Submitted by syndicalist on July 16, 2007

NOTE: I posted this here: http://libcom.org/forums/anarcho-syndicalism-101/the-relevancy-of-anarcho-syndicalism (at bottom) and perhaps it might well belong on this subject topic.

I'm curious how different anarcho-syndicalists (and those close to anarcho-syndicalism) see their activities and roles today. That is, what sort of organization and what sort of organizational relevancy foots their bill?

In the US and Canadian context, what would an expplicitly anarcho-syndicalist organization mean and do? Given the diversity of activist efforts here in the US/Canada, can an anarcho-syndicalist organization be more like a "especifico" organization? That is, an organization of like minded activists coming together to issue libertarian literature and help develop and enhance their work in a variety of worker, social and community struggles. Or must its sole and defining role be something else or something else?

Catch 22

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

From the original thread.

syndicalistcat

catch22:

I think the focus on especifico tactics can be useful when there are already existing mass campaigns with libertarian potential. However there aren't too many of those around to be honest. Most mass organizations in the US/Canada have been pretty well co-opted and are thoroughly hierarchical. Attempts to democratize and radicalize them seem resource intensive with little return on investment. Especially as many of these groups-eg unions-loose members with every year.

Why do you assume that the espificifista emphasis on presence within, and influence on, mass organizations is limited to the established mass organizations such as mainstream unions? Why wouldn't it be just as necessary to have left-libertarian influence within new mass organizations that we form? even if a mass organization is initiated by left-libertarians, if it is successful at becoming an actual mass organization, it will have a diversity of people with diverse views within it. there is no such thing as an "immaculate conception" that immunizes against conservatizing or bureaucratizing tendencies, or against infiltration by authoritarian left tendencies (tho that danger has shrunk in recent years). WSAers were involved in initiating the formation of an independent union among employees of the University of Tennessee but that union later affiliated to the CWA, even tho WSA members in it argued against this, and has developed a tendency towards oligarchy (executive committee tending to grab more control)

Is there anything written on the independent union you speak of? Sounds interesting.

I think that an attempt to form a specific a-s presence in those groups can be a bit difficult. I'm no platformist and I don't think that we can preserve the purity of mass organizations via explicit a-s ideological groups without creating an elitist clique. I'm more in favor of informal/semi formal networks of militants that can act to put the brakes on "tendency towards oligarchy." But by and large I think that the radicalizing effect of self managed struggle is soured when there's some of group that acts like it has superior politics to other rank and file. It seems very similar to the cadre discipline of the leninists.

I'm also not sure what a specific A-S especifista org would do. I've never actually been in an explicit a-s organization as ASR and WSA are seemingly the only ones that exist in America. ASR is really just an editorial collective of IWWs, and I have no clue what the WSA does outside of CIW solidarity work.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

catch-22:

Is there anything written on the independent union you speak of? Sounds interesting.

there were a couple articles by Chris Pelton in Labor Notes. but i doubt they are online.

I think that an attempt to form a specific a-s presence in those groups can be a bit difficult. I'm no platformist and I don't think that we can preserve the purity of mass organizations via explicit a-s ideological groups without creating an elitist clique. I'm more in favor of informal/semi formal networks of militants that can act to put the brakes on "tendency towards oligarchy." But by and large I think that the radicalizing effect of self managed struggle is soured when there's some of group that acts like it has superior politics to other rank and file. It seems very similar to the cadre discipline of the leninists.

but you haven't explained to me what the difference is between the presence of revolutionary activists within a mainstream union and within a mass organization that is left-libertarian initiated or newly formed.

a problem with any informal network is that informality tends to breed informal hierarchy. avoiding concentration of expertise and control into the hands of a few requires constant and systematic efforts to train and mobilize the membership. thus evolution of bureaucracy can't be prevented by purely informal means.

it's true, however, that the more democratic and effective the organization is, the less motivation there will be for members to form a rank and file organization apart from the formal structure of that organization. but this may actually make the specific organization more important. in a mainstream union that has a lot of problems, enough to motivate a rank and file opposition movement, what we should want is for that to be a broad movement, based on some ideas about the kind of organization we want the union to be. by "broad" i mean not just a "fraction" of the specific organization.

so it would seem that there is then room for three levels of organization: specific organizations, the broad rank and file opposition movement, the union organization.

it seems to me that it's inappropriate to speak of an "elitist clique" if the aim of the specific organization is empowerment of the rank and file. there need not be any assumption that one specific organization has all the answers. if we're talking about a libertarian approach to active involvement within a mass organization, then we have in mind methods consistent with the aims. this means speaking up, encouraging people to not be passive in the face of management, but it also means that the ranks control the movement and make the decisions. we have a voice but so does everyone else.

moreover, in my observation differences in level of knowledge, activism and commitment are virtually inevitable in any mass organization that is likely. this in itself holds the danger of bureaucratization because there will be a "spontaneous" tendency for people to rely on the people with the most knowledge and commitment. this was in fact the origin of bureaucracy in the AFL unions in the late 19th century.

in my experience American anarchists all too often operate with naive notions of spontaneity solving all problems or of everyone being automatically all "leaders".

a problem i've seen is that anarchists will sometimes insist that their revolutionary politics has to be in command, so they will refuse to try to build mass organizations or be involved in them because this will be seen as "reformist" -- that's one ultra-left error -- or else they try to build mass organizations they believe will be "pure" because they form them.

but in the present era authentic working class-based mass organizations will tend to reflect the character of the American working class at the present time, but with the possible exception that if people are willing to struggle, that starts with people who are less passive and may not be, in that sense, a perfect "average" of the working class right now.

i think it is necessary to build a social base for left-libertarian ideas within the working class. i can't see how this can happen without organized effort. this includes people working as activists within mass organizations, being a voice for rank and file self-management in those organizations, being a voice for militancy, against discriminatory or other retrograde tendencies. the influence gained has to come from the work that is done in support of a common struggle, not through attempts to aggrandize power.

so i don't understand your "elitist clique" comment. you'll need to explain what that means as i don't understand what your fear is.

the "elitist clique" argument has historically been used to defend the "unitary" theory of organization -- that only mass organization and not a specific organization is needed. in practice this tends to lead some anarcho-syndicalists to create small ideological unions that are largely marginal. this tends to marginalize the anarcho-syndicalists, in my opinion.

Catch 22

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I'm no fan of spontaneity. If I was I'd be some kind of council communist or left communist. I think that people certainly need to be trained to self manage struggle, otherwise they on old habit deffer to those most active, staff etc. In mass organizations the only way to perpetuate a revolutionary direction is to promote self management and direct action. Do we need a sepecific organization to do this? I think it depends. In organizations like the IWW I think that continued focus on internal education, utilization of direct action and leadership development from the shop floor can provide this function.

However if this emphasis begins to err or if you have an organization that is democratic but isn't self managed to begin with-ex your independant workers union-I thnik a broad organization to promote the principles of self management is important. For example, in new SDS, its been revealed that a certain Stalinist group decided to join en mass with their cadres ala the PLP 40 years ago. The response has been a general ostracism of Stalinists within much of the organization and their total loss of legitimacy. Yet their total defeat can only be ensured through the promotion of democracy and decentralization of SDS. This aim isn't something that invites specific organization but the broad demands of the rank and file you speak of. Thus there is room for specific organization if only for the promotion of broad libertarian aims.

By "Elitist cliques" I mean groups that form ideological caucuses in mass organizations in order to provide the mass with "correct" views. These groups are nothing more than generators of dogmatism. You may argue that the means of these organizations will be to empower others, I'm unsure whether those means will get corrupted in the morass of "advanced politics." For while I certainly don't expect the workers to spontaneously struggle for liberation, I don't think that specific orgs with pure politics will somehow keep things on track. These groups aren't made of superhumans, they're made up of the same kind of folks that mass organizations are made of. They may even have the effect of retarding struggle if they feel its not going in the "correct" way.

There are also the practical day to day problems with things like this. Specific organization invites a proliferation of other factions and grouplets. Before long every tendency has some sort of organization behind it. New members no longer feel like they're joining a mass organization with a unitary struggle, but a conglomeration of sects with confusing arguments on arcane subjects. Moreover as the experienced members are typically the members of these organizations you create a disconnect whereby new members with politics still in form, are either fought for as numbers in the faction fight, or ignored because their concerns are too petty for the "big" revolutionaries.

As for the problems of pure unitary groups vs. specific groups in mass organizations.

I don't think I fall within either category. I believe that it is necessary to have basic specific organization to promote the principles of direct action and self management in mass organizations that are practicing those principles or have the potential. I really don't care if the mass organization is "reformist." The point is to promote struggle as a radicalizing force. When it comes to mass organizations like the AFL and CTW unions I'm not sure what should be done. I've never worked in unionized shop so I don't know what organization is needed for syndicalists to promote self managed struggle. I'm all for pushing the unions towards more radical aims, but the task seems rather gargantuan. I think time is better spent working with mass groups that directly promote struggle or come close to it.

Randy

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Catch 22

...I don't think that specific orgs with pure politics will somehow keep things on track. These groups aren't made of superhumans, they're made up of the same kind of folks that mass organizations are made of. They may even have the effect of retarding struggle if they feel its not going in the "correct" way.

Catch, seems to me that you are missing the point of specific orgs. They are needed not to give a home to a better grade of militant, but rather they are a social body with a different set of aims, revolutionary aims, that a union can't have (given its need to attend to wage and benefit concerns of the membership). Sometimes short term gains and long term rev. goals coincide, but not always. (Example: staying out on strike another week would help our long range struggle goals, but the folks are getting hungry so we better accept the most recent offer).

...I believe that it is necessary to have basic specific organization to promote the principles of direct action and self management in mass organizations that are practicing those principles or have the potential. I really don't care if the mass organization is "reformist." The point is to promote struggle as a radicalizing force....

I agree completely.

I think time is better spent working with mass groups (other than unions) that directly promote struggle or come close to it.

Such as?

syndicalist

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Interesting.... I would ask Catch, where would the common space for anarcho-syndicalists to meet and talk shop, so to speak? One that is as specifically anarcho-syndicalist. Is not some formal organization needed? Even Sam Dolgoff, a very dedicated IWW member, believed in specific anarchist organization.

I guess one of the questions which comes to my mind is, aside from the above, is what's the difference between an anarcho-syndicalist "propaganda" group and a non-union a/s organization? Does an a/s propaganda group not serve the same function as an a/ group that works in mass movements (workers,social,community) that issues libertarian literature and arges a certain viewpoint? I would agree that how the work is carried out and how positions are articulated are important.

I would also not suggest that the concept of "especifico" be totally transfered to the quesion raised. Rather, what sort of constructive a/s organization is meaningful that takes in the reality of the many diverse activities of today's libertarian workers in N.A.?

Nate

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Mitch, I like the idea of an a/s group as a way for folk to reflect on and improve their own work wherever it is. Like I have disagreements with Duke and with Chuck Hendricks but I could learn things from them too and that's gonna be more productive for me than rehashing disagreements. Or like I'm not super interested in things like New Directions or TDU whatever but I think people those settings could be good to learn from too. I think in some respects for the short term bracketing questions of strategy (which unions etc) and focusing on sharing and mastering effective tactics would be very useful. Like you said, for people to "develop and enhance their work in a variety of worker, social and community struggles." Another way to put this is the a/s group as a sort of ongoing workshop for people to improve their effectiveness in practice and formulate the best anarchist moves in their current environment. That would bracket out issues like "IWW or not, IWA or not," etc. Those debates are totally important but I think they're going to be more productive later on down the road after the group knew each other better and there was a relationships and trust and a culture of discussion etc built up. That is, the a/s group as workshop could lay the groundwork for a more strategically cohesive group in the future wherease pushing for that cohesion initially would probably cause fractious debate and result in smaller organizatios.

I'm less interested in putting out propaganda as a group but I think there is a role for that too.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

catch-22:

By "Elitist cliques" I mean groups that form ideological caucuses in mass organizations in order to provide the mass with "correct" views.

but what left-libertarian specific organization does this? the FAG, a Brazilian especifista group, says that it is not their aim to impose a line on a mass organization they are a part of.

also, your comment seems inconsistent with what you say later:

I believe that it is necessary to have basic specific organization to promote the principles of direct action and self management in mass organizations that are practicing those principles or have the potential. I really don't care if the mass organization is "reformist." The point is to promote struggle as a radicalizing force.

this comment i don't understand:

When it comes to mass organizations like the AFL and CTW unions I'm not sure what should be done. I've never worked in unionized shop so I don't know what organization is needed for syndicalists to promote self managed struggle. I'm all for pushing the unions towards more radical aims, but the task seems rather gargantuan. I think time is better spent working with mass groups that directly promote struggle or come close to it.

it seems to me we need to have an overall strategic concept that helps to inform our organizing and practical work, and our theoretical ideas should hopefully develop through learning from practice. doing this needs to incorporate experience from all sorts of areas, all sorts of struggles, workplace and community, in AFL or CtW unions or independent worker organizations (IWW, workers centers, independent unions).

you may not have any experience working in AFL or CtW unions and no interest (now) in that area of activity but others will have such experience and this needs to inform our understanding. Nor can the 12 million workers in the AFL and CtW unions be simply ignored, if you want to have a serious revolutionary strategy.

it's also not sufficient to focus only on workplace organizing and ignore struggles in community contexts.

one of the reasons in favor of a specific organization is that people from different experiences can share what they've learned and people can learn from others. People can get advice on what they are doing.

a reason that a "propaganda group" is an inadequate conception of a specific organization is that it doesn't provide for feedback from practice, nor does it allow for how credibility and influence for the ideas flows from people being involved in the mass organizations and struggles in communities.

Felix Frost

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalist

In the US and Canadian context, what would an expplicitly anarcho-syndicalist organization mean and do? Given the diversity of activist efforts here in the US/Canada, can an anarcho-syndicalist organization be more like a "especifico" organization? That is, an organization of like minded activists coming together to issue libertarian literature and help develop and enhance their work in a variety of worker, social and community struggles. Or must its sole and defining role be something else or something else?

