [a large part of] Subversion, it is you yourselves who have the hang-up about class?
Arguing, as Subversion have done at length, how teachers are part of the production process, therefore share a common interest in revolution with the rest of the working class. Let's look at this.
Ignoring teachers relatively high salaries and function to condition and control the next generation of workers, there is some truth in what Subversion says.
But, despite the proletarianisation of the profession, teachers are still professionals and as such enjoy something of a cultural status. This acts as a link to middle class identification in a way not accessible to the majority of the working class.
I have no problem seeing teachers as middle class. This does not mean I declare them first up against the wall. Indeed I welcome thoughtful, committed members of such middle class professions who contribute constructively to the creation of international Communism.
Now if a copper was on fire I wouldn't piss on him. Class War is trying to put this reality into political terms. Not trying to bend reality to fit political theories.
Harry Roberts junior, Class War supporter.
Of these two letters, the one from the Class War supporter is completely off the beam, whereas the second one makes some good points which we partly agree with. To answer all the relevant points we need to have a more precise analysis of "class" than the formula "relationship to the means of production".
The first point to consider is how we decide that one class rather than others has the potential to be revolutionary. Why does the communist strategy for revolution base itself on the (existing) economic struggles of the working class? After all, lots of other people suffer from the present system (Capitalism), such as poor peasants, street vendors etc.
The answer is that when workers need to defend their living standards, their immediate response is to struggle, together with their workmates, against the capitalists who employ them. The immediate response of, say, a street vendor would be to either raise their prices (creating a conflict with their customers, including workers), or alternatively to lower them and undercut the other vendors.
What is distinctive about the workers therefore is that they have an inbuilt and immediate tendency both to conflict with the capitalists and to collective action with other workers (at least in the same factory or same industry - but the potential is there for it to spread). We believe that this already existing conflict (which can never be got rid of by capitalism) is the seed out of which a revolutionary movement can grow. Naturally, this "seed" will have to grow immensely, but there's no other "seed" to rival it.
The key point here is the conflicts that are built in to various social relationships. This is not simply a matter of whether someone earns a wage or not, because certain types of job contain other conflicts in the job itself. So to take the most obvious example, being a cop means having a fundamental conflict with workers who engage in struggle - the fact that cops receive wages is just a "sociological" fact of little significance. To answer the Class War supporter, no, coppers are NOT workers in uniform! The distinction that this comrade makes between them and squaddies however is tenuous, as the army has always been (and always will be) used against serious manifestations of class struggle. There is indeed a history of mutiny in the army but we're talking here about draftees, which is a different matter.
There are other groups of wage earners who, in a less stark way, have conflicts with the working class at large built in to their jobs: teachers, with their role of social control and indoctrination of young workers; lower level bureaucrats whose job involves giving orders to others; people whose job involves taking money from workers, e.g. till operators, bar staff, bus drivers - try getting on a bus and saying you refuse to pay (a conflict between you and the owners of the bus company) and see whose side the driver will take. That doesn't mean that all these sections are our enemies, but rather that they are, to varying degrees, in a contradictory position (unlike cops who ARE our enemies pure and simple). We may not put much effort into talking to the more "dubious" sections (like teachers) but we don't write them off and we recognise that under the right conditions many of them will join in the struggle. This is not a question of "ideology" but of the position of these groups in society, in relation to other groups or classes.
All of this brings us on to the second point to consider - the distinction between the present-day working class, whose day-to-day existence is largely passive (acquiescent towards capitalism) and the revolutionary force that can overthrow capitalism. This latter will grow out of the former, but is not identical to it. The former (which can be called the "class-in-itself") is just a "sociological" category whereas the latter (the class-FOR-itself) is a revolutionary category.
When workers engage in struggle their "nature" changes in that they reject their normal passivity and begin to become a class-for-itself. It is this "class-BECOMING-for-itself" that we support.
Referring to the "Working Class" is vague because there are really several "working classes" - the passive, sociological working class, the conscious communist working class of the future that is overthrowing capitalism and the struggling working class ("becoming-for-itself") - this last category is the most important one and shouldn't be confused with the first one (it may be argued that it's the same people but this is wrong because, apart from the fact that it's SOME of the same people not ALL of them, the key point is that it's not a thing that we're talking about but an action, or rather a thing in action - sociology deals in "things" but the "class-in-action" is a revolutionary concept).
Questions such as "are coppers part of the working class?" are therefore in some sense pointless since they refer to membership of the "sociological" working class. They are certainly not going to become part of the "class-in-action" which is the "class" that WE support.
To come back to the question of "relationship to the means of production" as the formula for defining class, the most important "defining" that we have to do is to define how the "class-in-action" will come into being (a constant, repeated event) and how it will develop. Among the factors which determine this, "relationship to the means" of production" is the foremost, but is insufficient because it implies "relationship to property", i.e. being a wage earner or not, whereas the other factors considered in the first part of this reply can be just as important. The best way to put it is probably "relationship to the developing class struggle" - this being determined by all the factors mentioned above.
Text from www.prole.info
Issue of Subversion from late 1993 with articles about the unions, teachers' struggles, the Timex dispute, Bosnia, prisoners and more.
Burnsall strike: with friends like these, who needs racists?
Subversion criticise the Burnsall strike support group for making the dispute into a racial issue as opposed to a class issue. The article is an example of 'anti-racism' and 'anti-nationalism' turning into a refusal to discuss racial divisions within the working class at all, which we strongly disagree with but reproduce for reference. See our archive on the Burnsall strike.
For over a year the strikers at Burnsall Ltd in Smethwick, where the conditions workers have to bear are appalling even by capitalist standards, have had to contend with the double enemy of the boss and the unions.
