Insurgent Notes #4, August 2011

Issue 4 of Insurgent Notes journal. Articles on the middle east and other topics.

Submitted by Fozzie on February 6, 2024


  • In This Issue
  • Anti-Imperialism and the Iranian Revolution – Arya Zahedi
  • Taksim Is Not Tahrir- Yet – Kadir Ate
  • On Egypt – Mouvement communiste and KpK
  • On Tunisia – Mouvement communiste and KpK
  • The Arab Revolts and the Cage of Political Economy – Benoit Challand
  • The Murder of the Mon Valley – R. S.
  • Of Forest and Trees Part Two – S. Artesian
  • Report from Spain: On the May 15th Movement – C. V.
  • Theses for Discussion – Loren Goldner
  • Letter: More on Madison
  • Letter From Paris

In This Issue

Insurgent Notes No. 4 continues to ride the rising tide of struggle that, happily, has coincided with our first year of publication.

Focus on the Middle East

Since our last issue in March, the ferment in the Middle East has intensified. Following Tunisia and Egypt in the spring, governments have been shaken in Bahrein, Syria and Yemen, and none of these situations, at this writing (late July 2011) have been resolved; quite the contrary.

Hence IN No. 4 has a series of articles on the Middle East, including the Arab world as well as Iran and Turkey. Arya Zahedi, in his article on anti-imperialism in Iran since 1953, by way of 1979, to the present, writes the obituary for that ideology. Kadir Ates covers some new developments in working class struggle in Turkey. Benoit Challand analyzes not only the revolt in Tunisia and Egypt, but some of the geopolitical influences at work in the region as a whole.

Rounding this out, our comrades in the Mouvement Communiste current in Europe have very kindly allowed us to publish English-language adaptations of two lengthy articles, one on Egypt and the other on Tunisia, providing an overview of the political economies of the two countries, historical background, a chronology of events and a chronology of specifically working-class struggles. These articles were written in a collective effort of MC comrades in several countries; we thank them for their permission to publish them in IN.

And also…

This extensive coverage of the Middle East is complemented by several further articles. These include a portrait, by our comrade Rico, of the devastation of the Mon Valley (western Pennsylania- northern West Virginia- northeastern Ohio) by deindustrialization. S. Artesian concludes the second part of his in-depth critical dialogue with Marx’s theory of ground rent (see IN No. 3 for Part One). C.V. from Barcelona gives us a pithy analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the May 15 movement in that city (which took place simultaneously in 50 other Spanish cities).

Loren Goldner offers “theses for discussion”, both within the IN group as well as by interested readers. These theses, with replies and other comments from IN comrades, will be discussed at a July 31 mini-conference and the entirety of the debate will be published in a special issue in early August.

Finally, we print two letters, one from Madison Wisconsin and the other from Paris, by readers of IN.

The Editors



Anti-imperialism and the Iranian revolution

Arya Zahedi looks at the problems associated with anti-imperialist ideology during the Iranian revolution to cast light on struggles against the Islamic regime today.

Submitted by Django on August 23, 2011

The question of anti-imperialism has been much debated on the revolutionary left–particularly during most of the twentieth century. More recently, the question of imperialism has emerged once again—in regard to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but more particularly in how the left should approach a popular struggle within a nation whose state perceives itself as a bastion against imperialism, or more precisely against US domination.

As students demonstrated in the streets in cities in Iran after the June 2009 elections, some of the left, particularly in the Unites States, was split, or at least confused, about how it should relate to this uprising. Should it support a movement challenging a regime that has been considered a bastion of anti-imperialist resistance?

The left in Iran already faced this question, with serious consequences, in the events around the revolution of 1979. In order to better assess our situation today, we should perhaps go back to the Iranian Revolution of 1979 to better understand the limitations set at that time. This question is not only pertinent to the left in Iran, but to the US left as well, in its relations to both the movement within Iran as well as to the uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

Going back to the revolution of 1979 is important for many reasons. The revolution presents many questions and lessons in strategy and tactics for a revolutionary left, as well as many questions for theory. The presentation given here will in no way pretend to exhaust all the reasons for the left’s inability to maintain a foothold politically after the revolution, or to mount a significant resistance to the new regime. Indeed, many did resist and any claim to the contrary is a great affront to the memory of those who perished under the regime’s repression, as well as those who lingered and continue to linger in the dungeons of the Islamic Republic. When discussing a revolution, avoiding an analysis implying “I told you so” is difficult, suggesting that if the correct line had been followed, history would perhaps have been different. Perhaps it would have, perhaps not. An equal mistake, on the other hand, is thinking that there is nothing to be learned from history. Understanding may best be gained in the tension between the two poles.

In the dialectical irony so characteristic of history, one of the results of the ideology of the Islamic Republic is the exhaustion of the former analysis of imperialism. This hardly means that an analysis should take no account of imperialism, or take the position that imperialism no longer exists, nor does it mean that there could not be a resurgence of the old outlook. Some sort of military attack, for example, could strengthen nationalistic feelings. Every bit of external pressure helps to better support this type of world-view, putting ruling classes and those who wish to overthrow them in the same camp.

This article attempts to discuss how, in the years leading up to the Iranian Revolution, objective and subjective factors contributed to the development of an ideology that was an amalgam of socialism, nationalism, and religious imagery which can broadly be described as a form of third-world populism. The contention here is that the struggle against imperialism so dominated political discourse in the two decades leading up to the revolution that it, in many ways, became a fetter on the struggle for socialism. The struggle against imperialism became so much the dominant hegemonic discourse in the years before the revolution that, when the revolution did come, the left found itself faced with new problems in the face of which it was impotent. The intent here is not to give the impression that this is the whole story; it was merely one, albeit a very significant, part of the story. To quote Val Moghadam, “…it became clear that two strategic mistakes had been committed: namely, neglect of the question of democracy, and underestimation of the power of the Islamic clergy. It is now widely accepted that this blind spot was due to an inordinate emphasis on the anti-imperialist struggle and an almost mechanical application of the dependency paradigm.”1 This is the starting point.

A number of significant factors can be identified in the demise of the left during the revolution; the extreme repression unleashed by the new regime almost immediately after it gained some foothold was certainly one of them. But repression alone doesn’t explain much. And the establishment of the Islamic Republic was not a unitary affair that happened over night, but a process, one which included the incorporation as well as the repression of elements of the left opposition to the shah’s dictatorship.

The ideology of anti-imperialism, and the particular variant of Third Worldist populism as developed in Iran, is part of what can generally be referred to as the anti-imperialist paradigm. This developed into the dominant hegemonic discourse in the years preceding and during the Iranian Revolution. Regardless of its place on the political spectrum, almost every political group participating in the struggle against the dictatorship saw that struggle primarily through this lens. Thus, however they interpreted the struggle, by making anti-imperialism the primary contradiction to be resolved, the political groups provided a unifying factor, a true hegemonic ideology that could bring all the forces of opposition under an umbrella and revolt against the shah’s dictatorship. Thus the anti-imperialist paradigm was at once a great strength and a weakness of the revolution. Taking this into account helps to provide a better understanding of the course of the revolution; instead of seeing it as a revolutionary push, followed by a counter-revolutionary repression, as two successive moments, we can instead see it as a more mixed dialectical process. In other words, elements of the counter-revolution were contained within the revolution itself.

The debate over the understanding of imperialism and the struggle against it is nothing new, and indeed it found its clearest classical expression in the debates between Rosa Luxemburg and V.I. Lenin over the so-called “National Question.” These debates are still with us, and in many ways the current confusion in relating to contemporary struggles in many countries reflects this. A return to the classical theoretical debates is not our purpose here, but they should be mentioned. In the early 20th century, an ideology of anti-imperialism had not yet developed It is important to distinguish between anti-imperialism, meaning just any conception of imperialism and the expression of the struggle against it, and what has developed into an ideology. By ideology, I mean its classical negative conception; a theoretical understanding, which blurs or masks the real conflicts lying beneath the world we live in (particularly the conflict between classes). Like any ideology, it mystifies the world and obscures the “hidden” reality. The ideology of anti-imperialism, as it developed for the greater part of the 20th century and found its expression in what has been called “Third World populism,” plays exactly this role and serves this function. The clearest definition of this ideology is perhaps best explained by Asef Bayat:

By “Third Worldist populism”, here, I mean an analytical and ideological framework which represents a blend of nationalism, radicalism, anti-”dependencia”, anti-industrialism, and somehow anti-capitalism. This perspective blames the general “underdevelopment” of the Third World nations wholly on the fact of their (economic, political and especially cultural) dependence on the Western countries. The radical intellectuals of the Third World in the post-war period seemed to cling to this ideological perspective, although they perhaps differed from each other in terms of the degree of their adherence to the defining elements, i.e. anti-industrialism, anti-capitalism, etc.2

He goes on to say:

The implication of this paradigm for the struggle against domination of the center is a strategy of national unity, i.e., the unity of all classes in a given Third World country including the workers, the peasants, the poor, the students, the old and new middle classes and the “national bourgeoisie”. This strategy implies that the “national” classes, with different and often contradictory interests, should be united to form a national alliance against imperialism. However, within such an alliance, the political and economic interests of the subordinated classes are often compromised and sacrificed to the benefit of the dominant ones (e.g. workers are not to go on strike against their capitalist “allies”, or intellectuals are not to criticize their national ruling parties, etc.). The influential dependency paradigm is partly responsible for the nationalism and Third Worldist populism of the radical intellectuals and the political leaders of the developing countries.3

If, in the middle of the last century, anti-imperialism had some reality and some validity as a step towards socialism (and I say this only hypothetically) today it most fully serves an ideological function. This ideology has been shown to have reactionary consequences. The experience of the Iranian Revolution proves to be the greatest historical example of this. In our contemporary situation, we see this in the support that some factions of the Left have shown towards petit-bourgeois dictators and authoritarian regimes purely on the basis of the latter’s stance against the imperialist west.4 This has become clearest in the support of some elements, not only for the Islamic Republic, or Hugo Chavez, but also for Muammar Qaddafi! Marx once said that history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce.” If the experience of the Iranian Revolution is a tragedy, as indeed it is, the current support for populist regimes under the banner of anti-imperialism is a great farce.