While I do think it is a good idea for like minded activists to "come together to issue libertarian literature and help develop and enhance their work", I don't see why this should be done in the context of a "especifista" organization. In fact, I don't see it as very important whether this is done by a formal organization or through informal networks, and I fail to see how making formal organizations will solve the problem with informal hierarchies. Also, I don't see any reason why such an organization or network should be restricted to people who use the anarchist label.

syndicalistcat

the "elitist clique" argument has historically been used to defend the "unitary" theory of organization -- that only mass organization and not a specific organization is needed. in practice this tends to lead some anarcho-syndicalists to create small ideological unions that are largely marginal. this tends to marginalize the anarcho-syndicalists, in my opinion.

I don't think small "unitary" organizations nessesarily marginalizes anarcho-syndicalists, as their role isn't to act as a small trade union that takes care of the interests of their own members, but to advocate workers self-activity, and decision making through mass assemblies rather than bureaucratic union structures.

Felix Frost

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

(double post)

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

felix:

I don't think small "unitary" organizations nessesarily marginalizes anarcho-syndicalists, as their role isn't to act as a small trade union that takes care of the interests of their own members, but to advocate workers self-activity, and decision making through mass assemblies rather than bureaucratic union structures.

in the context of the USA or North America, a "unitary" organization could only be the IWW. i'm not a member of the IWW but i'm not familiar with them advocating worker assembly movements. what i have heard from wobs i know is the idea of the IWW functioning as a network of radical workplace activists, but I'm not familiar with a particular program they would advocate in this role. there are others in the IWW who do advocate the IWW building industrial union of people working in particular industries, as with the food workers union in New York and the Starbucks union. so apparently the IWW is trying to be what you say a unitary organization is not supposed to be.

so your description seems to not reflect the actual situation in North America.

also, what is the program for community struggles? what is the way of addressing non-class based forms of oppression like racism?

I fail to see how making formal organizations will solve the problem with informal hierarchies.

through a systematic effort training and education of rank and file workers, and rank and file participants in community organizing, and of involving them. i've never seen this addressed adequately through informal means.

convect

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Anarcho-syndicalism doesn't make sense to me except as a strategy for some end result, which is vaguely represented by terms like "anarcho-communism" or "council communism." It is a strategy for change in the organization in the economic system, and does not necessarily address other forms of division. Of course, any decent anarcho-syndicalist should simultaneously address other forms of division as best as they can (and in my experience, that has often led to difficult questions about how to deal with sexism or racism or homophobia in a workplace I'm trying to organize, whether to ignore it because We'll Deal With It Later or confront it and alienate the worker).

Anyway, I see anarcho-syndicalism as an essential component for an overarching strategy for changing the basic economic structure of society. All sorts of activities can be collectivized (by which I mean free association, and not forced collectivization, of course!) and anarcho-syndicalism, along with building a network of workers' cooperatives, are how we can collectivize productive work. I'm a big fan of creating as many workers' collectives as we can, as quickly as possible, so that more and more people have an actual choice between working for a boss and working with a collective, but as long as any workers are trapped into working for a boss, anarcho-syndicalist organization will be necessary.

Humblest apologies for lacking the courtesy to actually read what anyone else has said on this thread before posting to it.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

WSA understands anarcho-syndicalism as a strategy based on developing mass organizations controlled by their members, but since the class struggle spreads out into the community and the working class must address the entire set of issues facing it, including the divisions internal to it, this needs to also include community organization and a labor/community alliance. this isn't an especially new idea for anarcho-syndicalism: consider the 1931 rent strike in Barcelona, which was a community struggle. but the question here isn't about the anarcho-syndicalist strategy but about the possible role that an organization of activists on the basis of a specifically revolutionary viewpoint can play.

Catch 22

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Randy

Catch, seems to me that you are missing the point of specific orgs. They are needed not to give a home to a better grade of militant, but rather they are a social body with a different set of aims, revolutionary aims, that a union can't have (given its need to attend to wage and benefit concerns of the membership). Sometimes short term gains and long term rev. goals coincide, but not always. (Example: staying out on strike another week would help our long range struggle goals, but the folks are getting hungry so we better accept the most recent offer).

I think that's a bit of a false dichotomy. Struggle is a radicalizing force becuase it forces us into conflict with authority. But it also a radicalizing force becuase it is a realization of our own power-our ability to win. There's nothing more revolutionary about staying on strike longer if it means your lose is that much more demoralizing. Long term rev. goals and short term gains always coincide, becuase those revolutionary goals arise as the ultimate consequence of successful struggle. True when we operate within groups that limit the terrain of our demands (AFL, ACORN...) you get a conflict, which is why we should always promote self management and direct action within those groups. But we can't assume that we somehow have a better idea of what revolution is then the consequences of the struggle of the working class.

That make any sense or was I talking out my ass?

Randy

I think time is better spent working with mass groups (other than unions) that directly promote struggle or come close to it.

Such as?

Independent unions, IWW, workers centers, community groups like OCAP or Empower DC, CIW, SDS. They're smaller than your ACORNs, USSAs, or SEIUs but I think they hold great potential.

syndicalist

Interesting.... I would ask Catch, where would the common space for anarcho-syndicalists to meet and talk shop, so to speak? One that is as specifically anarcho-syndicalist. Is not some formal organization needed? Even Sam Dolgoff, a very dedicated IWW member, believed in specific anarchist organization.

I guess one of the questions which comes to my mind is, aside from the above, is what's the difference between an anarcho-syndicalist "propaganda" group and a non-union a/s organization? Does an a/s propaganda group not serve the same function as an a/ group that works in mass movements (workers,social,community) that issues libertarian literature and arges a certain viewpoint? I would agree that how the work is carried out and how positions are articulated are important.

I would also not suggest that the concept of "especifico" be totally transfered to the quesion raised. Rather, what sort of constructive a/s organization is meaningful that takes in the reality of the many diverse activities of today's libertarian workers in N.A.?

I would agree that we should look to form some sort of anarcho syndicalist talk shop. Though I don't think an organization of any complexity is needed for that. Sounds more like a monthly meetup with a few beers and a pizza. As Nate pointed out, we have a lot of questions and internal differences of strategy. I would think that before we delve into some collective project that we hash out some of these questions. In fact I would be real excited to start that up as soon as possible.

I think that propaganda groups are different because they are "commenting from the sidelines" and don't have members actively putting forth proposals for the struggle. The line is a bit blurry, but it exists.

syndicalistcat

catch-22:

By "Elitist cliques" I mean groups that form ideological caucuses in mass organizations in order to provide the mass with "correct" views.

but what left-libertarian specific organization does this? the FAG, a Brazilian especifista group, says that it is not their aim to impose a line on a mass organization they are a part of.

Indeed, but people aren't perfect. The conditions for a cadre atmosphere arise when you get an isolated group of militants doing this kind of work. The fact that they view their politics as "advanced" and cannot find purity in the mass, seems indicative that this is fertile ground for dogmatism. Or at least what looks like dogmatism to non members. Take NEFAC for example. I have nothing against them, I think they're good comrades. But ask most anarchists in the northeast-including class struggle folk-and the reaction is rather negative. People have a knee jerk reaction when they know that there is a special group that meets alone in order to push its politics on a mass group. It freaks folk out.

syndicalistcat

also, your comment seems inconsistent with what you say later:

I believe that it is necessary to have basic specific organization to promote the principles of direct action and self management in mass organizations that are practicing those principles or have the potential. I really don't care if the mass organization is "reformist." The point is to promote struggle as a radicalizing force.

There's a difference between a broad open group that's promoting direct action and democracy then the "anarcho syndicalist" blady blah group. One is about promoting worker militancy and self activity. The other is about promoting highly specific, possibly dogmatic positions, for the mass organization to take. That skirts awfully close to entryism and cadre activity.

syndicalistcat

it seems to me we need to have an overall strategic concept that helps to inform our organizing and practical work, and our theoretical ideas should hopefully develop through learning from practice. doing this needs to incorporate experience from all sorts of areas, all sorts of struggles, workplace and community, in AFL or CtW unions or independent worker organizations (IWW, workers centers, independent unions).

you may not have any experience working in AFL or CtW unions and no interest (now) in that area of activity but others will have such experience and this needs to inform our understanding. Nor can the 12 million workers in the AFL and CtW unions be simply ignored, if you want to have a serious revolutionary strategy.

it's also not sufficient to focus only on workplace organizing and ignore struggles in community contexts.

Agreed, I was just suggesting that our strategy should tilt more towards building radical alternatives. Of course if you land a job in a business union shop we should have some sort of praxis in that arena. I just don't think we should be making it our main focus. The same applies to community struggles. We could try and "fix" ACORN or we could try and build a more radical direct action oriented community/tenant organization. I'm more in favor of building that alternative, but I still take part in ACORN campaigns.

I don't think building alternatives is tantamount to "ignoring 12 million workers". Any vibrant self managed struggle will influence the rank and file of the business unions as well as provide ample propaganda to rank and file movements. The militancy of the 30s was heavily influenced by the example initially put forth by the IWW, not the AFL.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

catch-22:

Indeed, but people aren't perfect. The conditions for a cadre atmosphere arise when you get an isolated group of militants doing this kind of work. The fact that they view their politics as "advanced" and cannot find purity in the mass, seems indicative that this is fertile ground for dogmatism.

i think it's necessary to look at what the actual situation is. the actual situation is that within the working class there are very great differences in terms of commitment, consistency, understanding of the institutions we're up against, and vision in regard to the changes being sought, or even having any vision. your comment above seems to be saying that if we ignore these differences they won't exist.

but in reality organizations depend on activists and organizers. we want to create more activists, we want to encourage ordinary folks to be more active, and people do grow and learn through that process. but there is still a distinction between the activist/organizer layer and those not so involved.

i think it is also very easy for isolation to undermine commitment. commitment can't be taken for granted. not being isolated helps to sustain commitment.

how does understanding develop? mass organizations, precisely because they are diverse and focused on whatever level of goal people in the community in struggle feel is winnable now, are unlikely to be the venue for the development of revolutionary strategy and vision today. on the other hand, work in developing strategy and vision needs to be informed by the practical experiences of people today. how is that going to happen without the radical activists being involved in both practical organizing activity, on the one hand, and some organizational venue dedicated specifically to the development and dispersion of revolutionary anti-authoritarian ideas?

maybe your perceptions are due to your involvement in SDS and IWW. those organizations are formed on the basis of radical politics. that's 2,500 people in a country of 300 million. not a cross-section of the working class.

One is about promoting worker militancy and self activity. The other is about promoting highly specific, possibly dogmatic positions, for the mass organization to take. That skirts awfully close to entryism and cadre activity.

either you think revolutionary ideas are needed or not. how do they get developed? not being isolated has the advantage there are others with a similar commitment who you can bounce your ideas off of, who have different experiences, and can help to keep you from falling into mistakes. dogmatism is avoided in part through this process of dialogue, but also through practical experience. and through an organization you can gain from the practical experience of others.

the history of the USA suggests that worker self-activity and militancy is not sufficient by itself for the development of revolutionary consciousness. for one thing, militancy and self-activity can be isolated or episodic. the breadth of collective struggle affects the power people develop, and this power is needed to help people develop a sense that more far reaching change is possible. the American working class has a much more violent history of class struggle than most countries in western Europe. but individualism, passivity and escapism are more pronounced here nowadays.

as long as you mention the IWW and the '30s, you should also consider the following question. Given that union membership in the USA grew from 5 million in 1933 to 15 million in 1940, but IWW membership dropped from 20,000 to 2,000, why did that huge labor upsurge pass the IWW by? will another labor upsurge pass the IWW by?

syndicalist

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Rushing --well, sortof---to work at the moment.

I have no idea how someone can think of a anarcho-syndicalist federation or organization as a "cadre" orgaization.

This could then be the same about anyone who gets together to organize a perspective---particularly a minority viewpoint.Does that mean that the sole activist in a workplace or elsewhere is a cadre becaue they are not in the majority? I mean unless we all exist within majority organizations we will have to find ways to promote ideas, share ideas and sometimes rely on others for help.

Back to yas later.

Jimmy

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Small point, as Tom has covered pretty much everything.

Catch 22
Take NEFAC for example. I have nothing against them, I think they're good comrades. But ask most anarchists in the northeast-including class struggle folk-and the reaction is rather negative. People have a knee jerk reaction when they know that there is a special group that meets alone in order to push its politics on a mass group. It freaks folk out.

The ever Nefarious Nefac. That speaks more about those anarchists than there being anything dodgy about organising to advance one’s perspectives. If others don’t particularly want to sort out their approach in advance that’s their prerogative. It’s naïve to think that others won’t, which makes it all the more important that libertarians do it properly.

What does “push its politics on a mass group” mean in practice? It’s really how this is done that is important. There’s a big difference whether it’s done by open argument and debate or by attempting to overwhelm unorganised section through manipulation or pressure of some sort. Are they constantly trying to get control of a central committee and thereby impose their politics or are they faced with having to persuade people on an issue by issue basis?

In practice, the situation is likely to be much more dynamic than the organised anarchists forcing their line on a broader group. Apart from respecting the independence of the group, the influence is generally two-ways, with the anarchists picking up lots of useful experience along the way.

yab

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Catch 22

I don't think building alternatives is tantamount to "ignoring 12 million workers". Any vibrant self managed struggle will influence the rank and file of the business unions as well as provide ample propaganda to rank and file movements. The militancy of the 30s was heavily influenced by the example initially put forth by the IWW, not the AFL.

I don't think this is true. The IWW was destroyed before the 1930's. The mass movement of the 1930's was influenced by folks to a large degree that left the IWW and started something new. By communists, bu radicals, but not the IWW. There was almost no pick up the IWW membership during this time.

Smash Rich Bastards

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Catch 22

Indeed, but people aren't perfect. The conditions for a cadre atmosphere arise when you get an isolated group of militants doing this kind of work. The fact that they view their politics as "advanced" and cannot find purity in the mass, seems indicative that this is fertile ground for dogmatism. Or at least what looks like dogmatism to non members. Take NEFAC for example. I have nothing against them, I think they're good comrades. But ask most anarchists in the northeast-including class struggle folk-and the reaction is rather negative. People have a knee jerk reaction when they know that there is a special group that meets alone in order to push its politics on a mass group. It freaks folk out.