The GMB, to which the strikers "belong", has been sabotaging their strike in the time-honoured fashion. It has now plunged the dagger deep into the workers backs and called off the strike.
Despite this, and despite serious intimidation by the GMB to make the strikers comply, it seems they are determined to continue their fight.
What they need is support from other workers.
The only way forward for workers in struggle is to link up, and gain the active support of more and more workers. The bosses and unions, despite their charades, are in the last analysis united against the working class and we must be united against them, and not be taken in by the unions pretence at being on our side. This is true in all strikes and all struggles.
The case of the Burnsall strike, however, reveals another false friend of the workers - left-wing groupings with their own political agenda to superimpose on the strike.
DIVIDE AND RULE
The Manchester Burnsall Strikers' Support Group has produced several leaflets which have been portraying this strike as a black issue (most of the strikers being Asian women) rather than a workers' issue. For instance their leaflets have slogans such as "Black Workers Fighting Back" and "Black Workers Demand JUSTICE" (sic); one of the leaflets relates that on one occasion "the strikers were attacked by three white scab workers from the factory". An approach such as this "support group" is taking is practically calculated to strengthen "racial" divisions and hatred between workers.
If it needs saying, let us say it again - the working class can only free itself from present day slavery by uniting as a class, all workers together, black and white, male and female, whatever the divisions our rulers use to keep us weak. The dead end of "racial" or national identity will only lead workers to perdition, as it has always done in the past (e.g. the anti-colonial movements which have given the workers nothing but more of the same). Only realising our identity as workers with a common interest world-wide, against all capitalist factions, will lead us to victory.
Groups like the Manchester Burnsall Strikers "Support" Group should be roundly condemned. Their politics are a lethal poison for workers, and for the cause of liberation of the whole working class.
Timex strike: time for a change - Subversion
Subversion look at the Timex workers' illusions in their trade union, regular mass pickets and the need for solidarity strikes in their dispute in summer 1993.
The courageous resistance of 343 Timex strikers in Dundee to massive cuts in their wages and conditions and the subsequent threat to close the factory has been well documented else where.
They, along with other smaller groups of workers such as those at “Burnsalls” and “Middlebrook Mushrooms” have demonstrated a long overdue militant determination to stand up against the bosses ever increasing demands for cuts in our standard of living and the preservation of their profits.
But courage and militancy on their own aren’t enough to win this kind of dispute in the current world economic crisis. If they were, then much stronger groups such as the printers, seafarers and miners would not be in the disarray they are today.
Although Timex strikers rejected the attempts of national union ‘leaders’ to negotiate shabby deals with their bosses, they were content, initially, to leave the wider struggle, away from the workplace and the locality, to what they felt was ‘their’ union.
The support for regular mass pickets from workers in Dundee and elsewhere in Scotland and England was indeed impressive and achieved some notable, if passing, victories. But those of us with longer memories couldn’t help but listen to the echoes of previous failed disputes, like Grunwicks in London, which relied heavily on picketing as a solution. The calls for “consumers” to boycott Timex products, however valid, also has worrying echoes in the Seamen’s Unions efforts to derail the Channel Ferry strikes.
Timex workers recognised the need for ‘solidarity’, as other workers recognised the important knock on effect of a victory for the Timex workers on their own disputes. Support in the form of union resolutions, donations, demonstrations and attendance at pickets has been forthcoming.
What has been missing is the active solidarity involved in spreading the strike, not only to other workers in the multi-national of which Timex is just part, but across both industrial and geographical boundaries. The development of common actions, with common demands, directly under the control of those involved.
This isn’t just the responsibility of Timex workers but something which we all need to take on board.
In the current situation ‘isolation’ means defeat and leaving things in the hands of the union, much less the political parties of all hues means isolation.
Timex workers have begun to organise themselves to seek active solidarity from others both in the multinational and locally. This may prove to be too little, too late, but the fight certainly isn’t over yet.
Whatever the outcome we should take heart from the determination and courage of our class brothers and sisters at Timex and learn both from the positive and negative lessons of this strike in the struggles to come.
Subversion, No. 13 (Summer 1993)
Issue of Subversion from 1994 with articles about the war in Ireland, SWP and militant, trade unionism, the media and more.
Beyond rank and vile trade unionism, 1994 - Subversion
Subversion conference paper on rank and file groups in trade unions.
First it is necessary to spell out what we do not mean – that is the myth of a ‘rank and file’ straining at the leash, only held back by a cunning and devious trade union bureaucratised leadership. Today it is obvious such a movement does not exist, but it is doubtful if in reality this ever was the case except for a brief period after the First World War. There have been rank and file groupings in many industries and unions, but except for isolated instances and in very specific circumstances they have not challenged the outlook or mentality of conventional trade unionism. So first we have to establish to some extent what constitutes a genuine challenge to existing trade unionism rather than merely a ‘loyal opposition’ to existing workers organisations. (In this regard we do not refer merely to the existing trade unions – but to the whole outlook and philosophy of what is known as ‘ the Labour Movement’.)
Today our contention is that what passes for the ‘Labour Movement’ is entirely reactionary. We do not mourn its passing, but wish to point out the necessity of recognising this reality. Everything that has in the past been presented as the socialist project is now revealed as part of capitalism’s management of its crisis. All that has hitherto been assumed as being in the workers interests – the welfare state, post war consensus politics, the commitment to ‘full employment’ is now revealed as merely the result of the old movements’ politics to tie us more closely to the system.
As such it must be rejected.