We digress for a moment to briefly explain why the Iranian Revolution is such an important case for understanding Third World populism and the ideology of anti-imperialism in general. The Iranian Revolution is exemplary because it reflects many of the great paradoxes of capitalist modernity. Its very occurrence posed a challenge to many paradigms held at the time about revolution in general. Many of these challenges were not the ones people imagined or expected, and this is often still the case.

Fred Halliday, in a talk in February 2009, described the Iranian revolution as “the first truly modern revolution.”5 Now this formulation may indeed raise some eyebrows, but there is some truth to it. For many, various 20th century revolutions had presented a challenge to Marx’s theories of revolution. And for those who choose to take this view, the Iranian Revolution is often the case they invoke. Most revolutions of the 20th century were not spearheaded or carried out by the industrial proletariat, but had their social base in the peasantry. Quite the contrary, in the Iranian Revolution what remained of the peasantry played almost no role.6 The death knell of the dictatorship was sung by the general strike of 1978, particularly the involvement of oil workers that bought the regime to its knees.

This presents us with a paradox. A revolution, very modern in one respect, brings into power a theocracy. It is this paradox, which I believe is what perplexes analysts and which obscures both the real nature of the revolution and the nature of the state it produced. It poses a much-debated question about social revolutions, namely: why do revolutions produce authoritarian regimes? I believe, however, that the question is more complicated than that and the question itself obscures the picture. The Orientalist veil still affects us when looking at this revolution. The “Islamic” character continues to veil (no pun intended) and obscure the character of events. The ideology that developed was not powerful because of its particularly religious character so much as for its militant, populist, and anti-imperialist character.7

The nature of the situation before the revolution and of the balance of forces, as well as the theoretical imperatives of the oppositional forces, contributed to the development of an ideology that gained hegemony in the Iranian Revolution. This ideology was picked up and run with by the founders of the Islamic Republic. The point is not that the development of this ideology was purely the conscious decision of certain actors, but that the historical conditions on the one hand, and the theoretical explanations of this situation on the other, worked together in a dialectical relationship to produce an ideology that served as both the great mobilizing strength of the revolution as well as a great fetter upon its development in a more emancipatory direction.

This ideological hegemony did not develop out of thin air; it grew out of a real situation. A history of imperialist domination contributed to this development. The most dramatic event that affected the consciousness of most Iranians was the 1953 coup against nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. Something of a myth developed around Mossadegh that partially obscured the real nature of that time. But suffice it to say that he was a nationalist liberal who supported parliamentary democracy. The struggle at that time was over the nationalization of oil. Mossadegh himself was no great friend of the working class. And tension between him, the trade unions, and the Tudeh party, which dominated the trade unions, grew. Strikes were banned, and anti-union legislation was enacted. The coup set the tone for the popular imaginary. Mossadegh became a symbol in more ways than one. Most importantly, Mossadegh symbolized the overthrow of a popular leader perceived as struggling for Iran’s independence and replaced by the establishment of the shah. The “coup government”, as it was called, carried out a wave of repression against the opposition in general, but against the workers movement and above all the Tudeh Party.

This traumatic event really was imprinted into the popular consciousness. It shaped the political discourse of a whole generation. As Hamid Dabashi writes, “28-Mordadism is the central traumatic trope of modern Iranian historiography.”8

On the political stage, not just everything that occurred after 28 Mordad but even things that have happened before it suddenly came together to posit the phenomenon of 28-Mordadism: foreign intervention, colonial domination, imperial arrogance, domestic tyranny, an ‘enemy’ always lurking behind a corner to come and rob us of our liberties, of the mere possibility of democratic institutions.9

The three political and thus ideological forces, if we are to abstract for the sake of clarity, were socialism, nationalism, and political Islam; all contributed to the development of this ideological hegemony, which found its clearest and most resonating expression in an Iranian form of what can best be described as Third World populism. This Third World populism, in turn, found its strongest voice in that developed by the partisans of the Islamic Republican Party. The clerical militants, for a number of reasons, won the battle for hegemony over the course of the revolution. “The traumatic memory of the 1953 coup was very much rekindled and put to effective political use in the most crucial episodes of the nascent Islamic Republic in order to consolidate its fragile foundations.”10

The Shah’s White Revolution, a series of reforms begun in the early 1960s, had dramatically altered traditional social relationships, particularly in the countryside.

The Shah’s reforms in many ways set the stage for the revolution. “The Pahlavi White Revolution essentially advanced the simultaneous goals of primitive accumulation and capitalist accumulation proper.”11 The most dramatic policy was that of land reform. Indeed, this was a form of bourgeois revolution from above, intended to prepare Iran for capitalist development. It opened the way for modern agribusiness, mostly US, to move in, thus further incorporating Iran into the imperialist fold. The great landowning estates were divided and distributed among the peasants with little or no technical assistance. This turned the countryside into mainly “small-scale and petty-bourgeois”12 rural production. The state then worked to promote large-scale capitalist agricultural production. Many of the former peasants sold their lands and moved to the cities. Masses of former peasants flooded the cities looking for work in the state’s many construction and industrial projects, while those that stayed worked for agribusinesses as wage earners, making them agricultural proletarians. It is important to keep in mind that all of this took place in essentially a decade. The ranks of the working class swelled.

Other reforms had their effects as well. New education initiatives, while authoritarian, helped create a modern bureaucracy. The expansion of scholarships and opportunities to study abroad helped in the creation of a modern educated middle class, many of whom, as a result, had become politicized. The enfranchisement of women, including further employment and educational opportunities, also helped in this modernizing development. The regime did not understand, or underestimated the fact that all these policies were creating the material basis for a social revolution. Like all development under capitalism, the results were uneven. As the country as a whole became more developed, the class differences also became greater. Most of the new proletarians that flooded the cities lived a world away from the image of modern Tehran promoted by the state in its tourism brochures.

Simultaneously the regime used the tremendous oil revenues at its disposal to finance industrialization, and a policy of import-substitution resulted in rapid expansion of the manufacturing sector and the growth of and urban industrial labour. State policy came to favor large-scale, capital-intensive industry, at the same time that its urban bias and neglect of the countryside were displacing large numbers of peasants. Both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors—as well as a veritable population explosion—thus contributed to the massive rural-urban migration of the 1960s and 1970s, and to the creation of a pool of immiserated semi-proletarians in major cities, notably Tehran.13

Capitalist development was indeed state-centered. And, alongside the development of this entire modern infrastructure, went the development of the repressive apparatus of the state. The military, but more importantly the domestic security apparatus, became more developed technically and in its ability to gather intelligence. A society was developing with modern class forces coming to the fore in an environment that was becoming more repressive.

Most important to keep in mind is that the main modes of the revolution were what are generally attributed to modern forms of mass political struggle. Street demonstrations, some of the largest in history, strikes and factory occupations were the main modes of struggle during the course of the revolution. The players in the Iranian Revolution, then, were from what are considered modern classes: students, industrial workers, civil servants, writers/journalists, etc. Elements of the traditional society participated, but their role at first glance can be quite deceptive at first glance. These elements included the clergy and the bazaaris, or traditional merchant class. They may, on a more superficial level, be seen as a residue of the past, but they were very early on incorporated into the capitalist fold. This is evident by their modes of political struggle, which took a very modern form. A proper discussion of the role of the bazaar in the economic and political life of modern Iran is too lengthy to be taken up here, but it nonetheless needs to be touched upon. The bazaaris resemble what may be called the national bourgeois class. They, like the clergy, historically enjoy some autonomy vis-à-vis the state, and have risen to political action when this autonomy has been threatened. But this class is by no means homogeneous economically or politically. This is the case both before and after the Revolution.14

The Pahlavi state’s growth and increasing strength saw it begin to exert its control over this sector, as well as that of the clergy. The state began to impose regulations on the bazaar such as foreign exchange regulations. It also provided competition to the bazaar commercially by building modern retail stores and shopping centers. Like all other dominant social classes, including landowners and clergy (these three elements often overlap) the state had a policy of attempting to incorporate as well as dominate. Those that it could get to go along with the project were included and often benefited from this relationship, but the state was always keen to show its greater hand. In the mid-1970s, growing inflation, largely a result of the pumping of petro-dollars into the economy, was blamed on the bazaar. These were just some factors that helped develop the opposition of the bazaar. This added to the dissent, where the state was seen as benefiting ‘western’ business interests at the expense of the national marketplace. The opposition of the national bourgeoisie only added to the anti-imperialist dimension of the opposition.

The clergy had a somewhat similar relationship with the new state. It is by no means a homogeneous element. Some of the clergy benefited from a relationship with the Pahlavi state. These benefits included financial and political influence. But this was not the case for all, and much of the clergy began to resent their receding autonomy as well as what was seen as the “anti-national” aspect of the regime.

The cries of opposition from various elements of Iranian society developed more and more a similar ‘national’ or ‘popular’ voice, one that stood for national independence against the ‘west.’ Although the state was becoming more alienated from any social base and the opposition was finding more and more unity, it was not always understood that the interests of these various forces were not identical. The anti-imperialist nature of the opposition obscured this reality.