Eh, can't please everyone...

Really though, this is a weak liberal argument, and just speaking for myself, I am not especially interested in winning over any anarchist that actually thinks this way.

Any conscious revolutionary has an agenda (for our group its developing class confidence, autonomous self-organization, a radicalization of struggles, anti-electoralism, direct action, etc... and eventually, social revolution and libertarian communism). If they say they don't, they are lying. Now, moving from this indisputable point of departure, I would think the best way to effectively assert said agenda would be in an conscious, organized, collective manner... which is what serious anarchists, since the time of Bakunin, have always done.

We're not just gonna wake up to a world of anarchists someday. It is going to take years of conscious minorities asserting anarchist ideas and methods of organization within social movements and struggles before we find mass appeal. Sorry, that's reality.

booeyschewy

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

as for organized groups in mass organizations- i think you're right catch that people respond that way, but i'd personally rather have groups openly organizing. The alternative is passive aggressiveness, politicizing retarded things as fronts for ideological/personal battles, covertly moving agendas, etc. I think SRB is right that essentially this already exists, it's just less effective and useful than when people are organized.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

SRB:

Any conscious revolutionary has an agenda (for our group its developing class confidence, autonomous self-organization, a radicalization of struggles, anti-electoralism, direct action, etc... and eventually, social revolution and libertarian communism). If they say they don't, they are lying. Now, moving from this indisputable point of departure, I would think the best way to effectively assert said agenda would be in an conscious, organized, collective manner... which is what serious anarchists, since the time of Bakunin, have always done.

Yep. For our group, the agenda includes developing mass organizations, sustaining or building self-management of those organizations/movements, favoring a strategy of direct collective struggle rather reformist methods of electoral politics/lobbying, encouraging the development of links between different groups, such as labor and community. The emphasis upon self-managed mass organizations is what makes it syndicalist. Class autonomy of a mass organization such as union means rejecting "partnership" or collaborationist conceptions.

We should want to see develop of skills, knowledge, self-confidence in growing numbers of working people. That's not going to happen "spontaneously." That should also be part of our "agenda" in mass organizations.

blackstarbhoy

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalist

I'm curious how different anarcho-syndicalists (and those close to anarcho-syndicalism) see their activities and roles today. That is, what sort of organization and what sort of organizational relevancy foots their bill?...
...That is, an organization of like minded activists coming together to issue libertarian literature and help develop and enhance their work in a variety of worker, social and community struggles. Or must its sole and defining role be something else...

considering myself a revolutionary anarchist with sympathies for a/s, i would say that i'm concerned with a couple of things. one is participating in the various movements (labor, social, community) in a way that may help them develop their (our) own goals and approaches outside of the various mechanisms of social control: pushing for participatory politics, direct democracy, transparency, antagonism towards the State (or whatever authority institution were at odds with) and adjoined beauracracies, encouraging a culture of confidence and defiance. these things can and should be done whether on a grand level or in small activities.

but to this end i think specific groups that link up the few of us who have enough common agreement, that gets us communicating and sharing experiences can go along way to informing our individual as well as collective efforts in whatever activity we find ourselves in. being a part of a organization allows us to report back on what we have done and develop some analysis out of our actions, analysis that might assist us in the future. making our efforts known also may help inform the activity of others involved in struggles.

i appreciate WSA, NEFAC and other organized groups. its natural to want to get input and advice from those you feel levels of affinity with. being part of a formal organization or alliance or whatever we might call it, does mean we have certain perspectives, and why shouldnt we? but being a member of such a group does not necessarily imply the notion that "our" programs are the correct ones. they could be in some cases or they might not be in others, i think the aim is to argue for goals and strategy within struggles, while as said before, helping those struggles maintain their transparency and participatory nature. once struggle picks up all varieties of sects will figure out how to make inroads, that is a given. we shouldnt be arguing to ban groups because they are sects, we should be arguing, fighting to broaden debate and maintain the self-activity of movements.

sorry if this is a tad disjointed.

Catch 22

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalistcat

i think it's necessary to look at what the actual situation is. the actual situation is that within the working class there are very great differences in terms of commitment, consistency, understanding of the institutions we're up against, and vision in regard to the changes being sought, or even having any vision. your comment above seems to be saying that if we ignore these differences they won't exist.

but in reality organizations depend on activists and organizers. we want to create more activists, we want to encourage ordinary folks to be more active, and people do grow and learn through that process. but there is still a distinction between the activist/organizer layer and those not so involved.

Of course there is a great variance amongst working class. I’ve worked with pretty reactionary folks before in mass campaigns, as well as radicals. The working class is so damn complex and diverse that it’s a bit foolish to think that we’ve distilled the best ideas and that revolution will only be successful following our course of action.

We really aren’t any more advanced than other members of the working class. We just think we are becuase we're more active. And when we begin forming organizations to inform those reactionary masses there is room for dogmatism and there is a high chance that we will piss people off. I’m in favor of groups that promote broad libertarian aims in mass struggle. The minute detail of our long term vision is really better left up to propaganda groups or talk shops.

syndicalistcat

i think it is also very easy for isolation to undermine commitment. commitment can't be taken for granted. not being isolated helps to sustain commitment. how does understanding develop? mass organizations, precisely because they are diverse and focused on whatever level of goal people in the community in struggle feel is winnable now, are unlikely to be the venue for the development of revolutionary strategy and vision today. on the other hand, work in developing strategy and vision needs to be informed by the practical experiences of people today. how is that going to happen without the radical activists being involved in both practical organizing activity, on the one hand, and some organizational venue dedicated specifically to the development and dispersion of revolutionary anti-authoritarian ideas?

maybe your perceptions are due to your involvement in SDS and IWW. those organizations are formed on the basis of radical politics. that's 2,500 people in a country of 300 million. not a cross-section of the working class.

I’m an anarcho-syndicalist. Last I checked we advocate and create mass organizations with a limitless ceiling of demands. That’s what distinguishes our mass groups from the others; our aim is to keep demanding till we abolish coercive authority. Through that struggle people change and revolutionary consciousness develops.

Why are we so worked up about forming our nice grouplets when we need to start building mass? Waiting for the “proper” level of struggle to come along so that the working class is “ready” for mass syndicalist organization isn’t gonna get us anywhere. If we’re serious we need to start building mass groups that will push the struggle forward. Let’s make those self managed unions and community groups you’ve been talking about S-cat.

That’s why I’m involved with the IWW and SDS, because they’re actually organizing and radicalizing folk. Marginal and small yes, but so was the CNT at one point. I’ve worked in reformist mass campaigns; I think my energies are better here. An inadequate cross section of the working class? Yeah probably, but I’m not exactly sure what an adequate representation of the working class is. I’m just tired of talking about syndicalism without putting that into practice.

syndicalistcat

the history of the USA suggests that worker self-activity and militancy is not sufficient by itself for the development of revolutionary consciousness. for one thing, militancy and self-activity can be isolated or episodic. the breadth of collective struggle affects the power people develop, and this power is needed to help people develop a sense that more far reaching change is possible. the American working class has a much more violent history of class struggle than most countries in western Europe. but individualism, passivity and escapism are more pronounced here nowadays.

How is militancy and self activity not sufficient? Where do you think these revolutionary ideas came out of? There are but the polished afterthoughts of struggle. If we truly think that anarchism is possible than it’s necessary that anarchist ideas can develop relatively organically. When I was at the USSF the revolution was coming from the lived experiences of “another politics is possible” practitioners, not the anarchist workshop. These folk seemed to distill a pretty good praxis without “specific organization” pushing their politics on these mass organizations.

syndicalistcat

as long as you mention the IWW and the '30s, you should also consider the following question. Given that union membership in the USA grew from 5 million in 1933 to 15 million in 1940, but IWW membership dropped from 20,000 to 2,000, why did that huge labor upsurge pass the IWW by? will another labor upsurge pass the IWW by?

Maybe because the IWW was marred by the Thompson/ EP split and never really recovered? I know you have some interpretation from the 8,000 pages of IWW history you’ve read so lets hear it.

Catch 22

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Smash Rich Bastards

Eh, can't please everyone...

Really though, this is a weak liberal argument, and just speaking for myself, I am not especially interested in winning over any anarchist that actually thinks this way.

Any conscious revolutionary has an agenda (for our group its developing class confidence, autonomous self-organization, a radicalization of struggles, anti-electoralism, direct action, etc... and eventually, social revolution and libertarian communism). If they say they don't, they are lying. Now, moving from this indisputable point of departure, I would think the best way to effectively assert said agenda would be in an conscious, organized, collective manner... which is what serious anarchists, since the time of Bakunin, have always done.

We're not just gonna wake up to a world of anarchists someday. It is going to take years of conscious minorities asserting anarchist ideas and methods of organization within social movements and struggles before we find mass appeal. Sorry, that's reality.

Weak liberal argument? Probably. I'm making this shit up as I go along. Still yall have to admit that many many folk either a) have no idea what you do or b) think all you do is denounce things. Hell, all I know is that you put out a sweet magazine. I don't know for the life of me what sort of mass campaigns you've engaged inside the US, cept for GMAC and the Vermont workers center. That sounded cool.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

catch22:

Any conscious revolutionary has an agenda (for our group its developing class confidence, autonomous self-organization, a radicalization of struggles, anti-electoralism, direct action, etc... and eventually, social revolution and libertarian communism). If they say they don't, they are lying. Now, moving from this indisputable point of departure, I would think the best way to effectively assert said agenda would be in an conscious, organized, collective manner... which is what serious anarchists, since the time of Bakunin, have always done.

but i've found i can't create a mass organization by myself. and not all the mass organizations i've been involved in were set up by left-libertarians with an explicit orientation to being self-managing and so on. it's really helpful if there are others you can work with who have similar politics. here in S.F. we've been involved since the '80s in four organizing efforts i can offhand remember. two were organizing people into AFL unions. one was involvement in the Mission Anti-displacement Coalition, and a fourth is a housing organization that i'm involved in now. only the last is an organization that was initiated by a number of left-libertarians, and it's a struggle to keep a self-management orientation.

The working class is so damn complex and diverse that it’s a bit foolish to think that we’ve distilled the best ideas and that revolution will only be successful following our course of action.

this is sort of a strawman argument. it's not necessary for us to claim we have all the answers or the final correct line. We make use of the understanding that we have, the things we think we know. we try to argue for why our ideas make sense. if we don't other ideas will prevail. if we believe in our ideas, then we need to try to put them into practice.

Why are we so worked up about forming our nice grouplets when we need to start building mass?

This is a false dichotomy. One of the reasons it is useful to have a political group is so there are people to share the work. I don't know about you but i can't create a mass organization by myself.

there are some situations where the IWW is trying to build genuine mass union organizations as with the restaurant supply warehouses in NYC. but i wouldn't describe the IWW in general as a mass organization rather than a political organization, in terms of who joins it, in my observation. the fact that the IWW attracts anarchists and has a large number of them in it in relation to total membership creates, i suspect, a certain illusion. the illusion that political organization isn't needed.

in the '30s i think a part of the problem was the lack of a libertarian political organization. for example, a number of IWW butchers initiated the Independent Union of All Workers. It was a community-based labor oganization, with each town having a local union of all the workers in that town. the largest group of workers were the meat packing plant workers. but the large numbers and strength of the meat packing workers was used to support smaller groups of more isolated workers as in the retail stores on the "Main Streets". at a certain point the governor of Minnesota agreed to not intervene in a struggle with the national guard if the IUAW would affiliate to a national union. the governor was close to the Communists and the AFL. the Communists wanted to use the IUAW as a chip to advance themselves in the CIO. but joining the CIO meant cutting adrift all the non-packing plant workers as IUAW didn't fit the CIO's industrial jurisdictions. the key architect of the IUAW's strategy was wob Frank Ellis who was in jail at that moment. there was no libertarian political group or caucus in IUAW to counter the pressure to join the CIO. sticking to the IWW itself merely isolated the syndicalists.

Smash Rich Bastards

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Catch 22

Smash Rich Bastards

Eh, can't please everyone...

Really though, this is a weak liberal argument, and just speaking for myself, I am not especially interested in winning over any anarchist that actually thinks this way.

Any conscious revolutionary has an agenda (for our group its developing class confidence, autonomous self-organization, a radicalization of struggles, anti-electoralism, direct action, etc... and eventually, social revolution and libertarian communism). If they say they don't, they are lying. Now, moving from this indisputable point of departure, I would think the best way to effectively assert said agenda would be in an conscious, organized, collective manner... which is what serious anarchists, since the time of Bakunin, have always done.

We're not just gonna wake up to a world of anarchists someday. It is going to take years of conscious minorities asserting anarchist ideas and methods of organization within social movements and struggles before we find mass appeal. Sorry, that's reality.

Weak liberal argument? Probably. I'm making this shit up as I go along. Still yall have to admit that many many folk either a) have no idea what you do or b) think all you do is denounce things. Hell, all I know is that you put out a sweet magazine. I don't know for the life of me what sort of mass campaigns you've engaged inside the US, cept for GMAC and the Vermont workers center. That sounded cool.

Ah, hey, sorry about that... probably more hostile than I intended it to come off. I get where you're coming from, and honestly, its the dichotomy between "mass organizing" and "conscious political minority" where I think some of the most useful conversations among anarchists sare to be had. I mean, we're conscious anarchists, and have at least some idea of where (at least in theory) we'd like to see the course of social struggle run... towards revolutionary transformation of society in a libertarian communist direction. I think it would be dishonest to approach struggles and organizing otherwise. But at the same time, there is a pitfall of arrogance and vanguardism (or else, purist abstentionism) that could easily be fallen into. But you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I dunno, I think this is one of the main reasons why we have a magazine... because we want to be honest and have a forum to talk about our experiences, assess them, challenge ourselves, invite criticism, and hopefully work towards developing better praxis, effectively incorporating our politics into the struggles we are involved with, etc. Its a process, and no one has the "correct line" just yet...