Workers Movement versus the Movement of the Workers
Now this might seem a rather pessimistic conclusion, but we believe it is as well to start off from a realistic appreciation of the situation so that anyone proposing either to start a ‘rank and file ‘ grouping or faced with one already in existence can begin to arrive at some kind of analysis of what they are doing. In our experience there has been and is far too much uncritical action simply for actions sake. We want to avoid the situation where militants end up isolated, left only to protest futilely at the latest ‘betrayal’ or even worse in the name of some mythical ‘unity’ obliged to present the latest stitch up between management and unions as some kind of ‘victory’. Much of the present disorientation amongst the working class is not the result of the ‘Thatcher revolution’ (which we are convinced will soon be revealed as nothing of the sort,) but of the fact that a sea change has taken place in politics internationally and the old certainties (held in place by the Cold War) have gone. The traditional institutions that the working class looked to for help in times past, principally the Unions and the Labour Party, are now revealed for what they are pillars of the system and defenders of the status quo.
We propose to look at ‘rank and file’ groups under five main headings which although they are treated separately here for the purposes of analysis are in fact inter-dependent and inter-related. It is our view that we are working towards a coherent outlook, and one of the main purposes of attending this conference is not only to broaden and deepen our own understanding but to see if what we have worked out strikes a chord with other participants or even if someone else has arrived at a better understanding than ourselves. However it would not be correct to give the impression necessarily that we are prepared to give up on what we have fought so hard to understand. For instance our understanding of the place of trade unions in capitalist society or the role of the Labour Party is not something we are prepared to compromise.
That being said our five headings are as follows:-
* The Distinction between Minority and Mass (or majority organisations)
* A ‘rank and file’ populism against the development of a coherent political understanding and outlook (or reformism versus revolution)
* The relationship between rank and file organisations and the existing trade union structure
* The question of the creation of permanent institutions of a rank and file nature.
* The relationship (if any) of rank and file movements to political parties
(i) The distinction between minority and mass organisations.
In modern capitalist society mass organisations of a genuinely representative type no longer exist. It is inconceivable that we will witness a rebirth of trade unions as mass organisations. It would be as well to remember that the original founding of trade unions in this country was by minorities of skilled craftsmen. Mass unionism is very much a product of modern society and modern unions owe their structure and organisation to the post Second World War consensus which is now breaking” up.
In this situation it would be as well for rank and file movements to recognise their necessarilv minority character, rather than pretending to speak for the amorphous mass of workers. If this is the case then they have no need to hold back or pretend that initially at least they are anything other than political organisations pursuing a particular programme. It therefore makes no sense to hide this political character, rather it should be openly acknowledged. Moreover it is our view that such movements will be obliged to take on an increasingly social dimension. It is no longer possible to maintain the old social-democratic split between ‘political’ and economic’ questions on which the Labour Party was founded.
This leads us directly on to our second heading concerning the question of populism versus a coherent political outlook.
(ii) Reform versus Revolution
In the past we have had cause to question what we termed ‘money militancy’. By this we meant that whatever reforms we won in terms of money or working conditions, of necessity, such ‘victories’ always turned out to be short lived. Inflation always ate away at our gains. We always found ourselves in a minority shouting about a ‘betrayal’ – but if the union demands £10 should a revolutionary policy be to demand £20? Today although it is possible that a new wages movement might emerge, we doubt that it could achieve even the modest gains which were so easily wiped away in the 70s. So around what practical programme could a rank and file movement emerge?
Today the system itself constantly proposes reforms with which it hopes to draw in any opposition, so what attitude should a rank and file movement take to this process. Our answer to this is to reject the whole project for reforming the system and to argue for its abolition. This is not to dismiss anyone who finds themselves drawn into existing organisations – it is above all a practical question. In the past socialist groupings had to come to practical decisions on this point. The pre First World War SLP actually forbad its members from taking up union positions – again this leads us directly onto our next point, the relationship of any rank and file movement to the existing trade unions.
(iii) ‘Rank and File’ and the existing Trade Unions
It should be fairly clear by now that we see no role for the trade unions in any future stuggle. We do not want to make a fetish of this, it obviousy’ depends on circumstances. But even where a movement utilises the existing union base machinery (for example combine committees, or local area committees) and it is looked on favourably by the local trade union bureaucracy (as regards funds, premises, printing facilities and so on) at crucial moments (that is the only ones that matter) this dependence will be the undoing of the movement. A classic example of this was the London Busmen’s Combined Committee broken by Bevin and the TGWU in 1937.
Not only therefore do we see no positive role for the trade unions, hut we believe of necessity that any rank and file movement can only emerge in opposition to them. This has been the experience abroad and especially we believe in Italy with the COBAS movement. Indeed in our opinion it is a good sign of the health of such a movement to see how much opposition from the existing unions it inspires. It also follows therefore that all attempts at democratising the unions or pressurising union leaderships to take action are futile and a waste of time and indeed positively reactionary.
(iv) Permanent Organisation?
We have shown how it is impossible for new mass organisations to emerge except at times of exceptional crisis (indeed one of the ways you know you are in a crisis is the practical question of the emergence of such institutions). In our view it would be a mistake to try and artificially prolong the life of such organisations outside periods of struggle by making them permanent. If we accept that movements ebb and flow, that disputes are going to be resolved on whatever terms at least temporarily, then the need for a fighting organisation fades away. Any attempt to artificially prolong it risks ossifying it at best and at worst turning it into a fully fledged capitalist organisation (by obliging it to maintain itself with finance, permanent staff or the usual risk with working class organisations – the treasurer runs of with the funds).