In terms of an individual, the common enemy was Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. In terms of class, the enemy was the “comprador bourgeoisie,” that is, a bourgeoisie reliant on capital and power emanating from the centers of world capitalism, and serving as their extension in the peripheral country.15

The left was essentially disarmed theoretically by the fact that it confronted a new state formation that was both anti-imperialist and reactionary. It was placed in a position of forcing the issue by attempting to prove that the Islamic Republic was indeed still tied to imperialism, and not truly revolutionary. On the other side of the coin, the left was stuck either fully supporting the regime, as in the case of the Tudeh party, or offering “critical support” pending socialist revolution, as some of the Trotskyist organizations did. I do not mean to insinuate that there were absolutely no left organizations that offered a different analysis, as there indeed were. But the more significant point is what had the influence on the street. The ideology of anti-imperialism was indeed the hegemonic discourse on the street, and this is much more significant in the final analysis than a proper analysis by a small number of left sects. The majority of left organizations were stuck banging their fist against a wall, attempting (if they were critical), to prove that the Islamic regime was still a puppet of imperialism; the uncritical supporters were attempting to prove that the regime was revolutionary and progressive because of its anti-imperialist credentials. This specter of 1953, or the flag of its anti-imperialist credentials, emerged most spectacularly in the taking of the American embassy in 1979. This was a great propaganda victory for the new regime.

Let us fast forward to our current period. The latest outburst of resistance since the June 2009 elections is a manifestation of many developments since the revolution. After the war with Iraq ended in 1988, a period of post-war reconstruction began. This centered on a policy of economic liberalization. The radical-populist rhetoric was momentarily toned down for a more pragmatic approach that favored privatization as a development strategy. This again created a social base that would later develop into an antagonistic force within the republic. There was an economic boom that created many millionaires, but also a generation of educated youth that were coming of age and becoming politicized once again. This also meant not only a whole generation of young workers entering the industrial workforce, whose job prospects were becoming more uncertain, but also a new modern and technical workforce. During the period of the liberal-reformist president Muhammad Khatami, the three social movements that have shown to be a force came on the scene; the student movement, the women’s movement, and the labor movement.16

The period of (very) relative political liberalization offered an opportunity for greater open organizing. The limits of the new liberalization were tested, and the state showed its hand during the student riots of 1999. Labor as an organized force has emerged since 2004, when striking copper workers in Khatoonabad were attacked by the local gendarmerie.17 Since then, there have been a series of militant strike actions as well as coordination and organization among different sectors of workers coming together as a class. The most publicized of these was perhaps the struggle of city transit workers, in particular bus drivers, whose strike actions and organizing efforts were met with severe repression.18 But militant activity has also taken place, and still continues, among automobile workers at the Iran Khodro plant, the largest automobile plant in the region. Another important sector has been public school teachers. They succeeded in shutting down a large number of schools during a strike over lack of pay in 2004.19

Industrial proletarians make up about 7.520 out of about 70 million people in Iran. This does not include much of the technical and service, or “white collar” forms of employment that make up a large part of the Iranian workforce. This needs to be factored with a 20% unemployment rate (the conservative estimate.) Taking into account a changing proletariat, we can see that there is a force much greater than 10% of the populace. We are faced, much like here in the US, with a young, highly skilled, technically advanced workforce. But when this force leaves the university and enters the ranks of the proletariat, there is no prospect waiting. There are more workers than positions. This is true not just of the “white collar” sector, but also for industrial workers, but for different reasons. Regardless, a precarious position awaits much of the population. The situation affecting a nineteen year old in Tehran is quite similar in many ways to that of her contemporary in Athens, Cairo or Paris. And we see the explosions taking place. The alienation, so commonplace, is not one that can be quelled by the emotional rhetoric of national independence.

One of the dramatic outcomes is that the paradigm of anti-imperialism, particularly what Dabashi calls the paradigm of “28-mordadism”, has indeed exhausted itself. An entire generation born during or after the 1979 Revolution has developed within an Islamic Republic preaching self-sufficiency, independence, and an “anti-west” discourse from every channel. The issue of national independence, which plagued their parents’ or even more so their grandparents’ generation, seems like a relic of the past, and its only ideological function today is to cover up the real contradictions affecting people’s lives on a daily basis. This is true not only for young educated students and intellectual workers, but also for the industrial working class, which is vital to any social revolution. The experience, especially of those who were active worker-militants during the revolution, has taught them valuable lessons. Their inability to accept what is farcical today and which proved tragic to them yesterday does not only undermine the populism of Ahmadinejad. It is also a vaccine against the appeals by the liberal reform candidates of the opposition. The working class in Iran today, especially since 2004, has been increasingly active and militant, with strikes, sit-ins, demonstrations, and occupations a regular occurrence.21

But some worker-militants still keep a certain distance from the liberal-reform elements of the opposition. Is this because they are leaning towards the populism of Ahmadinejad? Not in the least. As we have seen in many of the communiqués from the militant worker syndicates before and after the election, they don’t support any candidate, but at the same time do support the struggle for democracy. This is an important distinction.

If the working class is not rushing into either camp, this is not in spite of their class-consciousness, but exactly because of their class-consciousness. The working class, in particular those workers that were active during the revolution, have learned the lessons of the past. They lived through the tragedy of the revolution, as well as the reformists’ attempts to appeal to the people. “The June 2009 presidential election marks an epistemic exhaustion of 28-Mordadism, when the paradigm has finally conjugated ad nauseam.”22 As was mentioned early in this essay, it is important to distinguish between an analysis of imperialism and the struggle against it, and the ideology of anti-imperialism, which is a particular historical manifestation. This critique should not imply that there is no such thing as imperialism, or that it is of a bygone era of capitalism. Nor is it out of the question that this ideology could be resurrected. But it does influence our understanding of imperialism, or more precisely global capitalism (a redundant term because capital has always been global, yet it is important always to emphasize its global character) as well as of the character of the struggle against it. So what is the outcome of the death of this ideology? The most important outcome of the negation of the ideological fetter of anti-imperialism is its positive supersession. But, as usual, this supersession is only a potential. The end of anti-imperialist ideology, in this particular case the “end of 28-mordadism”, offers a potential space, an opening, through a new understanding of the situation, as well as a new understanding of revolutionary subjectivity becomes possible. The recent uprisings are the clearest historical example of the potential overcoming of the binary between east and west, us and our other (whether this “other” is the Islamic world, or Iran, or Cuba, or whether it is the “west,” however we may interpret the term). It is this negative space through which a new positive may be created but not finished, always in a process of formation and creation. In this space, new conceptions of revolutionary subjectivity offer us something new, through which a new universal can be created–one which is the product of collective human struggle, the antithesis to the universalism of capitalist modernity. “The end of 28-mordadism does not of course mean the end of imperial interventions in the historical destiny of nations. It simply means that now there is a renewed and level playing field on which to think and act in postcolonial terms.”23

The Iranian Revolution, and the anti-imperialist ideology that corresponded to its rise and demise, was indeed a tragedy from the perspective of proletarian revolution; to hold such an ideology today is indeed farcical. It no longer revolutionary, as we have tried to show (and it is doubtful that it ever was); it today serves nothing but reaction. It does nothing but bring workers, students, and women’s organizations into an illusory harmony with those who maintain their oppression and exploitation. If this ideological position once served an emancipatory potential, it is today nothing less than utopian and reactionary.

  • 1Val Moghadam, “Socialism or Anti-imperialism? The Left and Revolution in Iran” New Left Review (1987)
  • 2Assef Bayat, “Shariati and Marx: A Critique of an ‘Islamic’ Critique of Marxism” Alif. Issue 10 , Pg. 16 (1990)
  • 3Ibid., Pg. 17
  • 4The clearest expression of this farce lately was the last time President Ahmadinejad came to New York to attend the United Nations he met with a number of “leftists” so they could express their solidarity. See “US Progressives Meet with Ahmadinejad.” Since then there have been other expressions of this farce such as their support for the Qaddafi regime.
  • 5See “The Islamic Republic of Iran After 30 Years”, a lecture at the London School of Economics, February 23, 2009.
  • 6The great exception to this was the land occupation and formation of a peasant council in the Turkoman Sahra region, which was swiftly dismantled during the establishment of the Islamic Republic. This was indeed was one of the early important conflicts between the left and the new regime, as well as within the left itself. See Maziar Behrooz, Rebels With a Cause: The Failure of the Left in Iran. I.B. Tauris, 2000. Pg. 109
  • 7For the best analysis of the ideological dimension of the Islamic Republic see Ervand Abrahamian Khomeinism: Essays on the Islamic Republic.
  • 8Hamid Dabashi, Iran, the Green Movement and the USA: The Fox and the Paradox, Pg. 92
  • 9Ibid., Pg. 93
  • 10Ibid., Pg. 94
  • 11Moghadam, Pg. 10
  • 12Ibid., Pg. 11
  • 13Ibid., Pg. 11
  • 14“If the assembly line, or the coal mine, is the historically ideal space for the fostering of proletarian class consciousness – workers being densely packed together, in perpetual communication with each other and forced by material necessity to develop a dense of fellowship – then the bazaar is the equivalent for the petty bourgeoisie…But the bazaar stretches beyond the confines of this class category.” Shora Esmailian and Andreas Malm, Iran on the Brink: Rising Workers & Threats of War. 2007, Pluto Press. Pg. 28
  • 15Ibid., Pg. 26
  • 16It should be stated that these three movements overlap and are not so easily abstracted from each other, particularly in the post-June 2009 election period.
  • 17Iran in the Brink, Pg. 71
  • 18Their union leader, Mansoor Ossanlou, is currently in Evin prison.
  • 19A third of all teachers participated in the strike. See Esmailian, Malm, Pg. 74-77. The Iran Khodro actions began in 2004 as well and have continued. This plant has been referred to as the “Detroit of the Middle East,” and its workers are known for their militancy and class-consciousness but this is counteracted by tactics such as temporary contracts and threat of sack as well as blatant repression. During the protests of June 2009 the workers staged a work slowdown in protest of the repression and in solidarity with the popular movement.
  • 20International Labour Organization. Statistic from 2008
  • 21For the most comprehensive report of worker activity in Iran under the Islamic Republic, in particular since post-war reconstruction see Shora Esmailian and Andreas Malm, Iran on the Brink: Rising Workers & Threats of War. 2007, Pluto Press. Since its publication much has happened, including the June 2009 elections, but this does not invalidate the book as a good source of information on the labor movement.
  • 22Dabashi., Pg. 94
  • 23Ibid., Pg. 98



11 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Reddebrek on August 16, 2012

Very interesting article, the Iranian Revolution and its popular perception is very confusing as is often the case when most sides put a lot of time and money into presenting their versions of events. I've made a PDF, anyone who wants it can grab it here thanks again for the article.