Felix Frost

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalistcat

felix:

I don't think small "unitary" organizations nessesarily marginalizes anarcho-syndicalists, as their role isn't to act as a small trade union that takes care of the interests of their own members, but to advocate workers self-activity, and decision making through mass assemblies rather than bureaucratic union structures.

in the context of the USA or North America, a "unitary" organization could only be the IWW. i'm not a member of the IWW but i'm not familiar with them advocating worker assembly movements. what i have heard from wobs i know is the idea of the IWW functioning as a network of radical workplace activists, but I'm not familiar with a particular program they would advocate in this role. there are others in the IWW who do advocate the IWW building industrial union of people working in particular industries, as with the food workers union in New York and the Starbucks union. so apparently the IWW is trying to be what you say a unitary organization is not supposed to be.

so your description seems to not reflect the actual situation in North America.

Well, I don't think the IWW have ever claimed to be a "unitary organization", and I personally would think it was a good idea for it to function more like a network of radical workplace activists, rather than a small radical union. Even so, I would imagine that wobblies planning a campaign will try to involve everyone in their workplaces, hold meetings open to all workers, etc, and not just work with paid up IWW members.

syndicalistcat

also, what is the program for community struggles? what is the way of addressing non-class based forms of oppression like racism?

This is a whole other discussion, but I don't see the need for a specific anarchist organization in order to participate in community struggles or anti-racist work either.

syndicalistcat

I fail to see how making formal organizations will solve the problem with informal hierarchies.

through a systematic effort training and education of rank and file workers, and rank and file participants in community organizing, and of involving them. i've never seen this addressed adequately through informal means.

This is all well and good, but again I would see this as the job of the mass organizations, and not of a specific political organization.

blackstarbhoy

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalist

In the US and Canadian context, what would an explicitly anarcho-syndicalist organization mean and do? Given the diversity of activist efforts here in the US/Canada, can an anarcho-syndicalist organization be more like a "especifico" organization? That is, an organization of like minded activists coming together to issue libertarian literature and help develop and enhance their work in a variety of worker, social and community struggles. Or must its sole and defining role be something else or something else?

how would any future organization of "like minded activists" differ from the role of the WSA? Was the WSA conceived as just such a vehicle (the same could be said kinda for NEFAC except for the emphasis on a/s. though i would think NEFAC's platformist basis gives it an even deeper commitment towards theoretical and strategic unity, beyond any kinda general union of class struggle anarchists. this orientation would in no way prevent a group like NEFAC from participating in another alliance or project)? Why not join WSA

Or do you think an alliance could be made that brings together these class struggle @ forces into a common project?

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

blackstarbhoy: i'm not sure i see any "deeper commitment to theoretical and strategic unity" in NEFAC than in WSA. However, it's possible that NEFAC's stronger groups (collectives) helps. But this is an only accidental difference between WSA and NEFAC, due to WSA's more scattered membership at present.

WSA has a single political perspective codified in the "Where We Stand" statement back in the '80s (we've got a draft of a new version which we're currently discussing).

A part of the reason WSA was formed on the basis of individual membership rather than collective membership was to avoid group chauvinism and separate "lines" developing in groups, which became a roadblock to unity in practice in the ACF of the late '70s, which some of us had been in. On the down side, individual membership has meant that often WSA's membership has been scattered and probably made WSA more vulnterable to the entryist takeover attempt by the Duluth group. It's made me re-think that aspect of how WSA was organized. WSA functioned more like NEFAC around 1990 when we had about four or five branches (which are called "groups" in WSA), and branches were involved in various projects. at that time our equivalent of the NEFAC Federal Council was the National Committee which had regional delegates and officers doing certain functions (Secretary, Treasurer, International Secretary).

We were unfamiliar with Uruguayan "especifista" theory when we formed WSA. We were familiar however with the Italian "dual organization" concept which we do follow in practice. It's just that right now we're re-writing our basic political statement and so we're revisiting these issues. That's why syndicalist posted this question, to get feedback.

blackstarbhoy

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalistcat

It's just that right now we're re-writing our basic political statement and so we're revisiting these issues. That's why syndicalist posted this question, to get feedback.

ahhh, that puts the thread in a slightly different context, at least for me. i'm gonna re-read the Where We Stand document. I'll get back later.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

felix:

Well, I don't think the IWW have ever claimed to be a "unitary organization", and I personally would think it was a good idea for it to function more like a network of radical workplace activists, rather than a small radical union. Even so, I would imagine that wobblies planning a campaign will try to involve everyone in their workplaces, hold meetings open to all workers, etc, and not just work with paid up IWW members.

well, i'm not willing to put all the eggs in the IWW basket. your reply essentially leaves "build the IWW" as the be-all and end-all of revolutionary strategy. To me that's a recipe for marginalization. We had that debate with the ASR group. That was probably the main issue in the split in the ACF in 1980. IWW is a marginal group that attracts a high level of anarchists as a percentage of the members. It's not yet shown that it has the ability to break out of its marginalization, tho we support efforts of IWW to build actual unions, as in the restaurant supply warehouse campaign. But it's highly implausible to suppose an entire revolutionary mass movement will be forged out of these IWW efforts.

the past history of labor upsurges in the USA suggests the intiatives for these come from all sorts of sources and emerge all over. a multiplicity of venues of mass struggle is sort of inevitable.

You, on the other hand, would rather the IWW function as a network of radical activists. Well, the fact is, the IWW has no internal consensus on this question, and never has. This debate was going on in the IWW in1908. Yet it isn't coherent to try to combine building actual unions and being a network of radical activists in whatever unions there are.

my observation of the IWA, as a former member, is that the "unitary" idea of combining a revolutionary organization and a mass organization in practice leads to marginalization, splits and sectarianism.

and you provided no answer to my point about the need for radical left-libertarian activists to also be involved in community organization, and to work to develop labor/community links.

You can say that training of members should be a function of mass organizations, but who is going to propose and push for this in mass organizations? Few actual mass organizations in my observation have this orientation, tho a few do. And I'm not sure how good they are at really developing skills and confidence in members to do everything.

the kind of unionism we would advocate for, i hope, would be based on member control, constant training and mobilizing of members, fighting against all forms of discrimination or inequality such as racism, avoiding ideas of "partership" or "common interests" with the employers.

and we should also be able to advocate for this in any unions that exist, whether AFL-CIO, CtW or whatever. and it's helpful if we're not chopped up into isolated individuals while doing this.

There needs to be a place where revolutionaries can come together and share experiences and debate and learn from that, improving their own understanding, and finding people to work together with on projects. This is one of the things we need specific organizations for.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

blackstarbhoy:

ahhh, that puts the thread in a slightly different context, at least for me. i'm gonna re-read the Where We Stand document. I'll get back later.

cool but i'll point out that one of the holes in the old statement is that we didn't talk about what kind of organization we take WSA to be. we're trying to correct that in the new version by laying out a view as to what the role of WSA itself should be, as we see it.

Nate

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalistcat

You, on the other hand, would rather the IWW function as a network of radical activists. Well, the fact is, the IWW has no internal consensus on this question, and never has. This debate was going on in the IWW in1908. Yet it isn't coherent to try to combine building actual unions and being a network of radical activists in whatever unions there are.

Actually Tom I think this is a reasonable description of what the IWW is doing, building unions and being a network within other unions. There are definite problems with execution and coordination, and mainly problems of us being small and there being way more work to do than there are hands, but it's happening. My branch, for instance, has at least seven dual carders (of varying level of activity in the IWW, in their other unions, and in their workplaces, there may be others who are inactive members I'm not sure but anyway they don't count) in four different unions, and we're working on organizing unorganized workers.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I know that IWW has various dual-carders. but do they develop an actual program or goals in regard to what they want to accomplish? do they get together to work out an IWW program in regard to the workplaces in the AFL or CtW unions? does the IWW work out a strategy in regard to the larger question of revolutionary strategy in the USA? does the IWW have a strategy in regard to relations with community organizations or labor/community alliances? does a do-your-own-thing liberalism prevail?

based on my observations of the IWW since the late '60s/early '70s period, i am not convinced the IWW is going to somehow be a replacement for a specific organization, which is the topic of this thread.

Dundee_United

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

This is a highly interesting discussion. It is interesting seeing the WSA members' perspectives, particularly as I would define my own organisational perspective as especifist and platformist. Don't find much to disagree with you guys. Erm.... Keep up the good posts!

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

catch22:

How is militancy and self activity not sufficient? Where do you think these revolutionary ideas came out of? There are but the polished afterthoughts of struggle. If we truly think that anarchism is possible than it’s necessary that anarchist ideas can develop relatively organically. When I was at the USSF the revolution was coming from the lived experiences of “another politics is possible” practitioners, not the anarchist workshop. These folk seemed to distill a pretty good praxis without “specific organization” pushing their politics on these mass organizations.

i think the way that radical ideas influence struggles and the larger working class is through the active members of the working class who are influenced by or have arrived at such ideas. if the layer of activists and organizers has an organic relationship to the working class which they are a part of, then their ideas develop through their discussions with people around them and their experience. different conclusions can be drawn from a particular struggle or situation depending on the theory that you bring to it, just as your experiences can strengthen or weaken the hold of ideas you hold. but why aren't the activists with revolutionary ideas, whether in a specific organization or not, a part of this? i also would not assume any static divide between activists and organizers and everyone else, as people who are not active can become active and organizing is something people can learn, and can be taught.

i agree that the workshop at the USSF on "another politics is possible" was better than the anarchism workshop, but it's a mistake to suppose the organizers and presenters in that other workshop were not equally radical activists. and some of the sponsoring groups of that workshop were specific groups, such as Left Turn and Catalyst Project. the difference in quality of the workshop is not explained by sponsorship or presence by specific groups or people with revolutionary ideas. the people presenting and organizing the "another politics is possible" workshop were also revolutionaries. the "another politics is possible" workshop didn't have a mechanical fixation on avoiding presenters talking, an error that is based on a mechnical egalitarianism ("We're all equal so just let each person in the room talk the same amount"), which characterized the anarchism panel, and selected people to talk who had experiences relevant to the key topics discussed. that panel was aimed at explaining in a simple and direct way certain key concepts related to revolutionary politics, such as "horizontalism"/non-hierarchy, "intersectionality" (of different forms of oppression), etc.

Catch 22

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalistcat

but i've found i can't create a mass organization by myself. and not all the mass organizations i've been involved in were set up by left-libertarians with an explicit orientation to being self-managing and so on. it's really helpful if there are others you can work with who have similar politics. here in S.F. we've been involved since the '80s in four organizing efforts i can offhand remember. two were organizing people into AFL unions. one was involvement in the Mission Anti-displacement Coalition, and a fourth is a housing organization that i'm involved in now. only the last is an organization that was initiated by a number of left-libertarians, and it's a struggle to keep a self-management orientation.

Of course you can’t start an organization by yourself but you don’t need too many folks to start one. During the fare strike you proposed starting a riders union. Clearly if that were to come about it would be “left libertarian initiated.” Of course this presupposes that class struggle anarchists aren’t isolated, but that doesn’t require an organization with dues, coordinated intervention, and matching tshirts.

I think that the struggle to keep things in a self management direction comes from our lack of experience in functioning radical mass organizations. I think if we want to build mass and radicalize at the same time then we need to gain practice in keeping those “left libertarian” mass groups in a self management direction.

syndicalistcat

This is a false dichotomy. One of the reasons it is useful to have a political group is so there are people to share the work. I don't know about you but i can't create a mass organization by myself.

Sharing the work doesn’t require the level of organization of the WSA or NEFAC. Hell the informal scene is typically a pretty good survey of all the anarchists you can work with anyway.

syndicalistcat

there are some situations where the IWW is trying to build genuine mass union organizations as with the restaurant supply warehouses in NYC. but i wouldn't describe the IWW in general as a mass organization rather than a political organization, in terms of who joins it, in my observation. the fact that the IWW attracts anarchists and has a large number of them in it in relation to total membership creates, i suspect, a certain illusion. the illusion that political organization isn't needed.

Yes there is the issue that the union is predominated by anarchists thus there being no need for a separate anarchist organization. But in any syndicalist group, regardless of whether its 5-500,000, the committed militants are typically within proximity to anarchism.

syndicalistcat

i think the way that radical ideas influence struggles and the larger working class is through the active members of the working class who are influenced by or have arrived at such ideas. if the layer of activists and organizers has an organic relationship to the working class which they are a part of, then their ideas develop through their discussions with people around them and their experience. different conclusions can be drawn from a particular struggle or situation depending on the theory that you bring to it, just as your experiences can strengthen or weaken the hold of ideas you hold. but why aren't the activists with revolutionary ideas, whether in a specific organization or not, a part of this? i also would not assume any static divide between activists and organizers and everyone else, as people who are not active can become active and organizing is something people can learn, and can be taught.

I pretty much agree with this. Though I don’t think you require some sort of especifista group to expose activists/organizers to left liberatarian ideas. Propaganda groups, discussion groups, open forums, etc. are all pretty useful for this. I’ve found at least in my own groups that people try to access these ideas when they’re ready. Attempting coordinated anarchist intervention tends to piss them off. Moreover if you’re operating within an organization that operates on the principles of self management and militancy that a certain anti authoritarian atmosphere tends to develop.

syndicalistcat

i agree that the workshop at the USSF on "another politics is possible" was better than the anarchism workshop, but it's a mistake to suppose the organizers and presenters in that other workshop were not equally radical activists. and some of the sponsoring groups of that workshop were specific groups, such as Left Turn and Catalyst Project. the difference in quality of the workshop is not explained by sponsorship or presence by specific groups or people with revolutionary ideas. the people presenting and organizing the "another politics is possible" workshop were also revolutionaries. the "another politics is possible" workshop didn't have a mechanical fixation on avoiding presenters talking, an error that is based on a mechnical egalitarianism ("We're all equal so just let each person in the room talk the same amount"), which characterized the anarchism panel, and selected people to talk who had experiences relevant to the key topics discussed. that panel was aimed at explaining in a simple and direct way certain key concepts related to revolutionary politics, such as "horizontalism"/non-hierarchy, "intersectionality" (of different forms of oppression), etc.