Prior to the dockers attempts to take over (by joining ‘en masse’) the ‘blue’ union (NASD) in the 1950s, rank and tile organisation was kept alive as a political idea not by any organisational device. It was only the fact that some dockers influenced by Trotskyism wanted to take over a union (and ultimately to have some influence over the Labour Party itself) that made them believe that they could ‘take shelter’ under the umbrella of the NASD.
(v) Relationship to Politics Parties
If you’re not part of the solution then you must be part of the problem!
We have said already that any rank and file movement is by its nature the organisation of a political minority. How then does it differ from any one of the different Leftist groups which are also political minorities?
Only in the ways we which we have already outlined. We have already stated our views on the old ‘Labour Movement’, and as there are not many leftist groups which would subscribe to them so they are almost automatically excluded.
If only life were so simple!
Apart from those movements which are merely fronts for already established parties – a genuine rank and file movement would begin by trying to outgrow its sectional roots, by breaking out of the limitations that capitalist society imposes on it and become social in character. Other political groupings, who of course it is impossible to exclude from such a development either help or hinder such a process.
Subversion, No. 14 (Spring 1994)
Flame or ember
Subversion on signs of a resurgence in class struggle in 1994.
Revolutionaries in Britain have witnessed the defeat of a number of important working class struggles over the last 10 years followed by a rising tide of nationalism and racism across the globe. In this situation they are understandably desperate for some good news. Articles have appeared in a number of publications heralding a resurgence of class struggle across Europe, supposedly throwing a beacon of light to militants here in our efforts to promote a fight back against the current bosses' offensive.
There have certainly been by comparison some impressive flash points in the European class struggle over recent months. Massive street demonstrations involving between 50,000 and 500,000 workers have taken place in Italy, Belgium, Germany and Spain against government austerity plans, redundancies and wage cuts. There have been angry and violent strikes at Air France and the state chemical company in Crotone, Italy, involving confrontations with armed police. Major strikes have also taken place amongst coal and steel workers in Germany at the heart of European capitalism. There have also been numerous smaller strikes right across Europe, east and west. Whilst all of this can only warm our hearts, there are serious worries in our heads at least, about the way things are going.
There have been suggestions that the bosses deliberately provoked the strike at Air France with a carefully–timed announcement of huge redundancies well in excess of those actually required at the present time, with the hope that the workers would be isolated and exhausted before a more general assault on the rest of the class. If this is true then the bosses probably got more than they bargained for. Certainly the Financial Times was sufficiently worried to bemoan the lack of trade union control over its members at Air France and to express concern over spreading militancy amongst European workers generally.
GERMANY AND COAL
It is noticeable, however, that the strongest opposition to austerity in Europe comes from workers in the substantial state–owned industrial and public service sectors which have generally still to see the level of restructuring and job losses experienced by those sectors in this country.
Although strikes amongst German coal miners have sometimes been 'spontaneous' and organised outside the official unions, they have quickly been brought under those unions' control. Ideologically they have been sidetracked into nationalism and corporatism (i.e. identifying with the industry rather than the wider working class) with slogans such as 'Defend German Coal'.
Struggles have been isolated with the focus on occupations of pits threatened with closure and token union–led demonstrations. There are many echoes here of the British NUM's defence of the 'Plan for Coal', its appeal for moral support from the 'general public', MPs, etc, and insistence on getting every last miner out on strike, which prevented miners from spreading their struggle directly to other workers in the crucial early stages of the strike. There was also much wasted and misdirected debate over capitalist issues such as which energy industries did, or should, get the most state subsidies. As a result of all this the British miners for all their militancy and courage were roundly defeated.
ITALY AND THE SCHOOLS
In Italy the 'base committees' (COBAS) had some success in organising struggles of workers, mainly in the state sector, outside and against the traditional union structures. They continue to have some influence but even here corporatist tendencies have appeared. For instance, in the schools COBAS there have been attempts to sidetrack the movement into 'advising' the government on how schooling should be planned, making the COBAS look inward towards the needs of capitalist schooling rather than outward towards the rest of the class and class–based needs. It seems that 'professionalism' for long such a barrier to 'class' resistance amongst school workers in Britain is still a force amongst such workers in Italy, despite their comparatively more militant stance.
ITALY – SCOTLAND
There are some other unhealthy comparisons to be made. The extremely militant strike and occupation of the Crotone chemical plant in southern Italy which received the enthusiastic support of the whole town bears a number of similarities to the failed Timex strike in Dundee, Scotland:
– considerable militancy and initiative on the ground by the workers involved, but links with the 'outside' world largely left in the hands of the official unions and parties etc
– the blurring of class lines between the workers and their families on the one hand and local politicians, churchmen and capitalists on the other in 'defence' of 'their' area
– an element of 'north' versus 'south' ideology particularly strong in Italian politics today comparable to the Scotland versus England debate here, setting workers in one region against workers in another region.
Clearly there has been an upturn in the European class struggle and there exists a huge wellspring of class anger beneath the surface that could give rise to even larger struggles in the near future. The obstacles to such a movement are however very great.
Unlike the left our conclusions are that, at this juncture, we in Britain have less to learn from the supposed 'successes' of workers in the rest of Europe, than they have to learn from our failures.
(See the article on Timex in the last Subversion and the article on Crotone in Workers' Voice 69. For more information on the COBAS, see the pamphlet by David Brown, 'The Cobas: Italy 1986–88: A New Rank and File Movement', published by Echanges, address given elsewhere in this bulletin)
Solidarnosc: trade unionism in Poland - Subversion
Subversion look at Solidarność's role in the uprisings which preceded the end of Stalinist rule in Poland.