10 years 10 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by ajjohnstone on July 12, 2013

At the time i recall Freedom were regularly carrying articles by a on the spot participant, i think , associated with the oil workers who had formed workers councils of some sort. Anyone with back copies of the period should search through them check out what he was saying.

I vaguely recall the Communist Party was more in evidence and more a threat to the workers where he was situated. Perhaps, my memory has dimmed somewhat though.

I always wondered what became of this Iranian anarchist correspondent (I presumed he was an anarchist) since his contributions to Freedom simply stopped.

Taksim is not Tahrir—yet - Kadir Ateş

Taksim during a May Day rally two years ago.

Following the seismic upheavals in the Arab world, Kadir Ateş assesses the situation in Turkey.

Submitted by Django on August 16, 2011

There is a photograph of a young man standing in the middle of an embattled Cairo with a sign which reads: “Egypt supports Wisconsin workers one world one pain.” In Madrid, where masses of the unemployed youth currently occupy the Puerta del Sol, homages to Tahrir Square can be seen next to banners which announce the Spanish Revolution. Underscoring this collective sentiment was the recognition of the limits to the trade unions and political parties, whose appearance on the scene arrived post festum. This resurgent brand of internationalism is nothing short of inspirational, and has clearly shown that the so-called Arab Spring is a much more global in content than its baptismal name would otherwise suggest. Turkey, a country with historic and religious links with the Arab world has not, however, experienced this same seismic upsurge. This almost unnerving quiet in the wake of such upheavals has (per usual) reinforced the tired narrative of Turkey as the stalwart secular republic, whose democratic tendencies and relative economic stability present itself as a model to which its restless southern neighbors can aspire.

Regardless of the fact that Taksim Square1 did not transform itself into Tahrir Square, there has been a major upswing in labor militancy in the past few years which seems to have no clear end in sight. Reports of yet another strike or demonstration in the past several months have managed to drown out even the more stentorian accolades to Turkey’s successful weathering of the current crisis. This relative success of the Turkish bourgeoisie in maintaining growth was accompanied by a number of legal measures implemented to make labor more “flexible”, suppress the minimum wage, and continue the fire sale of state-owned enterprises. The Tekel strike of 2009-2010 provided the first substantial challenge to the continuous assault against the working class in Turkey, as explained in Issue No. 22 Why the Tekel strike was so remarkable, beyond its militancy—which included hunger strikes, occupations, the formation of a tent commune in the middle of the capital city of Ankara—was the background of the workers themselves. Most closely aligned themselves to the Islamist AK Party (AKP) or the fascist Nationalist Action Party (MHP), and had otherwise been staunch anti-leftists. For the first time, many considered alternative ideas beyond what any of these parties had offered, and the lack of trade unionist support cast doubt over that form of organized labor as well. Yet in the months following the defeat of the Tekel workers, signified in the passing of Article 4/C, new anti-labor laws have been enacted which have in turn provoked the working class to continue its fight.

The willful refusal of the trade unions to support the Tekel workers was a lesson which they feel needs no repeating. Since the strike, they have begun to reassert themselves on the scene, with aggressive calls for strikes and demonstrations. Apart from those Tekel workers who continue to denounce trade union bureaucracy and its meddlesome character in the class struggle, others have answered the call to participate in union-led protests and demonstrations. In the latest of a series of laws pushed through the Turkish Grand National Assembly by the ruling AK Party was the “Bag Law”, which takes aim at the power of trade unions in addition to the working class. The Bag Law, named as such because of the plethora of legal measures, some related to labor, some not, aims at continuing the process of cutting costs and providing narrower job opportunities. Here are some of its more distinctive features:

1. The creation of a flexible labor regime.

2. Providing less waged internship positions for the youth upon entering the labor market.

3. A sizeable reduction in corporate taxes for both foreign and domestic corporations.

Other aspects of the law include a reduction of the minimum wage. There appears to be more to come, as one journalist put it, that most of these laws are just the “tip of the iceberg”;3 what comes next will perhaps be further structural adjustments in order to accommodate the Turkish bourgeoisie’s growing dependence on FDIs.

Reactions against these laws in February were met with blunt force: tear gas, arrests and beatings, similar to how the previous Tekel strike was handled by the state. Students, workers and trade unionists all seemed to have joined in blockading streets in Ankara, as the protests began to spread to other cities such as Istanbul, Diyarbakir and Trabzon. The inclusion of students is important, particularly as a report from the ILO last August reported that youth unemployment is at an all-time high. According to the Turkish Statistics Institute, unemployment for those “15-24 years of age is approximately 25%.”4 Life for the youth in Turkey in general looks precarious at best, as public debt begins to spiral out of control and fears of inflation deepen as job prospects decrease.

And the election…

The upcoming election on June 12th may nevertheless signal a victory for AKP, though with not quite the margin it had in 2007.5 Mounting protests against the increasingly authoritarian AKP have been met with scores dead and injured. In one such protest on May 31st in the Black Sea city of Hopa, a retired school teacher died in a tear gas attack, causing further outrage against AKP. Having stuck its finger in the air to test the political change of wind, CHP has managed to purge some of its more orthodox Kemalist members for the sake of gaining more votes. One may recall a similar transformation of the CHP in the 1970s under the first government of Bülent Ecevit. Even the unions are beginning to take advantage of the situation and encouraging the rank and file to elect their own personal picks. The real danger which then presents itself to the working class in Turkey no longer seems to come from the call to (political) prayer of AKP or even MHP, but from the social democrats, garden-variety leftists and even the Stalinist Communist Party Turkey.

Much of the talk of “neoliberalism” coming from such leftist organizations is often a call for a return to state-administered enterprises under “workers’ control”, which is nothing more than bureaucratic state capitalism. It should be remembered that even under the most intense periods of nationalization in Turkey, often glorified among the social democrats and the like, was fought against by the working class. To therefore conclude that what is occurring in Turkey can be reduced to a neoliberal agenda only recycles the endeavors of past struggles, at a time and place where neither such a term nor entity existed. The effort for the working class to reject fascist and Islamist politicians is admirable, and should not be downplayed in any sense. Yet failure to consider how in the most trying of times, the trade unions or leftist parties have not always come to the defense of the working class—or come at a time when only they have been threatened—should be a point of departure, rather than an alternative to, the so-called neoliberal right-wing.

  • 1Taksim Square has traditionally been a rally point for activists and protesters on the European side of Istanbul.
  • 2See Toros Korkmaz and Kadir Ateş, “Lessons from the Tekel strikes: class solidarity and ethnic (in)difference” in Issue No. 2.
  • 3Zafer Adyin, “Torba yasa, torbadaki sendika , December 12, 2010.
  •, Youth Unemployment in Turkey Twice as High as World Average , August 13, 2010.
  • 5AKP won with almost 50% of the vote.



12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Steven. on August 17, 2011

Interesting article. It would be helpful for the author to explain what the political parties are, in addition to just their acronyms.


12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Devrim on August 18, 2011

The three parties mentioned in the article are the three main political parties in Turkey.

AKP, an Islamic centre right party, is the Current governing party having won 49.83% of the vote in this years election increasing its vote. It has been in power since 2002.

CHP is the main opposition party and took about 25% of the vote in the last elections. It was established by Atatürk in 1919. It is a member of the Socialist International. It is 'Kemalist' and defines itself by the 'six arrows'; republicanism, nationalism, statism, populism, laïcité, and revolutionism.

MHP is the smallest of the three main parties. It's roots are in Turkish 'ultra-nationalism'. It is probably most infamous in the West for its youth-wing the 'Grey Wolves. In 1981 they were formally charged with 694 murders.

The results of the last elections can be seen on this map:

Although it looks all yellow, unlike the UK Turkish electoral have more than one representative. In Ankara for example there are two electoral districts, which elect a total of 31 members of parliament, of which AKP took 17, CHP 10, and MHP 4.

Independents essentially means BDP (Peace and democracy party). To win seats in The Turkish parliament as a party, you need to pass a barrier of 10% of the national vote.



12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Devrim on August 18, 2011

I previously criticized this article on RevLeft. My comments can be found on this thread if anyone is interested. Essentially I think it completely overestimates the level of class struggle in Turkey at the moment.


Theses for discussion - Loren Goldner

Loren Goldner sketches the basic points of departure for political discussion today

Submitted by Django on December 5, 2011

(Editor’s Note: The following theses were circulated within the Insurgent Notes collective for discussion. They attempt to expand on the programmatic points sketched in brief in the editorial of IN No. 1 a year ago. They are the opinions of the author and not of the IN collective as a whole.)

The current crisis, on a world scale, began ca. 1970, as the postwar boom—reconstruction from the destruction of the 1914- 1945 period—exhausted itself, first in the US, and then shortly thereafter in Europe and Japan. Since that time, capitalism has struggled to “recompose” itself, through a grinding down of social reproduction, most importantly of the total working class wage bill (“V”) and aspects of constant capital (“C”),both fixed capital and infrastructure. It has done this by debt pyramiding, outsourcing of production around the world, technological innovation (in telecommunications, transportation and technology-intensive production), all having the same goal of transferring “V” and “C” to “S” (surplus value), while enforcing an overall NON-REPRODUCTION of labor power.

Capital has attempted to achieve the same result as it did in the 1914-1945 period—re-establishment of an adequate rate of profit for a new expansion—without, as yet, resorting to large-scale war. Capital has tapped cheap labor power in the collapsed former Eastern bloc, in Asia (Korea, China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, India) while at the same time dismantling or whittling down the old “worker fortresses” of the West: the American Midwest, the British Midlands, the Paris suburbs and Alsace, and the Ruhr. It long ago abolished the one-paycheck blue-collar family. Capital has expelled or is expelling the working class from “financial centers” such as New York, London and more recently Paris, greatly increasing commuting time, making housing an expense approaching 50% of a typical working-class income, and turning the major cities into theme parks for the unproductive FIRE (finance/insurance/real estate) population.