Heh you looked a bit perturbed during the workshop as the NYMAA made it pretty anarcho scenestery real fast. Though I’m not just talking of the quality of the workshop but the nature of the speakers. Yes they were radical, but how did they get so? Probably because they arrived at it organically through a synthesis of their own experience and radical theory. I don’t think especifista groups pushed them that way. From what I surmised it seems like most militants will come to a left libertarian perspective via struggle and a wide penetration of anarchist ideas via discussion groups, infoshops, and our individual participation and support. By and large I think a relatively hands off approach to explicit social insertion and specific goals gives us a far better impression in the minds of most of these folks.

Come to think of it most of this discussion comes from instances of folk getting pissed at me if they think I'm basing views on a subject solely becuase thats how it allies with anarchism. There really is a harsh reaction when you act like you have an over arching way to interpret events. *shrug*

Catch 22

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Smash Rich Bastards

Ah, hey, sorry about that... probably more hostile than I intended it to come off. I get where you're coming from, and honestly, its the dichotomy between "mass organizing" and "conscious political minority" where I think some of the most useful conversations among anarchists sare to be had. I mean, we're conscious anarchists, and have at least some idea of where (at least in theory) we'd like to see the course of social struggle run... towards revolutionary transformation of society in a libertarian communist direction. I think it would be dishonest to approach struggles and organizing otherwise. But at the same time, there is a pitfall of arrogance and vanguardism (or else, purist abstentionism) that could easily be fallen into. But you can't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I dunno, I think this is one of the main reasons why we have a magazine... because we want to be honest and have a forum to talk about our experiences, assess them, challenge ourselves, invite criticism, and hopefully work towards developing better praxis, effectively incorporating our politics into the struggles we are involved with, etc. Its a process, and no one has the "correct line" just yet...

No offense taken. it's not that I want to "throw the baby out with the bathwater" as I've said earlier, its not that i'm programtically against all especifist kind of organizing, I'm just rather wary of it becuase of the myriad pitfalls you mentioned. So I favor setting up either theoretically pure propaganda groups, disgussion groups, or operating within mass groups that operate on more libertarian principles. Though I've been in mass campaigns where I've agitated for self activity and militancy. I'm typically told that I hate black people or something similarly insane by a white liberal, at which point I hold back the urge to throw down and beat the coordinator class out of them.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

So I favor setting up either theoretically pure propaganda groups, disgussion groups, or operating within mass groups that operate on more libertarian principles.

I think this is self-isolating, if one limits oneself this way. I think the tendency to stick to the anarchist ghetto is fundamentally a mistake.

When I got involved in the anti-gentrification struggle in my neighborhood in 2000-2001, it was organized through a coalition of neighborhood groups and staffs of non-profits and a number of the key organizers were Leninists. but i got to know a lot of people, gained contacts that have been important later on.

Heh you looked a bit perturbed during the workshop as the NYMAA made it pretty anarcho scenestery real fast.

I've already stated my critique of the way they ran things.

re: "another politics is possible":

Though I’m not just talking of the quality of the workshop but the nature of the speakers.

Yes they were radical, but how did they get so? Probably because they arrived at it organically through a synthesis of their own experience and radical theory. I don’t think especifista groups pushed them that way.

We're not here talking about "especifismo" -- a particular concept of organization -- but the role of an organization organized on the basis of agreement with a specific political perspective, which a person must agree with to belong. Anarchists sometimes call this a "specific organization" as a kind of shorthand. Not all specific groups are especifista.

A number of the people who spoke in the "another politics is possible" workshop were memers of specific organizations. Moreover, you say that people synthesize their experiences with "radical theory." Where do people come in contact with relevant radical theory? It's inadequate to talk about a purely theoretical propaganda group putting out theory because theory needs to develop in the context of practical experience.

syndicalist

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Sorry, 12 hour work-day yesterday and oggta run now. Good to see some interesting discussion. I'll be back at ya -hopefully-tonite.

BTW, I see how there was a misconception about my initial use of the word specific.

I think syndicalistcat is right-on here:

"We're not here talking about "especifismo" -- a particular concept of organization -- but the role of an organization organized on the basis of agreement with a specific political perspective, which a person must agree with to belong. Anarchists sometimes call this a "specific organization" as a kind of shorthand. Not all specific groups are especifista."

One last thing, maybe I've misread some of the other comments, but are some of you saying there's no need for an a/s organization (an organization which has stated goals, dues, struture,produces lietrature) outside of worker, social and community organizations?

Gotta run.

Felix Frost

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalistcat

well, i'm not willing to put all the eggs in the IWW basket. your reply essentially leaves "build the IWW" as the be-all and end-all of revolutionary strategy. (...) But it's highly implausible to suppose an entire revolutionary mass movement will be forged out of these IWW efforts.

In what way did my reply leave "build the IWW" as the be-all and end-all of revolutionary strategy? All I have said is that I don't think small "unitary" organizations nessesarily marginalizes anarcho-syndicalists, and that I don't see why revolutionary syndicalist organizing or networking should be done in the context of a "especifista" organization. In fact, I'm sure the IWW will only play a small part of any future revolutionary mass movement.

As for the current problem with the IWA, I'm not sure they can be attributed to the "unitary" ideas of the organization. It's not like problems with "marginalization, splits and sectarianism" is unheard of in specific political groups...

syndicalistcat

and you provided no answer to my point about the need for radical left-libertarian activists to also be involved in community organization, and to work to develop labor/community links.

As I said, I think this is a whole other discussion, and I don't think you have put forward any real arguments for why a specific anarchist organization is needed in order for this to take place.

syndicalistcat

You can say that training of members should be a function of mass organizations, but who is going to propose and push for this in mass organizations??

The members of those organizations. Who else?

syndicalistcat

There needs to be a place where revolutionaries can come together and share experiences and debate and learn from that, improving their own understanding, and finding people to work together with on projects.

I agree with that. I just don't think a "especifista" type organization is useful for that purpose.

syndicalistcat

We're not here talking about "especifismo" -- a particular concept of organization -- but the role of an organization organized on the basis of agreement with a specific political perspective, which a person must agree with to belong. Anarchists sometimes call this a "specific organization" as a kind of shorthand. Not all specific groups are especifista.

I'm sorry syndicalistcat, but we are talking about "especifismo" (or "plattformism" or the FdCA's concept of "dual organization" which is similar). Syndicalist asked in his opening post if an anarcho-syndicalist organization could be more like a "especifico" organization, and both Catch22 and me was arguing specifically against that "particular concept of organization".

Also, I think it is interesting that you are not sure you see any "deeper commitment to theoretical and strategic unity" in NEFAC than in WSA, at the same time as you admit that WSA "didn't talk about what kind of organization we take WSA to be" your its "codified" political statement. If your organization is really that committed to "theoretical and strategic unity", you would think that you would have taken the time to write this down sometime in your 20+ years of existence...

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

felix:

Also, I think it is interesting that you are not sure you see any "deeper commitment to theoretical and strategic unity" in NEFAC than in WSA, at the same time as you admit that WSA "didn't talk about what kind of organization we take WSA to be" your its "codified" political statement. If your organization is really that committed to "theoretical and strategic unity", you would think that you would have taken the time to write this down sometime in your 20+ years of existence...

well, we've known for a number of years that there were holes in our political statement and it needed to be re-written. since fending off the entryist takeover attempt of 2000, there has been an effort to rebuild the group. now there is a new political statement, which we're discussing. the new statement addresses a number of things that we may have discussed in essays or that we took for granted, but which we hadn't incorporated into our statement back in the '80s.

i think that the emphasis of the thinking of activists changes over time or in certain periods. for example there were analyses that we wrote in "ideas & action" on certain important topics that didn't get reflected back into the political statement, but are reflected in the new political statement we're working on now. some things we took for granted. the "dual organization" concept was discussed a bit in the essay i wrote in 1988 on the factory occupations in Italy in 1920. in that case I was looking at the role played by the Turin Libertarian Group in the mass movement which I took as a positive model.

WSA prefers to stay away from labels and discuss the substance. "especifismo" is a particular label for the conception of organization developed by the Uruguayan anarchist federation. WSA's approach towards organization was evolved from our own experience. We didn't think it would make any sense for a small group of political activists to try to build a specifically anarcho-syndicalist union in the USA, we don't think it is feasible to build mass organizations right now in the USA on the basis of a revolutionary ideology, and when we were formed we had a number of members in AFL unions and at that time favored the development of rank and file movements, from a libertarian point of view, which would emphasize their autonomy from the bureaucracy. so in practice i always conceived of the WSA as a political group, that is, in anarchist language, a specific group.

especifismo and platformism were not familiar to me back then and were not being discussed by class struggle anarchists in the USA in the '80s. so we evolved our own concept from our experience without relying on those ideas. it may be that there are similarities between our viewpoint and "especifismo" and that may be relevant insofar as we can evaluate the practice of "especifista" groups in Latin America but it will fail to be relevant to the degree there are differences in the situation in the USA.

in both of your posts so far here, you don't really provide any arguments, just assertions.

syndicalist

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Ok, hard day and not much in the mood, so I'll be brief....

I see this question has been replied to:

One last thing, maybe I've misread some of the other comments, but are some of you saying there's no need for an a/s organization (an organization which has stated goals, dues, struture,produces lietrature) outside of worker, social and community organizations?

I only ask that you read what I wrote and not get hung up on a term. Obviously my questions got lost in terminology. I retract the use of the word "especiifico" as it has been taken for the substance of my questions and not the questions themselves.

I asked

I'm curious how different anarcho-syndicalists (and those close to anarcho-syndicalism) see their activities and roles today. That is, what sort of organization and what sort of organizational relevancy foots their bill?

In the US and Canadian context, what would an expplicitly anarcho-syndicalist organization mean and do? ....{Would it be] an organization of like minded activists coming together to issue libertarian literature and help develop and enhance their work in a variety of worker, social and community struggles ?

{

Edited follow-up question: Or would it be something else?

syndicalist

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Felix writes:

....you admit that WSA "didn't talk about what kind of organization we take WSA to be" your its "codified" political statement. If your organization is really that committed to "theoretical and strategic unity", you would think that you would have taken the time to write this down sometime in your 20+ years of existence...

Felix, you know that WSA has always been what could be called (in a/s parlance) a "propaganda group". Our orientation has always been a mixture of groups and indivduals who generally adhered to both the WSA Statement and the general principles of the IWA. Our activities have varied from location to location and from militant to militant. we came together and worked on may common projects to specifically advance our version of anarcho-synidcalism. This worked, for the most part, for a long time. It then hit the skids cause the organization hit the skids.

Of course over the years we have asked what we can do to advance the WSA or what can be do to make it better. Perhaps greater efforts should have been made to periodically update our Statement or to ask some of the questions we are asking today.

That said, times, conditions, experiances and other factors change since 1984. To ask questions doesn't mean one has lost sight of basic principles. To say what worked in 1984 would work today, without any upgrading, is to say that what worked in 1905 can work in 2007. We all know that ain't so. So you review, discuss and hopefully come up with critical insights and constructive solutions to move forward.Some organizations never do that.

Nate

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalistcat

I know that IWW has various dual-carders. but do they develop an actual program or goals in regard to what they want to accomplish? do they get together to work out an IWW program in regard to the workplaces in the AFL or CtW unions? does the IWW work out a strategy in regard to the larger question of revolutionary strategy in the USA? does the IWW have a strategy in regard to relations with community organizations or labor/community alliances? does a do-your-own-thing liberalism prevail?

based on my observations of the IWW since the late '60s/early '70s period, i am not convinced the IWW is going to somehow be a replacement for a specific organization, which is the topic of this thread.

Tom, are you taking a tone here, or am I reading in too much? If the latter, I apologize.

Either way, I'm not a dual carder and I'm not particularly excited about dual card so I don't spend any time on dual card stuff so I'm not sure what exactly's going on. I do know that in my branch the dual carders have been working on getting more active as dual carders, using their existing relationships with people in other unions and in labor solidarity circles, and starting to network with other dual carders in other places. I also know that these folk are active in their own workplaces and have been active in their other unions in different ways. The deliberate coordination between these dual carders is all new-ish here in part because we're a new branch (less than 2 yrs old) and peoples time had been taken up with starting the branch. As you know having observed the IWW since the late '60s the IWW contains a variety of outlooks and coordination isn't perfect. It's improving, though. Others in my branch do community stuff and push for the branch to do more of that. I'm not real enthused about it so I spend my time on other things in the IWW and so I don't have a ton of info about that either, but there are efforts to do the stuff you're talking about. Other branches do this same kind of stuff and have conversations about it.

I think it is fair to say that many people in the IWW could be better at coordinating and could stand to make up their minds better, get clearer, etc about what they're doing. Still, yhy you would want to call this current imperfect situation "do you own thing liberalism" is beyond me. I think it's also fair to ask that people who have this - correct - criticism recognize that with the IWW being as big as it is this kind of coordination takes time and is slow to develop, so the improvements that are occurring are laudable, and I'm not aware of any organization on the left in the US of comparable size and focus that's much better on this stuff. Not that this is a contest or whatever, I'm just saying that the criticisms implied in your questions, while correct, apply to a lot of other groups too.

All of that aside, your original point was that "it isn't coherent to try to combine building actual unions and being a network of radical activists in whatever unions there are" and that the IWW needs to make up its mind about which it will do. Your additional questions are interesting and important, but the fact remains the IWW is doing both of the above - imperfectly, like I said, but with some small improvements - and in a way which doesn't strike me as incoherent. There are two positive effects of having people in the same organization. One is that dual carders with lots of experience can help out with new organizing of unorganized shops, passing on their experiences and skils and training new organizers. The second is that dual carders without lots of experience can get involved in new organizing and learn skills which transfer back into their unionized workplaces, to build organization there. Both of these things have happened to good effect in my branch.

I'm not saying that the IWW will create the only unions anyone needs and I'm not saying the IWW will create the only organization of dual carders that anyone needs. (And wobs are free to join other groups.) But I do think the two can be done coherently and productively and this happens at least in pockets in the IWW today. Also for what it's worth, I don't think the IWW is a replacement for a specific organization. I'm for specific organizations. I don't think the IWW is the end-all be-all. I just think it's great.

syndicalist

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

If I may, i have no desire to get into the merits or demirts of the IWW. The IWW will continue on whatever road it chooses and that is just fine. Our movement will continue to have people who are not in wobblies as well as anarcho-wobblies.
It is clear to me from a read of libcom pages that this has not changed much. Obviously both should coo-exist. Each brings their own flavor to the table.

