Letter: The Miners’ Strike and the Anarchists

A further exchange of letters to Black Flag on the "The Miners and The Left" article in Black Flag no. 114. (vol. 7, no.6C) 1984.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 13, 2021

Libcom note:

This was reprinted (with four other articles and letters on the 1984-85 Miners' strike from Black Flag) in KSL: Bulletin of the Kate Sharpley Library No. 91-92, October 2017 https://www.katesharpleylibrary.net/vq8510

The article (The Miners’ Strike and the Left) in Black Flag 114 was correct to state the paramount importance of the miners’ strike for the working class in this country. Considering themselves an integral part of that class it goes without saying that class struggle anarchists up and down the country are committed to supporting the strike and aiding its victory.

The article was also right to point out the various intrigues and manipulations that other groups of the revolutionary Left are indulging in during the miners’ strike. But then this was expected; we know from experience the parasitic way Leninists feed off workers struggles. We hope that as libertarians we take a more principled position in workers struggles.

However, though the article was right to condemn the Leninists and then emphasize the importance of real solidarity it seems to me it then went on to adopt an attitude that borders on mere liberalism. Because we oppose the Leninists’ practices do we really have to throw the baby out with the bathwater and refrain from any kind of specifically revolutionary propaganda about the strike?

The line pushed by the article is currently fashionable: “There will be plenty of time after the strike to put over our political theories, but during the dispute there is only one form of propaganda, and that is propaganda by deed, through no strings, non-dogmatic, consistent and practical solidarity.”

We have to be involved in giving practical aid and solidarity of course (and I have been), but any variety of socialist can do this, and even bleeding heart liberals will collect food for the miners’ families (not many round our way: typesetter). We should be in the thick of the struggle as anarchists and workers, and we take our own ideas into that struggle.

The article condemns the Socialist Workers Party for taking Jack Taylor (Yorkshire Area President) and other full time officials to task for certain aspects of their handling of the strike. The article says there’s little we can criticize these on during the strike (!), and of course they’ve given up their wages during the strike. Was the article written by Scargill’s press agent? True, they have given up their wages during the strike, but then as bureaucrats they’ve got plenty to spare.

I don’t think much of the SWP’s strategy, and [it?] is no more valuable than Jack Taylor’s (such as their fixation with mass picketing). But I do read ‘Socialist Worker’ because it gives probably the best industrial coverage of all the left-wing press, and I’ve seen no evidence of the “SWP’s assault on the miners” as the article puts it. They have criticised the way the strike has been conducted at various junctures and the failings of full time officials but does this constitute an ‘assault on the miners’?

I heard Arthur Scargill speak at a rally a few weeks back. Referring to the NCB closure plan he more or less said “I told you so, you should have listened to me” to the assembled miners. That is the attitude of the most militant of the NUM full time officials; a unionism from the top down. No realization that the grass roots hadn’t listened to his warnings because in a reformist unionism the bureaucracy, no matter how left-wing, talks a different language to the grass roots. As anarchists we believe in a unionism by the workers, not an ineffective unionism for the workers. So save your solidarity for the miners, bureaucrats don’t need it.

This strike holds a number of lessons for the workers movement, and maybe one or two two for the anarchist movement… Firstly it has shown once more the tremendous resilience and power of organised and militant workers. Secondly it has shown the ethical bankruptcy of the Leninist groups whose main priority is selling their paper behind the picket lines while people at the front are getting their heads cracked open. Thirdly it has shown yet again that reformist unionism isn’t up to the job. Much of the sacrifice and commitment of the miners and their families has been squandered at times (as when the area NUM leaderships gave “their” steelworks special dispensations to carry on production). As to the response to the bureaucracies of other unions, the less said the better (wot? – typesetter).

The article misses the basic point: that the dynamism behind the strike from day one has come from the grass roots of the NUM. On this welcome development, as anarchists and believers in a revolutionary unionism under the conscious control of militant, self-organised workers, we must base our propaganda and activity. We seek working class unity yes. But don’t confuse that with entertaining the mistakes and missed opportunities of reformist trade unionism.

D.M.(Middlesborough)

REPLY:
There is a difference between revolutionary and anarchist propaganda. Revolutionary propaganda can be seen as the education and agitation which increases peoples understanding of the present society, whilst anarchist propaganda is presenting the anarchist approach to changing society. Whilst revolutionary propaganda in this miners strike, such as pointing out it is not solely a mass conspiracy against the miners, but it is the natural function of the DHSS police etc., is important, putting over the complete anarchist ‘package’ is not. Therefore the best way to put over anarchism is not by claiming to have the solution to the miners strike, the world and everything, but by proving ourselves as useful allies in the struggle.

Not all NUM bureaucrats (full time, paid officials) are better off than all the miners, some are at the bottom of the structure, are worse paid, these too have given up their salaries. Simplistic attacks on bureaucracies based on ‘they get more money’ etc, is basically petty and shows a lack of understanding of the problem. As anarchists we believe that bureaucracy, hierarchy etc. weakens workers organisations, whether they are paid more or less is irrelevant.

Getting on to the SWP. They have not attacked full time officials, they have attacked selected individuals ie. Jack Taylor, because he is a soft target. Even they aren’t stupid enough to attack Scargill, which could be quite easily done in the same tone as their attack on Taylor. On the lines of "more mass picketing needs national not regional control Scargill’s failure to take control from the regions will lose this strike etc. etc." But they have personalised the miners problems into Jack Taylor – in the same way as the SUN newspaper of the Rupert Murdoch Party blames it all on Scargill.

The Socialist Worker may give a good coverage of industrial news but so does the Newsline (WRP daily paper) and for that matter the Financial Times and the Sunday Times & Observer business sections. In all cases there is a need to read between the lines.