The 2008 crash, the biggest since 1929, seemed on one hand to discredit the “neo-liberal” “financialization” model (apparently) propelling capitalism since ca. 1980 (Reagan, Thatcher) but in fact was followed by a second wind in which governments attempted to revive the status quo ante with ever-greater infusions of debt. This has had the effect of intensifying the previous, 1970-2008 trend of “capital expanding, social reproduction contracting”. Stock markets recovered, banks cut their losses and consolidated, the top 1% of the population continued to take an ever-greater percentage of “income growth”, while in the U.S., the “real economy” stagnated or declined, with probably 15-20% of the work force unemployed or underemployed, and hundreds of thousands losing homes to foreclosure and apartments to eviction. Japan has been mired in stagnation for 20 years; in Europe, Iceland, Ireland, Britain, and the southern periphery (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece) have been the hardest hit.


Underneath all appearances, the reality of the situation is the obsolescence of capitalist value—the necessary social time of the reproduction of commodities, above all the commodity labor power — as a framework for the continued expanded material reproduction of humanity. Capital in crisis spirals backwards, pulling society with it. It must either devalue existing commodities, whether labor power or capital plant or consumer goods, until a new general rate of profit can coincide with some real expansion, or else the working class must destroy value.


The crisis since 1970 has had the positive effect of more widely discrediting the former, apparent alternatives, namely Social Democracy and above all Stalinism. In their diminution or disappearance, the crisis revealed them for what they always were: the completion of one aspect of the minimum program of the bourgeois revolution, (in the countries where they achieved state power or real influence) the elimination of pre-capitalist forms in agriculture and land to the peasants. Where some semblance of their former selves remains (such as in western Europe) they can only compete with the “right” in administering the crisis.


Well before the 1970 turning point, however, these old organizations of the left and the unions linked to them were fighting against the working class and the latter’s “shop floor rebellion” beginning in the 1950’s and culminating in the early to mid-1970’s. Since that time, far from challenging any prerogatives of capital, they have only embraced them.


We identify ourselves broadly as left communists. Left communism first appeared as a self-conscious tendency in the revolutionary surge after World War I, above all (but not only) in German-Dutch council communism and in the Italian Communist Left (“Bordigists”). Despite their differences, which were real enough, these two currents were briefly able, in the years immediately after the Russian Revolution, to demarcate themselves in different ways from Bolshevism, and its “dual revolution” alliance with the peasantry, with their rejection of the Russian Revolution as a universal model, insisting that in the developed capitalist West, the proletariat stood alone. The solution of the agrarian question, the main lasting achievement of the Russian Revolution, and the related development of the productive forces, are tasks of the bourgeois revolution, and the “grand illusion” of the 20th century was the confusion of numerous substitute bourgeois revolutions (beginning with Russia, once the failure of the world revolution had isolated it and when internal degeneration had eliminated its proletarian content, the soviets and workers’ councils) with socialism/communism. The recovery of genuine communist theory and practice can point to many sources, with the Hegel renaissance after World War II, the wide availability of many previously unknown works of Marx (1844 Manuscripts, the Grundrisse, the Unpublished Sixth Chapter of vol. I of Capital, his writings on non-Western societies, the ongoing publication of the MEGA). In addition to elements of the German-Dutch left and the Italian Communist Left, we can cite Rosa Luxemburg’s mass strike conception, Socialism or Barbarism, CLR James, the Situationists, Italian operaismo, the early Camatte, the post-1968 French neo-Bordigists as sources (the list not being exhaustive or exclusive). This recovery, it goes without saying, would never have occurred without the historical developments of the 1960’s and 1970’s, in the culmination and end of the post-World War II expansion.


We argue that the period ushered in by World War I marks a qualitative change in the history of capitalism, characterized alternately, by different currents, as the epoch of the “obsolescence of capital”, “decadence”, or the “real domination of capital”. We see this post-1914 period as one in which reform (trade unionism and parliamentarism), as practiced by the First and and above all Second Internationals and muddled in the Third and Fourth Internationals, is no longer viable as a step forward for the working class as a whole. By this we do not mean that partial struggles, defensive or offensive, outside periods of revolutionary upsurge are meaningless. We disagree with those left communist currents which reject work within and around trade unions as solely the terrain of the “left wing of capital”. Where possible, we favor work within trade unions while always maintaining an extra-union perspective, looking to transform isolated “class-in-itself” struggles into class-wide movements involving other workers and the unemployed, on the model of the e.g. 1934 Toledo Auto-Lite strike or the 2004 Buenos Aires subway strike. We at the same time reject the perspective of “capturing the unions” for revolution, as advocated by (some) Trotskyists. We aim to supercede unions by class-wide organizations.


The developing geopolitical situation is closely related to the world economic crisis, first of all because it is there that a future major war, as part of capital’s “solution” to the crisis, will emerge. The current world situation is characterized by the (relative) decline of the United States as the undisputed capitalist hegemon it was until the 1970’s. While there is currently no national power or bloc capable of challenging U.S. hegemony, the global situation is characterized by a “multi-polarity” which did not exist in 1970. The U.S. accounted for 50% of world production in 1945, and accounts for 20% today. Part of this is due to the “normal” reconstruction of Europe and Japan after World War II, part of it due to U.S. overseas investment (similar to Britain’s increased overseas investments in the era of its decline), and part of it is due to the emergence of new zones of development. East Asia accounted for 5% of world production in 1960, and accounts for 35% today. While the much-touted “rise of China” is overblown (one need merely think of its inability to resolve the situation of 750 million people still on the land and another 100 million in the floating, casualized migrant population) , the total post- 1945 industrialization of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China, taken together, as a power center and moreover a greater potential power center, is not. Germany, East Asia, Brazil, and India are, in different ways, other established or potential poles of independence from U.S. domination in a way unthinkable 40 or 50 years ago.

One aspect of the economic and geopolitical crisis is the problematic global status of the U.S. dollar as the dominant reserve currency, a status giving the U.S. the unique ability to print money to pay its own external debts—a privilege no other indebted nation enjoys– and to periodically devalue foreign holdings of dollars (Germany and Japan in the early 1970’s, Japan in 1985) which are external debts of the United States. That status further allows the U.S. to fund its perennial state deficits with the recycling of dollars held abroad, which now amount to ca. $15 trillion. In contrast to 1945, the international weight of the reserve currency status of the dollar is out of all proportion to the weight of the U.S. in total world production. As with the British pound over the 1914-1945 period, this disproportionality will not be resolved at some international conference table but by crisis, shakeout and (possibly) a major war.


The increasing multi-polarity of the world economy reflects the geographical shifts in the concentration of wage-labor proletarians around the world. According to some estimates, 60% of all workers today are in Asia. This translates into sharpening of class struggle there; China alone experienced over 100,000 “incidents” (local uprisings and confrontations, not all of them involving blue-collar workers) in 2010; Vietnam has experienced 336 strikes in the past year, many of them wildcats; worker ferment has also erupted in Bangladesh (mainly textile workers, as reported in IN No. 2) and India (in the industrial zone around Delhi). In North Africa and the Middle East, workers have played central roles in the insurgencies in Tunisia and Egypt, and important strikes have occurred in Turkey.

These working-class struggles in countries previously associated with the mirage of “Third Worldism” (peasant-bureaucratic movements and revolutions) is a shift of inestimable importance in the “geography” of class struggle.


While we recognize and welcome the growing importance of the new industrial working classes created by the spread of capitalist investment in recent decades, we continue to see the wage-labor work force in the “old” centers of accumulation—Europe, the US and Canada, Japan—as central to any successful world revolution. The long arc of the history of communism has seen two international revolutionary waves, those of 1848 and 1917-1921, as well as the international wave associated with “1968”. In 1848 and 1917, particularly, the truth of Marx’s theory of permanent revolution (as later developed further by Trotsky) was demonstrated, whereby working-class upsurge in the “center” was complemented by the emergence of an independent working-class upsurge in the emerging “weak link” of accumulation. In the first instance, the “center” was the apex of the English Chartist movement in January 1848 and, above all, the communist uprising in Paris six months later in June, and the “weak link” was Germany; in the second, more protracted case, the “center” was western Europe (Germany above all) and the “weak link” was Russia. In both cases, the “crossover” necessary to the triumph of the revolutions failed, but we consider such a “crossover” as essential, so that a successful revolution in the “center” spares the working class and peasantry in the “weak link” the rigors of “socialist accumulation” in bureaucratic autarchy. The overcoming of the capitalist “law of value”, as transmitted to the developing world, first of all through the world market, must be the task of workers in both the old “center” and in the emerging “weak links”. The history of successive Stalinist and Third Worldist revolutions in the semi-developed and underdeveloped world has demonstrated time and again the impossibility of “socialism”, or even of real capitalist development, in one country, under the pressure of the world market.


Seen in this light, we consider nationalism in the current epoch to be reactionary. Nationalism in the period from the French Revolution until approximately World War I could play an historically progressive or even revolutionary role (i.e. in the era of bourgeois revolutions) when the formation of viable nation states out of the old dynastic order (e.g. Germany, Italy) was still possible. This said, the “right of nations to self-determination” was never, as an abstract principle, part of the revolutionary tradition separate from a geopolitical-strategic orientation to the unification of the working class, which is always an international class. Marx supported Irish nationalism against British rule, and Polish nationalism against Russian rule, but opposed Balkan nationalism that might weaken the Ottoman bulwark against Russian expansionism. The nations or Ersatz nations which emerged out of the collapse of the empires (Hohenzollern, Habsburg, Romanov, Ottoman) after World War I, or out of the dismantling of the British, French, Dutch, Belgian or Portuguese empires between 1945 and 1975, or finally out of the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1989-1991, have almost without exception, due to the dynamic of (an absent) permanent revolution, failed to solve the “tasks” of the bourgeois revolution, most immediately the completion of the agrarian revolution. The few exceptions (e.g. South Korea, Taiwan) managed to do so as “showcases” in competition with the Stalinist revolutions (China, North Korea, Vietnam) in Asia, with serious land reform, but they still remain viable only—to date—with significant U.S. military assistance.