Perhaps some of this discussion is based on some generational experiances. Some on the evolution of new realities in some localities. Perhaps some based on a certain aquired knowledge and some based on the enthusiam of new experiances. Perhaps there are some serious differences in approach. Perhaps not.

As this conversation seems to be headed in a certain direction, let me simply say that WSA has historically has been a sort of an anarcho-syndicalist bridge bewteen the different points within the broadly defined anarcho-syndicalist movement. Perhaps it might still serve that function.

I guess I'm a bit conflicted by some of the comments to this extent. Why wouldn't anarcho-syndicalists want to have some sort of specific orgganization where they come together on the bais of a certain "political" agreement? Oft times in our "mass work" we are constrained in our ability to have certain "political" discussions and develop viepoints from our unique perspective. would also think producing specifically libertarian worker literature would also be positive and allows for a certain non-constrained atmosp[here that may otherwise exist in some of our daily activities. I would think that having such an organization is engaging and positive.

On the question of "formality" vs. "informality", I guess I'm kind of taken by this. I suspect I'm much more of a "formalist" in the sense I believe things should be as organized as possible. I would, of course, agree that "informality" has certain advantages on a limited one-off basis. But I clearly believe that organization of tasks,collection of information/disementation of information and constructive taks and activities should be fomalized in some manner. Or, perhaps, I've missed the point of the comments.

A question was earlier asked whether or not WSA is open t working with other class struggle anarchists outside WSA, of course. I think there are quite a few comrades out there who, while not anarcho-syndicalists, are decent folks, with clear commitments to the class struggle.

I'll try and come back to other points later.

Felix Frost

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalist

I only ask that you read what I wrote and not get hung up on a term. Obviously my questions got lost in terminology. I retract the use of the word "especiifico" as it has been taken for the substance of my questions and not the questions themselves.

I asked

I'm curious how different anarcho-syndicalists (and those close to anarcho-syndicalism) see their activities and roles today. That is, what sort of organization and what sort of organizational relevancy foots their bill?

In the US and Canadian context, what would an expplicitly anarcho-syndicalist organization mean and do? ....{Would it be} an organization of like minded activists coming together to issue libertarian literature and help develop and enhance their work in a variety of worker, social and community struggles?

In that case, yes, that is what I think an explicitly anarcho-syndicalist organization should be doing in the US and Canadian context: Be an organization of like minded activists coming together to issue libertarian literature and help develop and enhance their work. Or as syndicalistcat wrote: "Be a place where revolutionaries can come together and share experiences and debate and learn from that, improving their own understanding, and finding people to work together with on projects." I also think such an organization should be non-sectarian and be open to people who have different strategies and tactics. I think a diversity of tactics is a strength to our movement, not a weakness.

I think WSA has had such a non-sectarian practice in the past: Some members have worked in rank and file groups within the mainstream unions, some have tried to set up independent unions, some have worked to build the IWW, while yet others have spent most of their efforts in non-workplace campaigns. As far as I can tell, this has never been a problem, and people haven't been told that they have to tow the party line. Syndicalistcat, on the other hand, has claimed that you are committed to "theoretical and strategic unity" and has derided other syndicalists for "do-your-own-thing liberalism" and "sticking to the anarchist ghetto" for disagreeing with his chosen strategy for organizing. I don't think this is a constructive way to run an anarcho-syndicalist group.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

felix:

you are committed to "theoretical and strategic unity" and has derided other syndicalists for "do-your-own-thing liberalism" and "sticking to the anarchist ghetto" for disagreeing with his chosen strategy for organizing. I don't think this is a constructive way to run an anarcho-syndicalist group.

I can't and won't take seriously some dickhead who takes quotes out of context or paraphrases in language i didn't use and then attributes it to me. This is a dishonest method of debate. It's also dishonest to ostensibly "quote" me (but not really quoting me) and then trying to describe this as "a way to run a group". That's an obvious leap of logic since whatever it is that i've said here is my own viewpoint and isn't "how WSA is run."

I have political disagreements with other anarchists. Heck, half the time I refuse to call myself an "anarchist." But if you want to have a discussion about those particular disagreements, then stick to what i actually said in the actual context.

And, yes, I do think that a viable political group should have theoretical and strategic unity. I've not seen you explain what you think this means or argue against it, other than attacking me personally here by paraphrases out of context. And I don't think I've "derided" other people here (other than you on this occasion).

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I will add one other thing: I don't take "theoretical and strategic unity" to mean that people agree in every detail or have no theoretical disagreements. It means that the group itself has a developed set of theoretical ideas and vision and strategy that it agrees about, and which guides its common work. But there may be points that people don't agree on and that remain outside the area of a group's common agreement. In practice i take "theoretical and strategic unity" to mean a rejection of the "synthesist" concept of organization or "anarchism without adjectives" which Sebastien Faure had developed a century ago. My experience is that there are too many different ideas and approaches called "anarchism" in the USA for this to be plausible, and there are people I am closer to politically who don't call themselves "anarchists" than i am to some "anarchists."

syndicalist

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Felix is right-on when he writes that the:

WSA has had such a non-sectarian practice in the past: Some members have worked in rank and file groups within the mainstream unions, some have tried to set up independent unions, some have worked to build the IWW, while yet others have spent most of their efforts in non-workplace campaigns. As far as I can tell, this has never been a problem, and people haven't been told that they have to tow the party line.

I suspect this is how we intend to keep it.

Felix: Syndicalistcat, on the other hand, has claimed that you are committed to "theoretical and strategic unity" and has derided other syndicalists for "do-your-own-thing liberalism" and "sticking to the anarchist ghetto" for disagreeing with his chosen strategy for organizing. I don't think this is a constructive way to run an anarcho-syndicalist group.

Look, each individual posting is that, an individual posting. I or syndicalistcat have no script nor are we speaking on behalf of the WSA. We post on libcom as indivduals.That said each person has their own style and should be viewed as an individual style.

I would agree with syndicalistcat when he writes

I don't take "theoretical and strategic unity" to mean that people agree in every detail or have no theoretical disagreements. It means that the group itself has a developed set of theoretical ideas and vision and strategy that it agrees about, and which guides its common work.

While I may have my own personal feelings about some of my other comrades views on this or that thing, the bottom line is we all try and work things out. That is, what are the common things which bring us together ("theoretical unity") and what are the common parameters which keep us working together ("strategic unity"). Achieving these don't preclude militants from implementing our "program" in ways and manners which best suit (or not) their own situations.

That said, we come together because we agree on some basic principles, values and goals. we battle it out, when need be, but walk away at the end of the day without malice and as comrades. WSA has been able to keep kicking for 20+ years with our own unique form because there's still alot of work to be done---and the piss and vinegar to go out and fight the fight the best we can.

So whatever direction this conversation goes, I extend my hand of comradeship to all who share similiar views and principles.

Felix Frost

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalistcat

felix:

you are committed to "theoretical and strategic unity" and has derided other syndicalists for "do-your-own-thing liberalism" and "sticking to the anarchist ghetto" for disagreeing with his chosen strategy for organizing. I don't think this is a constructive way to run an anarcho-syndicalist group.

I can't and won't take seriously some dickhead who takes quotes out of context or paraphrases in language i didn't use and then attributes it to me. This is a dishonest method of debate. It's also dishonest to ostensibly "quote" me (but not really quoting me) and then trying to describe this as "a way to run a group". That's an obvious leap of logic since whatever it is that i've said here is my own viewpoint and isn't "how WSA is run."

The context for your comment about "do-your-own-thing liberalism" was IWW dual carders not having a common strategy. I guess they don't have enough "theoretical and strategic unity" for your liking. "Sticking to the anarchist getto" was your response to Catch22 saying he favored "setting up either theoretically pure propaganda groups, discussion groups, or operating within mass groups that operate on more libertarian principles," rather than setting up "especifista" type anarchist organizations. I think you arguing in favour of "theoretical and strategic unity" while dismissing other approaches to organizing as "do-your-own-thing liberalism" and "sticking to the anarchist ghetto" does say something about how you think an anarcho-syndicalist group ought to function.

syndicalistcat

In practice i take "theoretical and strategic unity" to mean a rejection of the "synthesist" concept of organization or "anarchism without adjectives" which Sebastien Faure had developed a century ago. My experience is that there are too many different ideas and approaches called "anarchism" in the USA for this to be plausible, and there are people I am closer to politically who don't call themselves "anarchists" than i am to some "anarchists."

I also find that I don't have much in common with a lot of people who call thamselves anarchists, and that I have more in common with many people who prefers other labels. (Which is why I remarked earlier that I don't see any reason why a syndicalist organization or network should be restricted to people who use the anarchist label.) In any case, the multitude of weird anarchists out there isn't really relevant to this discussion, as the discussion was specifically about how anarcho-syndicalists should organize. As long as we keep that in mind, I think a synthesist approach to organizing is quite sensible, and preferable to the platformist / especifist / dual organization approach.

syndicalist

Look, each individual posting is that, an individual posting. I or syndicalistcat have no script nor are we speaking on behalf of the WSA. We post on libcom as indivduals.That said each person has their own style and should be viewed as an individual style.

The problem is that syndicalistcat doesn't just argue for his positions as an individual, but presents his arguments as if they were the collective positions of the WSA. I find this quite problematic, although it's not really my concern, as I'm not a member of your group anymore.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

felix:

The context for your comment about "do-your-own-thing liberalism" was IWW dual carders not having a common strategy. I guess they don't have enough "theoretical and strategic unity" for your liking. "Sticking to the anarchist getto" was your response to Catch22 saying he favored "setting up either theoretically pure propaganda groups, discussion groups, or operating within mass groups that operate on more libertarian principles," rather than setting up "especifista" type anarchist organizations.

again you refuse to provide the quotes from me in their actual context. and as I pointed out, i wasn't talking specifically about the particular theory of the Uruguayan anarchist federation, which is what "especifismo" refers to, but an organization whose membership is on the basis of agreement with a specific political perspective, and whose members are also active in mass organizations/movements. both mitch and i have already corrected you on this.

i've never said that a "propaganda group" is by that fact limited to "the anarchist ghetto" and i've certainly not said that about discussion groups, which I helped organize last year here where i live with others. most of the people in this study group did not identify as "anarchists" (tho all were anti-authortarian left) so how was it "limited to the anarchist ghetto"?

a rational discussion about a viewpoint needs to proceed from an examination of that actual viewpoint, not distorted, prejudiced descriptons. but you're only interested in the Stalinist method of falsification.

The problem is that syndicalistcat doesn't just argue for his positions as an individual, but presents his arguments as if they were the collective positions of the WSA. I find this quite problematic, although it's not really my concern, as I'm not a member of your group anymore.

no i do not. i am explicit about what is a position of WSA. any person should assume that when i argue for anything here I'm arguing for my own view unless i explicitly say otherwise. for example on the various threads where i've defended participatory economics I've pointed out on occasion that this is not endorsed by WSA but is my own view.

again, you'd rather engage in lies and personal attack than rational discussion.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

here is what i actually said:

So I favor setting up either theoretically pure propaganda groups, disgussion groups, or operating within mass groups that operate on more libertarian principles.

I think this is self-isolating, if one limits oneself this way. I think the tendency to stick to the anarchist ghetto is fundamentally a mistake.

The mere fact that one organizes a propaganda group or discussion groups doesn't have to mean that one is limited to the "anarchist ghetto". if these groups are organized only among anarchists, and there is no active involvement of the people in these groups in mass organizations, or mass movements, then it might be a case of limiting oneself to the specifically anarchist milieu. i went on to give reasons for being involved in mass organizations. so my point is about being active in mass organizations and struggles and communities that brings one into contact with non-anarchists. Among the reasons are that the experience of practice will help in developing ideas that are discussed in discussion groups or written as literature produced by a group that does "propaganda."

In the case of the study group that I helped to organize last year, almost everyone in the group was an activist or organizer involved in mass struggles/organizations (in housing and anti-poverty struggles).

my question about the IWW's "liberalism" was in reference to my view that it isn't possible to combine in a single organization being both a union and a network of radical worker activists in whatever unions there are. if felix had wanted to contest that view, then what he would need to do is to show how it is in fact coherent and feasible to be an organization that combines both of those things. obviously that is open to debate.

felix says the WSA has always had a "nonsectarian" approach -- something that is apparently not true of felix himself. if the merest criticism of the IWW -- a criticism shared by several other posters on libcom -- generates a personal attack, how is that consistent with being "non-sectarian"? apparently felix has failed to ask himself the question why the WSA was formed rather than us just joining the IWW. the WSA as a group has preferred to simply pursue a different course, tho we obvivously support the IWW case by case, as in the restaurant warehouse organizing in New York City. at the same time we insist on the right to pursue a different organizational conception as syndicalists. demonizing us for that would obviously be sectarian.

but felix prefers to engage in personal attack rather than discussing the issues themselves.

Felix Frost

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

You really should calm yourself down. All I have said on this thread is that I don't find your approach to organizing and your dismissive attitude towards other viewpoints to be constructive. I don't really think that qualifies as a personal attack.

Also, I don't have any problem with you or anyone else criticizing the IWW. I do think it is a problem if you present your criticisms as WSA positions, especially since I think there have always been members of the WSA who were also committed to building the IWW. When I was a member I think probably a majority of WSA members were also in the IWW.

And you have repeatedly presented various viewpoints as WSA positions both on this forum and elsewhere. Often, I find that you have little or dubious support for these claims from official WSA documents . If you like, I can post some out-of-context quotes for you.

Nate

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Why wouldn't anarcho-syndicalists want to have some sort of specific orgganization where they come together on the bais of a certain "political" agreement? Oft times in our "mass work" we are constrained in our ability to have certain "political" discussions and develop viepoints from our unique perspective. would also think producing specifically libertarian worker literature would also be positive and allows for a certain non-constrained atmosp[here that may otherwise exist in some of our daily activities. I would think that having such an organization is engaging and positive.