The 1980 workers’ uprising in Poland was not the first time the working class there had fought back against state capitalism. ln 1956, 1970 and 1976 workers had taken to the streets when the state had tried to impose cuts in their standard of living by raising food prices.
The strength of the working class was such that, despite severe repression, in each case the state gave in. These uprisings underlined the fact that there was a line beyond which the state could not go at that time. They also meant that the state was forced to constantly rethink its strategies for increasing the competitiveness of Polish capital. The state’s solution to the 1970 revolt was to try to modernise the economy by importing western capital and technology. This was to be paid for by exploiting the peasantry in order to subsidise the money wages of the workers with cheap food After 1976 the idea of autonomy for enterprise management was introduced. This was to prove crucial in the early stages of 1980.
Despite their best efforts, the Polish state built up a huge debt to western banks by 1980 – approximately $28 billion. It’s response was to try to cut the subsidies to workers and on June 30th announced a “reorganisation of meat distribution”, which meant a 60% increase in the price of meat.
The working class responded with a wave of strikes effecting factories in Ursus (tractors), Huta Warzawa (steel), Poznan (metallurgy), Tczew (transmissions), Mielec (aviation) and Swidnica (aviation).
The party’s response was to try to negotiate locally. They couldn’t risk losing the goodwill of the West, nor risk a major disruption of production which would endanger its ability to service the massive foreign debt. The policy of local enterprise autonomy made this policy easier to put into practice The hope was that it would keep workers divided. The result was the exact opposite. Workers in other plants saw their fellows winning demands and immediately went on strike themselves’ They took the opportunity to elect strike committees and organise themselves. By July 15th there were 50 strikes going on. Two days later the city of Lublin, with a population of 300,000 started a general strike.
Even at this stage there was a major change with previous uprisings. In earlier years workers had taken to the streets, this time they remained in their workplaces to avoid being gunned down. They remained where they were strong and united.
The strike wave continued until early August. At this point the state decided on a new approach. If the carrot had failed, now they would go back to trying the stick. The problem they faced was in finding who to repress. These strikes were examples of workers organising themselves. There were no obvious leaders who had instigated it, nor easy targets to pick on. There were underground groups and “free trade unionists”, but they had not played a central role in the struggle up to this point. Failing anyone else to repress, the state turned on these people.
Repression started on August 11th when a bin man was arrested for 9 hours. Two days later, 3 Lenin Shipyard workers connected with underground unions were arrested. Up to this point, Gdansk, Sopot and Gdnyia (the centres of the shipbuilding industry) had been mostly quiet. The result was a general strike that spread rapidly from shipyard to city. A strike committee of 10 was elected (including Lech Walesa who had climbed over the wall when the strike broke out) which was soon joined by 100 delegates from other departments. They published a list of demands, some of which were economic, some political.
By 18th August 100 enterprises in a 100km area around Gdansk were on strike. An inter factory strike committee (the MKS) was set up with two delegates from each factory on strike. The MKS controlled the entire region and resolved all problems of food and transportation.
MKS were set up in Szczecin and the Silesian mines. The strike wave had spread all over Poland, accompanied by self-organisation of the working class that was challenging the authority of the state in a way that had never happened before in Poland or most of Europe. But it also contained the seeds of its own destruction. Soon the strike wave was to be hijacked by those with quite specific objectives that turned out to be against those of the workers.
Enter the KOR
The repression that followed 1976 led a group of intellectuals to set up a Committee for defence Against Repression, the KOR. This was to provide legal defence for those in need and material support for families. It was to become an important centre of opposition to the Communist Party (PUWP). It was soon joined by supporters of free trade unions. The political objectives of the KOR and the free unions were to Iiberalise the Polish state and to make Polish capital more competitive. These objectives can be summed up by quoting from the founding charter of underground unions in Northern Poland drawn up in April 1978. It stated:
“Only free unions and associations can save the state. since only democratisation can lead to the integration of the interests and the will of the citizen and the interests and power of the state.”
Lech Walesa was one of the signatories of this charter.
Supporters of KOR had a lot of respect in Poland. They endured state repression and carried on their work. There is no denying that they were brave men and women. It is right to deny that their objectives coincided with the needs of the working class.
They had little role in the early days of the uprising. Ironically it was the state which turned them into its leaders. Looking for someone to pick on, it was supporters of KOR that they found. This reinforced the idea that they were the state’s strongest opponents, so workers looking for new ideas increasingly turned to them for leadership. Thus it was that Walesa got elected to the strike committee at Gdansk. even though he did not work in the shipyard he represented. Other oppositionists became members of the MKS Praesidium on the basis of their being experienced negotiators.
The original demands of the Gdansk strikers were as political as they were economic. They contained all sorts of mystifications about democracy, free elections and judicial independence, but nonetheless their central thrust was simple – to get rid of the Communist regime in Poland. This terrified the oppositionists. Bogdan Borusewicz, a leader of KOR in Gdansk said “Asking for pluralist electionss is maximalism. If the Parry gave in, Moscow would intervene. There must be no demands which either force the government to resort to violence or lead to its collapse. It was the ending of censorship that led to intervention in Prague. We must leave them some exits.” By the time the demands had been finalised, the KOR had got their way. The state would be allowed a way out.
The government realised that it had to negotiate On September I st the Gdansk Accords were signed. Lech Walesa immediately called for a return to work. He said: “The strike is over. We did not get everything we wanted, but we did get all that was possible in the current situation. We will win the rest later because now we have the essentials: the right to strike and independent unions.”