Despite these developments, a certain “anti-imperialism” has revived, after experiencing an eclipse in the late 1970’s. It is no longer a question of barefoot doctors and people’s communes in China, or guerrilla focos in the Andes, or various and sundry “tricontinental” “national liberation fronts”. Led by the Petro-Peronist Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, it consists of a loose collection of countries such as Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, (occasionally) Brazil, and then extends to even more questionable forces in the Middle East such as Hezbollah (Lebanon), Hamas (Palestine) and the Islamic Republic of Iran. Even further from the front lines are Russia and China, hardly troubled to watch the U.S. squander blood and money in its losing wars (Iraq, Afghanistan) and its declining influence throughout the region (Turkey, Pakistan). These “anti-imperialist” forces are cheered on by the World Social Forum and its array of NGOs; North American trade unionists fly to Beijing to have tea with the official state trade union leaders while workers attempting to organize independent unions there are incarcerated. Perhaps if the Taliban reconquer Afghanistan, they too will be joining these “progressive anti-imperialist forces” at the World Social Forum.


Concentrated as we are, at least for the moment, in the United States, we necessarily recognize that the “color-blind” Marxism of many left communist currents—a proletarian is a proletarian is a proletarian—is simply...blind Marxism. The largely black and Latino population of U.S. prisons (1% of the U.S. population) or the black and Latino youth gunned down with impunity every year by the police, are excellent “first approximations” showing that the legacy of 350 years of white supremacy in American history is still with us, if somewhat deflated since the 1960’s. Similarly, gender and “normative sexual” questions are hardly resolved, either within the class or in the larger society. We hardly consider it an accident that most of the incremental progress on these questions since the 1960’s, however piecemeal and fragmentary, has mainly benefited what can be broadly characterized as “middle class” and “professional” elements among blacks, Latinos, women and gays. (Our use of the term here is not to be confused with the repellent and ideologically- charged American use of “middle class” when referring to the working class.)

The dynamic between class and race, gender and sexual orientation varies widely from one concrete situation to another. But since the ebb of the vaguely Marxian or pseudo- Marxian climate of the 1960’s and 1970’s, when many of these oppressed groups (we are thinking first of all of the black and Latino nationalists of that period) still felt obligated to articulate their agendas within a broader (mainly Stalinist and/or Third Worldist) “proletarian internationalism”, the emergence of an “identity politics” starting in the late 1970’s dispensed with that framework altogether. A whole industry of NGO’s backed by foundation money came into existence to cement this fragmentation of different groups and to bury the question of class, thus becoming an important anti-working class force, the first line of defense against communist politics in different communities. It was hardly an accident that this ideology and these NGOs and foundations emerged and thrived during decades of defeat, rollback, concessions and factory closings that decimated the living standards of the working class, white, black or brown.

The reunification of a movement on a true class basis, which means a movement that puts the poorest and most downtrodden groups at the center of its problematic, is not something to be solved by a deft theoretical formulation, but something that must emerge from practical experience in struggle. It is therefore a commitment of Insurgent Notes to chronicle those struggles when and where they emerge, to participate in them where possible, and to expose the ideologues of fragmentary, anti-working class “identity” and their foundation (and government) backers.


Closely related to the problems posed by race, class and gender, in both the U.S. and in Europe, is the question of immigration. In the worst capitalist crisis since the 1930’s, political and ideological mobilizations against immigrants are emerging as the perfect lightning rod for channeling growing populist rage into struggles among the “native born” and “immigrant” members of the class that “has no fatherland”. The abject failure of “development”, aided by Western policies in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and much of Asia for decades, as well from the administration of local bourgeoisies and statist elites in those regions, has turned tens of millions of proletarians and sub-proletarians into refugees from the resulting social and economic vacuum. Far- right groups organized around anti-immigrant feeling have made important breakthroughs in virtually every European country, and with similar developments in the U.S. (first of all along the border with Mexico) becoming a dominant issue here as well.

Mainstream capitalists tend to favor immigration as a source of cheap labor and leave immigrant bashing to the populist right, but will hardly fail to see its uses as serious class antagonism intensifies. Well-meaning but empty calls for international solidarity, in the abstract, will hardly do. From our point of view, and recalling the central role played by an earlier wave of immigration in class struggles in the U.S. before and after World War I, we see immigrant labor as playing a potentially vanguard role again. At the same time we present a programmatic approach to the question, with our perspective of global reconstruction in the transition out of capitalism aimed at undoing the huge imbalances between regions resulting from colonialism, imperialism and capitalist “development” schemes as the ultimate practical common ground between workers in different parts of the world.


We see as essential to our tasks the elaboration of a program for the transition out of capitalism. Too much of the debate in the left communist, ultra-left or libertarian communist milieu revolves around questions of forms of organization, and too much of the conception of a post-capitalist society devolves into highly abstract arguments over “Value”. We see the need to emphasize the “material content” of the transition to be implemented, once political and economic power has been taken away from the capitalists, indispensable to the actual abolition of value, i.e. of the regulation of life by the socially necessary time of reproduction. Given the advanced degree of decay in the West, headed by the U.S. and the U.K., it can no longer be (and never really was) merely a question of “taking over production” and establishing “workers’ control”. In countries with such a high level of employment in socially useless (the FIRE sector of finance- insurgance- real estate) sectors, or socially noxious ones (e.g. armed forces and arms production) or (not too long ago) the automobile (and related) industries, such a vision, inherited from the ferment of the 60’s and 70’s, is almost meaningless. More workplaces will be abolished by the revolution than placed under “workers’ control”. We see it as fundamental to conceive of the future society in use-value terms on a global scale. A linear spread of post-1945 models of consumption in the West–such as individual home ownership and the two-car family– to the entire world is on the face of it a social and environmental absurdity. Such an alterative program will not spring full- blown from the head of some world reformer, but will be, on the contrary, a “work in progress” elaborated by tens of millions, and ultimately billions of people. Nonetheless we can throw out the broad outlines of basic necessities. Already the dismantling of the automobile-steel-oil-rubber complex and its replacement by greatly improved mass transit and rail transport has implications far beyond transportation, namely in the relationship between cities and countryside and in the social organization of space generally; environmental concerns; the huge social waste involved in commuting time; the reorientation to new sources of energy; and the overcoming of the social atomization and social costs induced after World War II by suburbanization and sprawl. The freeing of the tens of millions of people currently employed in state and corporate bureaucracy, in the military and in military production, the FIRE sectors, or police/intelligence and prisons, for socially useful work will also make possible the realization of a key part of the communist program: the radical shortening of the working day. We do not doubt that the collective practical knowledge of working people, once free to reconfigure necessary work from a use-value viewpoint on a truly social (worldwide) scale, will greatly facilitate the implementation of such a broad outline, but we consider it essential to start this discussion now to counter the long-assumed notion that “all this will be worked out in the soviets” after the revolution. Without an active current with some widely-shared vision of a radically different social order, (in the sense that the old Social Democratic/Stalinist vision of nationalization plus state planning was widely shared) there will be a no successful revolution.


Between now and the revolution, local, partial struggles short of the open struggle for the overthrow of capital are emerging and will continue to emerge. Some parts of the left communist scene (we can take the ICC as a reductio ad absurdum but they are hardly alone) tend to relate to such struggles with an attitude that ultimately reads “when you’re ready to form soviets, get in touch”. We reject that kind of posturing abstentionism that hides remoteness from the struggles of ordinary working people behind “big theory”. This posturing results from 40 years in the wilderness in which there were, at least in the West, few mass movements in the streets (as there was in the late 60’s/early 70’s) pressuring such groups to do something more than publish their journals, sell their newspapers and maintain their P.O. boxes or, more recently, their web sites.

That said, serious problems arise in relating to such struggles as they are usually posed, problems represented first of all by the thicket of far-left groups that still work off of Trotskyism and Maoism and which circle around those struggles that do emerge like “vultures circling a dying beast”, as someone once put it. The Trotskyists, in particular, characterize such struggles and rival groups as “reformist”, whereas our starting point is an analysis of the impossibility of consequential reformism ( the latter being something different than saying, as we do, that there can be small temporary victories in the midst of generally bigger defeats). Such groups are still wedded, at best, to the dialectic of reform and revolution that was the outlook of revolutionaries before 1914, such as Rosa Luxemburg in her polemic against Bernstein: revolution THROUGH the struggle for reform.

Unfortunately for that outlook, no reformism for the class as a whole is possible today. The crisis started 40 years ago and has only intensified. Already in the 1970′s “left” parties in the West were backing off from any promises of “reform”. “Reform” today is mainly the war cry of the right, meaning burning and slashing what is left of the old welfare state and labor legislation. It is no secret that the official left since the 1970’s has reinvented itself as the kinder, gentler face of “neo-liberal” capitalism. We hardly need bother with the Democratic Party (Clinton, Obama) and its hangers-on in the U.S. In the U.S. as in Europe, the ever-growing gap between the wealthiest 1% and everyone else has grown relentlessly since 1968, whether “reformists” or “conservatives” are in power. Mitterand in France, Felipe Gonzalez in Spain, Schroeder in Germany, Blair in Britain, now Papandreou in Greece barely deserve any more of a mention: ”reformists” all, “neo- liberal” slashers of workers’ living standards all.