On the question of "formality" vs. "informality", I guess I'm kind of taken by this. I suspect I'm much more of a "formalist" in the sense I believe things should be as organized as possible. I would, of course, agree that "informality" has certain advantages on a limited one-off basis. But I clearly believe that organization of tasks,collection of information/disementation of information and constructive taks and activities should be fomalized in some manner. Or, perhaps, I've missed the point of the comments.

Mitch I'm with you here 100%, and I agree with the rest of what you said in this comment completely.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

felix:

All I have said on this thread is that I don't find your approach to organizing and your dismissive attitude towards other viewpoints to be constructive. I don't really think that qualifies as a personal attack.

that's not "all" you said, felix. your mistake was in attacking me personally, trying to make me the issue, rather than sticking to the topic. That is not the way to have a rational discussion.

like anyone else i have the right to express my views here. if you don't agree with those views, you are at liberty to argue against them.

i report on what my take is on what WSA's positions are when the topic is WSA's viewpoint. If i don't say that a given view is WSA's view, one should assume it is my own view. It would be absurd to require me to add to the end of every post "This expresses my own view and is not necessarily the view of WSA." that should go without saying. Other people here who are members of groups and who express views not necessarily identical with a shared view of a group they belong to do not do this. Why should you make this requirement peculiar to me?

the real issue seems to be that you think a group like WSA should limit itself to being a "propaganda group" and not also be an organization of people working together as activists and organizers in mass organizations/movements, and I don't agree with you on that.

what you apparenly don't realize is that dual-membership between WSA and IWW has varied quite a bit over time. There were fewer dual members in the mid-'80s when WSA was formed than there were in the late '90s when you were visting, and probably fewer now also. for one thing, in the '80s the IWW only had a couple hundred members. there were IWW elections where only 100 people voted. Opinions about the IWW vary among WSA members. But for you, if someone isn't willing to embrace the IWW that's ground for a personal attack. That's not my idea of a "non-sectarian" approach. if i've never been a member of IWW, you can assume i have my reasons. but i don't go out of my way to talk about the IWW. i only talk about it when people bring it up.

The WSA does support efforts of the IWW to build actual unions, such as the starbucks and New York restaurant warehouse campaigns, as I've pointed out before. In situations like this where there are particular campaigns that WSA supports, there are reasons for WSA members to be involved in the IWW. Also, many of the WSA's members are individual members who are isolated, not part of a WSA branch. if there is an IWW branch where they are that has some life, and they are not a member of an AFL or CtW union, that is a reason for them to be a member of the IWW there.

But WSA has never officially taken any position in favor of "building the IWW" as such as a part of its overall strategy. WSA doesn't really have any position on the IWW as such. Rather, the WSA has a dual labor strategy, both in favor of developing autonomous rank and file movements in AFL or CtW unions, and developing what we call "independent self-managed unions." The reason we tactically support IWW union organizing campaigns is because we view these efforts as attempts to build "self-managed unions". Thus they fit in with our overall strategy. WSA members could very well be commited to "building the IWW" in the sense of building an IWW union in a particular case.

i've also given reasons why, from WSA's point of view, "building the IWW" can't be a complete expression of our politics, even apart from what anyone thinks about how it functions or what it's longterm prospects are, because WSA also supports community organizing, and recognizes the relevance of struggles around non-class areas of oppression such as anti-racism, gay liberation, etc. These do enter into the workplace and anti-racism, anti-sexism, etc. are relevant to workplace organizing, but they also are relevant in a broader social sense as well. But the IWW only focuses on the workplace.

Maybe felix's view of WSA as a "propaganda group" derives from the fact that
some members of the New York branch of WSA do sometimes refer to WSA as a "propaganda group." That way of speaking derives from the history of the New York branch of WSA. That group originated as the Libertarian Workers Group which affiliated to the IWA in 1976. in the traditional framework of the IWA, it had only room for two types of affiliate, either a "union" or a "propaganda group." they didn't seem to think in terms of a syndicalist political organization that did organizing. maybe this is because they thought in terms of a division of labor: anarchist political groups would affilaite to IFA and unions would affiliate to IWA. i don't know.

But the San Francisco branch never called itself a "propaganda group". We thought of WSA as a political group.

WSA didn't think in terms of affiliating to IFA because we weren't intended to be a synthesist style "anarchist" group. We were aware that there were a lot of different things called "anarchism" in the USA and we weren't interested in a loose formation that would be open to anything called "anarchism."

back in the '70s there had been a very loose anarchist federation in the USA called SRAF. SRAF included people who had no orientation to class struggle, counter-culturalists, individualists, etc. in 1978 a number of local collectives wanted to form a more serious, better organized group with a class struggle orientation. that led to the formation of the Anarchist Communist Federation. the ACF split in 1980 and one of the factions in that split were a major part of the people who formed WSA in 1984.

the main group on the "other side" in that split did eventualy become "a propaganda group" and had a strategic orientation to "building the IWW". that group is now the ASR collective. Obviously those of us who split from ACF didn't agree with a labor strategy based on "building the IWW" as disagreement over that was in fact one of the main reasons for the split. Those of us who left ACF and eventually helped form WSA also had an orientation to building autonomous rank and file movements in the AFL-CIO unions. this is why the "other side" in the split accused of us advocating "boring from within". in fact "boring from within" refers to a strategy of changing the labor movement by changing leadership in the AFL unions and, altho we might support a rank and file movement that wants to get rid of the leaders of a union as part of a larger strategy, just doing that is not our strategy. but my point here is that the folks who formed WSA wanted to have an approach relevant to fellow workers in the existing mainstream unions, as part of our political strategy and were not in favor of a labor strategy exclusively focused on "building the IWW."

after the split the syndicalist faction who left ACF held a meeting in New York City and set up a theoretical magazine, ideas & action. this was used as a tool to build a new organization. a couple years on the magazine sponsored a conference in San Francisco for "libertarian socialists and anarcho-syndicalists." around that time there was a split in the IWW.

the WSA's dual labor strategy was based on supporting autonomous rank and file movements in the AFL-CIO unions, and efforts to transform local unions where feasible, and building self-managed independent unions, where feasible. We did not assume that these independent self-managed unions would be part of the IWW, but we obviously haven't ruled that out either. In one case I've mentioned, members of our branch in Knoxville were involved in helping to organize an independent union of university empolyees at the University of Tennessee (now affiliated to CWA). in our magazine "ideas & action" we ran articles about a number of independent unions other than the IWW, such as IBM Workers United in the '80s.

Because WSA was a small group that was using "propaganda", such as its theoretical magazine, leaflets, political debates, etc. to help build the group in the '80s, there is some truth in referring to WSA as a "propaganda group" if this is intended as a purely empirical description. But felix didn't use it that way, but as a defintion of role, that the only role of the organization was to produce literature, to propagandize, and this is not how WSA viewed its role. If you read the various reports on the WSA conventions in ideas & action, WSA is never referred to itself in that limited way.

Nonetheless, WSA's practice in the '80s was heavily "propagandistic" in the sense that putting out the magazine took up a great deal of the organization's resources and energy, and we were very oriented in the content of the magazine to "the war of ideas". by the early '90s i had come around to the view that we'd been too propagandistic, and not sufficiently oriented to concrete organizing efforts. this was to some extent a self-criticism. but i was not criticizing some organizational self-concept as a "propaganda group" since in fact we never had collective agreement on any such self-concept, even if some members sometimes referred to WSA that way, as an empirical description of what our situation was as a small revolutionary group producing a magazine. We had ambitions to be more than a group putting out a magazine even if we didn't have the numbers to do as much as we might like.

the "theoretical and strategic unity" of WSA developed only over time. that's because, when you form an organization, it's hard to discuss every possible topic all at once. the topics that are discussed first will be those that are immediate issues for people. we took up topics over a period of several years. this is why the WSA political statement was amended four times between 1984 and 1988. during that period we gradually had discusssions on racism, sexism/patriarchy, gay liberation, and ecology, and we amended our political statement to add sections on these topics. that means our "theoretical and strategic unity", as reflected in the formal political statement, was developing. but we never got around to working out a specific description of how we viewed the role of the WSA itself as an organization. now is the first time we're having that discussion.

WSA doesn't base our "strategic and theoretical unity" on labels. Rather we try to describe what our political positions are in plain English (or at least we hope it is plain English). labels are a crutch, a substitute for thinking things through. if people can agree on substance so what if they have different preferences about label? WSA currently has at least six members who I think consider themselves "anarcho-communists", at least a few who reject the "communist" label, some who don't like the "anarchist" label,. It's probably true that "syndicalist" (or maybe "libertarian syndicalist") is the only label every member of WSA could agree on. but that doesn't preclude WSA from having a certain level of "theoretical and strategic unity" as embodied in our political statement.

At our national conference in 2002 we made a decision to try to rebuild WSA from the small remaining membership, and part of this was re-writing the political statement entirely from scratch. the new political statement will contain a section on how we conceive of the role of WSA as an organization, we've discussed this a little on our internal email list, and that is why syndicalist posted the question that started this thread.

syndicalist

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Ok, I hope folks are done poking each others eyes.

I dogged tired now, so I read the longer postings later.

syndicalist

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicat: WSA doesn't base our "strategic and theoretical unity" on labels. Rather we try to describe what our political positions are in plain English (or at least we hope it is plain English). labels are a crutch ... if people can agree on substance so what if they have different preferences about label?

Yeah, i'd say this is pretty fair description. I would say labels can be a crutch, rather than they are a crutch. All depending on the setting and audience.

As a PS: WSA's main statements and documents have generally stayed away from using "lablels". Sometimes for the better, sometimes not. The goal has been to explain concepts---with empahsis on anti-authoritarian class struggle, direct action and direct democracy---to the widest possible audience. To, sort of, expand the the zone of reach. Our experiance from the ACF/NA was that people are generally turned off by labels. They shut down. From this experiance we want people to at least give us a listen, and hopefully agree with the substance of anarcho-syndicalism.

Felix Frost

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalistcat

i report on what my take is on what WSA's positions are when the topic is WSA's viewpoint. If i don't say that a given view is WSA's view, one should assume it is my own view. It would be absurd to require me to add to the end of every post "This expresses my own view and is not necessarily the view of WSA." that should go without saying. Other people here who are members of groups and who express views not necessarily identical with a shared view of a group they belong to do not do this. Why should you make this requirement peculiar to me?

Yes, that would be absurd, and I am in fact referring to the views that you explicitly say are WSA's views. Often I don't find these reflected in WSA's published documents. Just to give a one example: On the current thread about the "coordinator class" you say that WSA "agrees with the three-class analysis", while your "Where we stand" document only talks about workers and bosses, and makes no mention of a third class.

Now, it's possible that everyone in the WSA agrees with a three class theory, and that this and all the other things you have claimed are WSA positions, will be added to the new and revised statement that you are working on. If so, I would say that you do indeed have a high commitment to theoretical and strategic unity. I think having such a high requirement to theoretical unity will be counter-productive for an anarcho-syndicalist group. What are the advantages to limiting your organization to people who have the same view of the nature of the middle class, or the relative independence of the state, or other finer theoretical points? I think this will only serve to further split up an already tiny and fractured movement.

I also find it problematic if WSA has one published statement of your political principles, that you can read on your website, and another unpublished agreement that members can refer to in articles and forum posts. And I don't appreciate being called a lier for pointing this out.

syndicalistcat

the real issue seems to be that you think a group like WSA should limit itself to being a "propaganda group" and not also be an organization of people working together as activists and organizers in mass organizations/movements, and I don't agree with you on that.

Well, I guess you could put it that way. Of course, being a "propaganda group" doesn't mean that all you should do is sit and write articles. I already said I agreed that it should be "a place where revolutionaries can come together and share experiences and debate and learn from that, improving their own understanding, and finding people to work together with on projects." And I imagine that doing solidarity work with ongoing struggles will be a part of any syndicalist group's work. But I don't think it's useful to have political organizations make decisions about how their members should act within the various mass organizations or movements they also happen to be a member of. Apart from some more principled objections, I also think this will only lead to a further fractioning of the libertarian movement. I don't see anything being gained by anarchists and syndicalists splitting up in even smaller and more ideologically pure groups.

syndicalistcat

what you apparenly don't realize is that dual-membership between WSA and IWW has varied quite a bit over time. There were fewer dual members in the mid-'80s when WSA was formed than there were in the late '90s when you were visting, and probably fewer now also. for one thing, in the '80s the IWW only had a couple hundred members.

Actually, I knew all that. I don't think that changes the point I was making.

syndicalistcat

The WSA does support efforts of the IWW to build actual unions, such as the starbucks and New York restaurant warehouse campaigns, as I've pointed out before. In situations like this where there are particular campaigns that WSA supports, there are reasons for WSA members to be involved in the IWW. Also, many of the WSA's members are individual members who are isolated, not part of a WSA branch. if there is an IWW branch where they are that has some life, and they are not a member of an AFL or CtW union, that is a reason for them to be a member of the IWW there.

But WSA has never officially taken any position in favor of "building the IWW" as such as a part of its overall strategy. WSA doesn't really have any position on the IWW as such. Rather, the WSA has a dual labor strategy, both in favor of developing autonomous rank and file movements in AFL or CtW unions, and developing what we call "independent self-managed unions." The reason we tactically support IWW union organizing campaigns is because we view these efforts as attempts to build "self-managed unions". Thus they fit in with our overall strategy. WSA members could very well be commited to "building the IWW" in the sense of building an IWW union in a particular case.

OK, I agree that WSA has never officially taken any position in favor of "building the IWW" and doesn't really have any position on the IWW as such. But why should WSA members only join the IWW if the local IWW group has a campaign going that WSA supports, or if there are no other options around? Why shouldn't they join simply if they - on an individual basis - think building the IWW is a good idea? If you don't "really have any position on the IWW as such" I should think this would be up to each individual member to make up his or her own mind about. Or do you think WSA members should only be involved in things that are approved by official WSA strategy?

syndicalistcat

Maybe felix's view of WSA as a "propaganda group" derives from the fact that some members of the New York branch of WSA do sometimes refer to WSA as a "propaganda group." That way of speaking derives from the history of the New York branch of WSA. That group originated as the Libertarian Workers Group which affiliated to the IWA in 1976. in the traditional framework of the IWA, it had only room for two types of affiliate, either a "union" or a "propaganda group." they didn't seem to think in terms of a syndicalist political organization that did organizing.