Kuron, an important KOR leader, said “The unions ought to be partners in the administration, protectors of the workers. “
Work resumed. The MKS at Gdnask and Szcezin formed themselves into branches of Solidarnosc. By the end of the month it represented 90% of the workers in Poland.
Union against the worker
What was really amazing was just how quickly Solidarnosc began to act like established trade unions in the West. Its leaders quickly get themselves into positions of being intermediaries between the workers and the state. In the guise of “representing” the working class they went around stopping strikes, toning down wage and other demands in the interests of “national unity”. As early as September 16th, Solidarnosc in Gdansk warned against wildcat strikes – even though it was these same strikes that had started the uprising just two months before!
The Gdansk Accords had left unsettled the workers economic demands. Very important amongst these was the right to not work on Saturdays. There were many strikes in the winter of 1980-81 over this. The Solidarity National Coordinating Committee issued a statement on January 28th asking branches not to call any more strikes. Walesa said: “The situation is dangerous. We need national unity. To achieve it, we, government and workers, ought to seek a common path: we should unite in the country’s interests. We extend out hand to the government.”
The government again tried repression as a tactic. After a particularly nasty incident at Bydgoszcz in March, Solidarity was forced to do something when some of its organisers were beaten up by the militia. They called for a token 2 hour work stoppage. When the government refused to yield, Solidarnosc called for a general strike on March 31. In the best tradition of union bosses, Walesa negotiated with the state, got a few minor concessions
and called the strike off, without consulting anyone.
A pattern was beginning to emerge. Faced with pressure from the working class, Solidarnosc called for token strikes, did deals and called off strikes. A common spectacle was Walesa flying round the country in a government helicopter telling workers to go back to work.
However, the strikes continued. October and November 1981 saw the beginning of street demonstrations which the union could not control. By the middle of November there were more than 400,000 wildcat strikers in Poland.
After its September and October Congress, Solidarnosc started to make political demands of the state. It wanted to move towards Poland becoming a western style democracy, so it could operate as a western style trade union. Having lost much of their political control over their members, Solidarnosc’s leaders hoped that such reforms would enable them to regain it.
The state could not permit such a challenge to its authority. Solidarnosc was useful when it could control the working class. Faced with a working class outside its control the state called upon the Polish military to take over and reestablish order. In 1980 the military, faced with a united and confident working class, and trusting in the Party’s ability to rule, had been unwilling and unable to do this. Fourteen month’s of Solidarnosc’s malign influence had undermined the unity of the working class, at the same time as the Party had lost its legitimacy and ability to govern. The army took over in the first military coup in a state capitalist country. Workers fought back but were put down ruthlessly by the army. Many were given long prison sentences, others killed. Walesa was put into “preventative custody”. Clearly he was not someone who should he dealt with too harshly. Maybe they saw him as a person they would need to deal with in the future.
How did it all happen?
It is too easy to look at the Polish uprising as being a simple case of good workers against bad bureaucrats. We have tried to show that the aims and activities of Walesa, the Solidarnosc bureaucracy and the KOR were against the interests of the working class. They were able to substitute their own agenda for that of the working class. What we have not tried to show is that the working class were champing at the bit for revolution in 1980 and only held back by the bureaucrats. Such a view, favoured by many, pays no regard to reality.
The uprising was a result of the self-organisation of the working class. It wasn’t the result of any planning by underground bodies. The initial objectives of the working class were economic, but we have seen how many workers had political objectives which included getting rid of the Stalinist state.
However, most workers saw Solidarnosc as being their own creation. Even after a year of backstabbing, Solidamosc had a membership comprising 90% of the Polish working class. There was a very real tension between the centre and the branches, with rank and file members pushing demands forward, fighting for them and then the centre acting to diffuse the situation. Within the branches there was still a healthy tendency to struggle which had not at this stage succumbed to the ideology of trade unionism. It was the failure of the bureaucrats to gain control of the branches that led the army to seize control in the end.
It is hardly surprising that for many workers Solidarnosc was a creation they supported. For years they had been fighting against the Polish state. Each time they rose up their gains were snatched back. They were looking for something that would guarantee their gains. Because they knew no different, they believed that free unions were the answer. What they had in mind was the kind of idealised conception of unions that keeps workers supporting them throughout the world.
If workers here, who have years of experience of sell-outs still support the unions, is it surprising that Polish workers should see them as an advance?
Further, Polish workers knew that they were on their own. There were no similar actions in other parts of the Soviet bloc, and especially no similar activity in the USSR itself. They knew that if they pushed too far the result could only be Soviet intervention and massacre. This situation was made worse by a strong nationalist tendency which saw the situation as being a purely “Polish” one. Active revolutionaries would have tried to spread the struggle as internationally as possible.
Any attempt by workers to set up permanent organisations to negotiate with the state and employers will eventually go the same way as Solidarnosc. Trying to fulfil that role immediately raises questions of reaching compromises, doing deals, seeing the other side’s point of view. For workers that means accepting speed ups, productivity deals, lower living standards, job cuts and so on. It means accepting the boss’s right· to own and control the means of production.
The logic of class struggle is the opposite of this. It questions the right of the boss to manage and ultimately brings into question who controls society. It is clear to us that the only way forward for our class is to get rid of the whole buying and selling system and the state and bosses who go with it.
Despite the failure of the workers in Poland, despite their setting up of Solidarnosc, their uprising shows us many positive things.
It shows us that even in the most unlikely of situations, up against ruthless enemies, the working class is capable of fighting hard and taking on the enemy. The way they organised themselves, in their strike committees and the ways their delegates reported their deliberations were an example for others.
It shows the limits of struggles within national borders and the need to spread the struggle internationally. When our class is united and the struggle is international, there is nothing that can not be accomplished.