We might consider some recent, disparate but somehow similar struggles of recent years: the piqueteros in Argentina in 2001-2002 or Oaxaca in 2007. All the post-2008 movements and uprisings– the French mass protests of fall 2010, or, in 2011: Tunisia, Egypt, Madison, Madrid, Greece—are linked in some way to the world financial and economic meltdown. Most of these struggles took on a qualitative nature in a huge initial burst of “spontaneity” unleashed by some “spark” in an increasingly explosive situation, (or in the case of Greece, two direct, savage attacks on working-class living standards over the past year). The Argentine uprising began with the total meltdown of the economy and of the Argentine political class, but was brought to a head by the piqueteros, mainly no-future working-class youth, who had been refining their tactics for several years, in actions large and small. Oaxaca began with a provocation by the state government against the initial phase of the normal collective bargaining of the local teachers’ union. Tunisia began with the desperate suicide of an unemployed university graduate, following everyday police harassment. Egypt began with a combination of “normal” everyday state atrocities mixed with the “contagion of struggle” coming from Tunisia, in a worsening economic situation. Madison began, like Oaxaca, with a provocation by the state against public employees.

All of these movements were characterized by a creative “leap” from local forms of protest (even the suicide of the unemployed Tunisian ex-student was the latest in a series by similar people) to a mass spontaneous outburst that no one foresaw, underscoring the always unforeseeable consequences of local acts of defiance.

And most of these movements (with Tunisia and Egypt and now Syria and Yemen, for all their specific differences, still unfolding) have been defeated, and those, like Tunisia and Egypt, find themselves in danger of containment by the usual cast of characters in a facelift of the status quo ante. The Argentine piqueteros were either co-opted into a recomposed Peronist state or dispersed by repression; in Oaxaca, it was straight-up massive repression and the isolation of the movement from the rest of Mexico.

(The situation in Greece remains in abeyance at this writing-July 2011). The French government stonewalled the fall 2010 movements in the streets, and won out. The Madison movement never escaped the embrace of the Democrats and the unions and mainly threw itself into an “anti-Republican” recall campaign. The Spanish Socialist government let the “indignados” (cf. our report on that movement) occupy the central plazas in 50 cities for the better part of a month (police attacks and provocations notwithstanding) until the movement collapsed, with some factional acrimony, of its own weight, like so many others, having taken the first creative step of occupying public space and then being incapable of taking another one.

Communism is a concrete possibility because of what capital “compels the working class to do” (Marx). In the situations described above, what is the relationship between “reform” and revolution?

Before people go massively into the streets, in those struggles that occur, revolutionaries can participate with a “class-wide”, “Toledo Auto-Lite” perspective. The key, in such situations, is always to underscore the “break” with established institutions, such as the unions and the state, and the political pseudo-left that accommodates to those institutions. The perspective should always be “dual power”, however small the forces capable of making that demarcation. The consequences of such a stance are always fluid. Revolutionaries always speak to the “class-for-itself” impulse in the broader movement.

The goal is not the specific “demand” or what in some cases might be temporarily won, but the increased unity of the class through the experience of breaking the barriers between different sectors of workers, or workers and the unemployed, and racial caste and gender separations.

When masses of people are in the streets, as they have been and are, in places such as Argentina or Greece or Egypt, the sole real question is that of state power. This is not to endorse just any putschist adventure: there is a dynamic in play that cannot be forced.
But the successful struggle against the state, and its replacement by class-wide institutions (soviets, workers’ councils, whatever new forms may emerge) requires program (as discussed earlier) and a current formed in advance to take the initial steps to implement that program. This current emerges over time from the networks of the most combative and conscious elements, in the ebbs and flows of struggle, and does not need to belong to any more formalized organization. The latter will come as the intensified rhythm of struggle requires it.


S. Artesian

12 years 5 months ago

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Submitted by S. Artesian on December 5, 2011

Point of fact and historical accuracy. These theses produced almost no discussion in IN, save for my opposition to regarding agreement with them as the minimal basis for political cooperation, and my disagreement to the content of many of the theses.

Loren "withdrew" the theses from discussion, acknowledging them as an "overshoot" for determining political agreement..

That was their status when I parted from IN at the end of October. Don't know what's happened to them since then.

More on Madison - Insurgent Notes

The following letter synthesizes two e-mails from a comrade, AS, about some disagreements with Loren Goldner’s article on Madison in IN No. 3

Submitted by Juan Conatz on August 6, 2011

I don’t think I was criticizing what you wrote that sharply. I do remember mentioning that one of the first groups out there was the Latino “Immigrant Workers Union” which is a coalition to draw attention to things that affect Latinos in the Madison. In Milwaukee the mood was much different than in Madison. From what I heard from the Milwaukee people, I know the feeling there was much more hopeless generally than in Madison; ‘hopeless’ was the word I heard them use repeatedly. The crisis hit Milwaukee workers really hard. Workers in Madison exist largely in the state and the insurance business and have sources of state-capitalist investment that are more steady than Milwaukee, which needs heavy industry. For me, growing up as a worker in Madison, I could bounce around working at small workshops around the city and never once get my foot in the door at a bigger, better-paid blue collar workplace. For all Milwaukee workers, the deindustrialization has been brutal. Workers at Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee were forced to accept a 50% cut in starting pay just to keep the company from leaving the state. Milwaukee has been a laboratory of this austerity and public education demolition for decades now. The feeling I got from the Milwaukee people was one of despair.

Strange thing is that there is almost no contact with leftists in Milwaukee and Madison at all, even among white leftists, It is as if Milwaukee is on the other side of the continent and not an hour and half away by bus. There were a few contingents that did come from Milwaukee to the protests in Madison, and a few protests in Milwaukee itself, but even there African-Americans were less present than Latinos who were much more active. Your criticisms aren’t much different from mine on the whole. There were contingents of people from the various “First Nations” bands who came to Madison as well. The City of Milwaukee maybe has 500,000 people, maybe a third of them are African-American, I don’t know. It is reaching a point where the Latinos will be equaling them in numbers. The ethnic makeup of people here is heavily German, Scandinavians live further north mostly.

The most positive thing in the protests was the open microphone in the capitol rotunda in Madison where there was an open forum that the DP folks couldn’t control. For a lot of workers this was the first time they ever got to speak in front of other workers and listen to other workers speaking publicly. The most active left group by far was the IWW and they have benefited from this. Their General Strike poster was the most popular poster. Still their activity raises questions in my mind of the nature of the left, even the IWW, in tailing initiatives that are run by the DP/Union nexus of bourgeois power. Even when they have the numbers to undertake their own initiatives, they still tail the “progs”. There was no attempt to raise awareness of state tax increases on the poorest workers, or to link the austerity measures to the constant austerity and repression faced by racial minorities. The Latino presence at the protests also raises questions because they seem obligated, or constrained, as immigrants, to show their patriotism by carrying US flags around to all the protests.

Due to a stretch of unemployment, I took a half-time job late last summer working at the office of AFSCME Local 2412. So, I became the office manager for a union local. In an office of one, I “manage” myself. I saw the whole thing unfold from the defeat of the last contract, to the Walker austerity bill. I was present at the union local meeting where we heard from the higher ups in AFSCME Council 24 that there would be no strike, which was decided and declared from the start. I even sent out the rally notices to the state workers on campus. Now AFSCME Local 2412, and my office neighbors, Local 171, represent respectively the clerical and blue collar sectors of the UW Madison campus. 2412 is the big union on campus and was right at the center of much of these protests. I was fielding calls from the press trying to get information out of me.

This all was strange for me. I had once been a member of Local 171. I had helped animate the Group Internationaliste Ouvrier in Montreal, I helped create Internationalist Notes. I took up left communism after being repeatedly called an ultra-leftist by mainline lefties back in the eighties. Needless to say I’m not that keen on the DP, or the unions. At the same time I feel obligated to participate and be present, which is doubly difficult without funds or propaganda to distribute. A struggle takes on a different tone altogether when it is your friends and family that are there protesting the wage cuts and austerity measures.

I saw the left groups descend on Madison, sell a few papers and then leave. I believe that in what I said to RS, I might have been directing some of this at your article. It is a shame I couldn’t have shown you around a bit, as I do know this area very well. I did make an attempt to contact the ICC but I was too late and the militant they sent came, sold a few papers and then left. I was busy working and sending out the bulletins for the protests and wasn’t doing a lot of propaganda distribution, so it was to them as if I was never even there, at least from what they said. They subsequently denounced the whole thing as a DP/Union maneuver. In ideological content we had the same dominant reformist thinking as in the protests of the “indignados” in Spain today, we even had something of a workers assembly going on in the capitol for a time. Yet they denounced the protests here and praised the protests there. The real question wasn’t the ideological content of these protests but their own participation which brings their praise, or condemnation when they do not participate. The left reformism and DP dominance doesn’t change the fact that there were 150,000 workers in the streets and every scrap of poster board in the county had been turned into picket signs such that all the stores in the county ran out of poster board. It was an extraordinary thing to see.

It seemed to me as though east coast militants only noticed when the protests were almost done, and my own efforts at creating small groups of revolutionaries around the mid-west and the south has been a failure by and large but I think what took place here confirms what I’ve tried to tell militants that workers in the mid-west and the south are important and that there wont be a class struggle in the US without them. It is disheartening when a massive protest of workers comes along the revolutionaries weren’t present even in small numbers and the usual cast of left-ish characters took over playing their role as adjunct to the left arm of the ruling class and its Democratic Party. The “left” in Madison consists of the IWW, the ISO and “Socialist Action” (pro-Castro-ex-trots, Minnesota and Wisconsin based largely). Many of the shop stewards and leaders in AFSCME are supporters of “Labor Notes” as well as being loyal Democrats.

Yes, the electoral stuff is what has taken over. The protests were called off. Some activity has remained sporadically across the state in smaller towns and cities. There were demonstrations in Mount Horeb, a town of 7,000 people had a workers demonstration which drew over a thousand at the peak of the demonstrations; this was happening all over. Now all energies are put into these recalls. People believe it will achieve some sort of victory or stability in the face of the fact that more recalls are being attempted at one time than have ever occurred before. As strikes were ruled out by the unions from the start, and the teacher/student sickout/walkout was called off two days into it, it is seen that a strike is impossible by most people. One justification I heard was that since people are no more than 16 lost work hours away from losing everything they have, to talk about a strike is “irresponsible”. I have argued against this the most successful wave of strikes in US history occurred at the end of WWII and usually lasted for less than five days on average during a time when workers were considerably poorer. I have also argued that the strike tactics that are illegal, sympathy strikes etc., are illegal because they work. The recall effort is feverish. I believe that the workers will be disappointed by the results given the past history of recall elections. The electoral stuff really bled the energy out of the movement.