Yeah, that's pretty much where I'm coming from. I could add that in recent years that IWA have started acting more like a political group, and less like an international of revolutionary unions. Some of its more recent sections are what I would classify as anarchist communist political organizations (although they might define themselves as "unitary" organizations). IWA have also started demanding "stategic unity" of its members: Everyone who doesn't agree with the chosen strategy - such as boycotting work council elections - are purged from the organization, which has led to a series of ugly splits that I think has significantly weakened the syndicalist movement. Incidentally, WSA also fell victim to one of these purges. Needless to say, I don't think this has been a positive development.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

felix:

I also find it problematic if WSA has one published statement of your political principles, that you can read on your website, and another unpublished agreement that members can refer to in articles and forum posts. And I don't appreciate being called a lier for pointing this out.

Now you're redescribing what you said. what i objected to was you trying to personalize the discussion, by giving a false interpretation to what i had said. this is the comment i objected to:

you are committed to "theoretical and strategic unity" and has derided other syndicalists for "do-your-own-thing liberalism" and "sticking to the anarchist ghetto" for disagreeing with his chosen strategy for organizing. I don't think this is a constructive way to run an anarcho-syndicalist group.

This is a very different statement than objecting to the fact that a group has some internal agreements that it hasn't yet developed into written positions in its political statement.

Here you are accusing me of "deriding" others for disagreeing with the idea of a syndicalist political group based on "theoretical and strategic unity." But when I objected to the idea of the IWW trying to be both a network of radical worker activists and a union, for example, I don't believe i was personally "deriding" anyone. It was not my intention to do so, anyway. I was saying I didn't think that was workable.

Political groups can learn things. People may fail to come around to debating and writing out a statement on something til that becomes an issue. I don't see why this is so hard to understand.

we sort of assumed, without writing it out, a certain approach that WSA would adopt as an organization. We acted as a political group, but we didn't say this explicitly in our "Where We Stand" statement. now this ended up causing problems. People would think that we must be trying to become an "anarcho-syndicalist union". We would have to correct this misunderstading by saying "No, we're not a union, we're not an embryo of a union." Also, because we had no explicit statement about how we conceived of WSA as an organization, members could fall into using different terminology, as I explained before. Some times people would refer to WSA as a "propaganda group" -- and that's okay as simply a description of much of our activity -- or as a "political group."

Also, i think there will be things like a group's "culture" that may go beyond what is explicitly stated. for example, most of the founders of WSA came from the experience of the ACF where there was a lot of conflict where people were subjected to personal attack. We've generally tried to discourage that sort of thing. We've tried to encourage members to behave in a comradely way towards other members, and to avoid personal attacks, and to try to state their own viewpoint in terms of what their reasons are, why they disagree with some other view, and so on. (I'm not saying we always live up to this but we try.) but this is a part of WSA's internal culture that we also didn't write down in our political statement or constitution. (It's related to what you refer to as our "non-sectarian approach.")

I am in fact referring to the views that you explicitly say are WSA's views. Often I don't find these reflected in WSA's published documents. Just to give a one example: On the current thread about the "coordinator class" you say that WSA "agrees with the three-class analysis", while your "Where we stand" document only talks about workers and bosses, and makes no mention of a third class.

I didn't say that WSA had any agreement on the term "coordinator class." We recently took a poll on what term members prefer for the class of managers and top professionals. A number of people don't want to use "coordinator class" because that was a term coined by Michael Albert and Robin Hahnel, and altho it is technically independent of their proposals for "particiaptory economics," a number of people don't want to be identified with "participatory economics" and thus prefer a different term. The term used in the current draft of the new statement is "bureaucratic class." In its description of a self-managed post-capitalist society, WSA is neutral between the specifics of different forumlations like "participatory economnics" versus traditional "anarcho-communist" formulations. What we do is to try to come up with a description in ordinary English that doesn't rely on these labels. The new draft, like the old one, rejected both market socialism and central command planning, but that is not unusual on the libertarian left.

One of the areas where we're neutral is that we don't endorse a particular principle of distributive justice. We don't endorse the particpatory economics principle "From each according to ability, to each according to sacrifice in socially useful work tempered by need" nor do we endorse the communist principle "From each according to ability, to each according to need." But this is not new. The old "Where We Stand" also did not endorse the communist principle. That's because when WSA was formed it included people who identified as "anarcho-communists" and people who rejected the "communist" label.

Now, this makes WSA less "theoretically unified" than the IWA which officially endorses "libertarian communism" (altho actually the IWA doesn't say what that means and the truth is, participatory economics can be interpreted as a form of libertarian communism -- Michael Albert tells me he agrees with this).

Any viable political organization requires agreement on political aims and methods at some level. So i don't really see what your point is.

Well, I guess you could put it that way. Of course, being a "propaganda group" doesn't mean that all you should do is sit and write articles. I already said I agreed that it should be "a place where revolutionaries can come together and share experiences and debate and learn from that, improving their own understanding, and finding people to work together with on projects." And I imagine that doing solidarity work with ongoing struggles will be a part of any syndicalist group's work. But I don't think it's useful to have political organizations make decisions about how their members should act within the various mass organizations or movements they also happen to be a member of.

so, then, we should not oppose people running for election on their own to a paid union position, for example?

When we say our aim is to help develop, to further, encourage, self-management of mass organizations, that does say something about what we expect our members will be doing inside mass organizations.

but if you mean that we would be giving detailed instructions to our members in a mass organization, where have we ever said that? how does that follow from anything i've said?

it is in fact useful if people who are active in a mass organization work together, if they want to have some influence. for example, let's say there is a contract struggle. you want to put out a leaflet or newsletter to the members of the union. what is wrong with them getting together to do that? It's a lot easier to do things like that as a group. i think it's even better of course if it's a larger group of rank and file workers involved in such an effort; if it's an actual rank and file opposition movement, that is stronger yet. and i think support for that does follow from our advocacy of "autonomous rank and file movements."

WSA hasn't been merely a meeting space for people to share ideas. We've also
at times tried to work on projects. For example, at our 2002 national conference the WSA adopted as its only national priority support for the Taco Bell boycott. A number of people in Northern California as well as New York worked on this.

OK, I agree that WSA has never officially taken any position in favor of "building the IWW" and doesn't really have any position on the IWW as such. But why should WSA members only join the IWW if the local IWW group has a campaign going that WSA supports, or if there are no other options around? Why shouldn't they join simply if they - on an individual basis - think building the IWW is a good idea? If you don't "really have any position on the IWW as such" I should think this would be up to each individual member to make up his or her own mind about. Or do you think WSA members should only be involved in things that are approved by official WSA strategy?

of course not. there are in fact a couple of WSA members who i think may be committed to the IWW in the larger sense you describe. i don't see that as inconsistent with the WSA statement of principles. they may have a different assessment of the prospects of the IWW or something like that than me, but so what?

syndicalist

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Just thuming thru these 2 new posts, but i was caught by this

felix:I also find it problematic if WSA has one published statement of your political principles, that you can read on your website, and another unpublished agreement that members can refer to in articles and forum posts. And I don't appreciate being called a lier for pointing this out.

I believe it has been said elsewhere by syndicalistcat that that there is currently an internal WSA new statement discussion. To imply that we're hiding something would be to say we're being dishonest. I'd take exception to that. And Felix, you know better than that. You wanna poke it out with syndicaliscat, that's one thing, to imply that people you have personally worked with and know would act in a manner inconsistant with liberatran ethics is wrong and disappointing.

Perhaps to avaoid confusion when talking about the internal WSA discussion would be to say: "Something WSA is now discussing..."

Gotta go for now.

Felix Frost

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalist

felix:I also find it problematic if WSA has one published statement of your political principles, that you can read on your website, and another unpublished agreement that members can refer to in articles and forum posts. And I don't appreciate being called a lier for pointing this out.

I believe it has been said elsewhere by syndicalistcat that that there is currently an internal WSA new statement discussion. To imply that we're hiding something would be to say we're being dishonest. I'd take exception to that. And Felix, you know better than that. You wanna poke it out with syndicaliscat, that's one thing, to imply that people you have personally worked with and know would act in a manner inconsistant with liberatran ethics is wrong and disappointing.

Calm down, syndicalist. I didn't say you were dishonest or were hiding things. I just think your members ought to wait with advertising things as WSA collective positions until it they have been officially voted on and published by the group. Until that has happened, I think they ought to stick with arguing for their own personal point of view. But, as I said, it's not really my business.

syndicalist

Perhaps to avaoid confusion when talking about the internal WSA discussion would be to say: "Something WSA is now discussing..."

Yeah, that would be better.

syndicalist

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

felix: I just think your members ought to wait with advertising things as WSA collective positions until it they have been officially voted on and published by the group.

Perhaps.

My initial reasoning for this posting was to see where other US and Canadian a/s and those close to a/s are at. To, perhaps, help with our own internal discussions.

I really don't know what the situation is like in Norway, except that you have the IWA affiliate the NSF. I don't know if your situation is stagnant or lively.

I would say that the situation in the US (where I live) has a number of levels and elements. WSA has been a part of the class struggle movement since 1984.
I can say WSA has a desire to grow and to be current. How this happens is an on-going process. I figured that libcom would be a good place to have some of the discussion as there are many decent and intellegent comrades who are participate and who may have constructive things to say.

syndicalistcat

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

felix:

I just think your members ought to wait with advertising things as WSA collective positions until it they have been officially voted on and published by the group.

in general this is not bad advice but it can be taken too strictly.

so we should remain completely mum as to what WSA is because we didn't include a section in our original political statement on the role of WSA itself?

in regard to the question of the three-class analysis, i suppose i could have said "Most members of WSA who have indicated a view in some way, seem to agree with a three-class analysis of capitalism". Maybe this makes it clearer that it is a common viewpoint among members rather than a position officially agreed to. Maybe stating it this way would make Felix happier.

Felix Frost

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalist

I really don't know what the situation is like in Norway, except that you have the IWA affiliate the NSF. I don't know if your situation is stagnant or lively.

There is very little going on in Norway at the moment, both in terms of libertarian projects and in the wider class struggle. One of the problems with doing something specifically syndicalist is that the NSF isn't very interested in working with the rest of the anarchist/libertarian scene here, and setting up one more small syndicalist propaganda group doesn't seem worthwhile. My personal opinion is that the NSF are good people with solid politics, but that they could have had a better impact if they had been less concerned with upholding the "strategic unity" of the IWA.

I and others have been arguing for creating better coordination between the various small groups and projects on the libertarian left here, but it remains to be seen what will come out of this. Some comrades will probably start up a new class struggle anarchist organization in the near future also, but the details are still up in the air.

rata

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Felix Frost

I and others have been arguing for creating better coordination between the various small groups and projects on the libertarian left here, but it remains to be seen what will come out of this. Some comrades will probably start up a new class struggle anarchist organization in the near future also, but the details are still up in the air.

If I understand correctly one of the groups that would participate in that coordination of the "libertarian left" is "Demokratisk Alternativ", group which is participating in municipal elections in Oslo. Yeah, those NSF-ers are real loosing much for not coordinating with parliamentarian "libertarian" left and other "libertarians" who don't see problem with that.

I was rereading some Lenin few days ago (don't ask me why), and I remembered this perfect passage from the "What Is To Be Done?":

"We are marching in a compact group along a precipitous and difficult path, firmly holding each other by the hand. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies, and we have to advance almost constantly under their fire. We have combined, by a freely adopted decision, for the purpose of fighting the enemy, and not of retreating into the neighbouring marsh, the inhabitants of which, from the very outset, have reproached us with having separated ourselves into an exclusive group and with having chosen the path of struggle instead of the path of conciliation. And now some among us begin to cry out: Let us go into the marsh! And when we begin to shame them, they retort: What backward people you are! Are you not ashamed to deny us the liberty to invite you to take a better road! Oh, yes, gentlemen! You are free not only to invite us, but to go yourselves wherever you will, even into the marsh. In fact, we think that the marsh is your proper place, and we are prepared to render you every assistance to get there. Only let go of our hands, don’t clutch at us and don’t besmirch the grand word freedom, for we too are “free” to go where we please, free to fight not only against the marsh, but also against those who are turning towards the marsh!"

I guess it sums up very well position of every revolutionary current in a struggle vs. the reformist one (ok, ok, Bolsheviks are bastards, dictators, etc, but comparing to socdemocrats even they were revolutionary).

Felix Frost

14 years 10 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Yes Rata, Democratic Alternative will also be invited to participate in our coordination, if anything comes out of it. We have done things with them in the past also, such as organizing a libertarian May Day party after the main labor rally. I'm not a big fan of their group, but I don't see anything wrong in working together with them on common projects.

As for them participating in the municipal elections, I think this is a total waste of time on their part. We plan to invite them to one of our public meetings in order to have a debate about this with them.

syndicalist

6 years ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Although I am personally on an organizational hiatus, figured I put this in here as some folks are working on this infant project. A number of the authors and deeply engaged folks are on lib com.
I was not involved in this project, but there is value to the discussion and idea of getting active anarchosyndicalists talking and possibly more...

"The Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative"
http://ideasandaction.info/2016/04/anarcho-syndicalist-initiative-membership-individuals-existing-groups/

klas batalo

5 years 8 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

syndicalist

Although I am personally on an organizational hiatus, figured I put this in here as some folks are working on this infant project. A number of the authors and deeply engaged folks are on lib com.
I was not involved in this project, but there is value to the discussion and idea of getting active anarchosyndicalists talking and possibly more...

"The Anarcho-Syndicalist Initiative"
http://ideasandaction.info/2016/04/anarcho-syndicalist-initiative-membership-individuals-existing-groups/

Yes please feel free to get in touch with us over at the WSA: workersolidarity.org

syndicalist

4 years 4 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

"Funny" rereading this.