Subversion, No. 14 (Spring 1994)
Issue of Subversion from 1994 with articles about the Labour Party, South Africa, racism, unions against the workers and more.
DAM rank and filists! The Communication Workers Group
Article written by one of Subversion, a former member of the rank and file Communication Workers Group, in 1994 looking at his/her experiences with the group and making suggestions on future efforts of workplace organising - importantly rejecting the CWG's rank and filism.
The first thing to state is that the last thing Subversion would want to encourage is the creation of a rank and file movement. Rank and file movements are always and without question union movements. They are inspired by the mistaken notion that The Unions have failed us, instead of the truth: which is that all unions are our enemy. [Unions are organisations that negotiate with the bosses over the ways and rates at which we are exploited, but in no way do they object to the principle of our exploitation. Unions support capitalism and work, and need capitalism to survive.]
DAM rank and filists!
Take the case of the postal workers' Communication Workers Group:
The CWG was set up by members of the Direct Action Movement (DAM - now the Solidarity Federation) and was a rank and file postal workers group. The DAM promoted anarcho-syndicalism as a means of working class organisation. Anarcho-syndicalists want to organise unions democratically and imbue them with anarchist politics. Such unions, imbued with anarchist methods and ideals, anarcho-syndicalists argue, will be revolutionary.
CWG never got to the stage where the DAM members pushed for it to become an actual union. CWG, through its bulletin, Communication Worker (CW), aimed to inform and radicalise postal workers, to emphasise that active solidarity across trade, industry and union divides was essential if victories were to be won. In the tradition of rank and file groups CWG was open to all militant workers, including low-level union officials, i.e. shop stewards.
For most of the time CWG worked on the basis of an agreement between the various political tendencies. These ranged from anarchist, or anti-state communist to Trotskyist, as well as the original anarcho-syndicalism. As time went by these divisions became more pronounced. Eventually we had to re-emphasise the groups broader rank and file nature by drawing up a basic aims and principles. Due to the variance of views within the organisation these common denominators had to be fairly low and it was generally felt that the aims and principles were virtually meaningless as soon as we had written them.
This compromise didn't last long. Some of us felt we needed to make deeper and clearer criticisms of unions and rank and filism. We all saw the potential (however distant!) for a group like CWG to eventually replace the union - in small ways, over certain areas, or totally. To some this was highly desirable of course, but others had misgivings. We realised that we could only replace the existing postal workers union (UCW) with another union, and if CWG expanded and became more successful this is eventually what the group would become.
The question became: how to work in a rank and file workers group, clearly and consistently attacking the union, without letting the group turn itself into a reformist organisation or union. We liked to see ourselves as a revolutionary group, but what would happen if we were flooded with militant, but reformist-minded workers? What if these workers wanted the group to articulate reformist demands? What if we gained more support in a workplace than the existing union, would we then participate in a day to day dialogue with the employers, would we help make deals, would we accept the "legality" of exploitation as long as it was a "fairer" exploitation and one we had actively agreed to? Would we behave in just the same way as the old union once we had become the permanent workplace organisation?
The first problem we tried to tackle was the old one about being swamped by different minded individuals.
Keeping out the riff-raff
There was no formal way of preventing people from entering the group, we just hoped that if we didn't like someone's politics then the rest of the group would agree and that person wouldn't be let in. Obviously this wasn't very satisfactory. Some thought we shouldn't let SWP members in, for example, because they were actively pro-statist/authoritarian and they might try to hijack the group. Others thought we should let them in as long as they didn't stray out of line too much or try to push their politics down our throats, thus causing interminable political arguments. Others thought we should let them in since they were militant workers. This problem was never satisfactorily resolved, the reason being that it lies at the crux of the argument over whether a rank and file group can be revolutionary. That is, whether a group that attracts an increasing number of non-revolutionaries can remain revolutionary in all its publications and interventions.
Our temporary solution was to print our basic aims and principles in the bulletin and hope the "wrong" sort of people wouldn't want to join anyway! [In the event this never became a practical problem, partly due to the fact that the CWG didn't survive that much longer.]
It has been argued that we should set up groups, encourage people to join, and hopefully their experience and learning in the group will turn them into revolutionaries. This might be alright if you have a hierarchical Party of thousands and are recruiting one or two people a month. But if a drastically smaller group (a few people), with egalitarian methods, recruited that many people as members then they would soon find themselves outweighed by the new recruits and unable to brainwash them fast enough to keep the group on its original lines!
We have enough reformist organisations around already, we don't want to inadvertently create any more.
To cut a long story short, the anti-union tendency finally realised the impossibility of keeping, or rather making, this rank and file group revolutionary. By no means did this mean we had fully developed our ideas but we did know that we no longer wanted to make the compromises towards unionism that were necessary in working with anarcho-syndicalists and leftists.
There is a knee-jerk reflex amongst a lot of revolutionaries when talking about "the workplace", they say that what we need are workplace groups. Beyond this though little practical is usually done or suggested. It's time to face up to the hollowness of this slogan and forget about trying (or talking about trying!) to set up our exalted Revolutionary Workplace Groups. What we need is more revolutionaries everywhere. If we have more revolutionaries everywhere a few, at least, are going to have jobs. Revolutionaries in their workplaces will respond to disputes, attempt to escalate workplaces struggles and generally try to show other workers what a crap situation we are all in. They will argue against the economy (capitalism) and its union lackey, and during struggles they will actively participate in specific actions: like producing leaflets, secondary picketing, sabotage, setting up and speaking at unofficial assemblies, etc.