The whole “Wisconsin’s progressive tradition” propaganda is quite strong and lends unwarranted credibility to DP’s bourgeois power structure. They seem to have forgotten that the last governor, Jim Doyle the Democrat, was the one who gave state workers a rolling layoff amounting to almost three work weeks a year amounting to a sizable cut. Basically the Democrats gave them a pay cut without formally cutting anyone’s hourly pay or benefits. For the bourgeoisie this was a clever maneuver but not brutal enough for the other faction of bourgeois politicos. There was absolutely no attention given by the unions to the layoffs that public sector workers will be facing, almost 22,000 people will lose their jobs and they are told to wait until the recall elections. There was no protest over the gutting of tax credits to the poorest workers in the state in both the public and private sectors either.

The university system is now messing with payroll data so that the unions don’t even know who is paying dues or who is even in the workforce now. It was two members of the Democratic Party who shot down the last contract in the state senate and assembly. They just refused to show up for the vote on the new contract that the state workers unions had negotiated knowing full well that the GOP was going to take over in the next session and be out for blood, so the Democratic Party basically allowed this situation to happen. When the state workers’ union boss, Marty Beil, called the two DP state congressmen “whores”, it was evident that the bosses has just stopped playing ball and no longer considered the unions as necessary for assistance in implementing the austerity measures. I’ve never heard a union leader speak that bluntly about a failed contract, ever, so even last November it was clear that something was going to go down this spring. The union leaderships were not ready for politicians who weren’t interested in playing by the established rules of the game.


Taken from Insurgent Notes website (Originally posted August 2, 2011)



12 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by soyonstout on August 6, 2011

I think this is a good contribution about the struggle, and also I think makes some good points about clumsy/rigid analysis that the Internationalism article about it (the one here, about the struggle in Madison: In Madison and Elsewhere, Defense of the Unions Prepares the Workers’ Defeat) had. Specifically I think the desire to delineate the struggle to defend collective bargaining and the union's dues checkoff from the actual struggle in the defense of the power and position of the working class may have been written in a way that underestimated the efforts of both the Wisconsin working class and the IWW. But in no way was the article meant to have

denounced the whole thing as a DP/Union maneuver


There also may have been an underestimation of something said on another thread:

the reversion to bad strategy is often because the good strategy has gaping holes in it. The bad strategy is complete and stable because it is easier.

In that article, the criticism of the general strike slogan is followed by a very vague idea about the development of a mass strike dynamic, but the basic idea of self-organization and not indefinite timetables and combining demands, is I think a good one, but of course the working class probably does not have the confidence to do something like that in the US at the moment. So what do we propose concretely? And what do we see our role as in getting to a point where the working class has the confidence and strength to do things like that successfully, and the willingness to try, despite how much easier it is to repeat the failed rituals that we all know and are comfortable with being disappointed by?

I wish I could have been in Madison to have seen more of it. This is a good contribution though, I think, to understanding it and what revolutionaries could have done differently, better, etc.


S. Artesian

12 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by S. Artesian on August 8, 2011

I still don't understand what the disagreements are.


12 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by soyonstout on August 9, 2011

S. Artesian

I still don't understand what the disagreements are.

about general strike vs. mass strike, or something else?


12 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Hieronymous on August 9, 2011

[quote=Loren Goldner]The following day, I talked for a couple of hours with a highly knowledgeable Madison academic associated with the Working Families Party.[/quote]

I wish I had seen this during the earlier polemic, which is germane right now because the electoral recall of the 6 Republican Senators is happening today -- and Goldner's primary informant for his various accounts of events in Wisconsin was Joel Rogers, leader of the Working Families Party.

Rogers calls a general strike 'real dangerous.'

[quote=Isthmus]UW-Madison labor scholar Joel Rogers believes that opponents of Gov. Scott Walker's anti-union budget bill need to avoid a general strike and turn instead toward recall efforts to anticipate the upcoming redistricting.

"I'm all for going to these demonstrations," says Rogers, lauded by Newsweek as one of "100 Americans most likely to affect U.S. politics and culture in the 21st century." "But you've got to get at least three [Republican senators] out" through recalls. That would shift the balance in the state Senate from a 19-14 Republican edge to a 17-16 Democratic one.

Rogers, the director of the UW-affiliated Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS), says the recalls will affect state government's "next big thing": redistricting, based on new census data.

"You can recover from this bad law," Rogers argues. "You can get another governor. But reapportionment is going to be 10 years. That's going to tremendously change the terms and the rules of the game."[...] [/quote]

link to the complete article from March 17, 2011:

Joseph Kay

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by Joseph Kay on August 9, 2011


S. Artesian

I still don't understand what the disagreements are.

about general strike vs. mass strike, or something else?

Well that's a non-starter, since Luxemburg's source for the 'anarchist general strike' is a polemic by... Friedrich Engels.

S. Artesian

12 years 9 months ago

In reply to by

Submitted by S. Artesian on August 10, 2011

Where in the piece which is composed from email Loren received are there disagreements with Goldner's analysis. Hell, I disagree with his analysis, strenuously, so I know what a disagreement looks like. As hard as I try, I can't find anything in the article that counts as a disagreement


12 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by soyonstout on August 10, 2011

Joseph Kay


S. Artesian

I still don't understand what the disagreements are.

about general strike vs. mass strike, or something else?

Well that's a non-starter, since Luxemburg's source for the 'anarchist general strike' is a polemic by... Friedrich Engels.

I suppose I meant in connection to the Madison events. I agree that the 'anarchist general strike' that Luxemburg sees as "refuted" in her text is a strawman, and actually probably more associated with ideas current in the SDP, specifically the union leaders at that time. But I also still don't think "general strike" is specific enough, and frequently is used by the business unions to mean a single day (or even afternoon) of action, run by them, segmented by them, and policed by them. In France it is not uncommon and has recently been able to stop government reforms.

"Mass strike" is an incredibly vague idea, and linguistically meaningless to most people, but central to most formulations of it is the idea of a series of conflicts on many fronts, not called by bureaucrats, and controlled by organizations created during, for, and accountable to the struggle itself--that and the idea that it is not an event but a bunch of events. Pushing for this is different than resolving in favor of a general strike and even propagandizing for it, if the kind of general strike is not elaborated as one that is self-organized, etc., I think. Perhaps since we mostly don't have "general strikes" in the states after WWII, the audience will think of the old general strikes like Seattle, etc., but the concept itself leaves a lot of room for the union tops, in my opinion.

I also agree with Artesian that it's unclear what the disagreements were and the preface doesn't make much sense without that context.


12 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Hieronymous on August 10, 2011


Perhaps since we mostly don't have "general strikes" in the states after WWII, the audience will think of the old general strikes like Seattle, etc., but the concept itself leaves a lot of room for the union tops, in my opinion.


The year with the most citywide general strikes in U.S. history was after WWII, in 1946. Here are the cities and the sectors that sparked off these near-insurrectionary work stoppages:

1. Machinists in Stamford, CT
2. Transit workers in Lancaster, PA
3. City employees in Houston, TX
4. City employees in Rochester, NY
5. Electrical workers in Pittsburg, PA
6. Department store clerks in Oakland, CA

The 1946 Strike Wave was pretty amazing:

—750,000 steel workers walked out in January in the largest single industry strike in U.S. history

—there were strikes by 300,000 meatpackers, 174,000 electrical workers, longshoremen, maritime workers, truckers, autoworkers, in addition to work stoppages in nearly every sector

—a bituminous coal strike caused national brown-outs in the spring, then soft-coal miners went on strike at same time, as well as railroad engineers and trainmen, bringing national commerce to a standstill

—it was the closest to a national general strike ever—or at least since Great Upheaval Railroad Strike of 1877

—with so many workers wildcatting, Truman threatened to draft strikers into the military; coal miners retort with the famous: "Let's see them mine coal with bayonets"

The numbers:

—4,985 strikes

—4,600,000 workers participate

—116,000,000 "man-days" lost to industrial production

All of these statistics are the all-time record for the U.S.; nearly all these actions were wildcats and union bureaucrats did everything they could to try to contain them, usually in vain.

Taft-Hartley in 1947 was the state's response.


12 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by soyonstout on August 10, 2011

Hieronymous, I'm sorry--I can't believe I forgot that--I should have said since Taft-Hartley. In fact I remember you making the point somewhere that the reason people don't talk about the '46/'47 strike wave was that it isn't in history books because it was against the unions. I think I guess I made the same mistake and went back the last general strikes that the leftists talk about, which were mostly before that period and mostly also had the character of being largely self-organized. I suppose I was just trying to distinguish that from the classic CGT general strike which is often only partly observed because they call them sometimes without much connection to the membership, etc.

In the end it is partly a semantic issue, because there's nothing stopping the unions from calling for a "mass strike" rather than a "general strike"--I suppose the important thing, which some in and around the Madison struggle were doing, is to explain the importance of self-organization and not allowing the strike to be limited by any part of the bourgeois order, including the union tops & labor laws & "democratic processes" in the union designed to divide workers. I think the reason the luxemburgist concept of "mass strike" was ever introduced was to critique the (in my opinion misguided) strategy of getting endorsements for a general strike, while acknowledging that the IWW and other organizations there probably did a lot more than just that.


12 years 9 months ago

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Submitted by Hieronymous on August 11, 2011


... the reason people don't talk about the '46/'47 strike wave was that it isn't in history books because it was against the unions.

Yeah, that's pretty much correct.

But there is one excellent history that covers that period, which is George Lipsitz's Rainbow at Midnight: Labor and Culture in the 1940s. He covers all 6 of those general strikes in 1946, as well as the wildcats and working class militancy of the period.

Sorry to derail the thread.