If we happen to be a few revolutionaries at one workplace and produce regular propaganda specific to work, this is fortunate, but obviously we are also acting as revolutionaries together outside work.
The time has come to finally put to rest the myth of "workplace groups" and their desirability - unless we are talking about temporary groupings of workers formed during struggles to perpetrate specific acts of propaganda or violence against the bosses, union and economy in general.
Some might say that this is all a bit too "purist" and that we should be involved in creating or sustaining reformist demands or campaigns in order to supposedly escalate the class struggle, however, there are plenty of reformist workers around, ready to demand a wage rise, or abortion rights, etc, without going further. Some lefties think we have to formulate reformist demands for workers to take up because otherwise they wouldn't think of any themselves. This is patronising and wrong. Workers are constantly making demands. For us to take part in putting forward demands would be merely to lapse into reformism, as we gave the impression that we believed a few more crumbs off our masters' tables would appease our real class interests. Our message must be revolutionary, not reformist. We support the struggle of the working class to improve its living standards. We aren't interested in reform campaigns that, by their nature, are only aiming at modifying the economy, which means modifying our exploitation. However, just because some people want to turn a struggle into a reform campaign does not mean that we don't support the struggle.
The anti-Poll Tax fight was an example of this. It was primarily a struggle of the working class to resist an attack on living standards. When there is a pay dispute we try to show the way to win it but also why pay rises will never be enough. When we go back to work, whether we have won or not, it is not the revolutionaries that should negotiate with the bosses, others can do this. Some might say this is "purist", to not negotiate with the bosses ourselves if we agree that, in the circumstances, such negotiation is inevitable.
Well, we may win the odd battle in the class war but the working class is always in defeat while there is wage-slavery - so revolutionaries should never lead workers back to work. To do such a thing is to help the bosses manage our oppression - which is what reformism is all about. If we have to go back to work we go as proletarians, not as "managers".
Just as we shouldn't take union posts we shouldn't encourage the creation of rank and file groups or movements. A revolutionary rank and file movement is a contradiction in terms, there can only be a revolutionary movement.
Text taken from Subversion
Pit sense or no sense?
Subversion review Pit Sense Versus the State - a history of militant miners in the Doncaster area, by David John Douglass, published by Phoenix Press.
This thin volume unfortunately does not live up to its title. Most of the book is a recital of union resolutions and a commentary on the activities of Doncaster miners in the N.U.M. [National Union of Mineworkers] during the 1984/85 national strike. For those not familiar with the mining industry or the structure and functioning of the N.U.M. it is also quite difficult to follow, lacking as it does a preliminary chronology of the strike or annotated diagram of the N.U.M.’s organisational structure.
Indeed the purpose behind the writing of this book is difficult to fathom until you reach the last 3 short chapters which largely a duplication of material previously published in the pamphlet ‘Refracted Perspective’. It then becomes apparent that it is an attempt to provide some documentary evidence in support of Douglass’s defence of trade unionism and the N.U.M. in particular against criticism by revolutionaries. Basically he believes that "unofficial" action is parallel to and supportive of "official union action, rather than the beginning of a move outside and against the unions, as we believe. Partly this is done by falsely amalgamating the views of the "left" (particularly the trotskyists with those of genuine revolutionaries. Douglass makes a reasonable job of exposing the left’s contradictory and arrogant attitude towards workers in struggle but his position in the N.U.M prevents him from dealing adequately with revolutionary criticism.
A reasonable demolition job on Douglass’s arguments has already been done in the Wildcat pamphlet "outside and against the unions" (60p from us, or direct from Wildcat, BM Cat, London, WC1N 3XX). Other useful material on this debate can also be found in "Echanges" (from BP241, 75866 PARIS CEDEX 18, FRANCE in English and French). We don’t intend to repeat all these arguments here but a few points are worth making.
In saying that trade unions and trade unionism are a barrier to the successful extension and development of the class struggle we are not saying that unions will never support or even organise industrial action.
Firstly, the trade union officials if they are to maintain their role as the workers’ ‘representatives’ and junior partners in the management of capitalism must be able to demonstrate their control of their ‘constituency’. This means that in the face of militancy amongst their members ‘action’ of some kind has to be proposed - but the purpose of the action is to maintain their control not promote the workers’ interests.
Secondly, capitalism is made up of numerous sectional interests. The ruling class is only united when faced with a potentially revolutionary opposition. In normal circumstances different sections of the ruling class are at each others throats. Different sections will be on top at different times. It is quite possible for trade union officials or a particular group of trade union officials to have to fight for their interests or even their survival within capitalism. That may even require wheeling in their members to do battle on their behalf.In some cases, and we suggest this applied to the miners and the NUM in 1984/5, both the workers and the union officials and their organisation can be under threat at the same time. In this situation understanding the different interests of each when both are involved in a ‘life or death’ struggle is much more difficult, but none-the-less necessary. The old adage that "our enemies’ enemies are not necessarily our friends" is worth remembering.
Thirdly, whilst we think it is necessary in any major struggle for workers to move outside the union framework, this process can often happen in practice, in only a halting and partial way. It is up to revolutionaries to encourage this process not try to tie it back into the union framework as Douglass wants to.
And lastly it is true to say that there are many aspects to the nature of the British coal mining industry and its relationship to miners and the union which make the case of the NUM not entirely typical of British and other unions. Douglass continually makes the mistake of generalising from the experience of the NUM rather than looking at the actual experience of other workers and the unions they belong to.
All in all we have to say that the writing of this book was a wasted opportunity.
What's wrong with anti-racism?
Subversion critique bourgeois anti-racism. We don't agree with how all of this article is written, but reproduce it for reference.